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.

Becoming and Being Me (by way of the dermatologist).

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If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
T.S. Eliot

It seems the Colorado sun has taken its toll. I had to visit the dermatologist today for some suspicious patches that need attention. As a person of English heritage, my skin didn’t turn out the olive tone of some, with an even distribution of color. The golden summer hue of youth has been replaced with pigmented spots and clumps, with no concern for my vanity.

I had a bump excised on the border of my upper lip and the numbing agent has worn off. Smiling hurts. I like to smile. It is my tried and true greeting, my main way of revealing my friendliness. Just as my dog bows her head before another in greeting, smiling is my pronouncement of submissive goodwill.

While skin concerns and dermatologist visits seem to be the collateral damage for an active, healthy lifestyle in this great state, I don’t like to lose my way of being me in the world. Smiling works for me. People succumb to my kind face. I don’t want to lose even for a moment the way I operate as me, no matter how small.

But there come times we all need to challenge and face our coping mechanisms. We have to ask ourselves why we do what we do and if it’s actually helpful or harmful.

I’ve resumed counseling these past couple months, participating in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. For those of us (all of us) who’ve experienced trauma, this practice is used to shift the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, re-forming these beliefs through reprocessing. We all operate from maps constructed to navigate through trauma, but as we mature the maps are no longer useful and in fact can become harmful.

While each session has left me somewhat disoriented and worn out, I know my brain is doing good work – pushing and striving to function as it was designed.

While I’m still in the middle of the work, I’ve noticed my negative beliefs about myself are waning, and the coping mechanisms I’ve clung to are lessening. As I trust my senses more, listening to my body, I notice that I am responding to desires and longings rather than the old recycled messages that bump around like sneakers in the wash with nowhere to go.

But this, oddly, comes with a sense of loss. How I operate as me in the world, while not always helpful, is familiar. Am I now destined to a life of laziness, without purpose as I set aside striving and proving? What if I don’t choose to compete anymore? Will I lose all motivation? There is so much blank space here, that has left me with more questions than answers. And as far as I can tell this is a risky business, disrupting that which seems to work – for now anyway.

To lay down the proving and striving and scarcity is a risk. I thought I had to be that Yes! person, the one who was game for a challenge. The one who was envied. The one who won. And now being the Yes! person makes me cranky and tired, resentful. There is so much for me to do in the world that involves me being myself, searching and waiting for that which delights. I want to be how I was made, serving who I’m built to serve, loving who I’m built to love, feeding who I’m built to feed.

Maybe it’s maturity that comes with age, the cycling and recycling that happens when we live long enough to see similar patterns in the lives around us. Maybe it’s the letting go. But my belief that I’m not enough, that has pushed and prodded me for decades, is on its way out. And the blanks are filling with a person who seems to be more rested and renewed, committed to life and love and beauty and wholeness. A person desiring to discover herself.

Our coping mechanisms – smiling, eating, drinking, pleasing, proving, you name it – they get us through. Thank God for them. They’ve served us well, keeping us safe in uncertain and frightening times. But a day will always come when these coping mechanisms become tools of division, separating us from the people and the work we love, as well as separating us from our own true selves.

I have too much to do in the world, in my home, in my person to get by with just coping. Now is the time to live, to truly live. I will not give up smiling, but for now it hurts, so I might curtail it some. And in the meantime, I’ll rest up, heal my body, and continue the good work I have begun.

An Iffy Fourth

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I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
― James Baldwin

It is no surprise I wrestle with holidays – a long standing theme in my life, has been for many years. For some reason rallying for another thing feels unnecessary and more than I choose to manage. Maybe I’ll grow out of it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m just lazy, but my family doesn’t seem bothered  so I guess I’m good.

Despite my bah humbug tendencies, I still enjoy a good barbecue and municipal fireworks display. But yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday felt different. Heavy and weighed, a firm reminder of where we are not as a people. The past three weeks have been most difficult as I’ve imagined myself a young mother separated from my precious babies, after journeying an uncertain and intrepid course for months. I knew it was going to get bad, I just didn’t think it could get this bad. And the holiday rubbed my nose in the mess just a little bit more.

And before we accuse one another of lacking patriotism, I would challenge us to consider these inscribed words:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

These words are a prescription, an invitation to a nation that has lost its way.

