#MeToo

The past few days I’ve been watching the #MeToo hashtag and subsequent discussion unfold on social media, but I’ve been hesitant to join in, mainly because my experiences dramatically pale in comparison to what so many women have faced. However, I have several thoughts on this topic that keep cycling around in my brain, and I’d like to share them, so here we go.

Me too.

My story isn’t one of assault, or even especially severe harassment, but one of microaggressions and limitations being put on where I can go and what I can do. My worst experience was being followed most of the way home while walking with a teammate after dark in Nepal. But I’ve had many other less dramatic instances of feeling unsettled, uneasy, unsafe. Whether those feelings were warranted or not, they spring from a constant what-if in my mind, a what-if that causes me to park close to the building when I work a closing shift at the grocery store, not run alone unless I’m in a familiar place with plenty of people around, and dutifully carry my pepper spray, just in case.

In college I strongly disliked night classes, in part because I’m a morning girl through and through, but in equal measure because a ten minute walk home becomes an eternity when you’re a female walking alone after dark. My college campus was relatively safe, but the horrors of what could possibly happen to me were always terrifying enough to make me jumpy.

One time, a female professor of mine used walking home in the dark after class as an example in a conversation with a male colleague to help him understand what women face on a regular basis. She told him to watch how his female students behaved at the end of a night class. When he did, he observed that the men packed up and left, just like they would for any other class. The women, however, took extra care in packing up, making sure they’d be prepared to run or even fight if the need arose. They then left the classroom in clusters, having carefully mapped out who was going where so they wouldn’t have to walk to parking lots and dorm rooms by themselves. As a female, scenarios like this are such a common experience that I occasionally forget that this shouldn’t have to be normal.

But then I think of all the girls in other countries who don’t even go to school for fear of sexual harassment or assault. The truly disheartening reality is that sometimes the long-term risk of them not receiving an education is even greater than the short-term risk of harassment or assault as they walk to school. And when I think of scenarios like this I snap out of my, “this is just how it is” mindset, and burn with anger for my sisters who face extreme oppression simply for being a girl.

This isn’t about guilting or shaming – not all men are monsters by any means, and calling them such diminishes their humanity – but it is about changing the narrative women have to tell. #MeToo is highlighting the real and broken world that exists here and now, in hopes that we can somehow reach for the kinder, richer, freer world that could be.

One more thing – to all the men who are showing up to this conversation, thank you. I know, both from my conversations with you and from my experiences as a member of the majority group in this nation’s conversation on race, that it can be very confusing to find where you, as a member of the power-holding group, fit in this conversation, Most of the time your role will be to show up and listen. However, there will be situations where your unique voice has power, not the corrupting, greedy kind of power, but the type of power that is a force to be reckoned with where goodness and change are concerned.

Despite all the flaws in the #MeToo conversation, I am very encouraged by the discussion that has been opened by this hashtag. I know that we cannot completely solve the problem of women being oppressed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take important steps towards encouraging their holistic well-being. So, I move forward in hope that this little blip on the radar of our advancement towards the flourishing of all human beings can be taken as a victory.

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Why Would You Go to the Middle East?

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A few weeks ago I announced on social media that if all the necessary pieces fall into place, I will be embarking on a 3-4 month adventure to the Middle East beginning in January. When I first made that announcement, I was still in the process of making sense of how I had come to that decision, but I’ve finally come to a place where my thoughts are collected enough to share with you why the Middle East is where I’ve chosen to go.

As many of you know, I graduated from college in April, and have been working in the deli of a local grocery store and living with five other women from my university since then. It’s been a wonderful place to be – just what I needed in the aftermath of school. However, before it even began, I knew this season would be relatively short because my lease is up at the end of December. As such, in mid-July I began to explore options for going overseas in January.

As I began to research potential travel opportunities, I kept picturing myself in the Middle East. In some ways this caught me off guard, but in other ways it made sense with some of the passions and desires God’s been cultivating in me, without me even fully being aware of them, for the past year and a half.

