Nov 29, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Malnourished

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They sat in cold metal chairs, the woman’s tears carving silent silver streams down her face. The cement walls and floor seemed only to magnify the bite of the mountain air and the wail of the weeping toddler who had just been carried away from them.

They did not want to let her go. But it was a very real choice between keeping her and watching her ribs grow more visible, her body more shrunken, her eyes more dull. At least now she could have a belly full of food instead of the intestines full of worms that took over her tiny frame.

The small cinderblock building that housed this malnutrition center was found in a high-altitude, low-income village outside of Guatemala City. It was just one 30 minute, hairpin-curved bus ride outside the boom and brash in-your-face contrast between luxury and poverty that made up the country’s capital. For months now, we’d been bringing teams of Americans there to feed babies, change diapers, wipe faces, and snuggle children whose hearts were tender and torn, not understanding where mommy and daddy had gone.

The wrenching of child from mother and father was like a horror movie, replayed in surround sound over and over. It was never something to get used to, to accept. And this couple’s story was predictable, one  during which, sadly, we could have filled in the blanks for them during their interview with the director:

“How many children do you have?”
“Five.”

“One of your children is already here, yes?”

Heads were lowered as a murmured, “Si” came out of shame-touched lips.

Then followed a general health overview, striking in its similarity to any American doctor’s office, shocking in its difference. The gentle questions of the director uncovered that the tiny two year-old experienced a cough and constant diarrhea.

“And what has she been eating?”

“She will only drink liquids.”

“Which ones will she drink?” The director named a popular vitamin-enhanced liquid.

“No. No. Just coffee.”

Pen scratching the paper was the only movement in the room. Outside, the sound of roosters and bus horns broke the stillness as the mother raised her head and answered the next question that came:

“And you are pregnant again?”

Silence and lowered eyes.

“Yes.”

There was no condemnation. There was only compassion for the mother and care for the father, whose faces carved by desperation and lack of hope and hard labor belied their young ages. There was a bath and a bed and a meal for a starving girl. There was a wisp of hope touching the air, curling around the smell of the wood stove smoke that hung over the room.

This little girl would see health. This little girl, and so many others in that place, would know the laughter and playfulness and bright eyes and strong hair that are the right of any child. This little girl would feel strength come back to her tiny, brittle arms. But some would not. Some would make the journey to this place far too late. Some would be too weak, too wounded. Some would fall asleep in their urine-soaked beds and never wake up.

Today, as I watch mist hover above the frosty field outside my window, a field which will provide abundance for animals who are more well-fed than so many humans breathing this planet’s air today, I stop and remember this girl.

Today, as I open my newspaper to see the glossy flyers that tell me all I need to own, need to have, need to add to my stockpile, I stop and remember these children.

Today, as I constantly hold in my hand a device which cost me more than many of these families will see in a year of body-breaking work, I stop.

And I remember.

There is nothing wrong with plenty. There is no guilt in provision. But there is a quiet voice inside me, and perhaps inside you, a voice which I often hush; a voice which reminds me that my house is just a place to live and not a showcase like one of the round-the-clock TV show renovations demands it must be.

A voice which reminds me that I live in a bubble where most people I know are more worried about eating too much than not eating enough. Where we have so much food that we must discipline ourselves to limit it. A voice which reminds me that I know, even when I don’t want to admit it, what is excess and what is enough.

I can only listen and determine what is enough and what is too much for me. I cannot do that for you, nor should I. But as I am pushed into this Season Of More…more things, more shine to distract us, more  money changing hands and possessions changing places and more and more and more…perhaps I can stop. And face the truth that I don’t want to: I am the lucky one. My home and my minivan and my books and my overflowing pantry and unused clothes in my closet make me overwhelmingly rich.

This year, may the Season of More not just mean more for us, for our already over-stimulated kids and our already over-stuffed drawers and shelves. May it also mean More for those who have never even known Enough. May it mean More not just for the tiny, malnourished bodies across border lines, but also for the nearly 200 tiny hearts in my rural county who signed up for Christmas help this year…help that doesn’t come from the government, but from regular people who are willing to go with Less so that the little ones can have More.

