Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dear Desert Dweller, (Epistolary Wednesday), July 30

On Wednesdays, I write letters.

Dear Desert Dweller,

It’s dusty and hot here, I know. And sometimes we wonder, in the desert, if we’ll die before the next rain, the next bottle of water, the next splash in a puddle. It seems though, that there is, eventually, a next rain, a next water. But sometimes, like the Israelite’s manna it’s just enough to barely get us by.

In the meantime, so much beauty flourishes where it's so dry. Like the work of the L.A. Dream Center—in the middle of poverty and homelessness, there’re a million pounds of food (that’s 16 semi trucks) going out to in-need neighborhoods where young mothers and trembling old men fill their carts-with-wheels full of cherries, avocados, whole wheat pasta, and organic apples. Every week to the same neighborhoods all over the city.

Here, in the desert, women go every Thursday afternoon to a park in the projects (and on other afternoons to other parks) for Kidz Club. They sit in the baking sun, throw water balloons, hug children and tell them there are no limits on their lives or to their names. They are there every Thursday and the kids come to expect them. These women remember their names. This is the water.

In the yards in the projects, where the many mamas tend actual green in the heat of their children’s neediness, there are so many signs of life.

There are always signs of life in the desert. Promise comes in hues of orange and gold. And, wouldn’t you know it, some of the most glorious things grow when the sky is blue-bare and cloudless.

Most of us don’t pick the desert. Instead, it chooses us, claiming us for seasons and, sometimes, for what feels like forever. But, there are streams to be found, there are flash floods to fall. Watch and see what grows out of loneliness and loss. Watch and see what flourishes where there is no abundance, where you strain toward heaven with questions unanswered, wondering, waiting and thirsty. Something will spring up. It has to.

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy...Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:1-2, 5-7

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dear Burden Bearer, (Epistolary Wednesday) July 23

It's Wednesday, and I'm writing letters.
Dear Burden Bearer,

Perhaps you didn't realize this was you when you shed the silent (or not-so-silent) tear, when you curled your fingers into fists when you heard the news, got the call, read the email. It was you when you lit the candle, took a meal, baked bread, sent a card, updated your Facebook status with news that wasn't about you. It's someone else's tragedy, but oh it feels like yours. Oh, it feels like it belongs to the whole community somehow. The suffering and loss in our midst last week was taken up by so many--untold numbers, strangers to the family asking me if I knew how they could take meals, if I had an address, if I had service details. My Facebook page blew up with shares and links and prayers.

We want to make things right when tragedy strikes, and there's a ferocity that accompanies such desire for many of us. I see it in my father's wife who will bake a blueberry pie when she hears that one of the grandkids has a fever and sore throat. We can blame this ferocity for all the meal train frenzies and phone calls when there's been a Situation. We must do something. We have to do something with these burdens, don't we? We passionately tell ourselves in the hours and days of tragedy's aftermath: We can, sure as hell, lose some sleep, keep vigil, light a candle, cook a meal, send a card, network, make phone calls, send texts. We can, sure as hell, pray. And we're telling ourselves the truth. And we're drawn toward different remedies, you and I, all helpful in their own ways. My way, last week, was to humbly gather a group of women around the bed of a precious little girl, a mother's baby, a girl who at times felt like all-of-us-mothers' baby, who had only a few more hours left on life support.

This work of burden bearing is manageable when we do it together. We can, together, try to assuage a family's grief with meals, cards, prayers, thoughts, hugs. But alone? Alone it is almost unbearable, this burden of tragedy. With four women and two distraught parents, we could stand beside the bed of one so small and cry and pray and sing with them in such a way that heaven seemed very close to us, touching us on the ear. We could bend our necks and lean in, straining for its sound. It's the same with the meals and the cards and the simple Showing Up, each instance a physical reminder that Heaven Sees and Heaven Weeps.

There are times I'm so saturated with news of tragedy that I become numb to it. Small losses far away aren't always registered fully in our psyches. But those tragedies on a larger scale (the Newtown shooting, 9/11, the 300 Nigerian daughters kidnapped and auctioned off as sex slaves under the guise of "marriage")--it's like we can't help but pick them up, you and I. And when the family on the other side of town loses a child, when the first-grader in the next school district over loses a mother, when we've prayed alongside family and community for hours while we wait for a brain or heart to liven again and it doesn't, we can't help but bear witness to these losses because, now, we own them.

