Friday, June 20, 2014

On falling off the face of the earth

I had never before seen such a vast expanse of bricks. My school prided itself in its endless supply, but it wasn't in the brickyard that I was first overcome by the feeling. I was walking down the street in front of the health center with its fairly new construction and not yet matured trees. I looked up at the sky and for a moment feared that if gravity were to stop, I would just fly off the face of the earth with nothing to grab a hold of on my way out. I grew up surrounded by mountains, large trees and rolling landscapes, and here on this flat scab of earth, I felt completely vulnerable. If you think about it, given the earth is round and assuming it were completely smooth, if gravity were to cease, we'd all float off in a different perpendicular trajectory. We'd never cross paths forever and ever.

The image reminds me of the scene in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce where the bus makes a stop at a town (aka Hell) where people have allowed their quarrels and needs drive them farther and farther from one another:

"They've been moving on and on. Getting further apart. They're so far off by now that they could never think of coming to the bus stop at all. Astronomical distances. There's a bit of rising ground near where I live and a chap has a telescope. You can see the lights of the inhabited houses, where those old ones live, millions of miles away. Millions of miles from us and from one another. Every now and then they move further still."

It is so easy to lose that common force that binds me to community with others. Were I never to reach out for connection, I could simply drift on forever and ever. Some days I feel that. But that's what friendship and family are for -- to pull your balloony string and bring you back to the bunch.

Another image I've tossed around since my grandparents passed on was that as a child I've grown up in a dense forest where my grandparents were the tallest trees of the canopy, my parents and their brothers and sisters were the next, and the children are safe to develop their roots in the understory. When Popsy told me I'd be fine as I prepared to leave for college, I believed him. I'd be fine. Yet, as each generation passes, new trees are thrust into the sunlight to be the shade for the others. There is nothing shielding them from the face of the earth and rest of the universe. There's so much responsibility and wisdom, although I imagine the view is amazing.

The transition into adulthood and then parenthood (or have I come about these in reverse?) has been a bit like falling off the face of earth. I fear growing up and growing out and seeing the taller trees give way to wind and time and lightning strikes. This past week I rested in the shade of my parents, and it was so good. I don't want my kids to grow to tall too quickly, and I want to be strong and tall for them. I certainly don't want to wind up as that lone tree in an open grassy field. I've always found them lovely and yet devastatingly sad.

I blame this mood on one of my favorite duos Harrod and Funck. Last week, I pulled out the cd player and Matthew and I danced together like we were the only ones in the world. Yet this song moves me, not to dance but to close my eyes:

"All Fall Down"

We haven't forgotten a thing,
But let's not kid ourselves these days.
We let years go by once again
For moon and monkeyshine and masquerades.
From quietly shedding our youth
All the blame and that hawking about truth.
Finding we're dissatisfied,
Renouncing the doubts of the night in the clear dawn.

There's a far-away look in your eye,
It's behind the lines of the second page.
It's like reading some poet sublime
And your life 'til now was just commonplace.

Rewrite, rehearse, and repent.
You've gone over it again and again.
Aching to march in parades.
You bump shoulders behind barricades in a sea of faces.

And so it goes, all fall down.
Could this planet hold a place for you?
When the tide creeps in all around
Take a knee-deep breath or two.

Did your family teach you everything
About the in-betweens of grace and shame?
Go, run and sound the alarm,
'Cause it's wearing off like novocaine.

Awake enough to recognize
It's a bore when your heart's vandalized
By the ones who smile and say, "that's the breaks,"
And the see-you-later-but-you-know-I-did-love-you embrace that you've grown used to.

And so it goes, all fall down.
Could this planet hold a place for you?
When the tide creeps in all around,
Take a knee-deep breath or two.

Well, we haven't forgotten a thing
But we won't kid ourselves this time,
Because love's the show, it won't ever fold;
Around town it seems like everyone knows it'll raise the sky....It'll blow the sky.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Sweet dance moves

I've been so slack about writing lately. I figure there is some form of writer's block holding me back, so here goes an attempt at moving past it. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I have no shame when it comes to laying out personal struggles with faith and identity, but when it comes to the kids, I'm increasingly tight-lipped about what I write. Right now with summer upon us, they are my world, so there isn't much else to share. Preschool ended a week ago, and kindergarten ends in another two weeks. I'm desperately trying to slow down time and not wish any of it away. We spend our hours in the yard and garden and at parks, and there isn't much time for writing other than short shares here and there and a bombardment of photos. I tend to default towards humor, because it feels safe. It's hard to be accused of either complaining or bragging when you toss out some self-deprecating statements and share how awkward your family is.

