Imagining the Unimaginable : A lament

I sit against the cement block.  The blue, rubber mat sticks under me.  “How did I get here?”   My hands tighten in my fists, my eyes burn from tears no longer able to make water.  My head pounds. My breath ends.  I am trapped. Here.  “What is happening?”  

We made the long journey from the gangs and violence of our streets.  I held him tightly  to my chest as we bumped over rocks and holes in the earth.  I told him we would be safe once we crossed the border.”   My grandmother’s gold, cross necklace glistened in the moon light.  His little hand reached up and rubbed it between his fingers.  I kissed them gently and told him we were in God’s hands.

When we got to the border they took us to a room.  They told me they were getting him a drink and they would be right back.   I waited and waited.  Where is he?!  Where is he?!   I could hear him screaming from the other room, “Mamaaa!!!!  Mamaaa!”    My God, My God, My God, what have I done?  What have I done?  What have I done?  I started screaming, “Give me back my son!  Give me back my son!”   I banged on the metal door until my hands bled. I hit my head over and over again, until ringing filled my ears. I kicked with all of my might.  Please God, NO.

He was gone.  I am here. On the blue, rubber mat.  I must remember that he was wearing a blue and white striped  t-shirt and jeans and green tennis shoes.  I must remember the scar under his left ear from when he hit his head on the counter top when he was two.  I must remember his little hands and his brown eyes.  Oh God, what have I done?  He will think that I did this to him, that I threw him away.  How will he sleep without me as a pillow?  He has never slept without me for day in his life.  His little body has breathed next to mine since before he was born.  Will someone know when he is scared?  Will someone bring him comfort when he cries?  Will someone tell him I love him?  Oh God, please, please let him know he is loved.  Please let him know he is mine.

I sit on the blue, rubber mat.  I rub the golden cross between my fingers.   I find myself weeping again, as the tears come and rock back and forth.  Please God. Please. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him.  

Deep within me, a stirring occurs.  It comes up into my throat, and I begin to wail.

 

 

 

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Code Red: What are we doing to our kids?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Each year more than 10 million children in the United States endure the trauma of abuse, violence, natural disasters, and other adverse events. These experiences can give rise to significant emotional and behavioral problems that can profoundly disrupt the children’s lives and bring them in contact with child-serving professionals. For therapists, child welfare workers, case managers, and other helping professionals involved in the care of traumatized children and their families, the essential act of listening to trauma stories may take an emotional toll that compromises professional functioning and diminishes quality of life. Individual and supervisory awareness of the effects of this indirect trauma exposure is a basic part of protecting the health of the worker and ensuring that children consistently receive the best possible care from those who are committed to helping them.  https://www.nctsn.org/trauma-informed-care/secondary-traumatic-stress

When the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School were murdered, my children were 5, 8 and 11.  My kindergartner was shielded from the news and didn’t know what had happened, but my older two kids knew about it, and were traumatized by it.  They could imagine themselves there, in that school, on that day, in that room.  They, and I imagine millions of other children experienced secondary traumatic stress.  I believe an entire generation of now high school and middle school students are walking around, living every day with this diagnosis.  Every day, they go to school thinking, “Is this the day there could be a shooting in my school?”  Like all trauma, it can go deep into the memory, and be covered up by distractions such as studying, activities,  sports, etc., but it’s always there, like a knot in a necklace it clogs the memory stream of the mind.

Parents too have this secondary trauma, but it’s different for us.  We aren’t the ones walking into the school.  We are the ones dropping them off.  We get to drive away and feel slightly sick all day, until that feeling wears off, until another shooting happens somewhere else, and it’s all brought back again.

Teachers. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a teacher. The responsibility that is on them to both teach and to recognize that these young brains, that are not yet fully developed, are at some level traumatized, the burden is too great.  They too are traumatized.

After a recent school shooting in our community, I was disheartened to see how quickly people went to their corners of defense and blame.  Immediately people were blaming parents, schools, guns, entitled kids, school safety, teachers.  Immediately people were fighting.  In the mean time, our children our standing in the middle of the room, wondering if anyone is going to look at them.  We need to care more about our children then being right.  We need to act like a community first, before we act self righteous.  We need to blame ourselves before we blame others.   Our children are afraid and we can’t be in control and we want to fix it and we think we know the answers, and we start fighting and blaming and pushing and as a result we end up avoiding the very people we are trying to protect.

