Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I learned it by watching you

I wake up to the sound of singing, LOUD singing, and talking, and lots of questions, "Can I come downstairs yet?  I'm hungry.  Can I get breakfast?  I have to go potty."  And then clomp, clomp, clomp, a herd of elephants disguised as a 6-year-old boy appears and springs into the bed and I burrow farther under the covers and try to catch the tail of that dreams that's dissolving....

"M--OOO--MM!  Wanna hear me sing a song?" and there's no time to reply before the serenade begins and I'm groggily tumbling out of bed to start the day.  I alternately wish that I could be as sunny in the morning as my boy or that he would just be quiet for a minute.

My mirror image slumps down the stairs, a vision of tangled hair and grumpy disposition.  This girl has been dragged unwillingly from sleep like me.  We acknowledge each other with a glance or sometimes a hug, but know better than to speak.  It doesn't take long for our mood to spread however, and there are fights about who is sitting where and breakfast choices and cleaning up.  Hardly a morning goes by without someone being sent upstairs in time out (yelling defiantly or crying) while I grumble under my breath.

On this morning, I went up to prod them into making their beds and was greeted by the growl of an angry bear where my boy once stood.  As the litany began of how mean I am and how he was NOT going to do what I wanted him to do, I returned his anger with my own growls that escalated with his.  We were both boiling and the loop running through my head was "How did we end up with such stubborn, difficult, argumentative children?"  (ahem)

Through the yelling, a wail arose, and I went into Maryn's room to see what was the matter.  I impatiently asked what was wrong and she sobbed,

"I don't know."

"Well, are you hurt?"

"Then WHY are you CRYING?"

"I don't KNOOOOWWW!" as she hiccuped and coughed and choked in her uncontrollable manner, and I couldn't help but notice how she falls apart like me.

So I scooped her up and asked more calmly, "Was it because I yelled?" and she answered, "Yes", and burrowed into me.  So we sank down together in her big chair with her curled up in my arms as in her baby days.  Breathing together, we both began to calm down, and I marveled that this girl of fire and passion, the one we call "saucy", the one that can fight with her temper, her words, and her hands, still has the tenderness to be broken by a raised voice.  This one, who had broken my heart the previous night at bedtime, after another rough behavioral patch, when I, in weakness, asked if they loved me.  Brady refused to answer, but she said in the cool tone of a preteen, "Well I'll whisper it...we don't".
This girl is still (deep down) all heart and trust...until they are broken.

I apologized and held her close, and she nodded in acceptance and stayed in my embrace.  Brady Bear emerged from his cave to see what was up and was drawn to us and eventually climbed up to cuddle as well.  I couldn't help thinking back to that public service announcement from the 80s (thanks YouTube) where a dad angrily confronts his son (over drugs) and says, "How did you learn how to do this stuff?!" and the son replies, "You, alright?!  I learned it by watching you!"  Now fortunately, my kids won't pick up a drug problem from me (unless they finally drive me to drugs), but they are picking up on my attitudes, my moods, and my angry responses.  When I question where they get their smart attitude or that eye roll that is not becoming on anyone (much less a 4-year-old), I don't have far to look for the answer.  When I wonder how they could be so heartless as to hurt my feelings, I realize that I have been doing the same to them.

Oh, how hard it is to see myself reflected in their small faces and BIG FEELINGS.  How sad to realize the hurts I've caused and the behaviors I've modeled.  But how wonderful the grace, to be wrapped in hugs and forgiven and accepted.  What a gift to have them run to me again when I come home to show me pictures and share stories from the day.  What trust to have them crawl up into my lap again for love and reassurance and blessing.

This is love.  Not that we share it perfectly but that we share it with all we have, the good, the bad, the ugly, the real.  Love sometimes hurts, but it always heals.  May I continue learning about love from my kids as I aim to model God's love to them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What is saving your life right now?

