Sisterhood — SheLoves for April, 2016

This piece was written several weeks ago, before the one that went live this week. Both are about this long, hard, sometimes beautiful, always exhausting journey with my mom. At the time this was written, she was just beginning to sing again, after many months of not doing any of it. You can finish this essay over at SheLoves.

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It’s a gray day today and I’m actually grateful for that. I love the sun. Love it. And we’ve had a winter full of it here in Santa Barbara. But somehow, the grayness is helpful today, soothing and calming, like a gentle hug.

I offer those kinds of hugs quite a lot these days, mostly because I need them myself. I think I’m lonely, to tell you the truth. It’s not overwhelming, it’s not even terribly sad, because overall, my life is rich and good. But there’s a part of me, deep inside, that is lonely.

I never had a sister. I raised two girls and a boy, and my mom had a sister, so I’ve seen real sisterhood up-close-and-personal, but I’ve never experienced it myself. I do know that for some, ‘sisterhood’ is more of a curse than a blessing, that sometimes personalities clash, or shared history is dark and dangerous, or jealousy inserts itself in an ugly and corrosive way. But the sisterhood I’ve watched in my own family? Well, it’s a lovely thing to see.

We lived near my mom’s sister for about eight years of my childhood — just three blocks away. We could walk to each other’s houses easily and often. My mom and my Aunt Eileen laughed with ease whenever they were together, sharing stories and jokes known only to them. I would watch them from a distance, feeling what I now know was a kind of nostalgia as I did so. A nostalgia for something I’ve never had and never will.

I wish I had a sister.

The content of this post surprised me. I sat down in a free two hour window to ponder the theme for this month over at SheLoves. . . and this strange piece is what came out. You can click right here to finish it over there.

In the Wilderness — with SheLoves

And it’s Saturday again, SheLoves Saturday. Please begin this piece here and then follow the link over to that lovely place to read the rest. Our theme for the month of March is: “I see you.”

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As I write these words, we are one third of the way through Lent, and I am deep in the wilderness over here on the west coast. If I look out my window, I don’t see wilderness around me, but I know I’m in it nonetheless. It feels a little bit like all hell has broken loose as I sit in my office, or at the local coffee house, or in the office of another who has asked me to come for conversation and encouragement.

I’ve been listening to lots of different people lately. I do that all the time, truth be told, and some of those people even pay me for a particular kind of listening, a listening together called spiritual direction, which I spent three years learning. I continue to learn how to do this with each of the twelve different people who visit me, in person or via Skype, for a one-hour session each month. Every one of those persons is unique, with his or her own set of questions and wonderings; each one a distinctly individual person, with their own gender, age, marital status, life experience, spiritual struggle, need for discernment and companionship.

Yet they are all alike in one central and important way: they each want to be seen.

I believe there is a deep-seated desire built into us, a desire to be known and understood. And for my money, the phrase, “I see you,” is one of the rarest and richest in the English language. To be truly seen includes being truly heard. And it implies being valued and held in high regard. To be seen in this way is to begin to understand our own, intrinsic worth, which is the most basic and important of the foundation stones upon which sturdy relationships can be built.

All of the listening I’ve been doing in recent days, however, has led me to the sad conclusion that we do not see one another very well at all. This is not new, is it? We human creatures resist the very thing we long for, and so we hide. And sometimes we do that hiding well enough to reap the whirlwind.

Too many friends are reaping that whirlwind these days.

In the last week, I’ve heard stories of betrayal, diminishment, neglect, fear, sorrow, loss and pain. Marriages in jeopardy, careers on the line, friendships torn asunder by cruel words and careless actions, gut-wrenching fear overwhelming solid judgment, children struggling with addiction, and a long list of serious health crises, too often exacerbated by stressful relationships at home and/or work.

Wilderness, indeed. Bleak, endless, monotone.

And then, I remember . . .

Finish this one over at SheLovesMagazine – just click here to find it.

A Love Story — for SheLoves

Theirs is a love story that not many remember these days. One of them has been gone from this plane for 10 years; the other has no memory of ever being married, despite their 63 years together. So it’s my story to tell now . . . you can start this sweet tale here and click over to SheLoves to continue it. It’s a good one for Valentine’s Day weekend, don’t you think?

