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.

On Dreams and Pogo Sticks

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Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

― Langston Hughes

At Pogopalooza in Costa Mesa, CA, James Roumeliotis from the United States achieved an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records on July 29, 2011 after 20 hours and 13 minutes. He bounced 206,864 times on his pogo stick. When I was ten, I had dreams of this magnitude. I had a dream of myself being entered into the Guinness Book of World Records, hopping around on my pogo stick.

I was up to a couple thousand, able to hop without interruption or accident for twenty minutes at a time. I’d hop and hop across the blacktop of the driveway, the screeching springs inhaling and exhaling in rhythm. Our house, the parsonage, fortunate for all, was situated at a distance from the other neighbors. The broad-faced church loomed as my audience and shelter.

My pogo stick went on a camping trip that summer with my family and me, a brood of four children and two wayward dogs. Into the woods I jumped across the uneven and gravel-ridden campground roads. Our time came to pick up and leave, to tear down camp and continue on our vacation journey. Upon arrival to the new site, my pogo stick was discovered missing, left behind, abandoned behind a wide-girthed tree.

I know I grieved the loss of my pogo stick but I cannot recall if I grieved the loss of the dream. She was not replaced. And I suspect my parents experienced a smidgeon of elation at the absence of the repetitive squeaking shrill.

We all carry dreams. Sometimes our dreams are silly, struck down easily by a wayward obstacle or expectation. Sometimes dreams are serious calls upon our bodies, minds, and souls. They echo into the depths of night, raising our voice by the octave, building soapboxes and aiding in the rantings of firm conviction. Sometimes dreams feel giant and unwieldy, like all center and no edges – loose, flimsy and indefinable. Sometimes dreams are clear as day, outlined precise, to be filled in with color and detail and personality. Some dreams develop and some dreams are fixed. Sometimes dreams must be abandoned and others are resurrected. Sometimes they’re fought for and sometimes died for. Always are they lived for, urging for hefty doses of hope and a touch of insanity.

My dreams have progressed, we might call them adult. I dream large for the world – for peace, kindness, love and compassion to reign. I dream for the uplifting of the marginalized and justice for the corrupt. I dream of relief for the poor, sick and frightened. I dream of freedom for the wrongly incarcerated. I dream of healing for the ill and resources for the hungry, for black lives to truly matter. I dream of homes for the homeless and grace for the burdened.  I have so many dreams,  encompassed in my faith and my love for Jesus and my trust in God.

But I also hold dreams for myself. It would be safe to assume these particular dreams represent my personal calling. I am called to start a church that loves and provides relief for all. I am called to become a pastor, utilizing my talent and heart and giftedness to draw others toward grace and mercy. I am called to raising my children to the best of my ability. I am called to my marriage, growing together as equal partners in this aging life. I am called to write, to love well, to grow in my spiritual disciplines, to become ever closer to Jesus in model and spirit. I am called to be an expression of Love, as a woman in a man’s world.

One of my kids lamented at the cusp of middle school, wishing they were as smart as their friend, Tom. I replied with severity and admonition: You are kind and compassionate, your giftedness is not academic. Tom may get good grades, he is gifted at school, but Tom is an asshole. My goal for you is to not be an asshole.

As our dreams grow into callings, may we move forward with grace, asking questions, seeking answers and avoiding assholery. May we find the ultimate calling, in the words of Frederick Buechner:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Sometimes our calling finds us and sometimes we have to wrestle it down. Sometimes our calling is our deepest desire and usually our calling terrifies the sh*t out of us. Sometimes our calling extends beyond our lifetimes, the seed planted by us but watered by another. A calling is not easy, a calling is terrifying, incapable of being ignored.

While I suspect my dream to enter the pogo stick record books is dead, my calling to become is secure and formed. I do not quite know how I will get from point A to B, but I trust in the benevolence of God. Where there’s a vision, there will be a way. And I will strive really hard not to be an asshole in the process.

Dream away friends.

A Good Man’s Story

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“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I pushed some hard weights in the gym yesterday. It must’ve been obvious since I got a comment from a woman. Normally I get all kinds of annoying comments from men: Smile. Don’t look so mad. You’re too pretty not to smile – lame things men say when women make them uncomfortable by not making them comfortable. So, for a female to notice and speak, it was something.

I went to the gym on a few hours of sleep, the anxiety of motherhood bearing heavy on my heart and worn spirit. After overcoming the temptation of a return to my pillow and cozy covers, I pushed and strained, pulling my muscles and mind to sufficient exhaustion.

