better conversations

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maybe you already know this but i’m rather slow, and even when i know something it doesn’t always sink in until it’s too late.  and once the words have left your mouth…its too late.

i have found that the manner in which i approach a conversation will directly effect the outcome of that conversation.  if i am already angry, upset, defensive or hurt then the chances of that conversation not going well are pretty good.

if i approach a conversation with humility, honesty, respect, vulnerability and the desire to listen and understand then it is an entirely different outcome.

when i bring old emotion into a new conversation…disaster.  when i seek to be understood to a greater extent then i’m willing to understand…disaster.  when i ask questions i think i already know the answers to…disaster.  when i am not present or attentive to the present feeling, emotion, information, or meaning being conveyed…disaster.

but, when i show a genuine desire to understand someone…when i look into their eyes see the emotion and meaning…when i pick up on their body language and understand if they feel safe in what they are communicating…when i can affirm their understanding without matching their hostility or upset…when i can not loose myself in the process of another sharing themselves…when i remember that conversations are sacred and holy and the very act of sharing oneself is an act of vulnerability and every time someone does it they run the risk of being hurt…then the conversation goes somewhere.

conversations are like fashion.  old conversations don’t make sense.  in as much as jean shorts for men don’t make sense and seem out of touch so does one person living in a past conversation.  skinny jeans for people my age, neon anything, ac/dc t-shirts, fanny packs…i could go on but you get the point.  it’s like the plastic covering over your grandma’s couch…u can tell when someone is not in the present.

conversations cleverly disguised to change someone, to manipulate someone, to deceive someone, to avoid fault, to shift blame or to convince someone how right you are…these are bad conversations and end the same way every time.  they involve one or more of the participants not being in the present but in the past or the future – blaming for a previous action or manipulating toward a desired response.

better conversations require being in the present moment…with kindness, calmness, and wisdom

when i find myself engaged in a conversation in which i want something…i’ve failed.  that is a request…not a conversation.

christians are awful at this.  we want to engage in “conversations” with people who live differently then we do, so we can convince them to change.  generally speaking, people are not stupid and they see right thru this.

people who are in the present experience each moment for the value and worth and meaning it contains.  they are open to others, they are not threatened by others, and they have a genuine love for others.

when i continue to bring old emotion into the present…people in the present see it
when i begin a conversation with an agenda or motive…people in the present see it
when i try and use a conversation to change someone…people in the present see it

maybe i’m by myself here…sometimes i care too much what specific people think.  i am tempted to leave the present and relive the past or guide to a future outcome (which is usually an outcome of acceptance)…when i do this i miss out on the moment that is before me.  a moment to hold the essence of another person in selflessness and love.

there are better conversations to be had

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jumping the fence…

fences are awesome!  they keep your dog from running away, they keep your chickens from fertilizing the neighbors yard, and they keep your neighbor from seeing into your business.  fences separate that which we don’t want co-mingled.  everything in its proper place which helps maintain boundaries.  if your neighbor saw everything that was happening in your backyard or thru the windows he/she might find some stuff out that maybe would create an awkward moment when you meet at the mailbox.  fences make sure the unknown stays the unknown and keeps my mess on one side and your mess on the other side.

but what if your neighbor has a hot tub?  i may or may not have jumped a couple fences as a kid when i knew someone was out of town to get into their hot tub…again…may or may not.  so fences also keep good things separated as well, this is mine and therefore it is not yours.  fences (high fences for those of you with hot tubs) are incredibly important in the world of property.  not so helpful in the world of faith.

i find a lot of people talking about “loving the sinner and hating the sin”.  these people get on tv, support initiatives, try and pass laws, create really clever bumper stickers all in the name of “loving the sinner”.  instead of leading the conversation to that of love, acceptance, value, affirmation, worth…some make it their mission to guilt, condemn, bribe, embarrass, or punish…because those things always lead to transformation…right (sarcasm disclosure).

i’ve had to ask myself a question recently…i’ve had to face my own tendencies and behaviors and have come to a couple conclusions.