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Celebrating 50 years on the island of Kauai in 1991

On paper, they were seriously mismatched. He, the brilliant, favored son of a well-educated southern family, she the hard-scrapple middle child of working class Canadians, each family migrating to the Los Angeles area before their kids were old enough to remember anyplace else.

Ben’s family was firmly ensconced in a downtown Methodist church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, providing leadership in a multitude of ways. Ruth was a church orphan, whose parents dropped her at the front door each Sunday.

They came up through the youth group separately — he, four years ahead of her — but each knew of the other. She had a steady boyfriend by the time she was in high school and dated him for four years, most of their life together centered around that old brownstone church.

Ben was gifted musically and intellectually, but very reserved, even shy. Ruth was vivacious, smart, mischievous, funny and a natural leader. He stood on the sidelines of her life for a while, becoming increasingly smitten. After Ruth’s early relationship ended, they gravitated toward each other, each of them happy to discover the ways their differences were complementary.

The rest, as they say, is history. They ‘went together’ for several years, as he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA; she matriculated there, but dropped out when family funds evaporated. By then, they were committed to marriage, the US had entered WWII, and her folks saw no reason for her to get a degree. She regretted it the rest of her life.

He failed to pass the physical for the draft, so began to teach in San Diego at a small military academy. In 1941, they married in a friend’s garden, honeymooned in Laguna Beach, and settled into community life at the school.

Their love for one another grew deep and sturdy, but it was never particularly easy, especially during those early years. His family didn’t really approve of her — his mother took to her bed for a full week when they announced their engagement and wore black to their wedding. Each of their families of origin had their own unique dysfunctions and patterns and, as is true for all of us, the wounds of childhood were real and lasting.

He was the ‘show-kid,’ his skill at the piano and in the classroom regularly put on display by a pushy mother. She was the caretaker, intervening at a very young age when her dad came home drunk and became verbally and even physically abusive to everyone in the family.

He kept things in, she let them out, often in a big and dramatic way. Learning to communicate, to deal with anger issues, to build their own individual self-confidence — these were issues that didn’t go away.

Hop on over to SheLoves to finish this story and to share with all of us a love story that’s important in your own life.

Who Am I? — SheLoves 20Questions, January 2016

Starting the new year off with a bang over at SheLoves . . . with 20 Questions!  This is the one I chose because I believe it to be so central to our journey. Start here and click over to read the rest over there. And please join the conversation, okay? Would love to hear who YOU are!Scan 2015-12-9 0010

This is the central question of my long life, one I must ask myself every day, one that requires me to slow down long enough to remember the answer! It is a question buried deeply in our souls, maybe even in our sinews, and it is the call of God to each and every one of us. No matter what limits we live with — and all of us have limits of one kind or another — each of us has a unique place in the fabric of humanity. And our primary task in life is to find that place and fill it as fully and heartily as we can.

This question is both personal and universal, and the answer we seek can only be found in the unique context in which we live and learn. First and foremost, that context is always laced with the lives of others, so discerning an answer to who we are will require a deep and growing understanding of where we are. That context can — and should — change over time. We must pass through the necessary and important stages of development common to us all, each with its own set of ‘rules’ and tasks. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, old age — like it or not, we all move along the river of time and maturity. The trappings and boundaries of our life will change from stage to stage, sometimes quite dramatically. Where we live, and with whom, the level of our education, our job or career status, the state of our health — these shift and re-form constantly throughout our lives.

But that central question stays the same, and so does the answer. Or perhaps I should say, answers. There is an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ part to both, a primary and a secondary truth. The primary part is true for every single person on the planet — past, present or future. The secondary part is unique to each one of us — to our DNA, our emotional IQ, our mix of gifts, strengths, weaknesses and limits.

The ‘a’ part is perhaps the hardest for us to wrap our minds around, the most difficult for us to hold onto with confidence and rock-solid belief. Brennan Manning has written about it exquisitely:

“Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be.” 

― Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

Do you believe this? Do you cling to it, trust in it, allow it to form and re-form you? Hard as it is for us to fathom, every single one of us is the apple of God’s eye, the one over whom the great God of the Universe sings a song of love and delight. This is the through-line of our scripture, the nitty-gritty of the Jesus-Good-News, the powerful, ongoing labor of the Holy Spirit within us: we are loved.

The ‘b’ part of the question looks a lot like Fred Buechner’s famous query: do you know where your deep gladness is? What is it that makes your heart sing, that feels right, way down deep inside you? How do your own gifts and strengths converge to both bring you joy and the world in which you live good? As Buechner put it, where do “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?”

Hop on over and read the rest and see how others are answering this query!

Own and Share Who You Are — SheLoves Magazine

I got bumped up early this month over at SheLoves, for their October theme of ‘power.’ What a great topic to reflect on. You can begin my essay here and then follow the link over to the best women’s magazine on the web, okay? Always good conversation in that place!

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It’s taken me a lifetime to inhabit this skin of mine. In truth, I believe that habitation to be one of our primary tasks in this life — to realize who it is we’re created to be, to own it, to live it, to share it. It takes time, it takes intention, it takes attention, and it takes oodles and oodles of trust to get anywhere close to realizing any one of that little list of verbs, much less all four: realize, own, live, share.

Despite the great strides that have been (and are being) made on behalf of equality for women in the western world, this particular piece — this piece called ownership — is still so difficult for many of us. And sadly, more than difficult, it is impossible for far too many of our gender, born into repressive cultures at various places around the globe.* There is work still to be done, isn’t there? Even here, even now.

I believe that those of us who follow the rabbi from Nazareth are invited to lead the way. Everything about the ministry of Jesus spoke to the beautiful truth of the good news Jesus brought, the good news Jesus lived out while walking our earth, the good news the Holy Spirit continues to whisper in our ears. And here it is: we are loved by, wanted by, seen by and have the choice to be filled by . . . an Almighty God. A God who calls us friends, even children.

Which makes us — children of the King.

Just let that wash over you for a minute or two.

This kingdom God invites us to enter is not like any kingdom we’ve studied about in history books. It is marked by humility, service, even suffering. But it is also a place where healing happens, where goodness rises, where power is available from one moment to the next, no matter how difficult any particular one of those moments may prove to be. It is a place of hope, and justice, of valuing one another and also? Of learning to love ourselves as we discover who we are in the light of God’s redemptive, empowering love.

So . . . who are you? What are the gifts that God asks you to pour into this world? Where is your primary ‘playing field,’ the place where the power of God can be released through you?

Please join us at SheLoves and help us reflect on what it looks like to fully realize who we are, and God loves and empowers us.

To Dance with One Another — SheLoves

It’s my Saturday at that great women’s magazine, SheLoves. The theme for September is ‘held,’ and this small vignette was what came to me. Sorta surprised me, to tell you the truth. It’s about dancing — how I never do it anymore but I still dream about it from time to time.

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We don’t dance in our house. And I miss it. Not that I was ever a ‘dancer’ — I can’t follow choreography of any kind to save my life. Believe me, I’ve tried. Jazzercize? Nope. I trip over my own feet trying to figure out whether that last move was to the right or to the left.

But when I was in junior high and high school, I went to school dances and I enjoyed moving around on the dance floor. I could do a few of the simpler dances of the day when the music was up-tempo, but slow dance? Now, that I could really do. Because I was a singer and enjoyed music in my home all the time, I knew how to find the beat, and I discovered I quite liked moving to that beat while being held by someone else.

There is something sweet and natural about moving slowly to music, held in the embrace of another. I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true. I didn’t date a lot, but the boys I did go out with all knew how to dance, some of them quite well. And if the lead dancer is good, the weak dancer is home free. I quite enjoyed being home free.

I met my husband, God’s greatest gift to me, when I was a first-year college student. I loved his big brown eyes, his sincerity, his sense of humor and his commitment to his family.

But he did not dance. And he was quite clear about that. Quite.

I didn’t get it. He was supremely well-coordinated, a gifted athlete. Why not at least try it?

That was a great big NO.

