Suffering, heavy hearts, and Oregon

October 11, 2014

As an Oregonian, as a fellow 29 year old woman, as a girl who watched her dad die from cancer on November 1, 2012 — two years to the day before Brittany Maynard will end her life — I’ve been having a lot of feelings this week.

Every day, I find two or three (or more) new bloggers who have written counterpoints to Brittany’s story — and every day, I find myself a bit more disappointed with the blogging community as a whole, and the Christian community in particular, for its response.

I have just a few of my own thoughts to share — on suffering, on heavy hearts, and on Oregon.

On suffering

It has been said that, if Brittany chooses when and how to end her life, she won’t suffer. That her dying won’t be hard. That she’s missing an opportunity to show others what it is to suffer well. That she’s robbing her loved ones of the chance to walk this road with her.

These are all different ways of saying the same thing: that Brittany is selfish. And I simply don’t see it.

I can’t imagine that she isn’t suffering as we speak. Her dying will be hard no matter when or how it happens; that’s how death is. And I bet if you asked the people closest to her, they would tell you that she has walked this road with beauty and grace — and that they have been privileged to walk it with her.

This is also an occasion when people like to parade out the Christianese paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13: God will never give you more than you can bear. But let’s look at what that verse really says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

First of all, this verse is talking about temptation — not suffering. And furthermore, it doesn’t say that you won’t be overwhelmed; the promise is that God will be faithful to provide a way out.*

On heavy hearts

The phrase that keeps showing up — on blogs, in comment streams, across Facebook feeds — is my heart is so heavy for her. And that’s not wrong, because this is heavy, this tragedy, and your heart should bear that weight. Like when I was browsing a moms’ Facebook group this week and saw a post from a fellow mom about her son who was stillborn six days ago, when she was little more than a month from her due date. I sat and wept for this woman, a stranger. A heavy heart — appropriate indeed.

These heavy hearts should elicit a response. They should compel us to pray for her and her family, to talk to each other about tough issues, even to grieve for her.

What doesn’t strike me as an appropriate response are all of these blog posts written as open letters to Brittany. Bloggers writing as if they know her (which, to my knowledge, none of them do) because they read 1,500 words about her in the Washington Post.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be writing about these topics; to the contrary, I believe this is an important conversation and one that the faith community should be wrestling through on a regular basis (and not just when a beautiful twentysomething gets a national headline). Stories like Brittany’s should remind and inspire us to press in and unpack all that is messy and hard and incomprehensible about the human experience.

But we should be writing about what we know: our experience and our research. We don’t know her, even if it feels otherwise, and that’s what gives all of these articles a decidedly condescending, sanctimonious, presumptuous air.

If reading about Brittany inspires you to tell the story of how you made a different choice, that’s wonderful and beautiful and the world needs to hear your voice. Many of the stories I’ve read this week are compelling and powerful — or at least would’ve been had they not been cheapened by using a salacious literary device.

Some will say that, by telling her story, she was inviting criticism and judgment and commentary — that she should have expected it. And for all I know, she was, and she did. But that argument is akin to the one that Jennifer Lawrence has no right to privacy because of her celebrity. Very different stories, obviously, but they share an undertone: If you put yourself out into the world, you are responsible for how people treat you.**

On Oregon

When I originally read Brittany’s story, my first thought was that I was proud to be an Oregonian. I know that I stand in the margin on this issue: a Jesus-follower who advocates for such legislation. But I’m proud to live in a state that (at least some of the time) supports personal liberties.

My stance on physician-assisted suicide legislation has nothing to do with my own convictions or ethics. What it does have to do with are my beliefs about the role of the state in governing morality.

The government should legislate morality when it comes to someone having their rights violated by someone else — rape, murder, and theft all being obvious examples. But the government has no business legislating what you do with your own body. Because here’s the thing: Letting the government enforce personal morality seems like a great idea until their ideologies no longer align with yours. Then you’ve given them power that you can’t ever take back.

My husband put it best: When the state legislates how and when you can end your life, it’s the ultimate expression that you no longer own your body.***

Should we, as caring, compassionate, grace-filled people, put our time and resources toward helping people who we believe are choosing poorly? Of course. Should we provide things like hospice care as an alternative to euthanasia, or rehab for addiction, or support groups for sex workers? Definitely. But should we criminalize these people? Absolutely not.

A final thought

I haven’t read anything about Brittany’s faith, and that makes me hesitant to talk to her as one who is inside the church (which is what most Christian bloggers are doing, in my view). But for whatever reason, Zephaniah 3 was on my heart as I finished writing this post, so I’ll simply end there.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”


* On a personal note, I absolutely believe that times of suffering and struggle are times to press into God and seek his face. And this is exactly what many people mean when they say that God won’t give you more than you can bear; what they really mean is God is with you, and for you, and his indwelling Spirit will enable you to persevere when your flesh cannot. But maybe we should say just that instead of offering platitudes and Christian catchphrases.

** Speaking of Jennifer Lawrence, there’s an article going around claiming that a man looking at her nude photos and a man looking at pornography is the same thing. But it’s very, very different. A woman who models for Playboy gives permission for her nude body to be seen by anyone who so desires. Jennifer Lawrence did not. It’s the act of theft that makes one a crime, and the other not.

