Faith, Family, & Focaccia

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


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Mother to a Butterfly

butterfly smileI actually wrote this poem a few months ago. That particular night, however,  I did not have the emotional energy to post it, and since then the Princess and I have been sailing pretty smooth waters, so it has felt less relevant.

Today, however, it feels very authentic. It’s not that her behavior was so very unreasonable. She was justifiably frustrated about Mommy and Daddy working through virtually the entire snow day, while she and her brother had to entertain themselves. (By the way, I have discovered the downside of having a job that let’s me work from home).

Then at the end of this long, somewhat boring day, after Mommy had finally shut down her computer, Princess Imagination didn’t get to do her “show” at the exact moment she wanted to and she lost it. She’s seven. I understand.

I understand how she felt, and I also understand that sometimes my understanding doesn’t help. Sometimes she doesn’t need me to tell her that I understand. Sometimes she needs me to tell her that she is making poor decisions. Sometimes she needs my patience to sit and wait for her to work it through herself. And sometimes waiting for her to get over her fit of temper is so…damned…hard.


Mother to a butterfly

 

This smooth, hard floor is scraping at my patience

exposing an apparently raw nerve,

the urge to Just…Get…On with this damned metamorphosis.

This silent sitting nearly breaks my will

not hers, as I suppose I’m hoping for.

Resentment at this stasis brings distressing will to break.

But, staring at that fragile, frame curved in

around her anger, pain, thoughts I can’t read

I know cocoons must open from inside, I can’t break in.

And so I wait, exhaling stuttering prayers,

an incoherent hope that I won’t fail,

that love can still me long enough to give her time to grow.

Because, whatever started this display,

I know that what she needs is not my words,

but presence, that can prove I love her – butterfly or worm.

And then, soft miracle for both our hearts,

two quiet words, “I’m sorry” as she moves,

bright wings, unfurled now, curving around me; I get to see my butterfly reborn.


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Poverty and Worth – What Society Still Needs to Learn from Dr. King

Normally I keep this space for my personal reflections, but today I am breaking my own rule and cross posting a piece I wrote for the non-profit organization I am privileged to serve as executive director.

The piece is, in that sense, “professional,” but it is also very personal for me as it reflects on one of the influences that has shaped my own understanding of how to live out my faith in the world: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I was lucky enough to take a semester-long course on King’s theology and social action during my seminary studies and those studies encouraged my emerging belief that the work of social justice could emphatically be ministry. I am now living out the effort to engage just such a ministry. It is much harder than it sounded in the hallowed halls of Princeton Seminary, and the daily grind of e-mails, and website edits, and politically worded communications often feel nothing at all like the work of the Kingdom. That’s why it is so very meaningful to me to be able to look to the words of a great leader like King and see that the work I am doing is about something so fundamental and holy as basic human worth.

You can read original post here.

 

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Enoughness

The first week back from holiday travels left me a bit drained.

Actually, to be honest, it is not just the return to reality but also the two weeks of holiday that left me feeling out of balance. Or, perhaps the experience is better described as a distracting sensation of background buzzing that makes me want to shake my head, or maybe shake my whole life, to rid myself of the discomfort.

As I have struggled to find mental and emotional focus, it has become increasingly clear that this distress results from two strangely cooperating, though entirely opposite experiences: Excess and Lack.

Holiday Excess is a familiar theme.

Excess food – stretching my willpower and my digestion (not to mention my jeans).

Excess gifts – three different family celebrations leaving my children with the expectations that new presents should be offered every few days, and at least partially distracting them from satisfaction with the gifts themselves.

Excess luggage – to load into cars, and haul through airports, and cram into overhead bins while my aching back protests.

But the sense of overload merged discordantly with a suffocating sense of lack as well.

Lack of time – to just sit and talk and enjoy the people we travelled 3,000 miles to see.

Lack of home comforts – like my own bed, or a dresser full of sweaters I had not already worn twice in the prior ten days.

Lack of space – for the simple, restorative rest of solitude when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

It’s such a first world problem, I know, to complain about a two-week holiday in California with so many family members whom I love, but … I am a first world woman. The perspective to be able to recognize my privilege did precious little to actually resolve the emotional strain wrapped around me like a poorly insulating blanket as I stepped back into the cold New Jersey winter.

And that return brought its own sources of layered excess and lack. Excess of workload trying to pick up all the dropped threads of my two-week hiatus. Lack of hours in the day to give each task the attention is deserves. Excess of mess in my home after the luggage vomited its contents over every flat surface in the living room and the oozed around the rest of the house over the next few days. Lack of patience for my beloved family members who apparently did not consider this mess a problem, or at least not one they had any role in fixing.

