my journey to LGBTQ affirmation

My journey to LGBTQ affirmation began long before I really knew or cared much, honestly, about the lives of LGBTQ people.  

(Affirmation for me simply means that I accept the gender identity and sexual orientation of LGBTQ people just like I accept straight people: no need to change identity or orientation in order to be an acceptable, regular person to hang out with.)

The LGBTQ community was just not on my radar.  Never had been.  I had no reason to consider that it ever would be.

Which just goes to show, once again, that all the best things happen to me by accident.

And all my gratitude grows out of a recognition of my total inability to be control, and yet to receive freely and fully, all the gifts of Love.

Forth Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Forth Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

I grew up with a magic-wand view of Christianity.  The stories that stuck with me were the ones of miraculous change: the person who was a drug addict, a prostitute, a terrible sinner.  The person who "met Christ" and suddenly had no desire for drugs or promiscuity or stealing.  

In fact, some of us who grew up good tended to feel ashamed of ourselves for not having a great testimony to share around the campfire.

On the other hand, there was all the punishment--The Wrath of God--that we avoided by being good.  I personally wasn't willing to be bad enough to have a good testimony.  

Of course, I had been saved by grace just like the other sinners.

All the good things I did were done out of holiness, and not, say, out of any desire to avoid punishment.  Or, God forbid, the need to earn God's love.

Of course not.

So I became a missionary and I was so damn good that I gave myself a nervous breakdown in the process.

And slowly, slowly, slowly learned to see that goodness doesn't buy anything.  

Goodness isn't a magic shield against the pain and sorrow of life.  

Goodness isn't a way to avoid God's wrath.  

Goodness isn't a way to buy God's Love.

Love just IS.  And LOVE IS for all of us.  

That's what Jesus came to show us: Love is for us all.

Love is even for the religious people like me, when I could let go of religion and fall into Love.

(Much more of that story here, in my memoir, As Soon As I Fell.)

So, with my personal goodness dead, and Love growing inside like a little bulb out of the winter ground, I went off to get my masters degree in counseling.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

At this point, I vaguely knew what “the Bible clearly says about homosexuality” and I knew that there were people in ex-gay ministries who said they would help clients pray the gay away.  

I attended a Southern Baptist university for my master’s in counseling, and we had ex-gay promoters who came to campus and told us that their system worked.  

This was good to hear.  

I felt comforted that I'd be able to refer any clients to this wonderful ministry which would help them.

About this time, a dear friend came out to me.  As that friend spoke those words to me, I knew without a doubt that "gay is choice" was not true.  Having watched my friend suffer over many years, I knew that this suffering was not by choice.  But I didn’t know where else to look for ideas, and neither did my friend. 

So the narrative of "gay is a choice" was dead, but I was holding out hope for "pray the gay away."  I wanted my friend's suffering to stop.  Maybe my friend hadn’t found the right ministry.  Maybe this local ministry really was finding success, as they claimed.

Then, as I began to work with clients, two things happened.

First, I worked with a client who presented with severe depression, and who had been involved in an ex-gay ministry: the exact ministry that came and spoke at my university, the ministry that told us how successful their methods were

My client was devoted to the ministry, deeply interested in changing to a straight orientation, and still gay, after nearly a decade of work

This did not look like the advertised success to me.  In fact, it looked a lot like the experience my friend had endured.  

I still didn't know where else to look for answers.  Maybe this local ex-gay group wasn't doing it right either.  

That, however, was starting to look like a disturbing trend.

Then, Exodus International, the Titanic flagship of Christian ex-gay therapy, closed their doors, confessing that their methods had never worked.  In fact, 90% of their clients were still gay.  Many had made straight marriages, but they were now honest enough to say that they still had same-sex orientation. In one of the most courageous moves I've ever seen a Christian ministry make, they apologized to the LGBTQ community for the harm they had caused. 

