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Some days it is nearly impossible, and other days clearly impossible, not to drown in the catastrophic abyss that is the world right now. This is not news to anyone.

At 3am this morning after I finished my client work, since I had no opportunity to do it during the day, I wrote a list of small wins in my new notebook. I bought this new notebook last night at Target, while in the midst of having a panic attack because of the school supplies. The school supply section at Target has always been beloved by our family. Unlike some parents, I actually love shopping for school supplies. I have since I was a kid and got to pick out a new Trapper Keeper every year. But last night seeing the vast array of products just sent me into a downward spiral because school + Covid-19 + completely inept government response = nothing good. Everything about this situation is heartbreaking and infuriating and all those shiny folders just reminded me of that.

But back to those little victories. Notice how easy it is to get distracted by awfulness? If you haven’t already seen the video of the explosion in Beirut, don’t watch it. Deep breaths. Focus.

So, small wins, right?

Zeke made this guy!
  1. Zeke is taking a sewing class and a magic class now, both of which he is really enjoying and fully showing up for.
    After carefully curating his summer of camps back in January and having them all be canceled because of Covid, I haphazardly signed him up for a variety of online classes. I did not put in nearly as much thought or planning into this as I did with the camps, so sometimes I over scheduled him and sometimes I signed him for things that required more involvement from me than I was able to provide. But magic and sewing stuffies have been big hits. And yes, I am still putting in some time buying sewing supplies and helping cut out patterns, but Zeke is getting there and is determined to learn and practice. His current career ambition is to become a costume designer for Marvel. I feel like between his sewing and drawing skills, he is on the right track. He can make costumes for theatre productions in high school or create Halloween costumes for his friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
  2. Zoe is learning to use nunchucks in her martial arts class.
This is not Zoe. This is Bruce Lee.

I don’t honestly know why they’re using nunchucks, but it’s cool and Zoe was practicing on her own last night, which is always a good thing. I am also just happy that both she and Zeke are back in their martial arts classes at EvolveAll (via Zoom, of course) after taking a brief break. We are all eager to get back to the studio, but in the meantime they are getting exercise and pushing themselves and we still love being part of the EvolveAll community.

3. I finally figured out how to use my AirPods during Zoom meetings. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. If you understand, you will appreciate it.

4. The aforementioned Target trip was principally to buy more lightning cable chargers because mine are always being borrowed for other people to charge their devices in other parts of the house and and we all have so many freaking devices now that there are never enough chargers. So I bought some in fun colors and perhaps now no one will steal mine.

5. The pile of super stinky laundry from our Camp Friendship trip is diminishing. It is not yet gone, but it’s more like a speed bump than a mountain.

6. I helped my mom do a hard thing yesterday.

7. I’m taking a surprisingly fun class through church about how parents can be sexuality educators for their own kids.

8. I’m listening to a fantastic book–No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal.

9. We’ve made some delicious dinners lately from Hello Fresh. The kids don’t always eat them, but Randy and I love them and they’re not the same thing we always make and they’re healthy.

10. I am not water soluble! Twice this week I ended up doing a chore outside in the pouring rain and I didn’t melt. It’s always reassuring to note this underrated quality.

More often than not lately our current existence seems untenable. I’m yelling at my kids too much. My house is a disaster area. My husband and I haven’t had a date in eons. But at least I’m not water soluble.

In my closet hang 21 summer dresses in shades of blue and red and pink with flowers and stripes and paisley patterns. I usually wear them to church on Sundays and to meetings with clients and to plays. I have several pairs of strappy sandals with wedge heels to wear with the dresses. I like the kind of sandals that show off my toes because usually my toenails are painted some vibrant color with an impossible delicate design of daisies or something similar on my big toes, courtesy of the artisans at Nails 2000.


I am so not a girly girl. I hardly wear makeup and I haven’t blow dried my hair in decades and my typical outfit is a t-shirt and jeans–or in recent months–yoga pants. But it’s easy to dress up in the summer and it’s literally cooler. I don’t envy men who feel compelled to wear jackets and ties when it’s 80 degrees.


I suspect that this summer I won’t have any occasion to wear any of my dresses. I watched church this morning in my pajamas. All the concerts and plays have been canceled. All my meetings are online. And it doesn’t really matter what you wear online, as long as you’re clothed.
I recognize that none of this is a serious problem or anything worth complaining about when juxtaposed with the incomprehensible (and inexcusably somewhat preventable) suffering in the world right now. I understand that.
I only mention it because I spent hours cleaning out of closet yesterday and rearranging my clothes by season and seeing all my dresses reminded me all over again of what’s wrong with our world.


