Saturday, November 21, 2015

what Mary did

This is what Mary did:
she found what was necessary
resting at His feet, not too busy

to listen, and Martha did not
understand why Mary wasn't
doing the things she should

have been doing, may not even
have understood when Jesus
explained, and I, Mary and

Martha both, still struggle to
rest, be still, stop moving as if
motion is necessary to hold

everything together when, in fact,
resting is what holds it all together,
freedom from distraction, focus,

listening and hearing, being ready
to listen and hear, the truest busy-ness
of those on Kingdom business?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

why is this death so hard

for Bruce Edwards

Why is this death so hard
to handle?  Because it was
sudden?  Because he was a
good man?  Because we were
looking forward to the new
Sara Groves album, and he
was deep into the World
Series and had just made
new friends on Facebook
and because now we will
never have the chance to
talk about writing again
on this side, and I can't
stop crying, even though
we didn't know each other
very well at all, and I should
go see if he autographed
his book for me, but I can't
quite bear to look?  His absence
already looms large even
though his presence in my
life was such a small, warm
and steady light.  Lord,
grant him rest eternal in
perpetual light.  Amen.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dear parents of an adult child with un-diagnosed mental illness,

Dear parents of an adult child with un-diagnosed mental illness,
is why I want you to go
see a good family counselor psychologist: so
you will know 
that this 
is not 
your fault.  I 
want you to talk
to someone who sees
this kind of thing
every day, someone
who will listen with
knowledge, someone
who can suggest
things you can try
(if you haven't already 
tried them and only 
if you ask).  I want 
you to hear--from someone who hears
from people like you for a living--
whether or not this behavior
that hurts you
so badly
is something your child
chooses (and something you choose
to allow) or whether
this is 
your child 
has no choice over 
due to the mental health issues.
Maybe that doesn't
matter to you so much,
but it does to me.  It's
different for me if
someone is choosing
to be cruel to me than
if someone is
unable to
anything healthy
because of brain
chemistry problems.
It's scary, too, of
course, to think that
someone is behaving 
so badly without 
any choice 
in the matter 
because that means they can't
choose better behaviors (except
maybe to finally seek treatment
and health and help like any
ill person should).  However,
I'd rather know that truth
than go on suspecting 
that someone is knowingly, 
intentionally causing pain 
to people who love them
because that person chooses
to do so for any reason.  Please,
talk to someone who 
can give you real answers,
and stop lying and
saying it's okay and
it doesn't bother you
when the hurt you feel
is a sound
I can hear
so clearly even
over my phone's
terrible connection
to you.  Please choose
to find out
if this brokenness
can be repaired or
needs to be surrendered
as something you
cannot change and are not
responsible for, so we can all
move on from there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A little help here

Last Sunday was rough.  I was in a lot of pain and haven't been sleeping much, so I am not at my most tactful or kind.  I cringed at the idea of having to shake hands, not to mention what would happen if someone tried to hug me, but I cringed more at the thought of telling people not to touch me.   Also, I've been trying not to let the pain be my excuse for skipping church.  So I went to church,  craving invisibility, so I wouldn't have to shake hands or move or say anything.  The problem with going to church right now is that I am new at this church, so I can't just stay seated and hide away and be antisocial like I want to.  (Even if I had tried to do so, people move around so much there, to make sure they greet everybody, I would have had to keep getting up to let them past anyway).  So I shook hands with a pained smile.  Days later I'm still paying the price.

Why is it so hard for me to just come up with a line to deflect people kindly?  (I think this must be related to how hard it is for me to say I'm sorry.  A lot of the same choking up and rationalizing in circles and excuses seem to occur.)  It's kind of silly, but I hate the way people's faces fall or they stop making eye contact when I tell them I can't touch them/be touched, and I can't think of anything to say because I'm just so tired, so I just don't say anything about it while I'm shaking their hand, and it's like someone's driving spikes through my wrists, and then I pay the price in increased pain and decreased sleep for days and have to fight even harder to make myself go to church the next time it's Sunday morning, and I'm in pain.  If only I could find the perfect words . . .

