Parenting Through Brokenness and Insanity

Kindergarten Classroom_3

We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.

Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.

I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. 

One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.

Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.

I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.

Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.

These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy? 

I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”

He cries, and turns around.

I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.

I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.

One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet

My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.

Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.

I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.  Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet

When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.

I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.

Roots and Sky: Book Giveaway and Reflecting on Home

IMG_5683

There are a handful of books I’m reading simultaneously – I do that because I’m impatient and want to digest everything at once. Drew Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, and Diana Butler Bass’s Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution. It’s very random but they all hit various points of need for me right now and in usual fashion, I’m devouring them, which means I am in essence skimming and writing/underlining the parts that slap me in the face.

But, Christie Purifoy‘s book – I’m reading this book by ever so slowly. Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is a journal of sorts, in which “Christie slowly unveils the trials and triumphs of that first year at Maplehurst [her new home in Pennsylvania] – from summer’s intense heat and autumn’s glorious canopy to winter’s quiet grief and spring’s unexpected mercies. Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites you into the heartache and joy of small beginnings and the wonder of a God who would make his home with us.” (From the back cover of the book)

Besides being wowed by her pedigree (degrees in English from University of Chicago – I’m still shallow this way, it’s the Korean in me that’s overly-impressed by people who get their doctorates), I was moved by the depth of theological articulation interwoven in these pages – heartfelt and beautiful, and definitely anything but shallow. It’s providing so much for me right now – perspective, possibility, and joy. Because it’s a sanctuary. It’s a space that is allowing me to come back to myself and one that encourages me to simply pay attention to what is happening around me. There’s something about the genuine and honest way she engages the tension between the ordinary and holy because occupying that space in-between is not easy. But the way Christie writes about this sense of wandering and home, I see that this beautiful struggle is necessary. It’s food for our souls. We need this way of being and seeing not only to survive the everyday but periodically revel in the glory of God’s grace.

'We must learn to walk with God on the ground of our own lives.'Click To Tweet

|||

Somehow I got two copies of this incredible book in the mail. A few of us did and that’s such a sweet surprise because since I love it so much I’m going to have to give it away. I love sending mail and will include a couple of extra little treats with it.

If you’d like to enter to win Christie’s new book each thing you do below will give you a single entry:
1. Drop me a line in the comments section here,
2. Tweet at me on Twitter
3. Like/Follow my Facebook page because though I do post my content there I also post a shitton of other people I read and follow and likely good stuff for you to read, too.

I’ll do the drawing on Tuesday 2/2 (release day!) Consider, seriously, buying it anyway as a gift for anyone who loves beautiful and encouraging stories.

Deeper Story: Orcas, Theology, Gynecology, and a Baptism

ocean

An old post:

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent.

My mind is spinning. Is Christmas really this week? As in, 4 days from now. As in, somehow a whole month has flown by. As in, this year is almost over.

Howhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhow is this possible…?

Ok. Breathe. I need to come to terms with this reality. And, it’s fine. It’s really fine. Seriously.

We paused for a moment that night, Andy and I. We watched Blackfish – story of killer whales and how they are exploited. Maybe an odd choice for this season. First movie in a while so we’re a little rusty at choosing movies. Kids were all down. I was folding laundry – willingly – because there was an unusual but welcome peace in the house.  The movie was really compelling and informative, but still…Good God. I mean, please, Jesus help us. I posted on Facebook:

Just finished watching Blackfish. I’m so incredibly depressed. I hate everyone and everything. #humanssuck #allgodscreatures

What felt really the most horrible was watching orca calves be stripped from their mothers. These are creatures that are highly social and have complex family systems – their “languages” are even different for each clan. When the main killer whale in the documentary, Tilikum, was taken from his mother in the Northwestern wild oceans the female orcas stayed nearby wailing their protestation and helplessness. Likewise when calves (remember Shamu?) were taken from their mothers in captivity (like for Seaworld) they recorded the sounds of the mother orca in the pool for 24 hours. The caretakers had never heard that particular sound before and brought in analysts who explained they were doing long range vocals that were truly unique. One of the trainers explained pretty pointedly: “It makes sense. They were grieving.” These orcas were trying to make their voices heard so that the calves would know how to get back to the mothers. But, even in their persistent song, I wonder if they despaired knowing it was futile.

