Nostalgia – Lent Day 1, Week 1

<< With gratefulness, I’m using my college friend’s devotional guide this Lenten season that brings in the scripture readings, reflections, parts of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book record, and actual coloring pages designed by different artists. >>

The theme for the first week is Nostalgia. Like Garret, I have a strong internal voice from yesteryear, that influences much too much of how I evaluate Today. This unwelcome companion to my adulthood wants to define success for a life it knows nothing of and a life that yearns for godly success on its own terms. My old voice competes with the answer to “What is God’s invitation to me now, here?” and I feel, and know, and see that this voice contributes to my ongoing battles with discontent and depression.

I echo this part of the guide’s reflection: “…help me navigate the passion of my past with the wisdom of my present.”

I am filled with questions. What does spiritual formation look like now–what has it looked like for wives and moms of young kids, unpracticed in self-care, uncomfortable with traditional gender roles, and unfurled in this age of pseudo-connection and polarized faith? What space does passion inhabit when I am engrossed in other people’s needs almost every waking moment? What does the suffering and lament of Christ this season invite me to, as I both set aside temporal longings and find fulfillment and footing in the ancient, sacred rhythms?

img_5067The passages for today are 1 Kings 19:9-14, and Ps. 103:8-14. We were directed to listen and focus on particular verses in the song.

To me, verse 10 sang freedom. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. He does not maintain and enforce the old yardstick by which I measured my self; that was not His idea anyway.

Verse 8 also fought hard against the voice. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not hold me to a standard of motherhood and womanhood I cannot keep. He did not author the rubric I use to berate myself. His judgment is loving. His approach is calm.

In case you too are working hard to claim the Good News of liberation from past plans that have become judgments, I share this. Life is brutal; our God, our Savior, is not. His suffering is purposeful, foretold, redemptive. At times, I suffer as a part of His call. But other times, I suffer because of something empty, expired, and exhausting–a noise so consistent, so established, it’s been excused and accommodated though it no longer fits or rings true. As I step into more reflection this week, I am aware of the perils of this nostalgia soundtrack and my need for a Savior’s voice.

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To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

Wherein I introduce main speakers but take all their time.

I ramble and I should not ever introduce a main speaker because I will take their time, nor follow because I may not shut up. I intend to work on this. It’s like when the worship leader with the closing song does a lengthy “meh” recap of a perfectly good sermon when the service has already gone too long… Guilty.

Because I have some speaking points myself, btw. Always swirling about like loose phrases to a song I don’t fully know. I envision myself writing some ideas and dreams down one day… in a woodsy coffee shop (…I dunno) for days with focus powers I’ve misplaced the past 9 years and lots of room to spread out and no diapers in my purse and a suddenly adult-sized bladder so I don’t have to get up every 45 minutes and wonder if I should gather my things…no, I don’t want to lose my spot…but that’s my stuff…but I can’t decide cause I have to pee….is there a code for the door…seriously. The struggle is real.

Tonight, I wanted to share with you two things that say things better than I can (though I’m obviously going to keep trying-typing while I have you because that’s what I do) and speak to chords of my not-yet-sung heart.

The first is on Anne Lamott’s Facebook page. She posted it 13 hours ago, like she doesn’t make a living off of selling books, and just go read it. If you haven’t liked her yet, I honestly don’t know what you’ve been doing. If you are better than Facebook, congratulations, but just have a moral failure and silently join to like her and others like her and find the best of the Facebook. We’ll never know.

The second is much harder to read, but is related because Ashley Judd is also a strong, informed and admirable woman. She talks about using disagreement as an online invitation for our worst selves, our most impassioned insults and fearful (i.e. angry) places. She talks about suffering violence and finding help. She talks about self-care, much like Anne Lamott, and she is standing up against coupling disagreement with hate crimes, which has become quite popular in our typey world.

I’ve been thinking about this charming human trait quite a bit, most recently because of something that happened at my extended family’s Shack in the Woods. (I say this phrase with reverence and longing because it is very precious, well-kept and loved and I have not been there for years and years despite trying–living overseas and now in LA doesn’t help.  Said family’s values of procreating and outdoorsyness collide to make staying at the Shack in the Woods a very competitive event from what I can surmise.) In short, one of my younger siblings walked in to the cabin, out in the middle of no where, where one gathers buckets of water from the river, and found a “funny” or cartoon on the fridge with a very racially charged joke about Barack Obama. The sibling then returned to the car, violated and jarred by the posting, especially in a “safe” place, used by “safe” people.

This particular scenario was incredibly unfortunate and wrong, but also easily and directly addressed by my parents. The rule-makers of the cabin, as well as many family members, affirmed love and regret to my sibling and family for the experience and set new guidelines for the shared space. Other scenarios are not so localized. This story simply highlights the fact that in my experience, having a president who is black does not speak to our national progress as much as it has shown our propensity to publicly condone and proliferate racial prejudice under a facade of political right-ness. It has dumbed down republican sensitivity to racial bias because of the gradual and prevalent nuances that involve our president’s race with his political decisions and views. I see people liking, repeating, posting, and propagating sentiments that I believe they would not have formerly supported simply because their fundamental disagreement with the democratic party or Barack Obama has led them into arenas of biased media that far surpass politics. Perhaps it’s more honest. Perhaps they’re actually becoming more racist. Whatever the case, it’s entirely possible to respectfully disagree with Obama without racist innuendos but, clearly, it’s okay if you don’t do the work of sorting through all that critique.

I see the same thing in bias against women, which brings me back to the Ashley Judd essay. I watch women in leadership be treated like they are crabby bitches instead of wise and learned people with a unique and viable perspective. I see outspoken women torn down by comments and questions rooted only in their sexuality and physical beauty, or, at best, their role in the family. I hear affirmation of women rooted in physique and sex appeal years before metaphysical traits are honored.  I see women characterized as gossips and clucking hens while men have meetings upon meetings. I see voices of women outside of the academy limited to mommy-ness, homemaker-ness, or in relationship to the other gender, and a reluctancy to engage women in other subjects like, say, anything else. Meanwhile, our male counterparts can often enjoy respectful dialogue about anything from the bad call in the championship game to immigration reform. I notice that just like racial prejudice being coated in political rhetoric, it doesn’t take much for people’s sexist paradigms to come out under the guise of moral superiority or emotional maturity. And that’s if we’re lucky. Otherwise downright degrading comments and jokes are sure to get some laughs and shut her up.

That’s a long introduction to a graphic and powerful account offered by Ashley Judd. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s true and it’s wrong. To me, it relates to the tolerance of racism as well as the abuse and discrimination of women; they are not the same but I am sick of their terrorism. They are both alive and well and socially acceptable in many convenient varieties.

I believe in people’s ability to be more diligent, more intolerant, and more like the 21st Century. I believe that the bullies on the internet should be shamed by the majority of us who know better and at times, yes, reduced to criminal sentencing. I hope she figures out a way to call an online apple an apple. I hope that my children grow up in a more equal and just world,  and I’m glad that strong and hard-fought voices like hers are helping.

Thanks for your time, especially you, Anne Lamott and Ashley Judd.

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.