Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

“Open Your Eyes to the Light” — SheLoves, July 2017

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Benedict of Nursia:
          “However, late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy. That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep. Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of  God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today, if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

 If we trace it back, the root of lethargy is often fear. And this is what I know about fear: it slams the door on light. When we are afraid, anxious, worried, preoccupied with all that is wrong, evil and difficult in our world, there is no room for the light to shine.

So let’s talk about fear, shall we?

I see it everywhere these days — on the news, in the headlines, spreading its tendrils all across the internet. Some days, it is downright palpable. Even more alarming, I see it creeping into conversations within the broader Christian community. It often takes the form of suspicion, accusation, bullying and labeling.

            “How can you call yourself a Christian if you believe ________
“If you welcome
those kind of people, then how can you be true to scripture?
             “The sin of person “A” is so much worse than the sin of person “B” that s/he                                     must be excluded at all costs.”

Words are flung around like darts, leaving wounds wherever they land, lines are being drawn, battle cries sounded. And curling around every shout, every barb, every accusation, is the acrid smoke of fear.

We are afraid that the Bible will be mistreated.
We are afraid that our standards will be lowered.
We are afraid that our doctrinal stand will be softened.

And most of all, we are afraid that if these things happen, our image of God will be forever altered. The bottom line, if we’re really honest, is that we are terrified that our understanding of who God is and how God behaves and whom God loves will slip out of our ‘control.’ We have given in to the fear that the foundation will be shaken beyond recovery and that the slippery slope will lead us all straight to hell.

Whoa!

Can we take a breath here? Can we step back from the precipice and re-focus our attention on the God we meet in the work, words and person of Jesus Christ, the one who is revealed to us in the pages of our scripture and in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our world?

“Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God.”

 Read that line out loud, would you? Several times.

If you breathe in those words, focus on them, meditate on them, I think you will discover them to be the antidote for all the fear we carry . . .

Please follow this link over to SheLoves today and join the conversation about the power of fear and how we so often get things backwards!

The Land of Tears — SheLoves, June 2017

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            From The Little Prince: “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
                                                                     — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This land is a place I’ve visited many times over my life, a strange and secret country, indeed.

I could say it feels familiar, except that it doesn’t. Not quite. Each visit is unique, bringing its own sadness, regret, emptiness, and eventually, fullness and replenishment as I wend my way back to the familiar terra firma of ‘regular’ life, whatever the heck that is.

After a winding journey of several years, my mama died from Alzheimer’s disease in April of this year. There have been tears all along the highway of this Thief of Time and Remembering, of course. Oodles of them. But none quite like the ones that spilled that Wednesday afternoon in April, standing by her hospital bed. I saw her leave us — an open-eyed gaze, two loud gasps, followed by the strangest silence I’ve ever experienced. I will be forever grateful that I was able to say good-bye . . . thank you . . . I love you.

Or the tears that sprang to my cheeks as I drove out of a doctor’s parking lot one week later, remembering how I have always planned my medical appointments around mom’s schedule these last few years, and wishing fiercely that she could be next to me in my car just one more time. I know there are many tears that have not yet worked their way into the air that surrounds me, tears I carry in this body, waiting behind my eyelids, behind my heart. Each one, shed or yet to be, remind me that grief is a land of secrets, of strange and sudden surprise.

I understand that losing my last parent at the age of 72 is a rare thing. I am grateful for that truth, grateful for her long life, and for my own, glad that we could be together more closely these last few years. Nevertheless, this feeling of loss is real. It winds its tendrils around me in ways that surprise and perplex me, showing up in simple things — like driving down a particular street or watching a television series we used to enjoy together. It stings when I see the bags of clothing waiting for the Goodwill truck or when I pick up a photograph. Though I’ve been here before, this trip feels particularly treacherous and very, very lonely.

We held her memorial service a full month after her death. It was a lovely afternoon, full of memories, scripture, and sweet, old songs. There were digitized home movies, good Mexican food in our backyard after the service, and lots and lots of shared stories. She would have loved every minute of it. In fact, I’m quite sure she did.

