I celebrate myself

A few years ago I wandered into a book store in Seattle and found a small copy of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” As I sat overlooking the Sound, I began to flip through the pages. It begins like this:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I’ve skimmed through more of it, but really if I’m being honest, I’ve been stuck on these three lines for a solid two and a half years.

IMG_8306“I celebrate myself.” I am the me I am meant to be, the only one who is or can be me. I have been purposefully created with beauty and love. I’m everything to myself and my world, and also a tiny glint of a particle in the scope of the universe. I am part of a great mystery.

“And sing myself.” I am the voice that comes out of me and envelopes me. It fills my own ears and the space around me. I am my own harmony and song.

“And what I assume you shall assume.” What I experience is so connected to the whole IMG_4215that I become a part of all that is becoming a part of me. What is in the light is connected by the light.

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” I can not possess the components of this world anymore or any less than any other.

This poem has been on my mind again lately as my fortieth birthday approaches. It’s unnerving to hit decade mile-markers. We can’t feel time passing most days, but once and a while events and dates pin us back down to some linear timeline, and remind us of our mortality. But I’m not feeling dread for the future or a sense of wasted, regretted years behind me—it feels more like coming to a lookout point after a long climb. The view is spectacular, made sweeter by the persistence it took to get here. I’ve decided to take a minute at this lookout spot to celebrate myself in true Walt Whitman style. I’m taking time to appreciate the things that make me me—to be grateful for the work of accepting and loving all my imperfections and variations as if I were a rock, with lines and colors IMG_8304 (1)streaking through me, with smooth patches and patches that are not smooth. I am like one of those pink stones that sparkle in the sunlight. I discovered on the way here that my life is reflective to light when I’m open and turned towards it. I take no credit for it, but I celebrate the Love that designed me this way.

“And what I assume, you shall assume.” I celebrate myself to give you the possibility of celebrating yourself too. I’m no better, no worse, no more or less important, than you are. And what I give to myself, I give to you. You are like a rock, with lines and scrapes, who reflects the light and love of the world, and who sings a song of belonging into the space around you.

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I wish you all grace and peace on my fortieth birthday. Thank you for being here with me.

Juliane

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Becoming {{me}}

I can’t believe how much has changed in one year. Sometimes it feels like I slipped down a worm hole of a time tunnel into a different dimension where everything feels familiar because it’s a version of some reality I know, but I look around and nothing is what I thought it was.

IMG_3295I haven’t written here much in this last year. It was a year of solitude for me and a year of writing letters to myself, to God: love poems and ones about dying, prayers of absolute pleading and begging. I’ve mentioned before this thing called liminal space. It’s the waiting place, the static, the unknown. I fell into that antigravity vortex a year ago and lost all ties to any recognizable reality or social structure. Everything that seemed to form the walls of my existence crashed in at once. My life was cast into an emotional ground clearing, and when all was still and bare, I heard my own voice clearly for the first time. And it was coming out of my body saying such beautifully terrifying things. It was saying I wanted to marry a woman someday.

I’ve been married to my best friend, one of the most empathetic men I’ve ever met, for 19 years. Together we’ve made beautiful children and art and lived out some wild and crazy adventures. He’s a minister and has spent much of his life listening and caring for those who are lost, confused, afflicted, sick and cast out. I’ve heard him talk about sexual orientation and spirituality for so many years that it eventually started to unlock all the lies in my own understanding. Slowly, a breath of freedom seeped into my heart. And then, a few years ago I began to open up to him about my attraction to women, and we had such deeply healing conversations. I don’t think I would’ve ever trusted anyone other than him to tell me, “love is love” no matter what. He will be sainted someday, even though he doesn’t believe me yet, for all the selfless, sacrificial ways he’s allowed love to win in his life.

IMG_7468Waking up to the idea that I’m gay was mostly slow and gentle, happening in peeling layers of self discovery—until last summer when life was at its darkest hour for us. Hard truths always seem to shake out at the most inconvenient times—in the times when we have no strength left to pretend. These are the times when we ask ourselves: “What do I really want?” In this space, I did a lot of self-reflecting and asking God for help. The Universe delivered a truly amazing friend into my life, who I will always be grateful for, and who helped bring all these far away ideas into reality for me. The freedom I found in that friendship and the conversations we had, allowed me to see myself more clearly. For the first time, I was able to envision a marriage with a woman—and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever imagined for myself. It was also the scariest, most emotionally expensive, impossible dream I had ever dared dream. It paralyzed me. Everything in me wanted it, but for months I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t ask for it. I tried not to say it, I tried to say everything around it, I tried to shut my eyes very tightly and hide in my bed, praying for the idea to forget about me and leave. After a while though, I saw that it wouldn’t leave. And then somehow, I didn’t want it to. A little light cracked into whatever black hole I was in. And I even began to hope that if I said what I wanted, everything would be okay: the sun would still go on rising and setting; the world would keep turning. And maybe my people would even still love me. Maybe I would even be healthier for it. (Happier even.)

