Faith, Family, & Focaccia

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


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Poem: A Deeper Voice

My voice is getting deeper.

I am learning to give it time to rise up from the depths,

to speak with the sonorous reverberations of reflection and experience.

It used to come more quickly,

to beat staccato rhythms on the surface of my life,

tap-dancing with a light and pretty step,

meant to impress, entrance the audience,

and thus to hide the frantic drive

the constant shifts,

to balance on unsteady feet.

I used to hear all questions as a call to know the answer,

deny uncertainty,

fit my voice into the cadence of the scripted response.

A quick reply defeats the skeptic monster hiding in the pregnant silence,

the threat to birth exposure,

the messy, infant fear:

“I am a fraud…. I have nothing new and true to say.”

Words – high, strident, righteous (or self-righteous) words – were my defense,

building a facade to hide behind,

to awe the people I was too afraid to let inside.

As long as I appear to know, I will be safe.

Safe, but unknown.

Because I have to know myself to find my song,

my true, authentic, powerful voice.

I have to tear-down all the stage displays

and just stand still.

Not dancing.

Not performing.

But finally,

slowly,

breathing deep.

My voice is getting deeper.

I am learning to give it time to rise up from the depths.

There is slower music playing there.

The voice of living water.

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A Psalm of Hope

It has been a REALLY long time since I posted. Lots of reasons, and that is not the point of this post, but I am very conscious of how much I need this medium for words today. I need the healing of exploring my own soul and sharing that exploration in the belief that I am not alone. And, what is more, I need the belief that this sharing can be a way back to humanity, and compassion, and most of all HOPE.

And so, this is me sharing my soul. It is written in the form of a Psalm, because a psalm is what I needed today. So, I read the first 24 verses of Psalm 18 (I am very inconsistently working my way through the psalms as a self-care practice at the moment, and this was the next one up) and from that inspiration, I wrote my own.


Psalm January 29, 2017 (Loosely inspired by Psalm 18:1-24)

I said “I love you, God, my source of safety.”

God is the one I can always rely on – the one who is always there, who never rejects me.

God is my support.

I don’t have to prove myself to God.

God protects me from myself and from my need to demonstrate my worth.

I am safe with God.

Because God is so completely trustworthy, I came to God in prayer, begging,

and God filled my soul with the assurance that God is bigger than everything I am afraid of.

I was scared of so many things –

of pain for myself and for others,

of failure,

of coldness in my soul,

of people feeling abandoned and my guilt for that abandonment,

because I am relatively safe.

In my tears and fear, I prayed.

I cried out to God, “HELP!”

And God heard!

In the truth of God’s glory, and power, and perfection, my  fears and tears were NOT too light a thing to claim God’s attention.

God paid attention.

 

And when God responds, that response cannot be ignored.

God’s power, and truth, and righteousness are far beyond control.

God it not tame.

Even when I might get nervous about God’s righteous anger, it’s not for me to hold it back.

God’s love is fierce.

God’s commitment to creation and to each precious person will not sit back;

God will not wait and see;

God will not be conciliatory where there is evil in the world.

God’s love can burn like wildfire when it needs to.

And God’s truth can be as invasive as the darkness –

working where we cannot see

in preparation for the painfully revealing light.

When loud voices speak lies, God will speak louder,

and the enemies of God will be scattered.

They will be exposed in the places they thought they were safe –

in the center of their assumed power –

they will be shaken.

Nothing can resist God’s righteous anger.

 

God does not stay remote.

God has already touched me, grabbed me, and pulled my spirit to safety.

The quicksand cannot pull at me

when God has hold of me.

It tried –

it surrounded me with lies and fears and memory-scars of pain.

But God is stronger and God saved me.

God loves me and shows that I am worth saving.

God knows my failings, but God also knows my heart is turned toward love.

God has given me faith,

and so I seek God’s will,

and I reject fear and self-protection that denies God’s sovereignty.

I seek to know and understand how God’s way of living works,

and then I follow that way, imperfectly, through grace.

And so, God has protected me and given me this life –

to live in joy with love

keeping God’s way.

AMEN

 


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Waiting For An Earthquake

Like a fault-scarred landscape,

I’m braced against the tremor that foreshadows instability.

It matters not who made the scars.

not who is to blame.

It matters only that the shaking could –

whenever that inevitable lurch arrives –

take hold.

And then, oh then I fear the shaking will not stop until it’s broken all the fragile structures I have built upon the surface,

ways to hide the scars.

And if these decorative lies should crumble into dust,

what then?

What is my silent fear beyond the quake?

From that dark chasm deep within what do I fear?

