When You Don’t Want to Christmas at Christmastime

My son asked for an Elf on the Shelf and my chest constricted. It was like he doesn’t even know who I am. Or hasn’t been paying attention to the amount of managing happening around our home while we transition temporarily to a family of seven. But Christmas isn’t about managing systems to him. He believes with all his six year old little heart that trixy informant of perma-surveillance will move itself. To my son, Christmas is still about the magic. The miracle.

Usually at Christmas I want the house scent cinnamony, the harmonic carols loud, and every last twinkle light twinkling. But not this year. This year boxes of decorations are still shelved in the garage. The door stands naked of adornment.

We have a minimally decorated tree in the corner, bottom half empty because two year olds. We have a basket of holiday books on the hearth and an advent book on the table. That is it.

I don’t want the decorations. The candles and the presents, the tinsel and movies can’t be Christmas. This year, more than ever, I need it quiet. I need it calm. Even the usual garlands and wreaths feel claustrophobic to me. I can’t change the chaos happening around me in the world or our home but I can decide how much noise to bring in.

When it feels like every nerve ending is fried with the sadness and need of humanity, what is desired is calm and the soothing comfort of hope.

When you don’t want to Christmas at Christmastime, possibly, you are not the problem. Possibly, you are aware that the main thing needed this year across the world and in your own heart’s home is hope.

Hope coming. That is Christmas magic. That is the only Christmas we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Loving Everyone Isn’t Actually Loving

This isn’t a theological debate or an invitation to list all the ways I’m wrong or to remind me that loving everything about someone isn’t real love. I have listened to all the arguments over the years. This is simply me stating my opinion which is by no means shared unanimously by my church, family, or household for that matter. But I am not afraid of losing any of you, especially those of you who have been touched significantly by this hot topic and still disagree with what I’m about to say.

This is a coming out story twenty years in the making. Much isn’t expressed here, but the main points are.

We’ve been waving the “Love Everyone” banner for quite a while now as a church culture and I have a problem with it. I think it is cutting more harm than blanketing good.

If I tell my gay friends that I love them, but disagree with their lifestyle choices, am I still loving them unconditionally? Am I not implicitly telling them I think they are broken? Not just broken – we are all in need of God. But twisted. Sick. Dismissing God from touching their lives. That’s a different language altogether. That is language slicing deep into identity and certainly questions any young adult grappling between God and self-loathing has already screamed these to the heavens during the years of owning their sexual identity.

I think many of us are caught in the disconnect between the Church’s official line that homosexuality is wrong and our heart’s intuitive whisper that it isn’t.

I’m going to do something radical and say we get to trust this still small voice as the Holy Spirit offering us a new way. A freedom way. A love without conditions way.

I refuse to look my gay friends in the eye and tell them anything other than they are beautiful and whole and imagined in the star-twinkle of a Mother-Father God’s halo and their life is already beating to the rhythms of divine wonder.

We have been so wrong about things in the past and misinterpreted Bible to justify the cause. All I am saying is we are behooved to entertain the possibility that as a whole, we have gotten this wrong too.

I am less concerned about maintaining either the evangelical or liberal party lines as I am concerned about the mental health and spiritual liberation of my friends.

Not in an “I love everyone….but” way. In an I love you way. Period. End Dot. Final Story.

 

More Kids? “More” Kids.

We have walked our family to the ledge again. This time we did it in full awareness of the cost. On Wednesday there was a text. On Thursday I was driving a two year old and two month old to our home. For the past month we’ve been at full go.

For a question marked length of a meantime we are a family of seven. They will definitely be with us until December. They will possibly be with us longer, depending on how healthy their parents can set up a home and how their court dates progress.

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I have been using up all my emotional reserves developing relational boundaries with the birth parents. Even so, we are still for the birth parents. We are rooting for them to figure it out. Generational poverty and subsequential lack of education is not a reason on its own to dissolve a family. When they know better they can do better. In the meantime, we are here.

You have more kids?