 

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was ask the man that loved me best, who’d helped me unlock my true self, to let me go. In fact, hard is not even close to a strong enough word to describe the ripping and unraveling that happened as a result of me saying what I wanted. There were days I didn’t think we could survive the heartbreak. I’ve felt like a tornado this last year in the lives of everyone I know. I thought, at times, I’d been administered a truth potion and could not help saying the exact things that I wanted and felt, even though it was crumbling apart everyone else’s scaffolding of reality. I’ve always been a big proponent of grace, but I’ve never needed it more in my life than in this last year. But even in this deep sadness, my truth was met with such unexplainable love and acceptance from my husband, my kids, my friends, my brother and my parents. As painful and difficult as it’s all been, I’ve never felt more loved. The way it feels to be unhidden and honest after being so afraid and shielded for so long is the most beautiful, lovely, open, bright, brave feeling in the world. And that it came through the mercy of God, my husband and my family is the sweetest part of it all. It’s all such a gift to me. The grace, the love, the forgiveness, the acceptance—all bestowed upon me through these people who have demonstrated Divine love to me.

I didn’t have to share this publicly, but it would’ve been a balm to me to read something IMG_2495like this last year when I couldn’t stop the spinning-out-of-control sensation. I would’ve liked to hear someone’s story of impossible love. So, I offer this to you. I offer my story with the hope that it inspires you to say what you need to say or give yourself the permission to be who you are. I hope you can find the essence of my story, as the details may not fit. I offer you the possibility that what you want might not bring down the Universe and crash the moon into the sea. There was a distinct moment when I said yes to the idea, the possibility, of being married to a woman someday, and believed in doing so that I was saying yes to a Higher love that would somehow sustain me. I still can’t comprehend it some days when I look at my people, still loving me, even though I’m gay. Even though their lives need to change for me to remain true to who I am. Even though I can’t be the person I thought I was, or they thought I was. Even though I’ve decided to actually be the human being God created. But the truth is: I really am okay—and so are my people. And you will be too.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Because think about it: If the only thing IMG_7498an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would it harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth? (Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for each other’s help.)”

Sending grace and peace to all of you who are struggling with saying yes to yourself—who are faced with, what seems like, in your fear, an impossibility. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.

Juliane

 

Still loving O!

Thank you all for so patiently waiting and regularly checking the page for updates on O. It’s been almost three months since we heard that O would be sent back to her mother and would not be open for adoption. We’re still in very close contact with her while she waits at the orphanage for the court’s date for when she will move to her mother’s house, a new town and a new school. IMG_4294

For now she is well looked after, and happy to be with her friends. We’re thankful we get to talk to her every few days but are not sure how much longer that will last. It’s heavy and hard but we’re all trying to be strong in it and hope for a beautiful future.

 

In the meantime we’re still supporting Vova to come into the orphanage and teach all

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Vova and some of the kids he teaches

the kids English. And they’re doing great! O’s English has dramatically improved in the last year. Our gratitude goes out in buckets for Vova!

So, with that gratitude in mind, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the state of Ukraine and what we’re doing to

EasternEuropeMaphelp there. Ukraine is a country about the size of Texas with over 100,000 orphans. They’re a country impoverished by war and extreme scarcity. At one time Ukraine was a flourishing farmland of prosperity, but now most of it’s countrymen and women are despairing and desperate. Without hope. Which results in poor waste management, unemployment, sex trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse and an overall lack of education.

APTOPIX Ukraine ProtestUnfortunately, as in O’s case, many orphans are not truly orphaned, they are sent to live in orphanages because they’re parent or parents can not care for them and there is no foster system. So aside from the already low number of adoptions that happen for kids ages 5-18, there is a whole section of kids who can’t be adopted on top of that. So the orphaned numbers are growing daily. There is no end to the supply of hurting children in Ukraine. When a child ages out of an orphanage in Ukraine they have a chance to go to a trade school or take a stipened from the government to move to a city and try to make a life. The trade schools make it almost impossible for a child to succeed there with harsh living environments and zero support. And the stipend alternative is not enough to sustain and when given to a child with no life skills training is spent within the first week of the month on alcohol and clothes and whatever else an orphan who is on her own for the first time in a strange city might find. So most of these kids hit the street at 15 or 16 and are quickly succumbed to drug dealing and prostitution.

