Beauty, Between Three and a Million Years

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When she hears music, my daughter starts to dance.
No matter what the music is,
something inside her tells her to move.

Yesterday, she heard a song humming
from the phone in the palm of my hand
and came closer to hear,
closer so she could
match her moving to the music.

Then she stopped.
Suddenly.
And looked at me.

“Mommy,” she asked,
“Does God think I’m pretty?”

She is my third child.
Three of four.
And three years old.

In eight years of parenting,
I’ve heard a lot of questions from my kids.

“Why is our house red?”
“Where is Atlanta?”
“How do clouds make rain?”

Now, instead, she asks,
“Mommy,
“does God think I’m pretty?”

It’s such a big, important question
for such a small girl
and it deserves
the best and truest answer
I can muster in the
little time she’ll give me
before this big, important moment
has passed.

In the few seconds it takes me to
quiet the music and
look into her
clear blue, questioning eyes,
her question becomes my question
and my grey-blue-green eyes go misty
and my mind starts to wander.

I see ahead into her future and
I want to warn her that,
eventually,
these silly, simple questions of her
three year-old self will not offer
the answer her 10 year old
or 16 year old
or 30 year old self
wants to hear.

Eventually the question will become,
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
“Does he think I’m pretty?
“Am I pretty enough?”
“Am I prettier than her?”
“Am I as pretty as I used to be?”

And,
more often than not,
the answer she speaks back to herself,
whether it’s true or not,
will be a quick,
painful
“No.”

Because,
in that moment,
whether it’s true or not,
no simple truth will seem
big enough to satisfy her big need.

But, right now,
with three years behind her
and a million years ahead
and those big, clear blue eyes
looking to me for answers,

I tell her the truth
as simply as I can.

I tell her,
“Of course, sweetheart.”

But I don’t stop there.

I tell her,
“The God of the universe–
the God who made the trees
and the rivers
and the flowers
and the mountains–
He made you
exactly the way he wanted you to be.
And when He looks down
at the world he made,
He sees you
and calls you
‘the crown of creation’
and says you are
the most beautiful of all.”

So my daughter smiles
and is satisfied with the answer
and floats away
to tell her big brother and big sister

“God thinks I’m pretty,”

and leaves me to repeat my answer again
but this time to me
because I think it’s been years–
a million years, maybe–
since I was satisfied
with such a silly, simple, honest answer.

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I’m Not A Feminist (and other things you can’t say in public)

Feminism. It’s so hot right now.

Saying “I’m not a feminist” in 2017 is an invitation to making enemies out of friends and strangers alike. And, contrary to what some believe, I do actually care quite a bit what people think of me so I’m sometimes reticent to say it out loud in mixed company.

But, alas, I am not a feminist.
Well, not really.
(Okay, it’s actually kind of complicated.)

I had a different blog once upon a time where I wrote a series about my complicated relationship with womanhood and my struggle with Biblical, cultural, and worldly definitions of femininity. If you know me in real life, I’m happy to tell you all about it, but I’d rather not get into it all here.

The short story is that, somewhere around early high school, I got really uncomfortable with “girl stuff.” It was a mixed reaction to both my insecurities as an awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Rather than learn to reconcile the two, I embraced a third option: the anti-girl.

Feminism is a fun thing to flirt with when you’re a kid, especially when you don’t easily fit into whatever “girl” mold your world is currently selling. It’s liberating to be told that you don’t have to shop at a certain store or choose a certain career or kiss a certain number of boys in order to ascend to womanhood. Find your own path; chart your own course.

For me, anti-girl feminism was particularly attractive because I had never been as gentle, graceful, quiet, or pretty as my more “feminine” peers.

I could tell that Seventeen magazine was a load of garbage.
Bitch Magazine was so much cooler.

So, I bought it. Literally.

There is real power in the feminist narrative, especially when women are often misunderstood, objectified, underrepresented, abused, or flat-out ignored. But there was a point at which, for me, the narrative lost its charm.

Like any social or political movement, feminism has changed a lot since its inception. The first-wave suffragettes of yesterday gave birth to the bra burning hippie feminists of the sexual revolution who then gave birth to the third-wave, pussy-hat wearing women of 2017. For some, the third-wave is not yet enough; there is still more ground to cover.

Feminists and I may share the same anatomy (well, some of us), but I have a hard time seeing us as kin. Even when many of my dearest friends proudly wear the “feminist” label.

To a certain degree, my critique of contemporary feminism is unfair because I know that every self-proclaimed “feminist” defines her feminism differently. But at some point, it became obvious to me that the movement–loosely defined as it may be–represents a few particular values or beliefs that I can’t get behind.