I checked in with John. John frequents the gym more than most. At 87 years of age, his determination to defy the aging process is fierce and clear. He shuffles about from machine to machine, weight to weight with dedication and purpose. The man does not waste time. He’s quick with his workouts and wit, his six-time-replaced hip and advanced age slowing him down to a suitable pace, so the rest of us don’t feel like absolute losers.

John asked how I was doing, how my workout went. I mentioned something about difficulty with teenagers and needing to sweat and clear my head. In a prodding manner I joked with him, asking if he ever had teenagers, not expecting the answer he was about to give. Gazing at the ground, my wise friend verbalized his deep, rutted suffering: No, Jen, we buried both of ours at birth.

Gut punch.

I started to apologize and backpedal. He wouldn’t let me. He would not allow me to heap shame upon myself, to experience a moment of guilt. He could’ve easily avoided the difficult admission, but he trusted me enough to answer with honesty, which led me to trust him. His honesty delivered hope and restored my perspective. This kind-hearted gentleman had important things to teach me.

Our pain and concerns often place us in a wasteland of isolation and fear, loneliness and myopia. Nothing good can come from this place. We believe the lies – no-one understands, no-one will empathize, no-one is safe.

And the most harmful lie –

I am alone. 

Perspective is everything, isn’t it? John’s story did not negate my difficulty, nor did it negate my responsibility. His story helped me step away and take a break from my own suffering and pain for a brief moment, to experience grace. My calling as a parent, partner, friend, citizen is unthreatened by a story more tragic than mine. The important work remains, unchanged, but the burden is lifted, lighter. Suffering’s redemption is in the sharing.

Our problems and concerns can be hard and painful and scary, but there are always beautiful stories of resolve and goodness. My difficulties are never the end, nor are yours. If we pay attention, if we find a new perspective we might be able to see the threads of wonder weaving through the tumult and the grief. We might be able to discern the hints of achievement. We might be able to observe subtle building blocks of empathy – shoots of love and compassion poking through the cracked dirt. Shame has no place here. Restored perspective and new understanding allow us to honor our efforts and achieve sturdier footing in this new, more confident space within ourselves.

John’s goal was to take care of me. He did not yield to self-pity, nor would he allow me to resort to shame or embarrassment. He wanted me to feel better, to be able to unload. And in his self-deprecating, redemptive way, mentioned: Well, maybe it’s for the better. I don’t know how I would have done with kids, particularly teenagers.

He considered my comfort, my well-being, my day. He wanted me to experience a sense of goodness and relief. And because of his response, I could return the favor to him.

Iron sharpens iron. There is nothing like good community to remind us of the importance of sharing our stories, of confiding our difficulties. We can never know what someone’s experience might be. Nor can we know, the fresh perspective, that lightens the load and fuels a fire toward true compassionate kindness.

Community is our antidote. Stories are our ammunition. In these fraught times where loneliness abounds, social media echoes, family members have opinions – stories are the solution. We have to listen to one another. We have to have high regard for another’s experience. And we must abound with empathy and desire to love our fellow humanity.

Love is our fiercest weapon.

Love is never soft nor is it weak or spineless. Love is the hardest job we get to do, the work of driving toward common ground. Sometimes the best way to love is to walk away and sometimes the best way to love is to dig in.

Either way – it’s love.

The Eternal Push-Pull

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“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

No-one told me that once that tiny human emerges from the womb, a mother opens herself to grief of an eternal order. The reality I have had to reluctantly recognize and accept, from the earliest moments, is in parenting, mothering, grief is a steady co-participant.

As a disclaimer, I use the term grief in a general sense, one of  letting go, alongside a melancholic revisitation of life will never be the same. I have not trod the path of witnessing a child suffer gravely through illness or death or addiction. The parents who endure such suffering  are my heroes, for they exist within a span of reality unbeknownst to many.

With the good-bye’s, grief is a familiar companion – the cute lisp that disappears with teasing, or the permanent teeth that make mouths seem gapey, or the independent defiance of a two year old, or a growth spurt that results in the inevitable and unpleasant effects of puberty. While none of these is tragic, the cumulative result is a new, different, foreign child.

I have known the mothers who occupy themselves with an anxious busy-ness to avoid the threat of passing time. I have also known the mothers who live in the present, embracing the process, aware of their minefield of mistakes. I have known mothers who yell, who don’t sleep, who succumb to worry and fear, who lie awake waiting for the front door to unlock. I have known the mothers who second guess and the ones with full and unwavering confidence in their parenting skills.

