Wednesday, December 18, 2013

like a tree.

I am more than 31 weeks pregnant with twins.

People like to talk about this because it's hard to ignore. I have a bowling ball protruding from my core that steers conversation in her giant direction. My breathing is labored and sometimes my heartburn transforms me into a fire-breathing dragon. My skin is running out of stretch. My belly button is flat and bruised. Sometimes I wear slippers out of the house in the morning since I can't see my feet…and then the texture on the sidewalk reminds me to turn around and wrestle on some boots instead.

They each measure the size of a pineapple and weigh a little over three pounds. Baby A sits on my bladder and Baby B lives up in my rib cage. Sometimes I can see elbows and knees popping out on completely opposite sides of my body - feet apart! - in the same moment.

Usually someone is awake in there and they're both strong enough to jab me from deep sleep into restless wakefulness. I can feel them wrestling with each other, even though they have their own sacks and space. They poke and prod at the thin membrane that divides "my side" from "your side". Perhaps they already know one another better than I know them.

I have done a poor job keeping notes and taking pictures of my growing bump for their baby books. But this week I finally have words for how they are changing me. This week I look in the mirror and I see a thick tree. There is something beautiful about pregnant women who get a little thicker during gestation. We are hydrated and strong and durable. Our hips and thighs morph to handle the great change at our center. There is grace and balance beyond the waddle and grunts.

I get up several times each night to stretch and use the bathroom and walk around a bit. The house is quiet while I roam and breath deeply. The house is dark while I feel their kicks and wiggles beneath my skin. I am easily overwhelmed by my size and lack of energy during the day, but in these still hours of solitude - just the three of us - I feel vibrant and calm.

People say all kinds of annoying and intrusive things when you're putting on a pound or two every week. But people also say lovely and supportive and terribly funny things, like, "There's literally a party in your pants" or, "When I saw you in your alb this morning I thought, 'Hey, Meta. The Metrodome needs it's roof back.'" There's nothing better than when Matt cracks a good one about my size and then offers up a foot rub to affirm this good work of being like a tree.

I have been working from home more often and saying NO with greater ease. I am living in the unknown spaces of Advent. I do not know when maternity leave will begin or what I'll be able to finish at work before they arrive. I do not know when they will plan their escape or if they'll be able to come home with us right away. And so I wait. I long. I grow and stretch and agree to be changed.

I don't know much about these girls yet, but I do know that they are making me stronger and slower. I am already more vulnerable and grateful than I was last Christmas. I am thicker and softer and rooted in the beginning of a fascinating relationship with two people who live inside me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to pop some Tums and stretch until Baby B's dance party powers down.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

advent sinews

Advent is tricky and fleeting. It does not easily sync with our cultural traditions of December because we start binging on Christmas as soon as that last bite of Thanksgiving roll mops up the last pool of gravy.

I love Advent because it's jagged and askew and we don't know what to do with it. The message is hushed and urgent…or damning and patient. I can't decide which.

At Zion we are in the midst of a sermon series on the prophets. Today Ezekiel the Weirdo did the talking. I love him for all the same reasons I love Advent. He catches our ear with the bizarre and mysterious, with morbid words that are strangely comforting.

His most famous vision was of a valley filled with dry bones. The stench of death. Dead ends all around. A nation cut off from breath and life and spirit and purpose and God and home. The air was still and all hope was void.

This is how the people of Jerusalem felt after the city finally fell to the Babylonians. In the wake of rubble and smoke, they were no longer free. They wondered whether God died in the siege. The loneliness and fear were so overwhelming that it became easy to forget God's resume for showing up and saving and caring and grieving and mending when life gets torn. And so they are like dry bones  in a valley - waiting for hope and breath.

This is how the people of Lake Street look on Sunday mornings as I drive to church. There are people hiding beneath thick layers - only their weary eyes showing - and I wonder how long and cold their night has been. The buses don't come quickly enough. Men gather in small groups near the Kmart to talk about the jobs they still don't have. Women shlep strollers and toddlers through the ice and wind to buy groceries and make calls at pay phones. It is both quiet and noisy. The people look scattered and exhausted. Simple things are difficult in the dark cold of a Minneapolis winter. And so they are like dry bones in a valley - waiting for hope and breath.

This is how the people of Zion look when I rise after the Prelude. The crowd is slender and the average age is younger today. We gather our dead ends together: grief, layoffs, surgery, snarky moods, cars that don't start, checkbooks that don't balance, and fears we're not quite ready to name. There is room for all of these hard things and, because they do not get the final word, it will not be a pity party or self-help group when we begin.

Because we have come through the cold, dark valley to light candles, even though it seems silly. We have come to be honest about our human condition and our deep need for someone to trump our dead ends, even though it seems impossible. We come to have our ears opened to Ezekiel the Weirdo to "Hear the Word of the Lord" and be changed by promises that dwell in dead and dry places. And we have come to feast on something sacramental - God's vow to connect and strengthen us with sinews and flesh and breath that raise us up and cause Life.

Maybe they're just promises, but we sing differently once we know - once we remember that God has not perished in the rubble of Jerusalem or the weariness of our week. God is even in exile. God is especially in exile. God shows up in the dead ends and the graves and the valleys to restore our breath, purpose, and sense of home.

After worship, a keen ear approached me and said, "You got me thinking about how many Ezekiels we have around here. We have so many who are known for doing bizarre and mysterious things on the street that speak to raw faith and real life." Yes. Word and Sacrament. Dry bones and dancing. Dead ends and new breath. Listening and proclaiming and waiting and longing and confessing that we need someone to break into all that we carry with Hope.

We are Advent people through and through.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the gospel according to daniel tiger.

There are a few cartoon characters who have changed my life lately. I found myself getting defensive when someone called Dora a princess character this summer. "Actually, Dora is a loyal friend. And she goes on adventures. And she never gives up. So try watching an episode before you pigeon hole her as a princess character. She's actually pretty bad ass." I reacted as though he was talking smack about my best friend.

Daniel Tiger is the animated descendent of Daniel Striped Tiger from Mister Roger's Neighborhood. There's a trolly and Daniel uses his imagination a lot. The friendships are relatable for a toddler and the plots give Jasper great words for his feelings.

Every episode has a little jingle to help you remember the social or emotional lesson in play. "Keep on trying - you'll get better," has been the theme of potty training this week. For almost five days, Jasper wore underwear without hitting the potty. Accidents galore. Lots of laundry. It would have been easy for this little Type A observer to give up and get too frustrated, but he kept trying.

Last night, he hit the pot! There is hope. He beamed and me and said, "Mommy, I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried! I'm a potty kid now!" There will be many more accidents, but there will also be more trying. I'm just sure of it.

I, on the other hand, need to try a little less. November has been about prepping and meeting and checking things off the list. I assumed I would still have full-day energy through Thanksgiving to get my ducks in a row for maternity leave, but I don't. This week my body is pulling me back and I'm listening, reluctantly. My Daniel Tiger song sounds something like, "You are called to some things, not everything."

There will be accidents along the way (and a lot of laundry), but we will also use our imaginations and lean into friendships and give words to feelings. We will try really hard...or try not to try so hard. And we will be proud of the vulnerability and new life that come along with that shift.

Today I cancelled two meetings and started slowly. Jasper arrived at school with 7 extra pairs of underwear…just in case. And tonight we'll come together again in celebration the day, however it pans out.

Monday, November 11, 2013

veterans.

We are grateful for your strength because you are capable of all kinds of things: discipline, distance, teamwork, and loyalty that most Americans lust after. You've seen and done incredible things. You serve and labor while most of us go about our ordinary days, unaware of your sacrifice. We are in awe of your strength.

