Roundabouts are for the Birds

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O snail
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!
Kobayashi Issa

The nest in the rafters of the porch has a four-pack of baby robins. Their necks strain hard for mom as she gathers their next snack. Unfortunately, mom can’t seem to satisfy, their need so great and her efforts finite. But she tries, she darts and pulls from the yard and ditch, digesting and regurgitating for the greedy infants. We had concerns, for her nest building capacity seemed limited. Inefficient and messy, the nest now provides a sturdy home for her hungry youngsters.  Her instinct of dedication nothing short of miraculous.

It seems the most important work we do is never linear, a forward and back that borders on inefficient and uncoordinated. I have found this to be true of my most important undertakings: marriage, parenting/keeping kids alive, and now planting a church.  The kids are alright and I am grateful for the benefit of being taught by them. In my marriage, with missed opportunities and slung words, we are pushing twenty-four good years. And this church plant is happening. My word.

How is this? How is this economy of broken efforts and poor motivations still functional? How are the kids alive and decent? How do Eric and I find ourselves desiring and seeking the best for one another? How is it we make any progress with the backs and forths, concerns and doubts, the questions?

And when I’m still, silent, abiding, I sense deep in the recesses of my gut, in the undetected nether-world-space where the Spirit dwells, Trust Me.

And sure enough, there it is, it might be the next moment, next day, next year. It pops, like a Jack-in-the-box in the middle of the bramble-covered path. Hope is reborn, the path expands, and the work once again reveals itself as an apology, a course correction, a slow down, a forgiveness, a conversation, a project.

Trust Me.

This summer marks our fifth backpacking adventure. Myself and three friends, we take three to four days to hike in the Colorado Rockies. We have become more efficient with our packing, but the first couple days are always tricky with carrying the weight of gear and food, adjusting and readjusting. There is a cycle, each time, that seems to assert itself – with the weight and heat, the elevation and incline – the middle is so difficult. Bodies hurt, clouds threaten, feet blister, spirits wane. We choose challenging routes. Our treks are not easy and our mettle is tested. As we summit mountain passes, the trails steepen while our packs pull back, our bodies strain ahead, each step a test, each switchback a temptation toward futility. The path winds and criss-crosses. Slow but incremental progress is laid with each and every shuffled step.

But each step accomplishes great work, and with time the summit is attained. The sea of jagged knife-edged peaks on display as we celebrate the prize with a quick exit from our packs.  Snacks are dispensed, cameras snap with selfies, and fleeces are donned to combat the windy chill. We recognize the remarkable accomplishment because of the pain, because of the wait, because of the desperation. Beauty and awe persist regardless of the difficulty and faulty motivations. Beauty and awe await our effort, our seeing, our celebration.

The little birds are ugly and wrinkled, but growing by the minute, feathers now cover their wings, eyes slight with open slits. Their mother has given them life. She has sustained their existence. She is responsible for their thriving. Her instinct of dedication and tenacity a roundabout way to accomplishment. Her inefficient and poor nest building abilities pale in comparison to her persistence. As she hops across the yard, a plump worm hangs across her beak. She implores me with her beady eyes to relocate, to give her a bit of privacy. But I can’t stop watching, I can’t turn away, for the strain and swing of skinny necks yearning for fresh meat, responding to the provision of their mother is my hope.

Success is never linear nor is success certain. The next thing is all we have, the next uphill step, the next lean in, the next press. While we are not always guaranteed a view from the top, we do get to survey how far we’ve come, we get to feel our legs and lungs strengthen, our desire and resolve unfurl. And all the while, trusting in the perfection of the One who loves us despite our wandering motives and imperfect ways. We stop, take stock, breathe, nourish, and remember. Generosity and provision are ours for the taking…

..as we persist.