I decided to dig deeper into this image by asking God where it came from. God responded by asking, “Kelly, why would you want to go there?” I began to list motives, some frivolous and others with surprising depth, but at the heart of it all, this is the conclusion I came to:

I want to be able to picture it. I want to be able to come home from this trip and pray for names and faces instead of this nebulous mass of refugees and war-torn towns, deserts, and religious extremism. Because beyond the violence and conflict there are people there, living out their daily lives just like you and me. I want to care better. When my grandkids ask me what I did, I want to say, “I went,” not for my own glory, but because I responded in obedience to the call to care. 

To which God responded with, “It will break you.”

But immediately my spirit responded with, “But I serve a healing God, A healing God who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Am I willing to sacrifice my wholeness, trusting that God will put me back together?”

Lately I’ve been exploring this question: If Jesus were currently walking the earth, where would he go? I honestly believe it’s a question we should ask in each area of our lives – in my neighborhood who would Jesus visit, at my workplace who would Jesus talk to, etc. And when I ask the question on a more global scale, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the answer to this question is places like Mosul. Now, just to be clear, I’m not (to my knowledge) going to Mosul. Northern Iraq, maybe, (I’ll know for sure at the end of October) but as I’m feeling drawn overseas again, this question of where Jesus would go has been a driving force in my decision-making process.

As I’ve begun to share about my desire to go to the Middle East, many people have brought up the issue of safety. I understand that I may be a bit naïve to some of the dangers I could face, but I want to make it clear that I do not take my life lightly, and will take every possible precaution to remain safe. I fully intend to come home in one piece, but, the risk of that not happening is not great enough to keep me from going. I can’t allow fear and what ifs to keep me from following what my internal still small voice (with the impressive track record) is highlighting as the next step. (You can read more about my previous wrestling with the issue of safety overseas here: To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain).

This summer Nichole Nordeman came out with a song called Dear Me that has served as a source of inspiration on this journey to the Middle East. The song is a beautiful mix of her saying, “You are so very loved, to the depths of your being, and nothing you can do or say will change that,” and, “Out of that identity of beloved there is so much good you can do so go and be love to your fellow humanity” (the Kelly paraphrase). There’s a line in the song that says, “Hold all the mothers/whose babies bleed from bullet holes,” and every time I hear that it moves me to tears. Because how many mothers in the Middle East are cradling bleeding babies as we speak?

I know I can’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East. I don’t begin to pretend that I hold the solution to the problems they face. If I’m being completely honest, there is very little I can do. But, I have been given a love to share, a love that I have personally experienced and been changed by, a love that I’ve seen heal and redeem and restore in ways that appeared utterly impossible until it was done. How can I keep that life-altering, identity-breathing, breathtakingly beautiful love to myself?

Am I scared? Absolutely! But, the love of God compels me to go.

And so I go, face first into the risk and unknown, but with the confidence that it’s where I’m being led, and the knowledge that no matter what happens to me, I am loved and that is enough.

Vocational Confusion

A year ago I was starting my final year of undergrad, and this is what I wish someone would have told me:

  1. The first year of life post-grad will be really hard, but for different reasons than you expect it to be.
  2. You’ll spend the first four months (and quite probably the remaining eight months of the year) wrestling with: your place in society, your purpose in God’s kingdom, and your ability to function as an independent adult.
  3. God will continually surprise you by being more faithful, creative, and generous than you ever could have anticipated.

When I graduated, I knew that it wouldn’t truly feel real until the rest of the world went back to school. On Monday of this week my university started classes again, and I was surprised at how deeply I miss the routine of beginning another school year. I’ve always loved school, and since this fall is the first time since I was four years old that I am not enrolled in any formal education, I feel a bit lost.

Some of the lostness I’m feeling comes from wrestling with my vocation. The way I miss school makes me wonder if I should have gone the teaching route? Up until two years ago that’s where I was headed, and as I watch a surprisingly large number of friends begin student teaching or prep their first classroom for the year I think, “Wow, that looks fun and life-giving.” But deep down I know myself better than that. I know that if I were pursuing a teaching career, a small part of me would be enjoying it, but a larger part of me would be very anxious and wondering if maybe I should have chosen a different career. I’m also fairly confident that I would get five years into teaching and be ready to move on to something else. So, appealing as it appears from where I currently sit, I don’t think teaching is the answer to my confusion.