It took me a long to time to ferret out the reason why. He told me it was because he never learned — his family and his church frowned on it, so he was never taught how to move to music. But my parents came from a similar background, so neither of them knew a lot about dancing, either. Yet my mom wanted me to know how, so she asked our next-door neighbor to show me, to provide a few simple lessons. That small gesture made it possible for me to jump over the gigantic hurdle of adolescent self-consciousness and go out there and try it.

No one ever did that for him. And the self-consciousness ran deep, deep, deep. He cared what other people thought about him. He knew he was a good athlete and he was unwilling to take the risk of trying something new to him, something physical that he might not excel at. A 4-letter jock all through high school, the embarrassment factor was simply too big a hurdle for this good man. . .

Come on over and join the conversation at SheLoves, okay? Just click on this line.

“What Is Your Hand Made For?” — SheLoves

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As I faced into the writing deadline for this month, I found myself on vacation, resting with our family on the island of Kauai, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far away from the demands of our busy life at home. It was good to be there, to be quiet and laid back — because ‘laid back’ is a particularly good state of mind for wrestling with the idea of grit.

The first thing that came to me upon reading this month’s theme was the word, ‘stubbornness!” I remembered that when I was raising our two daughters, I told myself often that any evidence of stubbornness in their nature would serve them well in later life; it was my job to help them learn to control and channel it. Women often need to have more than a little stubbornness to make it in life, to pursue their calling, to become the fullest selves they can be. I believed this to be more true for them than for my son, and I still do. Women need a little something extra, even in this age of egalitarianism. The years since my kids were little have taught me to redefine what that ‘something’ is, however. And our vacation in Hawaii helped me to put words to that definition, and gave me a good question to ask myself, and all those whom I love and counsel.

I learned it at a small slack-key concert, of all places. Twice a week, the little town near our vacation condo offered that lovely music, along with stories and reflections, at the local community center. My husband and I forked over the fifteen bucks each and thoroughly enjoyed our two hours of listening and learning.

Somewhere in the story-telling time, the question that titles this post was offered to the audience. It’s an old idea in Hawaiian culture, and it’s a rich and thoughtful one. Young adults are asked to consider this question as they make decisions about their life work, and I think it’s a question worth asking for all of us.

“What is your hand made for?”

 When we know the answer to that question, everything else somehow comes into clearer focus, don’t you think? What are YOU meant to do with your ‘one wild and precious life?’ How has God formed you? Where should you invest your energies? Who are you designed to be?

Wrestling out the answer to that question is one of the primary tasks of life; it is so worth pondering and exploring. Once we have found the answer to that life-query, then we need to find whatever grit is necessary to move toward it.

Because grit alone will not do the job. There must also be a deeply-seated desire – a desire that is directed, intentional, and God-given — in order for grit to do it’s good work. Without a clear sense of where we’re headed, all the grit in the world will not get us where we want to be. . . 

Like to know what else I think you need? Read the rest of this piece over at SheLoves today. Always a good conversation happening over there!

Easy Does It — SheLoves

When I see the wonderful themes that come from the fine people at SheLoves each month, I am always surprised at what comes to me. This one is no exception. I’m not writing about my mom too much in public these days, but here are the most recent reflections. You can start here and follow this link to finish this piece and join the conversation. Please do!

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The part of my life that needs me to be ‘easy’ right now happens to be the hardest one ever. My mother lives within five miles of our home and turns 94 this month. She loves it when I drop by, she smiles right through the telephone when I call her, she tells me I’m the most wonderful of God’s creatures, even though she is not entirely sure who I am.

Because my mother, in addition to being one of the loveliest women I’ve ever known, also has dementia. Her brain is deteriorating, week by week. She has lost most of her memory, including all 63 years of her marriage to my father, has only very limited mechanical ability of any kind, and more and more often, leaves her sentences hanging in the air after about three words, leaving me to wonder where in the world she was headed. When I am with my mother, what she most needs me to be is relaxed, present, patient, slow.

Too much of the time, I am NONE of those things.

Loving a person with severe dementia means you continually live with a large load of cognitive dissonance. In my head, I know that she cannot understand, cannot remember, and cannot move quickly, either physically or mentally. But with my heart? I want her to be as she once was: fast-witted, funny, vivacious, interesting, well-read, deeply spiritual.

