Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fly On the Wall

This morning, in the hallway, Joel bursts into tears after accidentally biting his finger (being two is rough in terms of unintentional self injury). Phoebe, laying on the carpeted floor is startled by the sudden loud noise of his crying and begins to slowly push her bottom lip into a pout - it's so sad to watch but it's also one of those cute baby things that makes you smile. Joel, being comforted by Mark notices that Phoebe is beginning to cry and mumbles some muffled words through his own tears, and runs to the living room. He grabs Phoebe's little cat doll (he always seems to keep track of exactly where it is), and as he runs back I finally understand what he was saying - "Phoebe's doll! Phoebe's doll!" he shouts repeatedly until he lays it down next to her and then collapses again into Mark to continue his cry. Mark and I "awwwwww!" to each other and cheer him on for his empathy. The cherry on top to this moment was Zoƫ, who heard the commotion and also came running with a small stuffed McDonald's happy meal toy that Joel has recently grown attached to in order to help comfort him.

Our days are currently long, very long. But my heart melts when I see my kids caring so well for each other (or their friends) even if I know they might be driving each other nuts about 10 minutes later (or waking the baby for the third time in an hour). This is what I hope to tuck away and treasure as they grow, to continue to remind them of the ways they have listened well to the call to care for one another even in the midst of their own suffering. What a privilege to have these fly on the wall moments.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit": A Good Friday Reflection

These are the last words that Jesus speaks aloud before his last breath. He speaks them not softly, not with a shaky whisper I would expect to come from the mouth of one who has hung for hours on the cross as insults are hurled and followers weep, as the weight of all the world's sin, of my own sin, crushes him.

No, Luke tells us he says these words with a loud voice, to be heard (for our benefit) and perhaps, I like to think, as a defiant shout against death itself as the sun pulls back its warmth and the curtain of the temple is split. Jesus leans in to his last words, a final intimate and yet public offering of himself to the Father with whom he has been present from the beginning: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

As was planned from the beginning, Jesus has experienced the physical, spiritual and mental anguish of accusation and abandonment. Still, he knows and clings to his identity as the beloved Son of God, clings to the truth of God as his loving Father whose very hands had woven his body together in Mary's womb, hands that embrace tenderly and judge justly. Even as death presses in for its final blow, Jesus' thoughts are on his Father's hands. Jesus echoes the Psalmist's words, here, leaving unspoken the attached implication of deep trust and hope that the God of truth will redeem him. It's the same Psalm where those who hope in the Lord are told to "Be strong and take heart."

These are words I could stand to say on a daily, perhaps hourly, basis as words of destruction and death reaches my own ears. As realization of my own sin, the sin that held him there, bruises my own heart.

As always, Jesus leads the way for us even in his final words. Into what better place can we commit our spirits than into the very hands of the one who created us in His image?

Monday, February 20, 2017

When A Baby Shower Feels Like An Act of Defiance

It's a bright sunny day, a respite from the rain that our region has experienced recently. Years of drought followed by this much rain, though, would leave anyone longing for the warmth of sun-kissed skin. We in Southern California are welcoming this sunny day with a similar energy that those in the Midwest welcome the smell of spring thaw. 

I am running late on this Thursday morning, as usual. Every week, I try again to make it the week that we will pick up the Afghan women and their children on time. That we will install the extra car seat on time. That we will get them all to English class on time. Fact: this is pressure I put on myself, never pressure that these women put on me. I am an American of distant German descent; my life has often been run by the clock, but I am lousy at being on time.

Still, this Thursday morning is different. Today, class is canceled. Instead, there is a celebration to welcome two babies: one, a girl, growing large in my belly, and the other, a boy, growing large in the belly of his mother who came here from Afghanistan and has welcomed three other children before him. Together, the teachers and students in this class who represent Afghanistan, Syria, Canada, Turkey and the United States will throw a joint baby shower in honor of these babies who will both be U.S. citizens and share in the privileges thereby bestowed upon them. 

I pick up the two women, sisters-in-law, from the two floor apartment that their families share. Between their families, there are four adults and six sons. The two year old accompanies his mother and his aunt to class on Wednesday and Thursday mornings while his older brothers and cousin are in school. I don't know exactly how many bedrooms there are in this apartment, but judging from the size of the first floor, it cannot be many. I am still learning the story of how they came to live here, but like several of the women in the group it is likely that their husbands worked for the U.S. military during our involvement in Afghanistan, or had some other American connections, and thus their lives had been threatened by the Taliban or others. This would put them among the lucky ones - those who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas and survived long enough to make it into the United States. For each of them, there are many others who still have not been able to come.

