Category Archives: Family

My Ebenezer…

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Ebenezer is: Rock or stone of help. Famous bearer: the Old Testament Samuel gave the name Ebenezer to a stone set up in recognition of God’s assistance in defeating the Philistines.

Today we were given this Ebenezer, a very heavy exact replica of a huge look alike on the property of Neighborhood Ministries. The Ebeneezer on the property holds the prayers of children. Kids like those who will converge on the property tomorrow for Kid’s Club, 500 plus a hundred leaders. The stones there are the prayers, hopes, dreams, and unnamed pain and violence of their stories. It is a beginning for them, a naming. Even this small private act gives courage to name these raw things to a person. And we know that the words written on those rocks have been heard by “El Shama“, the God who hears.

But these rocks today were placed one by one by hands dear to us. This was our goodbye. Written on the rocks were words representing a prayer for us. Courage. Risk. Adventure. As each person passed by, they placed a stone. Before it was placed, there were long hugs, many tears, eyes locked in raw seeing.

Here in the desert, in this often overlooked part of Phoenix, we have shared life together. Overlapping three generations now, these thirty years. Neighborhood started as a simple act, really. What if one group of people committed to one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix, for the long haul? We were assigned to this fledgling ragtag group to “grow up” a little. True story.

Today looks a lot like family. Bio family was there, surrounding our boys with tears. Today is Father’s Day, often a day of pain for me. Family can be messy, and this group of people is raw and real. None of the in-the-box church here.

And so I am grateful. Grateful for words spoken, and for those left unsaid. Grateful for rocks held in hands full of love. Grateful that we can carry them with us on the road to Oregon.

I talked with my kids later about why Kit used the word Ebenezer. We had heard that word sung in an old song Come Thou Fount today, a change from the vibrant Spanish melodies.

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

My daughter recognized it, and sang thT verse. Then she sang another line and it sounded a bit different than the one I heard in my growing up years.

And my heart says yes. Yes, to the God who Hears. Yes, to the God who Heals. Yes, to the God who goes before and behind. Yes. May it be so.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and heal it

Heal it for Thy Home above.

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Letting go

This place has sheltered us for 24 years. We entered it as young parents, with a toddler. Our ideas of parenthood and life were clear and strong. We were leaders, planting in the inner city. Everything was in a neat box, tied with a bow.

And so this has been in place of learning, and of letting go. The process of unraveling has occurred here. Much pain has been revealed. There has been an invitation to continue to live into the space. To continue to live into the stories of our growing up years, and the growing up happening right in our house. That is a painful road.

It has been a place of joy. Countless birthday parties, Easter egg painting, games of “ha!”, and cooking experiments galore. Five of our kids have grown up here largely. They are desert kids. We have learned how to blend of family. We have learned to love here.

And so the invitation comes to step out. We say and we hope that we will be back to this desert, to this city, full of people we love. But much is unknown.

What is known is that someone steps out with us. And in that knowledge, into the swirling mist we go. But we do not go alone.

And so far this place, we ask that it would be found by someone who would need a space of refuge. A place to call home. A place for the heart. Perhaps, in it’s very walls, lies the courage and the invitation to go farther in and farther up.

May it be so.

The Lenten Writings: remember

God of peace,

God of justice,

God of freedom,

We give you thanks for your cadences of peace, justice, and freedom,

Cadences that have surged through the lives

Of Martin,

And Ralph

And Rosa,

And John,

And Fred,

And Hosea,

And Jesse,

And Andy,

And all that nameless mass of risk-takers who have been

Obedient to your promises

And susceptible to your dreams.

Deliver us from amnesia

Concerning their courage in the face of violence,

Their peace-making against hate,

And their hunger for you in a devouring economy

Deliver us from amnesia:

Turn our memory into hope,

Turn our gratitude into energy,

Turn our well-being into impatience.

That these same cadences of your will may pulse even among us.

Amen

Source: “Deliver us from amnesia”, from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003.

The Lenten Writings: Compassion

Compassionate God,

your generous presence

is always attuned to hurting ones. Your listening ear is bent

toward the cries of the wounded

Your heart of love

fills with tears for the suffering.

Turn my inward eye to see that I am not alone.

I am a part of all of life.

Each one’s joy and sorrow is my joy and sorrow,

and mine is theirs. May I draw strength

from this inner communion. May it daily recommit me

to be a compassionate presence for all who struggle with life’s pain.

Source: “The Heart of Compassion” from Your Sorrow is My Sorrow, by Joyce Rupp. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Co., 1999.

The Lenten Writings: the gift of resistance

Transfiguration

And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, and they Were talking to Jesus.”–Mark 9:2

They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms there were luciform,

How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice coursing the skin

And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection, the vibrance of light.

And they were talking about the complexities of blood and lymph,

Each component crowding the vessels, the body and the antibody,

And they were talking about the lamp burning in the skull’s niche,

The eyes drinking light from within and light from without,

And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density and darkness

And was hard to talk about.

