A Cacophony of Colors

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Photo credit: Claire Jepsen

 

“In every change, in every falling leaf there is some pain, some beauty. And that’s the way new leaves grow.”
Amit Ray

The trees out my window are all the acceptable autumn hues – crimson and golden and the unturned green. The sky is the bluest of Colorado blues. A bird with pink breast settles upon a branch on one of the two already naked trees, purveying the scene below. Squirrels scamper over and across, leaping through the crackling foliage, gathering and storing. Nature summons me outdoors before it’s too late.

Change in process – scenes of nature in dynamic flux. Always in flux. There is but a moment to take a breath before another change asserts itself.

I am departing a slow season. One where days stretched and answers were slow. Voices prattled about productivity and worth and earning one’s keep, tricking the mind. The slow seasons are important, crucial – a still space to learn the rhythms of grace, to hone imperfect patience, to shore up defenses in preparation for the call that will not relent. The slow seasons seem long, but when the go ahead is given, no amount of slow can prepare for the good and abundant and frenetic activity that befalls.

These years of staying home as mom offered me the luxury of focusing on the kids and myself. I had other things here and there that fulfilled me, while knowing I was doing the good work of raising the next generation and caring for our home. But now, here I sit, on the cusp of starting and pastoring a church. It’s a lot and it’s everything. It’s all the good things.

And so, all of a sudden, the season has shifted. A gust of wind and the leaves are gone, we now await the snow. Quiet days while the kids attend school have now morphed into meetings and deadlines and phone calls and emails in a few short days. The onramp feels like it never existed. The runway shortened. What happened?

We think we know what to expect when the shift happens. We think we’ve anticipated and planned and yearned enough that the discomfort of the adjustment is abated. But no. In all my years living this life I can’t think of one thing that went as I expected.

As a One on the Enneagram I carry a permanent expectation of perfection. I believe there is an ideal way to execute most things (well, really, all things). Parenting, marriage, relationships, life all bear a weight that I carry. I must do it perfectly. And when the myth is busted, I believe the lie. I assume it’s my fault. I’m deficient. I’m broken.

Growth isn’t pretty. Growth hurts. I go to the gym three times a week and I’m always dealing with an annoying twinge. I always have sore muscles and tired legs. I’m not injured, I’m just uncomfortable, yet I’m growing stronger. I feel it when I lift a bag of chicken feed or I hug my kid tight. I feel it when I run and I am held together. I feel it when I have a rest day and I return and everything is easier. Growth hurts, but is so rewarding.

I am gonna have to figure out how to be kinder to myself, how to roll and set aside the notion of any perfection. It’s such a myth. There is no best way to do anything. We do what we do how we do it, with our foibles and failures, our wins and successes. This is all we are guaranteed.

A church is getting planted. It is happening, sooner than we can be prepared for, I’m sure. But you know what? Isn’t this where we all want to be? In a place where we’re met, where God greets us in our odd and messy humanity, in our mixed motivations, and ideal expectations. Trust is hard. It’s easy to get antsy, to take matters into our own hands and finagle outcomes. But I’m not sure that’s the best way.

The season of wait is a great teacher. There isn’t much forcing you can do and there sure isn’t much you can control. Patience and courage and honesty are forged in the fires of wait. The exact ingredients one needs when life ramps up.

Just as the seasons shift, the beauty shifts, too. And each new season is met with anticipation – changing leaves, first snow, springtime flowers, late night barbecues. And each season has its hassles – brown stalks, frozen pipes, muddy dogs, hot nights. We can focus on the pain or we can focus on the gains.

Or we can focus, as we often do, on a little bit of both.

 

When We Were Girls

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The Church says: the body is a sin.

