Limping Into Advent

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Politicians compete for the highest offices. Business tycoons scramble for a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Armies march and scientists study and philosophers philosophise and preachers preach and labourers sweat. But in that silent baby, lying in that humble manger, there pulses more potential power and wisdom and grace and aliveness than all the rest of us can imagine. 

– Brian D. McLaren

 

Internal mayhem ensued that first Christmas I was a mother. My world, my comfort and expectations collided with Mary’s disgrace, Joseph’s burden, Jesus’s humiliating arrival, humanity’s mess, the shepherd’s stink and the detritus of farm animals. The sleepless infant not quite two months old born to my foreign, leaking, profusely sweating body. My shiny expectations dashed, the knowledge that I was flawed, failed, my first Christmas as a mother so unlike the crafted magazine and catalogue pages. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was not how my first Christmas as a mother was supposed to look. I was supposed to be back to my weight. I was supposed to have an amenable, cooing, content infant. I was supposed to be better.

I was weak, while pretending to be strong. I was angry, while pretending to be happy. I was disappointed, while pretending to be satisfied. I was scared, while pretending to be at peace. There is nothing like the holidays to remind us of our difficulties, whether these have to do with our strained family relationships or our dashed expectations or grief after surprise loss. We have been conditioned to believe that if our holiday experiences fail to model those of fictional displays, we are failing, less than.

Seventeen years later I can look back and gaze at that twenty-seven year old new mama with so much compassion. Her misery was real. Her discontent was her story. Her lack caused an unrelenting ache. Her expectation of perfect was her primary mode of operation.

Advent is for the seekers and the travelers. I carry an undeniable limp as I unwittingly stumble into this final stretch of 2016. No longer can I hide the fact that I hurt, that I ache with disappointment. This space I inhabit feels unwieldy and unhinged, with a hint of despair. Too many questions render me dissatisfied and discontent. Too many poor answers reveal the near impossibility of surrender. Too much fight and too much fear have veiled my peace.

I stagger to the table, my disjointed offering of paradoxical ingredients scatter about. Nothing makes much sense. Grief and disbelief reign while I wonder if redemption is still possible, if Jesus can really do this thing that He apparently says He can do. It almost feels like seeking the Christ, the Messiah, is ridiculous – a fool’s errand.

Yet.

The Infant.

Our Messiah.

Our Emmanuel – Lord is Come.

Our Salvation and Redemption and Breath.

Our hope.

Jesus.

Jesus. This baby, shows up at the worst time. The worst. There was little hope. There was little joy. There was little light. And yet, He came. He lived and walked and learned and loved and died. All of this, for you, for me, for now.

This body, twelve years removed now from pregnancy and nursing and leaking, aches still. I ache for the Baby to be born in me, through me, as love into the world, as light for all to see. And I fail. I carry greed and I carry resentment and judgment and so much fear. I carry it close as if it is my child. And then, I encounter Jesus, the infant. I encounter Mary, the mother who knows. I encounter Joseph, the beautiful, conflicted man. And I encounter a God who has come to me, to my heart, bringing relief to my inflicted body.

I don’t like studying history enough to draw correlations between our present situation and the world 2000 years ago. I won’t make conclusions, but I will say with confidence, where there are humans there is misery. Where there are humans, there is deep generosity. Where there are humans, there is confusion and suffering and manipulation, alongside great love and sacrifice and kindness. And so, in my stunted way, I will seek Jesus. I will fight to see Jesus. I will clamor to find Jesus wherever I can get at Him.

I am a mother through and through. People say, once you’re a parent the job never ends. It scares me when I hear this, for I am a walking wound. Sometimes the wound shrinks a little and I gain some footing. But, then, an illness, an accident, a visit to a college and I’m back where I started, back to those leaky days where I suspected everyone was trying to hurt my baby.

And I know the only answer is to be in pain. The only answer is to feel and to be vulnerable and to be honest.

In these desperate days, as people hurt, we feel, we be vulnerable, we stay honest and true to who we are.

We love and we fight and we claim the redemption and the beauty of this Baby that is the fiercest love we will ever know.

Ever.

We fight for light, we fight for joy, we hope with defiance because we know. We know Love wins. And we know Resurrection persists and pushes new life into the world through our bodies and souls, our communities and nations.

