Yours, Mine or Ours?

090216 Gooseberry Falls

Middle Falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park

Recently Dad, J and I spent a few days hiking around what we Minnesotans call the North Shore. I dug out my camera and was excited to experiment with my shutter speed settings as I photographed waterfalls. If done well, slowing the shutter speed captures the flow of the water while keeping a crisp surrounding landscape.

This image taken at Gooseberry Falls seems peaceful and quiet, like I might be the only person there.

But, I was not. There were swarms, like every other time we failed to get there really early in the morning. Continue reading

In search of a bigger table: feminist reflections on sexism in the church (and in me)

080816 journal

I’m a little salty today. I keep drafting and scribbling in my journal. Paragraph here. Sentence there. The topics popcorn all over the place.

Underlying all of the verbal confetti is a grumbling sense of injustice. An awareness of brokenness like a blister continually rubbing against my shoe. Twinge. Ping. Ouch. Continue reading

Reflecting on Mother’s Day

For anyone who is a regular reader or who knows a fair bit of my story, you know that Mother’s Day has historically not been my favorite day.  For instance, my post Perspective Matters from around this time last May touches on this topic.  If you want more on why historically Mother’s Day hasn’t been the greatest, you can read that post.

Road Trip Picnic with Mom and Grandma McGrew

But, this year is different.  This year May has been a month of joy and of anticipation.  Maybe it’s the joy of upcoming graduation. Maybe it’s learning gratitude as I learn to take some risks and live. Maybe it’s anticipation of adoption. Either way, I’m not in the same place that I’ve been other years.

This year is probably the first time in about ten or more years that I’ve gone to church on Mother’s Day.  And it was a profoundly healing experience for me.  By some accident (or providence — you can choose), I got asked to do announcements, and I totally could have said “no.”  And as I talked with staff before actually giving announcements, I could have opted out.  But, the little voice in my head urged me this might actually be good for me to do it this year.

Just because I’ve experienced loss doesn’t mean I am unable to celebrate with others.  I choose to both honor the grief I walked through and to celebrate the wonderful moms in my life this year; it’s a tension, and I choose to embrace it.  I choose something other than hiding in bitterness.  At this point in my journey (at least this week), this is a choice I can make freely.  And after last year’s post, I’m so extremely thankful for being able to do that this year!

As I look around in my life, I see so many amazing moms that are worth celebrating.  I’m grateful for their presence in my life, and for the opportunity to watch the way they nurture their kiddos and their community.

I think it’s awesome to celebrate Mother’s Day, and to encourage and honor the amazing women in our lives who inspire us. Who challenge us. Who make us think. Who laugh with us and who teach us how to laugh at ourselves.  Who cry with us and keep boxes of Kleenex handy for such an occasion.  Who nurture us and wrap us up in warm, strong hugs.  Who dream dreams for us. Who hope for us when our hope seems lost. Who call us out on our temper tantrums and childishness.  Who teach us to play and to look for the beauty around us.

At the same time I celebrate the amazing women and moms I know, I recognize that others also grieve on Mother’s Day.  Some are in my camp, either unable to have children or having lost their mother.  Some have moms who have wounded them beyond what I can even imagine. Some moms have lost children. That’s just a sampling of the pain people carry on Mother’s Day.

Having to celebrate with those who celebrate, while the pain they’ve experienced goes ignored, is like gasoline on top of a fire.  So, for those who find themselves grieving on Mother’s Day, I wanted them to know they’re not ignored; their stories matter, and their pain matters.  They are not alone.  

We can grieve with them, even as we celebrate others.   Church isn’t just about supporting the happy, but also comforting the brokenhearted.  We need both to be healthy!

And as I spoke in church, I had one of those awkward moments where a phrase came out of my mouth that surprised me as I mentioned standing in solidarity with those who don’t experience Mother’s Day as a happy day.  It wasn’t something I planned to say.  It wasn’t in what I wrote as a draft for announcements.  It wasn’t something I said as I practiced what I would say.  It just slipped out.  And I had a panicked inner monologue of “Where the HECK did that come from? Oh well. Can’t take it back.  Just keep going. Keep going.” Thankfully, I remembered the rest of the announcements without needing my cheat sheet; mostly I felt mortified for saying a phrase that doesn’t normally come out of my mouth.