a – putting guilt on someone does not lead to transformation either for myself or the other person
2) feeling guilt that comes from personal awareness and the loving revelation of god does lead to transformation
III. loving people as best we can helps us to be better people and gives room for them to come to their own conclusions
D > trying to control another so we feel better is not helpful for anyone involved

it’s easy to call people out who use guilt on big issues…politics, sexual preference, failures…all the things that will get you on the news, things that we can stand from a distance on and throw bombs at.  i found those are not really the issues that cause most of us put up our fences in order to separate ourselves from another.  it’s the people we have something at stake with.

i’ve built fences of blame, fences of guilt, fences of self-righteous attitudes and i’ve built them with the people closest to me.  i did this to protect myself from the hurt that might come if i allowed them to be them.

the alternative to guilt and blame is love and freedom.  

love is simply a better way.  love provides tangible evidence of that better way and is not dependent on anything other than the condition of my own heart.

freedom allows people to be autonomous…they choose…not out of manipulation or guilt or judgement but because their eyes have been open to a better way of being and come to desire that for themselves.

guilt and blame build very good fences.

jesus jumped the fence…he came to where we are…he stepped in…he offered the better way…love & freedom

if you are like me…i try to practice love and freedom, especially to those closest to me, but usually i’m not strong enough to make it over the fence and end up hanging upside down looking like a fool.  i count on good people who practice a better way to help me over…when i count on people who believe in judgment, blame, and guilt i usually just look more foolish.

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giving power…then robbing that power

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there are people who have had a place in my life that i refuse to call by name. i do this because to say their name would give them a place of power…when we name something or someone we give it power. that person caused hurt/pain/struggle and i want them removed/deleted from my being. so, the natural mature thing to do is just not say their name…right? anyone like that for you?

but the truth is, they are still there. in fact, by not naming them you have given them even more power. resentment builds, your blood still boils, your face turns all rambo and all of the sudden the slight thought of that person has you foaming at the mouth…maybe i’m exaggerating, for some i bet i’m not. i’ve now given more power, space, and influence to the very person or event in which i want to wipe from existence…fantastic.

this strategy has been used forever. it’s been called avoidance…compartmentalizing…insanity…and it doesn’t work.

when teaching kids how to manage strong feelings the very first thing you have to do is to help that child name their feeling. this is hard, it’s hard for grown men let alone children. we fight naming that feeling because we don’t want to give it power, control, authority over us. instead if we avoid it and crumple up our face until we look all stallone like. we find someone to yell at or a wall to hit or hurtful words to speak or gestures to offer. at some point we all act like children who don’t want to name their feelings.

we are taught to name them not to give them power but to rob that power. can you tell me how you feel? i’m mad! what has caused you to be mad? i didn’t get my way! what happened? how did that make you feel? i’m sorry that happened to you…can we grow from this?

you see, when we refuse to name feelings and hurts and events or even people…we rob ourselves the opportunity to grow. we have avoided pain, guilt, our own failure and the failure of another, we have avoided the hard work of naming it and peeling back the layers because some of those layers might reveal our own responsibility or part in what happened. it’s much easier to villainize another then to look into our own soul and find the real source of these feelings.

my son came home from school and plopped his backpack down and then took some papers out and put them on the table. now…logan doesn’t come to me excited to show me something. he is all coy and subtly leaves hints to see if i’m interested. i say, “what’s this”. “it’s a shield i made with symbols”. “oh, where did you find the symbols”. “we got to choose from a list”. so, being the curious dad i am i looked at the list. his teacher…those sly teachers…had given the kids a page full of symbols that all meant something different. logan selected 4 symbols out of 30 that meant…security, boldness, luck and courage.

it doesn’t take a psychologist to understand he wants to feel safe, he wants to be able to do things he’s scared of doing, he wants to grow in confidence, and there is some component to life he doesn’t understand quite yet that seems very random and uncontrolable. when logan gets anxious…maybe it’s one of these things that are being challenged? it causes me to reflect…when i get anxious…what is it that is really being challenged? it’s not that person, it’s not that event…it’s the struggle within.

i believe in the way of jesus…i believe his teachings cause us to look inward, to avoid the blame and scapegoating and villianizing and to be real and authentic with our own doubts…fears…insecurities…to not give those things power over us but to rob them of that power.

there is a saying i like, “your own honest experience will cut you wide open in both directions…you have nothing to be afraid of as long as you do not start or end with fear, accusation, or judgment”. may i choose to name those people, name those events…rob them of their power by choosing not to fear, accuse or judge but instead grow by honest awareness of myself…only love can be entrusted with truth.