I'm so glad to have you. I'm glad the Miller family has you. Carrying a burden alone is the work of the courageous and lonely. Bearing them together is the work of the comforters and balm to the comforted.

And here's what I'm thinking for us, our community of Burden Bearers: Let's get even better at going the distance over the months and years for those in the wake of tragedy. That have-to-do-something ferocity wanes sometimes after the ground, once all strewn with debris, is cleaned up after the storm. Let's continue to demonstrate that We Remember on birthdays and anniversaries and would-have-been high school graduations. I'm not so good at that myself, and sometimes I'm just too plain scared at the possibility of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, creating more pain. But I suspect it's as simple as mentioning a memory or an inside joke or even just the loved-one's name. Maybe it looks like giving space for the memories and questions of the grieving to be voiced and responded to. Maybe it looks like--twelve months from now, two years from now--offering an ear in the grocery store aisle or in a shades-drawn living room or in the middle of a dark night.

At any rate, let's keep finding out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (and Watches), July 21

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

I'm right now sitting in a terminal at the Des Moines airport with a LIFEchurch group heading to the L.A. Dream Center. Just a few minutes to throw up some of the best of what I saw online this week! Happy reading and watching!

Change-the-way-you-live video: Look at what our garbage is doing to birds.

This guest post series on Rage Against the Minivan is very fitting this week as a sweet family in our community lost their 3-year-old daughter. Here's "What I Want You To Know About Losing a Child" by Heather Blaire.

Joey Aszterbaum describes the social climate in Murietta, CA, where picketers protest the processing of child refugees from South American Countries: "I believe that the United States is making the same mistake today by failing to declare these immigrants refugees, and by failing to create comprehensive immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship for refugees. Some things are the right thing to do, no matter how much personal sacrifice it takes." 

Something a little less serious, but also very helpful for me: "How to Survive the Summer as a Work-at-Home Mom."

Darlene Cunha's "This is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps" is a helpful look at the way financial crisis happens to people, even when they do all the "right" things.

This guest post from Jennifer Ball on Momastery is also a poignant "recovery story": "You Will Survive Being Left."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dear Modesty, (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I write letters.

Dear Modesty,

I’m not sure how to speak of you these days. No one seems to agree on what exactly you are, calling you out in varying situations as if you are a chameleon, changing to suit your surroundings. You’re covered ankles in Bangladesh or covered cleavage in Iowa church services or skirts-to-the-knees at a choir concert or a two-piece swimsuit at the local pool. Different things to different people. Yet, I call you conundrum. Are you state-of-mind or state-of-dress? Or both? Is that you, sauntering off in a floor-length maxi skirt and a braggy ‘tude? Or is that you, innocent and unself-conscious in a bikini?

I can’t help but feel that it’s more state-of-mind (the wearer’s and the beholder’s) than it is state of dress. And yet, how do I explain why I won’t let my daughters wear the shorts with the 1-inch inseam and the teeny bikini with the fringe hanging down from the top?  (All of their friends have bikinis and wear short shorts. All of them, they tell me. They’re social pariahs in tankinis and one-pieces.) And it's hard to explain my "no" without sounding like I'm problematizing their bodies or their motives by saying they’ve joined forces with your nemesis (Immodesty). And, I refuse to denigrate the boys by suggesting they have no capacity for non-objectifying thought.

I’m just left with my own unequivocal discomfort and the fact that I just don’t want to see them that naked. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, Modesty.
I mean, we’ve spent all these years keeping them covered, from infancy until tweendom, protecting their soft delicate skins, dressing them in coordinated colors and cotton fabrics that evidenced our care, our investment in their soundness and their put-togetherness in the world. What’s it mean now, to string on a bikini top—a skinny bit of fabric that might pop down or up or untie or get caught and leave them exposed and vulnerable. And those shorts—those shorts—how could they possibly even be comfortable, those shorts whose sides stop at the crotch? No. Make them sit in those? Make them ride their bikes in those?

