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.

 

 

Two Years Later

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We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.

-George Takei

This week was the second anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. I remember discovering the news early during my morning social media perusal just before our drive to church in Denver. As I listened to Mark Tidd, one of the co-pastors at Highlands Church, mention the horror, while confessing he had learned of the tragedy just minutes before, I felt relief. While he didn’t have time to revamp his sermon, he did have the ability to address and offer comfort to a congregation of vulnerable people belonging to the LGBTQ community.

I religiously tracked the news and social media all day on that summer Sunday, garnering information and details, while gleaning from the community conversation. It was all a rudimentary attempt at naming the evil, while trying to offer comfort and condolences to family and friends. It was a painful time that is not over.

Aaron, my fellow pastor, brought up the subject in our staff meeting this week, mentioning he cried in the grocery store earlier that morning, recalling the tragedy’s heartbreak and horror. As a gay man, he is vulnerable and pained. These are his people.

And as our conversation continued, I realized this was the first tragic event that occurred in this country where half of my social media feed didn’t show up. No comment, no “like”, no post. Half of the people I have as “friends” didn’t say a thing. This was the first time I realized our national tragedies may not be considered tragedies by some. Since that recognition, I’ve had many more such instances. We have climbed into our corners, claimed our sides. We have reduced people to issues. How can a person claim forty-nine lives and it not be acknowledged? How can a person perpetrate such terror and bloodshed and we can’t discuss around our dining room tables or in our curated social media lands?

The intersections are too problematic. The fact that the Pulse shooting had such components as Latinx, LGBTQ, night club, Muslim, and guns rendered the topic too loaded for many to be able to own and discuss. A person’s humanity, no longer enough of a requirement for acknowledgement or grief. Of course we see this everywhere now – immigrants, Black Lives Matter, the transgender community, children at borders and in schools. Humanity doesn’t seem to qualify as a valid requirement for respect.

We are watching dehumanization at work.

In Brene Brown’s recent book, “Braving the Wilderness” she discusses the detrimental ramifications of dehumanization:

Here’s what I believe: 1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May. 2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.” 3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman. 4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?” 5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

We all have to be careful. We all have to watch our language, our assumptions. We all have to do better – particularly as increasing tribalism drives us to our corners, solidifying the lines of our divisions. When forty-nine people are gunned down this must draw outrage from every single person who considers themselves human – Christian and non-Christian alike. These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, cousins – all dead. And when half of the people in my own life fail to acknowledge the event, we have a problem. What happened at Pulse that night was a national tragedy. What happened in Santa Fe, Texas last month, and continues to happen in schools and public venues is a national tragedy. What is presently happening at our borders as families are separated and children traumatized is a national tragedy.

We have dehumanized. We have vilified. We have judged and declared ourselves authorities. We say in our churches All Are Welcome but are we? Can we all preach? Can we all lead? If our churches fail to have the conversations that matter in these most divisive of times we may be keeping peace, but we certainly aren’t making peace.

Making peace requires our honest seeking, our question asking, our deep diving. Making peace demands we find the places where people are being oppressed and dehumanized. Making peace invites us to dwell in the messiness of discovery and uncovering.

There have been many many tragic events since the horror in Orlando. So many. And half my Facebook feed still remains silent. Our lack of acknowledgement might just equal our lack of belief that some people just aren’t worthy of our outrage and concern.

May we examine ourselves.

Perish, a Birthday, and a Three-Legged Dog

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Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
Maya Angelou

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week. I have a long and sordid history with birthdays that I will not resurrect in this post, but I will say, after this past May I did not have the wherewithal to rally for yet another event. After a month of anticipating and preparing for the graduation of my firstborn, revisiting the death of my mother 34 years prior, and some additional vulnerability-producing scenarios, I didn’t quite have it in me. But the voices begin and persist, don’t they? The shoulds prattle on about the celebration of life, and choosing joy, and remembering how many have no more birthdays, and being grateful. Needless to say, I was short on perspective and long on shame.

So I went for a walk. Oftentimes I’ll listen to a podcast but I felt the need to work through the whatevers of my situation. I cried and pulled out the last vestiges of grief, for now. I looked up at the sky and down at my shadow, watched the birds dip and dive, checked the mountains for signs, listened to the ducks, stood like a proud mother as my dog splashed in every chance of water. I have a good situation here. My circuitous path is contemplative enough and quiet, surrounded by a growing suburbia with protected open spaces.