Science says: the body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

Typing, I observe my hands, unadorned but for a gold band to mark the years of marriage and life together. I now must wear reading glasses, viewing anything closer than the length of my outstretched arm is tricky. My jeans are a size bigger than I’d prefer, they bag and sag at the right places, allowing freedom of movement. I began coloring my hair, the gray decided to make its entrance post-election, while in the throes of parenting at peak teenager-dom. My face is lined, normal for a Colorado-dwelling 45 year-old. I could do something to smooth over the hard-earned etches, but I hate making appointments.

I gaze at my face in the mirror, picking and pulling at this and that. The person staring back surprises me, for I half expect a young girl to be reflected. How is it that I’m the one to make important decisions and raise teenagers and be married for nearly a quarter of a century? Surely these benchmarks are for someone far more qualified than I. While in my heart and mind I feel young, all I have to do is look down at my legs or my hands to be reminded I am on the better side of middle age.

But as I look down at my legs and hands I am grateful for this body, this container I have. We’ve been through some tumultuous times and I am now able to appreciate her generosity, her adaptability. I was gifted a healthy, sturdy form. She carries me where I need to go, she’s a hard worker and creative, preparing me well for birthing and rearing babies. She is of good stock.  Health and old age abound within her lineage, although possibly shortened some by that pesky Diet Coke habit.

As my shape began to shift, around the age of ten or eleven, I took meticulous inventory before the wide bathroom mirror. I resisted and lamented as thighs rounded and breasts formed. I was never one of those girls that longed for womanhood. I was afraid. I wanted to remain young, carrying the shape of a child – undefined, vertical, edged. For in becoming round, I knew I was vulnerable, threatened. Body now rendered noticeable, open for criticism, available for critique, fair game for commentary.

This week, the news from Hollywood and the legislation from Washington has me reliving this vulnerability. As women emerge with firsthand testimony about abuse and assault, subjected by a man and his lackeys who carried power over dreams, careers, bodies, I am reminded once again our bodies are not revered. Our bodies are not to be managed by us.

These egregious actions and decisions remind us our bodies are threatened. For when one of us is violated, we are all violated, knowing we each are equally at risk. No industry is loyal to us. We know deep, down to the core of our marrow that we are the target, fair game for scrutiny at best and physical violation at worst.

And even at 45 my body is still fair game. I still feel vulnerable. I still feel the eyes. I’m still that young girl checking every new crease and bump for signs of failure or success. My body is my scoreboard, the points marked across each dimple and exposed rib, across the stretched lines from the babies to the wrinkles on my hands. We have been conditioned to believe our bodies are our currency, our bodies are our measure of success, our bodies are our ticket to approval.

And I wonder, with the amount of time trying to beat my body into submission through relentless exercise and poor nourishment and hate-filled thoughts, what toll has this taken?

Yet through it all as I learn my body and her generous offerings, my deep appreciation grows. She leads our reunification after the divorce which commenced upon the rounding. She teaches me about the gut rumble, the sixth sense, an alert to something amiss. She forgives for choosing carrots over hamburgers, for selecting a run over a rest day. I make efforts at peace, offering her kindness, consideration, listening, regard. I offer up reassurance of my mutual commitment to our reconciliation through pants that don’t pinch, through mammograms, and long showers. I wear makeup and walk, I smell flowers and hug my children, I lift weights and no longer push through pain. I am heeding her call toward anger and righteous causes. I know she means it when she prods me forward despite my insecurity and sweaty palms. She knows. My body knows my deepest desires.

And no relationship is perfect. The gold band on my fourth finger reminds me of this fact. Yet through forgiveness and reconciliation we – my body and I – continue to press forward.

To my fellow women – I must confess to you my comparisons and measurements. Forgive me. I admire you and I have been unfair. I tried to make deals. I wanted to swap my body for yours. I assumed you were faster, thinner, healthier, happier. But through respecting my own body, I respect yours, I honor yours. May we stand firm together, in appreciation and generosity to ourselves. May we protect one another from the powers that seek to divide. May we link arms, affirming our fearfully and wonderfully made forms, giving thanks for all we’ve been entrusted.

