Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I've had a hard time writing for the past few months. Part of my issue is that I feel somewhat exposed in the past year. I have kept this blog largely hidden from most people I know. It felt safer and more secure to write in obscurity. I didn't have to be concerned about being confronted by my writing by anyone. As people have discovered the blog, whether on purpose or by accident, I have had to contend with feeling as if my thoughts and feelings are really "out there" for anyone who has the inclination to look. This is not comforting. Still, I have felt the need to begin again (again). When I started writing in this forum, well over two years now, it was a place to record the difficulties of my life at that time without fear of having to "explain" myself to anyone. I was in a tough spot - my marriage was ending, I felt something new beginning, but couldn't identify what it was, I had started a law practice and was still concerned about survival.

A lot has changed in the past nearly three years. And yet, much remains as it was. I'm divorced, and most days the trauma of that event feels as if it is over. My children are thriving. I am still managing a law practice that continues to pay me enough to support my children and I comfortably. And largely I have realized that my vocation has little to do "change" at this moment in my life.

The issue that most stands out as "needing to be dealt with" these days is my weight. I've regaled myself (and lots of other people) with my up and down weight stories. I've lost and gained numerous times. The last time I lost, I lost big. About 140 pounds. It took 2 years, but I felt physically great. Mentally and emotionally I couldn't get my act together. I still felt over 300 pounds. I weighed myself obsessively. I couldn't stop thinking about calories and exercise and weight loss. Slowly, over two years, the weight came back. I've regained approximately 85 pounds. My focus went away as quickly as it had come. My singular focus became my divorce, children and life.

The past few months my weight has begun to really bother me. I feel like a giant in a small world. I'm making myself sick overeating. I'm vomiting, having heartburn and having other physical symptom that make it clear I'm eating myself to death. I'm struggling to walk very far, losing my breath and have aching feet on a daily basis. I realize that the time has again come to make some changes.

Ultimately I'm not certain I know how to do this again. Of course I know how to count calories and work out and do all of the things that must happen to coax my body to shed the weight. It seems to me though that there is more to understand or know.

I've been reading several books that reference the 12 steps lately. I can't help but think this goes beyond coincidence. I'm not certain how it works next. But, I seem to be "being resurrected" in a lot of different ways. Now what?

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Every now and again I have a moment of clarity that seems a tad negative...even for a girl who considers herself to be at least somewhat cynical. Still this morning at the place I attend church each Sunday, I was moved to think "what if?" with not just a little skepticism about what the church (as I've experienced it - mainline denomination-style)can do and offer those of us who have by and large outgrown the institution and don't feel quite at home anymore.

Each week during the principal service in my parish we have a few moments in the middle of the service (post-sermon, pre-Eucharist) where we offer prayers for people who had a birthday that week or for people who are going to be traveling somewhere. We also offer prayers for people who are celebrating their wedding anniversaries. I've always kind of liked this part of the service - many of the members of my church are pretty advanced in age. I feel like they deserve to be celebrated along with the children, who often seem to be growing up before my eyes.

Today, after the usual birthday and traveling prayers, our priest asked if anyone had an anniversary to celebrate. A young man who has just recently begun attending services with us got up and said he was celebrating his third anniversary of "working." Some of the folks who are ordinarily in our midst looked at one another and rolled their eyes at this "newbie." A few seemed happy with his announcement. Our priest quickly offered a prayer for him, and we moved on to Eucharist. This young man has been playing guitar (and some other instruments) with an outreach program of the parish for the past year or so. I've seen him and spoke to him at some of the recitals and performances of the group.

It occurred to me, again, how much it seems we in the church (or perhaps in my church) are missing the message about community that Jesus seemed so hellbent on modeling. What if...we were a place where people could stand up and announce their sobriety anniversary, whether it was one day, one month, one year? What if we could share, out loud, that we are struggling with what to do with our feelings about heaven, hell and the afterlife and not fear being labeled a heretic? What would happen if someone stood up and announced to the community his infidelity and asked the group to heal both he and his spouse? How would we, as a community, be different if we were able to actually speak of such raw, painful things with the people we say are our community? It would seem we would be much closer. We would be much more invested in one another.

The realistic part of me recognizes the danger in such openness. Of course it invites judgment, and sometimes further isolation. Still, it seems in my other close communities (albeit these are smaller groups of folks)...if someone has a particularly bad weekend, or something really great happens or someone is struggling with a health issue...we all talk about it. We text each other, we talk on the phone, we email jokes about it. We may laugh, we might cry, but ultimately we care for one another. Of course nothing is perfect, still it seems that we know how to love each other pretty well most days. Still, it seems the church isn't by design a place to be honest with each other or to love each other unconditionally. How paradoxical.

This strikes me as tragic. After all what's the point? As someone at the festival I was at recently articulated better than I can...do you really think God needs you to say the right words or praise Him/Her? Do you think Jesus is concerned with praise songs and lovely sentiments shared aloud? Really? Is that what we were made for? I don't think so. We were designed for community - we were meant for one another. How can we care for one another if we don't really even know one another? If I'm unaware of my brother's struggles, how do I pray for him? How do I love him? Love implies a certain level of intimacy. A certain knowledge. While I recognize this is risky, difficult stuff, I can't help but think it's what Jesus called us to, as the church.

I've been fascinated with Mary Magdalene for a long time. Her feast day just passed a few days ago. Depending upon who you believe (the Catholics vs. Orthodox) after Jesus died, she disappeared. She lived her last 30 years in a cave in the southern part of France. She was so distraught at the loss of her Jesus (and my interpretation)her community, that she lived in isolation, where she allegedly had many divine experiences of Jesus in her final years, but ones that were mostly alone.

My point in throwing Mary into all of this talk about community is to say that her passion for this Jewish carpenter was so strong, that when he was no longer there in the flesh, she ran to a cave to hide out from the world. Community was no longer something she could take the risk to commit to. I find this very tragic. And yet, I get it. Community is hard. It's counter-intuitive. It's radical. It requires a commitment, an openness, a mercy that I cannot always find in my own heart. It's complicated and messy. It can't be accomplished in an hour on Sunday morning. It probably can't be accomplished completely in a lifetime. Still, I find this more and more, my call.

To be part of...to build...to grow...to encourage...perhaps even to dare to love those that are around me...to build community, one life at a time. Even when it's hard or seems complicated and messy. While I'd like to think I'm a peacemaker at heart, I recognize my own hard-headed-ness enough to know that I, too, need growing up, transformation, conversion. At the end of the day, I hope I get there. And I hope I'm surrounded by other people who are just as confused, befuddled, amazed, humbled, scared, thrilled as I am to be there and to be there, together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I heart Jay Bakker and Peter Rollins...all at the same time.

I traveled east this past week to attend the Wild Goose Festival. I had heard about the Goose some time ago, and knew I wanted to be there for this first-time event. I coerced (gently) my best friend from college to go with me. I picked her up in Nashville, and we had a good time laughing and talking all the way to North Carolina. I was longing for something...a connection to something bigger. A renewal of hope and of love. The schedule was jam-packed with all sorts of folks I have read about, friended on Facebook and admired from a distance. Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Ashley Cleveland and the list goes on and on.