From out the depths, do I believe will come some molten pain that could deform me even more?

Or

Is there life?

A spring of living water that – like Balm of Gilead – will soothe my soul and wash the faults away in blessed baptism of grace?

Because

if such a spring is there

won’t it be worth the shuddering wrench

to set it free?


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On Ashes and Boats: The Comfort I Find in Lent

Lent is not exactly supposed to be the most uplifting season of the church year – confronting my brokenness, remembering that I am dust and to dust I will return, preparing for the darkness on Good Friday … it could be a bit of a downer. Pile that resume on top my recent descent back into the quicksand of depression, and you might assume that I would be staying as far away as I could from church these days.

Actually, I have been bathing my soul in Lent at every opportunity and finding it very healing.

I want to share just two of the ways in which this season of reflection in the darkness has been a balm to my soul.

10983401_10152846484564635_5061977917613180810_nThe first came two weeks ago at the Ash Wednesday service. At the service my wonderful pastor spoke about the words that come with the ashes as a gift. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” Seeing this denigrating statement as a gift might seem counter-intuitive. But my ears, re-tuned as they have been by depression, heard this like the sweet exhale of release. “You are dust” – yes, I feel like dust, and the struggle of trying to not be dust is almost unbearable. But to be affirmed in this, to know that dust is how I was created, and that my dust is blessed and loved and used as an anointing… that is an incredible gift. That is an absolution from the strain of needing to be gold. I am so, so glad to be told I am dust.

The second source of healing was an invitation to share my reflection at the mid-week Lenten service last week. The suggested text was familiar – the story of when Peter walks on water and doesn’t quite make it. I’ve heard countless sermons on this text, but yet again I saw a different story from the perspective of the quicksand.  Rather than explaining exactly how, I will instead use the rest of this post to share that reflection:


“Fear in the Water”

Matthew 14:22-33

 2 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down. 33 Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

The thing about fear is that it feeds itself. Fear alters our perspective so that what we see – the facts or perceptions that stand out in bold relief to our wide, staring eyes – are the threats, the dangers, the horrifying possibilities. When we are in that state of fight or flight heightened awareness, somehow that awareness filters out the light of hope and all we can observe are the surroundings that reinforce our fear.

When I read this story of the disciples in the boat, in the storm, already far from the security of land, I can feel their fear. I curl in on the awful tightening in my chest as my pulse quickens and my breath becomes shallow. I taste the salt spray on my lips and try to strip its clinging chill from my skin. I fight the tearing tug of the wind on my hair and clothes – pulling me toward that black, roiling, angry, suffocating water.

This is the terror of the night – the sense of helplessness as I am tossed about like a despised and battered toy by the forces of the Darkness.

And then a light appears – moving smoothly –undisturbed by wind and wave – a beam of hope if I had eyes to see.

But I don’t see hope. I see only fear. I, with the disciples, see a ghost – a further terror to exceed even the fury of nature with a supernatural threat. “They were so frightened they screamed.” Me too. When in the grip of fear there is sometimes nothing else that I can do, but scream.

Jesus answers that scream. “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Don’t be afraid. That’s a hard one. Maybe the sight and voice of Jesus could reach me through the crashing waves and howling wind. Maybe I, with Peter, could step out in faith just moments after I had cowered in fear. Maybe I could walk upon the raging waters and bring myself within the saving reach of Jesus’ arm. Maybe… but I kind of doubt it.

I think I am still clinging to the boat. I think fear still has me in its grip. I think the best that I can do is turn my eyes toward the crazy bravery of Peter, and hold my breath in terrified prayer that he will make it.

And when he almost does. When he comes so close, only to fail at the last instant, I gasp to hear the Lord’s reproof. “man of weak faith?” “why did you begin to doubt?” This is the worst fear of all. If even Peter has fallen short… if even walking out upon the storm-tossed sea cannot earn approval, then I am lost. My only hope is to cling to my battered boat, the tangible but fragile protections that I can build for myself … my only choice is to cling to this inadequate security… and scream.

But here is the hope in this story. Because Jesus does not let Peter sink beneath the waves. Nor does he turn with Peter and walk away, leaving the terrified others, leaving me, in the heaving, creaking boat that can’t keep out the waves of fear.

Instead, Jesus brings Peter back to the boat and steps in himself with all of us. He gets into the boat – the weak, inadequate, human construction to which I cling. He gets in with me. And he calms the storm. He doesn’t magic me away. That is not the hope he offers. He climbs into the center of the fear with me. And then, and only then can I finally understand.

“You MUST be God’s Son.”


I am not quite out of the quicksand, but I am dust, and I am in the boat, and I am not alone.

