Monday, January 30, 2012

pondering with Glennon Melton

This is from Glennon Melton who blogs at Momastery ... and it's so good, I had to share it in its entirety. 
A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On
I've been watching America's response to recent bullying-related suicides closely. People seem quite shocked by the cruelty that's happening in our schools. I'm confused by their shock. I'm also concerned about what's not being addressed in the proposed solutions to this devastating problem.
The usual response seems to be that we need to better educate students and teachers about what bullying is and how to react appropriately to it. You can't argue with that. But on its own, it seems a little like bailing water frantically without looking for the hole in the boat.
Each time one of these stories is reported we tend to say some version of "Kids these days -- they can be so cruel." But I think this is just a phrase we toss around to excuse ourselves from facing the truth. I don't think kids are any crueler than adults. I just think kids aren't quite as adept at disguising their cruelty.
Yesterday I heard a radio report that the students most likely to be bullied are gay kids, overweight kids and Muslim kids.
I would venture a guess that gay adults, overweight adults and Muslim adults feel the most bullied as well.
Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be "grown-up." So they act how grown-ups act when we think they're not paying attention. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. Through our words and actions we send the message that these people aren't equal and they should be feared. We know that people hurt the things they fear. What kids are doing in the schools, is what adults do in the media. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and in one-liners on sitcoms.
People are heart-breakingly sensitive. If enough people tell someone over and over that he is not okay, he will believe it. And one way or another, he will die.
So how is any of this surprising? It's quite predictable, actually. It's trickle-down cruelty.
I don't know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is ALWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God's and their father's and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.
Dear Chase,
Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.
Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay:
Our eyes would open wide.
And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.
And I don't mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.
We just wanted you to know this, honey. We've worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.
Chase, we don't believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who believe that the Bible is inspired by God, just like people are. And since the Bible is a living thing, it is in its very nature to evolve toward becoming more loving. We are to interact with it, to interpret it with our minds and hearts and souls. We are to consider the culture and time in which it was written and then consider the progress humanity's made since then. We believe that when those two things conflict, we are to consider the spirit of the law before the letter of the law. And to always choose mercy over judgment. Sometimes this means that we appear to be picking and choosing what we believe in the Bible. It's not really that, exactly, but it looks like that. And many will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that's scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible, in one way or another.
Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said "When we judge people we have no time to love them." And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 which says that none of the sexually immoral will inherit the kingdom of God and includes "homosexual offenders" on a list of those types of people.
But, I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to hold fast to the parts that limited other people's freedoms. I didn't point this out at the time baby, because she wasn't a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It's best not to embarrass people.
What I'm trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn't bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn't help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends... then we just assume we don't understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here's what I believe it means to be reborn:
The first time you're born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you're born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it's about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who's in and who's out at all costs. Everybody's in, baby. That's what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but I've been married for nine years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I'm fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.
Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He'd like you to use all three. It's a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God's laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, "What are the most important laws?" And Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself." When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can't go wrong.
Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.
And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God's Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.
"He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Michah 6:8
Love, Mama
P.S. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you're straight, that's okay too. I mean, it'd be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.
P.P.S. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, "DAMN STRAIGHT."
Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.
Love you Forever.

pondering future

Paraphrased from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Because I'm one of those oddball people who actually read church documents.  I know...  (geek)

"It is hope in the future, not in an idealized past, that inspires participation in God's changing, open, and inexhaustible creation. We believe that includes the transformation of the whole creation (Romans 8:19–25). Guided by this vision, we anticipate and LIVE OUT the values of God's promised future concretely in the present."

Yes... yes, THAT! That's it right there!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

pondering poetry

My daughter's feet on the floor

The sound woos my mind
From subconscious to conscious
And once again
My thoughts have not rested

I hear them just outside
We are their place to be

Sunlight glows from the window

I pull my favorite blanket from the bed
and carry it with me to my favorite chair

I look out toward the east
It's exactly the moment

The sky glows with oranges and yellows and pinks
Above that, a deep still-dark blue
Black silhouettes of trees line the foreground

The cause of this beautiful array
itself is barely visible
A white marble on the horizon
Mostly hidden and seemingly small

I will join the birds
I will sing today

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the Love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Lord of all to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise

Saturday, January 28, 2012

pondering plan and purpose

It's no secret I wrestle with sovereignty issues.  I resist easy answers that seem more intended to bolster our faith against questions/doubts than to draw our hearts near to God. I reject the notion that God needs certain things to happen, otherwise the great "plan" can't be fulfilled.  I don't know how to reconcile all this - my best answer is summed up in the Sara Groves song, Mystery.

