Tag Archives: Questions

Fireworks and Sparking Community

In light of today being the 4th of July – for non-American readers, this is the day the 13 colonies (which eventually became the United States of America) declared their independence from Great Britain – here are my thoughts on fireworks and the questions they raise about trauma and community.

Last week I sat across my craigslist kitchen table from one of my nearest and dearests eating a late dinner – side note: there is something about summer’s glorious sunlight extending late into the evening that messes with my internal clock and I rarely get hungry until it is dark, so dinner tends to hit the table closer to nine more often than I care to admit. July 4th came up in conversation and I “casually” mentioned how I did not think I would be watching any fireworks this year because fireworks are still a bit too much for me.

And then came the unexpected response, “You know they’re just fireworks.”

“Um, yeah. But that’s not the point”


“Think about it for a moment.”

He pauses for a few seconds, and then speaks, “They sound like gunshots.”

I nod.

“But you know they’re not. You know they’re fireworks. So what’s the issue?”

This was the moment I realized the width of the gulf separating me from him, and, if I’m honest, from everyone at home.

The person with whom I was speaking, grew up with guns in an area of the U.S. where guns are a normal part of life, and has been shot at (oh, the perils of hiking in places with fervent, gun toting and touting landowners). But, more importantly, a few months after my return stateside, he declared his desire to process my time in South Sudan with me. He is the ONLY person from home who expressed any willingness to walk into the beauty and shadows two years in South Sudan cast on my life. And yet, in that moment, in that statement, “You know they’re fireworks,” he declared his limit: he would go no further with me.

Just like that I found myself without an ally. Once again, I was am alone. Ah, welcome back aloneness, my old “friend.”

Whether it is time, distance, lack of imagination, or inability to envision something beyond one’s reality, the returning expat who has experienced insecurity inevitably finds herself alone whilst surrounded by her home-based friends/family who communicate a need for her to get over it, no matter what it is.

I do not why fireworks are so prevalent in Oakland, CA, but they are, occurring multiple times a week. A few nights ago a neighbor set off a large firework and the offending “BANG!” was loud and close. My body tensed up immediately. And so began the internal standoff of mind v. body. I knew it was only a firework but my body would not relax.

Experience shapes us. And my time in South Sudan did just that. A year and a half surrounded by guns, violence, war and the resulting human tragedy and trauma, is not something a person forgets just because she leaves a specific geographic region. I am still on guard, ever aware, connecting certain sounds to certain actions and results even when those sounds are imposters wrapped up in gunpowder to delight and dazzle.

How do you explain to the person from home who knows you best what a sound does and means to you? Even if the person understands, is he able to understand there is not a time limit on the effects of some experiences?

In the U.S. we like progress, moving forward, ever morphing into a new and, arguably, better self. In light of notions of American exceptionalism and hyper-individualism, we self-help. We self-medicate. We set five years plans and create 30 before 30 lists. We are constantly in flux, rarely stopping or reflecting. And in this, and, likely, in part due to it, we lack a structure, a culturally acceptable means of dealing with traumatic experiences. Time passes and people are expected to “move along”/“come to terms with” with whatever happened and return to normal, or, at the very least (and for the sake of everyone else), “fake it ‘til you make it.” This expectation is for the good of others, not for the person processing or suffering. Other people do not want to be reminded of life’s complications, difficulties and incongruences. People do not want to think about how injustice for one is injustice for all. Mourning, sadness, uncertainty, it and anything that happened in past should be dealt with quickly, quietly, neatly, and left in the past. However, this is at odds with how we process, heal and grow. We do not simply forget and move forward. Healing may come but the process of healing involves dealing with the messiness of life, and sometimes scars do not fade.

In light of this, what are you to do when people who were once (and may still be) your people (unintentionally?) communicate that you should know better, that you should be better?

Right now, I seek out my people. The people who have experienced something similar and are able relate to the experience, or the tiny fraction of the population who are honest, humble and healthy enough to be truly compassionate and empathetic without pushing one towards a solution/resolution. The people who will not rush processing or set an arbitrary deadline after which their interest and willingness to be present expires.

But my people are not here. My people are far from here. Some are in Southern California, some on the East Coast, others in London, the field, pretty much anywhere but here.

Last month I met with my spiritual director. While discussing my transition back to living in the Bay Area, I mentioned I have met a lot of people but have not found “my people.” And without missing a beat, she responded, “You won’t. There are too few of you.”

And there you have it. Aloneness.

For past me being alone and loneliness were interchangeable. I embraced loneliness, stewed in it, hated it. However, I have learned we are not designed to be isolated from one another; we are designed for community. And community is messy, restorative, costly, and sustaining.

What are we to do when community escapes us in our current location? What do you do when your community is not tied to place?

