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.