What the High School Students Taught Me

This past Sunday was our celebration of graduating high school seniors at church. We are graduating our third child on Thursday and about to have an empty nest. We have had a child in our home non-stop for 29 years, so yes, an empty nest is going to be fun/strange/sad/happy/quiet; so many things to feel. Seriously. Imagine all of those feelings at once wrapped up in this graduation week.

On Sunday three of the graduates spoke in the worship services, including our son. As they spoke, they taught me about the power of the community of faith. All three had been members of that particular church most of their lives.

Here’s what they said, summarized:

-They were grateful and could now see the many people who helped raise them and show them faith. For all, it was a long list beyond their parents.

-It wasn’t any one thing, it was all the things. It was cookies and snacks; the many Sunday School lessons and Bible studies. It was singing in the children’s choir and serving as acolytes in worship. It was Vacation Bible School and Mission trips. It was pastors preaching, people loving them and speaking to them, hugging them and recognizing their milestones. It wasn’t any one thing, it was this tapestry woven together by the community of faith with them and around them.

-They saw the church for what it is, imperfect, ever-changing, filled with real-life loss and challenges. They all had families that hung in there despite the messy imperfection of the whole thing. They had families that made them attend when they didn’t want to. They had families that invested, served, modeled faith.

-They noticed that the more you invested in the community the more you received.

At the end of this happy/sad/milestone morning, I wanted to grab the microphone and preach or at least give a mom’s rebuttal but it didn’t seem polite.

I wanted to say to every single person, child, tween, teen, young adult and older adult…”Can’t you see this happening before our eyes? This is an illustration of the God-infused super sloppy church. Where it is never one thing, it is all the things…embedded with prayer, worship, life, death, sickness, ritual, grace and forgiveness.”

I wanted to say to everyone. “No matter how old you are, join up. Attach yourself to a community of faith and do not let go. Don’t let conflict or imperfection or that piece of music, or preaching or person you don’t like sitting next to you stop you. Invest. Show up. Show up again and again and again. You may not see results for 19 or 190 years. Show up anyway.

Sunday I sat in the pew and saw it. It was a real-life, people-I-love example of the power of the community of faith to shape lives. 19 years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and we inserted him right in the middle of an imperfect community of faith from the time he was 2 weeks old and the pediatrician said he could go to the church nursery.

On Sunday, a confidant young man walked to the pulpit in that same church and shared his faith, his values, his future plans and his gratitude for the cloud of witnesses who loved him into that.

Everyone deserves to be loved and shaped like that. Everyone.

When I Was A Child Living in Poverty

It was a Poverty Simulation our school district hosted. It was only for a morning. I was invited to attend as a community member along with school counselors and personnel from the district and some parents. I knew at the outset it would be stressful and that I would leave with an awareness I already had, that poverty was horrible. I even questioned why in the world I would attend such a thing when I could be going to yoga class instead.

I was shocked when the simulation began and I was assigned the role of a 9-year-old girl named Whitney. I assumed I would be a grown up, not a child. I lived with my younger brother who had some special needs and my 50 something year old grandparents who were raising us because our mom was incarcerated for drug use and our dad had disappeared. Grandma had a low paying job and Grandpa was disabled due to diabetes.

We spent the morning living out a month in the life of this family. My grandparents were totally obsessed with surviving; going to work; trying to access community services; getting food; paying bills. Periodically, life would happen and our family would be thrown a curve that sent us into even deeper crisis.

As a nine-year old big sister, I felt incredibly responsible for my little brother. At school, I was distracted worrying about my grandparents. I kept checking to see if Grandma was at work because if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have food. My grandparents tried but they were so focused on surviving they could barely acknowledge my brother and myself.

At the end, my grandpa went to the doctor and learned his medication would cost $350 and there was absolutely no way we could afford it. The whole family settled into the devastating news that grandpa would probably die.

After the simulation, our family debriefed. We all felt stressed, out of control and couldn’t believe that our best efforts and planning did not help improved our family’s situation one bit. In fact, things got worse.

