Thursday, September 27, 2012

When She Wakes





Five Years Ago.

The sun was shining through the trees that lined the winding road and I was driving that green old minivan. I was signing Kanye until I was hoarse.

Now that don’t kill me can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now ‘cause I can’t wait much longer
I know I got to be right now, ‘cause I can’t wait much longer
Man I’ve been waitin’ all night now, that’s how long I’ve been on you
I need you right now, I need you right now.



I was going to will her here. My momma heart knew it was time. Last minute errands, there are always errands.

That stupid china cabinet. All those table cloths. Why not take them all out and refold them and organize them. Sitting on the floor of the great room. My back ached from bending down all day. Adam was working from home – just in case. He was on the porch, talking to a friend of his, a friend who had 2 or 3 children of his own at that time. “Her back hurts? Dude, she’s in labor.” Adam went down the street to pick up some Chinese food. I never got a chance to taste it. The smell made me sick. It was time.

We got to the hospital and mercifully they found room for me. Earlier all the rooms were filled, but somehow, by God’s grace, they had one space and filed me in ahead of the others waiting. My best friend’s plane was landing and she made it through traffic in time to hold one of my legs.

I pushed for three hours. I didn’t take that epidural (but I sure would on the other two to come). But Kathryn? Kathryn was hours of hard work, pain, and reward. 



At 1:14am I held my baby. I felt like a “woman” for the first time in my life.

Weeks later, on a platform of our church, she was dedicated. The pastor had spent the week praying over her and the other babies being dedicated, trusting God for a prophetic word for her.

“You will be a Mother of a Peoples.” My missionary heart beat out of my chest.

*****

I remember the day we stopped watching Sesame Street. I can see it now. The large TV, encased in wood, with the large and somewhat blurry picture tube glowing at me. There was a female puppet, wearing a plaid shirt and a construction hat. She was talking to someone and I was having a nice restful afternoon, happy to have a little rest after helping my mom with the new baby. We didn’t watch a lot of TV, but Sesame Street just made me happy. It was like being able to watch the Muppets every day of the week.

My mother stopped tending to the baby as her eyes crinkled a way I hadn’t seen before. “Women’s Lib; it’s taking over.” She shot up and turned off the TV. And just like that Sesame Street died.

*****

I grew up in the church, and in my background, Christianity and Feminism are not compatible. Feminism denotes liberalism, and liberalism is what is bringing down the Church (or so I’d been told).

I was encouraged to be a teacher before I was to marry. That was a good career. If I wanted something “loftier” like lawyer, as long as I worked on behalf of Christians, that would be acceptable. I went to school for education (but only because I was scared to pursue only writing) but ended up in the corporate world of retail. I guess because I wasn’t married, it was okay. A girl has to support herself.

A girl? A lady? A woman? It was made clear to me that there was a difference between me and the other women at church. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have a place in women’s ministries. When I was married then I would understand. Married? Wait till you have kids……

When I voiced my desires, what I felt God had stirred in me, for seminary and full ordination, I was told to be careful….there was a Jezebel spirit rising……Well, then………

*****

And this is why I am a Christian Feminist. But it’s not about my early journey. It’s not about all the things that made me, me. The imprints of my childhood. Yes, they are important. But.

It’s about my girls. And the callings that they have on their life. I don’t want them to miss that. I don’t want their voices quieted, their questions unanswered. These girls, these women, these people, they are going to move mountains. They are going to do those things they were created to do. They are going to know that they can listen to the voice of God inside of them that is calling them to create, all in different ways. And they are going to have an audacious boldness to do whatever they feel called to do without having to explain themselves.

So I’ll fight for them, and for you. I probably won’t regularly use the phrases patriarchy, gender inequality, or institutional bias in my writing. But I will be the one in church, in the classrooms, telling your girls to pray louder, sing louder, that their voices matter. And I’ll be teaching the stories of Deborah, and Junia, and Tamar, and all the ones that aren’t normally on any Sunday School list. And when some little girl tells me she wants to be a pastor, or go to seminary, I’ll tell her “eshet chavil!” and I’ll pray that she continues to hear and obey the voice of God.

