Staying

It is no small and unholy thing to stay.

I don’t know about you but I sow my wild oats in the wee hours of my soul’s nights. I rebel from my heart, not my body. In my deviance, I move through my own life as a visitor, a reluctant tourist, as though my connecting flight was delayed and I flirt with fantasies of departure. Mentally, emotionally. I wish to be impenetrable. I think that it, that my presence, makes no difference.

In the morning, when dawn starts and I feel the relief of new mercy, I relearn that becoming absent is not the answer, but rather full presence is the promise. Compartmentalizing is not often our strength as nurturers; integration is. On the other side of my leave, I resolve that one of the most powerful and transcendent things I can offer my own health, my Lord, and my family community, is the posture of staying. I pray for the faith that suggests that God is for me here, with my longings and fears. I believe that God is for them—the children, the friends, the others—here, so we can all stay and I can be present to whatever this holds.

Professional chaplains finesse the art of this ministry of presence. Their work relies on the theology that the Diety indwells the humane and in one another’s company, we draw nearer to God. Whether visiting a person in a coma, or incarcerated, a premature infant in NICU, or a chatty outpatient, the chaplain offers their presence to the pain, and enters the space having been honest with their own condition and capacity that day. Their effectiveness is not often measurable; it must be undergirded with a sound theology of Immanuel. So too is ours.

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We do not wear badges, nor chart our visits, but mothers and wives and women are full time practitioners of the ministry of presence, the discipline of staying, and it is a powerful cadence in the milieu of constant updates, upgrades and uprooting.

As missional women, the fire in our spirits and the thrust in our activism can lead us to a restlessness that bankrupts our confidence. Because the rubric of the empire, which American Christianity has often adopted, involves fame and fortune, statistics and stages, we itch. We measure our success on a faulty scale and despair, when all the while, our steadfast presence, our dwelling here and with, is the salve to our want, and the world’s searching. It is resistance and it is confounding. It is growing up and it is an anchor to the tossing.

Sharing reflections from the transformative community of Benedictine life, Joan Chittister speaks straight to me in the middle of my sticky linoleum: There comes a time in life when everyone else’s family seems to have been better than my own. There comes a moment when having everything seems to be the only way to squeeze even a little out of life. There comes a day when this job, this home, this town, this family all seem irritating and deficient beyond the bearable. There comes a period in life when I regret every major decision I’ve ever made. That is precisely the time when the spirituality of stability offers its greatest gift. Stability enables me to outlast the dark, cold places of life until the thaw comes and I can see new life in this uninhabitable place again. But for that to happen, I must learn to wait through the winters of my life (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 151).

We know this irritation and this wait. And we also know, when by God’s grace we’ve approached Him with our misgivings, and sat with ourselves and each other, warding off both the guilt and the flight, that the ministry of presence is disarming in all the right ways. We know, for when we receive someone’s full attention or we feel the Lord’s pleasure after the full arc of a day alongside a child’s wonder, that the ministry of presence is healing. Renewing. Soothing.

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As a chaplain of communities such as the family, the church, the school, the neighborhood, the mother figure announces God’s goodness and steadfastness even as she relies on it herself. As a person vulnerable to other people, she demonstrates the invitation of the triune God. As a person rejecting the chains of perfection, consumerism, and control, she presents herself as an approachable companion to others. As she sits without judgment with an overwhelmed new mom, quietly occupies an overtired child in a hospital waiting room, or listens to a child’s unreasonable plans for a birthday for the tenth time, she suggests a Love and a Grace we only learn from one another. She resembles a weeping Savior, a cooking Messiah, present, stayed in the smallest and deepest of ways.

Even when it costs. Even when the night before she took a little trip through the weeds of want and the rushes of regret. She is present not because she does not have any other options or distractions or because it is easy; she is present because God is present to and in her, and this station is a conduit of the calling, not its culmination.

And so, my sisters, I see your choice to stay and I raise my glass. I applaud your outstanding grit to remain present over the years that you cannot speed nor slow, the surprise visits, the illnesses, the chores, that bleed into each other, that step on the heels of the next, and on the toes of your own securities. May the meaning of the moments neither pass us by nor overwhelm us to despair. We are here, together, injecting the daily with the divine. Thank you for staying.

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Weeds, Anxiety and Home

I need me some home.” -Johnnyswim

There are days that by 6pm, starting a load of laundry seems far too hard.

When the thought of next week, tomorrow, next year, carries too much work to bring that rush of Looking-Forward-To-life I think it will.

This infancy, this 3rd one from my own hormones and womb, has left me fighting demons of anxiety. Most common when I am quite literally feeding this little doughboy does the sense of alarm and despair threaten emptiness. It has improved over time, and has become less surprising, but still, Tired is nearer, No More is always within arm’s reach…and in the crevices of a cheerful, cuddly live teddy bear’s light and joy, there’s the bone tired drought and knots that appear from no where.

This afternoon, I battled a weed as big as me. It comes back every couple of months and I glare at it and I put in a request for a chainsaw (yes, this weed has a trunk) and a male’s upper arm strength and I wring my hands and maybe yell a few times. I let it take over the planter, filling my vision of the patio. And it can feel overwhelming.

Today I cut off all the parts of the weed and its spawn that I could. I made a heap of something that used to be feeding, growing, and absorbing energy, and will now shrivel and die. I didn’t solve anything but I don’t feel defeated when I look outside for the moment. Now it’s not the only thing I see when I look out the window.

In my refined, oldest child, perfectionist, Good-Christian, missionary kid/adult mentality, it’s really easy to think that going without is a virtue in and of itself–that somehow faith and being good and blessed has landed me in a stressful, tired place and that’s the way it is meant to be. That the weed is a thing of glory or a test or some crap theology like that and I just have to figure out how to BE HAPPY, doggonit.

And then I listen to a song. Then I spend 10 minutes of quiet with Galatians. Then I plant something or encounter a safe friend on the street or am spontaneously embraced or helped by one of my sons. And I remember Home.

Not a home I can find on a map, like many third-culture-kids and millennials nowadays. Not just my family of origin that shared so much with me. Not just a feeling of humanness and connectedness, or freedom and contentment that worldly beauty and comfort can aid. The Home that beckons us forward, that makes us bow our head in thanks. That disentangles our mind and our heart–our death grip–out and off of the lies of anxiety and shoulds and going without for no reason at all.

The Good News that’s kept my attention in the darkest does not proclaim that God wants me to carry a strained look around all the livelong day. He doesn’t send us things like illness, MediCal sagas, computer glitches that freeze our savings, and random phone calls asking if we can take a child (“We hope we can help soon…”) the very day we’re worried that that dream is dying. Yes, He’s grieved by asinine global and national developments and He is deeply involved in the loss and otherness and margins that invoke pain. But He isn’t behind every closed door and every upsetting curve ball. He isn’t preaching the Gospel of Muscle Through and The End.

My Courier of Good News is not the grim reaper of deprivation.

He’s the Home. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ beside me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ within me. The constant. The meaning, the refuge. Home.

Today, once again, I did nothing to actually end the battle with the nightmare weed, but I made it seem less big. So now I can focus on the plants I do want to grow–the choosing, the watering, the tending, out from under the lying shade of a bully weed. Today, I still do not have control over when and for how long I will experience anxiety and my chest muscles contracting and all the other blasted adulting that makes laundry too hard by 6pm. But I can rebel by doing the small things that help me be centered. I can partake in the things that whisper of Home—of being home-free, abundant, graceful and calm. I can avail my self to that which spites the weeds of this life, stripping them until they are only one part of the picture. I can lay claim to Home.