Long Awaited Life: The Hope of a New Church

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Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.
-Shel Silverstein

November 5, 2017 marks two deeply important accomplishments. My firstborn turns eighteen this day. His birthday marks not just his remarkable and beautiful life, but my emergence into the eternal call of motherhood. This day is the day I harken back to that early morning under the harsh, antiseptic glare of the operating room in Boulder, Colorado. The squalling infant coaxed and pulled and whisked away for further monitoring. His cry known, imprinted upon this mother. The force of my maternal instincts, an indeterminable sensation from which I will never know full release.

And this November 5, 2017* also marks the birth of a new life for the Church. This date will be our first Sunday, meeting together as a congregation. The three year long gestation fraught with starts and stops, notions and dreams, excitement and utter boredom. The waiting, if anything, is what will undo a person in these times. And I have waited.

Boy, have I waited.

On this November 5 I say good-bye to the child I once knew, holding him near but not too close, for fear of preventing his becoming.

And on this November 5 I say hello to the new arrival, turning her form over between my palms – inspecting, wondering, examining. I will take in her color, her features, her cry and her knowing look. I will shed a tear with a simultaneous laugh, alongside my partners and cohorts, friends and loved ones who have equal participation in the life of this body. With equal parts exhaustion and joy, our vulnerability exposed, we will usher her into the world of our beloved community.

I have joined ranks with the most qualified and generous humans who love her as much as I do, who dream about serving through her in the most wonderful of ways. Ways that honor gifts, talents, and dreams. Ways that consider awe and miracles, mercy and hope. As we prepare her home and consider her name, we dream of the holy work we will accomplish through her. Of the people she will love. Of the hearts she will touch. Of the wounds she will heal.

I yearn for us to gather together at her table filling up with the bread of her brokenness, the wine of her sacrifice, the bounty of her love, the heart of her compassion.

I want my beloved friends, neighbors, people to discover and believe, to know the wholeness of the Church, the hope of the Church, the generous love of the Church.

We are a species built for hope, not designed for despair. When hope dims, we do too. The Church is God’s expression of hope to the world. But the Church has not always cared for us well. The Church has abused its power and allowed our worst parts to manifest. I am not immune to the pain we have inflicted, nor am I immune to the good we have done. I have received both. I have dealt both. And now in these times, more than ever it seems, we ache for the warm embrace of community, the promise of being known as we are, the confidence of being loved as we are, the delight of being accepted – through and through, body, mind, soul to the marrow of the bone.

Hope has felt far this season. Light and dark are at odds, evil and good sparring hard. I scan and scroll, hunting for goodness, surveying for truth. The efforts tempt me toward despair, but I find joy, relief, hope in the work. This young dream, a call, emerging as an amorphous blob, nondescript with nothing but the tiniest hint of a pulse. The fire in my belly persisting, feeding in the middle of the night, keeping her alive despite my attempts to deny her existence. And now, a definable form, still incubating but alive and kicking, carrying me from day to day on the tide of her beauty and light, her wonder.

Friends, what I have seen and what I know to the core of who I am is nothing short of miraculous. This awaited new life, she’s going to take our breath away. She will be made beautiful through our imperfect humanity. Her life and breath, for us. Her heart, for us, for ALL of us. Her beauty, ours. Her love, generous.

The light of Love and tender mercy will shine bright, darkness has no power that will vanquish her flame. Radiating, pouring out in and through the beauty of us, her people, her blessed chosen ones, persisting. All of us participating in her expression to the world.

We return to hope. We celebrate the change that happens through the shifts and bends of time. We grieve the past, we heal, we step back into the world, remembering how very loved we are. This love that will never let us go. This love that is made perfect through our human imperfection. This love that persists in the despair, delights in our flaws, restores through redemption, resurrection –

The Church.

November 5 is the day I first became, the day I experienced true love mixed with true fear – coalesced into the string bean form of a hollering, blue-eyed, bloody infant. And this November 5 will be the day I say hello to a new love, a new life.

I can’t wait to meet her.

*tentative start date – hoping hard

What I Now Know

Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.

– Agatha Christie

We arrived early this week to our cabin in the mountains. An inexperienced robin is building her nest in the supports of our deck. It seems, for each blade of straw used in  construction, another gets dropped onto the profuse pile below. Two prosperous irrigation ditches border the property where the bird darts low, gathering mud and sticks from the moist banks, securing the grass before it tumbles to the floor. Her efforts, while painful to observe, have resulted in a sturdy nest, shaped just right, with ample room to house and hatch the fertilized brood when her time comes.

I, myself, know something about building nests. While expecting each of our three children, we moved. In an attempt to create a home, preparing the nest for my babies, I ambled and crept up and down ladders to paint rooms and hang pictures. My nesting instinct carried me to exhaustion in the belief my productive days were over once the new child arrived. No conversation or argument could dissuade me from this instinctual drive. My nests, built and prepared, stick by stick.

