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Surprise Springs Up

This year in the midst of our irises springing up out of the ground, we had quite a surprise. I am not much of a gardener, so the fact that these irises that I transplanted four years ago bloom every year is still astounding to me. To have another bloom was remarkable. At first, I wondered if maybe I had forgotten this burst of red in the midst of the flowy purple and white from previous years, but then I was sure this was the first time I had seen this flower bloom.

That means that mixed into the iris bulbs, there was this surprise waiting all these years.

It makes me thinks of the many,  many conversations I have with people who are doing right and good work to try to offer hope and healing in the midst of the dissidence and discontent that surrounds us. There questions and laments of “Why can’t I see anything change?” remind me that the work that we see is often only after years of planting, rooting, and weeding out.

In fact, we may never see the bright, red blooms of the work that we have toiled and sweated over. We might never smell the surprise fragrant of new life, but someone will. Someone will see that surprise spring up and know that someone else has worked diligently and faithfully to produce something beautiful.

Thanks be to God that we cannot see the whole story.

“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”

In the girls’ bathhouse at my grandparents’ pool, there was a sign that hung on the wall:

Sugar n’ Spice

and everything nice

That’s what little girls

are made of.

I remember thinking that was a cute saying, especially because it rhymed and painted a picture of a smiling, bow-wearing little girl. Actually, that may have been the image that was painted at the bottom of the sign. Although the saying brings back fond memories, it’s not one that is hanging in our house with three girls.

I don’t want my girls to see that hanging on the wall and think they have to be nice or sweet. This Tuesday one of the most important organizations in the Columbia area, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, received threats to the staff and organization because of the work they are doing to combat, educate, and provide healing for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  Three out of four victims know their abuser before the abuse occurs, so when we teach our girls to be nice and sweet to people they know and fear strangers, we are not recognizing the percentage of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual abuse that is committed by family members, family friends, and other close acquaintances. When we teach our girls to be nice and sweet, are we inevitably telling them that they can’t talk to us about things that aren’t sweet and nice if they happen to them?

The threats to an organization that does such important work prove that there are people who want girls and indeed adults to be sweet and nice rather than fight for safety for our children and against injustices in our society. We live in a world where sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence occurs every 92 seconds. And I’m going to keep talking about the things that are not nice and sweet until we know that our world is a better place for our children.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands had to cancel one of their major fundraisers because of these threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could show our support financially?

A Year of Strength

Setting intentions for your day, your week, your month, and your year serve to center your mind and connect your heart and your mind to each other. Many people use the approaching new year as a time to signal goal setting and intentionality. For some people, this manifests into a word or a mantra, something easy to remember,  repeat, and return to as life inevitably brings the unexpected.

For me, this process has always worked in reverse. I don’t choose a word at the beginning of the year instead about this time every year, the word that has followed me throughout the year finds me. Last year, the word grief found me. As I reflected on the amount of grief our family had experienced, I began to understand that what we had experienced and what we had walked through together would shape who we were as individuals and as a family.

This year has been a year of strength. I spent much of the first three months of this year running and training. I was able to move back up to running five miles at a time, something I hadn’t been able to do since I was in seminary. I began to understand in a real and deep way the role spiritual abuse has impacted me. I walked more closely to my incredible partner as I wrestled with my past and began to recognize triggers and address longheld hurt that I had buried deeply. I started a certification program in spiritual direction to engage the Divine in deep and ancient ways. We found out we were pregnant and wrestled through the grief and uncertainty and memories it brought back of our loss last year. This year has ended with an invitation to step out of my comfort zone and serve as the pastor of Garden of Grace UCC. Truly, this year has been one of strength.

After a year of grieving, these opportunities to experience the Divine and to connect more deeply to my partner and family overwhelm me with gratitude. Gratitude that the invitation to grow and learn still exists. Gratitude that the Divine still calls and invites us to participate in the bringing the kingdom of God here on earth. Gratitude that we are never alone in our journey and that even when we can’t comprehend or understand where our story is going, we are still surrounded with the love and presence of Creator God.

To be sure, this year has asked me to dig deep to places I didn’t necessarily want to go, but strength comes from the deepest and darkest places. There were tears and soreness and growing pains, but as I stand on the edge of a new year, I know I am walking into that newness and this new season stronger than I have been. This makes the journey worthwhile.

I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds!

Time for Rest

It’s taken me three months to schedule a haircut and it’s not because Ulta is so booked that I couldn’t get an appointment. It’s because I am so booked that I have scheduled and canceled at least three appointments. “This is just a busy season,” I tell myself looking ahead and trying to find a day off, a day of rest, knowing that I would be lucky to squeeze in a half-day of sabbath.

This is a busy season of life with young kids as a young professional, but am I really so busy that I can’t take an hour to get my hair cut? No, I’m not. When I truly reflect on the last three months of scheduling and canceling a haircut I realize that I, like so many, fall prey to the cultural expectations to go, go, go from one thing to another. I need to be needed. Moving from work to carpool to errands to home without really being in any of those places because my mind is constantly asking, “What’s next?”