I must confess something. I have a minor crush on Peter Rollins. It may be the Irish accent or the fact that he gestures even more than I do when he talks - or that he's brilliant...I'm not sure. Regardless, one of the things I looked forward to was listening to some new ideas of his that he was going to present at the Wild Goose.

My second confession...I also have a thing for Jay Bakker. I came upon his first book some six months ago, and have followed his sermon-writing and second book closely. For entirely different reasons, I like Jay. He's the adorable bad boy with the tattoos and loud music. He seems to wear his broken heart on his sleeve. He and Peter and I are members of the same generation. One man appeals to my emotions - my desire for grace above all. The other appeals to my thoughts - and challenges my ways of looking at faith, doubt and the complexity of both.

The weekend was fun - it was good to listen to voices I've heard and read before - like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Claiborne, Becca Stevens and Richard Rohr. It was maybe even more fun to meet new voices that I had not heard before like Ian Cron (what a fantastic storyteller!) and Karyn Wiseman (she's a smart cookie).

Ultimately though, I awaited the talks/sermons/ruminations of...Pete and Jay. I had already heard Pete speak in Springfield, Missouri in an academic setting back in October. I've listened to some of Jay's sermons online, but I had never seen Jay in person or heard him speak.

Ultimately I can only say this about my experience with my favorites. For as different as these two fellows may be in their approaches to speaking...they represent the best of emergent church, faith, grace and life for me. Pete is my inner mind talking - things are not always as they seem - or perhaps they are...but they may not exist at all. Jay is my heart speaking what I only dare hope at times -that there is a love and grace big enough to hold me and ultimately us all.

I'm so grateful to have been there for the first of what I hope will be many more Wild Goose Festivals. And I hope that the message that I received is the same one that gets communicated year after year, decade upon decade to each new generation of geese lovers - God loves us with a ferocity that seems impossible and that we in turn are able to love one another and our world with a wild and mystical love.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Faith of my father

Today is Father's Day. I did the obligatory thing. I bought my dad a gift card and his favorite pie from the bakery. I had my kids color some stuff and we took it all down to him. On the ride to his home, I thought about my ambivalence about today. My dad and I have never been close. In fact, we have been sort of the opposite of close and loving. We have spent months alienated entirely. We have argued. We have disagreed. I have never felt I was what my dad wanted. And of course I'm fairly certain that in my own ways I have made him feel he was not what I wanted.

As I thought about it some more, I realized that I've never really had a warm, fuzzy relationship with any man in my biological family. My brother and I have been distant since we were kids. Separated by nearly five years and what seemed like a million miles in the way we thought about life, love, faith, whatever. He has spent the past 4 years incarcerated. I write him occasionally. I've traveled to see him. But, we haven't really bridged the distance that has been there since we were small children.

My mother's father was a quiet man. I remember him vaguely. We spent time on the floor playing with toys when I was very small. He was neither affectionate, nor effusive. He was quiet, seemingly in his own world...a world that I didn't understand. My father's father (his biological father died when he was a small child, but he was adopted)was also a quiet, seemingly cold man. The only distinct memory I have of him as a child was being confronted by him when I had eaten some candy I wasn't supposed to eat. He reprimanded me. I apologized. He walked away. After that I was fearful of him. I felt some strange sense of shame around him.

None of these men were abusive to me in the most visible sense of the word. That is, no one was physically harmful. But, I also never felt really bonded to any of them. And perhaps that is the greater harm in many ways. I've never understood my father entirely (or either of my grandfathers). I've wanted to. But, still I must admit I don't. I've spent a good part of my adult life making excuses for his bad behavior. The lesson I've learned is that while I've never really stood up to my father when he has been hurtful to me, I have no tolerance for his behavior when it is directed at my children.

Today the kids and I were eating dinner with my father, my mother and my niece and nephew. I have watched my father berate my nephew occasionally about his weight. My nephew is not a fat kid by any stretch of the imagination. There are times of the year when he gains a bit of weight, still he is an active 14 year old boy. He plays sports and bikes everywhere. I have expressed frustration with my father on occasion over this. Tonight my father took aim at my 7 year old daughter and began chastising her. To put it simply, I lost it. I recognize some of my angry words have been stuck in my throat since I was my daughter's age. Suffice to say dinner was eaten in silence after my tirade. My father didn't react in the way I would have anticipated. He was fairly quiet. He said a few extra things that he knew would be hurtful, but then he was silent. As I was leaving his house, he said he wouldn't bring up the subject with my daughter again. Of course I don't believe him, I recall him saying the same thing about various subjects over and over when I was a child. Still, I was surprised at how quiet he was.

My child had begun to cry at the table, and I took her inside and washed her face and held her as she cried. I told her that her grandfather was wrong for saying what he had, and that I loved her very much. As I drove my nephew home, he finally said, "I remember you tried to stick up for me when I was younger. At least you stick up for your kids. Grandpa is just mean sometimes."

My own inner armchair theologian would say that my father's faith and my own are as different as they can be. My father was raised attending church on Sundays with his adopted parents. My grandparents were pillars of their church community. My grandfather was an elder in the church, my grandmother taught Sunday school and was part of every part of the life of the church women could be part of. My grandmother would be the first woman to acknowledge that my grandfather was the head of their household, and that this was God's will. She waited on my grandfather, cooking and cleaning for him. When they would pray at dinner, everyone would wait for my grandfather to lift his head after praying silently, and take the first food on his plate before beginning to serve themselves.

My father was a bit of the prodigal son. He left home at his first opportunity by joining the military. He was then sent to Korea to fight in a war. He was barely 18 years old. When he returned home, he continued to avoid living anywhere near his parents, staying in the big city, St. Louis, and working any number of odd jobs. He has told me he was mad at God in those years, completely avoiding church of any sort. Eventually, after 2 failed marriages and 5 children, he met my mother - 19 years his junior and married her after 3 months of dating. She compelled him to return to church because for her, it was the responsible thing to do. Because she had never had a church affiliation, they returned to my father's Lutheran roots in a town 20 miles away from my grandparents. Over the next several years, up until I was a teenager, my father rarely darkened the church's door. He did enjoy throwing around a random Bible verse here and there..."spare the rod, spoil the child" or "an eye for an eye." But, mostly religion, faith, God was seemingly absent from his thought process.

In the years since I was teen, 20 or so now, my father has returned to the Lutheran church, taking his place as an elder, usher and in various other capacities. And his daughter has wandered around, mostly aligning with the Episcopal church in a loose, non-conformist way. I've had phases of being mad at God...but the church is always where I end up, sometimes surprising myself.

Ultimately I suppose what we share is a gnawing sense that God is there and that we can't really figure it all out. My father seems to think God is waiting to strike someone (anyone perhaps) down for their misdoings. And I seem to wonder if God is hiding from me. I still cling to a mainline, traditional denomination that I largely don't identify with anymore and that lacks the authenticity I crave. My dad continues to show up each week despite the fact that he can't hear the service and doesn't much care to anymore. While I have always sought to distance myself from my father in many ways, in some ways we remain linked. As always, I wonder where my children will land. Will I judge them in the way that my father judges me? Will they judge me the way I have judged my father?

