No Small Act

Untitled design-22photo credit: My Dad – John Watkin

 

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
― Leonardo Da Vinci

 

We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.
― Martin Luther King Jr

I’ll be honest. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to say what is on my mind. I don’t like what swims around in there and I am reluctant to burden you with my concern. I try to share my thoughts on hope and fearlessness and finding beauty and being love. But this is new territory we are in. We have a man in our highest office that has not one concern about beauty and love, who thrives on manipulation and creating fear. His one aim is himself.

We are at a crossroads. As a Christian I am devastated by the track our country is on. I am devastated that marginalized communities have to live in terror and fear of deportation. I am devastated by the loss of clean water and the disregard we have for our Native American brothers and sisters. I dread the threat facing  women and our control over our bodies. I despise the cavalier attitude toward climate change and proven science, the disposal of this land we have been entrusted to steward. I hate the lies that have been rebranded as alternative facts. I am utterly flabbergasted that the people who call themselves Christians, the same people who claim to love Jesus, drunk on power, have voted and continue to support a man with sinister motivations. A man who lies. A man who cannot be trusted.

If you claim Christianity. If you claim love as your motivation. If you claim Jesus as the one you follow. If you claim a relationship with our almighty God. If you claim the Holy Spirit dwells in you and you support this present administration, something is horribly wrong. There is a chasm I am afraid I cannot, will not bridge.

If you claim Christianity, please do not validate your support of this man with cases for the unborn and Supreme Court nominees. This ship has sailed, you have lost credibility with rational people. But there is room,  you can join the resistance, you can align yourself with the masses in opposition. You can help turn the tide, you can add your voice. Please add your voice.

As I walked in the Women’s March in Denver on Saturday I was overwhelmed by the spirit of generosity and kindness. People were jovial and excited. There was a heartbeat of faithful resistance for the many things at risk that are so very important. Did I agree or align with every single one of my 150,000 fellow attendees? No, but I believe in the generosity of the people who showed up. There is a desire for hope, for dialogue, for solutions. We long to believe the world will be a better place going forward for ALL women because of our resistance efforts. Why would anyone want to go backwards?

We are in uncharted waters as Americans and I am flailing. Words are few and tensions mount. My salvation is in the practice I have cultivated since I was a young girl – writing, reading Scripture (with the lens of grace and love for my neighbor and myself), meditation. My heart breaks and it gets put back together time and time again, fear quiets and I find rest in this beautiful hour before the house creaks and groans with children. This is all I have. I take in too much Twitter and Facebook, I listen to too much NPR, I have too many conversations to stoke my sanity, but I believe I must. I must try to gulp from the informational firehose that has become our new normal.

My personal prescription may not be right for you. Triggers abound and the most important work now is to conserve, to triage the issues for oneself, to find the places we can make our difference, to align with people that we can support. No action is too small. When I feel helpless I like to call my Senators and Representatives. When I have a burst of energy I like to read about new efforts. When I’m anxious I like to talk with Eric or go to the gym or find a friend to gain perspective. It all matters. Our democracy does not come for free and we cannot claim our complacence any longer. It is time to rise.

Don’t let the overwhelm of garbage discourage you. Take a moment, care for yourself in whatever way works. Make a call, talk to a friend, have easy people over for dinner.

This is our resistance, to advocate and provide for the people under attack in our communities, to advocate for science, to dwell together in love and justice.  Our resistance must be motivated by desire to see God’s Kingdom come, here, now on earth as it is in Heaven. This is our work and it happens one decision at a time. No act is too small.

 

*A couple resources for you:

  1. Call your representatives. Here is a fantastic resource to keep track of the issues, who to call and their contact information. I have not seen anything this good: www.5calls.org
  2. Start thinking about changing Congress, www.brandnewcongress.org is a fabulous movement designed for us all to nominate our qualified friends and family to fill the 400 seats coming up for re-election in 2018.
  3. If you’re feeling triggered by the gas lighting of America by a manipulative abuser, you are not alone: https://medium.com/the-stories/trump-alternative-facts-and-abuse-52b30e03b962#.ijou9zkur

 

Life After Inaugurations

Untitled design-21

 

Learn how to weep not in way that paralyzes us but moves us more in the way of action.

-John Philip Newell

I used to road bike a lot. I pedaled my way through the backroads of Boulder County, climbing into the foothills, grazing the neighborhoods, cruising through the farmland, counting the uptick of miles on my odometer. Training for an Ironman a few years back meant large chunks of time in the saddle. For hours leading up, I would be a bundle of nerves and dread, fearing I’d get lost or pop a tube or run out of fuel or be miserable. Once I tossed on the clothes and buckled my helmet, loaded the hundreds of gel calories in my pockets and clipped my pedals, I was good to go. Within a mile, the voices quieted, nerves calmed, heart rate eased, shoulders relaxed and I was able to settle in for the long day’s ride. Rarely was the ride as horrible as I anticipated.

Our local roads can be steep, abutting the mountains. Some of the climbs are a challenge to even the most experienced of riders. From a distance the inclines appear daunting, unmanageable. But as I approach and begin the climb, perspective shifts. The hill seems flatter. What once loomed as an impossibility becomes possible upon arrival. Isn’t that true for most things? The dread of the unknown is worse than the moving through?

