Friday, May 31, 2013

A girl and her shoes

me at age 5
Maryn at age 5
Most times, when I look at her I see myself.  I see me in her sparkling blue eyes, in the set of her mouth, and always in the attitude as our strong wills battle one another.  I see my persistence in her determination to get what she wants, and how there's very little flex room between the picture she has in her mind and what she actually expects to receive.  Those things I understand, as I empathize with the disappointment that inevitably comes. 

The mode of her obsessions, though, deviate wildly from my own, and often have me wondering just where this little creature came from.  From infancy, she's had strong preferences and the voice (or noise) to express them.  As a toddler, she loved shoes, particularly a sparkly red set of Mary Janes that she wanted to wear everywhere, no matter that were stiff and uncomfortable.  Unlike her brother (and me), she abhorred books, and if you attempted to read to her, she would slam the book shut, shouting, "The end!  Then end!"  
While fortunately her love of books and reading has developed (and I often find her in the morning sleeping on top of several books), her love of fashion and shoes in particular has not waned.

I am one who walks into the house, removes my shoes, and slips into pajamas.  She is the one who insists on picking out her own clothes and accessories for the next day and argues wildly when she doesn't get her way, a meltdown that often continues into the next morning.  Going shopping for her induces panic within me as her standards are high and much different from my own.  Taking her with me and risking public meltdowns is usually more than I can bear.  

 Recently, in an attempt to buy her new school shoes, John and I alternated going to all the shoe stores in town and texting pictures of possibilities to her.  After 20 options were denied, I showed the final option and gave her the look that she often mirrors to me.  She sighed and said, "I don't like them, but I guess you want me to just deal with it, right?"  Exactly, kiddo.














So, I reacted with dread when she asked me yesterday what shoes she should wear to her school's water day today, and I realized she had nothing suitable.  Off to the store I went, with kids in tow.  Easy-go-lucky Brady was entranced with the first pair he saw, which they had in his size.  Done.  Maryn also fell in love with a purple pair of flip flops with a purple flower bow and sparkly "jewel".  Of course they did not have them in her size, and inevitably there were tears as she collapsed on the floor and insisted that she wanted the too-small pair anyway.  In surrender, or to teach a lesson, I bought those ridiculous shoes, and she cried again as she stuffed her feet in them in the car.  I gave her one last chance to return them and pick another pair, but she said she didn't care if they hurt, they were pretty.  When I told her they would tear up her feet, she replied, "They will heal.  I'd rather have pretty shoes than ugly ones that fit."  Oh my.

Sensing my frustration, she turned to me with her bright smile and said "Thank you for the shoes.  I love you." And once again I could see myself in the way she picks up so easily on the feelings of others and cares for those who are upset.  One of her first sentences when she was little was, "You happy, mama?" and now her refrain when we battle is, "You must be tired, mommy," followed by a loving touch or an "I love you."  Through all the ups and downs, I'm glad that I don't have a total mini me or a mirror image, but have the joy of watching this uniquely beautiful creation grow and develop.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes there's an abundance

Sometimes it feels like there's not enough.  The to do list is too long and the time is running short.  There's pressure and stress and everything feels not good enough.  The bills are piling up while the checking account runs low, and we go into debt just to pay taxes, and worry what will be next to break.  Sometimes my energy and confidence is lagging and I feel not good enough as the kids throw the same old tantrums and I respond in the same old unhelpful ways.

Sometimes, though, it feels like there's an abundance.  A breakfast meeting results in a new friend, and every path I take leads to another friendly face.  In spite of the stress that plagues me, there seems to be a silver lining of hope, and my spirit feels a little lighter as John and I joke about our worries together.  As I clean out closets at work, some of the clutter within me shifts, and I feel more open to possibility.  I dust myself off and walk out into the beauty and warmth of the sunshine and imagine that the light will go on forever.

