Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Light In The Dark

Last weekend I went to a conference in Minneapolis.  It was a Christian conference called WhyChristian 2015 (or WX2015) and it featured a number of progressive Christian speakers.  Just reading what I just wrote makes me think “BORING!” but the conference was anything but boring.  Actually, it was more exciting than seeing my favorite band, mostly because one of my favorite preachers was leading the conference: Nadia Bolz-Weber.

I quoted Nadia in one of my previous blog posts because her preaching really moves me; the things she says resonate with me quite a bit and she reaches me in a way that many other preachers do not.  When I read what I just wrote (something I do frequently so that I don’t end up sounding stupid) it sounds very academic and logical.  But the truth is that I am an unabashed geeky-ass fangirl when it comes to Nadia.  Like, jump up and down, squeal like a teenager, fangirl.

There.  I said it.  I am a fangirl to a preacher.  Cue the geek music and the horrified reactions of my readers.

It’s embarrassing to admit that one of my biggest heroes is a tattooed preacher woman who curses like a sailor, sometimes while she preaches.  Admittedly, I also have a mouth like a sailor, sometimes to my detriment, but I do my best to avoid using any foul language while at the church, even more so when preaching.  I guess that means that I admire Nadia for having the guts to curse in the middle of a sermon when I am simply unwilling to be that bold.  I totally sound like a middle schooler admitting this (‘Wow…she said a bad word.  In Church.  She’s so….COOL!’)  But there is more to it than that.

It is really hard to be a leader in the Church.  People expect you to be holy…holier than they are.  People expect you to be patient and kind no matter what mood you’re in.  People expect you to be some sort of spiritual powerhouse who thinks deep thoughts and says meaningful things and constantly contemplates Jesus and God and all that spiritual stuff.  And I do those things…sporadically and mostly poorly.  I do my best to be patient and kind but am just as often crunchy, bitchy, and difficult.  I complain about the crappy moments in life—loudly—to the point that even I get sick of listening to me. I pray and read the Word, but no more than any other human being and sometimes less than is really healthy for anyone who claims to be a practicing Christian.  I occasionally think deep thoughts, but just as often I am thinking about miniscule crap that is not even remotely spiritual and is actually mundane and kind of stupid.  It’s really hard to be spiritual while spot treating the laundry, you know?  I would love to be really deep and spiritual.  It would be great!  I imagine myself, standing there at the sink doing the dishes looking all contemplative and holy, the angels singing in the background.  And then I imagine my husband rolling his eyes, sighing deeply, and shaking his head at me. Seriously, I’d expect my husband to divorce me if I behaved like that.  I’d divorce me if I behaved like that.

The bottom line is that it is really hard to be yourself everywhere you go, all the time, while being a leader in the church.  It’s a constant choice between being authentic and acting like your less-than-holy self, or being “appropriate” to the setting and acting like your “supposed” to.  Most of the time when I’m at the Church, I monitor and edit myself in an attempt not to offend anyone or make them question if I’m fit to be called a spiritual leader. I try to be as authentic as possible while attempting to behave like a ‘good girl’, although I have sworn to be my fullest and truest self with any person who extends their relationship with me beyond the front doors of the Church. This means that some of my parishioners know that I have a potty-mouth.  Actually, the associate pastor at my Church knows all about my bad language because he was at my last birthday party.  I invited him and his wife to the party because I was pretty sure that they would be chill with me being myself in front of them and I was right, although he was the one who labeled me a “potty-mouth.”  I figured I’d own it since, after all, that is what I am and it’s a fun label.  Also, here in Arizona there aren’t too many Navy guys around, so saying that I curse like a sailor just doesn’t have the same impact as it did when I lived only 15 minutes from Great Lakes Naval Base.

Back to the point: since I have spent so many years monitoring my behavior and editing my speech in an attempt to behave like a proper minister, I have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to risk being truthful about who they are while simultaneously claiming their role as a leader in the Church.

The reason that I idolize Nadia Bolz-Weber is because she risks being honest even when that makes her look a little less holy, a little less put-together, a little less capable and self-assured.  She risks being honest when that honesty might give others cause to judge her and reject her for being less than what they want and/or need her to be…if what they need her to be is perfect, holy, and a spiritual powerhouse.