I have in the course of this season, with the nomination and election of Donald Trump, dipped my toe in the pool of despair. I have succumbed to the temptation of hopelessness. I have accepted the pull of disappointment, moodiness, sleeplessness and fear. While uncomfortable, I am grateful, for my experiences have revealed a deeper understanding of what many experience on a constant basis because of skin color, sexuality, race, religion, disability.

As the uphill approaches, my perspective shifts. The Inauguration looms, yet my dread begins to diminish. None of this good work will come easy for people motivated by love, justice, kindness and wisdom, yet the job becomes clear. Fight. Fight for people who don’t have the voice. Fight for people who need relief. Fight for justice and generosity and love. People are mobilizing. Creativity is flourishing, and resistance will not be futile.

Opportunities are presenting themselves, opportunities to get involved, to defy and resist the bigotry and misogyny that have been uncovered among our people. Benevolent forces that favor the brokenhearted, that defend the oppressed and the underserved are rearing up. We get to open our eyes and take stock of our communities, our neighborhoods, our homes. Light has shined and while it has not provided a flattering view, we now know. We now know the racism – not just in them, but in us. We now know the fear and the systems that hold people down, we now know the sexism and misogyny. We now know that eight billionaires are as rich as the world’s poorest half. We now know many are not safe in our churches. And we now know that a good lot of our Christians care more for “family values” than for the least of these.

The light has shined, we are no longer shocked by information, we now get to do the good work – caring for our brothers and sisters. We get to do the good work of defense and protest and calling our government representatives and fighting for equal rights. We have a job, a purpose. And this is where the hope comes. We offer what we have, and it matters not what that is. What matters is we use it. What matters is we shine our light, not solely on the garbage, but on the healing.

The incline increases and takes its toll. I’m tired. It’s as if someone grabs my rear wheel and pulls backward with all their might, but I dig in. I will get to the top. I resist the temptation to stop. I know what I have to do. I pump and turn over the pedals, right, left, right, left, I stand, I sit, I take it down a gear, right, left, stand, sit, shift. I repeat my mantra, I put my head down and even out my breath. I will not give in until I crest. There is no easy way to climb these hills, they just have to get climbed. The work we do, the tedious, exhausting work will reap rewards. We will find our stride in this new administration. We will recover our hope. We will find our resistance and in turn we will rekindle our joy-filled purpose.

My friends, thank you for accompanying me on this journey. Be the light your world needs. Build your community, contribute to justice, smile at strangers, flirt with old people, take a nap, vote, call, make a meal for your family, watch a funny movie, protest, sing, clean your house, read, have a beer with friends, knit. We are in this for the long haul, let’s settle in.

 

*We are all capable of activism, but some of us prefer to be quiet about it. This is a wonderful resource from the Craftivist Collective, entitled “Activism needs Introverts”. Have a watch.

Wait, Wait, What?

Untitled design-20

Stillness is what creates love.

Movement is what creates life.

To be still

And still moving – 

That is everything.

Do Hyun Choe

The waiting. Oh the waiting. The waiting can make us crazy, can’t it? The waiting threatens to undo a careful and crafted life, a life of purpose and productivity. The waiting can make the most rested and renewed person resort to a level of doubt and restlessness unbeknownst to her in her lifetime.

The waiting for promised and good, the waiting for the revealed, the waiting for the anticipated feels useless and haunting sometimes. The revisitation of voices and questions and fear are unleashed on the most insecure of days. As the fierce wind rattles the windows, so the insecurity rattles the bones. Clink clink, bang bang – doubt flourishes and fear reigns. Questions abound and ungracious, assumed answers come with a vengeance, raging and fuming with condemnation and impossibility.

In these times of shift, the undercurrents of upheaval threaten the clarity of our call, and our peace. Faith feels feeble. Longing and desire stretch thin like a reed, waiting to snap. The only plausible answer: Wait.

Wait. 

There is no perfect and elegant way to wait. Waiting is strange and humiliating and messy and disjointed and odd. When I’m asked, “How are you?” my answer is often preceded by an eye roll, with a “Fine, I think,” while gazing at the ceiling, hoping the answer lies overhead. Waiting can be a dark land with alternating moments of hand-wringing and doubt, surrender and renewed trust.

While Eric and I have been fortunate in our life together, we have also known our fair share of upheaval. The past thirteen years have been spent growing a business and growing babies into responsible and generous pre-adults. The challenges ebb and flow, with years of rise and years of fall. We have, as a couple, learned to hold things with a tentative grip, relaxed with some and tight with others. We have discovered the value of asking discerning questions alongside the release of pride. None of us is immune to the humbling lessons learned from struggle. None of us is immune to vulnerability. None of us is immune to the work of waiting.

And now, in this new season, as I wait, I am reminded to go further. To do what may seem wasteful, ridiculous, impossible – to choose quiet, still, solitary.