But we are also grateful for your vulnerability because you tell stories that widen our world: our ethics, our imaginations, our politics, and our faith. You've seen and done incredible things. And then you come home, thank God, to a culture that does not know how to receive your emotions and stories well. You come home to the economy and land and people you defended and face unemployment because we don't know how to translate and apply your valuable skills...even though you do. We say dumb things like, "Wow. Did you kill anyone over there?" and nod as though we understand the complexities of your darkest moments.

So thank you for your strength and thank you for your vulnerability. Keep leading. Keep telling your stories. Keep articulating your needs and widening our world and challenging us to do a better job supporting you. Because you deserve the very best.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ferns.

Last winter we lost a few redwoods at Zion. We said goodbye to beautiful and generous saints who left this world in peaceful or sudden ways. The forest rumbled as they fell and we grieved - we wondered how we could go on without them and longed for things to be like they used to be.

But things can't be like they used to be - and they shouldn't be. The forest does not manufacture new redwoods overnight. Instead, the sun pokes through and the ecosystem shifts a bit. The air sounds wide open and the breeze dips down into quiet, sleepy corners.

And then the ferns stretch and span. They recognize the shift and the spaces that are building something new. Slowly, they rise toward the light and stand a little taller because there is room to be and breathe. The potential is palpable.

We have ferns rising at Zion these days. Young people are claiming a place and articulating their gifts and sneaking into the fabric of this forest. It's fun to watch them bond with older women and roll meatballs. They bike to church and then befriend others holding bike helmets. Their offering is uniquely generous and faithful - confident giving in the midst of transition, shift work, and stipends.

At first glance, you might miss them. Instead you might see only redwoods on the ground, a wilderness graveyard of what once was.  So it is tempting to mold them into redwoods -
to imagine that they are here to replace someone we've lost
to ignore their gifts and misuse them as warm bodies
to hope that they will take us back in time to a forest that no longer exists.

But if we fall to these fearful temptations, we are missing the whole, beautiful point.

There are ferns rising. 
They are signs of resurrection and life.
They bring new energy and growth that cannot be compared, predicted or measured.
They bring themselves, as they are, and that is always more than enough.

So instead I walk in the woods with my senses on high alert, grateful for the subtle and significant ways the forest is transforming for the sake of a rich and vibrant future.

Lord God, you call your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  - Evening Prayer, ELW

Thursday, October 24, 2013

thoughts.

My son left the house this morning wearing cowboy boots, pajama pants, and his orange scooter helmet. The sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa's house will include plenty of flare.

The KFC I frequented during my first pregnancy has since folded and turned into a Popeyes. I'm feeling some guilt about this. Could I have saved them if I'd become pregnant just a few months earlier?  Were my regular drumstick runs the only thing keeping them in business in 2010-2011? The world will never know.

I had coffee with a bright-eyed, bushy tailed Ole this morning. He was so optimistic and filled with potential, I could have used a cup of coffee before our meeting to prepare for his energy. I listened carefully and became inspired. Then he lapped up my insights and advice as though I know what I'm talking about. He made me feel old, but in a good way.

The weather is crisp. It's perfect for walks in the dark with your hands shoved deep into pockets.

I love Mentos. I'd never tried them until I met a Zion member who works in a candy factory and puts packages of them in my office mailbox. They're underrated and delicious. I also have a biscotti dealer and latte bearer at church, so I'm sitting pretty.

There are so many people running for mayor in Minneapolis this fall. They all have wonderful gifts and they are proof that this city is very loved. I've been spending my free time reading about them and it makes me hopeful.

My congregation figured out that my babies will use approximately 1600 diapers during my maternity leave. This fact is depressing on several levels, but it does sound like a have a really, really long maternity leave. I've decided I will measure it in diapers instead of weeks when I feel like it's going to quickly.

Last night a 5 year old proudly showed me his homework. A baby spit up on my shoulder. A mentally ill person pooped in the bathroom by my office with the door wide open. A neighbor called me and over shared about her blister. A woman begged me in broken English for rent money I couldn't provide and then we held each other for awhile. Everyone at Recovery Worship had something beautiful to say about Exodus 6 and Patience. I ate soup with people I only know because of Lyndale and Jesus.

Tomorrow I have nowhere to be and no one to wake me up. So I will lie in bed and give thanks for all these piles. I will rest and stretch in the peace for awhile. I will laugh at the clock and roll over again. I will get lost in all the good things about this chapter - the beautiful thoughts and the wild grace that comes in waves to move me forward.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

favorite one.


Jasper,

When you are super silly or about to throw a fit, I usually ask you if you'd like to hear a secret. The invitation causes you to pause for a moment while a wide grin spreads across your face. You come barreling toward me and lean in for news that is always true and always the same:

Out of all the little boys who live in my house, YOU are my very...favorite...one!

I realize that out of context and to an adult cynic, this declaration sounds very creepy. (Am I keeping a few in the cupboards and others in the basement? Am I the old woman who lived in a shoe?) But you are wildly flattered by these words and always ask to hear "another secret". So, with gladness, I tell you again and again.

I used to wonder how I would tweak this secret declaration if you were to have a brother. But we recently found out that there is no need to manipulate your Gospel according to Mom. This word will always be true because it sounds like you've got sisters on the way!

I kept a pregnancy journal with you, Jasper. I wrote about and to you long before you lived on the outside. But I haven't been doing that for your sisters quite yet. I am still too wrapped up in talking to you, teaching you, reflecting about you, and being in awe of you during this transition. I have a hard time imagining my relationship with them apart from you right now because you are the Known and you are in the Flesh.

So I'm sure my words for them will come. And I'm sure, at times, you'll think I have too many words for them and not enough for you. But, in light of our secret truth and your three year head start, be confident that there is a special place for you deep in my soul.

I know what it's like to be the oldest. And what it's like to have two siblings - younger, close in age, and of the same gender. I know what it's like to be entrusted with responsibilities and to walk while the little ones are carried. I know what it's like to watch your siblings have a unique relationship and then to figure out how you get to be close to each and both of them in your own way. I know what it's like to mostly love and only sometimes resent being first. I know what it's like to blaze the trail and challenge the rules that have never been put to the test before.

I get excited about watching you in this role, navigating it with unique style and perspective. You will be a wonderful eldest and, no matter how your sisters change this dynamic we've got cooking, I will always be attune to your place in this family of five.

I thought all these things while we napped in my bed today. I drifted in and out of sleep, relaxed by your rest beside me, stirring now and then to watch your lips and hear your breath. And then I awoke one final time to you in my face saying, "It's wake up time! Oh, Mommy. You are my favorite Mommy."

And you are my favorite Jasper. So remember - as I find words for your sisters and things continue to change, our old saying will always be true:

Out of all the little boys who live in my house, YOU are my very favorite one.

Love, Mommy

Thursday, September 26, 2013

hands.

One of our lovely quilting ladies
cleaned up at the state and county fair!
I get to church when the quilters do on Tuesday mornings. Just two women this week, but there are always enough hands for the work to be done. Always enough words and ears for listening, too.

There was a woman waiting for me by my office door. We introduced ourselves and she confided about her current struggles. I hear a lot of these down-on-your-luck stories and can smell a bullshitter a mile away. Lucy* is not one of them. She is discouraged and misses work and wishes she had a place to call home. We came up with a flimsy plan with promising resources and then I asked her to get her phone charger out of her truck. "Come down to the Banquet Room so you can charge your phone and start making these connections on a full battery. The quilters are downstairs. They've got banana bread and coffee, too."

