I Am A Lover

IAmALover

I am a lover.
This is who I am at my core.

My love is wide, so wide.
I care deeply even for people I’ve never met in person, maybe never will.

My heart is open, gaping open.
You can walk right into it.
Anyone could, but here you are.

You could work your way from my heart to my head and I wouldn’t be able to quit caring about you.
Not ever.

You would be a part of me.

There are so many of y’all here now.
Too many to count.
And I don’t know how y’all keep getting in.

Because even though my heart is open,
Sometimes my arms are closed,
Sometimes my eyes are closed,
Sometimes my ears are closed.

Sometimes I want to tune you out a while,
Turn off the steady flow of pilgrims to my heartland.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve had enough of y’all.
I’ve loved enough of y’all for one lifetime.

I am a lover, but how can I love well when more and more of you keep coming?

I still mourn those I have loved and lost, you know?
Part of my heart, part of me died when they departed.

And my heart,
Oh it has been hurt by some I have let in,
Some I have loved.
That ache interferes with my loving–makes it hard for my heart to go on.

My heart isn’t what it once was.
But still my heart is open, so wide open.

And I want to let you in.
I have let you in.
Because I am a lover.

Deciding to Go Back to School

I’ve decided to begin finally working toward my PhD. It is so time.

I think a lot of the angst I’ve been feeling in my life in recent years has been because of not working toward this goal that I’ve been delaying for 15 years.

15 years, people.

Now, in my defense, part of that was by choice with my decision to have a kid when I did and to stay home with him and all that jazz. I mean, I had my reasons for waiting.

But it’s been 15 years now.

15 freaking years.

And my life is reaching a point where I need to do this thing. Being at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) for #decolonize16 just lit that fire under me like, *yowzer.*

I’ve had my eye on that seminary since I was a student at Valpo. I’ve wanted to go to LSTC for over 15 years.

15 years.

I actually broke down and cried in the admissions office when I was talking with the Director of Admissions about my hopes and dreams for my PhD.

“I’ve just always wanted to go here,” I balled.

Oh, the tears. Oh, the longing of my heart.

But I need a Master’s degree first…so I’m looking at my options on that and praying and talking with my spouse about how we’re going to figure this out. We’re going to have to reshuffle some things. I don’t know what will have to give, but I’m tired of the thing that gives being my dreams.

I was so scared of coming home and talking about this. Like, I want to make this dream a reality, but I didn’t know if life and the universe and circumstances would let me. And y’all, I know my husband is a gentle man, a loving, supportive spouse, a man who celebrates me and wants me to shine, but I was scared of telling him about my sense of urgency for this. I was scared he would tell me no, not now.

But, I tell you, David, my David continues to amaze me. I mean, freaking amaze me.

He didn’t flinch. Not once.

And I feel silly about this as I so often do when I realize that the main thing holding me back is my own self.

I’m sorry, self. I will try to do better living authentic me-ness.

I’m sorry David, I will try to trust you better. You told me when we married that you knew I would grow and change and you were ready for it–that you were all in and braced for it and excited to ride that ride with me and you have stayed true to that–so true.

So, this PhD thing is getting in motion, friends. I’m going back to school.

What it Means to be Lutheran and Why I’m Part of the #decolonizeLutheranism Movement

Lately I’ve become involved with a movement within my Lutheran Christian world and I want to tell you about this movement and why it has captured my heart.

The movement is called #decolonizeLutheranism.

A fundamental question of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is what does it mean to be Lutheran? And honestly, I didn’t know this answer on a theological level until I got my theology degree. But I experienced it to the bone in my home congregation in my youth without knowing that’s what was happening.

Now, there are a lot of cultural norms that come out of predominately white, European-decent Lutheran expressions in the US. But those are not the core of what it means to be Lutheran.

To me, what it means to be Lutheran is to be a people so intimately acquainted with the grace and goodness and love of God that we can’t help but live grace and goodness and love as we move about our lives.

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Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

When I look back on my childhood congregation, that’s what I remember of the people who touched my life most profoundly.

Sondra Johnson

Marv Schmehl

Marie Renner

Ric Barnes

These are just a few of the people who lived and breathed grace to me in how they related to me as a child of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church (HRLC) in Pickerington, Ohio.

