The Downhill

Yesterday marked the 5th significant loss to our community this year. We have lost 1 woman to a long term illness and one woman yesterday to a sudden onset of dengue fever that was complicated by other health problems, she was 46, at work one day and we were at her funeral the next. We also lost the husband of one of women to illness and 2 significant staff members returned to the USA (one who had been apart of the community in one way or another for the better part of 8 years.). These losses make our year and how we have been able to live it, not so easy. Being present in the moment is a struggle as I subconsciously struggle with who will leave next, who will we lose to sickness, what is the next crisis we will face. We as a community generally bear up well under the losses, we have learned to be all stars in a crisis because the fact of the matter is we faced too too many.

I have begun to think of these times of crisis and loss as the uphill walk. When I was walking the Camino (Camino De Santiago, the uphills were hard and took a significant effort. They were an exercise in will especially the first day with a 5000 foot climb over about 22 miles. Yet I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Taking a break when I needed it. By the end the uphills became my favorite part.  I loved the conquering, the exhilaration of my body being able to do what it had struggled too do only weeks earlier. The uphill is conquerable, the crisis, you just push through and you can to become a master of it.

The downhills were a big surprise to me. I though they would be the easy part. Turns out that’s not true, the downhill, means a slow down and control of your body in different ways, a strategy for how to protect your knees, mastering the zig zagging gallop or whatever might work best for body to take the stress off. The downhill is hard, I might even describe it as the most difficult part…because of the conflict of my brain telling me to stay controlled and use of the strategies to minimize the pain and my body crying out in pain to stop and heart urging me forward, a belief in the the vague promise that the pain ends eventually. Truly, the downhill puts stress on places that you don’t feel unless you are walking downhill.

I think post crisis or loss is the like the downhill, it is surprisingly hard, maybe even harder than the actual moment of crisis or loss. It’s the postscript that causes the most pain. The post stressors of the crisis seem to have a lag in effect, that is much more difficult to deal with than the actual crisis. How do I pick up the pieces, where do I go from here, where do I or don’t I see God in all of it. The downhill, hurts. I mean it really hurts. As  I have now almost spent as much time off the Camnio as I did on it, I find myself in the middle of another type of downhill. The post Camino downhill of where am I now, who am I now, what do I want now and where in the world is God now? And beyond that in yet again another downhill walk with the sudden loss of a friend yesterday. I am not here alone, there’s a whole community of folks walking the Downhill of this loss with me. Come to think of it, the downhills were easiest on the Camnio when I was walking with someone, —you know who you are—, somehow the knee pain seemed less and time went faster.

All that said, the downhill still sucks and hurts worse than all the rest. And it is always true that for every uphill there is a down hill and a season in the plains. I just wish there was a guidebook so I could better prepare for what was coming.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our friend Gita. A woman with a ready laugh and the ability to laugh at herself whose presence will be deeply missed by all the women at our Sonagacchi office, and the people in her home in the red light area, and most deeply by the 15 women who sat with her upstairs, who knew her stories and and her hurts and she knew theirs.

So here I go again walking the downhill again in more ways than one. Can I say again the downhill sucks and it is better when your not alone. Can I get an amen?

The thing about “Good’ men…

We celebrated “Men’s Day” at Sari Bari this week.  Something we started last year, which was born out of the imagination and desire to celebrate the very good men who work with us (thanks Beth and Melissa for leading the way).  They are few but heroic in their own ways, a son of woman formerly in the trade who is passionate not only about his mom’s freedom but about all the women at Sari Bari finding their way to freedom. Sweet Upendra, a man among men, barely grazing 5 feet and yet containing one of the biggest hearts on earth, a doing, defender of us all.  And there are the men who cut the bags and do the accounts reminding us that there are good men out there and they show us what exactly it means to know what it feels like to be respected, honored and cherished.  We are their sisters, mothers, aunts, bosses and friends.

