Dear Eric

photo credit: Star crossed via photopin (license)
photo credit: Star crossed via photopin (license)

After my Dear Jenny post, I’ve been thinking of the desperate importance of a Dear Eric post…a letter written to my husband, after 22 years of marriage, explaining me. While I wish this was straightforward, I realize the female species is a conundrum even to ourselves. I am learning, after 43 years, to give more grace to myself than I have. To stop staying things like, “Girls are weird” or “I’m so hormonal right now”. Everything I feel, every time I react unexpectedly, the moments when I surprise myself..all of this is a clue to greater understanding and appreciation for girls and women. May we continue to learn and invite our loved ones (especially our men and boys) on the journey with us, with much patience and grace.

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your seeming limitless patience with me. I am surprised often by your calm demeanor, your willingness to explore my psyche, your ability to keep quiet. I know, at times, I have not been the easiest person to coexist with, and I know frequently your expectations and mine fail to align. I hope to help you on this road. The personal work I’ve accomplished has been greatly a result of your generosity and willingness to ask good questions and hold me in the uncertainty.

After 22 years married, we seem to have a pretty good thing going, not without its moments, but for the most part, a very life-giving relationship. I often wonder how we got so fortunate, for it has seemed easy. But, I must remind myself of the great amount of effort we’ve put into our relationship, both through working individually and together. We have been proactive in making choices to protect and defend our marriage and family, from the traps of busyness and resentment.

Here are a few things I have learned about myself (and other women):

Validation. We women are really good at comparing ourselves to one another. If someone’s thighs are better than mine, I jump to the conclusion that their entire life is better…that I don’t measure up. Please know we are not rational, and when I mention things like this to you, it’s okay to point out my amazing qualities, and to say my thighs look great. We base our perceptions on our assumptions. It takes a lot of reassurance to pull us out of that spiral. You don’t need to agree with my crazy, but you can reaffirm the other wonderful qualities I have.

Security. I don’t need grand adventures. I want a friend. I do need challenge, but I don’t love having my feet off the ground, or careening down a mountain. I appreciate your hard work, but I can’t handle a workaholic. I appreciate your ability to relax, but I can’t handle you drinking too much. I appreciate your definitiveness, but I won’t do well if you fly off the handle. I want us to have freedom with our hard-earned finances, but not to go into debt (too much). I need to be able to trust you, in the smallest of things just as much as the huge. I need a place to be vulnerable. I need you to be vulnerable with me.

Appreciation. I want to be supported, respected…regardless of how much I accomplish. I want you to notice the little things, from managing the kids and their activities, to the taxi driving, and the budget, groceries, and laundry. A small thank you goes such a long way with me. There are the times where you call me out. That’s okay. I just need it to be couched within the many mundane thank you’s.  I appreciate that you give me room to be who I am. Thank you for not pressuring me, for trusting me in how I manage time. Thank you for appreciating the balance I bring to our home.

Understanding. A lot lives in my head. It’s just there. It’s not a reflection of my level of trust in you. Things swirl around and bump up against the edges of my brain. If you notice this happen, it’s always a good idea to ask a well-formed question or two, when the kids are settled down, in a quiet space. I do need to get this stuff out, and usually I don’t even know it’s there. Give me a good reason to let it out. I have a lot of grace for imperfect methods, I just need to trust motivations.

Go mining. We have highly acute receptors, buried deeply below the surface that sense the slightest of shifts. We know when something is off. It’s never good to roll your eyes and walk away. Not much gets past us. Our intuition fires, sometimes randomly, but usually we need to pay attention. Feeling and emotions are my barometer.  Fear kicks in, leading to control…clean house, kids, food, exercise, money. It’s an indication something is amiss. Please help me. Please listen patiently, kindly. Don’t push too much or lose it. I need you. I need help figuring out my intuition too. Support my extra sense, listen when something isn’t “right”, reassure me in these moments. Work with me. Don’t analyze or scientifically debunk my theory or conclusion. Trust me, even if the fear is misplaced. I might be wrong, please don’t add to my shame. This intuition must be fine-tuned. It is useful, and will come in very handy, particularly with the teenagers we have.

Solving. I know you spend the day solving problems, fixing things, creating.  Your work with me is never done. I need you to listen, to let me know it’s going to be okay, and that you will be there no matter what I’ve done or has been done to me. Criticism is not helpful, nor is there anything to fix. I may or may not want your input, you can offer your understanding, and I might want your assistance. Unfortunately, these are very difficult times. I don’t really know the best way myself.

Play “Can You Imagine”. I like to dream, we like to dream together. Play the game, entertain the scenarios, participate in the conversation. I know our finances, our time constraints, our kids. I know all these things, but sometimes it is fun to meander down that little path. We have had some really fun adventures that are results of these conversations.

Say I’m sorry. Every single one of our issues involves the both of us. Each of us make mistakes. We each have to own our part. A well-timed, sincere apology speaks volumes to my heart. Thank you for your willingness to go there.

