Thursday, September 25, 2014

How The Lord's Prayer Helped Me Have A Baby

Hi friends. My church has been test-driving a new portion of our service known as "Our Stories," similar to "testimony time" in an old timey Baptist church...except without the emotional manipulation and political grandstanding. ;) Just joshin' ya, SBC peeps. Sorta. Anyways...

Here's my story from a recent Sunday service. The text that week was "Moses in the Bulrushes," the story about Moses' mother putting him in a basket in the Nile River to keep him from being killed.


Hi, I’m Rachel. Our sermon today is about a young woman who did what she had to do to protect her infant son. It’s a good story, but it’s not the one I want to tell. I want to tell you about when I became a mother.

I was so happy when I found out I was pregnant, and somehow I just knew it was a girl! All I had ever wanted, all I could ever picture myself with was a daughter. I didn’t breathe a word of this to anyone, but deep inside, I knew.

And then we went for the ultrasound appointment and I really knew. It really was a baby girl! I laughed and cried all at once from the joy. And then in the car on the way home – I was blindsided by terror. Sheer terror. My stomach was hollow and my heart was beating through my chest. My mouth was dry; I didn’t speak. “I have to protect her!” was all I could think. You see, when I was very small, an adult I trusted did something really bad to me. Something that adults should never, ever do to children. This bad thing wasn’t a secret anymore. I had told someone and I let them help me, and I let God help me, and I had found peace and healing. But now, I was feeling that old wound in a completely different way - as a mother. And I was just paralyzed with fear.

Y’all, I just couldn’t pray. I tried. For so many days, I would start to pray and then my mouth was a desert and my mind was a tornado and my emotions were a thunderstorm. The only thing that seemed to help was The Lord’s Prayer – more specifically, the first line of the prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” I prayed these six words over and over again, all day, every day and especially anytime I felt the panic creeping up. Bedtime was the worst! “Our Father, who art in heaven…our Father, who art in heaven…Our Father, who art in heaven...” And eventually I would sleep. Little by little, as I turned my mind and heart to the Father, the times of peace would last longer, and the times of terror would disappear sooner.

My daughter is four years old now. I wish I could tell you that I have been a paragon of peace and wisdom ever since those days, but alas…I cannot. I can tell you that I believe God is good, and He loves us. I can tell you that the horrible things that happen to the innocent ones are not from God. I can tell you that I am still a little too anxious and watchful at times, and on the hardest days, the idea of living in one of those walled-in survivalist compounds is oddly appealing. Nevertheless, I have chosen to really live in this world and to allow my daughter to really live in it as well.

Because if we hide from the brokenness, who wins?

If we don’t go out and shine our light, then won’t the darkness just get stronger?

I can’t protect my daughter perfectly. I can’t be everywhere, all the time. My everything may not be enough.

But as it turns out, my everything is still an awful lot, and I’m not giving up anytime soon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What Just Happened?! :: My Impression of the World Vision Fiasco

I can't find a way to make this funny, or poignant, or profound. I can't make a connection or tie a string to bring it all around again. On Monday, I was impressed and hopeful. On Tuesday, I was sad and incredulous. And then Wednesday...I don't even know. It was just so painful.

All I know to do is tell you how I feel. Some of you won't know what it's like to be in the minority. Some of you won't know what it's like to be LGBT. Or what it's like to follow God down this road instead of that road, and then those who used to look at you that way now look at you this way. You won't know how any of that feels. But I do retain enough faith in humanity to believe that if I talk about how I feel, maybe you will see some of your experience in this small piece of my experience and, my God, maybe you can let yourself be connected to me for a fleeting moment.

I feel this massive hollowness in my chest -- like you could walk up and knock on my sternum and it would just echo. It's been there since Wednesday afternoon's news. My eyes are watery, and I catch myself staring off into the distance during normal conversation, my mind a total blank. My sister sent me the kindest text message at 8:23 PM on Wednesday that immediately brought a stream of tears and a labored sigh and my head in my hands as I was reminded that I am still connected to someone. That I am still a person, at least to her.

I want to say...when you hold thousands of hungry children hostage, I guess anyone of good conscience will give in to you.

Or I want to say...if you're going to take a stand, then please count the fucking cost before you do it.