Seeing my dresses reminded me that the president told religious congregations to reopen their doors and return to services as usual, inviting their members to get sick and infect others or perhaps die. My church, like many others, has been holding services and offering programming online and will continue to do so indefinitely. In response to the president saying churches are essential, our newly called senior minister (who will join us in August) said to her current congregation, (I’m paraphrasing) you know who’s essential? Our people. That’s why we will not be gathering, because we want our people to stay healthy and alive. My dresses reminded me that the president does not care about people. While the New York Times ran a front page filled with the names of nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, on a weekend where we honor those who have died in military service, the president played golf.


Who knew my dresses were so fraught with meaning?

Ordinarily I am distracted by looking at myself on zoom calls, but tonight at UUCA’s congregational meeting where we announced our call of Rev. Amanda Poppei to be our next senior minister and she accepted, I was beaming. I couldn’t stop smiling.

There are few endeavors I’ve been a part of that have been as demanding and singularly focused as the ministerial search committee. The two that come to mind are pregnancy and childbirth. While those experiences were definitely more physically taxing, I think serving on the MSC may have been more emotionally and intellectually challenging. Of course since it’s been 7 years since I was last pregnant I could be misremembering in that way that the details of childbirth become hazy when you’re removed from it.

In one of the books I just read, Writers & Lovers, the narrator—Casey—talks about how all the male writers she’s known have been unwaveringly confident that they have at least one great book inside, ready to be written. But neither she nor her female writer friends ever seem so sure, even when they devote their lives to writing that book. In one scene, Casey is talking with her obnoxious landlord and he says to her about her book something like, “I can’t imagine you have anything to say.” Which makes Casey wonder if she does.

I was thinking tonight about this and about a conversation I had with my friend Art from church at a leadership retreat a couple years ago. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about except that it had to do with my writing, and what was keeping me from sharing more of it with the world. I think he asked me something like what was I afraid of, and I didn’t know. I realize now that this is vague and doesn’t sound particularly motivational, but whatever he said made me feel braver.

At first I resisted the nomination to join the MSC, for a variety of good reasons. Then my friend D, who is also a writer, and who served on a previous MSC, told me that the heart of the search process is storytelling, and that’s why I needed to serve. She explained that the first part of the search is listening to the congregation’s stories and crafting a narrative from them about the church. The next part of the process is listening to the stories of the ministers who apply for the position. And finally, you have to tell the story of your candidate to the congregation so they will see in the candidate what you saw and vote to call them as your minister. Of course this is a significant oversimplification, and she didn’t mention how many thousands of hours the whole thing takes, but what D describes was true. And I thought, that’s what I’m good at—listening to people and helping tell their stories.

Often when strangers ask what I do for a living and I say writer, they ask if I’ve written any books. No, I haven’t written any books, I explain. And most people move on or tune out after that. But if they actually want to know more, I tell them. And I am really proud of what I do. I’m proud of the people who I interview and write about and they say, “you made me sound so much more interesting than I actually am.” But they really are more interesting than they realize. I’m proud of the stories I write about nonprofit organizations that educate and inspire people to get involved or contribute. I’m proud of the essays and poems I write that people can relate to, or that make people laugh, or think about something differently. And I am proud of everything I wrote for the ministerial search committee because what I wrote helped us find a spectacular new minister. Of course I didn’t do it alone. Our team was made up of some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and hardworking people I have ever known. The rest of them have skills and insights that I do not possess. But I am proud that my skills and insights mattered. D was absolutely correct that the search process is about storytelling. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a storyteller for this community that I love, especially knowing that the person we found to be our next minister is going to change people’s lives and those people will change the world, in ways large and small. To know this, and to know that words I wrote are catalysts, like the object at the beginning of a Rube Goldberg invention that gets the ball rolling to cause a spectacular chain reaction, fills me with joy.