A song of mourning.

...O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear...Click To Tweet

I can’t get those orca sounds out of my head.

II

Today’s text in church was from Isaiah again but this time with the explicit words about a young woman bearing a child called Immanuel. God-With-Us. Even if it might be exegetically off to totally tie these words to Jesus (a hard lesson in OT101) one can’t help but think of Mary the virgin, and God’s radical proximity to us in that little bundle – the precious bun in the oven. Andy’s sermon was really lovely, and all about what I needed to hear in terms of paying attention – how children and babies demand our attention constantly, whether there’s a pressing need (food, water/milk, dirty diaper, sleep) or simply for cuddles and skin-to-skin contact. 

The attention God gives us is likewise relentless, and undeniably much like a mother that positions herself - literally orients herself - towards her newborn.Click To Tweet

Of course, there’s mention of the virgin birth, and I can’t help but stumble over it again. But, Andy read this great Frederick Buechner quote:

The earliest of the four Gospels makes no reference to it, and neither does Paul, who wrote earlier still. On later evidence, however, many Christians have made it an article of faith that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph who got Mary pregnant. If you believe God was somehow in Christ, it shouldn’t make much difference to you how he got there. If you don’t believe, it should make less difference still. In either case, life is complicated enough without confusing theology and gynecology.

In one sense anyway the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is demonstrably true. Whereas the villains of history can always be seen as the products of heredity and environment, the saints always seem to arrive under their own steam. Evil evolves. Holiness happens.

Man. Buechner both kills me (in terms of humor…for some reason I laughed out loud – it felt loud since I was the only one in the pews around me – after hearing the words “theology and gynecology”) and wrecks me (in terms of feeling something that’s buried so deep come rushing to the surface like a whale that breaches the ocean waves and with a splash disappears beneath leaving a little frothiness behind).

Holiness happens. Whether we like it or agree with it or are confused by it.Click To Tweet

And I thought I’d want to write something about how much we’ve confused theology and gynecology in terms of limiting women, silencing women, oppressing women throughout the ages, and how this meant the emphasis on the virginity of Mary was more important than her courage or obedience, and how if we really think about it and parse it out it would mean the Holy Spirit – who is God – had sex with Mary – and she somehow gave birth to Jesus, who is also God and one with the Holy Spirit, so God gave birth to God…? It doesn’t make much sense to go there, and it really doesn’t help either way. Whatever.  The emphasis on something that is pretty moot in my book takes away from the point of it all – that God came into this world and joined us. And for what reason…? It blows my mind. Because seriously, the human race pretty much sucks, and documentaries like Blackfish remind me just how much.

III

And then, my son, Desmond. He strikes again! is what I’m thinking as I watch him trip slow motion backwards into the stand holding the blue pitcher of water for the baptismal font. I gasp and mouth the word Nooooooooooooooooo dramatically as it topples off into the lap of an unsuspecting girl. I flinch like I got hit with a water balloon even though it doesn’t come near me. Somehow this girl manages to keep it from hitting the chancel stairs too hard, so it doesn’t break – Thank. God. – but the water spills everywhere.

Lord Jesus, why??? Pastor Rachel says something to lighten the tension but I just want to crawl under the pews until the service is over and everyone has gone home. What am I doing wrong??? As I hold him squirming in my lap and then pass him off to his dad so that I can grab Ozzie who is power crawling towards that same font I watch Maddie, another little girl older than the twins but whose mother and I share knowing glances all throughout the service. We often commiserate after service about whose children were worse. Maddie goes up to the baptismal font and…sticks her whole hand in there. And drinks the water in her hand. While Pastor Rachel is still doing her children’s sermon. She’s unfazed by it. Maddie even licks her fingers. I’m thinking, “Oh God!” kind of gross – surely that ain’t no holy water – but kind of wondrous and I’m laughing to myself.

I forget sometimes that the baptismal font is not just symbolic of cleansing but also for quenching that eternal thirst. I loved seeing Maddie do it so blatantly and … joyously. 

