no words

Maria II.

I find myself unable to write much of anything right now. On Sunday at church, the sermon focused on Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Our pastor accompanied this lesson with a slideshow that could have come from within my own mind– Ebola, Gaza, Ukraine, ISIS, Robin Williams, Mike Brown, Ferguson. In a world that seems to have gone wrong, it’s hard to find the words to pray, the words to describe how we feel, the words to articulate what needs to be done. My last post was about dealing with darkness, but at times there just seems to be so much of it, not just in my own soul, but in the world.

I take some comfort in Romans 8:26. I also take comfort in the words of others who describe things outside of my experience in ways too powerful for me to ignore or deny, who break into my privileged world and open my eyes and leave me groaning for change. It feels silly to write my usual parenting stuff in the face of these last few weeks in the world. It feels silly to try and take on global issues on which I have no experience or expertise, either.

Instead I groan. I pray. I read folks like Stacia L. Brown and Ta Nehisi Coates. I am glued to Twitter, breathing prayers for the protesters each night in Ferguson. I encourage everyone I know to know their rights. I try to find small ways to help. But I have no words.

 

The image used above is via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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the light and the dark

orsbornpicLike a lot of people who have spent their lives loving his work, I’ve been pretty sad about Robin Williams’ death. He was just a bright light in the world, and now that he’s gone, things seem a little dimmer. He will be missed.

I’m glad that his tragic suicide is being used to shed some light on the very real problems of depression and suicide. It’s not enough to replace his light, but it’s something.

I have been concerned by some of the rhetoric I’ve seen though, even in well-meaning statements. Mental illness is an illness. It’s one that others often don’t know about, because of things like stigma that keep people from reaching out. But it’s an illness, same as any other chronic condition– with something like diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t work right. With mental illness, it’s your brain. You can’t cure any chronic disease just by “knowing how loved” you are. Or by “knowing God.” Or by “choosing joy.”  Continue reading

good friday

I won’t be making it to a Good Friday service this year, but I’m thinking a lot about what this day means. It’s a weird day if you’re a Jesus follower who doesn’t believe in what theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement.” In more normal terms, that’s the belief that the reason Jesus died on the cross is because God was angry at us for being sinners, and someone had to die for it, but instead of killing us and killing us forever, or damning us all to hell, God sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to die in our place as a sort of proxy stand-in recipient of God’s wrath, so that we could be forgiven and live forever with God. I don’t believe in this, because, to paraphrase Brian MacLaren, I believe in reading all of the Bible and in fact approaching God Himself, through the lens of Jesus. And in Jesus I do not come to know an angry God who demanded blood to satisfy his rage.  Continue reading

ash wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. I like Lent, if that can even be said. It deeply suits a morbid, doubting place in my soul, and knowing that the church has made space for such a season in the church calendar reminds me that this part of me is not contrary to my faith, but part of it. Sometimes I find myself envious of those for whom faith comes easy, who are quick to count blessings, who feel God’s presence regularly, who don’t feel like they’re talking to the ceiling when they pray. While I am richly blessed, while I find much joy in my family, friends, and daily life, faith still does not come easy to me. If on Ash Wednesday, most Christians are remembering that they come from ashes and to ashes they will return, then for part of me, it is always Ash Wednesday. Especially after my near death experience, I just can’t NOT be aware of the reality of death and loss.

I need Lent to remind me that not only are these thoughts just part of the package, they propel me for a reason. I need Lent to teach me that this Christian journey isn’t about how much or how deeply I believe, or how hard I try, or how strictly I can keep the fast. I need Lent to show me just how desperately I need Easter, a new day dawning to look forward to. I need Lent to remind me that I’m not apart from the faith, but still in the thick of it, even as like an apostle I pray, “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief.”

And so, I will fast. This year, I’m abstaining from meat. Last year’s failed attempt at a vegan fast definitely showed me the limits of what I can do on my own, and inspired me to take a smaller step this year. Last year I failed in my fast– but that’s kind of the point of the fast anyway, to show us our own limits and failings and to teach us to rely on the abundant Grace of God. This year, aware of my failings, I’m trying again. I am sure I will still need grace. I know it. I feel it. The need rises from me like smoke from ashes.

This year, my prayer is well summed up by T.S. Eliot in “Ash Wednesday:” “pray to God to have mercy upon us / And pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself I too much discuss.” And for you, if you observe Lent, I pray for a meaningful season as you journey through the dark, always heading toward the light.

*Image on this post is via the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

hello, babies

Kid President is pretty amazing. I think most people need to watch that video sometime before or after their high five just for getting out of bed in the morning. Because the world IS amazing, and we all mess up, and we do need to forgive each other’s mess ups. And maybe dance some more and have some more corndogs.