We said this week when you walk into to Sari Bari you walk into a space where women are central.  Everyday inside these walls, it is about the women, their journey’s, their stories and their healing and their empowerment to be able to live like they are within the safe walls of Sari Bari even when venture outside the wall. Men’s Day is just one day we remember that the men in our lives are an important part of the story, for both BETTER and worse.  Because the truth is when you walk outside the walls of Sari Bari it is always “Men’s Day”.  A place where men can walk the streets unconcerned for their safety, their dignity and a place where their rights need little defending—that’s what it’s like for men everyday (at least that is what I presume and have observed as a woman in India and elsewhere). So we want to honor the ones who truly seem to have a desire to honor women and particularly the ones who want to honor women who making the painful and difficult journey that the women at Sari Bari are making toward new life.

I know “good” men, a lot of them.  It all started with my Dad. I have a great great Dad.  A kind, compassionate, justice oriented, hardworking, feminist, creative and fabulous dad.  Such a Dad that made me feel that I never needed to defend my rights as a woman, because that is how much respect I was given. I was told and shown from early on that I could do and be anything, just do my best, male or female, that was all that mattered.  He told me and still tells me that I am smart, beautiful and loved, that I can do anything.   I don’t always believe him, but that is mainly about me and at 40 I am surely farther along in believing my Dad than I ever have been.  My dad, Tudor D. Lance is an excellent man.

I also have an excellent brother and an amazing brother-in-law who loves my sister very well. And there are so many, many male friends and mentors who honor and care for the women in their lives as equals, partners and friends without prejudice.  These men are gifts, undoubtedly imperfect, as we all are, and certainly something to write home about.

I have experienced first hand both in India and elsewhere some men who are challenged by my confidence, who think my body is for gratification and my mind a waste of good wife material.  I am sorry for these guys.  They are missing out on some tremendous gifts that can be offered by the other half of humanity. Because the women I know would do anything for their kids, even sell their bodies, they are smart, funny and sassy.  They are heroic beings of strength and vision. They are so so so much much more than objects.  The men who cannot see the whole woman, are missing out on being better men, they missing out on their wives wisdom and strength, they are missing out on the beauty that women uniquely hold and they are missing out on gifts that are only offered in places of trust and mutual respect.

So today, I am thankful for the “good men”, the ones who change the world when they show respect, share power, give dignity and remember that they are always only half the solution, half of the story, half of the image of creator God.

For my Dad on Father’s Day and for Upendra, Sanjoy, Shibu, John D., Rajesh, Kyle, Brent S., John S., Kerry, Dan, the husbands and partners of the women at Sari Bari, for my brother Justin and my brother in law Landon, the good men of WMF, the lawyers, doctors, rickshaw drivers, bus ticket takers and compassionate bystanding men who make being a woman at little bit easier!

What I know at 40

Well not much really

Except, I know when I am done

When I want to be go home and be there more than anywhere else

I know that I can miss out and still be okay

I know that missing out on one thing means receiving something else, almost always entirely more important and more sustaining

Being a whole human being matters

The kind that smiles and poops and crys and creates things and prays and thinks all these things work together

The understanding that people are always, always more important than things has mostly gotten to my core

I know that family means everything, the one you are born into and the one you have spent the rest of the time creating for yourself

Marriage is alluring but by all means not the end, being single is also alluring but by all means not the end

What I think matters to me, if it does not matter to you, that’s okay

I like both/and

You could not have convinced me at 20 or 30 that it was really possible to be this okay, with me, just me as I am

I prefer peace but if you want to fight my goal will be to understand you, love you and ask you questions, this may piss you off even more but I will do it anyway

I know that the ability to say I am sorry is a gift, so spread it around

And the gift of being interruptable

I know dancing in the kitchen is an important life practice

And having friendships that can endure just about any old thing for better or for worse is possible

I know good food at a shared table is always memorable

And balconies and veranda’s and are the best place for heart to hearts and making life long friends

Being the beloved is hard

Traveling is essential , to engage the senses in people and places unknown, even if it’s just a neighborhood nearby that you never walked through before

Walking is the best way to see the world

Smiling is the best way to engage it…

When I am grumpy I should stay home

movement helps body, mind and soul. do it everyday.

if you are not being converted everyday into something new then the first time does not matter one bit

And when I am angry that probably means I am most deeply sad, heartbroken…

Giving is better than receiving

And receiving is essential to that whole human being thing

What I know at 40, having lost friends to AIDS and Cancer and disagreement is that the hole does not go away, it just gets smaller and less painful

I also know that some folks really are your friends, you know because they help you move and feed you when your sick, and call you when your down, and expect you to do the same , they walk beside you and you beside them, holding all these thing together even when they are happening at the same time for both of you

People will leave you, respect the ones that walk out the front door and not the back door, be that kind of person

Everybody is hurt, Everybody hurts

Learning to forgive and receive forgiveness is essential

Always tell the truth

Be kind and gentle (include yourself in that circle)

And remember, the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return

And oh maybe, that, everybody poops!

