happy thoughts: january edition

Upon some personal reflection, I realized that I am not being thankful enough for the small moments in my life. I’m in the middle of two huge projects – one personal and one professional – and they occupy so much of my brain space that I am missing more and more of the tiny moments.

And thus, this post.

I know it’s a bit delayed (we’re almost in the double digits of February) but I wanted to start now. Combing back through appointment diaries and book lists, I have compiled the small happy moments of the first month of 2013.

1: Lunch with future in-laws
2: Ndeko arrived and brought so much joy with her!
3: Adventures in East Belfast and trad music at Fibbers
4: Pints at the Crown, the Duke and Kellys, plus taking Ndeko on her first proper Irish crawl.
5: Tapas and movies with two of my loves.
6: Caught the Belfast Plague and my man took great care of me
7: Fell deep into a new reality TV hole – thank you, Missus Kingsley.
8: Homesick a bit and chose to give into it with long phone calls to the fam.
9: Baby steps to normalcy as I did some laundry and felt human again
10: Bangers and mash for supper & time with JD
11: Worked from JD’s and relished in a full-sized couch!
12: Surprise time with two Irish sisters and beloved (almost) nephews
13: Fieldwork and Les Miserables
14: Fieldwork in the form of choir rehearsal
15: Chicken marsala for dinner and quiet moments with JD
16: ‘Language is sacramental’ and other revelations
17: Day of reading and coffee and texts from home helped with apartment stressors
18: Snow fell upon Belfast! And I got to chat to my Penny!
19: JD and I helped take back the city with dinner and drinks at the Potted Hen
20: Great fieldwork and the beginning of an ending.
21: Discovered a few new authors through fieldwork and fell down an Amazon rabbit hole
22: Transcribed fieldnotes most of the day so treated myself to ‘Great British Bake Off’
23: Today’s great thanks was that they sell Kraft Mac & Cheese in Belfast.
24: Small moments of love expressed in lovely ways
25: We took advantage of some fantastic offers and helped The Apartment take back the city.
26: Burns Night for fieldwork where I found out that I quite enjoy haggis
27: Fieldwork and lovely food
28: Choir Rehearsal and lovely moments at Starbucks with a contact
29: Bond Night with the Kingsleys, where we ate ice cream and made fun of ‘Moonraker’
30: Breakfast with Irish Baby Sister and then drinks with some of JD’s colleagues
31: Flew to Londontown with JD for a mini-break. Dandered around Soho and got foot massages in Chinatown. Finished the evening with fantastic sushi and collapsed gleefully into bed.

protests and riots and flegs, oh my!

'Belfast City Hall at night' photo (c) 2007, Shaun Dunphy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

NOTE: This post is written for those who have no clue as to what is going on here. I have nothing to offer to native Northern Irish persons who have dealt with all this malarky for years and do not pretend to. My hope is that this post can serve as a window into a complicated situation and lead to higher empathy and understanding. 

On Monday evening, the 3rd of December, Belfast City Council voted to not fly the Union Jack flag every day. One of the Nationalist/Republican* political parties, Sinn Fein, had been pushing to have it never flown at all. The Unionist/Loyalist** parties, Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party (DUP and UUP), found that abhorrent. A moderate party pulling from both factions, Alliance, proposed a policy which was already in place in hundreds of city councils around Great Britain – to only fly it on designated days. The democratic process prevailed and the motion was passed.

That’s essentially when all hell broke loose.

Immediately following the vote, Loyalist protesters who had gathered out the back of City Hall began to riot. We watched in abject horror at the pictures filling our screens – police persons and reporters injured, property damaged. It all felt a little too familiar. But as I went to bed that night, the commentators were saying it was one night and that would be that.

How wrong they were. 

We woke up the next morning to reports that an Alliance Party MP, Naomi Long, had received death threats overnight and her home was damaged. Thankfully she was not hurt as the family was not at home, but that was to begin a pattern which continues.

Most nights, they gather in “peaceful protests” – a group of people standing in a major intersection holding Union Jacks and signs which usually read things about not surrendering. They gather for an hour or so right at rush hour and do nothing overtly violent except cause traffic havoc and prevent people from getting places. I’ll be honest, using the term “Operation Standstill” and tweeting things about “bringing the province to its knees” has not endeared their cause to the greater Northern Irish population.