When Exodus shut down, that was a paradigm-shifting moment for me. I realized then that I had been working with clients and living alongside friends who represented the 90%:  still gay despite their best desires and efforts, and deeply harmed by attempts at “reparative therapy.” 

I knew I had to find a better, more truthful way forward.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since.

THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE SHOWS:  BABY, YOU WERE BORN THIS WAY

In direct contrast to the narrative I heard in the conservative Christian world, there is NO peer-reviewed science to support the idea that sexual orientation is a choice.  There is NO peer-reviewed evidence to show that sexual orientation is the result of abuse or bad parenting. 

In fact, the reputable evidence is exactly the opposite:  sexual orientation is programmed before birth.

You can read a summary of many relevant research articles here at Joani Lea Jack's website.  If you do click over, plan to stay a while and read a bunch more.  You'll want to hear what a Christian pediatrician has to say about all things LGBTQ.  Her article, Unfolding Miracles of Human Sexuality, is one I've shared so many times that if you type "un" into my search bar, it comes right up.  No thinking Christian should ignore what she has to say.  

ACCEPTING OUR LGBTQ KIDS IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.  At this already vulnerable time of life, LGBTQ youth are figuring out that they are different, that they’re part of just 4% of the population, a population that’s regularly been characterized as an abomination and blamed for everything from the decline of Christian marriage to Hurricane Katrina. 

LGBTQ adolescents are FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide than their peers.   Even more disturbing is the fact that LGBTQ youth from highly rejecting families are EIGHT TIMES more likely to attempt suicide.

For example, after the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in the summer of 2015, the LDS Church in Utah clarified that, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling, the LDS church would not solemnize same-sex marriages.  In the two months following the LDS announcement, 32 LDS LGBTQ youth committed suicide.  

Every therapist knows that hopelessness is one of the greatest indicators of risk for suicide.  When your church says you won't be accepted as you are, hopelessness follows.  And so does a greatly increased risk of suicide.

By contrast,

“family acceptance in adolescence is associated with young adult positive health outcomes (self-esteem, social support, and general health) and is protective for negative health outcomes (depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts).”  Source 

It is also worth noting that family rejection has been shown to increase sexual risk-taking.  Just in case any Christian parents are interested in that part of the picture.

Want to save your child’s life and help them make safer sexual choices?

Accept them as they are.

Love them unconditionally. 

Which means: competely without condition.

Just like I found, so many years ago, that God already loved me.

When God loves me unconditionally, how could I not extend that same Love to others?

More importantly:

How could I, as an ethical therapist,

  • promote "reparative therapy" when it had been so thoroughly and publically debunked?
  • ignore the medical evidence for the biological links to sexual orientation?
  • ignore the links between rejection and suicidality in the adolescent LGBTQ population?

The answer was, I couldn't.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

You'll notice that in my journey toward LGBTQ acceptance, I haven't mentioned the Bible at all. 

That's because I was born into Christianity and grew up in it, and over the years, I've become fairly cynical about the church's ability to use Bible verses to validate its persecution of other people.  I'm always aware that "what the Bible clearly says" may or may not be exactly as clear as we think.

Slavery, segregation, and white supremacy, for example.  All supported by the majority of churches in America at some point, with Bible verses in support.  Abolitionists struggled to gain support in the churches specifically because there was so much evidence for "what the Bible clearly says."  Slave owners had the "theological advantage."

But my friends, when we know better, we do better.  

And we repent of our misinterpretation of the Bible accordingly.

(Or we fight a civil war and continue in racist behaviors for another century or two. Whatever.)

A bunch of people have written good books on how to know better and do better when it comes to the LGBTQ community and the Bible (those six whole verses).  Here's a short list.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

So that's about where I was when our son came out to us in February 2014. 

And I cannot begin to express how grateful I was that I had already begun to walk the journey toward LGBTQ affirmation when our son told us his story.

Because of the suffering my clients and my friends had shared, we were ready as a family to say, "We love you.  We are with you."