The next morning, life moved on. It was time to be ‘the pastor’ for a while, six years into retirement. I led in worship, preached a charge to our fine new confirmand, then went home and collapsed, eager for some space to weep and rest.

But it was not to be. Why?

To find out why it was not to be, please click on this link and read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today. Join the conversation!

Parsing It Out: Sacrifice or Duty? SheLoves

It’s time to write for SheLoves once again, and the theme this month is “Willing Sacrifice.” This one gets pretty personal and you can finish it by clicking on the link.

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My beautiful mama, picture taken  yesterday, week three on hospice care.

What is it that makes a sacrifice truly sacrificial? Seems to me it has to be the modifier chosen for this month’s theme at SheLoves — willingness. I’m not sure that one idea can ever be successfully separated from the other, to tell you the truth. Choosing to give something up for the sake of someone else is what makes a sacrifice real. If the giving-up is not chosen, but forced — by pressure, either external or internal — then it becomes a demand, a duty or an expectation. And that is not the same thing at all, is it?

But sometimes, learning how to parse out that difference is one of the hardest parts of our journey toward becoming mature, loving, insightful and empathetic human persons. I have spent a good portion of my later adult life trying to peel away the multiple, nuanced layers of my own story, looking hard at the motivations behind a lot of my choices over the years. This business of learning to own your own crap is hard work!

I suppose the most central piece of the story for me is my long and complicated relationship with my mother. I’ve written about the last decade of our journey together in multiple places on the internet, including here. The hard, sad loss of this once vibrant woman is filled with pain and sadness, yet even this last stage through dementia has shed some light on who she is, on how her childhood both nourished and scarred her and how those scars had an impact on me. The act of writing things down has involved some hard, deep work and none of it has been easy. My mom was the very best mom she could be, loving me and my brothers well, providing care, concern, fun, beauty, color and laughter for us all. I am deeply grateful for her and to her and love her very much indeed.

But she was far from perfect. No big surprise there, right? Only been One person to walk this earth in perfection — the rest of us muddle along, wounding and being wounded, falling and getting up again. Just today, in the midst of her confusion, I heard these kinds of phrases: “I’m trying to be a good girl.” “I hope it’s not my fault.” “I think I did it right.”

Breaks. My. Heart. These are the wounds of early childhood, worming their way to the surface of a 95-year-old, deteriorating brain, even when nothing else she says makes any sense whatsoever. How can this be?

From about the age of seven, my mother took on the responsibility of protecting her mother from her father, who was given to binge drinking and gambling. Mom cleaned up his messes, stood up to him in her 7-year-old righteous indignation, and worried over her younger brother and sister. She had an older brother, too, but he was the crown prince of the family and apparently could do no wrong. It fell to mom to be the family guardian and watchdog.

And she passed that message, that burden, that responsibility . . . but not that sacrifice . . . to me when I was about seven. “Daughters take care of mothers, “ were her words and they came right into me, body and soul. I’m here to tell you that age seven is way too young for anything to be ‘chosen.’ Instead, the act of care-giving becomes part of your very DNA. Seven-year-olds are not, and cannot be, willing participants. Assumptions are made, expectations are parceled out and burdens are borne.

But for too many years, none of that was what I would call a willing sacrifice. . . 

Read the rest of this essay by clicking over from this link right here. 

Baby Steps — For SheLoves, March 2017

It must be the second Saturday of the month because I’m live at SheLoves again today! You can start this reflection here and then follow the links over to that good place to join the conversation. Our theme for March is “Be Bold for Change.”

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Several members of our family taking ‘baby steps’ on a hiking trail near Palm Springs last week.

Bold is a great big word. Only four small letters, but oh, my! — such freight. I don’t use it often, to tell you the truth. About 90% of the time, my use of the term is limited to clicking Command-B on my computer keyboard! I seem to be more willing to occasionally make a written word stand out than to actually be bold in my day-to-day life.