Before and after were easier.

They talked about light.

They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving should be

Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing with dew –

A rain that passes through the spider web and penetrates the dirt clod

Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking clothes,

Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink and finding every hair’s root on the scalp.

And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd and watched them

Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster, scarier.

And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be punished, Including the best.

And no one was exempt, as they explained it,

Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who loved him.

I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant companions,

And I want to believe he said too much was being asked and too much promised.

I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes of his friends,

The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them, because he loved them

And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were going to suffer.

I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he appeared glorified,

Because he could not reconcile the contradictions and suspected

That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort of the lost.

I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want to believe

He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,

And they talked.

Source: “Transfigured” by Mark Jarman, from Praying the Gospels through Poetry Lent to Easter, by Peggy Rosenthal, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2001.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries

I remember, early in our journey of foster care, the school director made a side remark: “Sometimes love is not enough.” I was taken aback at her “rude” comment; so different from all those who said we were doing such a wonderful thing. The reality is, 10+ years in, I trust her words much more. The platitudes are long gone along with that initial wave of well wishers. The director remains a wise voice in my ear, here for the long journey.

And daily, we choose love. Love for the children, for the bio family, for the community, even for the forces that shaped them. It is a bold YES.

I read this poem through several times. It really turns the story on its head!

Lent is like that. We want to fast forward to the end of the story, the resurrection that we know is coming because we peeked at the last chapter. But Lent says no, read the whole story.

This idea of transfiguration as the resistance of love…

I wonder if there was a time that Jesus realized love was not enough? Sounds sacrilegious, almost, doesn’t it?

Love wasn’t going to shortcut the story. It couldn’t protect those He loved from pain.

And yet, it is enough; it’s a both/and. It is enough for today.

And they talked.

The Lenten Writings:  the long road

We are sitting with Desmond Tutu in the Mystic Activists this month.  His writings are mentoring us as we wrestle with the tough questions of reconciliation and forgiveness.  I find my heart stirring anew as I listen to this deeply humble man who lives what he speaks and writes.  

As the archbishop of the Anglican church in South Africa, Desmond Tutu chaired the truth and reconciliation commission, at the request of newly elected Nelson Mandela. This was a major change from how war crimes had been handled since World War II.  It allowed victims to tell their stories.  It invited perpetrators to tell their stories.  Truth is the only starting point to true reconciliation. 

Desmond Tutu says, “The problem with letting bygones be bygones is that they dont stay bygones.  They will return to haunt you…Forgive and forget says….What happened in your case either didn’t happen or it doesn’t matter” (D.T. On forgiveness)

It has been my experience that the road to healing is the road back.  Far from keeping me stuck in the past, it frees me more and more to live boldly today.  But deep courage is required to know, really know, my story.  It is only from that place of knowing that true forgiveness, or release from my right to revenge, can occur.  Its not a one time deal.  Thats why it is called the work of forgiveness.  

I wonder, where is the invitation for you today? I am wrestling it another layer deeper.  Because it matters.  

There can be no true reconciliation without it.  And we are desperately needing that in our community.  But even if reconciliation is not possible, if both sides are not willing to enter this work; it matters.  

It matters for my heart to be free.  

The Advent Writings: love and respect 

When you think about starting out a new relationship, Mary and Joseph sure got thrown in the deep end! 

Strict dating rules, a betrothal, a long distance relationship without cell phone service, a sudden return, scandal and gossip, breaking up, and a nighttime angelic visitor. What a beginning! 

And that doesn’t count a donkey ride in the middle of prodromal labor! Seriously?! Not one of my midwifery clients would sign up for that. 

I love how the Nativity movie portrays the growing love and respect between this young couple. It is inviting to consider this home that Jesus  grew up in. They needed that foundation! They were about to become immigrants, and just have each other;  perhaps in a land that did not want them.  Not so different from our precious immigrant families I get to do life with. 

This is a hard season for us in many ways. The holidays, always; my father-in-law died our first Christmas as a young couple. But this year has been a hard season on so many levels. 

I am so grateful for the love and respect in our marriage and home, which undergirds this unknown path. This young couple, married 29 years last August, got thrown in the deep end too. 

This Advent, may there be space to remember the journey. Theirs and ours….

Of turkeys and tables

I wonder what aromas swirled around your thanksgiving table today? The smells of turkey mixed with the spicy scent of pie, sharp olives and sweet sticky buns. Smells anchor memories, and foods evoke the ghosts of Thanksgiving past. Perhaps there is pain in the remembering. 

Talk swirls around the table too. Some families have gratitude rituals, drawing children and grown ups alike into the invitation to remember the year. Tears and laughter mixed today at our table as we recounted stories. Grief and joy can walk hand in hand in those sacred moments when time stands still. 

