Love in the Time of $&*t

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“Mama, if you stay here (in South Sudan) long enough your skin will become nice and black like ours.  You might have pale skin now, but you have Sudanese blood.”

I honestly don’t know I have ever been or could ever be given a higher honor than that statement.  To love a people so deeply you become in some sense part of them, even if for a short while.  My skin did darken, but it was more due to not mastering the art of the one-legged bucket bath than anything else.

When I heard what our current POTUS proclaimed over people I would have gladly given my life for, I just haven’t found words until now.  I’m hurt.  I’m saddened. I’m repulsed.  I’m angry.  But unfortunately I’m not surprised.

{Yes, I have heard the argument that his statement was misreported but from eye-witness accounts I have heard and read, he did actually call Africa the more profane version of a cesspool.  And yes I have heard the arguments that, oh he’s just being himself and using profanity to make a point.  Well, words matter.  And he has repeatedly tried to enact policy to mirror his words.  So isn’t just rhetoric. It is action too.}

I have stood on burning trash mounds with people who have been thrown away by almost everybody, including their own culture.  I lived right in the center of what Pres. Trump called an African $&*%hole for 7 years. 

And it isn’t.  It just isn’t.  I lived there.  It isn’t.

It is a place filled with stunningly strong people who have endured suffering most of us in the West can’t even imagine.  There is a perseverance and an understanding of community and family that have forever changed me.

I was the foreigner.  I was the one who barely spoke their language.  And they took me in.  They shared their words and their hearts and sometimes the last bit of food they had because THAT is who they are.

That Mr. President is not a $&*%hole.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is profoundly mistaken.

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This family had just lost everything except each other in a bombing run.  And they were concerned that I know God would always care for me.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.  Did it stretch me beyond my own limits?  Almost every day.  Did it cost me my health?  It did, for a season at least.  But those 7 years watching a nation be born, living right in the middle of it all, those years hold some of my dearest memories and people who will forever be held in my heart as the heroes they are.

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Even the littlest one gets her own greeting.  Culturally, greetings are very important.  Every single person in the room gets recognized with a handshake.

I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas in the color minority.  And every place I’ve been all I can do is marvel at how incredibly beautiful people are.  So as an artist I’m a bit perturbed by the paint color “flesh tint”.

“Flesh Tint” only applies to a small subsection of Caucasian-complected people with a peachy glow.  In a world of incredible skin colors, that moniker is myopic and ethnocentric in the worst sense.

About a year ago, I broke out my paints and laid a spectrum of flesh tints into my journal.  The One who I follow, His flesh does not match a pink-toned hue.   He is not an Italian supermodel or a paltry, pale-faced, miserable waif.

Jesus was Jewish.  He looks Middle Eastern.  He is life and joy and strength.  And He too was a refugee.  The nail-pierced One I follow was a refugee. 

He was born in a place that might qualify for Pres. Trump’s recent sentiments.  The King of Kings was born in a dirty, messy, dare I say $&*++y stable.

No matter what our flesh tint, we all bleed the same color.  Red.  And Jesus bled for all of us.

The only thing to me more disturbing than Donald Trump’s remarks, are those in certain corners of the church that seem to support his perspective outright, or acquiesce by excusing it.

Apologies can be received.  Repentance is absolutely possible.  And there can be forgiveness.   But beloved, there must not be excuses.

We who follow a Love-scarred Refugee Savior must do better than that.


I get that some of you reading may disagree with me on certain (or all) points.  You are welcome here regardless of your opinion. My goal is not to be political.  But rather to simply share from my heart and convictions.  Soon, I will be starting a new series, The Dangers of Civil Religion, that looks more at the political syncretism prevalent in some corners of the US church. In my opinion, this is the most dangerous enemy facing the church in the USA today.

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Would you like a copy of the print featured at the beginning of this post?  Click the print >> to head on over to my stationery shop. They are available there as a great reminder of the beauty and strength found in diversity.

My Battle With Anxiety

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This post is one of those messy, real and raw ones.  If you like nice and neat, you might want to stop here.  If you keep reading, consider yourself warned. I am going to be candid.  I mean really candid.

Church, in many streams I’ve served in, we have been abysmal in how we deal with mental health issues.  Mental health issues are not black and white.  Throwing Bible verses and platitudes at them does not make them better. Sunday school answers can and often do actually shame rather than serve.  If we truly want to be safe communities of faith and compassionate healing, we have so very much to learn about how we can love one another well in these areas.  And I hope and pray we will.

I’ll start with my story.

I thought I knew what anxiety was… until I had it.

It’s that flutter of nerves before a test, or the stress of a hard season at work or feeling edgy when difficult things were happening.  Right?  Not even close.

After 7 years serving in one of the most stressful situations humanly possible and having 18 rounds with cerebral malaria mess with my brain chemistry, I wound up back in the USA seriously ill and dealing with PTSD.  We are talking jump-out-of-my-skin-at-everything anxiety that made me feel like the world was ending, someone sucked all the oxygen out of the room and I was caught under a monster wave spun around until I was no longer sure what direction was up.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to be in crowds, I couldn’t think straight half the time.  Basically, back then if you looked PTSD up in a dictionary, I’m pretty sure you would have seen my picture as an example.

The organizational situation that precipitated my departure from Africa (in addition to my health problems) was one of the most traumatic things I have ever walked through in 20+ ministry.  There were violating betrayals on multiple layers and levels.  And it honestly has taken much of these 5 years just to process what the heck happened.

