Looking Up

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Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I’ll be honest with you, my dear reader friends. I’m afraid. I am now employed beyond the walls of my home. The details are still to be kept quiet, but my life is changing. I have for over seventeen years derived great comfort and security in the firm and infinite womb of motherhood. This caregiving work greater than anything I could ever dream in my young, twenty-seven year old imagination. And now, at nearly 45 years, I get to consider new possibilities. I am called, implored, invited to consider new possibilities.

But I’m scared. For some reason, maybe it’s the pride I was fed that we were somehow better or exceptional. Or maybe it’s the Christian thing, that we are immune to the dregs of life (we all know that’s been debunked by now). But I have allowed myself to believe that the success of my family might be because of me. The marriage, the health of the children, the “smooth” running of our home, the successful business – somehow were because of my sacrifice. And part of this may be true, but if so, is the inverse also true? If I’m not as present, it all falls apart?

When one is insecure, the lies flow, don’t they? I’ll be the first to name it, so you don’t have to – it’s crap. I have a calling and I am equipped for this new role, but I am not required to set aside my mother status for the job. I recognize the need for patience and grace and adjustment and I will claim this. Just like the relaxation in second child parenting after freaking out over the first – the adjustment is tricky and we have to be kind to ourselves. We react to what we don’t know and we do better the second and subsequent time around.

In this life of faith, there is always an element of risk. Always. We don’t get easy. We get what builds trust, and what teaches us to listen and wait. Sometimes we wait with patience and sometimes we don’t.  And I admit, my friends, I have been trusting, listening and waiting – ever so imperfect and jerky, for a very long time. The day is here. The ball is in my court, the work is mine to do. And the view is beautiful. I am ecstatic over the wonder. I am floored by the goodness and holiness. And I am wholly and appropriately terrified.

I suspect grief is a reliable companion in the closings of existing chapters and the beginnings of new chapters. My children are growing in independence. They know what they need to do. They are good people who might make dumb decisions and still need parents, but we are in a new space, and for this mom, it’s hard. As a new chapter unfolds while the previous chapter is not quite over, the transitions are never seamless, requiring readjustment and loads of grace, holding the chapters each in one hand – ever so careful and generous.

My fright feels appropriate for today, for I carry none of this lightly. My tears feel necessary and my joy feels adequate. All must be held with grace and a careful grip. To cling too tight may cause the thing to shatter. To hold too loose, it may tumble to the ground. The mystery requires I carry with a tenuous grasp.

On my regular runs I am the looker upper, while my running partner fixes her eyes down. I spot the birds while she spares us from snakes and ruts. Mid-conversation, I point out herons and eagles, hawks and osprey. She claims the coyotes and foxes. Either way, above or below, we take in the sweeping clouds as they scoot across the expansive Colorado blue. We honor the shades of vibrant green springtime. The snow piled high upon the tallest peaks invites comfort in contrast, a longing for diversity against the backdrop of the jagged rock faces.

All of this is my wonder, my awe. All of this inspires me toward deeper communion, reminding of the generous grace we get to claim as our own. All of this invites me to rest, in the bosom of my beautiful Creator, who knows my heart, my desires. My call is fixed and I am invited into the glorious expression of love through goodness and divine design. The struggles of the world, the conflict of hearts, the worn down bodies, the fears of mothers and the questions of fathers, the wrestle of children, the concerns of humanity are all held here. And I find hope again, and rest, renewal and relief.

My work is my greatest desire, held together within the womb of my motherhood. I gaze upward in wonder, and downward in humility – carrying the responsibility and reward with a generous grace and a rather careful grip.

Feeding the Resistance

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How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
― Anne Frank

I emerged from my mother’s womb demanding justice. My poor sister, Julie, 21 months my junior had no say in the matter. She and I, counted and doled the M&M’s with precision, we switched without debate who rode in the front seat. Our UNO games ran fair and square, except when one of us lined our hand with the “dirty cards” while the other went to the bathroom. Snacks were meted to the smallest crumb, money loaned and repaid, birthday gifts exchanged to the dollar. Never was there a discrepancy I did not announce with fanfare and righteous indignation. My life, our relationship, demanded even-steven equality.