*****

So Happy Birthday, Kathryn, my sweet, brave child. You will get to be a mother of a peoples. Have at it, love!



Monday, September 24, 2012

I Don't Want to Forget


I don’t want to forget the way the sun was shining through the two-story windows at the pool on a Sunday evening at 5:30. The way the ripples in the pool were dancing in the light of an autumn sunset. The way that she stood, feet planted on the pool bottom, the tassels of her swimsuit floating on the surface of the water, slowly moving against her chubby legs, looking the way that a healthy 16 month old girl should. I don’t want to forget the water drops that were suspended on her eyelashes. The shrieks of laughter that came out of her and echoed across the tile walls of the room.

I don’t want to forget the way that Sophie held on to me, whispering in my ear that she was loving every moment of this mommy time, and no, even though she was tired, she didn’t want to sit in a chair; she would just stay in my arms. The way that her legs and arms wrapped around me - my own baby koala bear - that needs to be etched into my memory for those nights in the not too distant future when the kids don’t come crawling into bed anymore and mommy might not be the most exciting person in their universe (next to daddy).

I don’t want to forget her fearlessness. Her determination. The way she thinks she can teach herself to swim. How she does it over and over again, moving her body in ways that become more natural each time as long as she can until her lungs nearly burst and she forces herself out of the water, only to do it again and again. She gets that twinkle in her eye, the one she gets from Daddy, and puts her arms  behind her, grabbing her ankles with her hands and taking a breath right before floating in a giant "O" on her stomach. She can hold it longer than this non-swimming momma thinks she should, but I can’t let my fear betray me and instead smile and clap, all while still holding Sophie tight against me.

I don’t want to forget how amazing he is with our girls. That perfect mixture of push and pull that encourages them to do their best all while being their safe place to fall. And I can’t forget the way my heart nearly beats out of my chest when I watch him swim under water for what seems to be the length of the pool.

*****

Last week I did that big, scary thing for me. And I’m so glad I did it. A couple days away from it and instead of reflecting on the things that touched me deeply, challenged me, encouraged me, I find myself somewhat sullen, wishing I had been more outgoing and more engaging. I wish that I listened more. I wish I had been bold and confident.  But later might be a better time to reflect on my social interactions. Instead, this is what I don’t want to forget….

I don’t want to forget Bob Goff who challenged me to shift everything, giving myself more margin so I could spend time giving out extravagant love. I don’t want to forget how he circled his number in the back of the book he signed, telling us to call him when we “quit stuff,” and that although he told us all that, for some reason, in that moment, it felt like a holy mandate that both encouraged me and scared the crap out of me.

I don’t want to forget Erwin McManus calling me to the beautiful. “Hold onto the thin thread – that’s Jesus.” It’s as if he walked off the stage and stared at me, reminding me that somewhere along the way, I forgot hope. How did I forget hope?

I don’t want to forget how giddy I was just listening to Rachel Held Evans speak. And even though I was too scared to say hello to her at dinner, knowing that there are women like her, brave, and bold and honest gives me so much hope for my girls and how the opportunities that they hopefully won’t have to fight for.

I don’t want to forget that Thursday night dinner. How I was in a room filled with such amazing people, and amazing creativity. I hope someday I’ll forget how small I felt at the time, as my own insecurity pushed to the surface, and instead focus on the audacious amount of grace and graciousness I encountered. Thank you, friends.

I don’t want to forget that even though my 17 ½ inch by 17 ½ inch desk is the three little girls that run around all day, I still can find time to write, and be joyful. Thank you, Makoto Fujimura, for that.

I don’t want to forget the 111 Project and the ugly cry and the tweets from friends who also feel a stirring, also crying, right alongside me.