I have known the mothers who resort to withdrawal for self protection and I have known the mothers who fight for what they believe to be true and  right. I have known the mothers who leave and the ones who stay, deep in the trenches. I have known the mothers who weep and I have known the mothers who scream. I have known the mothers who appear perfect and the ones always frazzled. I have known the involved mothers and the relaxed mothers. I have known the demanding mothers and the laissez-faire.

I have known these mothers for I am them all.

I’m not sure there is an objective or right way to parent. Many have touted their expertise, but never is there a replicable combination of child and parent. The myriad of personality traits and quirks and expectations and past experience render recommendations moot, the equations can never add up beyond guesswork. The path is murky, pockmarked with equal parts joy and landmine. Each footfall potentially yielding an explosion of relief or one of fear. Parenting is the greatest gamble, the grandest experiment. Raising the next generation is not a work for the feeble or uncreative or ungracious.

The task of working oneself out of a job is far harder than it seems – that I have to anticipate ten, twenty, thirty years down the road for where this grand experiment might result. My greatest fear, regret. I, an imperfect human with my particular flight of flaws is the one to usher my children into adulthood?  As my engineer husband often quips: This is bad design.

I think I know best. And in many ways, I do. I’ve lived a couple decades more than my oldest. I know things. But the world is different, too. My children do have their own way. They thrive on being different, on finding other methods. This is good and I am grateful, for each generation must be a step or two ahead of the previous. I know my children could change the world if I get out of their way. So, here’s the rub, right? My push, their pull is as it’s designed, the defining work of becoming is bumping against and dwelling in the tension on this journey.

Our family’s days are numbered. This is the truest grief of it all. Each day, week, month that passes, we are a new unit. The dynamics shift and we all readjust. The work is never easy, but we do it. We dig in, make mistakes, slam doors and apologize. We laugh and joke and call each other out. We relinquish control as parents and do our best to relinquish comparisons. No family has the same DNA as ours, no-one. To compare is to diminish, always.

I have a young man, a beautiful young man yearning to be released. We push, he pulls, we give, he takes, we withhold, he still takes. This is his work, cracking the bond between parent and child, mother and child.  The bond never disappears, but it alters, the material becoming pliable, lengthening, and less visible in certain light. This is the truth and beauty, the grief of launching our people into the world. The infant I held and memorized is no longer the boy in my home.

And this is the great sacrifice, the grand experiment – the request and demand, the push and pull, the tension and hopeful resolve. We let them go, send them off, once again reminded as we’ve been over and over and over –

Good parenting is not always about us.

Six Months of Sundays

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I have confidence in the laws of morals as of botany. I have planted maize in my field every June for seventeen years and I never knew it come up strychnine. My parsley, beet, turnip, carrot, buck-thorn, chestnut, acorn, are as sure. I believe that justice produces justice and injustice, injustice.        

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Six months ago I signed up for the Fighting Racism Cohort through the Denver Interfaith Alliance. I am unsure what compelled me to say “yes”, but it seemed like the next logical step in my quest to understand why black lives matter and to engage in a conversation with people who know far more than me. My corner of the world holds few people of color, so a monthly trek to Denver was a worthy price to pay to learn and engage and reconcile with some hard truths.

Our group began that first September Sunday afternoon with about thirty people. This past week, we had ten. The numbers have dwindled, but the conversation has bloomed. We have moved from learning about our personal white privilege and the plight of people of color in America to creating an action plan in our faith communities. As we’ve collectively spanned the election of 45 and the aftermath of his inauguration, we have grown together in our understanding. Our black members consistently place the onus on us white folks to talk to our cousins, our parents, siblings and friends. Our work, as the dominant power in this nation is to carry the mantle, to share the knowledge we’ve obtained, to be the allies that deserve to speak on behalf of the black community, because they are tired, worn and fighting for survival. We must own the conversation with one another, debating, discussing, fielding and answering questions.

I took offense at first. I wanted our black members to teach me, to tell me what to do, to shadow me so I didn’t make a mistake. But, the reality is, I need to make mistakes. I need to fail and feel shame and pick myself up and try again. My safety isn’t in danger because of my skin. My sons are not in danger because of their skin or hoodies. I can sleep at night, I do not fear for my children’s safety or my husband’s or mine. I can rest. I can put my feet up at night. I can drive home knowing if I am pulled over I am pretty much entitled to a smooth transaction on the roadside.