I like to think of it as we have “More” kids. Foster kids are normal kids. They’re also “more” kids. Because of their trauma background everything is more. Feelings, triggers, emotions, reactions, redirecting required, self-soothing strategies needing to be taught, body-awareness, food organization, every little thing is MORE. Parenting a “more” kid is physically exhausting and requires a deep well of emotional capacity and a good amount of general creative problem solving.

Honestly if it were just the infant our family schedule probably wouldn’t change our day-to-day that much. Nothing would feel drastically different.

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But it’s not just an infant. It’s an infant and a two year old  and our four year old and our six year old and our eight year old and we peel ourself into strips to pass out to each child to meet a need, wishing that strip wasn’t quite so see-through-thin to give. 

The days are hard and isolating since our one fun friend outing ended in a double-stroller underboob sweat up the canyon from the farthest netherlands of the zoo to the car and our other outing was a rushed drive to the emergency room. I have talked to the produce guys more than actual friends face-to-face this month. Raise the roof hands for our unlimited text upgrade so I can keep my humor with potty-mouthed real-time updates to my bestie.

These are bunker down days.

Except for the daily drives as my cheat to simultaneously get three tired tinies asleep for naps, we stay home. I am a non-stay-home, stay-home-mom. We are usually out taking in our world. I am not a homebody. My four year old is not a homebody. We are learning to be homebodies because we are needing to be homebodies for these little ones who have so much to learn and need a safe, predictable space to learn it.

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These are strawberries and quesadillas are good-enough days.

These are Jesus take the wheel days.

These are days when it’s not only okay that I am not enough, but preferred. I don’t want to be enough for this. Everything broken or hard in our scenario right now is layered physical and spiritual. I don’t want to be responsible for the energy and the healing. I only want to be faithful to be there and allow God to bring in everything else required. I don’t want to be enough for this but I choose to believe we live in a universe where all things will be provided for restoration. Therefore we can respond in generous abundance instead of have our actions tied to a mentality of lack.

We’ve seen improvement with the toddler, and growth with the baby, and bonding with all, empathy and sacrifice and generosity from our kids, and all the hard stuff in between and it all comes back to time.

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The hard part about hard work is the time required. There is no way to maneuver around it and the consistency needed in coaching and engaging with the kids. We have to put in the time, which means letting go of a lot of things. Our house is significantly messier, all flat surfaces covered in sippy cups and empty Coke cans and diapers and crusted cereal. RSVPing “no” to evites is my new intoxicator. And each child, except the oldest, is held to sleep because more than anything they individually want to know there is time for them alone.

We are exhausted. We are good.

 

 

Race and Blood and Poetry

I haven’t been able to focus well the past couple days. I wanted to Instagram you a picture of painting mini pumpkins together and our puddle walks in the rain. But I couldn’t show the good we were having as a family while my head and heart were simultaneously ruminating on the pain bursting through the surface of our country.

There’s no time to catch a breath. Before we have made sense of the most recent incident a newest one is thrust upon us. The confusion and the pain packed and compounded instead of processed. Wanting a straight story from the media we are left unsatisfied – there won’t be one. We look for the truth to justify a side. Therein is the problem. We’re still trying to divide up sides. We’re still trying to judge if it was deserved or unjust. It’s too simple to villainize the police always. The only side, the only straight story we get to know is we are all pulling the trigger and we are all a people bleeding.

I have never been more afraid as a parent than when we were fostering a young black boy who was tall for his age but emotionally charged from trauma. It is only a matter of time, I thought, before someone hurts him. A stranger on the street this time.

My friends of color who are raising their sons and daughters to be extra respectful, extra graceful, extra smiley, extra concise and precise as perception shifting survival tactics live with this fear daily. It is a stone in stomach debilitation of fear and feelings I will never fully know the weightyness of.

The mannerisms of my grandparents’ generation were subtle. A slide of a purse from chair to lap. A step closer to the sidewalk’s edge. But I noticed and I’m willing to bet the black man walking past did too.

On a recent visit, my dad began reminiscing about how he and a few classmates transferred to the all black high school in the ’60’s when Oklahoma City was desegregating slowly and the surprising few people who gave him and his girlfriend of color scuffle as they went to diners on the fringe of racially divided neighborhoods.