And rarely, if ever, in this neighborhood stroll do I find homeless folks.

But on my 46th birthday, I did. It’s a surprising sight over here, but I don’t take issue with our homeless folks. I find their stories fascinating and I try to help here and there when I can. This particular man happened to be tinkering with his bike trailer when I showed up. I stopped on the path and asked how his morning was.

“Shitty.” He said.

I responded quickly with, “Me too. And it’s my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday.”

“What’s your name? I’m Jen.” We shook hands.

“Hi Jen, I’m Perish, because I’d much rather be dead.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Perish. Well, good to meet you. And who’s this?” As a fluffy three-legged dog of Australian Shepherd origin came ambling over to meet my Clem.

“Oh, this is Gracie.”

“And this is Clem.” I replied as I watched the dogs sniff and get acquainted.

He continued on about living in Las Vegas and moving here to pursue more work in construction but he could get paid much better in Vegas. He said he needed to get a shower and a shave. I asked if he was aware of our homeless shelter and he affirmed that he was. I mentioned my husband was very involved in the shelter’s work.

“Oh, well that answers my next question.” He said with a dejected tone.

“What do you mean? What’s your question?” I pressed.

“I wanted to see if you wanted to go out with me tonight.”
And just like that, I was better. I got asked out by a man named Perish and his three-legged dog Gracie, on my forty-sixth birthday. I had now what I needed. Some new perspective and a lilt in my step.

I returned home with minutes to spare before a busy day doing all sorts of Left Hand Church things. My heart was lightened.

I will always have a contentious relationship with my birthday, but in our house we do birthday weeks so as not to place all the expectation on one day. It works better for us all, reducing triggers and disappointments. And I feel this way too for most minor holidays. Spread out the love, minimize the pressure, take it easy.

The day before my birthday, on Monday, I bought new sheets. On Tuesday, I put them on my bed freshly washed and ready to go. I love a new set of sheets, crisp and clean. Later in the day I learned of Kate Spade’s tragic and untimely death. The fresh sheets I put on my bed that birthday morning were from Kate Spade – a brand I have never purchased in my life.

Make of it what you will. She, in her life and in her death, is providing beauty that offers timeless comfort and rest. I will continue to thank her as I lay my head on the pillow tonight and every night until the sheets are frayed and worn. Another birthday lesson, to appreciate the goodness of life’s simple pleasures and comforts.

For what it’s worth, friends, we know not what each person we meet is enduring. We cannot know from a cursory glance or a stilted conversation, but we can certainly be curious. We can receive that which is given, oftentimes not what we were expecting, but a gift nonetheless. Every encounter, big or small,  has the power to change a life. Or at least a day.

And hey, you never know, it could be someone’s forty-sixth birthday and the best thing you can say when asked, How’s your day? is to respond with, Shitty.

 

The Parent Path

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The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.
― Dorothy Parker

As graduation day nears, as the young man marches forth to accept his diploma, I know. I know it’s time. I know he’s ready. I know this summer will be fraught with weirdness as we negotiate a new normal – one that involves an adult man-child and the expectations of a family that still operates according to an odd set of unspoken but agreed upon terms.

I’ve been examining my grief. It’s a helpful thing to observe one’s own emotions without attaching a positive or negative value. My grief, nonsensical at times as grief tends to be, is not borne of fear or loss. My grief seems to be consistent with the ordinary pain of change, infused with a touch of nostalgia for what was.

I have penned plenty about my parenting. The early years were not easy for me and few things rival the difficulty I experienced with toddler and newborn, aside from my mother’s death when I was a child. The truth is, those things that take you to the end of yourself are the things that bring the best kind of pride. This is true of my parenting.

And yet, the hardest years, the best years, result in a human being that must leave. This is the design. But what do we do as parents, with our own growing up, with our own formation and rewiring? Does it go to waste when they launch?

So, what do we do when it is no longer appropriate for a mother or father to supply what mothers and fathers supply? Where does all of this go? We have an endless stream, it seems, of adoration and words and planning and anticipating. We are gifted in remembering the mundanity of odd dates and nonsensical facts. Gifted in anticipating all the horrid tragedies that might occur and planning for every eventuality. We know how to stop and appreciate a fresh bloom or the scent of a memory. We know how to nurture. The mothers and fathers who feel are the mothers and fathers who know. They know the odd way their child’s eyes glass over when they’re sick, they know the odd tone in a voice that needs to spill, they know the twist in their gut when things aren’t adding up and an investigation must ensue.