Like I said, not much really…still learning.

The Waiting Day

It is a waiting day
And so we wait
And wait
Seeing with the eyes of a broken heart
The days past
Of profound revelation
And raunchy commentary on how to get a man
Still waiting
We go up
Up to the place where she lies still
Gone, still able to make us laugh
As we remember
Tears streaming we wait
And then the exodus
The filing out and away
Bring the body to it resting place
Jostled in the back of truck
Smiling and knowing that it will only be a minute
Till reunion
Blue skies, surrounded by the beauty
That is community
Life together 7 years and counting
Seeing the fear around
What if this was me, her, us
And we cling to each other
Still waiting

Shut out of the place that is for final resting
Our horrific gender potentially corrupting the earth
Our beautiful created femininity
Cast to the street
Turned aside, not even allowed to look on
While men, only men
Bury our friend, sister, mother
Our presence on the street telling a story
Of profound love
Of resistance to “go home”
“your not welcome here”
we will stay still till we know she rests
your prayers may prayed inside
and ours outside, resisting with
the violence that is our love
only three carry our community inside
they will have to be enough

such few men, to stand for an infinity of women warriors

we never miss a chance to say goodbye
to answer that call and go

to stand with and HOLD
we hold it dear those last moments of life
when you were here
kissed on the forehead, hand held, prayers like incense

Dear woman friend, sister, mother, daughter, lover, giver of laughter

AND we wait
for a minute…

The Bitterness Dance

I do it, we all do it! Dancing around the bodies of people or situations who have hurt us, so full of pain. Swinging a kick, a punch or a well worded tirade of truth, masked in ugliness, in the direction of the hurt and or the one who cause the hurt.

Bitterness is, I think, one of many normal human reactions to hurt, violation of trust etc. A fruit of unreleased anger or fear; sometimes well warranted in the direction of the one who caused harm and almost never beneficial to me, to my soul, to our souls together. Each kick, rehashing and attempt to make sense of those senseless hurts especially, draws us down, down, down into the pit.

The pit of bitterness, like a grave with the sides kicked out, is a rut. A place we do not want to dwell but cannot seem to escape.

I think the only way I know how to escape is to do two things. One is forgive and move on even if there is no reconcillation (not easy at all but Freedom does come) and the second is tell the truth to the person who hurt me and just get it out. I am not going to give bitterness space rent free in my head or my heart in 2013.

So I might say to my friend, my colleague or my family member…You hurt me. I will forgive you or try really hard…just give me a little time. What you did was not okay with me. I do not need you to say I am sorry though that would be nice, maybe even ideal. I forgive you for me. Because my being bitter does not hurt you, probably it just gives you a reason to write me off as crazy, immature, an unforgiving compassionless zealot. And yes, it’s true you might be right but mostly I am acting out of a hurt that makes it hard to confront, hard to tell the truth, hard to forgive and I am wrapped up so tight that I can not see my way out. (“You” in this paragraph refers the hypothetical person–not “you” the reader 🙂

But “screw” hard. (oh, that sounds bad) What I mean is hello, hard, nice to meet you, I am going to own you. I want to and I need to be free. This bitterness is not who I am or want to become. So hard means nothing. Lots of things are hard but we do them anyway because they save us or offer something to some one else that is profoundly important (your personal senario here–where do you willing go to hard places for yourself or for others because you know the benefit outweighs the cost).

So I offer my bitterness and ask forgiveness for it. And I am not going to back down on forgiving or telling the truth…it’s a double whammy of hard painful stuff and just being a whole and healthy human being, darn it.

The bitterness dance sucks and I am no wallflower, I do not need it’s attention and I do not need to give it the time of day.

