To My Boys on Their First Day of School

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My Dear Boys,

The thing that I love most about both of you is that while you are mine, you are utterly yourselves.

Your souls cannot be contained or controlled, and that’s exactly what most terrifies and thrills me about being your mom.

Today you started school.

And what I know is that while you are not alone on your new journey, neither am I. I’m surrounded by other moms and dads who are doing the same thing, loving their kiddos while they are with them and while they aren’t.

So here’s what I know.

Transitions hurt, and stretching feels like a small kind of death, and that's okay.
There’s this saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and I feel that already, felt it the moment we stepped out that door and left you for a few hours to learn and grow.

When you wake up in the morning, there will be things like oatmeal and strawberries waiting for you, and when you go to bed, there will be stories of Grandmother Moon and Waynaboozhoo.

And the next morning, I will be waiting with sage, so that when we burn it we can remember who we are. And when you go to bed that next night, there will be stories of Harry Potter and Hagrid, Ron and Hermione to lead you to the deepest parts of your imagination.

You see, this is why the stretching is both beautiful and hard.

Because of the stretching, we will make room for the sacred. We will gather when we are together, and when we are apart, we will do the work we’re called to do.

 

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My Dear Boys,

When you see the world, both now and later when you’re grown, I might ask you to report back to me.

I might ask you to let me know what you’ve seen and heard, what overwhelmed your senses, what distracted you, what brought you comfort, what hurt you.

I might ask, because for now, we’ve got things to share with each other, before the leaving and the cleaving that one day will come in one form or another.

Before that, we report to each other so that we grow together, so that this world experiences all of us, our stories meshed and molded with one another’s stories.

We do this now so that one day, when you build family and community far from my grasp, I can watch in awe of the people you become.

I can watch in awe that your souls grew and stretched to bloom into exactly who you were created to be.

 

So, my dear boys,

Go, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.

Go, and when you come home, I’ll be there, waiting.

Go, make the world more beautiful and right wrongs, because that’s the shape of you.

Go, and as you go, I’ll be going, so that when we come together we will know how to be ready for whatever lies ahead of us.

 

Albus Dumbledore says, “there are all kinds of courage,” and I know that to be true, because I’ve seen it in you time and again.

Let your kind of courage be the thing that guides you.

 

I love you.

 

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Good Things Become Visible

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Mno waben. Mno waben.

I held my three year old son in the early morning light,  held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.

We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.

The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.

We continue the tradition today.

It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.

We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.

Mno waben. 

Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.

So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.

We spend so much of our time running.

We run because we don’t know how to slow down.

We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

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But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.

It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.

What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.

I think our days would fall into place a little differently.

I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.

I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,

and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.

We’d embrace the light.

We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

Practicing Parenthood In a Time of Chaos

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During long drives in the car, I’ve had some difficult conversations with my boys about justice, the law, the difficult history that we’re a part of as native people and as Christians, and the overall climate of our nation today.

A hundred years ago, we probably would have been told that parenting is hard– just like it’s hard today. Maybe the world is worse in our century, or maybe it’s a little better– whatever it is, chaos is still present, and as parents, we still have a job to do.

So with that challenge in place, we pray that we lead our little ones both in the right way and in their own way— we help them find their gifts, we walk beside them, we teach them to value the journeys and stories of others, we discipline and shape their character, and we let them see the world with the tethering of hope through which Jesus saw it.

Even so.

I don’t like living in a world in which I have to tell my son that laws are meant to protect people…usually.

I don’t like living in a world in which the history of indigenous people is known by stories of kids being taken from their savage parents and placed in boarding schools or with civilized, non-native families.

I don’t like living in a world in which my child’s sexuality is defined by their favorite color or toy preference or ability to be creative.

I don’t like living in a world in which the word enemy is defined by political party and reconciliation is not practiced enough between people of faith.

And yet.

I love living in a world in which my boys can grow up to change laws.

I love living in a world  in which we can challenge social norms with the power of shalom.

I love living in a world in which they can change history for their own people generations down the road,

that they can redefine what it means to be strong and brave and smart,

and that they can love their enemies and engage reconciliation on a daily basis.