But what I do believe in - what I cannot deny - is purpose.  I am led along by His Spirit, called to go this way or that, often for reasons that I can't know right now.  I think of Princess Irene in George MacDonald's The Princess and The Goblin.  She was charged to keep her finger on the silver thread, to follow whereever it led, even though others could not see it and would not understand.  She did so, with complete and unwavering confidence.  That's the most beautiful image of what I'm trying to express. I feel that.  I trust it.  Not that "things happen for a purpose", but that my life has a purpose and the Spirit leads me in that.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time listening to these lyrics, from Rich Mullins,

Amidst these ins and these outs
There's a fine line of purpose
I follow even now
Through the haze of despair
That confuses and hurts us
I look to see that You're there
And I run toward Your light
Beyond these reasons and feelings
Beyond the passion and fatigue
I know You're there
And that Your Spirit is leading me

As I loved on the Northwest School of the Arts family (and they loved on me in return),  a phrase kept floating through my mind:  "for such a time as this".   I have a renewed, unwavering confidence that I have been led to this exact place and that my heart has been prepared for this exact moment.  The path from there to here has taken turns that others have not understood or approved of - it's brought some pain and division.  I suppose that's unavoidable.  But I wouldn't trade anything for the clear conscience and powerful peace that are mine.

Where the path leads from here, I don't know ... but I know this:  I'm more determined than ever to keep my finger on the thread.  

'Oh! I do feel it!' exclaimed the princess. 'But I can't see it,' she added, looking close to her outstretched hand.
'No. The thread is too fine for you to see. You can only feel it.'

Thursday, January 26, 2012

pondering pride in a prayer room

Yesterday I visited the 24/7 prayer room - a favorite spot.

A group had gathered there and were praying aloud. I hesitated, but then entered, realizing it wasn't "closed".  I hoped they'd soon be done.

I found a hidden spot in a back corner, but I was distracted.  The one place I counted on to be peaceful was instead provoking me.  I expected soft music, but it wasn't playing - it had been turned off and instead all I could hear were these people praying, praying, praying.  Louder and louder. Would they ever stop?  They used all sorts of fancy language and egged each other on with amens and "mm hmms".  It worked on my soul like a constant dripping.

A half hour passed. A rage brewed inside me.  I wanted to rip things off the walls.  I wanted to hear glass shattering.  I wanted to punch someone or something.  And I wanted to scream.  I could hardly contain it.

They went on and on,

"You control every single thing that happens, and You do nothing wrong ever, and every single thing that comes from You is good and right, forgive us for not believing that, we proclaim today that You do all and You do all things well and we are the ones who cannot see it... one day we'll know that everything was exactly as it should have been and we will no longer question...we will approve all You do, and You do all"

On the outside, I wept bitter tears - on the inside, I swore at them.

"You are wrong! I reject you and your sick twisted beliefs! I reject the very suggestion that the God who indwells my Spirit and shapes my heart expects me to look at something horrible and call it "good".  It's not good!  It's not good that my friend died alone and in despair - and you people, would you have accepted him into your little prayer group?  Would you have even been able to see God in him? The way gay people are expected to stay "outside the camp" is not good! It's not good that my 2 year old niece is suffering through chemo and a 104 degree fever!  It's not good that this very moment a child is being abused!  It's not good that people are starving to death, scared to leave their homes, are enslaved, wallow in institutions, have lost all hope that their lives will ever change because they pray for help and help never comes...  it's not good!  And heaven?  You're saying I won't care about all this anymore!  That I'll have some kind of lobotomy, that a switch will all of a sudden flip in my brain and all these things will be "good" and "right" to me because it was for God's "glory".  Well, keep your heaven - I don't want it!  Because that sounds like HELL to me!  I hope I NEVER become that cold unfeeling person!" 

