The Re-Creation Center

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When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.
Søren Kierkegaard

I have been lifting weights for over two years at the Longmont Recreation Center. I go on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on my better weeks and I’ve developed some good friendships. We have our proverbial water cooler chats over weight benches and dumbbells. Some days we’re up, other days we’re down. The bank of television sets spouting news from ESPN to NBC grab our attention as we roll our eyes or pump our fists depending upon the day. When our current president was inaugurated I did my first two pull ups in thirty-plus years. And depending on life and the morning drive tuned to NPR, some of us do better than others.

This week on Monday we discussed the pending midterm elections. I wondered aloud how the mood would shift on Wednesday depending upon the results. My wise friend Eric looked at me and said, “Does it matter? Does our job change? What is this all about anyways?”

“Love,” I said

Apparently I got the answer right because he stopped peppering me with questions while boring holes into my soul.

Love.

The last thing I want to do is minimize the impact our current administration has had upon our American fabric. The white nationalism, the fear in the eyes of my friends of color, the terrible concern of my LGBTQ friends, the weeping of the mothers for their daughters – none of this is acceptable nor is it welcome in a country that claims Christianity as its bedrock. This administration is terrible for the vulnerable among us.

But we’ve learned something haven’t we? If truth sets us free, we are closer to freedom. The truth of our national reality is harsh but we can no longer claim ignorance.

And so, on this Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections, our work remains. We can never – we must never – forget the most powerful word that is ours: Love.

Is love the easiest thing you’ll ever do? Yes.
Is love the hardest thing you’ll ever do? Yes.

Love is not linear, nor is it sensical. Love is subversive and obvious, clear and nebulous, tender and fierce, honest and discerning.

Many believe that resorting to love is giving up. I contend, resorting to love is the best choice all the way around.

Love demands we discover a third way. Love demands an obvious creativity, imagining  new ways to be generous and compassionate. Love asks that we look outside ourselves for answers.

The way of love is the way of the Spirit. She is tough to pin down, ebbing and flowing with the tide of hope and truth and surrender. She shows up when you least expect it, but you have to be open for her, ready to receive her inspiration.

This Spirit-filled love is fire, consuming the hate and confusion and snarky judgement. The Spirit-filled love knows. She discerns. She will not waste her precious energies and resources on an unreceptive host. She will not cast pearls to pigs. She is efficient and industrious, flowing in and through, around and beyond.

The Spirit-filled love is justice. She knows the first are last, the big are small, and the oppressed are the righteous. She knows the powerful will be brought low and the hungry will be filled to overflowing. She knows the confident will be rendered afraid, and the afraid will know they are secure in Her arms.

She fills us with Her fire. As we freely give we will freely receive. Her generosity is abundant, limitless. Our souls will be filled, passing the gift on and on and on. There is not a mountain high enough or valley low enough where she will not find the hungry, lonely, frightened.

I want to know this love. I want Her to fill me with Her fire. I want to receive Her love and I want Her love to flow through me to you and to you and to you and to you.

Today we woke up to the results. And true to form while lifting dumbbells some of us were up and some of us were down. But what flowed in our recreation center space was the re-creation of beauty, the re-creation of hope, the re-creation of working it out, the re-creation of love.

The Spirit’s love flows beyond elections and this nation and this world. She will not be contained and as we speak she bubbles up from the ground. And if you can still yourself long enough you might hear her whisper. I love you.

May we listen.

Small is the New Big

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Earth is crammed with Heaven,
and every common bush afire with God,
but only he who sees
takes off his shoes.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Last week we saw the truth of what we have become. Multiple incidents of racist and extreme violence perpetrated, rendering current and former leaders threatened by bombs, two people of color killed in Kentucky, and eleven Jewish worshippers gunned down in Pittsburgh. It was a culmination of fear, an uprising of conspiratorial rhetoric resulting in bloodshed and terror.

And next week we have an election. Groundbreaking turnout is already being reported throughout our nation, people on both sides with vehement belief that their’s is the right side. I voted early. My ballot is received and accounted for. While I recognize the importance of my vote and voice, I didn’t know the magnitude and impact of my small act until now.

How do we grieve last week and await next week?

How do we be in this messy middle?

It seems to me all I’ve got is love. All of it, every tiny scrap of it, boils down to love.

