Wednesday, December 22, 2010

אלוהים איתנו



From the moment I pulled our nativity scene from its box three weeks ago, I was struck by the seeming absurdity of it all.

Those little figurines representing the ones present for the birth of Emmanuel seemed so ridiculous standing next to the glitter and gold and the sparkle and shine of my other Christmas decorations.

They were plain.

Poor.

Unimpressive and unsexy.

Mary especially caught my attention.

As a woman who recently gave birth the old-fashioned way, I'm shocked at her birth experience. The whole scene, made too familiar and taken for granted by our traditions and art, is actually quite scandalous. I find myself thinking about details that never occurred to me before. I wonder why Joseph didn't knock down the doors of that inn--surely my husband would have. I wonder if some compassionate woman heard Mary's cry and helped her labor--I cannot imagine giving birth (without epidural) without the mothering and comfort of another woman, much less my mother or best friend.  I wonder if they had enough clean linens and fresh water to cleanse the wounds of baby and mother.

This birth experience, far from the comfort, predictability and safety that I counted on last October, is how Jesus chose to enter our world. It wasn't sterile. It wasn't measured and planned and calculated. It wasn't even average, by that day's standards.

The only glory displayed was intangible. The only glitter came from a beaming mass of gas and rock millions of miles away. The only fanfare, the songs of a thousand angels, was received by an audience of dirty, homeless shepherds.

Long before his infant lungs fought for their first breath, Jesus intended to announce to us what we should and should not expect, simply by choosing this birth story. A King had arrived, yes. The angels and astronomers concurred. But, were we tempted to expect a typical king with a typical kingdom, this birth story allows us no justification.

The humility and offensiveness of Jesus, lying in a donkey's feeding trough, born to a teenage girl with a blue-collar husband who couldn't even secure a motel room, screams to us that

this.

is.

Different.

That should we want to appease our superficial natures in the quest for a Beautiful King, a Handsome-Brad-Pitt-Celebrity of sorts, or a Military Leader whose power would defy Rome, or a Religious Leader draped in robes of pomp and circumstance,

we would not find Him.

We would not find a King made of the trappings of this world, because that is not what we needed. We needed a God who would dare to take on our stench, become familiar with our sufferings and weaknesses, who would know our pain and yet, in his God-ness, transcend the ugly human-ness of it all.

The Nativity scene, the real one, the unvarnished, dirt-under-your-fingernails-scene announces that this God has a Great Agenda, one that won't flirt around with the fleeting comforts of fame, popularity and wealth. This birth scene sets up the ultimate scene--baby is grown, revealed to us as God-Man, and is bleeding out on a tree, receiving into his spirit the rebellion of humanity and all of its darkness--

that to all who look to him,

they might know light. and life. and true-Jesus-breathed-redemption.

Emmanuel, God-with-us. 

Let us find You, and be changed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

and there will be glitter everywhere for the next month



Shortbread cookies and hot cocoa


glitter and pine cones and glue

a boy who creates

and a baby who coos   






make for one. perfect. afternoon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

a December prayer



thank you, God, 

that the dishes I wash mean I have a well-fed family;

that the gifts I plan mean I have children, brothers, parents, in-laws and a wonderful spouse to celebrate;

that the toys I pick up, strewn throughout the house, mean I have a happy son;

that the Christmas cards that take hours to address mean I have friends and family who love us;


that the spit up on my shirts, sheets and blankets mean my baby is feeding well;

that the clothes that don't yet fit my postpartum body mean God enabled me to carry and birth a miracle;

that the weariness I feel means I've been been running after my two sons, and not after a paycheck;

that the life I live is beautiful and blessed and filled with wonder,

and may gratefulness always be my response.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

jacob's river

all i wanted

was to cross a river

but you stand there, in the way,

and I cannot be unmoved. 

so i lift my hand

and you lift your voice

and my heart has bled

as my eyes searched your words

as my mind tried to comprehend.

Darkness has masked your face

midnight's dew has masked my tears

but i stay

and you stay

and i plead for your answers


                 (tell me you're not the one you appear to be).

the night is nearly over

i tire of my resisting

i'll take defeat


at least strike my hip

at least let me know

i've been wrestling with you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

return to the red tent



I read The Red Tent years ago. It's a historical fiction account of what one author imagines might have happened between the matriarchs of our faith. Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah--these four mothers of the 12 sons of Jacob (and subsequently, the 12 tribes of Israel), along with Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, and their imagined relationships make for the basis of this book.

The concept of a "red tent," a place where menstruating or women in labor found refuge, isn't exactly factual, either. The author created such a place based on evidence from other tribal traditions in the area, portraying the red tent as a place where the women could gather, temporarily released from the daily demands of domestic life, to laugh, gossip, commiserate and share in life together.

What I should have gleaned from The Red Tent was an appreciation for the unique bonds women can share.

What I got, instead, was a strong distaste for the cultural values of that time--it only served to perpetuate my unanswered questions with God over what I perceive to be sexism and unjust treatment of women in the Bible.

From the marches of Susan B. Anthony to the we-almost-had-a-female-vice-president-or-president-in-2009, women in this country have been fighting to leave the proverbial red tent. We've protested and lobbied and debated and fought, all for the cause of equal pay, equal rights and equal respect.

And so should we.

We should have whatever career choice we desire, the option to work or stay home with babies, access to education and a culture to live in that grants us the respect we deserve as the other sex created in the image of God. We no longer live in an agrarian society, where physical strength is the capital of the workforce. Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen (which is what I was for most of 2010) should not be the prescribed destination of every adult woman.