I am convinced that most people would hate to cause other people pain like this.  I also think that some people hate knowing they caused pain more than actually causing pain.  Like maybe they'd rather cause the pain and not know than be told to stay away.  Did I mention I'm not at my mental best at times like these?

I think I need help.  To flip the question around, for those of you who attend warm and welcoming churches where folks greet each other affectionately with a handshake or a hug, what could someone in pain say to you to prevent physical contact that would leave you still feeling loved and greeted and not awkward and offended and unlikely to ever talk to that person again?

And if you are a person who deals with this kind of pain, what do you say in this situation? 

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What I want in a church (the end of the hunt?)

If it were up to just me, I might want a church where I could be invisible.

I would be comfortable if I could just punch in a bit late to avoid having to talk to people and punch out as soon as the service ended to avoid having to talk to people.  If I had an invisibility cloak, I would wear it.  I could lose control completely and cry during the singing or the sermon or whenever without fear that anyone would see and ask if something was wrong.  If "church" was only a place to go once a week, a box to check off, that might be what I would want.

Invisibility is not what I need.

So I am looking for a church that is not big.  A church where people from the community (including those from places other than the white, upper class USA) come to be broken together.  A church where the doctrine is solid, but love is a verb, and people notice when you are not there and are concerned about you.  A church where I can participate in the music, where I am challenged to think and to act and to be an active member of the body of Christ.

And I think I've found it.

Yes, we finally went church hunting with intent (with the remaining members of my small group who had not yet found a new church).  We talked about what was really important (deal-breakers) and things that shouldn't be as important.  We generated a list of places to look, and then we started visiting. 

We found outstanding messages and good community representation at this one church, but it was huge, and no one knew anyone else, so it wasn't much different from the church we used to attend.  Here is where I learned that unless I can sing the music (a hymnal or worship choruses everyone knows do the trick just fine), I will not really feel like I am participating in worship, and I need to feel like I am participating. 

Another church was filled with only GenXers and Millenials and no real opportunities to serve in the community. 

The folks I was attending with sort of ran out of steam at this point.  Two of us tried this other church, and I got a huge crush on it immediately.  I thought they would never like it, though, because it was not the kind of traditional Baptist church I thought they were used to.

But then, after the holidays, we tried it again.  And again.  And then they wanted to try that other church with the great pastor as a palate cleanser to see if they were just "settling" because they were tired of looking, and then they left that service early because it didn't have what they had seen at the church I was crushing on, so now we're going to this church together, a little surprised that we found something so great so quickly.

I am cautiously optimistic. 

It is a church very much like the one I grew up in: kind of rowdy but firmly grounded in the Bible and each other.  I'm pretty sure that at some point, they're going to go further than I am comfortable with towards the "charismatic" side of things, but I might just be hypersensitive because of my undergraduate college years and dead dream of teaching at my alma mater someday and thus needing to stay in very doctrinally sound (never challenging any edges) sorts of churches.  We'll see how things go as two introverts, one extrovert (sort of), and two kids try to find out where we can fit in this church, where we can be ministered to and where we can use our gifts to serve others. 

Let the adventure continue.

Visit 1  *  Visit 2  *  Visit 3  *  Visit 4  *  Visit 5  *  Visit 6

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit Six

Visit Six: February

Boy, did I need that invisibility cloak today.  I really didn't want to come this morning.  I hurt pretty badly (all week), and I think it's worse today.  After a week of this, I am not really in emotional control and ready to be pleasant, and that nostalgia factor always makes it hard for me to avoid tears leaking out of my eyes. 

Is there a way for me to wear a DO NOT TOUCH sign in church without offending people?  They take their greeting time seriously, and my hands already hurt so badly that I kind of can't imagine how bad it will be after all that hand shaking.