A quest for righteousness was pre-programmed into my genetic code. As I gained my voice and courage, my activism carried into the public sphere. At the age of thirteen, our local Fuddruckers restaurant in Orange County received my clear statement of disgust on a comment card: I know what you are trying to do, it will not work. I will not use the “F” word. Please consider changing the name of this restaurant. I was absolutely incensed. A dining establishment could intentionally coerce me into using this queen of all curse words.

A few years later, while attending my alma mater, a conservative Christian university (the perfect breeding ground for good girls with stellar Bible handling skills, a love for Jesus, and serious guilt complexes), I had another opportunity to display my voracious drive toward justice.  I distributed and circulated petitions to protest the removal of pews from our precious Goodwin Chapel. Someone had the audacity to propose stackable chairs as a replacement to the well-worn, uncomfortable benches laden with nostalgia and tradition.  After acquiring a couple hundred signatures, I  plopped my stack on the pastor’s desk, fleeing without a word.  My justice seeking has limits.

The firehose of news has taken its toll. Last week, I was tired and bereft. I felt useless and helpless, ineffective and unworthy. My powerlessness to change anything was acute and any hope of optimism was waning fast. I miss the days when news was not a mandate as the same stories circulated for weeks. I miss the days of balancing information with life, rather than life balanced by information. The load has been heavy and my heart heavy with it.

For all the talk of resistance, one may get hung up on notions of marches and letter writing campaigns and phone calls and angry, activist-y rants. But our most powerful resistance has little to do with our usefulness or our anger or our righteousness or our pursuit of justice. Our finest, most impactful resistance dwells within the work we were created to do, determined by our gifts and desires. Once we can recognize the power of receiving joy, hope, love – we become equipped for the greatest, most life-giving challenge. The beautiful and complex work of loving our neighbors well.

As we live into our calling, into our desires and generosity, we become the Resistance. When we know beyond any doubt how loved we are – we become an unassailable force of good. Evil shudders at our powerful impact.

Friday evening we held our fourth Community Dinner*. Forty-five people stuffed into my modest home, as the rain fell on a dreary May evening. Forty-five people ate and drank and told stories and laughed – altogether in the coziness of my living room and kitchen. Forty-five people chose joy and hope, too.

Our resistance is held in the collision of our desires and gifts, where wonder and awe proclaim the work of God, where laughter and hope find a place at the tables of our communities. I love my community dinners. I love the people piled into my home, spilling into the kitchen and out the doors. I love the kids wandering amongst the adults, teenagers on their phones, plates piled high in the sink. I love my living room turned dining room, with my couch on the back porch and my bedroom full of coats and purses, I love the mismatched silverware and the thrift store dishes. This is my resistance – doing what I love with what I have.

While I did not win the pew challenge, nor did Fuddruckers alter their brand, I spoke, I listened to the knot in my gut. My motivations well-intentioned and certain, regardless of outcome.

You will still find me marching, joining new organizations, attending meetings. I will make calls and write letters. But my best resistance is creating spaces for stories around food and drink, in a brick mid-century ranch, surrounded by old and new friends. My anger will continue, my frustration will remain, but my quest for hope, my lust for joy, my forward lean into Love is where my best expression dwells.

Resist onward, friends.


*If you are reading this and you live nearby, near Boulder County, CO, you are welcome to join us for dinner. We gather the third Friday of each month. Shoot me an email if you’d like to get on the list.

About Those Good Old Days.

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Emil was already familiar with those people who always say, “Goodness, everything was better in the old days.” And he no longer listened when people told him that in the old days the air was cleaner or that cows had bigger heads. Because it usually wasn’t true. Those people simply wanted to be dissatisfied, because otherwise they would have to be satisfied.