As much as a I believe in what I just wrote,


all I want to do right now is return to the red tent. 

The desire introduced itself when my mom came up and stayed with me for a week. We took care of the babies, cleaned, cooked and even finished a cornice board. We made coffee and talked about transitioning a family to two children and compared birth experiences.

I felt the urge again while visiting a girlfriend with a newborn only 2 weeks younger than Walker. We sat on her bed, curling and uncurling the babies' tiny fingers, swapping stories of c-section recovery, husbands' reactions, body image concerns and things only new mommies will share.

Later that afternoon, I reached for that connection with another friend, a mommy of three. I expressed my fears, choking through the tears, of failing Carter because I'm just...so...tired. We shared things you don't talk about until you're there, fears and insecurities, coping strategies and the perspective from someone who's further down the road than I.

For all of my fighting, for all of these years, against an identity solely comprised of Wife and Mom, all my heart longs for right now is the fellowship of other Wives and Moms. A safe place to gather and connect and cope and care for each other appeals to the deepest parts of me.

Let the feminists have their rights; for me, for now, a red tent is all I need.

Friday, November 5, 2010

16 minutes before my next feeding

16 minutes before this cow gets back into action.

16 minutes before my 2 week old starts rooting and grunting and whining for momma's milk.

(Now) 15 minutes to churn out a quick post, trying to sum up the past 3 weeks.

Walker Neal McCullohs was born two Thursdays ago, October 21 at 9:30 a.m. weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces and measuring 20 inches long.

My birth experience was awesome. I got to have my VBAC, thanks to a freakin' awesome doctor and the fact that Walker finally chose to get his heart rate nice and stable. I abstained from drugs, working through contractions on a red exercise ball, getting Moroccan Rose massage oil rubbed all over my back,  squeezing my husband's hands until little capillaries popped all over them, and receiving lots of praise from Neal, my friend Sarah, and Mom.

Pushing sucked.

Recovery was surprisingly much more painful than I anticipated. Thank God for sitz baths, Epifoam, Dermoplast (with menthol), refrigerated Tucks pads, Percoset, Motrin and a red donut seat.

Hormones are hard to negotiate with right now.

As is the sleeplessness.

My son is beautiful, worth it all, stealing my heart with smiles as early as day 5.

Carter is adjusting well.

Neal is the most amazing partner. I can't imagine doing this without him.

God is so good to me. 

To wrap it up, a quote from my son that every mother desires to hear two weeks after she's given birth (and some pictures):

"Mommy, I like your belly! It's sooo squishy!!" 







Monday, October 18, 2010

my Christmas Eve



I remember the anticipation. The giddy butterflies that compounded in my stomach as my family and I drove up the 101, back home after an evening of celebration with family. We passed through the hills of Camarillo, by Lady Face Mountain of Agoura Hills and finally crept into quiet Thousand Oaks. Every inch closer to my bed that night meant we were closer to the Wonderful Inevitable.

It was Christmas Eve.

I didn't know then that those butterflies, as much as they contributed to the sheer glee of Christmas, had a shelf life. Year by year, their population diminished and the magic seemed to wear off. I had that awkward, "it's-not-about-the-gifts-but-I'm-still-thinking-too-much-about-them" phase, where I'd try to guilt myself back into the anticipation, back into the magic, but for less materialistic and more noble reasons.

And so it goes.

With the birth of my son, Carter, the magic started to return, the welcomed fluttering of intangible excitement. And we, my family of husband and me, still love Christmas.

My Christmas Eve no longer falls on the 24th of December, though. My first Grown-Up-Christmas-Eve fell closer to the New Year of 2008. The anticipation, the wonder, (the fear), the loss of breath over what-may-be all built around the coming of my first child.

And we're hear again. In this season of pumpkins and plastic front-yard ghouls, my soul is being brought back to the childlike joy over the imminent arrival of one of the greatest gifts and privileges of my life. Motherhood. Again. To a distinct, unique and marvelously crafted son.

It's kept me up at night. I've slipped out of bed and quietly crept to the nursery to muse. To finish thank-you cards. To write in his baby book. To appease the butterflies that denied me sleep.

I love that I'm brought back to the wonder. That the privileges of childhood are not completely lost along with the innocence and naivete. That once again, my soul is invited to dream and to hope and to skip a few soul-beats over the promise of what's to come.

This is my Grown-Up-Christmas-Eve.

And I can't wait to share with you the gift.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

behind the mic

I've always been a Talker.

My mom has, stashed away on stacks and stacks of VHS tapes, home videos of my talking.

The time I hosted a cooking show. The time I gave a tour of Grandma's garden. The time I directed a neighborhood play based on my all-time favorite movie, Hook. I've led Bible studies, I've sung from stage, I've even managed to find a way to send my thoughts through cyber-space with this blog.

And all the while, I've known that I've needed to listen more.

To be fully present when someone else is telling their story.

To ask questions that lead to more insight into the Other Talker's life.

To find increased appreciation for the opinions, life-experiences and values of the Other, without interjecting my own conclusions or related stories.

Last week was a grand experiment in the April-Needs-To-Listen-More-Project.

On a blue and green plaid couch, outside of Starbucks on creaky wrought iron chairs, in my dining room over pumpkin spice lattes, and later armed only with tap water,

I listened.


I listened to the stories of four different women. 

