An Iris in Remembrance.

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There’s a bed of purple irises in our backyard. A single blossom has unfurled, and it evokes warm memories of my mother, all those late spring days when she would weed the flower beds at the front of the house, and the irises seemed to multiply by hundreds every year, their heavy heads bowing in the May sun.

In many ways, I feel like I’m not in a place right now to be grateful for what happened to us. Time presses on, and the weight of meaning-making feels impossibly hard to bear.

And yet, these memories sprout up anyway. They both anchor and undo me, all at once. They are the leaves I grow and shed, over and over again, that feed the soul-soil of who I am. It’s an ongoing existence of death and rebirth. That’s what grief is to me – death and rebirth, death and rebirth. Some seasons are uglier and harder than others, and I’m sure I can never recover these winters. And some seasons I turn toward the sun, arms outstretched, like all those irises my mother planted, growing by the years.

So today, yes, I bow my head. Thank you, thank you.

Your Own Brand of Magic

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“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

//

My husband’s grandfather passed away on Tuesday morning. He took with him his own brand of magic that no one else will ever possess. Dirty jokes and toy trains and fishing trips. Card games and cigarettes. Raucous laughter and deep affection for his grandkids.

I sat on my porch after we heard the news and could almost hear his own disbelief that he died. I suspect he thought he’d live forever, or at least a hundred years more, sitting on his porch no matter the weather with his smokes and sudoku puzzles, fishing at Lake Shelbyville with Matt and Dad every spring. He and Matt talked about going down for a trip in May, when we saw him a month ago, the weekend we came home because we knew it was our last chance to see him. We knew it was a charade of nostalgia and grief and love for all of us.

This, though painful, is what we do at the end, because we hope that death is just a prolonged absence. We plan the fishing trip, and hope that when we too cross over to the other shore one day, that Grandpa will be standing there with his pole in hand, saying, “What took ya so long?”

I loved you dearly, you beautiful old man. Enjoy the fresh air.

Lenten Reflection: Of Stardust & Sacred Questions.

Rob Gendler-nebula-dying star flower ring

There is this word that I’ve always been afraid of, but which now feels like a gift to my faith:

Evolve.

It’s taking its place in a landscape of new language I’m developing for this season of my faith: Wholehearted. Sacred. Wilderness. Scarcity. Abundance. Justice. Grief. Change.

This word came to me a few nights ago while I was watching Cosmos on Netflix. I can’t fully explain the episode* because I’m terrible at science, but it was about stardust and ghosts and the space-time continuum and the edges of the universe.

From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” never felt more true or made more sense, and the fact that this marked the beginning of the Lenten season for me made it all the more sacred.

In Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, he writes,

“Faith is not some hard, unchanging thing you cling to through the vicissitudes of life … Just as any sense of divinity that we have comes from the natural order of things – is in some sense *within* the natural order of things – so too faith is folded into change, is the mutable and messy process of our lives rather than any fixed mental product.”

This is the mutable, messy process of my evolving faith: searching for God in that fold between natural order and unexpected change, tucked away in a space I’ve never looked before. It might be found in the pages of a faith memoir, or in a Netflix binge-watch, or in the pages of my own journal, or a walk in the woods.

The truth is that I think more than I feel my faith at this point in my life.

The deep affection I have felt for God and the Church, once demonstrated through singing hymns and reading scripture and sitting in pews, is demonstrated through solitude and sacred questions right now.

Maybe you have experienced this too: that our love and our questions aren’t separate, but deeply connected. There are seasons when our questions are the fruit of our deep affection for God and the Church. Because we love, our questions matter. Asking these questions is an act of tending the soil – the sacred ground – of our faith. Some things that once marked our growth have ripened and fallen to the soil, fertilizing it for other seeds to take root and grow in the seasons to come.

” … it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me, or, more accurately, as if I had happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert and had known, though I was just then discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.” – Wiman, My Bright Abyss

Maybe we are made of stardust. Maybe we look at the sky and see the ghosts of centuries past, lighting the darkness for us. Maybe we see the stars and unknowingly see the spirit of our mothers, gathering the universe unto themselves like they have since our birth. Maybe Mother Earth is that ineffable God-love I feel when I tend another sacred question.

Whatever, I still believe:

She makes everything beautiful in its time.