As eye-opening as it was about the terrible reality of poverty, I left with hope because of some of bright spots in place in our community. We have not solved poverty, a staggering 1 our of 4 students in our district live in poverty. But, we have created some light her; some let’s-just-do-something strategies which matter.

When I was a child living in poverty sitting at school worrying about my grandparents, if a mentor had shown up to visit with me, even once a week, it would have changed me. No one at home could afford to pay much attention to me. Here, we have a school based mentoring program overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters to serve students just like me. http://www.gcisd-k-12.org (search Mentor) for an application. We have plenty of students in need, we just need more mentors.

When I was a child living in poverty, if I had been given a bag of food to eat over the weekend, it would have truly relieved pressure on my whole family. It would have reminded me that someone cared. We have that program here, which currently serves almost 1000 students in our district through the school year. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Weekend Food).

When I was a child living in poverty, if my family had a community agency that would visit with us and provide resources for clothing, food, medical care, holiday needs, a summer lunch time food option, it would have made all the difference. We have that here. http://www.gracegrapevine.org

When I was a child living in poverty if someone offered my family a hot meal, at a large table where we didn’t have to worry about the cost or the clean up, where we were treated like guests, we would have felt like we were less alone.  We have that here. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Be Our Guest Meal).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there was a huge Back to School Fair where I could get school supplies, a backpack, countless community and school resources, all in a one-stop setting, we would have felt equipped and loved. We have that here. (search Facebook for Connect GCISD).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there had been an after school program for my brother and me, my grandparents would have had more time to oversee our home. Someone would be there to give us a snack, a hot meal, help with our homework and a place to belong. We have that here thanks to a partnership with our local police, school district and churches. http://www.grapevinetexas.gov (search Grapevine Community Outreach Center Vast).

Living in poverty was horrible. And I know, I really have no idea how horrible. But, at least there are bright spots here. At least there are places you can give, serve and work and know that you a bringing light to a child.  At least there is that.

Word

It was a simple question texted to our 25-year-old son about whether he’d be joining us for a meal. He answered back, Word. I always have to stop and remind myself that in the language of young people, Word means Yes.

Then I have to remind myself that the usage goes way beyond that into other languages and cultures. This young generation actually uses the word Word in an ancient format. In Greek, the word for word is Logos. It is translated Yes. However, it is a big yes, as in what gives the whole cosmos order, form and meaning.

That’s why the opening of the gospel of John is rather stunning, especially if we could read it in Greek. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word/logos=Yes, a big yes=order, form and meaning=Jesus.

That’s a whole lot for a Monday so allow me to simplify: the word Word means yes.

I marvel at that considering all the words we throw back and forth these days; all the texts, the cable news words, the pundits, the back and forth….just so many words.

I crave just a brief word; a true word, a divine word, ordering and injecting meaning into all, don’t you?

I celebrate being able to share my words and having others read and share them also.

For years, I’ve known that writing was one of my passions. Writing is the place where I lose myself, where I am unaware of how much time has gone by; writing for me is a creative, God inspired act.  When I have taken or taught courses on finding one’s strength or passion, writing always comes out high for me. I love words. Writing leads to preaching and speaking but writing comes first.

So imagine how thrilled I was about a month ago when the Marketing Director of the Jesus Calling materials (Harper Collins Publisher) invited me to blog for them for May. They asked if I would combine the themes of motherhood and graduation with a blog about my own graduation to becoming a grandmother. They gave me 1000 words which  to a blogger is an extravagant gift. They asked if I would cite the resource, Jesus Always. I read Jesus Always daily and am truly inspired by it. Could there be a more joyful, delicious, natural writing assignment me?

The blog will come out this week on the Jesuscalling.com website.  It will also be e-blasted to, I don’t know, at least a few people world-wide.

Sometimes, it seems God says no. Sometimes God says wait, or heal. And then other times, when you least expect it, God says yes.