Love wins for good.

Carry on friends. Know, please know, please claim, please surrender to the love of this Infant.

Love Yourself Like a Grandma

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I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” 

-Maya Angelou

I am of the most fortunate sort. I have been loved by not just two sets of grandparents, but three. One set lived in Colorado. My Grandma Dickinson was cool. She bought us fashionable clothes and fed us yummy treats, Froot Loops, Klondike bars and Sara Lee frozen coffee cake. Somehow she procured the most perfect peaches, served cold, sliced in half, wrapped in a paper towel. Mornings smelled of coffee, brewed in a carafe on the coils of the stovetop. The radio tuned to news or choral music. Her house was never extravagant but always clean and simple, holding a welcome smell of fresh laundry, accentuated by a dash of humidity from the swamp cooler.

My grandparents relocated to Colorado after my mom died. Departing the heat and pressure of Southern California, they settled into a modest home in downtown Louisville, a bedroom community of Denver, east of Boulder. My sister and I, as teenagers, would make the flight from the sweltering concrete jungle of California, to the cooler temperatures of Colorado summertime. My Grandma was an epic shopper, probably due to a need to provide entertainment to two restless teenagers for two weeks. We would traverse the malls in a twenty mile radius, scavenging the stores purchasing the most garish, outlandish 80s styles. We ate breakfast in the “space”, a tiled sunroom receiving the Rocky Mountain morning sun. We watched TV together in the evenings, managed a whitewater rafting adventure and conducted sewing projects. She listened to our teenage angst, entertained and provided, introducing me to the expansive Colorado blue sky, afternoon thunderstorms and a countryside that bordered jutting mountain-scapes. These vistas comprised the content of my dreams, that would someday become my home.

Grandma worked so hard to please and provide for us. Her fatigue and age were evidenced by naps in the blue chair, mouth agape, hand settled upon her little nestled cockapoo. She gave of herself to the point of exhaustion, longing to please and satisfy her beloved granddaughters. I have no doubt she breathed great sighs of relief upon our departure.

The pressure we put on ourselves has to be combatted with the delight we take in ourselves. Self-care must be factored in, honored, prioritized. These days are fraught with concern, with demands, with fear. Learning to love ourselves well is the key to maintaining the balance, to having the fuel to fight for the important, the crucial, the world-changing.

I have fought hard to learn how to love myself. The words I speak, the condemnation and self-doubt that plague, the comparisons and envy. As a person who feels and aches with the world, my body and mind require more downtime than the average person. The weight of the hurting, the pain of the hopeless, the anticipation of the frightening could  become harmful if I don’t care for myself. I curse my body when the pants fit tight, waistbands straining at the roundness of my belly. I curse my words when they are uttered with impatience and frustration. I curse my intellect when I cannot keep up with conversation, believing I will be found out as a fraud and my credentials removed. I curse my mothering as I fail to respond with kindness, resorting to getting through the day, retreating to my security and comfort.

I must love myself like my grandma loved me, with an impractical extravagance. I must  feed myself fresh fruit, ripened in season, giggling as juice drips down my chin. I must clothe myself in outfits that I love, that reveal my form and my fashion sense without restriction. I must eat at restaurants that serve just right portions of delicious and nutritious food, an opportunity for rest from the tasks of the home and feeding the hungry mouths. I must serve myself coffee in a lovely mug with my music and news. I need to consider my difficulties and concerns, not as silly, immature, or simple, but give them my full attention, to inform me. I need to draw a bath, lathering myself in excellent products, drying off with a soft towel, climbing into the made bed with crisp, sweet-smelling sheets.

Many of us have fond memories of our grandmothers, many have horrible memories and many have none at all. Can we imagine the grandmother we wished we had? The one that loves us through her generous provision without condition? Let us treat ourselves in such a manner, offering generosity and kindness and love. Our grandmothers were not perfect, nor are we, but we do deserve respect and we deserve grace for our efforts. Let us treat ourselves with care and consideration, and a lot of extra pampering. Let us cry and vent and eat and bathe and sleep with tenderness toward our bodies and minds and hearts.

I want us to be our own grandmothers, to ourselves, loving and providing good things, loving and providing nurturance and sustenance with a little extra dose of kindness and compassion.