*Cosmos Episode 4: “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” for my curious readers.

[Post image source.]

Wholehearted 2015: #OneWord365

2015 started with a bang, quite literally.

On the second day of the new year, my housemate and I were in a car accident.

In the week since, my memory has already begun to edit itself into a highlight reel of moments surrounding the crash. I will always remember how it happened – with no warning, no screech of tires, no horns blaring, no crunch of metal as our vehicles collided. We were driving along in one moment, and in the next, an airbag punched me in the face and I screamed. The car filled with an acrid smoke as the airbags deflated. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Caitlin gasped. We swiped the airbags out of the way and tried to comprehend what had transpired. It happened so fast.

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It’s taken me several days to get over the trauma of feeling like the universe had assaulted me somehow. The accident happened on the third anniversary of my mother’s death. Caitlin and I went out to dinner with our friend Emily, and then we were going to go home and watch a funny movie to try and live some modicum of normalcy and happiness on an otherwise dark day in my life. A day in which I already carry a heightened awareness of my mortality and life’s brutal, cruel unfairness. I did not need to be smacked in the face with it, thankyouverymuch. It’s a wound in and of itself that will take time to heal.

I laid around the whole weekend afterward in a sort of post-accident hangover. I wondered to myself: how am I supposed to embrace a new year, making resolutions and feeling hopeful about the future, when crap like this happens? Or, in other words:

How do I live and love in a world that scares the shit out of me, every single day?

Bethany Suckrow Blog_Wholehearted_OneWord365

The details of how and why we crashed don’t matter now, I guess. Caitlin’s car is totaled, and every day when I go out to toss the garbage or fetch the mail or run an errand, I see her poor Toyota Camri sitting in our driveway, folded at the front as though it were a piece of paper instead of a metal machine, and I’m reminded all over again: it was bad. And it could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t.

I’m taking it as a token reminder of my One Word for 2015: Wholehearted.

The word, inspired by Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, holds so much interpretive potential for the 353 days to come, but for today, it means this:

Keep living and loving anyway, even when life scares you.

Keep showing up.

Dare to be vulnerable, brave, and ambitious.

Don’t tie your self-worth to your circumstances. Don’t sabotage your own joy by dwelling in tragedy and shame.

Own your healing and your words with your whole heart.

This is my sacred ground.

Three Years.

Mom-Grief-Three-Years

This morning I looked through a stack of photos. It’s a ritual of remembering I set aside for this day every year, to honor you. I pause and let myself feel fully the weight of your absence. I come to grips with the reality, searching through this stack of photos, that I’ll never find what I’m searching for: you, present tense. You, with me as I am now. A picture of you, age 53, and me, age 27, arms around each other, smiling. The stack of photos in my hand feels so finite. I’m holding a window of time, a fixed frame, a chapter in a book.

I miss you, mom. I always will.

Leelah Alcorn and What It Means to be Pro-Life

So a weird thing happened on Tuesday. I posted a tweet that went viral.

ProLife-Means-Loving-Your-LGBTQ-Children-Twitter

On Twitter I’m usually more of a listener, follower and retweeter than a thought leader, so I was a little caught off guard to see my tweet explode this way. (I mean, really. WHAT IS MY LIFE that I, of all people, posted a tweet about transphobia that went viral????? I’ve barely tweeted in months, and then KAHBLAM, I get 6,000+ retweets and 150,000+ notes on Tumblr. Somebody please come clean me up off the floor because I just cannot comprehend.) Please pardon my incredulity.

But more seriously, I want to acknowledge the fact that I am not even remotely the first person to say what I said, even on Twitter. LGBTQ people have been talking about this for pretty much forever but very few are listening to them. I’m blown away by the response and grateful for those that shared it, but I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my privilege as a straight white girl whose tweet about this topic went viral.

So, given the overwhelming attention my tweet received, I thought I’d take a minute to expand on my thought behind the tweet and then offer some resources to those that have questions about it, especially Christians. My post here is not nearly as comprehensive and important as the people I’m linking to, so please don’t skip the part where you actually educate yourself with direct resources.

About Leelah Alcorn.