One with a heart-breaking journey through infertility. One with a brave story of following Jesus as a single woman. One whose happy-family-ever-after was tragically transformed in a weekend, launching her into the unknown territory of single motherhood. One who wrestled with God over dreams deeply rooted in her soul to discover a step or two closer to their fulfillment.

I want to invite you to listen, too. 

I channeled my inner Nina Totenburg (NPR journalist) and recorded, with permission, each conversation.

And I'm now in the process of transcribing them. They're part of an upcoming women's breakfast for the ladies at my church, Church at the Bay, and I'd like to give you the opportunity to be encouraged, inspired and challenged as well. You can email catbladies@churchatthebay.com to request to receive these conversations as email, which will be sent out starting on October 11.

As much as talking helps me process this world, I'm finding that listening is a far greater force for growth.

Would you like to join me?

Monday, October 4, 2010

the Bible, censored

Tucked in the back of my son's closet are some newly-forbidden books, hidden from sight, begging to know what destiny awaits them.

And I have no answer for these books, except that they stay hidden.

For now.

I don't feel right chucking them; I could be okay giving them away.

These aren't Katy-Perry-dances-around-with-Elmo kind of books; they don't teach evolution or get into why-Ella-has-two-mommies;

they're Bible stories.

Three Bible stories.

Months ago, I could flip through the pages, rewriting the text, moving quickly past the pictures of sinister-looking men. Now, my son is too smart for that.

Let's take Joseph's story.

It starts with an illustration of a kind, old man putting a rainbow-colored coat on his son.

I skip the part that says, "Of all his sons, he loved Joseph the most." With a brother on the way, no concept of favoritism needs to be introduced.

The next picture is of Joseph, happily trotting down the road, older brothers in the background, with arms crossed and scowling faces. We ignore the text that speaks of their anger and jealousy. 

There are more scowling faces until we reach the page where Joseph's brothers throw him in a pit, his perfectly-animated face displaying some contortion of horror.

Here's where I transition from paraphrasing

to skipping over

to lying.

Joseph fell in a pit, I tell Carter.

And then he went on a journey to see the pyramids and Joseph's daddy is crying because he thought Joseph was hurt and let's please try to ignore those awful, sinister, evil faces of Joseph's brothers one more time.

Then Carter will ask for Daniel's story. Another classic.

The very.

first.

starting scene.

shows a picture of a boy playing with his toys. And then some soldiers appear on the opposite page, one with an arrow drawn and the other, reaching over a wall, snatching the boy's toys away. We're told, "One day, a great army came and captured all of the people there and took Daniel to a strange land."

Brilliant.

So, next time you're innocently playing with your toys, son, you should be aware that soldiers just might come and take you away, too.

The story moves on, giving us a brief respite from having to paraphrase. skip over. and lie. until we reach those sinister men.

And once again, I'm brought to a very familiar place--lying about how our hero came to find himself in a pit.

Daniel fell into a pit with lions. 

The king was worried, God made the lions "be nice" to Daniel,

and one would think we could end the children's version of this Bible story right here.

Of course not.

Let's mention that the bad men had to be thrown in the pit with lions and, for kicks, let's include a colorful illustration of the lions lunging at the frightened (sinister) men.

Don't even get me started on Noah.

While I have less paraphrasing, skipping over and (no) lying to do with this story, I can't help but wonder why the makers of everything-Baby have chosen this story to be their mascot.

The one time God is so fed up with the world and disgusted by the violence of men that he chooses to wipe out the entire population, sparing only Noah and his family, is immortalized in pastel colors plastered on nursery walls and baby bedding around the world. I guess if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah had a few cute token animals and a rainbow, we'd be churning out artistic renderings of it as well.

So, I'm in a quandary.

I don't want Mickey to be the only character capturing my son's imagination.

I also don't intend to lead him to believe that the world is a perfectly safe place, protecting him from the inevitable truths of bad people, conflict and pain.


But seriously.

He's only two and a half.

I think (I hope) I'm right in thinking that these themes of betrayal, war and the horror of this fallen world can wait...

just a little longer.

We're only innocent for so long, anyway.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

O Working Mama

I've been thinking of you, Working Mama.

It happens when the kitchen clock hits 8:00 a.m. and we're still eating breakfast. I think about how you're probably already commuting to work, kids fed, dressed, and dropped off at school-- and you've already had your shower.

It happens when I hit Publix mid-morning, my only stressor being how-to-prevent-my-two-year-old-from-running-over-the-elderly-shoppers and which new recipe I should try for dinner. I think of you and how you manage to buy groceries for the family during the crowded evening rush, or over the weekends.

I remember being a Working Mama, too--when my Saturdays fell to Catching Up on Laundry and my Sundays guaranteed no nap; when I jealously eyed the Gym Mamas dropping their kids off at my class, decked out in the latest Nike workout outfits, declaring their morning belonged to Toned Muscles and Just-A-Little-More-Fit-Than-I-Presently-Felt; when I wished for more time with my newborn and prayed for the grace to make it through another week.

Maybe you're a Working Mama by choice and you don't have a stitch of envy for Gym Mamas. Maybe you love your career and feel immensely satisfied with the roles you so graciously juggle. Maybe being a Working Mama is in your blood and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Whatever the case,

Working Mama, I think

you.

freaking.

rock.

And I hope you get the praise you deserve.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a God who transcends

It was 6:12 a.m. and I was already 12 minutes late for my  meeting with God. Instead of my usual routine of opening my Beth Moore study to where I had left off the previous day, I felt a quietness,

a sort of hushing of my soul.