As a person of great privilege, I have resources and power I can leverage. I have a family and a job, but I also have flexibility. I’ve got time. I have time to linger on a run. I have time to meet friends for coffee. I have time to ask my children about their days when I drive them around. I have time to bake a cake. I have time to study a book with friends. I have time to watch a show before bed. I have time to write.

I have time to love.

My friend and I ran early this week, catching up on our thoughts and impressions of last week’s events.  On the last few turns, winding through the neighborhood, we took note of the dipping temperature. A storm was blowing in. A woman with a Labradoodle took interest in our doodles and before we knew it she was pulled, tumbling to the ground. She knocked her head hard on the concrete.

While I corralled three dogs, Tammy skillfully got to work assessing damage, checking on the swelling right wrist and temple, asking inquiring questions to determine any cognitive impairment. Another woman ran across the park, assisting where needed. The three of us walked her home with great care, back to her ailing husband.

We had time. We leveraged our flexibility, consoling and caring for our new friend, making sure she was situated with frozen peas and corn to stifle the swelling. After exchanging phone numbers and stories we each returned to our days and lives.

I know we all have a lot going on. I know there are sports and jobs and meetings and upcoming holidays. I know the roads are busy and the people crabby. I know the easy answer is to match frustration with irritation and anger. I get it.

But the truth is, those of us with the privilege, we have to use it to make the lives better for those who don’t have the same. Privilege is our gift to leverage. Well spent privilege is the underpinning of love.

I have a tendency to believe I need to make a larger impact, that staying small and focused on my home, neighborhood, and town isn’t enough. I think it’s a temptation for many of us, to think we must do big things, that only big things count. But I disagree. Our people are right under our noses. If we tilt our heads over and to the left, we will see our neighbors. And the way of love will absolutely make itself known.

My people are here – sleeping in my bed, eating at my table, drinking my milk, attending my church, frequenting my grocery store, trick-or-treating with my kids. My people are lifting weights and running on treadmills, they are strolling by my house and driving in the car next to me. My people are adjusting my spine and examining my eyes and selling me beer. We have countless opportunities each and every day to love our neighbors. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not exhausting. It’s not overwhelming. It’s easy and it’s obvious.

I’m tired of the addiction to importance. Just as each of our votes matters, so do each and every one of our attentive smiles and kind words and courteous waves. We make the world better one act at a time. Let’s remember the impact we make just by noticing.

In God’s economy, small is the new big.

Damn the Words

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The universe took its time on you
Crafted you to offer the world
Something different from everyone else
When you doubt
How you were created
You doubt an energy greater than us both
–irreplaceable
― Rupi Kaur

We purchased our cabin in the mountains when the kids were small. For me, it was sight unseen. Long story short, Eric holds the vision and I try not to complain. The early days were rough. A double-wide not equipped for the frigid temperatures of the Gunnison Valley of Colorado, the previous owner winterized every year on Labor Day, returning on Memorial Day for three decades of summers. After his passing, his children tried to keep it up but they chose to part with the maintenance efforts of a 1975 uninsulated manufactured home alongside a tricky sibling relationship.

After enough visits with backed up sewage, broken pipes, fogged up storm windows, Eric overhauled the plumbing and heating systems. We also got a new paint job to minimize the vibe that resembled the possessed home in Stranger Things.

The sellers left us with all the furniture, including three vintage sewing machines, two console record player/stereo systems, a large selection of albums from the mid-1960’s, four percolating coffee makers and a host of vintage, industrial sofas that could seat a small village. The house was packed and dark and oppressive – but clean, filled with possibility and a potential for loads of memories.

After eight years of ownership, our home is comfortable in all four seasons. A pellet stove, along with some new furniture items, balance out the older pieces to create an atmosphere of eclectic ease. When we are busy in our daily lives the last thing we want  to worry about are expensive home furnishings.

Our  home away from home is the best of us, but with the passing of time, the needs of our family have changed.

Duty calls and our cabin has to take on new purpose. After a hefty handful of Gunnison summers and extended winter visits, we put the house on the rental market. Placing our home in the hands of others was scary. Would they find our humble double-wide as cozy as we do? Would they appreciate the serenity and surroundings?

Every guest is pestered by VRBO to write a review, to evaluate their visit. It’s a vulnerable thing to read the words of others about something you’ve poured your heart into, but all of our reviews have been glowing. That is, all but one.

And now we aim a critical eye at our eclectic, cozy cabin furnishings. The innocence is over. Someone wrote hurtful and condescending words which made us question our home. No longer do we view our mishmash of furnishings as cozy, we now reconsider our personal taste, wondering if it just might be tacky.