The three years since have been quite a journey.

Since my son was courageous enough to be out, I figured I needed to be also.  Coming out LGBTQ affirming has had some negative consequences.

I've been told that I'm going to hell, which is a chance I'm willing to take.  

I've been told that I'm a heretic.  Me and Copernicus, we're buds.

I've been told that my problem is that I don't preach the wrath of God enough.  I'm too accepting.  I love too much.

I take that particular criticism as the greatest compliment of my life.

WRITE IT ON MY TOMBSTONE:

SHE LOVED TOO MUCH.

Being out has been overwhelmingly positive, though.

I've connected to a whole secret world of Christian parents who love and support their LGBTQ kids.

I've discovered community resources and activists who are doing amazing good in the world.

I've been inspired by the huge community of gay Christians here in Dallas, friends who have taken us in and showed us the joy in the way, including the amazing and wonderful Cathedral of Hope, where Love pours down like rain in seasons of darkness and despair.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

And so, here we are, in a place I never planned to visit, much less come to live my life.

But I am so endlessly grateful that Love brought me here, to the family and the friends who make Life the best gift of all.

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transfiguration sunday

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  

Matthew 17:1-7, The Message

Oklahoma Redbud  (photo: Andy Bruner)

Oklahoma Redbud  (photo: Andy Bruner)

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, and the gospel reading was this passage from Matthew.

Isn't it weird that when Jesus shone like the sun and his clothing was as white as the light and when Moses and Elijah showed up and started talking with Jesus, nobody turned a hair?

Peter just said, "This is cool that we're all here together.  Let's build a camp and stay."

The thing that freaked the disciples out was the voice from heaven saying, "This is my son, listen to him."

My religious tradition taught me that Jesus was trying, throughout his time with his disciples, to tell them that he had come to start something new.  

And I wonder if here at the transfiguration, the fear comes with the new.

I wonder if Peter was hoping to contain Jesus to the old religious patterns. 

Glory shows up, here on a mountain--we've seen that before.  We know what that is.

Moses met glory on a mountain,  Elijah met with glory on a mountain.  

Let's build a shelter, let's contain the glory in this one place, like we've always done.  

We could set up rules and regulations, we could make it be the way it's always been.

But the Voice interrupts:  "This is my Son.  Follow him."

And that news and that instruction was terrifying to those dedicated to The Way Things Are.

Because Jesus was doing things like healing on the Sabbath and saying things like, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you."  And generally making the religious people want to kill him.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a nice, safe thing if you can contain it, keep it on a mountain, push it far away.

"Somewhere in outer space, God has prepared a place," as we used to sing in Sunday School.

But if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and if we're supposed to follow Jesus into the muck and the mire of everyday life?

I think that's the challenge that scared the disciples so badly.

They weren't being called to sit on the mountain and drink in the glory forever and ever amen.

They were being asked to follow Jesus off the mountain.

And I think they knew what that meant.

They would be called to heal and to speak and to make the religious people want to kill them, too.

So how did they ever get off that mountain?

Jesus came and touched them. 

“Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Oklahoma Redbud, a couple of weeks later (photo: Andy Bruner)

Oklahoma Redbud, a couple of weeks later (photo: Andy Bruner)

I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm being called to the same work that the disciples were so afraid to do:

Follow Jesus off the mountain.

To heal, and to speak life and Love to those who need it.

Honestly, it scares me, too.  

I don't mind healing and speaking, but I don't like pissing people off.  

I want people to like me and praise me and say I'm awesome.

But I have found that loving the least of these is just as offensive today as it was in the time of Jesus, and I think it's because of this:

When we live out the Kingdom of Heaven within us, when we walk to the margin, when we seat ourselves with the suffering, we demonstrate that Love is not something that can be hoarded for sale by the religous elite.

Transfiguring Love is not contained to a mountain top or to prophets of old.