Isaiah 6 was the whisper I received.

I knew this passage--this story of a prophet whose beloved king dies. This prophet, whose heart still grieving, lifts his eyes and has one of the most mystic visions recorded of God on his throne. This prophet, who gets to eavesdrop on the melodies of heaven.

For me, I cannot read

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

and not be raptured into scenes of my past, into moments of corporate worship in a small church-on-a-mountainside, jubilant praise vibrating from the crumbling bricks. Our biggest, blackest mamas would step up, led by the Spirit, and lead us in the chorus that comes directly from this scripture. Our singing of the refrain, 

"holy, holy, holy is the Lord" 

would build and build with each word, each syllable, until the very frame of our building seemed to beg for mercy under the weight of such expressed glory. I was only 7, maybe 8, but moments like those were the cracks under the door of worship through which I would peer, intrigued by the promise of more, the promise of Something Bigger, Someone Bigger, to know someday. 

So I spent the next ten minutes singing that song, trying to lift my eyes a bit higher that morning. I wanted to let God be God and not just my means to a prayer-request-fulfilled, which is far too often all that he is to me.
I thought about death. How, for Isaiah, it took the physical death of a hero in order for him to receive the fullness of God's holy nature. How, for me, it has taken the death of dreams, the death of ambitions and false-identities to truly lift up my eyes and see Him.

Six hours later, I received a call from Mom.

Grandma had just died.

---

We thought she had more time.

God knew. 

God knew that "on the day my Grandma would die" I would lift my eyes and think about heaven more than I had in a long time. He knew I would imagine myself at the threshold of the throne room, the place Isaiah envisioned, the place my Grandma freely crosses. 

He knew I would like an invitation to join the angels singing the refrain of heaven, 

to join my grandma as she sang,

perhaps for the first time, fully-present, 

along with the holy ones, an eternal chorus. 

---

God blows my mind.

Only he, in his compassionate wisdom, could take something as sad as my precious grandma's death and  infuse the grief with one more moment with her, with one more promise of the fellowship to come.

I am reduced to the state of a little girl, only 7, maybe 8, whose belly rubs the floor, eyes straining to see through the cracks of a door. The melodies and lights and promise of heaven are bleeding through, under the threshold, faint silhouettes of those loved and lost, the glory of a King who will reign forever. 

For now, that's all we get. Brief moments of revelation, of Reality-to-Come breaking through to our muddled existences.

For my grief, for my perspective, for the attempt to live on purpose with my days left from Here to There,

I'll take it.

"holy, holy, holy is the Lord"


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Response to Subscription Problems!

Hey all, 

So, long story short, we fixed the subscription problem--the one where those who signed up to receive Church at the Bay Ladies emails were instead receiving Through This Lens emails (totally different sites!). 

But I can't fix it all. Here's your part:

To activate your subscription to Church at the Bay Ladies, you'll have to click on this link, enter your email address, type in the confirmation code and then--for real this time--you're good to go. 


Here's what the confirmation looks like. 


If you wish to stop receiving Through This Lens emails, there's a link that says "unsubscribe now" at the bottom of all of the emails you've received from Through This Lens so far. Just click on that and do what they say.

Again, sorry for the confusion! 

Happy future reading, 

April

Thursday, September 9, 2010

please read...

Hey guys, 

So, apparently a lot of you (more than 5 that I know of) subscribed to my blog, Through This Lens, thinking they were subscribing to Church at the Bay Ladies' blog, which is www.catbladies.com. 

Those blogs, CATB Ladies, and my personal-venting-platform, Through This Lens, are not the same!

If you're one of those who thought they were receiving emails from CATB Ladies, but you realize they've been from Through This Lens, 

please
please
please

email me and let me know!! Or, comment on this post.

I'll talk to some techie-friends and try to get it straightened out. 

Thanks so much!!

lost in translation



There's a six year old Muslim boy, living somewhere in a village in Ethiopia, who

thinks I have a pet monkey

living in my house. 

But the curious thing to him was not the monkey living with us, but the birds. 

How do you tame your birds? 

He wrote. 

Where we live, the monkeys can be tame at times, but the birds destroy our crops. 

                  We pass the nights outside, in the fields, to keep the birds away.

My son is three and a half years younger than Hawi, our sponsored child through World Vision.

Soon, he will understand these stories of a little boy who has no shoes and lives in a hut and helps his mother draw water from a well. Soon, he'll be able to find Ethiopia on a map of Africa and will understand why our letters take halves of years to receive responses. He'll trace the postal stamp with the capital's name, Addis Ababa, and will delight over the syllables and hard consonants of a language unknown.  

For now, the joys of sponsorship belong to my husband and me, but I can't help but dream of how Hawi's story will stretch the imagination and worldview of my son.

For an American boy, born into a world of air-conditioning and Mickey Mouse, laptops and cell phones, ice cream and pancakes, books and beach and boat rides with grandparents, the story of a boy living

far, far away, in a village in Ethiopia
should lend itself to lessons on generosity and thankfulness; 

should lead to questions about differences and disparity.

After all, when you're friends with a boy

who sleeps in fields to chase away the birds

your worldview can't remain the same.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the hands that led me back

Over the past couple weeks, my faith has been rocked.

shaken.

wrestled with.

doubted.

I almost felt like defecting.

(the forces that led me there have been badgering my soul for years)

I'm okay now. I'm actually doing really well.

