If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

I’ve been in the church my entire life, but that isn’t to say I’ve gone to church the same way  my entire life.

There were the toddler years where church was about crayons and cheerios while laying down in a back pew. There were the older kid years where church was mostly about getting permission to sit next to a friend and playing tic-tac-toe and all those other pencil games (like that one with all the dots where you make boxes. What IS that game called?). Then there were the teenager years where church was about trying to figure what clothes would set off the little old lady modesty police and which wouldn’t. Those years led into the almost college years where it was about begging my Dad to be able to go to a different church–one where I hadn’t been up until 1am having an intense argument with the pastor about my curfew. Then followed the odd dark years of college where my goal was to attend church in pajamas, talk to no one, be involved in nothing, and escape quietly out the back when it was over.

Adulthood was started very differently for me, as church was about attending secretly in houses where there was no official pastor and technically we could be arrested for doing Christian church at all. (Apparently the pajama years weren’t enough out-there for me). There was a brief stint before that where church was going to an all Jamaican congregation as the only people who couldn’t dance (though admittedly, that was for only 2 months). And sometimes church was finding whatever congregation happened to be available in Turkey, or Italy, or England, or sometimes listening to a Texas congregation on my computer, or occasionally just sitting outside and trying to hear God outside of any structure at all. And now I’m in the kid years where church is about hoping the kids sleep in until at least 7, and figuring out how to feed and dress everyone and get out the door and be on time without fights breaking out or tears. (There are usually fights and tears).

That’s a long list I know. I’ve done church in a whole lotta different ways. Even in my rebellious and and weird phases I did church.

“But Andi,” you say, “church is not the same thing as Sabbath. That’s a very misleading title that you have there.

To which I reply, “I know. This post is somewhat about how I suck at Sabbath even though I’ve always gone to church.”

Because guys, I suck at Sabbath.

If you grow up in a ministry family, Sabbath can’t really happen on Sunday. Sunday tends to be the busiest and most stressful day of the entire week. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that, and it had been pointed out to me many a time that Sunday could not be Sabbath for my Dad, and probably not for the rest of us either. So Saturday should have been our Sabbath right? But most of the week was for school, and Saturday was the only day open enough to do those extra kinds of things like mowing the lawn or washing the sheets.

No one intended for it to happen, but Sabbath was sort of shady for me. Kind of there kind of not. Kind of Saturday, kind of Sunday, mixed in with homework and chores and poorly defined. Mostly we worshipped on Sunday morning and napped on Sunday afternoon, so that was probably as close as it gets.

My point being, that I came into motherhood already not sure how to do this thing. And motherhood is definitely a gig that does not include a lot of natural rest.

Kids always need to eat.
Kids always need help getting dressed.
Kids always have fights that have to be broken up before punches fly (at least in my boy house)
Kids don’t stop asking questions.
Kids don’t stop needing supervision.
Kids (especially babies) don’t put up with being dropped in a crib or bed with books for a very long time.
Kids do not really let you sleep in or take Sunday afternoon naps.
Kids. Don’t. Stop.

What would it even mean for me right now to fully rest for a day? How do I even do that when I’m fairly sure I’ve been breaking the Sabbath my entire life simply because the guidelines for doing so as a ministry kid were poor, and my own commitment to it shoddy.

Going to church can be part of resting. But I’m very bad at doing it that way–and I shoot away the rest of my day on so many things.

So here’s my Sabbath offering to all the Mom’s out there, and to anyone else who finds themselves heavy laden with things that can’t be put down on EVERY day of the week: I’m brain-storming a list of all the things I CAN and should put down on Sabbath and my plan to be intentional about such things. And because I like lists, we’re going to go ahead and number it up.

1. Anxiety and general worries.

I know this one is WAY easier said than done, but hear me out. I tend to use anxiety to propel me into action. It’s not always a BAD thing for me. I think many people use it to benefit. Some of the reason I worry is because I’m afraid I won’t do a thing unless there’s a proper amount of anxiety beneath it. (And I’m not wrong). What’s school going to be like next year? Should my youngest go to the same preschool as my middle? Can my oldest be trusted on the school bus after the incident this week? Have I done enough planning for what we’ll eat this week? Did I drop the ball on too many tasks LAST week? Is that one lady who’s name I forgot in Mom’s group upset with me, and is the rhyme I came up with in my head good enough to help me remember? Am I connecting enough with my community? Am I being TOO MUCH? Is that one comment I made on Facebook going to blow up in my face?

Nope. Put it down. Put it all down. I don’t have to force anything though today or hold anything more than what I’m doing at this exact minute. Nope nope nope.

2. Food making.

Look this one’s way more practical and not really very deep, but I’m bad at planning ahead on Sunday. A big part of original Sabbath was collecting or preparing enough food ahead of time that it wasn’t a thing you had to do. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to serve my kids, and it doesn’t mean there won’t be dishes that simply must be done after. I can plan ahead and we can do sandwiches and crock pots and soup from a can. I hereby am going to give this to the Sabbath from now on.

3. Kid discipline.

No, hear me out. Sometimes kids must be separated from things that are causing them to misbehave or siblings they are fighting with. But I can go so deep into a shame hole wondering if the consequences I’m offering will produce the desired results, or if my kids are learning anything, or if I should have that talk with them one more time to make sure they understand. But no more. On this day we extend grace, and if it is needed kids are simply separated from the problem or put in a quiet space. Today we don’t lecture. Today we don’t give overly complicated consequences or worry if they will one day end up in jail. I am trusting God with all of that.