To broadly generalize:

Contemporary feminism divorces sex from procreation and procreation from marriage*. It promotes perpetually baby-free sex (through birth control and abortion) as an essential “freedom” and sex, in general, as a basic human right.

Contemporary feminism confuses sexual autonomy with sexual insensitivity. It flaunts sexual freedoms and tells women they owe not an ounce of modesty, decency, or deference to anyone. It gives them warrant to use their sexuality for control, manipulation, pay-back, and attention.

Contemporary feminism divorces womanhood from motherhood. It takes extra measure to establish a woman’s identity apart from the very thing that defines her as a “woman” rather than a “man”: the capacity for bearing children**. It devalues the work inherent in mothering, promoting the pursuit of a career in its place, relegating the nurturing work of mothering to everyone but the mother herself.

Contemporary feminism is predicated on the lie of a great, global anti-woman conspiracy. It sees the bogey-man of The Patriarchy*** as the world’s great evil and perceives even the common courtesies of good men as aggression. It is insecure and plagued by one-upmanship, often seeking to position itself in places of power above–not equal to–men.

These, in short, are the things I simply cannot get behind.

But, you may say, “Feminism is so much more than that!”

Yes! I agree!

Contemporary feminism is also fighting for:
– comprehensive sex ed
– better maternity and postpartum care
– an end to sex and domestic-worker trafficking
– stronger support systems for low-income mothers
– educational opportunities around the world
– help for victims of domestic and sexual abuse
– equal pay for equal work
and so much more.

And, trust me, I do get angsty about women’s issues like these. I am a woman, after all. And a mother. And I want to help build a just and equitable world for myself and my daughters. But I likely disagree with many of my feminist peers about how a just and equitable world is accomplished. Insofar as the feminist agenda revolves around dismantling the nuclear family, redefining womanhood, and dodging motherhood, I will always be an outsider. Mostly by choice.

 

The expectations and limitations of womanhood are complicated and, apparently, extra difficult for people like me. My thoughts on womanhood have evolved significantly since I was a kid, but there is still a lot of my younger Anti-Girl self left inside. Maybe that will always be my most honest expression of womanhood. Maybe not.

My hope is that I move closer and closer to reconciling those two parts of me–the awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Because, though I may not raise my daughters as “feminists,” I am raising them to be women. And I am preparing them to embody more than the modern narrative of womanhood that is reduced to power struggles, sex, fashion, and gossip.

Hopefully, they will have it a little easier than I did.
Hopefully, we will have a better world awaiting them when they get there.

 

 

 

 

 

*Footnote: I do not believe that all people must marry and have children, nor that every sexual encounter much be procreative. But I do believe that monogamous sex and fruitful marriages are the paradigm for family structure and a foundation of society.

**Footnote: I do not believe infertility makes a woman less of a “woman,” by definition.

***Footnote: I do believe that there absolutely exist evil men who hate women. But I do not believe that these men are mounting a conspiracy against women. Nor do I believe that Patriarchy is an evil in and of itself.

 

A Life In Books

Two weeks ago, I stole away to ignore the Superbowl and eat dinner alone (!!!) while reading my new book club book. (Any introvert mother knows how valuable time like that is.)

While basking in the beauty of being alone to eat a meal and drink a glass of wine, reading my new book made me reflect back on all the good books I’ve read along the way and how significant a part of my life they’ve been.

Truth is: I don’t remember reading much as a child. And I know that, in high school, I completely faked my way through every book report required. Growing up as a “church kid,” I did read the Bible a lot, and lots of pop Christian literature. But, I don’t remember many specific books before college.

What you’ve read and what you’re reading tells me a lot about who you are. A stranger’s bookshelf is one of the quickest views into his heart and mind. Maybe you’re not a big reader. Maybe you’re not a collector of books. But you’ve probably read something somewhere that made a difference in your life–something that changed your mind, saved your life, or helped shape who you are.

I tried to think back on the books that have made me who I am and came up with 15 titles. These aren’t necessary my favorite books (books I could read over and over again) and they aren’t necessary books I still find as compelling (or still agree with), but they are the books that entered my life at just the right time and, literally, changed me.

In chronological order of when I read them (with quotes when I felt necessary):

 

 

Ragamuffin Gospel– Brennan Manning

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

A People’s History of the United States– Howard Zinn

The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.

The Pursuit of God– A W Tozer

O God, be thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only thou art glorified in my life. Be thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses, I shall keep my vow made this day before thee. Be thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health, and even my life itself. Let me decrease that thou mayest increase; let me sink that thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to thee, “Hosanna in the highest.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Into The Wild– John Krakauer

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green– Melody Green

Till We Have Faces– C S Lewis

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

I And Thou– Martin Buber

Godric– Frederick Buechner

What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish into the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God’s grace, a prayer is heard.