But it wasn't on my own accord that I reached this higher ground.

There were hands that led me back.

My husband extended his hand by listening when the dam broke. It was late at night and I finally realized I couldn't shoulder the weight of my demons alone. He didn't try to fix me. He didn't throw pithy God-cliches my way. He respected my burden and made me feel a bit less crazy. A bit less alone. He promised to love me no matter where I landed. His grip was the first pull I felt towards sanity.

Solomon extended his hand to me in the form of his writings. His prose, once depressing to me and self-indulgent, became oxygen to my suffocated soul. I found comfort in his honest assessment of our condition. I found a way forward in his admonition to embrace the brokenness and love life and serve God. 

Margaret Feinburg extended her hand in her spiritual memoir. The essence of a woman known by Jesus bleeds through her pages and I was reminded, once again, of my own journey thus far. The same voice that Margaret spoke of is one I know, one I've known, once without which I would lose my only identity. Her reminder of intimacy made God seem safe again.

Beth Moore extended her hand to me with her studies. The first day I felt strong enough, "back enough," to try some real academic Bible study, she met me right there, on the first page. She spoke of the conflict the disciples felt when Jesus appeared to be something he was really not. She asked whether I would run when human logic told me to, or if I would stay near Jesus, even then. Even now. Her challenge helped solidify my new-found footing and I was able to move forward a few more steps.

My good friend, Sarah, extended the last hand I needed to finalize my journey. She initiated our conversation and I let her in on the craziness that had been plaguing me. When the final broken thought had been shared, she and I stood in awe of a God who doesn't let go. Who can handle it all. Who just might have wired my mind this way, that I might search for him and experience him in the darkness. 

I'm back.

But it wasn't on my own.

There were brothers and sisters who helped lead me to this safer place.

I'm not sure there's any other way. 




Who has helped you through your dark places?





Wednesday, September 1, 2010

middle names and not-at-ground-zero-mosques



My middle name is Marbury.

One that my mother, grandmother and other various ancestors hold. The most infamous "Marbury" we lay ancestral claim to is Anne Marbury Hutchison.

Anne lived back in the day of the Puritans. And didn't exactly agree with the established church. And spoke about it, in public, and without heed to the ecclesiastical warnings of what might happen to her if she didn't pipe down.

So, Anne was sentenced to prison over a harsh winter, while über-pregnant, and eventually was excommunicated. (Her husband helped purchase an island near Rhode Island, relocated the family, and years later returned home from a trip to find Anne and several children scalped by local natives.)

You should read her story.

Here's where I'm getting...

If my beloved heroine and namesake had lived in modern day lower Manhatten, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and 68% of Americans would think her expressions of faith were wrong (and insensitive and whatever other words we're spewing around).

While many might not see the correlation-- Anne Hutchison leading her own version of Bible study and offending the Puritans and the moderate Muslims planning to build a Community Center and offending the Republicans-- it's there. The same reasons that sent Anne and her family packing to a god-forsaken island are the same reasons there are grossly ignorant tweets being made by political has-beens and wannabees.

We are America.

Not just the white, Christian, country-music-loving population among us, but the blacks and latinos and Asians and Catholics and Muslims and atheists.

We have a moral high ground to hold to--one we stake our worldwide reputation on. A high ground that's been used, time and time again, to justify our foreign policy, to allow us to make demands on other nations that we ourselves won't succumb to.

That moral high ground is our defense of Freedom. Freedom to worship whatever. Freedom to say (almost) anything. Freedom to meet about saving the trees or saving the unborn babies. Freedom to live productive lives, unhindered by a religious government that tells us what to do on Fridays. Or Sundays.

This is why we think we're better than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Taliban, Fidel Castro, Hu Jintao and all other present and past despots who regulate religion and its expression.

And we should think we're better than them; better than their narrow-minded, restrictive policies.  

As long as we stay better than them. 


The minute we tell a peaceful, America-loving, group of citizens that they cannot express their persuasions the way they please, we lose that high ground. We lose a piece of our DNA, a part of our sacred foundation. We lose the very thing that has attracted millions of oppressed sojourners, in search of a better and freer life.

We lose our American-ness.

I will always lobby for freedom of worship and a secular state because history speaks, too clearly, to what happens when one group of citizens is allowed to dictate the religious behaviors of the rest. It's a slippery slope, this religous intolerance. I fear for the future of my children, my white, hopefully-Christian, probably-country-music-loving children, if our nation begins to acqueise these sorts of demands.

Only 90 years ago, another terrorist organization was at the height of its power and influence. Its members met in secret, monitored the social and religious behaviors of its community, and executed acts of terror on undeserving, innocent citizens.

Far too quickly have we forgotten that the Ku Klux Klan members claimed to be Christians. That Christian churches exist in the very towns where these terrorists lived and worshipped. That these KKK members would worship at Little Town Southern Baptist Church on Sunday morning and then meet to discuss their next lynching on Monday night.

And yet, we don't protest, we don't tweet about the "insensitivity" of those Christians with their buildings so close to the hallowed ground of martyrs. We are able to make the distinction between moderate, sane Christians and Christian terrorists.

Another distinction needs to be made. Soon.

If not, at best, we look and sound like idiots. At worst, we lose our Freedom.

