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.

Kids These Days

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I know the world is done
But you don’t have to be
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the lights
Hold on

There is a light
We can’t always see
If there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

-“13” U2

Are you tough enough to be kind?

Do you know your heart has its own mind?

Darkness gathers around the lights.

I’m watching the children. The children are leading us these days. My kids are consistently perplexing and impressing me. I will admit things are not always rosy and wonderful in our home, but oftentimes it is a result of me being too set in my own ways, too set to follow their lead and challenge my own motivations and expectations. Sometimes they deserve my correction, but sometimes they don’t and I realize it is my turn to learn, to listen, to follow.

Watching our kids makes my neck hurt. In an instant, their ways can be odd and nonsensical, baffling – yet in the next they assume a level of responsibility entirely unbeknownst to me at their ages. They are brilliant. They are resourced. They are these incredible people that I get to watch become in their own right.

Our children are the lights. These kids from Parkland, FL – the next day after witnessing friends and teachers die – are leading us, calling out the adults, telling us to do something. And if we won’t, they will. Our kids marching and protesting and calling our lawmakers to accountability and action. Our kids want to be in school. Our kids want to learn and hang with their friends and participate in activities.

I thought I would take it on myself, just after Parkland, to organize a march. I soon realized as more stories emerged that the kids had it handled. The kids know best right now. And as a mother, an adult, a pastor I will undergird them. I will offer my encouragement and my awe, for they are to be regarded and heard.

Our lights have attracted the darkness. Hate mongering persists, criticism and threat of our lights because of a presumed loss of freedom due to threat of gun loss. Children are dying. Children are dying in their schools and the adults feel threatened because they might lose some high powered weapons.

I’m baffled.

My work is to elevate the lights for they are the brilliant ones these days. The ones who can still see. The ones who feel. The ones who haven’t been corrupted for comfort and payouts. The ones with the threatened future. I’m living in my future. Theirs is before them. Or, at least it should be.

The darkness is so thick and our only release is the speaking out, the activism, the protest march, the walking out. I understand. I am undergirding and I am encouraging. I am standing by waiting for instruction, following the lights.

My senator received over three-million dollars from the NRA. My representative, nearly a million. I hear that that doesn’t matter. They say it’s a drop in the collective bucket of donations. If so, why don’t they walk away? Why don’t they follow the lights?

Few of us have access to that many bucket drops.

I’ll be marching when it’s appropriate, but until I’m encouraging my kids and I’m listening to them. They don’t say a lot. I don’t have a chatty bunch, particularly the boys, but I know it weighs heavy – the drills, the news reports, the conversations. None of this is lost on them. None of it is lost on me.

Our hearts know the right thing. Our hearts feel the weight, the pressure, the pain. We need release and as my heart pulsates deep in my gut, I will allow the anger to build, to inform, to lead me. And right now this mama and pastor must protect and preserve our lights, our kids, advocating and showing up wherever they insist upon shining.

As they protest in righteous, holy anger, those of us who’ve lost our spark, we can follow their light. We can attach ourselves to their energy, inspired by their life, leveraging our resources, platforms, and solutions to promote and elevate their brilliance. We can stand behind them when they speak, carry their snacks and jackets while they march. We can tell our friends and advocate on their behalf. We can vote and call and show up. We can provide safe spaces for their plans, grief, questions.

May we step aside as our children shine bright and pave the way. May we recognize that we had our chance. Let’s let the kids lead. They seem to know better than the rest of us these days.

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

On Smiling…or not

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Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.
― Greta Garbo

I smile a lot. I was told in high school as a freshman by a junior girl who I admired that she liked my smile. So, I took that as a cue to keep smiling. I don’t smile just for smiling’s sake, nor do I smile at the expense of my authenticity. My face reflects my insides on a consistent basis.

Now that I’ve entered this new world of pastors and churches I often wonder if my smile is a detriment to my professional life. As I enter the world of men I think maybe my smile diminishes my offering, my strength. I wonder if I’m written off as “just a mom” or as friendly, or sweet, or hospitable by the people who don’t know me well.

It’s a concern I have more than I’d like to admit. I wonder if my doctor takes me seriously, or my boys, or fellow pastors. I wonder if my smile reduces me to cute, not worthy of being heard. I wonder how many women believe they must play nice in order to be loved, and smile to be regarded.

I like to work out at our local recreation center. The equipment and facility are fine, not as state-of-the-art as our neighborhood gym, but I like the intersectionality of the place. I like to cross paths with people I would not interact with in my everyday life.

