Friday, July 28, 2017

On Scripts and Sacred Ground

When the national news started picking up the story surrounding the Standing Rock reservation and its people protesting the building of a pipeline, the idea of sacred spaces and hallowed ground became mainstream language.  What was strange to me was the number of Evangelical Christians who balked at the idea that a group of people could be so tied to a piece of land for religious reasons.

The odd thing was, these were many of the same people who have made multiple ventures with their churches to "The Holy Land."  They walked the Via Dolorosa.  They sat on the Mount of Olives, stood on the hillside cathedral that was the church at Ephesus and stepped foot in the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was baptized.  They have wept at tombs which are said to hold the bodies of the saints and all because here was ground that was irrevocably tied to their story.

What is more, the Scriptures are littered with the concept of Holy Ground.  From Moses and the burning bush to the inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies to the ultimate goal of a "promised land" that was to be God's Kingdom on earth.

So why would we, a people so deeply rooted in the sacredness of space, be so opposed to someone else recognizing the legitimacy of higher power at work within the very earth we stand on?  Truthfully I'd love to say that it was just a misunderstanding and Evangelicals just like good business, but that's not what's going on.  More than anything, I believe we have lost the reverence of dominion in exchange for the profitable business of domination, forgoing all things sacred on this earth because "When we die, hallelujah by and by, we'll fly away."

In that short-sighted transaction we forgot that God did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it.  The world is not some ramshackle building in the hood where we can throw bottles through the remaining windows and spray paint "We were here" as some sort of misguided evangelism vandals before condemning the house to build newer luxury homes for a select, gentrified few.  God is in the business of remaking the world, yes, bringing back to whole fruition and flourishing, but we are called to be stewards of what He started so when he returns to finish it he can look upon us and say "well done, good and faithful servant, welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven."

Moreover, we all have holy places in our lives that we don't define as sacred until they are taken away.  As Wendell Berry says "There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places."  Think back to the places in your life that helped shape you and form you and bring joy to your life.  Are they still there?  Are they still sacred?
My family has one of those places, Bluewater Covenant Bible Camp.  It's a place that when I smell the air and feel the breeze off the lake, a level of worry regarding the world around me lifts away.  It's a place where I can swim in the waters where myself and my siblings were all baptized and renew my faith in myself or humanity or the Creator of all of it with each and every drop of water drying in the sun.  My family's story is irrevocably tied to the place of Bluewater and as such it is a place that if an oil company told us they had to build a pipeline beneath our pristine lake, my siblings and I would be the first to stand on that beach, linking arms and saying "you'll have to go through us first."

But there is something else I've found about Holy places; first, they are everywhere.  The divinity of the Holy Spirit indwelling in humanity makes any space we dwell a place that can reflect the image and transcendence of God Almighty.  Second, they have the ability to tear down the things, tangible and non, that might aim to desecrate them.

Despite having a Holy space such as Bluewater where I feel connected and whole most of the time, there is one thing that always seeks to destroy the sanctity of this place.  That thing is the pervasiveness of one relentless script.  A few years ago when I was introduced to the concept of scripts, the things we play over and over in our heads that dominate our perception of what is happening around us, a lightbulb came on in my head and I have tried my hardest to keep that light on, revealing truth and stamping out darkness.  My entire life I have had one prevailing script in my head that has too often won out, spoiling the very good moments it was created to destroy.  That script is this - "I do not fit into my immediate (siblings/parents) family and they would function just fine without me."

First off, let me assure you that no one in my family has ever even insinuated this to me and I know this script is a lie.  But, as I'm sure you know, a lie repeated enough times begins to feel awfully truthful.  I don't remember a time where this script has not tried to force its way through into every family interaction I have had in my life.  By grace and hard work I have been able to point it out and silence it when I see it coming.  But this year it made its way into some place sacred, it came to Bluewater.

Noah, the boys and I were able to come to family camp this summer for the first time in seven years where we didn't have to take an airplane.  It was glorious to be able to pack up the car and drive up in the morning and get there before the swimming area opened for the day.  But camp with a nine week old as well as 2 and 4 year olds proved to be something unexpected; isolating.  Here I was surrounded by people I've known and loved my entire life and the endless refrain of naps and nursing left me feeling alone. In that loneliness the script came to corrupt, and steal, and destroy.  As we drove away I was feeling only grief, a grief I processed over the last four weeks with good friends and a lot of prayer.
So I made the decision to brave the possibility of isolation again and headed up to camp to help out my brother and sister in law for the day and I found something entirely different.  I realized that what I did not do the last time was simple, I did not allow the space to remain Holy.  I didn't confront lies with unbreakable truth. For me Bluewater is a space that looks almost directly into the throne room of God.  In a time where all I could do was feel too much, that holy fear that breaks down barriers and walls and every lie since the Garden felt like too much.  Nine weeks post-partum, I was ever-teetering on the brink of tears and I couldn't stand to feel any more, so I retreated to what I knew, a script that while untrue, still felt familiar.