At some point, a scripture came to mind:  the story Jesus told, contrasting two men praying.  One prayed drawn out, impressive prayers - loudly so all could hear.

"Yeah, that!  See! Even Jesus said ... hang on, wait... wait a second"

The other man prayed alone.  He beat his breast and prayed...

"What did he pray?
What did he pray?"

Lord, have mercy on me - a sinner.


have mercy

on ME

a sinner

A flood:  Realization. Shame. Confession. Penance. Humility.

I am not the good-guy in this Bible story.

Not to say I don't continue to wrestle with those very honest things, because I do.  But oh God - to love my point more than people.  To have squinty, accusing eyes. To believe I am more right and more righteous than another.  Hideous, ugly, sick-soul puffed up Pharisee pride.  I reject that.  I reject it.

Forgive. Rid. Change.

Lord, have mercy.  Your mercy is great. Have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

pondering with my wise son

(our bedtime conversation, word for word as best I remember it... )

Me: "So, did your friends have much to say about the sad news?"

Aaron:  "A few did. Not much, really."

Me: "Okay. So, how are YOU doing?"

Aaron:  (pauses, sighs) "Honestly, Mom... and I know this is going to sound strange... but I actually feel like, since Dr. Bowe's passing, I've been happier at school than I've ever been before."

(he braces himself for my reaction)

Me: (pausing... pondering)  "You know what? I think I know what you mean."

Aaron: "You do?"

Me:  "Yeah. You're not glad Dr. Bowe is dead. We all miss him.  But since this happened, everyone at school is being very warm and loving to one another ... teachers and students are sharing their hearts with each other, like really talking and showing their true selves ... people are hugging... those things make us feel good inside.  Really good.  Happy might not be the word, but I understand what you mean."

Aaron: "Yeah, ... like that."

Me: "You know what?"

Aaron:  "What?"

Me:  "You (kiss) are VERY (kiss) wise."

Aaron (crooked grin):  "Thanks Mom."

Talk with your kids. 
Not for what you think they should think or feel. 
But for what they actually DO

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

pondering a loss

Last spring, Aaron - then a 10 year old rising sixth grader - literally bounced his way out of Northwest School of the Arts, where we'd just attended an open house.  The same boy who had been adamant about wanting to be homeschooled for middle school exclaimed,

"Mom! I have GOT to go HERE!" 

I was thrilled for him, so I tried hard to mask my inner conflict.  Always the perceptive one, I could've sworn he'd read my mind when he pressed,

"What about Luke?"  

His older brother - also a rising sixth grader - has an autism disorder known as Asperger's Syndrome.  He is, in many ways, still a little boy; so innocent, a real live Peter Pan.  I looked back at the school building and stifled a shudder.  Could Luke manage here?  It wasn't THIS school in particular, that worried me.  I didn't feel any more confident about the large middle school we were zoned for.  Everything about the fifth-to-sixth grade transition worried me, where Luke was concerned.

"I don't know, buddy, but that doesn't matter because you are going to LOVE it here, I know it!"  

We walked to the car, silently.  As I opened the door, Aaron stopped me and pressed,

"He can do it, Mom - I know he can."  

Trying to hold back the tears was futile.  I gave him a squeeze, lifted a prayer, and promised to think about it.

I went straight to the top, and my email to Principal Dr. Bowe was answered within the day.  He directed me to the school's EC chair, who welcomed my MANY questions (if you haven't gathered this about me, yet, I ask a lot of questions. A. LOT.)  The two of them offered to meet with my husband and I, so of course we took them up on it.  Before I laid eyes on either of them, I was blown away by their generosity and kindness.  Meetings with staff of their caliber often take weeks to schedule, and then only after "forms" and "protocol" and repeated requests.  A glimmer of hope began to light our path... maybe this could work?

Dr. Bowe greeted us as though we'd arrived at his home for Thanksgiving dinner; we were instantly at ease. The two of them were frank with their concerns, while at the same time eager to see both our boys succeed at their school.  One phrase I remember from Dr. Bowe was, "I exited (fill in the blank, I forget the number) students last year alone. I love these kids and my door is always open, but I don't play."  That may seem an odd thing to remember positively, but for a Mom who worried that behavior problem kids would ruin her boys' chances of having a positive middle school experience, this was music to my ears.