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Politics of Jesus– John Howard Yoder

Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale– Frederick Buechner

Switching on the lectern light and clearing his throat, the preacher speaks both the word of tragedy and the word of comedy because they are both of them of the truth and because Jesus speaks them both, blessed be he. The preacher tells the truth by speaking of the visible absence of God because if he doesn’t see and own up to the absence of God in the world, then he is the only one there who doesn’t see it, and who then is going to take him seriously when he tries to make real what he claims also to see as the invisible presence of God in the world? Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens. Let the preacher preach the Gospel of their preposterous meeting as the high, unbidden, hilarious thing it is.

Crunchy Cons– Rod Dreher

A CRUNCHY CON MANIFESTO
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

Last Child in the Woods– Richard Louv

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).

Let Me Be A Woman– Elisabeth Elliot

It is a naive sort of feminism that insists that women prove their ability to do all the things that men do. This is a distortion and a travesty. Men have never sought to prove that they can do all the things women do. Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race. And femininity has its limitations. So has masculinity. That is what we’ve been talking about. To do this is not to do that. To be this is not to be that. To be a woman is not to be a man. To be married is not to be single – which may mean not to have a career. To marry this man is not to marry all the others. A choice is a limitation.

Sidewalks In The Kingdom: New Urbanism And the Christian Faith– Eric O Jacobsen

(W)e of all people have a deep history of interest in the city, rooted in our biblical tradition. … When John (the evangelist), exiled on Patmos, is given a picture of our redeemed state, he does not see Eden restored in some kind of agrarian utopia; not does he see the American ideal of a single-family detached house surrounded by a huge yard for every inhabitant of the kingdom. What he sees is a city — New Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth.

The Season of Perpetual Motherhood

My oldest child will turn 8 next month (!!). I had a daughter 2.5 years later. Another daughter 2 years after that. And I’m due to have another son any day (any moment) now.

In all, I’ve spent about 8.5 years pregnant and breastfeeding, physically connected in one way or another to children who are dependent on me as their primary caregiver. Yes, I’ve worked part-time during most of those years and I have spent a few hours away from them a few days a week. But, practically speaking, motherhood and its demands and responsibilities have been my primary vocation for 8.5 years. With my new baby’s arrival imminent, I can count on at least 2 more years of the same.

I am 34 years old and this is my season of (what sometimes seems like) perpetual motherhood.

Definition time: By “perpetual motherhood,” I mean the willingness to continue in a constant state of pregnancy and child-rearing as one’s primary role and responsibility, in contrast with women who “take a few years off” from their lives and careers to have one or two kids before returning to other responsibilities.

Life update: A few months ago, I quit my “day job.”

As a matter of principal, I’ve never worked full-time since my first child was born. But, the economics of our family situation being what they were, I was blessed (100x blessed) to already be in a job with an organization that valued me enough to allow me the flexibility to transition into a super part-time role. Once I got pregnant with Baby #4, I knew that the logistics of my job were going to be impossible to juggle and I finally took the leap into official unemployment. (Which isn’t even honestly true since I work as a freelance writer from home.)

Specifics aside, the past few months since my transition out of work have forced a lot of difficult soul-searching about this season of life and about how it has grown and challenged me. It’s still new to me and I haven’t finished processing it all, but I’m 40+ weeks pregnant and feeling bold enough to share.

The truth about perpetual motherhood is that

It’s isolating.

In the 21st Century, I don’t have all that many peers. I don’t blame other women for not wanting to choose this road with me, but I sometimes feel like I’m an island in a sea of moms who paid their full-time mothering dues for a few years, but have moved past this season into more interesting and exciting things–even if that’s just more time alone or with others, without their kids. I, conversely, spend almost 100% of my time in the company of young children. And it’s surprisingly lonely.

It’s hard to make and keep friends.

I may talk up being an introvert an awful lot, but being an introvert means less about “liking people” and more about desiring close, meaningful relationships rather than casual ones. Being an introverted mother means sometimes feeling physically smothered by children who you truly enjoy and love desperately but who simply cannot (and should not) meet your mental and emotional needs. But it means not having the social energy to pursue the relationships you desire with other women, especially those in a different season of life than you.

And it’s hard to connect with your husband.

Parenting together is the most amazing and frustrating task a couple can undertake. Watching the man you love become a father is like watching a new part of him come to life. And it’s fantastic. But it’s not enough. My husband and I have spent nearly all of our married life with children. And those first few years were rough in ways we never acknowledged until recently. Learning to connect as “us” before “us with kids” is really, really important and, if you never really have enough time to make it happen before you’re “with kids,” then it’s even harder to make it happen after the fact. Especially when you keep adding kids to the picture and you have to start all over again with each new baby.

