Sunday, December 17, 2017


Sometimes when I'm driving home at night, I look into the illuminated houses that pass me by. I see couples cooking dinner or a family huddled around the glow of a television. I see art on the wall. And book shelves. And dining room tables. And hanging pots and pans.

And all the things that make a home. 

And often, I feel like a lost, little girl--not a day over ten years-old--with her nose pressed against the toy store window and I think, "I can't begin to imagine what would have to happen in my life for me to ever have such beautiful things."

And, to be clear, it's not just about things. It's not just about longing for possessions or status or wealth. It's about security. And comfort. Health insurance. Peace of mind. Just knowing that we have enough money in the bank to buy what we need.


We are not homeless. We have good health. We have things we need. But we are living below the poverty line. We are on Medicaid. On a daily basis, I walk the university campus of a multi-million dollar enterprise. I am a student with a right to be there. Just by being there, I must look wealthy. And in many ways, by some standards, I am wealthy. I have money in the bank. What a gift.

But hope is not a feeling that comes easily for me.
Call me a pessimist.
Call me a realist.
But this season of graduate school and standards and curriculum and expectations and career and "turning 30" has me feeling scarce and desperate and less-than.

I shared this with my 75 year-old friend, Carole. She laughed hysterically. "But you're so young," she said with surprise. "What do you have to worry about? There's so much ahead of you. There's so much to feel hopeful for."

And she's right. She must be. She's old. She knows stuff. And hearing it was hard. It's like I've adopted a posture of "never enough" that clouds all of the opportunity in front of me. I'm struggling to see clearly. I'm desperate to graduate and move forward to all that "hope" out there somewhere.


I spent the morning re-reading some blogs I've written over the past 10 years. But mostly, the past four. About Korea and Cambodia and Vietnam. About things we were able to experience and witness and learn. We felt so "rich" in Korea. We were both working and making money and paying off student loan debt. But alas, in the United States we aren't valued in quite the same ways.

And so now we scrimp by. And to say the shift has felt disorienting would be an understatement.

We went from having a large apartment, making more money than we needed, and being valued simply for speaking English to living in a tiny apartment, making less money than we need, and being valued only for what a graduate degree on paper might get me.


I think a lot about money.
And debt.
And retirement.
And the cost of health care.
And the cost of having a child.
And mortgages.
And the cost-of-living.
And annual income.
And career.
And whether or not we will have what of my peers have.
And how we chose degrees we were interested in.
But not necessarily degrees that make money.
And whether or not I'm okay with that.
And what we've gained.
And what we've lost.


I know security doesn't just fall out of the sky if you wish for it. I know that nice things require hard work and regular income. My parents haven't just wandered into a sense of financial security. They've worked for it. And so at this moment, we have accumulated enough birthdays to be adults, we just don't have any adult things to show for it.

And maybe I'd feel more secure if it weren't for the Internet and the regular reminders that people ten years younger than me have careers and homes and families and a dog. I made other choices. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've been given. But let's be clear: it's a trade-off. For sure. 

And I know that life is about more than just material possessions and making money. Because when I drive by those houses in the neighborhood, I get this familiar ache in my chest. 
I'm longing for a home.


And so, as we enter a new year.
As Jeremy and I conquer the last five months of graduate school.
As I look for a job and a career.
As we become a two-income family.
As we continue to find our way on this side of the world.

I have to practice gratitude for all that we have.
Because we have so much.

And I have to hold onto hope.

For all its ridiculousness and youthfulness.
For all the ways I want to talk down to the silliness of hope.
Hope is where I'll be.

Hope that we can crawl above the poverty line.
Hope that we can make enough to be okay.
Hope that the security I've felt before, will find me again.
As it always does.
As we always do.

Hope. Always.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


This is the month that I turned 30 years-old.

Thirty sure feels a lot like 29, if you ask me. But I always feel that way about age. Like the numbers never quite mean what I think they will.

As the band Joseph says in their song "Hundred Ways":
"These are the times, when growing up is not a straight line."

I have blogged about my birthday every year since 2007 when I turned 20 years-old
(a third of my life ago!):
Twenty when I was a volunteer in Cambodia and struggling hard.
Twenty-One when I was back in college and super melancholy.
Twenty-Two when "content" felt impossible.
Twenty-Three and trying to find "happy."
Twenty-Four and being proud of those years I'd accumulated.
Twenty-Five on "growing up" as a privilege denied to many.
Twenty-Six written after two months living in South Korea.
Twenty-Seven and reflections on my existentialist self.
Twenty-Eight and landing back in America
Twenty-Nine on feeling exactly the age that I am, for the first time.

And now thirty.

I post these more for me than for you.
Just to take the time to remember.
That's 10 years of blogging.
And 10 years since Cambodia.
And 10 years that I'm proud of and still surprised by.