I had to get up to let folks in and out  of the row about 15 times today, and I have a bruise on both calves from my clumsiness and over-sensitivity to physical touch and the theater seats you have to shove up to let folks through.  All week I have been lying to people at work as they ask how I am, and I am very prickly as a result. 

On his way out, the pastor, who recognized me even after being on a trip to Africa for the last three weeks, asked how I am, and I told him quite honestly that I'm in a lot of pain.  He asked why, and I mumbled something about fibromyalgia flare-up, and he stopped his progress to the exit and prayed for me. 

I would give him extra points if he hadn't also put an arm around me (he was very gentle, it just doesn't matter when I’m this flared up), but since I can't imagine this happening at any other church I've visited or been a member of since I left the church I grew up in (and maybe not even there), I will give bonus points for that.

The kids went up to the front this week to be prayed for with all the other kids.  They are looking forward to next week because the kids are leading the service, and they both have jobs to perform.  I think we have a winner.

I'm still waiting for the Pentecostal shoe to drop, but it is nice to feel like a part of the greater body again, and I am not going to let my concern about potential future weirdness destroy this moment where I am right now.  But I am totally going to get an aisle seat on the outside edge next time. 

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit Five

Visit Five: February

Well, I expected to be sad, since we were covering "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," but I seriously haven't cried that much since the last Guy Gavriel Kay book I read (his books are guaranteed to have at least a couple extended parts in them that thoroughly clean out my tear ducts).  The speaker is a church member who is a professor at a local university but not a preacher, so she wrote out her message and read it (really well).  It is a darn good thing I was wearing one of my washable scarves because I didn't bring my backpack in this week, so I didn't have any real tissues.  And boy did I need them.

After this sermon, I came to the conclusion that something I'd been struggling with every so often and unexpectedly (sudden strong anger around the whole getting hurt at work and fighting with OWCP for a decade before giving up on justice) was not necessarily a sad lack of self-control on my part but actually part of a pattern of grief I hadn't really let myself mourn through.  Really unexpected but so healing.

I also came to the conclusion that I need to have a very uncomfortable conversation with my family that I have been putting off.  This woman's story and her conclusion that we need to do the work now, ASAP, because anything can happen punches me where I need it.  No more excuses.  Just do the work.

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit Four

Visit Four:  February

My small group friend holds the baby from the first week when he becomes fascinated with her.  She does not like other people's babies, but she already loves this one. 

The pastor, who has no qualms about singing so the whole church can hear him (with a microphone, even) when the Spirit moves him, totally disrupts the worship team and tells them to skip some songs to get to one he really wants to sing.  Everyone reacts with a sort of patient fortitude; no one is flustered, and several of them even joke around with him, all while not stopping the music.  Whoa.  That's a lot of trust.

At the end of the service, the worship leader for that week makes a passionate declaration and defense for hymns, which he is, by golly, going to keep making us sing whether we want to or not.  Don't get him wrong, he loves worship choruses, but they're most often love songs, and there is some deep theological truth in those hymns that it's important to sing.  He gets some amens.

We are into the Lent sermons, and I am surprised.  Baptist Pentecostals who celebrate Lent.  Who knew this was a thing?

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit Three

Visit Three: January

Wondering if it is cheating on your church to want to be listening to another church's pastor's extremely insightful sermons instead of the sort of incoherent one your pastor is preaching.   Because he definitely hasn't developed a spiritual gift in the teaching area in the intervening months.  Despite this, I am surprised to find myself automatically taking careful notes to keep myself paying attention like I used to in college and surprised that I don't really feel like I am missing something by not having really insightful teaching to listen to.  It's not heretical (yet), and it's coming out of the Bible.  And this church and pastor really do have many other important things to offer.