The truth is that I have chosen the less straightforward (but neither better nor worse) path. When people ask about my career, I can talk their ear off about Kurdistan, the 10/40 Window, and Nepal; Muslims, refugees, and young women; writing, mentoring, and storytelling, but I can’t give a simple answer as to what I want to do. I know that I want to be an overseas missionary, and I have a million ideas of what that could look like, but is that a vocation, especially if it only ends up spanning one season of my life?

When I catch myself thinking thoughts like these, I’m trying to learn how to pause and remember the qualities I attributed to God above: faithful, creative, generous. Of this I am confident: God has good work for me to do in this world (Ephesians 2:10).

In his book entitled Let Your Life Speak Parker J. Palmer says, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”

How often am I the person not trying to discern my selfhood because I’m too busy trying to fit myself into a slot?

Maybe I won’t live a conventional life, work in a neatly-defined job, or spend my time doing activities that are easy to explain to others. I’m sure if that ends up being my reality, I’ll chafe against it quite a bit. However, this summer God has been teaching me about the sweet freedom that comes with surrendering what I think should be happening in favor of being present to whatever is actually in front of me. Because what’s in front of me is all part of the larger-than-me story God is lovingly crafting, and at the end of the day, living my life in a way that is true to who I am is worth every complex answer I must give to the question, “So what is it you want to do with your life?”

Honoring the Shadows

This weekend I stood beside two of my dearest friends as they pledged to love each other when they’re happy and sad, silly and mad, and for the 36 hour wedding whirlwind I was profoundly present, savoring each little detail as it came into focus around me.

Those of you who know me well know just how much I fight to be present. My mind rarely rests in one place or time, which is why, when we finished the rehearsal dinner and I realized that my mind had remained in the moment nearly all night, I wanted to jump, and dance, and tell the whole world!

This summer has been a crash course in surrendering my desires and ideas of what “should” be happening in order to savor what is currently in front of me. Savor is the word God gave me for 2017, and as soon as I received that word, I knew choosing to live it out would be much more challenging than choosing discipline was in 2016. To be completely honest, there have been large chunks of this year when I ignored the choice to savor because it just. seemed. too. darn. hard.

However, in the past moth I’ve had a breakthrough in my understanding of being present that is too good not to share!

It is as follows: in order to truly savor, you must honor the shadows.

Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last wrote a song last June called “Joy.” In the process of writing it, O’Neal asked his followers on social media how they would define joy, and then he synthesized their answers to write the lyrics. Each line in the song reflects a different angle of joy, but my favorite line defines joy as “the honoring of every shadow.”

As people we’ve gotten too good at numbing and running, believing the lie that the only way to the good life lies in avoiding our pain. But the freeing truth I’ve found is that we don’t have to ignore reality anymore. Suffering and sorrow are unavoidable companions who will join us for segments of our journeys. If we ignore or repress them, they will unexpectedly sneak into situations and distract or even derail us. But, if we can muster up the courage to acknowledge them, we get to experience new depths of joy. Even if our situation hasn’t changed, our perspective is dramatically different.

Before I left for Ellisa and Cody’s wedding, I took some time to grieve a relationship that is not where I expected it to be. I also put time and forethought into how to best care for my quirky and unpredictable body on the trip, and packed a large bag of Kelly-safe food to bring along. I honored my shadows (which take shape in the form of unmet relationship expectations and my continued health struggles) and, in doing so, was released to enjoy the festivities. Sorrow and suffering were still present, but they didn’t clamor for my attention because I had already acknowledged them.

So tonight I want to offer you a challenge. What are the shadows you’ve been pushing to the fringes of your life, and how can you better acknowledge them? I can promise from recent experience that the pain of this acknowledgement is worth it. When, instead of fearing our pain we feel it, we finally get to discover the sweetness of being fully present.

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Insert Fulfillment Here

“How are you?”

