Feeding Donuts to Babies

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A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.
― Carl Sandburg

I walked this morning with my neighbor, Jen, and her baby, Scout.  Since I was down a dog today, it was just Clementine and I. So, I pushed the jogger while Jen finished her coffee. As I looked down through the opening at the top of the stroller, I caught a glimpse of Scout’s roly poly leg. Nothing to see but rolls between the top of her sock and the edge of her diaper.

There are few things more delicious than the pudgy rolls of baby arms and legs. These rolls offer me rest, for there are few things better than witnessing the appropriate care and feeding of a baby. To know a child is nourished in body and soul is evidence of love and nurture. I feel relief and deep, deep satisfaction.

Maybe it’s my Enneagram One, I don’t know, but I bear many burdens. I often earn quizzical looks from friends and family as they question if my bleeding heart will withstand the load. I feel responsible. I want to fix. I want to make everything better. This is probably why I am a pastor. And as a pastor when the needs rise beyond my personal pay grade I can feel impotent and careless.

My burdens lessen, however, when I align with like-minded individuals who also carry the load, who also long for homes for the homeless, food for the hungry, nurturing spaces for the children, love for the lonely, safety for the bullied. It is a relief, to find people who know and feel and believe in a better world.

This past week I attended two meetings within my city. As civil dialogue simmered around tables in the areas of bullying prevention in schools and the plight of our homeless, I felt a glimpse of hopeful relief. People conversed with care, seeking and exploring possible solutions. As privilege was examined, I sensed an excited empowerment around the tables.

With our current national climate, I remain tempted toward hopelessness. And yet, curious people are gathering around tables with markers and butcher paper spilling their ideas and questions, seeking answers, seeking relief. This is happening across my town and my state. People know the burdens, they feel them to their bones. People are showing up – it does not matter what positions they hold. They are there, marker in hand, questions at the ready. Some are more vehement than others, but they are present. They are curious.

The care and feeding of our communities cannot be done by paid officials, nor can it be done by clergy and churches, or by well meaning activists. The care and feeding of our communities is done by each and every one of us, seeing one another.

After church on Saturday nights a few of us go out to dinner to download and decompress. We recite names, run numbers, and offer praise and constructive criticism after a job well done.

But the best part of our post-church experience is the short walk to the Winchell’s Donuts on the corner of Fifth and Main. Paula always buys herself two donuts, one for dessert and one for breakfast the next day. Aaron hems and haws, and I refuse because I don’t particularly care for donuts. Weird, I know.

Winchell’s is one of few businesses in town who allow our people experiencing homelessness to come in and rest, out of the cold and elements. And oftentimes as Paula is selecting her donuts, one or two folks accept our offer for a donut and coffee.

I know we are not solving their problems. I know we are filling their bellies with caffeine and sugar. I know it’s possible we may have been played. But I also know that when we look a person in the eye, ask their name, banter about the weather, and ask what they’d like to eat, we SEE them. We see that they exist, that they have a name, and that they belong.

If everyone in my town could SEE the people in their spaces, we would not have a huge problem with homelessness or hunger or white supremacy or hatred or bullying.

For the care and feeding of our communities, children and adults alike, it all begins with our eyes.

May we see one another well.

Out of Work

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Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.
― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

My firstborn left for college last week. The grief caught me by surprise. While I love my child, as any good mother does, we haven’t had an easy time together. As my greatest teacher, he pressed and pushed me in uncomfortable ways. He demanded I gaze deep at my assumptions and expectations and make some changes. We had a rough time of it and the challenge persisted until his senior year of high school. But something broke loose. I relaxed. He relaxed. We got along. I stopped being so afraid.

The grief of his graduation and subsequent leaving was not unexpected, but the magnitude leveled me. I have never been a clingy mother, believing the travails of the public school system and wayward friends (within reason, of course) were his greatest teachers. I trusted in the ways of the world and the social apparatus, that they would correct any problematic big fish/little pond tendencies. I was attentive and involved, aware of what I could be aware of, keeping tabs on him, requiring all the things parents require of their teenage boys. I believed him sometimes. And I questioned him all the time. My mother-gut fired with average frequency, investigating on demand with plenty middle of the night cellphone stings. I lost lots of sleep, no more than any other decent parent.

And here I was, deposited at the threshold of grief. The shockwaves of loss rattling my collected demeanor, rendering me unable to speak without choking up. What was this? My child is only forty miles away? I can see him whenever I want. He’s well and excited and responsible.

Three days after his birth I left on a quick grocery store run, leaving him home with Eric. I wasn’t gone long but I was so sad. No longer was he a fixture in my body. No longer was my identity umbilically tied to his. He was now outside my womb.