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desire intimacy…practice empathy

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ever start down a trail only to find out it’s not where you thought it would go?  it was harder, dirtier, more obstacles and intruders then you ever knew possible?  the trail heal looked beautiful…the destination seemed perfect and ideal.  the way seemed good…and so you took that first step.  i’ve come to realize it was not the beauty of the trail head or a fantasized destination that determines the goodness of the journey but in one’s ability to adapt, change, grow, and learn.  there is one trait especially i wish desperately i had learned earlier or was any good at now.
i’ve experienced moments in life in which i could tell something was going on…i had a feeling, a feeling i could not describe and it felt strange…almost wrong.  the moments would always happen like this…someone caring and tender would speak into my life and the sound of their voice and the expression on their face opened me up to what i can now only describe as an intimate encounter.  in that moment…they got me, they understood, they accepted, they guided my emotional state with a gentle voice and a tender touch.

much of the time i had this uneasy feeling about myself.  was i ok, was there something wrong with me, who do people want me to be, was i acceptable?  when i heard a voice telling me i was in fact ok…there wasn’t anything wrong with me…i was acceptable…i didn’t know it at the time but what i was feeling in those moments was the most powerful relational gift that can be offered…empathy.

empathy guides toward intimacy.  unfortunately, although i longed for this feeling i became profoundly inept at offering it to someone else.  instead (and i’m probably alone here), i became much more consumed with being accepted then accepting…when presented with opportunities i would distance myself because it was too threatening.  it would require i face something ugly about myself.  it was like this awful game of chicken…who would be the first to offer this, who would be the first to care more about the other person then they did themselves…it is hard and it takes a person who is grounded and centered in themselves.

some empathy is faked because there is another agenda at work…often this agenda is not realized until vulnerability has been extended and hurt has happened.  some use the perception of empathy to prey on others, to get the other person to open up and feel vulnerable so that they can use the vulnerable person to fulfill their own selfish desire.  these people are predators.  empathy is genuine when it benefits the one it is offered to and not the one who offers.  it comes from a place of selflessness…

empathy allows you to see thru the lens of another…to feel what another is feeling…to accept and affirm that what they are thinking is real and that they are not crazy, there is not something wrong with them, they are not wrong but in fact they are sacred…what they are experiencing is powerful and real…to share in a moment of sadness or hurt or joy or happiness or disappointment or confusion or anger or passion…to get caught in the personhood of another with caring and tenderness.

and here is the awful rub…are you ready for it…to do this when their feelings are expressly related to you…without becoming defensive, withdrawn, attacking, or apathetic and to do it when that person has demonstrated they are not in a place to offer it to you…that is hard.  can i (can u)…empathize with another when the root of their upset is expressed against…me (u)?  is there anything more difficult then to deny yourself for the benefit of another?

empathy positions you as an ally, supporter, friend and lover.  empathy does not care about right or wrong, this side or that side, ego or self protection…empathy cares about the intimate availability offered to someone else for their benefit.  empathy takes courage and strength and a letting go of any personal stake or position.  to impose one’s will…to make unilateral decisions…to reject another persons words or feelings or thoughts or experience does not take strength but is a sign of insecurity and an inability to risk being exposed as someone who is…imperfect.

it starts by being aware of the presence of emotion…it continues by recognizing this emotion as an opportunity for intimacy…and it has its way when one can listen, validate, affirm, and accept the emotion of another without protecting or seeking their own self interest.

empathy is a gift that is offered…not an exchange of expectations.  when you have offered empathy you have offered a gift…when you have received empathy you have received a gift…this gift is a sacred offering to another and can not be manipulated or abused.

jesus…in the gospel of john…was approached by arrogant men who brought to him a woman they had deemed wrong.  they asked jesus to affirm this judgement.  essentially…here is someone who has screwed up and everyone knows it.  how can you possibly find a way out of judging this woman and affirming her wrongness?  jesus paused, drew in the sand as if to build a dramatic moment.  the tension in the crowd strengthened and the anticipation to hear what this rabbi who had taught on love now had to say.

instead of judgement…jesus offered a gift of empathy and asked the crowd around him to do the same.  not only did he ask but he forced the issue with a simple statement…

“whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone”

one by one, starting with the oldest, the crowd empathized…they put themselves in the position of someone who has wronged another, someone who had made a mistake, someone whose actions could not be defensible, someone like each one of us…and then dropped their stones and walked away.

the practice of empathy can build, restore, heal and transform relationships…the absence of empathy can divide, destroy, suffocate and kill.