I hope my kids get the awe and they mystery that is God. I hope that they find a community that loves them and that they can love. I hope that whatever touches them is available to them, whether it's a ritual, music, art. I hope that they see the Spirit in everything.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Lately I've thought a lot about what I would say to my younger self. There's an entire book on the subject - women who have written letters to themselves at younger ages. It's had me thinking.

I realized recently that I have finally reached a point - now nearly 2 years post-divorce where I look back and see good intermixed with the bad. For some amount of time, the vast majority of my memories of my dating/marriage life were focused (incredibly so) on all of the bad stuff. Those times when we fought, or times where I felt abandoned or unhappy. In the past few months I've started to remember the good things too. It's taken awhile. And it's a welcome moment for me. It's been awhile.

There are so many things I know now that I wish my younger self would've known. I think about how much easier life could have been. So I've started to work on my own letter written to my 23 year old self.

Dear Michele-

You are so young. Slow down. Stop wishing the years away. Life is wonderful and full and so are you. You are complete on your own. Stop looking for a man, a job, a degree, whatever... that's going to fix you or complete you. There's no such thing.

Continue to love the man you've chosen to spend your life with. Don't take him for granted. Trust him, love him...do the things that are your instinct to do. But don't expect him to always be who you want. He has his own history. His story. The only way you can love him better is to recognize your own story - Her story. You have your own complicated and rich story. Don't deny it. While some of it is painful, it is yours. And you have done such a great job in surviving the bad and enjoying the good. Still, the time has come to face up to the rough stuff. Trying to push it down with food or addictive behaviors isn't going to make it go away.

Most of all, please know that those things that happened that have made life hard weren't your fault. You were a child. You never chose that. It was a decision made by someone else. You are brave. And you have survived unthinkable things. You must believe that God has been with you. That She never wanted these things for you. Still, She is with you. Hoping for your healing, knowing it will come in the time it takes to heal - which sometimes seems a long, long while.

Life is going to take twists and turns. Some of them are going to be beyond your wildest dreams - and you will get to experience things, people and love that you never imagined. Some of it will be hard and not make sense. Try not to make decisions based upon your fears. Keep the faith. The faith that sustained you through some rough years remains, and it is what makes you who you are.

Enjoy every moment. Laugh. Out loud. And love. Out loud. In your finest moments, that is who you are.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Altar Call

I've been fighting with myself the past few weeks. It's a strange, self-absorbed place to be. While the argument is one I've felt, lived and experienced before...it seems more complicated these days. Tonight the argument was driven home in a very real way at my children's first altar call. And the ensuing questions it brought.

A confession: One of the reasons I cannot be part of most sects of Christianity is because I cannot affirm the notion that human beings are fundamentally bad. I don't believe in the "old Adam." I do not agree with the notion that at our core we are all seeking to do bad things, and only when God intervenes at some point, do we stand a chance. This has never made sense to me. Perhaps it's my life that makes it difficult.

From a very young age, I got the sense that I was indeed bad. I recognize my own makeup has a lot more to do with this than even I realize. But still, I internalized every negative comment, criticism or even perceived slight. I took it all in, and I believed that for all the good I might try to do, I would never be enough. That no matter what I was when I grew up, I could never really be anything very good or loveable. It wasn't until I had my own children that I finally understood how this thinking impacted me and my decision-making continually. Suddenly I knew I had to figure out a new way to be. This realization led to the loss of 150 pounds for me. It led to my divorce. It led to some confrontations with my past and people from that past that have been difficult for me. Perhaps the most significant thing it has led to is that it has changed my faith and my relationship with God. All of these transitions in a short period of time...and all emanating from a change in my thinking that didn't seem very significant at the time.

I wish I could say that I've learned to live happily ever after. Or that life is now much easier than it was. But the honest part of me must admit that isn't true. My own self-doubt, that damaged part of who I am, continually rears her head. I've gained back 60 pounds, my divorce ripped my heart apart and has affected my ability to trust men, and my faith has seemed tenuous and shaky at times. Still, I'm certain of very little except that this is where I was meant to be at this moment in my life.

I was watching TV this past week and a woman who had lost over 100 pounds was describing the wonder of finally feeling some sense of worth - she tearfully said, "I finally realized, I am not nothing." This is where the trouble enters for me.

It seems to me that a large part of "church" (as defined in many of the "altar call" sort of churches) involves affirming, again and again, that we are indeed nothing... perhaps even worse than that that we are dirty, evil, no good and terrible. And that if we say the right words, God might intervene and fix us. But not everyone gets the opportunity to be fixed. And those who can't see their way to choose to get fixed will burn for all eternity. I cannot and will not affirm these things. I will not allow my children to be abused by an institution in this way. Because quite honestly, that is best word to describe what happens to a lot of people looking for answers inside of churches.

Every now and again I come into contact with a teenager that has been abused by her family of origin. She wanders into a church. Only to be told of how dirty and filthy she is. And yet there is a strange attraction to the message there...the church is only affirming what this girl already knows from her own life experience. What sort of damage is done to her through this message? I don't know. But I know I've got some of those scars myself. And I won't choose this sort of god for my own children.

As my children sat with me through the altar call, they both looked at me quizzically. And my son, caught up in the moment, raised his hand when asked if he wanted Jesus to make him clean. I wasn't certain how to react. My daughter has had lots of questions about it all. Still, I know I've done one thing right in 7 years of parenting. I've taught my children that they are not nothing. And even better, they are wonderful, beautiful, capable and gifted. And they were born this way. It's not my parenting or DNA or some sort of intervention. They simply are.

I want my children (and myself) to know God. But not because they're fearful of hell or feel dirty or bad. But because God is love. And because they can't help themselves but want to know God because of her vast and endless affection for them and for all of creation. And because they feel a need for God that goes so deep that they are drawn in, even when they resist. I want them to long to know this God of love more and better as they grow older. I want them to experience God and the divine in and around us.

So, what is my conflict these days? I think it's in the realization that while I try to shrug off my own inner critic, I'm not as successful as I'd like to be. And that each time I allow that voice to speak to me, I am not affirming who I want to be and who I believe God is. As I listened to the altar call I realized that part of me still worries that the preacher is right. What if we really are *that* bad? Can we ever be redeemed? I hope at some point the voice of God - of love - of all that is good - in my life will overpower the voices of doubt, self-loathing and pain. I would say that is as close to heaven as I will ever get.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Swinging/Gaining Perspective

As is so often the case in my life, a sudden shift in my perspective makes all the difference.

I was recently at my son's martial arts class when he had to use the bathroom. He came out right as class was ending. His belt was tucked into his white uniform. I helped him right himself, and realized a little too late, that he had gotten himself a bit dirty while in the restroom. Sort of par for the course at barely 5, he hadn't really gotten himself cleaned up, and now his uniform pants and belt were a mess.

It had been a long day. I was worn out, and just wanted a warm bath and my bed. I tried not to react to him, as he was obviously embarrassed and wanted me to take care of the mess. I was able to get his belt and shirt off him (he had a tshirt on under his uniform) and into a bag I had with me so his classmates didn't realize what had happened. After we got home, and I got both kids cleaned up, read bedtime stories and tucked them in, I went downstairs to deal with the uniform mess. As I washed my son's uniform in the kitchen sink to get the stains out, I found myself overwhelmed and tearful. I never "planned" this.