As we prepare to launch our child from childhood to adulthood, I’m reminded of the early days of parenting iron-willed infants and toddlers. In this new-to-me sweet spot, I am celebrating the pay off of those desperate years. Screaming through every aisle of Target, testing at every turn, begging for every toy, the hopeless days were endless. Weeping in the shower at 6:30 AM, facing a day ahead with the despair of emptiness as my guide, my soul and body were wringed out from the screaming, testing, and begging. No amount of coffee, Diet Coke, McDonald’s cheeseburgers or M&Ms could sustain me to bedtime.

And the darkness pressed in, striving to envelope and declare my mothering inept and unqualified to lead this band of miniature tyrants through to the next Bob the Builder episode. I had no vision for the possibility that this work could ever render a set of teenagers with generosity and intelligence, capable of nuanced discourse. But it happened. And while I’m not out of the woods, I see the light. The once intrepid path is now about course corrections not parental overhauls.

Despite the darkness, the lonely, ominous and altogether torturous days never stole my ideals. I knew who I wanted to raise. I knew what I wanted them to become. And I fought like hell to get them there. It is now time to celebrate my part in their formation.

And now, as a dedicated citizen of this United States of America, I will fight like hell for our ideals because I love this place. I believe in this grand experiment and I welcome and trust our becoming. The words inscribed on the plaque penned by Emma Lazarus are in my bones. This is who we long to be, who we are at our best.

But the darkness is unrelenting, threatening and trying to envelope, to declare us inept and unqualified to lead this band of sisters and brothers. But it doesn’t have to. We know who we want to raise. We know what we want to become.

I see examples all around me – from the teachers in my kids’ classrooms, to the families shopping at the grocery store with coupons and SNAP benefits, to friends at the gym offering encouragement and bantered conversation, to neighbors caring for each others’ blown over trash cans.

I read about examples all around us – from the organization RAICES seeking to reunite separated immigrant families, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who faced a ten-term democratic incumbent in the Bronx to potentially be the youngest Congressperson serving in the House of Representatives, to average people marching on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning.

The darkness wrings us out, revealing the demand for lament and truth telling, admitting our historical wretchedness. The power of our collective joins to grow this nation up – to become a just and merciful, compassionate and generous, informed and .hopeful United States of America.

May we live into our ideals as the patriotic citizens we are becoming.

Swallows of Joy

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When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.
― Fred Rogers

Today is hot. I’m practicing the art of stillness to hold back the floodgates of sweat. It’s a useless endeavor, but if I can remain shower fresh for more than a moment, I win. Summertime is here. The lawn is no longer its lush, squishy green from rain. We now have hot days and warm nights, rain a rarity. My running pace lengthens as my sleep lessens. While I appreciate the longer days, I start to miss the chill.

Over the past seven years we have left the heat of the Colorado Front Range, spending weeks at our cabin in the mountains. But this year is different. With three teenagers invested in friends, jobs, and planning for college, along with my new church and career, leaving is not an option. The spontaneous days of packing up and taking off are over. The long days of restless youth requiring distraction are over. The strings of lazy summer days watching basement movies in the dark are over. Summers now looks strangely familiar to the rest of the year, except for longer days, sleepless nights, fewer clothes, and no school, of course.

I don’t think I am grieving this shift. I love the ages of my children as they become and gain independence. I love my work at Left Hand Church and the people I get to grow with into community. I love being home and tending to an infant garden and a pair of flower boxes and a host of plucky chickens. All brings respite to my soul in these tumultuous and confusing times.

I think the simplicity and purpose of my present life brings me joy, in the seeming small but most essential of ways.

And in these days fighting for joy is essential – as if our lives depend on it. We don’t get to fall victim to the bafflement and gaslighting of this administration. We have to do everything in our power to grasp joy through gratitude, self-care, friends and family, good food, flowers, decluttering, exercise.  Our greatest act of resistance – to participate in this subversive mining.

Joy is nonsensical. Joy throws people off their game. And joy, my friends, goes far beyond happiness. Happiness settles small with good hair and lost weight and fashionable clothes and new shoes and well-behaved children. We’ve got to get underneath the surface, to the foundations of our existence. And even though we wrestle hard with pain and despair and the tendrils of fear – joy is our savior. Joy is our hope. Joy is our resistance.