 

Sometimes I wish Jesus had been a parent. Then maybe there would have been stories about his encounters with his kids that we could draw advice from–

That time his toddler threw a tantrum in the synagogue and he had to compassionately parent him into understanding;

That time they saw someone poor neglected by the law and he had to tell his kids why before they engaged in protest for the least of these against the rulers of their day;

That time he had to tell his teenager to fearlessly pray for a society  that objectifies her, the same way he told her to stand tall and proud of who she is, that her voice matters, and that love trumps hate.

But we don’t have those kinds of stories.

We have stories that tell us he healed lepers and looked children in the eyes, that he challenged the concept of seen and not heard.

We know his heart, and it guides us in these days, in this country, in this world, in which we have all the things that make living difficult and all the things that make living sacred.

So if we know what Jesus was like, we walk in that spirit of shalom.

We teach our children the lessons that we learned and the lessons we should have learned. We teach them to be better and we don’t fear learning from them.

And in our social, political, and religious climate, we follow the rules of shalom– the rules of peace– and they guide us in our conversations, in our actions, in the way we interact with other human beings.

Because honestly, I don’t know how to be a parent now. I know that there is a Mystery within the realm of God that gives me strength when I need it, and that Jesus leads me, often through the lessons my little ones teach me.

I don’t know that the world today is any worse or any better than it was.

But I know that chaos cannot last forever, and in the midst of it, Jesus still makes all things new.


Jesus,

Teach us the lessons we don’t read on scripture pages.

Teach us the lessons that give us grace in our everyday lives,

lessons that remind us we are not alone,

we are not abandoned,

that you are the partner in all things we do.

You are the partner when we are at our wits’ end.

You are the partner that pushes us through the next challenge.

You are the partner that gives us grace to say no,

grace to change direction,

grace to start over.

So much is given to us in the words of scripture,

and yet,

we learn so much in our humanity,

in our person-to-person encounters,

there is no way we can say

that we did not see you

here in our day,

in our time,

when we thought chaos would win.

And so we remember that you are better.

You are stronger.

You are a kind leader.

And we rest in the lessons you teach us right now, today. 

Amen.

 

 

 

The Ordination Lesson: practicing kenosis-parenting

“If you should happen to catch a glimpse of what really matters in life, regard it with care. Decorate it with flowers. Cover it with love. Hold it in the sunshine. Give it a little bit of time and attention. And when the world tries to push you forward, listen to your heart instead. Because if you don’t make time for what really matters, no one is going to do it for you…” –Rachel Macy Stafford 

Last Sunday, I was ordained as a deacon at my church.

We sat in chairs around the room and people slowly mulled through the spaces around us,

stopping by to lay hands,

to give a quick, quiet prayer or encouraging word.

My four year old, Eliot, came to me and took my hands and looked deep in my eyes,

asking without words, Mama, let me be with you.

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“Some genius and a great deal of love. They are a grand team, and, when well driven, astonish the world by the time they make it in the great Race.” -Louisa May Alcott

 

When these things happen, these momentous events, we want them to happen slowly, to let things sink in and simmer for awhile without distraction.

I struggled through the morning about how to do it, how to keep this sacred space for myself–

But when my son is asking to share a holy moment with me,

I give in to kenosis– a pouring out of my own power–

and I invite him to pray over me.

I invite him to stay with me, to give himself to whatever God is speaking into his little world.

And when he speaks the words, “Jesus, please give her peace, and just be with her,” well, that’s all the prayer I’ll need for a long time.

When your children pray for you, listen to them.

Those are holy words,

not meant to be ignored or quickly forgotten.

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As people, we naturally want to hold special moments for ourselves, because sometimes they mean the world to us.

They are an experience for us–the child, and God–the parent.

And we examine whether we can handle our own children mucking up the magic or distracting us from the words we need to hear.

But when your four year old is at your knee, his head rested on your lap,

the Spirit of God pulsing through his toddler-sized veins,

his tiny voice speaking life over your very being,

you have a choice to make.

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The truth is,

our children want to know God with us.

Our children want to know good with us,

to practice kindness the way we do,

to learn humanity and holiness the way we’ve been learning it all these years.

If we don’t know how to give up our power, to practice kenosis,

then they won’t know how to, either, when the time comes.

So we choose to loosen our grip

and unclench our fists

and bring down our shoulders

and stretch out our hands,

where we find our children

waiting and ready to bring

the Gospel back to us.

