Blessings Faith and Responsibility

Carrying the remains of the popcorn, two drinks, the blanket we rightly thought was necessary given air conditioning that is always a bit too high when wearing shorts, and holding my Plum’s hand as we crossed the street away from the movie theater and the matinee we watched during a rainy morning, I distractedly dug into my purse for the car keys. Years ago my daughter attached a lanyard so that wherever I reached within the dark confines of the big bags I prefer I would be sure to snag a bit of the keys. But this time, digging, searching, reaching, I was coming up empty. That sick feeling of knowing I had locked the keys in the car was just beginning as we reached it, I hadn’t even looked inside the windows where I usually (yes, I have done this often) find the keys on the seat mocking me. Instead, I found my keys waiting on the ground, right next to the car. In the parking lot of the movie theater. Where many people pass. My car with my laptop sitting on the front seat. Is there a more inviting scene for a thief? Yet two hours after I dropped them, my car and laptop and keys waited safely for our return. Plum stated quite matter of factly as he climbed into his car seat, “Well Gran, you worship God so He protects You.”

The excuses of stowing the blanket, arranging the drinks, securing the bucket of popcorn gave me time to consider my answer. The easy one is yes, yes aren’t we blessed. Maybe even a reminder that angels watch out for fools like me. Still I know that had I come back and the car had been gone through my own negligence, my God would not have failed to protect me. Is Plum too young to begin understanding that the God we are teaching him to trust and love doesn’t prevent bad things from happening? He believes in Santa Claus and we are awaiting the first visit from the Tooth Fairy even as we read about the magical exploits of another little boy and his friends. His pure and innocent and immediate trust, his FAITH, felt too sacred to destroy in that moment and yet gave me pause. How do we teach free will and personal responsibility that intersects with knowing a God from whom all good things come? My quick answer was yes we are blessed and gran wasn’t careful and also grandpa is going to kill me. All quite true but not enough. Something was calling me to dig deeper.

His friend arrived on my porch without him, announcing she was his slave and needed to retrieve something for him, take some toy back to the play site down the street. I wanted to race upstairs and grab one of my t-shirts from the Women’s March and throw it over her head, pull it onto her body before sending her on her way but instead just sent her back with the admonishment that she is no slave for any man. I may have frightened her with my ardor, she clearly preferred her master to the one who was freeing her. Later as they played together at our house, the slave play began again as my sweet kind wonderful little grandson ordered her to come here, go there, get this and she complied. Child’s play maybe but as damaging in my mind as if he were hitting her, as if she were calling him stupid or breaking his toys. I again said no slave play but I couldn’t figure out how to put it in terms that 6 and 7 year olds would care about, would understand.

What I am sure of is that we are entering the years where concepts matter, where teaching the “whys” is now our job. All of the easy stuff is done, he can walk and talk and cut his own food. More and more he is interacting with others who will help shape his future, the days of establishing his foundation are running out. Getting it right the first time because often the second time only comes up years later or so subtly with a tween or teenager that we miss the real opportunity. Right now things are still clear, the questions he asks are to me, the play still happens in front of me, he still listens for my answers and expects his friends to as well. This is the time for impact, even as I thought we were entering a freer time, I realize now our job went from physical demands to the truly tougher mental game.

During bath, when he is trapped and most receptive, I talked to him about boys and power and the almost first female president and the slaves in the bible. I reminded him of all the women in his life who love and nurture him and work twice as hard to have any real power. We talked about blessings and protection and our job to be blessings to others and how bad things happen because we aren’t careful, like when we get so distracted racing in to the movie on time that we drop our keys. Is God still God on a bad day? Is God still God to the slaves or only the free?

My charming little blue-eyed boy at first tried to hedge and say they took turns being slaves but then admitted he had never been anything but the master. He knows this little girl will do anything he asks and he is learning about his charisma. His father has that strong streak as well and hasn’t always used it for the Kingdom. I think I just thought he would, I don’t remember telling him outright how he could hurt women if he didn’t.  Our God of second chances who does send angels to guard car keys left on the pavement also gives us an opportunity to get it right sometimes. Plum and I are learning about faith and personal responsibility together. Only time will tell how right we get it, but God will still be God and with each sunrise we get another chance to get it right.