I don’t need someone who is a perfect, holy, spiritual powerhouse.  I already have that in Jesus Christ. What I actually need is someone who I can follow…who is mired in being an imperfect, less-than-holy human and who is doing their best to be a spiritual nightlight. (I couldn’t think of something smaller than a powerhouse…maybe a backyard generator? Oh hell, I’ll settle for a nightlight.) I need someone whose example I can follow, realistically.  Sure, there are people like Mother Theresa, Father Thomas Merton, or Father Henri Nouwen who are more recent examples of something close to a spiritual powerhouse, but when I look at their lives I just get overwhelmed and feel badly about myself. I wish that I could be that spiritual but most of the time I can’t.  When I look at Nadia I see someone that I can imitate.  When she drops the f-bomb, when she admits to being less than charitable in her thoughts, when she writes about how she doesn’t read the Bible on a regular basis, or how she struggles with anxiety, I think that THIS is someone I can emulate.  This is a woman that I could try to grow up and be like.  This is a pastor whose example I can follow and still be who I am on the inside, because who she is on the inside is not all that different from me.  When I listen to her sermons and read her books I feel like I have found a path I can follow, and the idea of following Nadia’s example makes me look at her like she’s my hero. And so I jumped up and down in excitement after buying my tickets to the conference in Minneapolis because I was going to get to see Nadia in person. I found myself staring like a moron when I was only a few feet away from her as she signed my copy of her latest book.  And I sat enthralled as I listened to her preach during morning worship and again at closing worship, when she spoke words that reached down deep into my soul, words that gave testimony that maybe in all my error-prone ways that I am good enough for God to use me in ministry; good enough to actually lead others who feel like I might be the nightlight they are looking for to lead them on the path towards Jesus.

Here’s to the idea that one day I might grow a bigger bulb.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” 1 Corinthians 11:1

In Memory of Tragedy, Terror, and All That Is Good

I never saw it coming.  You never do.  You’re just rolling along one day, and boom! The next minute is tragedy.  I remember that I was getting the kids ready for school that morning.  We had already gotten breakfast, and everybody was dressed, and like moms and kids all over the world, we were watching cartoons until the kids had to leave for school.  My husband called, and when he asked me if I was watching TV, I remember laughing at him and saying “Duh!  Of course we’re watching TV.  The world would stop revolving if we didn’t watch “Rocket Boy and Big Mike” every morning!”  He told me to get the kids out of the room and turn on the news.  That made me nervous, because he was not the type to chase the kids out of the room for anything.  I shooed the kids out of the room and changed to the morning news and immediately saw why my husband had called. The World Trade Center tower 1 had been hit by a plane. I remembered seeing the news footage after the Empire State Building had been hit by a plane, but the damage was nothing like the gaping hole in the side of tower one.  Of course, that was because the Empire State Building had been hit by a small, private plane. My husband and I talked for a minute, and we both wondered if this was a terrible accident or if it was a terrorist act. Of course, we were also concerned because it was a Boeing plane and if this was a terrorist act, there was risk that there would be further strikes against Boeing—which is where my husband works. We started talking about other Boeing sites, and if they had been evacuated or put on lockdown.  We spent a few moments discussing what I should do if he was unable to leave because of a lockdown.  It didn’t take long for the kids to come back to the TV, and it took quite a bit of fast talking to get them out of the room once they saw all that black smoke.

Finally, I got them out of the door and off to school, and I sat down to watch the news coverage.  At that point, no one really knew what was happening.  There was no word about the hijackings, there was no idea if this was deliberate (although they assumed it was), and they had no idea what was going to happen next.  All that confusion reminded me of another day six years earlier when I had sat on the same couch, watching the same television, listening to the same confusion.  I had watched the entire story of the Oklahoma City bombing unfold.  My youngest daughter was barely 4 weeks old when the Oklahoma City bombing took place, and I remember that I spent the entire day on the couch, holding her, feeding her, too absorbed by the news to do anything else.  I remember hoping that this would turn out to be a terrible, terrible accident, because the idea that we might be under attack was too horrible to really thing about.