As much as we try to ignore the words, we are still impacted. The jabs lodge themselves far more than any compliment ever could and we question if we are good enough.

Harvard Business Review says it takes an average of 5.6 compliments to make up for a single criticism. The hurtful statements, the ones that attack our essence and our ways of being in the world, are the indelible ones. The simple goodness of my home was attacked with entitled, superior opinion. The words hurt. And I stand in my home wondering if they are right, that maybe I’m the one missing something, that maybe they know things I don’t. My taste, my hope for my home, my offering is all called into question.

I think of the people doing their work in the world – vulnerable people making a mark for the common good on a constant and consistent basis. I think of the women in my circles who are calling out injustice, who are telling the world how they’ve been hurt and violated, with quaking in their bodies alongside an indescribable fierceness. I think of beautiful people living into their call and purpose, knowing the paycheck will barely cover expenses for a month.

I’m not sure any of them would say they are strong or brave or courageous. I think all of them would say I’m just doing what needs to be done. And all the while they remain generous, unassailable, warm, inviting, a comfortable place to land. The attacks fly and the insults lodge but the softness remains, unyielding in love and compassion.

The words may cut us down, rendering us impotent for a time as we re-evaluate and regroup. But, my friends, the rising is remarkable. The power of adversity and defiance is holy as the divine feminine bubbles up from the soil. The flood of beauty will never be contained, no matter the scorn. There is only reverence and fierce hope.

Despite the doubt and quaking, despite the fear and trembling, we will rise. Our bodies, wombs for renewed life. Just as we are – cozy, eclectic, wondrous.

Damn the words.

Some Words for These Days

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You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
― Maya Angelou

I come to this space today a reluctant writer. This is my fourth attempt to make sense of our national situation. A situation that feels on par with November 2016. I might dare to claim it feels worse. We are doing the best we can and we are tired. We’ve resisted and questioned and sought answers. We’ve raged and cried and prayed. We’ve eaten too much and spent more time on social media than is appropriate. We have carried the weight of the world in our bodies, with few bouts of relief. We have cycled between fasting from news and engaging, depending upon our mental, physical, spiritual wellness. We’ve found our safe people, the ones we can sequester ourselves with at parties, the ones who get us and need to make sense of things too.

It’s been a long upward hike. The air is getting thin and the laden backpack pulls us downward. The mountain pitch just notched up another few degrees. We stop, gather our wits, cuss, swig some water and shuffle forward – one foot in front of the other.

There’s no perfect or right way to do this. There isn’t. Ignore the voices that tell you there is. There isn’t. All of us have our path to plod, built for our unique story and body and experience. None of us can tell another what to do or how to do it.

Take some time away. The rest of us will breathe for you. It’s okay. Keep mindful but factor in some mindlessness too. A little Queer Eye is perfect medicine. A walk outside. Look up, notice the leaves, stop long enough to absorb the clouds – how they blossom and scoot. Remember that all life is life. All life is sacred, even those damned weeds that grow in the concrete cracks too skinny for plucking fingers. Talk to the weeds. Talk to the dogs, and if you’re in a good space, talk to the people about the dogs.

Find a book, one that sucks you in and is more exciting than anything your phone can offer. Put the coziest sheets and covers on the bed. Use your best hand lotion before you fall asleep. Open the window and let the breeze blow.

Make love.

Crack open a game of Monopoly. Play with the kid you know you can beat. It will teach them an important lesson while it helps you feel successful. Don’t rub it in, just retreat to a hidden corner and do a happy dance for five seconds or so.

Get good music on repeat. Mumford and Sons has a new release – I’ll pay large sums of money (or a limb) to anyone who can get me an advance copy of Delta, their new album that drops in November. This is a public service. Greg Laswell has a wonderful new album, too. I Will Not Resign is a perfect mantra for all of us.

If there’s a church in your remote neck of the woods you know is safe and welcoming to all, think about attending (Church Clarity can help). Maybe sit in the back and slip out if you have to. You can come to mine. We would love to have you.

Don’t answer the phone if you don’t know the number. Recruit someone else to listen to the voicemails. Refrain from answering your doorbell if you’re not expecting anyone.

Find your coziest blanket and snuggle with a child, a pet, a pillow, a partner (not always in that order).

Take your space. Wear the comfortable clothes.

