Feeding the Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resist onward, friends.

 

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

About Those Good Old Days.

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

Erich Kästner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman On Call

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

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

– Mahatma Gandhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarcity was not invited.

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

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

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

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

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

She IS Called.

Foxes and Hens, Oh My

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Tight and Ill-Fitting

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

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When God is Mother

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

― J.M. Barrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Missing Other Half

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

― Annie Dillard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my community needs this too.

Stay tuned, friends.

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.