Today, I’m giving thanks for this yes and wherever it might lead. Wednesday and Thursday I know you will help me share my words and God’s Word through the Jesus Calling blog.

 

 

 

 

Here and Now

Have you ever found yourself disgruntled? At odds with someone or something? Have you ever had an issue with say, something going on in our world? our country? your community? church? in your family?

Have you ever found yourself face to face with something that seemed unfathomable and unfair beyond measure? A diagnosis? A tragedy? An event that you would give anything to do over?

I’ve found myself recently, in more than one scenario, really outraged. I wanted to file a complaint, write a letter, state a grievance only to realize sadly, there was nowhere to file that complaint or send that letter or no one who would listen to how I felt about it. Or that there were unseen forces and systems at work that morphed way beyond my control or input.

Lately, I’ve been trying to be more in touch with how I feel about certain things and currently, that feeling is disgruntled.

Thankfully, in spite of how I feel, I religiously stick to a devotional, scripture reading, prayer and daily writing routine. It grounds me. Sometimes it even surprises me.

Today, all three devotionals I read had the same teaching. Jesus Always by Sarah Young woke me up with this line, “The present moment is the point at which time intersects eternity.” “Have a wide awake heart.” “Stay in the present moment.” Jesus Calling by the same author said, “Here and now are the coordinates of your life.”

 

Can you see the surprising word of God piercing my very real (and I believe justified outrage) to coax me into today; into the here and now? As with most God things, this puzzles me. How do you even do that? How do you shift your eyes from what seems oh- so-wrong to this moment? I believe it takes spirit infused strength. We can’t really do it on our own.

If the present moment really is the point at which time intersects eternity, I’d just soon not miss it being disgruntled and writing out my complaints to no one in particular. I do want to make a difference, speak out when I can, help tear apart systems that hurt. I just need to do it well-anchored in the gift of the present and connected to a God who is ever-present.

When our family learned of my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis last June, I was angry and overwhelmed. I remember just sitting down on a bench outside the doctor’s office and crying angry tears. If there was a place to lodge a complaint I would have done it. Instead I just sat there rage-crying. A beautiful stranger of another race joined me on the bench and comforted me, not knowing what was going on. Can you imagine? She was the here and now. She was the present. She was the now moment that intersected eternity. And, strangely, that was enough.

 

 

The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

That Silent Saturday

In Christianity, there’s not really even a name for that Saturday. No one seems to know what to do with the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is such an awful, awkward, painful day.

I’ve heard it called Holy Saturday, but not much. Even the Bible doesn’t have much to say about that day. Matthew’s gospel has Pilate demanding that the tomb be sealed and guards watch it around the clock, just in case someone tries to steal the body. All the other gospels are silent on the topic.

The torture of the agony of Friday ending in death’s finality. The tears, the earthquake, the ripping of the heavens, life over as they knew it. Hopes and dreams crushed. And, then, can you imagine? Saturday happens and it is just silent. God is silent. Time, I imagine, agonizingly slow. There are no answers, no revelations, no angels. Just nothing.

What I want to say today is this, don’t gloss over that horrible Saturday while you are getting ready for Easter. Don’t use it as only a day of gathering Easter supplies and food for tomorrow. Don’t just use it to pull together your Easter fashion ensemble.

Stay in it. Pray through it. Try to feel it because the Silent Saturday is as much a part of the Christian faith as all our other milestone days. In fact, I believe most of our Christian life is lived in the silent, awkward Saturday seasons.

Like when death has been pronounced and the body taken away; or when the divorce papers are signed and submitted; when the diagnosis comes and you have no clue how it will unfold. Hospital waiting room moments or right after you hear them say that you are no longer employed. Our faith lives are full of silent Saturdays.

What we do in the silent, painful, awful moments of life is as important as what we do on Easter.  Actually, maybe how we handle Saturday matters more than how we do when the angel assures us that “He is not here. He has risen just as he said” Matthew 28:6

This awkward, awful, no name, no information Saturday has something to teach us about life and faith. Stay in it and learn.