But these statements are not fully authentic. They are honest, but they aren't completely from my integrity. They are also from my hurt and my desire not to feel that hurt. So I'm not going to explore these sentiments; I'm just throwing stuff off and I know I need to stay with my integrity.

I was reminded by my sister that I am still a person. And immediately this text message called forth another memory, of myself lying on that same sister's couch about a year ago on a too long and too lonely Saturday afternoon when she walked over to me and said, "You look cold," and covered me with a blanket...and how that simple act helped me feel a little less lonely and a little more cared for.
And then I pondered what type of person would stand and hold her blanket instead of covering someone who is cold...and not even because the cold person is gay, but because the person who supplies the blankets may or may not be gay. Or, may or may not have answered a phone call from someone who may or may not be gay. Or, what-the-hell-ever.
I've thought about it a lot, and all I can come up with is that this person is afraid. She doesn't want to touch a blanket that a gay person has touched. She doesn't want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a gay person to care for someone less fortunate because you only stand shoulder-to-shoulder with equals, and well...that would just be sending the wrong message, wouldn't it?
What she stands against is more important to her than what she stands for. 

Brothers and sisters, I am grieving today. It is my most authentic response to the events of the past week. And if you want to grieve with me, I will hold space for you. And to that fourteen year old kid whose parents had a strained conversation over dinner Monday night about canceling their World Vision sponsorship which suddenly made you lose your appetite because, oh my God, what if they knew about me?, then I want you to know that you are, without a doubt, so beautiful and

you are fearfully and wonderfully made and

you are not alone.

You're not. I am here, and so many others, and we are all on this journey with you. I'm probably going to be sad for a few more days, but I'm going to hang in there. And I want you to hang in there, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

These Hands

(Hi everyone! This story was initially written back in 2010 when Jelly Bean was an infant. I am sprucing up some old writings, and this here sorta-new blog, as well as a couple ETA TBD blog posts. I get to hear so many wonderful stories and reflections from people's lives, and I share my own with my own friends...and I'm to the point now where I really believe that this is the sure fire way to connect with and learn from each other. Like, 200 proof. That level of sure fire. So, I share the thoughts below in hopes that some other parental types out there are encouraged in this marathon we are running.)
When I was a little girl I would lay my head on my mother's lap while we watched the evening news and she would comb her fingers through my hair. I reveled in these moments, soaking in her attention, and often I would find myself studying her hands. I noticed how soft they were, and that her fingernails were always so well manicured, and I liked to twist her wedding ring around on her finger as my little mind worked hard to make sense of the world.

For a tiny dose of perspective, my mother was younger at that time, when she had four daughters in elementary school, than I am now with my first baby girl. My mother's 30 year old hands symbolized nurture and kindness to me. And they symbolized adult-ness. Adults can't be kids anymore; they have to keep their act together and know about the world and have answers for kids' questions, etc. Children expect a lot from their parents, and the great irony is that they don't realize this until they are parents themselves.
Sometimes when I am nursing Jelly Bean, she does this thing where she delicately lays her little hand on her cheekbone, or over her eyes. Her perfect little hand, that is barely big enough yet to completely cover her temple. And when she lays her hand just so, it's more than I can bear. It just devastates me. And so, I cover her hand with my own and pray with all of my wrenching heart that I can protect her and guide her and love her the way she needs.

So, I am conflicted. Half of the time I want to be her adventurous/unpredictable Tour Guide For Life, a la Willy Wonka. And the other half of the time I just want to hold her close to my chest and stay inside the house and scream out the front door, "You can all just stay away! Nobody here has anything for you, and definitely nobody will ever be interested in leaving to adventure into the broken world which you operate and which you continue to make worse, byyyy theeee waaaayyyy!!!"
Okay, that's a lot to scream. And the sweet retired ladies who live across the street are probably the only ones who would hear me and I don't think they're making anything worse. They mostly just work in their flower gardens and make small talk with me and each other during the languid summer evenings. So, anyway...

