Thursday, January 31, 2013

confessions of an ordinary mama.

This book (my very favorite) and a few friends have inspired me to name some of my confessions from these first years of motherhood. Jasper turns two in a few weeks and I've been reflecting a lot about the ways I've been changed - as a wife, a woman, a professional, and a human being. Uff da. Before I begin the list, here's the greatest confession of all:

I had a dream a few nights ago. There was a 1-800 number I could call to legally change my child's birth date. "A lot of moms call when their kids are this age - he'll never know," the customer service lady reassured me. I was hoping to push his birthday back two weeks - two more weeks to get ready for his party and his special day at daycare. Things have been a little nutty lately and I was sure two weeks would give me the extra time I needed to give him a great birthday celebration.

Last year Matt and I frosted two practice cakes before his "real" cake. That's how ready we were for February 12th. Two years ago I was at work doing lunges and moving heavy tables. That's how ready I was for this kid - already three days late - to join us.  "Pushing his birthday back two weeks would mean his new day is February 26. Does that work for you?" she asked. I was paying the $30.00 service fee when I woke up.

This dream speaks to several things about my motherhood experience. Even though Jasper has turned my world upside down, my subconscious still longs for organization and perfection. Even though I am serving a less-than-full-time call, I am still navigating the stewardship of my...self. And even though I am showered in the grace and beauty of motherhood, I have ordinary dreams and days to confess:

1. While I negotiated 8 weeks of paid maternity leave, I was checking email, writing a sermon, and dropping in on a parishioner in the hospital during my seventh week. This momma loved her time at home, but missed her time at church. Both can be true and leaning back into that work during week seven made me a better mom to Jasper. I will want 8 weeks again. It felt good to want to come back that much.

2. I forgot to drop Jasper off at daycare on four occasions that first spring. Sleepy Meta coasted all the way to church, parked, got out of the car, and realized there was still a person in the backseat. Whoops.

3. There's a tooth chart in Jasper's baby book. The date of his first tooth is accurate. The rest are fictitious. (The chart looks so much cooler all filled in.)

4. I don't know Baby CPR.

5. My heart leaps when he bumps his head and starts wailing. I'm not happy about him being in pain, but I adore the way he crumbles into my lap and lets me rock him back and forth. I get to smell his hair and my kisses are still enough make it all better.

6. Sometimes I yell at him and sometimes I can't imagine why I would ever yell at him. Sometimes I forget to check on him before I go to bed and sometimes I creep in and stroke his forehead, unable to leave his side because he's so beautiful and still.

7. I buy into the myth of scarcity when it comes to one thing: I wish I had more time with him and I also wish I had more time without him - I miss having Matt all to myself.

8. Sometimes I dress Jasper in his clothes for the next day before bed. (Okay, most of the time.)

9. I picked Jasper up a few weeks ago and he came back to church for a meeting with me. I was gathering my notes with a minute to spare when I smelled something. "Do you have poop in your pants?" Ja. I had no diapers, no wipes. Luckily it was pretty solid, so I just went digging. We flushed it, he waved buy-bye, I washed my hands (really, really well), and we headed downstairs.

10. I succumb to the Big Temptation every time. It's easy to think that his adorable, good mannered, adventurous, hearty appetite, thoughtful moments are directly related to me or how well I parent. When we're out for dinner at a buffet and all he wants is broccoli, I glow with hubris. When he struggles to share or has a much smaller vocabulary than other kids, I am quietly crestfallen.  It's silly, but powerful and true...and so not about me.

I have to remind myself every day that Jasper is resilient, kind, bright, and funny for all kinds of reasons. And he is other things, too. All of this belong to him, though I get to be along for the ride. I get to cheer him on, offer support, and help him identify as a beloved and chosen child of God. That is the gift in the midst of the chaos - I get to be there while he becomes someone really wonderful.

We're going to leave his birthday on the 12th.
We're going to buy a cake this year.
And it's going to be really, really great.

P.S. Scratch that. My sister-in-law read this and asked to bake his cake. There goes that village again - being awesome. What a beautiful life!

Friday, January 25, 2013


When you're in the thick of it, perspective is thin. It's hard to see whether God is present, at work, or even aware. A shooting star, a friend's words, a holy pie chart - I find myself begging for a tangible sign whenever my anxiety is in charge.

I am in thick of it with a few folks right now. Visibility is only a few inches in front of their faces because life is harsh, choking out perspective. They fear making the wrong choice. They feel stuck. They can't figure out why God would keep quiet during all of this chaos. I don't know. I just don't know...They trail off and in the moment where silence sometimes turns into peace, they start up again. You can feel the hamster wheel in their brains kick up a breeze as they start analyzing again - their thoughts spin with futile urgency. They speak to me as though telling me creates special power or answers - that I might will change in their lives by using my emergency Kingdom of God contact on speed dial. I lean into their stories wishing for that same special power and answers to appear. I want perspective, too.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a few months before a man named George took me flying in his plane. From high above I could see the border - the patrol trucks or the chunks of wall lying miles apart from each other. I could see the tops of mountains I'd climbed. I could see the sprawl of the city and Fort Huachuca's security. It was all surreal, but one sight in particular transformed me.

