The first day after Ash Wednesday. Here is where I begin to practice my commitments to deny myself small pleasures, ingrained coping strategies and lesser habits in order to honor the gargantuan sacrifice Jesus made for me. It’s not that I am paying him back or earning his favor as a result of my actions, it’s more like acknowledging that one love calls out to another, echoing reciprocal acts of sacrifice. The season gives time and opportunity for Jesus story to slow simmer and offers me the opportunity to reprogram life rhythms through repeated practice. Every time I say no to my defaults, I make space for something else. Something better, something more true.
In Lent, submission becomes palatable because the misappropriated definition focusing on power and authority structures is dethroned by Jesus human story. Single verses of scripture are contextualized in the gospel narrative where submission is top down instead of bottom up. Jesus is first to pay it forward. It starts with the King of the Hill and trickles down so we all have a model to follow as we replicate His example toward one another. And that is a lifelong training exercise.
Last night, I missed that gritty sensation of pasty ashes smearing across my lined forehead in the form of the cross. The words spoken over me that, “From dust I came and to dust I will return.” I entered this world under the curse of death and I will leave it that way too. Inside my mother’s womb and 6 feet under—they’re both as dark as the church was last night, sleety ice raining down from the heavens.
But that is not the whole story. The Lenten season is not a circular path. Where we commence forty days before Easter is not our concluding destination. Death is a temporary word. Resurrection is the eternal word.
And so my spectator’s journey to the cross and beyond begins. Again. Another year to ponder the conundrum of death and resurrection, God’s redemptive plan of choice, and to practice cruciform living, one decision, one discipline, one day at a time. And for the privilege and opportunity to follow where He leads, I’m grateful.
It happened at Planet Fitness this final day of the slog through January. I was working out on a strength training machine next to a strong, sculpted 20 something. Even drenched in sweat, she looked like a model. On the torso rotator, I lost internet connection and my audiobook went silent mid-sentence so I turned on my 2022 Spotify playlist for distraction and randomly, my friend, Ben Rector started singing about Heroes. It’s one of my most listened to songs of 2022 but today, it sounded brand new. As Ben lamented the loss of his childhood heroes, my eyes involuntarily sprung a slow, dripping leak.
His song tells a story about the innocence of childhood and in the archives of my memory, I see a kid riding her banana seat bike to Baskin Robbins and sitting on the front step licking a Superman cone. That was me. Back then, he recalls feeling certain that his heroes had the right answers to all of life’s biggest questions, whatever they were, until he realized they didn’t. We call this developmental awakening “growing up”. It’s when we start to notice with disillusion, disappointment and sometimes even disdain the ways our heroes are, at times, flawed, phonies and failures.
Ben says it like this: I miss when I had superpowers. My imagination was my friend and it ran wild and free. I could waste a couple hours without a worry in the world staring at stars out on my trampoline.
I miss when Andy Mc Arthur was the fastest kid there was and kid there was ever gonna be. Ken Griffey Jr. was a giant, before parents got divorced and I learned that there was gravity.
I miss my Bible study leader. Had all the answers for living in the big bad world. Don’t know if he still talks to Jesus but his wife’s remarried now and I think he sells garage doors.
I miss when I thought chasing dreams was holy magic behind curtains in a sacred place. Before it was managers and lawyers who colored up and cashed them out for vacation homes in coastal states.
I miss back when the world was small and we had all the answers. I miss how it was when we were young. I miss back before I understood all the ways that life would break your heart, before I knew that’s what they called growing up.
I miss my old heroes. I had to give them all away. I miss my old heroes. God, I wish they could’ve stayed. ‘Cause it turns out that the hardest part of growing up’s not getting old, it’s learning how the real world goes. I miss my old…. I miss my old heroes.
I’ve got 20 years on Ben and at least 30 on the model using the leg press. But I remember when that was me too. At first, I just felt mad. Mad that my bubble burst. Mad that my rose colored glasses got removed. Mad that my earlier images of people I’d trusted and respected seemed as distorted as a house of mirrors. Anger often masks a more primal emotion- fear. And this coming of age is as terrifying as a toddler losing their security blanket. But fear feels so vulnerable, I powered up instead of groaned. Barely an adult, I didn’t know how to regulate my angst and like Ben describes in his song, I fired my heroes and went looking for replacements.
My parents heads were first on the chopping block. They often are once we recognize that we’ve absorbed some of their toxicity. Besides, they’re easy targets because they’ll love us even when we act like punks. At least, mine did.