Eat. Just eat. It doesn’t matter what it is. I still have the ten pounds from November, 2016 on the 3B (beer, bread, butter) Diet. Message me, I’ll send the details.

Monitor social media usage. As a form of solidarity and community, few things can match Instagram right now. But be careful with Facebook. Be careful with comments. Your engagement will NOT change anyone’s mind. Is it your work to be in community or is your work to challenge?  Pick one, you can’t do both right now.

Women, stoke your anger. We need you soon. If your anger is latent, it’s because you need to grieve. Grieve well, friends. This is the true beginning.

Talk to someone – a pastor, therapist, friend. I have names.

I’m not sure what tomorrow holds but something has died this week. The personal and collective grief is real. My bones ache. My eyes are heavy-laden. My muscles twinge. My body is tired – a deep, painful weariness.

We don’t have to do our best right now. We just have to be: caring for ourselves, holding our people and/or pets, loving the earth, staring at the sky.

We belong to one another and I need you.

Whole.

Preacher Woman

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To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know- all the time- that you must do it again.
― Jeff Arthurs

I have now preached thirteen sermons. I wish I could say I have gained a love for the good work, but I haven’t yet. I suspect it will come, but for now I am still smack dab in the middle of the growth learning curve. For about two days while I’m writing each sermon I get frustrated and annoyed. I’m no fun to live with. Eric stays away and the kids find their corners at opposite ends of the house.

I hope it gets better and I’m glad it’s a calling. But it seems to be a fraught business without a pot of gold at the end of the mythical rainbow. But when I wrestle down the words, delivering them on Saturday nights, I have an odd sense of peace and satisfaction. And the reward grows when I hear how others are impacted. It is good.

As of last count I’ve watched just three of my sermons. It is a terrifying thing to witness oneself on a camera. Paula, my fellow pastor, encourages me to watch myself regularly. She says it’s important to catch the tics before they become habitually embedded. I don’t see too many egregious offenses, aside from how I shift my weight back and forth. It reminds me of how I always held my babies in church – the back and forth rhythmic rocking – to hasten comfort and hopeful sleep. And I’ve noticed in myself and in other mothers, we continue to rock even when our children are far too large to be contained in our arms.

I am not the best objective observer of my hair, my voice pitch, my vocal stumbling, and my body. I suspect few are. It must come with the territory. I often hear of Hollywood celebrities who cannot watch their own movies. If Robert Redford has trouble, I guess I’m allowed to struggle too.

I preached my first sermon in January at the launch of our new church. I was a wreck for the entire week before, crying on a dime, snapping at loved ones, losing sleep. I delivered the sermon fine, made my way through, and heard plenty of positive feedback afterwards. But the worst part was watching myself the next day. I knew it would be rough, so I prepared myself with meticulous care.

Since our church meets on Saturdays, I crawled back into bed Sunday morning at 10:00 with a bowl of plain, comfort M&M’s on my belly. I watched through the slit in my fingers as I would watch a horror movie. The other hand provided a steady stream of chocolate in my mouth as I observed the dreaded truth play on the laptop screen before me.

I stomached the wretched experience for a few brief moments before I broke into tears. It was worse than I expected. All the things were wrong – my voice pitch was too high, my body was wrong, my hair a mess. All of the beautiful anticipation of starting a precious church community was thrown under the bus in one fell swoop as I hit the brick wall of vulnerability.

Knowing the truth about ourselves is never fun. Denial is powerful. And as a woman, the world has pressed into me time and time and time again that my value is in my carefully presented appearance. My value is in my fashion, my size, my outward expression. But I am so much more than that. I exist beyond how I am perceived.

I am in the middle of the book Pure by Linda Kay Klein. As a fellow former evangelical, Klein outlines the shame resulting from the purity culture that has pervaded and poisoned faith communities across the nation. I avoided the eye of the purity culture storm, but absorbed enough to know my body was both my currency and my curse. As the curves of puberty emerged I hid myself in my dad’s tee-shirts. I knew it was my job to prevent the male gaze while also being attractive enough to attract the right male when the time was right. It’s a confusing space to occupy.

These beliefs and resulting shame don’t die easily, and at 46 I still ache with the sadness of the years I lost overwhelmed with trying to shrink while simultaneously trying to be noticed. I concerned myself far too much with how the world perceived me than with my potential, generous offering to the world. The pendulum swing between being too much and too little still reverberates in my body and my first sermon brought all of it back with a vengeance.