I didn't want to be a single mother. I hadn't signed on for this. I began to dive into a deep pool of self-pity. After wallowing for a bit, I realized this: Most days, in most ways, I love life. I wouldn't trade watching the kung fu boy punch and kick to have tea with the President. There's no greater gift in my life than getting to watch my kids grow and learn and become who they are to become. All in all, they are worth the poop and puke and tears and moments of being overwhelmed and times of feeling inadequate as a mother.

A few days later I sat next to my ex-husband and watched our son graduate from preschool. As he waved at me from the stage and blew me a kiss, I knew that I wouldn't trade a moment of my life. And I realize what a gift to be in this place nearly 2 years after getting divorced. 2 years ago it didn't seem possible that I could sit in the same space with my ex-husband and not want to alternately cry or scream. And yet, it seemed natural to watch my son next to his father. It felt right. Finally.

It seems to me that life is a bit like swinging on a swing on a spring day. There are moments where we are pushing up and out - times of anticipation and growth and new heights attained. There are other moments, those times of swinging low - the times of difficulty, challenge and sometimes sadness. And there is the life in between...the suspended space. In those moments, there is such a potential for growth. Life is about those moments between the now and the not yet.

I am exceedingly grateful to be back in the suspended space. Not living for the next high...and not feeling as if my whole life is over...being back into the space of full and rich life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Can I be with you?

My son turned five this week. The day passed with very little fanfare. He was excited, and we had a good time at the Magic House the day after his birthday. He has grown so much in the past few months. He's almost becoming unrecognizable to me. I remember his sister going through this phase a few years ago. It surprised me with her, too.

When I learned I was pregnant with this boy child, I was less than thrilled. I hadn't planned on another baby at that moment in my life. My life was chaotic and I had a lovely little girl who I had built my whole life around from the time she was born. She had just turned two when I found out I would have another child. I adjusted to the shock of the pregnancy, and soon I found myself excited about the arrival.

I had decided from the very beginning of my pregnancy that I was carrying another girl. My daughter had been such fun from the day she was born that I was very content to imagine another child just like her. When my husband and I went to our routine ultrasound 5 months into the pregnancy, our doctor announced we would have a son. I was stunned. And not at all happy. A boy? What did I know what to do with a male child? I knew how to fix hair and paint fingernails and buy frilly dresses.
Still, I adjusted to the idea of a tiny baby boy coming into my world. By the time my son arrived, I was ready to welcome him.

On April 21, 2006 he arrived and has joined his sister as one of the two people who are the most important to me. Now that he has decided to grow into a boy, and leave his baby-ness behind him, I find myself wondering where the years went. I wonder what I will do when he turns 10, 16, 20, 30? He is very much my life.

There's this longing that comes with children. It has taught me much about God. I thought I understood love and desire and fear and pain. But, really I knew very little about any of these things before my kids came to be. There's a song by the late Rich Mullins that I've been fascinated with for some time that has a line after talking about the world sort of falling away. The line is said with more than a little longing, "Can I be with you?" It's directed at God. But until I had children, I didn't really get it. Romantic love has never held me with as tight a grip as the love for my children does. While I've certainly been infatuated with, obsessed about, in love with...a few different men in my life. I've never felt that gut-level longing, can I be with you? for a man.

It seems to me that the God of my understanding, the one I've laid claim to, is just the sort of God who inspires that sort of longing for. I don't want the 'all powerful, distant, sometimes angry kind of' Father. I want the 'I feel the need for him in my bones' Father. I don't want some sort of heady intellectual understanding of faith or the need for faith. I want the experience of God. The closest thing I know to this is my experience of Melena and Rudy.

I don't just love my kids because we share some DNA. It really has to do with who they are. I love the 'hand on my hip, rolling my eyes' girl. I love the 'i've jumped off the couch for the 10th time today and smashed gold fish crackers into the carpet' boy. While they are part of who I am and I am part of who they are - I long for them. I want to be near them. I want to understand them. I want their lives to have purpose and meaning. I want to shield them from all the bad things out there. I want them to have a full and rich experience of life. I want to continue to long for them because I feel fully alive when I can experience who they are.

Ultimately faith isn't a belief thing for me as much as it is an experience thing. It's not about what beliefs are in or out this month. Or what beliefs are correct under someone's interpretation of what faith is to be. No, faith is the experience. It's the longing. In the same way I would never give up being the mom of a five year old named Rudy, I cannot give up my longing to be with God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The past few months have been full of speculation from theology types about heaven and hell. And while I feel a bit like a child with my nose pressed against the glass as the grown ups talk inside about grown up stuff, I have enjoyed following the debate...from a safe distance. Not committing one way or the other, just observing.

This morning it occurred to me when watching my son why it is I'm not fully engaged in the debate. I can't say I much care about the afterlife, conceptually. Maybe that's short-sighted. Or immature. Or maybe it's the freest I've felt since I first got into "God" stuff at the tender age of 10 or 11. Regardless it's a matter of "whatever works." It works for me, here and now.

I watched my nephew get confirmed into my childhood denomination this weekend. Afterwards he and I took my two young children to a local park. As my kids ran and played, he and I hung out on the swings. We talked about confirmation, church, religion. He's a great kid. I'm really proud of how well he's done. He's smart and personable. But more important to me, he's grounded and compassionate. As we talked he expressed how the pastor at his church doesn't get it. He wants him (and the other kids) to spend more and more time at church. He finally said, in an exasperated tone, "as if God lived at the church anyways!" I laughed. And I was reminded what a bright kid he really is. At his age, I was pretty convinced God did live at my church. And He was waiting for me to screw up. And I had better have a good explanation when I did, because it was inevitable. I was, after all, worthless. And I would be burning in hell for all eternity if I didn't get it right. I'm so thankful his experience of God is so different from mine. He gets resurrection more clearly than I did at his age. It really has nothing to do with what goes on in church buildings.

The pastor who confirmed my nephew preached for a time about how this was the time for my nephew and his peers to "stand on their own two feet" as individuals. That they no longer could rely upon the faith of their parents or older family, they had to make a personal decision to be followers of Jesus. I wanted to object to his sermon (being a lawyer never comes in useful at church). Being confirmed and accepted into the body of the church has absolutely nothing to do with "standing on one's own two feet." In fact, that's the whole point. Community is about having hundreds of feet to stand on. We don't have to have all the answers or get it all at once. The community is there to help us remember when we forget the fundamental truth - God still loves us. Even now, after all this time. I don't know if I get to go to heaven, but if I can experience even a glimpse of this overwhelming, all-encompassing love, I'll be ok if there is nothing else after this life. I've already been resurrected to that truth. I have died to the image I had of God as the mean dad and replaced it with the resurrected reality of God as the One who is with us and in us.