I am once again nesting in preparation for the arrival of our new church. One recent early morning, my precious sleep was mocked by four years of unchecked accumulation. The moon glowed high at 3:00 lighting my way to the garage to begin the work of organizing and cleaning.  As my nesting instinct kicked into overdrive, I noticed the call of my body. The wondering, worrying, sleepless sorting all siphoned toward the anticipated and joyful arrival of new life.

Female instincts are woven deep. As I become less concerned with appearance and more invested in a generous and justice-seeking life, I am learning to explore the deep, innate sense that moves inside of me. Recovering from a lifetime of tamping down a body’s instincts is not easy. Letting a body lead, letting a body inform ahead of the mind is not culturally acceptable. And this ever so important work of listening, considering, and responding without judgment, requires me to rest and trust in grace and the Spirit.

My methods are not linear, nor can they be carefully bullet pointed and proven. But as my precious robin friend demonstrates, there oftentimes is no observable rhyme or reason. There is no “right” process. There are detours and dead-ends and an eventual, hopeful arrival. Expectations must be tempered and the nest may appear disheveled and disastrous, but the nest exists, capable of housing and holding beautiful new life.

The mother robin knows her body. She knows the cycles and the signs. She knows the operating instincts. She knows the life growing inside and pays attention to the need to lay and incubate. Her nest, while inefficient, is functional. The walls perfected, sturdy up against the roof’s beams. In and out she flies, hundreds of times a day, securing and cementing, responding to the call of what she knows.

I am in the grip of wonder. Nature offers a respite from the concerns of the world, a relief from the burdens and fear, the infighting and lies. Nature reminds me of what is inside me, my instincts for generosity and awe. The robin builds her nest to prepare for the fertilized batch. The slight hummingbirds waft about, seeking sustenance by the gram. Dogs splash in ditches, and the young teenager motorcycles and mountain bikes his way across the property, mastering and surmounting all obvious obstacles. As the river runs its due course, rising by the minute with melted snowpack, the green grows, the sun draws her arc across the sky, and the moon trails in tandem.

Nature and beauty prevail, and this is where I must remain. The heartbeat of wonder, brewing and sustaining, the goodness and persistence of hope carrying us forward and back in the dance of flow. We grieve and break down, rebuild and renew. Resurrection is what we are designed to do, to yearn into life and trust the rise and fall of tide. We must rest in the tension of existence, in the bass notes of love that call us forth into our great becoming.

I trust the robin’s nest will withstand the daily thunderstorms and the comings and goings of a busy family in the woods. I trust her process, remembering my own – my seeming nonsensical approach to awaiting new life, following the rhythms of instinct, the roll of the gut.

I rest in what I know. The world is held. It is in times of derision and suffering  when goodness thrives. When hope is distant is where we find our footing in faithfulness of life and breath. The whispers of the Spirit invite us into deeper and longer rest, careful and faithful waiting. We hold back, trusting in the generous grace and remember whose we are and why we are here.

Love.

We are created as the sustainers and the seekers, the lovers and caregivers. As life is stored up inside of us, as life yearns to emerge, we trust. We wait. We listen and respond, knowing that the pinprick of instinct and the fire in our bellies can teach the world a little something about resurrection.

Beautiful.

Wonderful.

Hopeful.

Resurrection.

Looking Up

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Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I’ll be honest with you, my dear reader friends. I’m afraid. I am now employed beyond the walls of my home. The details are still to be kept quiet, but my life is changing. I have for over seventeen years derived great comfort and security in the firm and infinite womb of motherhood. This caregiving work greater than anything I could ever dream in my young, twenty-seven year old imagination. And now, at nearly 45 years, I get to consider new possibilities. I am called, implored, invited to consider new possibilities.

But I’m scared. For some reason, maybe it’s the pride I was fed that we were somehow better or exceptional. Or maybe it’s the Christian thing, that we are immune to the dregs of life (we all know that’s been debunked by now). But I have allowed myself to believe that the success of my family might be because of me. The marriage, the health of the children, the “smooth” running of our home, the successful business – somehow were because of my sacrifice. And part of this may be true, but if so, is the inverse also true? If I’m not as present, it all falls apart?

When one is insecure, the lies flow, don’t they? I’ll be the first to name it, so you don’t have to – it’s crap. I have a calling and I am equipped for this new role, but I am not required to set aside my mother status for the job. I recognize the need for patience and grace and adjustment and I will claim this. Just like the relaxation in second child parenting after freaking out over the first – the adjustment is tricky and we have to be kind to ourselves. We react to what we don’t know and we do better the second and subsequent time around.

In this life of faith, there is always an element of risk. Always. We don’t get easy. We get what builds trust, and what teaches us to listen and wait. Sometimes we wait with patience and sometimes we don’t.  And I admit, my friends, I have been trusting, listening and waiting – ever so imperfect and jerky, for a very long time. The day is here. The ball is in my court, the work is mine to do. And the view is beautiful. I am ecstatic over the wonder. I am floored by the goodness and holiness. And I am wholly and appropriately terrified.

I suspect grief is a reliable companion in the closings of existing chapters and the beginnings of new chapters. My children are growing in independence. They know what they need to do. They are good people who might make dumb decisions and still need parents, but we are in a new space, and for this mom, it’s hard. As a new chapter unfolds while the previous chapter is not quite over, the transitions are never seamless, requiring readjustment and loads of grace, holding the chapters each in one hand – ever so careful and generous.

