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.

 

Welcoming Interruptions and Inefficiency

I have started this blog post exactly countless times.

I come to the pen or keyboard daily to construct bridges from words and to extract what needs a portal from the land of ideas to our concrete world.

It is this exact moment, as any mother in the long history of mothers will verify, that the happy baby can only remain that way through holds and the child capable of shimming up doorjambs to reach the nether tops of the fridge, who can burp the alphabet in one pass, is wildly incapable of pouring his own glass of water. Inevitably, the toilet overflows. Interruptions, invariably.

I have popped down our hill to the grocery store no less than three times the past eighteen hours, because while I can remember the queso fresco and green chiles and all the yummies to make kid quesadilla lunches feel like an event, I cannot make it back with the cheddar.

This is what my life feels like. A lot of hustle. A steady stream of interruptions. A lot of inefficiency and little productivity.

It is easy to become annoyed or pile on the shoulds. Falling asleep (again) on an Elsa duvet wedged between a sleeping child and a hard plastic doll feels like self-betrayal. During the daylight interruptions I had mentally promised to conquer. this. shiz post bedtime. Yet; sleep wins every time.

I scroll through the squares and start chastising myself for why I haven’t figured this be a woman, be a wife, be a mom thing out yet. I readily forget the lady reading in a hammock with hot cocoa is in her twenties without kids.

We are here, muck deep in mid thirties. Sweating children, cheating time, and praying for rest. Still, we dream.

Can the presence of divinity and social change begin with tiny domestic acts right here? We are audacious enough to believe they can. Right here, in the emergency run for Iron Man pull-ups, in the swaddle of a crying baby, in the quesadillas cut just so and the interruptions for water refills.

This year I look forward to more writing and an attempt to be more zen about interruptions. I rest in the fact that during this phase of life, living big means tiny acts at home, for the tiny humans here and for myself. Little increments at a time. Together we will make a whole life.

To my fellow thirty somethings (or 40 somethings) with all the children and all the ideas and none the sleep and little the money, a word from a poet:

be easy. 

take your time. 

you are coming

home. 

to yourself. 

-the becoming   wing by Waheed

Love and a little more ease to your hustle and mine.

 

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?

 

 

Creative Energy in the Confines of A Little Life

There is  life-force that stirs wild in the heart of the creative Christian. It is an energy that ambles and percolates and froths. But when the wildest part of the day whips peanut butter and honey instead of peanut butter and jelly, where does it go?

If ignored, this creative energy does not lie fallow. If suppressed, it twists and spins into bickering with my spouse simply for the satisfaction of having something to do, simply to prove I have not become part of the historic feminine cumulative where minds are left to rot in the boredom of domesticity. If neglected, this energy whispers ugly doubts disguised as truths to keep me disengaged.

If tended to, creative energy is a tether to the world that whirs into big ideas and intuitive empathy. The only way it fits into such a small life is to continually be made into something real and given away.

I take the olders to school. I take the youngest to the zoo, museum, ocean, the park. I drive the long way home so the jacarandas can toss confetti on our one car parade. I make dinner. I resweep the floor. This is a small life.

I plead God, is this enough for you?

I am reminded love is not parceled out in relation to the amount of effort, hustle, or works produced. Bigger love cannot be earned with bolder life choices. I have always been one for the bigger choice. It is easier for me to fly spontaneous into the face of challenge outside these walls. At 33 I’m learning the big love found in a little life.

Unrestricted love is here in the perceived smallness of sidewalk chalk art and songs goodnight. In the driving to school miles logged and driving me crazy moments.

On paper my life doesn’t look as overtly faith-infused as it did ten years ago. But I know the faithfulness required to live a quiet life has drawn me closer to God than other ostentatious choices before.

I make beds. I make lunches. I make moments for my children to remember and some I pray they will forget. I make words and walks and paintings. This little life of routines and I-love-yous and I’m-sorrys and crust-cut sandwiches is wide enough to experience the fullness of the resurrection.

 

Let’s Hear It For Hipster Dads

Here’s my short list of irks that produce very large, lollygaggy eye rolls of judgement:

facial hair on the 25-35 year old male crowd

network-marketing

blogs

Specifically how everyone has one and, yes, I see the obvious problem with that last one.

The beards, the blogs, the business stairstep breakaways. I surrender to the reality these are the current, trendy annoyances of adulting in the twenty-tens. I will try to keep my gaze locked in place and simply cheer you on if one to all on my short list describes you personally. (Nothing personal.)

There is, however, one phenomenon happening right now that I would like to call complete bullshit on.

We are dumbing down our daddies. We are branding them incapable and operating under the implication of incompetence. 

Our husbands are parents too. Not just the part-time help. Not something reminiscent of the fun uncle or the “wait ’til your” disciplinarian. Not even the other (tacitly understood lesser) parent.

Let’s let the daddies of our children be 100% full-on parents.

Let’s enough with the portrayal that dads are bewildered by children, lack any instinctual bend toward their needs, and enter a conundrum the equivalent of a full-scale political crisis  when presented with a poopy diaper.

More than anything, let’s stop couching this expectation of male insensitivity and inability to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our children in church gender roles. I cannot with that.

It’s true I am an emotionally driven decision maker. It’s true Nate is a rationally driven decision maker. This doesn’t give me an infinite “no thanks” to using intellect or reason. Nate doesn’t get a standing pass on emotions.

We are parenting in a unique era where EQ is not only recognized but lauded, where marriages in and out of the church are losing their patriarchal dominance, where we are concerned about locally sustained and globally connected.

These men who are becoming our husbands and fathers of our children, with their penchants for craft beer and pompadours, are just as likely to babywear as we are. They are  stepping up to parent in an engaged way generationally unprecedented. Let’s let them without questioning motive or masculinity.

I worked Sundays for the last five years, which means Nate would take our two, then three,  and sometimes five while fostering, carload of kids to church. Every week receiving the equivalent of the non-ironic slow clap from parking lot to children’s ministry doors for braving a public outing as a father alone with his kid crew.

Receiving comments about babysitting for the day. “Not babysitting,” he says. Just being a father.

The cost of continuing low expectation for the daddies of our children is too high.

For starters, the kids in my house would experience a scurrylotta more yelling from Mama On The Brink if I were the only one in charge of every.single.damn.aspect of their day.

It’s easy for us women to confuse being Wife and Mother with the crushing responsibility of maintaining the happiness of our husband and kids. Let’s not let low expectations for our co-partners in parenting become the reason for losing our autonomous identity through overcompensation of being all and doing all for others.

We alienate ourselves. We alienate our husbands. They miss opportunities to know their own children and to be seen in return.

Probably most poignantly, our sons and daughters are watching.

Time to expect and allow daddies to be parents too.