Life goes round and round at a dizzying pace, circling between fear and trust.  It's so much easier to believe the lie that there is not enough, and if I look I will find evidence to support it.  And yet, there is so much more than I can even embrace.  There is so much hope and beauty and love in the world, and it gets displayed in such creative ways.  I believe in a God that showed love through the miracles of turning water to wine when there appeared to be a shortage, and multiplying bread for a starving crowd.  God's ultimate act of abundance, though, was through the gift of Immanuel, "God with us", and the reminder of God's continued presence through the Spirit.

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  John 1:5







Monday, May 27, 2013

A change of scenery

With my vehicle in the shop, I borrowed John's car (with the crumb-covered kids' seats), and drove away from our little old house with the broken shower.  I was off to celebrate the wedding of a friend from college.  It felt freeing as the distance grew, as John and I were both worn down from days with a sick child that had eventually spent a night in the hospital before getting well.  Responsibility feels like an anchor weighing us down sometimes, and the only way to feel free is to cut the chain for a little while.

Driving up into the mountains of South Carolina, my mood lifted as I reached the appropriately named "Pretty Place Chapel".


The ceremony was lovely...the words, the vows, the emotional tears, the music, and the panoramic view into forever.  It took me back to the first of many best days of my life, to a sparse seminary quad surrounded by academic buildings, a scattering of a few chairs, and the sound of guitar as John and I walked together into our future.  We were young and na├»ve, but so in love we could barely think straight.  As poor students, we couldn't afford more than this--30 rented chairs, the borrowed space, and our closest friends and family to serve as readers, musicians, and witnesses.  There was no reception, and we waved our goodbyes as we walked as husband and wife from our sacred spot, back to our apartment down the sidewalk.

As simple as it was, there is nothing I would change about that day...hanging out with our friends before the ceremony, painting pottery and visiting the art museum; having breakfast with my mom and nana and John's parents and grandparents; getting dressed in John's apartment as my friends made our marriage bed with clean new sheets; the summer air so hot that my "bridesmaids" fanned me with my dress; flopping on the bed in that same dress after the ceremony while John ordered a Chinese food dinner that we shared the apartment that now was "ours" instead of his; our friends decorating our car unknown to us until we went to leave for the airport the next morning for a few nights at Martha's Vineyard, a gift from John's parents.



As I looked at my friend, the bride, I thought of how she had been there for my day, and so many days in between.  We have been friends for 18 years now, a time that seems unfathomable, and yet just right.  We have grown and changed, and yet we have found ways to be present to one another even with the distance.  I couldn't help comparing our lives as I rode back down the mountain.

We entered a reception that looked like something from one of those wedding planner shows on TV.  It was cool jazz club theme with the live music to match.  The colors, ambiance, and the food all had an artistic touch.  It was a glimpse of a life I might have if I actually got out more.  And yet, as perfect as it all was, the best part of the evening for me was catching up with another friend from college and trading stories about how our lives had diverged from our college dreams, and how parenthood had changed us.  We laughed and compared stories, not competitively as sometimes happens when moms gather, but instead we bonded again over how similar our lives are, even as we are in different places.



I was dressed up and out on the town, up late for me, but found myself wondering what John and the kids had been up to, and looking forward to pulling off the Spanx and uncomfortable shoes and getting into my pjs and bed.

The next morning, I dropped my present off in the virtual storeroom of gifts they had received, and wished for them continued happiness in their new adventure as a married couple.  Surrounded by all the stuff, I knew, as I'm sure they do as well, that greatest gifts of all were the relationships and love realized in the gathering of friends and family from so many different phases of their lives.  I understood that as I thought about my own web of connection and how many of the small group assembled for our wedding are still an integral part of our lives, regardless of how much time passes between when we see them.  Over the years, bonds have grown outward and inward, deepened and strengthened.  Those two naive kids in love that promised to "dedicate our lives to each other's happiness, to be faithful and honest in every circumstance, to respect, trust, help, love, and cherish each other forever; to love each other in all faith and tenderness as we walk through the rest of our lives" have done just that and found that love to be even more precious and sacred over the years.  They're not so young or naive anymore, and the freedom of being (poor, working) students has been replaced by the blessings (and responsibilities) of a mortgage, full-time jobs, two kids, a dog, and aging and ailing family members.  There are times when the anchor sinks us to the bottom, and times when we're able to float, buoyed by all the love that surrounds us.