She returned with her charger and casually mentioned that she'd been baptized here long ago. "It still smells the same," which, to her seemed a comfort and to me seemed like a poor church marketing strategy. I introduced Lucy to the ladies and left her in good hands.

On my way back up the stairs, I found a Somali woman ringing the doorbell 8,000 times. When I opened the door, she shouted, "Sewing machine, sewing machine!" Ah yes. I remember this woman from ESL classes. She's likes to bridge the language barrier with volume and has a hurricane for a three year old daughter. She had misinterpreted "quilting group" as "free sewing lessons" and was soon inside the door handing me a stroller to take down the stairs. Our gracious ladies received her with the same good hands.

Late morning, I wandered back downstairs to put something in the refrigerator and found a beautiful sight. One of the quilting ladies was laughing with the Somali Shouter, both hunched over a machine and making great progress on a zig zag stitch. Her daughter was napping on a Princess-and-the-Pea-sized stack of quilts in the corner. The other quilting lady had invited Lucy to pin and tie on a big purple quilt. She remembered Lucy's baptism and they had catching up to do. Lucy's eyes smiled with the warm relief of being useful while her phone slowly filled with juice.

Later our youngest quilter dropped by to catch up and share material. She's in her twenties and doesn't have class until late afternoon. Her grandmother once taught her to quilt and she makes the most beautiful quilt tops you've ever seen. And so the Banquet Room filled with hands.

Two quilters began the morning alone in the big Banquet Room. You might have seen them and assumed the ministry was stalled out or dying. You might have been fooled into thinking their hands were doing simple things, but they are not. They are holy and gentle hands that stir up love and hope right under our noses.

Monday, September 23, 2013

remembering buddy.

He killed Osama bin Laden. He was a five-star general in World War 1. He was the self-appointed grounds keeper of Zion. He was a life-long Lutheran and I'd been his pastor for 37 years. He lived to keep the streets of Lyndale safe. "People out there call me Vietnam Rambo. You can call me Buddy."

Brian "Buddy" Arland Lemke had a rough life. He grew up surrounded by mental illness and drugs, dysfunctional relationships and instability. By the time I met him in February of 2012, he was a roller coaster of mood swings and personalities. He had been in and out of treatment several years earlier and now he claimed Jesus and recovery as his healers. But he usually smelled like booze. His shame and secrecy and defensiveness about drinking was tangible. And that only added to the unpredictable nature of his relationships.

But several weeks into my call at Zion, I had a neighborhood bully in my face, ready to punch me during the Wednesday meal. He was spitting and swearing and my heart pounded until I got him seated again. Twenty minutes later, Buddy approached me and said George wanted to talk to me. "I'm not talking to George right now. He needs to finish his dinner, use kind words, and leave quietly when he's finished." But Buddy had been lecturing him about respect and authority since the confrontation. And George was ready to apologize. I have rarely seen George make eye contact and offer genuine confession since that evening. Buddy had my back and he made perfect sense in ways I could not.

I learned a lot about myself and human nature from Buddy. He embodied our insatiable need for love and affection, for praise and community. He danced on the edges of both harmless and harmful behavior. He was Christ. And then sometimes it was really, really hard to be Christ to him.

There is a banner that hangs on the wall in Zion's sanctuary. It reads, "We welcome diverse individuals and build community in the Lyndale neighborhood." Everyone interpreted these words differently when it came to Buddy and his occasional and exhaustive boundary crossing. Were we being gracious? Were we being doormats? 

And then too many lines were crossed all at once. A few had very good reason to feel unsafe at Zion because of his behavior. So there was a holistic intervention involving church members, property owners, social workers and police officers. And new rules. And opportunities for health and support. And love and prayer and tears. And for a few days, there was hope.

And then, for a year, there was nothing.

Buddy disappeared into the neighborhood as quickly as he'd come. One day of vulnerable honesty and acceptance was real but unbearable - his comfortable layers of stories and personas soon returned and we existed apart for some time.

I still wrote him letters and we still prayed for him regularly.
Maybe he'd be back someday.

But we learned this weekend that he's gone. Buddy died last week of a drug overdose in his rent-a-room. The neighborhood mascot, the cyclone of mania and sadness is now at peace. He now knows -really knows - how fiercely he is loved and can be himself without shame or illness in tow.

There is one sign of Buddy during this year of absence that I will miss. He wore lipstick on his manic days and we have often found pink kiss marks on the sanctuary doors. The sun would bake them into the windows and I hated the idea of scrubbing his shadowy presence away. These sweet signs will be missed by quite a few.

Teenagers and widows are grieving for Buddy. God bless Zion, where sweet Joan says prayers for him and tears up at the loss. Where lovely LuAnn buys flowers in remembrance of Buddy. Where members of the choir dig up copies of his favorite anthem to sing later this fall. This is the feast. This is community and being known.

I will speak of him this Wednesday at Recovery Worship when we remember and commend him. And I will speak of him on All Saints Sunday when I remind folks about the wideness of the Meal. We are still feasting with the ones who are gone. And they are feasting in preparation for our arrival.

And thank God for the feast. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

tears.

Matt has been working long days, away. I am tired, but doing my best. Jasper senses a shift. He recently gave up pacifiers and moved into a "big boy bedroom". Turns out, this doorknob is easier to open than his old room and the newfound freedom has gone to his head.

He used to wait quietly in bed each morning, sucking on his pacifier and stroking his blanket with his thumb until we came to get him. Now he wakes with urgency, ready for the day to begin. I feel hands on my face at 5:45am and hear, "Wake up!" Naps are disappearing, too. And because he's exhausted but in denial, the whining and crabbiness is off the charts.

Yesterday was one of those long days and by 9:00pm, he was still fighting me about everything. We'd had several bedtimes, dozens of books, a few drinks of water, and my rocking chair offer was refused. My sermon was only half done and I kept bursting into tears of frustration. And so, I gave him a dose of Benadryl. I mixed it with apple juice and he downed it while I put the baby gate up outside his bedroom door. He watched from the inside, curious about this relic from babyhood.

"Can you climb over it?" He tried, but it was several inches too high.
"Good."

And then I walked away while he screamed for me to come back.

Downstairs I opened my computer and began to write. The house soon grew quiet and I waited for a thud - thinking the dose might hit him like a tranquilizer hits an elephant. But it was peaceful and there were tears of relief. I had made it through another day of his bold reaction to all this change. I fed him and held his hand crossing the street and didn't shake him to death. And today, that was enough.

Today was Polka Sunday at Zion! We host a homegrown polka band each fall, lots of visitors, and a potluck. We sing hymns and liturgy to tunes like The Happy Wanderer and Roll Out the Barrel and The Budweiser Song. The ring leaders, husband and wife, dance with jubilee as they rock out on the trombone and accordion. It's festive and warm. I was proud of my congregation for being so proactive about inviting friends and family - we doubled in size and the singing was fantastic!

We follow the Narrative Lectionary at Zion, so today's text was The Binding of Isaac. Because nothing says Polka Sunday like near child sacrifice, right? But there were, of course, good things to hear in this weird and wild Word. Abraham knows both deep discouragement and great laughter. And in the midst of all things, he shows up. Three times he answers, "Here I am". And while showing up might break him, it might bless him, too. I thought a lot about Abraham's tears this morning - tears for every emotion - every breaking and every blessing.

The congregation was in great spirits with one exception - that pastor's son was whining for his mother the whole time and finally his poor, brave godparents had to take his crabbing outside. This is exactly why I don't bring Jasper to church when Matt is gone - he's a drain on everyone when he doesn't have his pew, his dad, and his routine.