But the truth has been revealed. I am not the sum of my perfections and failures. I’m just me. And I like myself. I like the pastor and the person I’m becoming.

And something good is happening. I wanted to watch my sermon from this past Saturday. I sat at my desk sans candy and I took this woman in. I held her and offered her grace as she spoke with power and authority, speaking words that people in pews have needed to hear forever. I liked her.

And as she rocked back and forth, shifting her weight from foot to foot, she held the people. She carried them with her, reminding them all of the generous love that is theirs to claim.

Feeding Donuts to Babies

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A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.
― Carl Sandburg

I walked this morning with my neighbor, Jen, and her baby, Scout.  Since I was down a dog today, it was just Clementine and I. So, I pushed the jogger while Jen finished her coffee. As I looked down through the opening at the top of the stroller, I caught a glimpse of Scout’s roly poly leg. Nothing to see but rolls between the top of her sock and the edge of her diaper.

There are few things more delicious than the pudgy rolls of baby arms and legs. These rolls offer me rest, for there are few things better than witnessing the appropriate care and feeding of a baby. To know a child is nourished in body and soul is evidence of love and nurture. I feel relief and deep, deep satisfaction.

Maybe it’s my Enneagram One, I don’t know, but I bear many burdens. I often earn quizzical looks from friends and family as they question if my bleeding heart will withstand the load. I feel responsible. I want to fix. I want to make everything better. This is probably why I am a pastor. And as a pastor when the needs rise beyond my personal pay grade I can feel impotent and careless.

My burdens lessen, however, when I align with like-minded individuals who also carry the load, who also long for homes for the homeless, food for the hungry, nurturing spaces for the children, love for the lonely, safety for the bullied. It is a relief, to find people who know and feel and believe in a better world.

This past week I attended two meetings within my city. As civil dialogue simmered around tables in the areas of bullying prevention in schools and the plight of our homeless, I felt a glimpse of hopeful relief. People conversed with care, seeking and exploring possible solutions. As privilege was examined, I sensed an excited empowerment around the tables.

With our current national climate, I remain tempted toward hopelessness. And yet, curious people are gathering around tables with markers and butcher paper spilling their ideas and questions, seeking answers, seeking relief. This is happening across my town and my state. People know the burdens, they feel them to their bones. People are showing up – it does not matter what positions they hold. They are there, marker in hand, questions at the ready. Some are more vehement than others, but they are present. They are curious.

The care and feeding of our communities cannot be done by paid officials, nor can it be done by clergy and churches, or by well meaning activists. The care and feeding of our communities is done by each and every one of us, seeing one another.

After church on Saturday nights a few of us go out to dinner to download and decompress. We recite names, run numbers, and offer praise and constructive criticism after a job well done.

But the best part of our post-church experience is the short walk to the Winchell’s Donuts on the corner of Fifth and Main. Paula always buys herself two donuts, one for dessert and one for breakfast the next day. Aaron hems and haws, and I refuse because I don’t particularly care for donuts. Weird, I know.

Winchell’s is one of few businesses in town who allow our people experiencing homelessness to come in and rest, out of the cold and elements. And oftentimes as Paula is selecting her donuts, one or two folks accept our offer for a donut and coffee.

I know we are not solving their problems. I know we are filling their bellies with caffeine and sugar. I know it’s possible we may have been played. But I also know that when we look a person in the eye, ask their name, banter about the weather, and ask what they’d like to eat, we SEE them. We see that they exist, that they have a name, and that they belong.

If everyone in my town could SEE the people in their spaces, we would not have a huge problem with homelessness or hunger or white supremacy or hatred or bullying.

For the care and feeding of our communities, children and adults alike, it all begins with our eyes.

May we see one another well.

Out of Work

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Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.
― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

My firstborn left for college last week. The grief caught me by surprise. While I love my child, as any good mother does, we haven’t had an easy time together. As my greatest teacher, he pressed and pushed me in uncomfortable ways. He demanded I gaze deep at my assumptions and expectations and make some changes. We had a rough time of it and the challenge persisted until his senior year of high school. But something broke loose. I relaxed. He relaxed. We got along. I stopped being so afraid.