My home is my refuge. You seem to be able to get away, to go places, recharge. I recharge at home. I take pride in my home. I need it clean and organized, depending on how much chaos is in my life. Thank you for the abilities you have to fix things, to make improvements. I love our home. It feeds me.

To all the men out there…love the one you’ve got. The ass is not greener, according to Glennon Melton. Figure her out, make it your life’s goal to understand her. Just because you can’t or it’s hard or it feels impossible doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Don’t assume, listen, ask questions, seek answers. This life is an endless journey of discovery. I am a mystery unto myself. Please assist us in our self-discovery, be part of our team! The things we can do together are so much greater than alone. Don’t be threatened by the success of your spouse, be impressed and proud. She knows when you are enamored with her.

Eric, these last 22 years have been a fabulous ride. I am so grateful for your desire to understand me, to cherish me, to honor me. I have felt it and am trying to receive it. Thank you for persisting in loving me.

I love you,

Jen

Thirty Miles and Forty Pounds

photo credit: RSiegel_Week16 - Scarpas via photopin (license)
photo credit: RSiegel_Week16 – Scarpas via photopin (license)

Thirty miles and forty pounds. Thirty miles planned, the Continental Divide Trail through Rocky Mountain National Park. Forty pounds, the weight of my pack, bear can with food and four-season tent. Three of us, three years running now, backpacking together the same week each year. Monsoon season in the Rockies, rain guaranteed, lightning always a threat, fear knocking on the gate waiting to pounce at any moment.

Karie, our leader and organizer, lover of the outdoors, hiker extraordinaire, always awaiting an adventure. Ready and able for anything.

Becky, kind-hearted, compassionate, easy-going but definite. A reassuring presence, usually thinking of others, offering regular assistance.

Me, typically along for the ride, rising to the occasion, uber-focused on contingency plans if we need to make a quick escape. My biggest desires on the trail: a dry tent before packing, a good #2 in the morning, strong coffee and a moment to enjoy.

The expedition did not disappoint. We were entertained by a mother moose and her baby, multiple elk — men, women and children, fellow backpackers, honeymooners, interesting tracks, stunning vistas, rain, thunderstorms, afternoon naps, blistered toes, bruised hips and collarbones, marmots and other rodent-folk, cold rivers and waterfalls, mountaintop lakes. Most of all, pride, pride in our accomplishment, pride in what we worked out on the trail, pride in what was overcome to get to the trail. Pride in ourselves, a trio of suburban women, roughing it on our own, making it happen, enjoying the beauty, the majesty, the reward. Risking.

The beauty of our band is our care of one another. We are only as good as our weakest member, and three-years-running…this shifts. We lighten the load, we re-distribute, we even out depending on the needs, the burdens. This work is just as important as what happens on the trail.

Upon my re-entry, I returned, somewhat unwillingly, to the land of social media. In my Twitter feed I learned the story of Sandra Bland from Naperville, IL. While in Texas, en route to her alma mater, Prairie View A&M, she was stopped by police for failing to use her turn signal. Forcibly removed from the car, she was slammed to the ground, injured road-side. Taken into custody, she procured the bail money and awaited release. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell, apparently hanged by a plastic trash bag, suicide the ruling.

There are many inconsistencies with this particular story, many impossibilities and questions arising from the black community and her family. Regardless of her death, she was stopped for a turn signal infraction and injured because she stood up for herself and fought back. Would this have happened to me? White, fair-skinned, average height and weight? Possible but improbable.

Who are the people in our communities, on our streets, in our schools and churches, across our counties, states and nation that need some of the burden alleviated? We really aren’t much without one another. It is our collective work to be cognizant of the weight others are lugging. Some are obvious: disabilities, skin color, illness, socioeconomic. Some are subtle, requiring us to dig in, get to know, seek to understand, separate from safety: sexuality, mental illness, grief, physical pain, abuse.

Our community is only as good as our empathy. Our community is only as strong as the ability to love through seeking to understand another. Our nation and world can only be at peace when we lay down the weapons of hate and ignorance and entitlement.

We can’t know the weight of someone’s backpack. We can see, they may be suffering a terrible load. And just because someone appears to be able to bear the weight of the pack, doesn’t justify the burden. When Karie offered to take my tent for the last three miles, I felt I could fly. The additional weight I had been bearing was more than I realized. I just assumed she and I had similar weighted packs, that I needed to be the one to make adjustments.  But it wasn’t until she bore part of my burden, through seeking to walk in my proverbial shoes, that she could understand.

I can never know what it means to be gay, or transgender, or black, or disabled, or mentally ill. But I can develop skills involving listening, understanding, learning. Until we do this collective work, until we recognize the burden our privilege puts on those who can never obtain it, the disparity will continue. It will thrive. It will multiply. The division will further grow.

We owe our fellow humans hope. We owe one another kindness, authenticity, and a hand.

This woman, Sandra, we owe her memory justice.

