Monday, February 23, 2015

expectations.

When people ask about the demographics of my church, their first question is often about young families. Many associate health and growth in a congregation with how many young family units attend worship, give financially, and participate in family program ministries.

Well, we don't have many young families at Zion. In fact, if your definition of "young families" is two parents with small children, then that demographic is the Carlsons and…that's it. Seriously.

For generations, we've associated young families with health and sustainable growth in congregations. Sure, we like the sight and sounds of wiggles and giggles in the pews. We are proud of our Christmas pageants and the size of our youth groups. But these families are not feel-good statistics and healthy church trophies. These are, perhaps, our most exhausted and overwhelmed people. They struggle to navigate worship attendance around naps, confirmation around hockey, and pressure to lead when showing up is challenging enough.

Matt told me that he finally sang all four verses of a hymn last week. What do you mean "finally"? I asked. He meant that, since Jasper was born, he's never been able to focus on the worship service long enough to sing a whole song. All that work shlepping little people into the sanctuary by 10:00am for four years and he's only been catching snippets. I thought about all the brave parents who do keep coming to church despite the struggle - how intensely we pressure them to usher and teach and join a committee. Talk about an uphill battle.

So here's how I understand my call to welcome and serve "young families" at Zion:

I will celebrate the fact that you showed up. 
And so will Matt. It's amazing that you are all fully dressed and you arrived together in one piece. Bravo! High fives all around. These are the simple miracles that birthed liturgical dance - I'm just sure of it. The nursery will be ready to receive your little squirrels if you can't wait for an hour of personal space. The sanctuary will also be ready to receive your little squirrels because their noise, questions, distractions, and LIFE are very welcome in worship.

I will guard you from unfair expectations.
All of them. I will notice, name, and absolve the internal pressures you put on your family by reminding you to be kind to yourselves. I will also provide a human shield between you and those who smother you with committee invitations and assumptions about your time or gifts. We will probably get coffee or a beer in the first few weeks - either at my house or while kids play at our ankles. And there I will begin by listening to your story. I will want to hear about your longings, needs, and dreams because I know how rarely you have an opportunity to voice those things these days.

And then I will be honest with you.
I will confess that your church experience at Zion will never be traditional or programmatic. We don't have a critical mass for lock-ins or children's sermons. But we do have sacred relationships that will change your children and your family forever. We have a professional Santa Claus in the choir who can inspire awe and joy in the heat of July. We have an open table where children commune, confident that they belong in the midst of all things. We have people of every age and demographic, ready to welcome kids into their conversations and coffee hour circles.

I will tell you that, on Sunday, my son begged to go to Zion early with me. I reminded him that I couldn't play with him since I need to be Pastor Meta. He replied, I know. I want to go play in the nursery with my church friends or help them get the snacks ready downstairs. You can do your work and I'll do my things.

And sure enough. He helped set up the sanctuary and played in the nursery and came up for communion with friends 5 and 10 and 20 times his age. He received the bread and the juice with such sincerity and then sat with them in the front pew while he slowly enjoyed them. Many noticed and smiled - my son relishes this ritual and makes a meal of it. Later members helped him turn an empty cardboard box into a robot helmet. Young adults chased him around, played I SPY, and asked him about his birthday party.

And so I declare to parents of small children everywhere: the future of the church is not your responsibility - the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through and in spite of tantrums and tight budgets. We can figure out how to get along without you...

but we are SO much better with you! 
  you who stumble in during the Gathering Hymn
  you who drop crayons and Cheerios under pews
  you who embody the fierce and weary love of God our Parent.

So come when you can and come as you are.
And, if the stars are aligned and naps cooperate, you just might see my weary husband halfway back on the left hand side. He's the one giving every hymn a shot while holding wipes or Goldfish.

Monday, February 16, 2015

hearts.