You need not leave your room. Remain seated at your table and listen. You need not even listen; simply wait. You need not even wait, just be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka

To be enough in this world is a feat known to few. The clamor of comparison, the lure of lights, the draw of personal development never ends. The tentacles each beckon, motioning towards one more notion or opportunity for self-improvement – to become better, richer, fuller, more interesting. Even the church invites us to add more, do more, be more – all good things, of course. The temptation to find the next thing, that one thing that will be the answer, is constant, if we let it. The ego idols of prestige and recognition, praise and reverence rattle with the coursing wind.

Striving. Yearning. Adding.

Always more.

Are our houses built upon our proving, our fatigue and busy? When we crawl under the cool covers, heads on our pillows, do we believe, do we know we’ve done enough or must we recount all the undone, all the wasted? These days are heavy laden with need and the cry persists: Let’s go! Let’s do this! Keep moving, don’t slow down!

I eschew the silence, for the silence forces reckoning, forces my own contemplation and consideration, tapping into latent insecurity and unmet needs. But once I give up my own ideas of what I should want, what I should do, I discover rest. Silence and solitude uncover peace and love and I soak in the knowledge of how fiercely loved I am. Silence ushers in this truth. Stillness gives room. Solitude reminds me of the persistent grace of God. Waiting no longer remains an obligation, a pressure, but becomes a gift, a gift of presence. With eyes to see I know any other response beyond gratitude, any action out of turn, any premature step forward is half-baked and ill-prepared, capable of harm.

The fuel for the birth is in the wait. The pushing, the reaching, the pain never disappoint in due time. But isn’t it horrible? The worst you can imagine. But the beauty, and the pride at having done it, having made it is incomparable, beyond word and comprehension. New life, a fresh creation, built upon the unshakeable foundation of perfect, fulfilled, and unrelenting love.

It is good.

What are you waiting for?

New Year’s Revolutions

Untitled design-19

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.” 
― T.S. Eliot

My daughter’s first day back to school after Christmas vacation involved a discussion in her freshman World History class.

“We are going to discuss revolutions. What are some famous revolutions in history?” Asked her teacher.

A few answered, “French. Industrial. American.”

Claire raised her hand. Once called upon, she announced in all seriousness, “New Year’s!”

While I’m not certain I want to discuss my desires for a New Year’s Revolution, I think the word deserves consideration. Isn’t this what we want at the turn of a new year, the turn of a new page? A revolution?

In order to experience a personal revolution, we have to set some resolutions. After the holidays many of us focus upon our nutrition or we return to the gym after too many missed days spent with loved ones. Or we start to clean out closets and tidy up finances or we embark upon some better ways to talk to ourselves. We might pursue a new goal, like training for a race or taking a class, or trying a new hobby. Some of these stick and some of them don’t. Some of these offer us a fresh start and oftentimes we return to our old ways, within days.

In my personal life I have learned not to set firm and fast goals at the new year’s turn, instead I look at ways of being. I may want to lose weight, but instead I continue the exercise program I enjoy, one that feeds my soul and body. I may want to spend less, but instead I ask questions like: Is this something I really need or really want? What am I avoiding in this quest for a new fill-in-the-blank. I may want to enjoy better quality relationships, so I choose a greater level of vulnerability.

The five of us went to Kauai to spend the week after Christmas. We decided to enjoy an experience as a family rather than buy more stuff for the holiday. It was a bit of an experiment, a decision we made at the end of 2015. Our time together was wonderful, a much needed respite after a rocky 2016. The opportunity as a mother, to watch my children be themselves, together, is a priceless and fulfilling gift, better than anything that could’ve been under the tree. The first few days in a new place are always hard for me. Sliding into December 25 and then expecting to reach the epitome of full relaxation by the 26th was an expectation I thankfully didn’t hold for myself.

While letting the sand settle between my toes and the waves fill my thoughts I discovered the depths to which I dwell in scarcity. Kauai is abundance personified. Water oozes from the lush, verdant mountains to the tune of countless waterfalls. Rivers run wide and long, the ocean sends her relentless waves, rain pours in the night. I’m not sure what it is, but abundance is hard to accept. Maybe it has to do with the dry and drought-prone West I’ve been born and raised into, maybe it’s my own personal state, but I recognized and contended with my propensity toward scarce thinking. I tend towards wanting more, being more, giving more than I can. And while I know my offering is enough and I have enough, I don’t trust it. I feel the need to prove, to strive, to aim for that forever elusive yardstick of perfection, of enough.

I consider the Israelites subsisting on manna in the desert through the course of their forty-year journey. Once the manna came, it didn’t take long before they tried to hoard and store up beyond their daily allotment. Unfortunately for them, God knows our human condition and God demanded through this regular practice, their trust. Enough was provided. Enough given to go around. Enough would be there for tomorrow and the next day and the next.

It’s a temptation to try to hoard our happiness, or our rest and relaxation. I wanted my own slice of the island. I wanted to bottle up the experience, to save it for myself, because frankly I don’t know if I have what it takes to do what I want to do, to do what I need to do. But, this is not the design. We are made to fill up, to receive, to heal, rest and go. We were made to accomplish our work, tend to our wholeness and go. It is not our job to be always well-rested, to never be worn or overwhelmed. It is not our job to always operate within our personal limitations, to never be desperate, or aching. We must feel and experience the lack. We must suffer and ache so we may know the relief, hope and readiness that comes from recovery.