Good bye Bitterness. See you again never!

The Art of it


A friend was describing her sister’s love relationship with math.  As she described it, I was like math for this woman is Art, an organic creative process. Addictive and delightful creative expression!

This conversation was reminder of how I see my life aka my job.  It is always a creation in process.  Sari Bari for me has always been a creative process.  It is a business and I run a business as an artist (no smart remarks).  What that means for me is that every spreadsheet can be David and every new system or process is for me an organic creative endeavor. I love it.  I love it because for me it is art, an artistic expression.  I love sitting in the middle of 1000 sari’s mixing and matching, dreaming of what they could be become.  I love designing products a just little bit more than creating a spreadsheet but I am pretty darn excited about a spreadsheet that makes freedom a little more tangible and hope a little easier to execute.

For me it is all Art. It is all looking at a gigantic peace of stone and seeing within it something impossibly beautiful. It is staring at that stone for a year, just looking for the right place to begin. And then doing it again and again with a new piece of stone, as each new phase of life of Sari Bari begins.  And this is never ever done alone.  Each stone, masterpiece, has been shaped progressively, uniquely and creatively by the women and the staff who have also invested their lives and their creative beings into the life and community of Sari Bari.  Each part of every impossibly beautiful masterpiece bears the markers of the various artists who have made their impression upon it. Truly an impossibly beautiful thing.

Is your work Art?  Do you call yourself an Artist (YOU ARE)? What inspires your creative soul?

A little tiny list of some moments in 2012

Tried to live everyday as one who is loved.

Called things by their right name.

Re-engaged life in Kolkata after sabbatical fully.

Lost my dear beloved friend Rina.

Celebrated 6 years of life at Sari Bari.

Celebrated 11 years with WMF.

Saw the David in Florence (a moment among moments).

Saw the San Damiano Cross in Assisi. (another moment of among moments)

Met Hillary Clinton.

Even more important got to tell the Sari Bari Story to Hillary Clinton and she got to meet Tinki.

Thailand with Melissa. The beginning of a good thing.

Lost My Baba.

Believed that the “impossible was possible”

Participated in making “beer” for the first time.

Negotiated the purchase of the first property for Sari Bari.

Moved.  A little more sustainable with a view.

Went to the opening of the first Starbucks in India. 

Got to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends Jared and Julie and Minde and Kevin along with my favorite Kolkata bideshi’s.

Survived and lived into “fertile Chaos” from July to December 2012.

Designed some cool new products for Sari Bari.

Facilitated the 2nd Annual Sari Bari Quilt Auction

Got a little better at negotiating social media.

Spent more time living as a whole and healthy human being.

Lost 22 pounds.

Attended a wedding and two funerals.

Celebrated the 7th Sari Bari Christmas Party.

Got to be with my family for Christmas

Wrote down a very limited view of a tremendously full year!

How Community Shapes A LIFE

I have lived in community both broad and small for the last 12 years and it has shaped, molded, torn apart, humbled, refreshed and restored almost every single part of my heart.  I heard it said once, friends are the family we choose for ourselves, which is so very true and community, I think, is the very intimate extended family that God chooses for us. I cannot express how many times I have thought it would be easier if everyone I have lived in community with was also a friend but the truth is they do all become friends and most of the time something much deeper.  The truth is I don’t love community it’s super hard, I love the people (also super hard), who for better or worse, are committed to loving one another. Bonheoffer said,

Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

To be in love with the people, the human beings, is what makes community it’s most beautiful.  The ideal of community life is just that, an ideal.  Nothing about community is ideal and the longer you are apart the more you realize it’s complexity and it’s offering of suffering along with the beautiful gifts that only come because of the pain.  And I think maybe you cannot have the gifts with out the pain.

To survive a conflict, the eat together, the mourn the losses both personal and corporate, to hold each other as you cry, the let is all exist in one jumbled mess of “fertile chaos” is the gift of community.  And the gift only comes if you can welcome others without judgment and expectations of something that most human beings are incapable of offering perfectly, love.  We love poorly, I love poorly and even love, loved poorly, goes a long long way with the bridge of the Holy one who calls us to love, to live as loved, beloved partners in a kingdom come and coming.