 

This is why it’s so important that the kids have the skill of speaking English. Speaking English could make the difference between working in a coffee shop or living in the streets. It could even mean a shot at college or a career. Right now Vova is teaching an English class of 10-15 kids, in one orphanage, but I would like to see him teaching life skills as well at the public school across the street, and also traveling to other orphanages in the region to teach English and life skills to even more kids!

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Lesia, Vova and Max 

IMG_4238I’ve started a handmade upcycled gift business called Paper and Thread, and I will be donating 50% of all my profits to support Vova and his family as they work to educate and care for these orphans. I invite you to shop the things I make to support this cause, or join the few who have pledged a monthly donation.

 

IMG_3707This is the work that I will be doing while I wait and pray for O. I hope you will pray with us that God will bless the efforts and the love that is between us and our Ukrainian friends. We have already experienced such wealth in listening to God together—I can’t imagine the joy that could come from truly making an impact for these children.

For the Love of O recap

 

I’ll quickly recap the journey of loving an orphan that began for us roughly three and a half years ago with a dream I had during one afternoon nap. I woke up with the very real image of an orphan girl about the age of 10 with blonde hair, and had a very strong sense she was in Eastern Europe somewhere. I felt an overwhelming love for this girl—and there were two names I remembered knowing in this dream: “O” and “N”(we can not use full names for security). I looked for a long time on all the adoption pages for various countries and could not find anyone matching this girl from my dream. So I chalked it up to all those unexplainable mysteries that exist in our world and to the great mystery that is our typical dream-life. Two entire years later my friend called me one afternoon in a state of complete meltdown over a girl she saw on the New Horizons For Children orphan hosting website. When she showed me the picture, i realized she was the girl from my dream (and could be our oldest son’s twin!). My heart skipped a beat. That began what has been one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives. Since that day, about 2 1/2 years  ago, our love for her has only grown. And her love for us has as well! We have hosted her now several times and even visited her at her orphanage. After the first summer hosting ended we were given her address to write to her—it was then that we discovered the name of her orphanage was called “N” House. We’ve felt so sure since the beginning that we’re meant to love this girl in whatever capacity we can. Our hope has always been towards adoption, knowing though that with her mother’s rights still in tact that was not really an option. But we’ve tried to help “O” advocate for herself over the years and ask for what she wants.  We have endured many hard lessons on patience, suffering in love, and trusting God when the illusion of control disappears and we feel the weight of being at the mercy of the Eastern Europe social service system.

Mountains and Valleys

Dear friends and followers,

Many of you have been following our story of loving a little orphan girl from Eastern Europe for the last few years. If you’re reading for the first time, here’s a little summary of our journey so far: For the Love of O recap.

So much of this story has had to be kept confidential to protect our host daughter and prevent disqualifying ourselves from a future adoption. In October we got a phone call saying that the court had finally followed through on our host daughter’s paperwork and the judge had decided to remove the mother’s parental rights and add “O” to the orphan registry. It was the best news we could’ve gotten from this hearing, and we knew we were down to roughly one year of waiting for her to move through local, regional and then international availability. It was solid hope for the first time since our knowing her. And we felt thankful we were not in flux in some foreign place, but with our friends for support and celebration as we prepared for possible adoption.

We’d decided, or felt led, to take a slightly harder road in some ways, by not selling the house and moving, but working whatever jobs we can to keep the transition to a minimal for the next 18 months. Consequently, it’s been a very tight fall financially, but all the while we have not gone without, and we’re so thankful for the small group of friends who helped us raise the money to host “O” for Christmas. After a very hard summer and fall we were all very happy to be together again–and this time with some actual hope of someday not having to send her back.

Unfortunately, a few days after “O” arrived for winter hosting and settled into comfort again here, she began to say, “I have something bad to ask you (tell you) after Christmas. It’s no good for you family.” We tried to get her to tell us right away but she was determined to wait. So there was a seed of knowing that grew in our bellies until we woke up the day after Christmas with its leaves of anxiety choking our throats. I held her on the couch and said, “Tell us what you have to say, we will be okay.” And with Google translate, through a cracked iPhone 4 screen, she wrote to us with tears, that sometime in the last few weeks the judge had reversed the decision to terminate parental rights and she would have to return home with her mother. Which means in the next few months she will be leaving the orphanage and returning to an environment that’s uncertain.  Our hearts sank with the weight of this really unexpected news.

