Remembering September 11

Untitled design-112

It was as if real life had been canceled for the day.
Jennifer Weiner

September 11, 2001 was any ordinary Tuesday. I was about five months pregnant with my second child. We knew it was a little girl. I was up early, as usual, with her older brother Brooks. He hardly slept, it seemed, 5:00 in the morning was a typical wake up call. He was just shy of turning two in early November.

Back then we didn’t have cellphones or internet, our main news was in the form of the Today Show in the mornings. While I didn’t love having our shows on in front of Brooks, the news was important. We lived in our first purchased home, a townhouse in Lafayette, just behind the Burger King where on terrible days I would retrieve a meal deal of a hamburger, small fries and endless Diet Coke. Poor baby-in-my-belly Claire who had to put up with such nonsense.

Did I mention Brooks was an early riser and a terrible sleeper?

I was standing in the kitchen, facing the television which also lined up with our sliding glass door to the minuscule backyard our enormous golden retriever/lab mix Maddy could relieve herself. I was tending to all the things while Eric was getting ready upstairs for his workday at IBM.

Getting breakfast for Brooks and my expectant self claimed top priority as I heard the frantic voices coming from the television set. I stood transfixed, my eyes glued to the aged television screen, Brooks toddling about being precious and annoying all at once. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My hand rested somewhere between my open mouth and my heartbroken chest. The other hand bracing me against the counter.

Never in my 30 years of life had I experienced anything such as this. Call me sheltered. Call me naive. Call me Generation-X. We didn’t know this nor should we have.
And now to have a two-year-old standing at the base of the television, looking up as smoke billowed from the towers, as we watched the dust and grime emanate from the ground. To have a little boy and a partly known girl to raise in a world such as this one. It took my breath away.

Brooks kept calling “Fi-uh, Fi-uh”, pointing at the television set high above his head. I wanted to turn off the TV but couldn’t. I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Somehow I extricated myself from the situation downstairs, ran upstairs to alert Eric of the news. He, the most balanced and least hyperbolic, responded with the enthusiasm of an engineer about to head to work off of too little sleep. I was concerned maybe I was overreacting. I hoped I was overreacting.

I cautioned Eric from going to IBM. “It could be a target,” I said. He went anyway. We chatted through the day.

I had a slight, minor job at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center implementing a nutrition program in schools. My contract was ten hours a week, trying to keep my pregnant and overwhelmed foot in the door of what I thought was my career. I was planning to drop Brooks off with my grandmother before driving to Aurora for the long morning.

None of us knew the significance or the extent of what was happening. I called my supervisor and called off my day and my drive. I needed to be home. I needed to hold my son and nourish my daughter. I needed to grieve.

That night I went to church. It felt true and right. I cried, held a candle, prayed.

We came together, our communities and families. But I have learned other communities – particularly the Sikh and Muslim communities – their nightmares began that day.

I have since visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. The day I was there it was raining a soaking rain. I walked through the exhibits freezing because I was sopping to the skin. Wandering and shivering perusing the names and stories of the deceased, all of our iPhones alerted us at the same time of potential flooding. The buzzes and dings triggered in me a sense of the terror felt in that exact location on that September day.

My children will never have what I had – a life of national carefree innocence. Their lives were ushered into terrorism and fear. But I also hope their lives were ushered into community and generosity. This is where I choose to stake their hope, and mine.

My Favorite Summer Shirt

Untitled design-111

You are so weak. Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.
Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

I have a favorite summer shirt. I found it on the sale rack at Anthropologie a couple years back. It’s perfect for hot days – extra loose with ties at the shoulders. And since my two favorite pairs of shorts right now are green, I have a ready made outfit.

For being my favorite shirt I haven’t worn it yet this summer. So today was the day. After my shower I put it on but something wasn’t right. It fit funny. The v-neck in the front dipped way lower than normal and the hemline settled odd across my hips. I chalked it up to one more mid-life, pre-menopausal surprise I call my body.

All through the morning I kept adjusting my top, pulling it up, for fear of revealing far more than I intended.

I’d like to tell you I laughed it off and chalked it up to my diligent weightlifting skills.