As a mission congregation, started in the 1970s, HRLC drew a crowd of Christ-followers from various religious backgrounds. To my knowledge, we had folks who were raised Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, as well as those raised with little to know religious upbringing. We were not your typical, established, European-ethnically-Lutheran congregation. We were predominately white because of our location in a the suburbs, yet in many ways we were outside of a lot of Lutheran cultural norms.

My family didn’t even begin attending church at all until after I started school. We chose HRLC as our church home because of the grace and warmth we received there from the very beginning. This mission congregation, despite its position on the fringes of Lutheran culture, was right in the heart of Lutheran theology. And it spoke to each member of my family of origin. My mom had grown up Methodist, and my dad had grown up without a church, my brother and I were unsure of church coming into our lives in our childhood, but we all resonated with what the Spirt was doing in and through HRLC. My mother joined the church, eventually my brother was baptized, then I was baptized too at the age of 9. Finally, even my father was baptized at HRLC.

But as time went on, I grappled with the faith. I have never been one to accept easy answers to complex questions. And as a youngster who wasn’t a “cradle Lutheran,” I had a lot of questions. I mean, a lot, a lot. I don’t recall always being particularly tactful in asking them. Sometimes I was outright irritated about what I was being asked to believe about God and Jesus.

I know I can be argumentative. I know I can. In fact, in 8th grade, I had a teacher tell me I ought to be a defense attorney because I was one of the most argumentative people he had ever met.

I tell you, I can be difficult. If you don’t believe me, just ask the other students from my Sunday school and confirmation classes from the time.

In another time and place, in another congregation where people didn’t know grace so intimately as the folks at HRLC did, this may not have ended well for me. But the teachers and other adults graced me with their patience and forbearance. They gave me answers when they had them, but they didn’t make stuff up when my questions were too hard. Sometimes they just let me have my questions. They just sat in my questioning with me.

HRLC is closed now.

There is a Starbucks where my childhood congregation used to be.

But I carry the legacy of HRLC in my heart. The grace upon grace I experienced at HRLC in my youth is what it really means to be to be Lutheran. Anything that holds us back from doing and being this needs to be shed, laid at the cross.

We’re not great at diversity in my particular denomination of Lutheranism–the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), but we’re not just a white, European denomination. We do have people and congregations among us who are of other cultural backgrounds. It’s sad then that even people of color who have been born and raised in historically Lutheran congregations get asked, “When did you become Lutheran?”

Never in my white, Lutheran life have I ever been asked when I became Lutheran. When it comes to heritage, there are black Lutheran congregations that go back for generations! In fact, the oldest ELCA congregation is Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Virgin Islands; it is a black congregation that was established in 1666. They are more firmly rooted in Lutheranism than this questioning little soul from Methodist and unchurched parents. But no one questions whether I belong because I’m white?

Cultural presuppositions about Lutheranism are in the way of the Good News of Jesus Christ actually getting out. If an impertinent, back-talking girl like me can be permitted access to the grace of God, I want that grace flung far and wide. And where that grace is already abounding and shaking up our safe, cultural ideas, I want to see us learn from that and lean into that.

These are the kinds of things I see the #decolonizeLutheranism movement doing, and this is why this movement is so very close to my heart.

If this sounds like something you want to be part of too, join me at the first ever #decolonizeLutheranism gathering in Chicago on October 22 and/or donate to the cause.

Make Your Mark!

MakeYourMark

I had the opportunity on Wednesday night to speak at a live show hosted by my friend, Kinyo. My family and I drove to San Antonio for me to be part of the panel of guests.

PanelatKPL8:17:2016

I also got to share a bit of my story of how my art has evolved from doodles to something that matters to other people. It was a great night and a great opportunity to meet some new people.

JenatKPL8:17:2016

Several people spoke with me afterwards to say that they were inspired by what I shared about my art journey, so I wanted to share some of the resources that have helped bring me to this point.

That night, I talked about the basic drawing books by Ed Emberley. Emberley’s “Make a World” was given to my son when he was younger, and I learned a lot about drawing from that one.

MakeAWorld

Later, by chance, I happened upon a copy of Stefanie Corfee’s “Creative Doodling & Beyond.” That book really opened my eyes to ways that my drawings and doodles could be meaningful gifts and keepsakes.

CreativeDoodling

Then I found Joanne Sharpe’s book, “The Art of Whimsical Lettering” which helped me see my own handwriting as worth cultivating for use in my art. Before that, I kept thinking I had to learn some fancy calligraphy or complicated fonts, but Joanne Sharpe helped me see my own handwriting as uniquely my expression and an art form all its own.