*** As Jesus followers, we voluntarily surrender our rights to our bodies to Christ. But that’s completely different and separate from surrendering one’s rights to government.

Magic, miracles, and wonder: a nursery tour

June 10, 2014

Creating a nursery for a baby girl can be tough when you aren’t much for themes and you reject anything that’s too cute or too sweet and you refuse to buy anything that comes in a “set” or “collection” and you insist on creating spaces that are beautiful and delightful but that are also the kind of spaces real people can actually live in. For months, everyone has asked, what’s the theme for your nursery? and what colors are you doing? and when I respond that there isn’t much of a theme and the palette is mixed neutrals and metallics, I get a lot of slow nods and furrowed brows.

Kind of like the rest of my home? I say. A curated collection of things? A modern foundation with thoughtful details. I want to evoke a feeling of magic, and of miracles, and of wonder.

This does not seem to help.

But now that it’s finally done, and in honor of baby’s due date, perhaps I can just show you?

room1

room2

room3

room4

room5

room6

Crib: Babyletto Hudson. Glider: West Elm. Dresser: Ikea (with hardware from Anthropologie). Rug: World Market. Shelves: Ikea. Bedding: Restoration Hardware Baby & Child. Mobile: Baby Jives. Canopy: handmade. Art: designed by me, screenprinted by the amazing Justin at Fairweather Press.

P.S. These art prints are available for purchase in my Etsy shop.

Being disappointing

March 3, 2014

If I’m honest, my biggest fear is being disappointing.

I feel it every time I meet someone new and they say, “Oh, you’re THAT Allie! I’ve heard so much about [fill in the blank].”

I feel it every time my husband comes home from work and I tell him that I’m feeling exhausted or depleted or overextended and he suggests that we cancel whatever we have planned that evening and I respond, “Oh, no, we need to go, it’ll be fine, let’s get going.”

I feel it every time I make dinner for a group or host a party or plan a getaway or decorate something or design something or write something or create something.

I’m afraid I won’t live up to the hype. Won’t meet (and exceed) expectations. Won’t up the ante, raise the bar, outdo whatever I did the last time.

I want to change everyone’s story. If your story is that everyone leaves, I want to be the one who doesn’t. If your story is that everyone is thoughtless, I want to be the one who’s thoughtful. If your story is that everyone takes advantage, I want to be the one who’s appreciative and generous. If your story is that everyone’s flaky, I want to be the one who’s dependable. If your story is that people are unsafe, I want to be the one who’s a refuge.

I want to be the one who’s never disappointing. So I do everything I can to make sure I’m not. I always show up, always step up, always check in, always come alongside. I write back, I remember, I offer, I accommodate. I make sure that when I ask myself is this enough? the answer can always be at least it’s everything I have.

But what happens when that falls apart? When my capacity — my everything I have in me — is fundamentally less than it was before? When always becomes usually, and then usually becomes sometimes?

If you’re in relationship with me, I’ve probably disappointed you lately. If not in the five months that I’ve been pregnant, certainly in the 16 months since I lost my dad. And if not yet, then soon. I won’t answer your email, respond to your text, or return your phone call. I won’t check in with you even though you told me about that big thing you had coming up this week. I won’t offer to help, or I’ll fail to anticipate needs, or I’ll neglect to follow through. I’ll show up to your party with a bag of chips and a box of Oreos instead of homemade crostini and tartlets. In fact, I might not even show up to your party at all. I won’t make you feel special or cared for. Your birthday gift won’t be terribly thoughtful, or I’ll cancel our lunch date at the last minute and for the third time in a row, or I’ll miraculously show up for our lunch date but with absolutely nothing to offer.

I will be one more person who abandons you, who’s inconsiderate, who’s unreliable, who’s inconsistent. I will be one more person who disappoints you.

This, obviously, will not be very much fun for anyone. You will be hurt, and I will feel crushingly inadequate. I will want to make it up to you but will probably fail to do that too. I will start to think of myself as one of those EGR people — extra grace required.

But in this season of being disappointing — or perhaps learning how to be okay with being disappointing — I believe that there will be good things too. When I disappoint you, maybe it will create space for you to discover something in yourself, or in another person, that you didn’t see before. When I disappoint you, maybe it will challenge both of us to stop striving to do things in our own strength. When I disappoint you, maybe I’ll have to learn how to trust in your love for me — to receive your grace, your lowered expectations, and your acceptance of me based not on what I do but on who I am.

So, take note: I will be disappointing. Either it’s already happened, or it’s happening now, or it will happen. I love you, I am for you, I have deep affection for you — but I will disappoint you. And it’s okay. Because as long as I’m not disappointing, I’m only learning things I already know. When I’m not disappointing, I’m learning how to show love and grace — but when I am disappointing, I’m learning how to be shown love and grace.

Of course, I never want to stop practicing love and grace toward others; I still fail, constantly, to do so and to do it well. But I can only give what I myself have learned to receive. More accurately, I need to learn that anything I’m capable of giving I have already received. I need eyes to see. And the only way I can get there is by being disappointing.

“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7)