Leelah was a transgender teenage girl from Kings Mill, Ohio, who committed suicide on December 28. Before taking her life, she posted a suicide note to her Tumblr account, explaining her story. (Update: Her suicide note has since been taken down, so here is a google cache version of her post.) Most notably, Leelah expresses grief that her Christian parents refused to accept her transgender identity and isolated her from her community for attempting to come out. Leelah draws a clear, unquestionable connection between her parents’ bigotry and their conservative Christian beliefs. This part is especially heartbreaking:

“…they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

And this:

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

The Connection between “Pro-life” and Transphobia.

So why did I tweet about “pro-life” Christians being transphobic, and what does it have to do with Leelah Alcorn’s suicide? Full disclosure: I cannot speak for the Alcorns and their stance on abortion, but I can speak to the kind of conservative, right-wing Christianity that claims to be adamantly pro-life when it comes to opposing abortion, and yet does not hold the same regard for the lives of LGTBQ people (or black people, or undocumented immigrants, or a whole host of other marginalized people in this world, for that matter.) “Every life is precious” in utero, but what if that life grows up to be gender nonconforming like Leelah’s? Too often I’ve seen this “unconditional” love go out the window for the LGBTQ children of conservative Christians. “Tough love” takes over, leaving LGBTQ children completely alienated from their families and communities.

There is a huge, gaping hole of disconnection between “pro-life” sentiments and the rejection of LGBTQ people, and it is not only heartbreaking, but life-threatening. According to the CDC,

“LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.”

The suicide risk is even higher for transgender teens. This information alone should make it clear that LGBTQ youth feel unloved and unsafe in their homes. This is tragic. The fact that death feels like the better option to them should break our hearts enough to affect real change, in our selves and our communities, but so often it doesn’t, and that’s my point. The isolation, disregard, or flat-out rejection of LGBTQ people by Christians is in direct opposition to Jesus’ commandment to love one another, full stop.

Christians, we need to do better. If you claim to be “pro-life,” then be consistent. Care enough to change these statistics. Care about offering LGBTQ people hope through compassion, grace and unconditional love. Stop wielding your faith as a weapon against the LGBTQ community. Stop blaming Jesus for your bigotry. And please, for the love, if you cannot embrace the LGBTQ people in your midst, then stop claiming to be “pro-life” and start calling yourselves what you really are: “anti-abortion.” If compassion and unconditional grace are not a part of your “pro-life” ethic, then you are not pro-life. 

“But Not All Christians…”

Many many people responded to my tweet with “not all Christians are like that” or “why are you singling out Christians.”

The reason I was specific about Christians perpetuating LGBTQ-phobia is because Leelah Alcorn draws an inextricable connection between her depression and her parents’ faith. Her parents used their Christian identity as an excuse to reject Leelah’s transgender identity, and shamed her for not being Christian enough to conform to a straight identity. I am not being assumptive or jumping to conclusions about Leelah’s story when I address the systemic LGBTQ-phobia that is prevalent in conservative Christian culture; Leelah confronts this herself in her post. To not address this, to not critique the conservative evangelical Church for its systemic LGBTQ-phobia, is to erase Leelah’s experience as a transgender girl who was rejected by her parents based on their religion.

When I addressed Christians in my tweet, I was addressing those that identify as staunchly “pro-life” and also oppose the LGBTQ “lifestyle.” This is a very specific group of Christians, mainly conservative, right-wing evangelicals. I know that Not All Christians are homophobic or transphobic, because I found the ones that aren’t and they changed my perspective! This seems like it would be glaringly obvious given my tweet, but I’ve had a surprising number of people bombard my mentions with this nonsense.

So here’s the thing: if you are a Christian and you do not agree with the Alcorn’s choice to reject their child, then do not waste time trying to pretend like hatred of LGBTQ people isn’t a problem in the Christian church, because that in itself is a rejection of them and their lived experiences. Pretending that oppression doesn’t exist is not any more moral than actively waging oppression; it IS oppression. If you really want to love someone, start by believing them when they say they’ve experienced oppression and persecution. Stop centering the conversation around yourself by whining that you and your religious community have been unfairly generalized.

For further reading on this point, I highly recommend this post from Eliel Cruz, “On #NotAllChristians,” especially this bit:

It’s time we started being less defensive and more reflective. If the statement that was made doesn’t apply to you, there shouldn’t be any reason for you to feel defensive. But perhaps you feel defensive because it hits too close to home. If that’s the case, then it is the perfect opportunity for you to be reflective — and we shouldn’t feel ashamed about that.