About a year ago, my sister's husband told her he wanted a divorce because he was in love with my best friend.
A few days later, I turned 29 years-old.
A few days later, Donald Trump was elected president.
All of this happened in about a week.
It's been a season of incredible loss and disorientation.

But on my 29th birthday, I started taking 1-second videos every day for the past year. Perhaps, out of an attempt at gratitude during a difficult time. Mostly, out of defiance. Like, "If this what I have to feel this year, at least, I'm going to make it beautiful."

And so, I did. I made this video of the last year of my 20s:

What I learned in the process of making this video:

-The practice of paying attention 
It's amazing what you notice about a day when you start looking for the one-second moment that feels important. And I don't mean, "important" like valuable to most people. I mean "important" like valuable to me. For example, the clip at 4:10 where there were geese slowly meandering their way across the street, oblivious to morning commuters and our agendas. That moment mattered to me. I stopped and took a breath and laughed out loud at the geese "disrupting" our world.

To pay attention has meant waking up most days and surveying the potential of my own happenings. Thinking about moments that might be worth capturing. Experiencing moments that took me by surprise. Getting to the end of a day, realizing I hadn't yet taken a video and then finding something, even a small something that is familiar and significant and worth noticing.

-The practice of letting things go
Some days I completely forgot. Some days I borrowed from other days. Some days I took 10 or more videos and then, I had to pick just one for that day. Some days I had this great idea for a video, and  then, perhaps, arrived at that moment and decided something else was going to make the cut instead (like geese!).

The perfectionist as identity in me died when I was 25. I stopped using "perfectionist" as a badge of honor when I realized how seriously it had negatively affected my mental health and well-being. She comes out to play sometimes, but I must say that this video-making process, in general, has been a healthy reminder to hold all of this lightly. To be gentle. To move on when I forgot a day or to be accepting of a simple, and not terribly exciting day. To not turn it into a practice of homework, but a practice of letting go.

-The practice of being grateful
Isn't it interesting how theatrical a life seems to become when set to music? Some of the most mundane moments during the past year feel SO IMPORTANT when they are all strung together to music. I feel differently about the year seeing it all put together than I did even while living it. There's something about watching your own life on repeat or fast-forward or even, rewind. There's something about noticing. About paying attention. And reflecting. Moments that I captured where I wanted to actually scream at the injustice of it all, are not visible in that second of that video. They breeze past. They are one in a drop of 365. Stringing these seconds together puts them in a healthy perspective as but one moment among many moments.

Looking for these 1-second moments in everyday made me notice and appreciate:
-people on the train
-lazy mornings in bed
-good food
-laughter with friends
-the outdoors
-random acts of kindness
-sunshiney days
-rainy days
-all the things

Essentially, this video-making process was a spiritual one. A daily practice of paying attention and letting go and being grateful. If there's a better way to spend my days, I haven't found it yet. And so on the day after my birthday, I kept shooting videos. I kept noticing. Who knows how long this form of this practice will last. I'm not terribly concerned. For now, it's keeping me alert and grateful.

My hopes for the coming year:
-to help Jeremy get more regular, day-time work hours
-to avoid going seven weeks again without having quality time together
-to graduate with my masters degree in social work
-to get a job that I enjoy
-to feel more stable financially
-to be okay


*to be fair, I just looked up the Joseph lyrics and it's actually "going up" instead of "growing up", but I'm pretending like I didn't know that, because I like my way better


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

Today marks the 33rd year of your life.
Today is the celebration of your birth.

I couldn't be more grateful that you exist. That I met you 11 years ago. That we started dating 9 years ago. That we've been married for 5. You are an incredible gift.

I'm regularly in awe of you.
Of your kindness.
Your playfulness.
Your gentleness.
Your listening ear.
Your ability to say just the right thing.
    Or the "wrong" thing, but eventually, the right thing.
Your thoughtfulness.
Your patience.
Your knowledge of things I didn't even knew you knew.
Your practical abilities to fix, like, anything.
The way you observe and take things in, without immediately reacting.
The way you let things slide off your back.
The way that you are calm in a crisis.
The way you adore our niece, Scarlett.
The way you jump in and help my parents.
The way you take care of my sister.
The way you poke fun at my brother.
The way you hold me in your arms and everything feels right with the world.

Years from now, we will say, "Remember that time we conquered graduate school?" And "we" will be accurate because there's no possible way that I could be doing this without you.

You work 70+ hour weeks to provide for us.
You get very little sleep.
You don't always get to do the fun things.
On the weekends, you sit beside me while I do homework and rub my shoulders and pretend like this is exactly what you hoped our Sunday would be.
And you do all of that for me.

You, my dear, are a wonder. 

You are my one true love.
You are my best friend.
You are my favorite feminist. You support me. You believe me.
You love me: mind, body, and soul.

Let's live 33 more years together.
Let's reach the time when we've been together more years that we've been apart.
Let's snuggle hard on the weekends.
Let's live a simple life.
Let's take care of each other.
Let's build community.
Let's make the world a little brighter.
A little kinder.