Transfiguring Love is not the property of Pastor John and the Second Fifth Billionth Main Street Church of Our Lady of Ten Thousand Literal Inerrantist Rules. 

Transfiguring Love is, instead, a free gift to all.

Transfiguring Love lies within each of us, ready to share.

And that sharing will come at a cost.

We are called to follow Jesus where Love goes, laying down our lives for one another.

I, for one, would be so much more comfy up on the mountain.

To follow Jesus?

That is scary stuff.

And in my experience,

the only thing that gets me off the mountain is

Love touching me,

telling me not to be afraid,

and most of all,

Love filling my whole field of vision,

so that I see

no one

except Jesus.

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creating a dream

This weekend, our sweet son Matt married his lovely best friend, Amy.

The groom was handsome, the bride was beautiful, the venue was architecturally amazing, the flowers were fabulous.  Family and friends gathered to celebrate and share.

Most of all, it was one of those times in life where, as a parent, you stand still for just a moment and see what Love has created.

IMAG0868.jpg

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I adore my children.  

I distinctly remember falling in love with each of them as infants, looking into their precious tiny faces and being overcome with gratitude for the gift of being their mom.

Then there were all the years when they were just so cute and hilarious, constantly discovering, and teaching me to see the world fresh again through their eyes.  

Years of being present for all the little moments, attending to the minutes--happy and sad, anxious and angry, excited and bored--that build hours and days and weeks and years and a life.

And then adolescence rolled in.  Thirteen years of it, we had in our house.  Years when we learned to let go, to coach instead of control, to support their differentiation, to accept their choices even when we were terrified, to celebrate their truths rather than our own, to breathe and breathe and breathe, and to keep hoping no matter what that we would, indeed, one day, get through it together.

And now today they stand together, supporting one another, being adults together, walking out into a future that one day we will not share, but that they will continue to create and enjoy with one another.

After the wedding, we came home and watched Planet Earth: Seasonal Forests.  We did this after Libby's wedding five years ago, too, so I guess it counts as a tradition now.  We have our Christmas pickle, and we have deciduous forests.

If you haven't watched Seasonal Forests lately, it's a lot about trees.  The largest living organism on earth is a tree.  Also the oldest living organism on earth is a tree, a tree that's been alive for 5,000 years.  A tree that was already 3,000 years old when Christ was born.

Seasonal Forests is also about the plants and animals that live among the trees:  baby birds that leap jump out of the nest, and spring flowers that pop open and melt away, and the leaves that grow and change and fall, all of the living things filling the earth with timeless beauty.

Monday after the wedding was my birthday.  I took a nap, read a book, and Andy made dinner, so it was a 5-star day in my opinion.  

During dinner, we listened to Xavier Rudd, an Australian reggae artist that our youngest got us into just recently.  We listened all the way through the two albums he has on Spotify, and at the very end, there was this beautiful song called Creating a Dream.

As The Princess Bride so famously says, true love is a dream within a dream.  

And that seemed particularly true this weekend.  

There's the great big dream of the cosmos, of planet Earth in all its beauty and wonder, and then there's the dream of our tiny little lives inside it.  

Which, to each of us, is the best and most beautiful dream of all: unique, intricate, miraculous.

My dream for my darling children is that they will

grow past us,

move on,

do better,

learn from our mistakes,

go farther in and higher up,

dive deeper into Love and joy,

unfold more mystery,

live into the timeless beauty that Love gifts to us,

all joined together,

all part of each other,

in the mystic sweet communion

of Love's great dream for us all.

And, knowing them, I believe that they will.

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immigrant empathy

I remember entering the arrivals hall at JFK as an immigrant at age 10.  The huge room with cathedral-high ceilings, packed with people of all nationalities, waiting to be admitted to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I wasn't an immigrant, really.  Just a US citizen who'd never lived more than a few months at a time in my passport country.  

I wasn't an immigrant, technically speaking.  

But I felt like one.  