Are we given more than we can handle? Sure we are. And just as the Israelites were fed, so are we. Given precisely what we need in adequate measure.

Are my resolutions foolish? No, my resolutions are the tiny breadcrumbs that lead to a personal revolution, that result in change and relief in my body, in my world.

I do not choose to make peace and happiness my resolution, instead I choose to see the world with a more generous eye, relying upon grace and mercy toward myself and another through being slow to judge and quick to offer kindness, through being slow to make an assessment and quick to offer a compliment and a bridge toward understanding, through being slow to implicate myself and quick to ask new questions and seek wise counsel.

May your 2017 be filled with the smallest of revolutions through the keeping of the smallest of resolutions. And may you spend your days well, living according to the abundance of the earth and all of her goodness.

A Mother Receives Her King

Untitled design-18

Breasts are a scandal because they shatter the border between motherhood and sexuality. 

― Iris Marion Young

All three of the babies destroyed my breasts. During the early days of nursing I had to Lamaze-breathe through their latching-on to withstand the pain. My nipples blistered and scabbed, their suckling a violent and terrifying act. Soaked teabags relieved some of the pain, but the true remedy was for me to toughen up.

The work of birthing, nursing and growing infants is demanding and exhausting. The most exhilarating of experiences, while also reducing parents to shells of their former selves – better shells, but shells nonetheless. In this land of extremes, I found myself alternating between the profoundest joy and the deepest grief, my predictable existence flipped upside down by eight pounds. The cry of infant dictators a grave threat to my expectation of personal entitlement.

Once a mother arrives to the other side of childbirth, she’s been poked, prodded, splayed for the world to see. The body is reduced to function, to instinct, devoid of personal dignity. The early days are not about discretion, they are about function and nourishment and care for the tiny human. A good mother’s tantamount goal – to grow babies, to bond and keep them alive and fed and warm.

At this 2016 year-end, we have witnessed more tragedy, more corruption, more disappointment than a single year should offer. We need relief, we need rest, we need freedom from fear. Peace feels distant, but few things are more peaceful than providing witness to a nursing mother and her baby. And so, I sidle up to Mary, the nursing mother and her infant Christ. I gaze upon the fresh baby as I rest my weary, tear-stained cheek against her soft shoulder. Afraid to interrupt, I remain motionless as the baby gulps, pulling long for nourishment, for comfort. Jesus, the Christ, Emmanuel – fed by humanity, nurtured by humanity, held by humanity, bonded with humanity. Mary’s body, soft and supple, ready to receive her king.

I imagine Mary spent the nursing hours reflecting upon Jesus’s features. She and Joseph may have had a running commentary: Hey Joseph, are these my eyes or God’s? Whose nostrils are these? And what about that cowlick? I wonder if she trimmed his lengthening nails with her teeth, or breathed in his sweet, fresh infant breath. I suspect so.

I deposit my fear and worry before I rest beside her. I approach ready, willing, longing. My troubles, anger and confusion are immediately replaced by wonder, awe, and expectation. I shudder with chill when I remember this is no ordinary scene. THIS is the dawning of my King, Our King, Our Savior, the Messiah.

Now.

Shepherds start to trickle in, sheep in tow. They are unsure of proper protocol, this woman, reclined, feeding. This scene is foreign to them, uncomfortable. But babies must eat and Mary knows the urgency of his cry. She hesitates to share the Christ child, but she knows the work before her, the responsibility she bears. While she relishes the opportunity to bond, to reflect and ponder, to keep the baby for her own, she knows. She knows her road as a mother is long.

The shepherds really smell, no modern day hospital would let them in, their stench indicates unsanitary, unclean. But Mary knows. She knows God preferred a stench. She knows God prefers strangers and dirt and unrefined. And so, she knows what she must do.

Her bent finger breaks the seal between babe and breast. She covers herself and offers the baby to Joseph. Joseph cradles his head with great care while tucking Jesus against his robe, craving the physical bond, also. But he knows this is not about him right now, so he steps toward the shepherds and displays before them the Christ. One tentative, grimy finger outlines the infant cheek, while another holds the infant hand, running his thumb across the dimpled knuckles. Another asks to hold Jesus, his scratchy robe an offense but not one that  seems to bother the Christ. The man lowers his nose to the soft, downy head and takes a long and lingering inhale.

My body and mind have fought hard this year to make sense of events, to anticipate elections, to provide relief and understanding in my circles. I cannot fight anymore, it is the time for rest, for renewal, for my full presence with loved ones. And so, I seek the baby. I seek to nuzzle my nose, to imagine the circumstances of his birth, while remembering the births of my three.  I imagine studying his delicate and beautiful features, hoping for a glimpse of God’s own. I imagine the bonding between mother and babe, hoping for a hit of calm in the midst of chaos. You can’t rush infants and you can’t rush feeding, and you certainly can’t rush love. And so I wait, watching, expectant.