Speaking of music, we loved the pride in his eyes as he went ON and ON about all the achievements his students had made.  One funny story had to do with a college that wanted to send their choir over to perform, in order to recruit students.  He laughed and said, "I told them, 'Listen, I'm sorry but your choir cannot sing here - my kids can sing rings around y'all. You need to have MY choir come sing at YOUR school!"

I later learned that he was gifted in art, music, technology, and that he had a special heart for exceptional students after spending several years working with "severe" kids.  Most of time, when people say, "Oh I've worked in special ed" it actually makes me cringe, because what they are really saying is, "I know everything there is to know about exceptional kids."  Those are the worst people to have working with children like my son. The. Worst. But it was apparent that Dr. Bowe didn't mean it that way at all.  He meant it in the rare and priceless way of, "I invest in students with differences because I've seen the value they bring - I will look for that in your child, too, and I WILL find it, because I already know it's there."

We began the school year fully aware that this would be a big stretch for Luke.  Almost every single day, Dr. Bowe interacted with him in some way.  He ate lunch with him or sought him out at spa ("student physical activity" - fancy term for "go walk around outside a while"). If Luke had a difficult time, he'd visit Dr. Bowe's office for a chat or help him out by sharpening pencils - sometimes 100 at a time, until he was settled enough to return to class.  Dr. Bowe once talked him down off a brick wall!  Luke was never in real danger, he's a monkey if there ever was one, but the fact that Dr. Bowe patiently and compassionately talked him down without anyone having to call ME to do it, impresses me to this day.

He also reached out to Aaron, giving him high fives every morning.  Aaron took to the school right away, but started to look a little down during the second quarter.  As it turned out, they'd switched from Health to PE and some of the boys were giving him a hard time.  He's not a clumsy boy, by any means, but he's not the best at organized sports, either, and a handful of students made sure he didn't forget that.  I sent one email to Dr. Bowe asking if he might reach out to Aaron:  ONE.  The VERY NEXT DAY Aaron came out smiling.  He said Dr. Bowe had asked him about his GPA, and when Aaron didn't know what it was, he taught him how to calculate it.  Then he explained to Aaron that everyone is gifted in different ways:  he's gifted academically, others are gifted athletically.  Neither is better or worse.  Aaron never came out with his head down after PE again.  In fact, he went on to win a game soon after that!  What price can you put on your child's smile?  You can't.  Priceless.

Dr. Bowe didn't just win the hearts of my sons, though.  He won mine, too.  I remember feeling as though I'd been gut-punched when I was called to pick Luke up early one day.  He'd bitten a student.  Bitten.  As in BITE.  As in, "This is what toddlers do"! (in his defense, he was provoked) I wanted to die.  I was embarrassed for crying, but Dr. Bowe said, "We laugh, hug, and cry a lot at NWSA. Luke is learning - like all of our students."  Luke was given ISS and you can believe he's never done that again, nor will he - the point was made, with my full support.  But he never felt shamed, and NEITHER DID I

That ... that is just ... it's unheard of.  Mothers always feel guilted and shamed over such things.  But I wasn't. I didn't. I couldn't believe it.

Not long ago, I told Dr. Bowe that Aaron wanted to add a piano major to his band major next year.  He told me stories about earning his way through school by being paid to play piano and organ at churches. He said one church gave him an apartment to use on the weekends, where he'd practice and study.  I smiled, thinking, "Now that could come in handy!"  He shared himself with me, which opened the door for me to do the same, and so we became friends.  I stopped being "Mrs. McConnell", and became "Michelle".  I knew he wanted me to call him "Barry" but I never could bring myself to do it... the respect level I had for him wouldn't allow it.  Still, he knew my "Dr. Bowe" address was filled with affection.

He only heard me angry once, and it wasn't at him.  I called demanding to speak with him and the secretary put me through.  I'll never forget his calming voice, settling me down with phrases like, "You know I'm here for you, now tell me what's going on."  He patiently listened and he took care of business, quickly and forcefully.  I went from anxious and upset to calm and confident within 24 hours.  That's effective leadership.