This year, may the Season of More mean something else: More love and generosity in our hearts. More contentment with the peace I can’t purchase. This year, may the Season of More bring us less in tangible goods and much in goodwill toward others.

“It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

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Nov 14, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Little Ears and Hearts

I want to raise good citizens.

I want to raise moral, generous people who will fight injustice wherever they see it happening.

I want to see honorable, compassionate, empathetic adults emerge from the children in my care. But too often I forget this one detail: They are still children.

This past week has uncovered a selfishness I never knew existed in myself and other adults around me. We want to rage and express our fury and take sides and make statements and fight for peace. Because peace is so very often a fight. But in the exercising of our rights to speak up and speak out, we are forgetting that along with those rights comes, as always is the case, responsibility.

We are forgetting that there are little ears and eyes everywhere. We are forgetting that, as any person who’s been a parent for more than 5 minutes can tell you: Children are incredibly perceptive. They may not hear us ask them to TAKE OUT THE TRASH until the 66th billionth time we say it, but they hear the whispered worries, the muttered curses, the dining-room discussions. And more than that, they hear the unspoken things: The tones, the stress-filled sighs, the clenched jaws, the slamming and the stomping.

This week, children under my care have asked questions no child should ask. Children under my care have dreamed nightmares no child should dream and have spent truly sleepless nights with the lights on, lights intended to chase monsters away. The problem is, those monsters are not my child’s monsters to fight.

This week, I’ve experienced my own Parent Guilt over my inability to protect my child from the fears all around. Yes, those fears are often legitimate. Yes, those fears are worth weighing and working through. But as we weigh them for ourselves, let us remember to weigh them on a vastly different scale for our children. If we as adults are aghast and appalled and we actually HAVE the tools and resources to do something about what we see happening, how much more anxiety and fear are we placing on the small shoulders of our youngest citizens?

Shoulders which cannot and should not be asked to carry these things.

Shoulders which will crack under the unjust load.

Shoulders and hands which, in most cases, have no power to effect change on the issues and will stand helplessly bowed beneath the burden.

The truth is, all of the children are under our care. We are the ones with the power and the money and the tools and the wherewithal. We can and must protect the voiceless. But in our rush and rage to do so, let us not forget the voiceless and powerless right in front of us. Let us stop and breathe and wait before we speak. Let us remember that innocence, once it is lost, is truly lost. There are years enough ahead for the little ones to lift their share of the load. Don’t ask them to do it too soon.

Maybe set aside the politics for a moment. Take the tiny ones on a walk. Read them a sweet story. Snuggle under the covers. It will be healing for them and maybe, within its quietness, we will find healing for ourselves as well.

“Careful the things you say/Children will listen/Careful the things you do/Children will see/And learn.” (Stephen Sondheim, “Into the Woods”)

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Nov 9, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Another Way

I have a friend whose dad is a bully. A real jerk. He blazes a path to The Land Of Whatever I Want, burning the ground around him and leaving others to clean up the mess.

But my friend isn’t like his dad. He chose a way around the nuclear wasteland his father left behind him. He chose a different trail, one of kindness and courtesy.

I have a friend whose mom is cruel. She uses words as warheads, bombing others’ hearts and feelings. Her anger cuts deeply and leaves scars.

But my friend isn’t like her mom. Although the weapon-wielding of words would feel easy and natural in her mouth, she closes it. She waits. She weighs. She considers.

I have a friend whose boss is a dictator, an amalgamation of every bad-boss movie you’ve ever cringed your way through. The boss who Scrooges his way through Christmas and tramples on your vacation plans and fires and rehires with the finesse of a tantrum-throwing toddler.

But my friend isn’t like her boss. My friend tightropes the delicate line of respect and chain of command and keeps her integrity as close as a balancing pole in her grip.

We don’t have to reproduce what we are handed. We don’t have to let the trickle-down trickle down.

We can disagree with the dads and moms and bosses and bullies. We can practice the most important job of multitasking we’ve ever been called upon to do: Showing respect where none has been shown to us and spreading it around by the truckload even if nobody filled up that truck for us.