The work of Love is slow, not to be forced or hurried. Love takes time and risk and patience. May we find our rest and renewal sidled up against the breast of Jesus, as his disciples did at the Last Supper. May we envision a world awaiting wonder with expectation. May we imagine the coming of Jesus as the lowliest of creatures, the lowliest of humans.  And may we usher Jesus into our own lives through knowing the lowliness that lives in us, too. May we be humble and restful enough to receive Her King.

Merry Christmas, friends. I pray we find our rest and our peace.

A Child Will Lead Us.

fullsizerender-13

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.  -Albert Einstein

When the kids were tiny I procured a Little People Nativity Set. I’m not sure now how hard they are to come by, but twelve years ago it was a chore to obtain our plastic little gathering of happy players. Over the years Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, farm animals and wisemen have ridden on a bus with Mr. Potato Head, they’ve been fed countless treats, and traveled to places I will not mention. My children, now teens, no longer play with these toys, but I display them each year as a reminder to seek and protect childlike wonder.

As many of us know, this year the wonder is hard to find. Christmas feels like an obligation and a trudge rather than a time of celebration. I go through the motions, attending parties, buying gifts, decorating but the wonder is distant, disposed.

My brother Jeremy came to town last week. He brought two of his three boys, Zack and Sam, to Colorado for a long weekend visit. Both are wonderful nephews. I love being an auntie. I love knowing I can rile them up and hand them back. Zack (8) is gregarious and brilliant, filled with exuberance and questions. Sam is a thoughtful four-year-old who sits attentively while playing Legos. His spirit is peace-filled and kind, a curious child with remarkable demonstrations of love, his hugs could soften the harshest of humans. As the observant middle brother of three boys, it might behoove us to pay close attention to Sam someday. He is going to have things to say that we will want to hear.

Upon arrival, Sam made a beeline for the plastic Nativity. My careful display included Mary and Joseph attending to baby Jesus, with the barn animals and wisemen arranged neatly in a semicircle. The angel held his post above, keeping watch over the scene below.

Sam didn’t care for my adult neuroses. He took every figure, one by one, except the baby, and lined them up with toes touching the plastic edge of the manger. Each shared a front row view of Jesus, feet and bodies pressed together, shoulder to shoulder, straight and perfect and equal.

As I write this, news is flooding out of Aleppo, the city decimated by Assad’s forces, bombs pummeling, women and children dead and dismembered in the streets. I check my USA Today App to learn more. The lead headline under “Top Stories” is: “Dow Closes at Record but Doesn’t Top 20,000 Yet,” followed by additional headlines about the wildlife refuge occupiers, and Trump trying to run his businesses alongside a nation, and a preacher ranting to kids at a mall that Santa doesn’t exist. I scroll through two pages to find any mention of Aleppo.

The baby has to be enough. The baby has to be the answer. The baby has to be the hope, the healing, the rest for the world’s weary souls. The baby has to deliver on this promise, because it seems darkness bleeds as light dims. Suffering tries to win.

In the violence of birth, darkness precedes light. The terror and the wretched pain generate blood pumping through veins, cries piercing the nighttime chill. Life wins, Love wins. This baby, this boy, teenager and man. The Savior, our Savior  –  birthed into this world. Light grows and darkness wanes. Love beams down.

And I stumble upon remarkable things that display a generous hope, that reignite my wonder:

The moon this morning, framed by leafless trees, sinking downward absorbed by mountains.

A run with my friend, hashing out the difficulties of life and how far we have to go and how far we have come. A pride and grace flowing from our sweaty heads and pounding feet.

An early morning conversation with Eric over coffee, the room lit only by the tree, random ornaments from Christmases past reminding us of childlike and wonder-ful times.

Jesus’s arrival to earth, God in skin, is not for my benefit alone, but for the world. Jesus’s birth and life and death is so we have something to hang onto, when the weight of the burden is too great to bear, when the pain of the suffering doubles us over, when the fear threatens to close in and we cannot breathe. Jesus is the weight, the depth, and we get to line up, toe to toe, in front of his precious body and proclaim our worship, our adoration, our need.

Nothing else works.

Bodies bent and broken, minds filled with fear, hearts yearning for relief – this is where Jesus does his best work. This is where we find our wonder. Waiting, yearning, hoping, praying, seeking.

The Child will lead us.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Matthew 5:1-12, The Message

God is for you, full stop.

untitled-design-17

I was saved eleven times. As a kid growing up in an Evangelical denomination, I was invited to ask Jesus into my heart at every camp, revival, special youth retreat. I did ask Jesus into my heart but remained terrified. In order to insure my salvation, I had to pray the prayer, examine my spirit, return to a life of repentance, because, apparently I was a horrible sinner and incapable of discovering redemption without the constant and consistent revisitation to upgrade my heavenly insurance policy. My obedient trips to the altar were real, complete with quaking legs, pooling sweat, eyes closed and hands raised, in order to earn me Eternal life in Heaven, or more accurately, eternal life out of Hell.

I had the terrifying narrative of Hell drilled into me from the A Thief in the Night movies to warnings of Satanic conversations in backwards-playing records. My faith, no matter how hard I worked, could not guarantee that I would stay out of Hell, much less get into Heaven. The game was one I would never win, nor was it possible to do enough to appease this angry god, this god of the Old Testament who demanded blood for my wretched sins, my horrible failures.