Then came religious leaders who manipulated the Bible to advance their messages of name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel, or fundamentalist legalism or christian nationalism, and I started to recognize the distortions.
Even God. I thought He was supposed to superintend the world according to the general principles laid out in Proverbs until I started living out the paradoxes of Ecclesiastes, where resolution to our knotty problems are as illusive as vapor.
All through life our heroes rise and fall. Old ones and new ones alike. And sometimes we outgrow them and their answers. I wish this process was a once and done, like adolescence but growing up really is a perpetual experience, a repeating exercise in making space for people as they are rather than what we pretended they were.
Some of my heroes had to go. It was best to kick them to the curb and keep walking. Most of them aren’t like that though. Maturity morphed my mad into sad. Black and white blaming turned at least 50 shades of gray as I began to grapple with the irreducible complexity of the human experience. When I listen to Ben’s song as 56 year old me, I mostly muse about how many of my heroes have been people trying their best to live out their convictions, just like I am. They haven’t gotten it all right. Sometimes they’ve royally screwed up and I have been harmed. Other times, the same people have been a wellspring of good and I have been helped. Because we all are both image bearers of God and sinners by birth, choice and generational influence, there is no other way than the conundrum of the broken-beautiful.
Days morphed into weeks and months and years and decades and now, I’ve raised four amazing humans. A compassionate observer, I’m hearing their questions reverberate mine. Watching them sort through the same confusion. Experience similar dissolution. Walk out their own unique, lifelong journeys of growing up.
To them, to me, to us all— May we find peace and rest and security in Jesus when our heroes disappoint and fail us. May we grow in grace for the irreducible complexity of every person whose influence paradoxically helps and hurts, including ourselves. May we cultivate repentance when it is our defects that dispirit others. May we all find a soft spot to land in our Heavenly Father’s arms when we need to have our injuries nursed, Rest in His green pastures when we are weary of having our hearts broken, Courage to fly on eagles wings when our strength has been restored, Endurance to run our marathon, a cloud of witnesses cheering us on. And may we see Jesus footprints behind us, beside us and before us, all the way to the finish line. Amen
Advent is a season of waiting in anticipation for the coming of Christ. Back in the day, Gabriel visited Mary after 400 years of deafening divine silence and communal subjugation to a narcissist Roman savior-wanna-be, announcing that God would arrive on the scene. I imagine some had despaired of hope. Some had disappointedly marked God tardy. Some were trying to fix their problems themselves with a rag-tag mutiny. Others nursed a quiet, persistent, longing.
True to His word, God made a special appearance, in the most unexpected form, in the least desirable place, through the most unlikely conduit. God has a way of doing that. Intervening in what feels like the 11th hour. Collaborating with the secular instead of the religiously pious. Conjuring up a redemptive scheme that is entirely counter-intuitive to human understanding.
Today might as well have been Christmas morning for the Cherin Marie family and those who have been sharing their 3+ year wait to experience Immanuel as God with them. Lord knows, they haven’t received His tangible presence or His tender compassion from their church leaders, their community of faith, their Bishop or their denomination, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).The shepherds God assigned to them, to image His care have been derelict of duty. Getting their steps in taking the most distant route around their wounded, hyper focused on self-protecting their personal and institutional reputations, appeals for help from innocent assault victims having fallen on deaf ears.
Enter, the honorable Judge John Barsanti. 1,315 days after the complaint entered the public accountability system, he read the verdict. Mark Rivera is guilty of multiple Class X felonies for the criminal sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. Sentence forthcoming—somewhere between 15 and 120+ years in prison. God weighed in at the Kane County courthouse yesterday in the public naming of what is true, in the clearly defined distinction of who is the victim and who is the perpetrator, and in the validation of retributive punishment for the evil that has been committed.
On the home page of the ACNA website, a list of priorities and initiatives in large, bold, capital letters reads,
SERVING THE MARGINALIZED. God’s heart for the vulnerable and under resourced moves us to work for justice, mercy and reconciliation.
Shouldn’t that have applied to the pre-pubescent girl who was repeatedly sexually abused by their own lay minister? And what about her family? And the slew of other casualties left in the wake of Mark’s service? And how about the laundry list of victims preyed upon by bad actors manning their pulpits and warming their pews?
God have mercy on your church. Cleanse the temple for the sake of your glory. And God, companion your traumatized children with vigilant tender care. This day, this verdict, this justice is not the end of their harrowing journey. The tragic reality is that every day, under the sun, they will walk with a limp. Steady them, God, with your strong arm so they can finish the race you have intended for them to run. Companion them on their journey with your empathy.