We need to show our kids what it looks like to live in a safe community, where people are held accountable for the actions and where our social norms of valuing every life and common decency is not lip service but modeled.

As you may have read, the parents who lost their children at Sandy Hook have filed a lawsuit against those who have profited on their deaths, by saying the mass murder that happened that day was a hoax.

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It’s unimaginable to think that our children could be shot on any normal Tuesday afternoon.  It’s despicable to think that people would deny that truth and mock that reality.  When society allows for violence to occur and then denies the injustice, the society has lost its common humanity and we have lost our moral center.

We cannot allow evil to win out, and right now, it’s winning.  The more we hate each other, blame each other, mock each other,  and avoid having meaningful conversations about peace, reconciliation, conflict resolution, common decency, and truly model a respect for our fellow human, our children will continue to kill each other and themselves.  We are responsible for the society we create.  We are responsible for the denigration of the human condition.  Our children are taking their ques from us.

If we want things to change, if we want our schools to be safe, and if we want our children to heal, we need to stop shouting at each other and start focusing on them.  Let’s talk to our kids, ask them what they think, what do they need, what do they want in their schools, and how would they know they were safe?  Let’s honor the voices of our children, and let’s respond to their wisdom.  Our kids need to know that they are being heard. They need to know their trauma, either first or second hand is valid.  They need to know that adults believe them, hear them, and will try to protect them.  Most importantly, they need to be empowered to believe things can be different.

We can heal.  We can be better.  We must, for the sake of our kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3:00 a.m. Parent Prayer

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Well, we are all awake right now — so we might as well talk.  The brain, or the heart, or the gut has pulled us awake and we turn over to check the time, knowing it can’t be time to wake up yet, and yet we are wide awake.   It’s 3:00 a.m. – Are you kidding me?

So, I might as well ask,  How are you doing?

What’s keeping you awake right now? What visitor has come and rested on your chest and poked your soul awake? Maybe you are thinking about your kid and you realize that you are out of control of the decisions they make, the challenges they face, the heart ache they feel and yet at the same time you are tethered to them and your heart aches. Maybe you are afraid, or angry or fearful.  Maybe you have piled on worst case scenarios in your mind,  like blankets, one on top of the other, and now your body is so heavy it can not move, with the weight of it all.  May you want to fix something that can’t be fixed.

Maybe you are little annoyed that you are awake at this hour.  I mean, those nursing days are over!  We shouldn’t have to have sleepless nights anymore, right?  I don’t have an answer for you, except for maybe some sleep medication.  But let’s talk about the heart of the matter – which is your heart.  Look you birthed that kid.  You were responsible for their helpless bodies.  You kept them alive.  You managed what they ate, what they watched, what they read, when the slept, what they wore and where they went.  And now?  They don’t tell you jack.

I am not here to give you some pithy advise.

I can’t tell you that limiting screen time, or taking their phones at night, or control their social media, or making sure they don’t have a Finsta account, will save them from the trials and tribulations of adolescence.  I can’t tell you to be stricter, have more consequences, teach them to do their laundry and cook meals, and take on a summer job will secure their professional future.  I won’t tell you what to do, or how to do it, or  give you some sarcastic anecdote about how I have this figured out, and you don’t — because I don’t have this figured out. Let’s just put that on the table – I don’t have answers.  I will know how to parent teenagers when I no longer have teenagers and I can look back and say,  “Oh! So that’s what I missed.”

I can tell you what I am learning.

What I am learning in all of this is that I am watching a person evolve before my eyes and become an adult, and becoming an adult means experiencing life, and life is messy.  The only way to become an adult is to live life.  We cannot protect our kids from life if we want them to be an adult.  Here is what life looks like.  Life looks like making a ton of mistakes.  Life looks like getting your heart broken. Life looks like making decisions that aren’t healthy.  Life looks like losing life. Life looks like failure. Life looks like forgiveness. Life looks like joy.  Life looks like hard work.  Life looks like unfairness. Life looks like empathy.  We want our kids to have full lives.  We want them to live fully. This means it’s going to hurt.

So, my early morning riser, what are we going to do as we lie here and try not to check our phone?  I think, the only thing I can recommend is a prayer.  It could be the Serenity Prayer.  That’s always my go to. – God grant me the serenity to accept  the things I cannot change.  That’s usually as far as i get.