And I don’t want to forget the way that I felt as I drove home Friday evening, as the clouds darkened across the lake and hinted of the rain about to fall. The way that I felt a knitting, a weaving, of all the things I heard….from speakers and friends alike. The way that All Sons and Daughters played through the speakers in the van. All the hearts who are content, and all who feel unworthy. And all who hurt with nothing left, will know that you are holy. The way my voice sang louder and louder. The way that complete peace moved alongside seamlessly with excitement and desire. The way I felt my life could be lived out as a Hallelujah. And there, in that place, my heart felt like bursting for all the good and holy and beautiful. And the shadow that has followed me has been blown away as so much good rushed right by me. Redemption, Beauty, Brokenness and Hope all to occupy one space together. I don’t want to forget. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Always


The sun was making its slow decent into the sky. The pool next door had just been drained, signaling the end of summer, and we walked a little slower, savoring one of the last evenings of this season before the girls started school. The sky was blue and clear and everything in the moment was just perfect.

 She’s very much my daughter and together we looked up through the gazebo and stared at the Heavens. And that’s when it happened.

It wasn’t the way she yelled at the top of her not even five year old lungs that made my cheeks turn red. It was that moment of, for the first time, not having any clue how I was going to talk to her about this.

She’s the one who’s always been so close. I could swear that she must see Him with her eyes. She’s the one who will stop people at the grocery store to pray for them if they look sad. She is the one who sobbed, chest heaving,  for 20 minutes at the end of Horton Hears a Who because she saw God in Horton, and the planet in Whoville, and she wanted to make sure we took time to pray for all the people on earth who had tiny voices – she wanted to make sure God could hear them and take care of them.

At night, when I tuck her in and pray silently for her to be filled with peace and joy, I know Jesus is speaking to her. She wakes up and tells me what He said…..

I know that she knows Him. I know that she has a relationship with Him. I don’t worry about writing down a day in my journal where she prayed a prayer. Because I see Him working in her. I see the Spirit whispering through her. And I feel it when she places her hand on me in the unexpected, just to pray, and her hand turns hot and I tear up.



So when, under the deep blue sky of a fading summer evening, she looked up and yelled, I choked back a loud cry.

“Hello?!!! Are you there? JESUS!!!! Why haven’t you talked to me in a while? I miss you!”

And these words coming out of my baby’s mouth aren’t just hers, but mine as well. And I’m trying to be calm and I see her Daddy take her hand and turn to me, whispering, “Me too.” I’m breathing fast and my hand trembles.

I know my feet are standing on wooden planks. And I know we are surrounded by green grass, but beyond that I don’t know anything. I don’t know how to answer her when I have the same question.

Over and over she calls out to the sky, and at first I try to quiet her, but then I let her yell, and let her voice cry out for all of us. And I want so bad for the earth to shake and for the trumpets to sound. I want her to have her answer.

I send the other girls to their father and I kneel down next to her until she is done yelling. I let her release it all up to the heavens. She looks down at me and I spill out, “He’s not done talking to you, baby. You’ll hear Him again real soon. I bet you’ll hear Him tonight.”

“I really hope so, Mommy.”

I stand up and we walk on. And now I know we are walking on Holy Ground. And I whisper my prayers, pleading for Him to speak to her again and for her to know He’ll never leave her. And I pray to hear His voice again, too.

****

The next morning I brush the hair out of her face as she wakes up. Blonde curls all tussled, covering her blue eyes. She smiles and as she wakes she whispers, “He came back last night and told me not to worry. He’ll always be here.”

Always.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

As I Prepare for STORY...


I can feel a shift and it’s shaking me to my core. I felt the goodness of God on Sunday. I felt the goodness of His beautiful people. And today, before my feet felt the soft carpet of my bedroom floor, with one girl next to me sleeping after a hard fought night of rest, and another wrapped in my arm, planting soft kisses on my mouth and cheek, I whispered to God. I asked for this moment of peace to follow us through the day. And I asked to see the areas where He is working.

This week I’m going to do the kind of thing that scares me. And it makes me feel tiny, and insignificant, and completely crazy. But I’m going…I don’t have a choice anymore.

So I do what I know how to do. 
I make lists of things the babysitter needs to know. Schedules. 
Meals plans. 
Extra cookies. 
Lay out clothes. 
Try to clean. 
Give extra hugs.

The Avett Brothers sing their sweet song….I And Love And You…….