So after worship I collected his tears and scraped knees. And instead of welcoming visitors and enjoying the feast with my people, I cowered in a dark room with My Little Terrorist, who was determined to fun-suck Polka Sunday. A few saints tried to help and did. A few others thought they were helpful and I smiled. I hate when my vocations collide and make me feel like the rusty hinge between them. His ache got inside of me and soon there were tears in my eyes, too. Tears of exhaustion. "You broke me this week, Jasper. I don't have anything left. I'm sorry."

The nap was evaded once again this afternoon and I knew it was time to call for back up because:
  1. It was no longer healthy for us to hang out in this house by ourselves.
  2. I really, really wanted to attend my friend Ingrid's ordination.
The village came barreling down 35, timing their departure from the lake just right. They rang the doorbell and said simply, "Here I am". And like Abraham, that was more than enough. They would love him and like him in ways I could not. They would take a turn being broken and blessed while I healed a little bit. And so I cried tears of thanksgiving before grabbing my purse.

The sanctuary was filled when I arrived and, like a late Lutheran, I had to sit up front. I didn't vest since I thought I'd have Mean Jasper with me, but I ended up squatting undercover in a seat reserved for the clergy members processing. 

The music began and I melted into pew-lay-parishioner-not-in-charge mode. The choir and bells and children filled the aisle, chanting about light and love and life. Their voices were strong and seemed to believe in these things, so I trusted them and leaned into their news. It washed over me and filled me with good things. And soon I opened my mouth and sang along.

Ingrid is called and blessed and loved. 
Every time I looked at Ingrid, I wept tears of awe. She will be so very good at this work. She is blessed by the saints who surrounded her - people of every time and place who know and love her and champion this call from God. It made me recall my own ordination more than five years ago and soon my heart swelled with something besides weary insecurity and discouragement. For days I had shown up only to be broken by Jasper. But this time was different. This time I was blessed by the Promise and the Call and the Community. I was being restored by Word and Meal and song and the faces of people who know hard life and who show up anyway.

I stayed late into the evening, laughing with friends and bursting into tears of joy every now and then. I am so very grateful for signs of the blessing: for Ingrid and my village and baby gates and Benadryl and Zion and liturgy and wild rice soup 

and the Call to keep showing up.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

what to wear.

Today was the last of four Sundays in Ephesians. The author, probably one of Paul's friends or students, ends the letter by encouraging believers to "go all in". Discipleship is not like an Old Country Buffet where you pick and choose your carbs. It's not like designing a new laptop on Dell.com, customizable and tailored to your liking.

It is like full body armor you shlep around. It is like a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes made for walking, a shield of faith, and a helmet of salvation. It is like a sword of the Spirit, which you steward - the sword of scripture and the Story that knits us together with promises from God.

You don't just wear the belt because it's light and fashionable. Or the helmet because it's sunny out. You don't hide the sword when it gets inconvenient to be proactive and proclaiming. The author tells us to put it all on because we never know what we'll need. The future is unknown, but God gives us the armor to weather challenges and create hope. And so we take it all.

Not in a creepy "we're all drinking the Kool-aid" way. There is still a deep need for diversity and questioning, struggle and doubt. We still need to read the whole Creed and then stumble through a few lines we're not so sure about these days. Put it all on. Wrestle with it. Carry it around. Keep it all in the mix so it saturates your worries and needs and dreams.

When I received the offering plates during worship, I noticed a well-worn baggie of quarters. Laundry money. Someone had offered their funds for clean clothes and sheets and towels upon hearing this news of holy armor. Someone had offered their own armor for God's clothing.

I wept in my office a bit before heading home today, partly because I'm hormonal and partly because I'd planned to spend the afternoon doing my own laundry. In my basement. Quarter-less. I am in awe of the faith and stewardship of people at Zion. They give regularly and generously. They give faithfully and creatively. They believe in God's deep protection and provision.

I saved the baggie. It's a sign of the flimsy, but very comforting armor we create for ourselves. And it's a sign of the ways we can offer our whole selves to God's armor and shelter instead.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

so helpful.


Since I shared my twins news, most have been supportive and excited. Some have understood my anxiety. A few have said really annoying, strange, irrelevant, or unhelpful things. I found it therapeutic to compile these comments as one big list. Together, they are funny and easy to deflect.
  1. I know a lady who had twins. One of them died.
  2. How do you really know there are two? I mean, maybe you're just really big.
  3. So you're going to quit your job, right? Because working at a church while they're little wouldn't be fair to anyone.
  4. Oh. I didn't know you guys were having fertility issues.
  5. It'll be easy because you have family in town. My sister didn't.
  6. Is it possible for one of them to come out fine and the other one to get into trouble in there? Because I was watching a TV show about baby eagles the other day and that's what happened to them.
  7. Better soak up every moment you've got left with just Jasper!
  8. Well, you won't be able to breastfeed. That would be crazy.
  9. This is so typical of female pastors.
  10. Sleep while you can!
  11. Wow. And Jasper's not potty trained yet? He's totally going to regress when they're born.
  12. Are you going to keep your job? (x10) Then I try to decide whether I'm going to launch into a feminist tirade about how no one is asking Matt if he's going to quit his job.
I'm just lucky that my closest friends and family don't say this stuff. And my congregation is wildly supportive. In fact, most of the people expressing their unhelpful opinions don't know me all that well. 

And that is the grace that makes deflecting this stuff easy.


The best ways to steer clear of the Unhelpful List? Just laugh with me. Help me carve out space for these vocations to figure each other out, like bumper boats, for awhile. Lie to me about how fabulous I look, but shoot me straight when I really next an eyebrow wax or a new shirt that is not made of Lycra. Leave a oven-ready meal on my front steps in late February. Be very good to the moms you know well. And be kind to moms you barely know, who have not asked for your two cents about their uterus and career and parenting plans.

Because they just might have a list floating around out there, too.  ;-)

Monday, August 19, 2013

revealed.

The ultrasound technician said that most people are surprised when she tells them they're having twins. And, at the very least, she gets to tell them they're having twins.

I show up looking for them on the screen.

My mom is a twin. We have lots of sets in my extended family tree and I'm one of few siblings and cousins in my generation who has publicly stated that twins are too much. Don't get me wrong - being one looks awesome - but having one baby three years ago put me through the ringer and changed the whole fabric of my being. I'm too neurotic for the two-for-one special. And so I've always been wishing it on my brothers and cousins instead.

"Don't be so dramatic." Those were Matt's last words before I left for the appointment last month. He'd seen me scoping for twins early in our last pregnancy. He got embarrassed when I asked if one could be synchronized swimming behind the Jasper-fetus we could see on the monitor.

"I see two sacks. I see two beans. One is moving. Holy shit. Is the other one moving? Do they both have heartbeats? I'm having twins - am I having twins? Oh, this is happening. There are two! You see them, too, right?" Of course she sees them, you nerd. She's an ultrasound technician. If you can see them, she can see them.

And then I started heave-crying. Awkwardly. In front of the male intern who had (clearly) never met an external processor like me. I got sweaty and I kept covering my face and then looking back again. My hands were clammy and shaking. Then the tears turned to laughter...

because this is how it always starts.

Here's the thing: I have amazing plans for my life. It's a well known fact that oldest children and Type A women have awesome ideas and our anxious meddling and organization gets dreams done.  I do my best to sport a casually chaotic facade while frantically trying to control everything behind the magic curtain. It's exhausting and there are only a few rewards: de-cluttered junk drawers, an addiction to Candy Crush, and a toddler who cleans the sand off the slide at school. Oh. And general self-righteousness.

