Cracked and Broken

Cracked and Broken

I wait.

For what I know is coming – Relief.

In the form of a kind word

In the form of grace and forgiveness for being inconsistent.

In the form of a sunset showing off her colors.

In the form of a country where everyone with different shades of skin can drive down the street without fear or hyper-vigilance.

In the hope that over time the cracks are smaller –

the brokenness more connected to other humans

Waiting in the desert

For His Reign

Copyright: dr.kimber 2021

I Am Racist

For six weeks this summer a group of us on Wednesday night, at the invitation of our mutual friend, Ana, zoomed together and discussed, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. Our last night together, one member, Jess, told us her greatest takeaway, “After reading this book I’ve come to one conclusion,” enter a pause like a seasoned actor, “I’m racist.” After a collective hesitation, (or was it a gasp?), all of us half-raised our hands or nodded as if trying on this confession for the first time. Upon hearing the appreciation of our fearless leader, Ana, who proclaimed, “My job is finished.” We tried it on with more vigor and acceptance using our voices, “Yes! I’m a racist” think popcorn prayer style, until if felt just right. I’m grateful for Jess and her confession because her vulnerability helped me accept my own brokenness and here in this place, I found great relief replacing a unconscious guilt that I hadn’t been fully aware of nor did I want since my fellow Black friends and influencers let me know guilt does nothing to change a system that’s begun with genocide and slavery.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t find relief that I’m a racist. In fact, I’m deeply burdened by this reality and hope I won’t lose friends over my brokenness. But what’s become the most figural in this confession is that I do indeed need the Holy Spirit, along with friends, revealing to me all the ways this is true. My confession has paradoxically lightened my personal burden of sin at the same time it’s created a need for redeeming what I’ve been a part of breaking. Here’s how our psyche is created, when I don’t take responsibility for a problem, I will find thousands of ways to make it someone else’s or blame those most impacted by it.

The thing is, it’s humanly impossible for me, for us, not to be racist according to our neurobiology. (This declaration does not give us permission to do nothing about it.) We are all created with a mechanism in our brains that determines a me versus them simplification and as a result, we as a nation and more specifically, our collective mainstream, White Christian theology has created a great divide of believer and non-believer. If science can’t convince you – division is part of Jesus’ and Paul’s message – “No Jew or Gentile” – Jesus claimed the power and status found in the Kingdom of God in direct opposition of human ideas of power and status. We are asked to do likewise – eliminate our “us-ness” with self-awareness which can then turn into confession followed up with a dependency on the Holy Spirit. I think Father Boyle right-sizes the way to look at healing. He says, “You don’t go to the margins to bring the marginalized into the fold. Rather you go to the margins (those suffering under oppression) to join them…and stand in awe over what the poor [suffering/traumatized, etc.] have had to bear rather than criticizing them over how they are carrying it.” Here’s what I’ve found, when I put my own racism front and center, I lose tone policing. I lose judgment over how the protests should or shouldn’t be done or how rightful rage should or shouldn’t be expressed. I lose the temptation to make someone else or a community all bad and myself — all good (or in the right).

As John Lewis so observantly stated, “We all live in the same house.” The house of God is supposed to be one that is a light in darkness, a love that has no bounds, a transformation that can only come from a relational God yet this is not what the American church looks like. There has been a long history of looking after it’s own interests, hating certain people groups, discounting other religions, and putting their own suffering above others (like the hostility toward Christianity which has been a direct result of it’s failure to protect equality for all). Yet in scripture, Jesus didn’t humanize and protect people AFTER they believed in his gospel. Jesus humanized and protected regardless of their belief in Him. In fact in the last day of his life, as He lay tortured and beaten, He proclaimed in Luke’s gospel, “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

I’m learning. If I could redo a conversation a couple months ago it would say, “You’re right,” when my Black neighbor said, “Well the good of these protests is that maybe you can be more aware of what’s going on.” Instead, I tried to reassure him I’ve been trying to do things like writing letters to local officials.

In part, I’m publicly declaring my own racism because I found acceptance from both Black and Brown friends alike who have given me forgiveness while they’ve shown me their wounds that I played a part in afflicting. I’m grateful that in their own way, they have made those proclamations, “Father forgive her for she doesn’t know what she’s doing” and continued their friendship with me, knowing my racism will never be healed, the consequences can only be lessened.