These days, seeking to be a well-informed citizen is so hard. As we balance on this precipice of being wide awake, the temptation is to creep back, to stay safe. I get it for there is a time for this. But, for those of us with privilege, we have a great responsibility to our democracy and to one other. If we have privilege, we have a duty to remain informed, to feel, to be curious, to seek. And if we have privilege, we also get to take a break, see a movie, drink a beer, and laugh with friends. We get to escape to the cool of the mountain air, and we get to find hope in gardens and chickens and flowers.

This past week I took a walk on my usual route. I hopped on the bike path that winds me toward the peaks. I let my gaze bounce back and forth across the path, upwards towards the fluttering leaves and the silky clouds. I chose to listen to a podcast, but othertimes I need the sounds of nature to process the rattles in my brain. These walks heal as I wrestle with the fears and temptations that threaten to render me impotent.

I came to the underpass, about a mile in. Every year swallows return and rehabilitate and rebuild their nests along the creek corridor in the still darkness of the tunnel. Last year the nests were all destroyed, dumped into the shallow water below. I grieved and I lamented the callous stupidity, while also holding room for the possibility of a bored youngster with nothing better to do.

But this past week, the birds were back, each pair engaged in the diligent work of rehabilitation and rebuilding. Darting, diving, swooping, collecting tiny beakfuls of mud, the pairs operating in tandem to recreate their little lives under the bridge. I stood awed, grateful. Hope restored. Joy. The smallest thing, a thing of instinct, of subversive survival and resistance.

It all matters, friends.

We know what to do. It’s time to stop second guessing and wondering if we’re too much or if our feels are inconvenient for the stoic amongst us. Our instinct is to love, protect, return, rehabilitate, and build. May we find joy in the seeming small for this might be where our greatest hope lies.

Carry on friends. We’ve got good work to do.

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The Myth of Bravery

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“Harry – you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I come to this, my regular blog post with healthy trepidation. I am unsure how to make sense of the separation of parents and children on our border. And I’m hesitant to say, “This is not who we are.” Because it absolutely is who we are. Our sordid past of separating Indigenous, black, and brown children from their parents is written into our genetic code as a nation. We are this. We have always been this.

The hopelessness of it all can feel debilitating. We hear the cries and read the stories and feel the feels. We parents remembering the constant hand on the cart in Target, imagining everyone a threat to our precious baby. The toddler darting out and getting lost for a brief second causing us to stop, catch our breath, hold our chest to somehow gather our body’s bits back together. The teenager unresponsive to texts and calls in the middle of the night, our imaginations taking us down treacherous paths.

Brown parents at the borders feel the same as white parents. The fear is the same. The parental bond is the same. We don’t have to use our imaginations to know the terror – different circumstances, same emotions.

So, what do we do? What can we do?

Today while in conversation with a friend I deeply respect and admire, she lamented she didn’t know where to begin, saying, “I’m not an activist, or a revolutionary. I’m not brave.”

I was surprised and taken aback by her statement. This woman wades into all kinds of deep waters on social media. She’s informed. She feels. She knows. She is caring and loves her family and friends well. She is all kinds of brave.

And I realized something. In these times, as we gulp information from the firehose of news, it is normal to feel subpar, to feel like we lack bravery. We ingest data and information at far greater rates than we were made for. We remain informed. We love our children. We care for our neighbors. We engage the conversations in person and online. We are present and ready and deeply impacted by the events in our nation. We use our imaginations and engage our empathy. We weep and mourn and pray and seek solutions and reputable charities. We give. We read. We feel. We are brave.

This is our work, to remain an informed republic, to question assumptions that seem inaccurate, to post links and comments and opinions and questions. This is our duty. We may not be able to march or litigate or reunite, but we can feel and learn and contribute.

I will hand it to the activists. They are on the front lines pushing and pressing, navigating policy and government and institutions. They are heroes. But some of us aren’t able. We will accomplish bits and pieces, but we won’t lead the charge. This does not make us less brave, for we all have our things and we all have our place in the milieu of human goodness and forward progress and collective consciousness.