I'd spent plenty of time by the San Pedro River, which looks like a stink ditch, but the joke's on you. It draws from an aquifer and the valley is able to sustain large cottonwood trees. They look stately in the middle of the high desert. While I love the wide open, sandy spaces in Cochise County and the mountains that spooned my life on internship, I visited the San Pedro often. After all, a Minnesota girl needs her woods and shade every now and then.

When I saw the river valley from above, it took my breath away. Up close it looks like an accident - a hiccup in the landscape. But from the sky it told a story about our connection to Mexico, the hidden waters beneath the earth's surface, the local stewardship challenges, and the corner of the world in which Matt would soon propose marriage.

Pastors take some classes and training in regards to spiritual counseling, but we are not counselors by trade. We aim to be good listeners, speakers of God's promises, and tangible signs of God's presence. We point to the big things, we nod, and our hearts break with you. And then, if you need more than this, we refer you to our fabulous colleagues who are skilled to do much more.

Whenever I am listening and nodding and breaking, I think of this picture. I remember the two ways I saw and knew the San Pedro - dozens of times in front of my face and once from high above. And then I remember the way I saw it a third time when Matt popped the question there. It was a year of many choices - so many reasons to be anxious about messing things up. So many different forks in the road. So many reasons to wish for special power or answers about the future.

But the perspective - the stately birds' eye view - rarely comes when we need it and it never sticks around for too long. We make choices and then dive into the places they lead. We take risks and move forward. We let the uncertainties spill out so there can be room for other things that fill us up instead.

God, you are the way, the truth, and the life. Give us signs of your mercy and presence, hints of hope for the journey at hand. Make us courageous in sharing our heavy things and surround us with people willing to break along side us. And thank you for creating a world that defines abundant life beyond making the best choice or getting it right. Keep our eyes peeled and our hearts curious. Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

just three.

I've received phone calls lately because friends of colleagues think I'm an expert on this solo pastor, working mother, part-time pay, urban context stuff. They've been told I have insight, which always makes me laugh out loud. I don't have a clue and it shows. I don't know who refers me or who's fooled, but I do have a few things that make all the difference in keeping perspective and staying alive...

I have a village. But you already know that. I've written about the way family, friends, babysitters, child care workers, and parishioners love my son. When I am not enough, they are there. Everything about that fact is both deeply difficult and completely merciful.

I have a Matt. This guy is something else. Last month I thought I was doing so much better tracking my hours at work and getting away, but he was quick to tell me the truth. You're there less, but it's here more. You never power down - I can see the piles you bring home and the distraction in your eyes. You're still time-and-a-half...and that's a far cry from what you're called to and paid for. Well, shit. Guilty as charged. But then he keeps me anyway and gives me good reasons to leave the piles at work. I want to get better at all of this for our sake...and now that he's told me the truth, I am moving in the right direction.

I have a tank. There is only so much to give and then it's empty. Sometimes the weight of it all is too heavy and I have to step away. Sometimes the suffering is too much and I weep heavy tears for all the things that are unfair. I am too new at all of this - and too softened by motherhood - to stand apart from the sadness of people's lives. Lung cancer, memory loss, underemployment, relationships crumbling, bullying, and spiritual burnout. It all sucks and there is only so much you can bear before you need a beer-nap-dance-french fries combo pack. (Do they sell those on Amazon?)

On Sunday morning I read the children's book "I Love You Forever" to my congregation while people of every age balled. That's the thing about kids' books and God's word: sometimes we just need to be read to and told how much we're loved - no matter what. This baptism thing is a complicated gift. We love until we're broken down and then we need to be replenished and refilled. And despite the wildness of our suffering and disobedience and chaos and grief, God continues to speak those words of faithful adoration into our lives. God continues to refill us with forgiveness and hope and grace and relationships that matter.

I have a ritual that refills. It doesn't fix or organize or give me expertise in this solo pastor, working mother, part-time pay, urban context stuff...but it helps a little. Whenever I close my office door for the day, I hang onto the handle for a moment before heading home. And while I stand there, I thank God for just three things that got accomplished or acknowledged or started or finished or built since I opened the door that morning. It reminds met that there will always be more - I will never be enough and my tank can only hold so much. But God used me for three things today.

So that's something.
And then I let go.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

ten things.

1. A man from Sierra Leone came to Zion 7 times since Monday morning. He rang the bell 7 times hoping to meet me and each time he was told I wasn't there. I was giving home communion and visiting pastors from ZOOM partner congregations. I was at a text study and making an offer on a house and buying candles from the Dollar Tree.