Right on, Maddie! You drink from the font, girl. Drink it to the dregs. Drink it up, drink up the love of God, the promise of God’s seal upon our lives, the water that never ceases to flow, drink it all up. 

It all seems so bleak and futile – our small lives – and all the destruction and ugliness feels like it is constantly winning. But it’s not.

People gather to protest and resist the darkness and to call for freedom, and huddle together around the small spring of water that gives life to the multitudes,Click To Tweet

It is a baby once again that reminds me of God, baby Eli being baptized today, reminded me of God on high drawing near to us, and always in the most unexpected places, holiness happens.

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Picking Flowers

IMG_4215

To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

– Karl Barth

It’s gray and wet today. Like a spring day closing the books on a long winter. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and then Advent, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s too balmy to be on the verge of winter.

Except it doesn’t feel like the cathartic relief that comes from seeing those first blooms on the trees or crocuses pushing up through remnants of snow. Post after post on any social media is something about the Paris attacks, something about Syrian refugee children, something about Africa and bombings, something about women being incarcerated or killed, something about guns and violence and hunger and terror. It feels weighty and somber, lonely and dark. I want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers until Christmas.

But then, there’s the video of the father who tries to reassure his son after the Paris attacks last week. The father tells his son, “They have guns. But we have flowers.”

We have flowers.

I keep thinking about this past summer and how relentless Anna was when it came to picking flowers. We couldn’t go out anywhere anytime when she wouldn’t stop to pick flowers along the road. Maybe at the park. Maybe riding bikes on the B-Line. Maybe walking through the Target parking lot. Maybe our front yard after I just planted some. Flowers, all the time, and she would give them to me, a handful of weeds with the roots hanging off, saying each time, “I know you love flowers.”

||

Every morning on the drive to the children’s preschool we sing songs. Days of the Week where we sing “There’s Sunday and there’s Monday…” through to Saturday to the tune of the Adams Family. Instead of snapping our fingers we click our tongues. Sometimes “Rise and Shine,” and old familiar tunes, as I am reminded by Stina Busman Jost at her blog, like “Deep and Wide” and “I’ve Got a River of Life.” But they sing their songs, too, the ones that they are learning at Gan Shalom about Baby Beluga and the Shabbat songs and blessings. They’ve been interested in learning the ones that punctuate our Sunday worship services, too. The Kyrie. The Gloria Patri. The Doxology. The Sanctus when we have communion. We sing each one. Over and over.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

I sing allowing the desperation tinge my voice while clutching the wheel for dear life like hands clasped in prayer. And then we go into the songs that praise and sing hosanna and acknowledge that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. But, the Kyrie stays with me throughout the day. Like every flower – no matter how small or minute – Anna insists on putting in a glass full of water next to my laptop. Always there. This song feels like a protest chant – its persistent roots hanging off reminding me of the life that anchored it to the soil, words that live always on the edge of winter and spring. Because even as we sing these words, calling for mercy, we do so with the hope and belief that God’s mercy is already there.

||

I roll out of bed and land on my knees. Push myself up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the sanctified work that’s there in front of me like Sarah Bessey reminds me. Keep looking. Keep seeing. Keep feeling. Keep trying to love like there’s no tomorrow. Love hard. Love recklessly. Hug a little longer. Play those irrational and illogical games with the twins. Read that board book with Ozzie for the 917th time. Try to answer Andy’s question about the schedule for the 15th time without exasperation. Let bathtime be like a baptism each night, and let the sweat that rolls off my face after a long run be an anointing. Laugh, cook, drink, clean, make a huge mess, sit and stare out the window. Let all of it mean something, mean gratitude, mean earnestness and hope, mean life abundant. And tell the children stories about this abundant life – how it’s meant to be shared, how it’s meant to be experienced by every single human being – even if it means we might have to tell the stories that are sad and hard. Because that’s okay. Those are the ones that will hopefully shape their empathy and compassion. All of it. All of it is necessary for life right now. All this work is worship.