The grief of his graduation and subsequent leaving was not unexpected, but the magnitude leveled me. I have never been a clingy mother, believing the travails of the public school system and wayward friends (within reason, of course) were his greatest teachers. I trusted in the ways of the world and the social apparatus, that they would correct any problematic big fish/little pond tendencies. I was attentive and involved, aware of what I could be aware of, keeping tabs on him, requiring all the things parents require of their teenage boys. I believed him sometimes. And I questioned him all the time. My mother-gut fired with average frequency, investigating on demand with plenty middle of the night cellphone stings. I lost lots of sleep, no more than any other decent parent.

And here I was, deposited at the threshold of grief. The shockwaves of loss rattling my collected demeanor, rendering me unable to speak without choking up. What was this? My child is only forty miles away? I can see him whenever I want. He’s well and excited and responsible.

Three days after his birth I left on a quick grocery store run, leaving him home with Eric. I wasn’t gone long but I was so sad. No longer was he a fixture in my body. No longer was my identity umbilically tied to his. He was now outside my womb.

But as every good mother does, we re-create the womb appropriate with each stage of our children’s lives. I constructed a new womb for my infant – replete with a crib and flannel sheets, bonding, and breastmilk on demand, a warm nurturing home with a sweet puppy, along with infant friends who helped bond the mothers.

And I continued to build wombs, appropriate for each new stage – a toddler womb and a preschool womb, a grade school womb and an odd-shaped middle school womb. The wombs were my offering, my gift, my hope for him to develop into the person at each stage he was to become.

I am a circle. I am a woman who envelops. I hold. My children feel and know my touch. Sometimes it is playful and sometimes it is firm, but my touch is always love. And it is translated as such. I am also a pastor. To hold is my work. I carry, I bear. I am strong and capable of holding great burden. This is my truth, my everyday. I do not fear the complex, I feed on the complex, tumbling and observing as a kaleidoscope of beauty. I am not afraid.

The feminine is weighty, divine, capable of stretching and holding. The feminine knows how to rush in headlong, bringing relief and rest and nourishment. The feminine also discerns, knowing when a particular pain must remain, for our rushing in may short-circuit that which is necessary to bring ultimate healing. Our salve may undermine the good work of suffering. While some burdens are relentless taskmasters, others can be gracious teachers. The feminine knows the difference. The mothers calculate this difference.

My child left. And I don’t want him back for any prolonged amount of time, just yet. I want the world to do its work. I want him to bear the burdens of discomfort and hard work and maybe a small bout or two of hopelessness. I want him to build resilience and grit through sleepless nights and loneliness. I want him to know the burden of pain and grief.

But I also want him to thrive and succeed and learn how to be a good human. I want him to become who he was designed to become, and for this reason this mother must step out. This mother is out of a job, in the old ways. The job description must be re-created and I will do my part while he does his.

My work of womb-restorer and womb-rebuilder has been fulfilled.

I am proud.

Dog Days

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When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.
—Erma Bombeck

Eight months ago we adopted a golden doodle puppy we named Wilson. We already had a lovely golden doodle, Clementine, but she only had eyes for me. We needed Wilson to be a depository of love for our teenagers, in particular our middle-schooler. Those of you who have raised middle-schoolers or are in the process of raising middle-schoolers will understand the desperation that results in adopting a high energy puppy.

Two of our kids have split the duties well – feeding, walking, training, sleeping. But there are times when parents have to step in as obligations rise and duties fall through the cracks. And today, the two Wilson caregivers returned to school. They were out the door early (for them after ten weeks of sleeping at odd hours) and the now ten month old full grown puppy is destructive if he misses his exercise bouts.

I took both dogs for a walk. The dutiful Clementine on my right and the rambunctious Wilson on my left – the training side. Back and forth we go, his relentless pulling met with a jerk and a tug, over and over and over again. And poor Clem, jerked and tugged in reaction. My body bearing the impact as we did this for a couple miles.

The process of training a fifty pound dog can be awful, but the results are well worth it when the puppy energy wanes and the loyalty to a master’s approval grows.

And tomorrow, we drop our oldest off at Metro State University in Denver for college. The relentless bouts of discipline and sleeplessness and jerking and tugging are in our rearview as we celebrate the young man he has become. But those early infant and toddler days were the dog days with no end in sight. The days of letting go and pulling back and resetting and overhauling. Relentless days bordering on hopelessness, redemption found in the fresh washed hair and the footy pajamas. And here we are, an almost nineteen year old emerging into the world embarking on the next chapter.

These are rough days for this mom. My body housed and enveloped his developing body. My home housed and enveloped his developing self. My community housed and enveloped his developing mind. Birthing and re-birthing life is a continual process that is now coming to an end in many ways. I know I will always be a parent and I will always care, I also know it’s time to retreat and release.

