Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Post in Pictures Signifying Many Gifts and One Sorrow

It's Christmas time in Iowa City, and sweaters wear trees. I'm super glad about this--a reason to giggle when I walk downtown through wintertime slush. You should see all the sweaters on all the trees, each with their own 70s-inspired pattern. Some hippies were very industrious. This Christmas I'm trying to be less industrious than them. I'm thinking about rest in the face of sacred cows such as The Holiday Photo Card, featuring all Webers, clean, smiling and otherwise in tact. And it's hard enough to let my left hand know that my right hand is not addressing all those envelopes this year, harder to articulate it in writing here. And that there are people who mean the world to me that I am just not. buying. gifts. for.  Because it's just so much frenzy, too much all at once. I'm trying, instead to sit still sometimes, in scenes like this one:

Yes, that's a pile of laundry you see behind Tiny, and a bag of groceries that is yet unpacked. Tiny is delighted by all the chaos left haphazardly around the kitchen. And her delight is a gift, it really is because it encourages me to pause and appreciate small and unexpected things, like joy over dirty laundry and empty baskets. And--how's this for a segue?--this guy is a gift, too. That's John, my friend and graphic designer for my 
book. He's pretty talented, and spent hours and hours and hours fine tuning my cover while I spazzed about details of alignment and shadows and brightness. Yeah, he should win an award. And he's also a great photographer too, and has taken most of the good pics you'll see of me and the fam on the FB and the blog. If you're in the area, you should look 'im up. 

Now, this here is a family tree. Not mine, but the one belonging to my half-brother, Henry, about whom said book was actually written. When he died five years ago, I knew, in theory that there were multitudes of relatives on his father's side (other than his own half siblings and dad), but I never thought about them as real people with names and memories and sorrows like my own over losing the Boy. This month's most surprising gift was the flurry of Bertka relatives who began buzzing on FB about the book, contacting me to introduce themselves, and to claim me as one of their own. It's been bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter, to hear their memories, to see their faces and family resemblances, and to know their stories with flesh now on skeletal plotlines. So, Rita, Mike, Mary--and of course, Naomi--I thank you. (And as I write this quickly, I know I must be leaving out others--it's a big family, as you can see!)

But here's the sorrow this month. My book, my beloved darling, has been literally misaligned by the printer. Many of the copies are produced with lines all aslant (see the bottom line of text--it's much more noticeable in person). It's depressing and left me a bit numb after unpacking sixty copies at my home yesterday. The printer will replace/refund any defective copies purchased by any individual or vendor, but it's still a sadness to know that some are going out into the world all askew. The manufacturer is investigating the problem at their production sites, but these things take time, as you know. If you buy a copy and it comes to you like this, it probably will do me and the book some ultimate good if you ask for a replacement. In the meantime, you could read the free kindle version that comes with purchasing the paperback book on Amazon. 

And there it is. And now I must go to preschool to pick up Tiny, and then it's off to dance class--hers, not mine.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When You're Not My Enemy

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about the healing and recovery process she's been in (the same one most of us have been on at one time or another, where we recover from whatever garbage-y messages we were saddled with as younger and more vulnerable versions of ourselves). My friend was saying what a significant thing it was to have accomplished a certain achievement--something she'd always dreamed about--but something that put her so out there, so her-own-person, living a life that is now in obvious and loud contradiction to everything she was ever told she couldn't or wouldn't or wasn't allowed to be. An achievement that asserted, Yes, I really am who I am, and who I am is not as shabby as I once believed. I'm a powerful person.

Have you ever been there? These are the moments in which the things we think and believe about ourselves in the world can rearrange themselves, where the truth we are living can get louder than the messages we cowered under for so long. (Oh, it doesn't always, but it can.) And those achievements or breakthroughs or "ah ha moments" are sometimes a little like pinnacles after long and exhausting climbs over and around all the obstacles on the path--the boulders, scraggly weeds, the heat, the altitude.

I've been In Process as a daughter, mother, writer, minister, a female minister. There were years when I spent a lot of emotional energy trying to convince myself that I was meant to do or be all those things and responding to the people who spoke against me or simply had different opinions about who I was or what my life should look like. Sometimes those people seemed like boulders, entanglements on the path. I wasn't on a mission to dislike them or fight against them, but they became like enemies simply by definition.

They were powerful and seemed scary + I felt weak and afraid = ENEMIES.

I spent a lot of time having interior dialogues with imaginary versions of my enemies--defending myself, explaining how they got my political views all wrong, my gender views upside down, and my basic constitution turned inside out. They didn't understand what I'd said over Thanksgiving dinner; they took a comment out of context; they misinterpreted a facial expression. Or: they just. didn't. like. me. I had essays in my head; sometimes I had short, sharp quips. I had a thesis defense ready against their rejection.

Like many of you, I have emerged onto a few mountain plateaus: I have a better sense of who I am and why that is a good thing. It doesn't bother me so much if I meet someone who doesn't think I should be a pastor, for instance. (Oh, it bothers me, but much less). Somehow the grace has been given for me to let my life, my tangible reality, do more of the talking about who I am and what I'm worth. I know I'm powerful, just like you are, and I can live without reacting even when knives are thrown because

you're powerful and may be unpleasant + I'm powerful and not afraid = 

Equals what? 