I think girls and women are often told, subconsciously or overtly, to stay small and be nice, and are criticized when they stand up for themselves or proudly stand by their hard work. Elizabeth Warren, Taylor Swift, Megan Rapinoe, and Glennon Doyle are women I admire who come to mind, but there are a million more examples. I will probably never be famous, but I am a role model for my kids, and I’m a writer, and I’m proud of what I do.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Zoe and I stayed standing in the waiting room of Patient First tonight, wearing our homemade masks and trying not to touch anything. I sanitized my hands seven times while we were there. The receptionist, nurse, radiologist, and doctor were all wearing masks and safety glasses. It makes you feel a little like you’re interacting with robots or droids. Although the doctor had a stutter, which made him more recognizably human.

We went to urgent care at the recommendation of an unknown doctor with whom Zoe had a free telemedicine appointment tonight, courtesy of our new insurance plan and COVID-19, who suggested an X-ray of Zoe’s thumb and wrist to rule out a fracture. This was a couple hours after Zoe wiped out on her bike. I was taking a nap when Randy called to ask me to come pick Zoe up because she had fallen and hurt herself. I didn’t realize what a mess she was until we got home and I was tending to her wounds in the bathroom and wishing our bathroom was cleaner. I asked Siri to play Taylor Swift and asked Zoe to take deep breaths with me as she was on the verge of hyperventilating. I helped her wash off the scrapes, on her elbow, hands, knee, and hip, sprayed them with hydrogen peroxide, and bandaged to the best of my ability. Randy was my assistant, handing me bandages and medical tape. Turns out we had very little tape on hand, although I think some of it was leftover from when Zeke had surgery as an infant. We threw that one away. I realized I need to freshen up our first aid supplies.

So after Zoe was settled downstairs on the couch, I donned a mask and headed to CVS. I bought a wide variety of sprays, ointments, bandages, and tape because I always overbuy, but especially when I’m anxious. And I bought lemonade and seltzer and some extra Easter candy as a treat, as well as a couple bags of Bugles. Don’t judge.

I came home to the news that Zoe needed to get an x-ray, so I washed my hands 50 more times and helped her change clothes and used the new supplies to re-bandage all her wounds. Then we headed out.

Now we’re safely home and Zoe is feeling much better. Thankfully nothing is broken. The nurse at urgent care carefully removed all the bandages and cleaned everything again and reapplied medicine and put fresh bandages on. She wrapped an ace bandage around Zoe’s hurt hand and wrist.


It’s almost 2am and I’ve just returned from an eerie drive around Arlington in the rain trying to find Zoe a toothbrush because hers had somehow become contaminated and surprisingly we had no extra toothbrushes anywhere in our house. I had to go to four stores until I found one that was open, which ended up being a 7-11. Between Easter Sunday hours and coronavirus hours, everything is closed. And there was no one on the road. I have driven around late at night on my fair share of occasions and there is always at least a little traffic. I think I saw four other cars driving in my 30-minute odyssey.

Our house is a gigantic mess. The dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer are all running right now but there are still dishes filling the sink and piled up on the counter. There are boxes and cans of food piled up on another counter because I didn’t feel like it was safe to put them away yet. There is dirty laundry on the floor by the washing machine and clean laundry piled on the loveseat. There is crap everywhere. I’m wondering where I will get the energy to clean it up. And I do NOT have high standards, but I do need clean clothes to wear and glasses to drink from. I have changed clothes several times today–every time I went outside and came back in. And I have to wash all the masks that all of us wore today. I wore several myself. And regardless of how many times I washed my hands I still feel like those red spiked molecules are lurking.


Zeke is having a rough time. Both of my children have always been unusually emotionally self-aware, but I forget sometimes that he’s not even 7 (at least for a couple more weeks). He has not been acting like himself, and of course I understand why but I’m not sure what to do about it. I know I need to spend more time with him but I’m struggling to figure out what to do with that time that will be helpful to him, and how to avoid getting distracted. I keep thinking he will ask for something if he needs it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I know I can’t expect him to be self-sufficient even when he acts like it.

Last night we had a Zoom Passover Seder and Zeke refused to participate. He wouldn’t even appear on camera. The only thing he was willing to do was nibble matzoh and then find the afikomen. Literally five minutes before the Seder he and his cousin Charlie FaceTimed to practice the four questions and decide who was going to read which questions. But when the time came, Zeke wanted no part of it. I understand on one level that all this behavior is in direct response to the crisis we’re living through, but I am not sure how to help Zeke deal with it.