“intimacy is our capacity for closeness and tenderness…it is revealed in moments of risky self-disclosure…it lets itself out and lets the other in…it makes all love possible.”

if you desire intimacy…practice empathy…even if it means you might have to face something ugly about yourself.

i desire intimacy…i seek to practice empathy…i’m not good at it…but i’m convinced its a better path.

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leaning in…

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i’ve been through a fair amount of pain the last three or four years.  much of my own creating because of destructive traits and some caused by the decisions of others…kind of like everyone else.  i began talking to people i deem as wise and trustworthy much more openly during this time.  no masks or titles or illusions to hide behind…well, maybe not as many anyway:)  a common thing i hear is “lean in”.  i can’t tell you how frustrating and counter intuitive it is when the best advice someone can give you is to lean in to pain.  um, couldn’t i maybe lean away from the pain and then it would go away?  it took me a while to understand the pain doesn’t go away, i can remove myself but i will still be on this side of the pain.  i want to be on that side of the pain…i want to be on that said of pain…i want it over with.

it’s important to note that pain isn’t a badge of honor or something you have to find in order to grow.  i believe it is more about awareness.  am i aware of when i am in pain?  what do i do when i find myself there?  someone who is not aware of the pain or refuses to acknowledge the pain is like that SNL character…massive head wound harry.

when i face pain i’m tempted with a couple different courses of action…  i can distract myself.  luckily i live in america and there is no shortage of ways to accomplish this…entertainment, exercise, work, sex, pills, drinking, shopping, flirting, line dancing…options are endless.  these things by themselves have their place and are not “bad”…except for line dancing…but when we use them as a means of avoidance or numbing from the realities in our lives they become a vehicle of unhealth.

we step away from the pain so we don’t have to experience it and instead we seek something that will give us a temporary “good feeling”.  we say we are seeking happiness…what we are really seeking is the avoidance of passing through our pain.

some of us get pretty good at this.  we announce to everyone we are doing great!  we are so happy!  if we saw ourselves through another’s eyes we would see someone who isn’t facing the reality of pain in their life…we would see someone using whatever mechanism they can to avoid the work of leaning.

leaning is not just a posture, it is work.  i’ve started taking a lot of group exercise classes at my gym.  i know, could i be any more obvious with how i avoid pain…but anyway.  these classes have you do things that you have never done.  lean in directions you have never leaned before and i’m telling you it is tough…it takes discipline, it takes perseverance, it takes a decision to follow it through and not give up, it takes balance…and when you fall, and you will fall, it takes the determination to get back to the task.

why?  why not just spend the rest of your life distracted by lots and lots of temporary pleasures?  wouldn’t that be the happier thing to do?  wouldn’t we have more fun that way?  

just run to another relationship, take a trip, go buy a car, become addicted to reality tv…the thing is, what brought you to the place of pain in the first place hasn’t gone away and you will find yourself there again.

i want to believe that i am a person who seeks to learn from my pain.  that is not fun, it is not happy, it is not pleasing…it is however necessary for growth.  pain you have not leaned into becomes fear…shame…disappointment…it becomes toxic to our soul and it is not going anywhere.

don’t get me wrong.  i’m not talking about self hatred, pity, loathing, pouting, blaming…i’m not talking about someone who parks a futon in the middle of their pain and just stays there.  i’m talking about a person who every day acknowledges the reality of pain in their life, does not deny it or hide from it or distract themselves from it but instead walks right up to it…and leans.  it means i walk up to my pain and lean…it means i risk looking sad, and lonely, and angry, and disappointed, and remorseful, and unhappy to other…because that is real…and there is no substitute for what is real.

i acknowledge and am real about my failure…i acknowledge and am real about the failure of others…i try to hold these realities without crumbling or falling but with balance and discipline and i lean in…i move through it.  not past it, not over it, not around it…i move through it.  and when i can accept that the world is not perfect…that god forbid, i am not perfect…i learn, i grow, i change, and i am now better prepared for the next time…

i speak as someone who is learning to lean.  still fighting it a bit (i’ll put my mask down for you…i’m fighting it a lot), still looking for ways to avoid, still struggling to hold myself up as i lean in.  those wise people who i am real with continue to tell me, “you will pass through if you do the work of leaning in…you will be different…you are different…you will have grown…you are growing”.

my favorite photos are the one’s in which two people are leaning in to one another.  doesn’t mean everything is perfect…it does reflect that leaning is loving.  love yourself and lean in.