4. All the Extra chores.

Some things have to happen with kids always. I can’t put everything down. But I can put down laundry, or more than maintenance pick ups, and stressing over responding to emails. Today is for Fellowship, Worship and Joy–and oxes in the ditch in the way of kids needing undies, brushed teeth, clothing and basic feeding. Everything else can wait.

5. Difficult Discussions or worrying about them.

I hate hard discussions. I am terrible at them. I’ve been trying to have them more lately, without tears or trying to bail out of the whole thing, but it is the most impossible task I take on by far.

But today is a day for pausing and postponing. For trusting God to keep and watch over the relationships in my life and issues that can be solved tomorrow.

6. Bad TV.

Sabbath is for the renewing of the mind. So even though I think “Good Girls” is Breaking Bad for Moms and my new most favorite guilty pleasure show ever, it’s not particularly restorative. It can wait until tomorrow. Enough said.

7. Guilt.

Books could be written on Mom guilt. The constant rehashing and wondering if I’m doing it wrong, if I should plan more crafts and more fun outings and more sing-alongs, or if perhaps I should have gone back to work and hired it all out to a professional who would stay better engaged because sometimes paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism. Ok OFTEN paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism.

But today I’m good. I’m held. No guilt. No wondering. Plenty of walking them to the park and letting them play independently while I soak up the sun.

8. Litterboxes.

The poop will keep. Enough said.

9. Diapers.

The baby can change himself.

Hahahahaha, ok I’m just kidding. Diapers must be changed. Oh well.

10. Dressing up for society.

Now look, its been a really long time since I personally felt shamed into dressing up for other people. But I have started trying to at least put in the effort to not look scary and to take down SOME of the barriers of relating to people by just wearing attractive clothes and trying to do something with hair and makeup. I know some people really DO feel that shame, but either way it is effort put in for people. Can I encourage you to dress for God on Sabbaths? Wearing pajamas in college was one of the most woke things I ever did. I had to get away from worrying about other people looking at me and just showing up for God. And that’s what pajamas were for me  for awhile. I think this is a highly individualized thing and can change from week to week. Even now sometimes I dress up and sometimes I wear jeans and a T-shirt to church. I wear whatever will help me focus on God that particular Sabbath. This might be the ONLY thing on this list I already do without a struggle, and I sincerely want to offer that freedom to more people, especially women. Dress for worshipping God and being right with him–not people.

That’s my list of things I can actually do to rest on Sabbath. Anyone else have any insights into keeping an attitude and atmosphere of rest even around constant family obligations, ministry or anything else that tends to get in the way? I’d love to hear what you do.

*This is a picture of me sacking out in the church atrium while my Dad worked. Off screen I had rolled up one of those TVs all 90s churches had and was watching everything from the church library that seemed interesting. Yup, that’s my blanky.

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers
Cultural conditioning is such an odd thing.

I used to be afraid of Muslims. I just was. I logically understood that blaming an entire religion and culture for the actions of a few was not right, fair, or reasonable, and that this kind of thinking would condemn us all if we were honest. That memory of watching huge buildings on fire, buildings I did not even know existed, in September at 14 years old was burned into my memory. It’s natural to want to blame a whole people. It just is. When faced with fear we have a choice between two things: realizing that anyone anywhere can do something severely evil, and believing that it’s isolated to one group who we can attack and isolate. And it FEELS much better to choose the latter even if it’s not based in reality, because it means the fear is with one people and not all of them.

But logically knowing all of that couldn’t change my heart or prevent the pull of wanting to blame one set of people anyway. It was only by living next to them, in a desperate decision based in poor mental health and loneliness, that I began to really change. And while I can tell lots of stories of meeting Muslim friends in a new country and learning surprising humanizing things about them, it was always the little things that started to undo the fear for real.

It was seeing my coworker who was always dressed very carefully concealing every inch of hair (not all my female coworkers did), in the restroom without her robes to reveal an afro, ripped jeans and suspenders under all that.

It was having constant passive commercials showing things like a mother dressed in Hijab making all the silly over-dramatic faces TV moms always do right before they feed their kid something from a box or a can.

It was watching women dressed in that mysterious garb jump on trampolines on the beach with their kids. Or ride four wheelers. Or eat at Pizza Hut.

It was seeing the men wearing those white robes and red checks carry babies and crack jokes and argue about IKEA furniture with their wives. Experiencing those same men worrying if I’m being treated well and if I feel at home as a foreign woman–even worrying that people were placing conservatism on me that as as an American woman didn’t adhere to. And then, those men wanting to make sure I didn’t have to adhere to it.

It’s living next to people that does it–that softens a heart enough to see the humanity. The similarity. The universality.

They’re not just like me, but they’re SO like me it makes me uncomfortable. Because I should have KNOWN that. Because I knew it but I didn’t KNOW.

It’s a terrible trope that Christian kids come home with after a short-term missions trip. “I went there to help people, but they helped ME. I went there to teach people but they taught ME.”

Really, you’d think we’d stop needing to be taught the hard way that often the very people who we look down upon as people who need saving and changing are the very people who could most save and change us. The fault is never in the needing exposure. We all need exposure to each other to truly understand and stop trying to separate ourselves from each other. It’s the innate belief that we are somehow better or MORE than other cultures and people’s. It isn’t unique to Americans, but it is 100 percent damning and damaging wherever it lives.