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite authors, was once asked the question, "What is saving your life right now?"  Sarah Bessey, one of my favorite bloggers, rose to the challenge and answered the question, and I feel I must as well.  Far too many days I get caught up in the struggle of getting by; the work of laundry and of listening, floods of emails and planning and reports, the sounds of fighting (and the act of separating) children, of cleaning up and preparing for another round of the same tomorrow.  Sometimes it seems too much and I just retreat into my shell.  My words are as short as my patience and I cut myself off from the world for a while.  My introverted nature becomes a crutch that protects me, an excuse to shelter me from the world.

And then...
I meet my pastor (and friend) for lunch and we catch up on family, and ministry and life.

I catch up with friends and colleagues at a staff reception after a long, quiet summer of isolated, disconnected work.

I snuggle in bed with my daughter to read her a book, and watch my son and husband doing the same thing.

I anticipate a date night after a LOOOONNNGG absence of babysitters (thank you, VBS, for the free childcare).

I read an email from a friend that is going through a similar inward journey.

And suddenly, I remember I am not alone, I am not just an individual, but I am a part of a community.  I am connected, I am supported, I am accepted, and I am loved.  And I have the same gifts of connection, support, acceptance, and love to offer to others.

What is saving my life right now is the reminder that I don't have to make it alone; instead, God has created us all to be family to one another.  May God bless the beautiful family we are creating--the family of God-- and help us to be a blessing to others.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A little help from my friends

I have these wooden dolls in my office, and yes, they look just a tiny bit creepy (or odd, or silly).  But I was at a women in ministry event, "Feast", with some of my favorite and most inspirational people, and one of our responses to the worship was to select a wooden figure and decorate it with the scraps and assorted crafting paraphernalia on the table.  I worked without thinking for moments, taking in the messages being preached by other women and absorbing the creative energy of so many fantastic women in one space.  It was a time to rest and refuel my soul after giving and speaking and leading and ministering.  When I looked down at my creation, I realized that I had fashioned a preaching robe of sorts around my woman, and adorned it with a green stole (for growth, and symbolic of Ordinary Time, the place in which I find myself).  While being surrounded by the feminine, I couldn't stop myself from grabbing a smaller version to represent my daughter.  She has stars for eyes (appropriate), and her favorite color (purple) in the form of a scarf.  My little princess has a lacy skirt (as she is all girl), and accessorizes with a blue feather.  This girl has spirit, and energy, and style.  And apparently a strong influence, as I decided to add a feather to my own doll in a nod to her creative spirit.

How my girl encourages me to grow and to stretch...much like my fellow ministers at the Feast.  We come with one spirit and many gifts to serve, to support, and to uplift.  I realize in the company of others that as much as my actions try to deny it, I just can't make it on my own.  It's only in community that I can find myself and that I can grow into who God is calling me to be.

Maryn recently visited me at work, and I wasn't surprised when she gravitated towards the dolls on my shelf.  She, after all, turns anything (cars, trains, pencils) into "babies" which she gently mothers.  The Mommy and Maryn dolls started having adventures under the leading of her tiny and gentle hands, much like in real life.

Thank you, God, for the gift of family, both those we birth and are birthed into, and those we meet  and "adopt" along the way, that guide us into your loving community, the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The sound of chainsaws is jarring, and I have to resist covering my ears with my hands like my 4-year-old.  Not only is it the whine of the motor, the metal slicing the wood, but also the relentless pace and the reminder that soon the beloved tree will be reduced to mulch.  The men stand around in their sweaty, dirty t-shirts, smoking and contemplating the work that lies before them.  What angle should they attack this beast?  A long pause ensues, their reluctance to jump into a project that will take long days of hot, heavy work is evident and understood.

I pass by the spot with a heavy heart, remembering the first day of my position as interim chaplain.  I felt so small and unprepared for this monumental dream job.  And then I passed the tree, with it's heart shaped hole, on my way to my chapel office.  I stopped to take a picture as a reminder to myself that it's all about love.  That's what I have to offer; that is my calling to share.  The tree was not beautiful, it was massive and imposing, but its scar softened its lofty stance.