Choosing motherhood requires much more personal sacrifice than I anticipated.

The world of business executive husbands and nannies aside, most of the perpetual mothers I know have given up an awful lot for their decisions. They sacrifice careers (along with their income potential and financial independence). They give up their bodily autonomy and self-care for the sake of carrying and caring for babies. They lay aside creative aspirations, life goals, and dreams of worldly success. They give up time with their husbands who often work longer and harder and more so their wives won’t need to. They give up yearly vacations and extravagant gifts and $75 steaks because they’ve re-negotiated wants vs. needs. And, whether these children come by birth or by fostering or adopting, these parents have already reconciled one fact: this is not a temporary situation. This is the life we’ve chosen.

And it’s impossible to ask for, or expect, sympathy.

No one forced me to do this. It was our decision to have kids right away. To have four of them. My decision to breastfeed them for what seems like forever. To homeschool. To quit my job. To live an urban lifestyle we can’t really afford. To support my husband’s decision to work for a non-profit rather than make big bucks elsewhere. (Etc.)

I chose this life because I believe it is good for my kids and valuable work for me and the best for our family. I never expected it to be easy. (Geez, can you imagine the disappointment that would have caused!?)

I am not a victim and I don’t need sympathy.

But I also wish I didn’t feel so alone in my decision. Invalidated by a culture that sees motherhood as a job you take on the side. Left behind by my peers. Isolated from other moms who are living similar lives, like islands, alone with their gaggles of children.

 

 

I know a lot of awesome moms who have made very different decisions than me for very good reasons. And, here in the thick of things, I can understand why they would. I may not agree with a woman’s decision to be a “career mom,” but I know for a fact that it is a hard decision and carries a lot of difficult implications, as well.

All good moms see themselves as “full-time moms” even when they have other roles and responsibilities. Child-rearing is hard work, whether it’s with two or twelve kids, whether it’s your full-time “job” or something you share with a babysitter or their father or their elementary school. So, there’s just simply no way to compare our lives equitably. At least not in a way that truly validates the role of motherhood in the way it deserves to be validated for all moms.

(Career moms are not victims, either, and they don’t need my sympathy.)

 

 

Some days of constant mothering leave me wondering when I’ll get back a little bit of what I gave up for this life and hoping there are some “golden years” awaiting me once my kids are grown that will help make up for the years I’ve given. But, at the end of the day, and at the end of my life, I don’t believe I could ever regret this decision.

These children in my home are more than projects to take up a few years’ of my time until I move on to bigger things. They are little people, after all. Little people with all the hopes and dreams and potential in the world. If training them up is not the most important job in the world, I can’t imagine what would be. (Thankless, exhausting, and isolating as that job may sometimes be.)

Cheer up, perpetual moms.
Even if this season is lonely, you are not alone.

What This Election Taught Me (or retaught me)

I know it’s dangerous to publish this while many people are still reeling from last night’s election results, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s fresh in my mind and I want to remember everything I’ve learned about myself, about the American public, and about this political process.

Dang. What a wild ride it’s been.

For better or worse, here are some important things this year’s election season has taught me (or retaught me):

 

Americans have bought the lie of the false dilemma and it’s both self-destructive and counter-productive.

In an American mind, it’s always a question of either/or, him/her, us/them. We are so married to a two-party system that the two-party concept has steeped into our personal ideological construct and our interpersonal relationships.

Sure, there are some things that I’ll agree are black and white. I’m a pretty black and white thinker myself. But I still believe that, even with strict ideological commitments, it’s possible to entertain more than just Option A or Option B. (Case in point: Option A and Option B in this election didn’t satisfy me, so I choose another option. Yes, you can do that.)

This false dilemma appears in relationships, as well, as we become so committed to our own solutions to the world’s problems that we not only refuse to examine the potential for another solution, but those adopting other solutions become our enemy. Two sides. Us and them. That’s all we can comprehend.

Political media is manipulative.

Because all media is created by people and all people have some sort of ideological commitment, it’s prudent to be wise about how media is consumed. It’s not always clear, at first, whether the “news” sources we use for information are really intended to inform or to influence.

Basically, all media tells a story. But very few sources are telling the whole story.

Every political candidate will say and do a million things during the duration of their candidacy, but each media source will pick and choose which photos to show, which quips to quote, and which videos to play. If you’re a media junky, you’d better be consuming more than one source and more than one ideological school of thought or, chances are, you’re being sold a lie. (Or at least only a small part of the truth.)

No one wants to believe their guy might be the bad guy.