Fear and lack of understanding can only be healed by living next to each other. Studies have been done. There is literally no other way to undo fear of people who are culturally separate from us. But arrogance and superiority–that is something that God can heal even without exposure. And it isn’t that he couldn’t heal the former without it if he wanted to–it’s just that I believe living WITH each other IS the manner by which God heals such things. But it requires stepping out in faith. Faith that we aren’t superior. Faith that we must continue to cross divides and do what makes us uncomfortable to pursue God’s ideals.

It would be easy to assert that somehow because I chose to go and confront my fears that I am somehow superior to everyone who hasn’t or doesn’t. But it would be a bold-faced lie. I needed to believe that they were the same as me, because I had spend much of my childhood feeling like an outsider in a town full of insiders where most people only came from THERE. And I went to confront my fears because I was in the middle of a death spiral of depression where doing something exotic, even if it felt terrifying and life-threatening was at least something new. It was impressive and edgy. It felt like it had meaning I could wave under the noses of everyone who I perceived as having rejected me. But things did not happen the way I planned, and I grew as a person in spite of my terrible reasoning for doing something so outside of my comfort zone–because God can and does use everything including our own arrogance and stupidity. Here are several of the things I learned in spite of myself:

I learned that doing something exotic does not do anything to persuade people who see you as an outsider to see you as anything else. Quite the opposite. In fact, in many ways where I only perceived people saw me as outside, weird, or different, I managed to get them to actually thinking me that way (where people thought about me at all). If you’re going to travel somewhere to live with people you do not understand, it will always change you. Not them, not the people you left behind, but you.

All religious people should experience someone trying to convert them with all the zeal and passion of a person who loves you but also doesn’t want you to go to hell. It’s humbling to hear words you thought were exclusive to the wisdom of your own religion coming out of someone else’s mouth, but worried about YOUR soul. It’s embarrassing to discover tracts from a religion you were taught was foreign and evil, and realize that they could represent your own religion, with just a few words changed here and there. And it is humbling to realize someone wants you in heaven THAT BADLY. To watch them pace through all the same award steps, asking you to read their Book, come to their gathering, talk to them about their faith. Even when you don’t convert, and never would, it changes you forever.

You cannot help but be grateful to a people when they show you hospitality, even though you are a stranger in THEIR country. Time and again, when you are not FROM a place, you realize just how vulnerable you are. People could ignore your pleas for help when you don’t know what to do. They could refuse to translate what you did not understand. Refuse to give grace when you do the thing everyone there knows you shouldn’t. They could leave you out and justify it totally. You begin to see this again and again. And again and again you find that people help anyway. People DELIGHT in helping. Even the ones who would seem to be most motivated to be against you. The image of God is unmistakable in every place, no matter what you believe or what they believe.

When you are faced with the choice of doing something illegal as an immigrant that would help your circumstances greatly…you probably do it. I worked illegally in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. People paid me under the table. I was so desperate for something to DO, for the feeling of productivity and contribution. In my case, I was lucky enough to not really have to worry about my ability to live and support myself because my husband did have permission to work. AND I STILL DID NOT CARE. Work gives people dignity. But in any case, the point is not that everyone would do what I did, but that you simply can’t know what you will do in a situation until you are there. I worked illegally for 3 years and I wasn’t even worried about my life, children, or ability to feed myself. If you don’t know me, let me assure you that I am not a person who casually breaks rules. I was the kid who reported it if a teacher gave me a higher grade than I deserved. I always return wallets and phones. I own up to things even when NO ONE CARES.

I began to realize just how scared people were of ME. The news and general information out there about my own religion, country, and culture is not great. Some of it’s wrong–but not all of it. Perspective is such an amazing and unreal thing. I could be mad at the media for misinformation–but how could I be mad at my neighbor who trusted their own media and literally knew nothing else? And how could I be anything but IN AWE when that neighbor chose to show kindness and openness anyway?

My next-door neighbor originally assumed I hated them. He was always polite, always kind. Then I found out that someone had reported his beloved German Shepherd and he’d had to remove it from his home. He assumed it was us out of some vendetta. Luckily, we go the chance to talk when I offered to let him and his wife park in our driveway (they had two cars, we had none). When he found out I wasn’t a dog-hater and didn’t even know he had a dog, he threw the switch to total hospitality so fast it made my head spin. They came over to share food and show us vacation pictures, when our son was born he and his wife went out of their way to get us gifts “American style,” because Saudis just give money. (AND HOLY MAN DID THEY GIVE US GIFTS. THERE IS NOTHING MORE HUMBLING THAN BEING GIFTED SOMETHING BY A SAUDI OR FED BY A SAUDI. LET ME ASSURE YOU AMERICANS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GIVE GIFTS OR HOSPITALITY LIKE THAT.)

Also, and this lesson doesn’t matter so much, but nothing prepares you for eating at a restaurant that claims to be your own country’s food. Just someone’s else’s interpretation of what pancakes and eggs are supposed to be like is rather revealing about how radical perception and understanding can be when they are shifted just a few degrees. The only people who should make American breakfast are Americans and that is one prejudice I will stick to until I die.

You can’t eat meal after meal next to people you thought of as strange without discovering that they are shockingly familiar. They discuss weekend plans and complain about over-involved mothers. They go outside for smoke breaks and discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They make the same jokes your own Dad makes, just with different politics or religions inserted. They gossip and talk about the weather. It’s hard not to be stupefied as thing after thing you thought came from only your own family, background, culture and country spill out of the mouths of people who dress nothing like you and speak with an accent.

Culture is clothing. It is exterior and shallower than we ever tend think. Humanity is deep, and it is not different from place to place. Living among any people, no matter how different they may seem is revealing: when you go looking for the exotic, often what you find is the totally familiar.

We marginalize the minority, not because we have special rights or conditions, but because that is what humans do everywhere always. Because fear is natural and what we all do.

But I believe we are better. I know we are. I know we can rise above what’s natural and easy.

So listen to music that’s not yours. Watch shows that represent someone different than you. Read books with a perspective that bothers you. Let’s get out of the echo chambers. I’m not asking for change in what you think or believe, only in what you are exposed to. If we passively expose ourself to our neighbors, you’d be surprised how much easier it just becomes to BE neighbors.

And I will never be angry with or scared of someone who asks for such things, who wants the marginalization to stop. Because I want it to stop too. And it’s never as scary as people think it will be. And changing your perspective doesn’t mean losing your beliefs. Often, when we understand other people and beliefs–we understand ourselves better, and what we believe is strengthened.

Fear is a greater enemy than any other set of people ever could be. Don’t let it have you.

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

“DO YOU HAVE TO PARK SO DAMN CLOSE?!”

I found the tiny yellow note on my dash under my wipers at a point where I’m not entirely sure which of my parking jobs it was referring to. As with anyone, I think, with any kind of criticism, my gut reaction was to defend myself.

But to whom would I present my defense? Would it even be sufficient to just defend myself for this particular time? As someone who has always struggled to pull off neat parking jobs, it didn’t terribly surprise me that eventually it caught up with me. Having given up on re-parking repeatedly every time I wasn’t perfect, I eventually settled for between the lines and able to open the doors without dinging anyone as sufficient. I desperately wanted to tell them that I had tried. That I THOUGHT I had done a good enough job. That though pregnant I had been able to get out with relative comfort on the close side.

But you can’t argue with a note. Maybe that’s the point? Shame with no risk of argument.

Jonathon asked, “What’s it say?”

I didn’t want to show it to him, but passed it over anyway. “It’s not very nice, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”

I thought to myself that if Mr. Note Writer had met me in person it would be hard to be mad at me. I would be so apologetic. I would move my vehicle right away. I would smile and poke fun at myself. I would use my own awkwardness to charm them out of anger and diffuse the whole thing immediately.

But as it was, they got to think of me as only a selfish close parker. A note like that carries a note of hate and contempt in it. It would be impossible to hold that kind of emotion in a stable way with real me. But with mysterious close parker me, it was easy.

And I imagine, that kind of fits right in with what everyone seems to like doing these days.

I read an article recently that current ratings of television and movies can be actually quite hard to interpret by audience numbers alone. Because it is a current fad to hate watch things. As in, people watch things they despise for the sole joy of complaining about them afterward. I think this is a much softer way of pointing a finger at the general emotional atmosphere of the U.S. in general right now. We are so much more into what we are against than what we are for.

But what if we started believing the best in people?

What if when someone parked badly, we imagined all the great reasons they could have had to do that. What if when someone piles 30 items in the express lane we think of what could lead a nice reasonable person to do so? What if, when we heard an opinion we thought was truly awful, our first reaction was to wonder how a person came to that conclusion? What if we assumed it was for good reasons, even if those reasons led them to a different place than us? And what if…what if I assumed the man who left the note on my windshield had understandable reasons for leaving an angry note?

Maybe his Mom died. Maybe he has to use crutches that made it even harder for him to get into his car than for me and my pregnant belly. Maybe he was joking. And maybe the note wasn’t even that mean and he was genuinely correcting me in a way I needed to be corrected.  All of these things are at least worth considering before I just decide the note leaver was a mean person. (Or even a man. Did you notice that?)

Because if you are like me, you’ve been the person on the other end of that equation. The person who needed grace. I’ll never forget the day, when I had an emotional explosion in public, way too old for it, and way out of line–when someone came and wrapped their arms around me and asked me how I was feeling. That person was even the object of my explosion. She sat with me until I calmed down. She made sure I was ok. And not once did she defend herself against the list of untrue assumptions I had made about the situation. She just saw me. She assumed the best.

And in that moment, receiving grace I did not deserve in any way, my heart changed. It was a grinch getting a bigger heart moment. The kind of thing that changed my life. The kind of thing that gave me capacity to finally dive into my own hurts and work on them, so that I could turn it back around and show grace to others.

If life is a parking lot (and we are ok with intentionally terrible metaphors), we are probably all going to park a little too close at times. Or try to take the same spot at once. Or bump into each other circling to find a spot. But we can safely assume we are all here for similar reasons, seeking basically the same thing. A place to fit in, and hopefully with as few scratches and bumps as possible. And we owe each other that grace. We are all worth that risk.

Otherwise, why are we here at all?

If you are swimming in deep waters (Holding sadness and joy at the same time)

If you are swimming in deep waters (Holding sadness and joy at the same time)

In the middle of a midnight drive, in a terrible rainstorm, I saw it. A giant boat rising up on the side of the interstate out of the chaos.

A bubble of laughter burst from my throat unexpectedly. “That’s a boat! I mean seriously there’s a boat on the road!”