But the truth is, I'm smitten when these kids. I'm in awe of their growth over the past year and incredibly thankful for the love they share as brothers. These are the precious years when the innocence and lack of shame gets to be protected and carefully guided. For instance, we went to a beach music concert at North Hills, and my oldest was attempting to lift the youngest like a ballerina or figure skater, and simultaneously grabbed him under the arm and by the crotch. After this happened twice to chuckles around, I called him aside to redirect the dancing and why he shouldn't keep doing it - not just because he was risking a busted noggin from a failed lift attempt. It was absolutely adorable and absolutely something I didn't want him repeating on the playground at school. Of course, I didn't want to crush him or shame him or make a big deal of it. He took it well and went on with his flying pirouettes.

They have confidence I have never possessed. Never ever would I have gotten up in front of the people gathered on the plaza to show my sweet, sweet dance moves, and especially not before the music had actually started. But that's my boys. They feed off each other's goofiness and energy. By the end of their performance, complete with twirls, leaps, the "crab dance", and break dance floor spin, the band was playing and the middle and late aged women in cropped chinos and button-downs chased them off the dance floor with their synchronized, beer sloshing  rendition of the electric slide, not before the oldest got tripped over and left defeated in tears. I believe confidence only lasts until 6:45 in the evening or until someone with sweeter dance moves brings a dose of self-awareness.

Friday, April 25, 2014


I was cruising along this semester running four distance classes, one of which was still in development and another which was in redevelopment and two that were in need of several updates. I was driving at full speed and worked my way up to a 31 hour week - from home with two kids in the midst of snow days. A couple weeks later, I found myself on a second week of insomnia (constantly waking throughout the night), down probably 5 lbs in my weight with no appetite for anything other than peanut M&Ms, sitting in the doctor's office with extreme dry mouth, a cold, and my resting heart rate bouncing between 89 and 117 bpm, and I had "wonky" looking tonsils. This was after pacing the house in circles, the yard in circles, the cul-de-sac in circles.

I was absolutely convinced I was no longer qualified to do anything - anything at all - except maybe fold laundry. I was wrecked with anxiety and an immense fear of watching my life play out. I have never felt so inadequate, hopeless and helpless in my life - not even in postpartum depression. Something just snapped and no deep breathing or rational thought could fix it. It's blowing my mind that it came on so suddenly and strongly. Once I reached out for help from my doctor, I spent three days crying. If you walked up to me or called me to ask how I was, I cried on you. I'm now four weeks past the onset of this meltdown and befuddled by what occurred. As I've sought to process it all, there are several truths I've had to face.

1. If you ask God to draw near, he's not going to leave you hanging. His presence may not be what you expected. It may be in the phone calls with friends you haven't spoken to in months but show you grace in answering the call and helping you sort it out. It may be your dad visiting from out of town to help you come unwound. It may be asking your mom that hard question, "If I didn't do this or if I wasn't accomplishing anything but that, would you still be proud of me?" and seeing that just as you love your own nose-pickin' kids who've not added a thing to their resume, your mom loves you the same. It may be in your spouse's quiet presence as he takes on the load of caring for the kids while you pace the halls. It may be that God shows up by giving you the strength to call the doctor and make the visit you know you need to make. For me, it was all these things. I found Him in sunshine, on the recumbent bike at the YMCA, in the handfuls of spinach in my smoothie, in discussions with my sisters, and in notes from my son.

2. The constant striving and pursuits are all garbage, and it is absolutely okay that they are garbage. Philippians 3:8 states, "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ". I don't mean to minimize the work we do to pay the bills or the work we do for higher purposes, but in the shadow of the fullness that comes from knowing Jesus, they are nothing more than a burst of foul wind. As I began to decompose those feelings of purposelessness and inadequacy, I was confronted by the fact that for so long I've sought to inject meaning and purpose into what I do, and it took being stripped of all passion and goals to rediscover passion in Jesus. I've sought meaning, and what I should have sought was Him.

3. I carry a lot of fears that come from failing to believe that God will not withhold his goodness from me. Psalm 84:11 states, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." Here's the caveat (for me at least): when I start to fear that I'm missing out (whatever that ideal life/work/calling/relationship combination might be), I walk far from a blameless path and I do miss out on his goodness. I don't know what "good thing" from that passage actually is. I suspect that it has more to do with dwelling in the presence of God rather than a vacation home at the beach or material blessing. Either way, the soul turned towards Jesus knows no lack.

4. I have to eat and sleep and exercise my physical body, or else I will fall apart. These are daily goals. No matter what my long-term goals may or may not be, I still have to approach each day as a singular step in this journey. As a woman who has chosen to forgo a typical career of people with my level of education to stay home and raise children, I have to carefully assess whether the standards I hold for myself are fair for me. Sometimes, in fretting over what this choice looks like for the next 30 years and feeling like I am doing nothing well, I forget those daily goals and to celebrate the blessings around me.

