On Glory

Acts 16:16-34 | Psalm 97 | Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 | John 17:20-26

Wednesday morning chapel is now one of the highlights of my week during the school year. Looking out into the sea of about 60 bright eyed children and the dedicated, nurturing teachers, I hope that what I say in the few moments of my homily will plant a seed of God’s whole and everlasting love in them. I hope they have something to take away with them because I won’t always be there to remind them that they are beloved children of God, and I know that they are growing up in a world of pain and suffering.

Isn’t that typical of a good mother? To want to protect her children?

And there are lots of children to be protected.

The little second-grade boy who, while we were standing in the lunch line, told me his mom was in jail, and the boy behind him who told me he was about to get out of DHS.

The 13-year-old girl who tried to commit suicide.

The 17-year-old transgendered child kicked out of the house.

The 25-year-old busted for meth, though he’s been using since he was 14.

The 35-year-old refugee whose spouse died, leaving him with the toddler and no home.

The 45-year-old single mom who went in for a routine mammogram and ended up with a same-day biopsy.

The 59-year-old who learns about her biological parents and siblings for the first time.

The 64-year-old who hears the confession and remorse of her molester who is dying and thinks she is someone else.

The 80-something-year-old who loses mobility, not just outside the home but within the house, too.

And the 98-year-old who grimaces with pain and fear of the unknown.

These—all of these—are children, precious babies who are in the midst of suffering. Mamas who care want to eliminate the pain.

How many of you have heard or said, “Honey, if I could take away your pain, I would”? How many of you have actually crossed hell and high water to do so, or at least to try?

Glennon Doyle Melton spoke at Trinity Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, wrapping up the Insights lecture series. She’s acclaimed for writing her truth on her blog Momastery.com.

In her writing, she shares the truth she knows as a wife, mother, recovering addict, and lover of Jesus, and people have discovered that her speaking matches her writing. The cathedral was literally full of giddy women, excited to hear her in person. She shared her stories and how they intersected with other women’s stories, usually meeting at that important point of vulnerability.

One woman told her what a failure she thought herself as a mother because her son was in the throws of addiction, of pain. Glennon, in the crazy-wise way she has, basically said to the woman, “Oh, honey, I hear you. I heard you say you’re a failure. So what is it that you think a mother does? What’s your job description?”

And the woman says, “Well, to protect my child, to keep him from getting hurt.”

“Mmm-hmmm, and what are your hopes for your child?” Glennon asks.

“That he grows into a strong, resilient, confident man,” the mother says.

“And how do we become strong and resilient?” Glennon asks.

The dawn of realization can be awesomely beautiful and painfully brutal, like life itself, which is why Glennon coined the term brutiful. The brutiful truth, they tearfully acknowledged, is that we go through suffering and emerge stronger than we were before, resilient in an enduring sort of way, and confident of our place in this brutiful life.

Maybe a more realistic job description for mothers is to love and sustain life, life that is given to us. All life originates in God, and we are given the care of life in this world. We just have to make it through the suffering parts. Just.

God knows we need help.

So the Son of God comes and lives among us. Jesus goes to the sick and the suffering or they come to him, and he heals them. Their pain is taken away. It seems miraculous and magical and transactional, but really it’s transformational. When it happens so quickly, it’s hard to distinguish, except that for the healed persons, their life is forever changed in a way only they and God know. They’ve not just been physically healed by God; they’ve been restored to wholeness, their full glory.

Do we even know what that means?

Glory?

Because it caused me pause.

I had to stop and realize that I didn’t really know what Jesus meant when he said to God that he wanted us to be with him, to see his glory, the glory given to him because God loved him before the foundation of the world. It sounds great. It resonates within me but doesn’t register consciously in my brain.

So I looked at different definitions of “glory” and how we use it in our liturgy (because we use it a lot). We have our doxology: “Glory to God in the highest,” we sing. We partner glory and honor because it can mean high regard and esteem, and we do hold God in the highest regard, so we use glory because it’s the best we can do with our finite language.

But what about this glory that’s given to Jesus by God? The glory restored in those who are healed? Wouldn’t you know that I opened my e-mail Friday morning to the daily message from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, and in the little preview line on my phone, their word for the day in bold was GLORY.

