Water for the Fiery Soul: My Brief Break from Watching the News Everyday

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When Mom was pregnant with me, she swam daily laps in the community pool at her Orlando apartment complex.

And as she swimmed, I kicked and tumbled within her womb like a wild child.

Water has always been my favorite element. But me? I’m not like water. I’m like fire.

I burn. I blaze trails, burn bridges, and destroy foundations. I engulf my surroundings and heat them up to their melting and warping points. I don’t change for them; I make them change for me. I leave trails of ashes, kindling, and charred remains. I leave behind smoke that chokes throats, stings eyes, and makes people gasp for breath.

Water is my opposite. It can flood, damage, and drown, but it also cleanses and flows. It takes the shape of its containters instead of forcing them to adjust for it. It is a habitat and home for a variety of creatures. It cools, refreshes, gurgles, and comforts.

I am fire, and I love water. But if I’m honest with myself, I spend more time in the fire, especially in the past year.

I’ve been following the news everyday, especially as it relates to civil rights activism, Islamaphobia, and police brutality. And it’s burned like the fires of hell. One week, it burned white-hot, and I felt its pain and consumption. I realized I was very thirsty. I wasn’t quite parched yet, but dehydration was close.

So in the past few weeks, I stepped away from the fire to partake of the water I love and so desperately need.

I’ve gone swimming in my future in-laws’ pool for various get-togethers. I watered my mother’s plants while she was away on vacation. I planned and helped execute a summer day camp with my co-workers and some amazing volunteers, during which I drank gallons of water.

I began a new fantasy series. I binge-watched American Gods and Preacher and am in the process of re-reading the later’s comic series.

I began moving out of our current house and moving in with my future in-laws as we search for our first home as a married couple.

I added to our registry and began a honeymoon fund. I spent time looking through old pictures of myself and Bryce to send to my cousins as they prepare my bridal shower, and I’ve seen how much the two of us have grown in a million ways. I ordered invitations, cake toppers, and ring bearer boxes, and I browsed wedding rings. In short, for the first time in this process, I thoroughly enjoyed wedding planning.

After a long time dwelling in the fire, the water quenched my parched throat and washed out my stinging eyes. It flushed away the soot and cooled my burning skin. It carried me to new places I would otherwise avoid and ignore. After the fire’s deafening roar, the water spoke softly to me.

When I jumped into activism, I kept hearing pleas to be careful, to remember the discipline of self-care and protection from burnout, to treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. And I said, “Yeah, OK, Mom, I’ll be good and I’ll be fine.”

And this still happened.

I’m afraid to go to the waters and partake. After all this time, I’m still afraid the world will stop turning without me and my voice, opinions, and actions. I’m afraid people will become more racist and hateful if I don’t constantly remind them of how messed up the world is because of their hardened hearts.

I’m afraid to take a break from being God. I’m still recovering from this freaking Messiah-complex.

But I remind myself that while in the water of my mother’s womb, I wiggled and played as she swam in the water of her community pool, relishing in its coolness and flow, wanting to join her out there in that big, scary, mysterious world. Mom had a little ball of fire in her womb, and all that firecracker wanted was to swim in that refreshing pool of water with her.

I am still a ball of fire who yearns for the quenching water, a raging inferno that desires the easy, steady flow of the river. As I’ve drank deeply of the water, I’ve wondered how to reconcile the fire within me and the water that brings me such joy and contentment. I’m still figuring out how to swim in the water without extinguishing my flames.

Maybe, one day, I’ll be ready to embrace both my inner fire and my deep desire and need for the flowing water.

At least until my dominant fire takes over again and I have to burn for a while before I realize how parched I am.

And then I begin again.

Lord, Have Mercy

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About a quarter of the way through my hour and a half commute, from the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley to the traffic congested highways of Northern Virginia, I heard the news from Alexandria.

I was concerned, but no one on the radio mentioned fatalities. It sounded like a scare, something to be aware of but not to consume me for the day.

Then, when I got to work and checked my phone for the news, the story got worse.

A shooter “devastated” by Trump’s election took out his anger on a group of representatives enjoying a game of baseball. The gunman shot a representative in the hip. He was in critical condition.

But despite working less than 30 miles away from the city in which this atrocity had occurred, the day continued. My co-workers and I briefly talked about the incident, but we had work to get done, so we got to it.  I did my job, left to go home, picked up some food, and drove home to my fiance and an anime.

But I didn’t stop thinking about this, and what it means for me as a person and us as a nation.

Through all the work tasks, wedding planning, meal prepping, and Handmaid’s Tale-watching, I reflected on guns and the sacred fragility of life and disgruntled citizens and national division and critical conditions.

I felt like I needed to make a defense, but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know if sharing my thoughts would be necessary, or if my silence would make me complicit with and approving of such an act of violence.