My childhood experiences had made me into a person without a country, a person hoping for a home.  I spent my first birthday in Mexico, then there were a couple of years in Brazil, then nearly five years in Nigeria.

While Mexico and Brazil had been welcoming places to US nationals, Nigeria was not so much.  Due to a long, painful history with the slave trade and colonialism, white people in general were not highly esteemed.  

In Nigeria, riding down the street on the back of my dad's motorbike, people would throw up their hands at us.  It wasn't a friendly greeting; it was a curse.  I understood why people were angry, but I only felt safe inside the walls of our compound.

So returning to the US, at age 10, was a big, huge, exciting deal for me.  Going from a place I wasn't wanted and didn't belong, hoping to find the place where I was wanted and did belong.

JFK Arrival, flikr

JFK Arrival, flikr

As an adult, I chose to live overseas once again.  Fortunately, in a place that was warmly welcoming to US nationals.

When that beautiful little country erupted into civil conflict, my family had the experience, for about a week, of being refugees.  We were given 15 minutes' notice to leave our house and arrive at the embarkation point to be evacuated by ship to Australia.  

We were allowed one carry-on bag each of belongings.  I took the photo albums and some clean underwear.  The kids picked out what they wanted in their bags: favorite books, stuffed animals, toys.

Andy stayed behind while the kids and I boarded HMS Tobruk.  No cell phones, no email, no contact during the 5 days we were at sea.

Two weeks ago, Andy and I boarded a plane here in Dallas, bound for Doha, Qatar, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand to speak at a conference for expat families.

It's a 13-hour long haul from Dallas to Doha, on a Boeing 777-300, with 368 passengers on board.  Some of them were small children who cried while their moms stood in the bulkhead, bouncing to soothe them.  

Just like I used to do with my babies on those long hauls.  

I listened to Leonard Cohen's latest album for about 10 hours straight, trying to sleep and block out the baby noises.  

As the moon rose over the mountains of Iraq, Steer Your Way was playing, with these lyrics:

They whisper still, the ancient stones
The blunted mountains weep
As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make things cheap

We had a wonderful trip to Thailand.  It was like a layer cake of deliciousness:  food, culture, scenery, people, family, friends, new friends, speaking, listening, sharing.

When we landed back at LAX and got into the "citizen" line at passport control, Andy said, "The citizen line and the foreigner line look just alike."  

And it was true.  Both lines were an almost identical rainbow of skin tones and racial diversity.

I said, "This makes me damn proud to be an American right now."

Less than a week later, we were back at Terminal D at DFW, International Arrivals and Departures.  When I go to Terminal D, I'm normally going someplace awesome in our big, beautiful world, or meeting a loved one who's arriving back from overseas.  

But Saturday night, we were out at Terminal D because people with legal visas to enter the US were being detained as per Executive Order, issued while they were in transit.

When we heard this news, every single cell of my immigrant self just cried out in pain.

The little girl who came to JFK, feeling so outcast and hoping for a home, felt that pain.

The grown-up who left a home with 15 minutes notice, one suitcase, and four small children felt that pain.

The last-week self who stood proudly in a rainbow line felt that pain.

So we went to DFW and we stood with others who were feeling that pain.  Not because we thought that protesting would cause a change overnight, but because the people who were in that pain needed to know that they were not in it alone.

And because of what Mr. Rogers said:

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

I think a lot of us have realized this recently:  not only can we look for the helpers, we can BE the helpers.

We're ready to jump in when things go wrong.

That's not hysteria.  

It's empathy.

Empathy is what allows us to feel alongside someone else, to care about how they feel, because we know that under our rainbow skin, all our feelings are one.

Empathy is the gift of connection that comes out of our pain.  

Empathy is Love calling to Love, recognizing our mutual humanity.

Empathy is what makes us into helpers, into healers.

Empathy allows us to look into the faces of strangers, even enemies, and find family.

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land of the unexpected

I seem to spend quite a bit of my life looking around and saying, "How did this happen?"