My fright feels appropriate for today, for I carry none of this lightly. My tears feel necessary and my joy feels adequate. All must be held with grace and a careful grip. To cling too tight may cause the thing to shatter. To hold too loose, it may tumble to the ground. The mystery requires I carry with a tenuous grasp.

On my regular runs I am the looker upper, while my running partner fixes her eyes down. I spot the birds while she spares us from snakes and ruts. Mid-conversation, I point out herons and eagles, hawks and osprey. She claims the coyotes and foxes. Either way, above or below, we take in the sweeping clouds as they scoot across the expansive Colorado blue. We honor the shades of vibrant green springtime. The snow piled high upon the tallest peaks invites comfort in contrast, a longing for diversity against the backdrop of the jagged rock faces.

All of this is my wonder, my awe. All of this inspires me toward deeper communion, reminding of the generous grace we get to claim as our own. All of this invites me to rest, in the bosom of my beautiful Creator, who knows my heart, my desires. My call is fixed and I am invited into the glorious expression of love through goodness and divine design. The struggles of the world, the conflict of hearts, the worn down bodies, the fears of mothers and the questions of fathers, the wrestle of children, the concerns of humanity are all held here. And I find hope again, and rest, renewal and relief.

My work is my greatest desire, held together within the womb of my motherhood. I gaze upward in wonder, and downward in humility – carrying the responsibility and reward with a generous grace and a rather careful grip.

Feeding the Resistance

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How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
― Anne Frank

I emerged from my mother’s womb demanding justice. My poor sister, Julie, 21 months my junior had no say in the matter. She and I, counted and doled the M&M’s with precision, we switched without debate who rode in the front seat. Our UNO games ran fair and square, except when one of us lined our hand with the “dirty cards” while the other went to the bathroom. Snacks were meted to the smallest crumb, money loaned and repaid, birthday gifts exchanged to the dollar. Never was there a discrepancy I did not announce with fanfare and righteous indignation. My life, our relationship, demanded even-steven equality.

A quest for righteousness was pre-programmed into my genetic code. As I gained my voice and courage, my activism carried into the public sphere. At the age of thirteen, our local Fuddruckers restaurant in Orange County received my clear statement of disgust on a comment card: I know what you are trying to do, it will not work. I will not use the “F” word. Please consider changing the name of this restaurant. I was absolutely incensed. A dining establishment could intentionally coerce me into using this queen of all curse words.

A few years later, while attending my alma mater, a conservative Christian university (the perfect breeding ground for good girls with stellar Bible handling skills, a love for Jesus, and serious guilt complexes), I had another opportunity to display my voracious drive toward justice.  I distributed and circulated petitions to protest the removal of pews from our precious Goodwin Chapel. Someone had the audacity to propose stackable chairs as a replacement to the well-worn, uncomfortable benches laden with nostalgia and tradition.  After acquiring a couple hundred signatures, I  plopped my stack on the pastor’s desk, fleeing without a word.  My justice seeking has limits.

The firehose of news has taken its toll. Last week, I was tired and bereft. I felt useless and helpless, ineffective and unworthy. My powerlessness to change anything was acute and any hope of optimism was waning fast. I miss the days when news was not a mandate as the same stories circulated for weeks. I miss the days of balancing information with life, rather than life balanced by information. The load has been heavy and my heart heavy with it.

For all the talk of resistance, one may get hung up on notions of marches and letter writing campaigns and phone calls and angry, activist-y rants. But our most powerful resistance has little to do with our usefulness or our anger or our righteousness or our pursuit of justice. Our finest, most impactful resistance dwells within the work we were created to do, determined by our gifts and desires. Once we can recognize the power of receiving joy, hope, love – we become equipped for the greatest, most life-giving challenge. The beautiful and complex work of loving our neighbors well.

As we live into our calling, into our desires and generosity, we become the Resistance. When we know beyond any doubt how loved we are – we become an unassailable force of good. Evil shudders at our powerful impact.

Friday evening we held our fourth Community Dinner*. Forty-five people stuffed into my modest home, as the rain fell on a dreary May evening. Forty-five people ate and drank and told stories and laughed – altogether in the coziness of my living room and kitchen. Forty-five people chose joy and hope, too.

Our resistance is held in the collision of our desires and gifts, where wonder and awe proclaim the work of God, where laughter and hope find a place at the tables of our communities. I love my community dinners. I love the people piled into my home, spilling into the kitchen and out the doors. I love the kids wandering amongst the adults, teenagers on their phones, plates piled high in the sink. I love my living room turned dining room, with my couch on the back porch and my bedroom full of coats and purses, I love the mismatched silverware and the thrift store dishes. This is my resistance – doing what I love with what I have.

While I did not win the pew challenge, nor did Fuddruckers alter their brand, I spoke, I listened to the knot in my gut. My motivations well-intentioned and certain, regardless of outcome.