But as every good mother does, we re-create the womb appropriate with each stage of our children’s lives. I constructed a new womb for my infant – replete with a crib and flannel sheets, bonding, and breastmilk on demand, a warm nurturing home with a sweet puppy, along with infant friends who helped bond the mothers.

And I continued to build wombs, appropriate for each new stage – a toddler womb and a preschool womb, a grade school womb and an odd-shaped middle school womb. The wombs were my offering, my gift, my hope for him to develop into the person at each stage he was to become.

I am a circle. I am a woman who envelops. I hold. My children feel and know my touch. Sometimes it is playful and sometimes it is firm, but my touch is always love. And it is translated as such. I am also a pastor. To hold is my work. I carry, I bear. I am strong and capable of holding great burden. This is my truth, my everyday. I do not fear the complex, I feed on the complex, tumbling and observing as a kaleidoscope of beauty. I am not afraid.

The feminine is weighty, divine, capable of stretching and holding. The feminine knows how to rush in headlong, bringing relief and rest and nourishment. The feminine also discerns, knowing when a particular pain must remain, for our rushing in may short-circuit that which is necessary to bring ultimate healing. Our salve may undermine the good work of suffering. While some burdens are relentless taskmasters, others can be gracious teachers. The feminine knows the difference. The mothers calculate this difference.

My child left. And I don’t want him back for any prolonged amount of time, just yet. I want the world to do its work. I want him to bear the burdens of discomfort and hard work and maybe a small bout or two of hopelessness. I want him to build resilience and grit through sleepless nights and loneliness. I want him to know the burden of pain and grief.

But I also want him to thrive and succeed and learn how to be a good human. I want him to become who he was designed to become, and for this reason this mother must step out. This mother is out of a job, in the old ways. The job description must be re-created and I will do my part while he does his.

My work of womb-restorer and womb-rebuilder has been fulfilled.

I am proud.

Dog Days

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When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.
—Erma Bombeck

Eight months ago we adopted a golden doodle puppy we named Wilson. We already had a lovely golden doodle, Clementine, but she only had eyes for me. We needed Wilson to be a depository of love for our teenagers, in particular our middle-schooler. Those of you who have raised middle-schoolers or are in the process of raising middle-schoolers will understand the desperation that results in adopting a high energy puppy.

Two of our kids have split the duties well – feeding, walking, training, sleeping. But there are times when parents have to step in as obligations rise and duties fall through the cracks. And today, the two Wilson caregivers returned to school. They were out the door early (for them after ten weeks of sleeping at odd hours) and the now ten month old full grown puppy is destructive if he misses his exercise bouts.

I took both dogs for a walk. The dutiful Clementine on my right and the rambunctious Wilson on my left – the training side. Back and forth we go, his relentless pulling met with a jerk and a tug, over and over and over again. And poor Clem, jerked and tugged in reaction. My body bearing the impact as we did this for a couple miles.

The process of training a fifty pound dog can be awful, but the results are well worth it when the puppy energy wanes and the loyalty to a master’s approval grows.

And tomorrow, we drop our oldest off at Metro State University in Denver for college. The relentless bouts of discipline and sleeplessness and jerking and tugging are in our rearview as we celebrate the young man he has become. But those early infant and toddler days were the dog days with no end in sight. The days of letting go and pulling back and resetting and overhauling. Relentless days bordering on hopelessness, redemption found in the fresh washed hair and the footy pajamas. And here we are, an almost nineteen year old emerging into the world embarking on the next chapter.

These are rough days for this mom. My body housed and enveloped his developing body. My home housed and enveloped his developing self. My community housed and enveloped his developing mind. Birthing and re-birthing life is a continual process that is now coming to an end in many ways. I know I will always be a parent and I will always care, I also know it’s time to retreat and release.

I am holding tight the verse in Luke 2:19: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

After the hoopla of birth, as shepherds and angels and farm life surrounded her precious child, Mary trusted. She knew her child would not be hers forever and she held him close, remembering, feeling, holding, surrendering.

The dog days are hard days. They feel relentless and overwhelming. But we can hold faith that God is working to redeem, making all things new. And I believe if let the dog days do their job we will find hope and birth in this most important work of surrender.

We are all in the cyclical process of birthing, re-birthing, growing, becoming. And as we all know – growth is hard. May we rest in being loved and desired as we live the lives we’ve been given to live.

Just as I trust Wilson will figure it out, I trust my children to live the lives they were born to live. I’m getting out of the way, one jerk and tug at a time.

Love Wins. Really?

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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.