When I came back to the USA, my nerves were fried, my adrenals shot and my immune system in tatters.  I began dealing with debilitating panic attacks.  Somewhere in the medical maze of trying to figure out my tangle of issues, I got put on a low dose of a non-addicting anti-anxiety drug that might also help with nerve pain.  Things were still very, very hard, but they seemed to get marginally better.

I sought prayer and counsel. With a few beautiful exceptions, the responses I got often insinuated I must be the problem.  I needed to just forgive and move on.  Surely the people involved couldn’t have acted like that, or maybe they just had a hard day.  I should give grace.  Being a leader is tough stuff.  And where was my faith?  Maybe I had picked up a demon somewhere and needed deliverance.  At best, many if not most of the responses I received were a litany of what NOT to say to someone struggling.  At worst, they were circling-the-wagons, blame-shifting spiritual abuse.  And that is in no way OK… ever.

It was incredible grace I made it through some days.  I was also simultaneously dealing with extreme physical pain, family medical crises, the deepest grief and loss I had ever known and uncertainty about finances and the future.  95% of the major relationships in my world ended in the space of few weeks in 2013, along with 98% of the life I had dreamed.

I had just a few things going on in addition to skin-crawling anxiety.  I assumed the irritable, edginess was just something I’d have to deal with from rewired brain chemistry or maybe PTSD.  I found an amazing therapist who has been a gift from heaven in all of this.  Slowly I began doing better, but still the edgy, the angry and the irritable were constantly nipping at my heels.  I blamed it on hormones, adrenals, nerve damage, the weather (not really).  I honestly thought I’d just have to fight through it.   And that fight friends was exhausting.

Then one day about a week ago, I was so busy with project related work I forgot to take the anti-anxiety medication.

(Now before anyone freaks out, this particular medication only stays in your body 16 hours and you do not have to wean off of it like an SSRI.  I am not advocating ANYONE stop taking anything without the approval of your care team and doctor.) 

I simply forgot.  Into the afternoon, I felt buoyant and hopeful in a way I resigned myself I might never feel again.  I had energy.  People cutting me off in traffic didn’t make me want to scream at them very choice four-letter words.  (Of which, I can assure you L-O-V-E was not one.)  I could think straight without herculean effort.  I wasn’t edgy or overwhelmed. I felt like myself for the first time in 4+ years.

So I checked the medication out and made sure it was not a medication I needed to be titrated down from.  It wasn’t.  I searched the side effects and saw everything I had been dealing with in increasing measure… especially for the last 18 months.  So I stopped taking it.  And this Christmas, I feel like I got a huge piece of my life back.

I am keenly aware that for most of my friends struggling with anxiety, it isn’t a pharmaceutical  issue.  It isn’t an easy answer like stop taking the evil drug you are reacting to. Y’all are seriously some of the bravest people I have ever met.  You who keep showing up even in the middle of a battle.

Do I still have a challenging road ahead health wise? Indeed.  Am I still processing repercussions and lessons from what I’ve walked through? Very much so.  But in an odd way, I am really grateful for the last 4 years.  I am 1000-fold more aware and empathetic than I ever was before walking through them.

My hope in sharing all this is not to point fingers or assign blame or get into the who-did-what mud pit.  It is simply to open up a conversation about how we can truly become nurturing communities that are safe to be right where we are as we walk the road to greater wholeness.  Because in Him, we are safe.  A bruised reed He does not break. The question is, will we learn to love ourselves and others like He does.

I want to encourage you who may struggle with anxiety in varying measures, you are not alone.  Not ever alone.  It can feel completely isolating.  If your faith community doesn’t know how to be supportive of where you are at in healthy ways, please don’t give up the search to find one who does.  You, dear one, are loved so much more than you know.

What Matters Most

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This year has been a whirlwind.  Michele Perry Design went live January 3 and a few months later my stationery brand WWhimsy Paper Co launched. Both are still baby businesses in many regards.  But they are growing each day and I could not be more excited to see what 2018 holds.  To be very, very honest, 2018 is the first year I have been deep down to my toes excited about since leaving Africa.

My health is getting stronger each day as long as I make wise decisions and guard it well. I still run off and on fevers a few days a week but that is all they are at this point, random fevers.  And they are lessening.

2017 has brought so many precious friends and clients into my world and I am honored to get to walk with them.  My parents have had a very, very hard medical year and are dealing with life-altering conditions that require detailed medical care but they are here.  We are here together. THAT is what matters.  We are enjoying every moment and cherishing every memory we make.  Because, y’all (This year I have somewhere picked up Southern roots I never had – hah!), that is how to really live.

Really live each day with expectation and joy and a heart spread wide with gratitude.

Again and again I am reminded that it is who is around your tree, not what’s under it that matters most this (and every) Christmas. I lettered the sentiment back in November and I have it posted on my wall, because it is so, so, so easy to get swept away by the rip currents of sales & consumerism. I’m just not going there this year, or next year, or the next year after that.

Peace and presence, not presents, make a Christmas.

For me this week is a sacred season to enjoy all the lights and carols. It is time to reflect, regather, restore, and renew. It is a time to giggle at Hallmark Christmas movies with Mom snuggled under a comforter because it’s 80ºF outside so we have cranked the AC up full blast, a time to eat homemade spice cake and drink eggnog that might have a little something-something in it.  I’m so not telling.

Holy moments are not reserved for “holy places”.  Holy moments happen every time we see and receive all the ways He comes in and through one another.  Holy moments happen when we recognize sacred space is all around us, God is always coming in the places we least expect.

Whether you celebrate by lighting a candle in a church service or by lighting a candle on your dinner table (or maybe both),  it’s the welcoming of Him that matters.  I could not be more grateful tonight for all the gifts of His grace.  And you are one of them.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases.