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In the Hallway

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“I just want to be a Christian” . . . it’s the refrain of the last few months. Often followed by “Is that a thing?”

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About every third time I voice it, Steven suggests I read CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Apparently, he faced the same perplexing conundrum. According to Steven’s paraphrased synopsis, Lewis concluded that denominations are rooms off the hallway of Christianity and while you can take a breath in the hallway, you can’t live there.

I am currently in the hallway. It’s not that I have become disgruntled with one denomination and enamored with another. I think, if I’m honest–which I strive to be, I’m annoyed with people who claim Christianity in general.

I have found myself over the last year frequently considering what Jesus would think of what we call Christianity today. What would he think of how we use his words as weapons for our own agendas, disregarding any carnage as long as we can say it’s in the Bible.

And one night I found myself posing this question: Even if Jesus was simply a rabbi, a teacher as mortal as me, how would he like what has happened to his words? Being a former teacher, I can relate to the feelings one incurs when what is taught is perverted. Therefore, if I believe Jesus is the Son of God, wholly man and wholly God, how much more should I consider what he thinks about the usage of his teachings?

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When I read the “red letters” I find love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness. Any condemnation is directed at the mistreatment of any person, often that mistreatment couched in the letter of the law. Jesus was a law breaker in that he didn’t allow tradition to keep him from compassion. Some might even say he used common sense. You don’t leave a donkey in a ditch to die, therefore, if you can help your fellow man, you do. Jesus didn’t pal around with perfect people because perfect people don’t exist. He offered grace. He offered love. He offered acceptance. . .all to the outcasts. In doing so, he illustrated that we are all outcasts. And if we think we have to be perfect to deserve love, we never will feel worthy of love–so he showed love to those who had been denied love and acceptance–the lepers, the beggars, the tax collectors, the tent makers, the fishermen, the women.

This is the Christian I want to be. I don’t care if you’re dunked or sprinkled. If your accountability to God includes a priest or doesn’t. If you drink grape juice or wine. If you have music or chants. If you sit in silence or speak in tongues. Or any of the other litany of differences among denominations.

Eventually, I will find myself back in a room. One I probably won’t agree with 100% because churches are great except they have people (as my dad once said).

But what it will have to do is show love and compassion and grace and acceptance for all us outcasts.

A baby changes everything

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Or does it?

I read recently that you shouldn’t try to adjust to the baby’s way of doing things, but to incorporate the baby into the way you do things. I was intrigued, so I read further. The gist is if you like the outdoors, take the baby outside. If you like to antique, take the baby antiquing. If you like to travel, well, you get the idea.

A family adventure on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Obviously, there are limits to these adventures depending on the age and milestones of the baby. But it’s still a totally doable thing. Everyone told us that our lives wouldn’t be the same and we wouldn’t be able to do the same kinds of things we always had.

I had to wonder why? It’s not like we were jet-setting around the world to begin with. However, one of our most favorite things to do is to hop in the car and take off. Most often it’s unplanned, spur of the moment, grab some sandwiches (or stop at the local sub shop) and some waters, and see where we end up. Usually, it’s to the west. Road runs out if we go east. We have found that in the rounding curves and randomly turning left is where we can reconnect and rejuvenate our relationship. We talk about the laundry list of topics–family, fears, hopes, litter boxes. Everything is fair game.

Was Peter going to change this?

Well, sort of.

But, overall, no. This is what we like to do, so we take the baby with us. We load up his diaper bag, grab him some toys, make sure we have some cash in case, and buckle him in with us.

Now, when he’s not napping from the gentle rhythm of the rolling tires and the curving roads, he babbles too. Either to us or to Ralph the Rabbit who keeps his car seat comfortable when he’s not in it.

Our hope is that in the future when we have the itch we’ll say, “Ok, Peter, it’s time for an adventure.” And he will run get his adventure bag ready while we grab sandwiches and bottles of water, make sure we have a little cash, then met at the car for the next great adventure.