Thank God for Lent.


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Interview Day; Day 4 of April Poetry Month

Yesterday I went to my first interview in about 15 years (I’ve worked in that time, but my several jobs have sort of developed outside the normal process). It was exhilarating, and scary, and I’m still feeling a bit jumpy. So, poetry seems like a good outlet.

Interview Day

Butterflies dance inside.
The flick and whisper of silken wings
that brush past heart, lungs, abdomen.
They make me jump.

The feeling, not unpleasant,
but uncomfortable.

I want to join the dance,
but I don’t know…
my feet are clumsy in these high-heeled shoes.


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Share Day: Day 3 of the April Poetry Challenge

Today’s poetic effort is in the vein of narrative free verse. Hopefully the source of inspiration will be evident.


 

Share Day

 

“It was so exciting! I just can’t sleep!”

My sweet, calm daughter

normally so tranquil, so contained,

now wriggling and bouncing in her bed,

animated by memory.

 

The source of this ebullient agitation:

Her Share Day.

The class calendar marked with her name,

calling on her to rise and carry up the chosen, precious object.

“My Favorite Book”

 

She didn’t tell me her selection,

not until we were rushing out the door,

lunch bags and jackets trailing from lazy child arms,

keys slipping in my fingers as I rush to lock the house, unlock the car,

transport us all to each our destination.

 

 “Do you know what I’m going to share?”

A gleeful grin expands her face,

and, finally, tired eyes glance down to see the book gripped to her chest,

embraced with pride.

My Storybook Bible.

 

Two instant, instinctive, counter-acting thoughts.

 

The happy one beams out,

full of pride and joy

to know this precious book merits for her the singular title:

Favorite.

And even more to see the light

that shines our from her eyes,

so eager to share her love, and God’s, with others.

 

But parallel thought retracts,

trained by fear and pain,

by knowledge of how this book’s singular claims are oft received:

Judgment.

Descriptor both of content and of those

who speak with public voice of finding light,

those eager to share their words, or God’s, with others.

 

What will they think?

The parents of a class whose diverse names and faces I do celebrate,

the chance for her to see and learn from differences.

But will this difference be allowed to teach?

If children bring home tales of Bible stories read aloud

will some complain of violated boundaries, church and state?

Or… will they think that I am a sneaky proselytizer,

indoctrinating six-year olds, my own and through her theirs?

 

My own memory awakes, asleep now twenty years,

presents a shaking scene:

A High School English class; an assignment –

present an object that represents yourself.

I, my worn Bible in my hand, stand to face the stares,

the sneers, the cynical questioning of those who thought me fool.

I held that book because my faith was central to my core, my sense of self,

but also because I felt compelled to stand against the tide,

to prove my faith as genuine to evangelical satisfaction.

“Blessed are you when they revile you…”

 

But this is not her reason,

and I must divorce my own complicated story of love and pain,

both found within the pages of this book,

from how I let her write her own, new story.

Her reason is so much simpler,

just the natural child’s joy of drawing near to God in story form.

And so…

I do not question,

do not try to guide her steps away from pitfalls in the quagmire of pluralistic culture.

This is her share day, and the story must be hers.

 

Now she has shared,

all unaware of culture wars and bigotry,

without cold words of caution to quench the bright light shining from her eyes.

And now, when it is over, hours past,

she is bouncing on her bed, alert with joy.

“It was so exciting! I just can’t sleep”


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Fear-Rejecting Parenting: Reflections on the Courage of an Amazing Family

I think I might have been more traumatized than the Gigglemonster when he fell and smacked his head on a hard, stone floor (notice the lump!)

I might have been more traumatized than the Gigglemonster when he fell and smacked his head on a hard, stone floor (notice the lump!)

Something they never tell you about becoming a parent is all the fear that suddenly invades your life when you take that precious, miraculous, fragile little bundle home from the hospital. Watching your heart (captured in the body of your child) grow, and discover, and slowly move away from you is both breathtakingly joyful and breathtakingly frightening.

In my experience, the fears of parenting run the whole spectrum of terrifying possibilities. I am afraid of the things that could happen to my children (be that physical pain and illness, or car accidents, or rejection by friends, or failure to achieve their dreams), and I am afraid about what they will be exposed to (from societal evils like consumerism and bigotry to the very individual dangers of evil people who might try to harm them). I worry about their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I worry about their present and about their future. Moments of intense pride in their character and accomplishments are tempered by moments of fear when their whining, or selfishness, or timidity conjure up imaginings of how these traits might hamper them as they mature.