However, every once and a while, they become overtly violent. These violent clashes – so far – have been in areas which traditionally have a high paramilitary presence. They have mostly been Loyalists versus police, with a few brief exceptions in East Belfast where it has been between Loyalists and Republicans.

By now you must be asking so many questions: we are too. Just because we’re a bit used to this malarky doesn’t mean we understand it. I can logically follow their arguments; I simply cannot understand why it matters this much.

It matters this much because – in the words of one organizer – “it’s not just the flag. They want to take everything British away.So while all of this is about a flag, it’s not. It’s about a deep frustration that has been brewing in this community for decades. The Good Friday Agreement which officially ended the armed conflict in 1998 is perceived as being unbalanced. The narrative in this community is that it only benefited the “other side” and that they have been left out in the cold. They feel abandoned by their government and their Queen and their political parties.

That last part is – in my opinion – the most important element. There is a perception amongst the Loyalist community – at least the ones who talk to the news and to colleagues of mine – that Unionist politicians no longer speak “for the people” and “the people” no longer have a voice. They feel forced, therefore, out onto the streets to make their point. For some of these people blocking traffic with their banners, this is the culmination of feeling crapped on by the whole country for almost 15 years and they just can’t take it any more. However, I do believe a MAJORITY of the people who feel this way are not comfortable with the overt violence either. The (mostly) young men who are setting buses and cars on fire and launching petrol bombs at police officers are a minority.

But where does that leave the rest of us? Frustrated. Scared. Annoyed. Pick a word: we probably feel it every day. I feel horrible for the families of police officers who are subject to injury because they are doing their job (over 100 officers have been hurt so far by having things like bricks thrown at their heads). I am frustrated for the politicians who have had bullets mailed to them in the post and have been forced to evacuate their houses (about 15 at my last count). I am tired of having to plot my route anywhere based on planned and unplanned protests. I am sick to death of this being the lead story on the news (we hear it’s even being reported in Cameroon and Russia). From my conversations with friends and family here, I am not alone in those emotions.

This has cost the city approximately 25 million pounds so far in both outright policing costs and lost revenue to businesses. And it’s only been six weeks. 

The question I have asked and heard asked and been asked is “how does this stop?” and “how long will it take to get back to what it was?” There is a deep, deep fear in the voices of almost everyone I know that N. Ireland is sliding backwards into old patterns which they had deeply hoped were broken. It appears they are not. 

So what can you do? If you are a praying person, pray for peace and calm and understanding and empathy and wisdom. If you are not, please lean into the trust I have that the Northern Irish people are not thugs who all behave like this. Please believe me that the silent majority are scared and need your support. What does your support look like? Plan trips here and remind anyone going to Ireland that “Ireland” does not just mean Dublin. Share positive Northern Irish stories with your friends and family. Like that Game of Thrones is largely filmed here, that one of our golf courses was just voted “Best Outside USA”, that C.S. Lewis imagined Narnia as looking like County Down, that Snow Patrol started here and Van Morrison is Belfast born and bred.

But the best thing to do? Practice grace with others around you and remember that your story is not the only one. May we all remember that the lands we inhabit carry many lives and many stories. May we remember that what we will protest loudest is the thing that someone else holds the most dear and that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re not human. May we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly as we navigate each other and learn that patience is a greater virtue than many of us realize.

If you have any further questions, I’m happy to field them. That will probably look like directing you to other sources, but hopefully I can be a gateway into the alphabet soup that is Northern Irish writing.


* Nationalists & Republicans want a United Ireland and reject British rule for Northern Ireland. The split between the two words usually comes with how they want that accomplished: traditionally, persons who identify as Nationalists lean towards the political process and Republicans are comfortable with violent acts. This is not ironclad, but general.
** Unionists & Loyalists are loyal to the Crown and the British government. They reject any association with Ireland and find themselves most comfortably as part of the British Empire. The split is the same as above with the same caveat. There is also a deep socioeconomic component. Unionists tend to be middle to upper class and those calling themselves Loyalist tend to be more working-class.

here’s to twentytwelve: photo summary

This year, I mean…

I can’t really summarize…

Right. Okay.