You know that Biblical parable about the sawdust and the plank and “judge not” and all that? (Matthew 7:1-5. Read it here.) I’d venture to say that this applies to more than just our personal sins. It applies to our choice political candidates, as well.

In this election, both candidates were the brunt of some pretty serious allegations of both character and behavior. Yet, for the most loyal of followers, those allegations meant nothing. As if the sins of the other were so terrible that nothing else mattered. The double standard was almost laughable.

Whether the specific allegations are legitimate or not almost doesn’t matter at this point. The sentiment was clear: your guy is the real bad guy here; mine can do no wrong (or at least not as much wrong as yours, so it doesn’t really matter to me).

(Sidenote: have you seen this?)

Most of us don’t understand the guy voting for the other guy.

This is true across all political lines. We presume to know all there is to know about those who support our opponent, yet all we have to rely on is exit polls and media scams.

The truth is that it’s easier to see the opposing side as a “people group” to be categorized or write them off as a demographic with an agenda than to actually know and understand why someone might support something we don’t–increased border security or universal healthcare or stricter gun laws, for example.

I may disagree with someone’s position on an issue, but I can’t possible know all of their stories. If I did, it might start to make sense why they care about one issue and not another or why they believe some issues are more urgent than others. And, once I start to understand why we all vote so differently, it dismantles the us vs. them dichotomy.

Even if we don’t end up agreeing, it could lead to mutual respect. Or, in the least, less adolescent name calling. And it would save us from the surprise when discovering that those people groups we’re so quick to subject to our own stereotypes are not nearly as homogeneous as we’d like to believe.

No one likes hyperbole, but everyone uses it. (And no one is willing to admit it that maybe the other guy is just being hyperbolic.)

I am first to admit that I love a good hyperbolic argument. But I also understand the nature and use of hyperbole. And I hate it when it’s used dishonestly rather than for illustrative effect.

When the news hit last night/today that Donald Trump won the election, it was like a hyperbole tornado:

“The Apocalypse has come. All immigrants are going to be deported. African Americans are going to be shipped off to ghettos. Men everywhere are now welcome to grab a stranger’s crotch. And I’m moving to Canada.”

Instead of looking honestly at what we’re actually facing (by reading Trump’s actual immigration plan, for example), thinking through it critically, and considering what the actual implications might be (both for good and ill), we choose extremism. All we hear in our heads (which, come on, is all the media wanted us to hear because it makes for good tv) is the irresponsible and reprehensible rhetoric of Trump’s public persona and then we, in turn, spew off the same doomsday rhetoric. This does not excuse him, but neither does it excuse our response.

Hyperbole is great. But it’s dangerous. Learn how to use it and how to interpret it. It will save us all a lot of anxiety.

Our children are listening.

And, no, I don’t mean this in the Clinton campaign video sort of way (although I think she’s correct, as well).

What I mean is that our children are listening to us. And, because they know no better, they believe us. So when we make outlandish claims about the other candidates, or speak in hyperbole about the implications of this, that, or the other thing, they are listening.

They see our overreactions, hear our outbursts, and will internalize either our hope or hopelessness. Be careful what you model for your children.

Everyone has a trigger (or two).

We all have our triggers–things that elicit a strong response or reaction from us. For one woman, it’s sexual assault. For another, it’s healthcare. For another still, it’s gun control or education; race relations or childhood poverty.

I think it’s a beautiful thing that we all carry different sensitives within us. I think it’s a providential thing that insures we, as a collective society, cover all of our bases. I mean, what if the only thing we all cared about was childhood poverty? Sure, kids would be fed and clothed, but the elderly would not be. Or what if the only thing we all cared about was climate change? We might have the best sustainability initiatives in the world, but our economy could go belly up and leave us trillions (more) in debt.

There is no need to minimize someone else’s political trigger just because it isn’t your own. Sure, there are some that are, on a certain level, mutually exclusive. And there are some issues that some of us will never get behind personally. But, for the most part, I simply don’t believe that’s the case.

Here’s a thought: It might actually be possible to work toward a healthy planet, well-fed families, a strong and equitable economy, safe babies (and mothers!), and affordable healthcare. Geez. What an amazing thought.

The real (exciting and difficult) conversation starts when we get to talking about the how. (But that’s a post for another day.)

For now, people are really hurting.

This election triggered not only strong ideological responses but really strong emotional responses, as well. And although empathy is certainly one of my weakest traits, I’m not heartless.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that many people in our country have deep hurts that made this election (and its outcome) really painful. I may think that some of the reactions (toward both candidates) have been immature or overly dramatic, but whether those pains are “legitimate” is not my decision to make.