Back to watching my son...this morning as I dropped him off at preschool, it was pouring down rain. We ran into the building. We hung up his coat and did our usual kisses and hugs. As I reached the door, he called out. He had forgotten his blanket in the car. I was a little confused, as he has not been especially attached to this blanket for some time. I asked him why he needed this blanket from the car, particularly since it meant I was going to have run back out in the rain. He, through tears, explained that the blanket in the car covered his feet, and the one he currently had at school doesn't. I went out in the rain and retrieved it. I was rewarded with a kiss and another hug. His need to be covered, all of him, while he rested stuck with me for the rest of the day. It seems to me we all hope for this, to be covered.

And the resurrection is about this. I don't know why Jesus had to die. I know all the theories about it. I don't know why all of the kids I work with have to be abused. I understand the theories - the drug abuse of their parents, the cycle of abuse, etc. Still, it doesn't make sense to me. The only Jesus I can understand at all is one that is with us, covering us, standing with us. Otherwise the crucifixion/resurrection story seems pretty tragic with a sort of supernatural ending that I can't reconcile. I need a Jesus that wants to be sure my feet are covered, and one that helps me live in a community where my feet are covered whether with my own blanket or someone else's for a time. A Jesus that thinks there is good in me, even when I can't recognize it, and sends me friends to remind me of this when I forget. I don't know if I'll get to meet that Jesus in the afterlife. I suppose I hope so. But in the meantime, I'm happy knowing Jesus here and now in the context of my communities as we struggle, laugh, love together.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The past few weeks have felt stressful to me. Work has been incredibly busy, combined with kids who have been at each other's throats continuously and add in a relatively minor conflict in my church community and well...life has been chaotic to say the least. And for me, chaos typically means I feel stressed.

The kids and I ventured to Chicago this last week and for part of the weekend. It was a fun trip, even if too short to do all the things I would've liked to do. We went to the large aquarium in Chicago first thing Saturday morning. After a few hours of taking in all the sights and sounds and smells, we got a lemonade to share and sat together on a bench overlooking Lake Michigan. It was an awe-inspiring moment, one where you draw your breath in and then release it slowly. A moment where I realized yet again how amazing life is and how abundantly blessed I feel. And as young as my children are, they sat quietly staring at the lake, sipping lemonade, snuggled into me, one on each side. Their feet dangled over the side of the bench, and every few minutes one of them would speak...almost in a whisper. As if they might disrupt the moment being created around us. After a few minutes, we finished our lemonade and walked to the car. Rudy returned to his normal busy self - running ahead. The wonder I saw on their faces and in their voices won't soon leave me. I have to believe life is meant to be lived in such a state of wonder.

On the drive home, I was thinking aloud with God about why things seem to turn out the way they do. My community has been shaken up recently with what I would call a disruption of sorts. The leader of our community made public a decision of his. I'm fairly certain he had no idea what would ensue. When I first learned of his decision (which wasn't even an earth-shattering sort of decision in my opinion), I didn't see the tidal wave coming. When the wave knocked me over, I was still rather stunned by the developments that came quickly behind that initial wave. At some point, I commented to a friend that I keep thinking I am able to read people well, and then I find out differently...again. I never cease to be surprised by the rest of the human beings on earth with me.

And I suppose that's part of wonder, too. Sometimes I'm disappointed by others' actions. Other times, I am amazed and not just a little thrilled with them. Regardless, that sense of wonder that accompanies what I didn't know would come about is pretty awesome. I think that's why I enjoy being around children so much. They never cease to be amazed and awed by the world around them. Of course there are moments that frighten them or cause them upset...but that thrill at seeing a dolphin jump out of the water for the first time...or the simple joy of a first kiss...or the taste and texture of an ice cream cone on a hot day. There is so much in this life that is wonder-filled.

I sometimes wonder about the idea of heaven because of this. Is this world crazy and mixed up and violent and tragic? Absolutely. Is it at the same time beautiful and amazing and incredible and sweet? Yes, I think so. I can do without streets of gold, if I could hear my son giggle one more time. I don't need angels singing if I can hear my daughter tell me she loves me. The wonder of the world I live in is all around me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving Up God

For some time now I have read (and appreciated) the writing of Peter Rollins. But, tonight was the first time I think his ideas really permeated my own thinking and feelings about God, and finally something he talks about with regularity made perfect sense to me.

Today is Ash Wednesday. One of those holy days that I've been observing since I was a child. I've always felt like it was a day of beginnings, not endings. That is - it has ordinarily signaled the beginning of Lent - a time of deeper reflection, righting the things that need righted and a time to figure out how I've gotten off track. While the day is about recalling that "from dust we come, and to dust we shall return" - it also marks a change in seasons and is full of not just a little anticipation of the main event for Christians - the resurrection of Jesus.

As I sat in church this evening, I felt something shift in my thinking. For quite awhile (probably most of my life), I have grappled with two fundamental questions. The first - why do bad things happen to people? And the second - when bad things happen to people, where exactly is God in the midst of it all? Or in other words, why doesn't God step in and stop it/fix it/heal it?

My questions are something I wonder for those around me - for all of the children (and adults for that matter) I see who continually suffer and have suffered the worst indignities. But, the questions are also deeply personal and painful for me. In those times when I come undone remembering my own trauma vividly, I still question God why? And where were you? And why didn't you save me?

Over the years of my life, I've felt and held different answers to these questions in my heart.

For some time, particularly when I was a teenager, I felt that if perhaps I had been better or done better or been more...whatever...that God would have intervened. That in fact all the evil we see done to others is the result of someone's sin. If I could just get "clean enough" God would make things better for me - for all of us. Getting clean really was a matter of faith - if I believed the right things, said the right prayers, did the things I knew I should, God would bless my efforts with His love and healing.

Later on, as I got older, and rejected such an arbitrary God, I started to think that while God didn't cause the horrible things to happen to people, there still had to be some intervention by God. Surely, a loving God couldn't stand by when his children were raped or abused or harmed. It still had to come down to some logic, right?

Still fast forwarding, at some point I began to believe that God really did weep for the terrible things that we humans do to one another. But I still clung to the notion that God, being God, would exact some revenge on those who harmed His children. And that after all "what goes around comes around." Or in the words I have said to my own children, "that's what you get." Still, I wasn't quite comfortable with this sort of judgment, probably because I feared I would be judged just as harshly as I judged others.

At some point in my recent history, I began to understand my faith as entirely relational. That is - that faith to me is not really an individual pursuit so much as a communal thing. I only understand God in community and through community. If we are to be united to God - not in an afterlife, but here and now - then the kingdom of God must begin now - in all of us - together. While this faith doesn't provide any easy answers to my questions, it has led me to a place of: Shit happens. We don't know why. And trying to figure out why is an exercise in futility. Together though we can dig ourselves and one another out of the shit. And God is found in the digging out. Right in the middle of the pile, God (through each of us) picks up a shovel and steps right into the dung heap to get us through the mess.

So, where does this leave me? I think it means I'm giving up God for Lent. That is - I'm giving up all of my limited ideas of God, faith, relationship, forgiveness, even resurrection. I don't have answers to my two fundamental questions. And for once I actually feel that while I don't have the answers, I'm closer to the fire that is faith than I've been before. I think Lent is less about burning off that which needs burning off and more about getting our hands dirty, both figuratively and literally. It's about giving up our fear of the questions, doubts and conflicts faith (and God) naturally bring us, and rather seeking to hold them in the same space we hold those deeply held beliefs that have sustained us in the past. Faith isn't about a fidelity to ideals and truths we have clung to out of fear or bitterness or a need for justice. The only truth I know is one can only be found if one has been lost. And getting found sometimes involves giving up entirely on the notion that someone else will find us.

