Wednesday, August 26, 2015

all the things I can't give you: a letter to my children

Almost two months ago now, I started work in a very fancy area of Dallas. Each day I drive by all the schools that look so amazing, that would inspire and fascinate your growing minds. I look at them, at the lovely gardens outside, at the high walls that will keep us out because, despite the good and noble work that mommy and daddy do, we live on the southern edge of middle class.

My boys in the bluebonnetsI remind myself that this is silly, that there are lots of very good schools out there. After all, I went to public schools and I turned out ok. Of course, there were not so many standardized tests then and we didn't live in such a desperately competitive environment, but it'll turn out.

But then I get to thinking about all the things I can't give you.

I would give you the best of everything. I know it's unrealistic and dreadfully expensive, but the deep part of me that values you so highly wants only the best for you. Sturdy, stylish shoes that care for your arches and soft, protective clothes that feel good against your skin but keep you from boo-boo's. Organic, farm fresh, happy foods to nurture your body and engaging, brain-tickling teachers and schools to nurture your mind. Wonderful vacations seeing the world and time spent living into our family and friends, near and far. But I know I can't afford to give you all these things. Already I've had to explain to my big boy why we can't have the birthday party at the go-cart track or the amusement center. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you the best of everything, then I would give you joy. A way of seeing the good in things and people that doesn't necessarily take money. Something transcendent beyond the regular happiness that I hope you feel regularly. Today I get to see my big boy dance to the music playing at the burger place, without thought that anyone may be looking or judging. Today I hear my baby giggle with delight when his tummy is tickled or when we crawl after him down the hallway. Today I hear my big boy work on humor by knock knock. Today I see the sun break through clouds in my baby's smile when he sees me. I would give you this wellspring always, but I know it's not possible. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you joy, then I would give you safety. That no one in this great, wide world would hurt your body, your mind, or your spirit. That you could walk the streets or go see a movie or travel any where your curiosity desired without fear. But every news story I hear tells me that I can't give you this. Everywhere I turn, I see other mothers and fathers struggling and weeping and grieving because this life has hurt their baby. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you safety, then I would give you resilience - the incredibly ability to re-form yourself in healthy ways after the forces out there have de-formed you. Your dad and I have reflected lately that we both seem to be resilient; we can bounce back from horrible things and keep moving forward. But as I look at my life, I realize that this strength is wrested from the hands of adversity. I can't just give this to you. And I'm sorry.

My dear ones, I feel so sad knowing all the things I can't give you. I know there are lots of things I do give you and others you'll simply have to find or earn for yourself, but out of my deep, boundless love, I want to give you so much!

But because of who I am and whose I am, I know I will give you this one thing if nothing else - I will introduce you to the God who loves you even more than I do. I know your walk with God will look different from mine. I know you may run in the other direction at times in your life. And I'm so sorry that some of your discipleship may fall under the judgmental eyes of the people in mommy's church(es) who may have very particular expectations of what a pastor's child should do or say or believe.

I can't give you faith, but I can make room for it in our life together and show you how I stumble through each day. I can give you space each night to pray for the Paw Patrol pups and Grandad and Grandmary and Bubi and everyone in your class.

Just the other night, my big boy struggled with the reality of death, wondering what it would mean to die, filled with the sadness of being separated from mommy and daddy and brother. So I gave you what I had - the reassurance that "to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier" (as Walt Whiman put it) because it means you get to go to God's house.

I'm not sure exactly what God's house looks like, but I know our brother, Jesus, went ahead to make a place for us there. And I'm sure that there's so much of every good thing there, because God provides what we truly ever need. God gives of God's self, pouring out love and grace and mercy for ever and ever.

So, sweet babies, while I'll still get caught up in the relentless pursuit of mine and more sometimes, because I'm only human, too, I'll do my best to keep introducing you to our great God. It's absolutely the best gift I can give you.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

the magical, mystical art of holding space

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of beginning a journey through the Center for Courage and Renewal with many other young-ish United Methodists from around the country. I can’t explain what a gift this cohort has been, through both our retreat time together and our monthly peer learning circles. Especially since this season in my life has seen an unprecedented amount of change and transition. From large church associate pastor to medium church senior pastor now to small church associate pastor. From mother of one to bereaved parent to mother of two children this side of heaven. From wife of a doctoral student to, well, still a student but now ABD (all but dissertation)!

And through it all, I’ve come to know the magical, mystical art of holding space. At first glance, it seems like a contradiction in terms. After all, space is like nothing and how can you grip nothingness in your two hands?

But my experience with Courage and Renewal practices has taught me that space is like a wide-brimmed cup. If you are fortunate, others will hold the space open for you so you can pour yourself into it, so you can see yourself truly again, so you can once again know how God is gently holding you when it feels like you are lost in the great wide open of here.

And I should have know this. I am a believer in body wisdom – that our bodies can and do teach us the deeper realities of life – so I really should have understood more about holding space. After all, my mothering body has already shown me the wonder of holding space as new life comes into being within.

Holding space recognizes that redemption and transformation and real, honest to goodness growth, can’t be forced. As you embrace the art of it all, you know that the greatest gift you can give, to yourself or to someone else, is to simply hold the space open wide, without judgment, without diminishing their truth, without rushing to conclusions or easy answers.

In this season of my life, there are still a lot of questions and it’s easy to doubt myself. But I also know that if I practice the magical, mystical art of holding space, of resting with the tension, of leaning into the uncertainty, God will unfailingly show up in the space, too.

God’s heart holds space for us. It reminds me of that scripture – “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:1-2 CEB).

I don’t have to be afraid when I feel lost or when I feel a sense of nothing yawning vast around. I don’t have to be tempted to hustle for approval or conform to the expectations around me. God has room to spare, God has space for me and for you and for everyone. Space for breathing and becoming and being. Glory be!