Erich Kästner

Yesterday was the perfect Colorado day. The temperature cool but not crisp, good for light layers and long sleeves. A friend, her toddler and I walked to a local park where cottonwoods loom and squirrels scavenge without concern. Train tracks run along the east perimeter. We waved to engineers of the passing trains, awaiting toot toots.

Our time together was showered with firsts. A first time careening down the covered slide without assistance. A first time climbing the ladder. I do it! a common refrain from the independent minded two-year-old, while mommy’s hands were never far from her tush. Unintelligible-to-anyone-but-parent’s proclamations punctuated my friend’s and my conversation around politics and plans and parenting.

I am grateful for the teenage years, as tricky as they’ve been. But I found myself longing for days gone by. I wanted the days when I knew my kids were safe. I knew who they were with, what they ate, how much technology they consumed, when they pottied. I used to know everything. I used to be in charge. As hard as it was, it was my job. And yesterday I wanted it back. A return to simplicity, purpose, certainty.

Those younger years were not my best. I was not happy or thriving. The early years of motherhood were fraught with more baggage than I will explain to you today. Trust me, it wasn’t always good. I hid it well.

The lens of nostalgia rarely offers clarity. Instead we believe a washed out version where the desperation and grief is eliminated. We carry the memory but not the specifics. My early days as a mother were mired in handwringing frustration and fear. But now as I face the natural and normal tides of teenagers, I glamorize the park visits, the long days. I edit the soundtrack, removing the discomfort and difficulty.

I have deemed myself useless as of late, with the firehose of news. Those of us concerned about the state of our nation and world, find ourselves scouring for infinitesimal nuggets of goodness. I traipse the fine line of being informed and being obsessed – praying, hoping, yearning for better.

In our quest to make America great, to return to a time of ease and simplicity, many Americans believe an ideology that seeks to take us backwards. We elected a man full of promises, empty of policy. A man who has insulted each and every marginalized people group, who bullies and lies and scorns anyone not of his white, male, heterosexual ilk. A man white American Evangelicals have touted as God’s answer for our country.

Whose America was great? As far as I can tell, the only group doing great in America is the white, heterosexual, wealthy male. Otherwise, it seems the others are, at best, ignored – children, women, people of color, LGBT, Muslim, disabled, Indigenous. When America is only great for some, it can never be great. The goal is baseless, spineless.

So, we have traded our forward movement, our inclusion and generosity, for an imaginary day in the past that never did exist. The lens of nostalgia never tells the whole story. This is why I ran more than one marathon and why I had more than one child. I forgot. I forgot the pain, the fear, the discomfort – all of it. I was left with a memory, a beautiful memory, that did not inform my future comfort. I did complete the marathons and I definitely continued the birthing process for two more, but I was reminded. And I said something to the effect of Oh shit. Now I remember.

As much as I love the scent of a child from the bath, the goopy grins and the godlike giggles, my station in life no longer revolves around young children. To long for a return is not helpful to the children I have now, the lives they live, the life I live. We must evolve and grieve and celebrate the endings and beginnings of new and old chapters. To live our lives backwards is to choose dysfunction. To live idolizing the good old days damages ourselves and our communities. As we live in the present, in the way of love, we must weigh the evidence, consider the facts, honor our bodies, and discover the truth as it is revealed. We press forward in this knowledge, dispensing life in new and fresh ways, eschewing greed, striving for the collective good.

The notion of “Leave it to Beaver” needs to be left behind. It’s time we strain forward for the goodness of what is before us, loving well, fiercely protecting our neighbors. We cannot sacrifice our greatness on the altar of self-service. We cannot choose silence in an attempt to return to fictitious days gone by. We cannot lean backwards into days that never were.