Here's the amazing thing - through being leveled, I am more aware of my utter dependence on Jesus than ever before. I'm no closer to finding answers about my life's direction, except that I want to be where He is. For now, he has me carrying on carrying on. There's only a couple weeks until this semester ends and the public pools start to open and the freckles start to pop out on my forearms. I actually enjoy teaching, I just need to make sure to establish a better balance next time around. I also need to be daily reminding myself that though society's goal for its members is to be educated and functional parts of the nation's workforce, God's goal is that we know and be reconciled to him.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Drawing in

In trying to draw closer into Jesus this season of Lent, today I was reminded again how I've often approached scripture with a self-focused goal. I've looked for the stories of his life to prescribe what I should look like, what I should feel, whom I should love and how I should serve, rather than reading them to see and in response, worship the God described. When I don't begin with worship, I start in on a path I am bound to fail. If for one moment I look at Jesus and let my shortcomings bring me shame rather than to my knees, I will push him away. If I read of his actions and the first thing I ask is, "What should I do?", I've missed him entirely.

Of course I believe that scripture should and does lay out how we should live. There is great freedom in following Jesus. And yes, going back to my post "Lenting it out", I am called to pick up my cross and follow him. However, I think I often forgo my business of worshipping and enjoying Jesus to take up his business of sanctifying me. I get it backwards. Even a noble goal of looking more like Jesus or not wasting the life I've been given are goals that hold personal achievement and self-betterment at their core. I remember for the longest time honing in on various areas of my life I needed to work on and surrender. I would become so fixated on the problem and in trying to force myself into submission, I failed to see Jesus was transforming me from the inside-out. Yet when I draw near to him, I loosen the grip on the things I'd otherwise find so hard to relinquish. Rather than ripping out the desire for sin, He grows my desire for himself, pushing aside the other idols.

When my heart draws into his, there's no fear of what will be demanded next. There's no worry over whether I'm giving enough. There's no condemnation over missed opportunities to love. Really, there's just him.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenting it out

Hellebores, "Lenten Rose"

It's the season of Lent, so the hellebores in the garden tell me, and I'm giving up my determination to be uncomfortable with the person of Jesus. Let me clarify - Jesus should make me uncomfortable in that his life and his love compel me to be transformed, but the kind of discomfort I have felt for so long was of feeling like I didn't belong in his company. I found it much easier to reflect on and reach out to God the Father than Son of God. On some level it had been easier to worship an invisible God than a tangible Jesus.

I know when these feelings began. My introduction to Jesus was likely in songs and blue-sashed figurines on felt boards in Sunday school. At the age of seven, I remember asking Jesus into my heart, and being excited to tell the kids at school about him - especially this one kid who, based on his behavior, I figured really needed Jesus. But it was during a junior high mission trip that I first felt something fracture.

It was the heels of an emotionally sweeping prayer at the end of a particularly moving sermon on repentance that we were told to stand up and shout, "I want the cross!" if we wanted to give our lives to Jesus. Now Jesus already had my life, and being a stoic child who cringed at the hand motions to songs, I was like a deer in headlights. As pre-teen after pre-teen leapt to their feet, I finally rose caving to the pressure and not wanting to look like I was un-choosing Jesus. I quietly mumbled, "I want the cross." That moment of inauthenticity set the wheels in motion to my belief that there was an accepted and expected emotional response to Jesus that people who truly loved him should have. It was to be emphatic and unashamed. I was reserved and self-aware. By the measure of my response, I had left Jesus hanging there on the cross.

This memory of the shame I felt in that moment is vivid in my mind. I let the idea creep in that I didn't and couldn't have true affection for Jesus. Amazingly, it is only now, twenty years later that I'm am looking back and recognizing the part this played in shaping my journey with him. Don't get me wrong, I felt deep affection for God and gratitude for and conection to the sacrifice of his son, but Jesus was a way to God, the reconciliation, the person I was to worship through.

By the time I was in college, the person of Jesus elicited feelings I didn't know how to handle. Reading the Bible, I struggled to see him as fully human and fully God. I placed human limitations on his emotions and love, and viewed myself as I thought he should see me (as a spoiled brat) rather than how he truly did (as a beloved daughter). Reading scripture, I interpreted his actions as if they were from typical human motives. I didn't know why he was so hard on the Pharisees or why he turned over the tables in the temple. This seemed angry and intentionally provocative. I didn't understand why he let Lazarus die before healing him or why he used spit to make mud to put in the blind man's eyes - that seemed gross and unnecessary. I couldn't understand why he'd tell those who would follow him they must hate their own family or give up all their wealth. It seemed like he was putting up boundaries between himself and them and turning people away. I couldn't begin to imagine the horror of the lady who had been bleeding for years, when Jesus called her out in the crowd. Looking back, I think I was projecting my own feelings of shame and disconnect on their interactions with him. Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one", but I had decided that God would be the one I'd rather interact with. I didn't know what to make of the boldness of his life on the pages of scripture and the boldness and assurance with which his followers used his name.