Women like me take risks, but they are very calculated, researched risks. God usually takes a look at my risks and laughs because they are not risks at all - they're just plain Living. And just when I think I have my ducks in a row behind the curtain, I wander into one of those you're-having-twins moments.

The bad news: I don't seem to get any less neurotic as time goes on. I've put up a good fight and been terrified and convinced myself I can't do it every time those frightened tears turn to laughter. Through every holy twist and turn, I'm still afraid of the ways I will unravel and fall apart, the people I'll fail and the grief of saying goodbye to my own plan (which - again - is always awesome).

The good news: I'm growing two people and that's pretty bad ass. I only know bad ass moms of multiples, so now I'm in good company. The babes are healthy. There are months to get used to this idea. I am fertile and grateful. I have a supportive husband and an amazing son. I have a job that will be hard to do with all this change, but they're willing to ebb and flow with my scrappy little family. We moved into a new house and have a bedroom for them. Our village will help.

And my self-righteous good news: Told ya so, Matt.

Like every holy twist and turn I've weathered so far, I'll again discover the beauty in real risk. I'll leave the desk behind the magic curtain un-manned more often and that will be a good thing. I will be revealed - more vulnerable and softened by the love growing in me and around me. Because every time God has thrown me up on the beach and pointed to Nineveh, it's been a really great idea...so great that I forget about my awesome idea that wasn't really that awesome after all.  So great that I realize I made up all that bad news.

And then there is only good in the twists and turns.
There is only laughter.

Baby Carlsons are due in early February!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

mercy.

There is an old factory by my house. I thought it was abandoned long ago, but yesterday I spotted a man sitting by a window eating out of his lunchbox. There was another man on a bucket by the backdoor holding a sandwich. Something is happening in there. Every day. I studied the paint and brick chipping away around them. I wondered about the things they create and craft - the things they have to show for this one wild and precious life.

Still waiting at the red light, I looked around at the contents of my car. Jasper's dirty socks from months ago and a paper shell he decorated with glitter at daycare. Crumbs from cheese crackers and empty bottles of water. A hymnal. A home communion case. A heavy catalog of statuary and altar cloths. A list of home visits and pastoral calls to make. A make up bag. A pile of gym clothes with poor self-esteem, bitter and ignored, covered in reusable grocery bags and receipts.

The light turned green and I watched the man on the bucket put the last bite of sandwich in his mouth. His hand held his back for a moment, stretching and cracking and creaking a bit before straightening out again and disappearing into the dark hallway. He would use the next few hours to make and mold, to collaborate and build for the sake of many. And watching him was like seeing and feeling Mercy.

God, you call us to do good and hard things. In doing these things, we break and bend. Life gets messy and we create things seen and unseen. Weave our work together with your will so that there is holy purpose and mercy in our midst. Get tangled up in all our vocations, all our places, and all our dreams. And when bricks crumble and crumbs build up, give us the green light to keep going somewhere we can be of good use. Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

a blur.

Jasper,

I need to order new pages for your baby book because there's much to tell you about this stage. You wear your blue Crocs everyday and declare, "Shoes off!" whenever you get home. Sitting in the front entryway, you take them off and stack them next to ours. Once you were heard congratulating yourself for this organization: I so proud of you, Dap-per.

You do this, of course, except when you don't. "Shoes on, shoes on! NO off!" you shout when you're moody or bossy. And then you run around the house and declare you will sleep in them that night. Ugh.

It's hard getting you out the door for school on Mondays and Tuesdays. You'd rather stay and play with trains in the den. You're usually just halfway through your "p-toast stips" (peanut butter toast that's cut into strips) and you fist them in the car the whole way there. "Orange, Mommy! Construction zone!" You notice excavators and bulldozers from blocks away, always alert while we're driving through the city.

Then we get to school and you remind me, "Mommy, no leaving til Dap-per say, 'Bye Bye, Mommy'".  We worked out a deal earlier this summer and it calms your anxiety around transition. We hold hands and run across the street. We walk up the steps together and open the door slowly. And then I do not sneak out or slip away. I sit and rub your back while you take it all in for a moment. You watch your friends moving around the room and Teacher Pam singing songs to some. And then, a switch flips and I hear, "Okay. Bye Bye, Mommy".  Sometimes I get a hug and sometimes you're already running away toward something fun. Your brave curiosity sets my day up for success, too.

There's always a hug when I pick you up. It smells like sunscreen and play dough and sweat and pure joy. And then the rest of the evening is a blur. You run in circuits around the house. We trace hands and make letters with sidewalk chalk. We build tunnels and towers and knock them down. I start to vacuum and then you take the vacuum from me and work over the same 3 square feet until I have to count to ten and turn it off. We tickle and hide and seek and wrestle and kiss...and only fifteen minutes have passed. Only fifteen minutes?!?! You are busy and I do my best to keep up.

As you get older, you look more and more like your dad. You two have inside jokes and silly games and I love the way you pose like him, peeking at him out of the corner of your eye to make sure you look alike. You are blessed by a dad who opens your bedroom door every morning, makes you feel like a million bucks, and serves a mean breakfast while Mom gets ready behind the scenes.

I think you're impatient because you're a toddler, but you're also impatient because you're mine. I watch you struggle with "last time" and "one more" and "just a second". As the wheels turn in your little noggin, I can feel your emotional process in my bones. I'm the same way and that's why I don't center pictures on the wall or make souffl├ęs or go through labor without an epidural. So I am learning patience as you learn patience. We're in this together and I wouldn't want it any other way. Keep up the blur, Jasper, and I'll make sure my shoes are on, ready to run after you.

Love, Mom

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

lucky gal.

If you've been reading along for awhile, this will be old hat. But I feel the need to say once more...my job is weird and awesome. Here are things I've done today:

1. There's a local opera singer about my age. She needs a space to rehearse several nights a week. She can't afford rent, so we've figured out a trade. She'll help lead music and solo at Zion once a month. Won't THAT be interesting?

2. I tried to explain to a Somali woman that morning ESL classes are at the bank a few blocks away. We host the evening classes. She didn't understand, so I walked her to the bank. Then I realized I had a check in my wallet I could deposit. Double win.

3. I watered rose bushes.


4. I made the weirdest bulletin I've ever made. Tomorrow night, Recovery Worship is moving outside under a tree. We'll have a fire pit. We'll burn our written confessions and prayers until they rise like incense. We'll sing and dance to the drums of The Little Thunderbirds, an American Indian Drum Troupe made up of a local dad and his kids. This service has been living in my head for months and it's clear others are nodding and smiling, letting Meta try something random that might be a beautiful bust. It will be fun to see how tomorrow night comes together...or doesn't.

5. I planned a funeral with a family. When there is so much pain for so long, this part is filled with relief and comfort. My head and heart are filled with family systems and resurrection. Tomorrow my belly will be filled with funeral food - yum.

6. I hid things in the dumpster. I do this a lot when no one is looking. Churches have pack rat tendencies, but I'm happy to say goodbye to the 1950s staples, the outdated spices, and the broken hoola hoops in my office closet.

7. I wrote letters. I do this when people disappear for the summer. It's not a guilt trip - it's to make sure they know they are loved and noted. (Pun not intended, but awesome. "Consider yourself noted - boom.")

8. I looked at a list of things I probably have time for today. There are a few hours without meetings and I could tackle one or two of them. But instead I read Proverbs. I'm preaching Proverbs right now and it's strange, hard, lovely stuff. Wisdom Literature trumps List today.

9. I answered the phone a lot. My Parish Administrator's phone does not ring, so she only picks up if she can hear mine in the distance or if she happens to see the light flashing. We are getting bids for a new system, but until then I get to surprise people and have new conversations. (But seriously, it's also annoying, so feel free to send me a check for a new phone system.)