And I feel guilty taking time to do simple things like get a haircut. Habits and patterns form more quickly than we care to admit. When we constantly go from one thing to another, we leave out rest. There’s no time to recover because there is no time in between exercises. We schedule our days, our weeks, and our months so full that we aren’t able to even remember what we even did last weekend. And when we live this way, we teach our children the same thing. We teach our children that in order to be successful and productive you have to be exhausted, tired, and most importantly busy.

In a recent study, it was reported that more than half of Americans don’t use their vacation days, which adds up to 658 million days of unused vacation, the highest ever reported. We are fighting against a cultural expectation when we take time to rest and time to reflect. We are fighting against false ideas of productivity and what it means to be successful when we stop and are present in the moment. We are fighting to teach our children and ourselves that being on busy and on the go isn’t the ultimate goal.

But we can’t teach that until we ourselves not only understand it but put it into practice.

On Confronting My Privilege as a White Mom

I’ve been pondering, lamenting, and praying about the children separated from their families at our border. I’ve read as many different reports as I can trying desperately to understand the different sides of the issue, how long the practice has been taking place, and what I could possibly do to help better the situation. There is no doubt that children being separated from their parents, especially their mothers, at a young age is detrimental to their well-being, their sense of safety, and their overall growth. Again and again, in these discussions, I have heard people explaining that these mothers were putting their children in harm’s way by trying to come across the border. Again and again, I have heard versions of, “They got what was coming to them.” And to be honest part of me understands the sentiment behind these statements. Why would you, as a mom, risk crossing a border now knowing the consequences for your child?

As I thought about this question, I couldn’t help but think of books that I have read where mothers put their kids in harm’s way. Sheila Ingle in her book Courageous Kate tells the story of Kate Moore Barry tied her infant child to a bedpost as she rode away to deliver a message to her husband that the British were coming.

Michel Stone in her books Iganuna Tree and Border Child, tells of a mother who trusts a coyote with her child to cross the border in hopes of a better life.

Robert O’Brien in his book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, tells the story of a mouse mom who leaves her four children at home desperately searching for medicine and a new home for her son is so sick he cannot leave the bed.

As I thought about these books, these mothers, I thought about the extreme circumstance they found themselves in: war, abject poverty, and loss of life of one of their children. I thought about how as a white mom in the United States, I have never encountered a situation so dire that I would risk leaving my child or being separated from my child in order to offer a better life for him. I have never had to make what has to be a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing decision. I have never had to make that decision because of the privilege I have as a white mom in the United States.

Reflecting on that privilege, I realize my gut reactions to these stories are going to be laced with bias and assumptions created and formed by that privilege. I can never know what these families and these mothers are going through.

And so instead of judging or assuming, I will instead hope. Hope that more and more people in our country will take the time to read extensively and examine their privilege. It is only in engaging in these things that we will be able to overcome the vast divisions that privilege creates.

A Seesaw of Awe

This week our summer officially started as we had all three children. We spent our late afternoons in the pool of a generous neighbor who let us come swim and take a reprieve from the summer heat. My heart began to fill in ways it hasn’t in our long Spring of not having all three kids together as I watched them laugh and splash and play together.

Before I left for the pool, I asked Sam if I could wear my Apple Watch in the pool because I had heard that it had been redesigned to be able to keep track of movement and exercise underwater. He assured me that I could and I was amazed to see a notification come in while my wrist was submerged underwater. How in the world could I be getting a signal underwater? I was even more amazed at the fact that I could swipe down to read the notification underwater. Wasn’t submerging electronics underwater once the death wish from which technology never returned? I don’t pretend to understand the innovation that is going on in the world of technology, AR, and VR, but I know there are people much smarter than I who are pushing the limits of what technology can do and the problems technology can solve. I have the same awe for these innovations as I did for the robots that would come by my fifth-grade classroom from the robotics teacher’s students down the hallway who just happened to become my husband.

And then I started reading the news about asylum-seeking families being separated at the border and for the second time in the week I was speechless with awe. This was not an awe of innovation, engineering, and imagination. This awe was a speechless, helpless awe. How can a people capable of designing a device that can be submerged underwater and receive text messages and notifications also be the same people capable of claiming that families seeking safety from violence, abuse, and abject poverty earn the right to be separated from their families?

I will not pretend to understand what asylum-seeking families have already undergone in order to decide to make the dangerous journey to a promise of a better life. There is no way I can possibly imagine the fear, uncertainty, and sheer terror of having to uproot your whole family, your kids, and your life with the hope (not the certainty) of starting something new. I cannot because of my privilege.

Our family has just a tiny taste of separation as we share our older kids, but this is in no way the same separation as what these asylum-seeking families are undergoing. We know our children are going to a safe place. We know that they will have food and they will go to school. We know where they are and yet still many times as we are saying goodbye the separation is unbearable. Just recently our 2.5 was clinging to his older sister begging her not to go and there was nothing I could say or do to make it better. At that moment, I felt so helpless to offer anything that would help except the promise, “We’ll see her again soon, buddy.” But these families don’t have that promise. But these asylum-seeking families can’t offer that promise. They don’t know when and if they will see their children again.