Instead we march in the rhythms of grace, honoring one another and ourselves with our actions. As we choose life and abundance, we serve our neighbors, our nation, our homes in what we know to be true – it’s all about love, generous, inclusive, life-giving love.

Woman On Call

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To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?

[To the Women of India (Young India, Oct. 4, 1930)]

– Mahatma Gandhi

Once upon a time I became an Ironman. That June of 2010 day, I swam and rode and ran my way through the beautiful, breezy, countryside of Idaho to claim the title for myself. After training and fighting and sweating through nine months of preparation, I achieved the oft-assumed, impossible goal. The long coveted announcement, Jennifer Jepsen! You are an Ironman! resonated deep as I stumbled across the line, my smile as wide as the arms raised high above my head.

I had beyond decent equipment. My wetsuit was buoyant; the time trial bike new and cutting edge, fitting my aerodynamic form; my clothes were cute and moisture wicking – perfect for a long day of sweat and photographs. Triathlon requires strategic pacing, particularly for the IM distance where the race may last anywhere from nine to seventeen hours. Since running is my strongest of the three events, I wanted to sustain a solid and strong marathon, which required restraint on the bike and swim. I ate and drank according to plan, stocking up calories for the latter parts of the day when digestive systems oftentimes call a strike. I controlled everything I could, trusting in the hours of training and ability, surrendering the remainder to the benevolent IM gods.

While on the bike, over the course of the 112 mile ride, I was passed by many, mainly men, with their aero helmets and state of the art equipment – where minutes and seconds are purchased by the hundreds of dollars. I resisted the temptation to prove and press harder, remembering the  inevitable marathon, for which my strength and desire awaited.

I wonder how often we think we should excel and push into areas that do not reflect our giftedness or our desires. I wonder if we, as women, especially those of us employed in a man’s world, think we need to become like men, going against our natural bent, to succeed and accomplish our calling.

Last week, I attended the “She is Called” conference in New York City. Thirty-five female church leaders gathered from around the world to engage the conversations, discussing our unique giftedness and the presenting complications women in American church ministry must face. As I embark upon this church plant, entering into the world of church leadership, I was encouraged. My giftedness is not male, it is wholly female. It was good to rest in a space that knows the softer skills of generosity, mercy, justice seeking, and faithfulness are to be as elevated and recognized as those of the stereotypical skill set of men.

We experienced a sisterhood among leaders, a realm of goodness that had no room for winning or stacking or measuring. A space for each of us in our uniqueness and femaleness.

Scarcity was not invited.

These three dozen tender and kindhearted women are brilliant and tenacious. Each in her own right is accomplished and remarkable and well educated. Yet, only 10% of senior leadership in churches is female. How is this? How has the genius and beauty and wisdom unique to women been so leveled?

My friend, Paula always says, “Men have no idea how much the world is tilted in their favor.”

Of the 400 triathletes who whizzed past during the cycling leg that June day, the majority were men. But by mile 14 of the marathon, I reclaimed those slots. And then by mile 26 I passed more. The beauty of triathlon is the balance. If you blow up in the early miles, as glycogen and adrenaline course, the temptation is to forget the long haul ahead. I knew my giftedness and my desire did not lie in the water or on wheels. My giftedness and desire rested in the turnover of legs, pumping of arms, and the rhythm of my breath. My giftedness and desire rested in the simple, the soft, the unsexy. My giftedness and desire matched the pad of my feet and the determination of my body. I was not passed by many men on that run.

Men, please, step aside, let your women shine. Notice us and move out of the way, notice our gifts and our hearts. Avail yourselves to discovering the realm of feminine leadership, the beauty and mystery of our ways. Seek what you are missing. And remind yourself routinely that we are far better together.

Women, we are powerful. We have the remarkable and blessed gifts of God to fuel and power love. We have the talent and knowledge in the depths of our bodies, in the core of who we are to carry the load, to relieve the burden, to live into our calling. We know this, don’t we?

She IS Called.