I gasped out loud because I had seriously been wondering about glory. (Y’all, when we seriously wonder in the presence of God, we need to keep our eyes and ears open because we’re going to run smack dab into it.) Brother Curtis told me—because I know he was just speaking to me (let alone the thousands others who read these things)—

“Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and love. It’s to draw from the deepest waters of life, how the psalmist prays: ‘For you are the well of life, and in your light we see light.’ The Gospel writers speak of glory as if someone were simply luminous, irradiated with God’s light and life and love.”

That’s the understanding of glory that resonates within me so deeply that it strikes the chord of Truth and sends chills up my spine.

Jesus, Son of God, perfectly shone forth in glory, though he was disguised to those who did not believe. It looks like he healed by flicking a switch, but it was the power of recognition that transformed lives. Letting ourselves see Jesus in full glory and doing the even harder thing of recognizing the glory within us changes things. That glory of light and life and love is already in us, being as we are, created in God’s image, but our glory gets buried under layers upon layers of stuff we accumulate throughout life. To let that light and life and love break through is going to hurt, and often it’s going to hurt badly.

Our God knows this too, and I imagine God saying, “Son, go and show my children—your brothers and sisters—go show them Truth. You go and live out your life revealing our glory, and there are those who will recognize us. You’re going to go through the suffering of them all, for them all, to show them the way back to me. You’re going to die, but you’ll go back to them after three days to show them Life and Love and Light fully revealed. You’re going to be among them in your fullness of Glory, and you’re going to tell them that you will be with them forever. And then you’re going to return to Me, and we will abide and welcome all the children as they come to us.”

Jesus knew this to be true and lives out his brutiful life even through death.

Now we are in the season where Jesus has ascended and is gone again, even though he said he’d be with us always, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

But Jesus said those things about being one with the Father and with us. He said that thing about giving us the glory that he had been given. He said that thing about love being most important, and he did that thing about redeeming all suffering.

So what are we left to do?

Maybe instead of thinking about being a perfect mom or dad, friend or relative, husband or wife… Maybe instead we should ask ourselves:

What is my role as a child of God?

What is my responsibility to the One who gives me life and light and love?

Our responsibility might look more like a challenge, for we are to grow into our God-given glory and show God’s glory to the world as best we can. We already have the glory dwelling within us. It’s our work—even through suffering and death—to grow into that glory.

We do this through grace and steadfast faith, hope, and love and whatever other gifts we are given. We study the Scripture and the lives of those in our tradition that teach us how to grow toward God. We spend our entire lives as children reaching toward our beloved parent. If we choose to grow into God’s glory, we can’t help but radiate with glory, revealing it to the world around us. We might even realize that every bit of everything is all One in God.

Recognizing our glory and seeing God’s glory in others, even if they don’t see it themselves, changes us, changes our worldview.

We come closer to seeing ourselves and those around us as I imagine God sees us,

with whole and everlasting love. So when I look out at the sea of faces, be they the children in chapel or yours here today, I know I don’t have to protect you or give any of you what’s not mine to give. My responsibility and privilege is to love you, be with you, and to share in the hope of our wholeness in God in every way I can. God’s already given you the glory, already planted that seed.

I see it in you.

I hope you see it, too.

 

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#makingmemories

It’s not a #momfail, I told myself.

Checking Facebook to see what’s trending, to make sure I’m not missing some major world event, I realize that my feed is full of pictures of my friends’ kids . . . kids on their first day of school. Hey, it’s the first day of school for my kids, too, I thought.

But I forgot to take a picture.

We can’t re-wind our way to the morning to re-capture the moment. It was great to see our kids come into the kitchen to eat the potato cakes their dad had made the night before just so the morning would not be so chaotic. We actually sat down for a few moments at the table, the four of us.

We are still in the midst of transition, and routine will surely find us, however hectic it might be. New town, new church, new school, new family structure (with big kids in a different town at a familiar school). We are finding our way, but there will be some moments that come and go without finding their way onto social media or into our camera roll.