In fact, as I thought about writing for this month’s theme, I began to wonder if I have ever been a bold person, someone who steps out and speaks up and makes a change. I know I am not bold physically — I KNOW this. I don’t like high places, I am terminally uncoordinated, any size or shape of sports-ball coming my direction is a source of terror. I have a friend — one of my dearest friends — who is brazenly, maybe even crazily, bold physically. She learned to kite-surf in her 50’s and is now an expert. Last year, she and a friend hiked from the Alps of Switzerland to the shores of the Mediterranean in France. This week, she left for Nepal to climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest. Yes, really. The base camp of Mt. Everest.

Uh, no thank you. Much as I love and admire her, that kind of bold feels cray-cray to me. Just plain c r a z y.

Then I began to broaden my horizons and think about other bold women I have known. I soon realized that there are lots of different ways to step up, to step out, to take a chance, to risk failure, to make a difference. Some of those other bold women are the ones I’ve met here at SheLoves — Idelette, Tina, Kelley, Kathy, Helen, Bev, Erin, Cindy, Claire, Heather, Sarah, Michaela, Bethany — too many to list. Each of them, women who have had the courage to dream and the stick-to-it-ive-ness to realize those dreams — often despite fear, hardship, and loss.

Guess what? There are lots of ways to be bold. And every single one of those ways begins with a single step. One decision. One moment of courage. One instant of recognition that this — this idea, this project, this act of grace, this stand-up-and-be-counted moment — is do-able. These women — and so many others — believed in possibilities and then they walked those possibilities into reality.

Every bold step begins with a baby one. Dramatic change does not happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime — even more than a lifetime. Really bold change only happens when lots of different people take lots of different kinds of baby steps, all of them heading in the same direction.

Come on over and read the rest of this piece and tell me about some baby steps of your own, okay?

Opening to the New Year — SheLoves

One of the great privileges of my life these days is my association with the wonderful people at SheLovesMagazine. Today is my monthly day to write for them. You can begin that essay here and follow the link at the end to finish it over there. Please do join the conversation!!

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Stepping into Epiphany is always a mixed bag for me. January 6th means that Christmastide is finished for another year. Now we are headed for Ash Wednesday, which comes quite late in 2017. In some ways, this shift in seasons is a relief — all the red around my house comes down and is packed away for another year. The ornaments are gathered off the tree, the candles are stored in a cool place, the nativity sets are stacked into a plastic bin, each baby Jesus safely secured in a corner somewhere.

Although I don’t relish the work of lugging Christmas bins from house to garage, I do enjoy seeing the cleaner edges of my usual living space emerging from the red, green, silver and gold lavishness of the holiday season. I love Christmas, truly, I do. But I’m glad when it’s time to turn away from the celebrating and re-enter a more ordinary season. My capacity for holiday decorating seems to have diminished with time!

This time, however, it feels like something important is missing as I move more fully into this new year. Since my retirement from parish ministry six years ago, I have gladly embraced a more open schedule and relished the monthly visits from an ever-changing list of people seeking spiritual direction, either here in my small study or via Facetime or Skype. I have also appreciated my monthly opportunities to write for two magazines, one online, and one in print. Occasionally, I even try to fill my own blog space with reflections both prosaic and photographic; the introduction of a monthly newsletter has been a welcome addition to my writing life.

But at this turn of the year, with 2017 opening before me, it feels like my capacity for the good work of direction and writing is larger than the demand for either one. People I thought were committed to my one-on-one work chose to drift away, usually without any formal farewell. A possible temporary job situation didn’t pan out. Both the inner drive to write and the outer call for it seem to have fled the scene.

So what I’m left with at this moment in time is a noticeable sense of emptiness. Maybe openness is a better word; I am open for more in my life . . .

Come on over and offer an encouraging word to those of us talking about this at SheLoves today!

Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Fourteen

This is my scheduled day to write for SheLoves Magazine, and the theme for the month of December is, “Pause.” So you can start today’s reflection (which is in a very different format than usual, and is longer!) right here and then follow the link to finish it over there. Thanks for being flexible.