So it's no surprise that when I learned late last week that he was being forced to resign or be fired, my spirit sank.  How could this happen?  I knew the entire school adored him and that he was respected throughout the community.  The explanation just didn't hold water.  It didn't make sense that one event:  a fight breaking out in the parking lot during an after hours school party, where it's rumored-but-yet-to-be-confirmed-and-denied-by-adult-eye-witnesses that a gun was pulled (not by a NWSA student, and no one was hurt).  Some parents complained that no security was present, but that didn't make sense, either - Dr. Bowe is the most thorough, follow-through professional I've encountered.  He wouldn't NOT request security (he claims he did in fact request security, but none showed).  Regardless of the ins and outs and finger pointing surrounding that unfortunate evening, REGARDLESS of ALL of that, how - HOW - could this one isolated event cancel out an entire glowing career?  How can that make any amount of sense?

(Answer:  it doesn't)

I joined other parents to advocate for Dr. Bowe, demanding that this decision be reversed.  We went on the local news, and we were preparing to address the school board, when the worst happened...

My husband woke me a little after midnight.  I could tell by his face that something was dreadfully wrong, and I was scared.  I thought of my niece who has been in the hospital receiving chemo, I thought of our parents....  all sorts of things ran through my mind, but I never expected him to say,

"Michelle... Dr. Bowe is dead."

I didn't sleep anymore that night (and I haven't slept since).  This good man should not have felt alone and trapped and hopeless. He should still be with us, with "his kids".  What sense is there to be made?  None.  It's a tragedy.  Plain and simple.  A senseless, dark tragedy.

We told our boys this morning.... told them that Daddy had taken the day off so that we could all drive down to the school together.  Told them they should wear black (as requested by student leadership).  Told them we'd stop by the grocery on the way to buy roses.  Told them why.  Our beloved Dr. Bowe was gone.  We wept together.

Luke asked the most innocent, heart wrenching questions.
"But... how can I go to school without a principal?  Who will I have chats with?  Who will I sharpen pencils for?"  

When we got to the school I gave him his roses and asked him where he'd like to put them.  He said matter of factly,
"I need to give them to Dr. Bowe." 

I lost it;  we had to start all over at square one.  Then he said, sadly,
"Oh ... yeah ... Then we should put them here, where he always stands to say good morning."  

And so, white roses lay at the edge of the carpool parking lot, where Dr. Bowe should have been standing this morning ... but wasn't.

Aaron, on the other hand, processes more the way I always have.  He didn't say much.  He nodded.  He said his throat felt dry and scratchy.  Later he said his stomach didn't feel good.  I asked if he had any questions.  He said no.  But I know better.  We've shared a lot of hugs today.  I need to encourage him to write...

How does one ponder such things?  When I close my eyes I picture that good man sitting in his car alone.  How do I get that image out of my mind?

And where do I put God in such a story?  Dr. Bowe knew God, this I am sure of - we talked of such things.  And God never left him, I know that, too.

But everything in between is up for grabs.

Whatever window of despair led to this tragic end, we will never fully comprehend.  But his heart - his smile - his love - his zeal - his sense of humor - his excellence - his Sponge-Bob ringtone - his rainbow colored lariat - his absolute authenticity  .... those are his legacy.  We knew him less than a year, and this is what I have to say for it!  Imagine countless students, who were blessed by years of day in and day out Dr. Bowe Love!

That's what remains.

I'm trying... trying hard... to ponder that.

in these bodies
we will live
in these bodies
we will die
where you invest your love
you invest your life
~Mumford and Sons, Awake My Soul

Friday, January 13, 2012

pondering what it means to be blessed

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

~Jesus, Matthew 5, The Message

Thursday, January 12, 2012

pondering a creek

A creek

I am not in the mountains
I did not travel far to get here
this I know.
And yet, the creek-
 it deceives me.

The water flows slowly 
from the upper fields toward the low ground.

No babbling
no laurels
no hopping stones.
Just sand - and mud.

But someone
someone who, like me,
longed to feel


carried river rocks
built a dam
created a waterfall.

I heard it before I saw it
I paused in the pasture to listen
No sound compares

Though the cackling of a fire comes close.

