TL:DR–I need your help! It’s almost How to Begin book-launch time! If you want to be on the super-exclusive (not really), totally rad (fer sher) How To Begin Special Ops Book Launch team, click here and fill out this form! YOU, dear reader, can make a BIG difference in helping my book get some traction. So thxthxthx for helping out!
I’m so sorry I haven’t written since, what, June? I promised I wouldn’t spam you, and I sure am keeping that promise! It’s been…a time. Mostly good stuff. I spent a lot of the summer seeing people I love and jumping into every body of water I could find, unsurprisingly.
I also got to take 5 incredible kids from my church to work camp in Smith River, California, so far north it’s practically Oregon, to spend a week in service to others and the earth.
We worked on making the local tribal community center firewise by tearing out invasive blackberry brambles, painting a Head Start and washing dishes wayyy up in the woods and off the grid where we were staying in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
But the summer wasn’t all fun and games and pooping in compost toilets in the dark. When we were back east visiting family, literally an hour after we arrived on the Cape where my dearest dad was supposed to meet us the next day, he had a stroke at his home in Plymouth, MA. My sister Emily, an extremely capable RN, was visiting him and very likely saved his life.
That meant I was able to be close while he made a complete recovery and went home. We all tried to put the terror behind us–surely this was a warning shot, a nudge to him to take more beach walks and shift his potato-chip-heavy COVID diet. Wasn’t my dad the youngest 78-year-old any of us knew? Fixing his own roof after a storm just a few months ago? Surely he had decades left on the planet, to cook for us and fix annoying things in our houses and regale us with bad puns and intricate explanations of weather phenomena.
But a month later, as I was packing the van to bring the girls to work camp, he had two strokes in a row. I had to decide, in the space of a moment and with very little information, whether to drive the luggage car north for a youth trip we’d been planning all year–or find another adult to step in, and fly to Boston.
I tried to get quiet and wait for a holy nudge, to stay or to go. One of the youth group moms dropping off her kid took me aside and prayed for me. Suddenly, my through-the-roof anxiety and distress unfurled itself like an ancient scroll, and I knew what to do. God said, “follow the girls up there. Get them settled. If the situation turns more dire, you can tag someone else in.”
I got in the luggage car packed to the gills with sneakers and sleeping bags, and cried on and off the whole ride up on my solo journey. I was not ready for my dad to die. Or even get old and feeble all of a sudden. I was not ready to try to help my sister manage care for him from 3,000 miles away, and frankly, he was very resistant to being cared for.
When my mom died at age 64 of emphysema, depression and anxiety, she’d been old and frail for a very, very long time. Death came as relief and release. But this threatened death–this death felt like it would take me with it. My dad was the parent who did most of the nurturing, was the steadiest and most reliable presence in my chaotic early life, the one I’d return to again and again after young adult adventures, the one whose love I could count on.
As a pastor, I’ve accompanied many people through gutting griefs, and of course, I’ve lost many people I love as well. But I’ve never yet experienced the kind of loss that unravels you irrationally.
I was ugly crying and trying to stop so I wouldn’t careen off the freeway when, deus ex machina style, my Spotify jogging playlist turned itself on. It’s hard to sob when Bruno Mars or Janet Jackson are inviting you to duet with them. I sang ridiculous pop songs, and cried, and sang, and cried, through 400 miles of California wilderness.
My dad stabilized in the ICU, so I decided to see work camp through unless something changed. In the middle of the week, the young spiritual leaders of Sierra Service Project led us on a Spirit Walk through a coastal forest and out to the ocean. I put my feet in the surf, stood with the sun setting in the west and a insane end-of-the-world full moon rising in the east, and hollered at the sea. “Please, please, let my dad stay a little while longer–and let him live with dignity and joy. But if you have to take him, take him gently.”
I flew to Boston as soon as I could after that, tended my dad in the hospital, celebrated his 79th with tubes coming out of multiple parts of his body, and eventually took him home to adjust to his new, radically altered life.
I talk a lot about prayer in How to Begin: how it changes things, primarily us. How prayer is God giving us a toehold, showing us the next place to push off from as we scale a rockwall that seems impossibly smooth and steep, our arms growing weak and our legs start to shake from the effort of holding ourselves upright, afraid we will plummet to our deaths.
When I was at work camp, waving my phone around in the air trying to catch a signal and a medical update, I posted about my dad on Facebook, and hundreds upon hundreds of you prayed for him. I couldn’t be with him, so you showed up in force. He lived.
Coincidence? Good medical care and good advocacy? Or the efficacy of prayer? Does it mean God was grudgingly moved by your hundreds of petitions for my dad, but knocked off the lonely schlub next to him in ICU who didn’t have a social media platform? I really don’t know. I know it brought me inexpressible comfort when I couldn’t be in two places at once. I know that when we show up in love and in service to one another, year in and year out, as my dad has for me and so many others, it has a ripple effect.
My prayer life is changing a bit these days–even from when I wrote the book. It feels more feral, keening and wild. I still pray the Ignatian Examen in bed at night, but I also holler at the ocean. A few years ago, I met a psychic in New Orleans who read my cards. She suggested I pray not to “Big God” but to seek out a more specific god who I felt a connection with, who I could ask anything of, however trivial. I did some feeling around and Yemaya came to mind, an Afro-Caribbean goddess of the ocean I’d learned about from my storyteller friend Valerie. Yemaya feels somehow warm and approachable and also not to be trifled with.
I’m at the ocean a lot these days, and if you want me to whisper or holler a prayer at Yemaya on behalf of you or someone you love, just poke me and tell me who and what to pray for.
Ok, more book launch brass tacks. My book is coming out in 2 months! Finally! I have a whole fun series of events: I will be at Brookline Booksmith in Boston on Friday, November 4. I’m doing a tiny-desk-concert-style virtual series on FB live with a bunch of musicians I adore.
And I have a big book launch on the left coast at First Church Berkeley with the amazing Aisha Tyler and a disco dance party on Sunday, November 13 from 5-7pm PT! It’ll be live and virtual. PLEASE come and bring friends if you live in the tri-state area! Ok, maybe not the tri-state area. Tri-county? Come for the Earth Wind and Fire and the snacks and bubbly (and to meet the gorgeous and brilliant Aisha, who happens to be an atheist, and hear us argue about God the way we have since we were freshmen in college).
Here’s where you come in! It is VERY HARD to get noticed in the crowded, noisy marketplace of books. Publishers don’t have a lot of resources to push the books of people who aren’t already famous. One thing that REALLY makes a difference is loyal readers who 1) post reviews early and 2) tell their friends about books they love–good old grassroots whisper campaigns to help books get to the people who need them.
You can sign up here to get an early copy of the book–the first 30 of you who complete the form will get an old-fashioned hard copy delivered into your hot little hands! After you read it, you commit to posting a review on Goodreads or Amazon or both, and then saying something nice about it on your favorite (or at least, less-loathed) social media platform. That’s it! That’s all I need.
[Also, if you happen to know Oprah, can you put in a good word for me? I have a slot open to guest on Super Soul Sunday ;)]
Thank you, best readers/friends/fam in the world! Love you so!
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Friends, Family, Colleagues & Readers I just haven’t met yet.