SEVEN GRATITUDES: to some of the people who carry me

sevengratitudes

Every Friday, I join a group of friends as we share seven things we are grateful for. Sometimes they are moments. Sometimes they are people and encounters, stories of community. Sometimes they are challenges to find gratitude in the midst of chaos or pain.

The point of it all is the search and the acknowledgement of what is good in our lives, what keeps us tethered to each other and to God.

Today, I’m grateful for seven people who walk my journey with me. I know some of them, and some of them affect my life with their distant presence.

  1. Richard Rohr. I’m currently taking a class on the basics of Franciscan Theology through the Center for Action and Contemplation, and what he speaks is what I need to hear. Because I grew up leaning into legalism, I need someone to remind me again and again as an adult that my journey is about relationship and not any earned salvation. Richard Rohr does this and so much more through his teaching spirit. I’m so grateful for what he’s equipping me with in my searching and in my own writing.
  2. My oldest son’s new violin teacher and the women that live in a little art community near our city. As a homeschooling family, sometimes it’s hard to get connected to your people. We recently found some new friends, and they pointed us to someone who’d be willing to teach Eliot how to play violin, something he’s been dreaming of for over a year. We met her Sunday, and watching our son thrive in a creative environment made our eyes well up with tears: grateful. 
  3. My oldest sister. She’s got a gracious heart, and my favorite thing about our relationship is the way we laugh together; the way we fall into story-telling and remembering, the way our personalities mesh over a ten minute phone call or a weekend visit. She’s walked hard places in her life, but she seeks beauty and simple moments, all while drinking the strongest cups of coffee. I so admire her strength.
  4. The people in my band at church. As a worship leader, it can be difficult to trust the people around you to fall into worship the same way you expect them to– and often, it’s not the reality. I’ve been leading worship at this church in my city for a little over six months now, and I’m so grateful that I have a rotation of people every week that make me laugh, that just love music for what it gives us, and that follow me as a leader, even if I’m going somewhere odd and unexpected. That is where the Mystery of God thrives, and by the end of every Sunday, my heart is full with gratitude for the people I get to worship with.
  5. The group of people who put together the Language program for the Potawatomi Citizen Band website. Because of the hard work of Justin Neely and others with him, I am able to learn my tribe’s language without living in Oklahoma among other indigenous people. It is an honor to carry the language of my ancestors, and it’s a great challenge. It teaches us to look ahead to future generations. It teaches us to honor our way of life and to remember that though we are “dust to dust” we have a beautiful responsibility to honor our own journeys.
  6. The WWII widow who originally owned the rental house we are now living in. It is spring, and I am watching plants bloom in my yard that I had no idea existed. I am pruning hydrangeas and nandina, caring for autumn fire so that it can bloom in the fall. We have some sort of bluebells that are in full bloom, and we bring bouquets in every day, coffee mugs and glasses around the house full of their purple color and sweet scent. The birds and the squirrels in our yard are happy, because they know they have a home. The bumblebees and a few wasps are already active, because they know they will be fed. Our vegetable garden, full of kale and lettuce and sugar snap peas is slowly but surely growing, and every time I spend time in that yard I think of her, all her hard work as a single mother with children, all that time they must have spent in this very yard that I care for today. For that, I am absolutely grateful.
  7. Elders. I’m thinking a lot lately about the circle of life, about birth and death, about how our young and our old are connected. In native culture, the youngest and the oldest are closest to God, because they are on the front and back end of life. So it’s important that we listen to them, that we learn from them. I go to a multi-generational church, and I long to take my sons and sit with some of these people and learn from them. I live in a multi-generational neighborhood, and I long to go next door to the new widow who lost her husband last year and remind her that she’s not alone, and learn what I can about her life. We fill each other up in this way, so that one day, when we are the old ones, we have more stories to tell, more experiences to learn from, more connectedness to this earth, to each other, to God. I’m grateful for that opportunity, and pray that we remember to use it.

 

BEFORE: a poem

statues

Last week I spent a few days in Nashville at the Convergence Music Project conference– a group of church leaders coming together to figure out how to lead in a different way that reflects inclusive grace in our worship spaces.

I expected to go to this conference and sit and listen. I expected to meet one or two people, to keep my head down, to take notes and be still. I expected to keep my Native American self a little behind my worship leading self, to learn things that I could take home and apply in my own life and in the life of my church.

But what I expected, of course, was different than my graciously given reality.

There were only a few people of color at this conference, and it was pointed out in numerous ways, at numerous times. We all lamented that our group was not more diverse, and posed questions throughout the conference asking how this can change in the future. Convergence honors the voice of people of color, and I’m so grateful for that.

Still, I kept my head down and my voice hushed. I listened. But then, I was asked to speak. Then who I am– as a whole– came to the surface of my speaking and my listening and my interactions, and I realized again that I cannot separate who I am, not even for a minute. I cannot say that in this space I’ll be worship leader and in that space I’ll be native and in another space I’ll be mom and wife and friend. I am all of these things in all of these spaces, and they make me whole.

