Monday, May 19, 2014

Even the Sparrows...

She cradled it while its breath slowed. Tender hands. Tender heart.

We talk about death, because she says she is a little afraid.

All good things, all of us, will come to our end in this world, we agree. She looks up at me with those wet eyes full of questions.

"But then the bird's body turns to dirt and it helps make better soil so that more seeds can grow."    

Yes, dear one.

It seems that life and death are bound up, each thread tight in its right place, holding the other. Nearly indistinguishable, sewing the nest together.

And it all matters. This moment while the bird takes its final breath and lies limp in her tiny hands. The tenderness of her heart for another. The journey home. The mystery. Her sadness and her questions.

They matter.

Some say life is just a cosmic accident. Others say whatever, whoever, Creator is, must be aloof, uncaring, considering all the suffering in the world. 

But if the end of even a sparrow's life is met with love, if its resurrection is found in bits of earth and the hearts of children, if our worth is amplified by the caring of one for another, an offering of dignity and worth and purpose, then I say this power of love MUST be personal and real enough that every single one of our lives has meaning. All the glitter and all the dust and all the wandering hours in between.

The fall of every sparrow, known.

Each hair on my head, counted.

And, oh, dear one, there are worse things than dying. Losing our sense of compassion, losing the wonder and sadness of it all. That's a death far worse than the death of the body.

Death is never the end of the story.

* * * * *

 If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all
 kinds...Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.
~ Wendell Berry

Monday, April 21, 2014

On Being the Prodigal and Celebrations

It was a long time ago, and also not so very long. That summer was finally coming to an end- the same summer that had chewed me up and spit me out. Left me standing on the street corner.

This is my Prodigal Story.

Days or weeks (I couldn't tell which) had been spent closed up in a cold room, lying on a mattress on the floor in an otherwise empty huge house, puking until I'd pass out. I was newly pregnant and abandoned. Sick as a dog. Too sick to walk down those long stairs to try and find something I could eat. Friends were gone. He was gone. The world moved on, took all my hopes and dreams with it. I was a fool. And my life as I knew it was over.

But one day after all those long, dark hours in that hideous room, I emerged, because I had to. Despair had had its way with me. I was still terrified of caring for a baby on my own when I clearly had made all the wrong choices for myself. But I had to do something. Had to move. Had to figure out how to live. So I went to church.

The same church that had practically been my home for years, where I led worship, led youth groups and studies... all the things... I had loved it. All that was over now. I was exposed. You can only hide a growing belly on a frail 100 lb. body for so long.

I walked in, like every other Sunday. Only it wasn't like every other Sunday. I had always been the good girl, the one with the answers, the one with the good reputation, the one with the picture-perfect life. I walked through those doors after hiding for so long with a neon sign flashing above my head. HYPOCRITE!  WHORE!  FOOL!  That day I went to church broken and ashamed.

I didn't know what grace was until that day.

* * * * *

My son, Judah, made his way into the world like we all do. Somehow we both survived his grueling birth and an even more grueling month after his birth than I could have thought humanly possible. I felt like Job for awhile there. I know that sounds dramatic. It is dramatic. This is me being dramatic. But really. Someday Hollywood will make a movie about the happenings in my small town and my small life. But that is another story.

Judah and I made it out of there. I loved him, but those first months were mere survival. I never really was able to settle into myself, my new motherhood. I left that town and its suffocating headlines behind. We fled to the woods. The smell of the pines stopped the world from spinning after being dizzy for an entire year. We started a new life.

Resurrection happened.

It is still happening.

But back to the church ladies.

* * * * *

She had a welcoming smile, always had. There were others but I mostly remember her. It was the normal hug and 'Good morning!' and then she looked straight through my fear and asked how I was doing.

How are you doing today?

A simple question. Usually there is a simple answer. Sometimes it is fake only because who has the energy to tell the truth these days? Not that day. I had no energy.

But there was no other way. I told her. Bluntly. Awaited the awkward silence. Her face lit up, both with tenderness and joy. She gave me another hug, then grabbed my shoulders and looked me square in the eyes. "Congratulations! A baby is always a miracle!" Then "We are throwing you a baby shower!"

That was it. No making sure I understood my sin. No plea for repentance. No awkward silences that day. Just grace. And it washed over me. Knocked those neon signs down over my head.

Those church ladies saved me.