This morning we watched the UUCA Easter Sunday service on YouTube. It was a moving service with thoughtful and apt reflections about how the times we’re living in are changing us, and how growth can require darkness and patience. Rev. Terasa brought her metaphor to life by making sourdough bread during her sermon. I guess that’s something that video preaching from home enables you to do. In the end, I really wanted some fresh bread. And I really missed my church people. And I stumbled back into the darkness. I saw all these Facebook posts of friends whose families dressed up for Easter even though they weren’t going to church, and took beautiful pictures and hid and found eggs. We didn’t even get around to dyeing eggs. We didn’t have a special meal. I ate a bowl of cereal while I watched church at 10am and then Zoe and I ate macaroni and cheese and peas when we got home from urgent care at 10pm. Today did not speak to me of new beginnings.


To be fair I should acknowledge that yesterday was a better day. Zoe and I went on a four-mile bike ride, which was the most I’ve ridden my bike in years. The weather was beautiful. We passed several people we know while we were out. And as we pedaled past a field, we saw a little girl taking some of her first steps to her dad while her mom took pictures. We cheered for her. I am pretty sure some other good things happened yesterday too, but honestly I don’t even remember. The days are so long now and they bleed into the nights where sometimes we sleep and sometimes we don’t.

Tonight we watched a makeshift team of superstars use their powers for the greater good.

Last week when I heard about a televised concert being hosted by Elton John and featuring an array of pop stars and celebrities, I figured it was another goodwill effort by musicians to bring cheer into our quarantined and anxious lives. Turns out, the concert was perhaps the most important public service announcement I’ve ever seen.

The iHeart Radio Living Room Concert for America not only delivered heartfelt performances direct from the living rooms (or diving board, in Tim McGraw’s case) of talented musicians, but included scene after scene of doctors, nurses, hospitals, EMTs, and firefighters working to help people through the pandemic. The show highlighted video clips of impassioned pleas from medical workers sharing what they’ve seen and beseeching the public to stay home. Elton John encouraged viewers to donate to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that is working to make sure millions of families are able to access nutritious food, especially when they’ve lost their jobs or are facing illness and to the First Responder Children’s Foundation, which supports children and families of first responders.

We’ve been reading the news obsessively–perhaps Randy even more than I have because he’s a news junkie to begin with–and we have watched and read devastating firsthand accounts from doctors and nurses. But the horror of this situation is still fresh, and seeing these people–still in their scrubs, with masks hanging around their necks–describe what they had just lived through was heartbreaking.

Watching this concert gave me hope, however, because it was being broadcast on Fox, on YouTube, and on the IHeartRadio app, and I suspect that millions of people who have not been obsessively reading the news–perhaps even some of those people who ignorantly and inexplicably attended coronavirus parties and crowded Florida beaches on spring break–were watching too. And I hope to God that what they saw shocked them and shook them and will make them stay the hell home and away from people they might unwittingly infect or be infected by, for the greater good.


This morning I watched something entirely different, although it was also created and shared by a team of heroes. Because of the pandemic, my church–along with many religious congregations around the world–has moved to conducting Sunday services online. UUCA has a long tradition of live-streaming services on Sunday morning so people can watch from home, but now that we’re literally not supposed to be together at church, they’ve had to come up with new ways to create the Sunday morning experience. Before I joined the UUCA ministerial search committee two years ago, I was a member of the worship team at UUCA and I absolutely loved contributing to Sunday morning services. I know how much goes into planning and conducting a service, even under ordinary circumstances, so I was profoundly grateful to the ministers and staff and worship team who made today’s service happen. Board of Trustees representative Amy offered a welcome from her front porch, with cherry blossoms blooming in the background. Gail, (another) Amy, and Gay shared reflections about how they are finding love and light in this unbelievably confusing and difficult time. Gail’s daughters Carmen and Kamila told the story “We Are Not Afraid,” about the illegally integrated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and the students’ response when armed white men broke into the school. The girls sang “We Shall Overcome” so sweetly. Gail and Gay quoted the Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz. Gay read the Maya Angelou poem “Continue.”

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

And there was beautiful music by our accompanist Sophia, an original song and a wonderful rendition of “Meditation on Breathing” which I LOVE, by the talented Kristin Cotts. And so much more. It was all so much MORE than a regular service could be. We had the opportunity to see people and hear from them in their own homes, to meditate to photos and videos of the ocean, and to experience a deeply reassuring coming together of voices and faces of people I love.