Hallelujah and amen.

 

A Prayer For The Tired Parents

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I remember now that at the deepest part of Your goodness, You are a parent.

I remember that Your love beckons us beyond our tantrums and selfishness, beyond our mistrust and fear.

Right now, today, we’re the exhausted ones, who come to the end of ourselves over and over again.

We’re sharing sideways glances of What are we supposed to do here?

And we’re also screaming Jesus, help us! in our deepest spaces.

And so I also remember that I’m so limited.

I’m so short-living, so infinitesimal.

Yet at the same time, I’m charged with the great honor of molding, loving, comforting, teaching, and cultivating the hearts of two small boys who are jumping out of their sun-tanned skin with life.

And so we light our candles and drink our coffee, we go on walks and look at the big sky and towering trees, the rushing rivers and playground swings.

We take turns sharing the quiet, when we’re so desperate for it.

O God, Father and Mother God, fully parent, fully caretaker and provider God, You are our rest.

In midnight tossing, you’re hope.

And in the midst of what sometimes feels like hell, we quiet ourselves, again.

Breathe.

Cherish the moment, not the task.

Look them in the eyes.

Remember patience and love.

And as I whisper this mantra to myself, to my husband, over this household’s two bedrooms, over the balcony garden and sunroom, over the kitchen sink, over the bathroom where my boys brush their teeth, over my closet where they play dress-up with my clothes–

over every surface they touch–

we pray that You’d make it all holy.

We pray that You, our good parent, might teach us again, every moment of every day, how to do this,

when our limbs can barely carry us and our hearts are weary from trying to love right in honor of Your love.

Lead on, we pray.

Amen.

The Child’s Magic: a surrender

Children have an extremely beautiful power in their bones. It begins in their hearts, reaches forward through their bloodstream, and somehow travels to their crescent-moon smiles and glitzing eyes.

It is their ability to bring joy to the darkest places, to create hope and fullness in the most trivial moments.

They find life in cookies and milk, in pretend tea parties and cheese sticks, in stacking blocks and bouncing balloons.

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They watch birds and marvel at the misplaced leaf that’s fallen from the oak tree.

And the true magic, I think, is how my boys find my beauty when all I feel that I’m giving them is my angriest heart, my most impatient command, my constant stress over their boy messes.

And yet, they rejoice, creating joy out of worry, curious life out of void boredom.

And they pull it out of me, my heartiest laugh, my surrender to that same magic, that let’s-believe-in-Santa-and-dream-dreams kind of surrender.

It is their gift to us, their presence in all of our hum-drum and bah humbug.

They bring us miracle daily– may we be patient enough to stoop down and see it.

The Advent Failure

The wicks of our Advent candles have barely burned as they should, so they are simply little black fingers curling toward the ceiling, begging for heat and light.

Our mouths have barely spoken of exactly what Advent means, what the manger scene gives to all of humanity.

We have been lying in our beds, on our couches, any square inch of space that takes away the flu-aches. And when the fogginess rises away from our brains, we see clearly that we have failed.

We don’t really know who Jesus was or is. Our home is void of peace and void of The Word that is all words and all life.

We are lazy and selfish, we are busy and tired. We are failures every day that we try to rise.

A friend reminded me of what another friend told her, that Advent is a time of deep grieving and soul-ripping repentance (emphasis added).

So in the very midst of my failure, I look heavenward. I look at the wooden manger scene brought home 5 years ago from Uganda.

I look at the unmarked and unexamined words of Bible pages, and I try to take repentance into the deepest parts of me.

Yesterday at church, my kind friend and pastor reminded all of us that we’re all broken, all failures, all mismatched and wonky, the lot of us.

And I sat there thinking Yes, yes, it’s true. How can God be so big that He loves all of us in these broken-hearted messes?

Then I remember that God is not broken. And His whole-heartedness encompasses all of our creaks and tears, yes, even in the tiny baby cries echoing along the shaky walls of the cold winter manger, ever since then and evermore, His wholeness surrounds us.

I haven’t told Eliot the entirety of the Christmas story, who Jesus is, what He should mean to us, the glorious peace of the Word living among us, because I don’t know how to speak it.

I haven’t told him, and I haven’t kept promises to myself, promises to love better and with more mercy.