The burden carried by our marginalized is more than I can fathom. It’s more than I can fully understand. It’s more than I often want to understand. My privilege enables my children, me, Eric  opportunities to seek dreams, fulfill desires, live in comfort. The freedom offered by our privilege, our lighter packs, need to extend to the burdened, the hurting, the oppressed in our neighborhoods.

How do I come alongside someone and say, Hey, I’ve got this, let me have some of your load for awhile? Maybe it isn’t my job, nor is it my story. But I can work to understand how my white privilege, my heterosexuality, my health, my marital status, my socioeconomics might put an additional weight in the backpack of my fellow brothers and sisters. My chosen ignorance, my chosen comfort to have what I want when I want it, my chosen blinders only perpetuate the problems rather than contribute to the solutions.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even know the burdens. I’m always given a choice…to see, to choose sight or choose blindness. Do I take a risk, embark on the path, commit to the journey with someone else’s pain? Or do I pretend I don’t see?

The answer is Yes. I am equally capable and guilty of both. I do know, however, the joy is sweeter when the accomplishment is shared with another. The long, arduous climb, the body-jarring downhill, the blisters, the numbness…all of it is better with my friends as we trudge together, alternating who goes first, who picks the line. Sometimes, all I can manage is to hang on the heels of someone else, someone I love and trust. Someone who, I know loves me in return and holds my hope for me, when I cannot hold it myself.

Dear Jenny

photo credit: She Did. He Did. They Are. via photopin (license)
photo credit: She Did. He Did. They Are. via photopin (license)
This is a letter written to my 21 year old self, on her wedding day. A sampling of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over 22 years of marriage.

July 10, 2015

Dear Jenny,

I know this seems weird. You may not recognize me…22 years married is a long ways away. There’s a few things I want you to know, from this side of things. I’ll try not to freak you out, but give you some helpful hints.

I’m so proud of you, for sticking to your ideals. You are really a remarkable person with so much to share in the world. I know your expectations are very high, that the voices in your head ring with failure and trouble and fear. But you know what? You are embarking on a journey and adventure, far beyond your wildest dreams.

Eric is fantastic. He is a good one. You won’t find much better. When you were disappointed after watching Sleepless in Seattle the other day, because he wasn’t Tom Hanks, and mostly because you aren’t Meg Ryan? Pay it no stock. Movies are not real, TV is not real. Most people you are measuring yourself up against…aren’t what they seem. I know you’re at a Christian College, I know what they say, but believe me. Your discernment, your ability to see inconsistencies, will totally serve you.

Believe it or not, you will come to eventually love yourself. Hard to imagine, I know. You will actually weigh more, but be content. Impossibility! I recognize you don’t weigh what you want, you keep failing with food, some days you want to exercise and others you don’t. I know you feel as if everyone is better than you in every way. But you know what? You are going to eventually get to a place where your insides match your outsides. Is it possible? Yes. Keep moving toward health, balance.

By the time you’re 43, you will come to terms with your cellulite…mostly. You know, you’ve had it since you were ten. No amount of restriction or dieting or exercise is going to take it away. Rethink the notion of getting smaller. I know that seems the ideal, but consider taking up your space. Maybe being a woman is not what you think it is. Maybe being a woman means we claim our place…in our homes, our work, our relationships…and we own who we are, rather than striving to be less, smaller.

I’m not going to tell you how many kids you will have, that just spoils it, but I just need to say…don’t be too judgmental of those who have some “work” done. I know you have no idea what that means…it’s okay. You will.

Don’t waste your money on makeup. You’ll never wear it. And when you do..you’ll cry. It’s not worth it.

Those times when you feel Eric is letting you down because your relationship doesn’t have quite the same shininess as someone else’s? Trust him. He knows what he’s doing. He loves you more than you can imagine and will sacrifice a lot for your happiness. Don’t let joy be stolen because what you have doesn’t measure up to someone else’s. Most of that is not even true, and you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Maybe instead of thinking about yourself all the time, you could consider the difficulties others may be facing.

That time, when he tells you that thing..you’ll know it when it happens. Maybe don’t say anything, or give it some time. You have every right to be hurt. Find a therapist.

When you come to that other time when you succumb to your martyr tendencies, when Eric is off doing something fun and you determine it’s time to take charge and parent the children alone? Yeah, pay attention. This only leads to bad things. Clear away any tchotchkes that can be thrown. This never ends well. I repeat, never!  Put the child in the stroller, go for a walk. It’s just one day, one nap. It’s not the end of the world. You could make a mistake that will sear your heart for all time. And if you do, it’s okay, from this side of things the damage seems minimal. Take a deep breath. Hug him/her. Remember you are not unredeemable. You are loved.

Ask the questions, search for answers. Remember, asking the questions is the important part. The answers will come.

Put your marriage first, in small ways. Remember, you are a perfectionist by nature, so don’t make firm and fast rules. Try to carve out time each night to talk, revisit the day, process together. Beer is a great bonding agent. Commit to putting the kids to bed early on a regular basis, so you know you can count on that time together. When they nap, you nap. You need to be able to stay awake after they turn in for the night. Aside from your prayer time in the morning (which won’t really happen consistently until they’re a little older), this is the most important time of the day. This is not selfish, this is essential.

