Backsliding with Jesus and an Important New Book

Once, when we were support-raising missionaries for a Christian church planting organization, a funder wrote me and warned about our going down a slippery slope. Falling away, going down a slippery slope, turning one’s back and back-sliding–these were the worst … Continue reading

Lessons Learned, Kind of: Reflections from a Recovering Rule-follower

In high school, I was rejected from National Honor Society. There were two of us that didn’t make it that year, at our small international school in Nairobi and it was embarrassing because everyone knew it. One by one we … Continue reading

Two Beds and 669 Kids

“Just do the next right thing.” Sign up for the resource (foster) family orientation class. Line up babysitting to attend 10 classes together on parenting. Fingerprints. Submit state paperwork. Submit county paperwork. Follow-upx100. Home inspections. Interviews. More home inspections. Post … Continue reading

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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A God Who Picks Up Legos

Church on Sunday was about the treasure. It seems like such a juvenile metaphor when I think about finding a treasure in a field, or the pearl. The whimsy, the luck, the certainty…all seem somewhat mythical. But our pastor encouraged … Continue reading

The Persecuted Church, the True Self, and a Lost Story

Growing up, a lot of traps were pre-determined for me, and I was a hospitable Type-A place for accepting these immanent perils seamlessly. Through osmosis I gained a robust wariness of other ways of thinking, to both my benefit and my harm. I was a good host to the necessary and superfluous transplants–of right, ordered, and true, and the red, white and blue. There were so many traps to beware of; vigilance found a home in this Enneagram 1. To name a few: The liberal agenda. Those who baptized infants. Immodesty. Gays. Sexuality period. MTV. People who wouldn’t learn English. Feminism. Ferngully. People who wanted to take advantage of the hard work and generosity of others. (I did not grow up in fear of gluten, however, and I devoutly continue in this doctrine.)

When I read Psalm 31 with this sense of Christianity, I understand why the church can become a somewhat bureaucratic enclave of similar-thinking people. The WORLD is out to get US, and the vulgar and sinful traps of the other people are encroaching. The unity births from what is going on on the outside more than what is going on on the inside and the motivation is about safety and adding to the numbers. While a victim mentality is so often hurled as a discrediting insult to those reliant upon public aid or protesting systemic injustice, it also describes a segment of the Christian Church that primarily understands itself as persecuted and, therefore, justifiably and righteously self-protecting.

Of course the whole of scripture, the arc of the Story, warns us that the traps are much sneakier than Us vs. Them. The traps are inside the sanctuary. The snares are inside the postured martyr herself.

As humans, we look inward increasingly as we grow up. I might invite the Divine to show me where I am and what God would have me see, change or grow, as I become more self-aware hopefully. Parts of my defense mechanisms and the distorted lenses I use to view the world and God will hopefully become less required for survival, and less important to my story; those could be considered false parts of self. In exchange for the arms length between limiting but useful mechanisms of protection and performance, I hopefully gain greater value for things that do not rely upon circumstances–the true self God endows us with, that Jesus makes possible. The false self is not to be shunned and ignored as though it never had a purpose or affected the journey and relationships now, but it must have space enough to be examined and dealt with.

So too, as we look inward on this Bride, though our talk of Her is always imperfect, we grow in Self-awareness as its bought in members. We examine it as subparts of the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Self of Church for we are it. Good and bad. False and true. When we take inventory of where we are as Christians, we grow in the ability to peel away parts of the false Self we have collectively adopted and inherited and passed on, and, because our story is redemption, find a truer Self.

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As I have looked and considered more of the underpinnings of this polarized time in our one-ness, and thought more about my background and the outspoken evangelical voices of the day, at least one thing has come into focus. One thing about the American Church’s false self has become clear: Whatever unity that comes from a collective sense of Christian-centric persecution has increasingly become a toxic and alienating death sentence.

It’s not that Christianity is in vogue. It’s that it’s not even a part of the conversation (unless you count political exploitation). And therefore, it’s not a band of the persecuted and the hunted. Self-protection limits the adaptability, discernment, compassion, and generosity of its bearer. Adopting this orientation has skewed our identity to a degree that causes us, 100 steps down the line (i.e. Franklin Grahams and Rod Dreher…), to resemble nothing of our Story, our Savior, and our supposed Hope. This false self in our Church has run a muck and instead of being simply irrelevant to our culture, we have become an official mechanism of hate and hypocrisy. It turns out the bunker is very, very deep. Insofar as we allow leaders with this worldview to represent this Church, our meaning will be continuously hijacked by a paranoid and bizarre narcissism. Where did the Good News go? Who is in charge of Our Story?

By placing ourselves as the sympathetic central character of every social and political scenario, we have normalized and prescribed the dismissal of truly vulnerable groups of people and problems that are actually central to our collective identity and creed. Or, in other words, imperative to our true self.

This reckoning time is heart-wrenching and the R-rated times this presidency has brought forth has certainly shed light on places that previously enjoyed a blur. Light, we believe, overcomes darkness. But it is grim to wake up sometimes.