At some point, I had to reconcile the words of Jesus in John 14:7, "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." I couldn't know and love one and remain distant towards the other - they were one. Jesus's life showed me the heart of the Father, and likewise the heart of the Father helped me better see Jesus. Learning more about those stories and the symbolism behind what he did showed that everything He did was to love, to set free and to point to the glory of God. I learned that His anger towards the Pharisees didn't stem from hatred of them but love for his people and hatred for false worship or keeping his people from worshipping him. I learned that he called out the bleeding lady, because her life was already a horror, and he was publicly declaring her clean.

Jesus loved those who were reserved too. I read about a Jesus who met with Nicodemus at night, in the dark, patiently answering his questions. I saw a welcoming Jesus who called out Zacchaeus as he caught glimpse from a distance, likely reflective of the distance he felt from the crowds. I read of a Jesus who met with a woman at a well as she was alone and ostracized, and he explained to her "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." I read of a Jesus who for years worked through the doubts of his own disciples, carefully laying out the gospel for them in story after story as he stretched open their hearts and minds. Jesus won people over in crowds, alone in the dark, over dinner, in deep intellectual conversation, in healing, in miracles. He won them with truth, with love, with mercy, not guilt or emotional manipulation or not with an implied shout it now or you don't mean it.

I'm learning that Jesus has the love of the Father for me. He wasn't giving me the side eye or disappointed that time I hesitated in junior high. In fact, he didn't even place that on me. That was of man. He's okay with my not being much of an enthusiastic Peter or a doting Mary. His life and words weren't lived and spoken to shame me with unattainable standards but rather to be my substitute and show me my desperate need for him while offering forgiveness and grace. God has also lifted Him up, so that I worship him.  From Phillipians 2, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Monkey Joe's Happens to Families

Well it happened. I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. We were circling the snake floor of the science museum and the oldest complained, "Mom, this isn't fun. Can we go to Monkey Joe's?" To think - we even got to see the sloth. THE SLOTH. In the ten times I have visited the museum over the past couple years (which is maybe why it wasn't fun anymore), the sloth has been awake once. This was the moment of a lifetime - mark it down, we saw the sloth carry a piece of celery to his box.

"This is boring."

Read the placards. Isn't this why you go to kindergarten? You are supposed to learn to read and then magically the world opens up, and your curiosity compels you to read the placards by yourself in the science museum and never be bored again!

"Can I take a picture with your phone?"

"No." I stick my phone back in my pocket. "Hey look, a waterfall!"

"Can we go now?"

Look child, if an awake sloth doesn't totally rock your weekend, then I don't know what will... Oh wait, you say a sweaty germ-infested bounce house with screaming kids, oblivious parents, and elbows and knees constantly flying a mere two centimeters from your precious face would? Alright. I give up. Let's go home.

As we click our buckles I look over at Joe and sigh, "Well that was only mildly painful."

And this friends, is why when you ask a parent "How was your weekend? What did you guys do?" you get met with blank stares. We try to not be "those" parents. We try to walk the tight wire of not being overindulgent and catering to the "entertain me" generation and not being negligent. We try to keep our phones in our pockets (except when photographing said sloth) and engage them in conversation. We try to do something educational and tame and has typically been a big hit with the kids. We try teach them how their attitudes, not circumstances, dictate the level of boredom.

However, we failed not because of poor parenting (at least not this time), but because in their heart of hearts, the moment they woke up that morning, they were headed to Monkey Joe's. We held them off after lunch and through the early afternoon hours, then went out to eat dinner at 3:30 pm so our bouncing kids wouldn't catapult you mid-bite of Mexican rice from the other side of the booth seat. And then, full of tacos, driving home, "So, we are going to Monkey Joe's now?" That's when the chanting and nervous giggles began. They knew they were winning us over, but were careful not to over-assert their progress on the case. "Pleaaaaaaase!"

Me: "Well, it would wear them out."

Joe: "I don't want to go to Monkey Joe's"

Me: "I have two Groupon passes on my phone.."

Monkeys in the back seat: "MONKEY JOE'S! MONKEY JOE'S! WE'RE GOING TO MONKEY JOE'S!"

Me: "Want to stop and get your prescription on the way?"

This is how it happened. No lie. Just like that, we were sitting in mall traffic northbound to hell.

But I'll tell you what, seeing the youngest smile and climb and defend his place in line with his arms stretched out, and seeing them laugh and run, and having to carry their tired limp bodies up the stairs to bed when we got home, it was all okay. I kind of think we won. Joe, however, is still recovering from defeat.


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