Be careful with busy-ness. Many people are doing far more than you, and will always do far more than you. How does your family function best? I can tell you, it’s not with being busy. Reserve your evenings, be careful with meetings – church or otherwise. Just because its church doesn’t mean you sacrifice your marriage and family on that altar.

When certain people ensure you register for china..stand up to them. You will not entertain formally. It is never going to be you. Say “No” to the china, crystal and silver. They are not your friends. In fact, they will clutter your cupboards and they will have to be moved five times before you sell them for a fraction of their value. Use the money at REI. A good tent, a bike rack, hiking boots…this is your marriage. Buy a barbecue, and order pizza. This is you. This is how you entertain and have fun at the same time.

Volunteer work. Do it if it is enjoyable, not out of obligation, especially with little kids. Take care of your marriage, yourself and them. You don’t have to earn God’s favor through working at the church. You already have that.

Avoid the scrapbooking trend. If you do succumb, make sure you create books for ALL of your children, not just a couple. It will haunt you. And chances are, the kid(s) you don’t make the book for, will be the ones who care.

Please keep writing, fill those notebooks. Run. Swim. Physically, you have to get it out. Eventually your handwriting will be illegible, so no one will be able to read your rantings anyways.

Check your friendships. Maintain the girlfriends who have Eric’s back, too. A friend with an unhappy marriage could infect yours. Be careful. Your girlfriends are a lifeline, so very important for all the processing you require, make sure they are secure and content in their families. Maintain friends with different life experiences and perspectives. Varying points-of-view come in handy.

After twenty-two years of marriage, I can say it was the best choice I made. We have many ups and downs, but Eric is a good man. Enjoy the simple things, seek to understand, know that certain seasons are not forever. A solid conversation goes a long way, and if you’re stuck, get help. Guard against resentment. Fight to be your own person. Trust in what you’re called to.

Enjoy this day! It will be over soon. I know you’re ready to get on with your life together. it’s a good one!

I love you!

Jen

I Had to Go to Church

photo credit: Some books via photopin (license)
photo credit: Some books via photopin (license)

I knew I had to go to church on Sunday. It was essential, the priority. The beauty of church -community coming together in best and worst of times, made perfect through the gathering of imperfect people, joined by longing, need, celebration, joy. Our work, to show up. God’s work to complete.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, 

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I grew up singing these words, It is Well With my Soul. This hymn often sung in response to tragedy or suffering…a way to defy the hold of hopelessness, to proclaim the words, to own the redemption in the narrative God has been writing within human history, within our hearts. Rarely can I sing these lyrics, which I deeply love. I adore pairing my voice with others in church, claiming the harmony, the depth, the rise and fall of the notes, the words. This song, renders me mute, my emotions fail me. I fall apart, overcome, silently weeping throughout.

Part of the reason for the difficulty I face lies in the history of the hymn itself. In 1873, Horatio Spafford, penned the lyrics in response to the tragic death of his four daughters. Standing aboard a vessel, en route to meet his surviving wife, these words were recorded while he stood over the location of the accident, the bodies below.

The agony, the trust, the questioning, the grief…

My sin – O the joy of this glorious thought

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O My soul! 

Yet, isn’t it in our suffering, in our terror, our wounded-ness where we get to see the heart of Jesus? Isn’t this where we get to enter into the life of another? When we can set aside our differences, our prejudices, our principles and seek to understand, to enter into the questions? Our suffering binds us to the suffering wounds of Jesus. The suffering eventually leads us to a place where we can croak in a weepy mess and eventually proclaim: It Is Well! It is Well With My Soul!

This past Sunday was remarkable. We went to church. We have been attending a congregation in Denver, one that seems to be meeting the criteria in  Dreaming of Church.  An inclusive, open and affirming congregation. One where all people are invited to sit, rest, receive, become. To be there on the Sunday after the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. What a day of celebration! Standing in an auditorium, my white, heterosexual family and me, with 400 other people, the majority who KNOW suffering. These words rang. The walls vibrating with voices raised harmoniously, ebbing and flowing.

It is well. It is well. With my soul. With my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.

To be here on this particular day with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To be in church, singing this together, receiving with arms raised, eyes closed, tears streaming.  I can’t think of a greater gift…for me, to personally witness, for them, to receive the gift of God’s abundant mercy and grace. Validation. In church.

Jesus has redeemed us all. The work is done. We are called, invited to live in freedom, to live whole, to live approved. Every single one of us is loved beyond measure. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God, not even the church.

And voices crescendo, hands raise higher, tears stream further…the fullest decibel:

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, 

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:

The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,

“Even so” – it is well with my soul.

Beauty, beauty – sheer, relevant, palpable beauty! Grace filling, tumbling, pouring out upon the auditorium. Grace not measured precisely, to the nearest ounce, but dumped like an offering upon each and every head, each and every person with eyes to see and hands to receive, inviting each and every one of us to accept the abundance, the love, the hope.

