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 Spot

Today I said goodbye to a treehouse.

Not a treehouse as in the fantastic play place of a gleaming sepia childhood.  A place of work, actually. But we have joined a work that is life and a life that is work. No, not a treehouse exactly, but I would meet my friends there. I helped make it what it was in small ways with my own two hands. In the proverbial treehouse, there were club meetings and arguments and brainstorms and plans and snacks. Seasons passed but it continued to be a place to gather. Its walls are thick with time and experience and history. Of decades of team and tears and trying.

My memories are recent in comparison but valued nonetheless. Climbing the steps to the old office, a senior in college, I received a phone call from Fuller Seminary saying I was in and my program was paid in full. In the brightest room, Ryan and I had interviews for World Impact, then discussed how our first year had gone, then helped with others’  interviews, and throughout, could find an inviting leader and friend. Next door to the director’s office was the room in which most of the staff became acquainted with Ryan, who was the City Administrator for our first three years. Across the hall, he dumped the recycling box of paper on Isaac’s head in a lighthearted afternoon round of Office-guys Goofing Off. Then there was the very serious moment of realizing he had to clean human feces from the sidewalk entrance at 8am one morning. There in the old office, we would have informal gatherings, times of visiting, of recognizing footsteps up the stairs, times of listening prayer and reading the Bible aloud, times of teaching and reporting. Times of dedication, reconciliation, ah-ha moments, and check-ins.

Most people did not come to say goodbye to the treehouse this afternoon in the group time, and most of most of those people may have not understood the goodbye time anyway. That is for the most part okay. After all it is a building. An office at that. Just a finite space to a motley crew committed to apostolic movements and permanent dislocation. Lord knows I do not need to seek out one more thing to miss or be all nostalgic about. I found and find myself envying some of my friends’ and spouse’s not-un-caring, perfectly-understandable nonchalance.

If ever a word did not describe me, it is nonchalant. I am terrible at it. Case in point, I am blogging about an office.

The office has been consolidated with the national offices across the street. Not a big move. Not a shutdown. But yes, a break in routine, a shift, an end. We did our best to add our treehouse to the one over there, and ultimately we are less encumbered. I know. I know it is just an old building and it all makes sense in Excel. I know I am a strong Feeler and that my enneagram profile says I should lighten up and just have fun. I know-know.

I also know that to me, the Non-nonchalant, and to a few others, it is still something to stare at. It is a grief and it has implications and it is just a spot but was ours. And so I was thankful for a simple time today to, with others, say goodbye to it. And say thankyouGod for the treehouse. For the time we had with a redeemed space of both spontaneous and strategic shepherding, for the years of a work-home that housed those big and little moments that make up a community of wounded healers. I was thankful for the time to honor what was done in those walls, who had passed through our ranks and roles and how He had been there and seen to our needs there.

The office, of course, is not our north. But it was a base and an intersection. It is where the tours began and the departures finalized. It was a workplace and a parsonage. It was often where we could find help and found Him too.

There are very small things sometimes that still deserve a pause of thanks and goodbye. Those things that years later, someone will miss and someone else in the room will have no idea what they are even talking about because they happened later. A band. A local donut shop. A family tradition. An old car begging to die. An office space. A small goodbye could be silly, it could be overlooked at the time, with the pressure of the new. But even just the chance, the moment, to recognize and name the change, can be healing and later comforting. It could make something in the future seem less disorienting. At least, that is what I have found. I have found that naming and praying and grieving and pondering the ends, the overs, is one of the truest ways I can be present to the life I have been given. I have found that my vision and my gut are such that these things are important and can be of help to the community at a later time. That facing and investigating the losses make the gains more accessible.

So yes, I said goodbye to a treehouse today. An office-building-turned-treehouse. I will remember and carry that goodbye and be glad for it.

Statio, Even Here

“Saul said, ‘Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.’ And they said, ‘Do whatever seems good to you.’ But the priest said, ‘Let us draw near to God here.'” – 1 Samuel 14:36

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Here. Not after. Not if, then. But here. 

A beautiful part of my life consists in observing and learning from people who are grappling with the priest’s suggestion.