He actually echoes a favorite bit of Kurt Vonnegut that I’ve loved since I found out I was pregnant with twins. It’s from a baptismal speech the protagonist of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater plans for his neighbor’s twins: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

This quote actually led to me experiencing a moment of kindness. I had tweeted about my love for the quote and how I wanted to hang it up in my babies’ room. Then I almost died and came back again, and a friend I had only met via Twitter said she had made me something to celebrate my survival. One night soon after we had both babies home, she came by and gave me this beautiful (and slightly censored because kids) canvas:

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It’s one of my favorite things in my favorite room of our house. I want my kids to know that they have to be kind. But I also want them to know that people are kind. That the world is full of good and beauty, if we look for it. I guess that’s my answer to Kid President’s question about what kids need to know.

It reminds me of a bit in Thomas King’s The Truth About StoriesKing’s refrain throughout the (excellent) book is that the truth about stories is that’s all we are. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about the world literally construct the world we experience. He points out in one passage that we can tell ourselves or our children that “life is hard,” but we can equally teach them that “life is sweet.” Each perspective constructs a way of being in the world. Sometimes life is just hard, it’s true. To quote Vonnegut again, “so it goes.” But I think the balance bends toward the beautiful and the good, because I believe in a God who is at work on a great project of reconciliation, re-creation, and renewal. And I think we get to participate in this project, to be agents of beauty and goodness and change. I’m raising up revolutionaries to participate in this project, too. So I want them to be kind and see kindness, in their hundred years here and beyond.

merry crazy magical christmas

This week, the Christmas and the Crazy have taken over. We’re about to leave for a week with family in Colorado. I’m super looking forward to it, because I’m excited for everyone to see how much the girls have grown, and to watch them get loved on, and to see them finally able to play with their 2 year old cousin, and to spend time with people we don’t see often enough. But I’m also dreading a bit all the prep it takes to get us out the door and onto planes and through the plane ride, and sleep disruptions that come with traveling. Last year’s visit was amazing and also awful because the girls were both sick the whole time and did not sleep at all. This year, they’ve picked this week to cut their canines AND some molars, Etta’s started coughing in the last 24 hours, and Claire’s nose is running like a faucet.

Meanwhile, I realized yesterday, when Claire’s preschool teacher gave me a list of all the kids’ names, that I was meant to bring some sort of Christmas Thing for all the kids. I’d planned and prepared to gift her three teachers and three therapists, but the kids threw a wrench into my plans. A quick jaunt to the store (well, as quick as any jaunt can be with a toddler who wants everything she sees) and I had clearance jumbo crayons and holiday coloring books for all the preschoolers. I also dipped my toe into the Crazy Pinterest Mom deep end by using my phone to edit a pic of Claire in her Christmas jammies, send it to Walgreens through their app, and pick my prints up an hour later, ready to turn them into custom gift tags. I must say, it made all the gifts look super cute for less than $5.

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At the same time, yesterday was just a truly hellish day on the toddler front. Etta was teething and cranky and on a nap-strike all day, and then Claire came home ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I seriously fantasized about just running out the door and down the block and on and on and on.

But then, the magic started to happen. We went to our Happy Place, a local Mexican restaurant where they know and love us and give us our usual table. We drank margaritas and the girls ate cheese dip. We got them to bed. I got to attend a Christmas party with some of my dearest friends. The girls woke up happy, and we had a little mini-Christmas so we could do it just the four of us, before we head off on our trip. We all opened our stockings and sipped egg nog and just enjoyed a morning together. Etta napped (glory hallelujah)! Claire came home happy from preschool! Sesame Street-as-babysitter allowed me to finish sewing my last three gifts! I got Claire snuggled and to sleep, and then got a rare 20 minutes of holding my sweet Etta baby (who is usually go go go), just smelling her hair. By the time I had both babies in bed tonight, my world had turned a complete 360 from yesterday’s insanity.

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I’m starting to realize, early enough to have it matter, I hope (because, ha, seriously, I have it easy with toddlers, there’s no school programs or class parties or dance recitals or required outings yet), that Christmas is not about making the magic for my kids, even as I have to make magic happen in the form of last-minute gifts for bunches of preschoolers. Because my kids are the most magical thing I’ve ever seen, when I stop to see it. Christmas, really, is about a magic, miraculous, mundane thing: babies are born every day, but the Son of God is only born once. God picked the most normal thing in the world and used it to transform everything. And in the process, even the mundane becomes magical and miraculous. Christianity talks a lot about God giving us a new heart, a new life. But I think lately what I need the most is new eyes to see what’s already around me all the time.