I don’t have the right to tell a woman who has been sexually assaulted that she shouldn’t take Donald Trump so seriously. And I can’t promise the Mexican-born US citizen that Trump won’t suggest something that threatens their citizenship.

Just like you cannot insure the safety of my children from the terrorist waiting across the ocean.

And just like I can’t honestly tell the third-generation coal miner in West Virginia or the small-town family farmer in Iowa that their livelihood and the future of their families wouldn’t be on the line in a Clinton-run America.

Those hurts, those fears, those concerns are real. And, even if they are unspoken, they influence how we approach politics and social issues. So even if we don’t share them or understand them, we can at least be patient with each other as we work through them and, hopefully, find some resolution.

In the end, hurting people can’t depend on a government to save them. Because a government can’t save them. Maybe temporarily or in small, calculated ways. But not in the personal, loving way that people need. Certainly not from the depth of pain that leaves people crushed at the end of an election. And, honestly, not even from the hundreds of unknowns and the fears of danger and the evil lurking around the corner in this scary world.

Which is why the greatest lesson this election has retaught me is that, while I love and respect this country, my hope rests elsewhere.

And I am really thankful for that today because, honestly, if Donald Trump was the foundation on which I was building my hope for the future–yikes.

(Listen.)

 

Saying Yes, Saying No, and Dealing With What Comes Next

What if I told you that one of the most difficult parts of adulthood is not the big life decisions you make but the daily decision to stick it out and deal faithfully with what comes on the other side?

 

My generation is plagued by two major lifestyle errors:

The fear of commitment.
Serial monogamy.

One is floundering in impermanence, afraid to make a promise or commitment. They live with the presumption that only the most perfect decision is one worth making and are constantly in fear of missing the big opportunity just around the corner. They are tentative. They are dispassionate. They are impotent and indifferent.

The other is always in love. They believe perfection has already arrived and jump in 110% before testing the water. But, then, when a glimmer of “better” or “brighter” appears around the bend, they move on as quickly as they moved in. They are passionate. They are present. But then they are gone in an instant.

No, this isn’t just about sex and relationships.
This is about all of life–love, friendship, careers, community life.

I see it and I understand it because I’ve felt it every time I’ve been faced with a big life decision: where to attend college, what degree to pursue, what job to take, what guy to date, where to live, who to marry, etc.

But let me share some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned here on the flip side of those big, scary life decisions:

Even good decisions carry difficult consequences.
All great pursuits in life require sacrifice.
Every “yes” requires a “no.”
Something better and brighter is always around the bend.
You can never go back, but you can always move forward.

 

 

About 6 months ago, my husband and I finally had the conversation I’d been not-so-secretly avoiding:

“Are we ready for another baby?”

In short, the decision was “No, absolutely not. But we want this more than we don’t want this. And we believe this is a ‘good’ thing and that we will never regret it. And we aren’t getting any younger.”

The longer version of the story would look something like a storm–equal parts hurricane and tornado–swirling through my head, weighing pros and cons and calculating dates and family budgets, alternately avoiding and then pursing my husband, anxieties and fears and subtle jolts of excitement. (Notice: I obviously tend toward “fear of commitment.”)

Even good decisions carry difficult consequences.

Deciding to have a fourth child felt like staring ahead into my future, weighing the value of the path I was on, and turning right around and taking two big year-long steps back. It meant another round of pregnancy, another round of sleepless nights with an infant, another two years of lending my body to a nursing baby, another couple years of putting myself and my dreams and my work and my friendships on standby for the sake of a child, and it meant another couple years of distance between me and my husband.

Is it worth the sacrifice?
All great pursuits in life require sacrifice.

Ask anyone who has ever trained for a marathon or aced an important exam whether the sacrifice was worth the early mornings or the late nights or the aches and pains and headaches.

Yes, it was worth it.

And since I believe that children are worth far more than finished races and completed degrees, my late nights and aches and pains and headaches are going to be spent on them for now. For this season. For as long as it takes. Until it’s time to move on.

Because every “yes” requires a “no.”

And, so, there are seasons of life in which we really can’t have it all. We must choose. And choosing something important often means saying “no” to something else. Marriage is the perfect example of this truth. We stand publicly, before God and witnesses, and promise our commitment, our future, to one person. “Forsaking all others,” we say. And if we don’t mean it, then we have no business participating in such a sacred act.

But there is a secret truth that you’d better understand before you make such an outrageous promise:

Something better and brighter is always around the bend.

Truth is: I am not the most beautiful or virtuous woman my husband has ever known. And he is not the most handsome or charming man I’ve ever known. And, truth is, there will always be someone “better,” someone brighter, or someone more exciting around the bend. (Just like there is always a better job, a better house, a better friend, and so on and so on.)