The other prayer I would recommend to you  is the one I often say that goes something like this:

God, you know my worries and fears.  You know that I am freaking out over this and there is nothing I can do about it.  I would like for you to please take this worry I have and fix it, so that I can sleep and everything will be alright.  Thank you. Amen.

.But wait, that’s not how this works. I know, God, that you aren’t my personal fixer and that while I would like to pray this and you would make all my dreams come true, I know that’s unfair to you and our relationship. I know that you are in a relationship with me and my children. I know that you made us. You made me and you made them. You know them completely. You know me completely.  You know every part of me.  You know every part of them.  You hold them as you hold me.  You hold them. You have a hold on them.  You behold them.  God, remind me this morning that you always hold your children.  You do not let them slip through your fingers.  While this worry of mine is distracting and it’s making me very sad, angry, or fearful and seems so huge, your hold is greater.  And one more thing, remind me that you hold me too.  And God, please quiet my mind and take these random thoughts, so that I may sleep.  The alarm goes off in just a few hours….  Amen.

Hang in there, friend. You are not alone.

Good Night.

 

 

Tending Orchids

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In the mountains of Puerto Rico, there is a church.  Its the only church on the mountain, and it happens to be a Presbyterian Church.  Everyone on the mountain knows the church. Most of the people on the mountain attend it.   Even if they don’t attend it, they know the pastor and they consider him to be theirs.  His father was the pastor of the church before him.  He doesn’t have a secretary, or a church administrator.  All he has is cell phone, and he is on it all of the time.  It is constantly ringing with people needing something, reporting in on something, or giving something.

Not only is he a pastor, but he’s also a first-responder.  When the hurricane came, he pulled children and elderly  from under collapsed homes.   He is constantly assisting and resourcing people.   He carries a large voice and a hearty laugh. He also happens to be in a wheel chair due to accident that occurred in his early adulthood.  His wheelchair doesn’t stop him from being the biggest presence in the room.

The church is beautiful and pristine.  It is well cared for by the people in the community.  There is church bell on top of the building, and every Sunday morning it rings and rings, calling people to church. The hurricane took out some lights, a portion of  a fence, the church sign and damaged the roof a bit.   They are still waiting to hear what the insurance company will give them.

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While we were there, it seems like the whole mountain came to visit. Children came, elderly came, kids on bikes road by, all stopping to visit and help.  All the while, the pastor laughed and listened.

When he isn’t tending his congregation, he is tending orchids.  He had over 400 orchids in his backyard before the hurricane.  After the hurricane he had over 240.  Every morning he gets up and he goes out and tends to his orchids. Before the hurricane he was preparing to participate in a national competition in the United States.    Now, he is starting over.

He doesn’t speak English very well, and I don’t speak Spanish at all, so we really didn’t have lengthy conversations.  But there is one story he told me that I understood.

He said that every morning he wakes up before dawn and he goes outside and he tends to his orchids, and while he is there, he prays and he thinks about the loss on the island, the burdens of the people, the challenges that people are facing and it is there, with God and his orchids that he weeps.  His tears water the orchids and they flourish.  Then, when he is done with tending to the orchids, he moves on and tends to his church and the people on the mountain, and his heart is open and laughter pours out.

I am writing these words in the dark.  Spring has  arrived at last and  the windows can finally be opened.  A cool breeze touches my shoulders. Birds are waking up the day and the sky is a periwinkle blue.  I think about Eber and his church and his community on the mountain.  I wonder if he is already awake too, and if he is outside, tending to each orchid,  seeing the beauty in every flower.  Praying for every, single one.

Life is beautiful that way.

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Just Have Fun: A Fifth Grader’s Memoir

Just have Fun

By Jackson Wood

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Last year, my baseball team was in the championship. Here is what happened:  It is the last inning. There are two outs and a runner on second.  I am on deck with our worst batter up. Part of me wanted him to get out, the other wanted him to crush that ball out of the park.  He’s up to bat and there is 3-2 full count, the pitch comes firing down,  way off to the side.  It’s a wild pitch. Runner on second steals third and now we have runners on third and first. I was up.  If I hit a home run, we would go home champions if not, it’s all over. I walk down to the plate my coach pulls me aside as the other coach switches his pitcher. I was not the best player on the team, not even close. My coach gets me fired up to “slam that ball out of here.”