So, by the third day of the conference, I’d understood. The day before, Brian McLaren had taken us in an unexpected direction in a conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery.

The conference had taken a turn toward acknowledging the church’s complicity in the abuse of native peoples and African peoples, and throughout our time there the theme kept coming back up, kept making its way to the forefront– if we are to worship in our churches, something must change, be acknowledged, be reckoned with. 

It is a subject we can no longer ignore.

On Friday morning, we gathered for our own church service, our minds and hearts reeling and ready and engaged from three days of sharing and brainstorming a few new ways forward.

And when my friend Brian Sirchio stood at the front of the room and once more acknowledged what happened to my ancestors, and acknowledged why it is wrong that in my native skin I don’t know how to fit into the white church, I fell apart (again).

We listened to a man play two native flutes and we processed together. My shoulders heaved with both the pain of our history and with a great swell of hope– if the people in this room can see me, can see my African American brothers and sisters, we can see that a new way forward is at least possible– we can see that the world is literally shifting all around us, and we must be ready to hold onto each other in all of our cultural and skin colored differences.

That morning as the flutes played, I wrote. A poem poured out of me and my hand could hardly keep up with my heart. I stopped every few seconds to wipe tears, and I thought in that moment this is it. A piece of Kingdom.

I stood after the music was over and read the poem, and I felt a release. I felt a release inside of my own chest to find a way to be who I am, without the need to  compartmentalize. I felt a release to be who I am without dualistic ties, without categorizing my identity into neat boxes.

In these words, I released into all of us the permission to say that who we are today is a chance to move forward to who we want to be tomorrow, as individuals and as the church.

That is the greatest release I can imagine.

Before you knew me, you knew my story–

the story of humanity,

the story of breath in lungs,

eyes and hearts,

longing and desire,

the known and unknown parts.

Before I knew you, I knew your story–

the labor to grow,

the roots of your love,

the culturedness that

brings your being to life.

Before we knew God,

we were held in something,

a sacred womb

that does not let us go,

still,

a table that continues 

to get bigger,

more and more chairs

for a larger and larger feast.

This means that we were never alone,

you and me.

We were never broken before,

never 

stolen or battered,

maimed or abused.

In the Before, we were

held in eternal

Shalom.

In the After,

today,

you, me, 

our stories,

our table–

it grows bigger, still.

 

Amen.

 

A Lesson on Trust: Prayers That Pass The Sky

Tomorrow I’m leading worship at our new church.

40 days, to answer your question.

We’ve been here 40 days.

If I could write down all the ways God’s led us in this move, my hand would ache endlessly.

Still, I’ll do it someday.

For now, let me focus in on one story.

When we moved, my prayer, as well as my husband’s, was that we’d find a community of believers.

In that prayer, my heart faintly whispered to the Father’s close ear, Maybe one where I can lead worship?

Still, in my childlike wanting, I was prepared.

I was prepared to sit among the congregation of singers for a year or so, lifting my voice in unison alongside friends and family.

I wouldn’t push it.

I wouldn’t jump ahead.

I wouldn’t force anything.

After a week and a half of being here, we visited the church.

We juggled the boys until Trav forced me inside to listen by myself for a few moments, to see the bread break and wine pour, to take in the holy kindness of communion.

I was prepared to leave without making a new friend, without meeting anyone or saying anything.

There happens to be TWO boys in this church named Isaiah, and they happened to be sitting one row apart that day.

Isaiah’s mother introduced herself to me, commented on my singing voice, and moments later introduced me to the worship leader.

I was swept across the room in a slow motion movement, a rush of seconds all ushering me into the Holy Will of the Kingdom.

We exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, and I walked through the door with my heart so happy it ached.

And I wrote in my journal these words:

God, I cannot say that You are not good.

I’m learning something.

It’s something I’ve been learning all my life, but today I know it to be true.

I can trust Him.

God is trustworthy.

And when I faintly whisper to Him, my voice sounding hollow as it rings inside the mustard seed–

Oh, He hears.

There’s a Will Reagan song that says,

I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open; I know that I can trust You. There’s nothing I hold on to.

When we voice something to God, it isn’t thrust into an abyss. It’s not leaked onto a greasy floor to be trampled, or blown as steam into polluted air to disappear before our eyes.

When we voice, it’s taken in. It’s taken in.

There’s a holy place that holds it and dwells with it and shapes it.

Then it’s poured out in some way, it’s poured back on us and we receive and believe and trust.

There’s more I could say about the importance of gifts, the importance of using what He’s shaped in us for the good of ourselves and for the good of the church.

I’m going to leave that for now, and I’m going to say this again.

God, I cannot say that You are not good.