My daughters need a better barrier between their private parts and the outside world. For comfort’s sake. For the sake of all things safe and reasonable.

But in your name, Modesty, so many call prideful what is not. So many shame what is innocent. Of course I don’t want my daughters strutting around with a vendetta to get checked out like some rotating display at the department store. But that’s not them. I have a hard time believing it ever will be. And if it is, let’s make a deal: I will mention you then. I will remind them that Bragging to Get Attention is sort of the litmus test for an insecure human being, and are they really that insecure? And, aren’t there better ways to go about gaining self-confidence?

But generally, I think I’m going to leave you out of the conversation. How does one judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart? My girls want a bikini because they’re cute and because their friends have them. Materialistic they may be. Immodest they are not.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (July 14)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Welcome to your Monday! I'm going a little slow due to perhaps a tiny excess in melatonin supplementation last night (Google it!). It's actually a good thing for me, meaning I slept better than I have in days. (Btw, a mom friend recently let me in on her little secret, and now melatonin is my biggest bedtime weapon with Tiny. It is freaking unbelievable how calm she gets and how few times she comes out of her room (zero!) after we tuck her in. Not that I recommend it for continual use, but it sure helps after her schedules been jacked around for days and she's running on the fumes of exhaustion's adrenaline.

Anhyoo, in interesting reads this week, I totally resonated with this article from the Huffington Post, "How to Talk to Your Daughter about Her Body."  I'm pretty scheme-y and intentional when it comes to this kind of talk and I love love love this as a starting point for thinking along these lines.

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, describes the summer that so many of us parents have had in: "Why We're Having a Killer Summer": "I mean, what am I supposed to do for five more weeks while the invisible man leaves dishes all over the house and pees all over the bathroom? How will I tolerate five more weeks of this bickering and butting of buttheads? Who can afford to feed these animals all day everyday for weeks on end." And, you get the idea.

Rage Against the Minivan is asking this "Question of Eternal Significance": "Would You Read Your Child's Diary?" (For the record, I prolly won't...unless I suspect drug use, criminal activity, or suicidal tendencies.")

And, on a lighter note, "How I Plan the Perfectly Imperfect Staycation." As a huge fan of staycations with young children, this gave me some new ideas and reinforced the old ones.

Have a great week and happy reading!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Dear Boy, (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I write letters...

Dear Boy,

Your wife has remarried. I officiated the wedding.

You’ve been gone six years this month* and it was time, it was time a long time ago, for her to move forward from the chaos of sudden widowhood-while-mothering-an-infant. You left so quickly, at such a terrible moment. And in that family, for all who were close to you--but particularly for her, I imagine--your leaving was like a tornado spiraling through the neighborhood, ripping tree trunks from the ground, lifting houses off their foundations and plopping them down again, askew. It takes so long to make those things right again, and some things, like the trees, never are. Of course, if they fall in the right season, full of seed, they will produce new trees, young and green but not so mighty all at once.

She was full of life, your bride. Full of energy, radiating glory on the wedding day: blue hair extensions, a silver circlet on her head, an excess of pearls and silver jewelry and tattooed sleeves that were artsy and gutsy and not gaudy.

You would have loved her. 

Also, your daughter. She was so tired by the end of the day, flopping about in a white flower girl dress, her dark tresses all aflutter, as she threw her body against her cousins on the dance floor as if to rest against them while the DJ played “Rockin’ Robin.”

She is so much her-mother-and-you.

You would have loved her, too.

Old enough to be aware but perhaps not present to all of its significance, someday she may look back on the white-gowned ceremony as the day her family became complete (because she can’t remember when it was complete before), with stepbrothers and stepsister who adore her, with a stepfather who does the same.

You would love them too, I think. 

He is a good man, this stepfather. His way with children is sweeter and more present than the way of most dads I know. And I trust she will find solace there.


I do miss your way of being in the world, brother. And when they cut that cake, I couldn’t stop myself from flashing on your wedding-cake-smashing eight years ago. Your absence was so loud that your sister and I couldn’t help but hear it. 