I step up to the plate, the  crowd roaring. The ball fires.  I hit a foul, way, way behind me. The second pitch goes way in the dirt. The ump calls it a strike. That pitch has been called on me all year a thousand times over. The count is now 2-0.  My stomach hurts, my heart is pounding out of my chest. I crush the next pitch deep into right field.  It goes way, way back but then it drops.

My dreams were crushed before my eyes. Everything in my head feels like it stopped; it’s not able to handle what is happening. I start breaking down almost tripping, from everything crashing down on top of me. It feels like a million things are punching me in the chest. The ball had been caught by some newbie in right field thinking he is “the king of the world.” I hear cheers that sound like insults,excitement that sounds like laughter, I felt like the world was against me….that everyone did not care about me or how I felt. My coach calls us in for our very last team huddle. I was balling my eyes out. I didn’t even try holding back my tears. I wasn’t ashamed of crying in front of my friends. I didn’t care what they said or what they thought.

The huddle ended. It was finally over. I see my parents.  I pick up my stuff and just go right to the car. Not even turning back, I didn’t even want to talk or even see anyone. My mom got in the car. She knows how I act in these kinds of situations. She knows I don’t want any “good games” or “tough luck.”  I look out my window and see the other team super happy and excited. At first I wanted them to shut up and go home. Then I saw how happy they truly were and how happy I would be if it went down differently. I stopped crying and I was joyful… a thing I never thought would ever feel again after this whole experience. But I realized winning is not what matters most. It’s the people you play with and having fun. I turned to my mom and gave her a big hug.    

Resilient Fragility

 

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Puerto Rico is as close to what I imagine Paradise to be like.  It’s beyond beautiful. I spent a few days on the Island a couple of weeks ago helping install a clean water system. The forests are growing back and the trees are green again. But you do not have to look too far to find signs of the storm.  I think all of us who have experienced the storms of life are like that.  The storm passes and the water recedes and the shingles get put back on, but the evidence is still there if we look hard enough.

The best word to describe the conditions in Puerto Rico is, “fragile.”  Everything is fragile, from the electrical system, to the water system, to the economic system, to the health care system.  The people are fragile too.  They know they have been through something, and there is a feeling that somehow they responsible for it– as if they could have controlled the weather.  They feel like that should have been more prepared and they are very afraid its going to happen again.   Hurricane season is coming and they aren’t ready for another hit.  The systems aren’t ready and the memory of the past trauma is too recent.  Trauma does that.  We can feel responsible for situations that were out of our control.

While I went to Puerto Rico to help put in a clean water system, I also went out of my own fragility.  I went to heal from my own trauma, my own vulnerability and awareness that things can happen and have happened that are out of my control.  I  went to reclaim the parts of me that had been battered by the storms of betrayal, disappointment, stress and fatigue.  I went to get perspective on the world and to have my understanding broadened.  I went because, I too, am fragile.

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If we are honest, we all are.

But make no mistake, the people of Puerto Rico are as resilient as they are fragile.  They are determined to repair their infrastructure and get things back to working conditions.  They are determined have the measures in place, so that when another hurricane comes, they are prepared.   They may be battered, but they are still standing.

Being both resilient and fragile is the paradigm of all living things.

We are all resiliently fragile.

The other day I was visiting someone and praying for them before their surgery and the son of the person said, “So, like, you just go around and give people pep talks before surgeries and make them feel good?”  Uh. Yeah. That’s what I do.  It’s a humble thing when someone reflects back on you what you do and you realize how insignificant it sounds in the scheme of things.   Prayer seems so silly I guess to people who don’t do it or would ever think about needing.  How pointless my job must seem.

But in the face of our humanity and our fragility and resiliency, is it not the Divine that keeps us afloat in the midst of the storm?  Traumatic experiences remind us that we are all just on this side of heaven.  Traumatic experiences remind us that life disrupting events can happen to all of us at any time, that we are all fragile.  And because storms come up out of the blue, we all need to be gentle with each other. We need to pray even when we aren’t sure anyone is listening.  We need to recognize that when the earth breaks, we all break.  When one person suffers, we all suffer. Destruction of creation is destruction of ourselves. Just as our minds and bodies are connected, so too is the earth and humanity.  If our minds are in pain, our bodies show pain. If the earth is pain, all of humanity shows pain.  If the people of the earth are traumatized by war or disease or injustice, it impacts all of the people of the earth, whether we realize it our not. – We are all connected. I believe that connection to be the love of God.  We are God’s people.  When God weeps, all of creation weeps.  So, coming to someone before a surgery and holding their hand for a few seconds and reminding them that while at this moment they may feel very fragile, they are also very resilient, and they can and will get through this storm… yeah, I think that’s pretty important.