Making a solid commitment to something or someone means saying “I choose you now. And I choose you tomorrow. And I will choose you the next day…” and it requires a daily decision to be faithful to the promise made.

You can either pretend this isn’t true and that you’ve already found the “one perfect thing” you were searching for (like a serial monogamist) or this can scare the crap out of you and leave you immobile and afraid to ever choose anything (like a commitment-phobe).

Or you can just accept it as truth, lean on wisdom, and then walk confidently into big decisions with eyes open, willing to be faithful to your decision and deal with what comes next.

But what comes next? Because certainly not everyone who makes “a good decision” comes out feeling good about it on the other end. Some people struggle through parenthood. Some couples have miserable marriages. Some people despise their careers or regret the path they chose.

Thankfully, not all of our life decisions are permanent the way marriage and parenthood are. But even temporary decisions can weigh heavily on us and, when they don’t pay off the way we’d hoped, can make us question the sacrifices we’ve made along the way. This is why part of walking through disappointments in life means knowing when a step forward requires moving on.

You can never go back, but you can always move forward.

And part of dealing with what comes after big decisions in life is keeping your eyes focused in the right direction.

When I take stock of my life and the decisions I’ve made, the worst of my past fears come to life when my eyes are focused backwards (on the things I’ve given up) or sideways in comparison with my peers (on the things I could have instead). But when I am focused here–on my life, my family, my calling, my worthy pursuits–I see that each decision and each step is building a life in which the sum is much greater than the parts.

Basically, what I’m building here–with this man in this home with these kids–is bigger than the pieces that I had to give up along the way. And someday, when I am old enough and wise enough to look back on my life without being afraid of regret or comparison, I’ll see the fruit of the sacrifices we’ve made.

And, even now, when some days are harder than others and I feel like I’m surrounded by reminders of all I’m missing out on by choosing this and not that, God extends an extra measure of grace and gives me a taste of the fruit I’m cultivating with my life.

Maybe it’s a kind word from a friend or a smile from a stranger.
Or it could be a reassuring moment with my husband or a moment of breakthrough with my child.

Even if it’s just enough of a taste for one more day’s worth of faithfulness to my “yes” and “no,” then it’s enough.

To Frederick, On The Occasion Of Your 90th Birthday

Frederick-

I discovered you first in a literature class about thirteen years ago. The class was called Faith & Doubt and you and your Sacred Journey were hidden among other greats by Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton.

I was somewhere around twenty years old and, with thirteen years of faith under my belt, was now deep and dark into a season of doubt. I was confused and angry and, studying among people for whom faith was an unspoken expectation rather than a matter of patience and cultivation, I felt misunderstood and alone.

Have you ever met someone for the first time and, in a matter of only moments, found that there is some deep soul comradery between you that makes you feel instantly like kin rather than strangers? With whom the conversation comes with ease and familiarity? Have you ever had a friend for whom you didn’t need to explain yourself? With whom a mutual understanding made them a place of comfort and rest when the rest of the world felt tense and turbulent?

Your story is different than mine.
But beneath the story I read in that class and the many stories I’ve read of yours since, I found something I desperately needed. I found someone who understood the soul longing that I felt but couldn’t express because the only words I had to use were hopeless words and I still had hope.

You helped me find the place where faith and doubt are a dance, not a battle.

When I discovered you, I found the words to give life to my doubt in a way that let me move through it instead of wallowing in it, words that let me be honest and brave and audacious enough to believe that I could be my crooked, confused, heart-broken self and still be counted among the saints.

And you let me say it all out loud. You showed me it could be done. (Thank you.)

There were a few years during which your words were the only words I could use. You helped me learn to pray again. And I still appeal to you often when I don’t know what to say. When my prayers don’t come easy. Or when the world is scary and painful and I wish I knew how to comfort a hurting friend.

Or when I need to be reminded that I’m not the only one of the disciples still sleeping with one eye open and my hand on my wallet. I see you. I’m here, too. And there are many more here with us.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Buechner.
You’ve given more than you know.

 

 

 

*On the occasion of his 90th birthday (which falls on July 11th), Frederick Buechner has released Buechner 101, a curated collection of sermons and essays. Get yourself a copy for a window into his world.

For a quick (Liz McEwan-curated) Frederick Buechner primer, start with the sermon “The Magnificent Defeat” (which can be read in its entirety here) or, for a taste of fiction, try Godric.

Preachers start here.
Writers start here.
People with short attention spans can start here.

The Time Between: Living Life on the Second Day

Have you ever read something for the umpteenth time and noticed something you’ve never noticed before? It happened to me tonight a Good Friday church service while reading along with one of the Gospel passages.

