“It is hard. And I’m not sorry.” I learned this phrase from a parent who used it in a difficult conversation with school officials. The conversation was about a curriculum choice that in the parent’s view perpetuated racial stereotypes. When the parent acknowledged that conversations about race can be difficult the school official interrupted saying, “No, no. You don’t need to be sorry.” The parent responded, “It ishard. And I’m notsorry.”
“It is hard. And I’m not sorry,” is my new go to phrase for those conversations where the stakes are high, the outcome uncertain, and I have to take a risk. It could be talking with a friend about my hurt feelings, a discussion to hold a co-worker accountable, or conversation with a neighbor about a racial slur.
“It is hard,” acknowledges that I’d rather be anywhere else, like at a dentist appointment, bathing suit shopping, or spending hours waiting on a car repair surrounded by the smell of tires, than in this conversation at this particular time. The topic could be emotionally charged or politically potent. Maybe it’s embarrassing or awkward. “It’s hard,” spoken or thought, helps me have compassion for myself and my conversation partner as we stumble through saying what we mean in a way that can be understood.
“And I’m not sorry,” helps me summon the courage for the conversation. I don’t have to apologize for bringing up issues that make others uncomfortable. I owe it to myself to enter the fray. I regret more things I didn’t say than things I did. My mouth can be a steel trap, keeping big feelings, hard questions and unpopular truths locked inside. I wonder how my life would be different if I had been able to say what I really meant.
“Why is the outside door to the fellowship hall locked?” I asked, within a few weeks of arriving at the church I served a number of years ago. The response: “Because people we don’t know might come in.”
To many first time visitors the fellowship hall door looked like the front door of the building. It was a glass double door that faced the parking lot off of the main road. Insiders knew that the actual front door was on the other side of the building that faced the parking lot off the less trafficked street.
I asked the obvious question, “Why don’t you want people you don’t know coming into the building? I thought you wanted to grow?” Then I learned that the ladies who came before church to set up for coffee hour would leave their purses in the kitchen when they went to worship. One Sunday someone came into the building while the congregation was in the sanctuary and stole the ladies’ purses. After that they took what seemed to be a reasonable precaution and locked the fellowship hall door. I suggested they lock their purses in my office, in their cars, or take them into worship with them. We would leave the fellowship hall door unlocked, put up signs showing the way to the sanctuary, and even have a greeter there on Sundays we expected more visitors.
The shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Texas make it tempting for churches to hunker down and be on the look out for folks who don’t quite belong. It’s important for churches to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of those who enter our doors and participate in our ministries. But let’s not let vigilance replace hospitality, nor permit fear to thwart love.
It seemed like a good idea five months ago when I signed up for the August hike up Mt. Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier. It doesn’t seem like such a good idea now. I would like a do-over for the mornings I slept in and the days off I spent on the couch instead of the gym.
As I sweat through early morning workouts I think, “If three minutes of burpees are hard how will I ever get through a 10 hour hike up a mountain with a 40 pound pack?” As I plod up the sledding hill carrying the a backpack weighted with bags of rice and beans, I think, “Who exactly do I think I am?”
I have visions of everyone else in the group loping ahead and leaving me behind with a guide who gives me a strangled smile and says things like, “You’re doing great.” “Keep at it.” “You can do it.” Until the guides huddle together and in whispers decide that I can’t do it, that I’ll never make the final summit. I will nod in agreement that safety is the most important thing. The other hikers will give me sad looks while they tell me I should be proud for making it as far as I did.
I keep remembering a party my sister took me to the summer before she went to college and I started high school. We played softball, but I can’t play softball and to be nice they made me stay at home plate swinging at every pitch until I finally hit that stupid ball. When I finally hit the ball, it flew up and sideways, right along the path to home plate. No one called it a foul because they were all glad the game could finally go on, and the ball came down and hit me in the shoulder. I got myself out. At least no one said, “Good job.”
When I get up for the 5:30 AM “Boot Camp” class at the YMCA or carry a heavy pack on a long dog walk in the rain, I wish I could know for certain that it’ll be worth it. I wish I had a guarantee that the 10 hour hike will be a challenge but not insurmountable, that I’ll be able to do the 600 feet of technical climbing without weeping in frustration. I wish I could know for certain that I’ll make it to the top of Mt. Shuksan. And back down. Without hurting myself. But there is no guarantee. Risking not getting to the top is the only way to make it to the summit.
“The mountain isn’t going to get any smaller,” I said as I got out of bed on Friday morning to go the local Y. I said it again Saturday evening when I exchanged my glass of wine for a work out. I said it each time I climbed onto the stair climber. Each time I did planks, and lunges and squats. Bonnie Raitt and I gave ‘em something to talk about. Aretha and I demanded R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I had the eye of the tiger. I was in a musical montage worthy of a Rocky movie.
I am preparing for a major hike this summer. I’ll be part of a guided trek up Mt. Shuksan and the Sulphide Glacier. It will include carrying a 45-50lb. pack on the hike to base camp, an 8-10 hour summit day round trip hike, and a short stretch of technical climbing. The last time I did something this physically challenging I climbed Long’s Peak. I was 19 years old! I’ll be 48 when I do this trek. I don’t mind being the last in my group to make it to the top. I just don’t want to be pathetic.
“Every time we reached the top of a mountain I hoped it would be our last. But there was always another mountain,” the roughly 9 year old Syrian girl told the camera about her flight from Syria.
I was at an event to raise awareness and money for refugees, specifically refugees from Syria. The organizers had turned Sunday school rooms into different stations along a Syrian refugee’s journey. The movie I was watching showed the arrival of Syrian refugees in Lesbos, Greece. The girl being interviewed told about her trip in a leaky boat with icy water at her feet, all her possessions being thrown overboard. She repeated how cold she was. She spoke of how far they had to walk and the mountains they had to climb.
“Dye mon, gen mon,” is a Haitian proverb that means, “Beyond the mountains more mountains.” Beyond this struggle, this challenge, this trial there is another struggle, challenge, trial.
I thought of the Syrian girl Monday morning when I did the stair climber. And again Tuesday afternoon during my work out. I am both grateful and embarrassed that my privilege connects me to her. I get to choose to climb mountains. I hope my trip will be life changing. I don’t need it to be life saving.
It’s been close to ten years since I went downhill skiing, but a recent dream brought to mind how much I enjoyed it when growing up in Colorado.
I had a ski instructor who encouraged us to not hover at the start of the run, but to just ski right from the lift, over the edge, and down the mountain. I remember the thrill. I couldn’t see what was coming next – a patch of ice, deeper powder, a large mogul. It was about committing to the run. Our instructor said it would make us look cool (I’m fairly certain I felt cooler than I looked). I think he really wanted to push us to the edge of our skill level and boost our confidence. I remember how it felt to not hesitate and trust that I could handle whatever was just over the edge.
With that dream lurking in the cobwebs of my mind I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month. I have committed to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. 1667 words a day! I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I have a couple of story ideas but no plot outline, developed characters, or clear location. It feels a bit like running the marathon without training.
I may crash and burn. It could be a total yard sale. I’ve given myself permission to flail around, not look cool, and do it “wrong.” It’s okay if I don’t actually write a novel. Entries may not be connected to each other, I may start down my first idea and get stuck and so start down another path.
I want to plunge in more in my life — to just go for it, to not hold back or worry about the consequences. I’m ready to take risks and dare failure.
 A “yard sale” is a crash where the skier’s or snowboarder’s equipment, hat, goggles, etc. are strewn all over the mountain.