We make the beautiful drive to the upper hills of our city, the neighborhoods where you can see the snow-capped mountains clearly in the distance, where signs indicate that drivers should be aware of riders on horseback. Today, we celebrate at the spacious and beautiful home of a woman who faithfully prays for and supports this group. It was an email from her that originally helped me connect with them last summer, doing the one low-commitment thing I felt I could do as a mother of two young children: drive my minivan to and fro. 

I pull into her driveway and we unload: three of us mothers, and three of our children, along with gift bags and an aluminum tray of delicious smelling rice prepared Afghani style. I honestly couldn't tell you what makes it taste so good (I hope someday to learn!) but I know this: it tastes so good. 

We are ushered to the back porch along with the other expectant mother, her children and the young university student who drove them. There are more than forty others there, I am sure, and a table spread with chicken dishes of multiple colors, deviled eggs, rice dishes, banana pudding, almond cookies and some more traditional American potluck fare (excepting anything that would include pork). It will be impossible to sample each one.

We gather in a circle and hold hands according to instructions from the head of house, the woman who emailed me last summer, and greet each other. The air is ripe with need for a celebration after the upheaval of the news from the last several weeks: an executive order from our president handled most sloppily and applied unjustly against entire citizenries of countries. It was immediately followed by objections across the country and eventually stayed by legal means. However, I gather that this has done little to assuage the fears of families across the world who now have solid evidence straight from the top that supports their suspicions of being unwelcome under this presidency. I don't know in what ways this eruption has personally impacted the students gathered here, but I am certain it has, and fear is not out of the question. 

Food is piled onto plates, and we are smiles and laughter. Shrieks come forth from the mouths of the children gathered here who have spied a distant outdoor play space, complete with an old row boat long out of commission but perfect for the imagination of the typical preschooler. Eventually, all of us are gathered to a small grassy garden area, near a brook running through the property. I am ushered to a patio sofa along with the other expectant mother, and the showering of gifts begins. Truly, this is the most literal showering of gifts I have ever seen, let alone experienced. I have barely enough time to open one and look around to thank the giver briefly before another is pushed into my lap. The scene is the same on my right with the other mom. I can't help but giggle at it all.

Internally, my logical bent does battle with my heart. As a person who errs toward painful practicality, receiving gifts for my third child is an exercise in accepting excess. It's not that I'm not grateful - I certainly am - but any hesitation toward simply receiving these sweet symbols of love runs the risk of being offensive. I wonder how much these women have had to scrape and save in order to celebrate not one but two babies who will soon be among us. Is it worth it? My family certainly has enough that this baby will be well taken care of - I hope so much that the receiving of these gifts has not caused unnecessary burdens for these families, and yet I have a sneaking suspicion that there has been sacrifice. They are beyond generous. I don't deserve their generosity. What have I done to help but drive them occasionally to class? As a native-born representative of my country I feel especially undeserving at the moment. 

Slowly, though, in the same way the sun rises, it occurs to me how defiant this celebration is. Fear of difference has loomed large in the world for ages, and recently this fear has become more exposed than ever for this generation, in our hearts and across borders. The very fact that so many of us women from different countries are gathered together to celebrate two babies who will be born to mothers of different nationalities seems profound right now. In the face of a world that keeps telling us to fear, to retreat, to build walls, to close ourselves off, and to believe the worst stereotypes presented to us (to "embrace our suspicions", as Austin Channing Brown puts it), celebrating together throws burning coals in the direction of snake-like lies. It's a "NO!" in the face of fear that's as firm as the "NO!" I give my children when they make a dash toward a busy street.

The party stretches well beyond the time we typically allot for English class, but this seems to faze no one. I don't have all the names of the women who have been so generous with their sweet gifts, but I try to offer a few small words of gratitude and pleasure at being part of this growing group. 

As we leave to take my friends home, I again dwell on the fact that I've never experienced a baby shower like this one: a party that feels so radical just by virtue of the fact that it insists on joy in the midst of uncertainty. 