I tell my kids we’re “making memories” when we are doing something that they’re not particularly fond of, like hiking through a rainstorm or taking a bumpy ride in a crowded van. We are, indeed, making many memories these days, but to make a memory, you have to fully notice the moment–touch, taste, smell, and see it as much as possible. For me, that’s going to mean more often than not that I don’t have a camera or phone in hand. It means that I’m going to be laughing, crying, moving, being in the moment. It also means that I’m going to look back on it an hour, days or years later and smile because I was so full of life and love, even if it was painful.

We said we would take a 2nd day of school picture but forgot that, too. The morning and afternoon drop-offs are stressful right now, to say the least. So for all the parents and friends who managed to remember the photos, you are awesome. Please keep sharing. For those of us who didn’t, we didn’t fail, even if we feel like we missed an opportunity. We’re making memories, after all, and those memories usually come with any number of stories to share later.

Keep making memories.

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Something Funny

Maybe not funny “ha-ha,” but funny nonetheless.

Since we are waiting for the majority of our belongings to catch up with us, we’ve been spending a good deal of time visiting the surrounding area and going out to eat.  With hubby away, I took the kids (all of them!) to Chattanooga for school supplies and some home necessities.  As a surprise I decided to take them to a movie.  (We all enjoyed Brave.)

I didn’t know two things:

1.  You pass through Georgia to get to Chattanooga from Sewanee.

2.  Chattanooga is on Eastern Time.

Fortunately, I have a smart phone by which I keep track of the time, and apparently it can also keep up with which time zone I’m in.  (Honestly, it didn’t seem like we were in Target for three hours!)  I noticed that our van was an hour behind, but I just figured it was a glitch and had missed an hour; maybe the battery had died at some point.  It wasn’t until we were driving back and saw the sign saying we were entering CST that I realized we had spent the afternoon in another zone.

Meh.  I was on kid-time, yet we were on time for the movie (thanks to the phone).  I was rather surprised at my not-knowing and how little difference it made for the day.

I’ll enjoy the summer time while it lasts.

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A Hallowed Walk

Wheels set in motion.  Gears turning.  In the midst of transition, whether beginning, middle, or end, it can be difficult to discern whether one is on the up-side or down.

Life is so good.  I am so blessed, and I was especially reminded of this last night.

A dear friend cannot resist the pull to this sacred holiday.  Tradition and genetics pull strongly and, in this case, to our advantage.  A festive home, wonderful and generous people, and nearly a dozen giddy children a great Halloween party make!

I realized after the third house that the older children weren’t going to listen to me, so I kept close watch on the youngest, my flower peddler turned living dead.  (She had to paint her face!)  It really was fascinating, watching the kids run, propelled by excitement and anticipation.  I don’t recall one of them mentioning the darkness or a fear thereof.  They were safe on this night to wander the streets . . . at least in their minds, I suppose.

Inevitably, my five-year-old’s legs grew tired, her bag (a.k.a. pillowcase) heavy.  She was ready to go back to the house, even as the rest of the gang rushed to the next porch light.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “Uh-huh.”  I didn’t question much more, knowing a warm house, delicious food, and a patient daddy awaited.

Walking back, her warm little hand in  mind, I remembered what she had said earlier, running ahead of me.  “This is my favorite part!” Pure joy glowed in those words, and her little boots swiftly ran through the darkness.  At a slower pace now, we retraced our steps, and she talked with me.

Being away from home in these tender ages, I miss this most: being ever-present to the wisdom of the child.

She spoke of much in her oh-so-mature manner, and at one point she said, “Mom, do you really think God is in everything?”  I heard her doubt.  I heard questioning.  I either felt or heard a sadness.  In a body so small came this enormous question, and I lacked the theological knowledge to answer it accurately.  So I did the best I could and answered from my heart.  I didn’t want to appear dismissive, and it’s not a simple question.  She was serious, so I must be.  One of her dear friends doesn’t think God is in everything, she told me, and therein I discovered the stimulus for the conversation.  “That’s okay,” I told her.  So long as we love one another, we are doing the best we can.

We walked in silence a bit and gave our flashlight to another family that was walking without a light of any kind.  They seemed disbelieving for a moment after I offered it to them, but I assured them we were almost home, and it really was very dark in places.  They took it gratefully.  My daughter asked if I thought they would give it back.  I told her they didn’t need to.

