My Body Knows* (An Offering for International Women’s Day)

In its lines, crevices, scars, pockets, and spots, by body knows things I do not. In the beginning was my body, within a stranger’s body, when she carried me. She gave birth to me, surrendered my body to another–to the … Continue reading

A Good Neighborhood

The drums are out tonight. There’s a special party across the street, breaking a 6 week pause, and our upstairs bedroom window is perfectly positioned to meet the music before the noise is drowned out by the freeway behind our headboard.

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I met a lady this week while shopping who had two young children, our toddler boys’ friendliness only surpassed by her eagerness to also make a new friend. They have lived here for a couple of years, renting, and were not sure about buying, the neighborhood and all. Their church is in Pasadena, their job at USC, and we met next to a water fountain in the middle of USC’s new village shopping area–the reason Trader Joe’s is now a local grocer.

As our conversation continued about where we lived, how long we’ve lived here, if we wanted to stay or just accidentally let 12 years slip by, I shared about some of the things I liked about the neighborhood though we are not homeowners. People commonly ask us about this–what is this LA thing all about? Yes, we have chosen over and over to stay, and yes, we really do love it here. I admired her baby, Lucas shared some popcorn and we went on our way, pleased to make their acquaintance. I ended up walking away confused a little too. Could Western in any way be considered Inglewood? I thought to myself. No. And what is wrong with Inglewood? I have often admired the small, landscaped homes surrounding my local Costco, and thought it’d be a nice area to live in. The guys ringing up my cases of diapers and granola bars are always adding a good joke or two to the lineup, or bantering about the latest bad call. They’ve had to endure incredible construction over in Inglewood on their thoroughfares, as the new Rams stadium has suddenly inspired greenspaces, palm trees, and asphalt for better or worse.

Tonight as the drums and indiscernible hollers of the the band backdrop our home, I remember one night our first year living here. We were not used to mariachi and parties from our home cultures are muted, controlled affairs. It was summer, and windows had to be open in hopes of any relief from the heat. From the second floor of a wobbly apartment building, it felt like we were the actual tent of our next door neighbor’s party, hanging over and pulsating with the sustained chords. As the party wore on, I became increasingly agitated. Joining the raucous, I yelled out the window something I cannot remember but undoubtedly was embarrassing and ineffective, a winning combination. I blame my behavior on being hot and 21. But really, it’s because I hadn’t endeared myself to this neighborhood yet, and it to me, and I thought I could assess what should and should not happen amongst neighbors. I thought I knew what was good for a neighborhood.

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This weekend I’ve spent some time in an old school kitchen with a hood exhaust fan whose volume rivals an airplane ready for takeoff. A dark, forboding stove, oven and grill line one side and a stainless countertop with wonky drawers and off-brand foil lines the other. One day we were plating tacos for about 75 people; the next we were cleaning up desserts from our young breast cancer survivor, bad ass math teacher friend’s baby shower. That kitchen is emblematic of my neighborhood and now I understand it better. Not perfectly, but better than I did when I was 21.

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The kitchen and everything in it is shared by about 4 churches, one school, and a lot of us who just think we can use it whenever we want to–and somehow it works. The shelves are a jigsaw puzzle of mismatched volunteer work and loose sugar packets, the green tiles on the floor could use some ammonia, and no matter what, there are a lot of jugs of expired creamers in the fridge. In the walls of that kitchen, people have shared news of births and deaths, arrests and miscarriages, leaving and joining. Next to the stained potholders and the greasy industrial pans used to heat lunches daily, women have shared of abuse, betrayal, giving in and letting go. We’ve cut wedding flowers in those sinks and cried hard, away from the memorial service, leaning on the stove.

The doors to the kitchen are never closed; I don’t know why. The kitchen has witnessed and held and built resilience even as its appliances groan and endure with all their use. There, people have made and stepped into and tackled messes for decades, and the place is still standing. There is a respect and humility by the queens of the kitchen I have witnessed many times in the form of differing when they know best, laughing off criticism or speaking up for one another. Their royalty informs and trains those of us who are younger and rushed. In the kitchen, abuelas have graciously let interns from Missouri help them prepare the beans (or me plate tacos), and tías have shown teachers how to make horchata. In the kitchen, a million different stories have strengthened each other’s voice, not to mention all the stomachs and souls who have been fed from its labors.

There is not one thing visibly impressive or relevant about the kitchen in terms of Joanna Gaines, DIY, vintage, modern, or otherwise. It is not particularly safe, or well-planned. Parts of it drive me bonkers. But even I can see its sacred space now. Even I recognize that there’s a magic of an anchored spot where crowds of people have spent their lives serving, giving, sharing, with just enough belonging and ownership to maintain the space for the next person. The next neighbor.