In the middle of these two moments, I experienced a moment of shared joy as I watched Zoe pedal confidently around and around and around the (completely empty) church parking lot. Zoe technically learned how to ride a bicycle a few years ago, but she never felt comfortable enough to actually ride for fun or transportation. She even made her own bike (which she was riding today) through a cool program in our community that teaches kids how to fix bikes and enables them to earn one of their own after putting in a certain number of hours. Until now, however, there were always things she wanted to do more than practice riding. She agreed to get back on the bike today, and after just a little while she went from riding a few feet and then hesitating to zooming around the blacktop with a huge smile on her face. After we went home, she asked Randy if he would take her back to the parking lot so she could ride some more.

Zeke has not yet arrived at this state of grace, but he will. He spent about 20 minutes working on gliding around on his bike, which has no pedals right now, but which we will reattach the pedals to as soon as we can borrow the right tool. After that he decided to return to the car to read his book, which he was content to do while Zoe rode.

One kid at a time…

No one can sleep.

Randy and I were just settling into bed after watching Lady Bird when Zeke came into our room. He opened the lid of his water bottle, took a big swallow, and put it down on my nightstand before turning to look at me expectantly. Over the past several nights he has made his way into our bed at some point during the night, a practice which he had long since abandoned. But since the quarantine began he has started turning up again. Usually he snuggles in between Randy and me and falls back asleep right away. If I’m lucky I fall back asleep too until I realize I’m so close to the edge of the bed that it seems wiser to relocate to the futon in the office.

Since it was so early, relatively speaking, that we weren’t even asleep, I suggested I bring Zeke back to his room. There I found Zoe illuminated by the light of her computer. She had supposedly gone to bed a couple hours earlier. She has had trouble falling asleep for years, but it’s gotten worse lately. Of course it doesn’t help that she sleeps late every day. I am tired of dragging her out of bed when she doesn’t actually have to be anywhere.

Today was a rough day. I am usually an optimist although I certainly have my share (or more) of anxiety. But today I just felt crushed. Bombarded by bad news. Overwhelmed by uncertainty. Unable to motivate my kids to do anything. Barely able to make myself do anything. I keep seeing all these messages on social media about how we should support small businesses and artists and buy gift cards. I don’t have the money for that. I keep seeing all these messages about how we need to come together as a community during this crisis and support the food bank and other nonprofits. I’ve built my entire career on helping nonprofits, but I can’t donate now, when my income has slowed to a trickle.

A friend texted me “those messages aren’t for you.” My sister said I already do a lot for the community. My enneagram type is #2, often called the helper or the giver. Enneagram types all have strengths and weaknesses, and #2s —when things are not going well, say during a global pandemic, feel like they’re not enough. Type twos subconsciously feel like if they’re not doing enough for other people, they are unworthy. I have worked to overcome this unhealthy tendency for decades, and at times I think I’ve come pretty far. But then coronavirus hits and we’re quarantined at home and supposed to homeschool our kids and do our jobs and help our friends and family and neighbors—from a safe distance of course—and then how on earth could I possibly be doing enough to help? I couldn’t.

Thank God for my people who text me off my ledge when I need it. I received a lot of empathetic messages. I won’t lie—I cried a lot today. This thing is hard. I know we are super privileged and lucky and so far healthy (knock wood) but it is really freaking hard to have everything you’re used to called into question all of a sudden with no understanding of what comes next or how you’ll come out the other side.

I put a lot of thought and effort into being a good parent. And I realize that’s much easier to do when my kids go to school every day and I have time to work, socialize, eat, and just be in the world on my own. It feels counterintuitive to prioritize myself over my kids when my kids are in the same room, or even in the same house. Our house is small. There are not a lot of places you can go to have privacy, and the floors all creak. You can hear through the vents.

Every Wednesday the Unitarian Universalist Association sends out an email called Braver/Wiser with short essays by UU ministers and seminarians. I was struck by a recent piece https://www.uua.org/braverwiser/two-sides-same-coin about highly sensitive people. I first read about this concept several years ago, but I didn’t tell many people that it described me because I knew they would laugh it off, just like how the author writes that it sounds like “hysterical,” or some other disparaging term. Like snowflake.

I’ve come to realize the highly sensitive classification applies—at least for me—to both physical and mental stimuli. I can hear conversations that other people don’t. Strong smells can make me feel instantly ill. I can often intuit what people are going to say or do just before they say or do it. Not like I’m psychic, but perceptive.

