Faith, Family, & Focaccia

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


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Sometimes, and Clinging

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Sometimes only a few shafts of light break through the clouds.

At the Good Friday service tonight my church – like many others I imagine – sang a classic, simple reflection on the cross. The lyrics for the first stanza run like this:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? 

Ooooh

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? 

If you have never sung or heard this hymn, take a few minutes and look it up on youtube. (This is a nice version). It has become one of my favorite quiet, soul-stirring hymns. This preference is not because of the aching, soaring arc of the melody, hauntingly beautiful as it is. Nor is it a response to the poignant images it holds before my mind’s eye with slow, insistent repetition. My heart is pulled by this song because of one simple word:

Sometimes.

Sometimes. Not Always. Not whenever I turn toward God or train my mind to properly spiritual things. Sometimes.

That one word is probably one of the truest things I ever sing about my own spirit. Much as I love to sing in worship it can be hard to really claim the feelings the songs ask me to name: feelings of desperation for God, or a love that supersedes all other loves, or complete and total trust. On an average Sunday morning I am more likely to be experiencing heart-stopping love for Princess Imagination as she cuddles up to share the hymnal and sing a little off-key; or I am battling distracting questions of whether to trust the Gigglemonster to come straight back from his second bathroom run. Even before I had children, maintaining total focus on God for even the length of a simple praise chorus was not a foregone conclusion.

It’s not that I have never in my life experienced the relational intensity described in the many wonderful psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It’s just that, in the midst of normal life, they feel like such an unattainable ideal. Life is full – full of responsibility, and activities, and far too little sleep. I simply cannot maintain a perpetual emotional high no matter how hard I try.

Plus, I thought that I had moved past the try harder orientation of my evangelical roots. I have embraced grace and rejected performance Christianity. I have found God in the valley in ways that are far more relevant and palpable than God on the mountain top. I know better than to try harder at being the perfect Christian.

But perfectionism is a hard master to shed. In these very early stages of my candidacy for ordination, perfectionism has been dogging my steps and flicking my ankles with the whip of shame.

Do you really think you can be a spiritual leader?

Is it really that hard to spend 10 minutes a day in silent meditation?

Does prayer time really count if you are still curled up under the covers?

Did you notice how you just FAILED to treat that rude driver like a beloved child of God? 

Performance. Expectations. Perfection.

That is what I find so beautiful about the one word Sometimes. Sometimes means it does not have to be all the time to be real. It means that the holy trembling that does happen – sometimes – is a precious, not an inadequate, experience. It means those moments are a shared reality with the whole cloud of witness for whom the trembling is also sporadic. Sometimes is a wonderfully reassuring word.

That word was hanging in my consciousness for the whole drive home, and my imperfect, easily distracted mind was hoping to get the kids in bed quickly so that I could sit down to this computer and work through the learning that I knew was trembling inside my deep exhale as I sang about sometimes.

But the Gigglemonster can always sniff out any sense of urgency to leave him and it triggers an even greater sense of urgency in him. Tonight it elicited tears, and fierce, insistent hugs, and hiccuping, vague stories of school bullies, and the desperate declaration that “I want to cling to you because I never want you to leave me.” I stayed much longer than I had planned. We talked, and I offered reassurance and cuddles, and I finally extricated myself with a promise to come back in 20 minutes as long as he stopped screaming and practiced his self-soothing.

Of course, when I returned 20 minutes later he was fast asleep, curled around his stuffed animals and not apparently scarred by the trauma of having a Mommy who refuses to sleep in his bed with him just because he clings.

And that peaceful slumber in no way makes me question his love for me. The intensity of his declarations of devotion are not somehow diminished by their limited duration. They are not even tarnished by my consciousness that they are part totally genuine and part master manipulation (there can be all kinds of imperfect dynamics to trembling love). They are sweet and beautiful glimpses of true closeness – a self-opening love I couldn’t even have dreamed of before I became a parent. They are real.

And thank goodness they are only sometimes.

As I left his room with the image of his sweet sleeping cherub’s face, I wondered whether God feels the same way about me? The moments of ecstatic adoration are wonderful, but they couldn’t possibly be always. That wouldn’t be a good thing even if it were possible. The Mother-Father heart of God knows I need those moments of closeness and trust, but I also need moments of play, and learning, and falling down to discover the pain and healing that comes with growth. A God who hangs on the cross to show what love really is does not look for perfection. My God doesn’t look for a love that is all emotional highs and total, focused devotion.

Clinging is a part of love, but only sometimes.

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Goodnight my sweet little clinger.

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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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