40

Here I am with my mother and my mother’s mother. I am okay with these genes.

Today, I turn 40.

I don’t particularly remember the year I turned 10, though if I were slightly less lazy, I’d go out to the garage, pull out my childhood diaries, and reflect on the similarities and differences of adult and child Sarah.

The year I turned 20, I was deeply depressed. The year I turned 30, I had a newborn. So this is the first “0” birthday in a while in which I have felt clear-headed and capable of reflection.

Turning 40 was supposed to be a really big deal. This was the last-stop year my high-school friend Matt and I picked as the one we’d get married if neither of us had done that by now (we both have). I thought I should mark the occasion with a 40 day trip, or 4 ten-day trips, maybe to Europe and South America, to cities and countries I’ve longed to visit but have never quite been able to get to.

But this was the year my kid needed braces. And the year I started spending more money taking care of myself on a regular basis. And the year I realized two of our animals are getting pretty old. So, an extravagant trip was out of the question.

This was also the year I took a real break from work, a five-week vacation, after decades of never taking more than a week or two off at a time (and those not being exactly restorative). It’s been the year of re-discovering how much I like my nuclear family, after fifteen years of living across a continent from them. It’s been the year of watching my kid start to develop into the kind of human who will love God and others, set and meet goals, and take brave risks. It’s been the year of seeing my husband build a business and a livelihood on his own terms. And it’s been the year that three people, three peers, who we were close to at different times of our lives, have died…far too early.

We grew food this year. We met with an accountant and our financial advisor. We kept up with laundry and dishes and meal planning and appointments. We had family dinners, morning coffee and chats with my dad; took a road trip to see my grandmother, uncle, and sister in Boise; showed Giehl’s parents the coast and mountains of Oregon. Went on hikes and bike rides and for swims. It’s been a year of pretty ordinary things, which I am finally starting to see as extraordinary.

I’ll mark the actual day of my fortieth birthday (today) by drinking coffee, doing the Sunday crossword (it’s a board game theme! so fun!), going to the gym, and playing piano at tonight’s worship service. This would have been my Grandpa Clyde’s 99th birthday, had he not also died way too young. So, I’ll also spend some time feeling grateful for the family who made me. It’ll be a pretty mundane day without much by way of orchestrated pomp. No breakfast-in-bed or fancy dinners or elaborate surprises.

But that’s okay. Everyday is okay. Mundane is hard and extraordinary and beautiful, if we let it be.

For a long time, I think I carried a lot of anxiety about my life, about its impact. I wanted to do good in the world, to make the world a better place, to make a difference. I’ve written books and am helping to start a nonprofit that may fundamentally change the way the church thinks about animal creatures. I think I was afraid that me, just being me, wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough. And truthfully, this is still a daily struggle. But it’s changing. Easing. Being replaced with a (slightly…ohsoslightly) increased ability to breathe.

I don’t know what the next decade will hold. I’m still determined to backpack around the world for months on end. And I’m still determined to do what I can to foster a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I’m starting to realize that one of the most powerful ways I can do that, and one of the most rewarding, is to simply try to love the people and other creatures around me well, to do what OA tried to teach me so long ago: “what I can, when I can.”

I’m going to fail a lot at that, so apologies in advance for the days and weeks I anxiously steamroll over whatever obstacle is in my path.

Here’s some good advice for this decade from Walt (Whitman, not Disney), courtesy of the wise and wonderful abby:

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

Amen.

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crossfit

I was going to wait for my one-year anniversary to write this little confessional, but something happened that made me want to get it out earlier.

Late last September, I started CrossFit.

[I now grant you three minutes to make all the evangelical vegan CrossFitter combination jokes you can make, I realize the temptation to resist will be too great].

I’ve got a lifelong history of starting ambitious workout programs and quitting within a few weeks. I donated to Planet Fitness for two years and only darkened the gym door four times (once to sign up, twice to work out, once to cancel my membership). That is just the latest of a long list of examples. Signing up for races and training to run them kept me active when I lived near the amazing Wissahickon park in Philadelphia, but moving to Eugene put me too far from the nearest trails for a daily routine.

I’d heard people talk about “drinking the CrossFit kool-aid,” but knew nothing about it. As I researched gyms in Eugene, I was increasingly drawn to the website of Eugene CrossFit. The video and photos on the website showed people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. The workouts looked varied. And I liked the idea of trying something new.

So I went for an introductory workout with the owner, this super peppy dude named Jeremy. A women named Becky was there for the intro, too. She was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Be kind to animals or I’ll kill you,” so we were destined to be pals. Also, she’s the best vegan baker on the planet. It was one of many signs that this was the place for me.

