Every Day is Valentine’s Day

If you and I are friends on Facebook or if you follow me on Instagram, you are more than familiar with my #everydayisvalentinesday hashtag.  You see, one day, when I least expected it, love happened.

Tory and I first met in 1987, when I started junior high.  A few years later, we became closer friends during my freshman year, his junior year.  We were BFFs the next year, and in the time before email, My Space, and Facebook, we were pen pals when he went to college.  My senior year, I broke up with my boyfriend two days before prom, and Tory came back and took me.

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Then I went to college in Virginia, he started working full time and going to school, and after the summer of 1994, we kind of lost touch.

Fast forward 21 years to 2015, we reconnected.  We had both split from our spouses, and we both had children.  We met for lunch one day, only expecting to catch up with an old friend, but we soon realized that there was much more to our unfinished story.

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Having a relationship that is based in this deep friendship, caring, and genuine love for each other (you should read what I wrote in his yearbook senior year.  #humiliating.) is amazing.  We love each other’s family, and we love each other’s children as our own.  When we started posting pictures on social media, all of our friends from back in high school were so happy for us.  And soon, #everydayisvalentinesday was born.  Pictures graced our feeds from restaurants, Christmas parties, the beach, volleyball games, Angel games, Disneyland.  Jen told me once that it’s like we’re living in our twenties again.  And you know what, it is.  Christmas Eve is even Valentine’s Day.

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But before I continue to gush, let me be clear.  We are not perfect.  Life is also tough.  We both have major things in our past that affect our everyday lives.  We cry.  And bleed.  And our hearts break.  Through custody battles, court dates, money issues, going back to work, we have made a pact:  we will get through it…. together.

Now, in my 40s, I don’t want what Valentine’s Day means for most people:  big gestures professing one’s love, on one day of the year.  The #everydayisvalentinesday that is in my life now is the feeling that is supposed to lie beneath all those flowers and chocolates and fancy necklaces.  I don’t want the prince in the shining castle.  No, give me the farmer who smells like the earth, works his fingers to the bone, and has the scars to prove it.  Tory is Ride or Die.  And I will Ride or Die for him.  He is devoted to me in a way that I have never experienced before.  Our Valentine’s Days are filled with electrical work on the house, with sewing curtains for our kitchen. Valentine’s Days are when we’re sick and lie on the couch.  They are days when we meet our parents for breakfast then shop at Costco.

One #everydayisvalentinesday we even got married.

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Our Valentine’s Days celebrate our accomplishments, but they are also when we lose our battles.  Because when you let go of ego, when you are honest not only with your partner, but with yourself, when you bear your soul, and when your partner does the same, #lovewins and #everydayisvalentinesday.

River Rule

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Last week, I went on a retreat.

I can’t tell you much about it because of the River Rule, which is the very coolest thing ever. So I’m going to tell you about the River Rule itself instead.

There’s a village on the banks of the Zambezi river where (the story goes) once a year all the women of the village get into boats and pole themselves gracefully across the currents to an island. The island is sacred and holy space, far from the banks of the village, protected by the waters of the mother river.

Once the women step foot from the boats to the land, the River Rule is invoked. Nothing that is said or done or felt on the island can be communicated to anyone ever. And no judgement is allowed. It is a place for truth, hard ones and easy ones and funny ones. And we know truth can mostly only live where there is safety.

It is a privilege among the women of the village to uphold the honor of the Rule. It is a gift they give themselves and each other, once a year, to honor the challenges, heartbreaks and joys of their lives as women.

Are you like me and you didn’t know how much you needed that until someone said it out loud?

I forge ahead in truth most of the time anyway and try not to count the cost. I told my mom just last night that so often when I speak about my postpartum breakdown, I see the fruit of it almost immediately in the women who reach out for help or fellowship. But there’s always a small part of me that worries about having that much truth, even truth that has proven so helpful to others, floating around out there.

To know that I am being heard and not judged and that everyone around me is striving to understand me with love and prayer in their hearts?

You guys, it’s a gift beyond explaining.

The River Rule is not unique to the retreat I attended. In fact, it appears in the Urban Dictionary, sans the village story, as a way of saying “This needs to stay right here between us”.

So I have two things:

If you’ve been feeling called to a women’s retreat, consider this your answer from God, that yes, you should go. Just go.

And think about instituting a River Rule with your friends. It’s a gift that can push friendship to sacred sisterhood.

 

Election Day

 

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Here we are.