You will still find me marching, joining new organizations, attending meetings. I will make calls and write letters. But my best resistance is creating spaces for stories around food and drink, in a brick mid-century ranch, surrounded by old and new friends. My anger will continue, my frustration will remain, but my quest for hope, my lust for joy, my forward lean into Love is where my best expression dwells.

Resist onward, friends.

 

*If you are reading this and you live nearby, near Boulder County, CO, you are welcome to join us for dinner. We gather the third Friday of each month. Shoot me an email if you’d like to get on the list.

About Those Good Old Days.

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Emil was already familiar with those people who always say, “Goodness, everything was better in the old days.” And he no longer listened when people told him that in the old days the air was cleaner or that cows had bigger heads. Because it usually wasn’t true. Those people simply wanted to be dissatisfied, because otherwise they would have to be satisfied.

Erich Kästner

Yesterday was the perfect Colorado day. The temperature cool but not crisp, good for light layers and long sleeves. A friend, her toddler and I walked to a local park where cottonwoods loom and squirrels scavenge without concern. Train tracks run along the east perimeter. We waved to engineers of the passing trains, awaiting toot toots.

Our time together was showered with firsts. A first time careening down the covered slide without assistance. A first time climbing the ladder. I do it! a common refrain from the independent minded two-year-old, while mommy’s hands were never far from her tush. Unintelligible-to-anyone-but-parent’s proclamations punctuated my friend’s and my conversation around politics and plans and parenting.

I am grateful for the teenage years, as tricky as they’ve been. But I found myself longing for days gone by. I wanted the days when I knew my kids were safe. I knew who they were with, what they ate, how much technology they consumed, when they pottied. I used to know everything. I used to be in charge. As hard as it was, it was my job. And yesterday I wanted it back. A return to simplicity, purpose, certainty.

Those younger years were not my best. I was not happy or thriving. The early years of motherhood were fraught with more baggage than I will explain to you today. Trust me, it wasn’t always good. I hid it well.

The lens of nostalgia rarely offers clarity. Instead we believe a washed out version where the desperation and grief is eliminated. We carry the memory but not the specifics. My early days as a mother were mired in handwringing frustration and fear. But now as I face the natural and normal tides of teenagers, I glamorize the park visits, the long days. I edit the soundtrack, removing the discomfort and difficulty.

I have deemed myself useless as of late, with the firehose of news. Those of us concerned about the state of our nation and world, find ourselves scouring for infinitesimal nuggets of goodness. I traipse the fine line of being informed and being obsessed – praying, hoping, yearning for better.

In our quest to make America great, to return to a time of ease and simplicity, many Americans believe an ideology that seeks to take us backwards. We elected a man full of promises, empty of policy. A man who has insulted each and every marginalized people group, who bullies and lies and scorns anyone not of his white, male, heterosexual ilk. A man white American Evangelicals have touted as God’s answer for our country.

Whose America was great? As far as I can tell, the only group doing great in America is the white, heterosexual, wealthy male. Otherwise, it seems the others are, at best, ignored – children, women, people of color, LGBT, Muslim, disabled, Indigenous. When America is only great for some, it can never be great. The goal is baseless, spineless.

So, we have traded our forward movement, our inclusion and generosity, for an imaginary day in the past that never did exist. The lens of nostalgia never tells the whole story. This is why I ran more than one marathon and why I had more than one child. I forgot. I forgot the pain, the fear, the discomfort – all of it. I was left with a memory, a beautiful memory, that did not inform my future comfort. I did complete the marathons and I definitely continued the birthing process for two more, but I was reminded. And I said something to the effect of Oh shit. Now I remember.

As much as I love the scent of a child from the bath, the goopy grins and the godlike giggles, my station in life no longer revolves around young children. To long for a return is not helpful to the children I have now, the lives they live, the life I live. We must evolve and grieve and celebrate the endings and beginnings of new and old chapters. To live our lives backwards is to choose dysfunction. To live idolizing the good old days damages ourselves and our communities. As we live in the present, in the way of love, we must weigh the evidence, consider the facts, honor our bodies, and discover the truth as it is revealed. We press forward in this knowledge, dispensing life in new and fresh ways, eschewing greed, striving for the collective good.

The notion of “Leave it to Beaver” needs to be left behind. It’s time we strain forward for the goodness of what is before us, loving well, fiercely protecting our neighbors. We cannot sacrifice our greatness on the altar of self-service. We cannot choose silence in an attempt to return to fictitious days gone by. We cannot lean backwards into days that never were.

Instead we march in the rhythms of grace, honoring one another and ourselves with our actions. As we choose life and abundance, we serve our neighbors, our nation, our homes in what we know to be true – it’s all about love, generous, inclusive, life-giving love.

Woman On Call

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To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?

[To the Women of India (Young India, Oct. 4, 1930)]

– Mahatma Gandhi

Once upon a time I became an Ironman. That June of 2010 day, I swam and rode and ran my way through the beautiful, breezy, countryside of Idaho to claim the title for myself. After training and fighting and sweating through nine months of preparation, I achieved the oft-assumed, impossible goal. The long coveted announcement, Jennifer Jepsen! You are an Ironman! resonated deep as I stumbled across the line, my smile as wide as the arms raised high above my head.