As a new pastor I am discovering the great importance of discernment. Sometimes I can go and sometimes I must stay. Sometimes I can fight and sometimes I must rest. Sometimes I can yell and sometimes I must remain silent. And when things press hard like they are this week, as I replay the cries of babies and toddlers over and over in my mind, imagining and reimagining the terror of losing my child, I have to remember we each have a job. We each have a role to play in this grand narrative that is rehearsing right before our eyes. We each have questions to ask of the people in our communities and we each have calls to make to our government representatives. We have jobs, defined and clear jobs.

Now is not the time to believe the lies that inform our ability or effectiveness or bravery. No! We are each able and effective in the ways before us. Never underestimate the power of a phone call or a letter or a conversation or a hug. Never underestimate the power of a firm stance taken online or in person. Never underestimate a blog post. Never underestimate a “like” or a “retweet”. All contributes to the greater good.

I was perusing my Facebook feed last night before bed and an old friend mentioned how much she appreciates the “Snooze ____ for 30 days” feature in Facebook when certain issues reach a fever pitch. I couldn’t help but assume she was alluding to the current immigration situation.

I now know how crucial an informed public is. And I’m sure we all have our echo chambers. But you know what? My echo chamber is not a comfortable place. My echo chamber is full of people challenging me and pushing me to learn and grow and become in my knowledge of how to be a better human in this world. My echo chamber is not safe. It’s scary in there – all the activists and faith leaders and people of color and brilliant learners. I do not find rest in my echo chamber.

And I don’t want to find rest in there. I want to find discomfort. I want to be pushed and prodded to vulnerability and humility, for this is what bravery looks like.

 

 

Two Years Later

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We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.

-George Takei

This week was the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. I remember discovering the news early during my morning social media perusal just before our drive to church in Denver. As I listened to Mark Tidd, one of the co-pastors at Highlands Church, mention the horror, while confessing he had learned of the tragedy just minutes before, I felt relief. While he didn’t have time to revamp his sermon, he did have the ability to address and offer comfort to a congregation of vulnerable people belonging to the LGBTQ community.

I religiously tracked the news and social media all day on that summer Sunday, garnering information and details, while gleaning from the community conversation. It was all a rudimentary attempt at naming the evil, while trying to offer comfort and condolences to family and friends. It was a painful time that is not over.

Aaron, my fellow pastor, brought up the subject in our staff meeting this week, mentioning he cried in the grocery store earlier that morning, recalling the tragedy’s heartbreak and horror. As a gay man, he is vulnerable and pained. These are his people.

And as our conversation continued, I realized this was the first tragic event that occurred in this country where half of my social media feed didn’t show up. No comment, no “like”, no post. Half of the people I have as “friends” didn’t say a thing. This was the first time I realized our national tragedies may not be considered tragedies by some. Since that recognition, I’ve had many more such instances. We have climbed into our corners, claimed our sides. We have reduced people to issues. How can a person claim forty-nine lives and it not be acknowledged? How can a person perpetrate such terror and bloodshed and we can’t discuss around our dining room tables or in our curated social media lands?

The intersections are too problematic. The fact that the Pulse shooting had such components as Latinx, LGBTQ, night club, Muslim, and guns rendered the topic too loaded for many to be able to own and discuss. A person’s humanity, no longer enough of a requirement for acknowledgement or grief. Of course we see this everywhere now – immigrants, Black Lives Matter, the transgender community, children at borders and in schools. Humanity doesn’t seem to qualify as a valid requirement for respect.

We are watching dehumanization at work.

In Brene Brown’s recent book, “Braving the Wilderness” she discusses the detrimental ramifications of dehumanization:

Here’s what I believe: 1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May. 2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.” 3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman. 4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?” 5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

We all have to be careful. We all have to watch our language, our assumptions. We all have to do better – particularly as increasing tribalism drives us to our corners, solidifying the lines of our divisions. When forty-nine people are gunned down this must draw outrage from every single person who considers themselves human – Christian and non-Christian alike. These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, cousins – all dead. And when half of the people in my own life fail to acknowledge the event, we have a problem. What happened at Pulse that night was a national tragedy. What happened in Santa Fe, Texas last month, and continues to happen in schools and public venues is a national tragedy. What is presently happening at our borders as families are separated and children traumatized is a national tragedy.