2. Then, suddenly, I was there and I got to meet Ezekiel. He told me that he lives a few blocks away and had a dream that he should join Zion. "But first I must know the head of the church. I must meet the one who will lead us." I told him that Jesus will lead us, but that I'd be happy to help. He flashed a wide, bright smile and told me I was a Funny Sister.

3. Donald has seizures and grew up in an orphanage and is a few cards short of a deck. He shows up hours early to the Lyndale Community Dinner and calls me every week to get my advice about things. This week he called to tell me that he and Julie were going to see the movie Promised Land together. He wanted to double check that they should go Dutch and each pay for their own ticket. Good idea, Donald.  They gave me the movie review tonight. Four thumbs up.

4. There is a 15 month old boy at ZOOM House and he melts my heart. Andre is stocky and bowl-legged and likes it when I lift him up so he can touch the ceiling. He squeals and I melt while I remember holding him until he fell asleep as a newborn. Our new-ness at Zion is wearing off, Andre and me.

5. I get to open envelopes that contain generous checks and grants and opportunities for partnership. I also get mass emails about the world ending and my duty to protect my people with a Certificate of Salvation.

6. I drink a lot of coffee. Sometimes I have so many coffee dates lined up that I need to reapply Chapstick and I have the shakes by mid-afternoon. And then there's the (very) occasional beer at lunch or an early happy hour with pastor friends. While you're in your cubical, I'm being vocationally supported at the Happy Gnome. Suckers.

7. I get to love people in an incredibly heartbreaking and nosey way. People thank me for calling and getting up in their business. I help doctors revoke drivers' licenses and stage interventions. I weep when families fall apart and pray for young adults not so sure about whether God's at work in their lives. I believe in the power of people caring about each other and the strength folks receive from knowing I'm cheering them on.

8. Every Wednesday night I sit in a circle with the world's most fabulous people. Recovery Worship draws folks from AA, NA, OA, EA, Al Anon, Grief and Loss, Eating Disorders, Mental Illness, Transition, Abuse, Divorce, and just real life survivors who aren't afraid to acknowledge how messy life can be. They preach to me by showing up and being themselves.

9. I hold peoples' hands while they die and help their family members find a comfortable and confident way to be in the room next to them. Lots of people have never touched someone dying or dead. I get to help them connect the past, the present, and the future with a touch.

10. New life is everywhere. It's in the font at baptism and my son's hand when he shakes yours as a Greeter. (It's knock-your-socks-off cute.) It's in the loaf of bread we give visitors and the mystical way all kinds of people come together around food on Wednesdays at dinner. It's in the coffee and cookies we'll force feed you after worship, carrying the tray of treats around until they're gone. It's in the quilts our ladies make and send halfway around the world. It's in the GEDs moms next door earn and the quiet way Gary drives 4 people home every week.

It's everywhere.
And I have the coolest job in the world because I get to tell about it.
Lucky, lucky me.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Jasper is talking more. Nothing really useful yet. I wouldn't call it communicative, but it is entertaining. My favorite word is "soppy". He chants it over and over when he's content, curious, mischievous, or giddy. I like to think it's an abbreviation of "so happy"...because he is.

Epiphany is on Sunday and I love Epiphany. The first people to worship Jesus were pagans - foreign astronomers who put down everything to follow a star and a dream. And it took awhile. Their round about route from Persia to King Herod to Bethlehem took almost two years. They never made it to the barn or the manger. By the time they showed up, their treasure chests felt heavy with time and there was a full blown toddler to worship. Now the star was resting above a house. With a kid potty training or coloring or sitting in a time out chair.

Two years ago, dreams caused Mary to say yes, Joseph to stay, and wise men to travel. Miracles happened, faith was changed, and things got complicated. Anything normal and beautiful built since then in Bethlehem disappeared when dreams returned. The magi were warned of Herod's motives and returned home a different route - changed men, changed direction. That same night, Joseph was warned and they left the ordinary, familiar things behind. They slipped out of Israel by night, trading a home for homelessness, a place for exile.

The truth is, Christmas disrupts things. God in the flesh means warnings and saving and change. The rest of the Immanuel Story is not as cute as Luke 2. It gets messy with equal parts content, curious, mischievous, and giddy. When God breaks into the ordinary with dreams, moving us out of our own stuff and filling us with hope, life gets both scary and soppy. It moves us from the manger into the naughty and busy and joyful midst of a toddler who is destined to change our reality and sense of self.

On Epiphany I imagine two groups of footprints moving into the night - one to the east and one to the west. And then I imagine my own. Epiphany moves me, too. It moves me forward into new adventures - new manifestations of God and myself - all the ways I'm being changed by the soppy things.