As he drifted off to sleep, he asked me why girls only have boy’s last names. Why can’t boys take girl’s names too. Yes, my sweet, I said, that is an excellent question. Let’s talk about that tomorrow. With that his breathing became regular and I knew I had laid another brick in his foundation. God is still God and sends the angels to protect and guide us as we take responsibility for our choices. I will be calling on those angels when  I have to admit to Chef that I almost allowed the car to be stolen.


She Told Me the Truth

Over and over I was eviscerated by the little girl across the street. I thought she was just precocious, quite intelligent and maybe lacking the social graces that tell you not to point out to your elders when they look foolish. I gave her many opportunities to practice this skill, she continued her ways nevertheless. She was never completely rude merely pointed out the obvious in the midst of some drama that was generally preventable, exactly what you want to hear when chasing a dog through the neighborhood in your nightgown, say. Finally though she grew older and busier and has left me alone. Then yesterday happened, a new little girl entered my orbit who pointed out that I was wearing the same clothes as the day before.

This girl lives in a home where food is not always certain, I feed her every time I feed Plum. Her clothes are often a bit raggedy and her hair is always tangled. Still she smiles and giggles unceasingly, she savors joy like the huge bubbles we create together on the front lawn. So why was she criticizing me? Or was she? Once my defensiveness settled and I gave her back her popsicle (the one I angrily snatched away in my mind) I knew first that she was right and also that even though she didn’t know my whole story of a short night and a struggle to get a shower and that she was holding up my day because Plum wanted to ride bikes with her and I couldn’t leave them out on the street alone… well, I knew she is a truth teller. Just like the other little girl, she is a truth teller.

At some point, girls stop telling the truth each other, they begin to hedge on the question, “Does this make me look fat?” What these two little girls lack maybe in finesse, they cannot be faulted in their honesty. I hope they hold on to the ability to share truths with other women as they age. I am blessed with a couple of friends who maybe were these little girls, friends who tell me with honesty when I have messed up or stepped outside the boundaries. I wish I could say I respond more appropriately than trying to snatch popsicles back, my defensiveness crosses ages and I don’t hear feedback well. In fact, it often takes me a good amount of time to let it soak in, to allow the truth of the message to reach the real part of me. The stronger my relationship with the teller though, the less time it generally takes. Some truths though are still rumbling around, searching for a home, I hear the words and work to separate my emotion in the hearing to get to the glorious nugget that is meant only for me. Owning those nuggets means getting truly comfortable shedding another layer of protection I thought I had, the part that kept folks at bay. Can others really see me that clearly? Like the proverbial ostrich, if I keep my head buried, maybe we can both ignore just how naked and exposed I am.

One truth teller told me that writing about my political views was hurting people, that it had hurt her. Thousands of justifications rose up in me like the activist I am, I was prepared to battle and protest and yet the word hurt was slowing me down. This conversation has been bugging me for a while, a time spent trying to connect what I feel so strongly in my soul that goes in seemingly divergent directions. Attending the writing conference, I heard a seminar speaker tell me the same truth and I sank lower in my chair. It wasn’t that I needed another voice to say it for it to be true, more that my soul had been readied during a week of worship and gentle prodding to hear it again.

To this end, I am prepared to make a promise. I will no longer write on this blog about my political leanings, you needn’t fear that one day you will open it and find an angry rant about anything more divisive than our beasts or where the laundry goes. I know this blog is not the format for my activism or protests about anything other than sticky fingers on my keyboard. Will you give me another chance to seek the truth and share the truth as I see it and to share along the way when truth tellers find me? I promise not to break your trust.

Note of caution, do not read my twitter account, a girl has to have an outlet. I may have something in common with the little girls of my neighborhood after all. Shall we all seek some truth today, how ever small? Dare we listen to those who bravely tell us our clothes don’t match or we have a bit of spinach on our teeth or we are screwing up our marriage or we are not being kind to our children or our car is a mess? Listening to each other might just be the most radical activism of our day.

By the way, I love your smile and am so grateful you stopped by. That is the truth.


