Preacher Woman

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To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know- all the time- that you must do it again.
― Jeff Arthurs

I have now preached thirteen sermons. I wish I could say I have gained a love for the good work, but I haven’t yet. I suspect it will come, but for now I am still smack dab in the middle of the growth learning curve. For about two days while I’m writing each sermon I get frustrated and annoyed. I’m no fun to live with. Eric stays away and the kids find their corners at opposite ends of the house.

I hope it gets better and I’m glad it’s a calling. But it seems to be a fraught business without a pot of gold at the end of the mythical rainbow. But when I wrestle down the words, delivering them on Saturday nights, I have an odd sense of peace and satisfaction. And the reward grows when I hear how others are impacted. It is good.

As of last count I’ve watched just three of my sermons. It is a terrifying thing to witness oneself on a camera. Paula, my fellow pastor, encourages me to watch myself regularly. She says it’s important to catch the tics before they become habitually embedded. I don’t see too many egregious offenses, aside from how I shift my weight back and forth. It reminds me of how I always held my babies in church – the back and forth rhythmic rocking – to hasten comfort and hopeful sleep. And I’ve noticed in myself and in other mothers, we continue to rock even when our children are far too large to be contained in our arms.

I am not the best objective observer of my hair, my voice pitch, my vocal stumbling, and my body. I suspect few are. It must come with the territory. I often hear of Hollywood celebrities who cannot watch their own movies. If Robert Redford has trouble, I guess I’m allowed to struggle too.

I preached my first sermon in January at the launch of our new church. I was a wreck for the entire week before, crying on a dime, snapping at loved ones, losing sleep. I delivered the sermon fine, made my way through, and heard plenty of positive feedback afterwards. But the worst part was watching myself the next day. I knew it would be rough, so I prepared myself with meticulous care.

Since our church meets on Saturdays, I crawled back into bed Sunday morning at 10:00 with a bowl of plain, comfort M&M’s on my belly. I watched through the slit in my fingers as I would watch a horror movie. The other hand provided a steady stream of chocolate in my mouth as I observed the dreaded truth play on the laptop screen before me.

I stomached the wretched experience for a few brief moments before I broke into tears. It was worse than I expected. All the things were wrong – my voice pitch was too high, my body was wrong, my hair a mess. All of the beautiful anticipation of starting a precious church community was thrown under the bus in one fell swoop as I hit the brick wall of vulnerability.

Knowing the truth about ourselves is never fun. Denial is powerful. And as a woman, the world has pressed into me time and time and time again that my value is in my carefully presented appearance. My value is in my fashion, my size, my outward expression. But I am so much more than that. I exist beyond how I am perceived.

I am in the middle of the book Pure by Linda Kay Klein. As a fellow former evangelical, Klein outlines the shame resulting from the purity culture that has pervaded and poisoned faith communities across the nation. I avoided the eye of the purity culture storm, but absorbed enough to know my body was both my currency and my curse. As the curves of puberty emerged I hid myself in my dad’s tee-shirts. I knew it was my job to prevent the male gaze while also being attractive enough to attract the right male when the time was right. It’s a confusing space to occupy.

These beliefs and resulting shame don’t die easily, and at 46 I still ache with the sadness of the years I lost overwhelmed with trying to shrink while simultaneously trying to be noticed. I concerned myself far too much with how the world perceived me than with my potential, generous offering to the world. The pendulum swing between being too much and too little still reverberates in my body and my first sermon brought all of it back with a vengeance.

But the truth has been revealed. I am not the sum of my perfections and failures. I’m just me. And I like myself. I like the pastor and the person I’m becoming.

And something good is happening. I wanted to watch my sermon from this past Saturday. I sat at my desk sans candy and I took this woman in. I held her and offered her grace as she spoke with power and authority, speaking words that people in pews have needed to hear forever. I liked her.

And as she rocked back and forth, shifting her weight from foot to foot, she held the people. She carried them with her, reminding them all of the generous love that is theirs to claim.

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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Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com

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.

Is She Going to Make It?