I’ve had to stay to see it. To learn it. I’ve had to wash dishes on the outskirts while I watch the real stuff unfolding by the oven. It’s a kitchen with utility and beauty that surpasses any on my Instagram feed, but this was a slow dawning. The way the towels are organized has become less important and the wonder of so many people working out a dance in such a small, assorted place now catches my eye and hooks my heart.

The drumbeat tonight may be waking babies, and generally doesn’t help my migraines, but it far preceded my calling of this place home. My children learned to sleep through parties at an early age, me a little later. Tonight at least, the beat marks that some people are having a good time, generously sharing what they have to celebrate with others, to enjoy this moment, whatever it is. Tonight, the drums announce a break in the rainfall and the perseverance of life and culture despite the mud, much like our beloved school kitchen.

Tonight the drums signal home in my neighborhood, and yes, we love it here.

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Family of Things

It has been a minute.

I’ve dived more deeply into a few relationships and wallowed in the shallow, muddy waters of self-pity and resentment. I’ve upset people, disappointed people, impressed people, and loved people. My jeans are tighter as I’ve started exercising again, and I didn’t think those would/should necessarily go together. It’s been a little cranky since, like the jeans, some things haven’t worked out the way we thought. A lot of the crooked scoundrels are still galavanting and a lot of the luminescent shepherds are still barely getting by. I let go of some things, not only because they didn’t spark joy, but also because they robbed it. I went to South Dakota, by way of North, and returned through Denver unfrozen. I’ve enjoyed hours around tables, with new and old friends, eating, serving, playing and drinking. I’ve seen my fair share of hangry homework tantrums and wrinkled worksheets and chapter books printed on the worst of all paper. I have made a small dent in a gallon of molasses and maybe that is also related to the jeans sentence. I’ve kept in touch with my mother, and my husband, and neither one of them seem surprised by anything I do or say. I broke up with a couch, and then with another, but the latter still lives here. I have spent many hours with a fish tank I never wanted but enabled and enthroned in my entryway (it is the worst). I wrote out my life story in three pages and it is completely different from the same exercise 10 years ago. I’m facing a new daunting, long-awaited hope, and it makes me a little misty when I put the curly toddler down for a nap. I’ve taught in some settings, and learned in all the others.

I’ve missed writing here though. Today, I talked about tender things with a couple brave women and then I heard about a teenager ending their life, and a poet who left us hers. Today seemed like a good day to say hello. You’re beloved and broken and I am too. Ignore the naysayers, the ones you cannot mend or shrink down enough for. We each have a place in this family of things.

 

Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

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Q & A with Guest Writer, Barbara Meyer

Yesterday I had the privilege of introducing Barbara in this space, a 50+ woman writer willing to put herself out there and respond to my request for older women to step into this blog too. Her thoughts about Miriam yesterday came as a beacon of resilience and hope, fitting in this time where women are speaking out and listening to one another with great diligence and admiration. 

Tonight, please enjoy these candid responses from our guest, as though we were all on an evening walk together. I don’t know about you but I always want to know more about the author of an article, an actor in the drama, or the spouse the pastor introduced. I wrote yesterday that you won’t want to miss getting to know Barbara Meyer from this limited medium; here is your chance. Enjoy her wisdom and authenticity; I know I have. 

 

  • Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, what’s your family system, etc?

I grew up in Southern California. I am the youngest in a family of four children in my birth family. Unfortunately — long story — my parents were working alcoholics. My father died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was four, leaving my mother alone and unable to cope. She went from, as I understand it, being a social drinker to becoming a helpless alcoholic. We were taken away by the state. At first, we went to live with my mother’s brother and his wife. They had four sons, and my uncle was also an alcoholic. Needless to say, my aunt could not cope with all that so we were placed in foster care. I was about seven. When I was about 10, my mother had remarried and we were brought back to live with her and her husband. Sadly she had remarried a man who was not just an alcoholic, but was also abusive. At 11, we went back into foster care.

The family that I went to was very conservative and patriarchal. After leaving the chaos of my family, this family seemed to me to be everything that was safe, good, and right. They were Christian by identity, but broken. I would love to give you a big picture sometime, but it was here that I was actually systematically taught the “right-wing, patriarchal party line:” women are biologically designed to be homemakers. Boys will be boys; they date one kind of girl but marry another kind. Women SHOULD make less money because it is unfair to employers to pay them a high salary when these women will ultimately leave and get married and have a family. With this grounding, when I became a Christian and went to a Christian college, it was easy for me to link my “role” as a woman with my standing and my righteousness before God.

  • What has been one surprising thing about getting older?

Inside my soul–that is, the me that I am inside–I am 22. That is the last time I recognized changing as I grew older. However my body keeps aging. It is the difference between how I feel and what I see in the mirror that is shocking.