The people of Puerto Rico are recovering from a traumatic event.  Someone said to me, “Everyone here has PTSD.”  Healing from trauma takes time.  Even after the repairs are made, the feelings of worry and uncertainty linger.  There is always the fear that it will happen again.  There is always life before the incident and after incident, and while we do not want to be defined by those moments, they do shape the way we see the world.  We can no longer pretend that we are not vulnerable, that we are not fragile, and even that we are a little broken.  And while those moments are life changing, they do not have to be life defining.

Yes, Puerto Rico is fragile.  It is also resilient.  So am I.  So are you.

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Forgotten Peace

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I have always made the naive assumption that the ultimate vision for the world, was peace.  I believed that world leader’s primary aim and societies lasting goal,was to create and maintain a world that lived together in peace.  Moreover, I have always assumed that those who identify themselves as Christian, hold the prophetic vision and hope that: “He shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  But today, I’m not so sure that has ever been the true vision or lasting goal.  Today, I find myself asking the same question Jesus asked the Roman Empire as he road into Jerusalem on that fateful day that the Roman empire also road into the city.   “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”  Indeed, would we even know today the things that make for peace?

Today, peace is pie in the sky.  It’s not taken seriously.  I dare say the cynic in me questions if its even desired.  I wonder, can the prospect of peace be taken seriously?

My call to discipleship means means working for and living into peace.  It means that if peace is not at the center of the conversation, then neither is Jesus Christ, nor the message of the Gospel.  If peace is not at the center, something else has replaced it:  greed, power, lust,  hatred, aka evil.  It’s only when we invite peace in and strive to achieve it that we are working for  and  following and relying on a power higher than ourselves.  Achieving peace cannot be done without prayer and reliance on God.  This vision of peace is not owned by the Christian faith alone.

The things that make for peace require a different conversation that isn’t nearly as sexy as guns and weapons, salacious commentary, rude behavior, and greed.  If peace entered a conversation on gun violence, it would be laughed out the door, and be seen as weak and spineless.  If we had a parade in Washington DC that showed the power of peace, it would be mocked. We have forgotten that our weakness is what makes a strong.  We have forgotten that love is stronger than hate. We have forgotten that peace is not an adjective, but a verb.  We no longer know the things that make for peace.

I cannot provide the answer to achieving world peace. God knows people wiser than I have tried to teach the ways of peace. But I can provide some insight on how to achieve internal peace, and I believe the two are connected.  We cannot have peace in the world, if we don’t have peace within ourselves.  Achieving internal peace is a daily exercise. You are never one and done.

― Mahatma Gandhi

 

First, you begin with fundamental belief and knowledge that you are loved, held and safe in a something bigger than yourself.  For me, that Something is Jesus.  It begins with  allowing yourself to be wrapped and held in the love and grace of  God.   I don’t know if many people know that they are unconditionally loved anymore, or if they ever have known. But if we want world peace, we have to tell the broken world that God holds them, loves them and sees them and we have to look upon those who have different values and see that they are loved, even if they don’t know it.  The bully in the classroom is hurting as much as the kid being bullied.  What would it take for us to convey to those who we call “thugs, evil, crazy,”  that they are loved, valued and held?  We must teach this to all children. Every day. We have to love the children of this world as if they all our children.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
― Fred Rogers

Second, we have to surrender ourselves to that love and put our trust in it.  We are not the center of the universe.  The world was not made for our existence alone.  We are part of something bigger and we have to put our trust in a Creator who has been here far longer than we will be, and will be here long after.  What would it take to surrender all of the stuff we carry, put those things in a bottle and let them float down the river, so that all that is left is our true selves?  As long as we carry greed, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, past hurts, unmet expectations, or addictions, we cannot hold peace.   But if we can surrender that stuff and know that they don’t serve us and just let it go, we can make room for peace. – For the record, this is not easy.   We hold fear and anger and as long we hold those heavy weights, we are weighed down and there is no room for peace.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
― Thich Nhat HanhThe Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Third, we have to want it more than anything else.  If we do not want peace, peace will not present itself.  It’s not going to force itself on you. When I am not at peace with myself or with others, I feel unsettled, anxious, and self centered. I am not putting my mind on Divine things.  I am Martha, at work, trying to fix, trying to get praise, trying to prove myself, trying to justify myself.  If, however, I can put my mind on divine things, then what I discover is that I have received grace and I can extend grace to those who have hurt me.  I no longer give them power.  Revenge and peace cannot coexist.