My heart was heaven-centered on the day after the wedding, and in these days after our Gramps has died.

And so torn between the dead and the living.

I wonder--where you are—is the tearing less severe? Or is it all the same?

*Want to know the rest of the story? You can read more about me and the Boy here:

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (June 7)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Happy Monday y'all. It's been another week of summer here at the house and this coming week is CRAZY with extra activities on top of our regularly scheduled broadcast of two working parents. I try to keep my phone (with my Feedly reader app) near me through most of the downtime because I love reading, yeah? Here's what I stumbled across this week that may be worthy of your time. 

Soraya Chemaly wrote for the Huffington Post "10 Words Every Girl Should Learn" about common communication dynamics involved in male-female interactions, specifically in the workplace. (I gotta say though, while studies support the idea that women have these experiences all the time (and I've had 'em, too), I work with a boatload of men who listen well and value what I have to say. 

"I Wore a Bikini and Nothing Happened" is Jenny Trout's description of her bold swimsuit experiment as a plus-sized woman. 
"The reason these people do not want to see a fat body in a bikini is because traditionally, that garment is something a woman earns by proving herself attractive enough to exist. If fat women begin wearing them without shame or fear, what's next? Will they have self-esteem? Will they demand respect? Then what will keep them in their proper place? How would conventionally attractive people judge them?"

And Rage Against the Minivan had two great parenting posts: "How to get kids to do just about anything" and "On why I make my kids do things they don't want to do."

Until next time! Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Dear Therapy (Epistolary Wednesday)

It's Wednesday and I'm writing letters...

Dear Therapy,

It’s been a long and slow romance with you, starting with the kindling of a few visits with a licensed social worker back when I didn’t even have my driver’s license. What good would you do for me, talking over sodas in a dimly lit restaurant? I really couldn’t tell. I was there because my mom sent me (and a few weeks later decided you were a bad influence). I dabbled again at age 19, half-heartedly, and it took me years for you to earn my trust, years for me to believe you when you told me I could Trust My Gut, that I could Say No Without Feeling Guilty, that I could Say Yes and Enjoy Myself. 

Eventually, I gave you my heart. It was worth it: you held me up through miscarriages, the death of a brother, the mental illness of family members, and navigating all this terrain of ministry, marriage, and parenting. You’ve proven yourself, and that’s why I take you seriously now when you repeat yourself, offering truths I’ve yet been reluctant to pick up and claim as my own, like this one you’ve recently re-presented:

Other people’s responses to you have about 95% to do with them and only about 5% to do with you.

For the longest time, I was like, whatev. What do you even mean by that? You’re saying that that dude who’s mad at me is mad ninety-five percent because of his own issues, his own lens, his own history, his own baggage, and only about five percent because of what I said and did? Really?

But you said it again when I was panicking and moaning over the next person who made it clear that they would never be anything close to my BFF: It has to do with them, at least ninety-five percent of it does. Okay. So now I’m reaching a place of solace, some comfort in believing that my tentative words, my imprecise movements in the world are not actually capable all on their own of producing the sort of bad behavior, unkindness, and anxiety in others that others may demonstrate along the way.

But, Therapy, here’s what’s not so comforting: If what you’re saying is true, then about ninety-five percent of my response to the world around me has to do with me and not anyone else. Did you hear me, Therapy?! You’re saying I can’t blame people when I feel rejected or lonely or afraid, that all that mire of confusion has more to do with my lens, my history, my baggage, my issues.

You’re saying I’m Responsible for Me.

I don’t always like that.

But, then...sometimes I do, if it means I’m Not Responsible for Them. 

It’s easier to own The Mess I Know than the one I don’t understand. Easier to sort out the familiar pieces, the feelings as comfortable as well-worn slippers. Easier to see Where Those Feelings Come From and How They Got There and How They Get Triggered than it is to understand everyone else’s.

I see what you're saying, Therapy, and I give.  I'm adopting the Five-Percent Rule. I'll work real hard to live it alongside all the others I've made my own. Use Sunblock, Forgive People, Eat Sugar in Moderation, Don't Yell at Children, and Go Easy on Myself.

Happy now?