I’d like to tell you I relished in my strong shoulders and arms.

I’d like to tell you I celebrated my able body, rejoicing in the need to purchase a larger shirt size.

But no, that is not the case. I turned toward shame. I returned to my default setting of not being enough and too much at the same time. (Yeah, try figuring that one out – not much wiggle room there I’m afraid.)

It’s a funny thing to observe:

When Eric’s clothes fit poorly he blames the dryer.

When my clothes fit poorly I blame me.

I continued on with the day. These internal dialogues are oftentimes commonplace and normal so I didn’t think much of it.

It’s not easy being a human, and it’s not easy being a girl. I am bumping up against some deep insecurity in my role as a pastor. As I preach now on a consistent basis I find my default setting coming into clearer focus. Preparing for a sermon riles up all those old and terrible voices. The insecurity clamors for the last word and I reach a point of despair. Fear and restlessness rattle me and I wonder if any of it will ever get better.

But then I shift my gaze, just a tad, and sure enough grace is sitting right there, patiently waiting for me to focus on her. She usually has some cheeky response that goes something like: Hey there. I’ve been here all along. Can you remember that God is on your side?

Deep breath.

Immediate relief with a side of disbelief.

Back to this morning, I sat down on the couch after my shirt shame session to get some work done and I looked down. Sure enough, sticking out of the center of my v-neck was the tag. I was wearing my favorite summer shirt backwards all morning.

Grace. She shows up in the funniest of ways. Always she’s as close as the hem of your shirt tucked just below your nose.

Maybe instead of turning toward the old, grumbly voices that have none of our best interests at heart, we can honor the other still and small voices that won’t fight their way in. They wait patient, at the ready, to offer relief and solutions. Sometimes they bring so much relief that we don’t believe them. But we can learn. And we can grow. It’s what we’re made to do.

Find that cheeky grace. She’s hanging out waiting for the right time, for when we’re ready to see her. And once we do, we can celebrate together the honor of living in a world filled with discovery, wonder, and joy.

But don’t look too far, she might be just under your nose, attached to the neckline of your favorite summer shirt.

Angry or not, here I come.

Untitled design-110

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.
― Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living

Are the days getting harder or am I just tired?

This was the question posed on our run this morning.

How do we go about our days as rights are being wrenched from our bodies? What do we do when we see a slew of white men making legislative and moral decisions about something they can never possibly understand? How are we supposed to feel as we watch the continued proof that white male lives matter most in a nation that claims equality as a value?

I’ll admit. I have become well acquainted with rage. As our leaders have revealed their true colors, we now know the reality. Our institutions are not for us, unless, of course, one fits into the aforementioned demographic.

So, back to the question. Are the days getting harder or am I just tired?

Yes.

I’ve probably spent too much time being angry. According to the Kubler-Ross Model, anger is an essential part of the Five Stages of Grief. And believe me, I’ve been there. Time and time again returning to anger. It’s been quite a wrestle as I was well trained in the fine art of Christian womanhood. Expressing anger was not considered Christlike, nor what is considered ladylike. What I’ve come to discover as a normal, natural, essential emotion was relegated to the trash, placed on the curb for pickup, never to be felt again. Except that’s not how it works. Anger will find a way to be expressed – appropriate or not.

These past two-and-a-half years have been grieving years. And I continue to grieve. What has been revealed to us awake ones is wrong and malevolent. We now know who we are as a nation, as a people. We see the work ahead and it is overwhelming. Anger has an important place.

We experienced a massive loss, a death. The desperate state of our nation is worth grieving. It’s worth being angry. We had no clue who we were.

Hold on, wait a minute….

What I meant to say was, us privileged folk had no clue who we were. The people of color did, they knew. They tried to tell us but we couldn’t listen.

Death happened for many of us. Life as we once knew it is now over.

This is who we are.

And today I’m tired. The grief continues and while it abates for a moment, when I take some time to breathe, there’s inevitably another school shooting, another hate crime, another denial by lawmakers, another override of bodies.

I’ve been through the five stages and back again. I’ve lamented the loss. I’ve steeled for the uprising. I’ve fought in the resistance.

And I’m tired.

And it’s okay.