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Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of joy. All of the assigned readings for the day reflect that spirit, that ineffable whatever-it-is, that deep-down sense that all is right with the world, even when things may not be objectively right in any way.

I can’t think of a better Sunday to take a . . . pause. A deep breath in and a deep breath out; a re-setting of the old internal clock/barometer/gut-sense/compass; a deliberate step away from the noise, the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating, baking, planning.

So I offer you today a few small Advent gifts — a brief reflection on rejoicing, in response to the scripture readings for the day; a list of appropriate hymns and songs for this week of the liturgical year; and a few suggestions for small intentions or actions that you might incorporate into your day. All of it is designed to help us learn more about living in joy, even when the craziness of the season, or the frustrations and worries of our everyday life, conspire to push us in the opposite direction.

The readings for this day include a beautiful song from the prophet Isaiah (35:1-10), Mary’s Song from the gospel of Luke (1:46b-55), some encouraging words on how to live well as a Jesus-follower in James (5:7-10), and the powerful words of Jesus when questioned by an imprisoned John the Baptist in the gospel of Matthew (11:2-11).

 

Please join us over at SheLoves to read the reflection, see the song list and try out one of the practices suggested. Just click here.

A Legacy — SheLoves, November 2016

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She fell down yesterday. No one saw it happen, but when she winced while they were getting her dressed, they spotted the fresh bruising, all down her flank. What happened? everyone wondered.

Who knows?

I was in telephone contact with the nurse and the staff and in text contact with my son the MD. Yes, she can bear weight. No, she was never unconscious. No, the doctor has not returned our FAX.

And so we waited it out. And I had to make some hard choices during that long night. If she broke something, would I authorize surgical treatment? No, I decided. I would not. At age 95, with only fitful eyesight, hearing and balance, and no working memory, surgery would wreak havoc with her diminishing brain cells and would not improve either the length or the quality of her life.

So I decided. And I wept.

And then today, when I went to see her, to assure myself that nothing had been broken, I carefully hugged and kissed her and said, “Oh, Mama, I am so sorry you fell down!”

“I did?” she asked, with an extremely puzzled look on her lovely face. “I have no memory of that happening.”

She was right. She has no memory. Of anything.

BUT I DO.

I remember — and still see —

I’m up earlier than usual over at SheLoves this month. Come over and read more of the memories I try to carry for my mother, why she is the one I consider my ‘legacy’ champion.

Credo — for SheLoves, October 2016

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When I saw the topic for this month — ConfessionTime — I must admit that my heart sank a little. Most of what I write is, in one way or another, a confession of who I am, what I think, how I’m feeling. I don’t have any deep, dark secrets that must be brought into the light at this stage of my life — the dirty linen has pretty much been hung out there for anyone to see. I’ve written here and elsewhere about my struggles with food and weight, my mixed emotions on this journey through dementia with my mother, my wrestling through the powerful grip of anxiety in my life and the fact that though my 50-year marriage is good, solid, rich and wonderful — it is far from perfect. Somehow, admitting that I frequently play one too many games of solitaire or Block Puzzle or that I occasionally binge watch British murder mysteries didn’t quite seem interesting enough for 800-1000 words!

And then it hit me: there is another way to define the word ‘confession.’ There is such a thing as a confession of faith, and I remembered that I have one, written down — a piece that is always a work in process. Each of us who tries to follow in the footsteps of Jesus has one of these — there is a ‘list’ somewhere inside us of what it is we truly believe, what we stake our life on. This is mine:

I believe . . .

in God the Father Almighty,

God who is bigger than anything I can think or imagine; God who is small enough to become a human embryo; God who lives forever in community as three Persons,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I believe . . .

that all truth is God’s truth; that nothing science can discover makes God any less than who God is; that human creatures were designed to reflect the glory, intelligence, compassion, creativity, beauty, tenderness, and strength of this Great God and that we are invited to partner with God in the life-giving, freedom-granting, sin-forgiving, brokenness-healing good, good work that is the Kingdom call of the church.