Now, I'm writing this out on the deck of my brother's home at Bluewater.  I am reveling in the wholeness and acceptance I feel.  I am truly joyful.  I am braving the sacred in order to kill the script and what I've found is this:  When you can accept the transformative power of the sacred, it stands up to danger and untruth, linking arms with the Father, Spirit and Son and says "you'll have to go through us first."

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Relentless Now

I had a revelation this morning, I even had it before I had any coffee which in my mind makes it significant.
In just under five hours I'm leaving with a group of amazing women for The Gallery Covenant Church's annual women's retreat.  We will be going away for about 40 hours of time together and yet time away.  We will be eating together, laughing, worshipping, praying, and hopefully finding honest glimpses of the real people we do community with each week.

I am taking on a Saturday breakaway session.  I am talking about the idea of being present in our ordinary, every day lives.  It's a topic I am passionate about and believe strongly in.  I even preached a sermon about it before leaving the Pacific NorthWest to move to Minnesota.

But this morning I stood in my kitchen trying to catch my breath, literally, from an onslaught of emotion and exhaustion.  As the water boiled for coffee and used it's broken whistle to call me to attention, my youngest ran into the kitchen to tell me he was still hungry despite not finishing what I just gave him.  Also he had smashed bananas on his freezing cold hands which were promptly smeared down my previously banana-free legs, and just like that I was snapped back to the now.

I couldn't help but think over the last few weeks how I was going to teach anything about being present when I don't think I've had a solitary thought to myself in at last three weeks.  We've been plagued with illness and injury and death and taxes and in all of it, I am due with our third baby boy in 19 days.  I have responded to emails and text messages days after they were sent and I've lost my cool with the two little people who are nothing short of my heart walking around outside my body.

Shauna Niequist is an author I like a lot.  If I'm being honest she isn't revolutionary in an "I've never thought of that before" kind of way, but she speaks more gently like a mirror you can clean at your own pace, she reflects light and truth that you have forgotten.  In her book Bread & Wine she began a movement called Present Over Perfect.  In a totally unjust summary, it's giving permission to live in the now of your life and not the daunting past or future.  It's a way to hold your loved ones near without worrying about the dishes or the bathroom or the bills, if only for a breath.  Since then she has written the book Present Over Perfect, which I have yet to read only because I have about million books I have yet to read but I am excited to get to it, hopefully in 2017.

I love the idea of present over perfect.  I think it's a spectacular concept and I like to wish it on other people and hashtag it on my Instagram.  I like to dispense it as sage wisdom to those who are at the end of their ropes.  But I have not been able to understand why I cannot find joy in the present, why it is that the idea of "present" does not bring peace and I think that is where this morning's revelation came so poignant.

The reason is because the present is relentless.

My worldview is shaped as being a mom of young kids, and my present is not peaceful, it is not restful, it is constantly demanding my attention be torn into shambles between stolen legos and matching socks and who happens to be hungriest in that exact moment.  In fact, my attempt to write the previous sentence was interrupted by two arguments about whose banana was on the stairs and who got to walk around with the bucket on their head.  The bucket, I might add, was one used just in case my son got sick in his sleep again.

These moments are not marked by a stillness, steeping in the presence of the divine, and I think if we are more honest about what present means we will stop trying so hard to escape it for something better.  Maybe not even that, but perhaps we can call the onslaught what it is: terrifying.

Let me be clear, this is not a plea for placation or fishing for compliments.  This is just honesty, something I don't think we need to be lauded for, we just need to be more comfortable with its unresolvedness.  When we tell people in the midst of honest self-reflection that "it gets better" we steal the present moment from them in hopes that they will feel better so we feel better and the tension of the already and the not yet doesn't fall so heavily.  But I digress.