And I cook. I slow cook the sweet onions in a pool of olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. As they turn gold I add in the eggplant. Another drizzle of olive oil and a palm of curry powder.



There is something wonderful about the way that curry powder, real curry powder from the Indian grocer, smells as it warms in the hot oil, releasing its own oils, filling my home with an aroma that I hope I’ll smell at Heaven’s gates. 

As it cooks down I add the diced tomatoes and let it simmer until it’s time. I add that to a bowl of couscous cooked with golden raisins and dates which, strike it up to the lifetime of Sunday School lessons, make me feel like I’m sharing a meal with Jesus.  A handful of walnuts, chopped mint and some goat cheese and I get to hold something in my hand that is good.



I pick up Lucy who’s been fussy all week, holding her close to me, her sweet head resting on my shoulder. And we slow dance to Amos Lee. And my heart is bursting open for her, the way it does each time I stop to see her. And I don’t have room for nerves or feelings of inadequacy. Only room for loving my girl.

And I think about where I might have seen God working the past two days. Where did I see His Kingdom?

I breathe in the smell of curry and breathe out the Kingdom. And now I know what He’s been up to this week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ramblings





It's Five Minute Friday. On Friday we write on a specific topic. Five minutes. No editing. No over-thinking. Just throwing it out there. And then you encourage others. Always.

Today's Topic: Focus

And, Go.....

It should be easy. The sun is shining so bright that it seems to light up the insides of everyone nearby. I don’t hear the honking of cars, supporting the teachers’ union who has been picketing on the corner, so I’m guessing the reports are true that they are near resolution.


The weather is absolutely perfect. This is what I live for. This season. The air is crisp and perfect and I want to find a piece of grass somewhere with fallen leaves and just lay down in it as the girls play, little pieces of grass, and leaf, and earth slowly making their way under nails and woven in their braids.


I want to sit here and write, and let out bits of my soul. Bits of my heart. But I’m focused today on my to-do lists which are only growing in length. And next week I’ll be in a room full of talented people, and won’t I look so foolish? A fake. For a decent post here and there does not a writer make and I should probably just play with my girls and bake bread. That I can do. This, this every day writing? I don’t know what I’m doing and I feel adrift. I want someone to come alongside me who has been in these waters and help show me the way. Speak the truth to me. Challenge me. Guide me.

I want my words to be my worship but they don’t always do what I want them to and today is no exception. And all this writing is making me think more about who I am, and who I was, and who I will be, and if there will be resolution within us all.


My oldest comes by to remind me I didn’t give them their vitamins today. I tell her that it’s a good thing that I have her to help me. She just smiles and gives me a hug. I just stare at that face of hers, all full of love and wondering and joy. I tell her that she’s the best part of me. 



STOP

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And So, These Days......



These days I don’t get into church service as much as I want to….or at all. I’m in the back with the preschoolers, and it’s good, and necessary, and holy in itself, watching 3 year olds see that they are part of God’s big story, and how He’s always been orchestrating history to make them part of his family, and that even they have a part in this Kingdom living that we talk of. But I am missing corporate worship, and I am missing the weekly partaking in communion.

And so, these days, I listen. I listen to Mumford and Sons I Will Wait over and over and I sing until I am hoarse. And I listen to Florence + the Machine Shake It Off and my heart dances as I sing to shake off the devil on my back. I imagine that we almost could sing this in church.

I read. I slowly read A Circle of Quiet….only a chapter or so at a time. I realize that Madeleine is my Grace and so her book is on my nightstand and has been for almost a year. Not because it isn’t wonderful. But because it is and I don’t want her to leave me just yet.