May we all lay our heads on the goodness of feather pillows and soft sheets, recognizing the work we do each day, loving ourselves so we may someday deliver this delicious service to our people.

May we all speak to ourselves in the language of grace, the language that is slow to judge and slow to condemn.

May we find our rest and our comfort in these seasons of anxiety and turmoil.

May we love ourselves not out of luxury, but out of a trusting necessity.

In the appropriate and generous words of Richard Rohr, from The Divine Dance:

Insofar as an appropriate degree of self-love is received, held, enjoyed, trusted, and participated in, this is the same degree to which it can be given away to the rest of the world. You can and you must “love your neighbor as you love yourself” – for your own wholeness and theirs.

 

The Measure of A Man

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The measure of a man is what he does with power. 

-Plato

This new post-election landscape feels unwieldy, like a sweater cut on a bias, or socks that keep bunching up in the toe, or cute shoes that rub in that one wrong place. I’ve never been this unsettled over national events. Never. Our family weathered the Great Recession, with some tough choices and cutbacks we managed fine. Nine/Eleven was horrendous, but the nation united, our common grief a precious touchpoint. We worked things out together. But this, this is unfamiliar to me, my future national leadership unrecognizable. The fear rhetoric we’ve had to choke down for months, a reality. Friends and people I love and cherish so scared, yet moving forward quaking yet bold. This shouldn’t be us.

What happened?

Many narratives are beginning to emerge trying to answer this question. Each one of us under scrutiny, whether it involves a blindness toward particular swaths of the country, or paying credence to false news, or not demanding more from our elected officials. All of it points to a breakdown of our ability to empathize, communicate and come together.

Yet, as we seek to find the personal answers, what to own, we have more important work to do, and that is taking care of our most vulnerable. Come to think of it, that has always been our primary job, hasn’t it?

We must come to the point of agreement. We must unify around this work, the work that sees and feels for another human, the work that sets our personal needs aside for the common good, the work that demands we come together as one human race. Regardless of who we casted our vote for, we must agree we will not support division, that we will not stand for harsh treatment of minorities, that we will stand firm in elevating the humanity of each and every human as created by God.

Our president-elect has had two weeks to fervently stare firm into the camera and denounce atrocities toward minorities and women. Apparently, he has not, up to this point of writing, so I beseech you, I beseech me, we must be this voice. We must extend a hand of generosity and grace and protection to ALL humans, regardless of color, nationality, race, gender, sexuality.

My husband, a white, straight male, deeply understands this essential obligation. After church on Sunday after the election, Eric, knowing the pain within our congregation invited two dear friends out for lunch, both women reeling with fright resulting from the horrible words slung their way, their bodies’ vulnerability a wide, open wound. Eric knows the desperate importance his advantage and privilege carry, the responsibility that now he bears to bring relief and rest and protection to so many in our marginalized communities.

And so, I challenge the good, straight, white men of this nation, regardless of who you supported in the election. I challenge you to mimic the actions of my dear husband. Seek, with deep humility, to be a silent protector, a shield, an advocate in these dangerous times. Seek, with great consideration, to be a verbal protector, a shield and advocate when the situation rises. Own your privilege and your luck and place yourself in a position of bringing relief. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if you align. It doesn’t matter. You have a responsibility if your neighbor, the person in your community, is human.  Each and every person has the right to draw breath, to pursue happiness, to be able walk down the street without harassment.

For all of us, the fear is real. Evil has been unleashed, and I repeat: Regardless of who you supported in this election, you are responsible for your neighbor. Regardless of who you supported in this election, you are charged with taking care of one another. We must recognize the vulnerable among us and set aside our differences and work toward generosity and mercy.

I will do my part as a white woman, I bear a fair amount of privilege, but I’m scared, too. As an independent female, I am now more cognizant of my surroundings than ever before, but when I’m with Eric I can rest. When I’m with my enormous son, I can rest. This matters, friends. This matters because we all belong together, regardless of our color, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality. This has nothing to do with condoning or supporting behavior. This is just love.

Plain and simple, love.