I voted and you voted and lots and lots of people have voted. Democracy has run its course.

But I kind of feel like the teenager who crashed the car and then tried to cover up the big dent in the fender. It’s an exercise in futility. We can’t hide the damage.

And we did it. We let it get to this place even though we know better, and are called to better. We’re complicit.

What do we really wake up to tomorrow? Wounds. Mistrust. Faithlessness. They are the elephants, and donkeys, in the room and they are hungry.

What are we going to feed them?

Two weeks ago, I went to Walgreens. I had just said to my brother “When I know that people are going to vote for that candidate, I feel like it tells me something about them. Something flawed. Something false. Something damaging.”

And then I parked next to a car with bumper stickers for that candidate all over it. I had seen it before, in the parking lot at church. Great, I thought. Hope I don’t know them.

But as I was standing in front of the cold remedies, a sweet voice said “Jen?” I turned and it was a woman I know well, a woman I have prayed with, a woman who hugged me hello. It hit me that it was her car.

Sh*t.

That is what I thought, I swear to goodness.

Then I was ashamed. What am I doing?

This election has not been our best moment. We have damaged ourselves as Americans, as people of faith, as a light shining in the darkness. The false prophets and kingdom builders have been exposed as the charlatans they are.

And we can either carry on as we have, self-serving and self-righteous, feeding what we want to hear and be.

Or we can decide that this was our wake-up call, and feed what we need to hear and be.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

It’s What We Need

I don’t know what to say and I am not alone. There are only so many ways to write “Love each other” before we all start sounding like a Beatles songs, after they started doing the hallucinogenics.

So instead, I want to show you something.

In the Catholic church, we use a lectionary for the readings at church. The lectionary is a book that has all the Bible scripture readings laid out for both the weekday masses and Sunday masses. The Sunday masses work on a 3 year cycle, called A, B and C. In year A, our gospel comes mostly from Matthew. Year B we read mostly from Mark and chapter 6 of John. In year C, we read mostly from Luke.

This was all set down long time ago. Like, long, long time ago. In some Christian churches ministers choose their readings based on current events. Not us. Catholics have this thing with tradition.

Maybe you’ve noticed.

Anyway, 2016 is a year C. We’re reading a lot of Luke in Ordinary time, which what we call all the time that is not Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

Remember, these readings are pre-ordained. Back and back.

These have been the Gospel readings the last three weeks.

Luke 10:1-9Luke 10:25-37Luke 10:38-42.

The first one, two days before the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, is when Jesus sends His disciples out in twos and tells them to be bringers of peace wherever they enter.

The second one—last weekend, after the killing of the police officers in Dallas—was the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This week, after Nice and the killing of the police officers in Baton Rouge, was the story of Martha and Mary.

And next week, the reading is Luke 10:1-13, when Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in response to one of them asking “Lord, teach us how to pray”.

Bring peace. Help, regardless of race or creed. Listen. Pray.

Some will call this coincidence. It’s not, though.

It’s what we need, when we need it, if we have the courage to listen and believe.

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Living in the Digital Age

These past few weeks have been filled with nostalgia and dust. Lots of dust. At the age of 93, my Grandma Betty has moved into an assisted living home. Her health is touch and go, her eyesight is bad, and sometimes, she just can’t remember to eat. For us grandkids, this is devastating. Grandma Betty has lived in the same house since the 1950s. And it was last redecorated, I think, in 1979. Translate that into this: for my whole life, nearly, that place has not changed. No new carpet. No different sofa. The lamps? Same spot. The kitchen? Can we call it “vintage chic” or perhaps just waaaayyyyy outdated?

Walking into Grandma Betty’s house is a like walking into a time capsule. It looks the same as it has for my entire life. It smells the same. My handprint that we gave to Grandma and Grandpa when I was two months old is still on the original nail from 1975. So leaving it has shaken us to the core.

For my cousins Dawn and Sarah, and me, going to Grandma’s house was like going to a safe-haven. At Grandma’s house, we played ping-pong with Grandpa Art, we dug in the sand box (remember when we would find the toys we had buried the previous summer?), and we had Coke floats, and fires in the fireplace. We would eat breakfast on the patio, wrapped in Grandma’s fluffy pink robe. We would go for bike rides or walks in the evening. We tried on her clip-on earrings and her amazing shoes. Rummy Cube, Rack-O, Clue, Uno.