I thrilled a little in imagining it to be a modern day Noah’s Ark sort of situation. I giggled like a kid at the silliness of finding a boat all by itself on the interstate, ready to face the oncoming deluge should it devolve into a worldwide flood.

It had been a really terrible night. And a wonderful night.

My family and I had been visiting with old friends and were on our way back from Long Island to PA where I have family, when I accidentally directed us through Time Square. Yes. Accidentally. Who does that? I still think my GPS owes me an explanation for THAT set of directions. But we got to show that place of bustling craziness to our oldest son who had lived there with us as a baby.

“Mom, what is this place? Why are we here?”

“It’s New York City. And I don’t know.”

“I LOVE it Mom! Look at all the people Mom! This is amazing!”

We skipped through the traffic and did our best not to hit jaywalkers. We both laughed heartily when a car pulled around us in our left-turn lane to turn left from the right hand lane because we were not FAST enough. And I got a phone call, somewhere in the middle of the mad dash through Manhattan, that somewhere a baby had died.

Softly in his sleep. His mother, my community member, fellow teacher and fellow Mom, sat somewhere in devastation.

And I had to look back to my family. To give us directions so that we could find Lincoln tunnel before we got lost in the labyrinth of NYC forever. To talk to my son about where we were until he fell back asleep. To squeeze my younger son’s leg and make sure he was still breathing, because I needed to hear that. Over and over again I checked.

And my husband and I had this magnificent conversation about life, and love, and sadness. I had just received permission to use the name of another Son who had died almost exactly one year before. To use his name for the unborn child I now carry, a child who is to be my third son. He will bear the name of my own family’s lost son so that we can remember, and take joy in a life well-lived, and bring forth new life in the midst of sadness.

And it was one of those conversations that marks a place in time. As if we were getting to step outside of time for just a little bit to review where we had been. To muse on where we would go and ponder how we would walk through great tragedy should it ever come to us. We laughed, and we cried (Ok, I mostly cried and my husband sat in respectable somber silence). And we were at once joyful and hopeful and devastated. And I did my best to hold all of it without dropping any of those feelings, wrapping it like gossamer and thorns around my own heart. I held the meaning of the grief and the memories and the giggling all at once…

as we drove into one of the worst thunder storms I have ever been in.

And we spent 3 hours blundering through rain so thick we couldn’t see the lines on the road, only forging ahead because every other car had their emergency flashers on too, little blinking lighthouses to follow into the night that, themselves, could take a tumble off the road. My knuckles gripped my seat in anxiety as I continued to cry and laugh. I thought about our beautiful night, the real fear of driving on a road we could not see, and that I was experiencing all this at the same time another mother somewhere was having the worst night of her life, and two more I know were remembering the not so distant worst night of theirs.

And Jonathon and I, we held all of these things up. We tried to bear the weight with courage. To fully exult in the joyful and mourn for the brokenness and loss.

And that boat rose up from the storm, like a whimsical love letter to us straight from the God I’ve always thought was just a touch sarcastic and wry (in the best way of course). And I honestly don’t know if I was laughing or crying more.

And we drove home to where my brand new baby niece sleeps in her brand new home with my brother and his wife. Where there were more snuggles to be had and new life to be enjoyed.

And I was so very truly sad-happy in terrible and wonderful sincerity.

It was a treasure-all-these-things-up-in-our-hearts-night.

And we held it all together as we crawled into our bed to try and sleep. Full of wonder, free of fear, trusting that God would hold us whatever would come.

We laid there believing he holds those in grief so closely: past and future, all who have ever mourned and all who ever will. Like children believing our parent knows where we are going in the storm and that somehow, simply because of who they are, who HE is, no matter what happens, the car will stay on the road and we will be ok.

And I still believe that we will be.

If You’ve Ever Yelled at Your Neighbor (Thoughts about Quirks and Bad Behavior Vs. Spiritual Gifts)

If You’ve Ever Yelled at Your Neighbor (Thoughts about Quirks and Bad Behavior Vs. Spiritual Gifts)

“I’m a monster,” said the shadow of the Marquess suddenly. “Everyone says so.” The Minotaur glanced up at her. “So are we all, dear,” said the Minotaur kindly. “The thing to decide is what kind of monster to be. The kind who builds towns or the kind who breaks them.”

Catherynne M. Valente

Most people don’t think it when they first meet me, but I have been in an impressive set of verbal and physical altercation stories for someone who is often assigned adjectives like “nice,” “quiet,” and “I don’t know who that is.”

giphy-2

 

Recently I got into one such altercation which I detailed on Facebook and then later deleted, because:

  • The responses I got from friends were not quite what I was hoping for,
  • Just in case my neighbors could somehow connect with me on Facebook now or we actually become friends later I really don’t want that post hanging out
  • It came off as way more judgmental than I wanted even though I was trying to leave out any details that sounded condemning of others involved.

Responses were overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and while I feel really ungrateful for saying this, they didn’t really give me any comfort. I think this is what I had on my mind:

  1. Does this happen to other people? Please tell me it does.
  2. It makes me feel better to tell the story of how silly I was to stand on a milk-crate and put my leg through it causing bleeding and bruising (for some reason). But also I want sympathy for physical discomfort and being an idiot.
  3. I actually kind of want to know what other people do in this situation instead. And most of the time that kind of advice would come off as preachy and I appreciate that people didn’t just give it. But although #1 is on my mind, I’m pretty sure by now out of experience that other people (ones I respect anyway) generally deal with these situations differently.