My Just Right Deconstruction

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I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Galileo Galilei

My deconstruction from the assumed, correct, never-to-be-questioned tenants of Christianity began with the coming out of my brother. I was raised by people who rendered it safe to ask questions. My parents, while accepting the church world they functioned within, also respected the institution enough to criticize it. I think this is the appropriate response when we love something or someone. We question, we debate, we criticize and seek compromise. This is not the sign of a hater, but the faithfulness of a lover.

Yes, we were required to do all the churchy things. We followed the “guidelines” of our denomination – as the pastor’s kids, we didn’t get much of a pass on the biggies: going to movies, dancing, drinking alcohol, smoking. None of this was of particular concern for me. I felt it my duty to be a good example, upholding the standards and I stood firm with a generous willingness. Many ask if I rebelled or despised this way of life. No, not really, not that I can recall. I gained a lot from being good. It served me. I had chips with God and believed in my sacrifices for righteousness.

Things really started careening in the 2008 Presidential election.  It struck me as odd that Obama seemed to me more amenable to the things Christ cared about, yet Christians were supposed to vote Republican. My narrow view, which assumed all Christians were evangelicals, was tested and I could not understand this particular arrangement, this notion that right wing politics was God’s dream for America. It didn’t make sense. But I blamed myself. I believed I was wrong, that something inside of me was broken, that my questions were the problem and my doubt was a sign of misunderstanding. And I wasn’t smart enough.

Unfortunately for this Enneagram 1 and INFJ, feelings matter. If my gut and beliefs do not align, my gut wins. I find the rationale later, and it always comes, but this meant I was uncomfortable for almost a decade. I railed and questioned and I assumed something was wrong with me.

Meanwhile, through all of this, I was still attending church, I was still raising my babies with the idea that Sunday School is paramount and church attendance is god. We went. We served. We got tired. We got disillusioned. We switched churches. We rested. We recovered. We asked more questions. We returned to the original church. We sat and sang and stuck our kids in youth group. We stood and listened. We yelled. We prayed. We cried. We left.

I say we but most of this is me. Eric had far less attachment than I to the Christian ideals, but respected my process and desires.

The deconstruction is a messy and bloody battle. Some days I sit and stare out the window, trying to remain and be still. Other days I run and cry, yell and curse, the only antidote – Mumford and Sons really loud. I eat, I shop, I Netflix, I angry hike. All the while, remembering I am loved. My spiritual life, my faith has taken hits, but nothing has done lasting damage. In fact, I’m reinforced and I’m more certain in the path I am walking. Always, I am given “the next right thing” to do.

And now, I believe my reconstruction is quite complete. I have found a new space, new purpose, a generous expression of God’s presence in the world. I am encouraged and filled with more work than I know what to do with. I am going to be a pastor, and believe it or not, it’s what I’ve always done. But I still feel pain and grief. What American Christianity has done is unconscionable. So many have been devastated by what is supposed to be good and right and loving. And I’m not sure how to fix this. I have to push into the future, into what is supposed to be and I know that I am where I need to be.

I may someday achieve full and complete arrival. But I doubt it. I don’t want it. I’ve become rather fond of this nebulous space that presses and sends me toward discomfort and tension. My road isn’t paved with ease, nor is it paved with clarity. This expectation is a useless dream that I will never realize. I like it this way, though, to be honest. I like writing to figure out what I think. I like long and roundabout conversations with trusted comrades. I like answering my kids with I don’t know, what do you think? The older I get, the less certainty I have. And it seems I am fine. It seems that this weird space is good. It seems, as long as I remember how loved I am, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I’m confused. When I can’t sleep. When it all hurts. I rest my head on the ample bosom of God and ask: What’s wrong with me?

She always responds in the best way:

Nothing baby. You do your work and I’ll do mine. I love you. I’m proud of you.

Long Awaited Life: The Hope of a New Church

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Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.
-Shel Silverstein

November 5, 2017 marks two deeply important accomplishments. My firstborn turns eighteen this day. His birthday marks not just his remarkable and beautiful life, but my emergence into the eternal call of motherhood. This day is the day I harken back to that early morning under the harsh, antiseptic glare of the operating room in Boulder, Colorado. The squalling infant coaxed and pulled and whisked away for further monitoring. His cry known, imprinted upon this mother. The force of my maternal instincts, an indeterminable sensation from which I will never know full release.