The people I have share life with here in Kolkata have an intimate knowledge of me and I an intimate knowledge of them.  We know the twists and turns of everyday encountered together with a common purpose and commitment holding us together.  We know love, love, loved well and love, loved poorly and it is always more than enough.

At the end of a season of stretching through the twists and turns of community life, I find myself thankful and full of gratitude for this fertile chaos of life lived together.  No matter what we have faced, we have faced it together in love.  And it has been enough.

Especially thankful today for my community in Kolkata, Melissa, Brooke, Beth, the women of Sari Bari, for Radha and Shela, Upendra and Gita and for the beloved in Asia, in Kathmandu, Chennai and Thailand who let love shine brightly as an invitation to ever so much more!

This ugly heart

In all these years, after all this time, my experience of Kolkata continues to form, shape me and reveal that there is still work to be done. This place often holds up a very big mirror to my brokenness and the potential for ugliness. I have often thought, If I did not live here I would have been able to live in blissful unawareness of gifts that come with where I was born or the priviledges that come with my birthplace and even the color of my skin. I would not have to know the extent that entitlement lurks in my heart, as does selfishness and hardness. I would not have know the state of a heart that resents being badgered by someone who begs for their bread and be the one who picks and chooses the recipients of mere pennies for occasional donation. I would not have to know that though I do good sometimes, there is always these lingering unredeemed spaces that punch me in the gut when I most tired, most empty and most ready to hold on tightly to what I view as mine.

I can go much longer without these revelations these days…. Lessons learned over and over, finally sinking in some and yet they do still come and I lose it. I become my own worst enemy and the enemy of love in conquering the many broken paradigms of this place.

Praying for the grace to start again, to let love and compassion overcome entitlement and pride. To let my emptiness be a space for God’s goodness to arise, that I may know clearly once again from where my help comes.

Go Lower, Stay Grounded

Grounded. We often do grounding exercises at Sari Bari Leadership School once a month. We breathe deep palms flat on the ground, legs extended, holding our bodies up and yet being pulled down to the earth. People who have victimized or traumatized often have a hard time staying grounded. The exercise brings us out of our thoughts and into the real space of the present moment. We stop floating alone in our pain and find safety as we hold the earth together, breathing, listening to our breath letting go of the past in exchange for the present moment.

Being in the moment, letting it blossom and/or decay as things fall apart, that is always the hard part. And even harder is discovering in the moment where God might be at work. To notice or even think that noticing matters what is happening in the moment is an intention that I have set for myself recently. The recent season of aptly named fertile chaos has me wanting to “see” as it unfolds, to be grounded in the moment not hiding in what my thoughts, fears or discolored perceptions might be telling me. To live out the moment whether it is painful or not, fully present recognizing all the moving parts. Attempting this “grounded moments” way of life means that I can leave behind the past and forget my fears about what could happen in the future. And honestly for me “what might or could happen” is where I really go wrong in my head…my feet leave the solid ground and anxiety sets in, leaving me exhausted and on edge. So being intentional about being “grounded” in the moment has actually become a way toward freedom in my life. Beginning to let go of my “worst case scenario” tendency has allowed me to move in the fertile chaos not completely unharmed. But better than in the past. I press in, instead of floating away and missing all the beginnings that are happening in the fertile spaces this chaos has created, I witness some of them. And I ask God, with expectation, where are you at work in this moment? Show me, remind me that I am not alone here, that we are not alone here.

I have seen women step into more meaningful leadership without being asked, I have seen what could have been a fight, a nasty one, become a moment for embrace and the open sharing of disappointments. I have seen laughter and welcomed joy on some of the hardest days of the last month simply by pausing to be in the moment. I have taken space and rest when I needed it because just a little faster than usual I noticed myself getting ready to fall apart. Patience came just a little easier and so did smiling. So where was God at work? In all the moments I acknowledged and the moments I did not. Some work in and or through us began.

Thankful for this moment, sitting on an airplane on the way to see dear friends in Mumbai and the mental space to be present here and now. Still carrying the warmth from my embraces at Sari Bari, from women I love deeply who lead me in so many ways and with whom I walk the freedom road. Grounded together in these many moments that we share.