Mass of Surprises

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I woke up one morning and thought, “The next time Steven goes to nine o’clock Mass, I’d like to go with him.” It was a surprising thought. I’ve been to Mass with Steven before and found it stuffy. Having the desire to attend such a service was baffling.

Steven was visibly surprised and pleased when I asked if I could go.

We load up Peter and head to Mass. It is a different church than I’ve gone to with him previously. I don’t know all the routines and responses. When Steven genuflects before entering the pew, I briefly wonder if I should. I don’t. Ultimately, I think it would be more disrespectful of me to do something I don’t understand.

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We are there a few minutes early. The lights are dim. It’s quiet. Maybe a whisper is heard. Or Peter babbles. Some worshipers are kneeling in prayer. The stained glass is somewhat abstract. It evokes the elements for me. One window is shades of blue–cool, refreshing. Opposite, the window is yellow and orange giving warmth and comfort. Both working in concert, creating balance. I love these windows. I contemplate the refreshing comfort they provide me.

Surprising.

The priest enters; we stand. He blesses the congregants and begins the service. After attending several times the order is familiar. I participate as I am able. Some participation hindered by Peter; other by lack of knowledge. However, I don’t feel out of place.

Surprising.

Even as the priest speaks or the lector reads scripture, I am in awe of the quiet and how much I am comforted by it. There is no music and yet my soul is singing. I don’t even want music here. It would seem wrong somehow.

Surprising.

The Mass is not long. Less than forty-five minutes. I feel calm, full, my heart still and at peace.

A feeling I have been missing. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it. God is meeting me in this new place, in this new experience, and I don’t even feel like I have to look for Him. He is just present with His stillness and peace and restoration.

And I am so surprised and grateful, I cry.

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!

Minority Opinion

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I may as well say unpopular. Or maybe counter-cultural. Perhaps there are those who will consider me un-American.

Or, maybe, there’s a chance I’m not as in the minority as I feel.

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I vividly remember standing in front of Mother’s Day cards in my twenties trying desperately to find a card that would be suitable for an estranged relationship. It couldn’t be too sentimental because I wasn’t feeling mushy about my mother. But it couldn’t be too blase because that would be misinterpreted and cause a whole new set of issues. For the record, such a card did not exist.

I could not make the choice to simply not send one either. The expectation of acknowledging (also known as honoring) your mother on Mother’s Day was established. If I failed to meet that expectation at least one family member, and most likely more, would confront me.

I felt trapped.

As I have aged my distaste for “Days” that fall into what I call the societal expectation category has become palpable. These “Days” include, but may not be limited to, Valentine’s, Mother’s, Father’s, Boss’, Teacher Appreciation. . .

I understand the purpose, the idea behind them. And I have always tried to show grace and gratitude when someone has gifted me in response to one of these “Days”.

However, these “Days” and the societal expectation fails to acknowledge the ugly truth that they breed feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and hurt.

We have fostered such a public attitude that is the norm that we, perhaps, ignore the woman who wants to be a mother and isn’t; the man whose mother was abusive; the girl who didn’t get a bouquet of flowers at school for Valentine’s; the teacher who stays late every day but didn’t even get a card.

While our worth should not come from these things, how can we fail to see what is around us or not struggle with our own doubts and fears.

Honor, love, and appreciation cannot be dictated by a “Day” on the calendar. It is fostered by relationship. And, if that relationship exists then the “Day” is unnecessary–because honor, love, and appreciation are expressed in abundance.

Steven and I decided early in our relationship not to participate in Valentine’s Day. And we’ve taken each other off the hook, so to speak, for Mother’s and Father’s Days. Peter can decide what he wants to do when he’s old enough to understand the calendar. We will strive to create a relationship with him so he understands there is no expectation from us.

I’ve always said Steven and I are a bit counter-cultural. But maybe, since we feel this way, there are others out there who do, too.

Enough is Enough

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It is a strange upbringing to hear each week that you fall short and are not enough. But it is the upbringing that many experience.

The difficult part is that it’s what we hear as we sit in pews and sing songs about love and hear sermons about love and proclaim that Jesus loves me.

