Roadtripping to Reclaim Our Skin

 

A myth has been following me in the way Mother Universe and Auntie Time will place a theme repeatedly before us until curiosity can’t turn away. It is the myth of the Seal Skin – a mythical creature from the sea trades her seal skin for a life on land, becomes a mother then makes hard choices and goes on a journey to reclaim her seal skin as passage to return to her origins and share that part of her with her child. Now, if that’s not a direct translation to motherhood, I’m not sure what is.

Over the past few years, I’ve been on a search for my own misplaced seal skins.

This summer, my oldest three and I drove from San Diego to Yellowstone and back. The unexpected happiness was discovering previously lost seal skins all along the way. Over two-thousand miles of KidzBop, Chexmix, loose expectations, and national parks, and each mile a reclamation of parts of me that have been missing or dormant.

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Here’s what I know:

This earth is so, so beautiful. Take notice. Let it overwhelm you. Then use it up. 

The land. The sky. The people. Do you ever get overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of it all and whoosh an exhale when you didn’t even realize you had been holding your breath? The canyons and clouds are poetry just be being and I receive it in awe. But as a favorite current theologian of mine, Butler Bass, says, awe in itself is not the point of spirituality. “Awe is the gateway to compassion.” I love that.

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The gift really is the journey, not the destination as annoyingly trite as that truth sounds. 

I love not knowing exactly what the day holds. I love having a destination point, but filling in the details as we go. I love unexpected finds along the way and being surprised by the joy of it all. Road trips birth free-form  filling a day in a way the structured routine of our daily life simply cannot.

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Making decisions on the fly…seal skin.

Honestly? Making authoritative decisions without checking in with another person at all…seal skin.

Taking detours to explore new experiences…seal skin.

Saying yes to the fun of hotel swims before breakfast and unlimited fruit snacks…seal skin.

Curiosity. Playfulness. Seal skin. Space for introspection and perspective. Seal skin.

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So the trick is translating all the life-giving forms back into our everyday life. I don’t have all the answers yet. But I have been given the gift of remembering what it is like to reclaim parts of me that have been gone and for that I will maintain gratitude and renewed fervor to be wholly me to my family and not fade into a role, because what they don’t need is a generic mommy/wife figure. What they need is a wholly, vibrant ME swimming in my seal skin and showing them the mystical lands available to experience themselves.

 

I’m going to continue on this journey. I’m going to try.

Have you misplaced your seal skin?  I hope you, too, will search to reclaim it and use it to dive into the deep beyond.

 

 

What Dreams Reveal

I stand in a meadow at dusk.

The last light of day sweeps waist deep wild grasses in shimmer-shadows of purple and silver.

My twenty-two year old self stands facing me. She smiles her freckle smile.

Twenty-two year old self looks at me and giggles; practically bounces in her silence. I stare and remember; I used to be bouncy. Yes, I decide. I can be playful again.

We embrace.

I look into her eyes long enough to notice the speckle-sparkle brown within. Fewer creases mirror back.

Then, with tenderness, I give her permission to go. She recedes into the grove near the meadow’s edge and I continue toward to mountain.

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Maybe you don’t believe in the power of dreams.

I do.

I believe dreams can act as a gateway between our subconscious, our soul, and our awakening.

I believe dreams can be a visual guide or a warning or an affirmation.

I believe dreams – no matter the content- invite a curiosity to explore what new or deeper truths there are for us to learn about ourself, our Creator.

If, like me, you have been a vivid dreamer since childhood, I believe God can use the subconscious let-down of our mind in sleep to connect and progress our spiritual development as an adult.

Find this a little whack-a-doodle? To that I say yes. It’s a certain kind of mystical magic that happens when the ancient stardust compounded into the very cells of our being meets the luminal liminal space between our awake and unawake selves under the stars.

I receive the imagery in this particular dream as divine gift and answered prayer to questions I have been asking about my own spiritual deconstruction and progression of faith.

She meets me in the meadow as a reminder that the joyfully alive, playful, most spontaneous parts of my personality are not lost. Dormant perhaps, but still accessible within.

The doctrine and world systems I held as a young adult were beneficial and necessary then, but now I can release them. Release her. I can walk on.

I have dismantled the faith of my college days. I have expanded. I will allow myself to do so. Even if – no- even though I don’t look the same, and both I and my community aren’t sure what to do with that yet. Change happened so gradually over the years. Tiny imperceivable shifts until the accumulative waves have moved me great distances.

Suddenly my church of fifteen years feels estranged.

Suddenly my spouse stares at me as if a stranger to relearn.

What do you do with an expansion of self when you discover the new self no longer fits into the same life?

Their discomfort is not a crisis of my faith I remind myself. Continue.