It wasn’t until college, at a leadership retreat. While everyone was weeping over their transgressions and selfishness, I had nothing. No emotion. I could not conjure even one tear. I was bereft. What was wrong with me? I was the best of them, the most guilty, the most sorry, the most devastated over my human sin. After a conversation with a wiser and older mentor, I saw the new place I had come. My place in God’s order of things had nothing to do with what I couldn’t feel, but what I knew. I knew I was accepted. I knew I was good.

After all the years of confusion and misbelief, trying to be holy enough to placate this god, I have found rest, I have found Love. The God of mercy, cherishes all humanity and loves us through the transforming communion between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are invited into this generous union, celebrating the beauty of complete relationship. The need for self-flagellation, for sacrificing ourselves on the altar of perfection to satisfy a wrath-filled, vengeful god is false. No! We are cherished and adored with full and abundant mercy. Relief and compassion flood over us like a lifted weight, as a dream come true. The relief is palpable because the relief is real, because we know.

The words of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese come to mind:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

I created a terrible god in my image because I believed I was terrible and undeserving of love. In my quest for perfection, in my harboring of resentment and shame I could not know. I could not know how very loved I was. I am.

Until we love ourselves, until we step away from the shame, we cannot know the freedom Ms. Oliver discusses. We cannot. The leap into surrender, responding to the beckoning of a remarkable, desiring God will forever be one good deed removed.

I am not loved because I’ve been saved or because I have a great smile or well-behaved kids or because I’ve stayed married or I go to church or because I’ve been baptized. All of this is irrelevant. I am loved by God because I am. Full stop. Nothing added, nothing removed. When I add conditions, I create a lie.

You are loved by God because you are,

Full Stop.

No conditions, no demands, no crawling on your knees for a hundred miles repenting.

Our God is love and generous mercy. Our God died to understand our suffering, to undergo the travails of the human condition, to shine light and bring relief. Our God came to this world in a treacherous age, as an infant, the most vulnerable of creatures. In a world that hated him, that was already out for his blood, our God, in bodily form, healed and loved and ate and communed with the destitute.

Us.

Because aren’t we all the destitute? Aren’t we all beat up, battered?

The Baby signifies our entitlement to the heart of God. The Baby proves this to our hope-weary souls.

You can go to church every day for the rest of your life. God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now. You cannot make God love you any less, either – not an ounce less. Do the most terrible thing – steal and pillage, cheat and lie – and God wouldn’t love you less. You cannot change the Divine mind about you. The flow is constant, total and 100% toward your life. God is for you.

-Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance.

Limping Into Advent

untitled-design-16

Politicians compete for the highest offices. Business tycoons scramble for a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Armies march and scientists study and philosophers philosophise and preachers preach and labourers sweat. But in that silent baby, lying in that humble manger, there pulses more potential power and wisdom and grace and aliveness than all the rest of us can imagine. 

– Brian D. McLaren

 

Internal mayhem ensued that first Christmas I was a mother. My world, my comfort and expectations collided with Mary’s disgrace, Joseph’s burden, Jesus’s humiliating arrival, humanity’s mess, the shepherd’s stink and the detritus of farm animals. The sleepless infant not quite two months old born to my foreign, leaking, profusely sweating body. My shiny expectations dashed, the knowledge that I was flawed, failed, my first Christmas as a mother so unlike the crafted magazine and catalogue pages. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was not how my first Christmas as a mother was supposed to look. I was supposed to be back to my weight. I was supposed to have an amenable, cooing, content infant. I was supposed to be better.

I was weak, while pretending to be strong. I was angry, while pretending to be happy. I was disappointed, while pretending to be satisfied. I was scared, while pretending to be at peace. There is nothing like the holidays to remind us of our difficulties, whether these have to do with our strained family relationships or our dashed expectations or grief after surprise loss. We have been conditioned to believe that if our holiday experiences fail to model those of fictional displays, we are failing, less than.

Seventeen years later I can look back and gaze at that twenty-seven year old new mama with so much compassion. Her misery was real. Her discontent was her story. Her lack caused an unrelenting ache. Her expectation of perfect was her primary mode of operation.

Advent is for the seekers and the travelers. I carry an undeniable limp as I unwittingly stumble into this final stretch of 2016. No longer can I hide the fact that I hurt, that I ache with disappointment. This space I inhabit feels unwieldy and unhinged, with a hint of despair. Too many questions render me dissatisfied and discontent. Too many poor answers reveal the near impossibility of surrender. Too much fight and too much fear have veiled my peace.

I stagger to the table, my disjointed offering of paradoxical ingredients scatter about. Nothing makes much sense. Grief and disbelief reign while I wonder if redemption is still possible, if Jesus can really do this thing that He apparently says He can do. It almost feels like seeking the Christ, the Messiah, is ridiculous – a fool’s errand.

Yet.

The Infant.

Our Messiah.

Our Emmanuel – Lord is Come.

Our Salvation and Redemption and Breath.

Our hope.