Each one of us accepted, approved, invited into radiant mercy.

Amen.

A Prayer of Lament for Charleston

Last night, a young man, 21 years old, spent an hour at the AME Church in Charleston, SC before opening fire and killing 9 black people engaged in a Bible Study and Prayer Group. This is a hate crime.

I have entered the collective grief, the best way I know how, as white, middle class, suburban, stay-at-home-mom. My grief must involve asking myself many questions regarding my white privilege and the white privilege of my family.

Lord,

Let me not be so comfortable in my white skin, that I fail to recognize the privilege of my family. The fear I don’t have to have because my boys are white. I know a bit of the fear, having a daughter. I recognize the vulnerability of her gender, but she is white and middle class, there will be justice for her. 

Skin color can remove this insurance. Skin color alone put my family and me in a place of privilege. Certain rights are ours by virtue of our race. Until we all start to see the ways in which we succeed based on nothing we’ve done – we will not see change for our African American brothers and sisters.

How do I live in response to these truths?

Check and confess my white privilege, my assumptions, my racism.

It’s in all of us and until it is brought into the light, recognized and confessed, recognized and confessed, recognized and confessed, there will be no healing for our collective.

Lord, forgive me. For my blindness, my relief, my cushion of comfort because my husband and boys aren’t black.

Forgive me for the thoughts: If they’d just listen and follow the rules. If they’d just….  If they’d just….

NO! 

If we’d just stand with them.

If we’d just put ourselves in their place for one moment.

If we’d just stand firm, against our own white privilege and demand our African American brothers and sister receive the same rights.

If we’d just challenge the systems, in solidarity.

If we’d just talk to our kids, show them the news, read the accounts, raise our children to see and celebrate color…not just white. 

If we’d just subject ourselves to the same level of fear, day in, day out.

Lord, forgive us. Have mercy on us. We beg of you.

My prayer time today is Twitter. I will be following the discussion from Austin Channing, Shaun King, Crystal Lewis, A’Driane Nieves. My next days will be devoted to participating in the collective grief, in reading, learning, paying attention.

I will join in the lament, the best way I know how, imperfectly and with love.

Cabin Musings: The Complexity of the Simple

Courtesy of my daughter - C.J.
Courtesy of my daughter – C.J. (This is not my cabin.)

Life on a different plane, unfolding before my eyes, each day new, different, yet the same. The goodness, the every-day miraculous, the constant unfolding and refolding of life back upon itself. It is refreshing relief to notice the beauty in leaves, birds, blades of grass, berries and wildlife.

I was awakened to morning thunderstorms. The rarity of this does not escape me. Thunder booming, rattling the house, while I, safe under the covers, revisited the dreams I never remember. I went to sleep with a lost cat on my mind, told it returned in the morning. But what about our friend who’s missing? Will he return today, like the cat? Such thoughts peppering my fitful waking moments.

Ground saturated this rainy season, the greens even more vibrant than they were before. How is this possible? The experience of grace, everything I witness asks to be noticed, counted, remembered. Birds so small they rest on worn out dandelion stem, eating the seeds, redeeming the death of the yellow. Billowing clouds, urgently scooting across the sky, filling in the gaps of blue, like a magnetic pull.  I prefer these gray storm clouds. My love of rain (except while backpacking or camping, for this is most inconvenient) will never cease, the mystery of what may come, providing relief from the sun’s relentless tyranny of production.

Standing on the bank, watching logs freed from their strongholds, carried downstream to some strainer. Dirt-bike tracks all over the yard, in the muddy mess, courtesy of my youngest..meeting his need for the motorized. Water tinkling in the ditch, levels altering daily, depending upon hay production needs downstream. The red chairs, the plastic adirondack kind, purchased for twenty dollars. Constantly breaking, needing reparation, until they go to recycling. I don’t know if they like these in there, but it makes me feel better for the lousy purchase. These chairs, a siren call, perched on the river bank visible to the rafters and fisherpeople. An invitation to come and sit, take a load off, from the stress and strain of recreation.

My heart bursts at the sound of whoo whoo, knowing the owls are back, our Great Horned friends who entertain us when we play the game of spotting them. The horses and donkeys skirting our fence. The buck that never goes very far from the property. His velveted sprouts inching their way up and out.

A morning and afternoon spent on the deck, in another red chair, under the orange umbrella, reading fluffy fiction. The black goldendoodle by my side, heating up in the high altitude sun, cooling herself in the stream. Never far, challenging horses, following a trail of scents before realizing she can’t see me anymore. The dog that runs and hikes with her nose in the backs of my knees. Her heart broken when we aren’t around…when I’m not around.

The breathtakingly-adorned hummingbirds sniffing about, hovering just long enough for a brief glimpse. Terrifying me while clipping past my head in their seeming erratic pattern of flight. The shadows of the forest dancing across my seeking vision. Slowing down. Looking up. Witnessing the complexity of the most simple.