Driving away the next morning, I left behind the hospitality of my friend's parents and their beautiful home.  On the trip back, I didn't notice the crumbs so much, or worry (much) about the expensive repairs my car will need.  Instead, I was anxious to get back to the broken in (and not broken down) comfort of our cozy home, to be hugged and needed and welcomed just as I am.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Watching her sleep

I sit on the edge of her hospital bed and watch her sleep.  It takes me back five years and a month to this same hospital when I was the one in the bed holding her in my arms, watching my newborn baby sleep.  The feelings of vulnerability and fear and profound love are the same.  It's a strange thing to be a parent, to have so much responsibility and yet feel so very helpless.  Suddenly people are asking you questions and you're expected to have all the answers--what is her social security number, when did the pain start, and every minute detail of her potty and eating habits.  I couldn't tell you today's date, and yet I'm entrusted with this precious being who looks to me to care for her and have all the solutions.

Becoming a parent is the quickest way to feel like an adult...and a helpless child.

Sometimes I think I will burst from all the love and heartbreak of it all.  She takes my hand and I pray that she'll see strength instead of uncertainty.  I hope that she'll trust the decisions we make are the best for her, even when they hurt.  I wonder if we'll have the faith to hold it all together even when the road is rough.

But for now, I watch her sleep and remember the grace of her finding comfort in my arms from the beginning, understanding that she sensed something in me that I am not always able to trust in myself.  She recognized me as her mama before I could fully embrace that.  And so I must lean on her faith and trust in God who holds us both as we sleep.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Birthday treasure

My daughter gave me a hand drawn treasure map for my birthday.  It is lovely to me, made with care and love.  But the true beauty in it for me is not the "heart shaped jewel bracelet" in the treasure chest, but in the fact that she located it right outside of our (purple) house.  She even drew the dirt that we would dig up to find it, and the neighbors' (much larger) house beside us.  I can see a deeper message in this.  I don't have to go far to look for my treasure; it is always with me.  Sometimes I have to dig a little but it remains right below the surface.

I see the treasure in my sweet husband who works so hard to make this a special day for me and who has never forgotten a special occasion.  And even though I give him a hard time about remembering, even if he happened to let one slip by, I'm blessed by how he makes each day beautiful.

I feel it in the love of my coworkers and students that decorated my office today with streamers and love notes.


I witness it in the miracle that my favorite flowers that grew and bloomed for my birthday week.

I realize it in watching our daughter grow physically and socially as she performed in a school play 

and am grateful to have had lunch with my two silly ones (even with the inevitable fits that ensued).

There are so many treasures that I often overlook as I'm expecting something different.  I may envision a heart-shaped bracelet, when instead, my treasure looks a lot like digging and getting messy in the dirt of life.  There are moments that sparkle and shine, and these are gifts, but the greatest blessing is the day by day struggle where we must seek and find the good in all that at first glace seems dull and regular.  I guess that's why they call it a treasure HUNT.  If it was always visible and easily accessible, it wouldn't be so valuable.  There is something about the search, the struggle, and the challenge of the day to day that both obscures my blessings and in rare shining moments makes them visible to me.  


So here I am at 36, with my first photo in the bathroom mirror shot, looking forward to unearthing more treasures in the year ahead and sharing them with those around me.


Friday, May 10, 2013

A Mother's Day tribute

I grew up in a family of women.  It's no surprise that I consider myself to be strong and have a leading role in my family as these were my role models.  I never questioned what I could do or be as I saw my mom and nana always doing all that they could and all that needed to be done.  In addition to their everyday jobs, they were the mechanics when something broke, the cooks who gathered the family together around the table, and always the encouragers, telling me I could be anything I wanted to be.  I saw them sacrifice of themselves time and time again so that they could give me advantages.  My mom always cared more for me than she cared for herself.  As a mother, I know what a tenuous thing it is to have your identity wrapped up in motherhood...it is sacred and beautiful, and also so very isolating and challenging.  She embraced it and never complained.  It's only now that I understand what a gift that is, and want to know more of who she is as an individual, apart from being my mother and friend.