We’re moving closer, I thought, with each generation. We are learning. We are moving closer to facing our bias, embracing our histories, listening to what it is like to be a person of color.  But God help me, I find myself at times adjusting my purse or locking the car door or walking slightly more around in the name of safety as a man of color approaches, just like two generations before. It is in all of us no matter how tenderized by this topic. So I continue to question and sit in hard conversations and read stories and poetry from people of color; black women in particular.

The violence keeps happening too fast to settle into the comfort that we are healing our racially brutalized past as a nation and forming a new way into the future.

I changed our elementary schools a couple years ago after more than one adult working there gave me the color blind speech. Color blindness is a refusal to acknowledge the very real existing pain.

Which makes me wonder if for a while we all tried to move on too quickly in our generation. We tried to say “not me” and “not a problem anymore” and refused to look at the bloody now. There are faces and bodies in our newsfeed that leave us saddened and confused. There are organized protests that leave us wanting to make judgements on the effectiveness or non-peacefulness of the frustrated responses of rage, while the peaceful ones are often not shown across media.

It is time to look at the blood. To point out the blood to others. It is time to say we’re all dehumanizing eachother, but our friends of color are hurting most and in ways we cannot fathom.

When the world doesn’t make sense to me, words often do. I came back to this poem today as meditation, as prayer, as a way to listen to the pain and to stare at the blood and not look away. Will you read it with me?

 

Sons and Daughters by Maya Angelou

If my luck is bad

And his aim is straight

I will leave my life

On the killing field

You can see me die

On the nightly news

As you settle down

To your evening meal. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

In the city streets

Where the neon lights

Turn my skin from black

To electric blue

My hope soaks red

On the gray pavement

And my dreams die hard

For my life is through. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

In the little towns

Of this mighty land

Where you close your eyes

To my crying need

I strike out wild

And my brother falls

Turn on your news

You can watch us bleed. 

 

In morgues I’m known

By a numbered tag

In clinics and jails

And junkyards too

You deny my kin

Though I bear your name

For i am a part

Of mankind too. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

Turn your face to me

Please

Let you eyes seek my eyes

Lay your hand upon my arm

Touch me. I am real as flesh

And solid as bone. 

 

I am no metaphor

I am no symbol

I am not a nightmare

To vanish with the dawn

I am lasting as hunger

And certain as midnight. 

 

I claim that no council 

Can contain me

Nor fashion me to its whim. 

You, come here, hunch with me in this dingy doorway, 

Face with me the twisted mouth threat

Of one more desperate

And better armed than I. 

 

Join me again at today’s dime store counter

Where the word to me 

Is still no. 

Let us go, your shoulder, 

Against my shoulder, 

To the new picket line

Where my color is still a signal

For brutes to spew their bile

Like spit in my eye. 

 

You, only you, who have made me 

Who share this tender taunting history with me

My fathers and mothers

Only you can save me

Only you can order the tides, 

That rush my heart, to cease

Stop expanding my veins

Into red riverlets. 

 

Come, you my relative

Walk the forest floor with me

Where rampaging animals lurk, 

Lusting for my future

Only if your side is by my side

Only if your side is by my side

Will I survive. 

 

But you’ll probably turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

 

My On-Again-Off-Again Relationship

I’ve been in an on-again-off-again relationship with various denominations over the span of my adult life. They have all helped me. The have all let me down. I am relieved to learn faith is not a denomination.

*****

Our communion bread was baked by local Carmelites. It was dense but soft and tasted like a thousand prayers sung before dawn.

When the priest set it on our palm, a moment of honeyed-lightness cleared the air before we were again submerged into the heady-safety-scent of incense. Years later I found myself in a parish youth group. We sang Beatles and Rent and post Vatican 2 hymns from the Spirit and Songbook. We played a lot of gotcha rounds in the gym and dated and undated each other and collected socks and soap for the poor with the Harley riding, habit wearing nun in charge of us.