You make me better.
Here's to you, on your birthday. 

I love you.

Every part of me,

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It Will Come

I've wanted to be a therapist from the first time I needed a therapist.

I was eighteen years-old, oblivious to the need for any outside help, swimming in my own denial and invisible shame. I remember arriving to the address, sitting in my car, and being so embarrassed of walking inside. Wanting to crawl out of my own skin and into anyone else's to avoid this appointment, this feeling that there was anything so wrong with me that I had to be here. But I went inside because my attendance was required before I would be allowed to go out-of-state for college.

And I met Jane. Who was kind and gentle and sincere. She didn't push. She didn't prod. She just listened without judgment. She actually affirmed things that were hard or unjust or unfair. She made me feel like I wasn't crazy and I was going to be okay.

Later, I met Teresa.
And Stella.
And Marsha.
And Lynn.
And Katie.

And these women set aside an hour at a time for me. Just for me. To listen. To observe. To notice. To comment. But mostly, just to be with me as I walked my own path.

Therapists are some of the kindest people I know. They are also some of the wisest people I know. They are interesting. They write fascinating books. They seem to have a presence about them that is calm and comforting and safe. And what I gathered from the hours I've spent with therapists, is that you have to be a certain kind of person. Like, in the book The Giver, (or, now that I think about it, Divergent, too), how everyone is given a profession--a purpose--and there's no getting out of it. That's just what you were born to do. And so I imagined "The Therapist" up on a pedestal as some kind of sage for society. A voice of reason. A role unique to their DNA. Like the Dalai Lama. But wearing clogs.

And then, I found out there were schools where you could go to learn to be a therapist! There were places that would allow everyday people like me who really, really wanted to be wise, a chance to be so lucky. A chance to be wise.

But what I've learned in graduate school, and most recently in my internship is that they'll let anybody be a therapist! Within the boundaries of ethics and proper education, it turns out nobody really has wisdom just flowing through their DNA. Therapists will steal your lunch right out of the fridge, cut you off in traffic, and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

Darn it.

So I've found myself asking out of absolute necessity: Well, then what does it mean to be a therapist?
Because now I'm in the other chair.
And I need to know.
Like, yesterday.

If this thing is not something a select-few are born into.
It it's not an elite club.
If therapists don't have a corner on the market in terms of wisdom.
What gives us the nerve to try to be helpful at all?

I find myself wanting more assurance than is available to me. I want a philosophy. A lens.  An outline. A cheat sheet. And when I express this to my supervisors (and just about anyone else who will listen to me), they keep saying the same annoying thing:

"It'll come. 
You know more than you know. 
Trust your intuition."

I know, right?

Apparently, it's less about interventions and theoretical perspectives and inspiring one-liners that clients will stitch onto a throw pillow. What I need to do right now, is exactly what I already know how to do:
Which is to sit.
And listen.
To be present.
And curious.
To be affirming.
And compassionate.

Just like others have done for me.

I trust that the rest will come.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Want to Be a Therapist

It's August 18th and the year is 2017.

This week, I pep-talked my way through the morning drive to my second year clinical internship. It's starting. I am now a registered psychotherapist with the state of Colorado. This is the year where I become a therapist. I will conduct intakes and assessments for potential clients at our sliding-scale and Medicaid-friendly counseling center. Because you know, behavioral health should be a basic human right. Right? I will have a case load of my own. People will come to me for help. And then, I suppose, I should have something to offer them in return.

But as I drove there this week, I needed more consoling that I expected. This feels huge. This feels important. This feels like the culmination of ten years of experiences that made me want to become a therapist to begin with.

Ten years ago. 
It was August 18th and the year was 2007.

On this day exactly ten years ago, a little 19-year-old-120-pound-anorexic-Christian me climbed on a plane and flew to Cambodia. What followed was the absolute hardest year of my life (I wrote a book about it if you haven't heard...).
I thought that the problem was Cambodia.
It was that guy who sexually assaulted me.
It was the driver who hit me with his car.
It was the God that deserted me.
It was the religious community I grew up in.
Or something.

Either way, I made it through the year and waited in the Phnom Penh International Airport for my flight home. I bought a smoothie. I sat down. A young, white woman with red hair started talking to me about her travel plans. She asked how long I'd been in Cambodia and I told her.
"A whole year?" she exclaimed. "You're so lucky. I love Cambodia. I wish I could stay longer."
And then, she asked me questions about my time there and she wanted to hear stories about this "wonderful" place that I'd been so "lucky" to experience. But I didn't have anything to say to her, because I didn't know what she was talking about.

I returned home a 20-year-old-150-pound-bulimic-agnostic me. Apparently, the same person, though completely unrecognizable in the mirror. I bought new clothes. I got new friends. I didn't go back to church. I returned to college. I moved on.

