WHAT did he just say?

28 Sep

Alrighty folks.  I tend to lay low, or relatively low, politically.  I have been prejudged by too many folks in this my-side/your-side political environment that we live in these days based on my political position.  I find that I often don’t love the activists on either side of the aisle, but cling fast to the values of the political party that I claimed as a child.  I am a liberal.  I am not a Republican hating liberal.  I am not an atheist (and as the Seinfeld show would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)  I opted to stay home with my children, and forgo a successful career in mortgage banking.  I am not the picture most people like to paint of the liberal community.

Having grown up during a time when the vocabulary regarding the rights of women that we use today was created:  women’s lib., ERA, date rape, glass ceiling, dress for success, girl power, etc. I had always considered myself a feminist.  When I used that term, I meant it to imply that I had the same rights and freedoms as a person born a male.  It meant that I should be able t choose for myself what my life and family would look like.  It did not mean that I hated men, or thought they deserved to be diminished, and it did not mean that I thought women who did not pursue a career outside of the home was ignorant or enslaved.

I don’t get overly vocal about my feminism, because people misunderstand the term and will tend to generalize who I am based on what they presume my political (and religious) beliefs are and what the presume my perspective of men and boys is.  I have found that if people are able to categorize you before they know  you, they will never get to know you.  However, if they discover that you think differently (either religiously or politically) after they get to know you, they tend to be more receptive to actually sharing ideas – not for the purpose of conversion, but for the purpose of understanding one another.

When I do discuss my perspective that women and girls still are a marginalized population, I am often assured that based on the great strides of my mother’s generation (and to some small extent my own), women are essentially free from sexism and discrimination.  I am presented evidence of female construction workers, women practicing high-level medicine and even women in combat.  I agree, that we have indeed seen progress since the time I was born, and certainly since the time my mother was born.  However, progress in and of itself does not represent an accomplished goal.  Women still do not live in an equitable environment, and I would argue that neither do men.  Emma Watson addressed this insanely eloquently in her address before the General Assembly of the United Nations where she identifies the many ways that boys and men face discrimination of a different variety.  It sometimes seems that sexism only exists amongst “feminists” who sift and scour through our culture and our society seeking opportunities to identify disparity.  These people who have co-opted the term “feminism” have done a huge disservice to women, and men, who live in a disparate culture.  However, many of us who don’t have a platform, a soapbox or an agenda will tell you, indeed sexism still lurks in our world nourishing itself on “jokes” and “don’t be so serious” comments and actions.

While I could pull out the regularly used evidence of disparity of unequal pay for equal work, you would likely dismiss me.  Although, to be honest, I can’t understand why.  To my mind that is such a fabulous black-and-white example that is exceptionally unbiased and objective.  However, it is addressed so frequently, I think people’s eyes glaze over when it is brought up.  I could share abundant anecdotal evidence of unwanted and undesired groping and “cat calls” that women and even young girls are subjected to on a day to day basis.  Many people dismiss this with a plethora of “equalizing” comments:  “Women are as bad as men.  These days they objectifying men, and are equally inappropriate.” or “You can’t dress sexy, and expect not to get treated that way.  You dress that way to get noticed.”  Firstly, there are women who behave inappropriately.  They are bawdy in their actions and language.  Their behavior, while wrong, does not excuse the poor behavior of men.  I am sure you must have heard the expression, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”  Furthermore, in regard to the dress and appearance of women.  The fact that we continue to fall back to the “she had it coming” justification for behavior is discouraging.  I agree that there are women who dress in ill-advised ways when we consider the realities in the world.  However, it is a man’s responsibility to address his own behavior.  We can not expect to live in a civil society where one population can excuse their actions because of the behavior of another person.  I monitor my daughter’s clothing not because I feel she is responsible for any behavior of the boys she encounters.  I monitor her dress because I want her to firstly respect herself and not package herself in a package that does not suit her merely to please a male population, and pragmatically because I know that we live in the real world and that there are men who will hurt her if she dresses in a way that they construe to be an invitation.

I could argue that sexism is pervasive in our schools through ridiculous dress codes designed to protect boys.  My daughter’s first year in public school has been a wardrobe nightmare as she has been advised that sleeveless tops (even collared and button up non-fitted), leggings with loose tunic tops, any yoga pants, etc. are all violation of the dress code.  Yoga pants are completely disallowed.  Leggings can only be worn with modesty-plus dresses.  Nothing that reveals shoulders can worn.  Jeans with tears (even with leggings or patches) are disallowed.  This would be limited essentially to an annoyance if that was the end of it.  However, when the reason provided for their policy is so that boys won’t be distracted, my eyebrows are raised, and I again question, “Really, the world is equal?  The world is equal when my daughter is held responsible for the distraction of a boy who sees her shoulder?”  Truthfully, while we like to mock the school dress codes of the 1950s, girls were never advised that there shoulders were too scandalous to be seen.

OK, I seriously digressed.  The point is, you have heard all of this before, and a good portion of our society has elected to dismiss these concerns for a variety of reasons.  It doesn’t seem to progress the dialogue to even raise them at this point.  Before the words are out, your counterargument is formed.  However, last Wednesday, a national news program presented a feature piece on the first female fighter pilot from the United Arab Emirates.  The program, “The Five” is broadcast on Fox News, and tends to come from a more conservative perspective.  Being that I am liberal, I frequently disagree with their take on current events.  However, in this particular broadcast, it felt that the issue wasn’t between liberalism or conservatism, but rather straight-up “old school” sexism as it was offensive even to the shows co-host.   Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of the show’s co-hosts, presented a feature on this first UAE female fighter pilot and her role in a recent bombing of terrorist targets.  She underscored the significance of this event by noting “I hope that hurt extra bad from you because in some Arab countries, women can’t even drive.”  As she wrapped her story, her male co-host, Greg Gutfeld, snarked, “Problem is, after she bombed it, she couldn’t park it.”  Guilfoyle was obviously discouraged as she commented, “Why did they ruin my thing.”  Immediately, this is followed by co-host, Eric Bolling, commenting, “Would this be considered boobs on the ground, or no?”