When the recent winds came and whirled us all into darkness, the trees suffered much abuse.  Some large ones came down around campus, smashing bridges to bits, knocking off a portion of the library's roofing material, and blocking passageways.  My heart tree lost a hulking amount of branches, but continued to stand tall for a while.  And then a smaller storm came through and my tree lost the battle.  Its large trunk snapped, splintering limbs in all directions, leaving the squirrels to run, chattering, among the ruins, in search of home.

We, too, are buffeted by the storms of life.  They scatter us, confuse us, as we scramble for home and safety.  We suffer hurts that leave scars-- physical, emotional, and spiritual.  Our scars can be a source of pain or (and) a source of strength.  Sometimes they become part of our identity.  That can be a gift (as when the disciple Thomas was able to recognize the risen Jesus by his scars).  It is a reminder that we are both stronger and frailer than we seem.  We are all broken, and yet, we find hope that our brokenness will not defeat us, but allow us to connect more deeply with God and with our neighbors.

As my tree gets broken down into firewood and mulch, I have to wonder what other purposes my life will serve.  How can I seek healing for my brokenness as I also minister to others through it?  How will I find my strength (in God) when the storms blow through?  What needs to be cut away in my life to make me stronger, and what losses must I surrender to find stability?  Are my roots firmly planted and am I growing in the right direction, up towards the heavens, towards my Creator?

God, give us roots.  Plant us firmly and protect us through the storms.  Amen.

3They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:3)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Self-care: or how NOT to be a martyr

Yucky, heavy, achy, shaking...blech.  I felt the first tingle in my throat this afternoon, and a mere two hours later I was in the driveway of my house, wondering how to wrangle two kids inside without having to actually move my leaden body.  I saw warning posts on Facebook about the alleged "headache fever virus" just hours after John left for a business trip to Florida, feeling not too hot himself.  And I, like a devoted submissive wive, am trailing along behind him...at a distance.

It was a full day, from taking the kids to work with me.  Ha!  Work...we managed to make some delightful glittery tote bags and listened to Spotify.  Brady and Maryn might just be featured in the Hollins campus training video clip for Housing and Residence Life that I had to tape today (do they still say "tape" in the age of digital video?  Today my mom asked me how to rewind the video on my iPhone!).  Following that, we spent a traumatic hour at Chick-fil-a in the name of free food (Cow Appreciation Day), with me not figuring that Maryn's fear of the costumed cow would translate to pure terror at every other individual in the packed place adorned in cow regalia.  Good news, the Chick-fil-a peeps are very good with sobbing, screaming children and promised to keep the large official cow "in the barn" for the duration of our stay, comped all our meals, carried our food for us, and continued to check on us throughout.  Another mom reassuringly told me that her kids had melted down before their restaurant visit and so she understood, and then I helped her clean up her kid's spilled drink cup when she dropped it and splashed everything in a 6-foot radius, prompting said child to burst into tears.  God bless Chick-fil-a, and those moments of motherhood solidarity.

After our semi-PTSD recovery, we hopped in the car for 3 hours this afternoon so that we could slip in a one-hour visit with my family (Love you!) before the kids commenced a rolling on the floor prelude of the coming Apocalypse if I didn't get them out there and fed.  Aren't those little buggers just so precious?  On the way home, the weight started in my throat and ears, and migrated to my arms.  At the risk of setting Brady off again who was promising to "FREAK OUT" (yes, his words and tone), if I didn't make it home in exactly one minute (and as we were also delayed in traffic from Obama's visit..."Hi Pres!"), I made a detour to Starbucks for a delicious and soothing Refreshers beverage (Starbucks reps who are reading this, feel free to use me in your promotions and comp me in Refreshers).  Full disclosure: it was actually my second Refresher of the day.  I had picked up my free "Cool Lime" one at the start of our road trip, and even though I'm a big fan of lime and sucked it all down, I couldn't really decide whether I liked it.  I was more minty than lime-y, and I have some mint pickiness.  So it only made sense to stop and try the other  one: "Very Berry Hibiscus".  Now that's more like it.  It may be love ("I know that I just met you, and this is crazy..."  couldn't resist throwing a little shout out to Obama as well, particularly as I just heard the original version of "Call Me Maybe" today after hearing dozens of parodies/remixes, this being my favorite).