It's not always bad!  Sometimes it's really cool stuff that surprises me, here in the land of the unexpected, which appears to be my habitation.

January's cool surprise:  Andy and I are traveling to Thailand to speak at a conference for homeschooling expat families who live all across Asia.

It's a little bit ironic that I'm going to be speaking to these folks since I think I was one of the least successful homeschooling parents of all time.  The fact that my kids have all done well in school has far more to do with their natural intelligence than with anything I did to guide said brainpower.  When it comes to teaching children, I'm more of a cautionary tale than a success story.

Fortunately for everyone involved, I'm not going to talk about educational methods.  I'm going to talk about counseling stuff, and Andy and I are going to talk about what we've learned about marriage and family through our own journey.  

Again, more of a cautionary tale.  

Kind of like the old Berenstain Bears books: "This is what you should not do.  Now let this be a lesson to you."  

When I say those words, I have this picture of of Papa Bear and his bicycle, being dragged up out of a canyon by his son's Bear Scout crew.

I don't know if we ever keep other people from falling into their own ditches, truth to tell.  Seems like we all find our ditches, regardless of how well others warn us.

But I do think it's helpful at least to know that others have fallen, so when it happens to you, you don't feel so alone, and you know whose name to yell for help.

I feel like the gift to me of having fallen spectacularly into any number of my own ditches is that I have a lot of compassion for people who have fallen into theirs.  

Plus, Andy and I have learned a few things along the way about the ladders that help us climb out.

There's great research and wonderful resources out there, and I look forward to sharing that good stuff.

But, beyond all the knowledge and know-how, there's one ladder out of the ditch, really:  Love.

Ultimately, Love is the only thing that overcomes our shame and our fear, our anger and grief and our need to control.  

Love is the only thing that can give us peace to know that we're loved just as are, and the courage to change and grow into more than we knew possible.

So, most of all, we're going to share Love.

I'll let you know how it goes!

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statement of faith

I'm in a couple of private facebook groups for doubters, wanderers, hopers, and dreamers.

This morning a fellow group member posted a letter to God, expressing her love for God, and some deep pain as well.  

I wrote this in response, and it occured to me that someone here might need it too.

Ft Worth Botanical Garden (photo: Andy Bruner)

Ft Worth Botanical Garden (photo: Andy Bruner)

Dear Sarah,

I love you too!

In fact, you're one of my favorite people.

There's nothing you can do or think that will end my love for you.

I know that lots of people need rules to feel like they're safe, and they try to make you follow their rules because that makes them feel safe too.

Here's the good news: my Love will always keep you safe.

You don't need the rules, because my Love transcends all the rules.

My Love keeps safe the women who've had abortions.

My Love keeps safe the LGBTQIA community.

My Love even keeps safe the people who trust the rules to keep them safe.

My Love is big enough, strong enough, wide enough, deep enough for all things.

Nothing can separate you--or anyone else--from my Love.

Don't worry about going to a certain place, saying certain words, or doing certain tasks. My Love doesn't need any of those things.

My Love just is. It's everywhere, all around you.

The breeze, the sunshine, the snow, the rain. The pets, the friends, the good coffee, your yoga studio.  My Love is there, in all those gifts.

When life really truly sucks, my Love is present in the deepest, darkest places. I will never, ever leave you alone. I am with you in the pain, the sorrow, the anger, the anxiety. My Love folds all those things close and holds them safe.

Dear Sarah, when you love others, you participate in my Love.

When you stand with the vulnerable, when you serve the suffering, you're living and moving and being in Love.

And you are enough. You were created from my Love, and you are going to my Love, and every minute of every single day, you are kept safe in my Love.

It's okay if you doubt and wonder. It's okay if you don't understand or experience my Love all the time.

Just like the sun shines above the clouds, so my Love is always there.

It has been, it will be.

Nothing can separate you from me.

You are mine. I am yours.

Love always.

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#LTHO2017

Today is the day of resolutions, which I never make.  