The good, the everyday, longs to be counted, noticed, celebrated. Daily lives etched with suffering, with pain, with broken expectations. Countered, tempered by pursuing and noticing beauty. The smile from a stranger, the way a mother loves her child, the perfect stem of a flower, full grocery stores, irrigation, air-conditioning, the rising and falling of the sun, strong coffee, kind words, naps, laughter, good conversation, delicious food.

That Joy, she can be so elusive, yet when I stop, slow down, feel and let go, she meets me. When I recognize and name the beauty, the gifts, she and Grace settle in and stay for awhile.

Eventually they will depart, but I’m convinced it’s not their fault.

She’s Got the Whole World in Her Hands

image1

River running high, rain event contributing to so much water. Spring switched to summer overnight. No time to waste, no room to lollygag, work must be accomplished, life created and born. No room to sit back and celebrate, to pop a tab and take a swig, to reminisce and reflect.

We arrived last night, after a week, to the mountains. The typical snail’s pace of things, revealed at speed of light, almost violent. That fallen log I could once view from my chair, blocked by walls of overnight growth. The birds move faster here, the lilacs bloom as in time-lapse. All must occur in a shrunken window.

Just last week, a perfect robin’s nest discovered us, constructed low in the V of two trees. We photographed, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the four ethereally blue orbs, each placed with care in the precise location, for the most pleasing presentation. Dreaming of the life encompassed in each, we wondered the reasons for this too-low habitat, concerned for the inhabitants’ safety.

This morning, the nest empty. A couple of impossible thoughts crossed my mind: maybe they were born and flew away..in a week, or the mom and dad devised a clever system to successfully relocate each to safer limb. I eventually realized and accepted the impossibility of my gracious scenarios.

This is the act of nature, the cruelty of life at all costs, the perpetuation of species..something sacrificed for another to live. Perfect recycling, perfect system. We think we should control this stuff. Life without suffering being the ultimate goal. We try to contain rampant disease, fix bad economies, relieve countries run by dictators. We seek justice, cures, healing. We await miracles, Lazarus moves.

Sometimes we are witness to cures, reconciliation in broken relationships, children adopted and brought to loving homes. We pray for and trust miracles can happen. We say this is not the order of things, this is not how it’s supposed to be, this is wrong.

While it is our work to fight for justice, to seek mercy in humility. It is our calling to right wrongs, to bring relief and restoration to this earth we’ve so carelessly battered. It is not our job to make the blind see, to force someone to choose better, to make people care.

My work is to rest in this little corner of my world, observing the needs that present themselves daily, trusting in the first step, the first smile, the first meeting for coffee. My immediate work is to slow myself so I may know and experience God’s infinite and abounding love for me, to learn to be kind and give myself grace. Now I am capable of greater, life-giving, adoring love for my husband, my children, my people.

These are the times where the people and communities closest to us need our gentle care. Teenagers have to be raised. Paychecks brought in, houses cleaned, lawns mowed, children ferried. Among us are hungry homeless and gay teens and foster families, friends with sick children, unanswered questions, painful diagnoses, hurting marriages. Meals will be made, wine will be shared, bread will be broken. We see the heart of God is to bring all things back to her bosom, her heart, her loving embrace.

Maybe the beauty and redemption lie in the smallest of things done with the greatest of love, the notion of the flap of a butterfly wing resulting in a hurricane across the globe. Regardless of belief, regardless of fear, regardless of right or wrong, love is the only answer, the only glue that makes sense of things. The greatest of these. This perfect love is the heart of God, calling back to Herself, to rest, renewal, redemption. This love is the reminder that She’s got the whole world in Her hands. Everything flows out of Her heart, everything is known, cherished, held. Each person pursued regardless of race, gender, sexuality, bottom line, appearance, nationality.

Did that mother and father robin love those precious blue eggs, as I love my children? I’m not sure. The last thing I want to do is assume wrong. The last thing I want to do is make a value judgment – that someone or something is more important than another. I mourn the loss of these precious lives, their potential and beauty.

I trust, in our God of love. I trust and I know each and every thing done with love for self and others impacts the whole world in mighty ways.

The Persistence of Water

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I meditate in the red chair on the river bank. I try to isolate the sounds, each molecule of H2O halting tumbling, turning, diving over stones. The rhythmic tune of the body, run-off, barely contained, freely flowing to where?

Last night, a tumultuous evening for many in our hometown as thunderstorms hovered over the county, a tornado touching down too close. Sirens wailing, Facebook posts of basement dwellers. Water everywhere, rain falling as it’s never fallen before. Post-traumatic fear, memories of historic flooding, just a year-and-a-half before. Damage still being recovered, homes in the process of rebuilding, some bridges never remade. Evidence still of devastation beyond our imaginings.