Afterward, we’d drive to Denny’s with the windows down no matter the weather. Most would smoke, all would order milkshakes and quote movies until midnight. We were vagabonds and sloppy and I had a special tenderness toward this crew because I felt like they weren’t pretending and that was a faith I could get on board with.

But I saw the way our parents prostrated through mass in a familiar pew but were unchanged through the week and didn’t want any part of it. I was suspicious of the paternal wall constructed by the church. As a teen, I stared at the dried glue strands pulled between torn seem and sole on the bottom of the priest’s shoe while I confessed the sins of my body and mind to this man. Leaving the confessional in a splotchy purple of shame, I decided these are not my people after all and I broke up with Catholicism and it’s mystical traditions without experiential encounters of mystery.

******

In college while I was busy pulling all nighters talking and kissing with my one-day husband, then pulling all nighters writing passable papers for courses that I should have written better in the time I was using to talk and kiss, I also fell in love with new ways of understanding God.

A campus fellowship taught me how to analyze passages of scripture finding historical context, Greek meaning in words, repetitive urgency in syntax, and Old Testament allusions. Defining the Greek felt like a good and grown up way to quantify God. Nothing feels more official than the heft of a lexicon.

“Non-denominational service” felt a whole lot like Protestant to me where the room was dark and the band was loud and our very bones conducted additional reverb for the amp. It felt wild. It felt good.

For a few summers I worked as a camp counselor for a high profile Christian sports camp in the south. We looped chapstick on our shoelaces with hairties and spontaneously and collectively burst into chant at nearly every phrase possible. We did ridiculous stunts for each other and the kids and Jesus. Kids leading kids.

Faith came in containers of goofy skits, tactile object lessons, poignant heroes of faith stories, and prayer of salvation folding puzzle cubes. It was wonderful but also a cult unto itself and no matter how many cheers I did, I never quite grafted into this cool-kid club.

(Side story:this is also the time period when the audaciously full-frontal platonic bearhug from a guy friend in the parking lot of a Shakey’s on our night off tipped me into tears because I realized it was the first time I had been touched caringly by someone beyond the needy grabs of my cabin kids in weeks. Thanks purity culture for dehumanizing us by demonizing our need for physicality. Glad we’re starting to deconstruct that one.Un-side story.)

My concerns about cleaning the lake slide with unmeasured amounts of bleach were listened to but unchanged. My suggestion we begin recycling was met with a logistic defense of why we don’t, and when I wondered aloud if perhaps the generic chief headdress and warpaint worn by Christian white boys crossed into offensive cultural appropriation, I was labelled “that liberal girl”.

Again, I decided these were not my people and I broke up with Protestantism and the being pushed and pulled by emotions. I didn’t want to be around people smiling and focusing so intensely in worship with their hands up and eyes closed they were left little peripheral reach to see or care for the people and environment around them.

******

We walked down the diploma stage and directly to the marriage aisle before moving to another continent. My classroom was filled with collaborative projects, early literacy writings, big books, and equatorial heat. Our home was full of wall hangings and bugs and exhaustion and this felt right as I put on the title of missionary.

I followed the special rules given to us. On bad days, I became part of the problem of Western/African disconnect. On good days, even in the best of heart, it still felt that by simply being there we were perpetuating the harmful mentalities and practices of post-colonialism.

I slowly watched my husband of harmony harden and crumble while a power couple picked a fight with his character. Suddenly I understood the distrust others have for Christians based in the real pain of disappointing interactions with people in spiritual authority.

This didn’t feel like God, so I broke up with missionaries but kept the inspiration of faith from those I met from all over the globe during our time there as we came home to heal spiritual wounds and ideological rifts (and drink together while doing so).

*****

There is more to the story of returning to church, and working for church, then recovering from working for church and the need and motivation behind those seasons and what continues now. And there is so much more to each part of these spiritual timelines.

For now I want to apologize for being that girl during each of these spiritual seasons. I was learning. I was trying to be the best at each one. They gave me guidelines to understand myself and the world and what I could cling to of God. I know I was annoying sometimes.