* * * * *

Last weekend I shot my first gay wedding since falling into this wedding photography gig. One of my best childhood friends was marrying the love of her life and they graciously flew Matt and I down to Texas. Many people, wonderful, loving friends and family, have been concerned about my choice. There are a million things I could say and stories that I want to tell, but one voice has stood out to me this week, one question.

How can you celebrate something that is less than God's ideal?

If it is less than God's ideal, one man one woman covenant of marriage-- and I still have questions about it all, as I've made clear-- IF it is, then my answer is simple.

I celebrate their new life because someone celebrated mine when I least deserved it.

I celebrate their joy because I know the joy of finally finding the one your soul loves.

I celebrate their daughter because I have a daughter, and daughters are some kind of wonder.

I celebrate, even if  homosexuality isn't the way God intended when he breathed life into Creation, because this world and all of us are being rescued, and we're not quite there yet. I celebrate their love feeling every ounce of my own search for love, the wandering from who I really was, all the hurts along the way. My life has not been what God intended. But he has carried me anyway.

I can now freely say congratulations to them because the church ladies threw a party for my illegitimate child.

I celebrate because I was lost. I was found. I was once celebrated.

* * * * *

Judah turns eleven years old today. I cannot believe I am saying that. ELEVEN. This boy who rode the crazy train with his mama and who found new life right alongside her. I thank God for that boy. His life helped save mine. His laugh makes the world a better place. His tender heart I fear will someday be broken as mine has been, but I know now that being tender and being broken is the only way for grace to seep into all the cracks and make it new, make it come alive. So I try not to be afraid.

And Annie and Nevie, may you grow old together. May you learn the brutal and beautiful lessons of love and self-sacrifice and family. May you find God there.

I am grateful for the 'church ladies' everywhere who throw parties and fiercely love those who need it most.

All is grace.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Of dust and the best sort of magic

Sun is shining. It's a bit of a tease these days, considering the deep collective yearning for spring. If only I could flip the calendar an extra page and coax the sun to follow suit...

No dust particle floating freely can escape these winter rays, strong and true. What kind of magic turns dirt to glitter mid-air, anyway?

The best sort of magic.

* * * * *

Lift the heavy history book down from its place up high, out of sight, out of reach, out of remembrance. Down to earth, to heart, back to mind. Down down down it has been awhile, you think. Exhale and dust flies off the familiar pages. The scar-words. The penned lies written like facts meant only for rote memorization. No, no, you mutter, that is not me. Exhale all the foul thoughts and watch them scatter under breath and light. Exhale you are foul. Inhale you are loved.

* * * * * 

The boy says that Lent starts today anyway so it's a good time to give up all dairy and see if he feels better. Lent is for giving something up, he tells me. Everybody gives up something for forty days. Like chocolate or coffee or video games.

I tell him the old story about ashes, repentance, humility, this tradition of soul-searching by sacrificing bits of self. I feel it again, familiar, ash cross on forehead for all to see. 

I am dust. I am human.

Daily residue builds up. It has built up, I realize again. Today's failures, unspoken dreams, all the agony of watching Hurt fester in others, all the helpless nights and fearful mornings. All of it, dead cells, waiting to be sloughed off.

I am dust and it's getting caught in my lungs.

...because we were created from dust, I tell him, and some day our bodies will be dust again. We remember who we are, that we are The Created. And by remembering our dustiness, maybe we also are reminded of our shine. Reflectors of Light and of a magic turning.

If Lent is about recalling my own brokenness, my dusty self, my handwritten lies and biting past...if Lent is about sensing the need to depend on God to stitch up my open wounds and make me whole again, then I am already there.  I am sitting in it, and there is grace here. This terrible and marvelous year of dependence. This is all Lent, I say.

And God isn't asking me to go on a diet and call it sacrifice. "This is the kind of fasting I want," He says.

He just wants me.

He wants to breathe Life into my dusty corners and let me watch the past turn to diamonds in the winter's sun. Even ashes reflect Life, I hear whispered.

Exhale I am foul. Inhale I am loved.

What kind of magic is this that brings the dead to life?

Monday, December 30, 2013

On Melancholy and Miracles and Waking Up

the melancholy:

Sleep is forgiveness.

It falls, drop by drop, washing the dust of the day as it ushers in a clean slate and the promise of tomorrow. Sleep feels like rain and sounds like poetry.