I am holding tight the verse in Luke 2:19: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

After the hoopla of birth, as shepherds and angels and farm life surrounded her precious child, Mary trusted. She knew her child would not be hers forever and she held him close, remembering, feeling, holding, surrendering.

The dog days are hard days. They feel relentless and overwhelming. But we can hold faith that God is working to redeem, making all things new. And I believe if let the dog days do their job we will find hope and birth in this most important work of surrender.

We are all in the cyclical process of birthing, re-birthing, growing, becoming. And as we all know – growth is hard. May we rest in being loved and desired as we live the lives we’ve been given to live.

Just as I trust Wilson will figure it out, I trust my children to live the lives they were born to live. I’m getting out of the way, one jerk and tug at a time.

Love Wins. Really?

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Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
― C.S. Lewis

It was years ago. I had a baby on my chest. It was nap time. All of my babies took naps on me until their heavy and long bodies stretched too far and halted my breath. But this particular day Claire was nestled just right under my chin, the sweet smell of her head within a nod of my nose. Brooks, the energetic two year old was asleep. It was a good day. These precious hours were the only way I could, in those outnumbered afternoons, reclaim a modicum of sanity.

As I was reading scripture (I wish now, sixteen years later, that I would’ve given myself a break and slept), I landed in 1 John and the question persisted:

Do you love me?

I hemmed and hawed, a bit like Peter I guess. Sure, of course I love you.

No, do you love me? A gentle coaxing question, not at all filled with condemnation, just a question.

Of course I love you. Look at what I do for you? I could be sleeping right now.

Do you love me? A bit more persistent this time.

I guess so. Maybe. I don’t know.

I was breathless. Claire was heavy but not enough to take my air. I felt sadness, but not shame. This truth hurt, in the right ways.

It’s been a rough couple of years, hasn’t it? I’m in this and somedays I’m not sure how I’m doing. I have a pleasant sunny disposition that gets me by, but those close to me know that I’m pensive and a little bit not myself. I don’t want to be fixed, I think it’s important to feel the weight of the world, but I also know I must retreat into nature, finding time to be with family and friends and church.

This morning, feeling the weight, I heard a new question.

You say that Love wins. Do you believe it?

This prescient question is the determiner of my hope in these days. Do I believe that Love wins? It’s a great thing to say, a reminder of the promises of God, yet I’m not feeling it.  When the weight of the world bears down, as fires burn and threats loom and our hearts ache where do we see Love winning? As children and parents remain separated, as rhetoric ramps up, as leaders fail to lead, where do we see the face of Christ in the midst of the suffering?

This past weekend I backpacked with my crew on our sixth annual trip. Our second day’s plan was to hike from Snowmass Lake up and over two 12,000 foot mountain passes. After a mile, cresting into a meadow, we came upon a distressing situation. A man we met the day before was down next to the trail clutching his stomach, groaning in pain.  With fever and chills, after three days of abdominal pain, there was no way he could hike out ten miles.  Thank goodness a group of runners came upon the scene just before us with a satellite phone and some medical knowledge.

It took an hour and a half for the Flight for Life helicopter to arrive. We cycled through fear and tears, prayers, hope, desperation, laughter. As we flagged the crew in the adjacent meadow, relief overflowed while we trembled with the resultant adrenaline. Casey was in good hands while he was airlifted to Colorado Springs.

The four of us, all mothers, flanked Glen – Casey’s sweetheart. Guiding her ten miles out of the wilderness we bantered and laughed, sharing the sordid details of our lives as if we were friends for far longer than a matter of hours. Suffering unites us. Pain breaks our pioneer spirits, reminding us of our desperate need for other humans. This is Love winning – the face of Christ reflected in one another.

Following the news of a difficult cancer diagnosis, the American poet Christian Wiman writes in his book, My Bright Abyss:

Last night my wife and I finally fell asleep after talking and crying about our life together and the life of our children – the splendor of some moments, so many moments, the gift we have been given; and then the misery of my sickness and the way it is crushing us, the terror the two of us feel at what will happen if I die.

It is not some meditative communion with God that I crave. What one wants during extreme crisis is not connection with God, but connection with people; not supernatural love, but human love. No, that is not quite right. What one craves is supernatural love, but one finds it only within human love. This is why I am a Christian, because I can feel God only through physical existence, and can feel his love only in the love of other people.