“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

― Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for there’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

For Equilibrium, a Blessing:
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”

― John O’DonohueTo Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

May the peace of Christ be with you.

 

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When God Hits You Over the Head

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It’s taken a long time to get to this place. – Five years, maybe longer. – No longer, maybe my entire life. I remember, as a teenager,  looking up to people who seemed to be able to balance it all, look good, get every achievement and never look or appear tired, grouchy or stressed out.  I remember wanting to be them. I wanted to be that Student Body President with the 4.0, who could both perform and play a sport and essentially do it all.  I was competitive, driven and had an overwhelming feeling of needing to be important. I carried this self importance with me through college, grad school, seminary, ministry, etc.

Now, at this midlife marker on my time line – if 46 is midlife, and I think it still is, I am find myself at a threshold of what is behind and what is ahead.  The day after my 46th birthday I was hit over the head.  Actually, I was hit in the head.  Hard.  I knew the moment it happened that it wasn’t good.  The pain was severing.   At first it was blinding.  I remember a metallic taste in my mouth and thinking, “don’t pass out, you are home alone.”  I willed away the pain, pretended like it didn’t happen, finished what I was doing, which was sweeping the kitchen floor, got on my coat and left for a church meeting.   I lasted one hour, before I told the group I needed to go home, as I was seeing stars and thought I was going to throw up.  Since then, my days have consisted of doctor visits, a concussion diagnosis, some tests, a massage, a visit to the chiropractor, some walks, and lots of naps.  The only way to recover from a concussion is to rest.  The orders are no screens (yes I am on one now), no driving, no reading,  and lots of resting.

This hit over the head, I think was the only way I was going to be forced to stop and look at how fast I am going, how hard I am trying to will the world right, and most importantly, how far away I have gotten from any practice self care and rest. It’s embarrassing to admit that my self care practice is taking a shower.  That’s nothing to be proud of.

For those of us who carry an over sense of responsibility, we can believe that our existence depends on the success or failure of whatever it we feel we are responsible for.  For me, the two things I feel ultimately responsible for are: the church and my kids.   I have convinced myself that I am responsible for saving the church where I serve.  – Yes, I realize the ego in that statement.  I have also convinced myself that I am responsible for making sure my kids are o.k.  –  It is impossible for me to not feel responsible.  It is impossible for me to not believe that I can fix things, work harder, try something else, keep going, sleep less, do more and then everything will be alright. –

But then I got hit over the head.

And I realize that for a good while now I have been more of a human doing than a human being.  The doing is a way to avoid the loneliness of leadership, the acceptance of failure, the reality of death, the truth of aging, and the acknowledgement of time passing.  In other words: grief. – And the truth is the work of grief requires rest. You can’t work your way out of grief, you have to rest in it.

It’s a crazy thing to realize you forgot you were a human being. Just a person, with no special powers to save anything, as much as you would like to.

I know this injury will heal and I will get back to “normal” soon enough. I will be able to return to the routines that are so addicting. The question I am asking myself is  “Can I obey God’s call to rest?”  Can I relinquish my over sense of  responsibility and take that yoke off of my shoulders?  Can I give the space I need to grieve?  Of course the irony and the sin is thinking that I can save anything on my own, that I am in control, and that I am more than just a human being.  The sin is the ego thinking that it doesn’t need God.

Since the beginning of the year I have been studying the work and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. – If anyone was responsible and and courageous in leadership,  it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  If anyone grieved the loss of his church and his friends  and his own freedom, it was Bonhoeffer.  His theology is very clear that he was not responsible to the church, but to God.  His relationship to the church and to the world  was rooted in this constant, steadfast reminder that he belonged to God.  He wrote from his prison cell:

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
― Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

I am at the beginning of this Epiphany Season, that began with a hit over the head.  I am only beginning to see what I had become blind to.  It’s humbling thing to confess how far from God I feel, and how exhausted I find myself, and how much grief I have shelved.  I share this not for sympathy but in hopes that maybe if you find yourself overly responsible trying to save something, that you don’t need to run into a wall – as I did (the corner of a kitchen cabinet), but can stop, rest, breathe, slow down, light a candle, and just be a human being.   That’s enough.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

I Want the Church to Feel Like Church

006I want the church to feel like to church.