So I end with how I began – I’m a racist and I’m so sorry. I want to do better (I realize my lack of better has cost lives, not only physical, but also immaterial where Black and Brown trauma has robbed someone of a thriving and full existence). I genuinely want you to thrive and not be burdened by racism. May my confession give permission to others, just like Jess’s confession did for me, to own your racism so that you can heal a very broken nation that was founded on genocide, slavery and equality for White Male property owners. More importantly, may your confession bring with it a spiritual healing both individually and collectively. I have a vision that someday our National Day of Prayer will offer equality for all religions because at Jesus’ table, he welcomed everyone, especially the oppressed and marginalized.

All photos taken in southern Utah at a photography workshop with Stephen Matera, (@stephen_matera) whose photography work continues to bless me and provide a momentary respite from my urban living.

A Seat at the Table

Pantheon, Rome

I wrote parts of this post two years ago after visiting Rome and having a profound spiritual experience. For matters I didn’t fully understand other than it felt too vulnerable, I never posted it. Last week I picked it back up to include the present stirrings in my heart around the church’s broad response to Covid-19, which ranges from suing states (ex. here in California), continuing to ignore social distancing mandates by gathering (just google that one), or conversely, actually following the Biblical scripture which very specifically says to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1-2) and encouraging their congregations to do the same. But, I hadn’t pushed the publish button because if I’m honest, I’ve been too angry at the first two responses of Christians so my words felt similar to Jesus’s communication after throwing over the tables when the Pharisees misused the temple for their own monetary gains, which doesn’t capture what I’ve wanted to invite – which is loving your neighbor. This approach shifted after attending yesterday’s online church which affirmed to me the calling of my heart. To paraphrase the words of Pastor Daniel Long, “what if during this pandemic we are being called into love – more deeply loving the world and our neighbor.” And then both he and our good friend, Steve Porter, quoted a favorite poem, “Pry Me off Dead Center” by Ted Loder in different recorded parts of the session without knowing it. And, as if that wasn’t confirmation enough that I needed to move forward and publish this post, my mentor, Beth Brokaw, who was always, and I mean always, telling me to blog more, spoke to me from heaven as we ended the service with “Bless the Lord,” her life theme song after she navigated a stage four breast cancer diagnosis before dying six years ago this June. So here it goes…

Rome was the last place on earth I, or anyone else who really knows me, would’ve expected me to feel at home. We arrived via train from Florence (which we loved – who doesn’t?) mid afternoon without having much of an idea where to go. Like any unprepared American, we made our way through the thick zig zagging crowds to the desk with the universal ? mark in orange, or maybe red, at the main platform and in our broken Italian, asked if anyone spoke English. Not really though with perseverance on all our parts, we got answers. As we turned to leave, the gentlemen came around the desk and proceeded to tell us all the ways we needed to protect our 10-year-old blonde, blue-eyed son from kidnappers on the subways/buses. He play-acted – moving our bodies this way and that to show us exactly what we needed to do – keep ourselves between the door and our son. He apologized while delivering the information but stated in his broken English, “You need to know this. Keep him safe.” I hadn’t realized how unsafe I felt until my body, taking now a deep breath, relaxed because he’d offered me information that equipped me to actually keep my son safe. I was a stranger. Him – a generous man offering his time and knowledge.

When in Rome…Draw

And so we were ushered in to Rome. Over the next two days, God showed up in unlikely ways – two unexpected meetings on two different days with our daughter with whom we’d had no contact with her or her choir tour and randomly saw her – not once but twice. Unexplainable and probability of it happening randomly – infinite, especially given it was St. Peter’s Day – the second largest visitation weekend of the year in Rome. But that’s a story for another day.