Mom and I at the beach

That inward dialogue turned out to be a theme for the day.  How did church suddenly feel like home for me on Mother’s Day instead of an experience to be feared and dreaded? How is it that my infertility became a sealed up battle scar instead of a gaping wound?  I know it’s part of me, but this week it’s not the only thing on my mind.  How is it that this week I can think of good things about my mother rather than the sadness that she’s not here with me? What a tremendous gift!

Where did this peace and joy come from? Doesn’t matter.  Just enjoy it.  Just say thank you!  Keep going.

The rest of the day I waited for the pang of grief to show up.  And you know what?  It never did.  This was the first Mother’s Day in the last 20+ years that was just a great day.

I found myself grateful for my mom, my grandmas and my mother-in-law. Oddly enough, there wasn’t sadness with the recollection, just thankfulness.

I was blessed with a fabulous and beautiful mom, even if I only got to know her for a short time.  And I’m excited this summer to have time to go through the treasure trove of papers and letters she left behind.  That’ll be an adventure in getting to know my mom in a different way than I did as a kid, and I’m thankful that all this randomness was still there as we cleaned out my dad’s house last fall.

Grandma McGrew, my siblings, and baby me

My Grandma McGrew died a few years ago, and I’m grateful for her as well.  I remember summers at their lake house fishing and riding in the boat, and swimming in their pool.  She and Grandpa took my cousins and me to Disney World and Disney Land. She and Grandpa took in folks in trouble and let them move in while they got back on their feet, and I appreciate their legacy of hospitality and welcoming others.

Meme and Papa

This Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my Meme, who is still with us.  She’s a relentless cheerleader who bursts with pride in all her kids’, grandkids’, and great-grandkids’ accomplishments.  She pursues us and keeps us all up-to-date on each others’ lives and events. She relishes each new addition to the family — including our spouses.  When she met my husband for the first time, she announced that he’s number 37; I don’t think he’ll ever forget that. She prays and prays and prays for us.  Whatever else happens in my life (and whether I believe it about myself), I know my Meme thinks I’m amazing.

J and M ca. 2009

I even found myself thanking God for my mother-in-law.  She raised J to be an incredible man; I can’t imagine life without him. I’m amazed at the way she welcomes her ESL students into her home and life; she seeks to deeply know them and cares deeply about their struggles in navigating life in America.  She’s an adventurer, who wanders the globe to far off places.

This year my cup is full.  So many people to be grateful for.  So much hope for the journey ahead.  My perspective this May is so totally different than last May, and it’s been just about time for that!  I didn’t feel the change happening; it wasn’t overnight.  It just happened gradually. Little by little.  Thank God for working even as I couldn’t see it or at times sense it.

"Be Bold, Be Bold, and Everywhere Be Bold": Reflections on Acts 4

When I read Acts in the past, I was always in a hurry.  I slowed down for the parts about Jesus leaving the disciples (Acts 1) and the Spirit of God filling Jesus’ followers (Acts 2) (also referred to as Pentecost by church nerds).  And then, I’d rush through the next parts in my eagerness to see Paul jump into the spotlight.  This month as I’ve read Acts, I keep coming back to Acts 4 and getting stuck there. God’s call to boldness in this chapter keeps pinging as the month goes by.  The title quote by Herbert Spencer seems to be God’s invitation for me this month – maybe even this entire year.

Peter and John are up at the temple doing their thing – ministering and talking about Jesus — and the religious leaders put them in jail.  And in spite of Peter and John getting arrested, the people they were teaching believed — about 5,000 of them (4:4). The next day, Peter and John are hauled up before the high priests and head honchos to give an account of themselves.  These two guys are noted as uneducated, ordinary — and bold (4:13).  Not superheroes.  Not brilliant orators.  Not wealthy. Not polished.  Just ordinary and uneducated guys who possess boldness.

The religious leaders recognize the power of what is happening through these uneducated and ordinary men.  Yet, instead of joining in God’s mission, they try to squelch it (4:16-17).  In spite of the religious leaders’ best efforts, Peter and John retain their boldness, saying “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard (4:20).”

Eventually Peter and John are released and rejoin their friends.  They report back the previous days’ events (4:23).  Immediately they all pray together (4:24).  The response of prayer is not shocking to me.  But the content of their prayer is.

They recall how people opposed Jesus and how that led to his death on a cross (4:26-27).  They ask God to help them continue to live out their mission boldly — to speak, heal and act as Jesus did in the face of opposition.  They don’t ask for a smooth road or the opposition to be wiped out.  No.  They ask for boldness.  At this prayer, the place was shaken and they were filled with the Spirit of God (4:31).