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“The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Audre Lorde

So far I’ve preached nine sermons. Each one is a birth – the preparation a labor, the delivery a relief. I preached this past spring on the relationship between Mary and Martha, and how as a Christian woman I’ve been coached over the years to believe that being a Mary is the Christian woman’s ideal, our gold standard. It is very confusing to me, as someone who carries significant parts of both Mary and Martha that Jesus would appear to rebuke Martha, while uplifting Mary. Wasn’t Martha just doing what she was supposed to do as an obedient women in the patriarchal culture of the day? I too can sit at Jesus’s feet, but I also know the importance of being productive, while respecting the tick-tock of the clock. As a mother with three children, pastoring a church, there are things to accomplish and gazing at Jesus all day wouldn’t fly well with my family and co-pastors.

The premise I offer is Jesus, in touting Mary’s dedication, is instead upending the patriarchal expectations of the day and inviting Martha to be with him. Jesus is inviting her into a relationship of restoration and renewal, of respect and inclusion. Jesus is calling to her toward rest – a luxury, I suspect.

We women still function within this patriarchal model. We rank ourselves in a room based on our bodies and accomplishments, our clean and wonderful children, the lines on our face, and grey in our hair. We participate in gossip to equalize the room, while injuring ourselves with fear of saying too much and doubt in our abilities. We try to play the patriarchal game too, but since our power is minimal in the world of men, we operate out of shame. We operate out of scarcity. We operate out of self-deprecating humor and downright anger.

And as I navigate this new world of pastor, the world of men is real. Many church systems have been built on the metrics of men – numbers, quality control, timeliness, etc. Churches, on the outside, are efficient, tidy, and things get done. Programs are built, meetings are had, people are processed in the name of Jesus. All contributing to the bottom line and to the good of the organization. If a church is growing, it must be healthy right?

The Church is equal parts She and He, and yet we function in this masculine-centric hierarchy oftentimes no different than any other system or corporation in America. And I wonder, is She going to make it? Is the Church going to come through this crisis of culture?

Only if we can return to our feminine roots – to the Church as a redeemed Martha.

I am now in the company of many remarkable and accomplished and talented women who adore Jesus. All would qualify as both Mary and Martha, the best of both. These women are building and leading and pastoring and mothering, redefining the hope of the Church, redefining the hope of the world. We are redefining the metrics, seeking abundance, setting aside the tapes of scarcity that speak messages of our worth being defined by appearance and accomplishment and age. Our worth is defined because we are.

Abundance is untrustworthy and suspicious. We are conditioned to believe there must be be winners and losers. Abundance is a new and unwieldy language that supersedes metrics. With no rank or hierarchy, abundance declares there’s enough with plenty of room at the table. But as women, as the Church, we have to reclaim abundance. The metrics of rank have no place in this space, it’s too beautiful and open. We cannot translate the patriarchal game of ranking and measuring, a foreign language of gibberish. Playing the game kills our souls and reduces our offering. This feminine work cannot entirely be computed or grasped, measurable data cannot define. This feminine work is ethereal and spiritual and air and light, weighty and fierce in the best of ways. Abundance is mother. Abundance is tender. Abundance is fierce. And abundance is an all-encompassing force of Love.

The shameful messages of scarcity in this patriarchal church culture are real and pervasive. And the She of the Church is suffering. She is withering under the current weight of the game. She won’t hold much longer. She can no longer compete over who has the best fashion or the cleanest children or masculine metrics. She must unleash and become Herself. She must know what it means to sit longingly at Jesus’s feet, while knowing her worth and value are in being, while affirming the beings of everyone else. She cares not for the accomplishments and the efficiency. She cares for the whole of people, the healing of the world.

She is a Mother.

Becoming and Being Me (by way of the dermatologist).

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If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
T.S. Eliot

It seems the Colorado sun has taken its toll. I had to visit the dermatologist today for some suspicious patches that need attention. As a person of English heritage, my skin didn’t turn out the olive tone of some, with an even distribution of color. The golden summer hue of youth has been replaced with pigmented spots and clumps, with no concern for my vanity.

I had a bump excised on the border of my upper lip and the numbing agent has worn off. Smiling hurts. I like to smile. It is my tried and true greeting, my main way of revealing my friendliness. Just as my dog bows her head before another in greeting, smiling is my pronouncement of submissive goodwill.

While skin concerns and dermatologist visits seem to be the collateral damage for an active, healthy lifestyle in this great state, I don’t like to lose my way of being me in the world. Smiling works for me. People succumb to my kind face. I don’t want to lose even for a moment the way I operate as me, no matter how small.

But there come times we all need to challenge and face our coping mechanisms. We have to ask ourselves why we do what we do and if it’s actually helpful or harmful.