Unexpected Visit at Catacombs Outside the City Walls

The spirituality in Rome is indescribable to someone who really doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I was only there for four days but my tour guides and their knowledge of history and their way of being with others, along with their commitment to leave no proverbial footprint on the earth was inspiring. There wasn’t an ounce of impatience over “those tourists” though the crowds were thick. I felt joy from them over getting to educate about their heritage. Rome has survived whether rich or poor. It felt to me there wasn’t a division between believing and unbelieving, religious or pagan. Maybe it was the awe felt by the places of worship like the Vatican, the Pantheon, and other less known churches. It was more about my own experience of being in the place Paul walked and if I’d been alone in different parts of the city I would’ve wept – for the persecution of Christians, for the poverty over centuries, for the broken humanity that’s lived in this very ancient city, for Paul’s journey in Rome, for the early church and their acts of obedience, for many things that seemed to be so deeply grounded here and couldn’t be ignored. For example, when I looked at the Colosseum, I couldn’t ignore that Christians and other victims were killed by the thousands for entertainment. And the ancient awe of a city with real centuries of roots, left me both wordless and sickened because we’ve robbed our Native Americans from such an experience of the land our colonists took from them. Centuries of life between them and their land before our European take-over – destroyed by our ideas of progress. I’d say they’re waiting for the richness to arrive again. And if God is a lover of anyone, it’s the poor. My longing is that they may once again have a seat at the table in America, while I’m alive to witness it.

But I digress – Rome. Other highlights: gelato – in a cone, wine at any meal, “everyone’s welcome here” embodied throughout in the people. While eating near the Vatican, my husband mentioned his grandmother’s family is from Naples. Given his Italian looks I imagine his words were believable because the chef, the actual chef, delivered to us a free dish shouting as Italians do, for your Italian grandmother! Of course, not everything was roses – we had rude taxi drivers who pretended not to know where major museums were because it was a short ride or eye rolls from locals when we failed to weigh food properly. But I’ve learned to hold complexity -to not be disgusted by the utter beauty of the Vatican because of the very real abuse, that’s destroyed lives and continues to do so, in the Catholic Church. To know it’s complicated -not the abuse, there’s nothing complicated about that but to know its a broken system with broken humans running it and it also does an incredible job feeding the hungry, taking care of the widow, supporting those forgotten – there are approximately 8,000 homeless in Rome compared to LA County’s 15,000. Adriana, on of our tour guides, went into great details about the ways the Catholic Church supports Italians who cannot support themselves. Proof once again, that humanity needs God, needs his sanctifying power while at the same time needing real people.

If we doubt our need to hold complexity, we only need to read about John the Baptist who does nothing but serve God, even leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when a pregnant Mary was close, his death comes in the form of a ridiculous beheading – that’s some serious complexity. Yet, here in America I find many messages are far from complex – oversimplifying the work of Satan or sin without confronting individuals’s lack of sanctification or poor character in their lives. Further, church leadership (please read elders, deacons, etc. not simply the pastor) lack discipling members or confronting their own brokenness over issues such as simplifying sexuality and ignoring the massive pornography problems as well as the bashing of people with same sex attraction. Where is the love of our neighbor there? How can the church be like a light on a hill when it’s full of judgment and divisiveness. The us/ them mentality runs deep, even among denominations.

But my experience in Rome was a “everyone’s welcome. Come to the table.” Every person had a seat. I’m sure I’m romanticizing my experience but the friendliness of the people was remarkable. They embodied Jesus’s – “come as you are!” “Here – we love where you’re family’s from let us bless you!” “You have no shoes – come in anyways!” I didn’t experience an underbelly of pride, which can give from a superior place and dismiss anything the receiver has to give. In Rome, I never felt I needed to be more Italian than I was – which is zero percent. I haven’t an ounce of Italian in me and I speak it horribly, but enthusiastically to the embarrassment of my children. Yet, not once did I feel unwelcome or as if I couldn’t contribute to a story or an experience. (the trick – gesture bigger and talk even louder.) It reminded me of the prostitute wiping Jesus’ feet with her perfume and while his host wanted to whisk her away, he received her – he embraced what she gave him and commented to Simon about what a gift it was to receive. I think we can read his words, “you are forgiven” with a superior tone but what if he, like the Italians, gave forgiveness like the free dish from a place of receiving her love (us offering our heritage) and offering her his love through forgiveness. What if there was an equality relationally in the giver and the receiver as they move interchangeably in the beautiful act of washing feet.