The passage covers the brief time after Jesus’ death when he is being prepared for burial:

Luke 23: 50-56

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Did you see it?

“On the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.”

I swear that in all the 33+ years I’ve heard the Bible read and have read the Bible, I’ve never really noticed that little bit. Or at least I never thought it was anything other than an inconsequential blip. So here I am, decades into knowing the story of Easter, realizing that I’ve never thought too much about what happened in the time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Turns out, the Sabbath happened.

I did a little quick research tonight and it appears there is some disagreement about how the Sabbath fits into the schedule of Jesus death and resurrection, especially since in that particular year and at that time, the Jews observed both a normal weekly Sabbath and a yearly Sabbath. That was about as much information as I needed to know to know that I could at least count on the observance of the Sabbath happening somewhere in there. And I certainly don’t think it was a coincidence.

Have you ever experienced a huge, monumental event? Maybe something exciting; maybe something traumatic. Think of something significant, something by which you can mark the timeline of your life as “before” and “after.” Think of something after which you laid in bed, mind racing, replaying the event in your mind until you finally fell asleep. Maybe it was the death of a parent, witnessing a crime, meeting a personal hero, or being offered the dream job.

Now think about what it was like the next day. Remember the excitement or the pain or the confusion or the regret. Remember how it felt the first time you saw the people who had experienced that event with you, how you didn’t know if it was better to talk about it or not talk about it. How it had been such a huge deal that part of you wondered if it had certainly been a dream. How maybe you wished it had been. Remember how you wanted to hear everyone else’s version of the story so you could be sure you hadn’t imagined it all.

Now think back to the night of Jesus’ death. Imagine the disciples who had just allowed a mob to arrest and torture their beloved teacher and mentor. Imagine Jesus’ mother who had just hours before stood at the foot of a cross while her son was crucified. Imagine the women who prepared his body for burial, who didn’t understand how the man they believed had come as the promised Messiah was now dead in a borrowed tomb.

Imagine how they all wandered back to their homes, crawled into bed, and laid awake that night wondering how any of the things they’d just witnessed could possibly be true. Imagine how certain they must have been that, from that night forward, everything would be marked as either “before” or “after.”

Now this is where that little bit I mentioned before gets really important because, the next morning, they didn’t really wake up to life “after” the death of Jesus. They woke up to the second day, the time between what Jesus did and what he’d said he would do. And, for that time between, on that second day, God gave them a Sabbath.

This second day might not seem significant to anyone else, but it seems awfully significant to me and I’m thankful tonight that the fathers of our faith were wise enough to put some space between our observance of Christ’s death and our observance of the resurrection.

I’m thankful because I feel like the second day is where I’m living these days.

I feel like the majority of my past 10 years or so has been one big, fat “time between.” It’s been the time between what God has done and what God has promised to do. And, just like the morning after witnessing a horrific car wreck or the morning after meeting the man of my dreams, I wake up every morning wishing I could skip through this time between and go straight to Resurrection Day.

The time between sucks.
And part of what sucks about it is that, like the disciples, there’s not a whole lot I can do to make the story move faster. Like the disciples, God is at work in the background bringing the story to completion while I’m left in the dark. Like the disciples, I’d probably rather find something to keep myself busy and distracted while I wait but, instead, God requests obedience to the Sabbath.

Rest. Worship. Pray. and Wait.

The second day.
It’s the time between the diagnosis and the cure.
It’s the time between the first try and the “+” sign.
It’s the time between the pink slip and the “you’re hired.”
It’s the time between her death and your falling in love again.
(Or, for some, it’s the time between wanting that cure or wanting that baby or that job or that new love and the day your heart finally lets go of the longing.)

Rest. Worship. Pray. and Wait.

A watched pot never seems to boil.
Until it does.

Sometimes God never seems to show up.
Until he does.

And when the disciples woke up on that second day, I’m sure some were confused and some were angry and some were so sad that they couldn’t even get out of bed. But they observed the Sabbath anyway. They rested. They worshiped and prayed. And, if they were brave and bold enough, they probably talked together about what they’d just witnessed the night before and hoped together beyond all hope that God was going to come through like he said he would.

And he did.
On the third day.

As for me, I keep waking up hoping it’s finally the third day. That my heart is finally whole again. That my faith has been restored. That my mind is not anxious. And that God has done the things I’ve been told he promised to do so that I can live more like the resurrection and less like the time between.

Sometimes God never seems to show up.
Until he does.

So let’s make the time more easy passing by telling ourselves and each other the stories about the times he has shown up, the things he has done, and the ways the resurrection has brought fulfillment to our longings, hope for our despair, and peace for the chaos of a world caught in the time between.