I am not trying to say I’m the only person who is struggling in the unbelievable new reality of our current existence — far from it. Just that I understand why no one in my house is sleeping. It’s quarter to two and my mind is still wide awake with no signs of slowing.

My amazing friends Gay Gibson Cima and Kristin Keller led worship with me this morning at UUCA. We talked about the blessings of discomfort. This was my reflection:

On the wall behind the cash register at One More Page, my favorite local bookstore, is a sign. The sign says, “WRAPPING PAPER HAS NO GENDER.”

Below the sign are three lovely rolls of wrapping paper, featuring dinosaurs, polka dots, and a shiny solid green.

I immediately understood that the bookstore had posted that sign because of customers who asked for “girl wrapping paper,” thinking that any female to whom they were giving a book as a present would rather receive it wrapped in pink or flowered paper than dinosaurs or polka dots or green. Everyone knows girls don’t like green, right?

Next, I thought about twin boys who attended my son’s preschool. One of them often wore pink, or patterned leggings I knew were from the “girls” department. Every time I saw him I thought, why is he wearing girls’ leggings? And every time this question crossed my mind, I thought, why not? He is three. He is probably wearing those because he picked them out and he likes how they look and how they feel. Why are leggings supposed to be for girls? Why is there even a girls department? Why aren’t there just clothes for kids?

This internal conversation quickly got old, yet I had it again and again. Why? Because that’s how we are socialized in this country. Certain styles and colors are arbitrarily feminine, and others are deemed masculine. There is absolutely no good reason for this distinction. And yet, even though we understand this intellectually, often our reflexive reaction to something we perceive as incongruous, is that it’s wrong. It’s inappropriate. It’s confusing. It’s uncomfortable.

I recently read an excellent young adult book called Lily and Dunkin, about two kids who are beginning eighth grade. Lily was born Timothy, but she knows she is Lily. She has come out to her family, but her dad will not accept her as a girl and insists that she not wear dresses outside the house. Her dad still calls her Tim. A group of boys at school, who Lily refers to as the Neanderthals, bully her. Lily is still known as Tim at school and dresses “like a boy,” but the Neanderthals hurl anti-gay epithets at her. At one point the main bully accuses Tim of being a girl, intending it as a cruel insult. But Lily thinks, yes, yes, I am a girl! Ardently wishing she could reveal her true self.

Dunkin has just moved to their South Florida town, and he is on his way to buy a Boston crème donut and an iced coffee when he walks by Lily’s house. She happens to be in the yard, wearing one of her mom’s dresses. Dunkin thinks she is beautiful. Dunkin sees a girl. Later, when Dunkin encounters Lily again, she is dressed as Tim. Lily tells Dunkin that she was dressed as a girl because her sister had dared her to do so. Dunkin eventually finds out the truth, but only after saying and doing some pretty mean things to Lily.

Unfortunately, I can identify too easily with Dunkin’s bewilderment. It’s so easy to see someone whose appearance doesn’t quite fit with what we’re expecting, and wonder, “Who are you? What are you? Why are you dressed like that? What does it mean? How should I react to you? How should I treat you?” Our brains automatically seek categorization. We think if we can classify someone, we will know all about them, and we can instantly decide how we feel about them, what they might mean to us, and whether to say hello or keep on walking.

When we allow someone’s appearance to shape this snap judgment, however, we do ourselves and others a real disservice. Instead of creating opportunities for connection or building relationships with potentially amazing human beings, we build walls and collapse bridges if we don’t understand why someone looks the way they look. What if it’s too hard to relate to this person? What if we say the wrong thing? What if this person judges us? It’s uncomfortable.

So what if we don’t know if someone is a boy or a girl or non-binary or gay or straight or bi or pan or queer? We can safely bet that they’re human. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is that we value the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As Kristin mentioned earlier, we have to embody our principles—or walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

One of my daughter’s best friends recently came out to her as pansexual. It’s ok if you have never heard this word. I hadn’t either. I had to look it up. I learned that actress and singer Janelle Monae and actress and singer Miley Cyrus both identify as pansexual. Pansexual means that who you are attracted to is not limited by gender. My daughter’s friend said she doesn’t see gender, but she is attracted to someone’s heart and mind and soul. My first thought when I heard that was, “shouldn’t all of us feel that way?” It sounds like a beautiful way to live your life—looking at someone’s heart and mind and soul instead of their gender attributes.