We have dehumanized. We have vilified. We have judged and declared ourselves authorities. We say in our churches All Are Welcome but are we? Can we all preach? Can we all lead? If our churches fail to have the conversations that matter in these most divisive of times we may be keeping peace, but we certainly aren’t making peace.

Making peace requires our honest seeking, our question asking, our deep diving. Making peace demands we find the places where people are being oppressed and dehumanized. Making peace invites us to dwell in the messiness of discovery and uncovering.

There have been many many tragic events since the horror in Orlando. So many. And half my Facebook feed still remains silent. Our lack of acknowledgement might just equal our lack of belief that some people just aren’t worthy of our outrage and concern.

May we examine ourselves.

Perish, a Birthday, and a Three-Legged Dog

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Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
Maya Angelou

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week. I have a long and sordid history with birthdays that I will not resurrect in this post, but I will say, after this past May I did not have the wherewithal to rally for yet another event. After a month of anticipating and preparing for the graduation of my firstborn, revisiting the death of my mother 34 years prior, and some additional vulnerability-producing scenarios, I didn’t quite have it in me. But the voices begin and persist, don’t they? The shoulds prattle on about the celebration of life, and choosing joy, and remembering how many have no more birthdays, and being grateful. Needless to say, I was short on perspective and long on shame.

So I went for a walk. Oftentimes I’ll listen to a podcast but I felt the need to work through the whatevers of my situation. I cried and pulled out the last vestiges of grief, for now. I looked up at the sky and down at my shadow, watched the birds dip and dive, checked the mountains for signs, listened to the ducks, stood like a proud mother as my dog splashed in every chance of water. I have a good situation here. My circuitous path is contemplative enough and quiet, surrounded by a growing suburbia with protected open spaces.

And rarely, if ever, in this neighborhood stroll do I find homeless folks.

But on my 46th birthday, I did. It’s a surprising sight over here, but I don’t take issue with our homeless folks. I find their stories fascinating and I try to help here and there when I can. This particular man happened to be tinkering with his bike trailer when I showed up. I stopped on the path and asked how his morning was.

“Shitty.” He said.

I responded quickly with, “Me too. And it’s my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday.”

“What’s your name? I’m Jen.” We shook hands.

“Hi Jen, I’m Perish, because I’d much rather be dead.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Perish. Well, good to meet you. And who’s this?” As a fluffy three-legged dog of Australian Shepherd origin came ambling over to meet my Clem.

“Oh, this is Gracie.”

“And this is Clem.” I replied as I watched the dogs sniff and get acquainted.

He continued on about living in Las Vegas and moving here to pursue more work in construction but he could get paid much better in Vegas. He said he needed to get a shower and a shave. I asked if he was aware of our homeless shelter and he affirmed that he was. I mentioned my husband was very involved in the shelter’s work.

“Oh, well that answers my next question.” He said with a dejected tone.

“What do you mean? What’s your question?” I pressed.

“I wanted to see if you wanted to go out with me tonight.”
And just like that, I was better. I got asked out by a man named Perish and his three-legged dog Gracie, on my forty-sixth birthday. I had now what I needed. Some new perspective and a lilt in my step.

I returned home with minutes to spare before a busy day doing all sorts of Left Hand Church things. My heart was lightened.

I will always have a contentious relationship with my birthday, but in our house we do birthday weeks so as not to place all the expectation on one day. It works better for us all, reducing triggers and disappointments. And I feel this way too for most minor holidays. Spread out the love, minimize the pressure, take it easy.

The day before my birthday, on Monday, I bought new sheets. On Tuesday, I put them on my bed freshly washed and ready to go. I love a new set of sheets, crisp and clean. Later in the day I learned of Kate Spade’s tragic and untimely death. The fresh sheets I put on my bed that birthday morning were from Kate Spade – a brand I have never purchased in my life.

Make of it what you will. She, in her life and in her death, is providing beauty that offers timeless comfort and rest. I will continue to thank her as I lay my head on the pillow tonight and every night until the sheets are frayed and worn. Another birthday lesson, to appreciate the goodness of life’s simple pleasures and comforts.

For what it’s worth, friends, we know not what each person we meet is enduring. We cannot know from a cursory glance or a stilted conversation, but we can certainly be curious. We can receive that which is given, oftentimes not what we were expecting, but a gift nonetheless. Every encounter, big or small,  has the power to change a life. Or at least a day.