I had been sitting there for a while, lost in my own thoughts, when the second plane hit.  The shock of seeing it live made it almost unbelievable.  I couldn’t understand what had happened.  I couldn’t believe it was possible.  I kept thinking “This can’t be real.  It just cannot be real.”  I truly wanted to reject reality, because once the second plane hit, there was no chance that the first plane had just been a horrible accident.  It was obvious: we were under attack. I didn’t know whether to be mad or sick, and while I wanted to be mad because it felt a little safer, the truth was that I just felt sick and scared and uncertain of what to do.  My husband was at work; my children were at school.  I started chiding myself for letting my children leave for school, and I was tempted to go and get my children and bring them home, to not let them be away from me.  I was afraid that something would happen and that I wouldn’t be able to get to them.  I talked myself out of it, reasoned that all I would do was scare them witless, but I really wanted to go and get them.

Realizing that other mothers like myself might not know, I called a friend of mine and discovered that she hadn’t seen the news either.  I spent a few minutes on the phone with her, sharing what I had seen already.  Then I called two other moms on my street who also turned out to be unaware.  Each time I was amazed to hear how happy they sounded when they first answered the phone, and how stunned and sickened they sounded once they saw the live pictures on TV.   Usually I feel better when someone else feels the way I do about something; it feels validating.  Sharing that sick, stunned feeling wasn’t nearly as nice. I finally called my mom, and we sat watching the TV, praying that the people inside the towers would be rescued.  We prayed for a long time, praying for the dead and their families, and for the families waiting to receive their survivors; we prayed for the rescuers and the hospital workers, even for the media.  We were pretty deep in prayer when my mother suddenly stopped speaking and she moaned.  She had been praying with her eyes open, and she had seen the jumpers—the people who jumped from the towers rather than die in the heat and the flames. Neither one of us could pray another word.  We just sat in horror and watched the people jump and die. I remember hoping that the words in Romans 8:26 were true.

“For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” 

We were still on the phone when the news came through that the Pentagon had been hit in Washington, DC.   We finally hung up.  There really wasn’t anything else to say.

I sat there in silence on the couch, wondering what was going to happen next.  Then the south tower collapsed.  By this time I had been sitting there watching the events unfold for almost 90 minutes. At this point, the constant replays of the planes hitting the towers were making me numb. They added the footage of the south tower collapsing to the stack of repeating images, and I became even more numb.  The newsmen started talking about protecting the president; that the vice-president had been taken to the secret bunker; that the president was in the air and wouldn’t be allowed to land until things were safe.  I can’t tell just how much those phrases chilled me: the presidential bunker, the president being kept “safe” in the air.  I remember being a young child afraid of nuclear war—that was the threat when I was a kid.  The Cold War was going strong, and we feared that one day, Russia and the US would finally have it out in a huge nuclear battle.  When we talked about it at school, many of the kids would ask what would happen to our government if there was nuclear war, and we were always told that the president would be protected from any harm.  He would either be taken to a special bunker where the radiation couldn’t harm him, or he would be up in a plane in the air, and he would stay up in the air until they could find a safe place to land.  Back then, that information was comforting, but on 9/11, hearing that the president was “in the air” and would remain “in the air” was terrifying.  It was like all my childhood fears had come true. The terrible thing I had feared as a child had suddenly appeared and instead of nuclear war it turned out to be random attacks on US soil. I kept waiting for the Civil Defense siren to go off, or for the TV channels to start playing that awful alarm sound that used to be associated with Civil Defense warnings; now we use it for Amber Alerts.  I was still sitting there wrapped up in my fear when the reports started to trickle in about a plane crashing in Pennsylvania.  But there didn’t seem to be much information about the plane in Pennsylvania, and then the north tower collapsed, and all the focus came back to the World Trade Center.  Then the images started to roll in from the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and I began to wonder where that last plane had been headed before it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  Anymore, I honestly don’t think I want to know.

It occurred to me that eventually my children would come back home from school, and I would have to somehow explain what had happened to them. They weren’t little kids anymore, and they had a right to know—to know something at least—maybe not the whole truth. I couldn’t imagine what I would say, and yet I couldn’t imagine letting them see the news coverage either. How do you explain terrorism to a child who still believes that the world is full of good people? How do you explain why someone kills thousands of people? How could I explain that they shouldn’t be afraid when I was so afraid?  I had no idea.