I had beyond decent equipment. My wetsuit was buoyant; the time trial bike new and cutting edge, fitting my aerodynamic form; my clothes were cute and moisture wicking – perfect for a long day of sweat and photographs. Triathlon requires strategic pacing, particularly for the IM distance where the race may last anywhere from nine to seventeen hours. Since running is my strongest of the three events, I wanted to sustain a solid and strong marathon, which required restraint on the bike and swim. I ate and drank according to plan, stocking up calories for the latter parts of the day when digestive systems oftentimes call a strike. I controlled everything I could, trusting in the hours of training and ability, surrendering the remainder to the benevolent IM gods.

While on the bike, over the course of the 112 mile ride, I was passed by many, mainly men, with their aero helmets and state of the art equipment – where minutes and seconds are purchased by the hundreds of dollars. I resisted the temptation to prove and press harder, remembering the  inevitable marathon, for which my strength and desire awaited.

I wonder how often we think we should excel and push into areas that do not reflect our giftedness or our desires. I wonder if we, as women, especially those of us employed in a man’s world, think we need to become like men, going against our natural bent, to succeed and accomplish our calling.

Last week, I attended the “She is Called” conference in New York City. Thirty-five female church leaders gathered from around the world to engage the conversations, discussing our unique giftedness and the presenting complications women in American church ministry must face. As I embark upon this church plant, entering into the world of church leadership, I was encouraged. My giftedness is not male, it is wholly female. It was good to rest in a space that knows the softer skills of generosity, mercy, justice seeking, and faithfulness are to be as elevated and recognized as those of the stereotypical skill set of men.

We experienced a sisterhood among leaders, a realm of goodness that had no room for winning or stacking or measuring. A space for each of us in our uniqueness and femaleness.

Scarcity was not invited.

These three dozen tender and kindhearted women are brilliant and tenacious. Each in her own right is accomplished and remarkable and well educated. Yet, only 10% of senior leadership in churches is female. How is this? How has the genius and beauty and wisdom unique to women been so leveled?

My friend, Paula always says, “Men have no idea how much the world is tilted in their favor.”

Of the 400 triathletes who whizzed past during the cycling leg that June day, the majority were men. But by mile 14 of the marathon, I reclaimed those slots. And then by mile 26 I passed more. The beauty of triathlon is the balance. If you blow up in the early miles, as glycogen and adrenaline course, the temptation is to forget the long haul ahead. I knew my giftedness and my desire did not lie in the water or on wheels. My giftedness and desire rested in the turnover of legs, pumping of arms, and the rhythm of my breath. My giftedness and desire rested in the simple, the soft, the unsexy. My giftedness and desire matched the pad of my feet and the determination of my body. I was not passed by many men on that run.

Men, please, step aside, let your women shine. Notice us and move out of the way, notice our gifts and our hearts. Avail yourselves to discovering the realm of feminine leadership, the beauty and mystery of our ways. Seek what you are missing. And remind yourself routinely that we are far better together.

Women, we are powerful. We have the remarkable and blessed gifts of God to fuel and power love. We have the talent and knowledge in the depths of our bodies, in the core of who we are to carry the load, to relieve the burden, to live into our calling. We know this, don’t we?

She IS Called.

Foxes and Hens, Oh My

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Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.
― Eleanor Roosevelt

A year ago, we had fifteen white and black and brown and speckled chickens.  A year ago we had more eggs than we knew what to do with.  Most of the hens had names and a few had personalities, particularly the girls at the bottom of the pecking order. Oftentimes Sideways Sue, Joy or Autumn would race across the tall grass to waddle between my feet in anticipation of a special snack. Doting on the flock, I accounted for their safety throughout the days – okay, five black – check; five white – check; two speckled – check; three old – check. 

Foxes are not friends of folks who have a penchant for small farms. Their sly and crafty ways exasperate chicken farmers, no love lost between the two parties. We have been fortunate, our free-range flock unbothered, pecking through the yard with joy and abandon. We became cocky in our ignorance, failing to protect the hens from our customary predators.

And now our flock has whittled to a meager and mighty four. The other day, during lunch, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, the dart of Father Fox. Upon perusal of the yard I found the telltale sign – a left-behind lump of our last black hen, floppy feathers ruffling in the wind.

I have always loved the sight of a fox in the wild with their assured lope. But when one shows up in the yard, there is no more majestic and wonderful, only pest and menace and enemy.

I wanted justice.

In my city of Longmont, a proposal was put forward this week to name us a sanctuary city.  If you’ve read my blog, for any length of time, I’m sure you can guess where I stand. Eric and I attended the meeting and listened to a third of the sixty people share either their support or opposition to the motion. I took in the standing-room-only crowd, scanning, absorbing, noticing the tense energy in my belly. Many demonstrated their support by wearing red. Many were not in favor.