My life has been divided into two parts ever since: B.C. (Before Cambodia) and A.C. (After Cambodia). Everything else finds its place in one of those two categories. And while I would never re-live that year, I've had the honor of returning to the country (twice!) and realizing that the fault of that difficult year was drastically misplaced.
The problem wasn't Cambodia.
The problem wasn't even me.
The problem was the mental illness that moved in and took control of my ability to see clearly, to live fully, to feel anything other than depression, anxiety, and despair. That eating disorder changed the way I saw everything. And it took five more years before I could call myself truly "recovered" (whatever that means in a society where I've never really encountered a woman with a healthy self-image).

I used to think Cambodia was the villain in this story, but it turns out she was the mother who nourished me back to health. Thirty-pounds of health. It felt like force-feeding. It was. I'd never been this size before. Around the time that anorexia moved in (18), my body was trying to grow bigger and stronger. So it was actually Cambodia that brought me to the healthy weight that I've maintained ever since.

Thank God for that nourishment and the six mental health therapists who have brought me back to life.

I want to be a therapist more than I've ever wanted anything (besides recovery). This is exactly where I need to be and exactly the program that will get me there. If that's not pressure, I don't know what is. And yet, as I drove to my internship where I will receive the training to become half the therapist that those women were to me, I repeated again and again out loud to myself,
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."

I don't know what your "Cambodia" is. But take heart, that we can do hard things. Because we've done them before. And we will do them again.

In November, I will turn 30 years-old.

I will leave my 20s behind. A decade that has brought trauma in Cambodia, mental illness, recovery, college graduation, marriage, South Korea, and this awkward stumbling into adulthood one-damn-day-at-a-time. I don't have kids. I don't have a house. I don't have an established career or a salary of any kind. The tangible milestones I thought I would've reached by now, are still miles ahead of me (if I ever get there at all). But the understated, more delicate milestones like wisdom and discernment are things that make me older than my years and I carry them with me always. Things I have earned. I have miles and pounds that prove the rigor of this journey that took me around the world and back again.

I think I'm supposed to be sad about turning 30.
About being called "ma'am".
About being overlooked by the lascivious male-gaze on the street. Oh shucks.
This dread over "being 30" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be sad that I'm still here.
Bummed about continuing with this business of being alive.
Which I am not.
I'm so relieved to still be here.

We get to be here.

I get to be "recovered"
and healthy
and married
and well-traveled
and a student in graduate school
and a therapist in-training
and almost-thirty.

But still here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How We Remember

Every year for as along as I can remember, my family has had an annual camping trip.
In the summer.
Somewhere with a lake.
And we'd bring the boat.

And then the group expanded to include girlfriends, family friends, friends from college, fianc├ęs, husbands, wives, and new little babies who have joined the fray.
The Bohlender family camping trip is my favorite holiday.

Somewhere between unloading the truck and setting up tents, someone will say:
"Remember that time that the Bronco started smoking somewhere between Fort Morgan and Burlington, and Daryl had to flag a ride into town, leaving Vickie with the kids on the side of the road?"


"Remember when Daryl was chopping wood and a piece flew up breaking his glasses, and lodging glass in his eye ball? And then we had to drive an hour in the middle of the night to the emergency room?"


"Remember that flat tire that we got in Sterling and that nice family stopped and helped us?"
And inevitably, someone interjects, "No, I thought that was in Sidney."
And someone else will chime in, "Well, I don't remember that flat tire, but I remember the one in Wyoming."

And so it goes.

There's a checklist of some of our favorite stories. And because you might never make it to a Bohlender family camping trip, let me enlighten you to some of the highlight reel:

-the time little Ashley saw a snake eating a toad at the farm and ran inside to grandma and told her, "Come quick, there's a snake and a toad and they are arguing!"

-the time that little Chris with his sippy cup in-hand, walked out the front door, down the middle of the street we grew up on, until some nice neighbors returned him back home.

-the time that little Heather, was in one of those walkers with wheels, and (the story goes that Chris left the gate open to the stairs; we don't actually know this, but it's a detail I'm always sure to include) I went head-over-heels, walker and all, down the stairs. My poor mom got a lot of dirty looks from strangers who saw her infant daughter with a black eye and bruises and assumed I was being abused.

-the time that Ashley dressed Chris up like a girl and took pictures and called him "Chrissy" or as Angie coined at least two decades ago, "Christopher Ding-a-Ling". (Your welcome, Chris.)

-the time that Chris started sleeping in his closet and hoarding food that would go undiscovered for weeks.

-the time that I refused to take off my swimsuit for a summer and my hair turned green from the chlorine at the pool.

-all the pets who escaped: the hamster, the hermit crabs, the rat, the dogs...

