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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.