Friday, December 24, 2010

A touch

My four and a half year old loves to sleep in my bed. I think he was probably two and a half when he figured out that he could sneak into my bed at night. He was a great crib sleeper - he loved his crib, and would willingly let me place him into the crib every night. Once I moved him to a bed though, he began to slip into my room at night. At first I fought his presence in my bed. I wanted him to be independent and sleep in his own bed. After a time, I realized that fighting him was actually adding to fuel to the fire - it was some sort of an elusive privilege to get in my bed. Over the past year, I've stopped fighting him. I figure eventually he will grow out of this phase of life, and want his own space. For now, I'm joined most nights by my son at some point through the night.

My son is not just content to be sleeping in the same space with me, he needs to touch me. Sometimes it's his foot or his bottom or his hand...but some part of him needs to be in contact with some part of me. This doesn't usually please me. My preference is that he would stay in a corner of the bed, and leave me in some peace. But, I can't really get too angry with him, he doesn't even know he's reaching out most of the time. He just does this instinctively.

A few days ago, as I was trying to fall asleep and had a hand on arm, I was reminded of a time he was in the hospital right before Christmas. My baby was a year old. He was there for five days. Because he was so small, I was afraid to leave him, even for a moment. I was fearful that he would wake up and not see anyone he knew, and panic. I lived in his hospital room those days, and spent hours and hours holding and touching this child. Even in his sleep. I would hold his hand or touch his feet.

As I thought more and more about my experiences with my child, I was reminded of the coming of the Christ child. What does this time of year remind me of? What am I preparing for? What am I most hoping for?

And in reality, it is for that one touch. Like Thomas, I'm not at all satisfied with just hearing about the Good News - no, I want to experience it for myself. I want the emotion of it and the love made manifest. An intellectual faith stopped making sense to me awhile ago. I want the wild and holy love of God.

The only place I know to look for this is in every relationship I have. It's in every interaction, every moment. Whether I recognize it or not, it is there. It is in the small things that seem insignificant and the grand things that seem overdone. In the laughter with good friends, and the tears of the kids I work with. I simply have to become more and more adept at recognizing all the times I come into contact with it. It really remains my job to open my hands and heart to the gift.

Like my child and his ability to locate my hand or foot in his sleep, I recognize the touch of God in life - my life and the lives around me. I deny it at times, I run from it at other times, and sometimes I just plain miss the big picture, but deep in my heart, the recognition is still there.

Last night I had dinner with friends. As we talked about my new "thing" - gatherings of people to talk about faith, life, love...I was excited and that excitement was evident. At some point in the conversation, one of them looked at me, and said, "I'm in. Just tell me when and where to show up." There is great wisdom in that statement - particularly as it relates to the Divine. My hope this year in this time of great expectation and joy is just that simple - God, I'm in. Just tell me when and where to show up. And maybe, as an added help - help me to recognize the divine everywhere in everything. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


"Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." From the 20th chapter of John's Gospel

For the past few weeks I have been wearing a St. Thomas medal quite a bit. I'm not entirely certain why, or even what I expect to get from Thomas, but I feel a kinship with him. When I first began to experience a renewal of faith, life and love, Thomas seemed to be my guide. A man who most of us only think about when talking about his doubt or his lack of faith has become a symbol for me.

Doubt is an awfully frightening thing. It tends to isolate us in many ways, and sometimes even paralyzes us. Who among us is eager to admit we doubt God or Jesus or the resurrection or even smaller parts of the story like Noah, Moses or the whole virgin birth thing? After all, it seems like a slippery slope. Once you start doubting parts of the story, the whole narrative is called into question. And what does life look like if none of it is true? For someone who has grown up in the church, it looks pretty damn scary, I can tell you that much. But, what if?

How would my life, and the way I live it, be different if Jesus really was executed, and never rose from the dead? If Jesus was simply another hero of another time that I read would my life be different? Quite honestly, the question isn't a fair one, or even one that I can possibly answer. I've spent the better part of 30 years believing in God, Jesus and the story. To try and undo my history of believing is nearly impossible. Jesus's story, my story, they are part of one story. I cannot imagine one without the other.

Thomas's story has always moved me, because I can see myself very clearly in the story, I'm fairly sure I'm that guy. I'm the one who wouldn't know what to do with it all. I can very easily picture myself as that overwhelmed, frightened, slightly angry man. It reminds me of a time I was sitting in a political science class in college, and I was being told in very clear terms that in many ways, it was all hopeless. Our political systems, parties and way of doing things would never accomplish what we hoped it would. Our leaders would fail us, our ideals would give way to the campaign dollar and our dreams of a just and merciful society were just that - a dream, not a reality that could be attained. I remember my frustration at being told all this, and my exasperated expression to the bearer of the bad news, "Then, what the hell is the point of all this?" She smiled at me, and gently said, "That's what you need to work out for yourself."

As I continue to work out what Thomas's story means to me, and how his story is mine in many ways, I am led to wonder what about all of this doubt business? What is it good for anyway? How does it help me? And then I recall the lesson I've learned this year.