 After all the horrible images and the sickening news on 9/11, the news in the following days took on a different sound.  It was subtle, and at first, I didn’t hear it.  There were so many reports of death and destruction, and the images were as horrible as the images of the attacks themselves.  There were reports of hundreds of firefighters and police officers that died in the towers; there was footage of the terrified, debris-coated people who flooded over the Manhattan bridge on foot trying to get away from the destruction; there were the first-hand accounts of those who had evacuated the World Trade Center, who had had to run from the collapsing buildings.  That part was still horrible, but there was this other part, another sound in the news, and it sounded bittersweet and even hopeful.  There was the thousands of people who lined up to give blood; cities all over the nation were getting record amounts of blood donations as people realized that this was one thing that they could do to help what we hoped would be the injured who were found alive in the rubble. The donations persisted even after we realized that no one else would be found alive in all the wreckage.  There were so many accounts of firefighters and police officers that had continued climbing the stairs as others had evacuated, hoping to reach the people trapped by the impact of the planes. Their deaths only increased the sense of nobility and selflessness that it must have taken to run into that inferno even as others ran out. And the pictures from the capitol: George Bush, walking alone from Air Force One into the White House, fearless, only hours after the towers fell, walking without a security escort even as the nation feared more attacks. Seeing our Congress, gathered on the capitol steps, singing “God Bless America.” The inevitable country music song that popped up to remind us that we are free people who must fight to keep our freedom. The stories of assistance, and rescue, and bravery by common people who, despite their own desperation to escape the burning towers, stopped to assist another person, often saving their life.  And finally, the story of a group of airline passengers who fought their hijackers to the death in order to prevent others from having to die with them.  A few of their final known words became our war cry in Afghanistan: “Let’s roll!”

I realize that 9/11 is a national tragedy that will never totally be healed for those who lost their loved ones, but I also realize that 9/11 gave America a gift that the terrorists who attacked us did not anticipate. They had not imagined how this nation would pull together, how we would support and care for one another, how we would face this tragedy not only with courage, but with compassion and with an outstretched hand, reaching out to help our brothers and sisters in New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania. They didn’t count on our suddenly realizing and honoring the heroes in our midst. And they didn’t count on our unfailing faith in God, either. As we remember the events of September 11, 2001, as we remember the many who were lost, let us also remember the essential goodness of the American people. Let us remember not only the death and destruction, but also the noblesse and self-sacrifice, not only the suffering, but also the healing. And most of all, let us remember that in all of it, God was with us then and is with us now, weeping, mourning, and remembering. Let us dedicate this day to their memory, and to the hope that we can create a better peace in our time, a peace that will be worthy of their memory and of their sacrifice.

All Hail the Guest Bedroom!

My youngest daughter Katie moved out of our house last Monday.  She had moved out originally about two years ago to move in with her boyfriend, but she didn’t really “move out” when she left.  All Katie took then was her clothing and her personal care items.  As far as I’m concerned, you haven’t really moved out until there is no room with your name on it in your parent’s home.  You haven’t moved out if there is still a closet full of your things and shelves that contain your books, your CDs, and your artwork. You haven’t moved out if your bed is still covered with your sheets and your comforter. And if you are a parent, you know what I mean when I say “your sheets and your comforter” because there is no way that I would ever buy teal sheets and a pink zebra stripe comforter for any bed I’d call mine.  Unless there is someone else begging for such a thing, pink zebra stripes just don’t happen in my house.  They. Just. Don’t. Happen.  So when Katie moved in with her boyfriend and those teal sheets and the zebra striped comforter (Pink!  It was PINK!) continued to stare at me from the doorway of her bedroom, I knew that she hadn’t really “moved out.”

And then Katie moved home in a wash of tears this July, heartbroken after ending her engagement with a young man she still cared for very deeply even though she had realized that he wasn’t going to be her forever-guy.  The first couple of weeks were pretty tough, and occasionally she’d cuddle up next to me, teary-eyed and aching.  As a mom, I was really torn between hurting for my little girl and reveling in being able to take care of her again.  After a long rest from having to take care of her because she was still immature and a minor, it was good to be able to choose to take care of her now that all she needed from me was emotional support and someone to make blueberry pancakes to soothe her broken heart.