And I read Kathleen Norris. And Phyllis Tickle. O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant us that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart; through Jesus Chrust our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

And Enuma. Enuma my newest friend, who I really think would just love me, and she makes me feel like my shifting in faith isn’t a sign of weakening but strengthening. And we would have brunch. And talk. And my kids would call her Nu-Nu. (But I digress)

I was profoundly aware of God’s presence with me, telling me to be patient and recognize his presence. I sensed that God had not in fact forgotten me or abandoned me; rather he was growing me, transforming me, and preparing me for a new chapter of my life. But I had to find the courage to let go of certain things in my life and to accept the call to move forward, to embrace a new part of me yet to be discovered, and to learn the things of which I was capable. (Reluctant Pilgrim, 102) 




And these days I bake bread. I knead it. And I watch it rise. I punch it down again. And watch it rise again. And I cover it with a towel and I leave it, allowing the yeast to make it grow. I gently rub it with olive oil and I stick it in a hot oven and watch the outside darken and bake off hard as the inside gets lighter, and lighter. I knock on the outside when it’s done, and when I hear the hollow echo, I know it’s ready. And I shake it out of its pan and place it on the wooden board to cool for just a few minutes before I cut it open. And when I cut into it, the steam escapes and inside is a beautiful perfection. Little girls scamper to the table for their share…one with soft honey butter, one plain. We bless the food, thanking for what we’ve been given to eat. Thanking for the time we had today. Thanking for the day we will have tomorrow. Then we eat. It nourishes.

Loving God, through your goodness we have this bread and wine to offer, which has come forth from the earth and human hands have made. 

May we know your presence in the sharing, so that we may know your touch and presence in all things. 

We celebrate the life that Jesus has shared among his community through the centuries, and shares with us now. 

Made one in Christ and one with each other, we offer these gifts and with them ourselves, a single, living act of praise. 

Amen.
(Common Prayer)

And I whisper prayers to the Heavens when I clean. I sweat out prayers at the gym. And I feel prayers sneak out the tips of my fingers when I bathe my girls and wash their hair that floats on top of the water in the bathtub. And I know that all things work together for good and I feel the shifting in me. My eyes see a little more each day my part in this Kingdom living. And it is good.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Abundance


They are snuggled on the couch, all in pajamas still, watching their cartoons on this gray morning. The kitchen smells of fresh juice and coffee. Apple, orange, carrot and cucumber for the morning; carrot, sweet potato, beet, and apple for lunch. I’m out of half and half for my coffee so the baby’s whole milk will have to do. My fingers peck at the laptop, even though the kitchen counters and floor are fighting for my attention. So much to do today – schedules, trainings, birthday parties to plan and preparations for the first day of school. But my fingers keep typing, one key at a time, transforming the swirling in my head onto words on a screen.

We received a text message, (was it just a day ago?), “Brenna, I need you.” He left them, he scared them. This afternoon I bake a cake and prepare a meal, hoping to provide a few hours of comfort to the heart sick. We will be your family.

So, so much to do. But there always is, isn’t there? Not just for me, but for you too. For all of us. Always feeling busy, never enough. 

This weekend I took three whole hours for myself. It’s the longest I’ve been without my kids all summer. Two quick errands and then time at the gym. For the first time in recent memory it was welcomed. I knew the reward at the end of the pain. The steam room. Ten minutes (I greedily stole twenty) of uninterrupted time.

Completely alone.

I sat on the hot stones, wrapped in white towels, watching the water drip off of the ceiling. Pink splotches on my skin where it lands. Breathe in. Breathe out. I feel the impurities of my body begin to sweat out of my skin. Breathing begins to slow. I feel quiet.

The silence leads me to prayer. I sweat out the impurities of my soul. The hardness in my heart begins to melt. I watch my sweat roll off my legs and hit the stone below.  I close my eyes and just breathe in the hot, moist air. If I stay here long enough, I might be able to hear Him.

Here, in this room, I can push out the thinking, the knowing that it’s not enough. I don’t have enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough fun. My mothering. My partnering. My teaching. My writing.

My writing.

I've been calling out and no one hears.  I want it to be good (enough?).

I hate this word enough. I don’t want enough.

I want abundance.

I want plenty.

I want overflow.

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34b)

But for now, it does have to be enough. For I have girls to cuddle, parties to plan, schedules to finalize, cakes to bake, floors to mop, counters to clean, and air to breathe.

I look up from my computer and realize the sun has burned off the morning haze. The blue of the sky and the white of the clouds whisper to me. Abundance.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bloody Ibiza


Three weeks on a beach.