~Michelle McConnell

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

pondering Mozart with Mary Oliver

I lied... make it two. I'll stop at two. I can do that. Really, I can.

Mozart, for Example
All the quick notes
Mozart didn’t have time to use
before he entered the cloud boat
are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer
into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,
though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,
if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,
offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.
-Mary Oliver

pondering Praying with Mary Oliver

I spent yesterday on a "silent retreat". It was - to be cliche - heavenly.  I read a lot of Mary Oliver ... I wrote a lot of poetry myself, as well.  I'm so grateful to the dear lady who opened her farm and home to a handful of us.

My first inclination was to copy and paste every Mary Oliver poem that spoke to me yesterday - I'm that enamored with her - but that would be foolish.  So I will practice restraint, and share one.  Expect to see more.  You may even see some of mine, if I am brave.  Compared to hers, well ... it's a start.  I find this new voice works well for the types of things I want to say, but I need more practice.

And more days on silent retreat. :)

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
~ Mary Oliver ~

Sunday, January 8, 2012

pondering Cathy and Luke

"If it's okay with you, I'd like for Luke to get to know me better, so he can sit with me in church sometimes..."

Luke is 13. He has an autism disorder known as Asperger's Syndrome.  And church can be really long for him. He does pretty well, honestly, but I definitely have to keep my game face on.

Cathy is my friend.  She stopped me as this morning's service was closing, to ask me that question.  She and her partner Joanne have raised two kids (who I've had the pleasure of meeting), but I've noticed that they often have a child or two sitting with them in service.  I never thought much of it, till today.  Today I put it all together.

Their children are grown now.  They could sit and enjoy the service without the distractions and interruptions that come with being responsible for little ones.  They could walk up for communion calmly, not herding children along with them.  But they'd rather offer young families their time and presence and attention.  They enjoy the kids, the kids enjoy them, and the parents enjoy a bit of freedom.  Beautiful.

A huge grin crossed Luke's face when Cathy asked if he'd sit with her next week.  Oh, to have someone  put that kind of smile on your child's face... does anything compare?  Nothing touches a parent's heart more.  I'm so grateful for Cathy, and for every special person who has ministered to our kids over the years, simply by offering themSELVES.

Proverbs instructs us not to withhold good from others, when it's in our power to do it.  I'm challenged to think about that more this week.  Whatever we offer, though seemingly small - when given freely, without condition or expectation - can be BIG to the one receiving it.

I should know. I was reminded of that just this morning.

Friday, January 6, 2012

pondering people

Tonight a small group of people huddled in our driveway round a cheaply built metal fire bowl.
We talked.  We laughed.  We grieved. We wondered. We prayed.  We praised.
These are our people.  
That won't change.
Much HAS changed over the years, for all of us.
But the connection we share will not.
That is a holy thing.
And because of that, our concrete driveway and our cheaply built fire bowl are sacred.
A holy place.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

pondering hope

There is so much sadness and hurt in this world.  So much that it chokes me sometimes. I literally feel that I cannot breathe.

While we have very little in the way of details, we know that Mary's birthmother lived a sad, desperate life.  We have now learned that she has also died a sad death. The news hit me like a truck. Mary has no clue, but this morning we shared extra long, extra tight cuddles.

I've been listening to this song with tears streaming down my face.  This is not the end.  That woman - who didn't ask to be born into those circumstances ... who didn't ask to be born AT ALL - is a child of God, dearly loved, and in some mysterious way that I don't dare pretend to understand, I believe she knows that now, whether she ever did or never did.  

He is for us in our weakness, struggles, and efforts when we seek to serve God, but against us in our pride, self sufficiency, and attempts to place our concerns at the center of our life. But even when Christ is against us, it is because He is committed to changing us.

I'm so thankful to understand this now.  I'm so thankful for hope. And I look forward to the day when we shall all be changed.

pondering expectations

Have you ever walked into a situation literally having NO idea what to expect?  That scenario has played out a lot for me over recent months. I must admit I've come to rather enjoy it.  It's quite thrilling.  But then again I'm the woman who drives around town with the license plate that reads, "YNOT?"

Last night I attended my first mid-week Bible study at the Lutheran church we've been attending.  Now, the following is going to sound completely judgmental, idiotic, pious, and God only knows what else.  But it's honest.  So here goes.