Except when it doesn't. Except when you toss and turn and can't find comfort, when your mind only finds its form in the dark of night. Sometimes joy doesn't come with the morning and God, forgive me, please.

Let me just admit here that I've been bitter.

Let me say this out loud because it's important to say the hard things out loud- I've been whiny and miserable and exhausted and desperate and sometimes straight up mean. Grace makes it possible to be completely and utterly vulnerable. This time grace tastes bitter.

I feel heavy. And I imagine I'm not alone here, right? We carry it on our backs all day long. The plates we keep spinning. The baggage. The emotions. The failures.

And my God I am tired. 

A numbing melancholy has been my coping mechanism these last months where our lives were turned upside-down, shaken out like change on the floor. I'm not saying it's good. But this happens from time to time, I know. It keep us on our toes. And while I realize down the road we'll look back and see all the layers of struggle woven together as only time can do, right now, today, I'm not exactly counting it all as a blessing. I'd have to squint one eye and let it blur into oblivion to convince myself there's a silver lining.

So I've made the decision to keep both eyes open instead. To call it what it is. Frankly, I don't have the energy for anything else.

It's survival mode in these parts after all.

* * * * *

the miracles:

The holidays manage to show up year after year whether I'm ready to receive them or not. The holy-days. That's what it means. Holy. Advent is a time for hope. And joy. It was so odd this year, if I'd had any energy I would have used it to say it all looked pretty ludicrous to me. Me, with both eyes painfully and begrudgingly open. My heart wasn't there. I hated that it was snowing and -30 degrees and the garden was shriveled up and in hiding. Cold and dead. Nothing holy about that.

I should have known better. I did, I do. But I'm sleep deprived, so give me a break here.

Matt was out of a job and we felt like we were drowning some days. There were layers of other stresses. Layers like a cake when you have no appetite, and the insomniac icing on top is enough to make you turn all sorts of crazy. I'm human and I'm telling you I couldn't do it. So I stayed numb to the twinkling lights and carefully cut paper snowflakes and fancy gift wrap and baby Jesus and talk of hope and joy and why couldn't I just sleep?!

I know it's better to feel deep the pain and grief, whatever it is. I know. Sometimes, though, lives are fractured and it takes a miracle to break through the window so we can be ourselves again- our whole selves.

I don't know how it all started, really. Friends offering help, dinner, cups of coffee, fixing our brakes on the van. Random cards with encouragement or checks in them from loved ones and then a group of strangers who heard about our situation and decided to care and pay most of our bills for the month. Now, people. Hear me say this- sometimes help from strangers is enough to bring you to your knees. It was. It did.

And it kept happening, like salvation does, even when you're miserable and it hurts to walk or hold a conversation. It happened every time I looked someone in the eye and knew they actually wanted to help. They listened to me vent. They were kind and gentle when the world had been cruel. They kept my head above water. 

I'm still here, standing with one foot in the muck, still fighting my way through today on 3 hours of sleep. I know my kids don't have cancer, and I know the world is plum full of pain beyond what I will ever know and I should be grateful. But this is my today. It's still there when I want to hide under the covers and emerge in April. It still asks for breakfast and needs laundry done.

* * * * *

The night before Christmas Eve I  pulled into our driveway at midnight, snow crunching, thick and fresh. In front of my bright yellow door sat a massive pile of wrapped Christmas gifts. I sat there and stared them down, confused. An anonymous someone had bought us all presents and labelled them each thoughtfully, and there were so many presents! We're minimalists when it comes to Christmas, and not just out of necessity which was this year. But this- this was a gift all its own. I had never seen my kids so in awe of Christmas and in such wonder!

We all need space to wonder. To be kids again. I needed it.

I could keep going... more offerings, more help, another mortgage paid out of kindness. Friends and family to share meals with and roll out lefse with and community dinners to sit all together, shoulder to all reminded me what it means to be human. I am no island, it turns out. Surprise, surprise.

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. -2 Corinthians

* * * * *

There's a story about Jesus feeding a multitude of people, who knows the real number, maybe 5,000, with just a basket of a few loaves of bread and two fish. What a joke, right?  Jesus took what there was and started feeding people. They ate until they were full. And there were twelve baskets worth of leftovers.

I don't need to know how this miracle happened. I know it happens. It is my story.