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But no matter what we did, even just sitting together reading books, there was always an abundance of love. We were cherished, treasured, indulged. We were the smartest kids, or the funniest. She would say, “Why I never!” through her giggles. We were the most talented. “Where did you ever learn to do that?” And no matter what we did, it was cataloged in pictures.

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The picture albums at Grandma’s house begin in the year 1969. Everywhere she went, her camera went too. There is evidence of our Halloween costumes (in 1980 I was Chewbacca), evidence of our school performances. There are snap shots from evenings spent climbing trees or afternoons painting her white picket fence. And going through these pictures has been a blast. Dawn and I have spend more than a few hours gasping (Do you remember how high my bangs were?), groaning (I can’t believe I wore that!), giggling (We look like a couple of sunburned lobsters!), and remembering (I felt so special when Grams and I went shopping together.).

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In her closets, too, I have found some real treasures… more pictures of Grandma’s brother, Marvin who went down over the Pacific in WWII:

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Pictures of her sister Mazie, who my older daughter is named after:

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Pictures of her first (yes, first) fiancé, Warren:

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And a real gem, a picture of her mother’s mother, dated 1871:

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Finding all of these treasures has made me reflect on my own record keeping. It’s easier than ever, now, to take pictures. And don’t pretend that you’re not just like me and that you don’t whip out your camera for an especially good latte:

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We snap pictures and videos like crazy, but how many of us still get them printed out? I know that I don’t. And right now, I’m a little sad about that.

What about when Mazie and Violet’s children are packing up my house?   Will they sit in front of a computer and look at my iCloud? Will it even exist any more? Will they find their mamas’ baby pictures? See them in funny outfits?

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Will they find pictures of me and my dad, and see his nose or his smile in their own faces? And one more question… Does it really matter?  Do these events, unimportant to everyone but us, have a place in our lives?

My answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Yes, they matter. Maybe not to the world. Maybe not to anyone but me. But they still matter. They provide a sense of belonging. In the pictures I can still feel the emotion of the moment, and I realized that Grandma and Grandpa were there, sharing them with me.  Here’s the literal moment that I caught the final out for a CIF softball title:

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Here’s where I laid my head on my dad’s shoulder on a Saturday:

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Or when I signed my national letter of intent to go to University of Virginia, at 10:55pm, in Austin, Texas, she has written:

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In the older pictures, pictures of my mother as a teenager, I see the hope and sparkle in her eyes and I realize that she was a girl before she was my mom:

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I see Nana, Betty’s mother, standing with pride on the porch of her home that had just been painted, a home that she purchased, maintained, and lived in all on her own until she was 103:

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This is where I am from. This is the very fiber of my being. These are the moments, big and small, that made up my life. And I am grateful to have seen them again.

No Excuse for Relative Pronouns

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I read a post the other day about the North Carolina transgender bathroom bill.

A mom in the comments said she stood in support of the bill because her young girls shouldn’t have to see THAT. And after she took a solid challenge from other readers, she signed off by saying that we are really screwing our kids up and IT is sad.

THAT and IT.

They jump off the page at me. Old habit. All English teachers know what I’m saying here. In the beginning of my career I would write little notes to my students in the margins, encouraging them to be more precise. By the end, I just circled the words, and drew a big question mark. On a poster board in the back of the room was a key to my corrections:

? = WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU SAYING???

When I read her comment, I thought What the heck is she saying? What is THAT and what is IT?

I played it out in my head:

A transgendered woman comes into the women’s room to pee. Regardless of how long she lived as a he, someone taught her that it’s not polite to pee in the sink. So off to a stall she goes.

How does my daughter even know what is happening behind those closed doors?

Or a transgendered man comes into the men’s room. The urinals are not an option—I actually know this from personal experience, it’s a physical impossibility—so off to the stall he goes.

My son would assume one thing: serious business. And he would get out there as soon as possible to avoid the smell.

All good so far.

What WOULD cause an uproar is the reverse of that. There’s a McDonald’s in Redding where the bathrooms are reversed. Usually the women’s room is on the right. THE RIGHT. Annie had to pee and the door needed a token and no, I didn’t look at the sign.

The guy at the urinal sure did shriek like a woman when I rolled in there with my preschooler. Safe to say that he didn’t want to see me any more than I wanted to be there.

In my world, it will be a few more years before my little people notice things that may be seem different to them. I stand firmly by my “Need to Know” style of parenting. I’ll find the words then.

Because I have never once thought how I would explain transgendered to my kids.