And for now I want to honor myself for being that girl during each of these spiritual seasons. I was allowing Spirit to breathe through soul and teach me truths in spite of all the brokenness in these spiritual sectors.

The cost might be a spiritual homelessness and a continual longing for both the bread and the incense, the perky cheers and feeling the bass drum in our chest, but the gain is no longer needing defined outlines.

The gain is being assured that knowing less for sure about God at thirty than at twenty is growth in a humbly truthful direction.

The gain is recognizing that when my faith needs space, I create a wider boundary for spirituality to take root in all areas.

I don’t have to continue breaking up with denominations anymore. It turns out they never were the keepers of my faith anyway.

 

 


Since sending this post into the world many of you have messaged or texted your concerns and questions. So why stay? We stay at our church because of the people. Although they are imperfect, I’ve seen their hearts, particularly the hearts of those in leadership. They are for others. They are tiptoeing toward riskier conversations and allow difference of opinion, journey, and unanswered questions stand. 

 

 

 

 

 

Prettier With Age

My first date fell in winter when the plains states become little more than an icy wind tunnel connecting Canada to the Gulf. I wore thick white tube socks inside chunky-heeled brown on brown saddle shoes. And khakis. Lord help me, khakis. That’s an uncomfortable amount of severe tan tones off balance with the delicate rosettes outlining my collarbone in the cardigan on top.

There wasn’t a second date. It very well could have been the outfit since that sort of thing is hard to recover from as a teenager. Mostly, I think it was because we spent an excruciatingly boring evening together and a silent dinner where I realized I had just wasted a year’s worth of emotional energy pining for a guy I didn’t actually real-life want. On his end it might have been the tube socks or the speed at which I ran to my door from his mom’s borrowed minivan at the end of the night.

Now you know the alpha and omega of my high school dating career. There was also the time I went Christmas shopping with a friend who began holding my hand and I let him for a few days because I was curious if it is possible to turn the good feelings of being wanted into a reciprocated wanting. It wasn’t. Then there was the time I went to senior prom with my girlfriend under whispers of “lesbian” because I had rejected the boys who had asked that I didn’t want to spend that time with and the ones I had wanted to ask didn’t – aka the common plight of most non-Disney teenage girls.

While adjectives like “unique” or “interesting” or “nice” or (my personal searingly favorite) “the kinda girl who gets prettier with age” sound like insults at seventeen, they feel more like prophesy now in mid-thirties.

I had a birthday this week and I’m here to say beauty does get better with age because time is the great sieve of knowing ourself, knowing what matters, and knowing how to align ourself with what matters. I believe that it is in the knowing of ourself that we are able to see the watermark of the God who created us. In the intimate knowing of myself I am free to know others.

I think often we hold back in our interactions with others because we don’t want to be misinterpreted as meddling or perceived as needy. At least, that’s been me.

The older I get, the more confident  I am in the strengths I have been given, the more aware I am of God’s artistry in the every day of life, and the more desiring I am to see that energy and honesty and beauty of character be drawn forward in others.

Especially now when it feels the world’s gone dark. I think most people still want to be light and give light. I believe we need to say the things. Say all the things. Without hesitating because we’ve been labelled dominant or needy.

It’s scary to say the things. Say all the things of encouragement and kindness and affirmation to others without being weird.

Back in those highschool hallways teaming with Chuck Taylors and Rocket Dogs, I walked the linoleum tiles shyly in my vintage thrifted saddle shoes anticipating big things ahead. Big things indeed happened and, for the record, I wish I still had those shoes today.

That’s the other gift of your thirties. You get to own your style and it not only doesn’t matter it’s unlike everyone else’s, it’s awesome and it’s needed.

Could possibly the biggest thing that’s happened yet since high school be growing confidently into my own beauty so others like my children and friends and social media strangers are allowed to stand in theirs?

 

 

Our Kids Don’t Care We’re Late & Neither Should We

Thanks to the magic of music camp for the bigs this week, my youngest and I found ourselves in the Nordstrom Rack shoe department where we fell into a time vortex as she tried on every.single.pair that sparkled, shimmered, lit up, had a face on it, or were in any other way irresistible to her preschooler heart. The scent of mall retail easily tips me into an anxiety attack, not to mention mentally prepping myself for the scene assuredly to ensue when said preschooler is carried out without new pink jellies that smell of strawberries.

