I’ve seen this question posed a lot on social media lately: What would you say to your 11, 15, 20 year old self?
I think of a list in my head. I think of the challenges that 11 year old, 15 year old, 20 year old self went through. I think about the way her mind worked, the way she viewed the world. I stop and look in awe at how strong she was, and I grieve that she didn’t know it.
This year, I turn 30. And as I process what it means to have come this far, I’m thinking about the things I’ve learned in the last few years. I’m thinking about the things I’ve learned in all the years of my life, and looking back with love and grace at myself all those years ago. I hope you’ll do the same for yourself, that on every birthday you sit and make a list of the things you’ve gotten right, the ways you’ve succeeded, the things that have stretched you and re-created you, the ways sacredness has found you.
These are 30 things I’ve learned in my 30 years of living.
Self care is real, and it is not selfish.
Listening is essential to learning, even listening to our own stories of trauma.
Being an ally is a title given by someone else who sees that in me.
Sometimes therapy is a necessary good.
Music is one of God’s greatest gifts.
Colonization takes many, many forms.
Vulnerability begets vulnerability.
Life happens in seasons.
Parenthood will teach us more than it teaches our kids.
Yes, it’s possible to write an entire book on Saturday mornings from a coffee shop.
I can’t make anyone else believe anything. I can only be open about my own humanity.
Storytelling is sacred resistance.
I’m more of an introvert than I ever thought I was.
Boundaries are healthy and necessary.
Questions are good. They teach us about ourselves and the world.
Our bodies are not things to be ashamed of and detached from.
Identity is complicated, and it requires a lot of painful digging to understand.
Social media can be a place of great despair and great community.
Prayer isn’t only an action, but a way of being.
Books can save our lives.
If our body/soul/mind tell us to rest, and we don’t want to, do it anyway.
The church can’t always be trusted.
Knowing myself means trusting that I’m sacredly loved.
If we don’t have real-life friends who are people of color, we’re missing out on the beauty of the world.
Hospitality is a human requirement for love.
The wilderness teaches us who we are and who God is, and the strength of our independence.
There are many names for God.
We don’t know anything, really.
Activism is an everyday, constant kind of work, in big and small ways.
Remembering that we are small things in a big, beautiful, sacred world is one of the greatest gifts we are given.
I believe we have this beautiful capability to look at ourselves with love, and to turn and see those around us as humans capable of good and evil, but still longing for that same kind of love.
Growing one year older is another year of stretching. So as I stretch into my 30s, I pray that whatever you’re stretching into, it’s for good. It’s probably painful and uncomfortable and overwhelming at times, but it’s good.
The thing that I love most about both of you is that while you are mine, you are utterly yourselves.
Your souls cannot be contained or controlled, and that’s exactly what most terrifies and thrills me about being your mom.
Today you started school.
And what I know is that while you are not alone on your new journey, neither am I. I’m surrounded by other moms and dads who are doing the same thing, loving their kiddos while they are with them and while they aren’t.
So here’s what I know.
Transitions hurt, and stretching feels like a small kind of death, and that's okay.
There’s this saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and I feel that already, felt it the moment we stepped out that door and left you for a few hours to learn and grow.
When you wake up in the morning, there will be things like oatmeal and strawberries waiting for you, and when you go to bed, there will be stories of Grandmother Moon and Waynaboozhoo.
And the next morning, I will be waiting with sage, so that when we burn it we can remember who we are. And when you go to bed that next night, there will be stories of Harry Potter and Hagrid, Ron and Hermione to lead you to the deepest parts of your imagination.
You see, this is why the stretching is both beautiful and hard.
Because of the stretching, we will make room for the sacred. We will gather when we are together, and when we are apart, we will do the work we’re called to do.
My Dear Boys,
When you see the world, both now and later when you’re grown, I might ask you to report back to me.
I might ask you to let me know what you’ve seen and heard, what overwhelmed your senses, what distracted you, what brought you comfort, what hurt you.
I might ask, because for now, we’ve got things to share with each other, before the leaving and the cleaving that one day will come in one form or another.
Before that, we report to each other so that we grow together, so that this world experiences all of us, our stories meshed and molded with one another’s stories.
We do this now so that one day, when you build family and community far from my grasp, I can watch in awe of the people you become.
I can watch in awe that your souls grew and stretched to bloom into exactly who you were created to be.
So, my dear boys,
Go, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.