(Pause here for a lot of sobbing and getting in bed, pulling the covers over our heads and wanting to never, ever trust God again loving anyone).

And then we called our best friend who through everything always has our back and can believe things when we can’t. (I highly recommend having a friend like this when trying hard things in life). And we began to decide not to be bitter and angry. Which I think is the first step toward not letting your heart turn to stone when it’s pierced with swords. We used the antidote for scarcity and fear: gratitude. We realized how lucky we were that they did not pull her from the hosting program with this decision; that they let her come and be in our home, in our arms just one more time. That we finally had a Christmas with her, just one, just one time to see her little child face fullsizerender-2holding a candle in the dark, singing silent night, just one morning to be excited about gifts and be together. We decided to be thankful that we know for two weeks with her, and that she gave that to us. Gratitude that she is such a strong person already that she carried this heavy, heavy news that is also breaking her heart and gave us Christmas without the pain, and then also gave us the time to be with her knowing that we will most likely not all have the future we had envisioned and hoped for. She gave us time for peace and time for grieving with her.

And we also decided to breathe hope into this news knowing that we just don’t know what the future holds, and remembering that this journey has already met so many mountains and valleys and miracles.

We know that Divine love is suffering with us, with a mother’s heart, a father’s protection, a child’s innocence–all three in one. The essence of life and the flow of energy that comes from this Divine love source is unending and maneuvers around the bends and curves of life. It passes over and around rocks, and it clears debris from its path. And it holds us all. With the arms of our friends God hugs us and speaks the words that keep us going and believing.

We wanted you to know with us while we’re all together so you could send your hope and strength to us for the days ahead. Days where we try to be present in our sadness, days when we are so happy we have to run to the bathroom to cry again because it doesn’t make any sense, and especially the day we will have to say goodbye, unsure of when we will meet again. We will need wisdom and discernment in the months that will follow as we try to listen and feel what God is asking us to do next with our lives and our love.

fullsizerender-6Please cover our family (including our best friends and their kids) with your prayers and love as we continue to walk this road of loving through impossibilities. And please pray for “O” as she is sad and afraid of what lies ahead for her. Thank you for being a part of our story through all it’s turns and bends. As always we’re so thankful for your donations that have helped our family with hosting fees and the expenses while “O” is here. If anyone would like to give towards making her last 10 days here really fantastic please use this link: For the Love of O

I’ve used this quote before, but it bears repeating…

“When God is doing something wonderful, He or She starts with a hardship; when God is doing something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility.” ~Anne Lamott

Grace and Peace,

Juliane

I Speak for the Trees!

“I speak for the trees!”th-2

Remember the Lorax? One of my favorite Dr. Suess stories because for as long as I can remember I’ve loved trees and felt a sisterhood with them. I think in part I fell in love with trees because the cry for justice in the world seems to fill up my veins in place of blood sometimes. Trees can’t speak for themselves, as neither can the rest of the Earth, but some environmental activists have felt so kindred with them that they have dedicated their lives to speaking for the trees. And while my closest friends have heard me actually cry over the thought of global warming upsetting the environment to the degree that we would loose such things as moss and lechtin, I’ve never found it my calling to devote my life’s work to trees.

I speak for the marginalized and forgotten!

When I began writing as a twelve year old girl almost everything I wrote about was about justice and compassion for the hurting, outcast and starving. I grew up in the 1980’s when AIDS was at it’s peak of hysteria and TV shows like “Life Goes On” were blazing a trail for speaking for those who could not. In school I was fascinated by the Civil Rights movement and women’s suffrage–and was the weirdo who had a ton of fun writing those research papers in seventh and eight grade!

In my thirties I began blogging and have not been able to write much else but hope for exhausted sojourners and stories about orphans and people who desperately need our help. Writing is a gift to me and something I do for self care, but when I can speak for someone like a little blonde haired orphan girl with almost no chance of a stable future, then I feel like I’m a part of the magic of Higher Love, Divinity and the force that seeks to heal our world from the inside out.

So thank you for witnessing my magic and being a part of the conversation within it. I’m humbled by the process of learning to listen and write for those who can’t and I’m so grateful to those who participate in it with me.

Grace and Peace,

Juliane

***For more information about how to participate in helping orphans (and specifically our little blonde haired one) please check out our Facebook page For the Love of O

good vs free

img_1079The other day I read a post on social media by one of my favorite authors Liz Gilbert continuing a conversation she’d been sparked by around the idea of whether it is better to strive to be a “good” person or a “free” person. And after having just read Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their eyes Were Watching God,” a novel about equality, freedom and the search for a meaningful, valuable life, I was intrigued by the topic as well. A few years ago I may have hastily answered that it’s better to be a “good” person than a “free” person, but that’s only because I was so terrified of not being good if left to my own freedoms.