The disagreements fell upon anticipated lines. Most against the measure cited the importance of law and enforcing proper procedure for immigrants. It was oft stated that each person should do the adequate work to obtain legal status, just like the rest of us (I know I had questions, too). Others discussed the importance of changing laws, the daunting and difficult path immigrants must face to become approved was discussed at great length. Many shared stories and delighted in the merits of our community, citing diversity as an asset. The evening was educational and edifying and I will admit to rolling my eyes only twice.

A few thoughts and questions badgered me throughout the evening: How many people know, really know, an undocumented individual or family? How many of us can attest to  the horrific conditions from which some have had to flee, knowing intense suffering or death was inevitable for the children?  I wonder if we privileged, have a remote understanding of this depth of terror. When we subscribe to the rule of law, without acceptance of great tension and nuance, what happens to love?

After this disaster of sacrificing so many chickens I was no longer amenable to foxes. I didn’t like them. I hated them. Unfortunately, for my firm opinions and me, my daughter happened upon an awe-inspiring sight while walking the neighborhood at dusk. In the middle of the road, Mama Fox stood guard while her six cubs bounded and played and dive-bombed one other. Each pup beautiful and perfect with shiny, fuzzy coat and lean body. The four red and two black youngsters held no concern for our presence, knowing full well they were safe and protected by their alert mama. With her keen eye simultaneously fixed upon the two of us and the exact location of each one of her frisky babes, I couldn’t help but wonder if she and I were more alike than I imagined. I suspect she, like me, worries about how to provide, how to grow and protect her hungry and thriving babies.  I held her gaze and gave her my best, knowing I now had to dwell in a new tension – how to protect my chickens while also holding hope for this young family.

There are many people in this country who do not share the same privilege I do – white, straight, Christian, American born, abled. And those of us with this privilege need to spend a little less time afraid, standing in our truth and righteousness, and a lot more time seeking to understand another. I wonder if we might discover we have far more in common than we realize and a new generosity and empathy may emerge in our communities, churches, homes.

Our unifying language is story. Tell me your story, remind me of your struggles, your suffering and joy, your hopes and fears. Maybe we can find the common thread that cinches us together in faithful and loving community.

I hope Longmont’s City Council votes in favor of the measure. And I hope those in opposition will strive to love and know their neighbor. And those of us in support will go beyond words, wearing red, and speaking for three minutes so that we all together may participate in complete and beautiful and diverse communion.

Too Tight and Ill-Fitting

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Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted or enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Pulling out the spring clothes every year is an eye opener. While staying warm through the winter months, I tend to return to the few, comfortable, just-right items that fail to alert me to the post-election-beer-drinking-warm-bread-eating-cold-of-winter extra couple pounds. My weight lifting regimen has also remained, so my warm weather clothes don’t fit quite like they once did. I may make what I have work, or I may get some new pieces that fit better. I think we can all agree, there are few things more miserable than clothes that restrict in the wrong places.

This week I had two very important conversations regarding our new church plant. We believe in the importance of informing local evangelical pastors of our plans. While these churches cannot support full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, we are requesting an acknowledgement of what these churches can provide for these individuals and families, and to refer them to our church when needed.

The pastors with whom I met are kind and generous men, seeking to serve and provide for their communities. They each respected my concerns, listening with attentive minds and hearts. The conversations were not easy, but a mutual respect was shared as we challenged one another’s beliefs and practices. I was impressed and grateful.

This is the world in which I was raised. These are examples of the people who loved and helped me. Who tended to my children and honored our family. They led my communities of faith and instructed us in our growth. I am aware that they are seeking out their own best expression of love and truth, striving to be the best bodily expression of Jesus in the world. I know these people. They were once mine.

But so much has changed for me, I can no longer bear the burden of a tight and ill-fitting set of beliefs. I am bulkier, stronger. I have become expansive in the ways of invitation and abundance, inclusion and celebration. Things don’t fit like they used to. My former church doesn’t fit like it used to.

I no longer find comfort in the church of my youth. When people suffer and die from poor theology, from silence, from literal reading of Scripture, I cannot stand by and ignore. I cannot respond with anything less than outrage and deep, deep devastation.

And so, I stand on this precipice, this space with my former world behind me and my new world before me. I stand knowing I cannot convince anyone if they are not experiencing doubt, asking the questions, moving in the direction of affirming. I must step forward into this beautiful and new space, with room and true freedom and calling and faithful generosity. For many it might seem too free. We like our rules, we like things defined, particularly so we can guarantee we are solid for acceptance into Heaven. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve walked that fine line. I can be the best good girl. I can follow rules like a champ. But this is not what we are called to. We are called to a life of abundance and wide spaces and so much grace and alleviating suffering. This god of wrath and vengeance is a tragedy. We have a God of vibrant, constant, consistent love that whispers into the depths of our souls Her love for us.

I attended, last night, a local gathering of people interested in providing sanctuary for at-risk members of our community. I saw new friends, fellow pastors in the area who are not of the conservative evangelical world from which I hailed. They greeted me with open arms, each one excited for the arrival of our church, thrilled to be partners on the path of doing the mighty and essential work of justice and providing for ALL people in our county. This is an outfit I can wear – one that allows me to breathe and move and dance. The colors are vibrant and alive, seeking to bring relief to the least of these, to the marginalized and hurting in our community.