10. I got hungry and dug into Jasper's snack drawer. One of the big drawers in my desk is filled with Goldfish crackers and applesauce pouches instead of files. Classy. I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a snack drawer. That implies that, despite the heavy load and long hours, I have personal space and the flexibility to have my child here sometimes. I found a few Hot Wheels cars in the bottom of the drawer and smiled.

Not a bad deal, this gig. I'm a lucky gal.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

care-full.


Lookout - it's one of those nights. I have arrived home from another Zion Wednesday exhausted, but too overwhelmed by joy and grace to keep it to myself. I'll back up a bit.

I am a 3/4 time solo pastor. That means, in order to do anything creative | outside the box | risky | new | growth-focused, I spend even more weekend and evening hours away from my family. It means I stretch myself a little thinner and have to put down things that others view as essential to my role. It means feeling like I'm a little crappier at life because there are more spinning plates in the air.

But Zion is all about trying new things and so am I, so we're constantly weighing and balancing this dilemma. It's messy and it's so, so fun. I am moved by our mistakes and our victories. I begin experiments convinced that I am crucial and, in the end, am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Village.

The Lyndale Community Dinner is a good thing. We feed 50 people every week. Most of them are regulars and need this intersection of community and nutrition, so it's a worthy investment. We could keep chugging away the way we've been doing and there would be plenty of worth to celebrate.

But while the status quo is fine, the potential is hard to ignore. Lyndale is a neighborhood ripe for pushing boundaries about community, gathering, and wellness. People involved believe that relationships should be about neighborliness instead of "us" serving "them". And so we urged each other to try something new this summer.

It meant wide dreaming and evening meetings and cheerleading and asking people to be involved with one more thing. But in the end, this is happening:

  • Once a month, volunteers are hosting a Free Lemonade stand on a busy street just one block from the dinner. They're spreading the word and providing a local "happy hour" effect that helped us make two dozen new friends tonight. And three of those families wandered over for dinner.
  • Local organizations have agreed to Adopt-a-Wednesday. They get to promote their presence in the neighborhood while helping with tables and chairs, serving and grilling. The buy-in is transforming this meal.
  • I am a regular at the nearby Dollar Tree. A few plastic balls, sidewalk chalk, and bubbles cost $20. Tonight we had five times the number of kids we normally serve. They played together and hugged each other goodbye.
  • Zion is a wide community with friends, members, and neighbors loitering on the edge of this mission. I believe the good stuff happens on the edge, so these are my favorite invitations. I'm already seeing young adults and quiet leaders take pride in what's happening on Wednesdays because they're part of this summer scheme.
  • I hired someone. In January, I hired my friend Lee to be the dinner coordinator. He has all the gifts and people skills I wish I had. He's a community builder and natural equipper. He organizes wellness and education events in conjunction with the dinner. He networks in the neighborhood and dreams big about Lyndale working together even better than we already do. Tonight I got to watch him be in charge while I found quieter ways to help.
Because of this grace and these leaders, I was in charge of very little tonight. I watched and handed out chalk and listened and loved. I ate and smiled and hugged. And I noticed the care-full things that make this time together so priceless.

Each week at 6:00pm, Lee asks us to share things that we're grateful for. Several regulars offer their thoughts: a recent surgery, family member, or addiction. They're open about life and we all cheer when their gospel is spoken into the crowd. Then kids are invited up first and we get noisy. This sets the tone for everything that happens next. 

There is gratitude and grace and deep care for one another. I watched the new Lemonade Families, curious to know what they were sensing from this goofy looking tribe. And it was clear they had each made note of the care-full-ness, too.

Our numbers were up (81 tonight) and I was excited about that. Volunteers were proud of our dreams coming to fruition. Morale was high and that was a good reward for stretching beyond status quo. 

I lost track of time and almost forgot about Recovery Worship at 6:45pm. Sometimes the care out here is so great that we need a touch to remember that worship is starting soon. So I moved through the crowd, gently touching the shoulder of each person who would join me in the circle inside. They all looked up and smiled the same smile, glad to be fed, glad for the touch, and glad for this care-filled place.

truest self.

I've had a few pastoral care conversations this month
that echo one another.

I don't think God hears every prayer 
and I don't think God necessarily cares.

I feel bad because I'm usually asking for stuff when I pray 
and I don't like to be needy.

What's the point of praying, anyway?



Anne Lamott has three prayers: help, thanks, and wow. I have three prayers, too: ugh, why, and yahoo. Prayer can sometimes feel too casual or too awkward. It can be used sparingly or you can sound like a broken record. You might feel like a crazy person talking to yourself or a selfish brat for making it all about you.

Sometimes I try to list a bunch of stuff about other people before I get to the crap about me because I feel bad for only praying for what I want and need.

When people confide in me about this stuff, I get (what my mom calls) diarrhea of the mouth. I have a billion mediocre metaphors and ideas waiting to erupt and I have to remember to slow down and listen. And in listening, God reminds me to pull out the Holy Resume.

These big questions about prayer and relationship and our worth in God's eyes call for a careful examination of God's reputation throughout history and in our own lives. And so, instead of playing court lawyer, I try my hand at storytelling.

God doesn't just invite people to pray, God commands us to pray.

While the Israelites are wandering, figuring out what their new identity is, God breaks in several times to give them a narrative. It always begins with, "I am the Lord your God. I am the one who brought you out of Egypt..." and then it emphasizes how deeply they are loved and that God wants to know and love them well. This, of course, requires communication and relationship.

But it's not like our human relationships, and so we wrestle with what it means to be vulnerable with one who already knows our darkest secrets and selfish hearts. It's scary to think that our toolbox for making friends and being amiable doesn't really apply in conversation with God. There's no one to impress and no narrative to create with the one who created stars and mountains and you and me.

You think your prayers are boring or selfish or infrequent or simple? Stop ranking them. God's tickled that you're in conversation instead of distant apathy. God never demands eloquence or fancy diction. Some dialogue is better than none at all. Some relationship, however awkward or confused or doubt-filled is better than building golden calves or the silent treatment.

Jesus prayed in private, in groups, and gave us the gift of the Lord's Prayer - a template when you have no words. It's filled with needy and honest petitions that give us permission for all that asking.

And so what if you think you sound selfish? God already knows how selfish you are. And what if, because God created you, God sees that selfishness as beautiful honesty. "Oh, my Meta. She holds this stuff in around other people - even close family and friends - for fear of being too needy. But she bears it to me and is willing to be her real self in my presence!"

Our neediness and selfishness is endearing and adorable in God's eyes...because God knows how hard that vulnerability is for us. God knows we need to be truly known in order to be fiercely loved...but that this becomes risky business in our human relationships.

Okay. Maybe. But it just doesn't make any sense. 
Why does God always do things the hard way?

And then I proclaim that God is crazy. God is like a swooning 14 year-old girl who just can't get over us even though we keep breaking her heart and jerking her around. God is in the unhealthiest of all relationships because God keeps choosing to do stuff with us and for us. God keeps calling us into the master plan, using our hands|feet|hearts, and making something beautifully messy out of God's beauty and our mess. It's literally crazy and, according to the Holy Resume, God gets tired and frustrated with us all the time, but will never break up with us.

If I were God's mother, I would get a restraining order, change our phone number, and find a wonderful family therapist. But I am not God's mother and God has instead called me to be the well-intentioned boyfriend with shady tendencies. 

(Whoops. See? I slipped out of storytelling mode and into a half-baked metaphor already.)

So you really believe this stuff?