* * * * *

the waking up:

I have seen the hope of healing. I'm watching it ripple out all around me, touching the sick, lifting the weak, feeding the hungry. It is simple and unassuming. It takes human hearts and hands that choose Love. Sometimes I am the weak one, sometimes the sick, sometimes the one too self-absorbed and arrogant to notice the miracle. But gospel is good news for everyone, and it is FOR the weak. That is where I find myself again, at my most fragile. Because what the world calls worthless, our Creator calls his own.

I'm tired. I'm still begging for sleep that feels like forgiveness. Sometimes I lie awake next to my husband whose only full-time job these last months has been taking care of his crazed wife, and I feel guilty for worrying and guilty for all we have and thinking I need something more. I am privileged at the expense of another family maybe oceans away. During the day I can skate right over the top of that deep darkness. Ignorance is bliss, and that isn't a conversation for the dinner table. But guilt is meant to drive us to change. I need to be fully awake, fully alive to this wild world for that part.

I do need sleep and I desperately need healing. I am writing this because you probably do, too. But no man ever died just so I could get a good nap in. Soul healing is rooted deep and true and merciful. HOPE.

There is a time for rest and then there is a time to Wake Up. I will hold the melancholy close, calling it by its right name, for as long as it is a part of me, knowing bits of joy are found even in the darkest places.

I'm trying.

Wake up to the day, stretch out and feel the warm sun shining on your face, feel all the love and all the pain, side by side, bound together as they were meant to be.

Rise and shine.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Today is National Coming Out Day.

A host of emotions emerge with those words, especially when we're speaking as followers of Jesus, or people seeking Truth and our Creator. My faith has intersected my life and shaped my responses to the world and its array of beauty and corruption.

Maybe we should call it National Learning to Listen First Day.

This isn't an issue. It isn't a problem we can solve with the correct formula and a sharpened pencil. Contrary to many of my brothers and sisters I do not believe it is black or white, right or wrong, in all situations. Push me in a corner and I will still maintain that this is the wrong conversation, based upon who I know Jesus to be.

No, we're not tackling an issue here.

We are listening to people.

People. Humans. You and I. My neighbor. My child. This earth is full of human beings.

We are not robots. We are not merely assigned a number, as Hitler showed strips all human dignity. We are named. We are loved deeply by the One who gave us breath. We bear that image or something divine, something bigger, something true.

We love by showing each other dignity. We do that by listening. Always listening first.

* * * * *

Last weekend my dear friend came to visit from out of state. We have had an intensely deep friendship through the years. I have watched her whole world change and mine has changed alongside hers. I've witnessed her love for Jesus intersect with her homosexuality and I have wrestled with this- God, I have wrestled! I have cried with and for her. I have spoken honestly with her since the day we met. Because of that, a few years ago I made the decision not to attend her wedding. That conversation was the most painful I have ever had. But she loves me. She listened and respected my wrestling and how I live out my faith. My friend showed me more grace that day than I have ever been able to offer back. And I'm not the same.

She has taught me what grace looks like.

* * * * *

Much has changed in my heart since then. Ground has shifted again, left me standing with a better view of the horizon. The shifting knocked me out cold. The questions and doubts and wrestling with God is hardly over. I'm learning that it's the wrestling, the willingness to go to the mat with this, fight it out, live honestly and authentically, that's the place where I experience God. And I believe that's what God is asking from us.

How I frame my questions, my faith, my interactions with people has changed drastically. Many concerned friends continue to be, well, concerned. I'm okay with that. Having concern for one another is a good place to start, after all.

I am concerned about my friends (known and unknown) who have felt misunderstood, unheard, who have been treated callously because of their sexuality. I'm concerned about those who live in the dark because it's safer than having to deal with the backlash of coming out. It concerns me that in general, we, as a society, and more importantly, we, the church, have not begun the conversation by listening.

When we love someone, we pull up a chair.

When we love someone, we treat them with dignity, worthy of our time and energy.

When we love someone, we set ourselves and our preconceived ideas aside.

When we love someone, we earn their trust by being a friend in the daily stuff, the regular, the mundane.

When we love someone, what hurts them hurts us.

When we love someone, we call them by name instead of categorizing them by their sexuality.

When we love, we choose to listen first.

* * * * *

We need to practice the sacred act of pulling up a chair. And as a person who is trying, really wrestling with how to love people well, I'm offering a listening ear if you're willing to share your story. And I will share mine.