Water: essential, life giving, symbol of abundance. Water: the source of relief, recreation, quenching, cleansing, Baptism. Water: the tender balance, without it humans only able to survive three days. The lack of water, dehydration, waking me up in the middle of sleep, reminding me to drink after a busy day of activity. Unstoppable, capable of utter devastation, capable of remarkable beauty.

While the storm raged at home, we had the television on at our place in the mountains, watching, recognizing the landmarks from the news footage. Texts to parents and friends and neighbors. Concern for them, for our things, our animals. Everything fine.

The sheer terror water can bring. No power to prevent a torrent, only Mother Nature’s mercy. No power to prevent the devastation – to life, to property, to hopes. Land ripped open, torn, erosion from something so life-giving. It feels manipulative, wrong, like a practical joke gone bad. Sandbags disregarded, unnoticed.

Yet, the flow creates and re-creates, returns to ancient paths we tried to control. Water does what its going to do, without our intervention. We may think we can dam it up, tell it where to go, irrigate the convenient places we’ve decided we need. Yet, it will always recapture the path that we arrogantly assumed we could claim. We have a court for water rights, for who can perch in streams and fish, for who owns what. How can we own a molecule, a body that never sits still?

The flow will always find a way, regardless of our assumptions and beliefs and expectations. The flow will always result in new life, in shift and change – gradual or not. As canyons are formed by erosion through water, we get to be privy to change in the making, to history defined by lines. Striations marking time, carving human history. Lifespans determined by water.

It is a wonder we don’t see more events in the microscopic duration of our lives, as the space between us and these massive bodies is inches, feet. What maintains this defined homeostasis? One foot from moving through homes, six feet from obliterating towns. The perfect balance, essential blend of devastation and change, opportunity and growth. Redemption.

The thin line of human life, human existence determined by the tiniest of fractions. The miracle of the bluest egg, the most insignificant of flora, the beating of a heart, known, protected, loved…given life through seasons, through opportunity, through resurrection. Life always finds a way, life always given hope through assumed death. Life always marching forward, carving, creating, all things being made new.

Dreaming of Church

photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)
photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)

Being raised in the church, buying into the messages of earning favor with God, earning favor with people, proving…it gets confusing sometimes when all that stuff doesn’t work any longer. When sitting there, on Sunday mornings feels akin to being poked by pins, stomach churning, hands wringing, lips clenched. Air absent. A pressing on my chest, preventing breath, preventing assurance, preventing grace.

Sitting in the pew, singing the songs, weighed down, stuck, why? The room ions charged with daggers pelting my eyes, tears lapping at the gates not awaiting proper dismissal. Who can’t be here? Who feels unsafe in this building? Who has been sliced open so deeply for assumed choices, that are not choices? Who has been told they are sin?

I gave up church, I had to, like a reverse Lent. We had to separate for me to discover who I was and my calling, apart. Terrifying with kids, fear constantly pressing. The old messages, the need to control every Sunday, like an old mix tape. Eric, should we go to church today? No.

Should. The toxicity of that word, weaseling and slithering its way through my most vulnerable and sensitive places. I wonder if there is actually evil dwelling in the “shoulds”. Power held, driven by the blind obligation. Every time I “should”, I have to pay close attention to my internal environment. To be motivated by a should is to perpetuate an unhealthy system…to operate out of guilt and fear rather than desire, health, grace.

I know the church is changing. People are seeking, asking questions, quietly and gradually shifting. Conversations happening, the grace-filled kind, the ones that plant seeds, dwelling in kindness and patience and yearning. Healing and hope, the beautiful, abundant, life-giving words of Jesus jumping off the page, shining a light of relief into the darkness, the damage. Differences are celebrated, not tolerated, not ignored, or worse – condemned. What do you love to do? Sure, there’s a place for you here. Yes, we do see your race, your sexuality, your gender. No, it’s not a problem…it’s all welcome, beautiful. We need you here.

I love the Church. I love who she was created to be. I love the work she does. I love that fact that she keeps re-creating herself, independent of our expectations and opinions. I love her work in healing, in reaching, in being bent and shaped. I love the way she loves. I need a church that deeply cares for one another, providing relief and grace. There are plenty that mar the name, punching, leaving a trail of wounded, self-righteous, blind. This is not the church I am discussing.  My church, the church I dream of, must rest in and exist within these beautiful, words of Jesus, words of Love:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8)

This is Jesus. Who knows our hearts, our pain, our wrestle and struggle. He is nearer to us in our suffering than we imagine, protecting, holding, shielding his children. We are to be this to another, the Church needs to be this…the Church has to be this. Church must be our example of how to love. Without true, holy, abiding love, what’s the point? Why do we go? Because we should?

Is it my job to change a church? I don’t think so…not right now. I’ve tried and I wind up toxic. I lose my peace, my hope. We are all called to different things and I deeply respect friends and family who’ve chosen the inside track.  They have my support and admiration. Me? Well, I shoot too often from the hip. I get angry (not in a good way), I am capable of damage and the last thing I want to do is confuse a tender, seeking soul.