I fill my lungs with wind and allow myself to be carried forward.

I am changed. I don’t want to go back, but I don’t know the way forward yet.

I am used to moving surrounded by people. I am used to being understood. I am used to being articulate about my beliefs or maybe not needing to be when there is little difference to explain. This new revolution? You don’t know until you know.

I stand on a new ridge overlooking the landscape of my past. Wind whips wild and rejuvenating through me. More God Yes Breath surrounding. Eyes darting wildly in search of a travel companion.

I am alone, but not panicked.

Although millions of adults my age are also in process of dismantling and reconstructing not only their personal faith, but the institution of Christianity (in America especially) as a whole, I am still alone. Just as you are also alone in the unfolding. For the hero’s journey in any classic myth and ancient tale is a solitary revolution of leaving the known place toward the unknown.

Compiling the team of traveling companions for this uncertain road produces a jarring and janky jamble of podcast hosts, authors, and atheists who offer genuine expressions of love to me as I trust the unfolding. I find rest in new spaces and am awash in gratitude for these star guides and these anchorings.

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She waves from the meadow’s edge of my dream, but I don’t see. My gaze is set forward. I lift my face toward the breeze and inhale in thanks as I continue toward the unknown and the yet discovered.

Adjusting To Our Sons This Summer

The folksy, soulful timbre of Brandi Carlile fills this home most days. I soak in the blend of energy and calm as power toward my day parenting five kiddos who call me Mama. While my wanderlust waxes jealous looking at all your adventures in my social squares, we are finding our new rhythm housebound as we adjust to being a forever family of seven.

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I’m used to being a yes mom. A go-find-the-day’s-fun mom. The four year old asks out of habit and hopeful expectation what we’re going to do today. The olders blink as I spin arms wide to indicate an answer of this. This is what we’re doing today. Home. Being. Being together. Learning to belong together.

It seems like holy healing should blossom more extraordinary, more exquisite, more noticeable than the whole lot of nothing happening in our day to day this summer.

It seems like it should feel a little more kumbaya and a little less kitchen sink full of kid dishes.

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In actuality it is sibling squabbles and slammed doors.

It is a million snacks and a million more redos (for the kids; for myself) as we teach our two new boys the permanency of belonging.

It is pitchers of iced tea with lemon slices from the neighbor’s tree and icy bowls of banana swirl, and silly face selfie sessions to make those late afternoon hours finally move along until daddy gets home.

It is toddler tantrums followed by recovery cuddles and humbly asking for help and acutely feeling my limits.

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The ubiquity of the phrase “You Are Enough” is inescapable. I have never felt less than enough. My newest son climbs onto my lap and clings for dear life. I wonder where this child’s mom is and am swallowed again by the enormity of it.

Me. That’s me. I am the mom. His mom. Thank you, God.

Help.

Grace. Grace is enough. I am not. But grace is. I don’t have to perfect this. I can loosen my worry, loosen my fear, loosen my perfect expectations.

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I sing U2’s lyrics Grace over the boys as they nap – at least sing the same three lines I can remember. I sing and it’s meditation. I sing and it’s medicine.

Every day more furniture and toys are banished to the garage as I hush our home, scale back the things in my face in response to the overwhelming needs. Every day I think this is the day we can make it to the beach. Every day we victory lap simply making it to dinnertime.

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Parenting. Healing. Belonging. These are the long game. One sliced peach. One tantrum. One popsicle. One correction. One cuddle at a time.

I am overwhelmed by the children. Overwhelmed by the need. Overwhelmed by the grace that allows it all to be okay.

 

 

A Practice of Presence

Let’s talk control. It would appear that against all my best efforts, I can control very little. What a blast to the ego!

Our systems and big picture human connections are sick. We are reaching critical level. Before, we could more easily deny and ignore, but now we are squaring off with this painful reality as individuals and communities. Both the reality and the perceived free-fall is terrifying.

Last week I shared part of my defense to this pain is feeding my mind, body, and soul with experience. I crave more and new and different experiences as a lifeline, as a connection to earth and others and creation, and a way to stay tethered to truthful goodness.

After six weeks of looking fairly ridiculous (but showing up anyway) to an urban/world beats cardio dance class, I finally settled into the attraction for me. (Let me remind you I grew up in a state where we were graded on square dancing and hip hop was resolutely implied as not for white kids, so reread the importance of that ANYWAY.) Sure, I’d like to reclaim some energy levels mamahood has zapped from me, and sure, I love the variety of people there. But those are all the flavor drizzle to the main event.

It is still about control; my ego-driven desire to white-knuckle it conflicting with my soul-driven desire to open palm it.

Once you cross the threshold into the studio, the world and all it’s beauty and brutality and present political shit-storm are left outside. There is only the floor and the sweat of your body, and the beats reverberating in your bones.