I believe . . .

that the grace of God is grander than anything we know, broader than any idea we can conceive, wider than any ocean ever seen, and fully beyond our ability to comprehend. This means that anyone and everyone is welcome, that anyone and everyone is loved, that anyone and everyone is offered abundant, forever LIFE.

I believe . . .

PLEASE come on over to SheLoves and join the conversation. I’d love to know what things would be included in your own personal confession/credo! Just click right here!

Labels – SheLoves, September 2016

When I sat down to think and write about this month’s theme, I was feeling a bit blue and confused about a lot of things happening in my life these days. So this is what came out. I’m feeling somewhat better now, but I still stand behind this assertion. I’d love you to join the conversation over at SheLoves this fine Saturday (and beyond . . . )

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When I sit down and think about it, I must admit that I have carried a long list of labels across the length of this life. From the moment of my birth, two of those have been First Child and Eldest Girl. In early childhood, I earned the title Tall Girl — I was the student in the center back row of each of my elementary school classroom pictures. More painful was the lovely name Fish Skin, thrust upon me by a couple of nasty 2nd grade boys who observed a skin condition I was born with (and live with still — a condition that has brought its own special pain — both literal and figurative). Never-to-be-forgotten from those early years was the ever-present Good Girl. That last one hung around for a very long time and occasionally shows up even now, in my dotage.

In high school, I was known as Religious Girl and Brainy Nerd, both of which I owned with a small share of gratitude and grace. For a little fun and academic relief, I was happy to carry the title of Alto in every choral group available to me. It’s also true that I was known as Wallflower and Seldom Dates, titles I wore with some chagrin, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and understanding. Tall, Religious and Brainy do not usually merit Popular or Prom Queen, after all!

At church, during those same semi-awkward years of junior and senior high school, I discovered a set of very different labels, ones that surprised and pleased me. They included Leader, Bible Student, and Insider. That last one was a particularly pleasant and welcome piece of my own growing identity between the ages of 12 and 18.

I left home for University with an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation, eager to be away from my small town, plunging happily into the crowd of 34,000+ students at UCLA. I joined a small Christian living group, met the man who would become my husband, and moved with relief into a completely new set of labels and identity markers. I was nowhere near the smartest woman in the room and that was a huge relief to me; I released every desire to attain a high grade point average, preferring to revel in the joys of independent living and a deepening romantic relationship.

During those college years, I was Dick’s Girl, and eventually, Dick’s Wife and Married Student. I also grew into my full 5 feet 10 inches and began to appreciate the joys of seeing the world from that height. By then, I am happy to report, that childhood label Tall Girl no longer bothered or embarrassed me.

I was delighted to carry the label of College Graduate with me as we sailed across the Atlantic for two years of short-term mission work, teaching school in Zambia. I grew to enjoy being English Teacher, Drama Coach, and Sportsmaster’s Wife during our time there. I also learned to cook, though I never got quite good enough at it to merit a label of any kind in that department.

Five months before we returned home, I added one of the most significant and life-changing titles I’ve ever carried, one I relish to this day: Mommy. Our eldest girl was born in Africa, another followed two years later and a boy two years after that. For twenty years, that was my primary identity, one I loved and worked hard at, not always successfully. Along the way, I picked up a few more: Community Volunteer, Bible Study Teacher, Soloist, Worship Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Little League Team Mom, Room Mother, Chief-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Laundress, etc., etc., etc.

Those were rich and exhausting years but as my children grew up and moved out into their own lives, it became clear that a few more labels needed to be added to the list that is my life. These, however, became much more than monikers. Like Mommy and Wife, the titles Seminary Student, Pastor, Preacher, Bible Teacher, Pastoral Counselor, Spiritual Director and eventually, Writer, became descriptors of parts of me that are deeply rooted, divinely gifted, and vocationally oriented. They are labels, yes, indeed. But they also tell a story, one that continues to unfold and evolve. They speak to the heart of who I am.

But now, right now, I am discovering a label that I did not ask for, do not want, yet cannot avoid, and it is this one:

Wanna know what it is? Well, please just click here and join us at SheLoves!