I show up happy most days, depending on how much sleep I had the night before and what is being reported on NPR. One particular day I was excited to be there and saw some of my favorite folks. We bantered and shared a laugh. A man, who I didn’t recognize, walked over, stood before me encroaching my personal space and complimented my smile and said how much he enjoys my laugh.

In the past I would’ve made a silly, offhanded comment, but instead I offered a terse Thank you and carried on with my scheduled workout. I had no desire to cater to him or try to make him feel better. I just wanted him gone.

I’ve been working on listening to my gut. And in this space, as much as I love the people, there are a few I find suspect, who raise some intuitive red flags. Since the election, I find great difficulty in trusting older, white men until I get to know them. I wonder, with this particular man if my smile makes him feel better, if it makes him less uncomfortable around me.

I work hard when I exercise. I push heavy weights and oftentimes scowl into the mirror. A time or two I’ve been told to smile by other dudes, but I’m not sure how to repeatedly lift a 25 pound dumbbell into an overhead press without a scowl. I will not smile at the expense of my muscle mass.

There’s an odd dance I think women have to engage within to be heard and to function in our spaces. I’m recognizing how hard it is, deciphering on the fly what is needed in the moment. And my heart breaks realizing the number of years I spent trying to impress and placate men, while attempting to be liked, seen, and heard. I felt I needed to be small and cute so as not to be a threat, or to be named a bitch.

I like to write and preach from my scars not my wounds, as Nadia Bolz-Weber recommends. But sometimes things remain an open wound and they need to be discussed. I suspect the longer I operate in this world I will gain traction and learn and associate with men who are good and generous, but how many women have to compromise themselves to placate the males? And on this International Women’s Day I feel grief. This shouldn’t even be a thing.

I just want to be myself. I want all women to be themselves. I don’t want our size, shape, intelligence, talent, monetary worth, fashion selections, hair color, facial lines to be a liability. I want to smile and frown because it’s reflective of how I feel in the moment. I want to be me without catering to the people that feel uncomfortable. I want to show up as myself – sometimes happy, sometimes not. I want to demonstrate my ferocity as a woman, a mother, a pastor, as an advocate for people who need advocates. I want to be known as I am.

It might be a lot to ask. I don’t know. It’s still a wound, but I am committed to figuring it out – for our girls, our daughters, our sisters, and mothers.

So, on this International Women’s Day, smile if you want or don’t. It really shouldn’t matter.

Rivers of Joy

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“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

The three of us sat equidistant across the table from one another. It was our staff meeting – the last before we go full-time church. We stared back at each other over our meals, eyes wide, one of us dared to state the obvious: We are starting a church.

To anyone who has been reading this blog you know this is nothing new. This is not a current revelation. This church has been in the works for three years and we’ve had two “preview” services. This is real and it is happening and none of us are sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

But I can say with certainty, in the midst of our national pain and difficulty. In the midst of our desperation for what is true and right and good. In the midst of our search for hope, this church plant is the one thing that brings me life. Sure, I have kids and a good partner and friends. But the holy and hard-won work of getting this body born, as gut- wrenching and confusing as it has been, this good work is what brings relief.

After each of our two services thus far, both friends and new acquaintances alike stopped me with eyes wide: Church can be like this? I didn’t think I could go to church again.

This dearth of churches offering just and generous expressions of the gospel is a serious problem. When church is full of shame and shoulds, aligned with empire and politics, while failing to be a safe and welcome and inclusive place for anyone who walks through the doors, we have a serious problem.

I grew up attending Billy Graham’s Crusades. The first was in Spokane, WA when I was 10. My parents were involved, singing in the collective choir. I remember the endless on and on of “Just as I Am” as folks seeking salvation filed forward in droves. I found the spectacle fascinating and a true testament to the love and invitation of Jesus.

But I’m unsure how to feel about Graham now in light of his recent passing. I am not that same person. And I shouldn’t be. I’m a grown woman with a grown up faith. But I believe the evangelicalism of Billy Graham left us with a navel-gazing theology that tempts us to call our own salvation, our own cleanliness and holiness the pinnacle of our faith journey, inviting others to do the same. And while I know it is important to take inventory, to recognize where we are inconsistent and where our shortcomings harm those we love the most, I don’t believe this is the end of the road. I don’t believe we can hang our hats on some spiritual arrival. I am concerned we’ve reduced God to someone we must appease, striving for perfection. I’m concerned our Christianity has been reduced to a scarce either/or rather than an abundant both/and.