It’s a practice of presence. 

You cannot pretend to control moves you do not own yet. The only way to move forward is to learn. The only way to learn is to be completely present in your body and let your mind relax into that third-eye state of being. Dance cardio, then, isn’t about my body image or burning calories or building endurance at all.

For someone like me who spends a lot of their day floating between envisioning the future or escaping the present, this practice of presence is the muscle being worked. I recognize and do it often with my kids. Now it’s time to do it for myself.

Being present in the dance is an act of total disclosure to being in union with the flow of creation.

How perfect is today’s meditation by one of my favorites, Richard Rohr? Sure, he’s probably speaking metaphorically, however, I’m learning this through the application of trading control for presence in literal dance.

God is in us, because we are in Christ. As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ and the Spirit flows through us and between us and our feet move always in the loving embrace…

The Trinity is a participative mystery and all creation is invited to participate! But hand-taking, embracing, and breathing-with aren’t often immediately attractive to us. Vulnerability, letting go, total disclosure, and surrender don’t come easily.

Being present in the dance is an act of being present in creation. 

…the flow of presence that is the universe is a constant arising, a continuous act of creation. Creation of the universe, then, did not occur at some moment in the distant past, since time is not relevant on this level of things. Creation is a constant; the universe is constantly being created in the immediacy of the now. The world is arising endlessly anew. – Maitri from The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram

What a beautiful reminder. Just dance. Be in total disclosure to the process to remain present in the unfolding and continual arising of creation – including the restoration, celebration, and renewal of you.

As Rumi succintly put it…

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. 

 

 

 

 

A Practice of Reception.

Tonight my husband cooked us dinner. Like he does most nights. He followed it with solo facilitating bedtime for three children. Like he does most nights.

The lie is so quick to slide from my mind into the gut-pit of my belief system; that I am taking more than giving in this marriage, that I am stealing time for myself, that I am simply selfish and insatiable in my need for intake.

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Currently my need for intake is high. The more the world unleashes ugly, the more I need to seek out life-giving things to restore my positivity and faith in goodness.

While I sleep, my partner night parents. While he packs lunches (endearingly coined “f*ckin’ lunches” in our household as any parent of school bound children understands), I Netflix.

I already take so much. I am hesitant to ask for more.

Even so, I require more -at least in this season where my former belief and knowledge of government and humanity and decency are uprooted at least thrice daily. Part of my response to the breakdown is intake. Eyes open awareness. Notice goodness. Breathe in the blessing. Exhale the gratitude.

The space I take to write or exercise or chase sunsets or read is not a mainstream reality for many moms of young kids. I know this. The guilt trickles in easily. As if marriage were a one to one economy. As if comparing one household norm to another ever worked.

I cannot control my Twitter feed. I can only control my frame of mind and my response to the world.

For me, part of setting that positive intention is getting elbows deep in splatter painted creative, interactive living. That includes my family and that also includes interests that are life-giving to me as an individual.

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For so long I thought I was stealing this time and leaving a burden. Recently, when I asked for the truth, I was given the answer I wasn’t ready for: no.

What I thought I was stealing had been freely offered all along. 

Sometimes the most gracious gift of all is the hardest to accept. Instead of a mindset of guilt and taking and chastising myself because “I already get to do so much”,  I have been offered a lightness to simply be me and be fully alive.

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I have been invited into the practice of reception.

C.S. Lewis warned, “You must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give.”

I am grateful for it. I am uncomfortable with it. I am learning to allow the vulnerability of being open to this practice of reception impact my life and shift the narrative of my perception.

There is no earning it. No reciprocating it. There is only allowing it to be.

 

I’m No Missionary: Letting God Wreck Our Life Anyway

I listened to a homily today while I faced off with one of the few things I can control: our family dishes.

Let’s have an aside before we begin, to high five all the priests across the land who can take us to hermeneutics of seminary, reveal something new about the Divine, and drive it to heart personally, all within twelve minutes or less. Listen and learn non-denominational microphone mackers to your liturgical brethren of the concise pulpit.

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The main point from the homily was that Mary, the mother of God-made-flesh, is an ultimate example of responding to God with a YES and becoming a part of that divine response. But even Mary wasn’t given the final game plan and had to live by faith as events unfolded.

In our circle there has been a lot of discussion and fumbling tries to understand what it means to be a current buzz-word – “family on mission” – and the practical ways this can play out for a typical Christian family in America where there is never enough time or money or energy or fill-in-the-blank with what your deficit mentality warns.

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There is a movement for our families to figure out how we allow our lives to be a yes here and now, with what we are already doing. This is clunky and full of half-starts, because changing culture is hard and when it comes down to it, we just don’t want the inconvenience of it all.