The Best Stories

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“The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”                               – C.G. Jung

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Monday’s dreary chill was an appropriate backdrop to process the horrific events in Las Vegas. The clouds hung low, allowing for the pain and sadness, the questions and pressing hopelessness to run their course. I walked slow with the dog, taking moments to slump over for tears, stopping to look up at the changing foliage to witness the ebb and flow of seasons, the ebb and flow of grief. Such lessons in timelessness are helpful in these vast events of nonsensical human suffering.

Our park is busy, but not on days such as this. I took my chances, let Clem off-leash. She darted and bounded, an appropriate response after a long, slow weekend. After the park loop, I reattached her leash for a neighborhood loop. A familiar friend approached on the path, my neighbor Tony. He was alone, which is unusual, for he and his wife chat up the ‘hood pointing out where our cats were last seen while sharing collected tidbits from recent strolls. His glasses were fogged and his raincoat drippy, with a spring in his step accompanied by a thick and jovial, everlasting New York accent.

We stopped in the street, as neighbors do. He asked how I was after I inquired of his wife and her pained knee. His gentleness caused my face to fold in. After choking on my answer, his ready compassion encompassed me in a fierce embrace, partnered with a bonus kiss on the cheek and generous, kind words of hope. We walked the circuit and I hugged him again, so very grateful for a kind ear and a ready, welcome soul.

The divisions are running long and thick through our communities. But our stories bind us, our compassionate responses will heal these growing rifts.  Our stories send us into the tension, an uncomfortable tension that if we allow, will refine and renew. The tension will make us better as we dwell within the questions and seek the best answers. But we don’t like the unknown. We fear the uncertain. We eschew the uncomfortable. And so to deal with the frustration of not having ready answers we succumb to stereotype, bias. We choose issues over people. We choose progress over persons.

Later that evening, Eric and I attended a debate of our city’s mayoral candidates. My socks were not knocked off with excitement, but I know the importance of involvement in local politics. I know my sense of powerlessness comes from waiting on Washington, rather than participating in the soil of my own community, seeking change from the ground up. I listened, open-minded, seeking information about the concerns that press an expanding town. The issues were discussed, issues of homelessness and development, affordable housing and water. The nuts and bolts of a community hashed and rehashed with obvious care and concern.

But, when we paint with the broad brush and reduce our communities to a series of issues, rather than a collection of humans, we lose the color, the spark, the intricacies, the detail. We forget that the people are truly what make our towns and cities and neighborhoods great. When we align ourselves with issues, we lose the spectrum of humanity. We ascribe to binary thinking: good vs bad, right vs wrong, holy vs evil. Yet, when we learn the people, their stories, their situations, their strengths, and their shortcomings we no longer can paint with wide, sweeping motions. No, we have to fine tune, zero in, color in with specific detail.

And absolutely none of this is comfortable. None of this helps us lay our heads on our pillows with glee at the end of a long day. When we consider people over issues, we know the name of the guy on the street corner who doesn’t get a warm, cozy bed. We know the name of the family who just lost their healthcare. We know the name of the young man whose father is being deported next month. We know the name of the transgender teen. We know the name of the daughter gunned down in Las Vegas.

People are messy. But you cannot convince me that I should be anywhere else.

If Tony had written me off Monday, in my grief, as some white lady with too much time on her hands, I would’ve been dehumanized, made less than. I needed him. I needed him to see me, to hug me, to hear me. It didn’t require much, just a stroll around a block and a kind word. We must resist the temptation to categorize, to sort people into groups. I know it’s so easy, cleans things up, gives us space to be. I fight it and fail every single day, but I recognize my tendency and therefore hope for personal reform.

People are people to be seen, to be heard, to be honored in their unique, messy, remarkable stories, stories that involve mothers and fathers, children and siblings. Stories with sordid detail and odd facts. Each person has a story to be revered.

May we listen well, help where we can, and love through our attention to detail, filling in the beautiful, precious landscape of a life.