The amount of getting-through-the-day-energy expended by my black friends is beyond my comprehension. I am seeking to understand my implicit bias, my privilege, my entitlements and how all of these woven together places burden and condemnation, disempowering and threatening communities of color.  None of us will ever know these things, none of us can claim full understanding. Our indoctrination is so great, generation upon generation of sin, of slavery, lynching, segregation, incarceration. Our racism and supremacy buried, the life and dignity of another, shuttered, silenced, cast aside. Our racism, until faced full and fierce and intentional, will always compromise, will always seek to dominate and over-power, unbeknownst to us.

We must educate ourselves. Read the books, understand the materials, watch the news with an immense side of doubt, have hard conversations. We must place the onus on ourselves to divest ourselves of power in order to bring another up. How we do this? This is the material of conversations and debate, the material of hard and well-earned trust. This is the material that bruises the ego and requires vast humility and stamina. The work is far from easy, but ease should never be the bar. The bar is high and worth every moment of strain. We owe it. The work is essential. And we must forge forward and find our white cohorts, we find our white partners and form the groups and have the conversations, without additional burden upon the black population.

I’ve heard much about bootstraps over the years. I’ve said much about bootstraps over the years, about requiring people of color to take the responsibility. I was ignorant. The only thing accomplished was maintaining my comforts, my lifestyle, my ability to be in white circles without dissonance or displeasure. If they would just…. Until we seek to walk in another’s shoes, trying to understand, teasing out the white privilege and systems of supremacy, it is inevitable we can only be contributors to the racism. We will only contribute the debasement of people of color. Until we learn and seek and strive to understand the desperation, the fear, the lack of opportunity, we white people have no right to speak with authority. We have no right to tell another what to do. We have no right to criticize and condemn, for we know not what our black and brown cohorts must endure at the hands of our nation’s powerful white constituency.

In the state of our nation today, our foremost work as Christians is love – to live in love, to fight injustice, to seek dignity for our fellow humans.  The Church was never intended to be a white country club. The church is a place to come and work alongside another to bring light and relief to the hurting, the disenfranchised and marginalized in our communities, to bring light and relief into our own souls through the good work of justice.

We get what we put in. We reap what we sow.

Secret Admirers and Popular Kids

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In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.” 

― Henry David Thoreau

I had an admirer in high school. His name was Ben. I cannot recall exchanging more than a sentence in the two years we attended school together. Each Valentine’s Day, Birthday, and Christmas he would purchase a school sponsored offering for me – a rose, balloons, candy – and it would be either delivered to my first period class, or tucked in against my locker. Upon discovery of the sender, my hopes deflated and I  blushed upon the realization my gift was not from the Molly Ringwald-esque crush I held, but from Ben, my steady gift giver and unshakeable admirer.

I’m not sure what became of Ben. We didn’t know one another. I’d like to think I said “thank you” for the recognition, but I’m not convinced I cared more for Ben than I cared for myself those days. I’m certain he liked me and wanted more from me than a terse acknowledgement of his kindness, but I had my sights set higher.

My middle and high school years were spent longing for a bid to the next echelon of teen society. I studied the yearbook without end, dreaming of rubbing elbows with athletes and ASB presidents. While tooting my flute in the marching band, I hungered for an invitation to go out with cheerleaders and football players. I wanted to be noticed and included. The friends that did include me, the smart, humble, kind, generous were not enough. I wanted more, shinier, better.

As a pastor’s kid with a penchant for being terrified in the name of Jesus, there was no way I was getting in. While too preoccupied with my own misery, I failed to claim the beautiful, precious people before me. I couldn’t appreciate the friends who saved a seat for me at lunch or on the band bus, or who helped me understand a concept. I couldn’t fully embrace the kindness of the souls who cracked jokes until I felt better, who guided me towards discovering myself. I have many regrets, this might be the greatest – my inability to be present, to see the gifts in my possession.

I have learned from the painful days of my youth. But I still catch myself living in scarcity, with one foot stepping towards the future, while the other foot drags out of the past. My body straddling the present, I look ahead to the next thing, engage the plan, rather than settling into the discomfort or the tension or the delight of now.

These times are tough, many distractions pull. The news is overwhelming, the vitriol contagious, the tweets obnoxious. We want what’s next because right now is tricky and disjointed and scary. But what are we neglecting in our desire for the past or our clamoring for the next? What are we failing to notice or hold? What are we failing to appreciate or feed? The future holds no guarantee, one way or the other. All we have is now. What do I do with now?