And hey, you never know, it could be someone’s forty-sixth birthday and the best thing you can say when asked, How’s your day? is to respond with, Shitty.

 

The Parent Path

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The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.
― Dorothy Parker

As graduation day nears, as the young man marches forth to accept his diploma, I know. I know it’s time. I know he’s ready. I know this summer will be fraught with weirdness as we negotiate a new normal – one that involves an adult man-child and the expectations of a family that still operates according to an odd set of unspoken but agreed upon terms.

I’ve been examining my grief. It’s a helpful thing to observe one’s own emotions without attaching a positive or negative value. My grief, nonsensical at times as grief tends to be, is not borne of fear or loss. My grief seems to be consistent with the ordinary pain of change, infused with a touch of nostalgia for what was.

I have penned plenty about my parenting. The early years were not easy for me and few things rival the difficulty I experienced with toddler and newborn, aside from my mother’s death when I was a child. The truth is, those things that take you to the end of yourself are the things that bring the best kind of pride. This is true of my parenting.

And yet, the hardest years, the best years, result in a human being that must leave. This is the design. But what do we do as parents, with our own growing up, with our own formation and rewiring? Does it go to waste when they launch?

So, what do we do when it is no longer appropriate for a mother or father to supply what mothers and fathers supply? Where does all of this go? We have an endless stream, it seems, of adoration and words and planning and anticipating. We are gifted in remembering the mundanity of odd dates and nonsensical facts. Gifted in anticipating all the horrid tragedies that might occur and planning for every eventuality. We know how to stop and appreciate a fresh bloom or the scent of a memory. We know how to nurture. The mothers and fathers who feel are the mothers and fathers who know. They know the odd way their child’s eyes glass over when they’re sick, they know the odd tone in a voice that needs to spill, they know the twist in their gut when things aren’t adding up and an investigation must ensue.

And tell me. What happens to these skills I’ve developed, the sixth sense I’ve honed? What happens to the gut rumbles and the swirling middle-of-the-night thoughts that crack open the aforementioned investigation? Where do these priceless nuggets, the hidden gems of knowing go when the children disappear? It seems too great a set of skills to squander.

And yet, I’m tired. It is time to release and watch what happens. It is time to see if the man-child will flop or fly, sink or swim. I shrug my shoulders and send him off, into the world to figure it out. I’ve used far too many words as it is, he seems to know everything anyways.

Last week I attended and co-facilitated at the She is Called Conversation in Denver. Fifty women, some mothers, some not – all in touch with their unique beauty and femininity – descended into one room. A holy power displayed itself as our entire femaleness was brought to the table to be examined and celebrated and empowered. And the power of this strength oozed through the created spaces, palpable and heavy, altogether too much to contain for the force and wonder of it all.

This overwhelming, curated beauty will change the world. My work of parent a piece of this beauty, a slice of this offering, for the work is not complete. The world needs mothers. The world needs parents – not to fix, but to nurture, to smooth, to hold accountable with the highest of motivations. Love. This, offered to us by the One who entrusts us to the work of Love and Light in the world, through our being. Not our doing, our being ourselves.

The parent path only exacerbates what already was. My work of mother, of honing these unformed beings, has shaped me deeper into my own becoming. The work of mother and parent curates what is already there – growing wholeness, beauty, and the fiercest fire.

So what do I do as my fledglings fly one by one by one? I dive deeper into who I already am and I continue the work of mother, of parent. I continue the work of Light and Love. I continue the work of being – exactly as I was made to be.

The path of parent is not linear. The path of parent goes round and round and upside and downside and through and over and in. We become, we shed, we realign, and we press into the spaces that need our touch, our questions, our curiosity, and our nurturance. We partner with the need in our communities and offer hope into our spaces. We take our hardened edges, entrusting them to the smoothing of compassion and mercy. Through empathy we seek to understand and find the intersections – where light seeps into the cracks of our community’s connections.

The path of parent is one of pouring out and filling up. Emptying and filling on repeat.

The path of parent demands reverence. The mistakes, the successes, the failures have all intertwined themselves into a beautiful milieu of humanity that pulsates with life. New life with shared purpose, building anew our communities and spaces.