And now we are experiencing the ramifications of Billy Graham’s evangelicalism. We may have clean and forgiven souls while our society suffers. What about the pain in the world? What about the power differentials, the oppression, the systems of superiority? Is the church complicit because it’s been so engrossed in the confidence of personal piety?

As of last count, I asked God to save me eleven times. Contemplating a life of fiery torment due to normal bouts of greed, selfishness, gossip. I trembled in my bed imagining a world where demons lied in wait for my soul. I believed my good was never good enough. It was all about me. My efforts. My sin. My perfection. My holiness.

With our national climate of partisanship and tribalism, I wonder if focusing on our personal sin isn’t helping. What about the collective sin of our whiteness? Of our collective sins of heterosexism, patriarchy, and income inequality? Any time one group is oppressed at the benefit of another, pressed further into the muck of poverty and prejudice we must confess, repent, and seek a better way. A way of Love. A way of faithful generosity. A way of justice.

And this is why I believe in the church. I long to experience community so I can learn, grow, and participate in a life that works out of love. A life that seeks to find and dismantle the structures that oppress, the systems that prioritize superiority. I want a community that roots out systemic sin and calls it out, participating in the wonder of grace, generosity, justice.

And this is where the joy lies. This is where the joy flourishes – in the working together that results in equality, equity, and justice for all. May the Church lead in this.

I have no doubt Billy Graham was a good man. I think he did the best he could with what he knew and what he believed – what we all believed. I wonder what awareness came to him later in his life. I wonder what he knows now.

I am grateful, thrilled, in wonder at this new body we have in Left Hand Church. There are good things happening in Boulder County. And the greatest byproduct, the greatest gift is joy. True, untarnished joy.

Gentle Reminders

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With bread and wine you can walk your road.
Spanish Proverb

I’ve been experiencing many firsts. As my oldest gets ready to fly the coop and leave for college, I’m understanding how little influence I hold. And in my marriage as I assume greater responsibility outside the home, my role as homemaker and mother is ever-changing. And as I step into the role of pastor, the weightiness of the title and the gravity of the work humble me. Firsts of preaching and meetings and weddings send me to profuse sweating and nervous laughter, while filling me up in ways I could never have imagined.

And one of my greatest firsts happened this past weekend during our second “preview” service of this new Left Hand Church. I was the pastor to administer the sacrament of Communion.

At our church, just as in our sister, Highlands Church in Denver, our worship experience points to and culminates in the partaking together of bread and juice as the Body of Jesus. Growing up in the church, taking Communion was just what I did, it was expected and I did my best to partake with reverence and gratitude. Whether reverence and gratitude are required or not, it’s what I did. And while I have swallowed the elements hundreds of times, I have never offered them as a pastor.

In front of our new community, as I tore the soft, pungent Italian loaf into jagged halves, I broke.  I choked on the prepared words, moved deep by the symbolic act of breaking the body of Jesus. I was overwhelmed. And with the backdrop of a frigid winter evening, ice coating the sidewalks, eager faces across the pews, I broke. I broke with the weight of the joy and the weight of the gratitude and the weight of the hope found in this person, this remarkable human embodiment of God.

This broken body as bread, smelling delicious of comfort and wholeness and abundance. It was a holy and altogether too big moment.

For the past few months I’ve been co-leading a conversation group with mostly white people about race and privilege at The Refuge in Broomfield, CO. This past Sunday as we collectively lamented the enormity of the task of getting our people to notice the vicious systems of racism and patriarchy, our conversation was heavy and loaded, verging on despair.  The work is unrelenting, and once eyes are opened to the injustices and oppression many experience because of gender, sexuality, color, religion, documentation, ability – getting through some days without heavy burden is tricky.

Our group is comprised of local churchgoers and pastors, except for one, Sarah. As the churchgoers and pastors spiraled downward, Sarah punctuated the conversation with a definitive, “Hey, seems to me you all worship a guy named Jesus who was all about hope and disruption.”

She stopped me in my tracks. It took a moment but I eventually responded with an exhale of relief:

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

Her statement shook me, as I recalled what I once knew, but forgot.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we are reminded of the impermanence of our bodies, the shortness of our lives, the vastness of a God who loves us enough to embody our fallible humanity in the perfect Christ. May we stop firm in our tracks and surrender our despair. May we stop and surrender our self importance. May we stop and firmly place our questions, doubts, and certainty at the feet of the One who broke for us, who died for us, who rose for us.