With covid-19 devastating the world but especially Italy, I weep for them and their current circumstances. I pray for their people, knowing they have deep wells of resilience. I pray for us here in the US, too. That we would find a way back to the Last Supper – where Jesus loved and commanded us to love one another. A time where there was a seat at the table regardless of race, class, sexual preference or occupation. May we find something we’ve lost as a community – not only the love for our neighbor but also the need for our neighbor. God did not create us to live apart from our community – it wasn’t what he modeled in Christ incarnate nor in the early church. Rather, we can find our answers to our dependence on God through the material, recognizing He can show up in as an ass, a burning bush, or a prostitute. May we who have been invited to love as He has loved us, make a seat for everyone. Though to be clear – in the time of covid-19 this means sending money to food banks, delivering a meal to a neighbor using sanitation precautions, giving gift cards, or ordering food from local restaurants – whatever is needed to make sure everyone has a seat at the proverbial table.

May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and courage to see our own ability to host a table or come sit the table – you being simply you. Finally, I trust that someone needs to read this – whoever you are – God sees you.

To Beth – I hear you. Your legacy lives on. And now, I’ll push the publish button. To Rome – I’ll be back and I’m bringing friends.

Christianity and Covid-19

These are unprecedented times. Two weeks ago, I received the news that a dear friend in her 60s almost positively had the virus according to her doctor. We waited with prayers hourly that she would make it until day 10 without hospitalization. Gratefully, she started feeling better around day 12. However, very soon after that, a classmate of my son’s mother was hospitalized with the covid-19 virus. Gratefully, she was released yesterday. The next day we heard from my sister-in-law who had been tested and was awaiting results due to horrible symptoms. As we were waiting for results, a high school friend posted she most likely had symptoms but couldn’t get tested and is navigating extreme pain – please pray. Luckily, results for my sister-in-law came back negative by late afternoon. All this, and I live outside of an epicenter thus far.

Then there is the news out of Florida and Georgia – and even in my city – of churches, in the name of Jesus continuing to congregate and praise God, together on Sunday mornings. As a fellow follower of Jesus, I struggle (and in the name of holding complexity I will use the word struggle rather than anything more divisive) to understand how it is faith rather than a shallow understanding of scripture that has anything to do with their actions of congregating during a pandemic.

We know that covid-19 can be deadly and have long term health consequences. We know that Thursday 1,000 people died in the U.S. What gets less press but has definitely been said, is the long journey of recovery for those who have been hospitalized, which in my area is a large number of the confirmed cases since only those whose medical treatment is dictated by the diagnosis as well as first responders or health care professionals are getting tested. See here – We also know that large groups and congregating is an almost foolproof way of spreading the virus. It is spreading for days before people develop symptoms. Of the asymptomatic people who test positive 75% of them will develop symptoms within 2 weeks (WHO press brief 4/2/20). One cannot tell who has it and who doesn’t early on. The anecdotal research coming out of Seattle now believes the spread of their epicenter outbreak was largely by asymptomatic people. See here- This is not an older person disease in terms of lasting consequences – 40% of all hospitalized by Wednesday were under 55 and 20% were between 20 and 44. From the CDC, 1 in 5 deaths are middle-aged.

To be completely transparent, I hold an undergraduate minor in Biblical Studies and completed graduate courses in Biblical Studies as a part of my doctoral clinical psychology program at Biola University. I do not have a M.Div. or a Master’s degree in theology. However, I’ve been studying scripture since my teens. From the words of Jesus, the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How is congregating to praise God showing love to your neighbor? This is the neighbor who you might kill because in a moment of helpfulness you unknowingly transmit the disease when you offer to get her groceries and she unknowingly forgets to wash them off before bringing them into her home. Especially, and I emphasize especially, if you don’t recognize your own humanity and see yourself as invulnerable to getting the virus.