Our Deepest Desires

He rises early, about two cups of coffee after me, trying to sneak into my office but the guns, blankets and other necessary props he selects along before moving to the stairs falling, crashing and excited tails of beasts hitting the walls alert me that my quiet time is over. I keep working as if I have heard nothing, holding on to the last moments before breakfast and transformers and endless chatter propel me into grandma time. His sleepy body finds me, edges closer until he is on my lap, scooting my chair way from the desk the computer all the things that separate him from me. Wrapped in a blanket, he snuggles for a moment as I breathe in the scent of his dreams and he cranes to read the words on my laptop. My tiny office now filled with two large dogs and a boy who is moving every day away from the baby who once only filled my arms.

The first day of summer, the longest day of the year, was truly too long for him. Battling his inner clock, he wants to stay up as late as the other kids he hears playing while he takes a bath, while we are reading another chapter of Harry Potter, while he drifts of to sleep. Those children are no where to be found in those early hours each morning after he wakes, he listens instead to the birds as we refill the feeders and seek out the names of each one that flies through our trees. He collects mulberries from the tree beside the house, purple stained hands evidence of his snacking between meals. I am his early morning playmate, while the others sleep. But last night I let him stay up to catch the fireflies, the bugs of summer he has been anticipating like the last day of school.

We noticed them at least two hours before dusk, before they began to light up as they flew around the low branches and under the bushes. Rejoicing, I thought our early bedtime was secured, I watched as he caught and released, only after a chat with each one. He thanked the bug for letting him catch it, he promised to be gentle, he sent it back out into the wilderness. But even with all of his kindness, they didn’t light up. We found popsicles, a large old blanket for the porch, we began to read our nightly chapter, we discovered with Harry a mirror that shows your deepest desires. I knew mine at that moment was a child in bed, a glass of wine and another chapter to read in my own book. His was finding the ability to stay awake just awhile longer.

Those other kids, the one who stay up until the sky begins to darken, rode bikes to our yard, bringing their noise and energy and disrupting our snuggling. His swagger was back, he stopped cuddling with me, fueled by sugared icy treats, his goal to find the lightening bugs was restored. Soon the jar was filled as the bugs gave into nature, an entire family of bugs glowing within sweaty hands and crawling away only to be nabbed again by children who named them all “Carl.” Catch 10 more Carls, I said, and then we are going in for the night. Children who can read and add and ride their own bikes no longer can count to 10, another 30 minutes before we reach the magic number as I lazily watch them race across the yard, jump to get the ones just out of reach, all using the last bit of energy of spring to usher in summer.

Our longest day is over, he is sleeping late today. More and more I know he will learn to sleep in and care not to snuggle with me in the early morns. Grandmas know how quickly one moves from catching fireflies to lighting up our own nights, from rising early  and grabbing toys along the way to sleeping until noon and secreting away our most prized treasures. The seasons come whether we celebrate them or even notice. Timing is everything. As he sneaks down the stairs carrying leftover visions from sleep and the beginning ideas of adventures for the day, I type one more sentence and thank God for the interruption, the true desire of my heart, this child who still climbs onto my lap.

My Pastor is Killing Me

Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.

Daniel Iverson
The UM Hymnal, No. 393

Stumbling out of the sanctuary, straight to my pastor, I blurted out to him that he had to stop. Just stop, I said, you are killing me. What began really last week with his exit from the sanctuary as his lone voice sang those words, spirit of the loving God, fall afresh on me, we listened as he prayed over and with and for all of us, we were caught up in the sacred bubble he created.  The sound of his voice filled the sanctuary and our souls, our broken hearts and grudge-filled lives rising with each note, pitiful offerings to our God. I wasn’t pleased with him last week and let him know about it, I often feel it is my duty as a parishioner to give my feedback after his sermon. He hits too close, he rarely allows me to leave the sanctuary on steady feet clothed in self-righteousness. He doubled down this week, ignoring my assessment.