And this November 5, 2017* also marks the birth of a new life for the Church. This date will be our first Sunday, meeting together as a congregation. The three year long gestation fraught with starts and stops, notions and dreams, excitement and utter boredom. The waiting, if anything, is what will undo a person in these times. And I have waited.

Boy, have I waited.

On this November 5 I say good-bye to the child I once knew, holding him near but not too close, for fear of preventing his becoming.

And on this November 5 I say hello to the new arrival, turning her form over between my palms – inspecting, wondering, examining. I will take in her color, her features, her cry and her knowing look. I will shed a tear with a simultaneous laugh, alongside my partners and cohorts, friends and loved ones who have equal participation in the life of this body. With equal parts exhaustion and joy, our vulnerability exposed, we will usher her into the world of our beloved community.

I have joined ranks with the most qualified and generous humans who love her as much as I do, who dream about serving through her in the most wonderful of ways. Ways that honor gifts, talents, and dreams. Ways that consider awe and miracles, mercy and hope. As we prepare her home and consider her name, we dream of the holy work we will accomplish through her. Of the people she will love. Of the hearts she will touch. Of the wounds she will heal.

I yearn for us to gather together at her table filling up with the bread of her brokenness, the wine of her sacrifice, the bounty of her love, the heart of her compassion.

I want my beloved friends, neighbors, people to discover and believe, to know the wholeness of the Church, the hope of the Church, the generous love of the Church.

We are a species built for hope, not designed for despair. When hope dims, we do too. The Church is God’s expression of hope to the world. But the Church has not always cared for us well. The Church has abused its power and allowed our worst parts to manifest. I am not immune to the pain we have inflicted, nor am I immune to the good we have done. I have received both. I have dealt both. And now in these times, more than ever it seems, we ache for the warm embrace of community, the promise of being known as we are, the confidence of being loved as we are, the delight of being accepted – through and through, body, mind, soul to the marrow of the bone.

Hope has felt far this season. Light and dark are at odds, evil and good sparring hard. I scan and scroll, hunting for goodness, surveying for truth. The efforts tempt me toward despair, but I find joy, relief, hope in the work. This young dream, a call, emerging as an amorphous blob, nondescript with nothing but the tiniest hint of a pulse. The fire in my belly persisting, feeding in the middle of the night, keeping her alive despite my attempts to deny her existence. And now, a definable form, still incubating but alive and kicking, carrying me from day to day on the tide of her beauty and light, her wonder.

Friends, what I have seen and what I know to the core of who I am is nothing short of miraculous. This awaited new life, she’s going to take our breath away. She will be made beautiful through our imperfect humanity. Her life and breath, for us. Her heart, for us, for ALL of us. Her beauty, ours. Her love, generous.

The light of Love and tender mercy will shine bright, darkness has no power that will vanquish her flame. Radiating, pouring out in and through the beauty of us, her people, her blessed chosen ones, persisting. All of us participating in her expression to the world.

We return to hope. We celebrate the change that happens through the shifts and bends of time. We grieve the past, we heal, we step back into the world, remembering how very loved we are. This love that will never let us go. This love that is made perfect through our human imperfection. This love that persists in the despair, delights in our flaws, restores through redemption, resurrection –

The Church.

November 5 is the day I first became, the day I experienced true love mixed with true fear – coalesced into the string bean form of a hollering, blue-eyed, bloody infant. And this November 5 will be the day I say hello to a new love, a new life.

I can’t wait to meet her.

*tentative start date – hoping hard

What I Now Know

Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.