I know I am one bent to hyperbole. Trust me, I type this in full awareness of my linguistic history.


My life is revolutionarily different than this time last year. As I was snuggled in Yardley last year preparing to ring in this new year, I was a single PhD student who barely knew how do to her job. I was blissfully unaware how hard my professional life was about to become and honestly thought I knew what the year would bring. I was emailing this delightful Irishman I had been on a few dates with, but wasn’t sure where things would go once I returned to Belfast.

One year later, I am no longer single and I am typing this from that delightful Irishman’s parents’ house. John has gone from a periphery character in my Belfast life to the centerpiece of it and I could not feel more blessed. I have an Irish family who have made me feel like I’ve been around forever and pieces of a beautiful future falling into place. I am now an official Doctoral Candidate engrossed in fieldwork and loving every minute.

That is not to say the journey between those two paragraphs was delightful at all times. Au contraire, mon ami. My silence on this blog and other outlets is because this year was unspeakably challenging. I learned new levels of panic and new levels of discipline as I spent months crafting a new proposal – which was deemed worthy in the middle of November. Both families let out the breath we had been collectively holding and things began to fall into place.

So as I sit on the cusp of 2013 and I get to ring it in with my fella, I know I have much to look forward to. Weddings and vacations and laughter and adventures. Frustrations and stress and fears and fieldwork. But before we get into that, I want to pause and appreciate the year that was. So here’s the photographic summary of the year that was.

me and pennyme and suz

I started off the year with an adventure to Londontown with Penny and then journeyed off to Oxford to see Miss Suzanne! We decided to celebrate her birthday with a trip to the land of too many “w’s” (ie: Wales).

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March brought my delightful baby brother to Belfast. We explored two of the major histories of the province: the building of the Titanic and all the industries that represents and then the conflict. Mostly we were ridiculous together, which is our wont.

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And, of course, there were adventures with the MC43 crew. From board games to hockey games to random nights out, they were the first welcoming committee for the Irishman in my life.

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Easter break brought new friends and reminders of how silly beautiful this country is. John had a friend over from his Los Angeles life and we got to spend a week showing her that Ireland is the prettiest place on earth.

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While the rest of the UK was celebrating Lizzie’s Diamond Jubilee, John and I headed for Oslo, Norway for a quick city break. Fish, fjords and fun was the theme of our trip. As it came on the heels of my proposal rejection, it was the perfect time for us to have some large blocks of time for future planning.

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Summer in and around Northern Ireland meant lots of work punctuated by beautiful weather and great celebrations. We were actually graced with summer on a few brief occasions and took the opportunity to be outside as much as humanly possible. We also celebrated Penny’s Fake 40th, Muzzo’s bachelorette party, America’s birthday and I had my first girls’ weekend in Letterkenny.

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End of July meant a trip to Newcastle, England to be part of John’s baby sister’s university graduation.

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A quick trip home to ‘Murrica meant time at the Bank, a trip to Beantown with the sisters and time in Vermont to see my precious Muzzo pledge life to the man of her dreams.

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Snapshots from Autumn, clockwise: The Church in Dublin for a Donnelly family dinner, finishing up work on the dreaded diffdoc, John kitted out for Tacoma’s Halloween party (we went as tourists) and me and John at Titanic Belfast for high tea to celebrate his birthday.

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The best birthday gift anyone could have given me: my Tamale came to visit for 10 whole days! We explored Belfast, the Antrim Coast, Omagh, London and Oxford and even had time to celebrate my birthday with Belfast favorites.

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And then it was time to bring John home to meet the family! We spent 10 days in Yardley, celebrating both Christmas and Thanksgiving and spending time with family of all sorts. The visit kicked off with a wedding of my oldest friend/ former student/ pintrest goddess, Emmy. I also got to grab a bit of time with a Baylor favorite and Fiki registered his displeasure at being forced into the festive spirit.