We are not alone. Our suffering is never wasted. Our despair is never overlooked. And the gift of hope is held in Christ – in the delicious sustenance of a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet store-bought grape juice. Our ingestion of Jesus is the perfect and complete reminder that He dwells deep within, and we are recipients of grace and mercy, no matter what we do or don’t do.

As I travel down this path of firsts, with profuse sweat and nervous laughter, I pray to invite my own breaking – over and over. For in our breaking we can receive and we can know to the core of who we are that God Incarnate dwells within and among. Within our bodies, hearts, souls, and minds and, among our homes, relationships, communities, and systems.

Oh yeah. Thank you for the reminder.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he sat in a room among his disciples to celebrate the annual Passover feast. He took bread, and after he gave thanks for it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Take and eat, and remember me.”

Later that same evening, he took the cup of wine. He held it up saying, “This wine is the blood of a new covenant — a promise for the redemption of all people. Take and drink, and remember me.”

Those Pesky Expectations

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My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.

[The Science of Second-Guessing (New York Times Magazine Interview, December 12, 2004)] ― Stephen Hawking

We find ourselves with a new puppy, a Goldendoodle we call Wilson. He’s the kind that pees on all the things and upends a home life in the way where everyone silently wonders if it was worth it (and by everyone, I mean the adults). We didn’t need a dog, I already had one, a perfect doodle named Clementine whose worst habit, aside from a stinky snout, is lying in the middle of the bedroom floor, tripping us up during the inconvenient middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. But the Clemmy girl is a mama’s dog, a diligent companion who has eyes just for me. No-one else in the house has a chance.

We hoped a puppy would bring some solace and distraction to the jaunty work of adolescence, forging a special bond with the children. And in perfect Jepsen fashion, one day we wondered about a puppy and the next we owned one. So far so good, but time will tell if Eric and I have inherited ourselves a young four-legged Wilson as our own.

Dreams are funny things. That wild notion that creeps in, and then before you know it you’re researching pups on the internet. It’s not that we forgot how bananas puppy hood can be, we just glossed over the difficulty. This is the same reason why I birthed three kids and ran 9 marathons. Thankfully, we forget. We minimize the severity of the pain, while holding the beautiful and sepia-toned memories. I’ve had enough puppies in my lifetime to know the risks and pitfalls. And Eric and I painted a dismal portrait to our teens of disrupted screen time and losses of freedom, but we said yes anyways, because we know that joy is forged in the fires of discomfort, in the overcoming and in the difficulty. And somehow, as the happy memories harden, the middle of the night potty breaks and carpet stains won’t seem like a huge deal.

I have a problem with expectations. While I believe dreaming is important, the management of expectations is a real thing. Before becoming a parent my expectations were off the charts, perfection the acceptable ideal. We all know that is an unsustainable reality, so with the arrival of the babies my expectations had to pendulum swing in the equal and opposite direction, rendering all things horrible until proven otherwise.

I recognize now the importance of a middle ground – that, amidst the dreaming and romanticizing, there are expectations to be considered and heeded. And oftentimes I am surprised by my newfound reality whether it’s in parenting, puppy raising, or church planting. The reality is either harder or easier than I presumed. A reason to hold expectations with a loosened grip, carrying generosity and grace toward oneself in the process.

As a One on the Enneagram, the expectation of perfection tends to be my default. We all know the problems here.

And so my work is to learn from others, to observe how they navigate the world, to observe their strategies and skills as metrics for setting my own personal expectations in this nebulous learning curve, while also recognizing I cannot measure others with the standards I measure myself.

Also, I must discern and dismiss many of the internal voices of condemnation and criticism, as well as voices of fear and protection. I cannot tell you where these come from, but certainly no one has spoken to me with the level of condescension that I can speak to myself.

As I come to trust my own voice – the quieter, curious, knowing voice – I recognize the essential value and worth in the work I do, believing in my calling as a pastor, as a parent, as a puppy owner, trusting I am the right one, the best one for these tasks. And in this trusting and believing, the passion is reignited which re-illuminates the dream, rendering me capable and ready for the work of being who I am in the world. Just as I am.

And so the sepia-toned dream will take hits and it will become marred and mired in the oftentimes grisly work of ushering new life into the world. But I have good instincts. I have lived life and I have learned through misplaced expectations, feeble attempts, wild success, through ill-informed decisions and wild-haired spontaneity.

Just because it’s uncomfortable,

just because it’s messy,

just because it’s not perfect,

absolutely does not mean it’s wrong.

So puppies or parenting, church planting or everyday living – expect to be surprised and expect to be disappointed – holding all of it together, with a loosened grip.