This brave 11-year-old made a YouTube video about discovering her sexual identity, in which she describes the process of coming out to her mom and a few of her friends and offers tips to viewers about how they can come out if they’re struggling to do so. I was so impressed by the courage and confidence of her revelation.

I was equally impressed by my daughter’s reaction to her friend’s news. Zoe congratulated her friend on coming out and said that she understood. Her friend’s pansexuality didn’t faze her at all. She told me that, if anything, the news had a positive impact on their relationship because Zoe understood her friend better now, and they could become closer friends. The next thing I knew, we were in the dollar aisle at Target and Zoe was shopping for LGBTQ+ pride accessories for her friend.

A common reaction I’ve heard, even from very supportive adults, to young people coming out is, “isn’t that a little young to be coming out? How do they know already?” To which I respond, “they know.” I definitely knew I was straight when I was eight years old and first watched Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele. I had crushes on boys in my class starting early in elementary school. I think if someone knows how they feel when they’re 11 and they’re prepared to tell the world, more power to them.

In the allyship training I’ve participated in at UUCA, I’ve been reminded that I will never truly understand what it’s like to be LGBTQ+, because I am cisgender and straight. I will never know what it’s like to be a person of color, because I’m white. But I know what it’s like to be human. And I know what it’s like to make a connection with another human, and to have someone deny a connection. I know what it’s like to be uncomfortable, and that discomfort can be a blessing.

May we be blessed with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep within our hearts.

I invite you to watch the whole service here:

or visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ Click on archives and click on June 24.

Today was the final Sunday of our November theme of abundance at UUCA. I led worship, along with my friends Bob and Kendra. You can watch a video of the service here: http://www.uucava.org/livestream/.

You can read my meditation and prayer here:

I encourage you to put your feet on the floor. Feel your seat beneath you and observe the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Notice your breath. Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in comfort. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in strength. Breathe out generosity. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Spirit of life, we come together here today after having been scattered near and far during the past week. Some of us are refreshed and rejuvenated by time off from work and reunions with beloved family and friends. Some of us are weary from tense and difficult moments and feelings of obligation rather than joy. Some of us labored, some of us were served. Some of us were surrounded by love, some of us were lonely.

Whoever we are, may we find refuge here.

Spirit of life, as we begin again today, we ask for another chance. An opportunity to be kind to ourselves. To truly love ourselves so we can better love others. We seek relief and ease because some of us are Just. So. Tired. We seek clarity when facing an uncertain diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, in the midst of debilitating symptoms. We seek reassurance as we endeavor to do right by our children when parenting can be so stressful. When we are young and when we are old, we seek acknowledgment. We want to know that we matter. At every age, we wish to be heard and understood. We seek grace along the path that is littered with our mistakes. We seek courage to be bold and step onto a new, unfamiliar path. We wish for the strength to unclench our fists and let the anxieties, the fears, the old hurts be carried away on the winds, leaving our hands and our hearts free. We long for the freedom to laugh and to cry with abandon. We seek release.

Whatever we seek, may we glimpse it today in this place, and claim it for our own.

 

And here’s my reflection:

FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE

I have a contentious relationship with time. I am always running late, always composing an apology in my head. I promise it’s not because I don’t respect you or value our relationship. It’s because I am overly optimistic. I always think I have time to do one more thing before I go. Write one more sentence, put away one more load of laundry, cross one more thing off my to-do list. I am wildly unrealistic about how much time something is going to take. You would think that by this point in my life I would’ve figured this out, but no.

My family is so often late that we’ve invented a game called the good excuse bad excuse game. Note that we do not play this in the exact moment when we’re tumbling out of the house and into the minivan, because I would be way too flustered. But in a moment of calm, we can play. Here’s how it works. One person says, “sorry I was late, I decided I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but eventually I did.” Everyone responds, BAD EXCUSE! Another person says, “Sorry I was late, I was rescuing 100 puppies from a burning building.” GOOD EXCUSE! And we continue to come up with the most pathetic or most heroic excuses we can think of.