I've always been an end game kind of girl. I want to know why we're doing whatever it is we're doing. Why does it matter? What is it good for? At the end of the day, will it matter? If not, then I have a hard time investing myself fully in whatever it is. It's not that I'm all about results, and not one to believe the journey can be worth something, but I want to believe that what I'm doing makes some difference, to someone. I don't have to believe I'm achieving world peace, but I want to believe that what I do matters to someone besides me. But, like Thomas, sometimes I'm not so sure. I begin to want to *see* the happy endings. I want to know for sure that the decisions I'm making ultimately lead to something good happening, at least in the end.

This past week a friend posted a status on facebook that caught my attention - his question, can we ever really resolve the traumatic events of life? It was at that moment, the epiphany finally reached my heart. (I never said I was a quick study)It's really not about resolving the past, it's about learning what we can from it in a gentle way, and then allowing it to be our past, and not our present or future.

Certainly I'm not thankful for the experiences that I had as a child and young adult that were hard and painful. But, I know who I am, my ability to be a healing agent, a loving person, were at least partially shaped by those experiences. And, so it's not about resolving those events or changing what happened, because that really isn't possible. We can go around or through or into those moments, but the truth of the matter is, they still hurt. And trying to deny the hurt and damage only lands us in deeper water. Just as Thomas acknowledges, when confronted head on with a recently risen Jesus, "My Lord and my God" - acknowledging the hurt is important. But, that's not where we stop. No, we must move forward, and we must be able to see the beauty all around us. Lest our pain define us to the point of destruction rather than transformation.

I'm glad to be walking alongside Thomas. Only someone who has expressed his profound doubt, really understands how I feel. My heart aches because it is full with the love and pain of being all too human. Of experiencing both the incredible presence of God and the desperate absence of God. Our stories remain intertwined.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Old and the New

Today I spoke with a friend I hadn't spoken with in years. We've kept in touch through things like facebook and email, but we don't speak or see one another with any regularity. We went to college together. She was part of the Honors college I was involved in. We knew each other fairly well by the end of 4 years, and I enjoyed her. Our lives have moved in different directions, but still we share a history. Our memories of those years are still part of who we are.

Life goes by with such speed, sometimes I don't feel like I've had time to catch my breath. It seems like it was 5 minutes ago when she and I spent significant time together. When she called, the first words out of her mouth were, "what does this time of year make you think of?" And I immediately knew the answer she was thinking of...pancakes.

Each December, our professor, who was also my mentor/mother/sister in college, would invite all of us over to her home. We would find her in her kitchen, in blue jeans and bare feet. She would be making us pancakes on a big griddle on the counter, adding in pecans or blueberries or chocolate chips. Once we all had a pancake, she would join us in her great room. We would be snuggled up with one another when she came in, and she would join for a time in our chatter. A bunch of college kids, enjoying each other and eating pancakes. After awhile, she would pick up a well-worn book. Sometimes it was Dr. Suess. Sometimes it was Shel Silverstein. After a few minutes, she would start reading to us. The room would fall quiet as we all soaked in the holiness of the moment. The divisions we ordinarily felt...politics, religion, the Greek system, whatever...fell away. We were children again, and our mother was reading to us, teaching us, loving us. It was my favorite night of each school year. I felt her warmth and the love of my friends so strongly on those nights.

I remember my first December experience at my teacher's home. Late into the night, when we began to file out to head back to our dorms, she stood by the front door and hugged each of us. As she held each of us in her arms, she would whisper a blessing of sorts. I still remember her smiling at me and telling me she how very happy she was that I was there. I recall watching the seniors in our group become teary-eyed as they realized they were receiving their final blessing from our beloved professor. A few years later, I remember being one of those seniors, wiping my own tears away as I left her home.

As my friend and I caught up on our lives and how they look and feel these days, she asked me if I missed those nights. I answered her with a resounding yes, but for different reasons than even I understand. Those days, and that age of my life, were filled with so much promise. I felt pregnant with hope and possibility. I was just discovering who I was. My life seemed rich and full and textured. There was a part of me that felt strongly that I could change the world. That my life would mean something, that all I was learning and seeing and believing would lead me right into the next stage of my life, and I welcomed that. Those experiences at my professor's home were at least partially about love and relationships for me. The conversations, the pancakes, the affection was so vital to my survival during those times. Those times have sustained me, even to this day. More than perhaps at any other time in my life, I realize now how important loving relationships really are.

I'm certain if someone had asked me at 21 what I thought my life would like at 35, I would have answered very differently than how life actually turned out for me. But still, here I am. And life is rich and full and textured. The past year has made me see, and believe, that there is still so much to come. As I caught up with my friend I couldn't help but laugh and smile (and cry just a little) at our common history and our common story now. Two girls who have grown up, but who are somehow still pregnant with hope for the future. My vision now is different, for sure, but it is still one full of so much promise.

As I settled in to read to my children tonight, I see so clearly how my life and development have come full circle. I'm so thankful for the old relationships that have nurtured me and formed (and perhaps even transformed) me, but today I'm just as thankful for the new relationships that are defining me in the here and now. And I still find myself as hopeful at 35 as I was at 19; hopeful that love never fails and hopeful that the future is still full of the possibilities and opportunities I first glimpsed all those years ago, when I was sitting on the floor in that warm house, surrounded by so much love and pancakes. My relationships look different and feel different today, but still they are what supports me and nourishes me from the inside out, and make me convinced that I still can change the world.