  • What is something you’ve changed your mind about? What “fallout” or freedoms did this change allow?

The biggest change has been in the realizations about feminism I have come to as I dialogued with my brilliant daughters, Erica and Beth, and as I have searched deeply for what I actually believed (as opposed to what I thought I “should” believe). I saw that I did grow up never saying but actually believing and accepting that “women are second-class citizens in our country and in the church.” The particulars would be better explained in a conversation, however there is fallout. There are people in my family, people that I love, that are very uncomfortable with my ideas about women, roles, justice, political issues, etc. because I no longer just accept a “party line.” We avoid discussions, but disapproval is pretty palpable. The freedom I have gained is that I now feel like I am seeing a whole new world. I look back at what I “understood” about theology, history, society, etc. and I know that I am seeing a different world. My conclusions are different. My view of God is much bigger.

  • What’s an important message you’d like to share with younger women? Or what do you wish you had understood sooner?

I wish I had understood that unless men and women walk in equality and as a team, they do not display an accurate image of God.

God created man[kind] in his own image,

in the image of God, he created him;

male and female he created them.

NIV Gen 1:27

I would love younger women to know that insecurity is lethal, that respect is an indispensible ingredient in love, that theology is not a men-only field, and that age is not something that diminishes us. I am hopeful because I believe many, many young women are growing up with these ideas as their foundational truths.

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If you didn’t read it yesterday, being saturated with news or stepping intentionally away from screens, be sure to check out Barbara’s connection with Miriam here. 

 

Speaking of Brave Women: A Guest Post

We have all watched, read, and maybe even felt within ourselves today courage. It is not only a scary time of reckoning in our country, in our Church, and in our families; it is also a time where immense bravery … Continue reading

A Grieving Woman Preacher

A woman, at sunrise, at first misunderstood, but was the first witness. She went for help. She was taking care and grieving at the same time. Bravely, she returned to the scene of the confusion, and the pain. And exactly there, she found Hope. She became the first New Testament preacher–announcer, commissioned by Christ Himself: Go, eye witness of the Gospel, carrier of the Good News! Go tell the brothers. 

She was the first sunrise service; her actions set in motion the breaking of Saturday into Sunday. This is the pivot. Of waiting and death and eerie stillness and denial to the rush of the new story, the unfathomable, the prophesied and the Way.

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Today, women are worried about their dresses, shoe color, matching outfits for their children, and healthy/organic/fair-trade/wonder-filled Easter baskets for the kids. The stress of the ham, the potatoes, the schedule, and the photos find prominent place in most every Church but no home in the Easter story. And yet somehow, we have been saddled and distracted, pulled and reduced, to style and stress.

We are living in the Saturday space of the Not Yet. We believe, but it takes faith. We have seen, but there’s still confusion and grief. We are called, commissioned, confirmed by the Love of God, but we women are also scorned in many ways still–scorned like the one who washed His feet with tears, crashing the men’s party…but remembered and honored by Jesus. He told the men at the last supper, wash each other’s feet, as I have done yours; I speculate the women already knew that was part of this world, this worship. It is part of the Saturday waiting, and punctuates our insistence on Sunday coming.

Ladies, you are beautiful in your sweats and your yoga pants, god forbid, and your old dresses and your new dresses, your medical equipment and your nursing bras and your jeans and your self. You are enough if the food is reheated, non-festive, burnt, bought or otherwise lacking. You are worthy in your grief and your mundane; you are seen, called by name, by a Resurrected Lord, in the moment you’ve felt the worst. Oh, to remember when it was just you and Hope, to hear your name called by One who esteems and created you, who included you in the first moment of Sunday.

In so many servant-hearted, resilient ways, women fashion the resurrection after people have gone through a crucifixion. In so many godly, loving ways, women prepare a feast before people who need a taste of the nourishment of Sunday in the midst of their upset Saturday, still aching from Friday. So many women have done these things for me as I try to live Saturday faithful, hand in hand with both yesterday and tomorrow. Heart and mind, weighted and lifted. Here.

May the courage of a woman at the grave, crying, and the confirmation of a Savior at dawn, calling, settle and sustain you this weekend.

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Looking Again

Sometimes our kids require a double take. What at first presented as misbehavior, hyperactivity, or whining over nothing can often, in our case, turn out to be a symptom of earlier hurt feelings, hunger, or the need for an introduction or some extra explanation.

With each subsequent kid, we have realized we are less and less expert when it comes to parenting but also more and more here for it. Parenting is baptism by fire, every time! We know that we don’t know (whereas after the first one ate his veggies and went to bed so easily, we thought we likely KNEW), and that seems to be the key to keeping our sanity, give or take.