I was raised in a conservative Christian family, with a fairly strong propensity towards earning love and worth through doing good works and generally being a good girl. It didn’t make me happy though, nevertheless I used this mode of survival and operating system quite exclusively. Thankfully a series of really hard events began to transpire in my life and all the scaffolding I had always used to make sense of life and my reason for being came crashing down around me in a pile of dusty rubble. And I sat like Job in the midst of it weeping, wanting to be rescued out of this horrible game of trying to do the right thing all the time. I had spent a lifetime of doing the right things, helping, always helping, always giving and doing and being everything I could for everyone around me. Until I absolutely couldn’t anymore.

It was crazy scary to have no scaffolding for my understanding of the universe. I felt very bad for letting go of the beliefs I’d let shape me my whole life. I didn’t know if I could ever believe in anything again or find enough meaning to move forward. But slowly new voices and, yes freedom, seeped in and washed over me. Researcher and author Brene Brown writes about how traumatic it is for a perfectionist to realize they can never be perfect. I spent a lot of time crying over this, sadly. If I couldn’t perfectly please everyone around me and be loved then what was the point? I often sit with this question because it never stops challenging me.
I have conversations with the Divine that go like:

me: Why am I here?
D: Why does it matter?

me: Why I am I here???!!!
D: Why does it matter sweety?

me: What’s my purpose?
D: Just be.

Usually my stubbornness gives way and my heart opens enough to see that I didn’t have anything to do with my life beginning, but I have everything to do with it continuing and continuing well. There’s a certain panic when we think we’ve got to fulfill a plan or a purpose in this world. And if we don’t find it, or mess up with it, we’re screwed, missed our calling, wasted, and all that nonsense. All we really need to realize is that we’re free to move about and just be us, and secondly or perhaps in gratitude for our freedom, be kind and love others.

Richard Rohr, a mystical Catholic priest, author and speaker of truths, says that when we can see our lives as a dance with the Divine we can begin to let go of all the discomfort, the absurdities and the unknowables of life. I had another breakdown the other day over not being good enough (by my own standards) and sat down to have a very thorough pity party over it, and this concept drifted back to me. And I love it img_1068when the Divine uses images like old home movies to calm me down. I saw myself wearing all my gifts and weaknesses like a bohemian rag skirt, full and spinning all around me as I danced free and gloriously like a child in a sunny field of grass. I saw all my flaws and the best things about me making up one spinning body of a lifetime of memories, learning, growing, experiencing a Higher power holding it all together with threads of love and grace.

Glen Hansard sings a song, “Falling Slowly” with the profound thought that, “You had the choice, you made it mine…” And while I’m unsure of his intentions for the song, the beauty in art is that it speaks independently to everyone who will listen—and for me it was these few words that brought home for me this idea of the Divine having a choice in who or how I came to be, what life I was born into, but once the air hit my lungs the choice was given to me. How do I want the dance to go? The point is to dance without injuring myself or others—it doesn’t really matter how it looks: the good is in the making and the movement of a life. The good is in the freedom. The freedom births the good in all of us if we allow it to.

So Liz’s conversation isn’t really about picking good vs free—it’s not an either/or situation— it’s about the origin of how the good grows out of your life. Does the good come from a place of co-dependency and people pleasing? Does your freedom come img_0965from a place of self-serving entitlement? Does whatever good that leaks out of your being struggle through the cracked and dry ground of a life lived out of fear of being enough to be loved or does it grow out of a compost pile of realizing you’re free to make a mess, lots of mistakes and in the churning and turning of life feel the freedom to allow beauty to bloom? This is a conversation about what motivates us, understanding the nature of freedom and all the responsibility it requires of us, and how getting ahold of the love that washes over us when we realize how free we are can unlock such joy, such goodness, like we never thought possible under the regime of being “good.” It’s the difference between thinking that you have to make a nice meal for your family in order to be a good person, and realizing that in your freedom you chose to have a family and get to make them a nice meal. One is guilt driven martyrdom, the other is fueled by gratitude and love.

My dance of freedom looks a lot like Elaine from an old Seinfeld re-rerun most of the time—all herky jerky and wild, still trying to let go of what I think I need to be doing. I’m slowly ramping up to something a little more graceful with myself. With any luck I’ll be in something like a waltz by the time I’m eighty! But the point is to dance with love and acceptance—that’s where the good is: in the making and the movement.