Almost to the house, she said, “I love the up and down parts,” referring to the slope from the sidewalk to the driveways and back to the sidewalk.  “Up and downs, huh?” I smiled.  Such is life.

“What’s making that orange light?” she asked.  “The lights on the house, honey.”  “No, over there.  On the cars.”  “Someone locking their car.”  “Are you sure?” Such search for certainty.  “Yes,” I assured her confidently, seeing the car lights and the owner.  So often we lack concrete affirmation, proof for our statements or beliefs.  

Teachable moments, all of them, but I don’t know who is the student and who is the teacher.  I am still learning.

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Beautiful Mother

I dare not claim to be a beautiful mother . . . at least not 100%.  Unless, of course, to be fully beautiful also includes imperfection, insanity, and irritability.

I have old blog posts printed for my review.  I still plan to assemble them, compile them into a book.  I’d like to gift this book mainly to my mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and mother-friends.  Reading through some of the posts, I realize that my stories revolve around my experiences as a mother.  There are also essays on just being a woman in process (and I have to strike out the word “just” because removing this diminutive word from my vocabulary hasn’t happened yet.

As I’ve grown deeper into my calling in this life, I’ve realized it is my call to be a Mother.  Lord willing and community verifying, I’ll go to seminary and eventually become an ordained priest, a Mother in the church.  I already have four children.  I am and always will be a mother.  In the future, my family will grow a bit, include others for whom I am not biologically responsible but spiritually accountable.

My journey continues.

This is no easy thing, this life.  I know.  It’s not easy to be a mother in any way, shape, or form. It’s not easy being married, being a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend.  Oh, it could be a lot easier . . . if I didn’t care, if I thought only of myself, if I didn’t take others’ well-being into consideration.  But that’s not who I am.

Perhaps that’s the most beautiful thing about mothers.  They are women in community.  They care and love not only others but themselves, too.  They know the importance of respect and value deeply the child in everyone.  Their arms are open to receive, and their eyes are quick to reach the soul and convey their own.  A mother’s body has been broken in labor; if not in physical labor, her heart has surrendered at least once.  A mother knows what it is to lose herself.  A beautiful mother knows what it is to be resurrected by a power greater than she.  This knowledge is what can carry us over the gulfs of despair, heartbreak, and anger.  Wounded, scarred, and well-cushioned, we carry on, with love, with light, and with a song, whether we know it or not.

We all need a mother in our life, preferably more than one!  We need someone older to love, guide, and assure us.  We need someone our age to be a mirror.  We need someone younger to show us how far we’ve come by telling them (and teaching them) our stories.  The larger the community, the greater the net to catch us when we slip . . . unless, of course, you’re perfect.

So my book may be Beautiful Mother, dedicated to all the beautiful mothers I’ve been blessed with.  It will be about the beautiful mother I am, that I hope to be.  It will illustrate that being beautiful does not imply perfection but quite the opposite.  It will be about me . . . and you.  Yes, you.

O God, giver of life and light, may you bless us all with your creativity.  Bless our lives and our works.  Protect us.  Guide us.  Lead us to your will, that we may glorify You in all we do and in all we are.  Amen.

 

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Begin Again

The air turns and with it the energy coursing through my being.  On cue with the holiday weekend, a fresh wind arrived.  Hello.  Work a while.  Rest deeply.  Wake up.  Begin again.

As a fall child, it’s nearly my season.  While the earth begins to retreat, surrendering to winter’s death, my soul awakes to a time of reflection and assessment.  I’m probably better at fall cleaning than spring cleaning.

I’m in process right now.  In the process of raising kids and paying off debt.  In the process of determining my chosen career path.  In the process always of living into the person who will most please God, like the good child that I am.

My husband asked, “What if my purpose is to raise four extraordinary kids?” Is it bad or wrong just to make the money to pay for their activities, to pay off the debt so we can afford their education?  That sounds okay to me, so long as he has no residual regrets, no deeper inner longing to do/be something/someone else.  There are the hobbies that fill the time with nurturing intellect, adventure, appetite, and curiosity, too. No dull moment would be had.