We don’t have to fight the grief anymore. The grief is real and it must not be denied.

It’s time to preserve our fight. As Rachel Held Evans claimed: God is in the business of resurrection we now get to fight for life. We choose to honor life that doesn’t just end at birth, but ends at death. We honor the sanctity of all life, including the life that holds the womb. We honor the right for each and every human born as entitled to a full and nurtured existence. We honor all lives as sacred, from those who cross our borders to those who are victimized because of the color of their skin.

God is in the business of resurrection and God is in the business of abundance. God is in the business of life and God is in the business of love.

God is in the business of rest and God is in the business of renewal.

And while the days are hard and today I am tired, the work will continue.

Angry or not. Here I come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Wide Open

Untitled design-108

The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.’
― Rachel Held Evans

My iPhone is on shuffle. As an introvert when I get the house to myself only certain sounds are allowed, normal house sounds – the occasional barking dog, clicking heaters, dishwashers, and laundry. I am selective with my noises, so when I choose to listen to music, there’s a real and good reason.

The world’s noise is loud today. So the moratorium on house silence is on hiatus. Loud music is the only thing that works and thank God it’s U2’s Joshua Tree.

The streets these days seem to have no name. This road is unwieldy and tenuous. Grief is unwieldy and tenuous. Much feels foreign, yet familiar.

We lost our leader this week. Rachel Held Evans was a guide for those of us who had to say good-bye to the assumed secure faith of our youth, who had to plod forward on new and unfamiliar streets. Her questions were our questions and we trusted her. Starving for information, for guidance, I devoured every one of her blog posts within minutes. She was my beacon and my permission as I reconstructed my belief in a generous Jesus.

The beauty of her unwavering voice spurred me on. Her gentle, yet fierce spirit pulled me close. With humor and laughter she reminded us all along the way that she was to be trusted. And we knew we could trust her because the expansiveness of God’s love was her guiding principle.

For all of us who believed we were unworthy, who were told we weren’t the appropriate gender, sexuality, race, ability – she made room. She created space.

She saved us all a seat.

In my senior year, I was the flute section leader for the Savanna High School Marching Band and I was at a loss. The section leaders for my first three years were harsh, picking on us puny freshman flutists for minor infractions. Their leadership style involved all kinds of yelling, authority meted out by upperclassmen upon frightened newbies. It worked but it was terrible.

Upon my turn to lead I tried to yell, but couldn’t. It wasn’t me, I couldn’t do it. Instead I apologized and coined my own marching band leadership style, a come alongside and offer a kind word of correction and pray sort of strategy. I guess it worked. But I don’t remember much from high school marching band beyond a handful of successful tournaments and home football games and long bus rides.

Instead of adopting a vertical, hierarchical structure, I opted for a gentler, kinder way – a horizontal way.

In a hierarchical form of leadership I get squished. I can’t function, nor can I breathe. I can’t extend loving and gracious arms because I’m too busy trying to play the game I will never understand. I calculate and measure before I remember I’m always holding up the pile.

Rachel showed us how to operate horizontal in a vertical world.

She opened the doors for all of us to answer the call placed upon our hearts and our lives by God. She pulled up chair after chair next to her at the table, for people she knew and people she didn’t. We all believed her, that we too had a right to feast and drink.

We are all a part of this wide movement. Hierarchy isn’t for us. Hierarchical leadership may keep the patriarchy alive but that is not from the heart of Jesus. Inclusion, invitation, welcome, celebration is the heart of Jesus. Bring the wine! Let us feast! There’s room for everyone!

Rachel’s death has left a void, a void that I don’t think we are supposed to fill. But death always yields new life. New beautiful life that opens wide the doors, filled to overflowing with abundant grace that declares each of us and all of us worthy of love and belonging.

And in her name, with delighted laughter and full bellies we will motion enthusiastically to each new person entering the room: Over here! I saved you a seat!

For this is her legacy, a proclamation of the expansive, wide open kingdom of God.

Thank you Rachel for paving the way, for naming our streets, for pointing us to the Table of Life.

We miss you.