The protection of another body, the protection of another’s dignity, the protection of another’s place in the world – love.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

-Jesus (Matthew 22:38 – 39)

Up From the Grave

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Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
How to sum the past week, how to sum the shift of earth on her figurative axis, how to make sense of events just seven days past. I am at a loss, doubled over as the wind was punched from my gut. I am equal parts fear and hope, grief and deep-seated joy, devastation and renewal. The both-and roaring to life after this historic election. My disappointment and disbelief replaced only by anger and resolve.

The grief after the unlikely election of this man, has been typical and awful. After flying into Barcelona the day of November 8th, I laid awake in the night awaiting results. Watching the tick tick tick of states pledging support, at 3:00 AM I said to my sister-in-law, through quaking voice and shuddering tears, “Trump is going to win.” Her eyes widened, in disbelief I had to repeat. “Trump is going to win.”

 Tracy and I flew to Britain as the election results were confirmed. After a night of sleepless stupor we wound our way through the cobbled streets of Birmingham, settling into a coffee shop with therapeutic sandwiches, cappuccino and wifi. Baristas clucked over us with knowing resignation, a grief that washed through their bodies just five months prior. The city held me through the next three days as I wandered in and out of disappointment, disbelief and despair, the ancient stone floor of St. Martin’s Church receiving the perfume of my wept offering. My heart broken in two for the people I love, the country I believed in, the hope for progress in a world characterized less by white, straight, male privilege and more by mercy and compassion for the oppressed and marginalized. The old stones whispered: I know. The wizened countenance of fellow Christians across the Atlantic: I know. The prayers prayed: I know. Jesus: I know, my dear friend.

 Grief, dwelling on my sleeve, wore me thin, eye-makeup a wasted endeavor. The kindness of new friends, hugs made in the burger restaurant after stuffing my face. (Eating and drinking my way through Birmingham and Barcelona seemed to be how I needed to care for myself.) The kindness of fellow Christians praying with me, offering a hope-filled kick-in-the-pants, commissioning me to return bold and strong and fierce.

 I’m home now, resolute in my call. The disbelief still present, but now more distant as I survey the drawn and defined lines, the Evangelical Church, my former home, has declared a resounding YES! to family values, to white privilege, to the good ‘ole days; and a defiant NO! to the precise people Jesus demanded we love. As a nation, I expect no less. As a Christian, I am dumbfounded but not surprised. The writing has been on the wall, the Christians have made their point. And now it’s time for me to cut the ties. This, I cannot stand by and watch. This, I cannot sign my name. This, demands I stand steadfast in my call to be a light, to love, to align with the least of these.

 I stand with Jesus. Jesus who was betrayed, who offered his body and life so we could choose the same. Jesus who was and is Love in its highest form. Love in its greatest, most abundant expression. Love, which rises from the ashes of our assumptions and dead beliefs, declaring to the world, Talitha koum! Little Girl, I say to you, get up!

 It is time to get up. It is now time to rise. My evangelical friends, you are welcome to join us. You are welcome to come alongside, if you’re ready, but I promise it will not be comfortable, easy or quick. This journey is real and it is not for the weary. Many tears and hours will be spent in prayer, if you’re still able to pray. Many tears and hours will be spent in abject humility and contrition. Many tears and hours will be spent in deconstructing everything you thought was true. Many tears and hours will be spent in the beautiful work of reconstruction, of aligning and identifying and discovering.

 Our love cannot hold a “but”. Our love must say Welcome, Child. Get up! This rising is not for the weak of heart. This rising requires a fire in the belly and a resolution in the bones.

I will continue to experience grief and disappointment, this is the way of breath and life. I will continue the head shaking and the disbelief. I will continue asking questions. But, in time, this need will fade and I will completely leave my old ways and assumptions behind. I will not be privy to witnessing our most vulnerable be cast aside, be mocked, be ridiculed and placed in harm’s way.

In this election, safety was chosen over Jesus. Comfort was chosen over Jesus. Hate was chosen over Jesus. And in the days to come, I will stand firm, I will be fierce – but not for you, my former church. You have made your choice.

In the meantime, friends in the pews, if your heart starts to break, when you have more questions than you find answers, when you discover yourself trying to sit still on a Sunday while quivering from anger? Well, I’m here. You’re welcome to quietly, gently, humbly come and join in this most precious of communities – the most lovely, authentic and vulnerable of communities. This is where love dwells, where love carries the weak and wounded bodies and souls, where love is our greatest work, where suffering has shaped the bodies and souls of the best people.