Basically, I dealt with a national crisis the way I imagine most people with anxiety do.

I figured I should try praying, but I could only think of one prayer to use throughout this day:

Lord, have mercy.

It’s an ancient, simple, and heavy prayer, one that cannot make sense of senselessness but can undergird us when the world’s chaos threatens to unseat us.

It’s a prayer to pray when anger manifests itself in violence, when we allow divisions to poison us, when we forget that every human being is made in the holy, divine image of God.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we don’t know how to react out of shock and fear, when we use difficult times to push political agendas instead of offering comfort to those in pain, when we harden our hearts because it all seems like just too much (and sometimes, it really is).

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we go about our days as if nothing has changed because we don’t know what else to do, when the world keeps turning at the same time that it stops dead, when we wonder aloud what the hell we can do to end all of this suffering.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we isolate ourselves, when we allow our own relationships to decay in the dark instead of bringing our grievances and pain to the light of healing and resurrection, when we do not take care of ourselves.

Lord, in all times and circumstances, please, just have mercy on all of us. 

Sometimes, it’s all I know to ask.

I Want to Listen, But…

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In this divisive political climate, I really want to listen to you.

You have very different opinions than me, but I want to hear you out.

I want to see you as a person with integrity and goodwill, as someone who cares about others and loves this country, and as someone who loves God, the Bible, and the Church with all their heart, mind, and strength.

I want to sit down with you, have a conversation, and listen to what you have to say.

I really do.

But…

…You don’t care about the credibility of my opinion, or other opinions that aren’t yours or those who think like you.

…You won’t acknowledge the flaws and issues in your own logic and understanding.

…You won’t acknowledge your own privilege or biases.

…to even begin this conversation, I would have to drop all my legitimate fears and concerns, because you don’t want to hear them, and I don’t know if that kind of power imbalance makes a legitimate conversation worthwhile or even possible.

…I would have to call the guy “President” and feign respect for people for whom I have none so you won’t accuse me of being “unpatriotic,” an “entitled millennial who’s only upset because she didn’t get her way,” or a “snowflake.”

…if I get too passionate about something, you will probably accuse me of being an “irrational woman,” either to my face or to yourself.

…you will inevitably say “Not all men,” or “Not all white people,” or “Not all Christians” if I even mention certain issues, and you will show that you just don’t understand.

(Not to mention I also live with intense anxiety and hyper-sensitivity and can’t handle too much conflict at once without exploding, collapsing in on myself, or becoming completely exhausted…or all of the above.)

I want to listen, but…you just don’t get it.

I don’t even think you’re trying to get it.

*****

I want to talk. I want to have deep discussions with people who have different opinions than me.

I also want these conversations to be worth our time and energy.

I don’t want to check myself at the beginning of the conversation in order to listen to someone who has no intention of doing the same for me.

That’s not a conversation. That’s me laying myself down for you to trample.

And that’s unacceptable.

I want you to understand that white, male, hetero-, cis-, Christian supremacy is as big of a threat to our country as foreign terrorism, and that cutting programs for the poor harms the most vulnerable in our society as much as faulty infrastructure.

I want you to understand I am not against alternate viewpoints, but I am against viewpoints that promote inequality towards, and hatred and fear of, the most vulnerable in our society.

I want to understand you. I want to hear you out.

But I don’t trust that you’re going to do the same for me.

And as such, I can’t listen right now.

Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

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What is it like to just relax and not worry that you’re forgetting some huge responsibility and therefore can’t allow yourself to fully enjoy your self-care time?

What is it like be like to hear someone’s story and not immediately use it as a yardstick against which to measure your own quality of life and well-being?

What is it like to understand right away that when someone asks you a question, they do so out of curiosity, not because they’re trying to trip you up or make you feel insecure in your lack of knowledge?

What is it like to hear someone critique you without feeling your complete sense of worth drain away from you?

What is it like to wake up from a weird dream and simply accept it as a dream and not as if it is said deep, terrible things about who you are and how your life is?

What is it like to make a mistake at work and not immediately assume you’re going to get fired because you’re useless and replaceable?

What is it like to look at your partner and just understand that they love you unconditionally instead of assuming they are so annoyed by you that they only reluctantly deal with your garbage?

What is it like to accept that you love this person more than life itself without second-guessing yourself anytime you notice someone attractive or see other people more “lovey-dovey” than the two of you are?

What is it like for your friends to do things without you and not assume they are leaving you out on purpose because they can’t stand you?

What is it like to have questions about life without becoming so fixated on them that you can’t see the world around you?

What is it like to have political conversations without either blowing up on those who disagree with you or shrinking into yourself because you don’t trust that your answers are good enough?

What is it like to be secure in who you are and confident that you are enough?

What is it like to not panic about the state of your bank account every time you hand over your debit card or hit “Complete Purchase” on a screen or pay a bill?