Clearly, in today’s society, this did not go unnoticed, nor should it have.  After a major uproar by the public and media, stretching around the globe, Bolling offered an apology the next day:

“A personal comment before we go to break. Earlier this week I made a comment that was wholly inappropriate, and I apologize for it. The comment became during K. G.’s One More Thing honoring UAE bomber pilot Major Miriam al-Mansouri, who bombed ISIS. My remark was not intended to be disparaging of her, but that’s how it was taken. I should have known better and used better judgment”

This half-hearted apology that basically said that the ol’ ball and chain at home nagged at him into it, was not well received, and so he finally offered a second apology:

“Yesterday I made an apology on this show, but it was inadequate. Fox News has received letters from viewers, including from women in the military, and I’ve taken them to heart.

Therefore let me speak clearly and sincerely – I am sorry for what I said. I believe that Major al Mansouri is a hero. She is courageous, brave, and she deserves our praise, not inappropriate jokes.

I appreciate that she is fighting the extreme radicals that threaten all of us. She has my admiration and my gratitude.”

While it seems he finally got the words right, it is hard to feel this is sincere given context.  Both Bolling and Gutfeld’s “apologies” can be found here online.

The point of all of this?  1)We’ve excused the disparity in pay 2)we’ve excused blaming women for the offensive and violent actions they take 3)we’ve excused the requirement that my daughter dress covered from collar bone to ankle to “protect” the boys in her school … BUT gosh darned it (this is not the language you would be hearing if you were speaking to me in person right now) … What is your excuse for firstly pulling out a overused cliched reference to women’s driving to mock a member of the armed forces, secondly WTF right do you have to make any reference to a soldier’s (or anybodies) anatomy in response to her significant individual, national and international accomplishments. and FINALLY, how F***ing unprofessional and condescending to undermine and disrespect a co-worker like that.

Save your justifications … zip it.  When a nationally broadcast “news” program host feels comfortable making comments like this we are not there yet.  When one inappropriate comment is made, and it is followed by guffaws and further comment rather than immediate outrage and a defense of their co-host who was wildly disrespected, we are not living in an culture that is equal.  When the, most assuredly well discussed, apology consists of “I got the look” so sorry, our work is not done.

Women and girls are abused in all manner around the globe, their bodies objectified and violated, their credibility and abilities questions on the basis of their anatomy alone, they are subjugated and teased and consistently reminded that they are forever, ultimately going only so far as the male dominated society will allow them … so stay pretty, stay cute and don’t push the wrong buttons.

Things have gotten better, but until this fundamental truth changes, we are not done and there aren’t excuses enough to dismiss the bottom line reality … I have not finished preparing the world that I want for my girls.

Advertisements
Image

Bring on the Peace

27 Aug

So, yesterday was my first full day on my individual stewardship campaign in response to God’s question, “What will you give?”  As I mentioned earlier I have designed a task for each of the three “channels of giving”:  Time, Talent and Treasure.  Remarkably I did pretty decently.  Particularly if I get to count the partial day from before 🙂

Time

Initially when I considered that I was going to have to spend two and a half hours each day giving time to God, I had visions of myself kneeling on stone floors in meditative silence.  I imagined anyone who committed that much time to “God time” is worthy of robes and must have close ties to some monastic order.  After having started this challenge however, I discovered two and a half hours can go pretty fast.  In fact, I have been concerned that it came too easily.  I will be considering this over the next couple of days to be sure that I am being rigorous enough in my definitions.

In my two and a half hours I have included devotion/Christian reading time.  I have been reading Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  Ironically, this was already on my reading list before I began this quest to focus and simplify.  My concern is that I am enjoying reading it way too much.  Back to the whole monastic thing, my knees are really not sore enough to feel good about the book . The redeeming factor is that it is compelling in it’s message, we live in a culture that is wildly out of touch with the abundance that swallows to the point that we pity ourselves for what we don’t have while 95%+ of the rest of the world sustains themselves on a fraction of the resources of our low income families possess.  Naturally in this season of purge, the message resonates with me.  I have found myself sitting in bed reading, and as I read I peruse the room filled with overflowing shelves, bursting closets and drawers that can’t be closed.  It is like having my own personal cheerleader between two book covers encouraging me on my quest.  God was swell in giving me just the right reading at just the right time.

I have also found service oriented call-answering seems to come relatively easily.  In life, I am a doer.  If there is a job to be done (except dishes), I tend to volunteer.  My family grows concerned whenever I join a new organization, because in the end I will be in charge of something if not the entire organization.  I think the most difficult part with this aspect of the task is to consider what counts as “God time” and what is just me.  It is easy to classify many things into service, however, there is a distinct difference between serving in response to God’s call and doing something because you it sounded good to you.  One can still do swell things that have fabulous merit even if they aren’t things that God called you to.  However, there is an opportunity for growth and development in your relationship to God through answering His call.  So while both opportunities have merit, one offers a spiritual depth the other doesn’t necessarily.  Yesterday I completely lost myself in knitting a prayer shawl.  It is easy to allow your mind to become distracted and focused on so many other things when you are knitting.  I have definitely been known to watch TV, or more recently watch a football game (which explains the grass in the yarn, while knitting.  Yesterday though, I realized that this was one of those opportunities to focus and center.  I wanted this particular shawl to be covered with blessings, and I wanted to use it as an opportunity to consider the circumstances of the gal I was making it for.  I took the time to pray.  I consider the blessings I have and often take for granted.  I smiled as I considered the acts of kindness folks have done for me.  I was overwhelmed when I thought about the greatness of God, His faithfulness and the strength my faith offers.  Over an hour was easily passed without realizing it.  Over an hour without diversion … without conversation … without sound.