-the time that we were camping in Wyoming and decided to go caving down a huge pit in the ground (Was it 50 feet? Was it 100?). And somebody rigged a rope tied to the back of a truck. And somebody went down in a harness. And somebody (a toddler) tipped upside down. And somebody's mother almost lost her shit. (When none of us could remember who the "somebody" in this story was, Ashley said, "Who does this trauma belong to?)

-all the times we went camping and something broke down. Which is literally every time.


These are the stories we tell time and time again. Like clock-work.
Like we just need to hear it one more time. To make sure it's still there. Like if we don't say it this year, we might forget it by next year. And so all fourteen of us, collectively gather around the fire at night, just to remember where we've come from.

Because we aren't 8 years-old anymore.
We aren't teenagers.
Jake died of cancer.
And Grandpa passed away, too.
We've moved forward.
We are adults.
With mortgages and kids.
With new social circles that only know the adult version of ourselves.
With lives that look so different from our roots
on the farm
back in the day.

And so we share, 
to remember who we were
which helps us remember who we are.

At one point last weekend, my cousin Angie asked me, "Where's your birth mark? I haven't seen it in awhile." And I legitimately didn't know what she was talking about for half-a-second. And then, I did. And then, I remembered. Because she remembered. As a kid, in the summers, I spent so much time in the sun that my face would tan and only then, would a dark mark appear on my right jaw line. But it only comes out in the summer. And it stopped appearing when I started caring about my skin. And wearing sunscreen. And I haven't seen it since.

On the drive home from Lake McConaughay this summer, we listened to a podcast that discussed transactive memory, which is essentially, the shared storage. For example, in a marriage, there are innumerable details that one person will let go of because they know that the other person will remember for them. And remind them. This person (or people) will serve as an external hard drive so that as a collective, the group can still remember.

And this is why we go camping.
An annual family picnic wouldn't do the trick.
We need a whole weekend to help each other remember.
And again.

Thank God.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five Year Anniversary

This month we are celebrating five years of marriage.
Five years.
1,825 days.
May 13, 2012.

Regularly, I am struck by the struggle to reconcile how much time has actually passed and how much time I think has passed. I'm always wrong. It never feels like the right amount of time. Will it ever feel like the right amount of time?

Consider that my existential crisis.
There's usually one in each blog.

In celebration of five years, I'm offering five things I've learned in my marriage. Not your marriage. Not marriage in general. Just our experience. Five things I can share that have been helpful to me.

#1. Resentment is a Choice
Marriage provides endless fodder to be upset, disappointed, and let down. Most of that has less to do with anybody's performance and more to do with our expectation of it. What we thought was reasonable. What we expected might happen. What we assumed the other person would say or do. And it's really easy to make it about them, when really it's about us. Some of the most important questions I've asked myself in the past five years are:
-Why did I have that expectation?
-What does that say about me?
-How can I have lower/more neutral expectations?

#2. Jeremy Will Always Run on Jeremy Time
Opposites attract and in this area, we are diametrically opposed. I am not, like, always on time to every event, but we each have a markedly different awareness of time. For example, Jeremy and I have this game where we will be laying around on a lazy afternoon or out in the middle of nowhere on a hike and he will ask me, "What time is it?" and 90% of the time, I am within 5 minutes (data based on estimates). Call it my spiritual gift. If I ask Jeremy, "How long do you think you've been on Instagram?" He's 90% wrong, 90% percent of the time. I once thought to myself shortly after we were married--feeling pretty resentful, "I am going to spend the rest of my life waiting for Jeremy."

And while it was an exasperated generalization it's also pretty true. I've stopped getting upset about it. I've stopped fixating on it. I've accepted it. But what I've learned from waiting for Jeremy is how much I've been missing the rest of the time. I'm really good at getting shit done, but there's a time and a place for doing absolutely nothing. And that's what Jeremy's gift is: being present, observing people and things, noticing details, and being completely oblivious to time. But you can't have one without the other. I can't be both frustrated and blessed by how he's changing me. And I thank God for his capacity to move slowly. Because he'll probably add years to my life, the same years that I thought I had lost...just waiting.

#3. "Thank you" Never Gets Old
We thank each other a lot. For most anything. And everything. Because we can. Because it feels good to be appreciated. It also shifts my focus to what's going well. What little thing did he do that was unexpected and helpful and intuitive? But also, what things does he do all the time that it would be easy to just begin to expect and stop appreciating him for? These things matter.

#4. Sit. Together. Even for Two Minutes.
We've noticed that, at the end of any day, it's easy to get home and just keep going. To empty out our backpacks. To do dishes. To start dinner. To get lost online. And completely miss each other for the entire evening and then wonder: We just spent the whole evening together, why don't we feel connected? So we've made it a rule that within ten minutes of getting home, we always sit down together, look each other in the eyes, and catch up on our days. Even for two minutes, but usually much longer. Just to check-in. Reconnect. See each other fully.