We can. And today, we must. We are not our genetics. We are not our politics. We are humans in need of empathy. We are hope-givers and compassion-sharers.

We are motivated, not by fear, but by love and commitment to another way, a way around the unkind and the unjust. A better way, not because it is newer and slicker, but because it lifts up the lowest and binds up the most broken. Let’s trod this way today.

“Humankindness is overflowing. And I think it’s gonna rain today.” Randy Newman

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Oct 24, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

No More Qualifying

 

It all started with a little blue passport. Five little blue passports, to be exact. When you’re residing in a Third World Country, your passport is something you file under Very Important Documents. If anything were to suddenly go wrong where you lived or if anyone you loved back in the States had an emergency and you had to make a rapid exit, you needed to know exactly where it was. You even needed it for basic financial transactions around town.

When we lived in Guatemala, we were not official residents of that country, so we were required to cross the border every 6 months and get our passports stamped. Now, due to all of the lovely political fights and deals and “Hey, we don’t like your country now!” decisions, the borders that counted toward our stamps were very specific. One country we could cross into was Mexico.

So all 5 of us loaded up onto a Greyhound-type bus and began the long trek to a little border town in Mexico. The journey started off quite promisingly with an explicit movie being shown on the screens right above our open-mouthed children’s heads and progressed to even more exciting levels when we all took turns using the “bathroom” on board. This is an excellent cross-training activity. You get to practice isometric squats as you attempt to avoid touching any surface whilst the bus changes lanes and veers around curves at 186 mph. You also get to hone your lung capacity since the smell of the “room” is so intense that you know, once you breathe it in, you are unlikely to eat anything again. Ever.

It was somewhere along a Guatemalan road that we realized that our 6 year-old was ill…quite ill. Now, having parasites was an all-too-common experience for us Gringos. It was just a side effect of the less than clean drinking water we were exposed to. You dealt with it and moved on. But it was a little harder for the little ones. And this time was particularly bad.

There was nowhere to get off the bus except a random village here and there along the road, so we kept going. And kept realizing that things were getting worse. The journey became an increasingly worried-filled one, our stomachs now twisting, not in sickness, but in fear.

Finally, we reached the bus depot in the border town. I was standing by a cracked, plasticky chair as sickness poured out of my sweet child, again, and helpless, panicked tears poured out of me. Suddenly, a tiny, precious lady was beside me. Through my broken, weepy Spanish, we somehow communicated, and I discovered that there was no hospital. But there was a Cruz Rojo. A Red Cross.

Minutes later, we found ourselves in a cinderblock structure, a dirty bucket in the middle of the floor to catch the rain. I divided my time between sticking my head out of the plasticky curtain to check on my two eldest children, sitting beside their new BFF, the taxi driver who’d brought us there, and rushing back into the space that in any US city would be considered a very basic garage, much less an ER.

There was an order for a shot to be given, and then there was a moment when the needle fell. To the questionably-clean cement floor. Before a word could be said, it was scooped up and inserted into my child and I wasn’t sure if that moment made me the World’s Worst Mother or the World’s Calmest.

The phrase “the longest night of my life” is cliche, but there are no better words than those to describe that night in our hotel room. The sickness wouldn’t stop. There was no sleep for my son and my brain swung wildly between desperate prayers and trying to decide how we would find a hospital in any town nearby.

Until the dark-shrouded hours of the morning, before the sun, when an exhausted little boy finally crawled to the edge of the bed and asked for Gatorade. And he drank it. And he slept. And the sickness was gone.

I know his life was spared that day, and yet, for years, I mostly avoided telling this story, because my gratitude felt like a slap in the face of another’s pain, an insult to other parents whose stories did not end as happily as mine. My default mode has been to share a tale and in the same breath qualify that ohhh but other people have experienced much worse so I should be grateful and ohhh did I mention other people had it much worse?