Glen made the long drive from Aspen to Colorado Springs to be with her Casey. We learned upon receiving cell service he had a perforated bowel, a life-threatening diagnosis that demanded immediate attention.

From the runners to the medical personnel, from the pilot to the dogs that licked Casey’s face while he was writhing in pain – all of it is Love winning. All I have now is what I’ve been given, so I’ll take what I can get – the face of Jesus’ goodness and lovingkindness, his beautiful and radiant love reflected back to me in the face and life of humanity. This is love, God’s love demonstrated to us firsthand, through the love and life of other people.

This is what we have.

Do you Love me?

Yes. Yes I love you!

Love wins.

Is She Going to Make It?

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“The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Audre Lorde

So far I’ve preached nine sermons. Each one is a birth – the preparation a labor, the delivery a relief. I preached this past spring on the relationship between Mary and Martha, and how as a Christian woman I’ve been coached over the years to believe that being a Mary is the Christian woman’s ideal, our gold standard. It is very confusing to me, as someone who carries significant parts of both Mary and Martha that Jesus would appear to rebuke Martha, while uplifting Mary. Wasn’t Martha just doing what she was supposed to do as an obedient women in the patriarchal culture of the day? I too can sit at Jesus’s feet, but I also know the importance of being productive, while respecting the tick-tock of the clock. As a mother with three children, pastoring a church, there are things to accomplish and gazing at Jesus all day wouldn’t fly well with my family and co-pastors.

The premise I offer is Jesus, in touting Mary’s dedication, is instead upending the patriarchal expectations of the day and inviting Martha to be with him. Jesus is inviting her into a relationship of restoration and renewal, of respect and inclusion. Jesus is calling to her toward rest – a luxury, I suspect.

We women still function within this patriarchal model. We rank ourselves in a room based on our bodies and accomplishments, our clean and wonderful children, the lines on our face, and grey in our hair. We participate in gossip to equalize the room, while injuring ourselves with fear of saying too much and doubt in our abilities. We try to play the patriarchal game too, but since our power is minimal in the world of men, we operate out of shame. We operate out of scarcity. We operate out of self-deprecating humor and downright anger.

And as I navigate this new world of pastor, the world of men is real. Many church systems have been built on the metrics of men – numbers, quality control, timeliness, etc. Churches, on the outside, are efficient, tidy, and things get done. Programs are built, meetings are had, people are processed in the name of Jesus. All contributing to the bottom line and to the good of the organization. If a church is growing, it must be healthy right?

The Church is equal parts She and He, and yet we function in this masculine-centric hierarchy oftentimes no different than any other system or corporation in America. And I wonder, is She going to make it? Is the Church going to come through this crisis of culture?

Only if we can return to our feminine roots – to the Church as a redeemed Martha.

I am now in the company of many remarkable and accomplished and talented women who adore Jesus. All would qualify as both Mary and Martha, the best of both. These women are building and leading and pastoring and mothering, redefining the hope of the Church, redefining the hope of the world. We are redefining the metrics, seeking abundance, setting aside the tapes of scarcity that speak messages of our worth being defined by appearance and accomplishment and age. Our worth is defined because we are.

Abundance is untrustworthy and suspicious. We are conditioned to believe there must be be winners and losers. Abundance is a new and unwieldy language that supersedes metrics. With no rank or hierarchy, abundance declares there’s enough with plenty of room at the table. But as women, as the Church, we have to reclaim abundance. The metrics of rank have no place in this space, it’s too beautiful and open. We cannot translate the patriarchal game of ranking and measuring, a foreign language of gibberish. Playing the game kills our souls and reduces our offering. This feminine work cannot entirely be computed or grasped, measurable data cannot define. This feminine work is ethereal and spiritual and air and light, weighty and fierce in the best of ways. Abundance is mother. Abundance is tender. Abundance is fierce. And abundance is an all-encompassing force of Love.

The shameful messages of scarcity in this patriarchal church culture are real and pervasive. And the She of the Church is suffering. She is withering under the current weight of the game. She won’t hold much longer. She can no longer compete over who has the best fashion or the cleanest children or masculine metrics. She must unleash and become Herself. She must know what it means to sit longingly at Jesus’s feet, while knowing her worth and value are in being, while affirming the beings of everyone else. She cares not for the accomplishments and the efficiency. She cares for the whole of people, the healing of the world.

She is a Mother.