WhimsicalLettering
Somewhere along the way, I also discovered a website called Daisy Yellow Art by Tammy Garcia (http://daisyyellowart.com). This site is a treasure trove of inspiration and instructions for art and art journaling. The emphasis at Daisy Yellow Art is on the doing–the process rather than on the results. I would say that this mentality has been key in helping me with my relentlessness in doing art on a regular basis.

If the idea of expressing yourself artistically appeals to you, maybe some of these resources could be helpful to you. But most of all, please know that there isn’t some secret formula to personal expression. There aren’t hard and fast rules that dictate how you should express yourself. Just begin. Just make your mark.

This Brain of Mine

BrainofMine

I had some concerning dizzy spells pop up in December. These persisted for weeks and weeks. The dizziness was so persistent and intense that I stopped driving for a couple of months just to be on the safe side. I went to various doctors and had lots of tests to try to find out what was going on. We finally got to the bottom of it, but December through February were difficult months with all of the dizziness, doctors, and medical appointments.

It was difficult to know what was going on and whether the dizzy spells were anything truly worrisome or just one of the non-life-threatening quirks of being me. Considering my infertility saga, my ongoing issues with depression and anxiety, and my IBS, I seem to have a lot of non-life-threatening quirks of being me.

I’ve had dizzy spells like this in the past and I’ve seen doctors about them in the past and never really got answers about why I was having dizzy spells. All the obvious causes were ruled out. I was healthy–wasn’t that great?! But it’s frustrating to be told that my tests are “normal,” when the dizziness in my head has me feeling really off-kilter. I don’t consider “off-kilter” to be a normally functioning state.

Nobody ever said it, but whenever I got my dizziness checked out in the past, I always felt like the implication of the “normal” test results was, “it’s all in your head.”

In time the dizziness would pass on its own and I would go back to normal functioning, not really clear about how or why I got back there, but grateful that the dizziness was gone. Life would go on for weeks or months at a time before another dizzy spell would come on.

Sometimes the spells would come just once and then be gone and that would be the end of it. Other times, the dizziness would come in spell after spell, over and over, multiple times a day, for days at a time. These times were more rare, but always got my attention in a way that forced my hand to seek medical attention whether I wanted to or not.

It was one of those spell-after-spell, day-after-day times that crept up back in December. I felt this dizzy offensive provoking me to go to my doctor but I resisted it ever as hard as I could. I did not want to go through one more round of tests that would all come back normal. I knew the message I would hear was that this was all in my head.

But, I tell you, there is something wonderful about community, about family, about my dear husband, in particular. He saw the way I was suffering from my dizziness, the way I was barely making it through each day, and he urged me to get it checked out. So I did.

I started with our family medical practice and right away something felt different about the care I was getting. After describing some of my symptoms, I asked the doctor, “Does that make sense?”

“Anything you say makes sense,” he replied. “It doesn’t fit what I know to diagnose, but anything you say makes sense.”

To me, him saying, “Anything you say makes sense,” were the most important words of the entire appointment. It was as if he said to me, “I believe you. What you’re experiencing is real. It’s not just in your head.” Well, that’s what I heard anyway. Those words encouraged me to persevere from there to the Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) to which I was referred.

The ENT I saw was also very supportive and encouraging and gave me that same, “I believe you” vibe. I was so very grateful for his approach. He ordered some tests. Those turned out to be normal except for one having to do with my balance system. Nonetheless, the ENT felt strongly that my symptoms indicated a neurological cause, so he referred me to a neurologist.

That’s when things got serious. I mean, I thought I might have an inner ear problem, and now all of a suddenly, we’re talking about my brain!

A lot of doctors will tell you to stay away from the internet. “Don’t google your symptoms,” they say. And I know a lot of folks freak out when they read about diseases on the internet because they imagine the worst.

But I’m not one of those people. The internet is my friend and it’s a very helpful and informative friend at that. I read medical articles with a grain of salt and only look at trusted medical websites.

Reading about symptoms and causes helps me get a better understanding of what I might and might not be dealing with; this gives me peace and helps me take charge of my health instead of just waiting around for my next appointment. So I was thrilled when my ENT offered a couple of possible neurological causes of dizziness and suggested I look them up online.