How can He when I am not enough? I am a sinner. I will always be a sinner. I will never be good enough.

Without necessarily meaning to, how many people have fallen victim to this truth? We humans are fragile beings. We desire to be better and do better. We work hard to be the best at what we decide to put our hand to. We add immeasurable pressure to ourselves to be enough. . .

Be enough for our spouses.

Be enough for our jobs.

Be enough for our kids.

Be enough for our extended family, our neighbors, ourselves.

And grapple with the idea that we’re not enough, ever, no matter how hard we try for salvation.

Understandably, this can be crippling in so many areas. Not just faith, but in our every day lives. Doubt and questions arise. What is it all for if I’m never going to be enough? I’m aware that this realization impacts individuals differently. There are those who will try harder. There are those who will quit trying at all. And there are those who will be brave enough to start peeling layers and truly struggling with what being enough means in all aspects of their lives.

And those brave souls deserve more than trite cliches and platitudes that are offered–read your Bible more, attend church, pray harder, do devotions. The complexities of faith cannot fit into these tiny plastic phrases, and it’s a disservice to offer them to people who have the tremendous courage to battle fears and questions.

I have battled the formidable foe of enough. I have faced the why bother mentality and the try harder mentality. Neither of them brought me peace and both of them meant poor decisions that could impact my health negatively and wreck my emotional stability.

But an amazing thing happened on this journey. I somehow managed to surround myself with people who think I am enough. Just as I am. With all my insecurities and flaws and fears and questions. They love me. They encourage me. They tell me I am enough with whatever I have to bring that day.

It is liberating. And it is an eye opening blessing.

I am coming to terms with God’s plan for me isn’t because I’m enough.

It’s because I’m loved.

And that is enough.

Value

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My heart is heavy this morning.

I discovered that a dear friend died last week. It’s strange to say she was dear and to admit that she’s been gone a week before I knew about it.

But value isn’t determined by proximity.

The value of this piece is priceless

I met Rebecca when I was fifteen. She taught with my mother and had recently had a baby. She and Scott needed a babysitter, and my mother suggested me. So, one day my mom took me to their house to meet baby Nash. Nash and I hit it off, and I became the babysitter. Someone would take me to their house when needed and then Scott or Rebecca would bring me home after their evening out. Until I got my license. Ian arrived later, and I kept both boys.

Often, when Scott and Rebecca came home, we would visit for a while before I went home. They were confidants for me during a troubled time when my parents divorced. When I went off to college, Rebecca would call me to see if I could come home to keep the boys. I always did. And when I was home on breaks, I visited with them. I spent hours with them. I would go to the lake with them. They knew everything about my young adulthood. They were a second family to me.

When I bought my first house, Rebecca gave me a housewarming gift of pottery. I still have it.

Rebecca was kind and giving. Her compassion and listening to me was never taken for granted. I felt understood by her through those teenage angst years, and it was comforting to have an adult to turn to who wasn’t blood. I didn’t feel as if I was betraying anyone when I talked with Rebecca.

I was still keeping the boys when I started teaching.

Then, life. The boys didn’t need me anymore. I got busy with my career. We touched base every so often though. They even took me and Steven out to dinner early in our relationship. I think they approved of him.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com Rebecca loved flamingos. I hope she’s surrounded by a flock.

Last year Steven and I decided we needed to have some legal work done. I reached out to Scott. It was then I learned that Rebecca had brain cancer. . .the same that took my grandma.

The news I found this morning wasn’t a surprise. I’ve been waiting for it. But it still was a gut punch.

For Christmas this past year, I wrote cards to many of the people who influenced or are currently influencing my life. I wanted them to know the impact they have on my life and to thank them. Scott and Rebecca were on that list and I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to let her know how much she means to me.

Don’t waste your opportunities. Tomorrow isn’t promised.

Confessions of a {good} mom, pt. 2

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Being a mom is the hardest and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done.

Being a mom is the most exciting and amazing thing I’ve ever done.

That is all.

I’m going to take a nap now.

Ignorance is bliss?