Remind them that you, too, have been betrayed, assaulted, backed into a corner, stark naked and exploited. You, too, have been the victim of injustice, experiencing public humiliation, slander, rejection by the prevailing religious system and abandonment by your trusted community.
As counterintuitively to our human comprehension as your first incarnation was, your plan to redeem all that is broken and evil was equally mysterious. You volunteered to be a victim so we would know that we have an advocate who understands.
Surely, you have borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. (Isaiah 53)
You agreed to be declared guilty on behalf of our collective evil and receive God’s punishment in our place.
Indeed,the chastisement of our peace was upon you. And God, the Father, laid on you the judgment for our iniquity. (Isaiah 53)
We cannot fathom what you have done and what you are doing from beginning to end, but this we know. In your first incarnation, you served the marginalized. You demonstrated God’s heart for the vulnerable and the under resourced. And in your second appearing, you will reconcile all things according to your perfect justice and mercy. That is the source our hope, joy, and peace this and every Christmas.
(For more information on this story of abuse, see my earlier post.)
Thanksgiving. The crescendo of my year. With an enormous deposit in the Thanksgiving bank of happy memories, anticipation swells as I cross each tiny detail of preparation off my list.
It’s was the Sunday night before THE Thursday and the text arrived quietly as I was admitting a premature baby to the neo-natal unit. “Hey, wanna do an unofficial Turkey Trot, the three of us on Thanksgiving morning?” That was my daughter Robyn. “Brennan is a great cheerleader while running and will make sure we all finish,” she added convincingly.
A handful of years ago, jogging in a 5K event got written in permanent marker on my bucket list. An invitation to cross it off with my beloveds felt like winning the lottery without buying a ticket. I briefly calculated the risks. I am an Enneagram 6 after all. The snow had taken a dump the last three days. It could be icy. I can’t afford to break a hip. I haven’t jogged in 4 months. What if I fail? Or what if I jog so slowly, they laugh and tell me they might as well be walking. Could I risk that sort of humiliation? I answered cautiously. “If it’s not icy on the trail, I’ll try.” “If we do this, you’re not trying, you’re doing!” Brennan replied emphatically. Well, OK then….I guess I’m doing!
On Thanksgiving Eve, we all collaborated on our jogging strategies. Being a morning sleepyhead, I considered the merits of an energy drink or a cup of coffee but Robyn’s instructed, “Drink water, mom…but not too much.” “Eat something too, but only a little.”
Thanksgiving dawned all Pure Michigan sunshine. My baby decided to join the party and the four of us met up at the trailhead, the mood anticipatory and optimistic. Brennan managed our playlist including several Disney favorites. The kids sandwiched me in the middle and we headed north. My favorite direction. There were friendly holiday greetings between strangers along the way. The kids occasionally added, “2 breaths in and 1 out.” Or, “We’re halfway there!” Or “Watch up ahead. I think there’s some ice.” Never did they run ahead. Never did they complain I was going too slow. And when I started to hit a wall, they started a countdown. “3.1…. 3.11…. 3.12…. 3.13….” We crossed the finish line together at 3.20 miles. 5 kilometers exactly. “You did it mommy!” “You can cross it off your list!” They announced celebratorily. Initially, I thought they’d invited me to join them in their thing, until I realized that they’d concocted this plan to support me in mine instead. I had been seen and heard and valued, the very definition of being loved. And right then, I felt loved.
The rest of the day had other green pasture moments. Traditions old and new, near and dear. Our sweatshirts read TAINGEIL. That’s Grateful in Gaelic, a nod to the memory of our hiking adventure in the Scottish Highlands last summer. A supremely good and perfect gift.
We wore them on our gratitude walk and listed the mercies, one after another. At the table spread before us, we joined the Psalmist in recounting the cornucopia of blessings God provides for his hungry children.
It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods. Every morning tell him, “Thank you for your kindness,” and every evening rejoice in all his faithfulness. Sing his praises, accompanied by music. You have done so much for me, O Lord. No wonder I am glad! I sing for joy. O Lord, what miracles you do! And how deep are your thoughts! Unthinking people do not understand them! No fool can comprehend this: that although the wicked flourish like weeds, there is only eternal destruction ahead of them. But the Lord continues forever, exalted in the heavens, while his enemies—all evildoers—shall be scattered. But you have made me as strong. How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!