And tell me. What happens to these skills I’ve developed, the sixth sense I’ve honed? What happens to the gut rumbles and the swirling middle-of-the-night thoughts that crack open the aforementioned investigation? Where do these priceless nuggets, the hidden gems of knowing go when the children disappear? It seems too great a set of skills to squander.

And yet, I’m tired. It is time to release and watch what happens. It is time to see if the man-child will flop or fly, sink or swim. I shrug my shoulders and send him off, into the world to figure it out. I’ve used far too many words as it is, he seems to know everything anyways.

Last week I attended and co-facilitated at the She is Called Conversation in Denver. Fifty women, some mothers, some not – all in touch with their unique beauty and femininity – descended into one room. A holy power displayed itself as our entire femaleness was brought to the table to be examined and celebrated and empowered. And the power of this strength oozed through the created spaces, palpable and heavy, altogether too much to contain for the force and wonder of it all.

This overwhelming, curated beauty will change the world. My work of parent a piece of this beauty, a slice of this offering, for the work is not complete. The world needs mothers. The world needs parents – not to fix, but to nurture, to smooth, to hold accountable with the highest of motivations. Love. This, offered to us by the One who entrusts us to the work of Love and Light in the world, through our being. Not our doing, our being ourselves.

The parent path only exacerbates what already was. My work of mother, of honing these unformed beings, has shaped me deeper into my own becoming. The work of mother and parent curates what is already there – growing wholeness, beauty, and the fiercest fire.

So what do I do as my fledglings fly one by one by one? I dive deeper into who I already am and I continue the work of mother, of parent. I continue the work of Light and Love. I continue the work of being – exactly as I was made to be.

The path of parent is not linear. The path of parent goes round and round and upside and downside and through and over and in. We become, we shed, we realign, and we press into the spaces that need our touch, our questions, our curiosity, and our nurturance. We partner with the need in our communities and offer hope into our spaces. We take our hardened edges, entrusting them to the smoothing of compassion and mercy. Through empathy we seek to understand and find the intersections – where light seeps into the cracks of our community’s connections.

The path of parent is one of pouring out and filling up. Emptying and filling on repeat.

The path of parent demands reverence. The mistakes, the successes, the failures have all intertwined themselves into a beautiful milieu of humanity that pulsates with life. New life with shared purpose, building anew our communities and spaces.

May we believe in what we know, what rumbles in our bellies. May we with confidence look upon the successes and failures and mistakes and believe in homecomings and second chances and redemptive resurrections.

Love.

The Parent Pain

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Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.
Debra Ginsberg

In 2007 I trained for a marathon with the express goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I knew I had to run a sub 3:45:59 for my age, so I trained and plotted for this eventuality. One never knows how the marathon distance will go – latent injuries may crop up, a nutritional issue, dehydration, unanticipated weather. So one may train to a tee but race day will deliver it’s own set of circumstances. Sometimes overcoming is an option and other times not. I hit the race in Fort Collins with a hefty set of nerves, but I knew I was prepared and strong. I was well tapered, the weather cold and perfect, my nutrition and hydration were dialed in, and my body felt as good as it was gonna feel.

As the miles clicked along I stuck to the presumed pace, keeping tabs on my heart rate and breath. I knew I could do quite well, that a qualification was possible but it would be close. This particular marathon began twenty-six miles out of the town of Fort Collins in the foothills. It is a solid qualifier because the first fifteen miles are comprised of a hefty downhill grade through the river canyon. In early May as the fresh snowmelt raged below, the scenery invited relief through beauty, to offset the growing and gnawing aches. My primed legs turned over at a generous clip on the asphalt roads, allowing the downhill to do its work.

Things turned at mile sixteen, as they often do in a marathon. The roads went flat exiting the canyon, and by mile 20 – the final 10k – the race meandered along low-populated bike paths. Absolute boredom was mixed with absolute pain and willpower. Each mile, at this point, a slog. The race was small, so few people provided company along the concrete, barren path. I closed my eyes and counted to 100 over and over and over again, ticking down the final miles. I knew I was still on track to qualify but it was tight. I had no room for margin.

The final mile into downtown was a gift. People lining the roads with enthusiastic cheering, music blaring, my family. I crossed the finish line at 3:44 – a handful of seconds to spare.

I qualified for Boston!

I qualified and I cried. The effort exhausted me. The desire overwhelmed me. The weight of it all overtook me. I cried. Eric was at the finish and held me in my sweaty mess as I wept.