I know and participate in the battles before them and around them. Some of the Philistines of today’s world–the pursuit and loss of personal dreams, the mindless endless urgent busyness, the politics and causes that can exhaust and infuriate. I hear the question “How will this be fixed?” with the vulnerable background of “God, if I or he or she is not convinced of your love and care, does it matter if You do?” I feel the pain of time passing and being caught up in a salty, teary wave of uncontrollable circumstances and innumerable wars to wage.

In all of this, I am craving the discipline – or the art – of statio. Always reminding me of the word “stay,” it is a culturally unnatural, humanly vital practice of pause. Call it margin, call it transition, it is waiting and learning. It is opening and wondering instead of solving and fighting. It is gestation and contractions.

In one of my favorite books, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, Joan Chittister describes statio as making us “conscious of what we are about to do and… present to the God that is present to us. Statio is the desire to do consciously what I might otherwise do mechanically. Statio is the virtue of the Presence.”

One of my expectant friends is carefully exploring who she is apart from the typical identity scaffolding of career, ideology, family and even habits which being pregnant has separated her from. After all, the scaffolding is temporary. What a beautiful picture of statio. How better to prepare for raising a soul than attending to your own, peering into who you are as a child of God and nothing else, repositioning yourself before bearing down in labor. To be bare and comfortable before yourself and your God and, in time, your child. An amazing gift she holds and offers to her son. Something that many people go into unconsciously.

Others of my friends have been thoughtfully considering marriage and relationships–fear of, desire for, anger about, differentiation from. It reminds me of statio work that I did not do at the ideal times (before role changes versus after, especially before entering a covenant with Ryan). By His grace, I have been able to sort out some of my self even beside him, my sons, before Him, in the milieu of multiple hats but the rush of many things happening at once when I was 21 did not afford me this foreign notion of statio. Now, I watch with held breath my dear sisters who are facing battles of huge proportions as they name Goliath disappointments and David solutions. In the shadow of absent men, whether their relationship is a thief or they feel robbed of one at all, there are wars to wage. And plenty of people say, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But refraining from snatching those battles, listening to the priest, and staying, drawing near to the Lord here, here in the dust and ashes — that is their victory and that is why I am honored to be in their company. Statio gives meaning to here. It delays the war and heeds an invitation.

Women have to be so resilient. Such a clear, long sequence of events is laid before young girls in our society, without full disclosure of how those events conflict and compete and do not comply with our timeframes and effort and linear thinking. The Philistines are giant but slippery. As an achiever, an aggressor, I can be Saul. Ready to fight on through the night, make something happen, charge through resistance. I am a machine of agenda and now and Try. I know many women who are also reformers and conquerers. We are good at it and have been rewarded for it for so much of our lives. Success in school is a friend to the machines of agenda and now. I am not proud that in college people called me “the legend,” and as you might guess, it was not because I was a good example of pause. 

I am slow to see that the real fight, the first war, is not with the elusive Philistines. The wars women face at every turn have no clear start or end date, like the ones we learned in World History. They are wars of the heart, mind and soul. Of who we are and what gives us meaning and how do we contribute and how do we gain significance and is there a way to land on answers to these questions no matter where we are. They are wars that can be drawn out by the aging of our bodies, battles that become sharper when our experiences in this life differ and rub. These battlefields precede the perceived enemies and we know it at our heart. If we hurry, if we only have friends who say “do whatever seems good to you,” we miss it. We don’t accept our location. And stones are left unturned, redemption is left undiscovered and there is bloodshed.

After this verse, Saul did not battle the Philistines. He listened to the priest and a secret in the camp was revealed. His son Jonathan was ransomed, defended, and saved by his people and Saul was saved from a severe vow he had foolishly made earlier.  All that happened “here.” Before there. Now.

Earlier in the story named after him, Samuel addressed the people and reminded them of who God was–their Author, their Liberator, their King. And he says, “Now therefore, stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord…” (12:7). What a remarkable phrase. Stand still! Do statio! And it wasn’t just a command–at every step, Samuel was beside others. He was pleading with them. The priest said “Let us.” Statio is achieved through internal war and external help. Community that insists on consciously being here before there. I love that. Here can seem lonely. Here can be no where if you are with no one and who wouldn’t want to charge into a fight if here was scary and void.

Sisters, you have helped me find statio and see how ripe and how good here can be. Let’s stay. Let’s be in company together and redeem these surroundings, whatever they are, to know ourselves and know Him. Let’s pause with the Shepherd and find freedom in the openness of Here.