May we release the traps we set in our sleep and wise up to the ones around our necks. May we listen to the prophets and shut up the liars. May we turn to the leaders who have walked with Jesus in this Church, without enjoying any power or privilege for doing so. May we reach a truer Gospel Self as we re-find our Way.

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A Suffering Community

I am grateful to learn through experience and study about suffering, privilege, and the ways in which I miss out when my life is situated to buffer against pain. A 2nd article is up on The Table today, just scratching the surface and sharing some names that have been so helpful to me on this continuing journey. I continue to open up to the suffering of others and the vulnerability of this Kingdom walk, reliant upon the community and the Christ found in these margins.

Discipleship through Suffering

I’m thankful for the opportunity to add to the resources at the Center for Christian Thought’s The Table. Here is the first article I contributed on the theme of Suffering.

Her Permission

I am a feminist deeply concerned about the liberation of men.

Just as in the case of equality for my black brothers and sisters being interrelated to my own thriving and wholeness, I recognize as a deeply feeling and mothering woman that there are certain spaces I occupy which the more powerful gender does not get to inhabit. And that is to all of our detriment.

It is not easy for women to admit wrongdoing, to about face, to express emotions particularly negative ones, or to differ to others, partially because we have been forced into silence and submission too many times, they have been used to disqualify us, and we are constantly aware of our vulnerabilities physically and vocationally. At the same time, our wired-ness for connection, our internal responsiveness to vulnerability, and our reciprocal permission for emotionality amongst ourselves all work to undo and unlearn the walls. The pride. The scariness. We, amongst ourselves mostly, have created a different economy that rewards, or at least respects, wholeness and authenticity. 

For men I see a different landscape. I can count on one hand the number of men I’ve known in authority positions who have openly admitted to wrongdoing and sought help, humbly led and sidestepped accolades, and expressed and esteemed emotions appropriately. And I have been in more than my fair share of places with men in authority roles. I can count on one hand the number of lay men I know make public apologies or change their minds about a position, a conclusion, and a line in the sand. And there have been a lot of things to change our minds about.

These observations lead me to wonder how many walls do men have to scale to get from the unhealthy, the codependency, the pride, the shame and insecurities we all build homes in, to the wide places of vulnerability, process and connection? It is more than I have to scale. How is the journey different for my male counterparts, for my husband, for my father, and how can I contribute to mapping it for my sons? 

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There are different pressures on different cultures and socioeconomic landscapes, and so the risks for men vary. The positive reinforcements for rigidity, authoritarianism, stoic demeanors, and self-reliance fluctuate. But I’d like to learn more despite the complexities.

As a woman and as a leader, I hope to do whatever I can to allow for men to admit their mistakes, change their minds, and be fully present to their emotions. I would like to help them do this because I know from experience that it is in acknowledging the misunderstanding, the inadequacies, the feelings, that we assert our identities over them. We differentiate from the shame and arrogance; we look fully in the mirror. I can’t help but think that women lead this revolution; we lead this integrity. We know the unlearning. We contribute to the paralysis or tip the scales of new permission.

Do I keep space open for Ryan to emote? Do I allow men who have wronged me the real opportunity to apologize and change? Do I encourage my sons to name failures and mistakes without becoming anxious or rushing it away with reassurances or successes, inadvertently suggesting that the failures or mistakes are too powerful and scary?

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Integrity means all mixed in, combined, and through and through the same. Integrated. I picture bread, leavened, beat up, but rested and rising. Men of integrity are not so much marked by being the same as they were 20 years ago in doctrines, family role, finances, and job security. Men of integrity are fully in touch with how 20 years has changed them, how that brokenness meant this mistake and that mistake meant this need and that need mean this community. In our culture, we’ve exchanged an idea of men of integrity for men of stability, a first cousin of rigidity. But we were created for change and growth. No wonder men especially are lonely and self-protective. No wonder our society is so deconstructed. No wonder our parties are polarized. No wonder lobbyists rule. No wonder the church is nearly irrelevant. No wonder we are hurting.

There is no shalom without the whole band involved. Without liberation on all fronts, under all shadows, behind all doors. Shalom, wholeness, centeredness–that is what Jesus announced. And yet His bride more often than not is ruled by bottlenecked power, decisions made by money because no one has time for another rubric, and control. The gender that holds the power can still be empowered by the gender that does not, slowly and barely, because despite all the mess and disparities, our familiarity and comfort with vulnerability as women is the key to the wholeness of men. As Christians, as leaders, as feminists, as women, we promote integrity and shalom in this brutal world through including men in these conversations. We must recognize our role to play in redefining masculinity.

Did you know your strength is in your brokenness? Did you know there is power in the stepping aside? Do you know the past you’re avoiding predetermines the future until you feel it? Did you know I have the same problem?

Brother, be free. Sister, make the way. Spirit, lead us.

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Feels Like September

I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.

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I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.

Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.

There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health.       –Courtney Martin

I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.

Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?

This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.

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