Despite all that was gained in these experiences, I have realized that my actual scripture reading could use a boost.  This tends to be a rough one for me, but like exercise, once I get started I find myself re-energized and looking for more.  I think that the days ahead are going to need a Bible injection, so if you have any particular insights on how you go about this with out picking random passages blindfolded, let me know 🙂

Talent

I am completely unsure if I have failed in this area abysmally or not.  I have challenged myself to work towards identifying and using my talents for the glorification of God.  At the end of the day, I am not sure how much progress I have made.  I considered my knitting earlier in the day, and asked myself, “Is this the talent I am to be including.”  Two things cause me to hesitate:  1)It is definitely not a unique skill or talent.  There are a plethora of folks who are “knitters”, and besides the doctor said cool it on the knitting.  2)I am not particularly fabulous at it.  I will allow a marginal check mark in this column in that I use my knitting exclusively for others.  In the years that I have been knitting, I have never completed a project for myself.  Oops, I lie, I have made some dish towels – and I do like them.  But I struggle, because it just doesn’t feel like it fits.

The other struggle with this area is just this overactive sense of modesty, but probably more aptly titled lack of confidence.  I feel so shameful and guilty for identifying talents.  This is further exacerbated by my second guessing as to whether I am actually as talented as I suppose I am, and perhaps I am on some poorly focused ego trip.  The only thing that keeps this whole thing from spinning out of control into a whirlpool sucking me right down to the therapist’s couch is a realization that I am one of God’s creations, and that in and of itself makes me special and blessed.

While in the book of Romans and I Corinthians we are offered a list of gifts that make anyone blush:  healing, prophesy, exhortation, miracle worker and such, I came across a verse in Exodus that illustrates some more mundane (albeit creative) talents that God has specifically placed within individuals for the purpose of His glorification.

The Lord spoke to Moses:  See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:   and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent,  the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests,  and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you. (Exodus 31:1-11 NRSV)

What I wonder when reading this, did Bezalel and Oholiab recognize their gifts as blessings directly from God?  When they crafted things, not just those things mandated, but lamps for their house or forks for friends, did they considered them a means of glorifying God or even consider God as the source of their skill?  I think about the things I accomplish in a day and wonder 1)how appreciative am I for the gifts I have and 2)if I use those gifts to point toward His Kingdom.  I talk all the time how glad I am that I can cook, because how much I like to eat good food.  I figured if I’m not going to be wealthy enough to go to fancy restaurants, it is nice that I can make some of the stuff myself.  I just don’t think I ever really think about that being a gift that God has given me, nor do I necessarily seek ways to build the Kingdom through cooking.

Oh so much to think about, but thankfully I have two months to ponder all of this. 🙂

Treasure

So far I have done pretty derned good with this, but to be honest I started in the bathroom.  I expect that I downsized my bathroom by 25% (if you don’t count towels, which I don’t  because none of them were clean nor in the bathroom).  Of course it feels a little like cheating.  I rarely bond to bath soap, hair products and perfumes.  It did feel good to show the man-person, Jeff, that I sent crud away.  I am actually pretty excited to dig into another room.  I so yearn for the peace that will come when I don’t see things everywhere.  I am hopeful that God will help direct me towards folks who will be blessed by my excess.  If nothing else it will help make amends for my squanderasness.  (Yes that is my own word – words have to start somewhere.)

An equally important effort, I had not considered when taking up this challenge is the intake side.  A friend and I are suppose to go thrift storing soon.  In my mind, I imaged it would be a great opportunity to drop off donations while I loaded up on some deals … hmm.  Thinking there needs to be a stipulation that my net reduction is 10%, because how much good does it do to downsize by 10% and then upsize by 12%.

I think for today I am going to anchor myself on this:  “ For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”  (1 Corinthians 14:33a)

Giving

25 Aug

picasso quoteIt is rolling into fall soon.  Kids go back to school next week.  The days are getting shorter, and football is everywhere.  If you are a regular church attendee, there is one other thing that inevitably is associated with fall as well.  That’s right, it is soon time for the annual stewardship campaign.  Pulpits everywhere will be primed for “stewardship moments”.  Christians will be instructed on how their giving serves missionaries abroad and ministers to the needs in our community.  Letters are being proofed to be mailed to the homes of congregants everywhere.  Pastors dread it.  Congregants dread it.  The church finance team won’t sleep for weeks.  It is a special time of year that is set apart to talk about that nasty business of money and budgets.