Because, as I've said before, it seems to me that all the worst things have happened regardless of my best efforts, and all the best things have happened when I just could not do one thing more to make it right.

That doesn't feel like helplessness or hopelessness to me.  

It feels like acceptance.

I have very little control, and experience has taught me that's actually a good thing, because God is God, and I am not.  

Sending up light on Christmas Eve (photo: Amy Miller)

Sending up light on Christmas Eve (photo: Amy Miller)

I discovered, on this final day of 2016, that I can do something new:  Janu Sirsasana.

That's seated head-to-knee yoga posture.  Level of difficulty:  beginner.  Not a big deal.  Unless you're 50 years old and partially fossilized from disuse, such as yours truly.

Back in August when I started practicing yoga, and we went to Janu Sirsasana, I could only gaze down at my knee, with love and longing, from a very great distance.

But this morning, down I breathed, and to my extreme shock and amazement, my forehead went right to my knee.

I didn't plan to end 2016 with this accomplishment.  In fact, a year ago, yoga had never crossed my mind as a thing to do.  

But then 2016 happened, and by midsummer, it was clear I needed to ramp up my self-care plan, and I was willing to try any crazy new thing, which brought me to yoga and my moment of happiness today.

And I realize this:  today's little gift of Janu Sirsasana would never have happened without the brokenness that forced me to the mat.  I would never have done yoga without the motivation of desperation.

Now.  This is not a handy-dandy method of rationalizing away pain.  It's not "worth it" that the terrible pain of things like my friend's ALS made me desperate enough to try yoga.

It is, however, a gift out of the darkness.

Which, I think, is what Love gives us: a little light, to help us find our way forward.

When I look forward from today, when I think about 2017, when I try to figure out what to do with the big mess of the world, it seems to me that many times all I can do is take back little moments of beauty and wonder and joy from the darkness and sorrow.

In the face of fear and distress and anger, light a little candle of Love.  

Breathe. 

Rest.

Be still and know.

Maybe touch my nose to my knee.

Most of the time, lighting a little Love-candle sounds like not enough.

It sounds too simple.

Too small.

Too helpless.

Too weak.

And yet.

Haven't we just been through Christmas?  

Haven't we just learned that the best things do look simple and small and helpless and weak?

Shouldn't that teach us something about the simple, small things?

Shouldn't that foster gratitude for all the gifts that surround and surprise us?

Wall detail, Granada Theater, Dallas

Wall detail, Granada Theater, Dallas

Our Number 3 Child is a senior at Texas A&M this year.  

In contrast to the Bruner family, Aggieland is awash in tradition.  There are so many traditions that you have to go to a week-long camp before your freshman year to learn about them.  There are class yells and whoops and probably secret handshakes and I don't know what all.

True confession:  I've been a pretty bad Aggie Mom.  I have no bumper stickers, no sweatshirts.  

One thing I have picked up on, though, is #BTHO.  It means Beat The Hell Out.  You can #BTHO another football team obviously, but you can also #BTHO finals or job interviews or anything else that needs #BTHOing.  

I've decided to adapt #BTHO for 2017. 

I'm not going to #BTHO, though.  (Even though 2017 is shaping up to be something that does need #BTHOing.)

No, I'm not going to #BTHO.

I'm going to #LTHO: Love The Hell Out. 

The truth I know is this:

We can control so very little.

Sometimes we just can't #BTHO, no matter how hard we try. 

And yet we can Love.

Love may look simple and small and helpless and weak.

But those of us who have experienced it know this to be true:

Love is the One True Thing.

Love brings us peace to breathe and rest and be still and know.

Love gives us courage to stand with the vulnerable and to serve the suffering.

Love opens our hearts to our neighbors, and even our enemies.

When everything else has burned up and turned to dust,

Love never fails.

We are born from Love.

We are returning to Love.

Every day, of every year, we are living and moving and having our being in Love.

And so, 2017, bring it.