The Relief of Failed Attempts

Untitled design-107

 

I know how soon youth would fade and bloom perish, if, in the cup of bliss offered, but one dreg of shame, or one flavour of remorse were detected; and I do not want sacrifice, sorrow, dissolution – such is not my taste. I wish to foster, not to blight – to earn gratitude, not to wring tears of blood – no, nor of brine: my harvest must be in smiles, in endearments, in sweet.
Charlotte Brontë

I used to be a great martyr.

As a mother, I chose unnecessary and difficult things for myself and my children to do.

As a woman, I chose to be consistently underweight and underfed. I was hungry but believed it was my duty to be hungry, to remain small – in stature and in thought.

As a wife, I chose to serve my husband and honor him with my body. When I could not perform it was my fault, praying to be more and better while also remaining less and small.

As a citizen, I chose to follow the mainstream Christian worldview despite it’s lack of inclusion for me or for ones I love.

As a friend, i chose to whip myself with fault and blame for missing the smallest of things.

As a Christian, I had to suffer for Jesus. I had to berate myself for the smallest infraction, and every failure as a mother, a woman, a wife, a citizen and friend was married to my Christian duty and added to my unending list of demerits.

My Christian salvation was not life-giving, it was a death sentence. God demanded my holiness and nothing short of that would do. It was my responsibility to rise up, to meet the requirements, to earn my keep.

And all the while, I demanded this of others. For what we fall short of in ourselves, we project onto our people. Jealousy is a powerful educational tool.

And so, this past week I decided to embark on a Lenten fast. I didn’t put much thought into it, but I knew it was something I wanted to try. I didn’t feel called nor did I believe God’s love was hanging on the line but I thought maybe it would be an interesting adventure.

So, Tuesday night, March 5, I had my last beer. The IPA was delicious as I swished around the last gulp before tossing the can into the recycle bin. I said a swift goodbye, trying not to be dramatic. It’s just 40 days, I told myself. Not a big deal. You’re not sending your child across the Atlantic. I was cavalier because I believed the goal to be cavalier – no big deal. People do this all the time.

Wednesday night, March 6, I had my first beer.

So the Lenten fast didn’t go so well. Maybe I wasn’t committed enough. Maybe I’m a failure. Maybe I need to learn to suffer better. Good grief, look what Jesus did for me and I can’t even stomach a beer fast for forty days.

Did all of this go through my head as in my martyr days?

No, none of it was even considered. There was no shame. There was no verbal scourging. There was no name calling. Only grace, kindness, generosity.

You see, Tuesday night between my heartfelt IPA goodbye and bedtime, I learned of a close family member’s cancer diagnosis.

The unknowing despair rattled me. I tried to pray – nothing. I tried to rest – nothing. I tried to laugh – nothing. I tried to cry – nothing. I tried to work – very little. It was a strange time. And when there are few answers and only questions and a time-sensitive diagnosis with next to no information, it is impossible to know how to be.

I wandered around my house, bumping into things. I put my frustrations into the weights at the gym. I hunkered down around warm beverages to stave off the growing chill. I took to my office to feign productivity. But I was unmoored.

And the last thing I needed was anything that involved willpower.

So, I blew my Lenten fast.

There’s no shame.

Just an IPA a day.

What do you see?

 

Untitled design-105

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
– Edith Wharton

The other day Tammy and I were out for our biweekly experience. We used to call them runs but seems we prefer to count steps instead of pace and words instead of miles. Our regular route is scattered with small farms, vineyards, and roaming chickens. Sometimes we encounter a curious dog, offering us a good excuse for a rest to shoo it on home.

This day we rounded the corner where the farm with the sign for free eggs sits. Our focus intent upon fixing all the problems, we ran without interruption until a yellow Labrador bounded across the yard. We hesitated as a matter of self-protection, unsure if our own dogs would go bonkers. Expecting to be greeted we stood, waiting for an exuberant meeting, but instead she stopped just shy of us at the newspaper receptacle underneath the mailbox. Gingerly she mouthed the open end of the plastic bag and tugged the local paper down and out of the box before trotting toward home.

She was not interested in us. She had a duty to perform.

We resumed our experience, laughing at ourselves and at the precious sight that seemed exactly reserved for us at that perfect moment. Our steps lightened along with our conversation.