“Fine,” or “Oh, you know, I’m ok,” or “I guess I’m a little up, down, and all over the place.”

These answers aren’t untrue, but they’re just vague enough to mask what’s truly going on. So let’s try this again.

“How are you?”

“I feel the ache of waiting. It’s this expansive hollowness, a vortex that gathers my contentment, and joy, and sense of purpose into this swirling mass of confusion and pain.”

What do you do when your body starts to fail you, and God responds by asking you to pray for your own healing?

Pray for healing? That feels like such a loaded request! Because what if I pray and nothing happens? Or I pray and God responds, but I can’t even tell if I’m healed because I don’t understand what’s wrong with me in the first place? Does God want to heal me of all my ailments, or just some of them? Will this healing be instantaneous, or take place over the course of the coming months or even years? Why would God heal me and not other people I love who face physical ailments far more limiting than than mine?

And then I realize that deep down I don’t question God’s sovereignty and power – I know that God is fully capable of healing me. My questions are rooted in doubting in God’s goodness.

I know God is able, but is God willing?

Then there’s the lofty promises God made me over a year ago. Yeah, there’s been growth, sure, there’s been change, but where’s the fulfillment?

There’s a song by Elevation Worship that says, “Walking around these walls/ I thought by now they’d fall,” and that’s precisely how I feel! But maybe my entitlement is showing. Because if I held up my end of the bargain then shouldn’t I get to insert fulfillment here?

But I don’t get to choose when the seasons change. 

Just like the winter has kept its grip on Oregon far longer than any of us want it to, for the time being, winter continues to maintain its hold on my life as well. Which presents me with a choice: rage against the rain or accept it. We all know which will have the better effect on my mental, emotional, and even physical health.

So why do I choose the raging? Because it’s easier. Raging is a quick fix, a bandaid I can slap on to hide an ugly, long-term problem. It makes me feel better, but in a cheap way that doesn’t last.

I just started reading a book my roommate recommended called Hinds Feet on High Places, and in the preface the author says, “But the High Places of victory and union with Christ cannot be reached by any mental reckoning of self to be dead to sin, or by seeking to devise some way or discipline by which the will can be crucified. The only way is by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continually repeated laying down of our own will and acceptance of his as it is presented to us in the form of the people with whom we have to live and work, and in the things which happen to us. Every acceptance of his will becomes an altar of sacrifice, and every such surrender and abandonment of ourselves to his will is a means of furthering us on the way to the High Places to which he desires to bring every child of his while they are still living on earth.”  Wow.

Not my will, but yours be done. Can I choose it, knowing that the choosing won’t be a one and done, but that I will have to repeatedly lay down my good yet hopelessly flawed desires and plans in order to accept the unexpected and yet wildly beautiful will of the Father?

With the encouragement of God’s faithful presence in the choosing, my answer is slowly becoming yes and amen.

Further up and further in!

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The Passage of Time

Four yeas ago, I was preparing to graduate from high school and launch into the unknown waters of what I imagined to be “adult life” but actually turned out to be a category unto itself. The time spent in undergraduate studies (when completed in the traditional manner) is truly this bizarre liminal space between the teen years and full-blown adulthood. Standing on this side of that quirky season of life, I can now say that those years were messy yet wonderful, hard yet beautiful.

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Four years ago me (oddly enough to the day) on the cusp of adventures I couldn’t yet imagine.

Three years ago, I was in Romania, having fantastic conversations with the Word Made Flesh staff, enjoying the bounties of the garden at their children’s center in Galați, having my heart broken over the poverty and suffering I encountered daily, and confirming my calling to cross-cultural ministry.

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Embracing my inner world-traveler in a Moldovan kitchen!

Two years ago, I was resting at home before embarking on my adventure to Nepal. I vividly remember the difficult wrestling I did during those weeks between school and my trip as I processed through what I can now officially claim to be my hardest semester of undergrad, struggled to come to terms with the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and grappled with my own mortality as I prepared to go.

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Here, I was tired and confused, but about to enter one of the neatest seasons of my life thus far.