The truth of the matter is that ministry cannot happen without money.  Somewhere there has to be a check writer.  I am such a John Lennon idealist and love the love, but hate the money talk.  One of my pastors, however, years ago helped me to see that there are a whole lot of not flashy expenses with the church … light bulbs for example.  However, I feel like each year, no matter which church you are affiliated with, everything to do with stewardship is REALLY clumsy.  At the core of this I think it is that we loose sight of why we give.  Giving is Biblical.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (Acts 4:34)

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; (Proverbs 3:9)

So now that we have that out of the way – Hopefully we agree, that if we consider the Bible to be a source of truth and guidance, then it seem really evident that there is an expectation to be generous.  In that respect, as a member of a church, it is appropriate to give to and through the church.  However. the aspects that are frequently overlooked during the stewardship campaign are individual giving outside of the church, sharing of time and the use of our talents to advance the Kingdom of God.  What needs to be realized is that most stewardship campaigns are conducted for pragmatic reasons and are driven by the finance team.  The fact is the church is an organization, and like it or not, it must operate under some version of a budget.  Corporations do projections on sales and such, churches do stewardship campaigns to forecast giving.  Depending on who you talk to, you will have different takes on how appropriate this is.  Jeff and I tend to be renegades in this area.  We are sometimes literalistic.  If we learn in Sunday Sermons that we are to seek truth through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and follow that with the faith that God will provide the needs for what we are called to, we kind of figure the church should take the same leap of faith and budget based on what they feel the church is being called to and have faith that God will provide the means.  I do, however, get why it isn’t necessarily that way, despite my yearning that it would be.  I understand that there are mortgages. salaries, contracts and such to be dealt with.  Most mortgage companies aren’t cool with late payments, even if you tell them it is all part of God’s plan.

So. I have determined that I am not likely going to change the course of church tradition and the pragmatism that to some extent must exist.  I am however, going to raise the bar in my own personal discussion with God.  So, if you know me, you know that my “prayer closet” happens to be a shower.  Every great idea, or at least most of them, happened while taking a shower.  Over the last several weeks I have been feeling really convicted about the overabundance of “stuff” in my life.  There is absolutely too many things in our home.  It literally some days is impossible to find a clean surface to set something on because of the piles.  It sucks my energy … it weighs on my spirit … and maneuvering through all of this stuff takes a lot of time.  So, I was already determined that there needed to be a substantial purge.  One thing I did decide though was that I didn’t want to arbitrarily just heave-ho it in the direction of the nearest thrift store.  I wanted to be intentional in my giving.  I wanted to manage it in the same way I would if I was giving cash.  If you came into money and decided you wanted to give away $1000, odds are you wouldn’t give it to the first and easiest person/organization asking for money.  You would be intentional.  I felt that my years of accumulation, what was bad, could be made good through blessing others.

However. while in the shower, God started up His chit-chat again.  (I think it was the cool air reminding me that stewardship season is around the corner.)  He was asking me what will I give to build His Kingdom.  So I told him I was going to give Him all my old stuff.  One would have thought he would be delighted, but I’m pretty sure I saw Him roll His eyes and offer up a sarcastic “thanks…”  Realizing that in many respects the purge was for me as much as it might benefit others.  I began to consider what is often the call of the stewardship campaigns?  It is to give … To give of your time, talents and treasures.  This is where the Holy Spirit guided me to what God is calling for me to offer.

I have decided to put a time frame on the project, because “forever” is way to big for me to feel good about.  While, I am hopeful that these will turn into forever habits, I know that in order to take the first step I need an end date.  For me, this date will be October 29th.  This gives me a little over 2 months to be particularly Kingdom-minded.

My Time

I think in many ways our time is even more valuable than our money.  It is so limited, it can’t be regained and it is absolutely finite.  I know that my time is probably the thing I treasure most and regret misspending the most.  God has called me to spend my time in a way that will advance His Kingdom.  While I am hopeful that every moment I have is spent in a way that brings glory to Him. I know that most of my time is spent in ill-considered ways and is not necessarily Kingdom building.  There are three ways we are called to spend our time:  In study, in prayer and in service.  In reading the gospels we are reminded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37b-40)  So, for the next two months I will tithe my time.  10% of each day will be spent intentionally with the purpose of building His Kingdom.  Each day 2.5 hours will be spent on devotion and prayer and absolutely on service. 

My Talent

God has blessed each of us with certain gifts and talents.  While we naturally experience joy when we use them.  If you cook, you know how much joy you receive out of the sounds and smells in the kitchen.  If you are musical, the feeling of the music in your body soothes you.  If you work in the garden. the feeling of the earth under your feet rejuvenates you.  We are meant to feel blessed through our gifts.  Too often though we get busy with the day to day tasks that we forget to exercise and use our gifts.  It is through our talents that we glorify God, and it is through these gifts that we advance His Kingdom.  It is not vain to believe you are good at something. but it is sinful to neglect those gifts.  I often get confused on what I am good at, but I do know that whatever gifts I have are meant to be used for the glorification of God. and that can’t happen if I won’t acknowledge them.  So, for the next two months, I am going to dedicate myself to exploring where my gifts and talents are.  I will commit to exercising these talents each day in such a way they benefit others.  Frankly, if you guys have some thoughts on this one, share away 🙂

My Treasure

What a squanderer I am.  I often overspend money that will be needed down the road.  I buy things I don’t NEED … such a big difference between need and want, and they are so often confused.  My home if filled to the gills with stuff.  My excessiveness has brought heartache, and managing it has been the source of anger and pain.  My greatest blessings have been found when I have had the least.  Truly I have never been allowed to crash and burn.  So far, there has always been an 11th hour blessing.  I hold on to the things I have for fear that I will have a need.  I hold onto them as a source of pride – keeping up with the Jones you know.   I hold onto them sometimes because I am too derned lazy to deal with what I already have – “Whoops forgot to bring a knife.  Eh, I’ll just buy a new one.”  The next two months I am committing to get rid of at least 10% of everything I own.  I will do my best not to arbitrarily toss it, but will be prayerful in my disposition of these things.