I used to hate Valentine's Day. I had all kinds of reasons to despise the Hallmark holiday and its harpy expectations. I'd been barfed on, smothered, forgotten, and ditched on Valentine's Days prior to meeting Matt, so there were no expectations our first February together. I just asked that we would do something unrelated to the holiday. Thus began our tradition of eating at Hardees. After all, true love is a man and a mushroom swiss burger.

But these children have softened my heart to the holiday. I have birthed three babies in the month of February and now celebrate my love for them each year. I help Jasper design his mailbox for school that receives little candies and notes from his friends. I buy strawberries for the class party and cut them into hearts. I make cookies and frost them red or pink. Okay, I bake break 'n' bakes that come with the necessary supplies…but I wear an apron while I do it. You get the point. I'm suddenly smitten with February, but remain the Queen of Shortcuts.

This year we threw a birthday party for all three kids on Valentine's Day. Matt wondered if people might have conflicts the afternoon of Valentine's Day. I reminded him that we're probably not friends with people who "make a day of it". But here we are - making a day of it.

My babies were all born in the afternoon. In birth order. So there were three cakes cut and three songs sung. Jasper blew out all six candles.

Green lips!
Four pieces later he had regrets.
12:58pm.

Jasper came into my life like a freight train. He changed everything and he'll always be my first, my boy. I understand my dad's love for me - his first, his girl - through my love for Jasper. There's nothing like it.

Except, maybe, neon green frosting on a Ninja Turtle cake complete with a Splinter action figure. I know. We're the coolest parents ever.

1:51pm.

Solveig was such a unique birth. She arrived quickly and it was so thrilling - but it was only half over! While I held her on my chest, I prayed that Tove wouldn't spin into a breach position. We had 11 minutes with just our laid back Solveig. I watched her apgar test and talked to Matt while he held her with such pride. Once discharged from the hospital, we had 5 nights with just Solveig until Tove joined us at home. She began a trail blazer, but T would say she's also a really loyal buddy.

I hope they recreate this photo
on their 21st birthday.
2:02pm.

Tove arrived with something to prove. She was fierce grit and trouble from the start. I will never forget the way Matt's hands wrapped around her little body, propping her up with determination at each feeding. She was the better nurser of the two, but he was better at getting her through a bottle. Her dimples are her saving grace and she already knows it.

It was good to be with our family and wide village - our gracious guides through this big year. It was good to sing that song three times over. It was good to cut out paper hearts with little kids and it was good to watch them run to their parents with pride and homemade love.

Later that night, once the kids were all in bed, Matt went out for groceries and came back with some chili cheese fries from Hardees. We ate them in the quiet of our living room, hearts and bellies filled.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

contrast.


Solveig got glasses this month. She tugged at them for the first few hours and seemed confused, but then let them settle onto her little nose. Her eyes were wide, focused on things she'd never seen clearly before. She squealed at books and started beating Tove to their favorite toys. The contrast was - and still is - overwhelming.

The season of Epiphany is also bringing contrast into my bland, chilly winter landscape. The stories we hear on Sunday mornings are pointing out all the reasons I need Jesus - all the ways I cop out and cry uncle on this faith journey. I hear my own hesitation or insecurity in these texts:

I am a Pharisee loitering on the sidelines 
  while John baptizes in the wilderness.

I am tempted by every voice that dares me 
  to prove my worth and power.

I am turned upside down by Jesus blessing the unexpected
  and his urging to pray for God's will instead of my own.

I am hoarding bread and fish, 
  skeptical of my own satisfaction and the miracle at hand.

I am building dwellings for Jesus and the prophets, 
  desperate to serve in tangible ways while totally missing the point.

I need Epiphany. The stories and season offer overwhelming clarity that can change everything. The comfort and familiarity of Christmas gives way to tricky discipleship, wide love, and brave faith.

God, I offer my blurry confusion and tentative heart in exchange for your good vision. Give me eyes that focus with wonder and new joy - just like Solveig's.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

timbrel.


Jasper has one of those paper chain Advent calendars hanging from our dining room wall. Each ring has a Bible story about salvation and we rip one off each night before running upstairs for bedtime stories.