Go, and when you come home, I’ll be there, waiting.
Go, make the world more beautiful and right wrongs, because that’s the shape of you.
Go, and as you go, I’ll be going, so that when we come together we will know how to be ready for whatever lies ahead of us.
Albus Dumbledore says, “there are all kinds of courage,” and I know that to be true, because I’ve seen it in you time and again.
Let your kind of courage be the thing that guides you.
I held my three year old son in the early morning light, held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.
We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.
The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.
We continue the tradition today.
It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.
We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.
Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.
So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.
We spend so much of our time running.
We run because we don’t know how to slow down.
We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.
We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.
We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.
Sometimes we run from God.
But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.
It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.
It is good that we say hello to another dawn.
It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.
What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.
I think our days would fall into place a little differently.
I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.
I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,
and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.
We’d embrace the light.
We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.
When we are young, we are taught to believe certain things about God— about what we can see, feel, understand.
When, in fact, God is beyond our senses or our understanding.
The church has been set up as an institution to hold those beliefs for us, to guide us in understanding them, but not always in questioning them.
So what happens when we find out that God is not what we expected?
We find that the world is far from what we believed it is, a world diverse in its expressions of God.
The first time I went kayaking, it was on a small lake, covered in lily pads.
I was there in the quiet, and the most amazing part was that I’d never seen a lily pad up close before.
How could I have missed, for twenty six years, such a beautiful aspect of creation– of God?
The first time I cooked a meal with our Muslim friend in my tiny kitchen and she took off her head covering in my presence, I thought how could I have gone my entire life without knowing intimate moments like these?
In growing my first full garden, I realized that I could have spent my life not tending to something so beautiful and tender as a garden bed of vegetables waiting to be harvested.
What then, are we missing in our lives? What gets in our way of an existence fully lived with God?
The church is, again, at a crossroads, a battle to determine who we are– and who Jesus is.
Many are uncomfortable with the uneasiness, with the change, with the unknown.
How could God be something other than what we've learned all these years?
God is the good– not our earthly or moral good, but some other Good that encompasses all goodness.
God is in you, me, him, her, creation– some pieces of us, our human, sacred parts.
And the truth is, we hold a healthy amount of fear in the things we do not know– in the adventures, on the journey, into the Mystery that is life and God.
But the church sometimes pulls us into an unhealthy fear, fear that threatens what the institutions have always deemed to be true.
But that healthy fear– that kind of fearful expectation mixed with the joy I felt when I saw those lily pads– that opened me up to God, to myself, to creation, to the world.
Just as we should not be afraid of God, we should not have to be afraid of expressions of God, the church, the ways we see God manifested in our lives, even in ways we cannot understand.
If we deny ourselves the gifts of God, we will miss something.
And if we miss something here and now, we are actually missing pieces of the kingdom, friends.
We are missing it.
And any hope of adventure, of this journey tethered close to something sacred and Mysterious, falls flat or gets destroyed by the belief systems we clung so closely to for dear life.
I know, because I was there. I was there a few years ago, when the things I’d learned as a child were suddenly challenged in every capacity, and I had to make a decision. What kind of journey was I going to take with God, and how would I encounter this world along the way?
And I continue to ask.
The important part is the asking– the thing we aren’t always taught to do in the church.
And I pray that we actually find that God is nothing like we expected in that other-kind-of-Goodness that can only be Mystery.
I pray that we find ourselves there.
And in that, we find that everything is just as it should be, adventurous joy abounding.
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
After Jesus was baptized, he was sent out to spend time in the wilderness. Over the years we’ve examined different ideas for why we think he spent time there, why it was necessary, but what we know is that the wilderness experience was the beginning of a new season in Jesus’s life.
We were sitting in church talking about this passage, and I was growing weary within a few minutes of the conversation, trying to understand what all of this could have meant in an indigenous perspective and not an American or western one. It’s new for me to look through this lens at the stories I heard all through childhood, but it’s a challenge I enjoy if I have the time to make connections in Jesus’s life to my own indigenous identity. And in that space, in a conversation about baptism and wilderness experiences, I did.
In native culture, young men at the time of puberty are sometimes called to go out into the wilderness to receive their life’s calling. Sometimes an elder might accompany them, oftentimes they go alone. They enter the wilderness because they know that on the other side they will come out a new version of themselves.