Because all work can be worship, songs are prayers, prayers are protests, and picking flowers is resistance. Click To Tweet

Anna Flower

You’re Not One of Us

BLM

Mark 9: 38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

I love when people ask me about the kids. People ask “how old are they now?” and “how are they getting along?” and invariably, “how are you still standing?” Desmond and Anna are twins – 4 and a half now, can you believe it? And Ozzie is 2 and a half – it seems the Presbyterian Mission Agency board in particular has watched them – watched me grow up these last almost six years. When people ask me about the kids it’s a way to connect over something ordinary, normal and commonplace, human – we talk about the way kids play and make up games and tell stories and demand apple-pretzels-cheese. All. Day. Long.

It’s a way to feel that I am one of you.

The scripture passage we read together this morning continues a lengthy generative discussion on discipleship and ministry, vocation and call. Earlier in the chapter we have the transfiguration, Jesus starts to talk about his death, the disciples come to Jesus because they need help with casting out a particularly stubborn demon, and Jesus reminds them again who is the greatest in the kingdom by the example of the least of these – a child.

And then, John, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

He was not following us. He was not like us. He was not part of us.  

He was not one of us.

Do you remember that video during the cultural humility training – the ABC News Video with the children responding to different pictures – “20/20” brought together three groups of kids and showed them pictures of two men — one Arab, the other Asian. When we asked the children which man they liked better, over and over, more kids said they preferred “the Chinese guy.” One child preferred the Chinese man “because he looks nicer and he has a smile on.” But both men were smiling. Several children weighed in on the Arab man’s personality, basing their opinions on just seeing his picture. One child said, “I think he’s weird.” Another child said, “He’s like the scary dude.”

Next, “20/20” showed the kids pictures of a black man and white man. This time the pictures were different. Here were some of the comments the kids made about the photo of the black man. One said, “He looks mean.” Another referred to him as “FBI’s Most Wanted.” Another commented, “He looks like he’s a basketball player.” When the white man’s picture was shown, one child said, “He’s nice.” Another said, “I think he’s nice except he might be mad about something.” The boy was probably picking up on something. The photo of a white man was of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Admittedly, the pictures were a little bit different, but when we asked which man is a criminal, most kids pointed to the black man. When we asked which man was a teacher, most pointed to McVeigh. This is ironic because the black man pictured was Harvard University professor Roland Fryer.

It starts early - all the biases, assumptions, judgments, like Wendy said yesterday, it’s in the air we breathe. They’re not part of us. They’re not us.Click To Tweet

Our words and efforts around inclusion, multiculturalism, and diversity mean very little when we see and still say, he is not one of us. She is not part of us. They’re not us.

The disciples said, “Jesus, we saw someone, casting out demons in your name, but we stopped him because he was not one of us…” Jesus “we saw someone” – our penchant for “we saw someone” needs to be replaced by “we see Jesus.” And in Jesus, we see God. Our God is here. But therein lies the irony of the statement, “We saw someone” because the point is, do you see God? Do you see God in the persons who do deeds in God’s name? More than that, and simply, do you see God in that human being?

Foreigner. Alien. Immigrant. Minority. Outsider. Stranger.

Friends, what does it mean for us that we were once strangers, once foreign and alien, but in God’s radical love, we were brought near? More than that, what does it mean for us that Jesus took on this same foreignness – this status of outsider – to be one of us? To be a part of us?

I blogged a couple of months ago:

I keep hearing that chant – the call and response on the short Vine video posted the day after the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing. “This is what theology looks like.”

I see them standing huddled together heads down laying hands on each other like it’s an ordination – these demonstrators are being commissioned for something massively important as they shout #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace anointed with sweat and tears and blood and Spirit and set apart for a holy work in which liturgy is wailing and protest. They are demonstrating resistance in the flesh-and-blood and show us what survival means in its purest form by simply breathing and lamenting together. Hands clutching each other eyes set on the heavenly prize which is the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before them and surround them even now.

This is what theology looks like – this is what faith looks like – this is what love looks like – the way we answer these questions, when “we saw someone” becomes we see Jesus, we see God, in every human being around us – it says who we are and leads us in what we do – with our ministries and with our lives.

It’s not that they become us. We become them, and in doing so we become more like Jesus.Click To Tweet

Isn’t that the ultimate expression of Christian discipleship? To become more like Jesus?