Nothing breaks down walls and causes us to sit down at the same table together like babies do. Though the English they may know is still growing, and though my Pashto, Farsi and Arabic are non-existent, we speak the same language of motherhood. We want our babies to be welcomed exuberantly into the world, we want them to grow up without fear for their lives, we want them to know love beyond comprehension. And so, as mothers we will insist on dancing for joy over our babies, insist on delighting over them, insist on singing over them, and insist on celebrating each one. This, most days, will be my most profound act of defiance in the face of fear - to speak and live love, hope, joy, celebration. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thoughts on Dr. King and Violence/Nonviolence

"He was one of the great people in our country. He got his message across without burning the flag, without violence, without disrepect for others."
I saw the comment admittedly on a Facebook thread. I don't think of or recommend Facebook as a place for understanding the entirety of a person's experience, not by a long shot, but I have found it to be something of a place that can reveal more about people's intentions and thoughts than they may have intended to reveal, and I include myself in this.

This comment about Dr. King teetered on the edge of truth. And yet, something was off. Instead of centering the conversation on him, his legacy, his words, his sacrifice, his call for disruptive action...instead of all that, the words seemed to use him as a tool to cast thinly veiled judgment on something else. I fear that a point had been gravely missed, and this one comment is representative of more like it that conveniently ignore the fact that Dr King. wrote these words, too:

Meme created by Daniel Rarela
Much violence, indeed, was suffered by Dr. King and those who followed his lead. People died and suffered horrible bodily injury as a result of following him, committing to the nonviolent tactics he demanded. Indeed his own life was taken in one of the most violent ways. But this violence was not perpetrated by those who followed him. It was perpetrated by those who had a great deal of power, even the power to change unjust laws, against those who were demanding justice in disruptive but nonviolent ways.

It is indeed hard to know how much longer (if ever) it would have taken for certain laws to change without the violence of places like Selma. Or how much our country would be remembering the work of Dr. King had he been allowed to die a natural death at an old age. This isn't to say that violence is necessary, no, but to highlight the fact that our hearts can be so hardened that too often they are moved to softness only when we see violence. The focus when violence happens should not be on the fact that violence has happened, but on what we (individually and corporately) were so blind to that it had to get to this point for us to see it. 

My heart is like this. When I see how long it takes me to pay attention to Syria, to human trafficking, to abuses of power and the ongoing systemic racism within our own country, instead of listening early on to the voices telling us these things...I am certainly part of the perpetuation of these injustices.

How are we honoring Dr. King today by listening to the messages of nonviolent protestors? How are we honoring Dr. King today by examining the power(s) we hold and using them to rightly seek justice for all who are oppressed? How are we honoring Dr. King today by committing to nonviolence in thought, word, action even toward those who would actively oppress us?

If you would call MLK Jr. "a peacemaker" (and I hope we do - he is one of the greatest examples we have in the modern era and indeed throughout history), please recognize that a great deal of his peacemaking involved people becoming very agitated, very uncomfortable and very angry, even to the point that they committed violent acts against him and his followers. As I recently heard from Austin Channing Brown in a sermon, "MLK was not considered a peaceful unifier to most people while he was alive, least of all to those who liked the status quo of segregation and discrimination". 

(And, perhaps it's a good week to ask ourselves these questions: Is there anyone today that I am tempted to see as an "agitator" who, 50 years from now, will be remembered as a "peacemaker"? What is keeping me from seeing them as a peacemaker today? From seeing their work as peacemaking work today? May our hearts be so softened.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

beware false peace

I've been thinking about peacemaking recently - what it looks like, how one goes about it. There's obviously been a lot of talk about peacemaking since the election, too, within churches and communities, hence the thinking on it.
I think, though, that we need to be careful about the narrative and visuals we get in our heads when it comes to using the verse in Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

I think for many of us, when we hear the word "peacemakers", we visualize those people who we view as bridges - bringing two opposing sides together at the table, asking them to lay down weapons, to make amends (reparations or compensation). This type of peacemaking is important.

But sometimes, the job of peacemakers is to disrupt a false peace, or to keep it from taking root. We know what is meant by false peace, right? Simple absence of open conflict. Sweeping things under the rug. Ignorance, willful or not, of that which is really happening. It's the type of "peace" that looks neat and tidy and peaceful to anyone on the outside, but is full of decay on the inside.

As an example, Jesus was this type of peacemaker, I believe, when he "made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables..." (John 2). At first blush, his actions seem incredibly unpeaceful to my white, Western eyes - I wonder, sometimes, how I would have responded if I'd stood witness there. Almost surely, in some of the communities I've lived in, this would count as a "disturbance of the peace". Today, the police might have been called. He may have even been arrested. And yet, and yet, Jesus always knew exactly what he was doing. He saw the situation for what it was. This was no place of peace, at least not anymore - it had become a "den of robbers" (Luke 19). People were being excluded from worshiping his Father in that space, or at least having to bear the burden of overcoming financial and ethnic exclusion in order to do so, and that enraged him. To those people, those who were excluded, it was an act of disrupting false peace - an unburdening, a defeat of oppression, a breaking down of walls.