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Before I knew it, it was time to journey to Omagh for Donnelly family Christmas – which involved a visit from Santa and a lot of Jenga. Not pictured: the obscene amount of food we consumed between Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

dear church (can we please have different conversations?)

this is my contribution to my brilliant friend Allison’s syncro-blog “Dear Church”. If you also have some things to get off your chest, find out here how to and join the conversation. 

Dearest Church :

A couple of years ago, I was quite prepared to never be part of you ever again. One of your branches decided I was disposable and cast me out without so much as a second thought. My willingness to walk away was a mixture of “well if you don’t me, I don’t want you” and an unbelievable pain at being called horrible names by my church. After several months of crying and reflection and pro/con lists, I decided to stay with you.

I re-make that decision regularly.

Now, do not get me wrong, there are times I find you simply delightful and you are “home” to me in a way that few other things are. As someone who lives outside my home culture and has spent most of my adult life doing so, little makes me feel more at home than singing hymns with a simple piano and a group of family I’ve never met before.

But – like any relationship – choice is a big part of our relationship. Every time someone stands up in your name and makes a comment which makes my blood boil? I choose to stay. Every time I have to defend your true intentions to my friends who have been hurt by false ones? I have to choose to stay. And I know I’m not alone in this.

As someone who is a professional academic studying you and your use of language, can I make some simple suggestions to maybe change how regularly I (and many others) have to make that choice? I had a beloved professor in seminary who used to tell me I was free to abandon a congregational church but that I should never, ever abandon the Bride. I carry that thought in my heart as I write this. I firmly believe that if we could use different language and have different conversations, we could embrace our identity as the Bride more firmly.

Instead of “my pastor speaks for God” can we say “my pastor does his/her best to use the education they’ve acquired and the insights they have to show me new things about Scripture/God/Church that I never would have thought of on my own”?

Instead of “if the Bible says it, I believe it” can we say “I find my truth in the words of Scripture but I acknowledge that I am also influenced by 2,000 years of tradition and history and we may not fully understand everything”?

Instead of “hate the sin and love the sinner” can we say “I don’t need to agree with every choice someone makes to love them”?

Instead of “you are going to hell” can we say … well, anything else? It really is time to stop invoking that threat.

Instead of standing on street corners preaching to anyone passing by, can we commit to loving people for the long term with no agenda? Instead of focusing our budget on the activities of a Sunday morning, can we hire social workers to help craft our interaction with our local and global neighborhoods? Instead of paying for buildings can we talk about meeting in houses or public spaces? Instead of involving ourselves in the reproductive and sexual choices of people we do not know, can we involve ourselves in the rhythms of our communities?

Can we start talking about promoting farming and local food in America? Can we talk about how Jesus wasn’t an American and God is an ahistorical and apolitical deity? Can we promote artistic expression and the laughter of children in countries we’ll never visit? Can we fight for clean water and proper dental care?

Can we be known by what we are for rather than what we are against? Please?


wait, summer is over? summer was here in the first place?

“Summer” is a relative term.

For most of my life, summer meant raised temperatures and shorter sleeves. It meant life slowed down just a bit and novels became a certain fixture of my days. Rita’s Water Ice, salt water taffy, barbecued items for dinner and – possibly most importantly – Jersey corn, tomatoes and blueberry pie.

This summer included only a handful of those. I did get to consume Rita’s (on several glorious occasions while visiting the family in Yardley) and had some delicious vegetables purchased at road side stands. I read a few novels (Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys things in the vein of Hunger Games, by the way) and my feet found both the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

But slow down?


My summer did not do that.

Any concept of “rest” or “sabbath” pretty much went out the window on May 24 when my research proposal was rejected and I was given a new reality to live in. Within one hour I went from confidence and excitement about what the next season of my life was going to bring to abject horror, fear and panic over not having a plan. My stomach lurched and I felt that the walls were closing in on me and I barely escaped the room before dissolving into heaving sobs.

Over the next week or so, I cried and yelled and processed and freaked the flip out and came to peace with the new reality. With the help of favorites and family on both sides of the ocean, I formulated a new plan and moved forward in it. I downloaded thousands of pages of new articles and ordered new rounds of Inter-Library Loans.