 

Resources for Educating Yourself about LGBTQ Experiences.

Here’s a comprehensive explanation of what being transgender means, for those of you trying to understand Leelah’s experience.

Also, let me just acknowledge again that my tweet was not anything that hasn’t already been said before. Consider this section of this post my sources cited for my tweet. I did not always hold an LGBTQ-affirming perspective; in fact my change of heart has been fairly recent. The last 5 years have been a slow 180-turn for me, and you can read more about my journey in a guest post I wrote, A Love Letter for the LGBTQ Community. I’m deeply indebted to some smart, wise, kind individuals that are working hard to educate others on how to love LGBTQ people well. Here are a few to start you off:

– “If Your Kid Comes Out to You” , plus a boatload of LGBTQ resources by Benjamin Moberg

– “And Though I Find Here No Permanent Dwelling” by Sarah Moon

– Dianna Anderson’s entire series on Queer Theology (and basically her whole blog)

– “The False Gospel of Gender Binaries” by Rachel Held Evans

Why the “love the sinner, hate the sin” trope isn’t loving at all, by Micah Murray

– “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ‘Allies’” by Abi Bechtel

– If you’re on twitter, I would highly recommend following these folks who share their lived experiences as LGBTQ people on the daily: Eliel Cruz, Broderick Greer, AW Hooker, Dianna Anderson, Sarah Moon, Ben Moberg, Saeed Jones. And some trustworthy allies that are also educating me well: Suzannah Paul, Abi Bechtel, Luke Harms, Micah Murray.

Next Steps for Honoring Leelah Alcorn & Supporting the LGBTQ Community.

Donate to the National Center for Transgender Equality in Leelah’s name

– Read about the hashtag #RealLiveTransAdult to understand their lived experience. Reverend Lawrence T. Richardson’s post for The Salt Collective, “Transgender and Christian… and Crying for Leelah Alcorn” is a good place to start.

The Marin Foundation is full of wonderful resources for reconciling the Christian faith and affirming LGBTQ people. Educate yourself.

– Shut up and listen.

The Miracles & The Mess.

thrifted desk - messy miraclesA few months ago, on an unseasonably cool Saturday in September, I bought a desk at a thrift store for $30. One drawer doesn’t quite close, and it bows slightly in the middle, signs that its previous owner weighed it down with too much junk. But it was sitting there on the thrift store sidewalk, full of potential, and I had just enough cash to take it home with me. It sat in the basement for weeks, holding several unpacked boxes while we worked out a rental agreement, an all-too-accurate reflection of the utter chaos of the last several months.

By some haphazard, messy miracle, we find ourselves living in a sweet little brick house in east Nashville. The rent is affordable, we have a wonderful twitter-friend-turned-housemate, and we get to have an office/guest room, a basement where my husband can host weekly band practices, and a yard for gardening. It’s everything we wanted but thought we couldn’t have right now. This miracle was born of several months of messy, unpredictable circumstances, including a brief (48 hour) stint in a cockroach-infested apartment, six weeks of crashing with generous friends, and moving all of our worldly possessions three times in four months. Oh, and my car broke down. Oh, and my blog, this very one that you are reading right now, broke down too, thanks to some shoddy coding and wonky, outdated plugins. (God bless my dear friend Sarah Joslyn for getting it up and running again.)

I’ve not been my best self through all of this, to put it mildly. During move #4, in which we transported approximately 672 boxes full of stuff that I could no longer remember owning into a house that we hadn’t yet signed a lease for – in the pouring rain, of course – I picked a fight with my husband and collapsed onto the floor in tears. He continued carrying boxes to the car while I scrolled through my Instagram feed, torturing myself with photos of other people who had houses to live in and furniture to sit on.

When we finally signed the lease and had permission to settle into our new space, my husband asked if we could move my thrifted desk into the office. I refused. I didn’t want to set it up before I’d made it perfect with a new finish and fancy desk chair, which at that point we couldn’t afford. When I finally sat down to my desk, I wanted it to be a clean slate. I wanted it to be freshly painted and bathed in sunlight, inviting me to sit down and crank out the next Great American Novel, or at least finish that memoir proposal I started almost two years ago. And so for weeks our office was a random pile of boxes, a waiting room of unresolved chaos while I held on desperately to my vision of perfect circumstances in which I’d finally be allowed to have the workspace I longed for.