The last time I checked, no Christian here on earth is God. No Christian is without a humanly body and therefore embodies the same vulnerabilities of every human being which includes sickness, mental fallibilities, and perceptual truths – not absolute truths which are for God alone. Even when I search the scripture for validations for this type of careless and reckless behavior I come up with none. Mary and Joseph chose not to return to Nazareth out of protection for Jesus. They GAVE UP EVERYTHING for awhile for Jesus’ protection and went to Egypt. His disciples all had very hard lives according to historical accounts -God didn’t spare them from injustice even though they were his friends. I look to the Old Testament and even there the best example I see is that even King David, the man declared after God’s own heart, hid in the hills when his sons were trying to kill and dethrone him. Did he lack faith to hide? Did he lack faith to not boldly taunt his sons by praising God outwardly in the open boasting, “Here I am sons come and get me.” He did no such thing. Instead, he lamented. He cried out the injustices to God. He cried out for relief. Ought not this be our “faith response” in a time such as this? Isn’t this how we show our faith while loving our neighbor?

I have a list I’ve started of people and communities I pray for each day – M. Chris’s Mom, Bri, New York City, New Jersey, Seattle, Chicago, Long Beach, LA County, Robin, K – my list keeps getting longer as more people reach out for support after discovering sickness has entered their lungs. I cry out to God for mercy and help. I lament – all the athletes who have been training for years whose season has been wiped out, performers who can’t perform, unemployed – all those now wondering where their food, car expenses, etc. will come from. Shouldn’t we be raising our voices in solidarity that we will sacrifice gathering in groups for the betterment of our neighbor because we serve a God who has created all creatures in His image -whatever their beliefs (or not), whatever their sexual attraction, whatever their socioeconomic status? All around the world His generosity is made known by His people. To have the belief that congregating is standing in the face of Satan, is to have an extremely small view of God. Please – you’re only human. Isn’t it about time that all the congregations of the world sacrifice for our neighbor so that we might show love. Staying home, knowing you are vulnerable to the virus and could be an asymptomatic carrier is living a life right-sided – acknowledging you are only human and God -master of the universe isn’t some narcissistic being who needs masses gathered in his name. After all, he came, incarnate to this earth as an infant born in a manager to a family with humble means. Stay home, Christian, and let your faith shine through actions which protect those who are vulnerable, which is all of us.

Florence, Italy

May you join me in the practice of prayer, lament and praise (online) for His Kingdom to come and His will be done. May we be right-sized as humble servants rather than boldly proclaiming praise by congregating together in person to a God who hasn’t taken away sickness nor death from this world.

With Weariness

The current wave of human shortcomings and character flaws found in the news these last couple months have left me pummeled like the time I was on Oahu at some beach innocently talking to my friend when a wave came from behind and threw me into the sand. I was scratched for days by the grit left in hard to reach places, undetected until a long hike or bike ride.

Amazon fires, binary positions about climate change, and the US military strike killing innocent farmers in Afghanistan. And then this week – Moreno Valley. Oh that smiling face. I do not know him but he could be mine. He might some day be mine. The lives of these middle school children, let me repeat – children, forever changed. One’s breath to never breathe again except through another body (organ donation) and at least two 13 year olds whose families I imagine are devastated (at least that would be the appropriate response) for the sin of their son’s fists and what these boys will live with for the rest of their lives.

The hate and greed in the world today is nothing new. In fact, one doesn’t need to look too deep into history to realize the atrocities human beings can do to one another. Think Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, King Leopold in the Congo, Hitler, Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, Cortes in modern day Mexico, Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson to name a few that come to mind. Over the last eighteen months I’ve read some the excellent books that drive home these aspects of the human condition. Non-fiction accounts: Evicted by Matthew Desmond; King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild; When A Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman. Fiction accounts: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly; Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and the classic by Wilma Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, which touches on the ugly cost to Native American’s of pioneering settlements. There are obviously many more but these are the ones that have been in my hands recently.

Oh how we need to be transformed by something greater than ourselves.

When my heart cries out, sometimes putting pen to paper helps reorient me back to the realities of this world. The following was inspired this week by St. Teresa of Avila “bookmark” prayer.

Let human being’s decisions disturb you.

Let your heart cry out from injustices.

With people, your heart will break again and again.

God alone is unchanging, perfect.

With Him, unity and communion with the earth and all people is possible.

Whoever has God is complete.

God alone avenges the weak and helpless.