I’ve resumed counseling these past couple months, participating in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. For those of us (all of us) who’ve experienced trauma, this practice is used to shift the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, re-forming these beliefs through reprocessing. We all operate from maps constructed to navigate through trauma, but as we mature the maps are no longer useful and in fact can become harmful.

While each session has left me somewhat disoriented and worn out, I know my brain is doing good work – pushing and striving to function as it was designed.

While I’m still in the middle of the work, I’ve noticed my negative beliefs about myself are waning, and the coping mechanisms I’ve clung to are lessening. As I trust my senses more, listening to my body, I notice that I am responding to desires and longings rather than the old recycled messages that bump around like sneakers in the wash with nowhere to go.

But this, oddly, comes with a sense of loss. How I operate as me in the world, while not always helpful, is familiar. Am I now destined to a life of laziness, without purpose as I set aside striving and proving? What if I don’t choose to compete anymore? Will I lose all motivation? There is so much blank space here, that has left me with more questions than answers. And as far as I can tell this is a risky business, disrupting that which seems to work – for now anyway.

To lay down the proving and striving and scarcity is a risk. I thought I had to be that Yes! person, the one who was game for a challenge. The one who was envied. The one who won. And now being the Yes! person makes me cranky and tired, resentful. There is so much for me to do in the world that involves me being myself, searching and waiting for that which delights. I want to be how I was made, serving who I’m built to serve, loving who I’m built to love, feeding who I’m built to feed.

Maybe it’s maturity that comes with age, the cycling and recycling that happens when we live long enough to see similar patterns in the lives around us. Maybe it’s the letting go. But my belief that I’m not enough, that has pushed and prodded me for decades, is on its way out. And the blanks are filling with a person who seems to be more rested and renewed, committed to life and love and beauty and wholeness. A person desiring to discover herself.

Our coping mechanisms – smiling, eating, drinking, pleasing, proving, you name it – they get us through. Thank God for them. They’ve served us well, keeping us safe in uncertain and frightening times. But a day will always come when these coping mechanisms become tools of division, separating us from the people and the work we love, as well as separating us from our own true selves.

I have too much to do in the world, in my home, in my person to get by with just coping. Now is the time to live, to truly live. I will not give up smiling, but for now it hurts, so I might curtail it some. And in the meantime, I’ll rest up, heal my body, and continue the good work I have begun.

An Iffy Fourth

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I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
― James Baldwin

It is no surprise I wrestle with holidays – a long standing theme in my life, has been for many years. For some reason rallying for another thing feels unnecessary and more than I choose to manage. Maybe I’ll grow out of it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m just lazy, but my family doesn’t seem bothered  so I guess I’m good.

Despite my bah humbug tendencies, I still enjoy a good barbecue and municipal fireworks display. But yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday felt different. Heavy and weighed, a firm reminder of where we are not as a people. The past three weeks have been most difficult as I’ve imagined myself a young mother separated from my precious babies, after journeying an uncertain and intrepid course for months. I knew it was going to get bad, I just didn’t think it could get this bad. And the holiday rubbed my nose in the mess just a little bit more.

And before we accuse one another of lacking patriotism, I would challenge us to consider these inscribed words:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

These words are a prescription, an invitation to a nation that has lost its way.

As we prepare to launch our child from childhood to adulthood, I’m reminded of the early days of parenting iron-willed infants and toddlers. In this new-to-me sweet spot, I am celebrating the pay off of those desperate years. Screaming through every aisle of Target, testing at every turn, begging for every toy, the hopeless days were endless. Weeping in the shower at 6:30 AM, facing a day ahead with the despair of emptiness as my guide, my soul and body were wringed out from the screaming, testing, and begging. No amount of coffee, Diet Coke, McDonald’s cheeseburgers or M&Ms could sustain me to bedtime.

And the darkness pressed in, striving to envelope and declare my mothering inept and unqualified to lead this band of miniature tyrants through to the next Bob the Builder episode. I had no vision for the possibility that this work could ever render a set of teenagers with generosity and intelligence, capable of nuanced discourse. But it happened. And while I’m not out of the woods, I see the light. The once intrepid path is now about course corrections not parental overhauls.

Despite the darkness, the lonely, ominous and altogether torturous days never stole my ideals. I knew who I wanted to raise. I knew what I wanted them to become. And I fought like hell to get them there. It is now time to celebrate my part in their formation.