If I can give up on God for Lent, then I am free to step ever closer to the all-consuming fire that is God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How can I keep from singing?

As life rolls forward, sometimes it seems so quickly, I realize that I spend a lot of time thinking about, worrying about, concerning myself with...things that really have little to do with life as I experience it. I get caught up. And before long, a week, a month, a year has passed, and I've forgotten just how *good* life is.

As I drove home from work tonight, I began humming an Enya song I used to listen to here and there called "How can I keep from singing?" Today wasn't a particularly fun day. My work has seemed increasingly hard lately. And still, I find myself in a place of gratitude, how can I keep from singing?

Tomorrow morning, God willing, I will wake up. I will rise from my bed and have clean water to bathe in. I will wake up two sleepy children, and cuddle, cajole and prod them to get ready for the day. After we play, I will drop them off in the care of people I know love them and want what's best for them. I will drive a running car to my office. People, both adults and children, I barely know will trust me to help them. They will tell me their stories, and I will have the privilege of guiding them through the turmoil they face right now. I will get to each lunch with my friends. We will laugh and laugh. They will care for me, in small ways and I will care for them. After I finish my day at work, I will pick up my kids. Melena will read to me. Rudy will recount what he did at school and ask me funny questions. We will eat dinner together, and we will say our prayers, asking God to take care of our friends and family.

Each day I am gifted with so much. I have the most amazing people in my life. They are a hodge podge of incredibly talented and loving individuals that form the net of safety I can fall into if I need to.

My children are healthy and happy. They are funny, inquisitive, smart and loving. I get to watch them grow and change and learn how to navigate this crazy world.

I can read and write. I can think and understand. I can laugh. Often and loudly. I feel. I've known and loved a man with all my strength.

For all of my angst and stuck-ness at moments, I really can't be sad. Or angry. Or bitter. Life is too damn good. How can I keep from singing?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


My relationship to and with my ex-husband has changed significantly in the past few months. It's hard to explain or articulate, but our lives and our ways of relating to one another have shifted. For a long time, we were distant. We didn't speak unless it was necessary. I avoided interacting with him. I was angry with him. His actions, words and seemingly just his being on earth annoyed me somehow.

In January, things began to change. He came over one night and we talked for awhile. We were both hesitant. I'm not certain how much of it I really heard. We were physically affectionate with one another. It felt somehow familiar and comforting, but also somehow terrifying. It seemed like I was opening up Pandora's box.

Since that day, we've been friendlier. And quite honestly it's been a relief not to feel so angry all the time with him. He seems to be trying harder to do what needs to be done with regards to our children, or perhaps it's that I'm taking his actions less personally. Regardless.

Last night, as we were talking late into the night, we began to argue. Not in a hostile way, but in a somewhat heated way. When our discussions turn to the demise of our marriage, my ex-husband tries to do what I would call "apologize, while somehow minimizing his behavior." In other words, "I know what I did was wrong, but a lot of people have done worse things." Or "You know I'm sorry, but everyone makes mistakes." I began to argue with him. Not that he wasn't sorry but that he wanted what I cannot give. He wants me to say that we can reconcile. That our marriage is something we can save, even now, after 18 months of being legally divorced.

Of course, I cannot say this. While I'm no longer angry with him for his infidelity, I will never trust that he can be faithful. I'm not certain he's capable of it. I really think that at some point he learned to lie and deceive with such ease, that it is somehow second nature to him. And I can't live that way. I can't spend my life worried about what my husband is doing or not doing everyday.

Early on in our relationship, I told him that the dealbreaker for me would be an affair. That I could handle almost anything else that came to us. Anger, fighting, passive/aggressive-ness, a sick child, financial disagreements, societal pressure, our race differences...all of these things I could survive with him. But, for me, once he chose to seek affection from another woman, and then subsequently hide the relationship from me...the trust I had for him, the belief that he could somehow behave differently...it is gone.

What it seems he wants from me is complete absolution. That not only do I forgive him (which I finally do), but that I desire to enter back into a loving relationship with him. If I'm honest, I wish I could do just this. Not just for my children, but for me, too. I loved this man like no other. He was my first wild, crazy love. I loved him deeply and completely. His physical presence still feels a bit like coming home to me. The loss of him as my friend and lover has been devastating to me. But, still...I cannot give him what he desires. No matter how hard I have tried to move past the...past...I cannot believe he has changed or learned from this entire experience. In fact, I know he has not changed. The fact that he is in my home, seeking affection from me, while going home to another woman, tells me precisely what I know deep in my heart. He is not able to be true. It is not who he is or can be. If I choose to enter back into relationship with him, he will continue to behave as he has in the past...he will have affairs, and he will lie to me. And I simply cannot live that way. I finally value myself enough to refuse to be subjected to that kind of abuse. And if I'm really honest, my heart still hurts so badly from his betrayal. While my anger is gone, and I forgive him, I still ache with the pain of the loss of my innocence, my trust in this man.

So here we find ourselves. Him unable to understand why I cannot give him the one thing he so desires. And me, finally unwilling to live the life I lived for 12 years, unwilling to sacrifice my heart for the man I desire more than anyone else. All of it saddens me. I'm overwhelmed at his loss and my own. There are moments in all of this that I wonder if I will ever feel whole without him, healed from the wounds. I wish for my own absolution, I suppose. Not just forgiveness for my own mistakes, but to finally be restored to myself.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I recently attended a concert. The two artists were ones that I grew up listening to, and who I watched in concert a few times back in the late 80's/early 90's. I've always enjoyed their music, more so one than the other, but still I was interested to see both of them again. I think I wanted to see how we all had changed - 20 years have passed.

Shortly before I made my way to the concert - it was three hours away - I found out that a friend's wife had passed away unexpectedly. His wife is a few years younger than I am - in her early to mid-30's. She had no health issues, her death was the result of a doctor's mistake.

As I sat at the concert, my thoughts returned to my friend many times. He is a good person - funny, hard-working, caring. I kept thinking how much he must be hurting right now, and how hard it must be to know what to say to his three young children about their mother's death. I enjoyed the show. Still, part of me struggled to enjoy the time. My thoughts continued to fall back to my friend.

As the music turned more religious in nature, I was a bit surprised at the crowd's reaction. The crowd was clearly of the conservative Christian bent, and they identified more fully with this genre than I did/do. And while I recalled that part of the artist's music from years earlier, I was still sort of taken aback by the euphoria that swept the crowd. People were crying, lifting their arms to heaven and swaying with eyes closed. The concert turned into a bit of a revival. I felt more than slightly out of place.

I have always struggled with this manifestation of faith. I'm not certain why. After all, I cry more than the average person. I feel things deeply, and I'm not particularly embarrassed of being emotional most days. As I greeted my friend at his wife's wake tonight, he and I both cried. I embraced him and we both shared tears for his loss. This display of emotion didn't bother me, in the sense that it felt natural to share my tears with his. I told him I loved him and I was so very sorry for his loss. He cried into my shoulder and thanked me for being there. I don't harbor any notions that I was really all that helpful, but my feelings overflowed, and it felt like the most natural thing to have happen.