There it is.

Maybe this mom who commented was her older self, with kids who are asking questions that need answers. Maybe she’s watching her babies take giant steps towards adulthood and suddenly all  those hard words she was going to find on a far-away tomorrow have to be in her head today.

So she’s freaking out and using relative pronouns.

Sister girl, I can relate to THAT.

But I don’t want to live in a relative pronoun world. And I need to stop punting to my older self because I’m tired now and my older self, the one with teenagers, will be tired and old.

So I’m going to remember that we are people who believe where we stand on the important things in life is not as important as how we stand. We stand in love.

Then I’m going to call my girlfriends and invite them for coffee but really it will be a brainstorming session called “What to tell our kids when”. Together we will buck up and find the hard words because fear is no excuse to use relative pronouns.

But also.

For the love of God, can we build children with hardier hearts? Children who aren’t so fragile that they will need twenty years of therapy at the sight of a woman peeing standing up? Or whose faith in all that is good and holy will not fall to pieces in the face of a man who appears to have boobs? That’s a house of cards built on shifting sands and I am not interested in that.

I want mighty warriors.

If I’m doing my job well, they will see things different from their idea of right and wrong and say “Huh.” Then go about their holy and sacred business of standing in love.

 

 

Put the “Be Jesus” Back

Lenten reading can be hard on your soul.

It challenges and convicts. It parks your heart in the shadow of the Cross and makes you look up.

I have never been good at looking up. I don’t want to see. I tell myself it is enough to know.

Everything I read tells me that I’m wrong. My suffering has not been enough, although it has taught me so much about life and myself and fear and pain. It’s only the first step.

To truly walk where Jesus did, our suffering has to be used for someone else.

Which means I have to see. I have to look up from the foot of the cross and see.

I don’t want to read the Facebook post from my cousin’s friend who lost her six year old to cancer two years ago. On the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, she’s asking me to stand with her against pediatric cancer. I don’t want to see, because I have a sweet girl who was six two years ago. I don’t want to know that children we know get sick from cancer and die.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to read the story about the woman in my state who tried to kill her newborn and toddler. I have to see that she is vilified in the media and the comments underneath the articles. I have to read until I see what my heart is already telling me, that she was sick, like I was sick. I don’t want to remember how that time felt to me. I don’t want to admit that she is me and I might have been her if we hadn’t made the right call, finally.

I want to look away and go about my business.

I don’t want to see pictures of drowned toddlers on the beaches in Greece, or news reports of the danger and squalor of refugee camps. I don’t want to know about the migrant camps in my own city. I don’t want to consider that in this day and age, families suffer while others turn them away. I’ll write a check or make a donation, but that’s as much as I feel I can handle. It’s a swamp of hopelessness.

I want to look away and go about my business.

But then I read this, in Richard Rohr’s Hope Against Darkness:

“When we’re not sure what is certain…we’re going to be anxious. We want to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet to be a good leader of anything today—to be a good pastor, a good bishop, or, I’m sure, a good father or mother—you have to be able to contain, to hold patiently a certain degree of anxiety.

(…)That’s probably why the Bible says so often ‘Do not be afraid.’”

This is me. I am not good—terrible, actually—at holding anxiety.  I do want to get rid of it as quickly as I can. I work hard to not invite it into my heart in the first place. My leadership skills are horribly limited by my anxieties. So I have convinced myself that I am safer occupying my space, and my space only. I busy myself with controlling the heck out of what I can control: my home, my family, my personal relationship with my church and my God.

Rohr says that “expelling what you can’t embrace gives you an identity, but it’s a negative identity. It’s not life energy, it’s death energy. Formulating what you are against gives you a very quick, clear and clean sense of yourself. Thus, most people fall for it. People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by who they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and by whom they love.”

I’m convicted. In giving my anxieties primary place in my life—whether managing them, medicating them, avoiding them, expelling them—I have chosen not to see. If I don’t see, how can I help? Walk beside? Love?

Have I literally scared the “Be Jesus” out of myself?

There’s a reason this is in front of me now. I have no idea what it might be, but I’ll hold on patiently and wait for it. And while I do, I’ll work at replacing my fear with my faith.

Look up and see.

Hold the anxiety.

Be not afraid.

Put the “Be Jesus” back where it belongs.

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This popped up on Toby Mac’s Facebook feed as I was typing this post. Thanks to Mr. Hybels and Mr. Mac for the reminder!