Birthday Beauty

Picture of a "cake" made of flowers with six candles and a blue mylar balloon with the words happy birthday on it floating about the cake            Picture of a grave stone with two bouquets of flowers in front of them

This morning when I woke up, I woke up with the thought, “I wonder if I’ll ever have a (fully) happy birthday again.”

I took a breath.

Then I smiled.

I probably will never have a birthday that does not include (at least) a hint of sadness, grief, and longing.

But I have had, and will have, many fully human birthdays.

And being fully human means access to being fully joyful.

There is so much beauty and peace in the full acceptance of what is and is not.

What is for me: Being loved so fully in the first 16 years of my life that I will carry the grief of the loss of my mother for the rest of my years.

What is for me: Giving flowers now, as often as I can, to those I love, because I did not/ could not give them to my mom on my birthday when she was still alive (and she would have thought they were a waste of money then anyways).

What is for me: Deeply savoring the joys of each moment, one bite and sip, one breath and laugh, at a time.

What is for me: Profound gratitude for all of it, even when it is hard.

I have often wished for ease and I don’t now wish for more hardship (I’ve had my share for a few lifetimes), but I also know that life, in its fullness, in its authenticity, is comprised of all of the things, all of the emotions, all of the moments.

My life is a gift. One that continues to be full of and filled with love, with the best of people, with beautiful moments. I am so richly blessed.

The beauty of this birthday is the gift of reflection, my own, but also the way my life is reflected back to me through the beautiful people in it. The beauty is in the journey towards trusting myself that I’m on. The beauty is in each bountiful moment.

Choosing my Humanity

Photograph of a Japanese garden

Yesterday, I thought to myself, “What does it really mean to choose me?”

Today, on my (very long, traffic-filled) commute home, after a day of meetings and e-mails, I heard the echoes of words I had said at my last meeting of the day, words about how institutions make decisions that are dehumanizing, how they forget the well-being of the humans they ostensibly serve.

And in the remembering, it made sense to me why I am so tired. Why I have been so tired.

I am so very human.

Yet, it is so easy to forget my own humanity within a world, within systems, within situations, that feel so inherently dehumanizing.

I adapt. I always try to make a situation better. So, I throw all my humanity into systems that are not set up to be humane, but are, in fact, set up in ways that steal the humanity of those who are most human, and then toss them to the side for the next expendable body.

But I do not have to choose this.

I can choose my humanity.

This is not a natural choice for me, so I am sure this will be tiring in its own way until it becomes more natural.

But humanity is natural for me, and I find my balance when I am aligned with my own humanity.

It clicks.

It makes sense.

The space opens up.

I feel like I can breathe again.

It is complicated to choose my humanity, but humanity is complicated. It is messy and filled with emotions, particularly for those who are deeply connected with humanity, our own and that of others.

It is exhausting to stand for humanity in the face of so much dehumanization.

But I can choose rest too.

While choosing my humanity, while choosing to stand for humanity, is complicated, it is also simple, in some ways. It is clear.

It clicks.

It makes sense.

The space opens up.

I feel like I can breathe again.

It is sweet to breathe.

It is lovely to have enough energy to write from my heart.

It is good to feel connected to my heart again.

I have missed myself.

But I have been here all the time.


I know, because life goes in cycles, that inevitably, I will run away from my humanity again. That I may well feel disconnected from myself, and lost, trying to find myself in the love of others, in the external affirmation that used to anchor my worth in works.

I forgive myself in advance.

I also know that I can find my way home. I can find my way back. I can find a way to my body, to my breath, to my heart. I can trust myself.

I am learning to trust myself.

I will crawl blindly until I learn to walk until I can run back to myself.

I know it will click.

I know it will make sense.

The space will open up.

I will breathe again.

Like I am breathing now.

If I just remember that…

I am home.


Photograph of a parking lot, with seven police car lined up around the perimeter of the lot

It’s been a long day.

This morning, I was attending a Presbytery meeting at a church about 20 minutes from my home. (For those who are not Presbyterian, a Presbytery is like a local regional governing body of churches in the same area. For educators, it is akin to a school district.) Anyways, we were finishing up a beautiful worship service which centered youth who had recently returned from a retreat and the importance of diversity & love across our differences, when the pastor of the church, who had been scheduled to lead the prayers of the people, came to the front.

She was clearly flustered, but in as calm a voice as possible, apologized and said that we were in a lockdown situation, that there were active shooters (later renamed “armed suspects” for greater accuracy) who had fled from the Big Lots across the street into the church parking lot and were somewhere on the campus of the church or in the adjacent plaza. We were safest remaining in the sanctuary, and we couldn’t leave the building, but otherwise we could carry on. She took a moment to center herself and us and brought us together in prayer.