Jesus said, "Love your enemies. " Too often, we've equated love with quiet neutrality. But is disengaged tolerance the kind of love Jesus wants us to embrace?

Once we realize we're powerful and able to love anyone, once we think we have recovered some measure of ourselves and our true identities, once we realize we don't need to fight against anymore, is the answer really indifference and silence toward those who disagree?  Or does love bear more responsibility?

I've been musing on this and maybe you'll muse to--about love that disagrees and explores, that contends against and humanizes at the same time, that is powerful and at odds while blessing. 

I'm not afraid of you and I bless you.

What if this sentiment was behind every difficult thing we had to say to someone who doesn't see the world the same way we do? From...

I dislike your cranberry stuffing to...

I don't like it when you yell at me,

Your words are judgmental and they hurt,

I'm a woman in ministry,

I'm gay, a Muslim, an NRA member, a unitarian, a Christian,

or in the words of Mythbuster Adam Savage: "I reject your reality and substitute my own." 

I'm not afraid of you and I bless you.

It's easy for us to cling to our circles of safe people who think the way we do and talk the way we do. It's easy to let go of dialogue with those on the outside.  But when we do, we give up the privilege of engaging others in meaningful conversation about the change we want to see in the world.

I ran across a post by Sarah Cunningham today in which she speaks of the kind of bravery that goes hand in hand with powerful love.
"I must learn to hold bravery in one hand and humility in another....humility creates a better chance of being able to address hate without perpetuating it. To confront injustice without wielding more of it."
Yes, that is what I'm getting at. When we live in reaction, we often perpetuate hate. When we live defensively, we are poised to wield more injustice, more judgment, more wounding.  So, I'm asking myself--and us--what more is required now that we're not enemies?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

When Mothers "Happen"

I stumbled into this article by Shauna Niequest last night through Rachel Held Evans' blog. Shauna is the daughter of Lynne and Bill Hybels, founders of the mega-church Willow Creek. Shauna writes about her mother Lynne as a role model of healthy and whole womanhood--and about how, when Shauna was a teenager, Lynne began giving herself permission to pursue her passions, passions and gifts that weren't limited just to her role as a mother.
This journey she was on began when I was fourteen. I was just learning what it meant to be a woman. And the woman I was watching most closely was just beginning to reshape her definition, and in turn, mine.
Watching my mother while I was a young teenager gave me a front row seat to a hard, messy, important, beautiful transformation. I watched my mother become herself. I watched her come alive. I watched her discover her gifts. I watched her eyes sparkle when she returned from a meeting or a trip. I listened to her bubbling over with passion about what she was reading or learning.
And as I watched her, I promised myself that I would follow this new example she was leaving for me, to pay attention to my gifts and passions. The life I was seeing in her for the first time was so inspiring to me. I loved it in her, and I wanted it for myself.
I couldn't help but think of my own three daughters as I read these lines, about how, over the last 6 or so years, they've had a front-row view of their mother redefining and embracing who and what she could be. The two oldest have seen me labor through hours of graduate study, reading and writing furiously and excitedly and passionately (sometimes while crying, sometimes while laughing); they've watched me conduct science experiments in the kitchen, excitement bubbling over as foods fermented on the counter; they've watched me sit with a guitar or at the keyboard for hours, learning parts to songs because it gave me pleasure, because of a driving hunger to hear the sounds, to make melodies out of single notes; I've danced into the house after a prayer time with someone struggling, excited that the person was encouraged, that they encountered God in some significant way; they watched me pastor, teach classes, take difficult phone calls, solve problems, rejoice in making peace with others; they watched me labor nightly, for months, on a book and then listen to triumphant reports of "it's done!" They've watched me refinish furniture, paint endless walls, learn to crochet, use power tools, write book reviews, write sermons; they've listened to me read, through winter months with a quavering voice, literature and stories with which I long to fill their imaginations. They've watched me pack suitcases destined for far- off places, raise money for mission trips, take cookies to the neighbors just because.

Danny Silk talks about how important it is for women to "happen"--for life to surge through them, for their gifts to bubble forth, for the community to bless and encourage their pursuit of all God has called them to be. My own life has been happening these last six years or so, mostly because I've cooperated in ways I never thought about cooperating a decade ago as a new mother, or even as a teenager, when watching my own mother make her way through the world. I was a young woman afraid to open my mouth to sing or speak, afraid to stand up in a room of people sitting because they might see me; I was a woman afraid of being in my own skin, of happening.

There are other mothers happening around me, too. One friend has started a business around her phenomenal ability to create, re-design, and refinish anything she gets her hands on. Another friend decided to address some personal health needs that she'd been long putting off. Another is engaged in study, pouring over historical texts, researching ancient and holistic medicine practices. Others are standing at the foot of the path; they've said yes and they're about to step out on the journey.

I don't care what my daughters decide to "be" when they grow up, but I could weep with gratitude that somehow allowing ourselves to happen in front of their eyes might just inspire a confidence that some of us didn't have for decades, might just banish the protestations of self-doubt that haunted some of us for years, might just pave the way for them to happen, too.