I used to wear the perfect clothing of certainty and truth, self-righteousness and good girl-ness. I was blinded, unable to consider a faith filled with beauty, wonder, and vibrancy with everyone invited to the table, everyone welcome, everyone included just as they are. All I could see was black and white, and eventually a drab shade of gray. I have outgrown this rule-based-faith. I feel smothered and anxious, readjusting, measuring, gauging the atmosphere,  unable to fully be myself. I’ve become too strong, too solid, bulked up on hope and curiosity, freedom and acceptance. The clothes no longer fit, and no matter what I do, I can’t shrink enough to make them comfortable and attractive again. I will not return to restriction and exclusion in God’s name.

I will try not to malign my old church. But this new church world? My goodness, it is breathtaking and hopeful and everyone fits. The days of I love you, but… are gone. The days of Yes, but… are gone. I can now with full confidence, shout: We love you. We see you! We can’t wait to watch what you will do. Yes! All of you is welcome and celebrated. All of me is welcome and celebrated.

We are each loved desperately, AS. WE. ARE. Nothing alters this love. Nothing minimizes or increases this love.

So, maybe I will reconsider an adjustment to my wardrobe. Loose, easy, colorful – this is who I am and how I want to express myself now. The tight, ill-fitting, constrictive – nah, not so much.

 

When God is Mother

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“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”

― J.M. Barrie

As a mom of three teenagers, my life chapter requires that I care for myself, shirking the voices of failure and scarcity. I am tasking myself, somedays successful, with the primary and essential work of listening to the overtures of grace, kindness, generosity. This season has rendered me vulnerable, the demands of end-of-year school activities, growing bodies lining my home, the shifts in expectations as warmer weather arrives with its notions of freedom and abandon. I have to be kind. I don’t have a choice. I have to give myself the benefit of the doubt. But, we all know, somedays are better than others. The sinister voices weasel in and shriek loud of what responsible and fun and not-so-tired mothers would do.

Sometimes mothers need mothers. Yes, many of us have our moms, and many of us do not. But regardless of our station, sometimes we need a mother of a higher order, one in which perfection is at the top of the job description. Sometimes (or oftentimes), we need God to be a Mother. We not only need Mother God’s love to pass onto the people in our lives, in our world. We need Mother God’s love to pass to ourselves, in our fumbling frailty and foolishness. I need a mother’s love to pass to myself.

And so I sit quiet and still, watching the birds mate dance in the still-bare trees. I consider the hairy golden dandelions peek their heads from the concrete driveway’s cracks. I witness the fox pair feed their burgeoning den with my favorite chickens. The fresh blossomed trees sway in striking contrast, aligned against the backdrop of Colorado’s bluest sky, not a cloud misplaced. Nature happens and nurture follows close behind.

I’m held, born again into Creation. Loved.

In this time of unwieldy teenagers and hormones and broken curfews and dances, I have to release the frustrations and the building fear. And the only place that holds it all, that sustains me is Mother God. I have to believe She laments and grieves and ponders alongside, as I write and meditate in the earliest hours of the morning and the latest hours of the night. I have to believe She understands grief of the tallest order, the kind that watches intently upon the suffering of her own Son, the kind that wails, mourns and beats her breast at the intensity of it all.

When God is Mother she has the questions bound together with an abiding knowledge that Love always reigns.

When God is Mother she weeps with those who weep and mourns with those who mourn. Her pain and joy etched in the lines across her face, her suffering born in the manner in which she carries herself.

When God is Mother fear is not unbeknownst to Her, bearing the scars of motherhood she stoops low to gaze into the eyes of children and elderly – all the same. She knows. She knows the terror and concern, the unassailable fear that maybe things won’t work out as expected.

When God is Mother She reaches and holds her dear children close, arms enfolding with fierce determination and fire.

When God is Mother She knows when to hide her face, She knows when to let things play out as they need. In her ample wisdom She knows what is best for her little ones.

When God is Mother She carries our humanity, our joy, our desire, our hope, our despair. She has nourishment at her table, enough to fill bellies and brighten sad eyes.

When God is Mother, the rhythms of birth, growth, life, death are carried close to her breast – shaped in the form of us all.

When God is Mother, Creation bears witness to wonder, beauty, rebirth and hope. Resurrection is her language, her greatest gift. Death is undone, never holding the final word. Life reigns glorious.

Did God grieve that day of her Son’s brutal suffering in death? If God is a Mother, I  believe in the absolute certainty of the answer – yes.

And I have to believe, when we suffer, She knows. Her heart undone, broken into infinite shards, covering over us with shimmering love.

The week of Easter, the season of Lent always sneaks up hard on me. I push and fight and resist – forgetting what it’s all for. And I remember in the quiet stillness. I’m called back to the cross, turning my gaze, reflecting upon the suffering. Our Mother knows and bleeds and understands. We are made whole, we can hope, our true home in the heart of God. And we gaze upon the bloodied, wretched form of Jesus – the Son – who bore the heart of God into the world, to show us, to lead us in the better ways. The better ways of justice and kindness and mercy and truth. The better ways of Love.