I guess this is nothing more than a quiet coffee with a friend.  It's a chance to tell you that if your "now" seems too daunting that present over perfect seems like more of a chore than you're willing to take on, you are not alone.  I don't have five steps for you, mama.  I don't have a magical play mat that will keep your children entertained for hours while you reflect on the good things in your life.  What I have is permission to feel too much and the understanding of the desire to escape into our digital lives for five minutes because no one on Facebook needs you to read them a book or wipe their butt.  What I also have is a mirror that slowly is beginning to reflect someone that looks like me, frazzled, tired, using her hospital bag packing list as a coaster and truly blessed beyond reason.
This is the tension we live in, our now is relentless, our lives have so much beauty that it weighs heavy and we are called to swim in it nonetheless.  So, I guess I'll see you in the deep water, we're all there too.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Adult Friendships must equal Adult + Friend

There are very few mom blogs or parenting articles you can read about "self-care" that don't talk about maintaining relationships with your adult friends.  Every post that talks about the stresses moms carry talks about "going out with girlfriends" or "having a wine night" or "grabing coffee and gossiping."
Sure, all those things provide a little bit of reprieve in the day to day monotony of building wooden train tracks and coloring pages four crayon scribbles at a time.  But the thing they don't tell you in those "let loose" posts is that all those things also have one other thing in common: they are exhausting.

Truthfully it can be a ton of fun to get dressed up and go out on the town until the inevitable fatigue of 10:30 hits.  Sometimes it is nice to open a bottle of pinot after your kids are asleep and try laugh with another woman about the fact half your makeup collection got dumped in the toilet.  And yes, the Starbucks inside Target can be a safe haven for venting frustrations while still thinking about getting your kids little gifts from the dollar section.  But, in order to have adult friendships as an adult and, in my experience, especially as a parent your friendships must be made up of adults who act like grown-ups.

Let me explain.

As a mom I spend 85% of my day uncovering whatever is wrong.  My sons often just walk in to a room sulking and expect me to get to the bottom of that moment's injustice only to find out that they are sad because lions don't like taking baths.  And if someone is truly hurt, uncovering the truth about who pushed whom or where that bruise came from is a tireless and entirely thankless endeavor.  If you need further proof, a few nights ago my 4 year old spent 30 minutes sobbing uncontrollably because I cleaned him up after he threw up at dinner.  When I soon found out the reason he was crying was because I wouldn't let him eat the chips he threw up on, he looked at me for a solid minute repeating, "you broke my heart."  Yup, that's right, I broke his heart because I didn't let him eat vomit chips.

There are days that my kids sit on the couch with such discontented sighs that I fear asking them what's wrong, not because anything is actually wrong but I don't want to lose my cool when they tell me it isn't fair that they can't earn their screen time privileges back after they lost them for clocking their brother in the head with a stool.  In fact, the non-descript sigh, or whine, or little "hmmm" sound is so exhausting that not long into our parenting journey I lost my cool on my husband for making the same sounds when he's reading and wants to tell me what he's reading.  I literally shouted "If you are going to say something then say it like an adult!  Don't make me ask you. You are not a child!"  I think I scared him with my mom voice because he was pretty quiet the rest of the night.  (Thanks for loving me, babe, you're amazing)
I spend my day raising adults.  We have two, soon to be three under the age of 5 whom we are hoping will some day grow up to be functioning and communicating adults.  We do this all. the. time.  I don't have time to decipher a sigh or a "Hmmmm" or a vague Facebook status.  If you're going to talk to me as a friend, be an adult.

This is not to sound arrogant like I have it all together and I'm the best at adulting and I never make mistakes.  I totally make mistakes, I have selfish and immature moments.  But what it does mean is if we are going to be friends, I need you to say what you're going to say.  I can't dig for it, I don't have the time or the energy to do so.

I truly believe one of the best parts of growing older is getting to choose where you spend your energy.  I have had this conversation multiple times recently with some of the best women I know.  We can talk openly and honestly about how we love getting to invest in certain friendships and not worry about whether or not we can be friends with everyone.  It's truly liberating when you can be honest with yourself about it.

Because when we get to the honest stage, we find out that "letting loose" means not caring what my house looks like when you come over because you're bringing pizza and a movie for our kids.  It means using my shirt as a spit up rag for your newborn without missing a beat and being totally ok when you put my kid in a time out.  It means knowing the difference between when I need a friend to sit with me in the mess and knowing when I need help doing dishes because I haven't seen my countertop since 2013.  It means wine night can sometimes be wine afternoon and it means having a trusting enough relationship to say, "I think you need to reconsider how often you have wine night."

It doesn't mean as a mom I want easy and flighty friendships.  It means I want to have friendships without drama and backbiting.  I want to be there in the big and the small without hesitation or explanation.  I want to say I'm sorry when it's needed.  I want to say I forgive you and move on.   I want to be adults about it.