---

(Let's check our facts: The "Ground Zero Mosque" is neither at Ground Zero, nor is it a mosque. The building site is 2 blocks away from Ground Zero. Ground Zero can't be seen from the site. It's a proposed community center, complete with a basketball court, fitness center, theatre, Islamic prayer room, and a memorial to the World Trade Center victims. Sounds pretty threatening to me.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

goodbye, maybe



It was a first for many things. 

The first time I walked away from Carter with tears in my eyes, even though my absence would only be for four days. 

The first time I held a boarding pass with San Diego as its destination, and didn't feel the giddy excitement of returning 'home.'

The first time I had to brace myself for a Final Goodbye. 

My Grandma is in hospice, as of this past month. Her dementia has accelerated to the point of Alzheimer's; she has no appetite and is losing precious pounds from her already petite frame. We're told she's not uncomfortable.

Neal lost a former student to leukemia three weeks ago. I lost a loved one to AIDS while he had much life left to live. Grandma's decline, her slipping away from us, does not feel unfair like these other deaths. 

She's still happy. 

She's peaceful. 

She says "that's wonderful" every other minute. 

But she's leaving us...

Time has etched its mark in the deep creases of her face, in the transparency of her skin. Her eyes still burn blue, but their weariness permits them little light. Her wiry, coarse hair is as thick as ever, unkempt and glorious with silver declarations of age. 

She awoke for us and did her best to recognize her "beautiful visitors."

Her grasp was tight and she pulled me into herself, to press her cheek against mine. 

Like an infant, she mimicked the motion of a kiss, more precious than my own son's first attempts. 

She was humble. Grateful. Beautiful. 

All I wanted to do was crawl into bed with her, and lie down. 

Rest together. 

Grieve. 

Remember. 

Be still. 

Be. 

I didn't know how I'd do it. How I'd quietly leave her side, as if this were some average visit. As if weren't about to board a plane the next day, pass two more months in Florida, have a beautiful baby boy, and wait to hear from family if her last day had come. 

I didn't know how to say goodbye.

But she did. In her naive graciousness, she whispered my release. 

Could we be getting along now? 

She was tired. She is tired. A long life, well lived, will do that to the best of us.

When death and its finality edges closer to our present, when thoughts of forever overtake temporary concerns, we're reduced to the humble state of human once again. There's something inherently wrong about this set-up. We feel it in these moments. 

Somehow, with her character of grace and her humility of spirit, my grandma seems to transcend the evil of death. 

It could be the naivete her disease grants her. 

It could be her unshaken faith in Jesus.

It could be a combination of both, for which I'm desperately grateful. 


I didn't know how to say goodbye. Just like I don't know how to end this post. 

Maybe I won't this time...





Thursday, August 12, 2010

mis hermanas



 She is a reverend in Alabama
loving and teaching and challenging the members of her congregation to know Christ
She is a mother in Florida
whose journey of infertility has led her to straight to the bosom of God;
new life has been birthed in her soul and identity
She is a secretary in South Florida
with teenage sons and jobs and neighbors to
take care of, to serve well
She is a missionary in France
leads worship in an indie band to reach the forgotten youth of Aix en Provence

She is a nurse in Tampa

courageously living a new identity

her love is fierce
She is a pastor in Ocala
filled with wisdom and grace, tempered by years of service,
a fire that won’t waver
This is my fellowship
A motley crew of sojourners, each burning with purpose and value and life
They’ll probably never meet, much less join arms to labor
on this side of heaven
---
I gain strength
comfort
perseverance
from each one;
A brief respite
from the loneliness acquired on this narrow road.

Monday, August 9, 2010

the day after

the day after

a sleepless night because the whirling helicopters filled my mind with worries

the day after

my worries were confirmed--the predator was in Karate Man's house, some doors down

the day after

a visit to the walk-in clinic, just to make sure Carter's newly acquired wound was okay

the day after

the Dr. sent us to the ER for x-rays, drugs and monitoring of the swelling

the day after

we leave the ER, passing a room with an infant who's just been resuscitated, his worried mom's eyes catch mine for a sad moment

the day after

we're told that everything's okay, prescriptions are filled, the pantry is stocked with applesauce the freezer with popsicles

the day after,

the PJ's stay on till noon, as does the TV

the Providence of God is praised

sighs of relief are had

emotions let down and try to settle

embraces and snuggles and too many squeezes fill our home

the day after.

Friday, August 6, 2010

welcome back, crazy

Although we've been going to Busch Gardens since Carter was en utero, he's just recently noticed the roller coasters.

And he's obsessed.

This whole week, the couch cushions have been piled on the floor as he's tunneled his way under and over them declaring the whole time, "I'm a roller coaster!" He even has a weird cute noise that makes, which sounds nothing like the actual ride.

With the recent departure from my lovely, uneventful, emotionally-manageable second trimester, I can wholeheartedly relate to Carter's new-found identity.

Hormonally, I'm a roller coaster.

I remember the bipolar-like surges of emotions from my first trimester. I swore I would quit ministry at the slightest discouraging thing, even as I drove to church. Those were negative surges. And I cried one time, with real tears streaming down my cheeks, while Neal and I sat and ate at Ikea's food court. When Neal asked what was wrong, I replied that nothing was--the whole Ikea Experience was just so moving to me. Ikea promoted recycling and living simply (as shown by their 756 sq. ft. sample homes and awesome storage solutions), the cafeteria food was organic and affordable, and I felt like I was back in Europe. They were tears of joy. Right there. Over my Swedish meatballs.

So, this roller coaster is quite familiar to me.