Hopefully I’ll meet you there.

One Life But We’re Not the Same

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One love

One blood

One life

You got to do what you should

One life

With each other

Sisters

Brothers

One life

But we’re not the same

We get to 

Carry each other

Carry each other

One…life

One

-U2 “One”

This final week of election season 2016, in a year already fraught with so much death and destruction, fear and animosity, lies and greed. This final week, will we make it? Will we reach this collective finish line, our goodness still sewn, our wonder and gratitude unblemished, our humanity intact? I’m working so hard. These past months have tested my mettle, my own humanity, goodness, wonder and gratitude. The suffering of loved ones and friends, the racism and xenophobia, the lies and fear of the other have unraveled me in tiny bits, and yet, I am better. I have discovered a faith I did not own before, a new, more patient compassion.

One of the places I go when I need perspective and a little exercise, but am short on time, is my neighborhood park. There is this stretch where the Cottonwoods droop just right, forming a canopy over the path while the stream meanders gently alongside.  Tall, unkempt grass provides the perfect entertainment for Clem, my Golden Doodle. When the coast is clear, as it frequently is, I unclip her from the leash, allowing her to bound and stride with abandon. While she lurches forward and back, behind and before me, her nose grazing the underbrush as she darts through the wild landscape, inhaling with happiness.

Silhouetted against the azure, uninterrupted sky, the trees’ spindly arms yearn upward and out, as if awaiting an affirming word from their Maker. The rich palette of color a demonstration of grace’s complete perfection, in the moment, for me. The pleasant chorus of birds, crunching dry leaves and the gentle gurgle of the stream ease me into a state of gratitude and renewal.

Last Sunday, while seeking this routine solace, I was jerked to reality. The sprawling, manicured two-acre parcel of land abutting the opposite side of the stream was pocked with dozens of Presidential signs. They could not be ignored, placed with purpose in obvious eyesight of anyone out for a therapeutic stroll. This path, my path, corrupted. The beauty was still there, that didn’t change, but I could not attend to my peace-seeking without agitation, without dismay. Beauty and unlovely dwelled together. Natural and artificial. My relief and renewal held captive by the flagrant display of all that I attempted to avoid.

When our eyes are opened, when we choose to see, our world is a commingling of opposites. Grief and joy often travel in pairs, as does living with purpose and surrendering our plans.  We leave one set of rules to discover another, the dichotomy enough to send us back to the familiar, and often painful. The temptation is to avert our eyes, to only see what is pleasing, to only experience what is comfortable, to only engage what is understood. This avoidance fails to serve us, this denial creates a one-dimensional experience that renders us shallow, dull, unavailable. When we see and engage and choose discomfort, we become custodians of the highest order, we become custodians of the both-and.

I chose to continue my walk even though I was taken aback and more than a little bothered. But, these are my neighbors. These are the people I’m invited to know and commune with. My work is to choose engagement, even though it might be uncomfortable. My work is to choose peace, even though I don’t agree. My work is to choose to see, to engage the beauty and the dissonance. Both-and.

In this final week of what feels like the 26th mile of an uphill-both-ways marathon, instead of investing in the contention, in the he said, she said maybe we can offer kindness, reclaiming beauty amidst the ugly, amidst the fear, amidst the confusion.

I will do everything in my power to avoid a hardened heart on Wednesday, November 9. I do not want to live in fear for the direction of my nation and world. I do not want to operate out of derision and distrust of another. This is it, this life is all we’ve got.

How do we bring the relief we are called to bring?

The restoration of our humanity may hinge upon our ability to love one another and ourselves. These are the times to practice radical self-care, to seek to understand the both-and of life.

We must nurture our own souls and bodies, hearts and minds, fighting back the hopelessness and despair, cultivating generosity of mind and spirit.

We call out hate and we see the people we consider other. We see the people that hurt, that live in the margins.

We dismantle the work of fear by removing the walls brick by brick that divide our human camp into us versus them.

And, in turn, we build the house of WE – one human race – as we walk the difficult path, the path of setting aside our fear, our comfort, our strong opinions and we choose work of community and relationship over blame and separation.

One life

But we’re not the same

We get to 

Carry each other

Carry each other