I’m not sure what prompted it, but one day I finally let go. We moved the desk upstairs, sans new finish, with a chair we borrowed from a friend.

It’s not perfect.

Neither is my in-transition blog from which I write to you. Neither is my life right now.

But I believe in owning my circumstances, the miracles and the mess.

It’s who I am: bent, but not broken. Unfinished, but full of potential. A work in progress bathed in light.

For When It’s Too Late to Turn Back.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetIn May 2007 I found myself climbing the side of a mountain in Northern Ireland without being entirely sure how I got there.

I had joined a missions team at my evangelical university, and we planned to spend two weeks ministering to local youth in Dundrum, a little bayside town of Northern Ireland. The climbing-a-mountain thing was one of those spontaneous group activities that seemed like a fantastic idea until I was actually doing it. The mountain peak didn’t seem so, well, vertical, when I was admiring it from sea-level.

But suddenly there I was, fingers gripping rock with every last ounce of strength I had. I didn’t know if I could make it to the top without killing myself. I didn’t know if I could make it back down without killing myself. I had to decide which would be the more honorable death.

I usually tend to dwell on that euphoric moment when I reached the peak of Mount Donner with pride, but today I reflect on the in-between moment, when I was clinging to the side of the mountain and had a singular thought running through my head as I looked back down the steep incline of how far I had come:

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

In September 2008 I found myself embarking on a semester abroad alone. I was sitting on a flight I had just boarded by myself after tearfully saying goodbye to my fiance for the next three months. I had been anticipating this experience since high school, had been planning and saving for this particular trip for more than a year.

To this day, I still say that it was the best decision I ever made for myself, choosing to study abroad. It widened my worldview by thousands of miles and it helped me grow in a million important ways. My memories of that time are still so vivid – – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the memory of good meals and remarkable moments.

But I also remember that in-between moment, after I left and before I arrived, when the wheels went up and Chicago shrank to a spec outside my airplane window and I was all by myself. All of the anticipation I felt, all of my bravery and courage and motivation, felt like it had been sucked out of the plane. I could hardly breathe.

“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”

There is this hard, messy part of every adventure that no one wants to talk about.

The part where you realize that you are very far away from home, and you’re really on your own. The part where your expectations meet reality. The part where it gets frustrating and expensive. The part where the plans you make collapse into one another like a stack of dominoes. The part where you have to tell yourself, “it’s too late to turn back now.” The part where you say a few swears because you’re scared.

I don’t think this feeling can accurately be called regret.

I don’t regret moving to Nashville.

Just like I didn’t regret climbing that mountain in Northern Ireland.

Just like I didn’t regret boarding that plane to Europe.

What I’m feeling is anxiety, and I know that this anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I made the wrong decision. I don’t necessarily want to be in the position I am now, broke and struggling to make things work, but I also don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to move forward. I’m under no illusions that I would be any happier or more fulfilled if we had stayed in our rundown, overpriced, single-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.

In fact, I knew that it was entirely possible that there would come a point about six weeks into our new life here when money would get tight and plans might be out of sync and I might miss my support system back home. If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time trying to prepare yourself for every conceivable consequence before embarking on adventure, but in the end it doesn’t save you. The inevitable moment will still arrive when expectation meets reality and you have to keep going, no matter what. Even if you do feel like a chicken-shit.

And just like all the adventures before this one, there will come a day when I remember this with season with gratitude, pride, and fulfillment. And maybe even a little compassion for whatever in-between moment I find myself in then, too.

#FaithFeminisms : Bearing the Fruit

Screen-shot-2014-07-22-at-10.32.11-PMToday I’m over at #FaithFeminisms, sharing part of my story of coming to feminism after growing up in white evangelicalism.

I am on a journey. It is a journey of faith, it is a journey of feminism, it is a journey into the Kingdom of God. Like every journey, it is both a walk away from something, and a walk toward something. It bears the tension between the now and the not yet. (Read more here.)

I’m so excited and honored to be included in this series. When we started dreaming and scheming this over a week ago, led by the fearless and badass Mihee Kim-KortJes Kast-Keat, and Suzannah Paul, we could not have predicted just how positively people would engage it. I hope you’ll take the time to read and process the stories being shared there this week.