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two shores

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two shores…

my love lead me to a shore upon which the sea of cortez came to rest…we walked hand in hand and watched as the waters ease up to our feet, feeling the warmth come upon us and invite us in.  we swam, we dove, we laid upon the shore soaking in the warmth and beauty of the sea…water romantically swayed back and forth, the breeze seductively luring into a state of ease and comfort…sun seemingly nourishing our bodies as though we could not take enough in.  after a while my love took my hand and lead me to another shore…

walking between two large rock formations, we journeyed a short distance.  the sand began to get warmer and warmer until our feet could no longer bear the intensity of the hot surface.  wind seemed to swirl and increased in power and strength as we approached the second shore upon which crashed the pacific ocean.  we could no longer whisper to one another but tried to read facial cues and speak with raised voices to overcome the deafening chaos around us.  the only sound louder then the wind was the violence of the ocean pounding suddenly upon the shore and then retreating back with as much force as it appeared.  the sun was no longer energizing but suffocating and inescapable.

a narrow path separating two enigmatic forces of nature…one which romances, lures in seductively with beauty and peace…the other which sets hearts pounding, raises senses, heightens the need for awareness of the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm.

experiencing one shore without the other would be catastrophic to the psyche.  believing that life was romantic and peaceful, one would be lured into a passive state…not recognizing that the tide was indeed rising, that the sun was in fact burning your skin, that the heat was slowly draining the life from your body.  likewise…to remain on the opposite shore would create a constant state of reactivity, looking for perils and unconsciously creating more and more anxiety, believing that forces all around are constantly attacking and threatening.  anger…skepticism…loneliness…jealously…rage…they seep into the bones until they become inseparable from one’s very essence.

so…where is home…where are we called to live…upon which shore do we find ourselves?  home is not the choosing of a desired location and refusal to be either enticed or threatened from one shore or the other.  home…awareness…inner peace…growth…maturity…true sense of self is found in the journey from one shore to the other…entering into the meaning that is found in each place without staying too long that one becomes lost in a false reality…and not losing the hand of your beloved in the process

god…walk with me in life’s journey…a journey that eternally draws into and out of both the safe and the perilous…uncovering who I am…who you are…every moment along the way

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what u look for…u will find

i write out of my own struggle.  i reflect on me…i identify my struggles…i see those struggles in others and realize i am not alone.  sometimes i use “i” and sometimes i use “we”, but everything has it’s origin within.  my struggle does not originate outside of myself with other people (otherwise i would be blaming just about everything that moved).  my struggle is against what the bible calls “spiritual powers”.  all spirituality begins within.  jesus said to deal with the log in your own eye before going digging around at another’s splinter…i feel as though i am just beginning a long procedure of removal while trying not to go blind in the process.  so…long intro but here is what’s on my mind.

what we look for we will always find.  this is not a physical truth but a spiritual one.  if i begin a search for kindness…i will find it.  it will originate within me as desire and it will find a shared experience with another.  if i look for anger…i will find it.  it will originate within me as desire and it will find a shared experience with another.  peace…love…selfishness…bitterness…forgiveness…grace…truth…compassion…empathy…hate…

passion…what i seek i will always find.

this is hard because it means when i find myself in the middle of one of those unpleasant words…in order for me to have participated it must first of had it’s origin within me.  another shared in a similar desire and our desires found one another and had their way.  when love, selflessness, grace, truth, compassion, empathy, passion…when those are the desires that drive us we will find what we seek.

a side effect is that we (that i) draw those who mirror my desires in closer and closer so that my desire can have it’s way.  we include in our lives those who affirm our desire and exclude those who do not.  once we have included enough people and excluded enough people we have divided the world into…sides.  i like to call this the “side effect”…sorry, bad pun.