Things like: the day before yesterday, I stopped at a light next to a man begging. The light turned green, and I drove away. But a verse popped right into my mind: Give to anyone who asks of you (Luke 6:30). Later, somehow, that same guy approached me in a parking lot a mile away. With my new eyes, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the verse that had popped into my mind and heart, and I gave him some money. I don’t know if I should have, I don’t want to debate giving money to strangers, and I don’t want to brag or let my left hand know what my right is doing. All I know is, in that moment, I truly felt I was being given another opportunity to do the right thing.

Later, irked in traffic, head and sinuses pounding, I looked up and saw a bumper sticker on the van in front of me: “Good Happens.” Message received. It does.

I want to be the good that happens. I want to see it. I want to hold it and smell its hair. And I can, all because of a baby that was born. Because of a new heart. Because of new eyes. That’s what this Christmas seems to be all about, for me. It’s my first to be acutely aware of the Crazy and the Busy. But it’s also my first with two magical little people who are old enough to be starting to see the magic. I want to see it too.

stepping into a new faith community

Please to enjoy this photo of the bufflogals in their church clothes, as I'm not sure what else goes with this post.

Please to enjoy this photo of the bufflogals in their church clothes, as I’m not sure what else goes with this post.

On Sunday, we attended a Membership Matters class and picked a date, so it’s official: we’re joining our neighborhood United Methodist Church, marking the end of our church search, a search we’ve been on since our beloved community and church plant Eikon disbanded about a year ago.

While we knew finding another Eikon would be impossible, it wasn’t easy to choose a new church to call home. For one thing, even within our marriage, finding a church we both agree on is tough, because certain things like the role of women (we’re for equality!), the importance of social justice and creation care, the belief that the salvation of all things is about more than just asking Jesus to live in your heart, and love for all people regardless of sexuality/race/socioeconomic status are important to us, but we also wanted a great kids program and a vibrant worship experience. Add to that equation that we were also hoping to land in the same place as some of our Eikon friends, and you have a group choosing a church by committee.

We tried big churches and small churches. Presbyterian, Episcopalian, non-denominational/evangelical, and Methodist. We liked aspects of just about every place we visited, and truly disliked only one experience (let’s just say a sermon about how God wants to make people materially wealthy isn’t the way to our hearts). I truly think we could have been happy in many of the congregations we visited.

We even really seriously considered the church that I would say was farthest outside my comfort zone, a non-denominational/evangelical church. It was definitely different than the Presbyterian churches I grew up in, but I was willing to give it a shot because it seemed to have a deep commitment to racial and cultural unity, which is rare in churches in the South and in the US as a whole, and because it had a lot of young families and seemed to have a great kids program. We attended regularly for many months, truly enjoyed our time in worship there, and even went to a class for potential new members, but ultimately, the fact that the leadership (elders and pastors) was all-male, the fact that homosexuality was condemned as a sin, and a few other little things we heard in the preaching came together to show us that we weren’t in quite the right place, though we wish that group the best in their work toward reconciliation and unity.

Ultimately, we started attending a contemporary service at a United Methodist church very near to our house, which is a major plus when trying to get ourselves and two small people out the door on Sunday mornings. We started just as a new pastor for that service came on board, and we have really enjoyed his preaching. We like the music and worship style a lot, and there are many young families and a great, well-run kids program for the girls. Theologically, as the senior pastor said in class today, there’s really not a lot about Methodists that would make them stand out among other mainline protestant denominations, because they all believe the same things, but I liked that he said that what Methodists try to emphasize above everything else is grace. I have also long loved the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a way of making sense of scripture, theology, and the world, because I think it’s vitally important to know the Bible, but also impossible to read/understand/value the Bible in isolation from tradition, reason, and lived experience.

We like that there are women on staff as pastors, and that the UMC affirms women in full equality. We also like that this church is a large church that uses its size to do large amounts of good in our community and the world, and we look forward to plugging in to some mission opportunities there. Ultimately, I think and hope and pray that this will be a place where we can find a peer group but also have a diverse community, where our kids can be nurtured in the faith, where we can learn and grow ourselves, and where we can connect with opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work of making all things new and whole. I do know that the UMC has some work to do to become truly inclusive of all people regardless of sexuality or gender identity, but I feel the denomination is moving in the right direction, and am encouraged to see same-sex couples in worship on Sunday mornings, which I take as a sign that this particular congregation is on the side of inclusiveness and equality.

So– this lifelong Presbyterian is joining up with the Methodists. I guess this makes me a Presbodist?