Psalm 92 (The Living Bible)
Once a year, on the fourth Thursday of November, we feast on His goodness. It’s the day we set aside to count our blessings and number our gifts instead of dwelling on our disappointments and rehearsing our annoyances. In a world where there is otherwise so much personal and communal sadness, injury, injustice and loss, Thanksgiving offers us a 24 hour sabbath rest from the chaos of another year. And for this year’s opportunity to celebrate with the ones I love best, I’m grateful.
When the 666th text from a political candidate dinged in on my phone, here’s how I replied. “I think I’ll vote for the person who sends me the least number of texts.” STOP2quit would have been a more mature response.
I’m going to be brutally honest. It’s hard for me to be nice right before an election, not because I’m politically passionate about candidates and causes. You won’t find me plastering social media with propaganda and videos and if you do, presume I’ve been hacked. But this is my space, where I offer up what I have and you choose to read it—or not. And so I will tell you that I’m disillusioned by the political machine and their grimy mud fights. I resent the continental divide that has grown between family members, friends and neighbors over political players and their self-promoting interests.
Case in point, it’s going to be agonizingly hard for me to vote for the same candidates on my ballot as the dude down the street. Back in November 2020, he crudely painted a 4 x8 sheet of plywood and in gigantic letters wrote “Trump Won”, then screwed it into his deck fence for all the world to look and be amazed. Afterwards, he added spotlights so nobody would fail to see his important message even in the dark.
I get it. He’s frustrated. His candidate didn’t win and he considers it a breach of justice but DT is not the first presidential candidate in recent history to be declared “the loser” after a razor close and contested race. Remember the Bush-Gore election of 2000? Ultimately the results turned on a couple hundred votes in Florida that did or didn’t have faulty chads. Was he morally incensed about that as well and publicly grudging for two subsequent years or was he confident about the investigation, maybe even smug as he praised the integrity of our checks and balances because his party came out on top. Does his sign actually represent an amplified moral compass or is he the kind of dude who you’d never want to play a game with because he’s so mean if he doesn’t win.
Can you hear it? Obviously my neighbor triggers me. I’m not even done complaining yet…. Can you imagine what it might be like for his wife if he navigates his marriage like he does his political preferences? If he rams his opinions down her throat day after agonizing day. If he has to be right and requires that she agree that he is. That sounds both like a narcissist and a living hell. Actually, I don’t even know if he’s married, but if he is, my sincerest sympathy goes to his spouse.
Listen to me. I am not being nice. That single sign—well actually, it’s been a whole series of graffiti like billboards littering his yard the past 7 years- should not cause this level of hostility in my spirit but my neighbor and I are experiencing a Grand Canyon like fissure in our relationship and we don’t even know each other. A counselor could more fully unpack what lies behind my strong response and perhaps someday, I’ll process it with him—or her. Today, the Holy Spirit reminds me that my attitude doesn’t replicate God’s posture toward my neighbor.
So, I take a moment to box breathe like the Navy Seals do. To regulate my cortisol levels and lower my blood pressure. When I decompress, I can think with my rational brain rather than my emotional brain. And I tell myself, this is the truth. My conviction was that Trump’s character and moral qualities deemed him unfit for the prestigious position of President of the United States. Other people thought differently. Neither of us are more or less virtuous than the other. And this election is not actually about Trump. His rule and reign is in the history books. His influence, however, does still dominate the party that I historically affiliate with and most of the current candidates have publicly amalgamated themselves to his endorsement. Even so, they are their own unique individuals and should be assessed on their particular records, platforms and character. This is a new year, a different election with separate candidates. Be a big girl, Hope, and vote your conscience, regardless of how the guy down the street votes.
After November 2016, I felt disillusioned. Got lazy. Maybe I was throwing my own little temper tantrum, less conspicuously than my neighbor. Anyway, I missed the 2018 mid term election and our state was voting on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana. That’ll never pass, I thought. Who on God’s Pure Michigan green earth would think it’s a good idea to have mass cannabis usage permitable in the public square, if for no other reason than our communities would start perpetually smelling like a skunk. Turned out that more than 50% of voters did and now I am destined to tolerate mass nasal pollution for the foreseeable future and I have only myself to blame.
So I am taking that lesson from the school of hard knocks to heart this time, pulling up my big girl pants and researching the candidates and proposals in preparation to vote. Actually that mostly means my husband is doing the research and sharing his recommendations with editorial. My ballot won’t necessarily replicate his but he knows what matters to me and will comment on that with his recommendations, which I appreciate. And this election is particularly epic with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade earlier this year and our state’s opportunity to shape new policies about life and death for the unborn going forward. So, this time around, I’m all in.