And the pace of parenting continues on, marching to the end of the road. And all the sleepless nights, and miles and miles of pacing across floors with sick baby, and plodding through stores, and to and from school, and hiking mountain peaks, and learning how to ride a bike, and back and forth to the potty and timeouts and kitchen for snacks – the pace of parenting adds up. Teenagers exerting their will. Toddlers exerting their will. All of it takes a toll, but yet we still slog – through the beautiful vistas and the boring bike paths – all of it adds up, the measure of each day determined by full bellies and clean diapers and too many screens.

The relief of it all intermixed with the grief of it all. The end of a life as we know it with the child is real and imminent and altogether remarkable.

And grief is never wrong. Grief is total, demanding attention, demanding release, demanding our entire being. Rarely is grief invited, she just shows up, ushering us into the memories and the truth of the new realities of both loss and change and new.

Grieving in May is a cruel joke, in my opinion. It just doesn’t make sense. Finally spring after the long winter, burgeoning color in abundance, a season of gratitude and wonder and new beginnings…and yet, grief. Change demands grief. New beginnings demand grief. Always.

And so I do. I grieve. I cry at a moment’s notice. The tears spring forth without invitation and I am relegated to weeping my way through middle school orchestra concerts and hikes in the mountains and random conversations at the gym. My tears know no appropriateness, they just flow, and I am ushered by their journey, through the canyons of snowmelt, plodding along, carried.

My child is ready and so am I. We have paced well and the end is near. And while it’s all good and the qualifications have been met, the celebration of our life together, the accomplishment of his journey and mine requires too many feels for any given day. And so I let it happen, for the marking of the next chapter as a mother is usually done with tears.

Parenting can sometimes be downhill – some of us get easy moments or easy kids – but those miles catch up to us afterwards. And sometimes parenting is uphill, the kids that challenge us at every turn, we have strong muscles from all the fight and press. And sometimes parenting is just plain boring – distractions and willpower employed to maintain sanity and internal peace. It’s all there.

And now the finish line for us is near. And the tears flow.

Find me, I’ll give you a hug. We can weep together, for the weirdness and the wonder and the beauty of it all.

The Parent Pace

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Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.
Anne Frank

I have run nine marathons. I have trained for and completed a full Ironman. I know what it means to pace myself. I recognize the importance of managing heart rate and effort and nutrition and expectations to get myself across the finish line. Sometimes I met expectations, sometimes I exceeded them, sometimes I fell far short. All attempts taught me something about managing my body and my effort. I know to start out slow and pick a point at which to pick it up. When I had a coach, we measured my effort based upon lactate threshold and heart rate training. And in order to be competitive the effort demanded I operate within a tension – taking a risk and pushing beyond what I thought possible, while remaining attentive to my body’s data.

I loved the training and the challenge. I often compared my times to other women of similar ability and strove to push myself farther and faster in an attempt to match their accomplishment. I learned a great appreciation for my body and for the power of effort and the power of recovery.

And while these pacing lessons served me in the act of achieving in physical competition, they have served me more in the act of living, specifically in the act of parenting.

The importance of maximizing effort and energy when effort and energy are demanded is a key component in sustenance. There are times to double down and dig in heels and times to let go and just be. There are times to let some things slide and other times to make the point – again. There are times to speak and other times to listen. There are times to yell and scream and point and other times to walk away. All of it matters. All of it requires intuition and discernment. And none of it will be done to perfection. The work is strategic. No-one can anticipate difficulty or tragedy or trouble, but we can view what is before us and make a rudimentary plan, a plan that is fluid and breathable, elastic. I believe this is the beauty of wisdom.

And how much do we hang onto as parents that isn’t ours to hang onto?

As I observe my eldest march ever closer to the end of his life with us as we know it, ready to embark and leave our home, I am once again reminded of the imperative that the primary goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job.While I know we will always be his parents and we will always carry concern and cash, the first ones present in any major crisis or celebration, our influence is minimal. This has been true for awhile now. This steady march, this countdown is a reminder to let go.

This is our last act as parents of this child as we know him. This job description has an end date.

Brooks has not been our easiest child, nor is he fully cooked, but this final year has proved to us that he is ready. He is aware of the expectations and responsibilities before him. As we have removed ourselves more and more from G.P.A. and test scores and scheduling and family demands and curfew, I have also removed Brooks from being an extension of my value and worth as a mother, as a human. He has been the main factor in determining my unnecessary expectations and smashing them to bits.