Yes. I really believe that praying matters and God listens and the Holy Resume proves that God is in it with us. You're right - God always does things the hard way, but it's only hard because we're so damn difficult. And isn't it good to know you're praying to someone who knows how high maintenance and selfish and lovely you are? Someone who will stay in the thick of it with you no matter what?

I guess.

And then we pray. Because that's the only way God can get me off my soapbox - out of conversation about God and back into conversation with God. 

Ugh.
Sorry I went on and on there.

Why?
Why do you always choose the difficult path?
And why do you keep hanging in there with us?

Yahoo!
Thank you for making her brave in asking those questions.
And thank you for listening to her...whether she believes you do or not.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ahhh.

Be still (and leave your not-so-still child in able hands while you get out of Dodge) and know that I am God.

Big Shoes
I spent 8 days away from Jasper and it was hard. Without that daily text or picture or update, my heart started to ache. 

I spent 8 days alone with my husband on a boat. And by alone, I mean we were on a Carnival Cruise with 3,000 of our closest friends. 

We did not participate in the poolside "hairy chest contest" or buy the unlimited drinks passes, mostly because we're not hairy enough and rather frugal. But Coronas flowed, we overate, and the water slide made me squeal out loud. Our snug room on Deck One did not have windows or a clock, so it was pitch black until we stirred each morning. As the boat rocked us to sleep one night, Matt purred, "I feel like I'm sleeping in a big Baby Bjorn."

An Introvert's Nightmare
It was good to get away. With work covered and our phones off, my biggest decision each day was pizza v. reuben for an afternoon snack. (Regrets? Easy to rectify.) I read six books and worked out every day, mostly so I could feel self-righteous in the dessert line. We traveled the width of Belize to climb Mayan ruins. We held baby sea turtles and swam with sting ray in the middle of the ocean. We lingered over coffee each morning and held hands on the way to dinner.

Xunantunich Ruins near Cayo, Belize
On a Sandbar near Grand Cayman
Cayman Turtle Farm
We're back now and happy to be plugged in again. Work is busy and house projects continue to produce...more house projects. We are not cut out for a whole week of lounging and loitering. By the end, we happily crawled out of the Baby Bjorn and back into our messy and lovely real lives. Jasper was thrilled to see us and I burst into tears when he said the word, "sleeves" with a V noise instead of a saliva-filled F. So much and so little had changed in 8 days.

Ahhh.

Friday, May 24, 2013

space for what matters.

Egg-Beater caught up with a 5 hour nap later that afternoon.
Lucky him.

When Jasper was born, he had colic and only wanted to sleep in his car seat with the visor down. Three months later, he was amenable to a rocking basinet that propped him upright a bit and snuggled him on either side. There he slept until he was over the weight limit and capable of crawling out.

We started with the crib up high and then down low when he became curious and mobile. Last Christmas it converted to a toddler bed and he could get in and out on his own. Now he’s inherited my goddaughter's IKEA bed. He sleeps a floor above us at the new house and loves it.

You might call this the opposite of attachment parenting. Until last night, I’d never slept in bed with Jasper and I only sleep in the same room with him when we're traveling. Sure, he’s fallen asleep on my chest a bazillion times before being mysteriously transported to his own bed, but we never wake up together at home. While bed sharing works great for many people (and I admit – I’m impressed by their hospitality), it’s not our thing.

Matt and I both sleep like crime scene chalk outlines and are serious about our zzzs. As our house filled with Jasper’s things, we agreed that we wanted a time and a space that could be just ours. And so our whispers before bed are often about Jasper, but not with him. In the morning, he pitter patters in and says, “Up, please!” for a few moments of play before the day begins. But the in between is spent happily apart.

We are grateful for a little boy who entertains himself in the early hours – reading books to himself, cuddling with his blanket, and singing songs before we come to get him. It seems we both enjoy our personal space and are glad to see each other at dawn.

We plan to take Jasper on his first canoe and camping trip this summer and have both wondered about what life in a tent will be like. And then this happened the other day and I made an exception to the rule. Jasper and I are up north with my family this weekend while Matt works a big tournament. This little toddler seems older all the time – remembering what you said yesterday and last week, helping you pack, walking down the steps and sidewalk all by himself, and then waiting patiently by the car door -  “Adventure, Mommy! See lake!”

I know I’m nostalgic and sentimental because of all these changes, but it’s also because I just signed his first field trip form. He’ll be going to the zoo with other toddlers from daycare next month. Someone will drive him all the way to Eagan and figure out that monkeys terrify him while bears do not. They will feed him lunch and make sure he doesn’t climb in a van with strangers.

It’s just a signature and it’s just a field trip.

But suddenly, I am in the same demographic as the mothers of these fourth grade boys who woke up, rode a bus, and went looking for fossils.  Suddenly, I can begin to imagine their pain and despair – depths I couldn't know last week or last year.

Jasper was thrilled to crawl up into bed with me. He waved goodbye to the air mattress on the floor and together we made a nest to ensure his altitude. And then we cuddled and squirmed all night long. He would sit up every time he heard the trains go by, his pointer finger to his ear until it passed. Whenever I woke up, his collick or his smelly socks were tickling my face, and, by morning his head cold had become my head cold.

But none of that mattered when he looked at me through his eye boogers and his smile grew wide. “Mommy’s bed! Jasper too! Oh, Mommy.” He threw his arms around me and we cuddled a little longer.  Two aching bodies still figuring this thing out and making space for what matters.

Monday, May 20, 2013

comfort.


I made so many good cases for taking off the socks this morning. 
He's been wearing them for days. 
They stink. They're sweaty. It's humid. They look ridiculous.

But they stayed on. I dropped him off at school and blessed the teacher with a few words for context: 

We moved on Saturday. He's being a trooper and we're talking through the transitions, but there are a few things he's clinging to for comfort. Moose Socks are two of them. Be aware that he will want to make sure the moose can "see" at all times, so they need to be pulled up high enough for the "googley eyes" to show.

We've all got our things. I needed a rod to hang clothes in my new closet. Matt needs the garage to not look like a hazardous waste tsunami. Jasper needs to wear his Moose Socks all.the.time. 
(We splashed in some puddles on the sidewalk after dinner tonight, so they got all muddy and he finally wanted them off. Wash, Mommy. Make clean, please. Gladly.)

Jasper is adjusting to his new bedroom really well and loves all the new spots for his toys. We have three rabbits spending time in our backyard and he chases them around yelling, "Hold it". I'm not sure what he would do if he got close enough to hold one, but the chase should keep him busy for awhile.


We close on the old house tomorrow, so we took Jasper over to see the empty space. Everything is gone. Jasper's room is bare, but so is Mommy and Daddy's and that's okay. Things are at the new house now. 

We raced up and down the path in the backyard for awhile and then he hugged the tree. He learned to run in circles around this tree, chasing Matt and pretending to hide behind its narrow trunk. I have several pictures of them in this spot and will look for them this summer whenever I'm feeling nostalgic. 

Bye bye Dap-per's house.
Hi, new house.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

helium.

So many balloons.

We long to bring something tangible. Human begins are wired for ritual and spacial celebration. These things transcend religion and culture. We need to gather when we grieve. We want to offer something that makes our presence worthy and of good use.

The media is hounding three women and their families. They are camped outside, stalking and watching and hovering, waiting to ask them what it feels like to be free. Ha. Sounds to me like they're still trapped behind those balloons and the best intentions of the clueless and curious.

These girls don't need your rained-on dollar store stuffed animals. They don't need balloons that will deflate before the crowds do. They don't need 24-hour news coverage or people treating them like they're still 14 years old.

I don't know what they do need, but that's not my job. There are plenty of loved ones and professionals handy to help them sort that out.