Jesus.

Jesus. This baby, shows up at the worst time. The worst. There was little hope. There was little joy. There was little light. And yet, He came. He lived and walked and learned and loved and died. All of this, for you, for me, for now.

This body, twelve years removed now from pregnancy and nursing and leaking, aches still. I ache for the Baby to be born in me, through me, as love into the world, as light for all to see. And I fail. I carry greed and I carry resentment and judgment and so much fear. I carry it close as if it is my child. And then, I encounter Jesus, the infant. I encounter Mary, the mother who knows. I encounter Joseph, the beautiful, conflicted man. And I encounter a God who has come to me, to my heart, bringing relief to my inflicted body.

I don’t like studying history enough to draw correlations between our present situation and the world 2000 years ago. I won’t make conclusions, but I will say with confidence, where there are humans there is misery. Where there are humans, there is deep generosity. Where there are humans, there is confusion and suffering and manipulation, alongside great love and sacrifice and kindness. And so, in my stunted way, I will seek Jesus. I will fight to see Jesus. I will clamor to find Jesus wherever I can get at Him.

I am a mother through and through. People say, once you’re a parent the job never ends. It scares me when I hear this, for I am a walking wound. Sometimes the wound shrinks a little and I gain some footing. But, then, an illness, an accident, a visit to a college and I’m back where I started, back to those leaky days where I suspected everyone was trying to hurt my baby.

And I know the only answer is to be in pain. The only answer is to feel and to be vulnerable and to be honest.

In these desperate days, as people hurt, we feel, we be vulnerable, we stay honest and true to who we are.

We love and we fight and we claim the redemption and the beauty of this Baby that is the fiercest love we will ever know.

Ever.

We fight for light, we fight for joy, we hope with defiance because we know. We know Love wins. And we know Resurrection persists and pushes new life into the world through our bodies and souls, our communities and nations.

Love wins for good.

Carry on friends. Know, please know, please claim, please surrender to the love of this Infant.

Love Yourself Like a Grandma

untitled-design-11

I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” 

-Maya Angelou

I am of the most fortunate sort. I have been loved by not just two sets of grandparents, but three. One set lived in Colorado. My Grandma Dickinson was cool. She bought us fashionable clothes and fed us yummy treats, Froot Loops, Klondike bars and Sara Lee frozen coffee cake. Somehow she procured the most perfect peaches, served cold, sliced in half, wrapped in a paper towel. Mornings smelled of coffee, brewed in a carafe on the coils of the stovetop. The radio tuned to news or choral music. Her house was never extravagant but always clean and simple, holding a welcome smell of fresh laundry, accentuated by a dash of humidity from the swamp cooler.

My grandparents relocated to Colorado after my mom died. Departing the heat and pressure of Southern California, they settled into a modest home in downtown Louisville, a bedroom community of Denver, east of Boulder. My sister and I, as teenagers, would make the flight from the sweltering concrete jungle of California, to the cooler temperatures of Colorado summertime. My Grandma was an epic shopper, probably due to a need to provide entertainment to two restless teenagers for two weeks. We would traverse the malls in a twenty mile radius, scavenging the stores purchasing the most garish, outlandish 80s styles. We ate breakfast in the “space”, a tiled sunroom receiving the Rocky Mountain morning sun. We watched TV together in the evenings, managed a whitewater rafting adventure and conducted sewing projects. She listened to our teenage angst, entertained and provided, introducing me to the expansive Colorado blue sky, afternoon thunderstorms and a countryside that bordered jutting mountain-scapes. These vistas comprised the content of my dreams, that would someday become my home.

Grandma worked so hard to please and provide for us. Her fatigue and age were evidenced by naps in the blue chair, mouth agape, hand settled upon her little nestled cockapoo. She gave of herself to the point of exhaustion, longing to please and satisfy her beloved granddaughters. I have no doubt she breathed great sighs of relief upon our departure.

The pressure we put on ourselves has to be combatted with the delight we take in ourselves. Self-care must be factored in, honored, prioritized. These days are fraught with concern, with demands, with fear. Learning to love ourselves well is the key to maintaining the balance, to having the fuel to fight for the important, the crucial, the world-changing.

I have fought hard to learn how to love myself. The words I speak, the condemnation and self-doubt that plague, the comparisons and envy. As a person who feels and aches with the world, my body and mind require more downtime than the average person. The weight of the hurting, the pain of the hopeless, the anticipation of the frightening could  become harmful if I don’t care for myself. I curse my body when the pants fit tight, waistbands straining at the roundness of my belly. I curse my words when they are uttered with impatience and frustration. I curse my intellect when I cannot keep up with conversation, believing I will be found out as a fraud and my credentials removed. I curse my mothering as I fail to respond with kindness, resorting to getting through the day, retreating to my security and comfort.

I must love myself like my grandma loved me, with an impractical extravagance. I must  feed myself fresh fruit, ripened in season, giggling as juice drips down my chin. I must clothe myself in outfits that I love, that reveal my form and my fashion sense without restriction. I must eat at restaurants that serve just right portions of delicious and nutritious food, an opportunity for rest from the tasks of the home and feeding the hungry mouths. I must serve myself coffee in a lovely mug with my music and news. I need to consider my difficulties and concerns, not as silly, immature, or simple, but give them my full attention, to inform me. I need to draw a bath, lathering myself in excellent products, drying off with a soft towel, climbing into the made bed with crisp, sweet-smelling sheets.