I apologize for this very long-winded post, but I had to put it in writing.  I had to publish it.  Otherwise it is just another really good shower idea that I am held unaccountable for.  So, if you are a praying kind of person, say a prayer for me.  Hold me accountable and encourage me.  I know that if I commit to this stewardship campaign in my life, I will come out the other end wildly blessed.

First comes love … then comes marriage … then comes a house full of hungry teenagers …

13 May

ImageAwhile ago some friends were chatting on Facebook about how there just around blogs and forums addressing moms of teenagers.  If you are a young mom with infants, toddlers or even young elementary students there is blog after blog about the ups and downs of daily life.  You are surrounded by people to commiserate with and to share your adorable moments.  When you hit middle school the echos of voices lingering in random corners is all that is left.  By the time high school arrives, it is a crazed conversation you are having by yourself in the shower.

Why is that?  Why do we rally around new moms, toddler moms and moms of young school children.  Why do they seek out one another and share and build communities, but teen moms sit quietly alone.  The biggest reason I suppose?  The biggest reason I think is because our teenagers can read, and there will likely be consequences that come with disclosure.  I think we also respect our young adults privacy.  Our three year old stripping in the front yard is embarrassing while simultaneously adorable.  We share the story, the three year old is never the wiser, and no one will judge our bitty person for this serious social faux pas.  However, if our teen does something that doesn’t involve medals, scholarships or positive recognition of one kind or another, we stash it.  If we were to share about a child’s expulsion from school, we’d humiliate our child, we’d embarrass our selves and people would judge our teen unfairly.

The frustrating thing is that I suspect I need more of a community now than I ever did when the kids were in preschool.  I know I needed support through baby years, and probably through toddlerhood, but goodness gracious those have nothing on teenage life.  Most days i spend in a confused haze, second-guessing every decision.  Should I take the computer away, or is that their only lifeline to friends that they need to help them through.  Should I crack the whip, or has the world already smacked them around enough that I need to handle them more gently.  Should I invest in what seems like fruitless pursuits at the expense of what seems like their hope for a future?  It is a tough business, and I do it alone.

Even in light of this post shared in the spirit of disclosure, you aren’t going to know everything.  But I need to let you know that if you are overwhelmed by the waves of seemingly critical, maybe even life or death, decisions – you aren’t alone.

I fluctuate from feeling that God has blessed me with the most perfect, most beautiful, most … (keep plugging in fabulous adjectives preceded by “most” and you get the idea) … to what the heck kind of mental illness does this kid have that makes him so insensitive, maybe even cruel, and dressed like that.  Clearly their father is harboring some seriously questionable genes.

I cry because they hurt me …

i scream because I … because I … because I am just so confused and frustrated …

I sit quietly for fear of doing or saying anything wrong …

I look for answers …

I pray.

God in his wisdom decided I should be blessed with three teenagers at any given moment.  While one is aging out of teenagedom, I have one that just turned twelve and is getting ready to kick it off.  Meanwhile I have two in the middle.  To ensure that things stay lively, no two kids are ever alike … similar enough to make you over confident, but not enough to ensure that you have any real solutions.

God has blessed me with boys and girls, so I can be sure to have a well rounded perspective.

I don’t know what other people’s teens are like, but mine (at least some of them) seem to suffer a lot.  Despite their amazing minds, their generous hearts, their strong and beautiful bodies, they think they are inadequate.  They withdraw and hate the world before it can hate them.  I count myself blessed to have these children in my life, but it is exhausting to mom these introspective children.  There is nothing you say that is valid, yet you cannot sit and say nothing.

Experience tells me each of them will likely pass through this stage, and they will eventually pass out of it.  But the fear lingers, what if they don’t … What if they never get happy again.

Looking at photo albums filled with pictures of 8 year olds with silly grins, little girls in princess dresses, wide-eyed babies and little people filled with hope and joy can be so difficult when held up against the darkness of teen anxiety and self loathing.  I yearn for just one of those days, and every so often there is a momentary glimpse of it.  You will hear a stray laugh in the front yard, or a teen who forgets to dismiss you hops in bed to tell you the cool thing they just learned.

Just this last fall, I sat so still while my nineteen year old fell asleep in my bed while I was studying.  It was my birthday.  He had done little to acknowledge it.  In fact, he spent a good part of it at a friend’s house.  That moment though … I would cash in every card, every washed dish and every considerate notion that I could have had that day … for that moment.

Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart.  It requires you to be more grown-up than ever.  And in light of this moderate attempt at full disclosure, I frequently fail on the grown-up bit.  They have the maturity to hurt you more than they ever have before.  Their eyes are so focused on their budding world on the horizon, you are often forgotten.  They are almost as self-absorbed as a two year old.  You though, need to keep perspective and not allow yourself to be swept away in the current of hurt.

Despite all of this, the amazing thing that happens is that they become really cool people.  They are fun to listen to.  They have ideas that are profound.  They challenge you to consider things in ways you never have.  They make you so proud that your heart bubbles over.  You will find yourself gasping when you notice the beautiful young woman or man they are becoming.  You will look over and realize that you are living with a not quite done adult.

What i would give for some assurance that all will work out.  I want to see the sparkling eyes and know that they will always sparkle with joy and that the glistening tears are only temporary.  I hate seeing troubles too grown-up for band-aids or hugs, and having to sit on the sideline waiting to be called in.

I apologize for assaulting you with my stream of consciousness writing … but to polish it … well, that would be dishonest … this is the mind of a mother of teens.

