For the last several months I have fought the knowledge I am supposed to write about a controversial topic that is to me, very personal. God has been sitting here with me, sometimes not so quietly, with a pen stretched out towards me. I have looked askance at God, fearful of sharing so openly in such a public forum for as a spiritual director, author, and speaker, there are things I am perfectly willing to share and things that are kept private. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that though I may lose readers and potential clients, my ministry is for those on the edges asking questions, who may not feel welcome in a spiritual community and if they don’t realize there are people like me they can talk to, they will feel alone with no one to walk with or hear them. So it is chiefly for them and for my own mental health I have finally grasped that proverbial pen and put it to paper. It would be a bonus for me if people who don’t agree hear my heart. Read More
For the last two years I have watched my church of Northwest Yearly Meeting be torn apart. I have cried and talked with friends, been angry and felt betrayed. What I have not done is write about it. Though the desire to do so has, at times, been bursting at the seams, it’s also meant sharing a part of my personal story I haven’t been ready to publish.
When deciding where to start, I’ve decided on the piece I initially wrote for the 2016 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Though it’s not as explicit as future posts will be, it was written during a time when my life was changing and my heart was breaking all at once and I used the paper to share what was swirling inside. Though my small group there urged me to publish the piece, I wasn’t ready. Times are different now, however, and people need to share their stories. So here is the beginning of mine. Read More
There are people in our lives who start out as friends and become family. I am inordinately blessed to have several such people in my life including the George family: Gil, Melody, their daughters Analise and Amy, and Melody’s mom, Sally. They have added so much to my life, more than I can ever comprehend, and I am eternally grateful. This particular post about them was written years ago (Analise is now four and Amy is eight) but I never posted it and when I reread it today, it touched me so deeply I cried. Both girls were in my dreams last night and I woke up missing them and looking forward to our upcoming hike. I hope they know how very much I love them. So Analise, Amy, Gil, Melody, and Sally, this one is for you.
“Bye-bye Deyah. Bye-bye Deyah.” According to Gil, my one-year old niece went around saying this all day after spending a weekend with her mom and I at a retreat. For months we have been encouraging Analise with our favorite words: Mama, Daddy, Amy, Nana, Sarah, hike, trail, and book. Her big sister, Amy, also taught her “no,” a word Analise has since used many times with her. Amy might be regretting that decision now. “Sarah” has always been a hard word for her as the S and R are hard for young ones to pronounce. “Deyah” is as close as she can get right now.
Though I met Amy as a baby, I didn’t get to really know her and her family until she was two and a half. Analise I have known since she was born. It’s been fun to watch a baby grow, learning how to hold her head up, roll over, crawl, walk with a hand, and now, just learning to walk on her own. With Amy, I have loved watching her learn to speak with “I” and “me,” walk down the stairs with one foot on each step, walk on snow with skis, and learn to read.
These two girls are one of God’s greatest gifts to me and I am so grateful for them. I’ve had so many special moments with each. Saturday morning of the retreat, I had woken up early to create an outline from my notes of the talk I was going to be giving in a few hours. Sitting at the desk in my room, I heard Analise starting to cry in the room next door. Slipping through our adjoining door, I lifted Analise up, acknowledged Melody’s request to wake her up later, and took my niece back to my room with me. There, Analise contentedly sat in my lap as I worked, happily drumming on the desk with my pens as the sun came up.
As a writer and speaker, I hear every so often how my words have touched someone, how what I have said has encouraged a person to try something new. Speaking into someone’s life like that is one of the greatest honors I will ever know. But even more than that, is the honor of having a five-year old girl jumping up and down when she sees me and having a one-year old cuddling happily in my arms. This last summer, their family took a road trip to Colorado to see Melody’s brother-in-law. Knowing it would be a long trip, I bought Amy some workbooks to have fun with along the way. When I dropped by their house to deliver them, Amy gave me a kiss on my cheek and said, “I love you.” Though I knew we loved each other and I’ve told her I love her many times, she had never said those words to me before and I just melted.
To Amy, my name is “my favorite Sarah.” To Analise, I am “Deyah.” From such pure, loving hearts, hearts who don’t care what I do, but only care about the love we share, “Deyah” and “my favorite Sarah” are my favorite names for myself in all the world. Such pure love touches the deepest place inside me for that is where God loves me and these loves are one in the same. I bask in that love.
I was recently asked via e-mail if I was LGBTQ friendly. It wasn’t clear on my website and the person wanted to know before making an appointment with me for spiritual direction whether or not I was going to reject them right away. They likely thought I would. It broke my heart to read their question and explanation of why they had to ask it. I could sense their pain as they searched the internet for someone who would accept them as they are. In considering how to answer, I wanted to honor their question with the hurt and frustration behind it, while at the same time, conveying to them the truth that what your sexuality is does not matter in relation to your worth, not to God and not to me.
What I came up with after some careful thought was the simple reply, “I’m everybody friendly! LGBTQ or not, it makes no difference to me.” The answer went over well, but, months later, their question still rings in my head. For several years, I have been a part of a Quaker yearly meeting that has been talking about this very issue and it’s a contentious one to say the least. Though we are not alone in this as an organization, I know many are asking themselves the same questions; it is the one I am in the middle of and the one where many friends I care about also reside. That we are arguing about it and gravely hurting people along the way makes me want to sink to my knees on the floor and weep. How could we, who supposedly have dedicated our lives to knowing God, the giver of love, be so unloving to the people around us who exemplify the very God we claim to celebrate?