His job is to become himself. His job is to go into the world and learn and navigate. His job is try things on and reject or include. While I still hold my job title of Mom it now comes with a caveat: …but he’s in college and he no longer lives with us.

This tension of parenting a young adult, not yet fully formed, demands risk. The entire grand experiment could fail miserably, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s time. And oh my word, I guarantee I’ll be a wreck, for eighteen years feels simultaneously far too short and far too long. The paradox of parenting. But I’m in the final stretch – the finish line is just around the bend. I can hear the crowd cheering, the music is pumping hard in time with my detached feet. My chest burns, my heart pounds. I have paced well. The tears of relief and gratitude and wonder track my salted cheeks. It’s time.

I guess the universe delivers that which serves us most. And I was dealt a remarkable boy who made me, me. I am grateful for the work of parenting Brooks – from Day One he defied expectations and forced me to tackle my presuppositions and the affirmation of me. He has brought me to the end of myself while also being a great teacher. I am who I am because of this child. None of it easy. All of it good. I have not the vocabulary to describe my gratitude.

Three more weeks to graduation.

I have paced well.

All the Hats

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Wide brimmed and narrow, some tall, some not, some fancy, some colorful, some plaid, some plain. She doted on changing hats at every opportunity. When she met the Prince, she was wearing one hat, when he asked her for a stroll, she excused herself, shortly to return wearing another, equally flattering.
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Oh the hats. I am two months in to this new church. Some downs, mostly ups, but adjustments. Always adjustments in the land of building a new community, of tending to a newborn. I am where I’m supposed to be, the call is real and true and alive. I am navigating my way through the many hats – in no particular order: mother, sister, wife, citizen, pastor, woman, daughter, neighbor, friend. I am thankful for the work I’ve done over the years to integrate my many roles into one mostly friendly, high expecting, somewhat suspicious (reserved for children and teenagers, and a few grown-ups), often inappropriate, adult human.

I’m not much of a hat wearer. With thick hair, my head sweats too much and I overheat. But sometimes I need a hat to catch the sweat and block the sun, keeping the number of skin cancer surgeries to a total of 1. Hats can be decorative or functional, defining an outfit. Hats can be commonplace or obnoxious, making statements with slogans and style.

We all wear hats. We can’t be everything to everyone all the time. We have our roles, how we portray ourselves in the world. Hats provide boundaries and protection, chosen proportionate to the level of accumulated trust.

My hats are all me – authentic and true me. Switching up our hats with circumstance and people and mood does not minimize authenticity. Switching up our hats builds trust as we navigate our roles in community.

I like visors for when I’m feeling risky, when I know vulnerability is needed and I have to reveal some honesty. I like the adequate protection of the visor – protection from the sun and elements. The bill reminds me to be respectful and generous, curious and kind. I am always aware I’m wearing a hat, but the visor allows me to reveal myself in ways other hats won’t allow. I have fewer restrictions and can show up in a true and authentic manner. I prefer to wear visors all the time, but I am not always afforded this luxury.

The cowboy hat is donned when it’s my job to be on the job, when I’m preaching or speaking or connecting or hosting. Wit and wisdom and hospitality are the name of the game and this hat reminds me to show up, to bring it. The hat doesn’t come off until everyone leaves and I get to put my hair in a ponytail while I do the dishes, with my three-sizes-too-big sweatpants.

When I wear my striped stocking cap, it means I’m being kind to myself. Comfort and self-care are at the top of the docket. In this land of aches and hurts, I show up real and ready to grieve and lament and process pain. In these empathetic spaces, tears flow with the wine. And these spaces demand all of me, ready to give and receive love and comfort and hope.

My baseball cap is a little ratty and frayed. This is my “get down and dirty” cap, my long-hiking cap. We have work to do, let’s do it. Roll up the sleeves, let’s figure some shit out. I don’t feel attractive nor do I look attractive, but it doesn’t matter. The baseball cap is for cleaning out closets, inspecting the nitty gritty, finding the needle in the haystack. When I wear this cap I am all about discovery and curiosity and listening and engagement. It might be over coffee or it might be over beer, but we get work done. I may get a little inappropriate – to relieve tension – and I might tell you what to do.

My cinched hood on my puffy down jacket just means I don’t want to see past what’s in front of me. I have blinders on. I can’t take in anymore. Get me home to my bed, I’m close to tears. I am sad. I want to be warm. I’ve become too cold in the vast land and need comfort and safety and release.