We were given a gift. And we had eyes to see that gift.

These small things remind us of goodness in the world – a loping dog, a returned smile across the aisle, a conversation with someone you’ve just met despite lifting weights together for two years.

The goodness is there, surrounding us, we just have to have eyes to see.

I’m not finding 2019 much easier than 2018. I don’t know if I was expecting it to be. We like things to move in an upward trajectory but this doesn’t seem to be happening for us.

The difficult stories resulting from the government shutdown are gaining steam.  Federal benefits for food and housing may soon be coming to an end.

And in my personal realm – there are tough stories with no relief on the horizon. Children are suffering, parents fretting. There is no shortage of concern for the people in my immediate life.

Cruelty in the name of God grows too. Hatred in the name of love is masked as telling it like it is, as speaking truth. Sermons implant white followers with the notion of persecution, that they are persecuted for what? Because they’re rejected?

Meanwhile, those who are truly rejected believe that God has abandoned them. Their churches and families cannot humble themselves enough to ask questions that don’t have easy answers. The truly persecuted are dying. They need and deserve our tender love and care.

And all the while I count these friends as some of my most precious gifts. They are beautiful souls who love so very well. A beautiful challenge to me. A beautiful challenge to all of us with eyes to see.

Each and every one of these gifts invite me back into simple gratitude, counting the moments as sacred talismans of hope, breadcrumbs of grace, touches of the Divine.

We choose to see. We choose to embrace kindness. We choose Love.

No matter what it costs.

 

That One Wild and Precious Life

Untitled design-104

Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.
― Mary Oliver

I have had a hard year. Twenty-eighteen was tough. Yes, so many blessings. So much gratitude. The people in my life now – so rich. The church that I was called to build – my favorite place. The family bending and growing – takes my breath away. The partner building new bonds with me – an honor to share this life.

But all of this goodness doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Change is a terrible process. I can now understand why few paddle far from the familiar shores. Change demands a breaking of the familiar and expected. Change requires our sweat and the end of our presuppositions of how it was supposed to be.

But yet I’m here. I have stared down my complicity in the patriarchal systems of my churched upbringing. I have gazed long at the ways I’ve tried to keep my children small. I have confessed over and over and over the longing for simple and carefree, for which I was never made. I have grieved the loss of the small dreams, to make way for the better dreams.

And the hardest part of this year, I have found me. And isn’t that a terrifying endeavor? Because not everyone who knew old me likes new me. I make the introductions but few connect upon greeting – a limp handshake and a shifty gaze are the extent. To their credit, I don’t try hard either. I let it be what it is. I’m not the same. It isn’t their fault.

I wonder why it’s so hard to find ourselves. The gain is obviously preferred over the loss, but the loss is real. The loss must be owned and examined before it can be surrendered.

And so I honor that which hurts. As I let go I find myself in new ways. But love is never over, and bonds from love are impervious to easy breakage. Instead a respectful turning happens, a generous wishing well followed by a separation of ways.

Easier said than done, but done nevertheless.

The year of giving me myself has given me life. The vulnerability, the mistakes, the success and failure, the unmet expectations and the terrible sleeplessness have deposited a package on my doorstep of perfection. I know things now. I trust the low rumble and I know she’s telling me something. I believe the tears when they flow and I honor the raucous laughter.

As a good lover tends to their beloved, I am attentive to me. I find myself fascinating. My emotions are the best teachers, and their lessons trickle and pool across the floors of my home, down the walk, and into the streets.

The world needs us to be ourselves. We aim for small because someone along the line said. But they lied. We live this one life, and we get to live it well.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
― Mary Oliver

Being Woman.

Untitled design-103

It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.
― John Steinbeck

I think I love being a woman. It took me awhile to accept my womanhood. I tend to identify more as a girl, a young one. The first time I was called Ma’am, it felt like an affront.

I look in the mirror every new day and throughout wondering where my youth went, for I certainly don’t feel like the grownup in the house, nor do I act like it much of the time. I know I am, married for more than half my life, a too responsible child for the other half. I know I am a grown up but it feels like such a waste – all those years concerned about this and that, running from myself.