We roamed around a lot of our city this week and as I listened to yet another public parenting meltdown, it has become increasingly clear that we are a time-harried group hassling our preschool aged children to hurry-the-eff-up with little to no success.

I would like to inject here that I understand the frustration since the daily activity of loading my children in the car would give the saintliest of saints heart palpitations. As my three year old so transparently revealed to our pediatrician recently, I “did a bad job not being shouty at us at bedtime”. No, I am not above parental sh*t losing and my children tattle on me to our family pediatrician to keep me humble in what I can only imagine to be a subtly smug proverbial flip of the finger.

But when it’s ten AM on a Tuesday and we’re losing it in front of other families we’ve got some issues to deal with that are usually about our own hearts and not our kids’ lack of respect for the clock.

No doubt we are all living through a critically stressful time both domestically and globally that has left no one untouched. No matter how separated or directly linked we imagine ourselves to be, we are storing the stress within the cells of our bodies with our children first in line for the fall-out.

I’m going to suggest a few parenting tactics here that I think will help us all ratchet back a bit. Yes, I hear how audacious and annoying it sounds to get parenting advice from someone struggling through just like everyone else that is, not to forget, LATE. TO. ALMOST. EVERYTHING. EVERYWHERE! (I would like to defend I’m only a few minutes late, only sometimes these days. Progress in positive direction.)

Build in Time to Waste

We already know this parenting gig is wildly inconvenient. We already know they are going to stop for every roly poly on the sidewalk. We already know. It is part of their natural child development to explore, to put order to their world, to imagine. What I miss when I don’t block enough time for my kids to enter their world as children instead of expecting them to be overly rushed mini-adults is the opportunities they create for connection with me. Mama, look! Mama, come! Mama (come be with me)!

HOW We Arrive Is More Important Than WHEN We Arrive

This is pretty self-explanatory. When I rush my kids they shut down. Their feelings get hurt and their heels dig deeper while I get crazier grasping for ways to prove I am the Actual Boss around here. We all end up miserable before slinking back (much later) for apologies. I’m trying to build in more buffer time so we are not compressed into stress, but when it just doesn’t work out I will most likely be late. At the end of the day (or two decades the kids are in our home) my priority is the atmosphere of our family. Every time. The End. Not the clock. I promise to try to text you if I’m late.

Drill-Sergeanting Orders vs Asking Kids What’s Next

Even if I am not falling off the ledge of control, it’s easy to get into a habit of barking directions at our kids. Put on your shoes! Get your hat! Wash your hands! Come, NOW! Instead, we’re trying to ask our kids what comes next and for them to come up with the answers, basically stealing all the best parts of Positive Parenting.

It sounds a lot like

“Lunch is ready. What do we need to do?”

“Wash hands!”

or “I can think of three things that are your ticket to the car. What are they?”

“Hat, shoes, and water bottle!”

Yes, it takes more energy and intention to do this the majority of the time, but it’s worth maintaining an element of fun in the day. Not to mention raising kids who are thinkers. It does, however, presuppose a certain amount of routine and clearly-communicated behavior expectations already foundational in the dynamic (& the hope no child is going through a smartass phase).

I am happy to report I didn’t have to football my child out of Nordstroms while she sabotaged racks of Ray-Bans along the way. Time to try allllllll the shoes on with my attention, not annoyance filled her little cup.

Parents of littles and how-can-they-be-this-big-already kids, I see you out there with your crew teetering between Intention and The-Brink. I know this place and I know we can do better. Not by trying harder, but by trading our benchmarks for what success looks like.

I love our city and I want to explore it with my kids without shouting at them about time and who’s in control and without listening to you do that either. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in the intelligence and kindness of our kids. Whether you loved or hated this parenting post, just wait ’til you hear what I have to say about the ineffectiveness of time-outs and making your kids apologize!