We are, of course, a few rings behind. And he has been requesting the Crossing the Red Sea story for the last few nights. I want the water one again. With grown up Moses.

When I read this story to him, I can feel the Israelites' hearts pounding as they look back toward Egypt. Is this crazy? Will we every get to the other side? Will we drown trying to cross into something new? I can hear the water rushing and feel the mist on my face. Jasper leans into me and points at the angry men in chariots closing in quickly.

And then there is dancing. They sing and shout and play their instruments. They don't have it all figured out just yet and there is plenty of wilderness still to come. But, for a day, there is a timbrel.

I guess that's where we are, too. We have made it through the hardest 10 months of our lives. I have ached and leaked and cried and worried and yelled and given up on the general effectiveness of eye makeup. All this sprinting and flexing and spinning plates has required great vulnerability and humor, deep commitment and cost. We are weary.

But we have made it through 2014! We still love each other and are usually pretty nice to each other, too. And, while part of me would rather dig out a granola bar and weep by myself on the shore for a bit, I have found my timbrel and I am dancing lately. We don't have it all figured out just yet and there's plenty of wilderness to come. But, for now, there is a timbrel.

I have written some about Jasper's transition to Big Brotherhood here at tangled up. It has been a struggle, but not in uncommon ways. It has been exhausting, but not dysfunctional. But this year has been rather heavy laden…until last week when we all came into our skin a bit more.

Especially Jasper.

I was triple tasking in the kitchen this morning when he walked in with his hands behind his back. Mommy, you're doing such a good job holding Solveig and making my breakfast. I want to give you this award. Keep up the good work. He handed me a foam number eight covered in stickers. My beautiful boy was beaming with pride. Then he took his high morale into our bedroom where he congratulated Matt on getting dressed while entertaining Tove.

I listened from the kitchen and danced. I danced because coffee was almost ready and because my moves were making Solveig laugh. But I mostly danced because my son is finding an inner stability and it's waking him up to the world. He's noticing new things with patience and awe. He's really affectionate and quick to tell jokes instead of getting huffy. He's taking the longview more often than your average preschooler. He's giving out awards on Thursday mornings.

We don't have it all figured out just yet and there's plenty of wilderness to come, but there is also much to celebrate. And so these days I keep my timbrel at the top of my backpack. I am ready to dance - in gratitude for the journey and in the face of things to come.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

there will be cake.


Mom, when will be your birthday party?

Well, my birthday was a month ago. I went on a date with Daddy. That was my party.

Oh. But what about cake? 

Thank God for Uncle Bror's birthday just a few days later. 

Jasper wrote B-R-O-R on four balloons that we awkwardly taped to the wall. We baked a box cake, which Matt sort of dropped all over the counter when he tried to flip it. The chunks were reassembled and quickly frosted into a rocky terrain and covered in sprinkles. 

Thank God for sprinkles.

I love cake as much as the next gal, but three year olds know how to demand it as ritual. We baked one for Godparents Day - a noisy celebration of our wide spiritual village. We welcomed new members at Zion with a cake. Cupcakes appear for birthdays and anniversaries at church, which I can rarely decline. 

Mohammad has been coming to the Lyndale Community Dinner for months now. He's originally from Egypt - professional, wise, highly educated - and doing his best to socialize in English so he can become more fluent. I hear you using words that are easier for me. Do not do that - teach me new words so I can understand more. Mohammad's birthday was on Thanksgiving Eve, a festive day complete with hundreds of guests, 15 turkeys, and plenty of pie. And a cupcake, of course. We sang while his face beamed in the midst of new friends and lots of gratitude.

I am thankful for Jasper this season - all the ways he demands celebration and ritual in the midst of our chaos and fatigue. His eyes are bright and his questions are eager, which help me to see the world his way for a change:

we love a lot of people
we have the power to make people feel special
singing together is important
lighting candles forms memories

and if you're feeling really festive…
there will be cake.