Of course, it was not just my professional life that shifted. The personal one took a shift as well and some very serious conversations about permanence had to take place with the Irishman. Because – and this is a particularly delightful side effect of being an ex-pat – if I fail this next proposal (to take place in the beginning of November) my visa will be revoked and I will have 60 days to leave the country.

The end result of this, as I sit on the cusp of September, is that I only have vague recollections of not being so stressed and anxious that my sleep exists uninterrupted. This is a large reason why the blog has remained dormant, along with a few other reasons I’ll try to explore in the next wee bit.

All of that to say – my summer was not full of rest. There were moments of glorious sunshine and lazy moments spent on beaches. I sat at long, luxurious meals with family and explored new worlds. I celebrated marriages and dreamed  of others, but everything was punctuated with the nagging thought of “I may loose my visa in four months” breathing down my neck. As I move forward into autumn (arguably my favorite of all the seasons, especially for the three or so weeks it shows up in Northern Ireland), I will once again be surrounded by stacks of notes and color-coded post-its as I attempt to craft a new proposal.

And then? Over Thanksgiving? I will finally have my “summer”. My delightful sabbath where no professional work will be undertaken and I get to introduce my Irishman to my family and my world in the hopes that he finds home there as well.

So here’s to large cups of coffee and incredibly understanding friends, supportive families and a boyfriend without whom I would not have survived this summer this well. Here’s to shifted reality and finding my footing on an uncertain terrain. Here’s to movable summer and the promise of eventual rest.

may I introduce logic to emotions?

This is my contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ MutualityWeek2012. To see the other incredibly wise people who have written about this, see here.


“But you can’t do that.”

I turned and stared at the boy who had uttered those words. I was seventeen and working at a Christian summer camp in Southern New Jersey. That fall, I was headed to university to learn how to love students better and was telling my fellow co-workers that I wanted to preach in the all-camp final service.

With sunblock dripping in my eyes and confusion clouding my soul, I replied “why?”

“Because you’re a girl. Girls teaching men is a sin. Everyone knows that.”

And with those simple words I would never forget, boundaries were placed upon my previous understanding of a boundless God.


“What do you mean they walked out?!” I shrieked.

I was twenty-one and in the college cafeteria after one of our mandatory chapel services. A brilliant woman had come that morning to teach us about loving orphans and vulnerable children in Vietnam and I had enjoyed every moment of her talk. My male lunch companion had just informed me that several of his male friends – upon seeing it was a woman at the pulpit – had walked out.

“Yeah,” he shrugged non-commitally. “It’s not a big deal, Kristen.”

“It’s NOT A BIG DEAL?!” I felt my temperature and temper rising. “But they walked out just because it was a woman!”

“Well, they’re just following what the Bible tells them to do.”


“The one we all read, Kristen. You can’t change what the words say. Stop being such a Yankee about it.” Yankee, you see, was many people’s shorthand at that university – located in the American South – for me when I was being opinoniated, or fiesty, or strong willed. If they weren’t such “good Christians”, I’m sure they would have just called me what they were thinking – a bitch.

“Like I said,” he looked me dead in the eyes, “it is not a big deal.”

And with those words I realized I had larger dragons to slay than I had ever thought possible. 


In the past ten years, had I a dollar for every time someone told me that my gender limited me instead of empowered me within the context of the institutional church, I promise you I would not ever take out another student loan. Myself, my friends, my colleagues, my sisters: we have all been told we are “less than” for whatever reason. The comments were made by seminary classmates and college professors, by pastors in our churches and by authors we’ll never meet. Each hurt, though. I won’t deny that.

This conversation is incredibly emotional for anyone involved. We, as humans, put deeper value in religious language than any other. Thus, whenever God’s ideas about humanity are introduced into a conversation the conversation automatically becomes more intense. By the way, that is the foundation of most sociological studies of religion and language. But that’s why I like to pause for a moment and attempt to remove the emotion. As a sociologist, I am deeply interested in how religion shapes society and society shapes religion. Both of those things have logical trajectories.

I believe it is only logical to end gender discrimination within the Church. Which, by the way, is what is currently practiced in millions of congregations around the world. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being factual. Whether you feel it is backed up by Scripture or not is irrelevant. It simply is. The question – therefore – becomes whether or not you feel God is in the business of gender discrimination.