This week may we lie low, in humility, holding the gift of our Mother’s love close. May we turn toward the feminine, finding wholeness for our souls and bodies, finding relief in being held and known and very much adored.

The Missing Other Half

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I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.

― Annie Dillard

Church is in my DNA. I grew up in the Nazarene Church, a small, Wesleyan, tight knit evangelical denomination. My father and grandfather are both pastors, plus a great-grandmother on my mom’s side. I attended a Nazarene University and remained a faithful member until my early twenties when we relocated to Colorado. I was the best churchgoer, still am, but a couple years ago, we had to take a break. I couldn’t make the churches in our community work. I could no longer stomach the conservative, right leaning dogma that composed many sermons. Certain friends excluded without a loving, hospitable place to rest. Anger burned. I was rage-filled, toxic, exhausting my people with the venting. I stayed too long. To preserve my own integrity, to preserve my own sanity, we left.

In the nine-month hiatus (I know, brief for some, eternal for me) my belief in the work of the Church was restored. My understanding of the true responsibilities of the Church were renewed and I cultivated a compelling desire to bring a congregation to my community, my town. I aligned myself with a new friend, Paula Williams, a leading national church planter, and we all found our footing and hope at Highlands Church, an open and affirming progressive, evangelical church in Denver.

Surrounded by a beautiful team of similar minded people, I can say with confidence, excitement, and terror, our new church will begin Sunday services this Fall, 2017. And I will also say with equivalent confidence, excitement, and terror that I am called to the ministry.

The Nazarene Church of my youth is considered one of the few egalitarian evangelical denominations, where women and men work and learn equally alongside one another. The evangelical churches I attended in Colorado, are not. While it took me awhile to make the discovery, the absence of women was not something of which I took particular note. When your dad’s the pastor you don’t know much else.

Somewhere along the way I adopted the mindset that my primary work as a woman was to support my husband. With three young children and a lack of motivation to find substantial work, I took on the role of stay-at-home-mom without much struggle or concern. These years at home have not been easy, but my work was secure, my tasks enveloped in keeping the kiddos alive and fed, warm and loved. But I also developed some deeply complementarian beliefs. I believed the success of our marriage was based upon my ability to say yes without complaint or grumble. As a good Christian woman I was tasked with being the wind beneath his wings, for being the strength and backbone, the quiet but faithful supporter of his endeavors. I had goals and achieved some lofty pursuits, for which I am proud, but all were held loosely with the understanding my primary work was the kids. The division of responsibility was convenient, keeping us from some hard and difficult decisions. And Eric, thankfully, did not see our roles in the same way I did. We navigated the best we could with what we had, and it worked for us, for the time. On the outset one would not think I was compromising my call, and I didn’t believe I was. I felt I was in the right place for the right reasons, and Eric did too. But the chapter is closing, the pages turn and I must change and follow the pull of my desires.

There’s a rub. My ministerial call is welcomed, invited, celebrated in the progressive evangelical church, but not in most evangelical churches. Women cannot lead men. If females are relegated to primary leadership of the women and children, how can a full expression of the heart of God be demonstrated? I’m not interested in changing minds or engaging debate, I just want to work. I want to lead in the ways I am geared to lead. My giftedness is not male. My giftedness lies along stereotypical, female roles. But I don’t want to just be a “helper”. The church needs women’s voices. The church needs men’s voices. People need to see women at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. People need to see men at the pulpit, leading, speaking, being. The church needs to see women as equals, as partners in this life of living out justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with God. I need to know there is ample room at the table that holds space for my unconventional and nonlinear communication and thinking patterns, that relies not on bullet points or well-crafted arguments, but on the nagging feeling in my gut that needs to be hashed out, oftentimes with fear and trembling.

My gifts of feeding and compassion, mercy, wonder, exuberance, heartfelt grace, and connection need to be revered just as much as another’s ability to crunch numbers, start programs, organize fundraisers, and collect the masses. Our churches need both. Our churches deserve both. Until that day comes, I’m afraid the face of God we get in our places of worship, in our towns, is that of a man. I do love my men, but the ferocity of a woman’s heart? The dedication of mothers? The tenacity of a human who knows how to feel and breathe and weep and endure through suffering? Nothing compares.

Until then, our churches will be shells. These remarkable, powerful qualities of God relegated to the sidelines, served quietly, revered without authority. For some, this is enough. For me, it is not. I want the fierce, the fire, the deep, deep compelling of justice and compassion to burn from the pulpit. I want everyone to know the depth and breadth of God’s love. And until the women speak and lead and carry the weight of authority? This will not be the case.

I didn’t know what was missing, all the times, my entire life, I listened to men. I didn’t know the tender-hearted presence of God’s Love spoken through the mouth and the soul of a woman, until recently. My palate whetted, I can’t turn back. I need the fullness, the balance, the beauty. I need the total portrayal and power of the heart of God.

And my community needs this too.

Stay tuned, friends.