Instead, I am in the business of knowing what the crowds need. I am a public minister, accustomed to facing large groups of people week after week. We are always dealing with a thousand different things, but we are also dealing with the One Common Thing.

People need a place to come together. Some show up because they always do. Some show up because folks count on them. Some can't figure out why they've come - they're just there.

And then the crowd gives me ten minutes to tell them the truth - every week. Every Sunday I stand in front of them and tell them the two-fold truth about this life: It is hard and shitty sometimes. But it is also beautiful and completely worth the mud-wrestling.

We choreograph prayers around the world's aches and pains, joys and dreams.  We pass the plates and collect diapers. We acknowledge that our need to give comes from being made in God's generous image. We hear stories about God's reputation for showing up and loving fiercely. We pass the peace, which is more than Howdy Do. It's a chance to set down our differences and categories. With a touch, we bestow the perfect peace of God, which passes all understanding. We become tangible signs of grace and relationships the world so desperately needs. We break bread, remembering that God makes enough and we are helpers in that "enough-ness" scheme.

We take an hour to find strength in each other and the Great Story. Our holy language is the postlude of our ancestors' traditions and the prelude of our descendants' faith. And something about that fills us with community and purpose that can weather the storms for another six days.

Helium fails, but our need to congregate does not.
May the crowds discover new places to gather and rich gifts to bear.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

welcome.


I was pitting out and awkward until this very moment.
And then all was calm. And funny. 
I stopped sweating and I started laughing.

It didn't feel like my wedding day 
while someone stuck fake eyelashes on my face 
or while dear friends gathered, hair teased. 
But it felt like my wedding day hours later - 
once Matt found me in a quiet back yard and made me smile.

I am blessed to love the one I'm with. 
Those who are 
know the deep power and wide gift of partnership.
I did not have to fight for this day 
or prove my love 
or receive less than others.
It was given freely 
just like the vows we exchanged that day.

Today I am blessed by the love of a state and its leaders
who are brave in saying YES to love and marriage...
for everyone who loves the one they're with
for everyone who wishes to say I DO
for everyone who yearns to carry the whole promise -
all the joy and the sorrow, the grace and the work
just like us.

There is room for all of us in this moment and this love.
I'm sure of it.

Welcome to this moment and this love, Minnesota!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

wide love.

On Thursday, Minnesota's legislators will cast votes about marriage. 
Minnesotans have two days to contact their leaders with thoughtful encouragement. 


God of love, there is room for all of us in your Kingdom. You have made space for justice and peace, equity and hope. You have declared that we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female - we are all one in Christ Jesus, called to treat one another with that same holy love you have shown us. May we vote and live that mercy on Thursday. Show us how to make space for justice and peace, equity and hope, so that your Kingdom may be seen and known right here and now in Minnesota. Amen.

To read my blog about last November's (Anti)Marriage Amendment, click here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

pre-broken.

I paused before saying the words of institution a few Wednesdays ago. I was choosing which piece to hold up while talking about the promises that come with Jesus broken. On Wednesdays, the bread comes pre-broken because we're using leftovers from Sunday morning.


When I was little, my dad used to make leftover omelets. They were generally gross or adventurous - all items you normally wouldn't see in an omelet. If a food made it into the omelet, that was a last resort - it had no other options and this was likely its last day alive before Mom tossed it. I'm pretty sure my dad is void of tastebuds, so his ability to create and eat (and actually enjoy) them came in handy when it was time to clean out the fridge before a grocery run.

Regular non-omelet leftovers are the best. You already know what you're getting and there's something sentimental and familiar about coming back to that same meal again. You heat it up and remember having it for the first time. There's no prep work involved - you just dive right in and the hunger disappears much more quickly than it would if you needed to make something from scratch. I'm a pretty mediocre cook and get crabby when my blood sugar is low, so day-old leftovers are dear to me.

So is Recovery Worship. I show up on Wednesday nights more ravenous than I first realize. I'm hungry for that time together, circled around the word and the bread. I'm eager to sing and sit and reflect. Everything about this time together comes pre-broken: the people, the stories, the forgiveness, the meal, and the laughter. We dive right in and gobble up the leftovers. We don't need a recipe for being vulnerable and we don't need to follow instructions about sharing grief and multiplying joys - it just happens. We show up pre-broken and ready to go.

I continued with the words of institution, saying that Jesus once took bread to bless and break among friends and deniers, brothers and betrayers. He shared it, explaining that his body would be broken for the sake of their brokenness. His cup would be poured out to filled their cups and the cups of everyone who needed it and who thought they didn't need it. Everyone.

In those words, Jesus explained that the meal gave us permission to come broken, to bring our delicious day-old dinners and our bottom-of-the-heap omelets, too - whatever we've got and whatever we're missing are welcome - because at Christ's table being broken is a prerequisite and there is always, always enough to satisfy.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

helper.


We closed on our new house eight days ago! Matt has pulled more than 300 nails out of the floors. My dad has stripped rooms filled with wallpaper and there are many left to do. I am painting, unscrewing screws, scrubbing gluey walls, and taping doorways. There are three paint colors still stuck in my hair despite last night's shower.

Matt and I usually play the busy game. We scramble a lot and wonder where the time goes. But this week we proved that you can carve out time when you're on a deadline. You can squeeze in a few hours when there's something important on the list. Suddenly, work is truly 3/4 time and I'm discovering chunks of each day that can be spent at "new house".

Jasper loves to stop over. He chooses a screwdriver to carry around the house. He picks up chunks of carpet pad and piles them in the corner. He takes you upstairs and runs around his new bedroom with his arms out wide declaring, "Woweee!" It's a lot of space for a little munchkin.

Matt's fingers and back have their own heartbeat. Something is in the air since the carpets were ripped up and I'm wheezing, without a voice. But we are happy helpers. We are making progress. We are excited about staking a claim on this house. We move in less than three weeks now.

Every night we fall into bed, offering the same simple words. They hang in the air between our tired grins: "This is fun. I love you so much."

Friday, April 19, 2013

good is sneaking.

They're right. Every year, Easter flies in the face of all kinds of crappy news. Every April knows terror and death, which hides the resurrection beneath the grief and pain of this world.

Today Boston is on lock down and West, Texas is flattened. The media leads us in a fruitless crusade to oversimplify people and motives and fear. It's exhausting... even from way over here in Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, it's covered in snow. It's snowed a few times since Easter morning - since I had Zion's marquee sign to read, "Spring is here! Christ is risen!" Neighbors must think the latter is a joke, too.

The truth is, we struggle through spring as both physical and spiritual people. It's hard to lean into the tangible truth about an empty tomb. We have trumpets and streamers and breakfast together for one day. But now what? What does Easter mean for tomorrow?

People are still underemployed. Stillborn babies are missing from a hospital. Rosie's bronchitis is back. Warren checked himself into rehab again. April showers are having their way with Zion's wimpy gutters. A nineteen year old kid has the whole world holding its breath.

Preachers spend the season of Easter trying to show people why the empty tomb makes any difference at all. We point to the new promises we've been swept into. We rip the burial cloths off of the pain and defeat our people feel quietly - the secrets that haunt them in the pews:

A fear of worthlessness.
The lack of purpose.
Monotony and mediocrity. 
Aching loneliness.
Pain that has no words or diagnosis.

Everything is the same, but everything is different, too.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the tulips waiting here in Minnesota. They are drinking deeply from each melt and they are trembling with excitement as days grow longer. While we slumber, stir, and throw snowballs - still people of the slushy mess - the tulips prepare to preach that same Word.

Rise, people of God - the Son is here. 
There is more light than darkness.
The good is sneaking through.