I have chosen a vocation that is somewhat atypical as Baptists don't fully embrace women in ministry.  It is a testament to the strength and faith of my family that I didn't even know it was an issue until I entered seminary and heard flack from my home church.  But I have never been so touched and so aware of the ferocity of my mother and grandmother's love until I understood that they were fighting for me and my dreams, standing up on my behalf.  It's not a surprise as they always did that, but it is marked forever in my mind as confirmation of this tribe I come from, that we are forever connected by blood and by love.  No one makes it alone...we are carried on the arms of the community that loves and supports us, and I have been so blessed in the gift of my family.

I went to a "Muffins with Mom" event this morning at my son's school, and I thought of how many similar events my mom had proudly sat through.  In spite of working multiple jobs, she was always there for me.  I hope she knows how proud I was to always have her there.  Being on the other side as a mother, I get how much it means to see the little ones you've invested yourself in shine in their own space.  I have a new-found appreciation for the handprint gifts and snot-nosed angel pictures she has cherished to this day.

I have received so much from the women in my life...my love of learning and reading, my need to clean and organize, and my calling to love and nurture my own family, encouraging their gifts and always being present.  Thanks to their support, I have also been able to find work I love that fulfills me and allows me to show my children that they can use their own passions to enrich the world.  I was impressed that in his Mother's Day gift to me, Brady wrote about knowing that I'm smart because I work as a chaplain.  I didn't realize he understood that part of my life, apart from him, but I'm happy that he is proud of that as well.  My family continues to encourage me with their pride.  

One thing I apparently didn't get from my family is cooking skills.  When Brady's worksheet asked what his mom liked to cook, he crossed out the question and wrote, "She doesn't cook."  

Which reminds me of how grateful I am for the man in my life that takes care of so many things (including meals) so that I can live out my calling.  I'll have to trust in him and the other women in our lives to ensure that our kids have the same warm memories I do of sharing together around the table.


My great-grandmother, Susie 

My nana, Nadine

Nana with John's grandparents, Alma and Alfred


Mom helping me with my wedding dress

My mom, Linda



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The long and short of it


It's the in-between time for students now.  Yesterday was the last day of classes for the semester (and the year), and although some were celebrating, many only groaned with thoughts of the workload ahead until the end of the grading period.  There are term papers, portfolios, and exams, and the sheer amount of work left to be completed seems impossible.  Students who are going on several hours of sleep are already planning all-nighters and forgetting to eat.  The time is so short, and yet there is so much to do that it feels unending.

From my devotional reading this morning (Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals):

Walk with us, Lord : the journey is long.

Psalm 39:5 – 8
Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days : so that I may know how short my life is.
You have given me a mere handful of days, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight : truly, even those who stand erect are but a puff of wind.
We walk about like a shadow, and in vain we are in turmoil : we heap up riches and cannot tell who will gather them.
And now, what is my hope? : O Lord, my hope is in you.

Walk with us, Lord : the journey is long.

So much of life is like that, I think.  Time either flies, or creeps along at a snail's pace.  We can wait for a milestone that seems as if it will never arrive.  And then we turn around and another year has passed.  

It's like that parenting adage: "The days are long, but the years are short."  How can it be that every day is filled with the same routines and endless questions so that I think I will suffocate from the monotony of it all, and then I turn around, surprised that they've grown three inches and have passed through another phase?

We feel invincible and eternal, thinking we have all the time in the world, until a senseless tragedy stops us in our tracks.  We feel all-important in one moment, and powerless in the next.  We anticipate what's ahead, just as we fear it.  So much is out of our control, and yet we still try to micro-manage it.