#5. Ask Five Questions Weekly
Before we were married, I followed a blogger who mentioned that in her own marriage, they would weekly ask each other the following questions:
#1. How was your week?
#2. What does your upcoming week look like?
#3. How can I support and encourage you this coming week?
#4. How can I pursue you intimately this coming week?
#5. How can I pray for you?

We've been doing this on the weekends ever since. Sometimes on a drive up to the mountains. Sometimes laying in bed on a Sunday morning. Sometimes walking hand-in-hand at the park. It's just an intentional way of checking in on--what Rob Bell calls--the space between us. How is that space? Is it tense/disconnected/fraught? Is it empty/mindless/unexamined? Is it energetic/dynamic/purposeful? It's a big deal when you've decided to fuse your life together to take some time asking: How are we doing?

This also plays into another lesson I've learned: our marriage is nothing like the movies. 

Ours is bumpy and jolty and awkward.
Ours involves false-starts and misunderstandings and silly arguments.
Ours is littered with land mines we didn't even know we had.
With irritants and opinions and hurt feelings we didn't know we possessed.

But it's also the most fun I've ever had.
The most meaningful relationship I've ever known.
It's unpredictable and exciting and momentous.
It's interesting and educational and motivating.
Our marriage will never involve a hot-air balloon proposal with rings delivered via drone.
Perfect music/lighting/clothing/photography.
Or likely lots of money.

But this has been the greatest journey of my life.
And there's no one I'd rather journey with than him.

This year, on our anniversary, Jeremy gave me a lovely, vintage ring with five stones. He crafted a beautiful wooden box to put it in, got down on one knee, and proposed. Again. Just to be sure.

This past year, I watched one of my favorite marriages break apart. It's been one of the hardest experiences of my life. He was cheating. She had no idea. "Heart-breaking" doesn't cut it. But I don't know a word that's more painful or emotive than heart-breaking. Soul-crushing? Yeah.

So Jeremy proposing again, meant a lot to me. Not because I necessarily needed him to. But after watching someone I respected flippantly stomp on the heart of someone I loved, how I view my own marriage has changed. And the two of us re-comitting to keep at this thing, seems more important than ever. Checking in regularly becomes of vital importance. I find myself more suspicious than usual. I recently read his text messages. And felt awful. And apologized. But this is what it is. This is how we've been scarred. Trust doesn't come so easily anymore. It makes you question everything. (And let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing she could have done to prevent him from cheating. That was a decision he made. And no amount of "checking in" would've changed his mind.)

And so Jeremy and I move forward with a gentle, grief-filled, humble acknowledgement that marriage is sacred and fragile. This space between us is holy and delicate. If couples on their 50th wedding anniversary are still learning new things about each other, let's not assume we have this quite figured out yet.

We move forward with shaky legs, but steady hearts.
To five more years.

Thanks to Rosie and Megan for taking these pictures!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

This Is Why I Write

I have this book. More like a journal. Where every night before I go to bed, I write a few thoughts about the day. And on each page there's a few lines for each year, accumulating in five years worth of memories.

And today is April 28th.
But on this day in 2015, I was expressing gratitude for one ONE GOOD DAY at my rural school in Korea where I taught English to some particularly difficult 5th grade boys.

On this day in 2016, I got my acceptance letter from the University of Denver's graduate school of social work. And--as you can see--I legitimately did not know how to feel. Because I wasn't expecting to get accepted. I planned on applying for several years before I got in. And then, I got in. I was a little bit upset simply because I didn't feel ready. It took me several months to wrap my head around the idea of being a graduate student.

And in 2017, on the very same day, I woke up at 6am thrilled out-of-my-mind (!) to get to go to class and learn more about the history and applications of gender and feminism in social work practice. And then, I spent the evening with five beautiful women from my program who are kind and smart and funny and absolutely devoted to making the world a better place. We drank wine and made origami cranes and talked and laughed late into the night.

What a difference a year makes.

I suppose that's why I devote so much time to writing. To logging. To journaling. To keeping track. To minding the time. To record-taking. To note-making. To maintaining regular awareness of what's happening and when and how and why, because there's great power in seeing my own sloppy, shaking hand-writing and remembering the fear I felt in that moment contrasted with the peace I feel now. Same hand, different person.

Writing keeps me sane.
It reminds me that it's probably going to be okay.
Because I have written evidence of 13,000 other times I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

I didn't think it was going to be okay.
And then, it was.

Maybe it's a miracle.
Maybe it's a fluke.
Maybe it's a whim.
Or completely by chance.

No matter what you call it, I'm humbled by it.

Some day I'm going to be a therapist. Some day I will reflect on this season of classes, deadlines, hundreds of pages of weekly reading, papers, and group projects. And it will be over. And I will have moved on to something else. Perhaps, somewhere else.

The whole thing makes my head spin like a carousel if I think too hard about it.

And so instead, I sit.
And breathe.
And reflect.
And give gratitude where gratitude is due.
And remember.