Some of you reading this blog are cringing right now. I get it. I feel the same way sometimes when I read what you post too. We don’t agree on everything politically. We might not agree on Trump, but here’s the bottom line. Trump should not have the power to divide us as family, friends or neighbors. We should not ostracize each other from our affection or our mutual respect because of political differences of opinion.
So, I need to preach to myself first and say, “That neighbor of mine, he gets to express his political stance on his property however he chooses.” My job is to smile and wave when I drive by. And, better yet, I could start praying for him, but not the prayer of the pharisee, the one who says, “Thank you God that I’m not a Trump enthusiast like he is.” Rather, I need the tax collector’s prayer, the one where I cry out to Jesus, because I recognize the judgement in my heart with, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” More than any particular political outcome, humility is what I most need this election.
Can we just take a few minutes to admire the womb? The miraculous incubator designed to grow a life until it is ready to meet the world.
It runs like a well oiled machine. Month after month, year after year, decade after decade, messengers from the brain we call hormones prepare a 5 star hotel in womens’ uteruses in anticipation of a baby reserving the room. This accommodation boasts a memory foam mattress created out of blood and tissue covered in 800 count Egyptian cotton sheets. Those same couriers automatically trigger the release of a microscopic golden egg from an ovary, priceless treasure within its penetrable shell. It floats down the fallopian tube like clock-work where it meets up with a sperm —or not.
If it doesn’t and the reservation gets canceled, the bed is stripped in preparation for the next potential guest and we call that experience menstruation.
If it does, the two amalgamate and a teeny-tiny human is conceived. The nanoscopic person burrows itself into the wall of the uterus. Its cells create a life support system we call the placenta wherein the baby lives in its very own self-protective swimming pool. From the egg sac, a connective stalk emerges and tethers the baby to its mothership. This cord contains a delivery system for oxygen and a sewage system for depleted lifeblood. Nothing is wasted.
A new somebody, called a baby, grows in an older somebody’s body. That’s the mother. And the womb is the location designed for this task. Nine months down the assembly line, the baby gets a quality control stamp of approval and is ready to leave the manufacturing plant. The escape route is through the mom’s vagina. An automated message tells uterine muscles to contract expanding the vaginal exit. After a rigorous workout that pushes mom to her limits, the tiny tot passes through the wardrobe into Narnia, thanks to the womb.
It doesn’t always go like this though. Sometimes the machine glitches resulting in infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, C-section, stillbirth. Sometimes messages in the golden eggs can’t be decoded resulting in disease, defect, anomaly, demise. Sometimes the host body is sick, malignant, endangered. Sometimes the creation of new life occurs under violent circumstances beyond a female’s consensual control or in the throws of addiction, poverty and dysfunction. And it is legitimate to have concern for the quality of life a child will experience when it’s born to a mother who is not prepared to nurture it.
All life matters. Mother’s lives and baby’s lives. And when both cannot co-exist, gnarly questions are asked and answered. Questions I am grateful I did not have to personally consider.
True story. I was conceived when my mom was 45. Those were the days before abortions services were legally and conveniently available and there were just a handful of neonatal care units cross country. My mom’s physician evaluated the statistical risks and offered some under the table advice. “There’s a place I know of where you can go to protect mom from this high-risk pregnancy and eliminate the probability of brith defects and developmental disabilities for baby.” My parents declined termination and said yes to the gift of life instead and here we are today, two generations and four healthy granddaughters later.
I work in a neonatal unit and see every kind of disaster recovery after the reproductive machine malfunctions. Unthinkably petite newborns, some of whom arrive in helicopters with a whole entourage of clinical traveling companions receive cutting edge medical care. Outside of the womb, there is a unanimous commitment to the ethical rules of modern medicine—help and not harm. Every little person’s life is equally valued regardless of how dire their prognosis or family circumstances are. We have a photo shoot booth that reads NICU Graduate in large, bold letters on the backdrop. It’s the last stop before discharged infants depart the unit. We congratulate the ones carrying the car seats and bless the babes on to a beautiful life because that’s what we want for them and that’s what they deserve.
But life is complicated and broken and fallen. Both in the womb and in the world, children aren’t safe. If we claim that we are advocates for protecting children from abuse and violence, then we must start with the place they are most vulnerable, in the womb. And if we claim to champion the protection of the unborn, we must be a proponent for the programs and services that protect children from the suffering and trauma they encounter living outside the womb. To be one and not the other is to be a hypocrite.