There is an ingrained sentimentality that if you do mission work “over there” then of course it will be uncomfy.

Of course there will be bugs.

Of course there will be physical, spiritual, and emotional opposition.

Of course I had day-visions of demons while living that summer in China.

Of course my husband almost died from malaria gone-too-far while we were missionaries in Malawi.

Of course our friend was stabbed for a cell phone and left to bleed out while his four boys watched when serving in Costa Rica.

Of course.

“These things happen,” we rationalize. It is all part of the missionary gig to expect risk. We have normalized this opposition so much we become blasé to the dangers.

But what about here?

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We want Divine yes-breath to warm and woosh over our life but we get irked when it frizzes our hair out a bit.

What is the disconnect to expect drama and sacrifice for the “over there” missionaries so much we anticipate it, and let’s face it, junkies for the high of those stories, but attempt to avoid risk and inconvenience at all cost as “families on mission” here?

You always tell us how brave we are to do foster care. We are and we are not. Mostly, we just told God we are okay with a messy life and we are figuring out the rest as we go.

You always widen your eyes and ask if teaching in an economically challenged middle school is something we always dreamed of. We laugh. After eight years of being in that community, my husband feels a responsibility to continue in those relationships, especially in this current political climate to be a person of kindness to his many teenage refugee students.

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We by no means have this figured out but we’re trying to be open and there is a cost. There is heartache and unknowing and measly paychecks to the way we are setting up our life here. Sometimes I find myself telling off God for messing with what could have been a very easy life.

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I am left to wonder how pushing away hardship from our lives all these years hardened our hearts to the plight of people over there and paved the way for fear to be weaponized legally and seemingly instantaneously.

I live from the gut so when you yell at me it is either the safety of my children or the safety of theirs, I have a moment of confusion and second guessing, because I am not addressing issues from a position of cerebral authority – which is the only position our culture upholds as true.

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I teeter for a moment before I remember that is a straw-man argument. I don’t buy into that. There is my family and there is their family and there is your family and there is enough for all.

We have fallen in love with our comfortable, un-inconvenienced lives more than our fellow man. Both within our own city, and certainly with those beyond our borders.

I consider Mary from my viewpoint of a mother who is obsessively in love with her kids. Even Mary had to watch her son be publicly humiliated and slowly murdered. Even she. Safety has never been the banner of living a life for others.

So people of the church. It is time to decide. How do we live now?

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

You cried when we walked away, dear boy, and I let you.  More than wanting to shield you from sadness, I want you to know this is the bitter to the sweet. It is appropriate to feel this. You are allowed tears in this life. We cry for the loss of it all and walk away resolved in hope.

You said you were happy he gets to be with his Mommy and Daddy again because everyone should get a chance to be with their mommy and daddy.

I lingered on your face a little longer at this comment. I watched your eyebrow lower and the tiny dimple to the left of your lip flicker with thought.

We were a placeholder. It was always our job and our privilege to say goodbye so their family could be whole again.

You mentioned you’d miss your fun times playing together.

This says so much about you, dear one; the three year old you shared a home with these past many months was not always immediate “fun”. You drew all the goodness and calm and happy inside him to the forefront.

He was so ready to love, though, and you allowed his love a place to land. You didn’t realize it, but every time you received him, you mirrored an unspoken truth of identity to his spirit; he was important – he was still worthy.

Good people do this. They can look beyond a behavior. They can see a soul. They make all the goodness in others rise effervescent to the surface.

We left them there, your foster brother and sister, a newly reunified family at the park, with the wind rushing cold announcing a winter sunset.

You said goodbye to the kids and stayed near their stroller making silly faces as I gave updated bottle and rash ointment and clothing instructions to the adults.

Then we drove away and just like that they were gone.

People ask me how I can do this to you, sweet child. Allow other kids into your home to share your toys, your parents, your emotional space. Let you have to wait a little longer sometimes and ride an emotional wave of goodbyes.

I promise you, my love, that we will only place you in situations that will stretch you but not harm you. This is our family life and we’re in it together.

If I could give you two gifts it would be a generous spirit and a resilient heart; knowing that when you give there will still be an abundance and that feelings only strengthen your heart.

We get to have generosity and resilience because HOPE lives inside us. Hope is why you can love a child as your brother these many months, then wave goodbye in a park parking lot.

Hope.

That it will be restored. That there is a future. That the slow-burn of healing will outlast any resistance.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ…

We drove away and I could see you both in the rearview – you in the backseat and their family by the swingset.

You cried while the sky drizzled a million blessings on your head and I prayed wordless exhales of gratitude for you, my son, and hope for the son with his rightful family I just left at the park.