I’ve been pulled back and forth on this spectrum of the awe of our capacity as humans to create and innovate and with our capacity to separate and distance ourselves from the suffering of other people with explanations and reasonings that those people deserve the suffering they are experiencing. Here’s what I know is true: we together as humans are smart enough and innovative enough to do better. We are reducing our abilities and our capacities when we demean and belittle each other. We are creating more tension and strife when we staunchly insist on defending our worldview and perspective. There is no question that we can do better, the question is will we do better?

My hope is that we will.

Because we certainly don’t know when we will find ourselves in need of asylum, shelter, and safety with only hope to guide us.

Where I Come From

This December, I have been immersing myself in local authors. Most of these authors have written and recorded what it was like to grow up in a mill village. I didn’t know my hometown was so centered around mill life until I started working as a second-grade teacher. My principal took the time to take all new employees through the apartment complexes and neighborhoods where our students lived.

I remember when he drove through the mill village and how all the houses looked the same. He told us that since the mill closed down 5 years prior, the demographics changed from 80% white and 20% African Amerian and Hispanic to 80% African American and Hispanic to 20% white. He also explained that because the mill owners moved out from the area, the mill village became low-income housing, owned by someone outside of the state and very rarely maintained. In other parts of the city, mills were being renovated to office buildings or restaurants or commercial buildings, but in this part of the city, there was no renovation planned.

It matters where we came from both in our family history and in the culture and heritage of the place we reside.

Here are the stories I read:

Read about where you came from. Learn about the stories your city, your family and you are built upon.

Holding Onto Advent

This is the longest I can remember our having our Christmas decorations up. Because our celebrations and traditions center around sharing kids, there have been many years where we haven’t gotten our Christmas tree until the second or third week of December. This year we went to get our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  This morning, the Christmas tree is still lit as we await Epiphany.

There’s something magical and mystical about celebrating and studying peace, hope, joy, love and the arrival of the Christ Child and then holding onto each of those until Epiphany. It’s something that we often miss in our haste to celebrate a new year and get things back in order after our Christmas celebrations.

This time invites us to include peace, hope, love, joy and Christ into our lives in the quietness and the stillness. This time invites us to wonder and question what including these things into our lives year-round would really mean.  It’s a time as a Baptist who didn’t celebrate the Christian year that I’ve missed most of my life, and one I hold dearly to now.

May the Christ Child continue to fill us with wonder and awe as we draw near to Epiphany.

A Year of Grieving

What a year it has been for our family! This year has held numerous joyful surprises as well as profound grief. Three of our friends from our first congregation passed away this year as well as close family friends. These are people who held and taught our children. Walking closely with others always brings great joy but then also immense sadness when they are not with us anymore.

For a long time, I fled from grief. I turned my mind to autopilot and the things that needed to get done effectively removing myself from the situation so that I didn’t have to truly feel grief. This year I found I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t ignore the impact the people we lost this year had on me, my ministry, and our family. I couldn’t ignore the way the grief of thinking we were going to welcome a new life into our hearts and hands doesn’t disappear, not even after those nine months have passed.

I have tried the best I know how to grieve, not rushing the process, not explaining the process, just being in the midst. This has been extremely difficult for me. It’s driven me to practical action like getting life insurance again and finally creating a last will and testament. It’s slowed me down in the quiet mornings when Ben is up before the sun is up and we are sitting in silence playing with trains. Because I know those mornings aren’t guaranteed. I know because I’ve walked with families and people who have found this to be brutally true.

It’s made me analyze and retire some of the trite phrases we use as we try to console people in the midst of grief. It’s made me struggle and wrestle to find the light, love, and joy in the memories of the times we spent with the people we lost and hold onto those not just with the mind, but with body and soul.

Grieve was not the word I chose for 2017. Grieve chose me this year asking me to be real and honest in a way that I know will follow me into this next year and the years to come. Thanks be to God that Jesus wept and grieved and so can we.

Decorating the Tree

I can remember decorating our Christmas tree growing up. All of the six kids came together to decorate the huge live tree that had been strung with colored lights. The majority of the ornaments I remember hanging were ornaments we had all made in school, Sunday School and Missions activities at church. With six kids, those ornaments really added up.

But I can’t say that ever thought much about what it would be like to hang ornaments on the tree that came from my children I hadn’t imagined their pictures of their little handprints or even their names. I hadn’t thought about whether they would be girls or boys because for the longest time the tree Sam and I decorated still had those handmade ornaments I had made; a gift that had been given to me from my parents.

I was walking by the tree going to grab my keys and I saw this picture. The girls hanging next to one of the first ornaments Ben has made. I had to stop for a minute. A picture I had never imagined, there hanging on our tree. Three kids surrounded by colored lights. Three kids full of light and love. Three kids who helped decorate (or in Ben’s case undecorate) our tree this year.

The longer days and the break from school make the holidays a time to make memories and also to remember how far we all have come since the last time we decorated our trees and houses for this season, something Europeans have been doing for hundreds of years.

Sometimes peace and joy in this season come in the form of tiny handprints and pictures from years ago hanging on a triangular tree that represents the Trinity, the presence of God with us no matter what your journey had held. Thanks be to God for Divine light shining in the dark season of winter.