–Kimber Del Valle

Good Friday

Good Friday.  It’s a day I’d rather ignore.  Too uncomfortable and sobering, especially the Good Friday service where year after year I’m unable to leave with dry eyes.  However what feels different about this year is I’ve been sitting in a bit of a Good Friday since January 6th when my friend, Danielle, passed away leaving her three children and husband (and all of us who loved her) to move through life without her.  I’m reminded in this moment that even though I knew her body would feel better, she wouldn’t be suffering, and she would be going to be with her Heavenly Father, in those last moments, I didn’t want her to leave.  I didn’t want her breath to slow until it was no longer.  I didn’t want to lose this three dimensional self – that could be hugged, touched, kissed.  And yet, just like Jesus, she breathed her last breath surrounded by people who loved and knew her.

In past years, I’ve been wrapped up in the excruciating pain and humiliation of Jesus’ Good Friday experience.  I’ve related to his cry, “Take this cup from me, Lord,” especially sitting with so many who’ve suffered tremendously.  But this year, I find myself at the bottom of the cross – feeling abandoned and disappointed.

My thoughts go something like, “This is all you got?  Hanging from a tree, crucified? Where is your promise?  Where is your victory?  You were supposed to raise our status – take us out of oppressive Roman rules and culture.  Instead, you’re dead on a cross.  Hanging.  Lifeless.  What use were you?  Why did you even come – raising our hopes, drawing us into your compassion, your healing power, your promise that God was your Father?  We were fine without you, 32 years ago.  We were managing.  Now, deflated.  Full of despair and hurt.  You’ve abandoned me, all of us really.  Was I crazy to believe in you?  Was I crazy to believe your promises that God’s Kingdom was being made new?  That God was a kind and loving master? That you would free us from Roman oppression.   We are at their mercy, not yours.”

If I were there now, beneath Jesus, I may walk away in disgust.  I’m not sure I would have lasted to see his body wrapped and put into a tomb.  I might have missed Jesus’ own feelings of abandonment, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  I know this to be true, my sorrow would have been laced with disappointment.

With Danielle’s journey of cancer, we hoped for time, for even just one successful treatment but we were given none of it – only one brief respite with markers falling before they stormed back a month later worse than before.  During her fight against cancer with failed treatment after failed treatment, I found comfort studying the life of John the Baptist, who spent his whole life serving God only to be beheaded because a girl requested it.  Then there was Herod’s violence against the sons born within the window he’d suspected Jesus was born – thousands died because Herod was afraid for his status as King.  I’m left with questions: What kind of God brings this type of violence to innocent people and individuals who love Him and spend their whole lives serving Him?  My conclusion for today is that He is a God who isn’t as simpleminded as I am. In other words, I can’t even come close to having a mind like God.  I cannot reconcile His ways.

In truth, I don’t want to rush to Easter.  I don’t care Jesus rose from the dead in the moments of my Good Friday experiences, just like those who live in Good Friday due to the suffering of this world, helpless to know the day when they will emerge to Easter.  And for some, it will never come here on Earth.  Good Friday happens over and over as grief washes over parents who’ve lost children, husbands their wives and wives their husbands, and most disheartening, young children their mothers or fathers.  I think of the refugees who have no place to rest their head, the foster children who endure feeling unwanted in a system bound to fail them, the sexual minority persecuted by the church commanded to love their neighbor as themselves, the environment groaning from overuse, pollution, and neglect and the list of atrocities encountered in human and environmental life goes on and on.  In Good Friday moments we all feel the despair, the abandonment, the lack of response to our cries for relief.  In these moments, I don’t care that I will see my friends, family members – my son, in heaven.  I’m still living here – with my feelings of abandonment, betrayal, even disbelief over what “God has allowed?”

Where does my hope come from, here at the base of the cross?  I’ve learned it does come from Yahweh.  He showed His presence to all those people scoffing, grieving, and feeling abandoned or disappointed at the foot of the cross in earth’s momentary darkness, the ripping of the temple veil, the ground shaking and the rocks splitting open.  I believe in a God who holds complexity in mind-blowing ways.  I believe in a God who can from one perspective, abandon, yet show up.  Who can give, yet take away.  Who can heal, yet allow death and physical pain.  Who can convert, yet allow executions.  Who can adopt, yet allow neglect and abuse.