This is my reality. Yet I am hopeful a community will find me and I will find it, even here, even among the fireworks. And as I seek it out, I will remain open,  rebuff loneliness and not cut myself off. I not allow the gulf or the people on the other side to dictate the when and how and why of my experience (and processing). I will continue to speak of what was and what is. I will keep speaking until my words reach someone who understands. And then, we will stand together in community.

Even now, in broad daylight, fireworks are going off. Tonight I either force myself to watch the fireworks and with each boom tell myself to relax, or I will put on headphones, crawl into bed and watch something on Netflix that will make be laugh, a lot. Either way, I will focus on the beauty in hopes it and I are strong enough to hold the shadows at bay.

Happy 4th, y’all.

Today’s lesson

Note to self:





– Yelle, “Safari Disco Club”  (Download it HERE)
– La Dispute, “First Snow in Grand Rapids”  (Download it HERE)
– La Sera, “Devils Hearts Grow Gold”  (Download it HERE)

Not content. Happy.

Last night in the moments between wake and sleep, the following question floated through my mind: “When were you last happy?  Not content.  Happy.”

Before I continue writing I feel pressed to say that I do not believe happiness or its pursuit is central to life, nor do I believe that joy and happiness are the same thing.  Happiness is transient, while joy is a state of being.  But there are those rare times when joy and happiness collide.  And those moments are breathtaking in their ability to distill and display the beauty and simplicity of it all.

Now back to the question . . .

In my case that was not the most sleep-inducing thought.  I flipped through the rolodex of images and memories collected over the last several years.  There are countless moments filled with laughter, wonderment, excitement, and contented sighs brought on by the generosity and blessings of the day.  But no moment stood out as being one defined by a sense of happiness.

Then two friends’ statements (one of which began with, “I have never seen you as happy as you were . . .”) crept into my thoughts.  With each flick of the mental rolodex their statements resounded louder and louder and no image or memory seemed to measure up to the happiness I felt during the time referenced by their comments.  I wondered if their statements were true (maybe that was the happiest I have ever been) or if I had allowed that time to become a behemoth whose shadow has blacked out other happy moments that have since transpired.

Which ever it may be, or perhaps the truth is a mixture of the two, I remain hopefilled that joy and happiness will collide again soon.  And when they do, may I have my eyes and heart open wide enough to see, know and embrace it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A photo from my “Project 365: Outtakes” folder:

Curse Your Branches* (2.7.2010)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

– Pandit, “Pack Your Bags” and “Artichoke” (Watch the video for the former and download the latter HERE)
– Pepper Rabbit, “Harvest Moon” (Watch the video + download the song  HERE)
– Mesita, “Your Free Spirit”

Off we go…

When I graduated from law school in 2008 I moved back to Southern California for what I thought would be a brief time of preparing for and taking the beast that is the State of California Bar Exam.  During that time I decided to take a wee break from attending traditional church, aka the building with its four walls, and its politics and pettiness, which too often overshadow the purpose of the Church: to worship God and to be the collective body of Christ (by loving, serving, sacrificing for and extending grace upon grace) in the world.  Well that and three years of boredom and stress (ahem, law school), leaving a great church in Seattle, and the added bonus of grieving the loss of what was then my most important relationship, resulted in my not having the wherewithal or fortitude to undertake adventures in finding a new church community.  Especially when I would was only planning on being a community I figured I would leave in 2.5 months.

Three months have passed into more than a couple handfuls.  And come Sunday morning I am still restless.  I have attended church about two dozen times over the last two and a half years, though I attend “church of the ipod” religiously. Church of the iPod consists of me, earbuds, my iPod with sermon podcasts, my running shoes, and miles of road or trail.

My hiatus from church is something I have not given much thought to until recently because I have had some difficulty articulating the issues I have with church.  I take issue with the hypocrisy, hate, bitterness and injustice carried out under the banner of being “biblical” and the lives destroyed by this way of biblical living.  I take issue with the insular, cliche-ish nature of church members, 3-5 point sermons prescribing the steps necessary to achieve your best life now.   Maybe it was wearisome suffering of lonely, dark nights and even lonelier and darker days that took me away from the church.  Maybe it was the loss of relationships, loved ones and notions of myself.  Maybe it was surrendering my sense of deservedness.  Maybe it was a suffering whose only expression was heaving sobs.  Maybe it was experiencing God outside of church; experiencing God in moments of indescribable beauty and moments of indescribable suffering.

As I read this over it sounds like I have given up on church, or that I think it is useless.  Neither of which could be further from the truth.  I believe there is a biblical mandate for the church (see, paragraph one, “the purpose of the Church…”), but I have been harmed by the church and so much collateral damage lies in the wake of churches and Christians.  Needless to say I have some things to work out.

