This poem stings.
A while back I took a tiny step forward on a journey and several years later, I’m here to say I’m still in the thickest parts of the forest. I know almost nothing about where the journey ends or if it ends, but I do know I will absolutely never go back the way I came.
On this journey, I’ve often felt like I’d been invited into a Fun House – you know the kind with all the crazy mirrors and instead of just moving through and laughing at all the crazy images, I’ve been asked to stand in front of each mirror until I can see clearly. I have to understand and study each distortion until my brain stops seeing me with a fat head and sees through the distortion to some new reality.
This journey has been around the topic of race and diversity. I know it’s hip and cool to be knee deep in this as a white person in America today, so I’ll spare you what I’ve learned and ways I’m growing because other people are saying it better, but I did want to recommend a resource.
After a few years of reading and listening to primarily historical and politically oriented material, it was refreshing to read a memoir about a person living the reality of racism in America and in the American church right now in a context most of you who know me will readily understand and know.
If you are thinking about starting to look at this issue more deeply, her book is a very good step forward. If you are “knee deep” as I am in the journey of understanding, it’s going to continue the work of expanding your compassion and conviction that there is work to do. I’ve kept this issue on the front burner long enough to know that it’s these type of voices that need not only to be heard, but elevated and given prominence.
This is my tiny way of doing that.
Thank you Austin Channing Brown for your wonderful memoir. I’m committed to staying in this disorienting place for as long as it takes to see our mutual enemies (racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, white fragility – all the buzz words!!!) for who and what they are, with the same degree of clarity and zeal that you do.
I’ve found it more and more difficult to blog these last few years – for several reasons. At first it was because the internet began to feel scary. Expressing opinions – even ones gently uttered in the context of anecdote seemed open to every form of attack.
Then it was about my kids being older and I recognized I didn’t have permission to tell their stories in the same way.
But lastly, once you stop writing, stop telling your story – it’s hard to start again.
And so, I’ve narrowed by online presence to one of observation and hopefully, some snarky humor and lots of pictures of my dog.
I’ve missed being here. So, I’m going to take a little shaky step here and write a little bit about what’s rattling around in my heart these days.
As most of you know, we have 2, almost 3 teenagers in our home right now. They are an interesting bunch – these teens. They are the reason I sigh in grocery stores when I hear tender and caring mothers gently correcting their young ones…
“Sweetie. Don’t drop that 2 liter of soda. It will explode later when we try and open it.”
“That’s sounds awesome, Mom!” (…and the 2 liter hits the floor.)
The kinds of conversations, warnings and advice my kids need feel heavy, important, sometimes dire.
“Babe. I’m so sorry they won’t let you cheer at the pep rally now because you felt uncomfortable performing a hyper-sexualized dance they choreographed. Yes, I expected the coach to lead out differently in this. Yes, you were right to take a stand. Yes, it hurts to be punished for doing what’s right. Do you want me to step into this further? No? You know I will. You know I want to. It’s OK? You’ll figure this out? I know you will. I am proud of you.”
“You’re right. I haven’t really thought through my perspective on this issue. Yes, I have been towing the Christian party line on this a little mindlessly. Let’s add this to the growing list of things you’d like me to consider from a different point of view.”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, but you have completely and utterly surpassed my knowledge in this area. You literally cannot ask me for help because I don’t even know what you are talking about.”
So, there’s that.
I can’t protect my kids from the world to the same degree I once did.
Many of the things they are facing, I have never faced myself.
Their perspective on issues often stretches my own.
Um, I never actually took any math beyond Algebra.
My default mode is to strain toward peace – bending myself completely out of shape to catch whatever is headed toward a fall, to smooth over every hard feeling, and to carry the heaviest load when we face obstacles.
It pains me, that even when I do all of this, my external world remains filled with loose ends and chaos. There are moments of peace, but fewer and fewer nights that remind me of the Christmas poem…
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…
I’m on a journey in figuring out how to live in this new land. I’m not doing it super well just yet. There seem to be moms who really thrive in this territory – who maybe didn’t when the kiddos were drooling and wearing diapers. I think I’m a more natural fit for drool and poop – but natural or not – I’m where I am.
I’m looking for new mentors and new resources. I’ve read some great books and several bad ones. I’m on my knees a lot – or more accurately – praying while cuddling with my comforting purr factories.
I just returned from The Gospel Coalition conference held in Indy. I am back now and very refreshed. Wowza, those TGC peeps can preach. Tim Keller, Kathy Keller, Mary Willson, John Piper. It was a FIRE HOSE of good stuff (especially Mary Willson by the way. Shout out to my new favorite!!)
I will admit to feeling a little prickly at first. For no really good reason except…
1) There were 7,000 women in one room which is the natural breeding ground for insecurity.