When I wear my floppy sunhat, it just means I’m happy hanging in the sun, maybe we can do a little gardening together, inspecting weeds and plants. I don’t have a huge agenda, I’m just happy to be with my people.

We all wear hats. We all switch ourselves around to protect us and to protect one another. I can’t be all myself with everyone, the cost is too high, not to mention irresponsible. But whoever I’m with, I am myself. Every hat is me. Some of my hats are more comfortable than others, more worn in. But we’ll get there, each hat will get worn in and used.

But no matter what, whatever hat we wear, we are ourselves. We show up. We do the work. We get sweaty and dirty and find our way in the world.

What hats do you wear?

Sliding into Lasts and Firsts

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Mothers are all slightly insane.
― J.D. Salinger

It’s the time of day that drags and hustles at the same time. I await the front door’s slide across the tile with high schoolers afresh with afternoon plans – or a return to bed – either is an equal possibility. And the seventh grader’s text outlining plans with friends, or screens, or both. It’s the last slide to myself, and I might get time back, or I might not. Seems these days are rife with moving parts and pieces with few certainties.

When they were little we had our routine. Morning activities and meals, followed by naps, an hour or three of screaming, dinner, bath time, and bed. Now, the comings and goings, the routines, happen without me. Two drivers equals freedom for all.

The oldest graduates from high school in a bit under two months. I’m dragging my feet. He’s not. Seems there are parties and such for these sorts of things. And family visits and gifts and ceremonies. While I love the kid I dislike required party planning with invitations and clean houses. I prefer last minute party planning when everyone brings their favorite leftovers, with concessions made for dust bunnies and dirty bathrooms. But I do long for his accomplishments to be celebrated. And thankfully I’ve hitched my wagon to two other dedicated party planning mothers who seem to have the ability and follow through to actually make this thing happen.

Spring break is done and summer plans are blooming. There is an equal mix of anticipation for summer’s long days and dread for summer’s long days. The thumbs always get a hefty workout, it’s a wonder my children can function for the over-development of this particular digit. I’m counting on hand-eye coordination, or some fortunate diagnosis to emerge from the hours of video game battles.

And I’m still pastoring and planting a church. Stay-at-home-mom-turning-pastor has not been a delicate and natural process. Most days I’m unsure which end is up, while praying for a nap, and a release from my churning thoughts. I’m still on the steep learning curve, where every “yes” elicits a true and severe crisis of vulnerability, alongside an equal and opposite desire for pajamas and pillow. Yet, I love it. I love the stretching and the relief of accomplishment. The exhale is sweet and so is the beer. I have surprised myself.

Prom is this weekend. Then senior ditch day. A season of lasts followed by an equivalent season of firsts. Motherhood is a constant management of the anticipation of regret. If I choose this one thing for my career or myself or my partner will I regret the cost to my children? It’s a balancing act unlike anything I’ll ever experience. Is it a function of guilt? Shame? I don’t even know. I don’t know if I need to know.

I texted with a friend yesterday. We’ve raised our kids together. She said her daughter is on a short leash with severe restrictions. I responded with sympathy and sadness for the difficult time they are in. My friend surprised me, happy and relieved, grateful for the resulting sleep.

And every day is a new day with little predictability. Funny how their moods determine mine. Never did I think they would wield so much power over me.

As I press into a career, doing that which I love, I must navigate the momentary costs. And there’s a price for everything isn’t there? We will never know the perceptions of our children. We only do the best we can based on what we know, how we were parented, what we perceived as flaws in the system.

The pendulum swings. Back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes the swings are violent, but one hopes with therapy and time and maturity the swings settle, drifting across mid-point. They say (the older people in my life who’ve done this before) parenting never ends. I tell them to be quiet. I choose ignorance. I choose my assumptions.

My parenting story has been typical and normal, so far. My youngest is thirteen – we’ve still got potential for the wheels to fall off this bus. But I’m grateful. Their lives are my greatest teacher. Their pushes for independence have revealed my weaknesses. Their pulls have revealed my determination. Their differences have revealed my capacities for tenderness and patience (or lack thereof). And their growth has propelled my own.

I’ll get to the graduation and I’ll plan a party and I’ll continue to pastor and I’ll remain married. Somehow.