And now, as a dedicated citizen of this United States of America, I will fight like hell for our ideals because I love this place. I believe in this grand experiment and I welcome and trust our becoming. The words inscribed on the plaque penned by Emma Lazarus are in my bones. This is who we long to be, who we are at our best.

But the darkness is unrelenting, threatening and trying to envelope, to declare us inept and unqualified to lead this band of sisters and brothers. But it doesn’t have to. We know who we want to raise. We know what we want to become.

I see examples all around me – from the teachers in my kids’ classrooms, to the families shopping at the grocery store with coupons and SNAP benefits, to friends at the gym offering encouragement and bantered conversation, to neighbors caring for each others’ blown over trash cans.

I read about examples all around us – from the organization RAICES seeking to reunite separated immigrant families, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who faced a ten-term democratic incumbent in the Bronx to potentially be the youngest Congressperson serving in the House of Representatives, to average people marching on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning.

The darkness wrings us out, revealing the demand for lament and truth telling, admitting our historical wretchedness. The power of our collective joins to grow this nation up – to become a just and merciful, compassionate and generous, informed and .hopeful United States of America.

May we live into our ideals as the patriotic citizens we are becoming.

Swallows of Joy

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When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.
― Fred Rogers

Today is hot. I’m practicing the art of stillness to hold back the floodgates of sweat. It’s a useless endeavor, but if I can remain shower fresh for more than a moment, I win. Summertime is here. The lawn is no longer its lush, squishy green from rain. We now have hot days and warm nights, rain a rarity. My running pace lengthens as my sleep lessens. While I appreciate the longer days, I start to miss the chill.

Over the past seven years we have left the heat of the Colorado Front Range, spending weeks at our cabin in the mountains. But this year is different. With three teenagers invested in friends, jobs, and planning for college, along with my new church and career, leaving is not an option. The spontaneous days of packing up and taking off are over. The long days of restless youth requiring distraction are over. The strings of lazy summer days watching basement movies in the dark are over. Summers now looks strangely familiar to the rest of the year, except for longer days, sleepless nights, fewer clothes, and no school, of course.

I don’t think I am grieving this shift. I love the ages of my children as they become and gain independence. I love my work at Left Hand Church and the people I get to grow with into community. I love being home and tending to an infant garden and a pair of flower boxes and a host of plucky chickens. All brings respite to my soul in these tumultuous and confusing times.

I think the simplicity and purpose of my present life brings me joy, in the seeming small but most essential of ways.

And in these days fighting for joy is essential – as if our lives depend on it. We don’t get to fall victim to the bafflement and gaslighting of this administration. We have to do everything in our power to grasp joy through gratitude, self-care, friends and family, good food, flowers, decluttering, exercise.  Our greatest act of resistance – to participate in this subversive mining.

Joy is nonsensical. Joy throws people off their game. And joy, my friends, goes far beyond happiness. Happiness settles small with good hair and lost weight and fashionable clothes and new shoes and well-behaved children. We’ve got to get underneath the surface, to the foundations of our existence. And even though we wrestle hard with pain and despair and the tendrils of fear – joy is our savior. Joy is our hope. Joy is our resistance.

These days, seeking to be a well-informed citizen is so hard. As we balance on this precipice of being wide awake, the temptation is to creep back, to stay safe. I get it for there is a time for this. But, for those of us with privilege, we have a great responsibility to our democracy and to one other. If we have privilege, we have a duty to remain informed, to feel, to be curious, to seek. And if we have privilege, we also get to take a break, see a movie, drink a beer, and laugh with friends. We get to escape to the cool of the mountain air, and we get to find hope in gardens and chickens and flowers.

This past week I took a walk on my usual route. I hopped on the bike path that winds me toward the peaks. I let my gaze bounce back and forth across the path, upwards towards the fluttering leaves and the silky clouds. I chose to listen to a podcast, but othertimes I need the sounds of nature to process the rattles in my brain. These walks heal as I wrestle with the fears and temptations that threaten to render me impotent.

I came to the underpass, about a mile in. Every year swallows return and rehabilitate and rebuild their nests along the creek corridor in the still darkness of the tunnel. Last year the nests were all destroyed, dumped into the shallow water below. I grieved and I lamented the callous stupidity, while also holding room for the possibility of a bored youngster with nothing better to do.