I will choose a place that celebrates all of me, all of another, all of my children, all of my husband, all of my friends. I will choose a place that doesn’t seek to change a person but welcomes us as we are, loving the differences, loving the stories. I want a church that wrestles with knowing what is our work and what is God’s, recognizing the essentiality of this differentiation of responsibility.

I refuse to “should” on myself. Instead I choose to live in grace, believing my being loved is not contingent upon where I am on a Sunday morning. If it happens to be at church? Wonderful. I hope and pray this can be the reality.

The Colors of Grief

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I love how the light falls from this particular angle, the sun shining directly on me through the trees, the shadows cast long, illuminating the developing forest floor as winter takes a back seat and spring rapidly pushes forward. The seasons each are a few weeks longer and shorter in the Colorado High Country. Mother Nature wakes up a little later around here, stretching her long arms as she yawns and new life begins. Abundance overwhelming as creatures skitter, birds construct homes, young deer wander not terribly keen to the need for fear. The fire from yesterday’s eve is blackened char, memories of silly jokes and Sponge Bob’s Campfire Song Song.

Sitting in my favorite chair, coffee, pen and notebook in hand, I am invited to rest in the goodness, the gifts. I am invited to set down my agenda, my need, my proving, to just be, to enjoy, to soak. So much is going on all around, and in. So much to figure out, so much to manage, so much to attempt to control. The kids, this final week of school, finishing strong. Now over, the summer uncovering itself before us.

My heart and head move through situations, hopeless situations that seem to offer no positive outcomes. I think of the child, now rendered motherless, just one year shy of the age I was when I found myself in the same space. Scared, confused, unbelieving. Uncertainty now in the driver’s seat, nothing sure or determined easily. The loss of innocence. I recall these last thirty years I have walked this road, recognizing the incredible and remarkable care I was given, the people, the love…offered, available. This child. Thirty years. Broken hearts. How do we manage just one more moment, let alone a day? This precious girl. Mind, heart, body plunged into uninvited suffering.

Yet, the world keeps miraculously spinning on its axis, the sun shines after long days of rain and joint-stunting cold. The seasons happen, the leaves come, the trees continue their arching up and out. Flowers bloom, tiny seeds become food, birds make homes, eggs are laid, babies hatched. Life goes on its merry way without much care for the suffering, sorrow, grief that may envelope us in the most inopportune of moments. Cruelty at it’s finest, Life doesn’t halt, doesn’t even really stop to take a breath; marches onward to the rhythm of laughter, parties, graduations, birthdays, new life, seasons, promotions. All of it still happens.

While in Barcelona I visited the Picasso Museum. Guided by an English speaking headset, I  meandered leisurely through each hall. While observing his early works – sketches, instructional exercises, contest winning scenes – I took notice of a particular portrait he painted of his friend Carlos Casagemas. The haunting use of color and contrast had me mesmerized. The countenance young, yet worn…almost like he knew too much. The broad shoulders wore a large coat, with thin, elongated face and unfocused gaze.  The recording explained that Carlos was Pablo’s close friend for just two years. I took note of their abbreviated relationship, the image staying with me as I continued.

I came to the collection of works from his Blue Period (1901-1904). A tangible display of dejection and death, all painted in blues. I wondered and confirmed this was Picasso’s response to the suicidal death of his friend, Carlos. He allowed the grief to color him, to determine him, to define him. Everything he did was in relation to Carlos’s death. The subjects of his paintings were sick, broken, dead, hungry, filthy. Maybe this is all that felt real, no longer was there room for fake, trite, patronizing. Nor was there probably room for laughter, merriment, or cheer.

Doesn’t suffering do this work? When we suffer it burns away the excess, the superfluous. No longer do we have the energy or desire to pretend.  When the earth shakes, when we are pummeled by unexpected waves of pain, tumbling us headlong deeper, wondering if oxygen and light will once again be ours. Nothing else works, just blue, just sad, just questions. Our sorrow, our trembling deserves a name, it deserves to be counted and defined, to be contended with, experienced. There is no proper way to manage this. There is no time frame or rule book. There are no definitions, for this would be a great disservice. We don’t get to predict the end, there are not clearly defined borders for grief. One day, one moment there is respite, a glimmer.

Following the Blue Period, the Rose Period (1904-1906) is the picture of Picasso’s hope. Works infused with joy and refreshing color. The hues, however, still seem muted, tenuous, maybe disbelieving. Sometimes hope doesn’t seem real, or deserved…too good to be true. Hope dwells in tandem with suffering. Sometimes she just hangs out, on the edge of periphery, almost undetectable. She dwells in limitless forms – the unfolding of a new season, sunlight, rain, conversation, medication, mercy…

As I am given the gift of witnessing the unfolding of this new spring, again, I know we all get to experience new birth after desolate and desperate winters. Redemption. God’s time is our healer, grace is the driver, and self-compassion is the key. There is great power in the recognition of our work, the suffering.

I wonder if Picasso, in the remainder of his days painted any more blue. I bet he did, but maybe there were other colors too.