Still, I've never really understood the hands lifted, teary-eyed sort of worship. I used to think my reservations were really just a matter of upbringing. I grew up in a stoic, Germanic Lutheran tradition. We didn't cry. We didn't laugh, and we didn't applaud during church. It was as simple as that. In college, I made my way to the Episcopal church early on, and again, we aren't known for our effusiveness during worship. Still, I've experienced enough charismatic worship over the years that it doesn't shock my sensibilities at this moment in my life..

I think at least part of me looks at the displays and finds them disingenuous. People can't all be moved at the same moment by the same things...I think maybe some of it seems too much of an act for me. As I was waiting to greet my friend at his wife's funeral visitation, I was talking with a friend who is far more conservative and outwardly religious than I am. As he approached the grieving widower, he began to tell him that "God would see him through." And that "God had a plan." His words struck me. Not because I agree with him necessarily, but because he was doing what he knew to do. In his moments of distress and fear, these things were all he knew to offer. He didn't cry, and he didn't offer much of an embrace. It was clear the entire messy business of life and death was making him uncomfortable. As I held my friend, and cried with him, I patted his back like I often pat my children when they cry. It was all I knew to do.

On my drive home, it struck me, we all have different ways of connecting to God and to each other. Some of us are called to cry with one another when the pain gets too intense. Others of us stay strong because it seems like the person who is hurting needs strength. Some of us sit quietly in our pews listening to someone(s) talk about God. We pray, we hear and we leave. This experience of God is part of our lives, but is not IT for us. My encounters with God are ongoing, deep and authentic. But they tend to be quiet encounters. God comes to me where I am, and how I am.

Some people I know need a different way of meeting God. They want emotion and they want it to "feel" like something. This hasn't been my experience, but it is not any less real for those who have this experience. My friend at the funeral was saying what comforts him most in his own distress. And that is a gift, even if it is awkward or ill-informed or perhaps even insensitive. It was what he knew to do. I believe God hopes we can give this - to do what we know to do. To love one another, even if imperfectly.

I'm not likely to ever feel at home in a "worship band" sort of church experience, but I recognize those who do as my brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 31, 2011


When I logged in tonight, I noticed that this is my 101st post to this blog. What started as a way to vent a little, to throw words into cyberspace, has turned into being at least to some degree therapeutic for me. I can feel the pressure valve being turned when I write. There is a release for me. Whether anyone is following along really doesn't matter to me. Actually it's easier for me to think that no one reads what I write. So much of what I write is ill-informed. Not well thought out. Ideas that haven't matured all the way. Sentiments that I can't entirely explain. Reflections of someone who isn't so sure most of the time.

This past week I've been down. I'm not certain why. As seems almost commonplace these days, I don't often feel in control of how I feel. For someone who used to be fairly in control of herself and her emotions, this new way of being is often disturbing to me. I've been stressing about a choice I made awhile back that wasn't very smart. My brother turned 40 this past week - in a federal prison in Minnesota. A liberation theologian I have followed died.

Saturday I attended an ordination ceremony. It was for a guy I got to know as part of a few classes I took through my church body. He is a smart, funny, wonderful person. I really enjoyed getting to know him in the two very, very small classes we were in together. He will do a wonderful job in his role in the church, and I'm happy he completed his process. The service itself was incredible. It was joyful, beautiful, moving. As I felt the tears coming at a few different points, I wondered what was behind them.

I think the conclusion I have drawn is that I'm still so uncertain. While I'm fairly certain I am not called to follow the path of my friend, I still don't see clearly the path I am to follow. And while most days this fact doesn't really upset me, other days I just wish for some semblance of certainty.

Today I called off court. I have never done this. The only other time I missed court since becoming an attorney, my son was in the hospital. It just isn't something I do. I cleaned my house, scrubbed, did laundry, just locked myself in the house and worked. The distraction was just what I needed. To feel in control of "something" helped me get through some of my angst.

A line that was part of the liturgy on Saturday has run through my mind repeatedly.
"And for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, we pray to you, O Lord." What does it mean to "amend my life?"

Attorneys use the word "amend" a lot. We amend our pleadings. We amend our plea. We amend our requests. We file Motions to Amend Judgments. It's something we spend a decent amount of time working on. In this context, what we mean ordinarily is that we need to change something. Whether we "forgot" to put something into a court document or we made a mistake or we simply learned new information that requires it, lawyers tend to amend stuff a lot. Something I tell my clients often at the beginning of a case is that we can "always amend" our court filings if things change or if we get new information. This seems to help people relax a little.

As I prayed that prayer, I wondered if I really want what I'm asking for. Change is not something I'm particularly adept at. Does this mean I have to give up my control? I'm fairly certain if that's what the prayer means, that I would probably pass on that one. I think perhaps all I'm certain of at this point is that there are cracks and crevices and weak spots in my heart. And that perhaps asking the Holy Spirit to amend my life has something to do with those places. It has at least something to do with allowing that spirit, that breath of life, to seep into those places. And it helps me to relax just a little to realize I can (and perhaps should) always be amended. That no matter how far gone I feel, there's still that possibility that my life can be amended.

And so, today I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to be doing. And I'm sad that my brother passed into his 40th year in prison. And I'm disappointed that one more "hero" for me is no longer on this earth with me. And I'm bothered that I can't maintain any sense of control these days over my emotions and how I react/feel about things.

But, still I will pray that the Holy Spirit amend my life. In all the ways that only She can.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I love words. While I feel so much of life cannot be adequately expressed through words, and still sometimes a single word carries so much with it, that there is no need for additional thoughts or ideas. While I am not notorious for my brevity, I do love powerful words. Two of my favorites these days are fortuitous - which is defined as not just something happening by chance, but something good happening by chance. The other is magis - a Jesuit phrase that means "more" - as in doing or being more somehow.

Fortuitous has come up several times for me lately. Mostly I think encounters I've had with some interesting people have been fortuitous.

A few years ago I felt this pull or push or drawing into. At first I thought that perhaps I was being called to the priesthood within my church body - the Episcopal church. So, I explored that, albeit reluctantly and with some fear and trembling. Soon though I began to feel the twinges that told me that I was misinterpreting the road signs. That the path I thought I was being pulled onto was not mine to take. With that realization came a little bit of confusion and sadness. If that was not my call, what did that mean? What will I become when I grow up? Will I figure it out prior to being retirement age?

As I continued down the road, somewhat uncertain and angst-ridden, I stumbled (in a very fortuitous way) onto a different path. While I'm still not certain what it means or how it looks, I know for sure how it feels. It feels very much like coming home. It is the magis for me - the more. I first got a glimpse of what this looks like in October as I experienced, very late at night/early in the morning, the theology and praxis of someone I knew very little of. As his excitement lit up the room, I found myself enveloped by it. It was fortuitous. And I felt blessed by the encounter. And changed in some not-so-easily expressed way.