Trying to Speak to Everyone – Including Northwest Yearly Meeting
In past years of yearly meeting, I’ve spoken on the floor of business meeting for this community while not stating my conviction outright. I usually saved that for the less formal meetings held later in the evening between the young(ish) adults and the elders. But this person’s question has made me realize that by not being completely open with my heart, that I am still hurting those I care about. I’ve wanted to be able to speak to everyone, to try and be welcomed everywhere but I am learning more and more that it’s not my place to be quiet in order to move around freely. That freedom comes from inside. My ministry of love is with those on the outside edges who have been pushed away or who have walked away because their questions are not honored in a more traditional church setting, whatever that looks like for them. My place is to stand in the wilderness and give water to the thirsty and rest for the weary. I want to be there for people who are no longer satisfied with a theological box, who are longing for more than what they’ve been given. And so I’ll openly be there with a glass of water, a comforting blanket, and a good talk no matter who they are.
What I still don’t understand is how so many people can write off such a huge segment of our humanity because of a label. This can be applied to race or gender or any number of characteristics, but none of the labels can ever begin to describe the soul, that eternal light and energy that is so breathtakingly beautiful to behold. I can’t imagine looking away from it let alone shutting it out. I think of my family and friends, many of whom are lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered. They are among the kindest, most compassionate and loving people I have ever known. God just oozes out of them and their light is so dazzling, I feel happier and more at peace just by being in their company. They have often been the ones to welcome me in when other people with more traditional beliefs left me out. Why would we ever want to degrade someone like that or label them as a lower class of person let alone close the door in their face? Let the light in! It does not matter who you’re attracted to or what gender you identify with. You are dearly loved. God loves us all. We are all equal – of equal value and equally delighted in by the Divine.
After one business session at yearly meeting where I’d spoken on this issue at the microphone, a woman came up to me during the break, thanked me for what I’d said, and wanted to introduce me to her partner. It was a great honor I will always treasure. She was so courageous. Having people like them and the person who asked me this question in the first place know they can come to me and that I’ll honor who they are and who they want to be with God, that I will do my very best to love them with Divine open arms, to be present with them, is why I’m writing this. Thank you for making me take a good look at my choices, at what I choose to write and speak about, and for honoring me with your vulnerability.
Correcting the Oversight
I now feel sorry for all those other people who wouldn’t have met with the one who e-mailed me because they missed out on getting to know an incredibly beautiful person anyone would be extraordinarily lucky to know. But not too sorry, because that means I get to enjoy knowing the light of their spirit. After all, while this person’s sexuality may not matter to me or to God, who they are – that means the world to the both of us.
To correct this oversight of not stating my convictions clearly, the following has now been added to the spiritual direction page on my website:
“As a companion on your journey, I will hold our time together and what is said in the utmost respect and confidentiality. I will create a safe and prayerful space for you to rest in and will hold you up in prayer before, during, and after our sessions together. In that spirit, as every part of who you are is beautiful and an expression of God, including, but not limited to, your religion, sexuality, and race, I welcome, fully embrace, and will hold safe whatever makes up the unique gift of you in this time and place.”
If I were a tree, I would be standing with branches bare after experiencing a fierce windstorm which blew all my brown leaves down to the ground and far away. Shivering and feeling vulnerable, my twigs and trunk have long been wondering, “Why am I here?” followed close behind with, “What do I do now?” Read More
Picking the cover for Finding Love’s Way was the hardest decision I’ve had to make yet. I was stuck between two options: a brown one with beige lettering and a beige one with brown lettering. They both fit different aspects of the book and I loved them both for different reasons. Hoping for clarification, I asked my editors and several friends. They were pretty evenly divided themselves though they said either one would be great. How on earth was I supposed to choose between the two? Read More
As I’ve been working on writing the last 10% of the book, I’ve also given a lot of thought to the illustrations. Though in an earlier post I shared I would be creating a few drawings of my own for the start of the sections, I have gone back and forth whether to use a graphic of a labyrinth or my own art. Publishing a book is not a straightforward affair and decisions are often remade, choices changed.
For weeks, I’ve been working with a manuscript made up of my editors’ original papers all marked up with four different people’s edits. Having already entered all the changes in to the computer, what I had in front of me no longer reflected what the actual poems were. I needed to print out a clean manuscript. When we’re in the midst of working on a book, at times we need to stop and take stock of where we’re at. How is it shaping up? What else needs to be written? Now that you can see the words without all the pen marks, is there more editing? Read More
When I started talking to my editors about this book, I gave them special permission to ask any question they wanted, inquire about the back story of any poem. They have only taken advantage of this once and when they did, it was to ask if a poem was about romantic love. I assured them it was not and then I explained to them my three self-imposed rules limiting what I write. Read More
buttons on my clothing so everyone around me is prepared for what may come.
say may and can be used in my next book.”
Much of my poetry is inspired by what I experience in life whether
it’s watching a man dancing with wild abandon or the words said by a friend as
she hugs me. I take those moments that stay with me, haunting my deeper
awareness, and turn them around in my head by writing them down. If the poems
are good enough, I then share them in a book or magazine. Though most readers
will never recognize where the words come from, some who know my heart well
will recognize themselves and the words I’ve shared with them in the lines. The
experiences of my life are what I draw on to share larger truths and I often
include those I love in my words as it’s another way to treasure their presence
in my life.
to see in you the face of God.”
Sometimes when I’m looking at people, I see God in their
faces. It’s such a beautiful sight and once in a while, what I see inspires
what I write. One night I watched a woman at a concert clapping and dancing in
her seat. I imagined it was God singing along and taking joy in the ones
onstage. Another night I watched my art teacher work her way around the room
encouraging and praising every student for their work. I take these moments of
visibly seeing the qualities of God and include them in whatever I’m writing
whether it’s an article or poem to illustrate my point or to give readers an
image of God they not have thought of yet. It’s a joy to be always looking
deeper into those around me to find God.
book, you can bet I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for experiences I can use
whether or not the people around me know about the invisible warnings. You
never know what I’m going to come up with next.