Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

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Life Magic

Today we took a little time out… from endless to-do lists, and dirty laundry, and spreadsheets, and electronic distraction… and we spent the day in Philadelphia just hanging out together as a family. It was not a perfect day. It took ages just to get out the door because of a tantrum about flip flop prohibitions, and our last stop involved a very tired little Crankymonster who did not care how pretty the river view was because he wanted to sit on Mommy’s lap and have his chicken nuggets RIGHT NOW!

Looking back on the day, though, these moments of frustration did not ruin an otherwise perfect day – they were part of it. Today was a chance to appreciate how lucky I am to live my life – in all of its imperfect reality – inside this little family.

Life Magic

This day was built of moments
none perfect, or inspired,
but lived together they were worth
the soreness, worth the tired.

My feet are sore from walking
at slow and halting pace
beside slow feet that lag behind
then hurry up and race.

My aching back is tired,
so too my drooping head,
but overflowing heart won’t let me
rush now to my bed.

For my heart aches to capture
ingredients of bliss,
to pen a recipe to tell
the magic in a kiss.

Or, I should say, one hundred
kisses rubbed into my heart
by gentle hands and whispers
that turn child love to art.

But joy was not the only magic
built into this day.
It had a few much harder moments,
sharper words to say.

Rebukes for selfish attitudes
and whining, angry tears.
The moments that play on
my insecurities and fears.

Am I doing this all wrong?
Teaching them to try
to win their wants by throwing fits?
Rewarding when they cry?

But in the context of this day
those moments fade to take
their proper place within the whole;
they’re part of what’s at stake.

For, as we build this family
we do so inside life,
made up with each a portion
of shining love and strife.

And now I know the magic
that so fills my soul tonight
is knowing how the loving
is always worth the fight
.

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18 Years: On How Grief Changes

Today is my 18th death day.

Not literally, I suppose. The demise that annually intrudes on my consciousness is not my own, at least not in a physical or encompassing sense. My life has continued on since July 17, 1996 and it has been a good life, filled with far more joy than grief. But it has now been eighteen years since my Dad left forever — through his own choice – and that loss has been one of the single-most shaping experiences of my life.

Eighteen years seems like an eternity in some ways – nearly half my life. Occasionally, when people learn about his death and express sympathy it is easy to brush their consolations aside. “It’s been so long…” But that dismissal rejects one of the fundamental realities of grief:

Grief grows with the life that bears it.

I don’t mean that grief grows in weight or importance. Generally time does offer healing, and the sharp intensity of pain diminishes over time. But growth does not always mean increase; it can also mean adaptation. As I have changed in the eighteen years since my Dad’s death, my grief has changed as well. It would have to – the grief of a confused nineteen year old would no longer fit inside my soul; it would not line up with the curves and shading of my more fully adult perspective. It also would invalidate the impact of eighteen years of coping, the way that learning to live despite the hole in my heart has shaped the way I do that living.

So today, on my 18th death day,  I offer this reflection to my still-healing soul, and to any with whom it might resonate.

 


18th deathday

 

Eighteen years,

the age of maturation,

shift from child to adult.

The age society declare

for independence.

 

It has taken eighteen years,

oh, subtle irony,

for me to finally see

it is OK to say

“I need you.”


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If…a vision of a more fun world

Today I was speaking with a colleague about the crazy things our kids say, and how it gives such a fascinating glimpse into their lives. That thought stayed with me through the day, and eventually simmered over into a poem about my son’s crazy, wonderful, inspiring internal world.


If …

 

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… there would be lots more chocolate

… and no one would have to wake up early

… and he could play with guns and explosives

…because they would be utterly safe but still make big bangs.

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… toys would be unlimited and free

… and so would smiles

… and no one would be too poor or too rich

… because every one would have “middle money.”

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… ambulances would be just for playing in

… because no one would ever get hurt

… but if they did, they could have a Disney band-aid

… even with no visible boo-boo.

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… there would be answers to every question

… and the answers would change if he didn’t like them

… and never would distractions, or exhaustion, get in the way of a thirty second story

…stretched over forty minutes.

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… little boys could run around naked all the time

… and Mommies would be just as happy in their skin

… because the squishy parts are best for cuddling

… and jiggly arms make awesome toys.