Lord, teach us to number our days, because all we are guaranteed is this moment.
Walk with us, Lord; the journey is long (and sometimes shorter than we had imagined).

Help us to live humbly, and yet in awe for the gifts we are given, for this moment and this day, for our lives.  Let us live and work with what we have to labor with for this day, and not worry about what is ahead.  Tomorrow has enough worries of its own (and we don't need to carry them yet).  Help us to trust in you, and to allow our hearts and minds to be opened, to learn and to grow whatever we face because there is truth in what  Jen Hatmaker said in her blog post today (on a different topic), "We don't even know what we don't know."


Remind us that we are enough, and we have enough in your love and grace.  Let us live beautifully, freely, faithfully the lives to which you have called us, in your perfect timing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Feasting


(c) Linda Moore
As a Baptist, I grew up associating food and religion.  There was nothing better than a potluck after church—we would always have fried chicken, of course, and a table filled with desserts.  I loved the way the smell of the meal permeated the sanctuary, along with the sounds of people working in the kitchen and preparing the fellowship hall.  Something about those days just seemed more holy.  It makes sense as I think about the many times Jesus taught around the table, or shared stories that dealt with food.  The celebrations of many faiths are built around "feast days" where the faithful come around the table to share, to remember, and to be in community.

There's something about gathering around the table--when sitting, we are on the same level.  We see the eyes and the smiles of friends, and the weight of the daily cares fall away.  We can stop our busyness and preparations and enjoy a different rhythm of time.  Our senses are engaged as we pass the bowls and smell the meal.  Our mouths water in anticipation and laughter fills the space as we talk with one another.  Food that is shared always tastes better....

(c) Linda Moore













Read more of this post over at the Baptist Women in Ministry blog...


Monday, May 6, 2013

Planting gratitude

Sometimes I start to lose hope as a parent.  It seems as if I say the same things over and over, and nothing changes.  I wonder if anything is getting through, if the seeds I'm planting will ever take root.  But all it takes is a little spark of light in the darkness to keep me holding on, waiting to see what will grow.

This weekend, we took our kids to one of my favorite local festivals.  It also supports the school our daughter attends.  We had spent hours working in preparation for the event, lots of money on tickets, and lots of time weaving through the crowd and standing in line.  There were strawberry shortcakes, musicians, vendors, and tons of games for the kids.  Of course we left with two whining, disappointed kids and at least one grumpy parent when the money ran out and it was time to go home.  Although we had prepared them, it seems that we had not provided ENOUGH fun for them.

As I looked around me at the excess--the food, the balloons, the cheap plastic prizes--my anger started to burn.  We didn't have to provide this opportunity for them; we could have stayed at home.  How many children would love to have the opportunity to gorge themselves on treats and games and yet never get the chance?  How can we, as frugal as we usually are, raising children that are so ungrateful and entitled?  I have to admit that my reaction to them was not one of gratitude.

Fast forward a day, and we are shopping for a book for Maryn with a gift card she received for her birthday.  It took FOREVER.  She picked up every book and put it down.  She pointed out every book she already owned, and some that she thought Brady might like.  I tried to be patient as bedtime loomed ever closer.  Finally she made her selection and we prepared to go.  I realized that I had forgotten about teacher appreciation week and wondered if I would be pushing my luck to mention it.  But I didn't want to make another trip out, and I asked Maryn if she wanted to help find something for her teacher.  She lit up with an excitement that outshone her anticipation to buy a gift for herself.  With a sparkle in her eye, she selected a small box of chocolates to go with a gift card.  This morning, she drew a picture for her teacher that we used to wrap the small present.  She bounced off to school eager to give the gift.  As her teacher opened it, Maryn's smile was so big and proud.  She was happier in giving that she was in receiving.