– Agatha Christie

We arrived early this week to our cabin in the mountains. An inexperienced robin is building her nest in the supports of our deck. It seems, for each blade of straw used in  construction, another gets dropped onto the profuse pile below. Two prosperous irrigation ditches border the property where the bird darts low, gathering mud and sticks from the moist banks, securing the grass before it tumbles to the floor. Her efforts, while painful to observe, have resulted in a sturdy nest, shaped just right, with ample room to house and hatch the fertilized brood when her time comes.

I, myself, know something about building nests. While expecting each of our three children, we moved. In an attempt to create a home, preparing the nest for my babies, I ambled and crept up and down ladders to paint rooms and hang pictures. My nesting instinct carried me to exhaustion in the belief my productive days were over once the new child arrived. No conversation or argument could dissuade me from this instinctual drive. My nests, built and prepared, stick by stick.

I am once again nesting in preparation for the arrival of our new church. One recent early morning, my precious sleep was mocked by four years of unchecked accumulation. The moon glowed high at 3:00 lighting my way to the garage to begin the work of organizing and cleaning.  As my nesting instinct kicked into overdrive, I noticed the call of my body. The wondering, worrying, sleepless sorting all siphoned toward the anticipated and joyful arrival of new life.

Female instincts are woven deep. As I become less concerned with appearance and more invested in a generous and justice-seeking life, I am learning to explore the deep, innate sense that moves inside of me. Recovering from a lifetime of tamping down a body’s instincts is not easy. Letting a body lead, letting a body inform ahead of the mind is not culturally acceptable. And this ever so important work of listening, considering, and responding without judgment, requires me to rest and trust in grace and the Spirit.

My methods are not linear, nor can they be carefully bullet pointed and proven. But as my precious robin friend demonstrates, there oftentimes is no observable rhyme or reason. There is no “right” process. There are detours and dead-ends and an eventual, hopeful arrival. Expectations must be tempered and the nest may appear disheveled and disastrous, but the nest exists, capable of housing and holding beautiful new life.

The mother robin knows her body. She knows the cycles and the signs. She knows the operating instincts. She knows the life growing inside and pays attention to the need to lay and incubate. Her nest, while inefficient, is functional. The walls perfected, sturdy up against the roof’s beams. In and out she flies, hundreds of times a day, securing and cementing, responding to the call of what she knows.

I am in the grip of wonder. Nature offers a respite from the concerns of the world, a relief from the burdens and fear, the infighting and lies. Nature reminds me of what is inside me, my instincts for generosity and awe. The robin builds her nest to prepare for the fertilized batch. The slight hummingbirds waft about, seeking sustenance by the gram. Dogs splash in ditches, and the young teenager motorcycles and mountain bikes his way across the property, mastering and surmounting all obvious obstacles. As the river runs its due course, rising by the minute with melted snowpack, the green grows, the sun draws her arc across the sky, and the moon trails in tandem.

Nature and beauty prevail, and this is where I must remain. The heartbeat of wonder, brewing and sustaining, the goodness and persistence of hope carrying us forward and back in the dance of flow. We grieve and break down, rebuild and renew. Resurrection is what we are designed to do, to yearn into life and trust the rise and fall of tide. We must rest in the tension of existence, in the bass notes of love that call us forth into our great becoming.

I trust the robin’s nest will withstand the daily thunderstorms and the comings and goings of a busy family in the woods. I trust her process, remembering my own – my seeming nonsensical approach to awaiting new life, following the rhythms of instinct, the roll of the gut.

I rest in what I know. The world is held. It is in times of derision and suffering  when goodness thrives. When hope is distant is where we find our footing in faithfulness of life and breath. The whispers of the Spirit invite us into deeper and longer rest, careful and faithful waiting. We hold back, trusting in the generous grace and remember whose we are and why we are here.

Love.

We are created as the sustainers and the seekers, the lovers and caregivers. As life is stored up inside of us, as life yearns to emerge, we trust. We wait. We listen and respond, knowing that the pinprick of instinct and the fire in our bellies can teach the world a little something about resurrection.

Beautiful.

Wonderful.

Hopeful.

Resurrection.