What is it like to not have to worry about when the anxiety is going to come back in ways that will crush you after months of peace?

What is it like to not have almost every single memory touched by anxiety’s constant presence?

What is life without anxiety like?

I still don’t know. I don’t know if I ever will.

So tell me: what’s it like?

Tremble

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Immediately after reading that the AHCA passed the House, my shoulders shook as I held in my rage and sobs, because letting it out at my new workplace didn’t seem like the most appropriate place to vent my fear and frustration.

Days later, I read the Wisdom of Solomon for the first time in my life, and my heart shook within me at the power of those ancient words admonishing the righteous and praising the just. I read Jesus’ words uplifting the poor, weeping, and persecuted, and berating the rich, happy, and secure, and my voice shook while I spoke them out loud, the living room softly aglow with morning light my pulpit.

Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.

Ten years ago, my mom came into the stable at the end of a riding lesson, her normally calm eyes watering with tears and her usually steady body and voice shaking  with emotion. She managed to tell me my grandfather had been in an awful accident, and we needed to get to him and our family in Pennsylvania immediately.

There are mornings when my body shudders in fear, when the the power of my silent sobs forces my body into mild convulsions in the midst of panic attacks, as I physically and mentally fight my inner thoughts.

The ground in occupied Palestine, my family’s homeland, and in Syria, the first home of countless refugees, continues to tremble with bombs aimed at civilians, including mothers and children.

Tremble.

When my dad called me for the first time in 15 years, my fingers trembled so hard I worried I would accidentally hit “End Call” instead of “Answer Call.”

Almost 7 years ago, in a dorm kitchen, I prepared to tell a boy that I had a crush on him. When I looked up at him, I noticed his lips trembling slightly. Somehow, he knew what I was about to tell him, and it was moving him as much as me, if not more.

Five and a half years later, our hands trembled as he slid the engagement ring onto first my right ring finger, then after a laughter-filled correction, onto the left one.

Tremble.

Trembling comes in the midst of seismic shifts.

Earthquakes occur when plates shift and bump up against each other and try to move away. They change land masses and push once unmovable landmarks into new locations.

Our bodies shake with pain, anger, fear, joy, and excitement.

The earth quaked when Jesus breathed his last, and it shook to expose the empty tomb.

Were you there…

Earthquakes and resurrection. Tremors and new relationships. Quaking in fear and body-racking sobs. Movers and shakers.

Change comes, and it jostles and unsettles.

Brace yourselves.

 

Sometimes, People are Amazing

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Sometimes, people are amazing.

Sometimes, while driving through a rain storm, we roll the car windows down and put our hands out to catch the drops.

Sometimes, we stop what we’re doing to watch butterflies.

Sometimes, the kids clean up the room with little prompting after completing an activity, and they do it with gusto.

Sometimes, people write beautiful, thought-provoking, intelligent, biting, and necessary stories.

Sometimes, we call out hate crimes, at home and abroad. Sometimes, we hold a work meeting just to publicly apologize for the way they treated a co-worker.

Sometimes, we do fantastic things.

And other times, we don’t do the fantastic, awe-inspiring things.

Other times, we ignore the rain, and make big messes without cleaning them up, and destroy and censor beautiful works of art, and are behind the hate crimes, and degrade our co-workers without repentance.

We are human, after all. Sometimes, we remember that being human is sacred. Other times, we feel the weight of the burden it can be.

But we are still amazing in our capacity to do both, to do the wonderful and the awful, to be so complex that we are neither good nor bad, but simply human. There is nothing simple about being human, but there is always something sacred about it.

Maybe we are always amazing, even when we don’t act it.

Maybe.

1%

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Human beings have occupied 1% of the earth’s existence.

And we continue to demand a reason for being here, a greater purpose, something beyond ourselves.

We find God, and instead of making religion a story about the Divine, we make it about us.

We find art, and we use it to tell stories and explain the inexplicable, to give reasons for our pain, suffering, joys, and triumphs as if they were anything less than ordinary or expected.

All evidence points to humans being a blip on the radar, a fleeting breath, a candle extinguished in a gust, but we refuse to accept this as true.

We push ourselves towards greater milestones and achievements.

We make and consume art and culture as if it can define us.

We donate to charities and get involved with our communities, thinking our small actions will result in some extraordinary greatness in the end.

We fall in love and start families and make friends, claiming these humans, who are as finite and temporary as we are, are worthy of the bonds which we forge with them.

We devote time to satisfying our egos and desires, stuffing ourselves with more and more, realizing we will never be satisfied.

Why aren’t we satisfied with the fact that we are alive?

Why am I not satisfied enough with that?

Life is silly, and it’s sincere.

It’s stupid, and it’s rational.

It’s so human and so holy.

It drives me nuts. It gives me peace.