Being George Bailey

6 Feb

george 2me 2There’s nothing like bopping down the highway when suddenly you are struck with the strangest, yet potentially the truest thought you have ever had.  When pondering a certain dilemma in life, my mind said to myself (We do a lot of talking.), “It’s just like when George Bailey is saving the savings and loan.”  It could have stopped there.  It could have remained a brief moment with a pop culture tie-in, but it didn’t.  While initially my mind drew comparisons between my circumstances and that one scene, it continued and I found myself nodding my head (as I continued to talk to myself) as I considered other moments of poor George’s life I could relate to.  When I had a stunning, and maybe upsetting … or maybe not … I’m not sure … realization that I am George Bailey.

When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that I resemble actor Jimmy Stewart in any way shape or form.  (His hair is definitely shorter than mine.) Rather, I mean that my life’s purpose is running my own variation of the ol’ Bailey’s Savings and Loan.  What instigated this whole train of thought was my mind mulling over how to explain to some participants our program about community.  I frequently have to defend my decision to charge some families less than full price for classes.  I have to explain that not all families, particularly these days, have enough income to provide their children with the opportunity to follow their passions, learn with friends or be a part of a community.  And I’m going to delete the remainder of my rant here …  This is when George Bailey jumps into my head.  I hear him  as he pleads with his depositors when they demand their full balance, threatening to close down the Savings & Loan.  Some insisting on receiving their full balance … Finally he is blessed when in amongst crowd a humble woman approaches asking for a meager amount to make it through.  Even George had a hard time helping people understand community … I can SO relate.

If I had left it there, that would have been a lovely little analogy.  However as I considered George’s life further, I realized that the parallels continued.

George’s family leads a modest life.  Their home is in disrepair, and he is often frustrated with their financial situation.  While he could choose to move on and let the Savings and Loan be consumed by big business (aka Mr. Potter), he doesn’t.  He walks away from opportunities and his dreams to travel the world … He rejects business opportunities that could change his world …He watches as his friends and his family move on and seem to be living the dream.  

It is not a rare occurrence in this house, when I suggest I should get a “real” job that makes money and has a start and end time.  We have broken windows, half lit ceiling lights, leaking plumbing and a dishwasher that has served exclusively as kitchen decor since it stopped working over two years ago.  I tamp the jealousy and envy that seeps up from time to time, as I read about my friends latest adventures or new cars … I remember what it was like when I was a professional that wore suits and “did lunch.”  The ol’ Savings and Loan definitely comes at a price.

While there are these obstacles that George is occasionally confronted with, more often than not, he is blessed by the relationships he has built because he stayed and continued on at the Savings and Loan.  We think of the blessing of Mr. Martini’s home and his ability to be there for Violet when she needs to start over.

I am so blessed to be a part of so many families’ lives.  To know that I make a difference, and that if I chased after the big job or the new car, people wouldn’t have something important is huge!  To be a part of a community and defend the right for all families to have a degree of self-respect and pride.  It is so special to answer a friend’s call; to be able to drop everything if necessary and be there.  I have so many truly dear friends, and have the chance to live an authentic life.

All is not always sunshine and roses for George though.  Even though he has committed himself to the people of Bedford, sometimes the obstacles mount up against him to the point that he is haunted by the possibility of ruin and shame.  This never more evident than when Uncle Billy “loses” the  bank deposit the day that bank examiner arrives.  George crumbles under the weight, thrashing emotionally as he tries to grasp the dire straits he is facing.

All it seems to take is a mismarked decimal, a nonpaying student or an unexpected bill, and I, like George, am reeling crushed under the fear of having the world cave in on me.  I worry that I won’t be able to fulfill my promises, or that I won’t be able to buy groceries.  I imagine my friends, and others, turning on me; angry that I have disappointed them and that I have mismanaged my situation.  I am afraid that my reputation will be ruined, and my teetering financial situation will finally crash and burn and all will be lost.

Before we get to carried away with ourselves, it is important to remember that George has his serious jerk moments.  He reaches a breaking point, and all that has been good in him day to day dissolves.  The same man who ensures the working man has a home of his own … who watches out for poor, lost Violet … who patiently endures Uncle Billy’s flakiness … who sacrifices his dreams for the sake of his brother … who is a friend to everyone … snaps and is cruel and unkind to his family, particularly his children.  He spits venom at them for reasons they don’t understand without any justification.  This man who yearns to make a better world, in one moment undermines it all as he unleashes on his family.

After too many nights of worry, it takes almost nothing to provoke anger in me at home.  I loose patience and act unfairly.  Once I withdraw, I am as despondent as George on the bridge when I consider how much my family sometimes endures.  The fatigue or stress will leave me impatient and unfocused.  I find myself behaving so entirely contrary to the person I yearn to be.  I become frustrated that I seem to be able to be kind and patient with so many people, but sometimes my own family – those I love most of all – suffer as I use up all that I have outside of our home.

When George finally decides he can’t go any further, he can no longer move on.  He is crushed despite all that he has done for his community.  He has reached his breaking point, and can’t find it within himself to endure another day.  It is at this point that God blesses him.  First he is blessed by Clarence the Angel who gives him perspective.  He is able to see the difference he has made.  Then all of those who have been blessed by George through the years come together and embrace him when he needs them most.  It is these moments of grace that save George’s life.

As far as I know, I have never been visited by an angel,but it does seem when I have reached the end of my rope … when I am in a heap on the ground and ready to give up, I will get a call … an email … or a visit where someone will let me know how much I matter.  They will help me see the way that Clarence did for George, that through small (and not very interesting) acts, my efforts have made a difference in the lives of others.  It is also in these moments, when I am crying in the shower because I’m not sure how I am going to be able to pay for a birthday present, or buy gas for the car, or get a kid the new shoes they need … someone will show up at my door with just the right gift.  It is through these affirmations that I feel God’s hand, and feel His encouragement to continue on.