How lucky we are to get to do this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This is a Time for Casseroles

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for asking for help.
This is a time for lending an ear.
And a shovel.
And a skill saw.
And paint rollers.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for flickering candles.
This is a time for music with strings and achy voices.
And comfort.
And baths.
And breath.

This is a time for casseroles.
This is a time for bottomless Kleenex boxes.
This is a time for your favorite song on repeat.
All day long.
All night long.
As long as it takes.
To feel a little less sad.
A little less hopeless.

This is a time for casseroles.
Because you need every caloric bang for your buck.
You need cheese.
And cream.
And potatoes.
And food that will stick around.
Food that will give the impression of wholeness.
If only for a few hours. 
Until you are empty again. 

This is a time for casseroles.
And the people who bring them.
To your doorstep.
To your bed side.
Feeding you one bite at a time.
Because you don't remember the last time you ate.
Because you've been fighting other battles.
And existence is the last concern on your mind.
And so they will keep doing the "existing" for you.
As long as it takes.

This is a time for casseroles.
And the women who make them.
Who know the perfect recipe.
On that yellow-stained card stock.
Who devote the time.
To make the thing.
That soothes what ails you. 
If only for a moment.

This is a time for women.
And sisterhood.
And touch.
And tears.
And a mother's comfort
(regardless of whether or not she's a mother)
To you or anyone else
There's comfort in her bones.
She was made. for. this
And she can Mother you.
Back to life.

This is a time for showing up.
This is a time for remembering the part of you that fears abandonment.
The part that is so viscerally present on her face.
That it makes you want to turn away.
But you keep looking.
Because she needs to see you looking. 
To see you there. 
Not going anywhere.
You keep watching.

Because all you can give is a witness.
A testimony. 
A declaration that says, "I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. 
And I'll never see anything quite like it ever again."
It was terrible.
And it was beautiful.
At the same damn time.

This witnessing is all you can give.
Well that, and casseroles.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Day I Realized Why I'm a Social Worker

The day before the election in November, I got on the train to my internship. It was 6:58am. I sat down across from one of the only people without their head buried in their phone and he looked me in the eyes as I sat down.

"Good morning," he said.

I responded in-kind and proceeded to pull out some reading for class. He continued looking around: out the window, at other passengers, at me. Honing in on the backpack sitting in my lap, he saw the button attached to the front that reads: "I'm a social worker who votes." And said, "What's a social worker?"

I imagined pretty quickly that this was the evangelical equivalent of a "witnessing opportunity" and felt the weight of the question between us. If he legitimately did not know what a social worker was, this seemed a great opportunity to share that with him. But I kind of froze up. I wasn't expecting the question or the conversation at this hour in the morning and said something like, "Social workers take care of people. Especially people who are disadvantaged or marginalized. We help people find things like food, housing, health care, child care, education, and other resources."

He just kinda shook his head and then proceeded to tell me about his job recycling computer parts. Which you might guess I care nothing about, but I listened politely anyway. I got off the train and it kept bugging me throughout the day that I didn't have a better answer for him. Why couldn't I answer a question about the very thing I'm attending school for? Social work.

The next day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

And we've all felt a mix of emotions as a result. In the past year we watched someone say things that were racist and bigoted and sexist and untrue. And we shook our heads and figured he'd never get elected. And then, he did. And we were shocked. And confused. And scared.

Because his campaign emboldened a whole tribe of people who now feel justified
-sexually assaulting women and saying, "Trump's elected now bitch, get used to it."
-chanting "You're gonna get deported" at their Latino classmates
-proudly waving a confederate flag and shouting, "White power"
-burning mosques
-desecrating Jewish grave stones and making bomb threats at temples
-using the n-word and telling black people to "know their place again"
-physically attacking gay and transgender people
(Southern Poverty Law Center)

And so many conservative voters are surprised by this onslaught of hate speech and violence and I have no idea why. It's like they didn't think Trump was serious. But as Maya Angelou says, "When someone tells you who they are, believe them."And I'm not naive. Frankly, these things have always been happening. But they were under the surface. They were socially unacceptable and now, they've been invited into the light of day. And it feels like we just re-wound the United State's social progress by fifty years or more. 

In the days and weeks after the election, I watched fellow social work students yell and cry and march in the streets. I watched social work faculty discuss in bewildered tones and console each other with hugs. And most recently, I've seen social workers mobilizing.

It wasn't until Donald Trump was elected that I realized how to answer that man's question on the train. And so for what it's worth, I'll answer it here:

A social worker stands for almost all of the things that 
Donald Trump appears to stand against.

It's not a rule. Notice I said "almost." I do believe that there's a way to talk about what social workers do that is separate from political affiliation. Plus, I welcome the opportunity to be surprised--wrong, even--about what President Trump stands for. If he changes his tune, I will happily change mine.