What if my purpose is to go into a field that broadens my concept of family?  My toughest training ground is my immediate family and debt.  We are growing, and we are working through this.  Our kids are truly amazing, and I look forward to seeing all that they will accomplish in this life, what they bring and will bring to those fortunate to be around them.  (May the kids be ever-blessed.)

I am and ever will be a mother, and if so-called, I will do my best to serve as a mother in the Church.

As I clear the calendar to reflect what is most important, I see the days and evening still full.  As I clean the house, taking out the excess, I realize we still have abundance though the flow is more tranquil.

The work continues, and I’m sure it will every day I draw breath.  WIth guidance, strength, and perseverance, may we journey on.  May our work be good and our days and nights blessed.

 

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Bedside Manner

At the day’s end, when I’m most exhausted, our youngest still makes sure that I come to tuck her into bed.  As parents, this is something my husband and I have always been pretty good about.  No matter how the day has gone, we make sure the last thing the kids hear before they slip into slumber is some variation of “Good-night-sweet-dreams-I-love-you.”

The act of getting on my knees beside her trundle bed reminds me that it’s time to be here, now; it pulls me into the present.  Perhaps knowing that she’s about to be my sole focus, that she’s about to have my utmost attention, is what brings her to bed so giddily.  She is usually very excited and giggily, or, if truly tired, she snuggles into her pillows and covers with deliberate intention, placing her hands together methodically and tucking them beneath her sweet, plump cheek before closing her eyes.

Sometimes she beats me to it.

“I love you, Mommy.”

Are there sweeter words?  They’re like balm to my maternal soul that has been battered and wounded.  All is well.

“I love you, too, Precious,” I reply, knowing that attachment is a dangerous thing, but the Lord of the Rings reference has become a running joke around here.  She is, after all, very “precious to me,” precious to us.

Sometimes I linger a while, resting my head beside hers.  Eyes closed, I listen for her breath to slow, to deepen.  With older sister in the bed slightly above, I’ll send my love to her again, too — out oud if she’s awake, intentionally if she’s not.  I settle into this supplication of devotion.  It’s not a comfortable position, mind you.  Circulation gets cut off at one limb or another, but I stay.

My hope is, of course, that the children will remember we tried to send them to bed with our love, even on nights when we kept them out or up too late and when they had long since fallen asleep.  When they’re too big to carry, we sleep-walk them, guiding them in the right direction.  (“Honey, your bed’s this way.”)  Sometimes they need literally to be steered.

Every child wants his/her parent’s or guardian’s attention.  We all want an outward and visible sign of the love that is either said too much or not enough.  I suppose the nightly ritual we have going is like our parental sacrament.  If the kids could experience this paternal love and affection as an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace of God, then it would be, indeed — at least for us.  I’m okay with that.  It replaces the worldly attachment with a greater Love, one eternal and truly unconditional.  It’s not my aspiration to make every evening sacred.  It just is when it is (which is probably always), and some nights I’m more aware of it than others (and not nearly as often as I’d like).

Maybe I should start my days on my knees or on my meditation cushion, giving thanks for all that is and for the potential that is yet to be.

+ + +

This meditation led me to  my Lenten practice of extending my maternal blessing to my children, morning and evening.  I don’t always get to touch their foreheads, but even saying “bless you” or “blessings to you” somehow carries with it more deliberate Love than our vernacular “love you!”  I’m working on it.  As I said, it’s a practice.

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What Mary Knew

Of the four children smacking their cocoa-sweet lips and held captive by The Polar Express, one has a birthday this week, two days before Christmas.  Ten years ago I was 40 weeks pregnant, great with child.  But it wasn’t my first.  I had my support in place.  Preparations had been made.  I knew what to expect, more or less.

In this fourth week of Advent, I love that we light a pink candle to honor Mary.  I love remembering that she surrendered to something greater than herself, that she humbled herself to be a servant.  She didn’t know . . . she couldn’t know what was in store.

Every time I picture Mary or try to work with any kind of visualization or exercise of lectio divina, I have a sense of what Mary might have known.

Surrender.