Many of us have fond memories of our grandmothers, many have horrible memories and many have none at all. Can we imagine the grandmother we wished we had? The one that loves us through her generous provision without condition? Let us treat ourselves in such a manner, offering generosity and kindness and love. Our grandmothers were not perfect, nor are we, but we do deserve respect and we deserve grace for our efforts. Let us treat ourselves with care and consideration, and a lot of extra pampering. Let us cry and vent and eat and bathe and sleep with tenderness toward our bodies and minds and hearts.

I want us to be our own grandmothers, to ourselves, loving and providing good things, loving and providing nurturance and sustenance with a little extra dose of kindness and compassion.

May we all lay our heads on the goodness of feather pillows and soft sheets, recognizing the work we do each day, loving ourselves so we may someday deliver this delicious service to our people.

May we all speak to ourselves in the language of grace, the language that is slow to judge and slow to condemn.

May we find our rest and our comfort in these seasons of anxiety and turmoil.

May we love ourselves not out of luxury, but out of a trusting necessity.

In the appropriate and generous words of Richard Rohr, from The Divine Dance:

Insofar as an appropriate degree of self-love is received, held, enjoyed, trusted, and participated in, this is the same degree to which it can be given away to the rest of the world. You can and you must “love your neighbor as you love yourself” – for your own wholeness and theirs.

 

The Measure of A Man

untitled-design-14

The measure of a man is what he does with power. 

-Plato

This new post-election landscape feels unwieldy, like a sweater cut on a bias, or socks that keep bunching up in the toe, or cute shoes that rub in that one wrong place. I’ve never been this unsettled over national events. Never. Our family weathered the Great Recession, with some tough choices and cutbacks we managed fine. Nine/Eleven was horrendous, but the nation united, our common grief a precious touchpoint. We worked things out together. But this, this is unfamiliar to me, my future national leadership unrecognizable. The fear rhetoric we’ve had to choke down for months, a reality. Friends and people I love and cherish so scared, yet moving forward quaking yet bold. This shouldn’t be us.

What happened?

Many narratives are beginning to emerge trying to answer this question. Each one of us under scrutiny, whether it involves a blindness toward particular swaths of the country, or paying credence to false news, or not demanding more from our elected officials. All of it points to a breakdown of our ability to empathize, communicate and come together.

Yet, as we seek to find the personal answers, what to own, we have more important work to do, and that is taking care of our most vulnerable. Come to think of it, that has always been our primary job, hasn’t it?

We must come to the point of agreement. We must unify around this work, the work that sees and feels for another human, the work that sets our personal needs aside for the common good, the work that demands we come together as one human race. Regardless of who we casted our vote for, we must agree we will not support division, that we will not stand for harsh treatment of minorities, that we will stand firm in elevating the humanity of each and every human as created by God.

Our president-elect has had two weeks to fervently stare firm into the camera and denounce atrocities toward minorities and women. Apparently, he has not, up to this point of writing, so I beseech you, I beseech me, we must be this voice. We must extend a hand of generosity and grace and protection to ALL humans, regardless of color, nationality, race, gender, sexuality.

My husband, a white, straight male, deeply understands this essential obligation. After church on Sunday after the election, Eric, knowing the pain within our congregation invited two dear friends out for lunch, both women reeling with fright resulting from the horrible words slung their way, their bodies’ vulnerability a wide, open wound. Eric knows the desperate importance his advantage and privilege carry, the responsibility that now he bears to bring relief and rest and protection to so many in our marginalized communities.

And so, I challenge the good, straight, white men of this nation, regardless of who you supported in the election. I challenge you to mimic the actions of my dear husband. Seek, with deep humility, to be a silent protector, a shield, an advocate in these dangerous times. Seek, with great consideration, to be a verbal protector, a shield and advocate when the situation rises. Own your privilege and your luck and place yourself in a position of bringing relief. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if you align. It doesn’t matter. You have a responsibility if your neighbor, the person in your community, is human.  Each and every person has the right to draw breath, to pursue happiness, to be able walk down the street without harassment.

For all of us, the fear is real. Evil has been unleashed, and I repeat: Regardless of who you supported in this election, you are responsible for your neighbor. Regardless of who you supported in this election, you are charged with taking care of one another. We must recognize the vulnerable among us and set aside our differences and work toward generosity and mercy.

I will do my part as a white woman, I bear a fair amount of privilege, but I’m scared, too. As an independent female, I am now more cognizant of my surroundings than ever before, but when I’m with Eric I can rest. When I’m with my enormous son, I can rest. This matters, friends. This matters because we all belong together, regardless of our color, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality. This has nothing to do with condoning or supporting behavior. This is just love.

Plain and simple, love.

The protection of another body, the protection of another’s dignity, the protection of another’s place in the world – love.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

-Jesus (Matthew 22:38 – 39)