Collapsing into bed each night this week I felt totally out of balance, with a body protesting its exhaustion and a mind already whirring with the to-do list for tomorrow. I needed rest and peace and centering, but even battling to fall asleep felt like a continuation of the tug-o-war. A few nights I whispered a faint prayer, but prayer for me is usually a discipline before it grows into a joy. And it’s hard to be disciplined when you are flailing your arms trying desperately not to fall.

Then came my return to weekly yoga class as I was praying (with or without discipline) for 75 minutes of blessed balance. That is I was incoherently muttering my prayer until I saw the teacher. It was not my beloved Suzette who has taught me the joy of breathing. No, it was Ruth, the G.I. Jane of community yoga. There would be no balance today. That is to say, Ruth would almost certainly push us to try some crazy arm-stand balance pose that would make me want to cry. But this class was not going to be a restorative, re-centering practice.

I wanted to just sit it out. I was tired. I was stressed. I was not in the mood to be pushed. But I have been trying to coast the kids on sticking with their commitments. Sitting on the lounge while they did their kids yoga class would be a little hard to explain.

So I did it. It was really hard. I was sore for three days after.

Something else has lasted even longer than my sore muscles however. That night I learned that balance might actually be about Enough.

The only way I was going to get through yoga that night was by doing Enough, and not too much. If I tried too much I was not just going to be waving my arms, I was going to fall on my head. So I didn’t. I pulled back.

It was so hard to do. I have always been an over achiever. I get far too much of my ego from accomplishments, and I have a driving need to be the teacher’s pet. Whenever there is an invitation to “challenge yourself” I try to take it. The encouragement at the beginning of class to “only do what is right for you today” never feels like it applies to me.

But this time, it did. It was humbling, but it was also balancing. Enough is a really solid place to stand.

I have tried to hold onto this lesson in the days that have followed. I have mostly failed. I said “no” to one request today, but “yes” to too many others. I still feel pummeled by Excess and Lack. I am still wind-milling my arms in a frantic attempt to avoid the plummeting fall. But when I have realized this, I have just repeated the lesson. “That’s OK. ‘Enough’ is hard. You can’t expect to get ‘Enough’ right on the first, or second, or tenth try. Just trying to do ‘Enough’ is Enough for now.”

And so I am writing this post – my one hundredth, a post that I had wanted to be beautiful, and poetic, and perfect – with a fuzzy head that doesn’t feel like I am really saying it all clearly Enough. But I am still writing, and praying, that maybe tonight my Enough will be a gift to someone.

The Christmas tree is still up, and giving mute evidence that the kiddos have a hard time locating Enough as well.

The Christmas tree is still up, and giving mute evidence that the kiddos have a hard time locating Enough as well.

 


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Perspective and Engagement – I’m guest blogging

Well, if any of you have missed my little reflections, you can thank Sabrina over and familyandfootprints.com for calling me back to the blogging community. She invited me to pen some reflections on my expat experience for her amazing blog over at familyandfootprints.com. You can check out the post here.

Also – it seems fitting that, on the day I publish my thoughts about the anniversary of our departure from Milan, Princess Imagination and the Gigglemonster decided to wear their old school uniforms to school. Apparently, they miss it too.

You can take them out of Italy, but they still have the clothes.

You can take them out of Italy, but they still have the clothes.

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Lessons in leaves

Autumn is a time for messes. Leaves fall from trees and make messes of lawns. Return to school rearranges schedules and makes messes out of lingering, lazy summer habits. Shifting weather demands widely divergent clothing from one day to the next, making messes of tiny closets forced to fit to two season’s worth of clothes.

And, I suppose, these shifts also tend to make messes in my mind. Much as I tend to live in the future – always planning for what comes next – the actual experience of the shift tends to overwhelm me and disturb me with the reminder that I really have very little control over much of anything.

Today I experienced once such reminder, and also an antidote, at least of sorts.

I spent 90-odd minutes of the afternoon watching a heartbreaking film, with my darling 7-year-old Princess Imagination cuddled beside me. The film was American Winter, and I was watching it because I am a panelist for a screening event tomorrow afternoon and I needed to know its content in order to prepare something intelligent to say about it. The film shares the devastating stories of 8 families who were basically flattened by the Great Recession. They were families experiencing homelessness and hunger, unemployment and foreclosure. They faced moments and months of stress, anxiety, and despair, and while the film also reported some glimmers of hope, there was not a nice, neat happy ending for most of them.

These are stories I have heard too many times, and stories that are in one sense my stock in trade – the reasons I go to work each day as well as the way in which I argue and plead for economic justice. But watching them with my sweet daughter at my side was something new. She kept asking questions – questions that made me stop my analytical assessment of how to frame my response and actually engage the pain spilled out across my screen. Her most frequent question was why, and the aching quaver in her voice spoke both of her innocence and of the innocence I’ve lost.