Kavasch and Baar in their book, American Indian Healing Arts, put it like this:
Endurance training and spending nights camping out alone with little or no food help to prepare each youth for the rigors of his spiritual journey. As the time for the quest approaches, rituals of purification, such as fasting and smudging– the burning of one or more sacred substances and bathing in their smoke– take place, accompanied by special prayers.
Then the boy goes off by himself to seek a vision. He spends four or five days and nights fasting, alone with his thoughts, on a windswept butte or within a shallow pit. He learns to deal with fear and find out about his own personal strengths. Each boy also looks for power and meaning in the natural world. The vision quest frequently brings on life-changing visions and dreams that provide glimpses into mystical and spiritual realms beyond his ordinary experiences.
A vision quest draws a person deeper inside himself and at the same time allows him to look at himself from outside. So much does a person learn in the process that in many tribes it is thought to be essential to the proper evolution of a healthy life path. Pete Catches, a noted Lakota medicine man, once said, ‘I do believe every young Indian, about high school age, should do a hanblecheyapi (vision quest) to get direction in life, to know what life is all about.’
I grew up being taught a very negative side of Jesus in the wilderness, when Satan came to him and tried to destroy him and ruin his life calling before it was about to start.
But now, I see something different. I see a kind of communion with the wilderness that taught Jesus about himself, that prepared him for his coming ministry and journey. We cannot know what kind of conversations happened in that quiet, but I can imagine there were a lot of thoughts coming in and out of Jesus’s existence. And in his struggle with spirits– evil and good, past and present– he found himself, his voice, and his own spiritual journey unfolding.
Just as the youth cleanses himself before he enters the wilderness, Jesus cleansed himself– in baptism– and entered into his own wilderness experience. Do you see the sacred connection here?
What if part of Jesus’ experience of the Holy Spirit came in the wilderness, in the place that wasn’t expected?
This is what I see in the wilderness experience of Jesus: a time of calling in the midst of what were often, I’m sure, difficult conditions. Still, he listened. He quieted himself, engaged with the voices and energies around him, asked questions of the world he’d entered into, and received visions and dreams of his future.
Brother, sister, you may be in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it’s an empty wilderness.
Glory is still found there. Sacredness, even when it’s uncomfortable, even if you’re alone, even if you’re a little afraid.
A wilderness sometimes still has voices and wind, sun and shade, flowing water.
And many cultures probably have similar practices to this, but growing up in the southern baptist church with little connection to my own native identity, I completely skipped over the wilderness experience of Jesus, because it only had negative connotations. Instead, in some denomination contexts, we are skipping over a beautiful and pivotal time of Jesus’s life: his purification and vision quest– his sending out experience.
So, let’s look at our own wilderness experiences differently. If you are in the middle of your wilderness now, look for what it teaches you. Let the wilderness speak to you, let the lone quiet, perhaps the lonely quiet, breathe something back over you.
And the truth of it is that it is often painful, there are surprises we’re not prepared for, quiet that is too quiet. But instead of running from that pain, lean into it.
Let yourself listen.
Do not hush the wilderness.
Do not rush the learning and the listening, the ending or the beginning, the birth or the re-birth.
Let the wilderness song sink into your bones, let your dreams of the future guide you out and back to a busy and waiting world, ready to welcome you.
And not forget what the wilderness taught you, for it may very well be your namesake.
It may very well be your calling.
Just as Jesus began in his wilderness, so maybe you must begin again in yours.
In the mornings when we wake up, we set our feet on the cold wood floors of our rented home nestled deep in a community-neighborhood in the middle of our city, and we embark on the good work of our day.
We take things slow and steady, and because one child is a morning person and one is a night owl, every sunrise is a little bit different, a little unsteady, a little challenging.
But we’ve chosen our way and we will cherish what we have.
It is an exhausting world and time we live in.
We are busy and hurried from the moment we open our eyes; even in our sleep we plan and calculate our days to achieve the most success.
But what does success look like when we’ve chosen a different path?
We take our mornings seriously as a family, and because it’s important to us that we choose wisely how we’ll spend that time, we take it slow, read books and drink coffee and eat breakfast, snap puzzle pieces into place and walk the husky three or four times because he’s old and needs our attention.
We make life choices out of necessity, by reading our bodies and our souls and making decisions about what is best for us, for our kids, for our pets, for our relationships, for our environment; and for the Curtice family, it means we’re swimming against the current in a lot of ways.