It just sucks to be back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

for the mommies

While some of you commented on the analogy made in my post Celestial Sticker Rack , a lot of comments were made about the literal story line: Carter freaking out at swim lessons.

So, here's some reassurance. We're getting into trouble with the teacher and looking pretty cute doing it.







Monday, August 2, 2010

hospitality, re-vamped


For years and years, I've dismissed myself from believing I have "the gift of hospitality." I figured that if I couldn't cook like my aunt, and if hosting a dinner party stressed me out, I wasn't cut out for it.
 
And it's no wonder I thought that. 




Yesterday, I spent thirty minutes tracking with Ina Garten as she and her friend Matthew showed hospitality to their friends, Frank and Steven. Frank and Steven were coming home from a long vacation in England and their poor fridge was empty. So, Ina decided to stock it with white truffle mac n' cheese, lemon custard and fresh bread with cinnamon honey butter. Matthew took on the aesthetic challenge and set their table with fresh cut flowers, apples and placed firewood in the hearth.

It was a lovely homecoming. 

Ina ended the segment with a cheesy, "Yes! Mission accomplished!" and a wink to the camera when her friends confirmed, by text, that they enjoyed the surprise.

That's what I've believed, this whole time, that hospitality is all about.  

Perfectly executed recipes hosted in a beautiful home. 

And then I read this this morning: 

"Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen." 
Ezekiel 16:49,50

Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? They're the cliche for evil in the Bible, the icon synonymous with judgment and seriously rousing the wrath of God. We conservative Republicans are quick to credit Sodom's infamous judgment with her reputation of homosexual behavior, but God clearly spells out her sins in this text: 

Sodom was not biblically hospitable.   

I'm sure there were some serious parties in Sodom, maybe no white truffle mac n' cheese, but I'd bet the house on filet mignon and decent wine. God's bone to pick was that the parties were had and the lifestyles were lived out in total ignorance of the needy.  

So, I can master Bobby Flay's flank steak and I can learn how to use the recently-acquired pasta attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer, and I can even invite some people over to (try to) enjoy the results, but if I am 

too proud to hang out with those outside of my socio-economic status,

gluttonous in that a dinner party is focused on the food and not the relationships,

and too lazy to meet the real, physical needs of my neighbors

I am not being biblically hospitable.

I'm beginning to think that the hospitality God calls me to has less to do with my perfectly executed productions and more with meeting needs. Even Jesus exhorted his disciples (you can read it here) to throw dinner parties for the needy and the rejects of society; not just for friends. 

I don't know what that looks like in my life. 

But I'm going to explore it. And I'm going to do something about it. 

I want to learn what it means to be biblically hospitable--the radical, Jesus-loving, un-cooking-show kind of way.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

celestial sticker rack



I was totally unprepared. 

I mean, I had the swim diaper, the change of clothes, the towel and the after-your-first-swim-lesson-treat all ready to go.

But, emotionally, I was ignorant to the experience that was about to strike me.

You see, mine is the son who's never cried for me when I've dropped him off at childcare for church. Mine is the son who politely (because his butt's whooped if he's not) asks me to "Leave me alone. Daddy and I are playing right now."

That same independent son cried

the
entire
thirty
minutes


of his first swim lesson last week.



When Carter's name was called, along with Sid, Ella and Cameron, he wasn't sure what to think. Once his teacher dunked his head under the water, though, he knew exactly how he felt.


Abandonded. 


"Mommy!!" he screamed in panic when he could catch his breath, "Come swim with me!!" 


I could barely hear him. We mommies were seated behind a thick plexi-glass wall, with a red stop sign posted on the door that stood between Comfort and Fear. At one point, I asked the other moms if the kids could even see us--is this some kind of CIA interrogation glass? They assured me the kids could.


Which is why, 5 minutes into the hysterics (both mine and his), these other mommies told me I should hide myself. From his sight. The reasoning was that if he stopped looking back for me, he might forget his fears and focus on his lesson.


So there I stood, hiding behind a tall sticker rack, crying as my son frantically searched the scene of Watching Mommies for his, wondering why I would


leave him with a stranger,


leave him to his fears,


leave him to choke on chlorinated water because he's still not able to hold his breath.

The reason I chose to subject him to such fear, loneliness and seemingly abandonment is that I believed his temporary pain paled in comparison to the unalterable pain that could come from a drowning accident.


The promise of my son's independence and freedom in the water was worth far more than the tears we both cried that day.


I wondered if this was a fraction of what God has felt with his children;



if there was some Celestial Sticker Rack that God hid behind while he watched me walk through my darkest days, the moments comprised of tragedy and brokenness, the moments about which I would later swear,

You broke my heart when you let that happen.


I'm led to believe he cried then. I'm led to believe he was surprised by the pain he experienced. I'm led to believe he was whispering, the entire time I searched the sky for his face,

I'm right here. I haven't left you. I'm so sorry. It's going to be okay.


I have learned, in my short journey so far, that there is a Promise that far outweighs the pain, the brokenness and the tragedy of this life. Intimacy with God, fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, genuine ministry to broken women and a dependency on God are all parts of the Promise I've already known.


For the unanswerable questions, for the sufferings that seem to have no possible value in this life, the ultimate Promise of life and healing await his children. I imagine God standing there, at the door of eternity, with a warm towel in his hands, ready to embrace the shivering sojourner.

For now, though, we just have to believe He was there. He is there. And that his purposes are wiser and better than a mom trying to teach her son how to swim.