Maybe other churches were brimming with celebrations of father’s, were examining that special relationship endowed to men and how they bring leadership into the household and show their children how to worship God. Maybe some looked at ways men need to rise up more. Father”s Day is difficult for me, for many women, maybe even men. Wounds from childhood are brought into marriages, are carried into our relationship with God. Absent fathers, dad’s we could never please, those who were cut off from emotions and never managed to share verbally the words we longed to hear, not to mention those who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of  fathers, for as many who have great fathers and wonderful memories, still more are left with hurts that make celebrating this day challenging. Many of us put our mask on and head to church, a picnic or steak lunch out planned to celebrate the man in our home now helping to distract, to keep from dislodging our memories wherever we have tucked them, bottled them up. And then he starts preaching and singing and we have no choice but offer our pain up to the Father.

Who preaches on forgiveness on Father’s Day, anyway? I knew I should find something to do in the kitchen as the Praise Band began the first songs. “Forgiven” by Mathew West, a false start, a new song for the band, a couple of missteps that required we really concentrate on the words. Unforgivable, this tugging at my mask. I occupy the front row, a habit from the days Plum sat on the floor around me and played cars and ran to the kneeler in front of the guitarist, gazing with adoration or dancing with abandon. He no longer sits with us, he has an art table in the back where he creates masterpieces from colored paper and pipe cleaners until the call for children’s church. Still our row is established, we sit exposed, in full view of the church. The guitarist tells me he often can’t look at me, my emotions are too strong, but not to move to the back.

During joys and concerns I thanked the fathers in the congregation for being there for the kids, I told them I am watching them, maybe a warning but also in celebration of their day, that they help to heal my woundedness and bring me into relationship with God the Father with their own constant connection with their families and those in the church. I think that is what I said, not eloquently probably. That should have been enough, I participated in the day. I gave up some of my hurt for all to see. Greedy, though this God and this pastor. He still chose to preach. He talked about mercy and forgiveness and nonsense that is entirely too hard to hear when I prefer to stay in my anger. He shared a clip from the movie “Unbroken” describing ridiculous forgiveness freeing a man. He didn’t ask me to forgive, he gave me space to.  I notice there is much space around me in the front row.

Leading us in singing the hymn, he invited the women to just listen, to allow only the men to sing it the second time through. We lifted our voices in a cry out for the Spirit and then the sanctuary, the safe place where God meets us grew quite still as each row where a dad a grandfather a man sang the plaintive cry for help for restoration for healing for transformation. I will never hear my father sing those words, I will never know if he ever wanted to be forgiven or if he sought the Spirit to fall onto him. What I know for sure is that I am surrounded by men who stand in his place, who offer me the opportunity to forgive. I heard their cries to the Spirit to be used and knew the Spirit heard because I sobbed, the tears would not stop even after the song ended. The Spirit was not done with me, was transforming my soul as it had used them all to show me a way out of the darkness and into healing. Yes Spirit and this sneaky pastor used this old hymn to create a bubble around me that destroyed my mask, caught my tears and kept me rooted to my seat until I knew that God is bigger than my father and my memories and I had room for forgiveness. I had mercy within me.

Barely able to control my tears, I told this pastor he was killing me. Just stop, I said. Or finish you off, he replied. I realized then that he has no intention of ever letting me reapply my mask. This man is after my soul. He truly knows the Father and is willing to fully celebrate Father’s day with every interaction we have.  I plan to write him a strongly worded letter full of my feedback, as soon as I can get my tears back under control. This is no way to conduct church.


Fathering Day

As a woman, I have vast experience with mothering and childcare and babies and nurturing. I get when to dip in and when to butt out, even though my history is littered with mistakes on both of those accounts, I still basically understand the role of mother. My own mom and I were close and distant and conflicted and loving and generally a somewhat normal mother-daughter team. We weathered horrors and we sought shelter when we became those horrors. Through it all I either learned to do what she did or eradicate her behaviors from my repertoire. Alternatively, the “dad thing” has really always been a mystery to me.

Given the abuse at the hands of my father, I learned not to trust men, not to become vulnerable with males. Is it any wonder that when my children appeared I protected them from the danger in our own home, their father? But what if he wasn’t dangerous? I couldn’t comprehend the difference even though intellectually I knew he was never the monster that my own father was. Later after a divorce and remarriage, I was even more unable or unwilling to make room for Chef to have free rein with my most cherished gifts. Excluded from decision making, from special conversations, allowed in but only to the edges, I didn’t nurture that relationship, build in true dad trust. It is often only in the looking back that we can really see, isn’t it?