Until then, so long as the President of the free world continues surrounding himself with white supremacists, enacting travel bans that target Muslims, and taking away policies that protect transgender people, I am becoming a social worker.

Which means that I will stand with:
immigrants and refugees
gay people
transgender people
people of color
indigenous people
poor folks
essentially, people.

And in the social work community, I am encouraged. Not greatly, because it feels like there is so much to fear, but encouraged, nonetheless. Because I am on the side of people who still think racism is wrong. And sexism is not okay. And bigotry doesn't fly around here. And, to be clear, when I talk about "sides" I am not talking about political parties. Because all of us, regardless of how we voted, are making decisions about what is and what is not okay in America.

The day after Trump's inauguration, Jeremy and I woke up unreasonably early to attend the Women's March in Denver. I don't have, like, a lifetime of political activism under my belt. A lot of this is new to me. I've never protested anything because, frankly, there wasn't much to protest. But I made a sign. And I showed up. And as we walked toward the capital building and came over the hill, I stopped and had to catch my breath. Because the lawn was a mass of people who were feeling as concerned and fearful as I was. And I cried. Out of relief. That so many people had showed up to say, "We are better than this." And no, I didn't agree with every sign that I read. And no, I didn't agree with every speaker at every Woman's March around the world. But I went because I needed to feel hopeful that were other people needing hope.

Earlier this month, I attended an annual town hall event held by Congresswoman Diana DeGette who represents my district. As people poured into the events center on a sleepy, Saturday morning, you could feel the energy buzzing in the air. DeGette got on stage, welcomed us, and said, "Usually these events bring out 20 senior citizens. Today, over 1,000 people showed up. In all my years, I've never seen this kind of political turn-out. We see you. We hear you. Thanks for coming."

After Trump's travel ban was enacted, I emailed the mosque in our neighborhood and asked if they needed anything. If there was a way I could get educated about Islam. They invited me to their monthly Open House. Last Saturday, Jeremy and I attended. More and more people flooded into the room as people were scrambling to find more chairs and enough space for all the people that showed up. The speaker said, "Usually we get 1-2 people each month at this event. There are easily 200 people here today. Thank you for showing up and supporting our community."

These things matter.
Showing up matters.

The organizers of these events see us.
The people who show up see each other. 
The news organizations see us.
Our children see us. 
And most importantly, history sees us. 

I do not hope for Donald Trump's failure as president.
He is my president. He is the president of the country I call home. I've been praying for him since November. And I will continue praying for him to have wisdom and a peaceful heart.

But I do hope that his policies that are racist, homophobic, or bigoted fail.
I do pray that he doesn't alienate us from the rest of the world. 
I do hope that his rhetoric falls flat on the ears of people who know better.

And at the same time, I think it's foolish to waste too much energy worrying about Donald Trump. The man. 
The character. 
The entertainer. 
He is only a symbol that has awakened and brought to light an ideology that has always existed in America. One that is based on fear and ignorance and scarcity. 

If there's anything to the Law of Attraction, to this idea that what you focus on you will inevitably receive, I think we should all stop talking and posting and Tweeting about Donald Trump "the man", because he's getting enough attention already. The more stage time we give to "the man" the less attention we give to the actual problem. And what we can do right now. Today. Tomorrow. 

I'm going to become a social worker during one of the most heated and controversial times in our recent history. I don't feel prepared for this. I don't think many of us do. You don't know what to say to your kids or your congregation. We're all trying to figure this out.

But if I've learned anything, it's that we're better together.
That love wins.
That progress probably won't happen on Facebook.
That real change will be happening in the streets.
And in our houses.
And in our places of worship.
And that someday, I will tell my children that I was on the right side of this.

And that somehow, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "There's reason to hope that we will see a better day," because "the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back."

Ruth has seen a few things. So, I'm just going to trust her.

Peace to you and yours.
We're going to get through this together.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sharing Silence

Early Friday morning--the morning of the inauguration--I sat in the darkness of my living room trying to breathe. Practicing meditation, as I listened to the following reading by Gunilla Norris.

From my vantage point, eyes closed, my apartment, the middle of the city, I could almost feel Twitter buzzing against my skin--somewhere, everywhere--through the air we're all trying to breathe. I could imagine every Facebook comment. Every one-liner from every political party. Every possible thing to say to every possible person about every possible argument.

This buzzing makes meditation nearly impossible.

And yet, I try. I try, as Norris says, to "remember to breathe, remember to feel, remember to care" for the people on every side of the political spectrum. Just to try. The trying is enough right now, even if I'm not always successful.

Because "sharing silence is...a political act," she says. It brings us back to deeper truths, to more profound ways of being the world. And I so desperately need this right now. I need to be reminded of profound truths when the air I breathe is polluted with sound bites.

Blessings to you and yours.

Here's a truth for your Monday:

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.
In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.
The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.
Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.
We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.
Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.
That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
"Remember to breathe, 
remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children's children.
Let us practice for life's sake."