I do not think the idea of the straight and narrow only appears in the Christian religious tradition. I see, even in our western culture, the idea that if you’re different from the rest of the pack and the norms of a place or a people, you’ve left the good path and you’ll be ostracized for it.
The boys and I have been reading a lot of Native American stories about those people who chose another way and found themselves-
the boy who should have been a warrior but became an artist;
the girl who should have been a woman of the tribe but found her soul with the horses;
the outcast, ugly sister who became the bride of the most sought-after hunter around.
Their paths were set until everyone realized that something different was being asked of them, and they had a choice to make:
they could ignore their calling and do what they were told, or they could muster their bravery and go.
I’ve seen in the few short years that my boys have been alive how different they are from each other.
Whatever the straight path seems to be, they will both walk from it. They will make their own ways into the world and they will do it humbly, I pray.
And my prayer is that they find what their journey should be, not what our culture tells them their journey should be.
And that is a very difficult decision, indeed.
If we search our own histories enough, we see moments in our lives when we’ve taken the other route, done something unexpected, maybe became outsiders to the people who always thought we’d make the better choice.
But I think it’s time we ask ourselves what that better choice looks like, where we are headed, what path is right for us to take and what path should never have been trodden in the first place.
We learn and we step forward, or sometimes we step back, and if it’s necessary, we shift into a mode of living that takes into account what is best for us and those we love.
If we need slow mornings and steady breathing and quiet, we are not lazy, but we are settled into a different path, another way.
If our minds process things slower or if we create in a way that is unique to those around us, it is not a curse, but an opportunity to change the world.
And there, the minorities are lifted up and appreciated, the tired find rest again, those who are on the outside are welcomed into a spacious place that calls them beloved,
and something of Kingdom finds itself on earth, all around, in the corners and where we least expect it, even as our feet are lifted from the bed and set to the ground to begin another day.
“God is in the body, where we look out for each other.” –Peter Rollins
I’ve had a part time job on top of finishing this book for over a month now, and I find that my mind is cluttered–my brain is literally compartmentalizing itself again, creating new pathways and figuring out new rhythms, and by mid day it is exhausted. And in this, I see a tiny glimpse of the working family’s dilemma to keep up and the need for the body to slow down.
And we’re preparing for another PhD fall semester, and as much as we long for fall and the craziness, it creeps up and takes over and you’ve got to be ready for it.
I’ve noticed that I’ve had a headache for a few days now, a sore throat, less energy and a little more anxiety than normal.
I’ve noticed these little things changing inside my mind and heart, and deep down the red flags are going up as an early warning that rest is needed, sooner than later.
And so, I attempt to set boundaries, to non-work, to keep the laptop closed until nap time, to purposefully lose my phone and look at books instead, to intentionally make the morning a slow one.
There is so much somethingin nothing.
There is so much life in the quiet, so much rejuvenation in the unordinary rest period. So we over schedule ourselves for days and days, and to protect ourselves from completely burning out, we stop while we can–even for an hour–and we do NOTHING.
We turn off the phone and hide the MacBooks and Kindles; we sit by the fire and read, we do puzzles with the kids, or drink our coffee and tea–slowly this time; we talk and we share and we process and we stay in bed a little bit longer, dreaming.
At some point in time, some voice started to say that life needed to be done this way to be a successful one: fast and hard and with money in mind.
And that lone voice was joined with other voices until that chorus began to dictate what regular life became.
We use that vacation time that’s been adding itself up over the years and we take a day for ourselves, for our family, for our sanity, for our good.
We are so less useful to ourselves and the world when we are completely used up, so we learn to say no more than yes, to stay in more than out, to disengage what takes up so much of our lives and engage the quiet of our own souls, just for a little while.
We practice eye contact with those closest to us, re-learn what it means to listen and engage, to learn and practice wide-eyed curiosity.
And in knowing ourselves, in caring for ourselves, we know and care for each other.
And there we find God, we find holy, we find good and true.
We hearken back into the spaces we may have abandoned for months, maybe years.
The good news is that those quiet spaces always take us back.
Do not be afraid of the non-work, friends.
It may be exactly what keeps you working in the first place.
One year at the Carl Junction school book fair, I bought a teacher’s kit.
I administered tests to myself, pretended to be the student, missed a spelling word here and there so that, as the teacher, I could give myself a 98% instead of 100% with a bright red ink pen.