My faith walk has followed the same rocky stumbling path, how much easier would it have been to trust a God who was referred to as “Mother?” A Father God who loved and forgave and nurtured, was and probably is a bit beyond my comprehension, the language at the beginning of the sentence clouding all that comes after. The wonderful book by William P. Young, “The Shack” while critiqued by many, opened my eyes to choosing the form that God will take in order to reach me, to not frighten me. A God that would become a woman to draw me close and gain my trust, a mama God. I found my way in to the beginning of relationship. Harder yet though to trust the earthly men who cross my path, the one who lives in my home. I see that God is offering me opportunities to take what I have learned about mama God and offer up some grace to the man I have condemned wrongly unwittingly merely because of his gender.

The children are long gone, I cannot re-parent them, no do-overs will be forthcoming. Yet a special little boy appears in our home about every other day, has toys and a bed and clothes and a full life within these walls. I have another chance with this child to enforce listening to Chef, to follow what grandpa says. I have more chances to ask questions myself and to include him in the decision making. I have been given the grace to try out some trust and see if the horrors of childhood will be repeated or if that is where they will stay, just memories. Fully knowing that Plum requires no protection from Chef, I watch their relationship and know that I robbed my children of this gift. Plum leans on gramps, he lays on him, he has to be touching him all the time. They battle and laugh and learn and Chef pushes him to keep going when he wants to stop too easily. Chef has been the father to this child when no one else was showing up for the job. His performance has been outstanding.  As mama has taken over any need for my own mothering with this child and I am more and more just gran, I know that plum and Chef  will always have that deeper connection.

Father’s Day rolls around each year with the duty to honor those who have parented us. With each passing year I am better able to honor my own Father, who has not given up on me and is teaching me to honor the father in my midst. I might still have a shaky image of God as masculine, not entirely female either, sexually ambiguous is currently working for me. Progress, maybe, but the real growth is the trusting, the leaning. Like my Plum at bedtime when he wants his gramps to snuggle and I walk out of the room with confidence, we are all getting closer. Happy Father’s day to the One who lets me lean in, get close, who tells me not to quit. Happy Father’s day to the man who lives this out with our Plum. You make a great dad.

How I learned to Speak in Tongues

Sitting in historic Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary, voices in song filled the air. Worshipping with strangers is a true act of faith, trusting our vulnerable selves to the One God who brought us all to that place, rather than to the friends who serve on the same committees or the other moms in the play group. More exposed, naked even, we sang and we praised and we listened with only ourselves in the pews. No fidgeting children to distract, no lists of what to do after the service. Singing old hymns and new songs from far away lands with people right next to me that I have never met with only the thread of the Holy Spirit connecting each one of us together, allowing the Spirit to weave us into one as we sought the One. I got lost in the singing, I joined in sometimes and others I just allowed the music and the words to move through me. Sacred beauty glory.

We sang songs from many cultures, from old hymnals and new. The determined inclusiveness brought an awareness that while we sat in that tiny chapel, the world continued on outside and the world sought our voices. The inclusiveness felt awkward at first, I didn’t know how to say those Nigerian words, how to speak all those other languages, and then sing them? What an ask. But I did, I raised my voice finding that together our individual sounds and squeaks and flats and off pitches or whatever judgements those who really know music would make, those things disappeared as our willingness to show up was transformed within those walls, within that chapel into a sound the angels surely loved. Maybe it was amazing acoustics, maybe I was caught up in the excitement of the event, but I heard wave after wave of notes and tones that lifted me higher and pulled me in.

Singing with strangers who don’t realize that at my church back home I ama quiet singer, our seats are more spread out, the expectations of me during the singing are much lower, changes everything. They didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t a singer, they expected me to add my voice, I idid. They expected me to speak up loudly, I did. Now I do have to say it was a conference for writers and there may be many who were sitting next to me who are penning their own thoughts about a woman who was so terrible at singing that she ruined the whole chapel service, but I like to think the smiles I received when we passed the peace were not pitying but genuine. No, something happened in that chapel, the Spirit was among us.