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… hugs would be the most precious currency

… and everyone would give them generously

… and every problem could be fixed by “I’m sorry”

… or at least a cuddle and a book.

If the world really worked as my son thinks it should

… there would be less pain

… and more play

… and everyone would understand that we are all happier

… when we make each other whole.

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Lessons From the Sky

This Independence Day we are visiting some of Tyler’s extended family in Colorado for a long-weekend. It is a chance to reconnect with family I haven’t seen in years, and to get away from the rush of New Jersey life. It is also a chance to form a new relationship with a part of my Country with which I have had very limited interaction. 

I’m a coastal girl, and since our sojourn in Europe I am decidedly a city girl as well. But, for these few days I am incredibly grateful for the chance to learn from a very different part of my native culture.


Lessons from the Sky

 

Wide open Colorado sky,
you can’t make up your mind.
 
Is your soul the brilliant blue,
bathing in reflected light
that rolls and dances with cascading white?
 
Or is your truth the smudged and streaking gray
that cries cold tears upon
my lately sun-warmed skin?
 
Expressions mix above this bowl twixt mountains spread.
And call forth from my center answering cries
of joy and pain. 
 
And in that mingling inner song 
I recognize:
The interweaving light and dark that you display
I feel as well, 
and this wide open sky supplies the space
to speak a truth too big to hold inside. 

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Poetic Purge for a Pensive Parent

Sometimes the hard of parenting is nevertheless gratifying, because you know that the effort you are investing in your children will eventually pay off. You are shaping their character. Giving them self-confidence, or empathy, or the ability to understand and respect boundaries. It is not the stuff that goes into hallmark commercials, but it is worth all of the lost sleep and grocery store temper tantrums. You are helping your children to grow.

The last few nights have NOT been that kind of hard. They have been more the “what the %@&$ am I doing wrong? My children are selfish little monsters. Why must they treat me like a prize to be won by any means necessary?” kind of hard.

The rational side of me knows that this is not the full picture. My perceptions are warped by sleep deprivation and back pain and an overdose of that delirium-inducing cocktail made from equal parts whining and sibling squabbles. Things are not nearly as bad as I feel.

The rational side of me also knows, however, that every other parent out there with more than one child has had nights like this. And so, I offer my poetic purge of all the frustration as a form of public service.

Sister…Brother… we have all been there. You are not alone.


What kind of love…

 

I do not want to be loved like a commodity,

whose apparent scarcity invokes incessant bidding,

where market share is based on skill at whining,

and wins are computed by monopolizing bedtime attention.

I do not want to be loved like a shrinking pie,

trying to divide myself in equal shares,

while they squabble over crumbling capacity,

and I disappear into the vacuum of bottomless appetite.

I do not want to be loved like a soap opera,

where manipulation and deceit are central characters,

twin ploys to force compliance to demands,

and happy-ever-after only lasts until the next frustrated longing breaks all promises.

I do not want my children to see themselves as greedy consumers of my love.

And yet, I have to wonder…

Have I taught them to love this way?

to see love as a game that must be won through someone else’s loss?

to see love as a limited supply for which they must compete?

to see love as a selfish gratification for their desires?

And if I have…

How can I change that lesson?

And teach them now, instead, to see Love

as the Source

and self-giving purpose

of their lives?


That last question is genuine. Ideas welcomed.

 

 

Princess Imagination on her last birthday... it feels like just yesterday.


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More than Seven Reasons to Celebrate

Princess Imagination on her last birthday... it feels like just yesterday.

Princess Imagination on her last birthday… it feels like just yesterday.

Today Princess Imagination turns seven years old. She has been talking about and planning this day for months. I, on the other hand, don’t quite feel ready.

This post, however, is not about my ambivalence about my daughter’s fast progress through childhood. It is about the question of how to celebrate this milestone in her journey. In the context of her intense discussion of her upcoming birthday I had plenty of reminders about this opportunity, and since writing is the way I process my challenges and joys, it was obvious to me that I wanted to write something.

I took a few stabs at something that would be appropriately expressive of my huge pride at being her mother.

I tried the format of a letter telling her what I wanted her to see in herself.