The workout was fun and I was a little sore the next day. OK. A lot sore. It felt good. Despite feeling nervous about making an 18-month commitment after one date, I signed up for a two-class-a-week membership. When I was a kid and wanted piano lessons, my parents made me practice for months on my own before they agreed to pay a teacher. Turns out, they know me pretty well. I took the same approach here. For the first month, I took two classes a week. The next month or so, I bumped it up to three. And then, unlimited.

In first five months of 2018, I worked out 121 times. 121. Most weekday afternoons, I shut my laptop lid, change my clothes, and go spend the best hour or two of my day at Eugene CrossFit.

Let me now enumerate a few of the things I love deeply about this place:

  1. I show up and do what I’m told and it’s always something a little new. Even if I’ve done the moves before, I’m working toward a higher jump, a heavier weight, a faster time. I’m competing against myself, my brain, my doubts and I’m kicking my own ass.
  2. The people. Being anonymous doesn’t work for me. When I don’t show up to Eugene CrossFit, someone notices. My neighbors go to different classes and it’s fun to stand out on the street and commiserate about whatever crazy hard thing happened that day. The people in my classes are kind, supportive, funny, strong, inspiring, and so much more. I love the people.
  3. The coaches. Oh my gosh, the coaches. They see us as individuals, and they respond to our particularities. Workouts can be scaled or modified, no problem. If my form is off, they take the time to help me figure out what’s wrong and fix it. They push and encourage me without shaming, and they are as happy about my accomplishments as I am.

Speaking of my form…I am so bad at so many things. Like, really bad. My shoulders are all locked up from years at a laptop. My knees are old and rickety. My burpees are slow. I’m usually good at things I try, perhaps because it has been my MO to try things within a limited range. But in this case, there are a lot of things that I simply can’t do.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

I am bad at these things now, but I am getting better. In the meantime, don’t hate myself for not being able to do what other people can do, or what I want to be able to do. I actually understand and accept that it will take time to improve, and that improvement won’t come magically, but through consistency and hard work. It’s incredibly satisfying.

And it’s not just physical. I mean, it’s physically taxing and I kind of want to die sometimes, but I’ve been surprised at how much of the experience is mental discipline. Almost every time I lift more weight than I’ve ever lifted before, it’s because I look at the bar and tell myself, “Pick it up, don’t stop lifting, you can do this.” Sometimes I get halfway through a workout and think there’s no way I can continue, but then, you know, I do. I finish. I get stronger. My form gets better. I get a tiny bit faster.

And I come back the next day.

Fair warning: I’ll be writing more about my newfound passion. I can’t help it. It’s too amazing to keep to myself anymore.

 

a love letter to palmer theological seminary

Tomorrow, Palmer Theological Seminary will have officially been fooled into giving me an advanced degree in theology. It’s a two-year degree that took me three years to complete because a few months in, I started a job at the seminary that was, at the time, the most perfect gift I could have received.

Four weeks from now, I’ll leave that job to return to PETA for what could very possibly be the last job I’ll ever have – working to help Christians make more compassionate choices about nonhuman animals.

I think I might be in a deep state of denial over the impact that leaving this community will have on my life and soul, as I’ve been feeling a bit dead inside about it all. So, in an attempt to healthily process my own feelings and acknowledge the amazing people who I’ve met in the last three years….a love letter. (a love letter that’s sounding a bit like an award-acceptance speech in my head….but a love letter nonetheless)

*********

My dearest Palmer peeps,

I love you. Thank you.

To the professors: you have challenged me. You have exposed the richness of the scriptures in a way I never imagined possible. You have taught me new narratives. You encouraged my exploration of the theological foundations of our relationships with nonhuman animals and let me write loads of papers on the topic, even in church history. When you asked how I was doing and I glibly responded with some current struggle, you took a genuine interest in me and offered empathy.

To the staff: you are an extraordinary family of colleagues. Leaving you is so bittersweet. You celebrate one another. You are deeply committed to the students. You welcome everyone. You make me laugh. I feel at home with you, in a world in which it’s hard to find a home.

To the students: I feel like the luckiest girl alive to have journeyed with you. You accepted and loved and supported and challenged me. We worked in groups together and I survived sharing the labor of papers and presentations. You showed me how to examine (and check) my privilege. I am so happy that you are following your calls, but will deeply miss your laughter, tears, and prayers.

Sure, I learned about the Bible at Palmer, but I also learned about living and working in a diverse community. I learned how to stop and connect, how to prioritize relationships, how to listen. I learned how to examine, question, doubt, and deepen my faith.

I love you, Palmer Theological Seminary. You are the super best.

Yours Truly,

Sarah