I do realize that if we do our job, Jelly Bean will actually someday leave for her Big Adventure and we will not be invited. I will not be invited. And then probably years later on a regular day she will look down, as I have, unsuspecting, and realize, These hands look just like my mother's.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Meditation (15 minutes)

As a musician, I express myself most readily with music. I also meditate most readily with some sort of music involved. So I put this brief meditation together for myself and I offer it to you as well. Songs include "God Have Mercy (Kyrie Eleison)" by the David Crowder Band, "Lord, Have Mercy" by Michael W. Smith, and "Come Healing" by Leonard Cohen. Listen to each song while you meditate on the readings below the video link.
Cohen's voice is a strong one and may be a little off-putting for some of y'all, but it's honestly one of my favorites for it's richness and complexity. Hang in there with us, if you can.
I love the heck out of y'all. 

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." Romans 7:18-19

"For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust." Psalm 103:14

"Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
The God of my salvation,
And my tongue shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth your praise.
For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart --
These, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:14-17 NKJV

The definition of contrite is "feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt."

Synonyms include remorseful, repentant, penitent, regretful, sorry, apologetic, rueful, sheepish, hangdog, ashamed, shamefaced, and conscience-stricken.

"Come Healing" by Leonard Cohen
O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb


Sunday, March 2, 2014

"I Would Never Do Anything to Hurt You," and Other Lies

(Originally composed on April 23, 2010, when Jelly Bean was two months old. Edited to share here.)

"I would never do anything to hurt you."

I've said it before. I think maybe I said it a couple weeks ago to Jelly Bean, our infant daughter, in one of the several outpourings of maternal emotion I've been experiencing since she turned our lives upside down two months ago. I didn't mean to lie. Really, I didn't. But today I realized that's exactly what I had done.

You see, she had her first round of vaccinations today. If she weren't still happily oblivious to much of what we call reality, she'd be one confused baby girl. As it is, she has spent 90% of the day since we got home in bed and the remaining 10% in my arms, looking into my eyes and - no other word describes it - whimpering. Thank God for baby Tylenol. Seriously. Or I'd be a basket case.

And while I was holding her, looking into her eyes as she looked into mine, I realized that I can't explain this to her in a way that she'll understand. I mean, I still tried.

"Honey, I know those shots hurt really bad when you got them, and you're probably still very sore. But they are good for you and they'll keep you from getting sick." She just stared; all she knows right now is the hurt. All she knows is that she was laid out on that hospital table, and that lady with the cold hands grabbed her leg, and did something...and after two breathless seconds (because her Mama felt it, too), she cried like she's never cried before. And immediately her mother, the one who had delivered her to this small room for this maltreatment, scooped her up and cried with her.

Some things have happened to me, and maybe to you too, that have hurt. It hurt so badly and happened so quickly and was so unlike anything I had ever experienced that I was shocked into this outraged sadness. I wanted answers. I wanted to understand. And I wanted to understand so that I could see it coming next time, damn it. 

But that's a lie, the belief that it'll hurt less if I worry or strategize. Ask someone. Even when you see it coming, it still hurts like hell.

And when my Father scooped me up and held me close as I raged about the pain, He didn't say anything. Or at least, that's how it seemed. (I wonder...what if He did try to explain, and I couldn't understand?)
He is timeless; I am bound to time.

He is Creator; I am the created.

He holds the universe in his hands; sometimes I can't even make a decent marinara.

So. I tried to explain to my girl what had happened. She whimpered in response, and then nuzzled her face into the crook of my arm as she fell asleep.

     "O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
          Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
          Or in things too difficult for me.
     Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
          Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
          My soul is like a weaned child within me.
     O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever."

          Psalm 131

Oh for faith, to trust Him more.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Is Love Enough? :: Advent Thoughts

So it's a couple days after Christmas, and I started this blog post about love a few weeks ago, but then got distracted by life. Please forgive the late posting, but these are still some thoughts that I want to share...


We are a culture of dichotomy, of either/or. We love a good, strategically placed "but." (Yeah, that made me giggle, too.) Often I will hear people say things like, "I want my kids to know that I love them, BUT they also need discipline." Or, "I believe that God loves everyone, BUT you reap what you sow."

Now, this is difficult, right? Because, the BIBLE. The Bible is so darn confusing about these things. Because it says both! And, in addition to the "you reap what you sow" stuff, it also says, "God allows rain to fall on the just and the unjust." So, which is it? Do we get what we deserve? Or is it all just random and willy nilly and out of our hands completely?