I tried an explanatory list of “seven” amazing things I see in her – one for each year.

But none of these formats were quite clicking. They felt forced.

And then I re-read a poem that she had spontaneously inspired through her play a few months ago. It is just a sensory description of a common place childhood moment, but that is what makes it feel right to me in this context.

Celebrating her childhood is not about formulas, or lists, or deep, expressive analysis.

It is about the amazing joy of watching her live ordinary moments, and rediscovering simple joy in that observation.

 


 

Celebration

 

Bright yellow

like a little globe of sunlight

captured in a ball of childhood delight

floating for the benefit of her bright eyes.

Smooth and soft

not burning as the touch of sun drops should

but pulsing

squirming

dancing away

from playful fingertips.

It tastes like laughter

filling up her mouth with bubbling joy,

sweet salivation wetting lips

that part in breathless expectation

Her tiny nostrils flare

as dust and cornstarch

beaten from the air by flailing arms and flying fingers

tickle her delicate nose, tempting a sneeze

to join the riotous sounds of celebration

giggles and squeals

weaving a complicated dance

between bright, one-syllable commands

“jump”

“look”

“get it!”

But then the sharp report

*POP*

and for one frozen second

 

air itself contracts to mourn the loss

- – -

but then the swirling, active fun refills the space

so lately occupied by her little drop of sun…

the next balloon is pink.

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Spirit of Diverse Unity

Today I have the privilege to be preaching my first sermon in eleven years at my home church, Living Waters Lutheran Church. It is an awesome responsibility and a great joy at the same time to be tasked with interpreting scripture for others. It is much harder than putting my more personal writings out there for others to read, because in my normal blogging voice I claim no authority. People can ignore what I say and that’s just fine. I’m just a woman who is trying to learn from the daily lessons of life and offering to share my reflections on that process. With a sermon though, even when delivered via computer rather than from behind the pulpit, the weight is heavier. I am trying to present God’s Word, not just my own.

But I am doing it anyhow. These are still my words – in truth they have no more authority than anything else I write unless my readers chose to give them that. And that’s perfect, because I don’t want to be the voice of God. I just pray that God will sometime choose to speak through my voice.


Pentecost Sermon, June 8, 2014 — Spirit of Diverse Unity.

Lectionary Texts for the Day: Acts 2:1-21; I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20-19-23

Today is the Day of Pentecost – a very significant day for the church because, the church really wouldn’t be the church if it weren’t for Pentecost. Before we talk about that, however, I want to approach the meaning of Pentecost through a story that at first might seem unrelated….. I want to talk about my kids.

(I’m sorry. It had to happen. Stick with me though, and I promise it will tie in).

One of the things that I love about parenting is the daily exposure to insatiable curiosity – the chance to watch small eyes opening wide, straining to take in the wonder of things that I have grown to take for granted; the reminder that every moment of experience is a chance to learn, and understand, and reach for explanations that will help to make sense of this great mystery of life.

Or…at least… I try to remind myself that this is one of the things that I love about parenting. Because I do love it… most of the time. But there are times when this curiosity can be a little exhausting. Times like when my youngest is asking me for the four hundred and seventeenth time for an explanation of one of his favorite movie scenes. Recently we were stuck on Frozen and the Lion King. There was a point when nearly every day he would ask me to explain why Scar killed Mufasa; and perhaps even more frequently he would ask me why Prince Hans tried to kill Queen Elsa.

Having answered these questions literally hundreds of times, I kept varying it – trying to find the magic explanation that would satisfy his particular curiosity, but it didn’t really work. He wanted more. And in both cases, when he pressed for “why” I just kept coming back to the same answer: the longing for power. Both Scar and Prince Hans want to be king, and the only explanation I can provide for the lengths they are prepared to go to in that effort is the lust for power. It’s not nice, and it’s not something I would choose to draw my four-year-old’s attention to, but he sees it and he knows it is important to understand, and so he keeps on asking.