Instead of wishing things were as they were or wishing things were better than they are, look at the remarkable things happening before our eyes as a result of these pressing times. People are coming together, seeking to understand, finding new expressions of community. We are educating ourselves, discovering the tenuousness of democracy and the impetus for each one of us to contribute in our unique way. We are donating hard-earned time and money to make our towns better, to bring relief to people who need a break. We are protesting, making our voices heard through phone calls and postcards, holding our elected officials accountable while reminding them they work for us. There is beauty. There is hope. We are living in historic times and we have a front seat to the demonstration of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking in humility with God (Micah 6:8).

Many nights I lay my head on the pillow after spending far too much of the day worrying or fearing or wishing I was somewhere else. The secret sauce, our success, depends upon our  lean into the discomfort, finding rest in what is, standing fixed on the uneven terrain, discerning what we can affect. This is where we garner our strength and resources, where we press into injustice and ache and fight like hell for justice and love and truth.

Thirty years have passed since those days of walking the halls of Savanna High School. I want to return for just one. I want to find Ben and thank him for seeing me. I want to find my friends and thank them for loving me when I was miles off dreaming of some other reality, gazing off to the impossible places that were not safe or inviting.

I want to live here, now, standing in this present with purpose and hope, ready to defend the causes of love and justice, while appreciating the consistent gifts faithfully delivered.

No More Nice Girl

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My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” 

― Dalai Lama XIV

 

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

― Mark Twain

My days tend to be pretty quiet. As an introvert I prefer the house’s clicks and groans as appliances whir and water cycles through the baseboard heaters. I like to hear the outside noises, too, the hens’ egg announcements, the cockadoodling of roosters, bleating of sheep and shrieks from the kids next door. Shuffling through the day in my slippers and oversized sweater, I prefer my children occupied at school. I do enjoy their presence, but the days with the house to myself are priceless.

I am fortunate to have a life that lends itself to listening to the inner draw of my breath, that can move and flow with the recovery from busy weekends and family demands. I relish the solitude and stillness and the mundanity – until I don’t – but that’s a story for another day.

I have begun spending more time in the gym, reducing running to a couple days per a typical week. My body wanted a new challenge, my muscles needed a shift, something to protect and usher me into the next stage of life. After five months of three mornings a week, I have become friends with some new folks in my city, at the local recreation center.

I’ll admit, for weeks after the election I eyed people with suspicion, men in particular. I did not feel safe in the world – my innocence and comfort under attack. The election of 45 stole my sense of trust and safety in my community. I have felt betrayed and vulnerable. Something has torn in our national fabric, faith in our government is frayed and now we must live with greater awareness, greater distrust.

As much as I preferred to hole up in the cocoon of my quiet home, I remained faithful to my gym workouts, tending to body, mind, soul, sanity. The extended proximity has moved my new friends and I beyond pleasantries and grimaces in the mirror.  I have a gym posse, and I like them.

Grief is a funny business and disappointment stinks. It serves no one when we live in the space of suspicious and afraid, so I attempt to combat with generosity and kindness – a smile, a wave, a cheer and a compliment. Kindness might be our salvation.

I don’t know how Jim voted, the elderly gentleman who hobbles from machine to machine and calls me Gina, but I know he’s precious.

I don’t know how Martha voted, but  I love her fiery determination with the weights and her signature pink skull cap and sweatpants.

I don’t know how George voted, but I think he’s smitten with me.

I don’t know how Shelly voted but she sure works hard and WOW! She is strong!

When we have the opportunity, the ability, we press forward into our communities. We seek ways to make life better for another. We seek ways to alleviate the heavy load and provide relief, for another and for ourselves. We seek  ways to move beyond nice and we aim towards kind.

I refuse to be satisfied with nice. Nice is spineless and ineffectual, effortless and meaningless. Nice accomplishes little change in the world.

Kindness is not a soft notion, kindness is one of the trickiest endeavors we choose. Pitted against my own desires and needs and convenience, kindness takes nice a step further. Kindness puts skin in the game and with persistence, begs the questions: Do you see this person? Do you recognize the image of God in the life before you? Kindness happens in the gym, it happens on the drive, it saved lives during the Holocaust and will save lives now. If we are being tested at all, it is in our degree to which we will choose kindness toward our fellow humans. Do I continue the gossip-y conversation? Do I seek vulnerability in a friendship? Do I strive to elevate another’s needs before my own?