And now in full embrace of who I am and I’m more than half my age. I’m not sure to consider this a gift or a travesty.

Purity wrecked me. I’m rebuilding my dignity and assumptions. The poor husband doesn’t know which end is up when my insides shift and what worked last week no longer works. I feel sorry for him and then I don’t, knowing his life gets the benefit of steadiness. I expected steadiness from myself once and realized I’m steady until I’m not – which could be a year from now or a minute. None of us will ever know.

I’m as much of a mystery to me as I am to everyone else.

And yet I am grateful. Being a woman enables me to hold the hand of God. We meet early in the mornings and in the middle of the nights and on long car rides. God is in the face of most everyone I meet, in circumstances wide and narrow. God is in the bare branches of winter and in the pile of Kleenex by my bed. God is in the hug of a slumped over teen boy and in the meow of a finicky cat.

I know the touch of God. I feel her to my bones, her laugh is mine, in the midst of sorrowful tears. Her heart is mine in the midst of the myriad of questions. Her touch is mine as I hug and hug and hug on a Saturday night at church. God to God, a community of broken hearts yearning for mysterious, yet undeniable connection.

I am finding my body. I am learning my voice. Both are foreign entities, the product of our separation that happened when I transformed to woman – when the thighs rounded and the blood flowed. I became foreign to myself. I lost what I love. I lost desire.

But desire returns when we sit still long enough and stop operating from obligation and martyrdom. Desire winds her way up from the ground and she whispers to our deepest longings. My word, she is misunderstood. I worry desire will turn me wayward, but instead desire turns me fierce and loyal.

What does desire ask of me? She asks me to find the girl. She implores me to discover the woman. She demands I own my femininity – the parts of me I’ve tamped down for fear of being too much. She melds all of me into one able-bodied, fair-minded, intelligent, ferocious soul that owns her zealous laughter, her raucous enthusiasm, her unmatched opinion.

Desire doesn’t ask for permission, desire paves the way for truth to emerge. My truth. My self. My way is good and it is right.

I love being a woman. I am in remarkable company. I consider myself gifted. I am filled to full.

Thank you to the company of women who remind me of our beautiful offering – we will save the world.

Just please, don’t call me Ma’am.

A Coup in the Coop

Untitled design-102

 

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
Emily Dickinson

The Broody Hen died yesterday.

Our oldest hen, the one at the top of the pecking order, who dictated the flock’s mood and egglaying patterns died. It was apparently a gruesome scene that I didn’t have to clean up. Thank God. The seven other hens decided they couldn’t take it anymore and took matters into their own hands, or beaks as the case may be.

Even in her early years, she ruled the coop. Her intolerance for being anything less than top bird was notable, a subject of much of my writing. In fact, my first blog was named after her. I understood her broodiness. As she tended to her unfertilized pile, I tended to my tentative words, infant thoughts finding purchase in the world.

Apparently her intolerable ways reached a tipping point among the younger birds who determined it was time for an overthrow of the old government.

A coup in the coop.

I’m glad she’s gone, but a little sad too. She was hardy, resourceful. At four years of age, she outran and outsmarted foxes and owls and wayward neighborhood dogs. While she employed dubious methods to ensure her survival, at the expense of other hens, she was a tough old bird, propelled by reservoirs of misplaced anger.

Today I watched the swearing in of our 116th House of Representatives. I’m not usually one glued to C-SPAN, but with the historic numbers of women of color I wouldn’t miss it for anything. The kids wanted some lunch so I withheld nourishment, forcing them to watch for ten minutes. These are fascinating times where we claim hope every chance we can find it. They didn’t starve.

The women rose up. Our electorate said: No more! Not on my watch! in the November midterms and today we got to watch history happen. The pecking order of our systems of government is shifting and it’s time we pay attention. It’s time to find the glimmers of hope.

The last two years have been rough. I just completed Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. Of course I adored every bit of it but found myself in a funk. I had to put the book down at certain points to breathe and grieve our national losses – decorum, norms, values, compassion. To witness America’s first black family and then to witness our current situation, well, it can take my breath away. I had to take some moments.