This story is relevant to my sermon because power is exactly what Pentecost is about, right?  – On this day the church around the world is talking about the coming of God’s Spirit IN POWER – But this power is a very different kind of power than the evil movie version. This is power for holy purposes to equip the saints to do the work of the kingdom. As Jesus promised to the disciples in Acts 1 “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

When I learned that I was preaching on Pentecost I immediately knew that I wanted to talk about this contrast: the power that we receive as a free gift from the Spirit as opposed to the brutal grabbing for power that we find in the world. There’s so much to say about that polarity… I almost wish I hadn’t actually read our texts for the day.

Oops. The first time I read through today’s texts I almost couldn’t believe it. Where was the power? This was Pentecost! The day the Spirit is supposed to descend in power to equip the church, but descriptions of the church’s new power seem to be … missing. In fact, the word “power” only appears ONE time in all THREE texts that we just read – and that one reference is an explanation that the disciples are witnessing to God’s acts of power.

OK. So what are we supposed to do with this? If the point of the coming of God’s Spirit is not POWER (or at least not in these texts), then what it is?

I would like to propose three answers to that question that all lead us to one lesson.

Our first answer comes from the actual Pentecost story – that crazy scene with the rushing wind [i]and the tongues of flame dancing over the heads of a bunch of uneducated Galileans, who were all talking at once in languages they didn’t even know. Before we get distracted by all that drama, however, it’s important to set the scene.

Pentecost was a big deal in Judaism even before it gathered a new meaning for the church. In fact, Pentecost was one of the three great pilgrim feasts in the Jewish faith, and this is important because the feasts drew the scattered people of Israel back together. C.K. Barrett, a New Testament commentator, makes the point that “after the law itself, nothing did more to preserve the unity and uniqueness of Israel than the due celebration of the festivals … (because) the three great pilgrim feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) could only be fully observed in Palestine.” In fact, Pentecost — as the celebration of the giving of the law a Sinai — actually combined the two fundamental sources of Jewish unity – physical reunion in the Holy Land, and the unifying law.

I am making such a point about this “unity” emphasis, because I think this helps us to see through all the miraculous imagery of the first Christian Pentecost to what the Spirit was actually doing among that gathering of 120 believers. It was giving them VOICES. That is answer number one to what the Spirit gives the church – VOICES, in the plural.

Speech is the fundamental tool of communication. It is how we unify our actions and work together toward a common goal. That unifying power of speech could not be more evident than in the story of the tower of Babel. When haughty human society decided to defy God by building a tower to heaven, the author of Genesis 11 describes the response in this way: “The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’(emphasis added)

Now, commentators are split about whether Luke actually had this backdrop in mind when he described the outpouring of the Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost, but I don’t think that actually matters very much. The mythology of Babel teaches us the truth that confusion of languages causes divisions. But in the outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost something new happens. Here again there is a cacophony of languages – such an uproar in fact that a crowd of thousands gathered to listen. But the confusion in the scene is not from a failure to communicate. Rather, it is amazement that this multiplicity of languages is comprehensible. Fifteen different named regions and people groups were represented in the crowd, the entire known world from Luke’s perspective, and all of them are hearing the same message in different languages.

The unity-focus of Pentecost, and the dispersion narrative of Babel are both flipped on their head in this one scene. When the Spirit gives speech to the church it doesn’t eradicate differences and force conformity to one language or cultural identify, but neither does it allow the perpetuation of divisions. When the Spirit gives the gift of voices to the Church, they are voices that brings unity while preserving diversity.

So, the first revealed function of the Holy Spirit in the Church is a new kind of communication – voices, speech that can reach out into all the diversity of the world and offer a new kind of unity.

This tension of diversity co-existing with unity is repeated in our second text from I Corinthians, chapter 12. At the opening of this passage Paul writes “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works in all.” Paul then goes on to describe an array of gifts and means of service – from wisdom and knowledge, to healing, to prophesy, to speaking in tongues.

This was a list that was important in the Corinthian context, but I think we need to acknowledge that Paul’s list is not our list. It just isn’t. If our adult forum sat down to identify a list of the spiritual gifts in our congregation we would probably get faith on the list somewhere, and maybe wisdom, but miraculous powers and interpretation of tongues? I really doubt it.

That really doesn’t matter. Paul’s point in laying out this list is not about the gifts themselves. He was addressing the Church at Corinth about these things because diversity in the Spiritual gifts they were experiencing was causing problems.  They were getting competitive. They were trying to align the gifts in a hierarchy, so that those with “better gifts” could lord it over those with “lesser gifts” and THIS WAS NOT THE POINT.