2) It really did legitimately seem like every single other woman was very, “precious.” I could not imagine any of them having an ugly moment with their child or feeding their family Kraft mac n’ cheese for dinner. (see above).
3) I have spent A LOT of time reading much “less” conservative theology because I am passionate about understanding what other members of the Body of Christ think about Jesus and culture and “hot topics.” I have done that for so long at first I could barely understand what was being said.
3) I had just read the book of Revelation and was struggling to figure out if I embodied every single one of the failures of the 7 churches, or just 6.
Then, Kathy Keller got up and spoke. It was all very good, but a side comment sent a chill straight to my soul. She said that because she was a gifted person, she ministered for over two decades with very little in the way of relationship with the Lord. She was simply doing what she could just happen to do very naturally which was lead and give wise counsel.
And then I knew that without a doubt, I was the church of Ephesus, in the flesh.
Revelation 2: 2-4
I know your deeds,your hard work and your perseverance.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not,
and have found them false. You have persevered and have
endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken the love you had at first.
It’s easy to fall in love with students. They are beautiful and young and full of potential. When I see them, I love them and I want them to know God.
Sometimes I forgot why I want that for them though – because Jesus is so wonderful and amazing and His Word is honey, gold, a treasure! I can get lost in my passion to understand what they are grappling with and the many different voices they are hearing from the pulpit.
And when I forget or get lost, I can’t remember why I need to read the Bible, or why I need to worship Him, or why I should repent of my sins. I feel like our love gets contractual. He signed on the dotted line and so did I – why revisit it?
I don’t want to do that for 20 years. And so, I sat with His Word all weekend and sang of my love for Him.
Finally – I stopped seeing the other women and only saw Jesus. And wowza – He is beautiful.
I love everything about the weather warming up. There is only one little thing about the summer that I’m dreading. It’s the bathing suit questions again.
Now that our daughters actually have preferences and style they would prefer to select their own clothing. First of all, why did this have to happen? My happy place is the infant/toddler section of Target. That was where I had hoped to stay, like say, for life. I was just figuring out the 4-6x section, when one daughter shot up to 5’10.
Suffice it to say, she’s no longer a 3T.
And, she is also sick and tired of my lack luster ability to articulate my thoughts on this whole modesty thing. Last summer I just put my foot down (after taking it out of my mouth) and said, “No bikini. I don’t know why. I just can’t right now. I’ll figure it out by next summer.”
And to be honest, I said no because I was completely wrapped up in what a “bikini” means in my Midwestern Conservative context. Which is a good thing to consider, but whatever “that” is is not the definition or dictator of modesty. “That” has nothing to do with the heart or the Word.
I’ve made some headway this year. Still no hard and fast rules, but definitely some ways of expressing the heart of the matter.
The body is a wonderful “tent” that houses a complex system, including our physical systems, but also our sexuality, our talents, our personality, our capacity and need for community, and our soul or spirituality. I understand them as all created by God in whose image I am made. I understand them all to work in relationship to one another and to be informed by one another.
For example, my soul gives guidance and regulation to all my other systems. The health of my physical systems are intimately tied to the health of my sexuality and soul. My talents are given expression through my physical systems and encouraged and fueled often by my spiritual experiences.
As I explain this idea to my girls, I give them a metaphor – a little pack of seedlings is an easy although not perfect one. All their little systems are beginning to blossom. Some of these sprouts are easy to talk about and nurture…
Oh look, a little growth in that talent! Let’s really maximize that little soccer talent and sign up for a travel team!!!
Oh no, a little weed over there in personality. Time for a family chore chart!!
But what about that sexuality seedling? There it is, growing up right alongside their understanding of Jesus and their physical bodies. How do we nurture and protect it so that it can mature and be a full participant in the beautiful creation system that is them?
I see often see two extremes in teen culture. They are either vastly over-watering that little seedling via a fire hose of unhelpful content, or vastly under-nourishing it because it is so difficult to expose openly, even to the most loving of moms and dads.
Simply put, they are often navigating an enormous array of sexually explicit crap all by themselves. Or they are so terrified of encountering any crap, they are hiding and stuffing whatever curiosity or questions they have.
I know I often wish my own kids could somehow just emerge from adolescence with a perfect understanding of their gender, their sexuality, and with all related issues like modesty, femininity, masculinity, and intimacy wrapped up in a neat little bow delivered by someone other than me.
We are wrestling with it, just as you are. It’s HARD. It’s AWKWARD.
And sometimes, I just do not know. Like last summer with the bikini thing. And sometimes we get just a bit of clarity and we pass it on. Never mind that it’s maybe a touch too late.