Then a friend of mine sent out the following challenge:

i have been seriously thinking about putting together some short essays/stories on women & the church. young(er) women & the church. both in and out…on the outskirts and fringe. married and unmarried, moms, and anti-babies. this is for you. for us….My goal is that our voices can be heard. from what i can tell, there are a lot of us out there. but i don’t see or hear much about the perspectives of women who choose to leave the church for one reason or another…. especially those who leave in their early 20s and beyond. apparently, we are an anomaly. and its not too often you hear about strong single women in the church either. where ever you are, you have a story.

I am not sure if I struggle with the church because I am a well-educated, single woman in my “early 20s and beyond.”  But I am finally willing to wrestle with my questions, my frustrations, my scars, my hopes.   As such, I will be writing periodically about my adventures in trying to regain a sense that the church, though broken, is a thing of and conduit of grace and beauty.  Please note that my writing is more about pushing thoughts out of my head to make space for others.  As such, they will be the musings of someone in the wilderness.  I will likely meander, go to the extreme to see the vista and then backtrack.  I will be say things just to see what they look like on paper, how they sound when I speak them.  Some things I will dismiss outright, others I will put out there only to look at it awhile before turning my back on it, others I will carry along with me testing their truth and trustworthiness.

With all that said, get your packs and hiking boots ready.  Off we go…

– The Generationals, “Trust” (Listen to it HERE)
– Mean Lady, “Indian Sun”
– Iron & Wine, “Tree by the River” (Download it HERE)
– Alex Ebert, “Trust” (Listen to it HERE)
– Best Coast, “Crazy for You”
– Rasputina, “Holocaust of Giants (Daytrotter session)” (Download it HERE)
– Alela Diane, “Oh!  My Mama” (Download it HERE)
– Ravens & Chimes, “Division Street” (Download it HERE)
– Hey Marseilles, “Rio” (Download it HERE)
– Grouplove, “Don’t Say Oh Well” (Listen to it HERE)
– BRAIDS, “Lemonade (Green Go remix)” (Download it HERE)
– The Get Up Kids, “Shatter Your Lungs” (Download it HERE)
– Joe Pug, “Hymn 35” (Download it HERE)
– The Radio Dept., “David” (Download to it HERE — download available for 3 days)

Circling toward the Center

It is Thanksgiving weekend, and life is beginning to settle.  Please do not read “settle” in terms of answers or direction — if that were the case I would be too busy celebrating to type –; rather thoughts and concerns that once seemed so burdensome and disparate are beginning to circle around a single idea.  I have wrestled with what it means to live out this idea for the better part of the last decade.  I will write and explore this more (and with far less ambiguity) once work settles down a bit.

Until then, Project 365 continues:

11.25.2010 – A Thing for Gray* — I was too busy prepping and cooking, helping my folks skype with family in Belgium, and making sure all my siblings were able to speak with my grandma, and chatting with my grandma and uncle, to remember to take photos.

11.26.2010 – The Long Beach* (Long Beach, CA) — Of recent, I have been drawn to blurry, out-of-focus photos.

11.27.2010 – Gray + Pocket*














. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new.”                                                                       -Ralph Waldo Emerson

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


I am working on a project that I need to get done but cannot for the life of me find the energy or interest to finish.  In other words, I spent my weekend cooped-up trying to get some work done.  In the fog of hours in front of books, some rays of sunshine found me: the celebration of a good friend’s engagement and catching up with a dear friend who recently moved (back) to Portland.

Here’s hoping your weekends were fog-free!

10.2.2010 – A Constant Question* (Orange, CA)

10.3.2010 – A Friendly Reminder*


– The Rural Alberta Advantage, “Don’t Haunt this Place”
– Manchester Orchestra, “I Can Feel a Hot One”
– Curtis Harvey, “Oldertoo”
– Carl Broemel, “In the Garden”
– Andrew Morgan, “Someone”
– Efterklang, “Modern Drift”
– Silver Swans, “Secrets”
– Zola Jesus, “Night”


Today I felt the rending of my strength.  It is difficult to reconcile that you are where you need to be whilst desperately trying to be anywhere but here.  Because here isolation removes each delicate stitch leaving invisible holes out of which one’s self slowly seeps out.  Because here hope is incontrovertibly the act of a lunatic.

How do you accept that life is going but that sometimes you no longer recognize the feet beneath you or the earth below them?

Suspended.  This is where and how I exist right now.  Suspended in every way: relationally, socially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, economically.  I am neither coming nor going nor staying.  I am simply attempting to live everything; to live everything with all of its glorious yet brutal contradictions.

I must be foolish.  I must keep darning the holes.  I must be a lunatic.  I must keep hoping.

“At present the palette is distinctly colorful . . . but by intensifying all the colors one arrives once again at quietude and harmony.”  (~V. van Gough)

10.1.2010 – Goat’s Milk Yogurt*

– S. Carey, “Mothers”
– White Sea, “Mountaineer”
– Tamaryn, “Love Fade”
– Small Black, “Photojournalist”