Added to fears for my children are the fears for my own failures as their mother: failures to protect them, failures to guide and teach them, failures to give them all that they need and deserve, and failures to back away so that they can learn independence and develop their own coping strategies when life is imperfect.

My own fears are probably holding Princess Imagination back from really learning how to swim. It's so hard to trust that she can learn to be safe in water.

My own fears are probably holding Princess Imagination back from really learning how to swim. It’s so hard to trust that she can learn to be safe in water.

I don’t mean to give the impression that motherhood is an endless labyrinth of fears and forebodings. In fact, the apprehension I feel is so powerful only because the love and joy of parenting my little ones is so intense. It is because there is so much to lose, so much indescribable happiness, that my hands occasionally shake when grasped by soft, plump little fingers. My life is incalculably better because of the two invaders who so completely upturned it with their presence and their needs.

And yet, I am unavoidably aware that my relationship to fear has undergone a qualitative shift since I became a mother. Fear now has a secret entry to my heart that was never there before. When my body gave my children entry into life, with all its dangers, it also opened a door for fear to fill the empty space where they once nestled under my heart. It’s as though the intense, physical dependence that began our relationship has reprogrammed me. I will now – I think forever – know myself as the one whose responsibility it is to protect and nurture my children. What that looks like changes as they grow, but the imperative does not slacken. A central part of my very identity is the absolute obligation to seek their well-being, and for me that includes a persistent awareness of everything that threatens it.

Perhaps that is why I was so struck by the story of Heather and Cameron Von St. James when I was introduced to it a few weeks back. Eight years ago they shared the awesome experience of bringing home their baby girl and encountering the joy of discovering all the wonderful ways their lives were now changed. That part of their story is intimately and sweetly familiar to me. The fear they faced just a few months later, however, is something I struggle to even imagine. Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma – a virulent form of cancer that usually results in death within 2 years of diagnosis. She was given just 15 months to live.

Fifteen months! That kind of diagnosis would be devastating to anyone, but for new parents … my parenting fears pale in comparison. Such a huge element of my fear as a mother is my immense sense of responsibility – the need to protect, and love, and guide my children in all the ways they need me. But what if I faced the near certainty that I wouldn’t be there to do any of those things? I really don’t think I can imagine what it must be to face that kind of fear.

What I can do, is to share my awe-filled respect for what Heather and Cameron did with their fears: they named them, and then they rejected them. They began a unique ceremony of inviting friends and family to join them for a backyard bonfire. In the light of that fire, a symbol of danger, they write their fears on plates and then throw them into the fire. They use the destructive power of the flames to smash their fears and reclaim their lives, and in the process they embrace each day they have with each other and with their daughter, Lily.

As it turns out, those days have been more numerous than the doctors ever imagined. It has been eight years since the lung removal surgery (the “lung leavin’ day” as they have dubbed it) that is the date for the Von St. James’ annual ceremony. Heather has been at every one.

Heather’s life, and her ability to be present in her daughter’s life, is miracle enough. But this amazing family has gone a step beyond by sharing their miracle with others as an inspiration for fear-rejecting parenting. They have taken a source of unimaginable fear and changed it into a chance to embrace love instead.

WOW!

I have often been comforted by the words of the apostle John (I John 4:18) that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear,” however I have also struggled to really experience them in my life. In all the relationships that matter most to me – those where my love is the deepest – fear seems to hold the opposite relationship to love. Especially as a mother, fear seems to grow with love, not be banished by it. But here, in this inspiring example, I think I am beginning to understand a bit more about how to claim this truth in my own life.

The Von St. James’ are not without fear. They hold their fear-smashing ceremony every year, because fear is not something that can be banished once and for all. The fact that Heather has beaten the odds does not remove all the fears that come with a cancer diagnosis as a young mother. She still has fears about the cancer coming back, about missing out on her daughter’s life. And so each year she rejects those fears – rejects their power to control her life and to tarnish each day of love that she has with her daughter.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” Casting out is a willful act – a decision. By writing a fear onto a plate and then throwing it into the fire this special family, and a growing crowd of others, make the decision to reject fear’s power to rob their love of its joy and beauty.

So, this blog post is my plate today. I am writing down my fear of failing as a mother – whether through my own imperfection or my inability to control all the evil in the world that can harm my children. It’s out of my control but that does not have to tarnish the joy of loving them. Perhaps, if I learn the discipline of regularly rejecting that fear, it will even help to liberate that love.

May today and every day be a day to throw fear into the fire and instead embrace the joy I have today.

(To learn more about Heather and Cameron’s story, or to help them raise money for Mesothelioma awareness, you can visit their webpage: http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday )

Each day with them is a reason to smile!

Each day with them is a reason to smile!