Whatever happens, I will #LTHO.

Who's with me?

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always imogene

The Bruner family is not exactly a traditional outfit.

When our son-in-law Kevin joined our family almost 6 years ago now, he characterized us as "quirky," a label we accepted with pride.

Our quirkiness definitely extends into the Christmas arena:  we don't have a lot of traditions.  

This is partly because we used to move all the time.  Christmas might be celebrated in Tennessee, the Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea, or Dallas.  It might be cold and snowy or it might be 95 degrees with 95% humidity.  

When your Christmas environment changes, you adjust.  You take a picnic to the beach instead of going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.

Furthermore, when you're as mobile as we used to be, you don't haul a lot of stuff with you.  At least I didn't.  The more I moved, the less stuff I wanted to have.  End result: not a lot of Christmas decor has come with us through the years.

One notable exception is The Pickle.  The Pickle is a little plastic pickle that Andy hides on the tree.  Once all the presents are opened, the kids hunt for The Pickle.  Whoever finds it gets to open a present that's for the whole family, like a game or a movie.  The older our kids have gotten, the more this has developed into a full-contact sport which our daughter generally wins.  

I recently suggested that everyone might be getting too old for this, and my notion was firmly rejected.  I'm envisioning my kids whacking each other over the head with their canes in the nursing home, still hunting The Pickle.  We're just about that quirky.

Another Christmas tradition that's survived many years is reading Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  One of the side benefits of living in places where TV didn't exist is that we read aloud as a family every night for many years.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the last surviving vestige of the family read-aloud hour.  Again, I suggested that we might be too grown up for this now, and again my notion was firmly rejected.

One of the reasons I'm trying to wiggle out of half of our holiday traditions is this:  I always, always cry while reading it.  And this year, this dumpster-fire year, I can't even THINK about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever without crying.

Monday night, Andy and I went to The Dallas Bach Society's performance of Handel's Messiah.  At halftime, I was weeping away and Andy said, "Why does this always get to you so much?"

I mean, Handel's Messiah is the same thing every time.  Has been for hundreds of years.  Surprise level:  zero.

In my own defense, I'd just heard the most beautiful rendition ever of "Come Unto Him."  The soprano soloist sounded exactly like angels are supposed to sound.

When Andy asked me that, I just said, "I don't KNOW" and tried not to sob out loud.

But I think it's perhaps the same reason I cry during The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

It's that line from "O Little Town of Bethlehem," about how the hopes and fears of all the years are met in some mysterious way.

The great, unending sorrow of the world meets Love.

And there's hope that Love does win, that there is rest for our souls.

I feel this not simply on a global level, for the big wide hurting world.

I feel this in my own heart: that there is always sorrow and pain and rejection and loss inside of me that needs to be met with Love.  

The truth is, I feel like Imogene Herdman, the eldest girl among "absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world."

Imogene's siblings are completely out of control.  Her dad abandoned the family long ago, and her mother works long hours--to stay away from the kids, and who can blame her, the book says.  The Herdman kids, who've never been to church in their lives, end up in Sunday School when they hear that free treats will be served, and somehow they all end up in the starring roles of the church nativity play.

From the beginning, Imogene wants to understand the Christmas story, and she ends up understanding it better than anyone else.

When it's all over, Imogene ends up doing what I always do:  "She just sat there--awful old Imogene--in her cookedy veil, crying and crying and crying."

When Imogene, who so desperately needs rest for her soul, discovers Love, it breaks her open.  

And it breaks me open every time, too.

Because I am Imogene.  

I know why she cries.

She's been so alone, and Love has come to be with her.

And so, messy and weepy and imperfect, I embrace being always Imogene, crying and running into things, and ready to clobber anybody who lays a hand on one of my babies.

This year, and every year, 

I hope the Light pushes back the darkness in my heart.

I hope the wonder of it makes me weep.

Most of all, I hope Love always breaks me open when it comes.

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