I was shaken by her horror that such things actually happen to people. That parents skip meals so that their children can eat. That children feel responsible for making sure their mom packs herself a lunch. That widows and their sons have to sleep on cots in shelters, and that families live for a month with no water and no electricity. I was shaken because these things truly are horrible, and once I get past my defense mechanisms as a professional advocate, I still don’t know how to deal with it.

I’ve committed my career to fighting poverty and I work hard at it. I can rattle off my economic arguments against trickle-down theories and list 5, or 10, or 15 policy changes that would make a practical difference for families trapped by poverty. But I don’t know what to do when my daughter’s eyes fill with tears about the pain of strangers. And when her soft, shaken voice whispers into my shoulder her confession that “I’m glad we don’t have to live like that,” my heart must honestly respond “me too.”

And so, my mind and my heart were a bit of a mess this afternoon, when the kids asked permission to go outside after the film. We took our big bucket of chalk out to our ample driveway to draw pictures and little messages of love. Then the mess of leaves strewn across our yard challenged an attack. So, we took up rakes and sallied forth to do battle. We conquered one small corner, and then conceded some of the hard-fought ground to celebratory pile-jumping and complicated maneuvers involving the red wagon as a transport device ill-equipped to move children and leaves in the same load.

It was a simple, silly afternoon and I was poignantly aware of just how fortunate we are to have that chance.

AND – I watched the light dance in my daughter’s eyes more delicately than the leaves she was throwing into the air, and that light lifted the cloud from my own heart.

The mess isn’t gone. My heart is touched anew with the pain that drew me to this work. I’m chafing at my own inability to bring order to an economic system that is leaving millions behind. And yet – the falling leaves call for play. And my guilt won’t help the families who have lost their own lawns. And sometimes, the best thing we can do with a mess is let the children play in it – knowing that, at least, I am teaching them to want enough for everyone.


 

To rediscover joy in curled brown leaves,

To squeal with giggles just to watch them fly

To live a moment wholly free from griefs

Despite a world that tells my heart to cry

 

To rake up leaves then scatter them again

To watch sun set and know we’ll still have light

To feel the stab of joy that’s taught by pain

This blessing and this weight I feel tonight.

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Yogi’s prayer

I have not been breathing enough lately. I don’t mean the processing of oxygen necessary for survival – obviously I’ve been getting that done. But life as a whole has felt mostly like “getting it done” and I haven’t been pausing for the deep, centering breath I need. I’ve been too busy just trying to check items off the to-do list at a pace to match all the items being added on.

Today I finally took a breath – I spent 75 minutes breathing in fact. That is the bliss of Tuesday afternoon community yoga class. It has been three weeks, and oh how I have missed it. In that precious time there is no ringing phone, or whining child voices, or urgent e-mails popping up on my computer screen. No one is presenting me with needs that I must meet. Instead, I am told to breath…just breath…through all the movement and poses…to first and always breath.

As I breathed for those golden moments away from life, I realized in a new way what a miracle it is for every moment of our lives to exist within the pendulum swing of breathing. Whatever imbalance we find in the haste or waste there is always this ultimate ebb and flow, in and out.

Yoga class is over now and its power is not so profound that it can magically alter the balance of my life. But I don’t want to forget the balance that flows through my lungs moment by moment. And I don’t want to fail to offer gratitude for this breath.

And so, my Yogi’s Prayer

Thank you for this breath that rocks my day
Inside the cradle of sustaining life

And how this sweet inhale, my body fills,
My soul as well, though mostly unaware.

How exhale gives release to toxic air,
And thoughts may follow if I’ll wield that knife.

Now, in this moment may I hold that peace,
And live inside a thankfulness for air.

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Wedding prayer

Tonight I had the amazing honor of officiating my baby sister’s wedding. There are not adequate words to describe how privileged I feel to have been included in this life-changing moment for this woman whom I love and respect so much, and the man who has turned a light on inside her to let the world see how amazing she is. It was an experience that I will always treasure.

I suppose it is as a memorialization of this precious jewel-moment in time that I share the benediction I prayed over them immediately before pronouncing them married.

With these vows and these rings you have taken the first steps in the celebration dance that will take the rest of your lives to complete. For all the steps that will come after, this is my prayer for you….

That you will hold each other tight enough and lose enough to dance with both security and freedom…

That when the noises of life fill your ears your hearts will keep beating to the rhythm of your dance…

That when your feet stumble, as they sometimes will, you will lean into each other for balance…

And that the beauty of your partnership will be reflected back for you to see in the eyes of those of us who get to watch you dance.

Let it be so. Amen.
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