The point again, was unity with diversity; a body with many parts, but still a unit. A baptism that does not erase our different identities, our different ways of acting in the world, our different ways of serving the Church, but that still unifies us in one Spirit.

So that is our second answer that teaches the same lesson. The Spirit gives a diversity of gifts for service of the church. That diversity must not divide, however, but rather it is essential to the proper functioning of our unity as one body.

So, what is our third answer? This is perhaps the hardest to see, although the text is short. Our gospel for today is just five verses, and the part about the Spirit is just two. “Jesus breathed on (his disciples) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

Wait, What?! I have sort of been making a big point about this whole unity theme and now Jesus is telling us that we have the power to deny forgiveness to people? That certainly doesn’t sound very much like unity. (And it doesn’t sound very Lutheran either, by the way).

Well, let’s stop and think for a minute. Is Jesus really saying to the disciples “OK. It’s all up to you now. You are the decision-makers. I’ve done my bit, now I’m off to relax up in Heaven and you lot can figure out who’s in and who’s out.”

No. Of course not.

What Jesus is doing is calling the early church to continue the model of Jesus’ ministry. Just before breathing on them Jesus says “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (vs. 21). And while John’s gospel doesn’t focus as much on the theme of forgiveness as the synoptic gospels do, it focuses a lot on unity – especially the unity of Jesus and the Father. Jesus is calling his followers not to a ministry of boundary-drawing, but to a ministry that mirrors his own. And when, a few chapters earlier, Jesus prayed for these very disciples in their coming ministry he prayed this way: “Holy Father protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11).

So that they may be one. Read in the light of this prayer, Jesus’ instructions about forgiveness sound a lot different to me. They sound more like a parent challenging a child to live up to the standard they know is right. “It’s your choice – you can make a good choice, or a bad choice, but I believe you will make the right choice.”

That is the tone we get from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message: “Then (Jesus) took a deep breath and breathed into them. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he said. ‘If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

So we have our third answer: the Spirit gives us the capacity to forgive. And here, again, this very different kind of power is one that calls forth unity in a context where it might not be expected.

What does the Spirit poured out on the church give us? I give us voices that allow us to communicate even in our diversity; it gives us spiritual gifts that perform the many functions of one body; it gives us forgiveness that allows us to enter into the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It gives us the miracle of unified diversity.

But this still leaves one question for me. What’s the point? What are communication, and gifts of service, and forgiveness all for? Are they all for us? Is the point just to make it a better to deal to be the Church?

I don’t think so. In fact, if that were the point, I don’t think all these promises would actually be possible. When we look at the State of the Christian church today, we certainly don’t see much evidence of them do we?

We see lots of voices – but so many of them are shouting over each other, claiming to have the one true perspective on God, and calling each other deceived at best or heretical at worst.

We see different approaches to serving the Church, but precious little effort to bind all of those different ministries together into a unified body that works in coordination.

We see the message of forgiveness shared, but also its opposite. The Christian conversation is full of disciples on both sides of many debates who are quite ready to take Jesus at his apparent word and to deny forgiveness to those who disagree with them on a whole host of issues.

So what are we to do with this evidence of the apparent failure of the Spirit to deliver the promised gifts; the failure to forge improbable unity amid diversity? I think the answer is to consider what these promises are really for, and to realize that in the end it is Not. Really. About. Us.

Remember those voices on the first Christian Pentecost? Remember what they were saying? They were speaking in a dozen languages or more, but they were all saying the same thing. “We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of Power.” (Acts 2:11) It’s not about us. It’s about God.  When we receive the Spirit of God – when we surrender to that breath of life and let it breath out through us – it will use our diversity – the specificity of our creation – our uniqueness that God created in us for a purpose, and that uniqueness will not be a barrier to unity for one reason, and for one reason only. Because our eyes, and our lips, and our every action will be all about God. When that happens… when we stop looking at all our differences and start looking at God, the multiplicity of our voices will become a grand chorus.

 

[i] C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents, Revised Edition, Harper Collins, 1989, p. 194.

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