Last week, my son in law and I talked about pregnancy. I told him that I’m sorry he’ll never get the privilege of growing a baby in his womb. Of feeling it flutter in his abdomen or kick on his bladder . Of having his abdominal skin expand like a balloon or his vagina dilate to give birth. I don’t know why, but God reserved this phenomenon for a woman’s body only. We are the ones who experience the miracle.
This is my theology of the womb. That it is the remarkable invention of God’s mind and heart for reproducing human beings, a beautifully complex process that generally works like magic. By design, a biological girl greets the world with all the parts and pieces necessary for replicating the miracle once she’s matured. And the baby boy comes supplied with undeveloped sperm cells that grow and exponentially duplicate following puberty. And when the two sexually conjoin, the ordinary and the extraordinary greet one another with a holy kiss.
God describes it like this:
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and steward it…..Then God looked over all that he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
(Genesis 1: 27-31 paraphrased)
Very Good! That’s God’s proclamation about the womb. And for the privilege of being a woman and participating in God’s plan for the circle of life through my womb, I’m grateful.
Yesterday it was Halloween. Adorable little ladybugs, princesses and cowboys walked the streets of our community loading up on candy from neighbors in their cute, little, plastic, pumpkin buckets, their parents tagging along behind them on the sidewalk. At least, that’s the Norman Rockwell portrayal of the festivities of the night. And I have friends whose families experience replicate it idyllically.
We didn’t celebrate Halloween when our kids were little. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about cute and candy makes me exceedingly happy. I like the Rockwell picture. It’s pretty much what I experienced as a kid back in the good old days.
But Halloween isn’t just that. It’s also scary costumes, spooky houses and horror movies. For some, it’s a Wiccan celebration for connecting with the dead and the spirit world too. And, if you’re an Enneagram 6 like I am, you remember isolated news reports about evil people who laced kids candy with toxins and menacingly killed them. And that takes you over the edge.
So, when my kids were itty-bitties, I decided to find an alternative that offered all the fun without any of the fear. And the church calendar made it easy. The day after Halloween is All Saints Day, a celebration that honors martyrs and saints, known and unknown, flesh and blood humans who lived imperfect but devout lives.
Our festivities began on October 1. The kids decorated their brown paper bags with markers and stickers, stencils and crayons, ribbon and glitter. Every night after dinner we read aloud a story about somebody, somewhere who did something with their life that made Jesus smile. Then we asked the question, “Who lived a sweet life for Jesus?” In unison the girls called out the name of the character in our story.
I spent a fortune on our candy stash. No tootsie rolls here. Only the best of the favorites in our candy bowl. The kids chose one piece for their bag and another for desert except on bonus nights when they got two. They earned extra candy by independently reading stories about heroes and heroines of the faith and re-telling them to the fam. Some years we decorated pumpkins with happy faces, carved out a cross or planted fall pansies inside.
On November 1, the night after the neighbor kids got all hyped up on sugar, I cooked a special meal. The kids plundered the dress up clothes bins and created costumes based on their favorite saint and wore them to dinner for the big “reveal”. After they told us who they were and why they chose that person, they got to dump their candy out of their bags and over-consume like the neighbor kids.
Traditions are sacred spaces where family communal practices shape our relationships and I wanted to include Jesus in every single one. I figured that if God’s instructions about loving Him explicitly told me to include Him in my family’s daily routine of sitting and walking and lying down and getting up, then surely, He should also be a focal point in our holiday celebrations.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
And in those fleeting early years of innocence and tenderness, I determined to be vigilant about bathing them in beautiful images, lovely thoughts, and good ideas while insulating them as best as I was able from the scary, ugly, evil realities of a broken world.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
I’ve loved this tradition we shared, not because it’s better than anybody else’s but because it was ours and it was special and it was good.
This year, I texted the family chat and wished everybody a happy All Saints Day. I told them who I chose as my heroine of the faith this year and why. I asked them who theirs were. One response. I texted again telling them that in my heart, I’m sending each of them their favorite candy. Crickets. Sometimes it’s hard to let a good thing go. To end a tradition. To wonder if they’ll forget. To hope they’ll remember. To acknowledge that the season has changed. To bless the leaf that first budded, then offered shade and life giving carbon dioxide before coloring our world all golden as it died. Sometimes we’ve got to just watch it float away from the tree, held by invisible arms as it dances gracefully toward the ground. To say it aloud like a benediction, “To Everything There Is A Season.” Amen.