They do. Absolutely they do. But no more qualifying. No matter what difficulty or pain or fear or betrayal we are going through or have experienced? It is difficulty and pain and fear and betrayal. It just is. The end. Period. Yes, keeping perspective is a healthy thing, but not if it walks hand in hand with denial. Yes, we can and must remind ourselves that most of us are the privileged, super-lucky ones. But hard is still hard. And our stones of remembrance…our stories…are still just that: Our stories, meant to own and meant to share, without qualification.

So tell your stories today…to your friends, to your people. And then put a period on the end as you close your lips tight around the tendency to downplay your experience. It’s your story.

With no more apology.

No more “ohhhh buts…”

No more wondering if your story is worth another’s listening ear, if it is enough.

No more qualifying.

“The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.” Frederick Buechner

 

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Oct 12, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Holding Hands

We ran down the cobblestoned road, my friend and I, music and footsteps falling in rhythm.

It mirrored a thousand other jogs, a thousand other mornings, a thousand other songs played on the loop like a spinning, worn tire.

Until the rusty pickup truck rushed past, and the hand reached out and smacked me hard. So shockingly hard. My steps stopped, and the musical drumbeats were replaced by the harsh cacophony of men’s laughter. My heartbeat began to thump its alarm in my chest , as the stinging began across my backside, a one-two rhythm of a hurt and a handprint where it had no right to be.

Adrenaline turned into anger and then, as another hand, this time the touch of my friend, reached out in gentle comfort, anger turned into a sob.

I am not the first or the last or the millionth woman to be grabbed and groped, hurt and handled.

I am not the first woman to close a car door knowing that the person watching her leave was not safe.

I am not the first woman whose clothes have been ripped off by a man’s eyes.

I am not the first woman who felt sickening bile rise up like a tide when a man overstepped the bounds of what should have been friendly conversation and used her for a high, a hit, a buzz.

I am not the first woman who has had to hold her daughter’s small hand or her son’s still baby-fat-dimpled fingers and warn of dangers, all the while wishing that she could wrap them in their innocence like a protective, warm cloud.

I am not the first woman who wondered why wanting to look beautiful meant, in others’ estimations, her body held no more boundaries, that a sexy date-night dress turned her into meat hanging on a hook, waiting to be evaluated and assessed and categorized.

I am not the first woman who steered her ship around the debris, always searching for the fog-hidden dock of at last finding something more, something safer, some lifeline of a hiding place.

But I am also not the first woman or man to say no. To stop the hypocrisy that is spread when our tongues curl around the words which proclaim that all are created equal, while our hands or our minds use and own without another’s consent. To stop laughing at the jokes that turn a human being into a drug for our own pleasure, to open our stuck-shut eyes to the truth that we sometimes bear the guilt of being users and sometimes the shame of being used.

If you have been among those of us who’ve lived too long in the land of allowing someone else’s stamp of acceptance to determine our value…

If you have been among those of us who’ve allowed another the power to decide whether we have been found wanting, whether or not we are too little or too much on the scales of worthiness…

If you have been among us who carry the scars of someone’s selfish acts…Today you and I can decide that there is a new “us” to be among.

We are not the first women or men, but we can be the last…the last generation to pretend we don’t see the deeply-rooted standards whose vines wrap deep around us, choking us, carving cracks in the rock-hard roads as they try to hold us back. We can be the last generation to pretend we can’t cut a new path. We can be the last generation to swallow the fable of The Way It’s Always Been.

We can be the last generation to say that these prejudices and injustices don’t exist: Just as other generations stood up, we stand up. And we hold hands to comfort.

And we hold hands to become human barriers.

And we push hard against other hands that would bruise and harm the innocent ones.

And our held hands become a chain, a new tie that binds us to each other and to freedom.

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Oct 10, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Before It’s Too Late

Are you shaking your head at us? You should be.

How far away we are, how very little our shouted and written and typed words reflect anything you said or did.

You were silent when insulted; we demand to be heard and understood. And we won’t stop until we are.

You refused to be dragged into debates and arguments with the fools around you. Instead, you spoke one word, one phrase, one thing. And then left the room.