Father in heaven, our dichotomous, Western, scientifically-minded, masculinity-obsessed culture wants to know -- Is it this one OR that one?

Which is why there are approximately two bazillion Christian denominations -- and why I get almost PTSD level nervous when someone starts a sentence with, "Well, the Bible clearly says..." Uh oh.

But you know, others have written extensively about this topic (Biblical interpretation, namely) and so if you want to read more about it, let me know and I'll send you a short list of books/blogs that I like. Bottom line for me right now is this: The Bible contains all sorts of things, and if I'm gonna stake my life on it, then I'm gonna stick with the major stuff and let other (more conscientious and intelligent) people duke it out over the details.

My major thing right now? God is crazy about me, the way I'm crazy and misty-eyed and speechless when my three year old daughter walks over, puts her hand on my knee, and says, "Mama, I want to tell you a secret..." and then she leans in and says, "I love you so much."

He gets so much JOY from me, the way I get joy from her rendition of Silent Night. "Si-lent night, qui-et night / All is palm, all is quite / Round yon bir-gen, mudder and child / Holy infant, so pen-der and wild..." And so on. Apparently, if she doesn't know the word, she'll just sing whatever she hears. Virgin becomes bir-gen, and so forth.

He is present with me, the way I am present with her when she says, "I wasn't lying to you. I was just saying those words." I know the potential of her good and bad actions even better than she does right now. I feel the weight of that; I believe He does, too. Do I shame her when she messes up? Do I withdraw from her in cold disappointment? By God's grace, I do not and will not. Even though it's tough (excruciating at times), I stay connected to her eyes and to her heart, and we co-labor over these problems.

And as far as I can tell, that is the work of the Incarnation -- connection and interaction in the midst of stink and mess and, even, glory.

May 2014 be a year of Incarnational Joy for you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Hope is not a plan" :: Advent, Week One

At church on Sunday, my pastor gave an excellent sermon on hope. She confessed her interest in crime TV shows (holla!), and gave an excellent quote from one of these shows, in which Hetty Lang of NCIS Los Angeles tells one of her subordinates, "Hope is not a plan, Mr. Callan."

I started getting worried at this point in the sermon. I thought, Oh no, she's going to start talking about how we need to plan to work harder at life / spirituality / relationships. I don't think I can take one more person telling me that my life isn't working because I'm not doing enough.

But. I should not have doubted her so.

She went the total opposite direction. She admitted that, yes, hope is not a plan. But she also stated the obvious truth that any person who has spent any time on the planet knows - which is, that even the best-laid plans often fail. The Scriptures are clear about this (Matt. 5:45, Job 2:10, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes), which is part of why I am so baffled by believers who present their sermons and their lives to us as a sort of how-to-live-and-be-awesome guidebook.

Larry Crabb says it so well in his book Soul Talk, when he says that many people have unwittingly adopted a formulaic view of their spirituality. The formula is basically:

I live a good life + God honors my actions = My life goes reasonably well

How many sermons have I heard that advocate this formula? How many have you heard? I've heard approximately one shitload. And I was nineteen years old (actually, six years old...but my powers of denial are pretty formidable) the first time I doubted this formula. Because you know what happened? The unexpected. The unexpected happened, and it knocked the air right out of me, and my prayers during this time were mostly along the lines of, "Ooouuuuccchhh...." Then again in my mid-20s, and again a couple years ago.

But I gotta tell you, I am getting better at something. I'm getting better at opening my hands - or at least, if I can't do that, of loosening my grip. (Notice I did not say that I'm getting better at expecting the unexpected. This is another mutant form of planning that invokes anxiety, i.e. fear, and I don't want any part of it.) And what helps me let go, even if it's just an itty bitty bit? It's knowing who's got my back, and knowing that he is GOOD.

Because when the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan of life, what is there to do? You roll with the punches. Well, first off, you duck. Because, ew. And then you roll with the punches. You find moments of stillness, and pockets of joy, and you pray one of the three essential prayers, "Help."

And you know that it's not over. Things are still happening, and there is still breath in your lungs, and you are going to be okay.

Yes, hope is not a plan. Thank goodness.