But this season is real and I’m not sure I can master the management of regret. I suspect regret is a byproduct of loving.  And loving well is fraught with unknowns.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jen Goes to Denver

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Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
Leonardo da Vinci

My little activist-y self has been getting some activist-y action. From attending Sanctuary meetings, to marching for our children’s lives, to having breakfast with a small group of local faith leaders and Mike Johnston – a gubernatorial candidate, to sitting through an involved Longmont City Council meeting, to participating in the Democratic caucus for my little precinct. I have found myself in the bosom of that which I never knew I would most enjoy. These things thrill me. I am discovering the power of a voice. A single, lone, citizen’s voice has so much to say.

And just this past week, I testified with my co-pastor Paula on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and Left Hand Church against HB 1206 – a nasty bill that would discriminate against LGBTQ persons in their daily life from doctor visits and eating at favorite restaurants to adoption options. We convened at the capitol, for six hours listening to both sides of the issue, watching our legislators do their elected jobs. It was powerful, fascinating, and humbling. I am still reeling from the sheer force in that room.

Even before the 2016 presidential election, I was an activist-y sort. I circulated petitions for various causes that seem like nothing now, but were something then. I walked out of school in protest a couple times. I signed pledges, wrote letters, and made calls. But this presidential election has awakened not only something within myself but across the nation. Women are turning out in record numbers to run for office, alongside a multitude of  racial, sexual, and gender minorities. This is important. No longer can we trust the while male power in this country to protect us. My rights as a woman are in jeopardy, as well as the rights of so many with far less privilege.

I consider this an expression of my faith. I consider this resistance and activist action a function of my work as a follower of Christ in the world. And I love every second of it, along with a healthy dose of humble terror. I have a few fiery men and women across my ancestral branches and believe this has made it’s way into my bloodstream. And as difficult as this time is for so many, the fear, the loss, the unknowing – it is an exciting time to be alive. There are opportunities across the spectrum to be active whether it’s in one-on-one conversation, telephone calls, crafting signs, donating money. We all have a small part to play, whatever it may be.

This past Tuesday was not my first visit to Colorado’s Capitol. I’m part of a new organization called the Union for Affirming Christians. We met in Denver in January, a group of forty or so Christian faith leaders across the nation committed to doing the work of LGBTQ justice. As part of our day-long meeting, we paraded a few city blocks to the Capitol in downtown. We toured the Senate’s chambers and settled into a hearing room in the basement for a meeting with Representative Jeff Bridges. He, himself a progressive Christian tasked us with the work of stepping  into these debates, discussions, and spaces to defend the rights of those who need defense. This is our task and our call.

For so long American Christianity has been about self-reflection, self-examination, and salvation. This is not wrong, just incomplete. Many of the nation’s and world’s greatest evils have been perpetuated in the name of religion. Slavery, indigenous genocide, misogyny, homophobia – to name a few – have come at the hands, or at the chosen ignorance of Christians.

And Tuesday’s hearing was no exception. The angriest voices were those of the fundamentalist Christians, the ones bent on protecting their rights and freedoms as the persecuted. Persecuted where? Because they might have to make space for gay people who want the exact same thing? To live a life free from fear, in the pursuit of happiness?

I’m not sure how we mend this tear in our fabric of Christianity, but I remain firm and defiant on the side where I believe Jesus would’ve stood – with the poor, the rejected, the powerless, the hungry, the outcast.

I’m not sure where we got mixed up in all this, where we determined our station is with our own self-preservation and our comfortable congregations with their code of conduct. I’m not sure how this serves us, beyond giving us a tribe of safety. Regardless, I’m out. I’m grateful to be amongst those who know what rejection is.


Here is my testimony from Tuesday, March 27:

Thank you Mr. Chairman for hearing my testimony today. My name is Jennifer Jepsen. I live in Longmont and I am here representing the Interfaith Alliance as well as Left Hand Church in Longmont where I serve as one of the pastors. Left Hand Church is an open and affirming community, welcoming and including all members of the LGBTQ population.

As first and foremost a Christian, as one who takes seriously the greatest commandment of Loving God and Loving my neighbor as I love myself, I believe as a Christian, as a pastor, as a human it is my greatest responsibility to determine what love looks like. I don’t have to look much farther than Jesus. Jesus is our greatest teacher. And Jesus was all about human dignity.

This “Live and Let Live” Bill is one of the farthest things away from the imperative of loving our neighbors. Human dignity has no place in this bill. This denial of services whether it’s adoption and foster care, health care, housing, employment or the use of public spaces – does not advocate for who Jesus would advocate for. There is no offering of human dignity.