As silly as this might seem, the good excuse bad excuse game points to an unspoken truth. The most valuable use of your time is often when you are helping someone else, when you are sharing your abundance, just like in the story Kendra read earlier. But what are the abundances we have to share? How can we find them when we so often focus on what’s scarce in our lives?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may have sorted yourself into one of the Hogwarts houses. Is your abundance bravery, loyalty, intelligence, or ambition? Do you possess an abundance of patience in a world that prioritizes speed and multitasking? Are you able to bring presence into a culture of preoccupation? I know that I am awed by people who are able to be fully present with me, to make me feel like I am the only person in the world who matters at that moment. Yet this quality is not one of my abundances. For better or for worse, my mind is always tuned in to several channels at once. I can’t NOT hear a conversation happening across the room, or the oven timer going off, or notice that someone in the vicinity needs something. One of my abundances is an astute power of observation, but not focused presence.

Maybe your abundance is more practical, like agility with numbers and the ability to manage or make money. I interview a lot of people on behalf of one of my clients who say they became budget counselors because they always loved numbers. I have always felt like I am allergic to numbers. At the annual meeting at church, my eyes glaze over when they talk about the budget. I am terrible with money. I sometimes wish our currency were only in words instead of numbers. Then I could understand. This trouble with numbers often comes into conflict with another of my abundances, which is generosity. Are you raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, or orphans in Haiti, or school supplies for girls in Nigeria? I am guaranteed to donate, whether or not I can afford it.

In fact, one of my favorite holiday traditions, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been giving alternative gifts to nonprofits that I hand pick—and now my husband and children help choose—for all of our family members. We do this at an alternative gift fair, like those sponsored by Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington, or in Arlington, Gifts that Give Hope—which is hosting this year’s event on December 9 at Discovery Elementary. Or online through the Catalogue for Philanthropy. What these organizations do is bring together wonderful charitable groups and tell you what exactly your $10 or $20 or $50 donation would do for their beneficiaries. For example, a $5 donation to your local animal shelter would buy chew toys for a dog waiting to be adopted. A $25 donation to a nonprofit that serves single moms who are survivors of domestic violence would buy a week’s worth of diapers. A $50 donation would buy a bike for a young person in an African village to have the transportation needed to start a business. We take time to think about what kind of donations would be meaningful to each family member. Like the dog toys for Uncle Larry and Aunt Susan who have loved dozens of dogs and cats over the years. Cooking classes in honor of my aunt who taught me to make delicious food from scratch. You get the idea. On Christmas morning, we open these gifts along with all the others and read out loud where the charitable gift will be going. My family’s goal on Christmas morning is to make people laugh or cry, and often these gifts elicit tears. And they don’t take up room on anyone’s shelf, and they’re making the world a better place. These gifts also remind us of just how much abundance we have in our family and our community.

Going for the laugh is also fun, like when I got my mom an autographed 8×10 photo of Adam Levine because she’s a huge fan of the Voice. You have to balance things out.

The paradox about my contentious relationship with time is that time is what people want most from me. Time is what my kids want, time is what my parents want. My husband, my dog, my friends, my clients, the church. Even though it doesn’t feel like I have a lot of it, time is my most valuable abundance to give.

My parents have everything they could possibly want, and more. But my mom is thrilled if I give her a Christmas gift of a day where I help her clean out her closet and go to lunch. We take each other to concerts and plays and readings, where we share the gift of time spent together, sharing an experience. Seeing and hearing live music is one of the great joys that my husband and I share. When we devote so many hours to working and managing the house and taking care of our children and our dog, the simple act of making the time to be together and do something we both love can seem monumental, but it’s so important.

What Facebook has abundance of is memes, and many of them are silly, and some are annoying, and some are offensive. But some are really good reminders of what matters. One I remember said something like, “if you have a stack of dishes in your sink, it means you have enough food to eat. If you have a pile of laundry to fold, it means you have enough clothes to wear.” It’s easy in Arlington, or in Northern Virginia, or Greater Washington, to feel like we don’t have enough. We have plenty of first world problems. But we also have plenty of abundance. Abundant opportunities, abundant amusements, abundant things to see and people to meet. Abundant chances to serve. Abundant ways to receive.

As we close out our month of abundance, and our weekend of abundant food and company, and we look ahead to a month that may be filled with hope or anxiety, love or loneliness, generosity or uncertainty, or maybe all of these. Remember to take with you this month your inner abundance. Is it compassion? Vision? Wit? Steadiness? Creativity? Maybe you can’t name your inner abundance right now. If that’s the case, give yourself time to find it. And when you find it, give it away.

May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.

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