There are a lot of neurological causes of dizziness. Some of them are pretty serious, even life-threatening. It was good to know about these–even the life-threatening ones. Quickly I realized that a lot of the worst neurological causes of dizziness didn’t fit my symptoms, so that was a relief.

Still, my dizziness remained a bit of a mystery to me.

When I saw the neurologist the first time she keyed in on some really obvious things about my health situation:

  1. I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
  2. I was way over-caffeinated.
  3. I had a history of migraines–since I was 8 years old.

“You’re a migraine sufferer,” she said. “You’ve had migraines since you were…” she looked at my chart, “8 years old,” she looked up and held eye contact with me.

“This is a hand you’ve been dealt in life,” she laid one hand inside the other as if holding a poker hand. “As a migraine sufferer your body is very sensitive to things like sleep habits, and how much caffeine you consume.”

And so she ordered me to get more sleep and wean myself off of all caffeine. Then she prescribed a new medication that is supposed to be really good for treating the dizziness associated with migraines.

She also ordered blood work, an EEG, and an MRI. She had to rule out all those serious and life-threatening neurological causes of dizziness, you know?

The EEG and MRI were loads of fun. And the price was right too! (Read those two sentences with a heavy dose of sarcasm.)

I felt pretty weary with all the tests I was doing. I had this growing understanding that my migraines were a bigger factor in my overall health than I had ever realized. I was frustrated that the doctors who investigated my dizziness in the past never linked it to my migraines! I was ready to just go with that diagnosis and not have to go through all the tests. But once we had set this neurological testing in motion, I had to see it through.

Finally though, when the blood work, EEG, and MRI results came back, everything was normal. There was nothing life-threatening wrong that we found! And that was great news!

So that meant we could be sure about the “dizziness associated with migraine” diagnosis. It was a relief to finally have a firm diagnosis for my dizziness. And it was a relief to know that if there was something going on with my brain, it was related to a condition of mine of which I am already aware.

Still, there was a part of me that felt embarrassed. Even though it was confirmed by a real medical doctor–a brain specialist even–that the cause of my dizziness wasn’t “all in my head,” the cause was something pretty obvious. I mean, I felt like I should have figured that out! My migraines are the longest-running, non-life-threatening quirk of being me of which I’m aware. Migraines have been part of my life since I was 8 years old!

I felt guilty for all that I put my family through just to find out that I needed to take better care of myself because I had been dealt the “migraine sufferer” hand in life. I actually already knew that in a way. I had done some work on identifying migraine triggers in the past and was really disciplined about those I knew about. I just didn’t realize how much my sleep patterns and over-caffeinating were messing with me. And I didn’t realize that the dizziness was a symptom of my migraines.

It was sobering to realize how out-of-control I had let my health become.

Since I started seeing the neurologist, I’ve worked hard at the changes to my sleep habits and caffeine consumption that the she ordered.

I can be a bit of an absent-minded professor type and forget to eat or sleep when I’m supposed to. I get easily absorbed and hyper-focused on one thing and forget about everything else around me. To get a project done, I would often end up working at late hours and consuming a lot of caffeine to see it through.

I thought this was all just fine, despite the fact that I was tired all the time.

At first, changing this pattern felt like an imposition on myself. I didn’t want to be bothered with a schedule! I’m a free spirit!

It was important to stop thinking about the changes as an imposition and to reframe this work as me learning to love myself (that old song by Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All,” with the lyric about “learning to love yourself,” has been the soundtrack in the back of my mind). I needed to accept the non-life-threatening quirk of my migraines as an integral part of who I am and love myself enough to give myself the care that a migraine sufferer needs.

So I’ve been sleeping more and better and feeling more rested than I have in years. I dutifully weaned myself completely off of caffeine and my neurologist approved me to add back in one thing with caffeine per day. With my sleep habits being better, I don’t even miss the caffeine. I’ve also discovered a whole world of herbal teas that are naturally caffeine-free and simply wonderful.

The dizzy spells are down to once-in-a-while rather than the spell-after-spell, day-after-day, and for that I am truly grateful. And I’m glad that I know now how important my sleep habits are in the overall picture of my health, you know, as a migraine sufferer.

Learning to love myself has also meant lightening up about not figuring this out sooner. Even the neurologist said that the medical community is still learning about dizziness associated with migraine.

It’s hard work, but I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can, non-life-threatening quirks and all. I’m learning to love myself, to love this brain of mine, and to play fair with this migraine-sufferer hand I’ve been dealt.