I did finally just ask a friend what she would have done and she said, “I would have walked away and told him I’d be happy to talk when we could talk without yelling.”

I had a seriously “well duh” moment just about then,

giphy

along with my own head commentary which carries full knowledge of how I handle conflict when it’s not directed at me.

I used to work as a cashier at Wal-Mart. When customers inevitably got angry and aimed their accusations at me, I had a line: “You can stand here and yell at me, which I’m happy to let you do, or you can let me go get you someone who can actually solve your problem. I don’t really care which, but one is definitely faster. Your choice.” And I really would serenely stand there and nod empathetically if they kept yelling.

giphy-3

Once I single handedly solved a years long neighborhood dispute with a little old lady who always came out to yell when kids in the community space made too much noise. In the middle of a really tense shouting match between her and one of the mothers I simply stepped in, rested my hand on the older woman’s arm and asked, “Are you feeling ok? You seem like maybe something is really wrong other than the kids.” She broke down into tears and told me her life story, apologized for yelling at the kids, and said she wouldn’t bother us anymore. (She never did as far as I know).

I can take joy in just how calm I can be in the face of spitting red faced fury. Calmness is both offensive to the angry and completely impenetrable. It’s beautiful. So why can’t I seem to keep it when I’m in situations where someone actually has the power to hurt me and I really do have responsibility for what they are angry about?

One of my dearest friends in the world thought very seriously about NOT being in relationship with me at the beginning of our friendship because I admitted that I occasionally have a scary temper, and then she witnessed it.

We were walking on a sidewalk together when a car who was trying to take a shortcut to a parking lot was actually driving up on the sidewalk behind us. She immediately stepped out of the way and motioned for me to join her. But I instead slowed down to a painful speed and said, “I’m not moving. We are supposed to be here. That car is not.” She nervously joined me, not fully knowing what to do. When the car finally honked at me I spun around in a second, and slapped a hand on his hood. I yelled, “THIS IS A SIDEWALK! PEOPLE WALK HERE!”

Guys, it was a car. It could have run me over. I was in a foreign country where I really wasn’t sure they wouldn’t try. That story simultaneously makes me laugh and feel like a complete fool.

giphy-4

And how could you not wonder, as my friend (or boss), about what would happen if I ever aimed that temper at you? Or couldn’t hold my tongue in a situation where it was harmful to everyone not to do so? I think about that all the time. If I make myself feel like a bomb that could go off at any moment, how must I make other people feel?

That same friend who witnessed the car slapping, DID eventually decide I was worth the trouble, and (I am so grateful for this) decided that at least usually my escapades involve me seeking some sort of justice.

In a recent conversation we discovered we had both had similar experiences involving a Ouji board and a party. Neither of us (being people who seriously believe in the spiritual realm and that messing with it is a very bad idea) wanted to play. My friend had cleverly avoided conflict by moving the Ouji dial around intentionally herself to make sure nothing else could. She got out of an actual spiritual encounter and freaked all her friends out at the same time–but she wasn’t sure she felt good about it.

Me? I said very soundly to my friends, “You guys can all get yourselves killed by a demon if you want, but if you get that thing out I swear I’m walking home right now.” (I lived miles away and it was very late at night, but I meant it.)

“See?” said my friend, upon hearing the story. “That’s why you are the way you are. Every friend group needs someone who does that.”

I guess at least my friends would never end up victims in a horror movie. That’s something right?

giphy-5

I wish I had a more thoughtful way to end this, except to say that I have insisted over and over again that though we may sometimes use our gifts badly, those quirky attributes often ARE gifts and they are there for a reason. If you start out on a maze and a mythical minotaur gives you a key, there will be a lock you can open with it somewhere–and it won’t matter if you pick your nose with it or use it as a hair barrette. And God is so much kinder than minotaurs.

As long as you keep the keys you are given (and try to keep them out of your nose), they will make sense and be there when you find the locks they are for. That’s what I’m hoping.

If Your Voice is Small

If Your Voice is Small

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I’ve seen you, fellow quiet sojourner. I know people ask you why you don’t talk too. I admire you, because you are probably better at just saying nothing rather than letting awkward dribble escape now and then, just to prove you exist, like I do. I wish I only talked when I really wanted to. That I didn’t feel pressed into small-talk, which it turns out isn’t often remembered at all anyway. I feel kinship with you, even while I want to give you space and not insist on doing the same thing to you which most people do: expecting friendship, or entertainment, or patronizing conversation where I’m only insisting we talk because I somehow think it’s my job to get you to do it. I see you. I tend to think you are better than me, because you are more comfortable with your backstage place, less worried about how much you exist in the worlds of others, less inclined to fill in the spaces with conversation you don’t really want to have.

Do you, like me, sometimes keep your mouth closed because you know the only thing that would come out would be disappointment or disdain? Or maybe sometimes because you aren’t interested in the conversation going on, and you just honestly don’t know how to pretend to be excited? Or maybe you accidentally dropped off into your own fantasy about a magical land where cups of coffee are always bottomless and naps are long and thunderstorms always come at 3 o’clock sharp after plenty of sunshine so that rain is always whimsical and dreamy (and never just cold and dark) and animals really do understand what you are saying and people never ever think that being quiet means that you are less capable, or less smart, or less important?