And so my girls will get this word this summer regarding modesty.
Your clothing is meant to house, just as your body does, all that you are. It gives voice to your body, your personality, your sexuality, and your soul. If your clothing only gives voice to your sexuality, it doesn’t serve you. If it over expresses your sexuality, it doesn’t serve you. Similarly, if it under-expresses your personality or sexuality, it doesn’t serve you.
(This is where I show them the picture of me wearing my baggie flannel shirt and men’s shorts – my basic outfit for all of my 20’s. Talk about TOTALLY under-expressing basically everything…)
And so we will scoot off to the bathing suit section and I will be the mom saying, “Honey. I love the color of that. Does it say, I am a 14 year old girl who is lovely, charming, smart, strong, developing a relationship with the God of the universe as best I can, and years away from expressing my sexuality via intimacy?”
Cue the rolling of the eyes…
Any of you with melancholy-ish bents understand when I say, “Phew. We made it through Christmas.”
We do try folks. Every year we put up sparkly lights and toast the season, but we only really enjoy the carols in minor keys (A little “Coventry Carol” or “What Child is This” anyone?).
And we let out a sigh of relief because Lent is finally here. The rest of the world will now have to join us on the “dark side” where the sadness and sufferings of life on earth are faced squarely.
There is a certain satisfaction in having you here. A certain, “I told you so” sweetness in our hearts. We will show you all the cold, hard passages in the Bible and make you read the wailing of the prophets and Psalm 88 – the most depressing in the entire Psalter.
We will allow the tiniest pin-pricks of light and hope in. We acknowledge Easter comes at the end of all this – but stay here in the “all this” for a while yet.
Join our chorus of laments and sing our songs in minor keys. Let us enjoy your fellowship where we live.
When we look to the dawn on Easter morning, we will shed tears of joy with you. But for now, shed tears with us for the starving, the suffering, the migrants, the war-torn, the people who may only know relief with Jesus in his other-worldly home.
We solemnly swear, if you will agree with us about all this darkness, we will agree with you, about all that is good and bright – in Jesus’ name.
One of the privileges I have as a “Trainer of Women Engaged in Collegiate Ministry” (hee hee, so formal!!!) is helping them figure out what they already know. This semester two young staff gals and I are are sweeping into a pile, sorting, sequencing, and sprucing up their collective “experience” and creating something pass-on-able and useful in their work with students.
For those of you with experience in the Navigators, you know we have acronyms and illustrations for everything – ACTS, PRISM, the BRIDGE (one verse, two verse, pictures only, and “full on”), the WHEEL, LOA, BWC, the HAND (prayer and word), the PIPELINE, STS, STP – to name just a few off the tippy-tippy top of a very long list.
I’m finding that many of our young staff are exposed to these early on, enjoy them, use them, and then morph them into something more fitting their own souls – which is exactly right.
We also internalize the general principals and ideas so deeply, we no longer recognize what catalyst or “tool” helped initiate our long held practices.
While the product is good – relating with the Lord in meaningful, non-formulaic ways – it can also lead to a degree of insecurity in passing on what we know to the next generation. Everything can begin to feel intuitive and hard to articulate.
So the girls and I are going back and mining the gold that was given to us, recovering the original shapes, pictures, acronyms and formulas that started many of us off in our early years with Jesus.
Our aim is to pass them on in a form that both honors the original message and incorporates where they have taken us. We are going “retro,” and dusting off the “vintage” because it’s good, good, stuff when the light of today shines on it.
I’ll be posting some of what we put together here on the blog. Can I just tell you how much fun I’m having? On Monday the three of us, Beckie, Rachel and I, gathered together after Rachel’s little one had fallen asleep, ate chocolate and shared our thoughts on a classic Navigator pamphlet – Lessons on Assurance.
It’s a 5 week study on the “Assurances” we can have as a follower of Jesus – the assurance that we are saved, that God answers prayer, that we can experience victory over hurts, habits, and hang-ups, that we are forgiven completely, and that God will lead and guide us in life.
Each of us put together a hand-out we could use with a new believer, or an older one who might be served by confirming their journey with the Lord, on that first lesson – “Assurance of Salvation.” WOW. It’s material I’ve used in bits and pieces over the years certainly, but haven’t laid eyes on in over 10 years! With a touch of today and the wisdom of having lived the verses for a while, the three of us had quite a lot to say. Fantastic!
Both girls have several students they can share the material with, who then will have something they can share with other students they are meeting. GENERATIONS!!!
I love my job. Nothing, when it comes right down to it, brings me more joy than seeing someone understand the gospel more fully. I also love that my “office” is sometimes the living room of another dear woman, late at night, babies sleeping upstairs, and chocolate on the coffee table. Precious moments!