A sermon

A Table

A Baptism

A Cross at the center and a Bible in the pulpit.

A Robe and stoll

A Chancel

A Pew

Silence

Reverence

Liturgy

I want the seasons: Advent, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord,  Ash Wednesday, Lent, Transfiguration, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, Ordinary Time

I want the church to feel like church.

I want to look over and see the young couple, newly married talking to the elderly man, recently widowed.  I want the row of church ladies who sit in their same pew every week and save a seat for Maxine and Myrna. I want the children with their baggies of cheerios and the parents with their cups of coffee. I want the men in ties and coats sitting next to the teenagers with ripped jeans and tie dye shirts.  I want the prayers for those in the hospital and the shared news of the child being deployed.   I want the embrace of the college student home over break, and the thrill of the new baby in the stroller. I want the safe place to talk about suicide and abuse, job loss, and depression.  I want the disagreements over politics and discussions over culture.  I want the feel of the bulletin, the smell of the candles, the order of worship, the confession of sins and above all, I want laughter.

Laughter at our humanity. Laughter at the joy of being together. Laughter at the ways we take ourselves so seriously. Laughter at the celebration of life. Laughter at the profound privilege of being able to worship and sit in the presence of God.  I want to be so overwhelmed by the joy of being in the presence of God, that we cannot help but laugh as Sarah did and sing as Mary did and pray as Hannah did and wrestle as Jacob did and argue as Moses did and weep as Jesus did and confess as Paul did and preach as Peter did.

I want to sing and believe that a weary world can rejoice. I want “Merry Christmas” to mean “Jesus Christ is born in you.”  I want “Happy Easter” to mean  “He is Alive.”   I want  an authentic place of prayer and spiritual enlightenment, a place where you can walk in the door and lay your cross at the door, and come in and sit and cry and think and be without fear of judgment.  Just come and be yourself.

God, I love the church.  I love it for all of its quirks and crazy. I love it for trying so hard to get it right.  I love it for its downfalls and pitfalls and struggles and history. I love it for its desire to be the Kingdom of heaven on earth — a truly unobtainable  mission statement, and yet one that it strives for, without delay.  I love it for its desire to be Jesus – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visited the imprisoned, welcome the stranger.  I love it for its confession that it fails and its repentance to start over..

God, I love the church. I love it for the saints who have gone before.   I love it for the saints who played the organ and taught Sunday school and put oil in the candles and set the Table.  I love it for the ministers who have served and retired or have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. I love it for their sermons they preached and the hands they held and the meetings they ran and the divisions they tried to mend.  I love it for all of the ways in which we have almost killed it, but somehow, by the grace of God it is still alive.

I love that in the next day, all around the world, people will make their obligatory twice a year pilgrimage to church and sit in their winter coats, crammed into the pews their grandparents faithfully sat in every Sunday and the little white candles will be passed down the row, and the flames will shine on their faces and I have a view from the front and I see, that the light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.  Let your church live.

Coming of Age. The Perils of Parenting Teenagers and the #MeToo Movement.

imageWell before I ever knew I was going to be a mother of daughters, I promised myself that I would teach my daughters to be feminists.  I would be the type of mother who would tell them they could be the next Madeline Albright or Eleanor Roosevelt or anything they wanted to be.  The most important thing being, that they were fully themselves, without inhibitions or worry about being objectified or less than because of their gender. I wanted to model for them and teach them that they could do any job, including one that typically was held by men.

Before I became a mother, I had a list of Do’s and Don’ts for raising a strong, smart daughter.

Don’t buy Barbies, or Brat Dolls, or any other “sexy doll.”

Do read Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, and A is for Abigail.

Don’t buy bikinis until they are 25.

Do buy Legos and other toys typically designed for boys.

Don’t paint the baby’s room pink, or put her in a lot of pink clothing. – Keep it gender neutral.

Make sure she takes a self defense class, so she can protect herself.

No make-up until, like, forever.

I look at these rules I made up back then, now, almost sixteen years later with two adolescent daughters and I realize that some of them were silly and some of them were pretty good pieces of advice.  Some of the rules stuck and some of the rules fell by the way side.

Today, in light of the #MeToo movement, and recalling my own stories of sexual harassment,  I realize that all of these rules I made up were to protect them from having a #MeToo moment.  I thought, maybe I could shield them, and make them so confident and secure that they wouldn’t have to experience the things I did.