I believe I serve a God who doesn’t ask me to put away my Good Friday feelings – to pretend Easter has arrived prematurely.  Yet, I believe that God asks me to remember His promises, including He will never leave me nor forsake me, that He’s making all things new, that Palm Sunday happened as He foretold it, and that Easter, though unsatisfying to my earthly self who, had I known Jesus, would miss him tremendously and wouldn’t care about the Holy Spirit coming because I’d want Him – his person, gives me hope in the unseen.  And it is in this space – holding onto Hope, while feeling abandoned and disappointed that I sit at the foot of the cross acknowledging something much, much greater than myself.

To God be the Glory.

Avon 39 – Breast Cancer Walk

Someone asked me recently, what led me to walk the Avon 39?  My answer: It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for many years, when my friend and mentor, Beth Brokaw’s cancer came out of remission and catapulted her into living with stage 4 cancer, miraculously, for 15 years.

So, I signed up this year after hearing a friend was diagnosed with stage 3 in November, which very quickly became stage 4.  In my complete helpless feelings for this friend, Danielle, and her family, immediate and extended, whom I’m very connected with (very is the descriptor that gets placed after one spends Thanksgiving together at her mom’s house so very long ago, you’ve known family members for 20 years, and we’ve moved through pre-children to growing children), I hoped to at least DO something that kept her not just on my mind mentally, prayerfully, but also reminded me of the suffering she’s enduring every day.  I wanted to join her momentarily in this suffering space with something that would take everything I had.  It feels a bit silly – after all what can my suffering do to alleviate hers?  Nothing.  However, on an emotional and spiritual level, it brought me face to face with limitations, helplessness, the need for community and cheers of encouragement as well as facing vulnerability head on.  In this way, I walked in Danielle’s shoes with new understanding of her needs through my suffering experience.  Which I recognize as very limiting because the reality is I know only of momentary life-threatening anxiety, when I got held at gunpoint in my garage in 2000, I’m not having to contain and hold it as she does on a daily basis -living with unknown in the tension of fear and hope.  My own suffering started several weeks before the race after an 18-mile practice walk.  I developed deep, deep blisters on the balls of my feet.  They hadn’t recovered by the time I walked so I spent many hours researching how to take care of them, which turned into experimenting with what works (process included shoes, socks, and blister products).  As sometimes God does with timing, Danielle’s feet also became painful, a side effect of her chemotherapy, so I trained and hurt,then trained and hurt, which gave me hours to pray for her as well as experience a glimpse of her pain, how much time and space research can take (after all there are lots of opinions on best socks, shoes, best blister practices as there are lots of cancer treatment ideas and options) – at time it felt like i was on my own with loads of information but no idea of how to decipher what information applied to me or how it applied.

Even though I had a desire to do the Avon 39 walk, what really made me follow through with actually signing up for the event were these partners in crime….I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful team of friends and former workout partners – Jansen, Kathy and Seungee (from left to right in picture).

Here’s a recap of our time…

We look nice and fresh here…all full of smiles.  Ignorant smiles.Acquainting ourselves with our event sleeping arrangements…All smiles at 5:30 am.

1600 walkers

From the start, we had people cheering for us along the way.  People coming out of their houses, others going from section to section – singing, handing out red licorice, water, wet towels, and amazing otter pops, which none of us had eaten for decades (or at least didn’t admit to eating them for decades)!  Some of our favorite “cheerleaders” were a couple of guys who held up hilarious signs at different locations around the route.  For example, at around mile 5 or 6, one sign said “You are NOT almost there.”

We made it 1/3 of the way.  Lunch time!  Group stop for me to fix my blister – mile 19.  Thank goodness for my glacier gels and Seungee’s foot corn pads which were thicker than my moleskin.  From this picture – you cannot tell the steepness.  However, this hill and then when we went back down the other side was part of a mile long route…it was so steep my GPS only calculated 1/2 mile.  This was at MILE 24!!!!!  WHAT?  WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS?  We have no idea but someone must have been smiling.  Us – we just kept on keeping on, one foot after another.Yup!  We did it.  What didn’t get counted was then needing to walk down some smaller hills to hit the showers at the polo club.  We were disappointed they didn’t have horse carriages as transportation.Thank goodness, Kathy gave us wax earplugs!  Teamwork continues.Ready for round 2 — 13.1 miles.  We were grateful we’d participated in foam rolling, foot massagers and for some of us, an actual 10 minute massage.We needed these guys (and gals) to get us through!!  They stopped traffic, gave us encouragement and were full of energy!  Each had personality and brought their ‘A’ game.It wasn’t easy to get up on day two knowing we had 13 miles to go after already walked 26.2 but recognizing our pain was temporary moved us from self-pity to one foot in front of the other with hope and determination, the same character traits needed for cancer fighters.