Returning home, I determinedly raised my voice just a bit at church when the music began. I stopped thinking so much about how bad I might sound and allowed the music to carry and alter my voice as it melded with all the others. I think I finally understand how Pentecost has allowed me to speak in tongues, allowed me to talk in a way quite foreign to me. The Spirit has filled me and given me a voice to sing with the chorus.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4

Lost and Found

My reputation for getting lost began when I was around 8 or 9 and is rooted in an event that probably was just a joke, just a funny anecdote that got told and retold until everyone including me, began to believe that I am hopeless at finding my way home.  A family friend picked me up for an afternoon of shopping and then had no idea how to get us home. She was the driver, the one in charge, but because I couldn’t direct her, I was held responsible for this. A call was made to parents, a route was secured, my character was solidified. It mattered naught that I was a child, that I was in unfamiliar territory, that I hadn’t known from the beginning that I needed to know how to get home. I was trusting the one I was with. Forever mocked about that trust, about my lack of navigational skills, I have done my utmost to live up to this reputation and get turned around as much as possible without thought as to why. Until the wonder of a navigational system within my phone, I was trapped and dependent and worse, not even trusting myself.

What if upon returning home from that trip so long ago I was met by parents who taught me to orient myself, who showed me how to use a map, who believed in me and realized the importance of all children, not just the male ones, in feeling their place in the world? Step-by-step instructions until I was able to do without, here is how we go into the world. When I traveled to South Korea to see my daughter, she wrote out detailed instructions and I made it, alone. When I had no one whispering jokes and making silly comments to shake my confidence I was able to do great things. Still, back home, I fell back into my reputation and relied on Siri or Mapquest to guide me everywhere, parking in the same aisle at every store, taking the exact route overtime, no adventures lest I get lost. Embedded within me though is a burgeoning love of travel, an adventurous spirit that takes over and says yes to any offer of a trip before the worry of how I will get there and home can take over. I think that spirit might be more holy than I knew.

Recently traveling alone to New Jersey required getting to the airport alone, parking, remembering where I left the car, finding the right gate. Once I landed I had to actually locate the campus and the dorm where I was staying and then find food. Even achieving success at all of this, my anxiety didn’t lift. I immediately began fretting about how to get back, 5 days into the future. How would I make it to the airport? I was told over and over about the ease of the train system but I couldn’t trust myself enough to use it. IThose old voices reminded me about my ability to get lost, to get turned round and make the wrong choice, to go left instead of right. I had trouble sleeping the first night, worry nagged at me. Eventually I met a wonderful new friend who offered a ride to the airport, she said she could use the aid of a navigator! A mixed blessing, to know I would be delivered back to the plane that would then take me home, but also to be asked to help, to be a participant in that delivery, oh dear! I wanted to tell her about me, all about how terrible I really am at this, to confess my sins so she could pick someone else to be friends with and drive with. Instead, I relied on that spark in me that wondered if maybe I could do it.

I discovered that I was quite able to follow the directions but also that she was more than equipped to get us back. She has taught orienting at camps for years! Riding shotgun with a master, who offered me safe haven in the front seat of her rental car, I found I was valued and my “stay in this lane, take the next exit” voice was trusted. Do we offer any less to our friends we worship with each week? To those who walk into our church for the first time? Aren’t we all trying to shake some things we “know” about ourselves to get down to what is true? I love that in Sunday school for preschools and the little ones, we give them the stories of faith so that one day when they really need to find their way home, they have the tools. Some of us didn’t spend all those mornings with sweet teachers who instilled us with images of ordinary people trusting God and doing extraordinary works. Like me, those folks keep coming in again and again until they are asked to do something that everyone knows they can’t, aren’t the best at, shouldn’t really be able to do, and God takes over and they soar and the angels sing.

I used to get lost, everywhere I went. I didn’t know how to find my way home. More than mile markers, street signs or guideposts, I have been blessed with friends who keep steering me to the Truth, to the One who gives grace for a wrong turn and offers that gentle guidance to reorient myself. Sometimes we have to go into a strange land, where no one knows us, to learn all about who we really are. The bible is full of stories of God pulling people out of their beliefs of themselves, into what is true about them. I used to get lost. I am on my way home now, I know I can find it.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.  Psalm 119:105