I aim to walk a little closer to how I believe Jesus walked, with intention, seeing and providing for the many multitudes, while caring for Himself. I trust this season will move us in the way of humility, in the way of grace. I trust this season will remind us all of the fierce defiance of kindness.

Miles beyond nice – kindness acts, kindness moves, kindness defies.

I don’t have to accept what’s going on, I don’t have to assimilate or accommodate, I can be fiercely opposed, but I can also choose to be kind. I can choose to elevate another’s needs beyond mine. I can choose to set aside my assumptions for the betterment of another.

And I will keep showing up – to the gym, the store, to church and in my home – seeking to demonstrate kindness to the people I know and love now, and to the people I will hopefully know and love later.

 

 

Friends, the pool is sloshing.

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We who lose our footing have lost our way.
― Anasazi Foundation

Well, it’s been one and a half weeks. How are you? The ground is rumbling. While none of this is a surprise it still feels like a shock. Decency feels far off and truth is a craved delicacy. I often wonder if I’ve missed something, why I haven’t been let in on the secret.

Resistance is our new normal. Gathering information, my daily task. Reading, writing, calling my Congressional representatives. I resist through living my life, trying not to succumb to fear and pressure. I don’t always succeed.  I seek time with loved ones and try to gain understanding and new perspective. I ask questions and pray and meditate and drive my kids to school and eat well. I take my frustration out at the gym and renew with laughter and naps. But the uncertainty threatens to undo, threatens to knock me off balance and send me careening.

I spent many years in Southern California, relocating from Washington State at the young age of twelve. Earthquakes were happenstance, often rolling and jerking us awake during the early morning hours. Each time was different, some episodes were smooth waves, others a jolt – some short, others too long.

We lived the dream those days, with a swimming pool as our backyard. After jumping out of bed to stand in the doorway while the earth bounced under my trembling legs, my main floor bedroom afforded me a disconcerting view of the backyard pool – the swish, sway and slosh of water onto the concrete sidewalk.

Friends, our pool is sloshing. The ground on which we stand rattles and quakes and our presumed national safeguards are crumbling.

I find myself often unsteady, unmoored.

Every day news has become another opportunity to recognize my uncertain footing. Things that aren’t supposed to be happening are happening  and I’m unsure how to make sense of this new world around me. The firehose of news is full throttle, most things a terrible shock.

I get it, this is a very privileged perspective to own. A sign at the Women’s March gives me pause: If you’ve only been scared since 2016, that’s called Privilege. Humbling and poignant and true. I have not needed to fear my own government. Many of us have not, on this American soil, needed to fear our own government. Wait, I should clarify: Many of us who are white, straight and male have not had to fear our own government. To be a person of color, to be Muslim or gay or trans or disabled – a much different story. A narrative where fear is the main course of the daily diet.

I cling to faith and I cling to prayer. I cling to my community and my self-care practices. I cling to resistance and finding like-minded people who want to gather together.

I find respite in the economy of the Beatitudes:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.

You’re blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more no less.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.

You’re blessed when you care.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right.

You’re blessed when  you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. 

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.

-Matthew 5, The Message

And I remember, we are in this for the long haul. Our resistance is required with no end in sight. We cannot afford to get tired or worn out. We need to take personal breaks when necessary. We must have compassion for ourselves and others. This is a long road. We are early in the marathon, friends. In the early miles, we have to slow down, we have to reserve energy and motivation for the later miles, to be able to finish strong. Find your pace, what works for you and protect this rhythm. Seek relief and refuge and healing. We need each other. We need our efforts. We must hone our love for the world, for one another. Return to grace and hope through shared community, through honest conversation, through a good book. We must listen to our bodies and rest when necessary.

But the most important thing I return to, remembering I am the hands and feet of Jesus. My work doesn’t alter, it depends not upon who my President is. My work is love. My responsibility is to the least of these, to my neighbor, to my family. My greatest opportunity is seeking justice for the oppressed. This is where the relief is, where the true resistance lies, where hope rests. I can be afraid for myself, but not for long, for the work is plentiful and the work is life-giving and good. We are each created in the image of God, let this elevation of humanity be our foremost task.

The pool may be sloshing, the ground may be unsteady but our anchor is in the unwavering and steady hand of God. She is our touchpoint, our hope. And Jesus is the model for how we move forward – in generous and mighty Love.