With that said, the second day was grueling.  It was hotter.  We were sore.  Our quads were crying out for us to stop and our feet were protesting.  We were grateful for Jan’s suggestion for compression socks because they helped keep the cramping away.  There was so much discomfort it’s hard to describe.  One of our inspirational figures, who was walking about our pace was a Chicago fireman who wore his uniform (heavy!) while pushing his mother in a wheelchair for 39 miles. He walked because he’d been an absent son and had abandoned his mother during some of her breast cancer treatment.  Spending time with her walking was part of his redemption.  He’d walked 4 events when we saw him. His story can be found on Facebook, walking4ma.

We were greeted by so many people along the way.  With some, their sorrow could be felt, especially in the eyes of the children, and for others, they showed up to encourage us with their sense of humor with their comments like , “when else can I chase girls for two days and not get arrested,” and their signs like, “you think your legs are hurting, my arms are killing me” (from holding the sign), “Go total strangers go” “worst parade yet,” “where’s the floats?”

Our LB hats brought us lots of love.  We were proud to represent our city along with the other women we met from the LB.  We were supported all along the way at every turn and we met some beautiful people – one woman had raised over 4 million dollars in her lifetime of walks, another had walked in 141 events.

After the event, my feet had two blisters on them…a new one from the day that I had once again treated with foot corn pads and gel as soon as I felt it (wasn’t soon enough) and the first blister at mile 19, even though drained by the medical team at the end of day 1 (26.2 miles), decided to reappear again on day 2.  My battle wounds– This is the day one blister a week out….still healing.One thing that was reinforced from this walk is I desperately need community coming alongside and cheering when the going gets tough – gets life and death tough.  I’m not sure I can imagine finishing this event without the massive support we received.  Their were so many levels of support from the traffic people, to the rest stops, to the water stops, to the bathroom stops, etc.  Even the pink arrows and mile markers, were so helpful because we could break up our race in small chunks, telling ourselves, just get to the next marker.  One mile at a time.  I think it is the same when navigating extremely painful things – it’s about getting through ________ before worrying about what’s next.  And it’s when we can’t get through ____________(fill in the blank) then we must have people in our space so we can get through it.

What I loved about suffering together, is that I grew to enjoy the small things about each one of my team members.  Jan, she’s steady and loyal.  She’s going to get done what needs to get done and she’ll bring you with her.  She’s going to own her pain and support you through yours.  Kathy, is engaging and observant.  She keeps on keeping on, able to both receive and give in her suffering – coming up with that funny quip or observation at just the right time.  She’s up for anything.  Seungee is our social member – full of energy and encouragement.  She had no qualms about engaging the people around us, asking about the names on their shirts or the money they raised.  She knew what was up through her information gathering techniques and helped us keep up the news.  As a team, we raised our hands “woohoo” as cars beeped at us or people cheered – engaging with others – letting them know we received their encouragement and shouts.  We encouraged one another whether it was to make it to the next mile or to fix the problems flaring on our feet. It was a lovely adventure.  One I’m trying to talk them into repeating – only this time the 60 mile walk.  Just kidding, LBC Girls who may be reading this. 😉

For everyone who contributed to our walk, i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Our LBC Girls team raised $8375 to go to breast cancer research and access to screenings and treatment to underserved populations.  The 1600 walkers who participated in the weekend raised 4.1 million by Saturday morning and more donations were expected.

Thanks for walking with me, with us, through your interest, donations, thoughts and prayers.  We received them.  If you didn’t know we were walking, lift up a family you know facing cancer.  They need you with them in their fight against cancer.  They can’t do it without you.  You’re important.  Don’t underestimate your value as family, a friend, a church member, a co-worker, a neighbor, or someone standing in the grocery store line (Jansen).  You are needed in this fight.  We all are.