My background tells me that mainline churches aren't serious about the Bible.  That they downplay scripture and faith in general.   That they are glorified social clubs.  Not only that, but any church where gender-varied people are present obviously falls into a category known as "liberal", and therefore has a whole litany of descriptors attached to it, that I won't even bother to go into because that's actually fodder for a completely different post...

I've learned by now that the above assumptions are in no way necessarily true, but I still had no idea what to expect.  What I got was delightful.  Challenging.  Ponder-worthy, if I say so myself!

First of all, we were practically doing old school Awana sword drills, we were flipping through our Bibles so much!  Comparing versions and footnotes and cross references.  Awesome! 

"How does what Isaiah says tie in with the Psalm Jesus quoted here in Matthew?  And is it also possible that Daniel is referencing the same thing or is the language only similar and so we assume it's the same thing?"
"How does our theology of the cross inform our view of who God is?"
"Well ... what do you mean by right?"

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I gotta say... I'm an herbivore when it comes to diet, but I had MEAT  last night!  Good meat, too.  Wow, that was fun!  Can't wait to go back in two weeks.  And, as a side note, turns out my natural bent of interpretation/application is actually quite... Lutheran!  Funny, that.  Pastor N reminded me, “We take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.”  If that’s a scary statement for you, I get that, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve always handled the Bible this way, I just didn’t know (until recently) that that was “okay”.  No one is going to put me in detention for asking the wrong questions (yes that really happened to me at my Christian high school … no, Mama, I never told you about it … sorry!) J

As an added note (and this paragraph definitely falls under what I fear will sound “judgmental/idiotic/pious”) I need to point out that at least half the people sitting around the table were gay.  Straight Christians who aren’t accustomed to spending time with gay Christians don’t realize this – in my experience, can’t even fathom this – so I feel the need to share it:  the word “gay” never came up. Homosexuality never came up.  SEXuality never came up.  In fact, unless you have some seriously tuned in gay-dar going on, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between any of us!  I obviously don’t care one way or the other, but this is important, so hear me:  a mix of gay and straight Christians had a Bible study that had ZERO to do with “the gay thing”.  Now, I’d have loved to share ONE post without using that word but alas… ;)

I’m learning so much and truly enjoying it.  Understand, this IN NO WAY underscores how much I've learned from other people and places ... I have written pages upon pages over the years about all that Pastor M has taught me about grace.  So this is not a pitting of one denomination or group against another, not at all.  Those nearest to me know that full well, you know my heart, but just in case any readers do not know, I say it again.  

Since I know some of you are wondering, I ... we - our family, have not left anything and have not joined anything.  I honestly have no idea how this small congregation of people fits into the grand story of our lives.  Truth be told, I'm probably in a state of denial because I'm still trying to figure how to literally be in two places at one time.  I reject the temptation to be stressed by those questions.  What I do recognize is that this as an important chapter, and I intend to milk it for all it's worth.   

How about you?  Is there something in your life that you're so concerned about it's permanence (or lack thereof) that you're missing its richness?  Maybe that's a ponder-worthy question in and of itself....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

pondering Gen Silent

"Why are you so hung up on this gay thing?"

I've been asked that a lot lately.  The answer?  I don't know.  It just won't leave me alone.  I don't know why, I don't know to what end, I don't know.  I just know I've been blessed/cursed (depending on who you talk to) with a compelling draw toward this topic and this community of people.  I don't see it as odd, but others do ... I guess I get that.  I only know that my life is growing richer and I'm grateful for it.  What God's up to with all this, well... that remains to be seen.  I'm not too worried about it, to tell you the truth.  I trust Him, and I'm enjoying the ride.

With that said, yes, I have another post on that topic.  The documentary film Gen Silent is available for free screening online through January 8th.  I watched it with the words of Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 ringing in my ears.  Watch it here (this is a full length documentary so get a cup of tea or a glass of wine or whatever you enjoy...).

(k m-p sh n). 
n. Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

To be authentically human is to be willing to turn—and to be a saint is to have turned/changed many times. 
Away from my smallness and toward an Unspeakable Greatness—which is itself never fully attained. 
-Richard Rohr