I don’t believe there is any evidence that God is. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, YHWH is constantly shown as a deity of order and stability. In vast contrast to the origin stories of Babylon and Messopotamia, YHWH was never subject to fickle whims and YHWH’s actions were always bent towards the good of humanity. The ancient Hebrew people believed deeply that God was a god of order. So why are we so hesitant to embrace that now?

Of course, as with every other issue in Christendom, this one comes back to your interpretation of Scripture. Many other wise writers this week have tackled exegesis and I do not need to go into that here. But if you are someone who believes women must be subordinate to men within the Body of Christ, may I ask for your logic behind that?

Why would we allow participation based on reproductive organs and not skill sets? Why do we think God small enough to be limited by only creating women to bear children or clean houses? Why – and again, I ask for a clearly logical answer – am I – a woman with a first-class seminary education and a gift for public speaking – less qualified to preach than the gentleman sitting beside me with no formal training and a job as an accountant?

My hope for the Church as we move forward is that we begin to have adult conversations about this. This week is a great start and I hope it fuels more weeks like it. However, I also hope every congregation can discuss this. I hope young girls are taught to be strong women of valor first and foremost and to find themselves in Christ – whatever that ends up meaning to them – rather than finding themselves in their potential future husbands. I hope we can value other sacramental relationships other than marriage and other professions than motherhood.

May we find the deepest and widest definition of the Kingdom – one which represents the boundless and complete love of the God we claim to serve. May we allow people to be safe within our midst; their gifts encouraged and strengthened and not shunned. May we – as the Universal Body – be a place known for “yes” instead of “no”, hope instead of condemnation. May we celebrate the fullness of each gender, each human, each living beings as miniature expressions of the fullness of God and embrace each other as family.

anniversaries of trauma: or, in which i talk about my dark day

In the beginning seasons of Gilmore Girls, Luke disappears for one day every year. Lorelai cannot figure out why and Babette informs her it’s his ‘dark day’. On the anniversary of his father’s death every year, Luke removes himself from society. He shuts down his diner, goes fishing and remembers.

Yesterday was my dark day.

Four years ago, in the name of loving me, the church I belonged to and was volunteering for declared me to be a “damaging and harmful” individual in the lives of teenagers and both implied and outright said I had engaged in inappropriate behaviour. They complied a list of evidence, which I was not permitted to see, and gave me no chance to respond. They ordered me to cease working and interacting with all young people immediately. While they communicated they hoped I would stay within the congregation I am not entirely sure how they expected me to. It took me three and a half years to consider joining another institutional congregation. There are so many nuances of that day and that event and that reality. Know I take responsibility for any of my actions which appeared on that list, but I will never agree with how I was treated or spoken about.

A significant piece of me died that day. I lost a family, an identity and a place. I felt moorless and afraid to go out into public in that town in case I ran into someone. I was asked to never speak to any of the young people ever again even in public and I tried to take that request – which was a little insane – seriously. If I saw them in Target, I walked out. If I saw a parent at Chilli’s, I left. I essentially turned into a hermit in my house. I lost friends and there are people I thought would be family for me forever who have rarely spoken to me since.

You can imagine that whenever people talk about ‘church discipline’ I get a little antsy.

For anyone reading this who has not been a member of a congregation, this may seem a little insane. It was just a horrible set of things said to me – why the mourning? I completely understand your confusion. Let me say these people had verbally pledged to me to be ‘family’ and to love me and guide me through seminary. Instead, they shunned me. I now also get a little antsy when institutions use family language.

So every year on that day, I take a dark day. I remember and cry and mourn the moments which shifted the direction of my life. I may also say nasty things about the man who compiled that list. I pause to remember the girl who trusted the church to be a good place who would love her and believe in her and champion her and how I’m not actually sure I miss her. But then I remember the past four years. The years of healing and hope, the years of people who rallied around me and assured me I was not a bad youth worker and did, in fact, have a place in the Global Church. The ways in which my definition of church has changed and how I like it better. I’m proud of how I have risen from that day and who I am now.

However, the 25th of April will always be marked with deep breaths, quiet reflection and gratefulness for hope and resurrection.