If we are going to continue this conversation on sexual harassment and the objectification of women, we need to start with conversations with our boys and girls.  I didn’t realize until now, that for me, the fall of my innocence from childhood to adulthood came about when boys started making comments about my body.  When I was a girl, I was just a kid, just another kid on the block.  All of the kids around my house were boys and we all played Star Wars and Army and football. I would run and build forts and play.  It was fun.

And then junior high happened.

And everything changed.

I wanted to be one of two things when I was 14 years old, either a famous ballerina or an actress.  I wasn’t picky. I would lie in my bed at night and dream about being on stage.  In my dreams, I was amazing. I was also tall and thin and stunning. This why you call them “dreams.”

One summer day, I was walking to theater practice across the junior high foot ball field.  There were a group of boys standing in the door way of the school and they saw me walking. They shouted out, “Look at that bitch, with the big butt and no tits.”

At that moment, I prayed that the football field would swallow me up and I would be invisible forever.  I was exposed.  Right there, in the middle of the football field, with no other person that maybe they were talking about, or referring to.  Me.  And my body.

I walked to the theater and got on stage and all I could think about in my 14 year old brain, was that sentence and the terrible, shaming truth that it held.

It was at that moment that my innocence, my childhood ended. – I was now a woman and an object to be looked at.

It took a long time to get over that mortifying moment. I never told anyone. Even writing those  words almost 30 years later makes me feel vulnerable.

Of course, I wouldn’t even count that moment as my #metoo experience.  All of those experiences happened in college and grad school.  Each time something happened, rather direct, or overt I tried to counter that experience by protecting myself.  I think even becoming a pastor and wearing a long black robe on Sunday mornings is a way of me saying to the world, “Do not look at me!”

Today I am a mother of teenage daughters.  I would just like to say for the record, for any parents of teenagers that I counselled back in the day when I wasn’t a mother of teenage daughters,  I apologize.  Clearly I was clueless and had no idea what I was talking about. – Because being a mother of a teenager is way worse than being a teenager.

You walk up the stairs, and they know you are coming, and they shut the door before you reach their room. Nice.  You give them space and then they get angry because you don’t notice their hair. Whatever.  You ask them to empty the dishwasher and they roll their eyes and then ask to buy something on Amazon. Are you serious?!

And then you realize that all of your stupid baggage from being 14 is still with you.  The friend that abandoned. The boy that broke up.  The pressure to succeed.  The desire to fit in.  And you know, logically, that your life is not their life and you know you have to let them go and fail and succeed on their own accord, but you also know what is coming and you realize you can’t protect them.  And then it happens, and you watch your daughter have her fall from innocence.

My daughter had an experience in PE this past semester.  Boys were talking about her body and saying inappropriate things.  It seems like the comments have stopped out there in the junior high world, but they have not stopped in her head.  I watch her move from an innocent little girl, who loved to play and create and imagine, to a self conscience, body aware, teenager.  I watch that teenager brain getting it’s exercise as it grows inside her and she feels feelings of anger and strives for self determination.  I see her want to stay true to herself and want to fit in at the same time.  I see her want to be hugged and left alone at the same time.  I see her face the world of social media, and I realize I am parenting in real time, without any prior experience to fall back on.  I see her struggle, and I realize I could have probably painted her room pink.

I wonder how we can change the script of coming of age in overly crass society, where boys and girls are exposed to far more sexually explicit activities than I was at their age?   Does the fall of innocence and the rise to adulthood, always have to include a moment of shame?

Maybe it does.  It may be impossible to get through the first 20 years of your life without someone objectifying you in someway.  There is something to be said for learning resiliency and overcoming adversity.

But I hope and pray this movement changes things for our kids.  I hope my girls don’t have experiences like I did and I hope my son never finds himself in a situation where he thinks he can talk about a girl’s body like it’s a piece of merchandise.

I don’t have any answers, but parents, I’m with you, man.  This is hard. Really, really hard.  I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom to wrap this up. I am too much in the thick of it myself, to see outside and tell you that everything is going to be alright and that they will get through it and not hate themselves or you.   I think the only thing we can do is remind them of the same thing we told them when they were four years old and screamed on the floor, just because their little brains were growing, just as they are now. And that is, “You are safe. You are loved. You are not alone.”

I also find that wine, coffee and chocolate helps.

Peace,

Shelly

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