I wrote on my little chalkboard and used my apple stickers and recruited my stuffed animals to be adoring students.
As I got older, the desire to teach subsided, became replaced by other passions and pursuits. I got married, learned to lead worship, studied psychology and social work, discovered my love for people and community.
Later, after my boys were born and when they became old enough, I saw this most unexpected phenomenon come about– they could learn anything, anytime, anywhere.
And suddenly my sense of adventure was heightened, and I became someone that I’d left behind all those years ago– that little girl with the school teacher kit who ached for learning and teaching.
Only now, I was honing my craft morning by morning, those two boys guiding my way as much as I guided theirs.
One Sunday in church, our friend Jeremy began our sunday school class with a simple enough introduction– say your name and one thing you could teach somebody else.
The struggle to find the latter seemed to permeate the room as we went around the circle. What exactly am I good at? Can I actually teach something to someone? And am I willing to admit it?
I struggled for an answer, embarrassed that I might be good enough at something to help someone else learn from it, and terrified that I might not be.
But the humbling, beautiful truth of gifting is that every single person has something to give.
And a life lived in wonder engages every opportunity as a lesson, every moment a chance to gain something from the experience.
We’ve told ourselves over the years that learning looks like one thing in one environment, so much so that we fear what teaching would even look like in our everyday moments;
but we forget, then, that life is lived in so many spaces:
at the dinner table, we learn about one another as we explore our day;
on the front porch, we study rocks and birds and know that the world is something marvelous;
at the work desk, we stretch ourselves into new capacities and challenges;
on a short neighborhood walk we encounter and engage with the people around us and remember why the human experience is so sacredly beautiful;
and on our beds at night, we search our hearts and seek to understand who we are in this world.
And so, to teach anything to anyone comes from a heart that learns and seeks to learn.
It is certainly intimidating to teach as a mother– even more so as a school-at-home mother, but I see with every minute spent invested in learning that teaching is a gloriously natural part of our life cycle.
We teach, we learn, we discover, we teach again, and nothing about it is linear, and nothing bout it is calculated exactly the way we’d expect it to be.
Right now, in ten minutes, tomorrow morning standing over the coffee pot, is a moment asking to be noticed, and if we remember who we are and what we are wired for, that moment becomes something monumental, something holy and good in our day.
To you, the learner, I say:
Learn and do not be afraid.
And to you, the teacher, I say:
Learn more and teach, and do not be afraid.
And on and on ’til Kingdom come and then after,
may our perpetual learning be lead to perpetual teaching, glorious transformation meeting us at every turn.
There’s something known to be proven in my experience of being in community.
If people gather together in a space and are asked to share their story over a bowl of chili, something holy will happen sooner or later.
You find all these connections between yourselves, and somehow the whole world brings itself to your corner.
Our church launched Koinonia Groups this week, and ours met for chili in our little place.
Some of us are vegetarians and some are meat eaters; some drink our coffee black and some load it with cream; we like tortilla chips or we don’t, but we all like Miki’s chocolate cake.
When you’re seated in a circle, looking each other in the face, it’s pretty clear that the choice is to engage or disengage, open up or close tight, be vulnerable or stay inside yourself where no one else can reach.
Our church is going through a big transition, a big growing pain that hurts for some more than others, hurts for everyone in different ways.
And in the overlap of sharing these stories, of finding our commonalities and differences, we see the soul perspective.
The importance of sharing with each other is to understand each other. If I know your hurt, if I know your history, I understand your needs, I understand your reactions, and appreciate your perspective without having to agree with it.
And there, the church has some growing up to do, because we do not honor the story or the story-teller.
When the glass if half empty to you, it’s half full to me; and when I’m all tired out, you hold me up then and there, and it’s a constant cycle for the rest of our lives and into eternity.
This is about more than the optimist and the pessimist, about more than a personality type. This is the church being the church.
This is people being people.
This is what it looks like for honor to beset honor.
And there we find something that is nectar to us, a full soul-meal, a sort of communion in our coming together and serving one another.
If we are to take seriously the work of loving each other, we should take seriously the work of hearing each other. And if we take seriously the work of hearing each other, there is nothing left to do but give thanks for the benevolent journey we walk together every single day of our lives.
So get out the bowls and cook the chili, friends.
Put the chairs in a circle and speak life out of reverence for each other’s lives, and see what happens.