This is a liminal space for us as a country. The time between, not knowing what is ahead. For our immigrant brothers and sisters, who represent our ancestors too unless we are Native American, there is fear. 

Jesus came to the table too. He shared feasts and ritual with his family of choice. He invited others to the table. The stranger, the man who ripped people off, the woman from the other side of the border, the prostitute caught in the act. A shocking guest list, in a place marked by doing the meals right. 

I wonder who the Church invites to the table? In this space between, I invite you to wrestle with that question.  Don’t make the guest list too short. The widow, the orphan, the stranger in the land. The one who weeps, the one who dreams, the one outside your comfort zone. 

Listen to the stories as you go around the circle. 

And give thanks. 

Not acting

“Acting is fun. Some people act at life; but life is not an act. You have to show up real.”

My kid quote of the week. How many grownups know this? 

I acted in my first play in high school, my junior year, age 15.  I think it was maybe seven brides and seven brothers;  but I have a few high school people who would know. Anyway, I remember we were supposed to dance… only it was a Christian school. So they called it choreography and it was OK. I loved the swirling skirts. 

I loved acting. I loved the dressing up. I was really shy, and it gave me an opportunity to be someone else. But in real life, that was already a skill that was well honed.

In a “Ministry” household, we learned young to always be perfect. I know this pressure is common to all preachers kids and missionary kids (pk’s and mk’s).  Some respond like I did, and learn to be very very good. Some go the other way. 

In my house, there was another layer to it. What was shown publicly was not real life at our home. There were so many layers of contradictions, and hiddenness. It has taken decades, and lots of counseling, to begin to make sense of that.

And so I learned young to change my face. I actually remember one instance in particular:  a finger snap when I was crying, and immediately holding out my hand and putting a smile on my face to shake hands with the parishioners.  We extended “the right hand of fellowship.”
Old habits die hard. I am learning to show up real. That life is not an act. Sometimes there are situations that I don’t place myself in; so that I don’t default back. One step at a time, God is redeeming my story. 

I invite women to show up real. In groups, with my midwifery clients, with my kids. We use art, role-play, exercises, and sometimes a talking rock. I invite story. Because life is not an act.

You have to show up real. 

Precious Lord

I woke up with these lyrics woven vividly into a dream acompanied by the music itself:

Precious Lord, take my handLead me on, let me stand

I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn. 

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. 

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near

When my light is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. (Thomas A Dorsey)

I did some reading about the origin of this song today. The author was leading music when he received a telegram saying that his wife had died in childbirth. A week later, the baby died as well. Somewhere in the journey of his despair he sat at a piano and this heart cry poured out.

I also learned,  curiously, that Elvis made this song famous and also Mahalia Jackson. This was not something I knew as those singers were banned in my Baptist upbringing. When I hear this song I hear it in my grandmothers voice. 

My grandma was the song leader at Aurelius Road Church, in the Lansing/Holt area. She had a deep voice, unusual for a woman. As the story grows, or goes, she wore a peacock feather in her hat.  She was single in a day that was rare. She owned her own gift and Bible bookstore, and had a dry cleaning business. She had her secrets, which died with her.

I know that for me, as a child, my grandmother provided moments of safety. I had named her Meemie, early on. Supposedly, this was my childhood attempt to say pennies, and she always brought me plenty of those. So I would look at her purse In her photograph and say Meemie’s. (I will let you draw from that what you want to; it is not the point of the story). 

Meemie would come to see us on a big airplane, her floral suitcase bulging and held together with packing tape. When we opened it, it would be full of crackerjack prizes. No one ever pointed out where all those boxes of crackerjacks must’ve gone.

 I would lean my head against her fur collar as we came home from the airport,  trying to avoid the scratchy wool coat. It was cold, and it smelled like mothballs. I remember going to sleep with her sitting by my bed and singing the old songs, one after the other.

I felt safe those nights, and I think they were held safe by her presence. She represented moments of respite in a very confusing world.  

In later years, the tables turned. She had followed us to Arizona. I stayed to graduate with my class when my family moved to Canada. I was left with the car, weeks away from my 16th birthday. The agreement was that I would visit my grandmother once a week, and put $.10 a mile in a jar. I started out doing it out of compulsion. Very quickly, a deep friendship grew.

I would surprise her with Kentucky fried chicken and Mountain Dew. She would make waffles for dinner, and fill them with every mix in imaginable. I would bring my textbooks and study. And somewhere in the evening I would take out her old hymnal and sing. All the verses, one song after another. She would join in, her voice quivering.

There were many years where it was hard to sing those old songs as I wrestled with the reality of my childhood contradictions and violence. They are being redeemed one by one. The truth contained in the ancient words still calls to my spirit.

I walked the dark street tonight with my pug, singing this song. If the neighbors could hear, they might have wondered. They don’t know that a story continues to be written, co-authored by God. 

It is the story of an old woman and a little girl, a story of music in the night.