I think my Grinch heart grew three sizes this day as I saw her love of giving to someone else.  Perhaps when I think that my efforts are in vain, my kids are instead planing seeds of gratitude into my own life.  I only hope they are patient enough to watch them grow.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Scars


I thought I had gotten past it, that time had healed the wounds.  But all it took was seeing her, and the anger burned.  How could she so smugly be going about her normal life with a smile,  when inside I seethed with rage from the hurt she had caused?  I'm not sure which is worse--that she initiated our crushing blow through her position in the church, or that I, a Christian and a minister, still find the offense too great to forgive.  Yes, I thought I had forgiven (even though forgiveness was never sought, nor likely understood to be required).  I had said the prayers, done the self-reflection work, and allowed years of time to move on.  Our family is even grateful for the new opportunities that walking away from that situation offered.  And yet scars are a powerful thing.  Even when (especially when) they're unseen, close to the heart.  It's kind of like in Harry Potter--his scar sears when he is close or connected to Lord Voldemort.  It's like an evil detector...no wait, that's the pain talking.  It's like a sensor reminding me of baggage I'm still needlessly carrying.

I heard the saying once that holding a grudge is like eating rat poison and expecting someone else to die.  The truth is that it eats away at us until we slowly die on the inside.  We become hardened, shriveled up, bitter souls.  I don't want that.  I am one that aims to offer light and hope to others...and I so desperately want that for myself.  I want to find my worth in God's love and not in the opinions of others (whether favorable or deplorable).  I seek to love without judgment just as I hope for that from others.

I don't live in a fairy tale world and I know that not every experience will be pleasant and not every encounter will result in friendship.  I will not always be liked or accepted.  But I want to reach out in spite of my fear and hurt, I want to take the risk to be part of community.  I also know that while many, like my family, have been hurt by the church, this is not what Church really is about.  We have found a healthy congregation where we are welcomed and can, in turn, welcome others in God's love.  We have been challenged to grow, connect, and serve.  And now the greatest challenge for me is to finally let go.  When I run into people who trigger the memories (as is inevitable in the town), may I remember the growth and strength (and even joy) that has come from that season instead of the anger and pain.  I want to understand way down deep where the hurt resides that "scars remind us where we've been.  They don't have to dictate where we're going."*

May we be moving ever forward and ever outward.

*(this quote is attributed to the tv show "Criminal Minds")

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sometimes it pours

When it rains, sometimes it pours, an unending cascade creating puddles that soak my shoes and socks.  When it seems as if the gray clouds will never lift, and before they do, there's a strike of lightning and all is uneasy.  Sometimes the weight of humid air feels suffocating and the weather inside is as dismal as outside.

There are moments that seem as if they will pull us over the edge, and we keep standing, although the ground tilts again and again.  "How long, O Lord?"  How much more can one person possibly bear?  They say that strength is built in such moments, in the times we feel our weakest.  I carry the scars from such struggles and I know its truth, and yet each time it seems impossible to remain on level ground.

Other days seem golden, as if everything we touch is surrounded in light.  These are days when beauty seems  so close and each new event connects us to other people and to our place in this world.  The impossible seems possible and magic seems a little more real.  Our lives are made of this journey, from darkness to light and back again, ever-circling inward and outward.

As a chaplain, I am witness to so much loss and hurt and pain.  I'm asked time and time again why so much bad can happen to one person all at once.  How can a person get over such grief?  After fourteen years, I have no answers but my own, and no hope but God's.  There is no way to get over the pain; we must simply journey through it.  Like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years, we get lost and are found again and again.  Sometimes we are rescued, but often, we walk in faith, trusting in the unseen hand of God that guides us with a cloud and a pillar of fire.  We walk on weary legs, stumbling, thirsty, and fall again and again.  Until one day, we catch a glimpse of the light and know that the Promised Land is before us.  And so, we stand up again and walk, knowing hope, feeling strength gained from the journey, and trusting that something better awaits us.

There are seasons of rain, and times when we are stuck in the desert.  There are moments of beauty and clashes with reality.  These are the gifts of God who is always leading us out, bringing us through, and showing us the truth of our lives in joy and pain.  

Blessed be the name of the Lord.