But today, bearing witness to these halls of Congress, the children, infants, freshman representatives, mothers and fathers, brown, black, white, LGBTQ – Stage Right burst with energy and enthusiasm.

I found hope again.

I am a self-diagnosed optimist prone toward disappointment. And today I hold onto the goodness I witnessed across C-SPAN’s airwaves while also holding onto the reality we still face. The work isn’t over. Love demands we find a way. Love asks us to place kindness, compassion, belonging at the forefront. Kindness, compassion, and belonging not just for others, but also for ourselves. We deserve goodness and care. The nights have been so long and cold, but the light I hope is winning.

Power is rising among the women and our allied men. Women are not having it. The pecking order of our country is being overhauled in favor of our majority minority. It is time for all Americans to have representation. The old ways of oppression and shame and gaslighting need to die. Self-preservation is for the weak who will use dubious methods to ensure their survival. This is not the way of Love, nor is this the way of God.

Our former First Lady, Michelle Obama offers us some light, a path forward in these days from Becoming:

What I won’t allow myself to do, though, is to become cynical. In my most worried moments, I take a breath and remind myself of the dignity and decency I’ve seen in people throughout my life, the many obstacles that have already been overcome. I hope others will do the same. We all play a role in this democracy. We need to remember the power of every vote. I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force that’s larger and more potent than any one election, or leader, or news story – and that’s optimism. For me, this is a form of faith, an antidote to fear (pp 419-420).

As the balance of power tips, the old ways no longer define us. The ways of mercy must guide us. The ways of generosity must propel us. No longer must we be ruled by the harsh winds of fear and foreboding. We deserve better. We deserve benevolence. We deserve to be known.

R.I.P. Broody Hen

2014-2018

How We Are Seen

Untitled design-101

For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.
Frederick Buechner

Earlier this week Eric and I attended a memorial service for the people in our community who died while experiencing homelessness. The service was held at The Journey Church in Longmont where the shelter operates for much of the year. They continue year after year to open their doors to the tired and hungry among us with nowhere else to turn.

The service was beautiful. In front across the stage were nine glass bowls of water with a floating candle in each. Corresponding with each bowl was the name of the deceased. We processed forward holding a long stemmed rose, peeling petals, placing them in the water. The mood was somber, offset by the few lively instrumental Christmas tunes accompanying our procession. The now and not-yet of Advent never more evident than at this moment.

As we settled into our seats, the microphone was passed around the room as friends and chosen family shared heartfelt words of grief and memories. I was moved by this little community that loved one another so well. I sat silent, curious and pensive, learning about these individuals who lead a far different life than I. I held no judgment, only tenderness for people who work so hard to get through the day, and even harder to get through the nights. Many who are overlooked, misunderstood, despised.

I have three kids. Depending on the season, one may struggle more than the others. And some of you have one that struggles more than the others all the time. It’s a reality. One needs support, services, encouragement far more than any of the other kids. It just is. It’s what good parents do.

And any teacher may have one or two in the classroom that requires far more effort and attention than the rest of the class. For reasons beyond the child’s control there are needs that demand special care. It just is. It’s what good teachers do.

Here we have in our community a population many of us don’t know what to do with. If you’re like me, it’s not that you don’t see or notice them, it’s just there’s so little any of us can do. We turn away not for lack of caring but because of impotence, and maybe a modicum of shame.

As I sat there, listening to the heartfelt words, seeking to understand the emotion, I realized these overlooked and despised, misunderstood people hold a special place in the heart of God. God knows them, sees them, loves them with a tenderness reserved for those who know suffering.

I wept in my seat, now understanding the way we are all loved. We are all fully known, seen, and held. We are all favored. And some of us get special treatment because we need it.

This is the hope we hold during Advent. The last among us are first. Those smelly, cast-aside- from-society shepherds were chosen because God was rooting for them. God knew they would be the first to recognize the Christ in their midst.

The least among us are adored, given front seat to the birth of Immanuel, God with us.

All who suffer are adored, cherished, favored. The God of all Creation roots for us. This is the beauty of God’s economy – a powerless infant changed the course of human history, upon whom the Law and the Prophets would pivot.

This is how we are seen.