After feeding the starving natives (who had eaten less than an hour before) and generously (I thought) reading THREE bedtime books and trying to shuffle them off to bed early without them noticing, I got a melt-down from the elder because I refused to read our devotional.  I know, I'm terrible.  My ordination may just be revoked and my kids sent to live with some other, more Godly family.  God, I know I should have read it first before starting on the If you give a mouse/pig dribble and Judy Moody saga, but I just didn't think.  And as I tried to give the Cliff Notes version of the 10 Commandments story (highly emphasizing the "Honor your father and mother" part) and even though he had memorized the story verbatim and could read it or perform it dramatically (thanks The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name CDs

 for nurturing my son's budding faith better than me...seriously, we all love the book...well maybe less so for for heathen Maryn...just kidding, sweet girl), nothing would do other than me working my strained voice over the five or so filled pages.  I just couldn't do it.  We prayed while he sulked, and I prepared Maryn for bed while hearing loudly about how "mean" I am and how he "doesn't like" me.  So, with all the gentleness I could muster (truly, perhaps my most saintly act ever...except for that lack of humbleness part), I touched his hair, told him I loved and liked him regardless and sent him up to bed.  In his angry (turned down a notch voice) he muttered, "What, are you not even going to kiss me goodnight and tuck me in?"  So I promised him I would, followed both kids upstairs, prayed individual prayers and told them what I was most proud about in them.  I told Brady how I was proud of his love for God and, he, already reading the neglected story to himself, tried not to smile, but settled in to bed.

I thanked God myself, and slipped into a bubble bath with a book, and a dinner of half a peach, my remaining Refresher, and a shot of Nyquil.  All was quiet except for the bark of an ignored dog, who remained ignored.  Although I usually "enjoy" playing the martyr role ("who me, I'm not sick...just let me drag my lifeless body around to serve you"), the warmth of the water, the coolness of my food, the comfort of a book, and now the cloud of my bed reminds me that caring for others requires a primary investment in myself.

Goodnight, my friends.  Stay well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do we really want it all?

There's been a lot of talk in the news and blogosphere regarding women and the quest to have it all, sparked by the Atlantic Magazine article "Why women still can't have it all."  I've read along with interest as I've certainly been in the center of that struggle.  I grew up knowing I would be a working mom.  Having both a career and a family were important to me...equally important.  I saw how my mother, a single parent, struggled to get by, working multiple menial jobs that she hated just to provide the basics.  I know that she wanted desperately just to be able to quit and spend more time at home with me.  I know that she must have had many dreams that she sacrificed (although I was too selfish to ask about them).

I worked hard, too, in my own ways to extract myself out of poverty's grasp, and get the education and job opportunities that were denied my mother.  I bought into the line that I could be anything I dreamed and do anything I wanted with my life.  I keep plugging along through my dream college and on to a master's degree, and picked up a husband and birthed two kids along the way.  I expected I would continue to get my doctorate and be famous for something one day.  Wasn't that the goal...to make something of myself?