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Sometime in the last months someone shared a statistic with me. I’m wary of statistics in general. I used to tell my students that 79% of them were made up. Or 82%. Or whatever number I felt like throwing out there. They never questioned me.

At any rate, back to the point, someone shared that 65% of the American population died during the Spanish Flu pandemic. I found this number rather startling. Over half of the population of our country DIED? How in the world did we manage to bounce back from that?

Turns out we didn’t. Because the statistic is wrong. Someone (not the person who told me the statistic) is bad with decimals.

I did my own research and the number I found was .65% of the population in a year and a half of Spanish Flu. Granted, numbers are not my forte, but that number seems a little more believable. And to put the number to people, it means that 675,000 people died in that year and a half. . . .mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends. It is still a staggering amount of loved ones to lose to a virus that is unemotional and unbiased.

You brought me to a museum? Seriously?

I was given the original stated statistic because someone was making the argument that Covid-19 was “not a big deal”. The numbers were “worse for Spanish Flu and the government didn’t panic and institute such restrictions on the citizenry.”

Recently, Steven and I took Peter to the High Point Museum. Something to do on a Saturday afternoon to get out of the house. Peter appropriately scowled at being dragged to a museum by his enthusiastic parents, at least until we got outside to the onsite blacksmith who was hammering at making some “sporks” for some local Boy Scouts.

Information about High Point’s response to smallpox and Spanish Flu.

However, inside the museum we read a lot about the establishment and growth of our little High Point. We were interested in discovering that in 1899 smallpox broke out. Under city ordinance, the sick were quarantined and every one else was inoculated. Visitors to the great city were required to show proof of vaccination or agree to be vaccinated or they were asked to leave. In 1918 when the Spanish Flu got here, the city council banned public assemblies impacting theaters, clubs, and churches. The disease spread through factories and businesses that were allowed to remain open.

But, you know, we live in unprecedented times, right?

Starbucks, London, and the Morrises

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Have you ever had so much in your head that you want to get out and then you just don’t know how? That’s where I am right now. I have a lot I think I want to say, and I sat down to start saying some if it. Then I looked at my coffee cup.

Happy accident: my London minion in the background.

And now, that’s all I can think about.

I bought this cup at my first Starbucks behind St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2005 on my first trip to London (or Europe for that matter) with my friends Jack and Lina Morris.

I was a sixth year teacher helping lead a group of students on a trip to London and Paris, appropriately titled “Tale of Two Cities.” It was one of the years when our school year ended in May so we were able to get an outstanding price. We did Paris first, then traveled the Chunnel over to London. The day I went into my first Starbucks we had toured St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was an inspiring and thoughtful time. The church is still used as a house of worship (as are most churches in Europe that tourists wish to see) so at one point during the tour we were asked to stop for a moment and recite the Lord’s Prayer or honor the worshipers with a moment of silence. I was walking through the church with Jack and Lina. We all stopped and recited the prayer and, honestly, I got chills. I felt God move during that time of recitation; strangers pausing together for this sacred breath.

At any rate, we finished our tour before it was time to meet our tour manager, and it was cold. So, we found the Starbucks. I didn’t even get coffee because I didn’t think I liked coffee then. I got a hot chocolate and bought the mug as a memento of not only my first trip over the big pond but also my first Starbucks.

Jack delights Peter.
Lina holds her answered prayer.

Lina was my mentor when I began teaching. Not only for my profession but just for the kind of person I want to grow up and become. She has been an unwavering example of Romans 12:12–joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. You see, in 2017 she circled me in prayer and asked God to bless us with a child in our arms by the end of 2020. And, you see, Jack–sweet, sweet Jack–has Alzheimer’s.

Taking Peter to meet them in January was one of the greatest blessings of my life. And my child, my sweet and precious Peter, was delighted by them. He smiled so big at them both with no hesitation.

He knows good people.

Faith

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Between finding out we were pregnant on January 27, 2020 and our first ultrasound on February 11, 2020, I bought this pattern.

We had never had a positive ultrasound experience.

February 18, 2021, one day shy of five months old.

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