But what I can do is the light the candle, watch the glow, repent, remember, and move forward in the newness of grace, outstretched before and around me.

Come, Jesus, come.

 

When Parents Date (“H” is for Happy)

A few weeks ago, we asked for prayer from our friends , for strength in the every day dance of PhD-studying-family-parenting-without-pulling-our-hair-out struggles that are constantly before us.

That evening, I had three messages, all from friends in our sunday school class offering help, kindness, words of compassion and love.

I will forever give testimony to the power of community. Words like these and these, and many more filed under the Community & One Another category of this blog offer up the stories of what it means to be cared for in the wake of God’s love.

One friend offered to watch the boys so we could go on a date together, to refresh, to look in each other’s eyes and speak words without interruption.

When parents date, it’s the sweetest thing. An hour and a half becomes opportunity, becomes a span of time only to be treasured, never forgotten.

And this time, I was just smitten.

We ordered our bacon sandwich, and we asked for our drinks– my latte, his cappuccino– and we sat our letter “h” on the tabletop and waited. “H” is for happy, and I’m so happy, I thought. I grabbed Trav’s hand and seldom let go for an hour.

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The windows let the sunlight stream right in, right on our sides and faces, pulsing warmth into our hearts.

I laughed a few times, those loud laughs that make everyone sideways glance around to see who’s being so loud. But that’s what made it so sweet, and I didn’t care.

We went to that cemetery, the one I took the boys to, and we walked along the same brick paths, just the two of us.

When parents date, the blessedness is recognized, the reality that someone else is taking care of our biggest care, our boys, so we can rest a few minutes in each other’s embrace.

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We looked at the city skyline and remembered how happy we are to be here, how thankful we are for the process, hard as it is.

And then I said, “It’s hard, but it’s not hard, and we’re going to be fine.” And we walked on, looking at plants we couldn’t name and names we could never know, but we marveled at all of it, still.

And then we returned to our friend’s apartment to see our boys doing puzzles and playing with glowing pumpkins. We saw joy in their eyes, the smiles from their deep, full hearts worn full on their faces.

Some days are hard, some seasons break and empty us, and then we come back around to being filled up again, thanks to kind friends and an afternoon together, inside with coffee, outside with a walk along cemetery steps, in the view of sacred angel statues and under the towering might of a sky-scraped city.

When We Admit It: the season we’re in

There’s something really wonderful about bringing a piece of a former world and home into your new one.

Because it’s not just hearts and worlds colliding, but the seasons we’re all in, as well.

The night before they were to leave, Cody and I sat in the living room and sort of admitted to ourselves and each other the seasons we’re in– theirs and ours– different, hard, but real and beautiful in the shadows.

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And the beauty of seasons colliding is that it forces honesty and reality out of all of us.

We come together and it’s bits and pieces of us flying around like shrapnel in a storm– but it’s all good.

But when they left after three days, I said things like,

Well, now you’ve seen every facet of stress in my life.

Thanks for loving on our crazy boys, even when they pull your hair.

 

I sit on my couch in the quiet of the late afternoon and drink the coffee I started this morning, and I admit with my heart that this is my season and lot, and I admit that it’s hard.

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And all four of us are on the brink of something– jobs, relationships, school, child-rearing, faithfulness in marriage, joy in the adventure.

We saw it in each other’s presence, and while we all long for the future things, this weekend taught us that the present– hard, complicated, unexplainable, and beautiful– the present is where we need to be, where Jesus is and where His voice speaks wonders and promises not yet understood.

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We laughed and drank coffee, we gutted out our hearts like we gut out a pumpkin before the hard work of carving begins, and by the end we are released from burdens and we breathe deeper than before. We smile and we say a million thanks– thanks for loving me in my parenting failures; thanks for being okay with husky hair all over you; thanks for the hugs; thanks for the tears; thanks for the beer and sweet conversation; thanks for understanding; thanks for loving the honesty in us that just can’t be hidden or covered up, no matter how hard we try.

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Once again, it’s the story of humanity–

We are not alone.

Every season, struggle, forced smile and deep sigh–

We are not alone.

Maybe it takes a 700 mile trek and a few days of tender craziness and companionship to realize it, but there we have it, and we wander on in peace and in assurance–

In our seasons, we are not alone.