But on the journey something began changing.  I think it was me (maybe my heart, or my ambition, or perhaps just my energy level).  Motherhood was hard.  Working was difficult.  Both were full-time endeavors and I could never seem to find that elusive balance. I'm one of the lucky ones, more fortunate than most in that I have the family I had hoped for, a job that allows me to be flexible with my hours, and a husband that does an equal share in the child-raising and household duties.  I took latter as a given when we pledged our lives to one another, but over time I've come to understand what a gift that is.  Even with all of our sharing, the back and forth nature of work and home was exhausting.  In the age-old story of working parents, when I was at work, I thought of all I should be doing at home, and vice versa.  With both my husband and me in ministry, the demands were high, the work was consuming, and everyone felt that they had a say in our personal life (like the congregation member that ironically said we shouldn't have a second child if we couldn't care for the first when my husband asked for a flex schedule to help with childcare needs).  I could not seem to adjust my (ridiculously high) standards, so every thing I let slide felt like failure.  The greatest stab in my heart was when one of my daughter's first (and most often repeated) sentences was, "You happy, mommy?"  No, I was not, and I couldn't understand why.  I had the dream...a good job that was also a calling, a supportive husband, two precocious and adorable children, financial security (for the first time ever)...what could possibly be missing (other than my own sense of gratitude)?

Perhaps rest.  And surrender.  And and understanding that what I had was enough.  There was no sense in fighting (myself) to become all society expected me to be.  When I read a blog by a big-name blogger, listened to a popular speaker, or talked to someone who had secured a book deal, the jealousy would flare up (and it still does, if I'm honest).  Why isn't that me??  I still have dreams to be known, and yet, as I look around me, I see that I am.  I am known by my family, I am accepted by my friends, I am noticed by my acquaintances.  But more than that, I am being made by God who knows and loves me as I am, but also has more dreams for me.  My creation is an on-going process, and the real dreams that I can accomplish are the ones that God plants within my heart.

At this stage in my life, I'm starting to find contentment in where I am.  I'm adjusting to a life that ebbs and flows with differing demands.  Sometimes home calls to me more (and I'm grateful to be able to focus my energy there), and sometimes work demands more of my energy (and I'm blessed by my husband who takes on even more of the responsibility at home).  Balance can be found, but it's not what I expected.  You can have it all, but maybe not at the same time (at least not in our current culture, as the Atlantic article and others suggest).  Perhaps that needs to change, and I hope I can be an advocate for other women who are finding their place.  But at this point in the journey, I'm glad to be where I am, at home in myself.

Other resources:



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Age is more than a number

I sense its approach in the creaking of my joints, in the graying of my hair, in the lines and spots that creep across my skin, and in the veins that become more pronounced...the turning of the years, the relentless march of age.   I turned thirty-five recently, and although I realize that isn't really old, I can remember when my mom was my age, and at the time I thought that seemed ancient.  My mom appeared youthful then; her hair remained dark for many years and her smile was so bright for me, the joy of her life.  She was beautiful and creative and complex.  And I, of course, saw her only as a mother in the narrow confines of my life.  She was youthful until I compared her to the other mothers, and although she was superior in many ways, she was the oldest of those I knew.

Time flies, and I find myself standing in her place, a mother, and yet more.  A conflicting mix of desires, interests, fears, and demands on my time, my heart.  Fortunately, culture has shifted so that I'm not quite an older mom, and I know many women my age and older who are still waiting, debating, seeking, or avoiding motherhood and family obligations.  To my kids, though, 35 seems incredibly old (and there are days that they make me feel it, too).  In their demands and in their connection, I wonder how (if) they see me outside of the role of "mother".  I suppose that is not something they can or wish to grasp at this point, and to be honest, I continue to struggle to find "me" within (and outside of) all the diverging and changing labels.

They say that age is just a number, and sometimes I agree.  On regular days, it's quite a surprise to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wonder momentarily, "Who is that stranger?",  as the changes I observe on the outside don't match what I feel on the inside. Mostly, I still feel like that child waiting to grow up and for it all to feel real.  I smile with recollection as I speak with my college students because I can remember feeling similarly, can remember precisely the struggles and doubts and triumphs of early adulthood.  I don't long to repeat those years or see them as golden days; no, you couldn't pay me to go back to any earlier period in my life.  The gift of age, I guess, is the comfort you gain in your own skin (as loose as it becomes), the confidence in all the lessons learned (and seeing the beauty in the scars).