You weren’t a pushover or a peace-keeper. Oh no. You were a peace-MAKER, not wasting your limited time here on trying to be the loudest and the Winner of the Fight. You did fight, but with a different kind of weapon: a few well-chosen words and then action. You went and did things. You weren’t found sharing a meal with the political power-wielders or the churchgoers of your day. No, you hung out with the broken and destroyed and needy people. The people we all try to avoid at Christmas parties.

And then? After you had listened and loved and spoken? You went away to be by yourself. Not to hide. Not to feel sorry for yourself. But to be more yourself again for those who always needed more of you.

You said some hard things when you felt they needed to be said. But I picture you as the party guest who sits quietly during the raging, loud, growing-ruder-by-the-second political debate and then when somebody, almost as an afterthought, asks, “Hey, what do YOU think?” you pause, and you open your mouth and say one or two simple, true things that drop hard into the room. BUT THEN YOU STOP. You know it’s useless to argue with people who really don’t want to hear your words.

Are you shaking your head at us? If you were anything like us, you would be. You’d sigh in disgust and walk away. But since you are not like us,  you will sit down next to us, hand us a glass of wine or a hunk of bread and stick it out. The first to listen and the last to shout.

If only we were willing to hush, we might hear.

If only we were willing to act, we might change things.

If only we were willing to do the hard, humbling work it takes to live in peace with each other.

Have mercy on us. Because it turns out that WE are the broken and destroyed and needy at the party. And the way to healing is not the way of rancor and hate all around us, being done in the name of you and of other gods. None of it.

Maybe the way of healing might begin with the upside-down way you lived your life: giving when it made no sense, loving when the love isn’t returned, kindness in exchange for cruelty. It all sounds impossible. But we are desperate people in desperate times, and we desperately need a new way. Not an inside-our-ivory-towers of churches way, handing out judgment like gospel tracts but maybe handing out cups of cold water, food, hugs, comfort, turned cheeks.

Help us be brave. Help us tread the way of peace before it’s too late.

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Oct 10, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

I Thought You Were

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I thought you were whiskey, that the heat of you would spread fire to my heart, my core. But instead, you were ice, freezing me into fragile fractions of myself.

I thought you were a promise, that you would be the finder of my missing faith. But instead, you were a lie, locking me into a cage of false words.

I thought you were the very sunshine, that you would shine over my shadows, illuminating my dark questions. But instead, you were darker places I never dreamed I would travel to.

I thought you were the miracle, that you would fix the mistakes of me. But instead, you were human, a soul who had its own brokenness.

I thought I would end the searching for answers in finding you and then, when I could not, in others, in something around me. But instead, I came to the end of my seeking by finding I had what I needed all along.

I thought you could heal the wounds that have led to scars. But instead, I found that I was the only one who must seek the truth that would set me free.

I thought you were an end to a journey. Instead you were a signpost on the path, pointing me back to the road I belonged on.

I thought I could lose it all. Instead I learned that there are things I can never lose, that no human could take from me:

That the holy spark that lit my soul can never be extinguished.

That my soul cannot be owned by another.

That my searching has found an end in a love that will not let me go.

 

Oct 1, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Stay Soft

It came to me in the car, during one of the 26 hours a day I spend taxiing myself or my people the approximate distance of From Here To Eastern Siberia And Back.

Twelve Times.

Squared.

It likely was fueled by a giant mocha that was predestined to spill all over my lap, but the revelation that made its way across my brain was this: I’ve spent the last 42 years waiting for life to Just. Calm. Down. I’ve put valuable pursuits off while waiting until life settles. Until things stop breaking and people stop being jerks and appliances stop needing repairs and relationships stop needing so much time and attention. Until people stop hurting my feelings and money stops running out and to-dos stop buzzing around my head like pests. What I understand now is that Life Calming Down is nothing more than the fantastic mythical unicorn: It doesn’t exist in the wild, or at least in these parts.