As the months have flown by since that night, I have had so many refreshing moments with people who feel at least somewhat the way I do. That the magis is there - that at this moment in their lives they are being pulled or pushed or taken in by something, something more. Something that I can only call holy. These encounters cannot be described in any other way but to say they are fortuitous.

For example, last weekend I spent time in a community that was a big part of my life as a teenager, I was reminded again of how incredible that sense of belonging to something so much bigger than oneself really is. As I watched kids (of which I was one, sitting there some 20 years ago for the first time) embrace one another and sing and just bask in that warm glow of a loving environment, I remembered the hour I first experienced the power of loving community. It was in this community that I was first loved freely and was able to love others freely. Over and over, as I have experienced this same miracle in various forms, in different places and at different times, I realize just how wonderful a life I have led so far. And I can't help but be excited about what is to come.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about this fortuitous business I call my life. We both laughed at how timing is sometimes so incredible that of course it can't be an accident, it's not just fortuitous after all, but something much bigger. As we talked and laughed (and cried just a little), my friend expressed to me how deeply he feels this magis. How at this transitional time in his life, it (the big IT) is still there for him. I didn't have to tell him, he already knew...I felt the same way. And how fortuitous for me. To be part of yet another encounter with someone who knows how I feel, and who feels the same way and who is happening along the same road I'm called to travel at this moment in my life. Very fortuitous, indeed.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Especially Fond

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (From the Gospel of Matthew)

Today's Gospel lesson seems to tie in very well with what I've been contemplating these days. (I'm not certain why that still surprises me when it happens...)

As I was listening to The Shack on CD while traveling, I grew to really appreciate a phrase the author used repeatedly. God, in various forms, indicates to the main character in the book many times, that He/She (God) is "especially fond" of him or of another human being. As I listened to it, I wondered how many times I have felt this way for someone else, for God, or even how I feel about this phrase directed at me?

What do I think of God speaking to me in this way? I'm a little unsure. It seems informal of God, I think. But I like it conceptually. Who doesn't want someone to be especially fond of her? I'm not certain I've ever been able to claim this for myself wholly or fully. What I'm learning, albeit haltingly at times, is that the more I am able to love others in this way - being especially fond of them, sometimes in spite of who or how they are, the more I can feel in a fresh and new way the love God has for me.

There are people I am especially fond of. I often label people I really enjoy as my "favorite" for example my son is my "favorite boy" and my daughter is my "favorite girl." There's a Judge I really like, I tell him he's my favorite. A good friend who is part of my usual lunch group knows she is my favorite. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but I enjoy the practice of ascribing favorite to people I love. I enjoy being expressive and loving people. I feel especially alive in those moments.

As obsessed as I've been at moments in finding my "calling," I know for sure I am called to be a lover of souls. And how blessed a life I lead! To be surrounded by people that I'm especially fond of much of the time. Sometimes I lose my patience or my ability to be the person I want to be, and yet those I'm especially fond of usually see past that and love me back to where I need to be. Those people, both past and present, are the ones that make my life make sense and who know that I mean well, even when I'm not completely certain of my own intent.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Forgiveness Redux

I've thought a lot about forgiveness in the past few months - as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing about it, yet again. Oftentimes these posts are my way of trying to work out what's happening with me. The topics of forgiveness, redemption, healing and resolving one's past have been on my mind continually in the past few weeks. Some of my obsession with this topic is deeply personal. Some of it relates to the work I do some days as a guardian for kids who have been the victims of abuse. Still more of it relates to my own children and what I hope and want for them.

I traveled to Philadelphia this past week. It was a nice break. I went with an old friend, and I laughed harder and longer than I have in years. Between laughs, we had some serious discussions about love and life. We also went into some old cathedrals - one of my favorite things to do. Our last stop before leaving the city was to go into the art museum. I wanted to see a painting I've always admired, but I ended up being drawn to a very different painting. One that echoed the theme of my life right now - healing and redemption. It was a beautiful image of Jesus healing people at the shore of what I assume was the Sea of Galilee. The sun was either rising or setting in the background - it was hard to tell which. An incredibly moving painting.

As I drove home the last 6 hours by myself, I listened to The Shack on CD. I had read the book over a year ago, but thought it would be interesting to listen to in the car to pass the time. The most intense parts had me weeping hard and long. It is such an amazing and moving story. The part though that struck me in this "reading" was an exchange about forgiveness. God is asking the man in the story to forgive the man who raped and murdered his child. As I listened to the narrator, the tears poured from my eyes. Does God really understand what He/She is asking of this man or of so many of us?

As the protagonist struggles with God's desire that he forgive the man who harmed his child, God takes center stage in the book and explains that forgiveness is not what I (or the main character) perhaps perceives it to be. It is not about forgetting. It is not about relationship. God in the book describes it as "removing your hands from around another person's throat so that he can be redeemed." This isn't the warm, fuzzy, sentimental image I have of forgiveness. And perhaps therein lies my struggle.

I often feel that if I forgive my ex-husband for his actions (or at times inaction), then that means we have to return to some sort of relationship. And I know that I'm not at a place where I can handle that. In the book, God assures the man that is not what forgiveness is. Rather for relationship to be restored, the person who has transgressed must choose change and repentance as well. In addition, God tells the man that forgiveness doesn't mean excusing the bad behavior or allowing it to happen again.

All of this brings me around to the topic of resolution or reconciliation. I had an interesting discussion with a friend about whether it is possible for us (or anyone) to really resolve old trauma or past bad experiences so they no longer impact or affect us? I told my friend that I didn't particularly like the word "resolve." To resolve something, in my experience, suggests that something has been dealt with and is now shelved away, never to be considered again. And honestly the worst hurts we experience can't be resolved, or at least I haven't figured out a way to do that yet. My own life has shown me time and again that some of those old hurts will re-surface on occasion, and not always in a horrible, crippling way. Sometimes I think the hurt has re-surfaced because it can be used in a new and different way now. That somehow I've been underwent a transformation that allows me view it in a different light now.

What I do think can happen is that we can experience a reconciliation with regards to these traumas. I don't mean reconcile in the way that we often use that term - to reconcile oneself to a life of difficulty. No, the reconciliation I mean is the true meaning of the word for me...to feel put back together - to feel some harmony, some sychronicity. Not a denial of the experience, not a minimizing of it (it wasn't so bad, really...), but also not an overdramatization of the experience or the myth created around the experience. No, I really do mean to bring oneself back into right relationship - with oneself and with God. To allow the experience to be what it was, a bad experience of life, but to not allow it to define my very existence in this life.

Certainly I don't mean to minimize how hard I think reconciliation really is. It requires a suspension of judgment that I am unaccustomed to being able to pull off in my own life. It calls for the ability to confront the feelings and emotions that come with the experience and not run away. It is hard work, and I am in no way saying I've mastered it. Yet, I am beginning to understand that reconciliation is possible for me, for me and God and for me and my life's events that have been difficult and painful.

While I still can't say I've had my "a-ha" moment regarding being able to forgive a few of those who have hurt me deeply, I can say that the experiences themselves are changing shape and form for me. I no longer feel paralyzed or held hostage by those moments. I feel differently about how things look and feel around the experiences. I feel redeemed.