Last year, I sat on the edge of a promising summer that did not deliver. There’s so much I have already said and could continue to say about the difficulties of those four months, but on some level, that season remains fresh enough that I’m still healing and coming to terms with all that transpired. However, I am beginning to see tender green shoots pushing through the dirt of what I initially perceived to be a wasteland, and if it weren’t for last summer, I would not have even noticed them, much less celebrated every inch of their progress.

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In spite of the chaos, I enjoyed some definite bright spots in my first summer in Oregon including a visit to the Portland Night Market.

And now I’m here, with a BA in History, working at a grocery store, living in a new town with new roommates, becoming acquainted with my first car, struggling with my health, weathering massive shifts in most of the relationships in my life, and having no plans beyond December. Yep. Even six months ago I couldn’t have imagined being where God has currently plopped me, but I’m discovering that this place is beautiful in its own right. Hard, so hard, but undeniably beautiful!

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I made it – in no small part due to the encouragement, support, generosity, and love of the dozens upon dozens of people who have helped me every step of the way. I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – my life is peopled with beautiful souls! 

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote quite a while ago, but never had the occasion to share.

Time
You’re never what I expect you to be.
You move forward at a consistent pace
bringing the dreaded and the longed for with equal speed.
You’re like a snare drummer,
keeping the beat with remarkable precision.
And yet, you’re unpredictable.
A short ten seconds of words can flip a life upside down
while completely altering the trajectory of innumerable days.
You’re often nonsensical,
allowing a minute of joy to pass in a flash,
and yet, letting the blissful taste of that minute to linger far longer.
You heal
and you steal,
one moment a beloved friend,
and the next a detestable enemy.
You’re needed,
and loved, at least by me,
but sometimes I don’t want you because I can’t regulate your tempo.
I know you’re a gift,
intended for my well-being,
but you often feel like a curse,
hell-bent on destroying me.
And yet,
someday you’ll be irrelevant.
But until then, I’ll surrender my metered days to the author of all time.

Frilly, Pink Tree Blossoms

Let me tell you something about the vegetation that exists where I grew up.

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My part of Eastern Washington has trees (contrary to popular belief) but they’re pine trees, which is great in the winter when they stay fresh and green, but boring in the spring when they look exactly how they’ve always looked. Because of this, moving to college was my first real encounter with flowering trees.

Now, before I moved to Western Oregon, I cognitively knew that trees flowered, but that didn’t prevent my explosion of awe and wonder when the trees I had walked past for the entire year suddenly burst into bloom.

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That first spring of college I remember that each time a new tree bloomed, I felt like I had made a terrific discovery. Walking to work at the Baldwin’s house felt like I was passing through a wonderland.

When spring rolled around my sophomore year, I was battling a bout of depression and juggling what, to this day, remains my hardest semester of college. That year I needed the flowering trees to help me remember that my tough life circumstances wouldn’t last forever, and that new growth was on its way.

Last year, I was living in the house in which I currently reside, and around the beginning of April, my housemates and I discovered that the two trees in our front yard produced these ridiculous and frilly, yet breathtakingly beautiful pink blossoms. I professed my love for these trees at every available opportunity, and spent copious amounts of time simply staring at them out my window.

This year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the blooming of my pink trees. The weather’s been colder, so they bloomed substantially later (17 days, but who’s counting) but now that they’ve burst into bloom, I know that, as always, it was well worth the wait.

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You might be wondering why I’ve taken so much space to wax poetic about a couple of trees that bloom, just as they’ve always done. Maybe it’s in part because I currently feel like a tree. I feel like I’ve spent a long season hunkered down to endure winter, working on internal growth (roots), but not having the resources and space I need to put forth creativity (blossoms). However, as I am getting ready to graduate, I feel the seasons shifting, and I sense that a season of creativity and new life is about to burst forth! The other reason is because I deeply believe in the importance of celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful. No matter how busy, tired, stressed, or emotionally drained I feel, I know that a simple glance out my window make my heart swell with joy.

In the words of my roommate, “I feel like I’m living in a fairy house” – and it doesn’t get much better than that!IMGP2677