But this past week, the birds were back, each pair engaged in the diligent work of rehabilitation and rebuilding. Darting, diving, swooping, collecting tiny beakfuls of mud, the pairs operating in tandem to recreate their little lives under the bridge. I stood awed, grateful. Hope restored. Joy. The smallest thing, a thing of instinct, of subversive survival and resistance.

It all matters, friends.

We know what to do. It’s time to stop second guessing and wondering if we’re too much or if our feels are inconvenient for the stoic amongst us. Our instinct is to love, protect, return, rehabilitate, and build. May we find joy in the seeming small for this might be where our greatest hope lies.

Carry on friends. We’ve got good work to do.

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The Myth of Bravery

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“Harry – you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I come to this, my regular blog post with healthy trepidation. I am unsure how to make sense of the separation of parents and children on our border. And I’m hesitant to say, “This is not who we are.” Because it absolutely is who we are. Our sordid past of separating Indigenous, black, and brown children from their parents is written into our genetic code as a nation. We are this. We have always been this.

The hopelessness of it all can feel debilitating. We hear the cries and read the stories and feel the feels. We parents remembering the constant hand on the cart in Target, imagining everyone a threat to our precious baby. The toddler darting out and getting lost for a brief second causing us to stop, catch our breath, hold our chest to somehow gather our body’s bits back together. The teenager unresponsive to texts and calls in the middle of the night, our imaginations taking us down treacherous paths.

Brown parents at the borders feel the same as white parents. The fear is the same. The parental bond is the same. We don’t have to use our imaginations to know the terror – different circumstances, same emotions.

So, what do we do? What can we do?

Today while in conversation with a friend I deeply respect and admire, she lamented she didn’t know where to begin, saying, “I’m not an activist, or a revolutionary. I’m not brave.”

I was surprised and taken aback by her statement. This woman wades into all kinds of deep waters on social media. She’s informed. She feels. She knows. She is caring and loves her family and friends well. She is all kinds of brave.

And I realized something. In these times, as we gulp information from the firehose of news, it is normal to feel subpar, to feel like we lack bravery. We ingest data and information at far greater rates than we were made for. We remain informed. We love our children. We care for our neighbors. We engage the conversations in person and online. We are present and ready and deeply impacted by the events in our nation. We use our imaginations and engage our empathy. We weep and mourn and pray and seek solutions and reputable charities. We give. We read. We feel. We are brave.

This is our work, to remain an informed republic, to question assumptions that seem inaccurate, to post links and comments and opinions and questions. This is our duty. We may not be able to march or litigate or reunite, but we can feel and learn and contribute.

I will hand it to the activists. They are on the front lines pushing and pressing, navigating policy and government and institutions. They are heroes. But some of us aren’t able. We will accomplish bits and pieces, but we won’t lead the charge. This does not make us less brave, for we all have our things and we all have our place in the milieu of human goodness and forward progress and collective consciousness.

As a new pastor I am discovering the great importance of discernment. Sometimes I can go and sometimes I must stay. Sometimes I can fight and sometimes I must rest. Sometimes I can yell and sometimes I must remain silent. And when things press hard like they are this week, as I replay the cries of babies and toddlers over and over in my mind, imagining and reimagining the terror of losing my child, I have to remember we each have a job. We each have a role to play in this grand narrative that is rehearsing right before our eyes. We each have questions to ask of the people in our communities and we each have calls to make to our government representatives. We have jobs, defined and clear jobs.

Now is not the time to believe the lies that inform our ability or effectiveness or bravery. No! We are each able and effective in the ways before us. Never underestimate the power of a phone call or a letter or a conversation or a hug. Never underestimate the power of a firm stance taken online or in person. Never underestimate a blog post. Never underestimate a “like” or a “retweet”. All contributes to the greater good.

I was perusing my Facebook feed last night before bed and an old friend mentioned how much she appreciates the “Snooze ____ for 30 days” feature in Facebook when certain issues reach a fever pitch. I couldn’t help but assume she was alluding to the current immigration situation.

I now know how crucial an informed public is. And I’m sure we all have our echo chambers. But you know what? My echo chamber is not a comfortable place. My echo chamber is full of people challenging me and pushing me to learn and grow and become in my knowledge of how to be a better human in this world. My echo chamber is not safe. It’s scary in there – all the activists and faith leaders and people of color and brilliant learners. I do not find rest in my echo chamber.

And I don’t want to find rest in there. I want to find discomfort. I want to be pushed and prodded to vulnerability and humility, for this is what bravery looks like.