We learn in It’s a Wonderful Life that George Bailey is just and ordinary man.  He doesn’t possess super strengths, and in fact without the help of his family and friends, he would be nothing.  However, his heart is tied to the people in his community.  Despite the obstacles he may face and the opportunities he has to turn away from, his community matters more.  How unlikely it is to suppose that I would be able to relate to this classic movie character that seemingly has nothing in common with me.  However, like him I am ordinary.  There is nothing special or exceptional.  I just have a heart for my community, and because of the support of my family and friends, I continue to live another day.

As a postscript … George Bailey had Mary.  He would have been lost without her.  She kept the world spinning while George was off saving the day … she stood by his side, and never second guessed his purpose.  While he is definitely not Donna Reed (and we are both grateful for that), Jeffrey is the unseen benefactor as he picks up loose pieces and affirms me sometimes daily.  Without him, I would be lost.

I’m sorry to ramble, but tragically (for you) my blogging time falls under the form of stream of consciousness and tends to be revision free … someday when I finally retire from the ol’ Savings & Loan, perhaps I will spend a little more time making my writing consumable.

Perspective is Everything …

31 Jan

I was cleaning up files, and discovered this post from 2012 that some how never got published.  The irony is that the title became even more relevant as I was able to look back at this moment almost two years later.  It was a really rough time, and I am so grateful that I am able to say all is looking up from where we were then.  We still struggle in one way or another.  I suppose we all do.  But, indeed, particularly in hindsight, I understand even better … perspective is everything.

Image

It would be pretty fair to say that my family has had our fair share of unfortunate events.  We have been hit financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  In most worlds this covers just about every front.  Some days it seems like as soon as we get a handle on one problem, another one crops up.  Then again, on other days we don’t even seem to get that chance, and find ourselves juggling a couple of serious issues simultaneously.  These circumstances will occasionally lead me down the road of a self-indulgent pity party, and to be fair I think everybody needs a party sometimes.  More often, however, I am reminded by others how unlucky I am.  Friends will point out the trials our family has endured most indicate that some stars have been seriously knocked out of alignment or some freakish weather front has allowed storm clouds to stalk us like a lunatic fan.  I have to be careful in these instances not to succumb to their perspective.   It is easy when provided an outside perspective to feel incredibly unlucky and question what actions or circumstances have led you to a place that seems so inconsistent with the peace and comfort that so many others enjoy.

I was on the cusp of one of these wallowing moments this morning.  I was chugging down the road in my vehicle that is literally crying out for repairs, discouraged by my morning visit with my mother who is recovering from a several cerebral aneurysm and stroke, overwhelmed with paperwork and taxes that needed done and uncertain about how we would ever be able to pay the bills that were piling up on a newly reduced paycheck.  I had everything in place, and was only missing the beer to kick this party off.  I am not certain how my perspective was altered.  It may have been the sunshine, or maybe the recollection of an encounter with a mentally ill, homeless women earlier in the day.  I think most likely it was the sight of the garden center however.  I know, how strange is that.  Garden centers aren’t normally the source of insight and perspective, but today it served as a reminder.

jeffBecause of my mother’s medical situation we have been unable to maintain our regular household responsibilities.  One of the things that has been neglected is my husband’s garden.  The garden is not only a source of yummy spring and summer produce, but a point of pride and enchantment for him.  This year in particular, because of some of our financial issues, Jeffrey had spent a lot of additional time creating strategies, designing layouts, ordering seeds and making sure that everything was in place for a particularly successful gardening year.  On February 22nd though, much of his planning had to be set aside as we received the call that my mother had suffered a ruptured aneurysm.  Jeff has tried over the last 2 months to make the best of the situation, and has restarted his seedlings several times only to watch them die from neglect.  This morning he discovered that a new set of his seedlings had died in their hot house for lack of water.  With much of his financial resources gone and the calendar indicating that where he had been ahead and prepared, he was now behind and falling short.

On my drive past the garden center it occurred to me that I had a small portion of money in my budget and that I could buy some plants for him to try to cheer him up and bring back some of his gardening delight.  It was in this instant that I was given the perspective necessary to persevere onward.  How incredibly blessed am I to have any money in the bank?  Just this morning a friend met a need I had, saving me at least $70, which better ensured that money could be spent on Jeffrey.  How incredibly blessed am I to have friends that support me?  Jeffrey’s seedlings have died because he has been with me … because he has been helping my mom and dad … because he has picked up the pieces I have dropped while distracted with my own efforts to care for my mom.  How WILDLY blessed am I to have this kind of man in my life?

eggplantWe will still struggle.  I have no expectations of our financially difficulties resolving themselves anytime soon.  I have worries that my mother’s recover will be exceptionally long and question all the time how much better she will get.  My children will continue to present challenges as they move through the stages of life.  Machines will break.  Pets will die.  People will disappoint us.  Jobs will be lost.  But I praise God for all the blessings I have in my life – a family that cares for me, friends that watch after us, parents that are alive and able to love me.  No matter what the weather, I will choose to rejoice in my blessings rather than wallow in my misfortune.

Just as you are …

31 Jan

beliefsI have a confession to make … I am a Christian.  I am sure if you have been paying attention at all, you are well aware of that.  However, many new friends seem to be surprised when they learn this.  I remember one person, after coming by our house for a homeschool event, commented how surprised she was to find the kids “memory verses” up on the wall.  Most of these friends are surprised because they think I am just too nice.