Three weeks of the sun heating our skin as the ocean breeze blows it cool.

Three weeks of watching the ocean waters stretch out past where I can see.

Three weeks of stealing kisses, holding hands, and learning each other for these still newlyweds.

Three weeks of rest and relaxation.

Three weeks of peace.


“What if we had never gone? What if we found ourselves a nice warm beach?  Wouldn't that have been better? We should have gone to bloody Ibiza,” he said one night as we rested on our bed.


Three weeks of leave before leaving military service. That’s plenty of time for sightseeing, beaching, and vacationing. “How many people get a chance to tithe their time? What if we used it to test all this out?”

“All this.” The idea of missional work had been stirring in us and we so ached to actually be on the ground somewhere. With backpacks and hiking boots we said goodbye to dreams of sandy beaches and fruity cocktails and hopped on a flight to Crete where we spent evenings playing chess and eating food late into the night.

We moved onto Athens and began our amateurish attempt at following the steps of Paul. We filled our bellies with yogurt and sweet honey each morning and discovered new locations and sat, Bible in hand, reading aloud the words Paul spoke in that spot.

“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. …..The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and things….”

We touched the water that baptized Lydia and stood where Paul and Silas were imprisoned.

We walked through the ruins of Corinth.




In Thessaloniki we did the same. And here we spent Good Friday, marching along to the funeral dirge, sharing candle light, following the crowds bringing the broken body of Christ from the Orthodox Church in the center of town down the winding streets, past the sea as they prepared to bury Him.

In the shadow of Mount Olympus  He was raised. Red eggs thrown on the ground at midnight and fireworks shooting off into the night sky welcomed Easter morn. Fires were started and the lambs that we saw on trucks all week began slowly rotating on spits in each backyard, a sacrifice symbolizing a greater sacrifice.

Back to the Internet café in Athens before boarding the ferry to Patmos.

“Would you like to visit the team in Cairo?” The email we had been waiting for.

A quick two days of mopeding around Patmos and soon we were on a plane to Cyprus and from their to Cairo.

Names and numbers were separated to protect the contacts as we went through customs. The walking through felt holy and like the beginning of something significant.

We met our friend and I was told to pull my hair back and keep my eyes down. It didn’t take long to find wisdom in those words.

Days were spent taking Arabic classes; evenings spent playing with children in orphanages. Days filled with meeting Sudanese refugees, visiting trash cities and just living in Cairo. There were no hotels, no tour groups. Just a couple getting to know a city and a people they were quickly and deeply falling in love with.

There was a trip the following year with others and plans to come back permanently. The imprint that the time in Cairo had made on us was profound and life altering. Along the dusty streets of Cairo we found purpose and meaning. We saw our future. It confirmed calling and we knew that we knew that we knew.




We would be back.

But things happened. Support was diverted to others. Other places, other families.  And when the money dried up, so did my hope.

And now we are left with boxes. Boxes of the post cards that announced our intention to leave. Artwork, photos, letters, presentations. There is a vase on a shelf and a bowl that holds our keys that remind me of our time.

“Blessed be Egypt my people.”

We grapple with our lost calling and finding our way in ordinary life. And are we just getting too old? And how would we get there now? And is it responsible of us to take our kids?

On bad days I push back tears and anger when I hear others talk about support raising and giving and blessing to others. Goers and Senders. How  great of us to be in a position to make others’ dreams come true. I feel stuck wanting to be somewhere, but not being there.

On good days I can look through the pictures and think of the day I bring my girls, their feet covered in dust as the Call to Prayer echoes in the air, and tell them how this place changed everything.

And at night, when the house is quiet and I’m the only one awake, I am somewhere between the two.  I think about all the things that I can’t unlearn, and I silently think, “Maybe, just maybe, we should have gone to bloody Ibiza.”


I'm sharing my story as part of a synchroblog to launch the book, Inciting Incidents, a collaborative work that highlights and celebrates the things that change us forever. Be sure to check out the book and read some of the other amazing stories that have been shared! Big thanks to  Tracee Persiko and Alece Ronzino for the encouragement to participate!