I am a straight, cis-gender female. I am a married mother of three children. I am not at risk here. My rights are not threatened. But I have friends and I have family. As a pastor, my fellow pastors are threatened as well as many of my congregants. One thing I have learned from the LGBTQ people in my life is: They are just like me. They want the same things as me. They want the freedom to live a fruitful and productive life, a life where they can love who they love, where they can conduct business in their communities, where they can use their gifts, talents, resources to make the world a better place, where they can serve and grow alongside other people in their workplaces and houses of worship and where their children attend school.

Many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that affirming our LGBTQ community is a threat to society, to our children, our schools – that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have an agenda. No, the ones I know just want to thrive where they live, given the same protections and kindnesses as anybody else.

This is human dignity – to offer a safe and productive environment for all people to participate equally in the life of their community.

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to understand people different than me. I seek to feel what they feel. This is called empathy. To be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer is not a choice. Let’s consider their humanity as children of God. Let’s reflect the beauty of our great state of Colorado, championing a breathtaking reflection of generous diversity.

Thank you.

For the Bible Tells Me So?

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The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody…He obeys the attractions of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel a big, warm, interior glow.

—Thomas Merton

I have a harried relationship with the Bible. For years it was my penance, to repair the damage I had done in the name of sin and selfishness. I read and re-read, outlining and highlighting, learning and re-learning the concepts encapsulated across the tissue papery pages. I was an earnest sort, longing to know and experience God through seeking, earning my keep, and serving well. The bibles of my childhood, from the Children’s New International Version (NIV) with depictions of white Jesus, to my current copy of the NIV Study Bible, all hold a history of yearning and reaching, but never arriving.

But to be honest with you, the Bible had less to do with personal freedom and more to do with maintaining my purity and trust, while awaiting some grandiose revelation that would finally release me from the relentless searching and longing. I found scripture dull at best and condemning at worst. The Beatitudes were the most problematic as I crafted ways to exit myself from the privilege of my American life, to fit the desired but narrow definition of #blessed.

In response, I set my Bible aside. I couldn’t read the words anymore while measuring my worth against the assumed and tired prescriptions. I needed to know my relationship with the God of the Universe did not hinge on my interpretation and my effort and my choice of Bible study. I needed a hermeneutic (the lens through which scripture is interpreted) that carried love, grace, mercy, and hope across the pages, with room for doubt, questions, and freedom from fear. A God of Love, Generosity, and Abundance must overarch the words and the multitude of interpretations.

I am no theological scholar but I do listen to my body. When the Bible reading habit took a nosedive, my contemplative practice flourished. Through listening, writing, meditation, I have come to a deep reliance on my body’s knowing. My body tells me. When the divorce happened between our bodies and our brains, logic and reason became the gods. Logic and reason became the guiding forces for how we express our faith, how we understand Scripture, how we move about in the world. Logic and reason are wholly inadequate, taking me down a path of binaries, with no room for the middle spaces. When life is reduced to good or bad, sinful or holy, right or wrong we lose beauty, we lose hope. I may never accomplish a bullet-pointed exegesis of Scripture, but I will be able to tell you if something doesn’t seem right, and I will search until I find the answer that settles my gut.

Regardless of how we determine truth, and it is individual and unique for each of us, we must hold Scripture with kid gloves, exercising our responsibilities with great care, bathed in a deep well of humility. Many (most) people have been irreparably harmed and traumatized by inaccurate and harmful teaching. If our greatest work is to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves we may have to separate ourselves from scripture until we can view it through a lens of love, generosity, and abundance. We need to let go of the fear that our faith, our salvation is somehow in jeopardy if we do release our presumed understanding.

But, if we believe in a God that is a God of grace, we have room, ample amounts of room to seek and consider and re-consider. We have room to reform our assumptions and reframe our previous and unhelpful narratives.

It’s an interesting thing now to be writing and preaching sermons. And when you write and preach sermons in a Christian church context, it’s rather important to use Scripture. Who knew?

As I move into this new task of preaching, I pray I hold the heft of the responsibility with the gravitas it deserves. I know I will make mistakes. I know I will misinterpret. But, if through generous humility I make my aim to relay the abundant Love of Christ, I think I’ll be okay.

May we let go of the things that hinder us in experiencing the weight of God’s incredible Love. None of us can know what there is to know. May we find rest and peace in listening to the still, almost silent voice, inviting us into full and abundant renewal, even if it means releasing our stubbornest assumptions.