Where do you have to trust God still has a purpose for you?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

why I'm reading through Age of Speed and other boring business books

I have scribbled, in a blue sharpie pen, a note to myself. It's posted on my once-organized cork board and goes like this: 


I wrote it down around midnight last week, after a fit of "I-can't-do-it-all-and-I'm-freaking-out." Neal and I talked late that night--about my dissatisfaction with what I felt I could do (and mostly, not do) as a mom, a wife, a house-manager, a creative person, and as a leader in ministry.
I felt like my output was all just...okay. And, as all mothers know, okay does not keep the Guilt Boogie Monsters away at night.

Usually, with this onslaught of feeling overwhelmed, I determine that I'm doing too much and pare down my tasks to a more manageable docket. This time, that strategy would not do because I honestly believe that everything I'm doing is necessary and valuable and has its rightful niche in my life.


This time, it's not that I'm doing too much, it's that I have to grow up to the much that I'm doing.

So I'm stealing Neal's business books--the boring, read-it-in-two-sittings-because-business-men-wrote-them-and-know-better-than-to-waste-your-time-with-description-and-adjectives-and-interesting-writing kinds of books. And I'm trying to implement some of their strategies. 

Prioritizing. 

Getting crap done quick (the unimportant, every-day, repetitive stuff). 

Planning. 

And I'm asking God to grow me up. To mature me to the level at which I need to exist. 

To love well. To serve well. To be well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

this post really is just about a bookstore




I always have to pass it before I know I'm close; navigational doubt fills me every time I attempt the trek.

It's one of those obscure, hard to find, unless-you-know-the-correct-U-turn-to-make kind of bookstores.

Musty and dank, with aging carpet and fluorescent lights, the store quietly welcomes you with the solitary ding of a bell upon entering. No looks up to see who's come in. The only distinguishable staff sits behind the counter, immersed in her novel. A black pen tucked behind her ear, barely emerging from her wiry, peppered hair is the one mark of employee-ship.

There's no Starbucks or Seattle's Best cafe, no plush arm chairs for trendy Mac-Users to own. I come armed with a Tervis Tumbler, sloshing around with this morning's stale coffee, french vanilla creamer and half-melted ice cubes. My own version of a summer's drink.

I start at the beginning, the Florida section, where high-gloss and stunning photography make the front-facing displays. I already bought my bird book, so I'm good for now. Working my way past the horizontally stacked novels that line the entire east wall, I weave through shelves spilling over with mostly yellowing paged books.
I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but it's not

Self-Healing and New Age,

Biographies,

or even Cooking.

I stop at Classic Literature, due to a sort of obligatory deference I feel towards the names of the Great. It's a Shaw-thing, this respect for the Classics. One reads them, because that's what they're owed.

With the coming of motherhood and its demands I've increasingly excused myself from that guilt. I know I should get a kick out of Oscar Wilde, but in all honesty, I don't. And, like sushi, I don't have the time or money to spend becoming accustomed to the taste.

I settle in Christian, curious to see what my peppered hair friend and her coworkers decided fares as Christian work. That in and of itself is pretty entertaining, but it quickly passes and I move on, still asking myself what it was I wanted.

This journey through the bookstore is much like a treasure hunt, except that I'm not sure what the treasure looks like. I always believe there's a diamond or two in the rough and it's up to my discerning eye to discover them. There's an art to the search--I can't stay in one section too long for fear of getting too narrowly focused. Then again, I can't move too quickly per chance I might skip that One Book my quest is promised for. I move along, with an intentional pace, head tilted just so in case my treasure’s title isn’t placed at eye level.

I ended up carrying a Julia Alvarez collection of essays, along with a promised-to-be-witty book on grammar (I am that nerd) both to the counter. A 25 cent pelican bookmark begs to join and gets thrown into the mix. I ask Peppered Hair what she's reading and she quotes me an author I've never heard of (but might have if I cared more about the Classics). I smile, thank her, and take my generic plastic bag of books out the door.

Uneventful to an outsider, yes.

But for a soul so deeply moved by words, their mere presence in the inconspicuous labyrinth of ideas, persuasions, and stories that I affectionately refer to as my

Used (Beach) Bookstore,

leaves me with a comforted sensation, much like what comes from having met with old friends. The satisfaction of having discovered two good books, with pencil scribbling on the inside flap of a price of (at least) 50% off, having both been read and loved before me, is worth the trip even before I open the books.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

death in all its forms

This morning there was a panicky scream from the kitchen.

(Oh crap. Another poop that didn't make the toilet.)

To my surprise, though, Carter hadn't pooped on the tile, and urgently led me to the site of the crime.

We stooped under his kiddy table and he pointed it out:

a withered and dried up mosquito corpse.

It's okay, Carter, I assured him, It's dead. He won't bite you.

Long pause...I could see the wheels in his head turning.

He's dead...so he'll be nice to me?? If "dead" means the bug won't bite, then "dead" must mean he will be kind. Pretty decent logic to me. 

How does one explain death to a two year old? 

I logged onto to my email thirty minutes later and found a more-sobering-than-the-death-of-the-kitchen-mosquito message. 

Grandma's in hospice.  

I texted Mom, thanked Aunt Cath for the update, and excused myself from Daddy and Carter's sacred morning ritual of jumping on the bed and watching Mickey together.

It comes, this thing called Death, for us all. For the 8 day old insect and the 89 year old matriarch. And while we can expect and come to terms with and read literature in college and watch the headlines every night, 

it's no less sad. 

it's no less broken.