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As the kids grow up and sadly don insecurities and defense mechanisms, vegetable intake has taken a back seat in the world of things calling my attention. Their emotional languages couldn’t be more different and in a world of male privilege and emotional unintelligence, it’s so deeply important to me to raise these guys with some wherewithal when it comes to caring for others and knowing themselves. To me, emotions are not the bad guy. I’ve heard endless sermons and read enough that the modernist alienation of the heart and emotions is resilient and damaging, especially amongst Christians. I’ve told my kids, and my self, that feelings aren’t the boss. But they also aren’t the enemy.

When people experience personal grief for the first time, or are hurt in an abusive way, what does the message of alienating the heart and emotions do to us? It isolates and shames. It invalidates a real and true indicator light on the dash of our designed personhood. Some people have a great heart read on situations, and their memory is feeling-based AND accurate; some people are more oriented out of their heart and function best when there is no requirement for them to translate their wisdom into knowledge. Emotions aren’t the boss, but neither is rationality. Because while “being rational” seems like a trump card, it can be as laden with cultural blindspots and sinful motivations as any old heart. It is intertwined with a toxic masculinity that has hurt women and men. It’s not no nor or; it’s yes and both. In my beliefs and experience, Jesus shows concern for feelings and the heart; His redemption and example have as much to do with seeing and renewing our emotions as much as our minds. Western society likes to differentiate and categorize but I haven’t seen many lasting examples of that being for our good. Shalom is wholeness. Integrity is integration.

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In my line of work, it’s important to validate the heart. I know their assertiveness, intelligence and physical strength will be affirmed; I don’t know their sensitivity and emotional awareness will be valued.

When one of my kids mentions something he would like, for the next week, or the next year, he often says, “…but it’s okay if it doesn’t happen” in the same breath. He so rarely asserts a particular opinion, that when he does, he seems to at once try to bulwark against the disappointment of that opinion not being heard, or that hope not being fulfilled. While some part of this is a gift for gratefulness and adaptability, another part of this has alerted me to his disassociation with some of his feelings and need for emotional safety. He’s hardly ever said the words, “I feel…” so we have to hear them in other ways. And in a raucous household with a lot of needs, it’s easy to miss his particular feeling voice.

The other night he mentioned softly that he would like to dye his hair for Wacky Wednesday…followed of course by a quick forgiveness. We are run-of-the-mill people when it comes to these “holidays” that seem quite frequent to us old-fogies. It’s always about finding stuff around the house, making do, and celebrating that we even remembered the occasion. But that night it was different. We didn’t have anywhere we had to be. I asked him more about this hair dye, and he lit up talking about some ideas. I quick cleaned up dinner. And he and I stole away for a rare and special hunt for spray hair dye, just the two of us. At our second stop, we found the last can of red spray; he was elated. The specialness of going out and buying something was not lost on him. He said he’d share it with his brother. He couldn’t WAIT for tomorrow.

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It gives us such joy to see and respond to a child’s need or desire. This story is one of a silly wish that wasn’t formative to his emotional intelligence, but it sure meant something to him. It helped me too, to join his spontaneity, to say yes, your opinion is something we want to hear. I could’ve easily missed it.

This same kiddo mentions every couple of days a new piece of information surrounding the same subject: our dear next door neighbors are leaving town this month for a faraway state. He isn’t sharing feelings or emotional, but just mentioning, in the middle of homework or right before bed, “It will be before Easter,” or “It’s 20 more days after we do that.” I’m feeling this particular loss hard too, so it is helping me be more sensitive to his signals. I’m wrestling with how to help each of my kids on this countdown journey to saying goodbye to some lifetime friends. Sometimes it’s only in bed at night that I realize they’ve said something, or shown their grief. Each mention is an opening for a couple minutes before dancing to the next topic; each fact a window into the things on their young hearts and minds.

The double takes of our kids is a rhythm of parenting; these little creatures come coded and skinned in all sorts of maneuvers and languages and take on more because of us. It’s never too late to look again.

With each child, and each stage that goes by, the lesson of double-takes has been worthwhile and ever-evolving. It instructs me in grace towards other people’s kids, and other adults, and myself even. We all show these windows. And our reactions are interpretation. There’s more than what meets the eye, and what a gift to our hearts when someone looks again.

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Dear Mary

//..dear mary..//

 

in the wake of the sacred and design of diety
your gift was disguised as scandal,
the angel did not appear to
everyone

how did you give birth to the rest of your life, tomorrow
when the lies, the looks, the silence
dragged behind you an ugly train
sinister

the arms can be full, the heart warming, but eerily
more alone than ever in truth
because they don’t ask, only tell
myths alone

sleeping beside the savior some nights was not enough
in your youth, how did you turn deaf
to the persecution you met
bringing light

dear mary, everyone believes you now, but too late
to provide comfort to your night
as the knowing silenced woman
pregnant still