We were on lockdown for 2.5 hours in the sanctuary. The youth, who had come just for the worship service (which had nearly ended) had to stay through the entire business portion of the day, but we pretty much just carried on with the meeting, in the sanctuary. And then, as the meeting ended, as an alternate plan to get us lunch through the back access road had been devised, the two suspects were taken into custody and we were eventually allowed to leave.

It was strange to me the way it all just continued, business as usual, in what were not usual circumstances. But I suppose this is not so unusual either. It was not my first lockdown. I’ve been locked down in my office on campus. I’ve been locked down in my classroom when I taught middle school more than once. Close family and not-as-close (but not-so-far) friends have been involved in mass shootings.

I am so tired.

I am tired from today and I am tired from this week and the week before, and this year and the years before. I am tired of carrying so much when some around me carry so little and make light of things that will leave me tired for hours, and days, and weeks. I am tired of the reality that caring means carrying, that a capacity to hold space means a responsibility to hold so much.

After we were free to go, I came home and took a nap.

Then I brought my sister paperwork she needs to bring to her mother to take care of our father’s estate. Our father. A year ago on his birthday (which was two days ago, 9/22/21) would be the last time we would talk. In a week, it will be the one year anniversary of his death. He died someone I barely knew, but by all accounts, perhaps I am fortunate in that.

I did not tell my sister about the lockdown. But being on lockdown and my sister returning to see her mother reminded me of a time less than 18 months ago when she too was unable to leave her home, with imminent danger on the streets outside, laying with her mother on the ground, to avoid being seen and shot by the military in their neighborhood.

Then I took my 7-year old to our normal church service. I did not tell my children about the lockdown. We went to church like it was a normal Saturday. I sang. Those of us in the lockdown didn’t NOT talk about it, but it sits with each of us differently. For me, it is a weight.

I am tired.

My birthday is in 5 days. The anniversary of my father’s death is in a week. My sister’s birthday is in 12 days. I am grateful that my sister will get to spend all of these days rejoined with her mother again.

I miss my mother most around important days for me: my birthday, my children’s birthdays, her birthday, Mother’s Day. So I am carrying that, and the grief is heavy on the days when I “should be” happiest.

I am tired.

I have a life that keeps moving. October is a busy month. I travel twice, give a talk, preside over a conference, lead a department that has two faculty searches happening.

I am tired.

This is perhaps not such a coherent piece of writing. But since there is much I cannot say to those around me, it is what is here for me right now. I covet your thoughts & prayers, your warm embraces (if you are close), your joy, cute animal pics, delicious food recommendations.

I am grateful for the community of you that love me. It is a hard time. I am tired. The days are long. I hold all these things simultaneously. I know that community is stronger than all of the hardest times. But, I am tired, and humbly need to be held up by those of you that care.

Holding on to Beauty, Holding on to Humanity

Photograph of a bouquet of flowers including yellow sunflowers, pink/lavender roses and assorted wildflowers

I’ve been bringing flowers into the office the last few weeks.

It’s my reminder that beauty exists in the present, in the moments in between, in spaces that can sometimes seem empty and cold otherwise.

It is my reminder that the spark of light in me exists even when I am not moving, even when I have spent so much time hiding behind the screen of my computer that the motion detector turns off the lights, and I am forced to wave my hands to signal that I am still here. I am still here. The spark is still here.

I have been thinking a lot about humanity as I’ve transitioned to my new role as Department Chair, and as I prepare my dossier to be evaluated for full professor. I think a lot about the humanity in this blog which has catalogued my academic journey since it began. I think about when and how I make space for myself, to write, to reflect, to grow…and also, about when and how I make space for myself, to pause, to be still, to be human.

Lately, it has been hard to make time for my humanity. The nature of my new position is one of doing, reacting and responding. My days are full with administrative duties that leave little time or energy for the work of my heart and the quiet moments of reflection and deep thought that are the fertile ground for writing. I am good at what I do, and aside from Mondays when commutes are hard and e-mail queues feel impossible to clear, I like it. But I know it’s easy to compartmentalize, to lose my most human self, to become disconnected in the doing instead of present to my being.

In all of this, I remain grateful for beauty, for community, and for growth. This week, I got to talk with multiple friends who could hear I wasn’t there, and instead of turning the lights off on me, they called me into myself. They made space for whatever self was there, present or absent, and also reminded me that my best self was waiting patiently when I was ready. They reminded me that the parts of me that seem so far away (in the past or in the future) are all actually here in this moment, for me to choose, if I can embrace myself, if I can embrace hope, if I can pause to listen. They reminded me that they are here for me, even if and when I can’t be here myself.

There is a lot to hold in these moments, a lot of urgency around me, but in the midst of all of the things, there is still humanity, there is still beauty, there is still community, and I am working to hold onto these things, as a quiet means of resistance and revolution.