When I walk (or, more accurately, drive) through life waiting for Easy Things, waiting for an end to inconvenience or to downright hurtful things, I begin a slow burn toward resentment. I begin to become bitter and angry toward the situations and people in my life who just aren’t making it simpler for me. I begin to be prickly and hard and rage-y, and doesn’t that just sound like the person you want to spill a mocha at Starbucks with. But I don’t like hanging out with that version of myself much either so I am learning to remind myself, over and over again, despite the hardness and toughness of life, to Stay Soft.

All around us, we feel the pressure and the pushing to be hard: to have a hard body, to draw a hard line, to conquer a hard challenge, to take a hard stance.

Stay soft.

Life will hand us challenge after challenge. We can try to protect ourselves, hide ourselves away. But hurt will find us.

Stay soft.

We must not let the painful things make us hard, because in that rigidness, we will fracture and crack and splinter.  And we will cause others to break against our unyieldingness.

Stay soft.

We can be the paradox: That softness is strong, that gentleness is greatness, that giving is gaining, that peacemaking is powerful.

Stay soft.

We can stop letting the fire of life’s agonizing pain burn us down to a hard lump of rock. Instead, we can let that hurt become a match, a light to the fire inside of us. The heartbreak and the injustice we have suffered can burn up and become fuel, not for more destruction but for the battle of fighting more injustice and for the comforting of heartbreak all around us. We can let our own fire become a torch with which we light the lamp of the next person, and the next, and the next.

Stay soft.

It means we will get pummeled again, you and I. But the armor of anger offers no protection anyway; it is more a bludgeon than a shield.

Stay soft.

In a world of cynicism and bitterness and rage, we can be Hope-bringers and Peacemakers and yes, Fighters, too. It won’t be by accident. It won’t be simple. It will only come as we walk into the dark cave of pain with others, sitting with them, learning from them. It will only come as we let ourselves wait in the hurt, not passively, but letting Hurt do its work of smoothing our rough parts away. But we can’t stay in the dark cave. We must always look for the light…the fire of our fellow torch-lighters, the faint glow of the sky outside, the light that will always lead us home. Softly.

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“Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Bruce Lee

 

 

Sep 26, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Don’t Miss the Party

When I lived in Guatemala, I first heard the story of a deeply-held belief system in some of the Mayan communities. It was known as “limited good,” and it went a little something like this:

There once was a village full of people who were trying to survive, to feed their families, to stay healthy, to avoid catastrophe. Worshiping the gods was a part of this survival. You weren’t in control. The gods were. And you wanted to stay on their good sides.

So if, one day, a neighbor of yours fell into good fortune, if he were blessed with an extraordinary crop or another animal or some material gain, you began to despair. Because here’s how the world worked: the gods possessed a finite amount of blessings which they rationed out, a specific number of them. And if your neighbor got one, he’d just used a blessing up. One that could have been yours or your children’s. So you could not celebrate his good fortune, because it had cost you. It was a gift which now was not yours, and your chances of being blessed had just been reduced.

I may shake my head at this belief, but the reality is, I often operate as if it were true in my very modern, very progressive, very evolved society. When a wonderful, happy, joyous turn of events happens for a friend or neighbor, can I celebrate it? Or am I threatened by it? Is my gut instinct to view it through the glasses of How It’s All About Me and Why Aren’t These Good Things Happening In My Life? Or, when it is my turn to have thrilling news to share, I know, deep down, that there are friends who will jump and laugh and hug and pour the champagne with and for me. But I also am very aware that there are friends who I will postpone telling, because they will observe my happy news through a lens of limited good, through a lens that twists the tale, that turns the magnifying glass on their own discontent and makes it impossible for them to celebrate alongside of me.

I’m learning, in my rapidly-getting-older-days, that it’s almost easier to be a friend in the bad times. We can deliver casseroles and say, “I’m sorry,” and send texts to check up on each other. And don’t get me wrong: Those acts are so very, very necessary and healing. But when the rare gifts of life happen, what if we were able to be secure in the fact that the rain falls on all? That our ship will come in, and it might not look at all like our friend’s ship.  That there is enough good to go around, infinitely.

So let’s be quick to pop the cork and pour the bubbly and be big-hearted friends. Let’s celebrate one another’s good news without reservation, without comparison or jealousy. Life has too many hard and painful moments to let the happy ones slip away. Let’s be the friend with the loudest noisemaker and the biggest buckets of confetti. Let’s not miss the party.