god chose not to create sides.  instead he walked the holy right into the presence of the profane and said, “good news…i am with you”.  when sides have been created, love can no longer have it’s way.  anger and bitterness and resentment and hatred will rule.  when there is a refusal to handle my own log…my own spiritual struggle…then i will look to those who affirm me and exclude those who do not.  if i can create a strong enough wall, i may never have to look upon my own crap.
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i went on a hike the other day and set my camera to only capture certain colors.  i climbed a rock to get a good view of the sky, the ocean, the rocks and the beach.  i wanted a really good contrast.  i set my camera to only pic up blue accents and everything else would be in black and white.  i took the picture and managed to get back down the rock without falling into the ocean (i’m kind of a wussy).  later i looked at the picture.  everything was black and white.  there was not enough light to distinguish what i was seeking from everything.

sometimes there is insufficient light in our lives to distinguish the good of what we seek from everything else.  i end up making a guess and hoping it works out.  i say / don’t say something…i do/don’t do something…i make a decision before i do the work on myself…instead of doing the work on myself and then making a decision.  this hasn’t worked well for me.

maybe this is why god continues to draw us back…that our gaze might meet his gaze and love would have it’s way.

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ash wednesday

i’ve heard it said that all great religion is a about letting go…not hanging on, not keeping things going, not sticking it out…but letting go.  ironic, yes?  i watch others pray…i pray for things to not change, that god would “step in”, “show up”, “be present” so that things could continue exactly the way they have been…so that pain could be avoided.  people like what they know…i like what i know, and given the choice – almost always we will want life to remain as it is.

i’ve also heard it said that transformation almost always happens when we die to that we don’t want to let go of.  pain, loss, failure…this is the path to genuine transformation.  yet we avoid it and we defend against it!  we live in denial so that we don’t have to accept these things in our lives!  we lie to others so that they can be protected from experiencing it!  does a successful person deviate from what made them successful?  of course not!  and so that person experiences success…but no real transformation or change, they remain the same and although they have been successful (a standard we decide for ourselves) they do not grow.  whatever that success was…it did not include growth.  people don’t want to change so much as they have to change.

as i read scripture…as i follow the teachings and the accounts of jesus…my heart is opened to a god man who walks a journey of death…who invites others to follow him on that journey.  morbid..isn’t it?  jesus invites us to die.  simple logic tells us you can not resurrect the living…yet that remains the goal of western christianity.  we flannel board up a story that communicates jesus died so that we don’t have to.  do what jesus did…right up to the death part.

i believe there is a genuine invitation for us to die…to accept loss and pain and failure and suffering…that we may also experience resurrection.

the problem of coarse comes in the message we offer.  if you want butts in the seats you offer a message of life!  everyone wants life!  when was the last time you heard an invitation to new death?  “come forward that you may die”…”drink this cup and eat this bread as a sign that you are committed to death”.  um, are you going to touch that cup or even go near that bread?  just doesn’t read well on the church billboard does it…”experience the death we have in christ!”  so we shortcut death…so i shortcut death.  the result is that we avoid the pain and as a result we avoid any real transformation or resurrection.  we continue on with the same pattern of destructive life masked with a brand new disguise.

we kill off something else instead of dying to ourselves…a place…a habit…a relationship…a job…a pill…a drink…a word…a food…we have found our sacrificial lamb, it is always over there…never here…always that person or thing…never me.  jesus’ death was not something to be observed so much as it was mean to be practiced.  jesus’ resurrection was not the purpose so much as our resurrection.  some wish to believe all spiritual relevance awaits us in our life after death.  i agree.  but i guess i believe in many deaths and an ever broadening life that begins now…not then.

spiritual disciplines were created by the early church fathers (and mothers) as a way of deliberately placing oneself in a posture to experience a little death.  lent is practiced that we may join jesus on his road to death.  we give up a thing, experience a little death with the hope that even a small death might lead to a small resurrection.  but there are no small resurrections…and there are no small deaths.

this is ash wednesday…the beginning of lent…a season of dying.  a real dying…that there may be a real resurrection.  what am i giving up for lent?  the denial, the defensiveness and the avoidance of my own death…or maybe coffee, i haven’t decided yet

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