May we believe in what we know, what rumbles in our bellies. May we with confidence look upon the successes and failures and mistakes and believe in homecomings and second chances and redemptive resurrections.

Love.

The Parent Pain

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Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.
Debra Ginsberg

In 2007 I trained for a marathon with the express goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I knew I had to run a sub 3:45:59 for my age, so I trained and plotted for this eventuality. One never knows how the marathon distance will go – latent injuries may crop up, a nutritional issue, dehydration, unanticipated weather. So one may train to a tee but race day will deliver it’s own set of circumstances. Sometimes overcoming is an option and other times not. I hit the race in Fort Collins with a hefty set of nerves, but I knew I was prepared and strong. I was well tapered, the weather cold and perfect, my nutrition and hydration were dialed in, and my body felt as good as it was gonna feel.

As the miles clicked along I stuck to the presumed pace, keeping tabs on my heart rate and breath. I knew I could do quite well, that a qualification was possible but it would be close. This particular marathon began twenty-six miles out of the town of Fort Collins in the foothills. It is a solid qualifier because the first fifteen miles are comprised of a hefty downhill grade through the river canyon. In early May as the fresh snowmelt raged below, the scenery invited relief through beauty, to offset the growing and gnawing aches. My primed legs turned over at a generous clip on the asphalt roads, allowing the downhill to do its work.

Things turned at mile sixteen, as they often do in a marathon. The roads went flat exiting the canyon, and by mile 20 – the final 10k – the race meandered along low-populated bike paths. Absolute boredom was mixed with absolute pain and willpower. Each mile, at this point, a slog. The race was small, so few people provided company along the concrete, barren path. I closed my eyes and counted to 100 over and over and over again, ticking down the final miles. I knew I was still on track to qualify but it was tight. I had no room for margin.

The final mile into downtown was a gift. People lining the roads with enthusiastic cheering, music blaring, my family. I crossed the finish line at 3:44 – a handful of seconds to spare.

I qualified for Boston!

I qualified and I cried. The effort exhausted me. The desire overwhelmed me. The weight of it all overtook me. I cried. Eric was at the finish and held me in my sweaty mess as I wept.

And the pace of parenting continues on, marching to the end of the road. And all the sleepless nights, and miles and miles of pacing across floors with sick baby, and plodding through stores, and to and from school, and hiking mountain peaks, and learning how to ride a bike, and back and forth to the potty and timeouts and kitchen for snacks – the pace of parenting adds up. Teenagers exerting their will. Toddlers exerting their will. All of it takes a toll, but yet we still slog – through the beautiful vistas and the boring bike paths – all of it adds up, the measure of each day determined by full bellies and clean diapers and too many screens.

The relief of it all intermixed with the grief of it all. The end of a life as we know it with the child is real and imminent and altogether remarkable.

And grief is never wrong. Grief is total, demanding attention, demanding release, demanding our entire being. Rarely is grief invited, she just shows up, ushering us into the memories and the truth of the new realities of both loss and change and new.

Grieving in May is a cruel joke, in my opinion. It just doesn’t make sense. Finally spring after the long winter, burgeoning color in abundance, a season of gratitude and wonder and new beginnings…and yet, grief. Change demands grief. New beginnings demand grief. Always.

And so I do. I grieve. I cry at a moment’s notice. The tears spring forth without invitation and I am relegated to weeping my way through middle school orchestra concerts and hikes in the mountains and random conversations at the gym. My tears know no appropriateness, they just flow, and I am ushered by their journey, through the canyons of snowmelt, plodding along, carried.

My child is ready and so am I. We have paced well and the end is near. And while it’s all good and the qualifications have been met, the celebration of our life together, the accomplishment of his journey and mine requires too many feels for any given day. And so I let it happen, for the marking of the next chapter as a mother is usually done with tears.

Parenting can sometimes be downhill – some of us get easy moments or easy kids – but those miles catch up to us afterwards. And sometimes parenting is uphill, the kids that challenge us at every turn, we have strong muscles from all the fight and press. And sometimes parenting is just plain boring – distractions and willpower employed to maintain sanity and internal peace. It’s all there.

And now the finish line for us is near. And the tears flow.

Find me, I’ll give you a hug. We can weep together, for the weirdness and the wonder and the beauty of it all.