At 35, I feel that I'm finally finding my passion once again.  I have a job that I love and that I feel well suited for.  I've learned a lot (the hard way) over the past few years about letting go of my own need for control and trusting God (I'm still a work in progress).  I've relaxed enough to start enjoying my children more and to see them as the beautiful individuals that God has created them to be.  All of these are gifts.  With the gifts, however, also comes some grief.  To reach this point in life, there are also dreams that I have to let go of.  Although I hope to always continue growing and learning, some things are unlikely.  I will never be a prodigy at anything at this point.  It is doubtful that I will become famous (not that I would necessarily want to be), and extensive world travel seems dubious (although reaching the point of being able to take vacations is certainly a bonus).  There is always more that remains unknown than the little knowledge I carry inside me.  It seems encouraging to tell a child "you can be anything you want to be", and "you can do anything if you work hard enough" and yet that is not reality for most of us.  We have differing gifts, resources, and levels of dedication.  Part of maturity is understanding  who we are and committing to live that to the fullest.  It's accepting our reality, working to change what we can, and finding gratitude in the beauty of life as it is.  I'm taking steps in that direction and am so very grateful for this stage of my life and all the gifts that surround me.  

 While I don't feel anywhere near midlife, 35 is ushering in not so much a crisis but a more reflective (existential?) period.  Thoughts of age bring serious reflection and lingering questions about the legacy I'm creating.  My life continues speeding on, until one day, when it will suddenly stop.  How can my life make a difference for my family, those whom I serve, my community, and my world?   When my time is over, my name will be forgotten except for those whom I have loved and who have loved me in return.  What difference will I have made?  What dreams remain unrealized and which are attainable?  How is God calling me in this phase of life to continue, to surrender, and to dream new dreams?  What is ahead, and what do I need to be focusing on now?  I'm grateful for the gift of time to contemplate, for the ability and health to make choices, and for the reflection and gratitude that comes from age and experience.

I love this picture, of my grandmother and John's maternal grandparents 
together before our wedding  (John's grandfather has since passed away).  
I love their smiles, even as they are unaware of the picture being taken.  
I love the strength and confidence of the two women, the matriarchs of their families.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

True Power

(photo courtesy of Tru Stevens, Truphotography © 2012)

I've been in the dark now for over six days since a freak windstorm blew its way through town and knocked out the power.  At various stages of this journey I've been frustrated, stressed, bitter, and resigned.  But the larger (better) part of me has been overwhelmed by the generosity, hospitality, and support from friends and acquaintances.  It's hard to feel powerless when I have so much gratitude for so many people.  From offers of housing, to use of laundry facilities and water, to those who have welcomed my family and my dog, to home cooked meals and meals out with friends, I've been surrounded by love.

Without fail, with every invitation to someone's home, there have been the warnings, "Now please overlook my mess.  Don't look downstairs!  Forgive my clutter..."  Maybe it's because they know I'm a neat-freak, or maybe it's just one of those things that people say as part of being hospitable--make yourself at home, be comfortable, don't worry about messing things up, this house is lived in.  But if they knew my gratitude, they wouldn't have to worry.

While my house was once neat (before the vacuum was incapacitated and the dog moved into the house, sending tumbleweed-like drifts of dog hair everywhere), that just showed a false exterior.  Inside (of me) is much messier.  The clutter of house items I can control; the clutter of my thoughts, the stains of my heart are much more difficult.  It's kind of like the story of the Pharisees when Jesus is chastising them for being so careful with purity laws and yet disregarding the heart of the matter:  

Matthew 23: 25 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! 
For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are 
full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside 
of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
27 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like 
whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside 
they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you 
also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of 
hypocrisy and lawlessness.

My friends are teaching me the power of a heart that is clean and pure, one that reaches out to care for others in need.  It is not what is on the outside that counts, but what is within.  Through their words, their presences, their offerings, they are showing God's love and living through God's power working within them.

I hope that my electricity is back on soon, but even more, I hope to more fully experience the power of God's hospitality even more, living it out in my own heart, life, and home.