It was nice having Katie at home again.  She moved out at 18, young and stubborn, certain that she was smarter than her father and I were and behaving in ways that made sure we knew that she thought so.  She moved back home at 20, wiser and more patient but still incredibly strong-willed.  Katie was open with us about what she had learned about herself, both the good and the bad.  Her father and I were stunned at how much she had grown up.  Katie had grown up so much, in fact, that her older sister Alex noticed and invited her to move into her condo when the current roommate’s lease ended in November.  I listened in while they discussed what it would be liked to live together…silently stunned at how excited they were at the idea of being together again after so many years of living separately.  (Alex moved out four years ago while she was still in college.)

And then the roommate vacated the property suddenly to move in with his girlfriend and…my baby girl started getting ready to move out.

Katie and I went to the storage unit and looked at the furniture she inherited from her grandma to see what she’d need and to measure the items in advance of the move so she could plan where to put things in her bedroom at the condo. She went through all her belongings and got rid of old keepsakes from high school that no longer meant anything to her. She packed everything that she didn’t get rid of…which meant that everything came out of the closet and off of the shelves.  She took the posters off of her walls.  She packed up her bedding and took apart her bed.  Remember I said that Katie had grown up so much? Well…she ditched the pink zebra stripe comforter and asked for a reversible black/grey one that would contrast nicely with the teal sheets.  I took the pink and black monstrosity to Goodwill yesterday in the aftermath of the move and discarded it along with the other remaining evidence of my baby girl’s recent adolescence: a huge stuffed green frog that was a present from an old boyfriend and a hairy pink area rug that she thought matched that horrifying pink comforter, which it did…if you are talking about matching levels of bad taste.

Katie’s bedroom in the condo looks nothing like her bedroom did only a few days before she moved out. If you’d seen her bedroom in my house before she moved you would have sworn that a teenage girl lived there.  If you could see her bedroom in the condo now, you’d know immediately that a young woman lives there.  I guess she needed to make manifest on the outside the big change that happened on the inside over the last two years.  My baby girl is a grown woman now.

I have spent the last 23 years of my life raising children, waiting for that day when they would finally be launched and I could get back to my own life.  That day has come.  I had a trial run for the last two years when Katie moved in with her boyfriend and I must admit that I really like being an empty nester.  Except my nest wasn’t really empty.  Everything that represented Katie was just down the hall in what we continued to call “Katie’s bedroom”.   All her belongings sat there, like harbingers of an eventual return.  She returned the first time when she had surgery just before Christmas 2013, and I got to play mommy for a week, taking care of her while she recovered.  Then she returned again this July, returning to live at home for what will most likely be the last time.

I look into her room now and see the lovely shelves my husband Phil built, covered with our books and knick-knacks.  I see the pictures from his mom’s home that we held on to in the hopes of finding somewhere to hang them…and now they hang in what will soon be called the “guest bedroom.”  In the next month or so I’ll buy a bed to put in that room so we can actually have guests stay at the house.  But right now, I can’t bear to put the bed there because that empty room is the evidence of a job well done that is breaking my heart.  Phil and I have launched two beautiful girls out into the world.  We finished the job we started in 1992, and I think we did well.  So why am I crying?

The hardest thing about parenting is that you work diligently to teach them well and raise them to be successful, independent adults, and then you miss them so much when they succeed at exactly that. Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not one of those moms who doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have anyone to take care of.  I have plenty of things to do and lots to take care of.  I have a purpose in life, and it isn’t limited to being a good wife and mother; my life is bigger than that.  I guess I’m just realizing for the first time that Phil and I are actually DONE raising children.  I can’t believe we actually finished!  We will always be parents, and we will always be there for our kids, but I don’t think they need any more “raising”.  If there is any more growing up to do, they are on their own to do that for themselves.  I continued growing up after I got to legal adulthood, and I’m not sure I’m done yet.  But my parents are definitely done raising me and have been for over 30 years…and now I’m done raising kids as well.  Like all great moments of passage, this one deserves to be marked with tears and celebration.  I’m doing the crying now…perhaps I should chill a bottle of champagne for later.

Spiritual thought for the day: this whole “child of the Kingdom” thing makes so much more sense to me now.  God doesn’t do the empty nest–ever.  There is always a bedroom with your name on it in God’s house, and we all end up “moving home” in the end.