The seasons are changing. My wind chime sings on the porch. I’m covered by my patchwork quilt on my favorite oversized chair. The sky was a sheet of gray today before darkness descended by 7:00. All harbingers of winter. There are four seasons up North, but Spring and Autumn generally feel like shorts before the feature films of Summer and Winter. Spring brings anticipation of a Pure Michigan summer but we’d like to slo-mo fall. Those second summer days. The treeline a canvas blaze of glory. Every single leaf painting the town, dancing on a limb in the breeze before it releases from the tree. Rocked peacefully, it floats toward its place of rest.
The weather isn’t the only thing a-changing…Within less days that it takes to turn a page on a calendar, my baby turned legal adult. Another one changed her name and two more added a plus 1 to the number next to their age. For a few weeks, I felt like a squirrel skittering across the road chaotically transporting the next nut. On task. Bulking up on moments. Digging holes to preserve memories I don’t want to lose. Preparing for scarcity. Now it’s all over and like the squirrel will do this winter, I’m shivering in the cold.
I am no longer a mom of children. One day, my kid needed a legal guardian. The next I could no longer access any information on her bills I still pay due to HIPPA privacy laws. We celebrated her beautiful life with friends and family and flowers and photos. One after another, 23 characters in her story descended on the little donut shop where she works, each bearing a stem in honor of our wildflower. And now her adult story begins.
Then, in a world where there are Octobers, there was a wedding. Our Lovely chose her l’e`poux and with vows and a ring, made it official. With a parent on either arm, she walked the aisle of the White Way of Delight, toward her groom. It has been a privilege to companion her through all of her Anne of Green Gables childhood and now she’s chosen a new travelling partner to walk into her Pure Michigan future with.
The birth certificate verified that another turned 22. According to Taylor Swift, it’s the miserable, magical inauguration into being “happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way”. Not for this one. After a 5K jog and a chicken pizza dinner, she went to sleep next to her dude wearing the wedding band on his fourth left finger and that’s just how she wants it.
The one who first called me Mommy continues to aspire toward autonomy nirvana. As if living 150 miles away and being a financially independent professional isn’t enough to prove her emancipation, she needed a Kitchen Aid. So we made her birthday mixer dreams come true and blessed her on her way to bake carrot cupcakes with her new kitchen tool.
My life as a mom, now, is mostly waving, cheering, praying and blessing them on their way to their wish-dreams. But every season has it’s own glory. Moments to savor. Memories to treasure. Events to celebrate. Even winter. I didn’t know that before I spent all those Texas years without it. And I ached for what I no longer had. Life is like that for moms too. But, to both moms and squirrels, God gifted adaptive survival savvy, each according to our own design. The shivering we each experience, it’s not just an indicator that the weather or the relational climate is cold, it generates heat and keeps us warm regardless of the elements. In God’s grand plan, I am resourced by what He provides in order to live out my maternal destiny in every season. I am not more or less than what He made me to be.
So much changes with the seasons but not His love. Not His delight Not His companionship. Not His faithfulness. And for today, that is mercy enough.
Father, On this bonus second summer day, I’m right where I want to be. For more than a decade I longed to take a walk in a Pure Michigan October and now, here I am. Thank you, God!
A squirrel is scurrying across the road hoarding nuts in his cheeks. I hear the leaf blower humming in the distance, a bird singing in harmony. Some of the leaves release from the limbs and I marvel at the grace of floating. Gently rocked by unseen hands, they somersault toward the earth. I smell the scent of those that have already landed and are combining with the terra firma, together creating nutrient rich soil.
On this spectacularly beautiful morning, my little corner of creation proclaims that God is real. That He is the Creator. And that His creation displays the work of an artist who loves beauty and goodness.
I am on my ritual prayer walk and there are many burdens I carry on my increasingly rounding shoulders. For myself. My marriage. My children. My relatives. My friends. My community. My state. My country. And the world.
They are heavy and I see no definitive solutions on this magnificent horizon. I cannot fix what’s broken. I cannot solve our problems. I cannot make right all that is wrong. And that includes myself and the ways that I resemble Eve. Birth, choice and generational bondage all pummel me this side of the veil. But there are two realities colliding even here. Broken and beautiful. Even though God is absolutely perfect, He doesn’t expect me to be. He knows I am frail. He remembers that I am dust. He accepts me as I am, claims me as His child and proclaims that He will entrust to me the privilege to bear His image to the world even while He knows I will diminish it. He has decided thatI am not just a part of the problem. I am also a part of His solution.