Now before those of you who are Christians go and get offended, although I have gotten a little twitchy over this sentiment myself, consider the perception the “world” has of the Christian community.  Inside the doors we look at our activities as Kingdom building and grace-filled, however, the message projected often has the air of judgement, condemnation and condescension.  While, I am not going to defend every person that wears a cross (just like I wouldn’t generalize about any member of any population) I will say that most folks I know within the church don’t intend to communicate this message.

I have to wonder where we went awry … Has the church always been askew?  While I think of the church’s active involvement in the abolition of slavery, public education, healthcare and social reform.  It is impossible to overlook the darker moments of The Inquisition, The Crusades, the age of exploration and Puritanical Witch Trials.  It seems that there has forever been a dual message communicated by the church – one of nurturing and love, and another of judgement and wrath.

A friend recently shared a blog post with me that really brought the face of the modern church to mind.  In her blog, Pearls and Grace, Sibi Riffer writes about “The New Church Lady.”  While the title immediately brings to mind Dana Carvey’s SNL Church Lady character, you quickly learn that this new church lady ditches the judgement and embraces the grace.  Riffer discusses the judgement she faced from the church, and how that hurt had kept her away.  I could relate to so much of what she wrote, and couldn’t agree more with her perspective of what it meant to be a Christian in the world today.  One of my favorite quotes was, “[A new church lady] understands that to become the Proverbs 31 woman- you can’t skip chapters 1-30.”

For myself, I always yearned to be at church when I was little.  I felt at home in sanctuaries dancing in stained-glassed light and flickering candle flames.  I embraced Bible stories and felt cozy wrapped in the melodies of old hymns.  As I got older though, more and more frequently I was cornered (literally) by classmates demanding to know if I had been baptized.  As it turned out, I had not.  While my parents supported me exploring my faith, they decided not to discern on my behalf and have me baptized.  Additionally, being a military family we didn’t necessarily develop close ties with any aspect of the community, particularly the church.  As a family we explored many faiths, predominantly Unitarian and Episcopalian.  In addition to these logistical  issues, I never thought I needed a special ceremony to live in God’s grace and to be called His own.  Many of my friends thought differently.

Throughout my high school and college years and beyond, I was frequently confronted with this question.  My friends were confused and upset about why I had not been baptized.  They told me I wasn’t a “real” Christian and faced eternal damnation.  I was told that I was denying Christ by not being baptized.  I was angered by their confrontations and accusations.  Who the heck where they, or their church, to tell me what my God felt about me.  Who were they to decide whether I was in God’s “in” crowd or not.  Why did they suppose that I had to pick one variation of Christ’s church to commit myself to.  How wildly self-important to suggest that I should be “saved” in the Baptist church versus the Catholic church.  Who the heck decided that the Presbyterians had it right, while the Lutherans were wrong.  I looked at my Bible and noticed that Jesus never mentioned a denomination.  That nowhere in the scripture was there any indication of who gets picked first.  My eyes regularly landed on the scripture “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, for I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).  Sounds like an open invitation to me.

What was worse though, was the hurt that came from these proclamations from friends.  I think that sometimes when Christians share their “truth,” they have trouble hearing the tone of judgement that comes with it.  While the Christian thinks they are “saving” a friend from eternal hell fires, they are overlooking the whole grace and love bit.  Jesus regularly shared some tough news.  The rich young ruler really didn’t want to hear he was going to have to give up all he had acquired, but at the same time His message seemed to be much more about “Follow me.” and not so much “Worship me or else.”  Because of my experiences, I continued to hang with God on my own terms, but judged anyone who carried a Bible, wore a cross or had a fish on their car severely.  Unfairly, I assumed that everyone who was a member of this special “Christ Club” perceived me the way my friends had.  I felt that having doubts in any area of my faith was condemnable, and that my personal choices weren’t appropriate for the pretty people.  When invited to churches for special events, I fussed over my appearance and examined the dirt under my nails.  The cozy home of God I had known as a little girl, didn’t exist anymore.

Eventually I did return to the church, almost accidentally.  I was a desperate, pregnant mother of three, and the church in our community had a Mother’s Day Out program.  The participation fees met my budget, and I really, really needed some time alone.  Once I joined the group, the pastor would regularly drop in and say hi to the moms and children.  I finally got comfortable enough with her to ask some questions.  I challenged the theology of the church, and confronted the judgement I frequently felt.  While she unapologetically defended the theology and doctrine of the denomination, she made clear that judgement was not what God calls us to, but rather a life of integrity and grace.  She invited me to participate in Bible studies, and because she was a really smart gal and because she always answered every question honestly, but without judgement, I went.  In these classes she encouraged the participants to confront the church and the scripture.  She taught us to ask questions and build a faith that was organic and not rote.  She introduced me to writers like Philip Yancey and Tony Campolo who will acknowledge that sometimes Christians just get  it wrong.  My pastor waited patiently for me to learn, pray and choose for myself to become a member of the church.  One day, in my mid-thirties, I decided for myself to be baptized – not because I was afraid of going to hell, but because I decided that I wanted to officially join this community of believers.

I still get hurt by church people, and I still get angry.   I have left churches, and been nervous upon entering new sanctuaries for fear of being hurt and judged.  However, I continue to embrace my faith, and I continue to work to be the “salt and light,” to be “in the world not of the world.”  It is my hope that I continue to surprise people when they find that I am a Christian – not because my behavior does not reflect the love and grace of Christ, but rather, contrary to their experiences with some Christians in the past, that it does.  It is my hope that regardless of what faith others choose to embrace, or if they elect not to choose at all, that they will come to know that there is another, sweeter voice in the church that welcomes “all who are weary and heavy laden” without judgement, just as they are.