And I’m guessing that you, like me, are always just a little startled when the label “quiet” is applied at all. Because it’s not quiet in your head. Because when you are one-on-one with someone you really care about you can go on for hours. And if you measure only the talking that people do that they really care about, and really deeply mean, the amount is really about the same. And I bet you, like me, have a hard time regretting not being into fluff conversations. And hopefully you, unlike me, don’t have a lot of regrettable fluffy conversations on your conscience, because you, unlike me, are a more dignified version of “quiet.”

Maybe you, like me, trust words more when you’ve had time to think about them and when you can set them down on paper. Or screen. Not a place where they just float out in the air to be forgotten, or misconstrued later, but in a place of permanence where they can be counted, measured, and heard again and again. Because words can be such slippery dangerous things when you don’t pin them down properly. (It’s so much easier to be held responsible for something I can prove I said, rather than for something I don’t quite remember saying or that I’m sure I said in another way).

And do you, like me, struggle not to roll your eyes when yet ANOTHER charismatic go-getter with a loud voice and a tendency toward pandering and a total lack of appreciation for thoughtful types has been elected as your boss, or pastor, or mayor, or president of the adorable cats appreciation club? (Just kidding, obviously cat lovers would never do such a thing.) Do you sigh with relief on the rare occasion when someone who values substance and reflection and honesty, and occasionally quiet, actually manages to be the leader of something? Do you then roll your eyes again as all the charismatic go-getters scramble to be that person’s friend now that he has some influence?

I think God made sure Moses was in the bible just for us. People talk about his speech impediment, but they act like he must have been yet another charismatic go-getter who just happened to have a stutter and would be just as loud and charismatic and go-getting as the popular leaders they are used to. They forget about his reluctance to lead at all, or his quiet response over and over again to merely go and pray when the Israelites were ready to kill him. Or the fact that when more charismaticky go-getters thought they deserved leadership just as much as he did that they were struck-down with leprosy or sucked straight into a hole in the ground.  (Look it up. It’s not smart to spurn God’s quieter ones). God has raised us, defended us, loved us, valued us, and occasionally smote the loud ones on our behalf. And a quiet man got to deliver the law, organize God’s nation, and see the Messiah when he first showed his true form.

 

Know that when I see you, I do not think of you as quiet at all. You speak volumes beloved friends. Not all words are spoken. Not all meaning needs words at all. And sometimes, silence can be the loudest response of all.

 

*Note: I do not actually advocate for the smiting of loud people…mostly.

 

If You Really Love Trees (When Anger is Hard to Explain)

If You Really Love Trees (When Anger is Hard to Explain)

I like to think of myself as a bit of a hobbit–because I can be the same old boring and quiet person day in and day out until out of nowhere…

I hurl an apple as hard as I can with a Tarzan-like scream at school bullies.

I try to break down the door someone had curtly slammed on my nose and wake up my entire dorm floor throwing myself at it.

I calmly and coldly stand still in front of a car threatening to run me over because he is driving on a sidewalk illegally behind me and it pisses me off.

I stand between two men about to fight and break it up even though my BABY is strapped to my chest.

I personally chase down on foot a bunch of football players on ATV’s throwing water balloons at people with that same Tarzan scream because one landed inches from my ear.

These are things I actually did. There are more stories like that too. If something gets me killed one of these days it’s definitely going to be my crazy out of nowhere volcano temper. Sometimes I think the only thing that saved me was that no one ever expected it from me. I always used to just shove those events back in the dark recesses of my mind as quickly as possible. I probably wasn’t going to do that again. Right? And I never really wanted to ask myself why they had happened at all.

Secretly, I have often thought of myself as a grumpy slob who would rather just live in a cave with cats (and probably resemble something like the crazy cat lady in the Simpsons who throws her angry cats at people for no reason at all) and a good coffee machine and maybe some books and video games. And some rocks to throw at squirrels. Because I think I am a horrible and selfish person. I only have good qualities because other people seem to want them and I seem to want other people in spite of myself. So I have been angry at everyone. And no one. And mostly myself.

Once, when I was at a a big church conference, there was a sermon on the power of healing people through faith. I don’t remember much, other than that at the end there was this opportunity to experience one of the most beautiful sacraments of the church–being anointed with oil. I sat and listened and casually noted that I had no physical needs for healing. I watched friends go down for healing who had cancer, or migraines, or various other needs. But to my own astonishment, I found myself walking down toward one of those doing the anointing. I had no idea what I was going to say. These are the words that came out of my mouth:

“I’m so angry I can’t bear it. I’m angry every day and every night and I think I hate everyone. I’m. Just. So. Angry.” A torrent of unexpected tears came, as I sank into my own horror at myself, and the relief that came at admitting to the acrid secret that tore at me constantly.

He awkwardly told me that my need wasn’t really what they meant by healing, but he prayed with me anyway.  He gave me no anointing. I walked away feeling empty and really unsure of why I had felt compelled to go down. And my own words were a shock to me. The angry cat lady was a thought I barely acknowledged even to myself. I shook off the tears and emotion and put the awkward healing prayer I didn’t need behind me.