What was happening was beyond her control.  It wasn’t just about Mary the innocent young woman suddenly expecting child.  As with every mother bearing child, from the moment the baby is conceived and grows, the mother can only do her best to keep healthy.  The formation of the child is left to genetics and the miracle of life.  A mother-to-be can seek the wisdom and comfort of other women to learn all that she can, but when it comes time to birth, there is no bringing forth of life without letting go of one’s identity.  Virgin Mary to Holy Mother of Jesus.  Can you imagine what Mary experienced alone in that stable?  Do you think she found in herself the capacity to pity poor Joseph standing helplessly by?  Could there have been a woman from the Inn who had mercy?  Such details are left unaccounted.

Next thing we know is that there’s a baby in a manger.  Mary has a child, a dependent.  This child’s existence depends upon her care and attention.  She knows this.  With her surrender, though, she knows this child she cares for is not hers alone.  She cares for this precious child not only as her own but as one of God’s . . . as God.  Did she know this?

Could she truly sense this from the beginning?  Could she know the heartache that would come?

From the very beginning, this would be beyond her comprehension.  She might never fully understand.  She could only do her best to do what was required of her in every moment.  She would live fully into each moment, keeping her heart as open as possible to live into the will of God.  This would be the best she could do.  It’s the best any of us can do.

Oh, that I have the humility to live into every moment with awareness and true surrender.  May I raise my children so that they will grow into the beings they are meant to be, not what or how I want them to be.  May I have the strength to be a mother of strength, love, and acceptance.

My children are blessings to me.  I am surrounded by abundance, and I understand this mother role . . . more or less.

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“Are You My Mutter?”

So said the sweet voice of our youngest, sitting in the chair, “reading” Are You My Mother? to a doll.

The night before, a storm rolled in, and I declared electronics off.  (Lightning is as good an excuse as any, right?)  With a desire to read of my own, I also declared it family reading night.  Within a few minutes, kids ready for bed brought their books, blankets, and reading logs into the living room.  A 12-year-old with a temper got the consequence of reading aloud to her non-reading, four-year-old sister.

We sat together for an hour, reading on our own.  Granted, it wasn’t necessarily quiet.  The soon-to-be first grader could be heard reading aloud for a bit, and the oldest decided to stay in the living room with the rest of us.  Heaven forbid she go alone with her little sister to the dark bedroom while the thunder rumbled!  Childhood fears are fears nonetheless, so I let them stay without saying anything.

And it was lovely.

At the end of the hour, it was time for bed.  I wasn’t finished reading, but kids were drifting to sleep or yawning loudly.  We tucked them in and kept the house quiet.  The storm had already passed.

While washing dishes the next morning, I heard the young one “reading” to her doll, turning through the pages as knowingly as her big sister.  I smiled.

What do we call positive consequences?  Rewards.  I love how that works.

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Good Morning, Sunshine!

In my childhood bedroom, my twin bed was directly across the east-facing window.  The early morning sun would creep through the blinds, and I couldn’t help but smile — mainly on those lazy days when I didn’t have to go to school or rush off somewhere.

I am not a morning person usually.  I long to be.  I consider it a character flaw that I can sleep until 9:00, even with four kids.  I can stay up all night when duty calls, but I’ll sleep much of the next day.  I love a nice nap.  I love my sleep.

But some days, I wake up before everyone else.  I move in the still silence of early morn, write, make a cup of coffee, and abide in the freshness of the day.

That didn’t happen today, but I did make myself get out of bed before 9:00, get my shower and go outside to water the thirsty plants.  These hot ruthless days and teasing thunderstorms that don’t wet much aren’t doing the plants — or me — any favors.  I bless my day with at least a bit of productivity.  I tend to the living things (you know, the plants and flowers, cat, dog, kids, etc.) to make sure we’ll all be okay.  I get rewarded with growth, purrs, smiles over mouthfuls of homemade granola cereal, and the kiss of sunshine glistening off the green foliage.  Or was that a hint of aura I saw?

And I smile again remembering how my mom in her sleepy morning voice would come beaming into my room, “Good morning, Sunshine!”  On occasion, I get to pass along that morning delight to my daughters, to whom I’ve also passed along my character flaw.

Maybe if I focus on these morning delights, I’ll get out of bed a little earlier.  Here’s to hoping!

photo: everystockphoto.com by Randy Son of Robert; my garden roses are much more, well, not as elegant as this.  🙂

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