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Sep 21, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Highest Calling

It’s simultaneously your greatest joy and your worst pain.

It’s your most blissful moment and your hottest tears.

It’s soul-swelling satisfaction and heart-rending defeat.

It’s motherhood.

When my kids were little, I adored hearing all of the experts and TV show hosts and even real-life commentators inform me that my work as a mother was The Highest Calling. It became fuel for my parenting fire. During the croup and the chickenpox, the breastfeeding and the bottle-cleaning, the playroom messes and potty training, that Calling sustained me. I could do this. I had to do this. It was The Thing I was born to do.

Now that my kids are older, I’ve begun to wonder if this lens through which we view motherhood is actually so helpful. Let’s start with the fact that, if motherhood isn’t part of your life, whether by choice or by circumstance, this Calling way of thinking pushes you to the side. It whispers that you don’t count. It builds a narrative in which you have already missed out on the best job, so you might as well just go ahead and settle for the leftovers. It pushes you out into the margins.

If you ARE a mother, there are the days when you’ve yelled at the children, wanted to jump into the minivan and drive away, lost your ever-loving mind over the fact that YOUR CABINETS WILL NEVER EVER EVER BE ORGANIZED FOR MORE THAN 6.2 MILLISECONDS….and all before 11:30 a.m. On these days, if you’ve already screwed up what is the Greatest Job On The Planet, it’s pretty dang tricky to bounce back from that perceived failure. You’ll spend the rest of the day swinging back and forth between 1. Berating yourself for yelling at your special snowflakes and 2. Convincing yourself that it’s ok, that all mothers make mistakes. And then it’s finally The Blessed and Hallowed Hour of Bedtime and you watch the slobber-streaked, chubby-cheeked faces of your little ones, and you’re sure that they’re dreaming of a house where the mama is sweet and zen-like and chants affirmations upon her cherubs’ heads and reads books over and over again even if they have TOO MANY WORDS, and you sigh and tell yourself you’ll do better tomorrow. Until you don’t.

If you are a mother and your kids are teenagers, the talks seem huge-r and the arguments tougher and the issues darker and the pain seems to grow faster than the kids do. Your challenges and theirs are too overwhelming, too big, too dangerous. As they grow into their own selves, their interests are things that confuse and befuddle you and you try your best to keep up, but you’re out of breath and exhausted. And so bedtime now means that you fall asleep way before they do, but you still wonder, as you hug them goodnight, if you can do better, if you can still connect with them. Surely you must. This is your Calling. You can’t fail at THIS.

Here’s the thing: I believe in motherhood. I’ve built my decisions around it, sacrificed for it, given it all of my body and heart and energy. I believe, when I die, that raising my kids will still be a great part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  I believe that there is inexpressible value in raising people to be good citizens, chasers of Truth, lovers of serving this planet and its people.

But in the midst of my believing, I have to leave room:

Room for grace, for myself and for other mothers.

Room for all women: The wonderful, wise, witty women who really don’t want to be parents, but who can and should be spiritual mothers to my children and yours, even if they have nothing to do with their actual births.

Room for failure and, in fact, for redefining failure. Because even if I have followed my heart and my gut and wise counsel from those I trust, my kids still will disappoint. They will still mess up, in big and in small ways. They will choose their own paths like the independent souls I say I want them to be. This does not mean I have not fulfilled my motherhood calling: In actuality, it means I have.

Room for reminding myself that the world doesn’t need a perfect mother to put on a pedestal. It just needs a mother who falls and fails and finds her way, who kicks the stupid pedestal over and gets down in the trenches with her people. Because that’s where they need us mothers, whether our trenches look like piles of Legos and dirty socks or like Internet safety and first heartbreaks.

See you in the trenches, mothers of all kinds. Bring your heart, bring your sense of humor, bring your forgiveness for yourself and for others, and bring your coffee. We’re here for the long haul and, best of all, we’re here together. And that, friends, is our calling.

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