Years later, after getting married, 3 moves, 2 kids, and a lot of realizing that I seem to be discontented pretty much wherever we were, it happened. I was sitting at a ladies lunch with friends listening to the story of another friend. She told a story similar to the one I had as a kid. She had moved to a new town and it hadn’t gone well. She eventually learned how to fit in and got new clothes and a great hair-do and became student council president and was successful in so many ways. (I know her own story was one about the follies of chasing approval by other people, and painful for its own reasons, but those things faded completely in the light of my own regret at my own life). It cracked me wide open. A hurricane of jealousy and hatred and rage filled me in that moment so that I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move.

Her story was not my story, and I wished it was. I was never popular, and never managed to look particularly cool or beautiful. We never had much money and my clothes were either used or from Wal-Mart. I had some academic achievement and a handful of friends and I knew that should have made me feel blessed. But in so many ways for so many reasons, some real and some imagined, and some so bad I’d never told anyone, I felt cheated.  And in that moment of jealousy and anger I was so ashamed that I couldn’t move on from these things. I put my head in my hands and cried great big ugly tears.


When I was small, there were these two beautiful trees in the back yard of our parsonage home. They stood next to a big chain link fence that divided our yard from the highway and the train tracks that lay on the other side. My brother and I each claimed a tree as ours. We used to climb up into our trees, hang on with one arm and wave and yell things at the conductors of trains that passed. One day one of the parishioners cut them down. All that remained were stumps. Someone claimed they were ugly and too close to the gorgeous (*cough) chain link fence back there. My young self didn’t understand at all, didn’t they ask if those trees belonged to anyone? I visited the stumps afterward, like grave stones. I talked to them (Ok, I know I’m admitting something about myself right here, but I also talk to my cats, my lamps, and oh whatever–I like trees and I talk to them.) I told them I missed them and I was sorry.

Years later, there was this tree in the front yard of the next parsonage we moved to. It was this enormous Maple tree that turned the color of fire in the fall. I loved that tree like a dear friend. But it only ever had leaves on half of it’s branches. The other half were dead and bare. It was broken, but in a way I delighted in forgiving it for. It was like me. Beautiful and Ugly. Dead and Alive. Awake and Asleep. I adored it.

One day, driving back from school with Mom, I came home to find it cut down and sliced up into pieces on our front yard. It’s sap was still visibly oozing and dripping down the slices. Like blood. I picked up both of my feet and slammed them into our car’s dashboard when I saw it. And I screamed something like “OF COURSE THEY WOULD OF COURSE THEY WOULD BECAUSE I LOVED THAT TREE! OF COURSE THEY WOULD!”

I think my mother almost drove into the curb in surprise at my outburst and complete change in demeanor.

Someone told me the tree was rotten inside. That it wasn’t any good. I think I said, “Oh, sure. I guess that makes sense. It’s just sad.” Inside I felt murderous. The people who killed the tree were the same people who had shut one of my cats in a room alone while my family was on vacation. He had died slowly of dehydration and infection as a result. I wasn’t exactly trusting of their respect toward living things.

It was the lack of control of my life that drove me crazy. My family didn’t own very much. We borrowed most of it. House, trees, furnishings, carpets, bathrooms, yards. Other people could decide at a moments notice there needed to be a change, or something had to go. And no one ever seemed to care or ask me how I felt about things. But I was also sure that it wouldn’t take anything too out of order for me to get my Dad fired or at least very very embarrassed. So I held it in and smiled at everything. And when I wrote in my journal sometimes I wrote so angrily I tore holes through the paper with my pen. And I secretly whispered to trees that I loved them and that I was on their side.

As an adult, I once had an ESL student tell me she thought I was the happiest person in the world. I laughed and without thinking said, “Oh that’s probably just because I’m from the MidWest! We all smile there. Even when we’re not happy at all. It’s pretty creepy actually.” I looked at her blank stare and realized it was probably the wrong thing to say. “Ha, ha, hey creepy! That’s a great word. Anyone know how to define the word creepy?…”

Smiling when I didn’t mean it had gotten to be a lifelong habit. And hating people who wielded any sort of power had as well. But it was buried so deep I could only find it in a moment where someone was throwing water balloons at me or hitting my face with a door. But it was unmistakable. I did not believe that the vast majority of people were on my side at all.


At that moment, the one where I was crying big ugly angry tears after my friend told her story, I felt a gentle touch on my head. I looked up to see the face of a lady at my church, smiling with so much compassion it melted my resentment in a moment. She had neat curly hair and square glasses perched on the tip of her nose. The eyes behind them were so kind. She didn’t ask me what was wrong or make me tell my story. She held my head in her hands and she prayed with me. And then, from her purse, she pulled out a vial of oil. She anointed me and asked God for healing.

One touch, even far after the fact, from one person willing to accept my anger and sadness and have compassion on it took this huge weight off of my shoulders I’d been carrying for so long. She didn’t make me prove I deserved compassion, like so many other people, or weigh me or judge me in any way. She was Jesus to me like that man at the conference had failed to be. Or the tree killers, the cat killers, or that guy driving his car on the sidewalk behind me.


Two years ago I got to plant trees in the backyard of the house I bought with my husband. My kids and I watched as the tree guys put them in the ground and tethered them to posts. “Look mommy! Baby trees!” squealed my oldest. I smiled, a real smile, and gave him a squeeze.

“Yes kiddo. We’ve got to take care of them as a family. They’ve got a lot of growing to do, but we’re going to help them.”

When all my family was asleep I snuck out into the backyard that night to water the new trees. I touched each one and let their leaves brush my cheeks. I whispered to each one.

“We love you. You are ours. We’re going to take care of you.”