Being bold about God’s kingdom in the face of difficulty is not just for Jesus.  It’s for his followers as well.  There’s something normalizing about Jesus’ experience.  In Acts, Jesus’ followers are faced with the real possibility of being killed for living out the teaching of Jesus. The followers aren’t  exempt from the persecution that Jesus himself faced.  I’m not saying their experience of suffering means the same thing as Jesus’, but I do think that discipleship is costly in Acts (and the Gospels as well).

That’s a scary thought.  I find myself hoping at times for an easy Christian life where God makes me comfortable and rewards me for my good choices.  Health and wealth and all that jazz.  Acts gives a different picture.

It presents a better one.  As these ordinary believers commit to boldly speaking about God and living out the teaching of Jesus, they also find extraordinary community with each other.  They became of one heart and mind, sharing everything with each other (4:32).  The sharing in that community meant that there was not a needy person among them (4:34). How awesome would living with that kind of community be?  Seriously! Ordinary people with Godly boldness make incredible things happen in Acts.

I don’t think of myself as bold.  Boldness scares me.  I am a little sassy.  Pink stripes in my hair.  Brightly colored clothing.  Color makes me project a confidence I don’t naturally feel. Like a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing.  Most days it helps. Boldness, however, seems aggressive or brash or demanding. Boldness sounds like running roughshod over people.  I’m not interested in that kind of in-your-face boldness.  That looks like disrespect.

And, so this month I keep stewing on this passage.  If we ordinary people are called to boldness concerning the message of God (and I think we are), what does that mean?  I’ve come to think that boldness means holding fast to being the good news of God for a broken world in spite of what that may cost us.  Holding fast in the face of overwhelming opposition.  Not being aggressive or in-your-face, but continuing to plod on with the callings that God has laid upon us in spite of those who might hate us or the message.  Not trampling others, nor being self-righteous, but continuing to shine the light of God’s love in a world that is deeply, deeply broken.

Because here’s the nitty-gritty question we have to ask:  is the good news of God worth any hardship we might face for it?  That’s where my feet touch the ground, and I see where I truly stand.

Boldness comes from the confidence that the good news of God is worth more than my comfort.

The message of God is worth any hardship we might face for it.  It is.  The God of the universe is for people.  For you. For me. For us.  God loves us. Jesus loved us (and died for us) while we were dead in our addictions and stuck in our bad choices — not after we got our acts together.  God heals and pours out grace.  God brings justice.  This is good news.  Even if the world doesn’t like it because we’re forced to confront our problems,  it’s still good news.    And I want the good news that God loves you and me and welcomes you and me to be experienced by those I know.  I want that for the world.

And the better news.  We’re not called to solitary boldness.  As though you and I were separately bold and working towards that on only our own individual mini-missions.  We’re called to boldness as a group entity. We are bold as a community — not just as loners.  Again, not aggressive, rude, or disrespectful boldness.  We are called to shine the light of God’s love on a world that doesn’t understand it or at times even want it.  And what a journey we ordinary folk can have as we band together! God does strange and wonderful things through ordinary people as they keep persistently plodding ahead together in the callings they’ve been given.

What Could Church Be?

So, the video is one of the “Where the Hell is Matt?” series (sorry about the title for those that might be offended); it’s one of those viral sensation videos, and I have to admit every time I watch I start to feel giddy inside and just plain joyful. I just want to be one of the people in the video being ridiculous (and myself) and having a good time.  I keep coming back again and again to watch it, and it still sparks something in me every single time.  Powerful stuff.  Well, for me, anyway.  I have to acknowledge that I didn’t stumble across this video on my own; I was introduced to it in one of my theology classes last year when we were talking about a different topic than church.

But, now, as I’ve watched it again this morning, I found myself thinking “how awesome would it be if Church was like that?”  (Please note I’m using Church with a big C meaning the whole entirety of followers of Jesus not my local context in particular).

What if Church was a group of people joyfully enjoying each other and celebrating the gift of life together?  What if that joy and celebratory spirit was contagious and sparked others to join us?  What if we were a people that others wanted to be a part of? What if we were a people more focused on being joyfully out in the world enjoying life and loving others, instead of hidden away with our lights under a metaphorical basket? What might even our local communities look like if we as people took even more seriously the call to love people of every tribe, tongue and nation?