Who she is now. . . is slow. Her brain is losing itself, day by day. Scientists do not yet understand all the complicated mechanisms that make this true, but this much we do know: the part of her brain that remembers things is disintegrating. The part of her brain that understands how things works, how time happens, what she said 30 seconds ago is almost entirely non-functional.

So when I hand her a napkin at lunch, she has no idea what to do with it. I say gently, “Put it in your lap, Mom.” And she moves to pick up the knife and fork that were just wrapped in that napkin, sending them to her lap.

Because she has always had a gift for sociability, and is a natural extrovert, she has maintained a semblance of those characteristics. She has a ‘routine’ that she follows when we are together. Ten times in ten minutes, she asks the same set of rote questions: How is your family? Have you found a church you like? Where is your husband? And the biggest one of all, ever-present: Do you ever think about moving?

“No, Mom,” I always say. “I like it here. We plan to be here until we die.” And some days, I swear to you, I want her to hear and understand that verb. I want her to grasp that she is dying, that I am dying. We are all dying. Most of the time, she hasn’t a clue. . . 

Come on over and join us at SheLoves . . .

Do You Believe This? — SheLoves

Wonderful themes going this year over at SheLoves. This month? Permission — a topic I absolutely loved writing about because I think it’s so important, especially for women. Please start that piece here and then follow the link over to one of the richest places on the internet.

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I had a boss once who used the phrase, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.” That little sentence used to bother me a little, having lived the formative years of my life as an oh-so-obedient eldest child, one who asked permission for everything. I spent way too many minutes (years?) of my life worrying about where to go, whom to ask, and how to find permission to try most anything and everything.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned well in the past few decades, it is this: permission is highly overrated. Too often, the word has been dangled over our heads (our female heads, most especially), and with eyebrows raised and fingers pointed, we’ve been asked, “Who said you could do that?”

I grew up at the tail end of the ‘behave like a lady’ thinking that permeated North American culture for generations. Like children, women were to be seen, but not heard, ‘respected,’ even revered, but not fully included nor even invited into the story of the 20th century church.

But in 1950’s southern California evangelical circles, there was one woman who changed that trajectory dramatically. Her name was Henrietta Mears and she was a dynamo. She broke through barriers right and left. Though I never knew her, her life made a mark on mine. And then there was Roberta Hestenes, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor who singlehandedly began to change the way many streams of evangelical mid-twentieth-century Christianity viewed women. She never asked permission for anything, she just quietly followed God’s lead and taught us all some valuable lessons about personhood, calling and obedience.

 

So in the spirit of solidarity with such women through the ages, I’d like to pause a moment and remind us all of what we do not ever need permission to do. Are you ready?

Click here to join the conversation – it’s a good one today.

Tapestry — SheLoves

The themes over at SheLoves this year have been rich and provocative. This month: fabric. You can begin this meandering piece here and then follow the link over to one of my favorite magazines in order to read the rest:
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This life we live is a woven thing.

Textures, colors, strengths, weaknesses, flaws, beauty, warmth, breathability — a wondrous, complex, sturdy fabric of relationships, experiences, emotions, encounters, learning and un-learning.

Weaving in and out of each of our stories are some glorious threads that glisten and shine; and then there are those others, the darker ones that cannot reflect light at all. Sometimes, the tension between the two can feel chaotic, without design or beauty. We can feel buried under the weight of it all as the loom of life pulls and pushes us in ways we might not choose to go.

When those days come, I try to remind myself that the fabric that is me is only one small piece of the much larger work God is creating across time and all around this universe. And that larger piece is a design of such magnificence that not one of us can even imagine its depth and beauty. Those ‘thin places’ we talked about last month sometimes give us a peek, a hint, of what God is up to in the ongoing creation of life. And that old cliché — the one about seeing only the backside of the tapestry God is weaving? Yup, I think it’s true.

There are those days when we catch a glimpse of the front, though. Moments when the glory-light shines in and our lungs feel like they’re breathing heavenly air. In the fabric of my own life, there have consistently been some glittering threads, ones that make me gasp with gratitude and sigh with recognition and relief.

Please come over and join the conversation at SheLoves! Just click on this line.

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