I can’t really grasp it and it is not calculable like math. I am the squirrel searching for the next nut. Hoarding moments and memories. I am not designed for omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience but God is. And He can be trusted with this picture perfect moment. With this idyllic October day. With my broken, beautiful life.
The One who created all things, who sustains all things, who will judge all things true to His character, full of grace and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love, patient so that no one will perish but all will come to repentance, He sees, He knows and He cares about every good and perfect gift being given and received right this very moment and all of the utter travesties too.
He says He will restore, redeem and rescue the world according to His plan. And that plan gives each of us a second chance to be called His children when we never did anything to earn the first one. What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
The earth declares His glory. Even the rocks cry out. And so will I.
The elevator dings and the door opens. A brand new mom, straight from the delivery room and looking like she’s just been to war, approaches the front desk at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first time. Pushed in a wheelchair, because she isn’t able to walk yet, her body stretched and torn, bleeding and aching from her labor of love, that mama bear is already resolute. “I want to see my baby!” she states emphatically.
From the moment egg and sperm collide and the miracle of a developing life is underway, you start being brave. There is no other way than through it, and that mama who delivered a tiny person out of a tinier hole, she’s been through it. Now, instead of a picture perfect ending to the chapter entitled “birth”, she’s donning a mask and scrubbing up to her elbows to go visit her precious in an isolette. This wasn’t the plan. Not the machines, the procedures, the tubes or the temporary barrier to physical contact. It’s bravery upon bravery for this mama today.
And it never ends. They don’t tell you that from the start, or if they do, you don’t hear it. Maybe you can’t yet. But to be a mom, you have to be brave. Brave enough to act. To wait. To speak. To listen. To release. To trust. To hope. To believe. And to suffer.
At first you have to be brave enough to lay your beloved in their crib, in whatever position the current medical trend supports for minimizing the risk of SIDS. You have to be brave the first time they take a wobbly step, tenuously descend the stairs, and cautiously cross the street. You have to be brave for the bumps and bruises, the injuries, accidents and unexpected health crisis. You have to be brave when they go to school. When they get a phone. When they learn to drive. When they go on a date. You have to be brave when there are tears because they weren’t picked, didn’t win, couldn’t pass. When they tell you they are lonely, depressed, bullied, abused. And when they don’t but you know. You have to be brave enough to discern when it’s time for an all play and when to be a spectator to the natural consequences of their choices. And oh so many choices they will make like If they will go to college and where, What they will do vocationally, Where they will live, Who they will marry, If they will follow Jesus. Like ours, some of their choices will work out better than you imagined and some will result in the most rigorous school of hard knocks.
It is a gift, those few decades a mama spends building bravery muscles. You need them when they grow up. That’s when you aren’t taking them on a vacation to the Grand Canyon and holding their hand on the trail anymore. Instead, they’re walking on the edge of so many precipices unaccompanied. Yeah, you’ve prepared them to take their own hike, to walk out their own stories, but you are keenly aware that the risks can be treacherous and missteps fatal—body, soul and spirit. You feel that gravity in ways your children simply cannot grasp— until they can. And that’s further down the road than I’ve been as a parent and took longer than I wish it had as a daughter..
But here’s the miracle— mostly they do survive and even thrive. And in your absence God companions them with tender compassion. And, meanwhile, you just keep being brave.
You won’t do it perfectly—not even close. And they will judge you for it. They will forget what has been oh, so beautiful and remember what has been oh, so hard. They will feel disappointed in you. At times, disdaining toward you. They will disregard you for newer, better heroes, who made their mistakes on another kid instead. And then your bravery must greet humility with a holy kiss. You will be wise to own your mistakes, to welcome having your blind spots revealed, to recognizing your particular brand of sin, while simultaneously not being shamed by their whims, defined by their critiques, crushed because of their rejection.
Like the parent in the parable of the prodigal son, sometimes you have to participate in their folly and bless them on the path they choose to take. And, all the while you pray. Not the demanding prayers that tell God what to do but the groaning, trusting and hoping kind. And that is the most profound courage of all.
So, dear new mama, you have no idea how today changed everything for you but you were brave and you will keep being brave and every day of your life from this day forward will be a testament to your profound love and indomitable courage. May God be with you, and with me, as we bravely write our family stories.