We go to the Welcome Lunch for new folks, where I learn that this church has roots in the Methodist holiness movement, the Baptist church, and the Pentecostal movement.  Yes, Baptist Pentecostals: two words I honestly never thought would be located next to each other in this fashion.  Apparently there were  bunch of Baptist churches who were Pentecostals and didn't want to be part of the Assemblies of God because of its Methodist structure, so they formed the Independent Assemblies of God with the local church as the only structure.

I ask the pastor lots of questions and accidentally drink from his (identical cup), which is mildly embarrassing (the cup thing, not the questions).  He talks about the balance between the extreme poles of the "spirit of dead orthodoxy" and the "spirit of weird" (as he calls it).  I am getting more déjà vu here because they have to ground their practices in the Bible, since they have no denomination to tell them what they can't do.

The small group member who has very specific tastes in music and deep roots in the Baptist (no service can ever go over 1 hour and 15 minutes) church doesn't understand why we sing for so long and why everything takes so long, and the pastor says they have to leave room for the unexpected things the Holy Spirit might want to do.  Small group man does not seem keen on this.  It makes me a little sad because I was kind of hoping we could find a church we all liked, so we could keep up our several years of friendship since forming our small group, but I always knew it was likely his deal-breakers would be different from mine.

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit Two

Visit Two: January

Wondering if I am just feeling nostalgia or a legitimate sense that this is a good place to be.  Hard to tell through the haze of nostalgia.  Everything from the cheap carpet to the home-made banners on the walls and the terrible acoustics and iffy sound system and the worship music (which we sing for at least an hour, often repeating each verse more than once) and the words from the Lord (forthtelling prophecy, usually quoted straight from Scripture) and the freedom and space to expand and repeat or just improvise praise to God: this is something I thought I would never be a part of again. 

I had given up on it because everything changes, even the church you grew up in, and when you come back, even if it is much like it was, you are not.  I am overwhelmed by this feeling that everyone knows everyone else and is a family; it's something I have missed and decided I would never find and should stop pining after.  It's so strong that I find myself thinking it must be irrational, and I need to think things through and find things out before I allow myself to attach.  I tell myself not to love the pews carved with menorahs and the stars of David (I hear it used to be a synagogue).  I don't want to love the huge, frosted windows if these folks are going to be crazy charismatics doing non-biblical things.  I mean, how long ago did I stop looking for a church (like the one I grew up in) where they were charismatics who wouldn't do anything they didn't find in the Bible?  Why is it that so frequently I find what I have stopped looking for?

Older kid had a better time this week because a friend from his school was there, and he had to bring his Bible because they actually need to use it.  Oh, yeah.  My kind of kid church.

Finding a Church to Belong to: Notes from Visit One

Visit One:  October

I don't get much worship in song done because I am too busy being completely choked up by the feeling that I have somehow time warped to a home I thought had been burned to the ground years ago.  Holy nostalgia, Batman!

There is a baby with beautiful, dark skin and a broad, placid face perfectly reflecting his disposition.  He is being passed around from person to person to be held, and he seems utterly unaffected by it. 

The pastor seems very excited about a series they recently did about spiritual gifts where he learned that teaching is not one of his.  And it's true.  His message is, um, difficult to follow and a little torturous. But he doesn't really seem to mind, and nobody else does either because he has some other obvious, important pastoral gifts, and it's not like he's preaching heresy. 

The kids aren't really thrilled about the whole switching churches thing, so that's kind of hilarious to deal with. 

Adults Questioning: So, what did you like? 
6-year-old answering: Um . . .  Nothing really.
Q: Why was that?
A: Ummmmmm, it's complicated.
Q: So what didn't you like?
A: Ummmm, it's just really complicated.
Q: Thanks?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Facebooks asks what

Facebook asks What
is your relationship status
and I wonder if I say
disinterested in romance,
will all the other internet
ad targeting things stop
showing me endless
parades of single men
I am not interested in?
Too bad my option is not
available this time either.