After the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus addresses some specific sins - anger, lust, etc. He's clear that it's not just murder or adultery (outwardly obvious actions) that are sinful, but the heart attitudes that lead to such actions that are sinful as well. I wonder - in what ways may we be settling for a false peace within many of our churches and communities? Our homes?

Absence of conflict does not equal peace. May we have eyes open to root out false peace.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Chili Recipes Recommended by Friends

On Halloween night, we missed an opportunity to join friends for a chili dinner before trick or treating. The combination of no naps for either of my kids, Mark getting home a little later than I expected, and just a general lack of energy meant that I think we made the best choice for us by staying local (my husband took the kids to about 5 or so houses on our street before they were done).

But the hankering for chili hadn't left me by the next day, and with the cooler weather (by So Cal standards), I decided to crowd source Facebook for my friend's recommendations for their favorite chili recipes. And this time, I'm keeping a record of them! I've done too many crowd-sourcing moves on Facebook that then get lost in the shuffle to let this opportunity pass me by. 

So, while I have only made one of the recipes below, I imagine the folks who sent them my way to know good chili, and wanted to keep a compiled list and pass it on to you all as well. I've divided them into "crock pot" and "non crock pot" lists. Enjoy!

Non Crock Pot Recipes

1. White Chicken Chili from Taste of Home (Prep Time 15 mins, Cook Time 25 mins)

Recommended by my friend Daralynn, who says it is "super spicy if you use all the cayenne pepper". She recommends no more than 1/2 tsp. with little ones. 

For my own family, I'd probably cut out the jalapeno as well - Mark has super sensitive taste buds when it comes to spicy stuff. Zoe is starting to come around to appreciate a little kick in things like soup. 

2. White Chicken Chili from Cheeky Kitchen (Prep/Cook Time Approx 30-45 mins)

I made this one the other night. Recommended by my friend Rita, who says she likes it with the sour cream and cheese as a topping, and also with salsa.

I made it as instructed by the recipe, but substituted a quarter cup of white wine in for an equivalent amount of the broth (I probably could have done more!) and added a wee bit of corn starch in cold water near the end to thicken it just a bit more. Scrumptious, and delicious as leftovers the next day.

I love a recipe that starts with bacon. For this recipe, I might use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. Less prep and less mess!

3. CD's Chili Mole (Prep/Cook Time Approx 3 to 3 1/2 hours)

While this vegetarian recipe is easily the most complex (prep wise and taste-wise) recipe of those that were recommended (sounds like the perfect kind of recipe for a wide open Saturday morning or evening spent watching some Netflix or football in between tending to the stove), my friend Emily simplifies it by using canned beans. Still, well worth giving it a shot - I always appreciate eating recipes that are more complex! 

Most intriguing ingredients: unsweetened chocolate, peanut butter, raisins, lots of interesting spices and beer (note near bottom that beer can be substituted for a portion of the broth). 

4. Shrimp and Red Bean Chili (Prep/Cook Time 30-40 minutes)

If you like the good taste of shrimp, this sounds like a nice easy way to eat it other than in cocktail format. Like my friend Susana does, I'd likely reduce the amount of peppers/hot sauce to keep it on the mild side.

Crock Pot Recipes

1. Crock Pot Sweet Potato and Quinoa Turkey Chili from Iowa Girl Eats (Prep Time 15-20 mins, Cook Time 3 to 6 hours in crock pot)

Recommended by my friend Erin, I love almost any recipe that includes sweet potatoes - a low-cost way of getting some good nutrition. Plus quinoa!

2. Red Bean, Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew from BHG (Prep Time 20 mins, Cook Time 5-6 hours)

As my friend Jamie said, while not technically a chili recipe, it still sounds pretty good! I am so intrigued by the peanut butter - sounds like just the kind of oddball ingredient whose flavor I'd appreciate. 

Per Jamie, this is also easy to prep ahead of time, freeze, and then toss in the crock pot when you are ready to use it later. 

3. Three Bean Chili from Smitten Kitchen (Prep Time Time 30-40 mins, Cook Time 22 minutes to 7 hours)

Recommended by my sister in law, who really knows her stuff when it comes to cooking for health and flavor, this one is great because, as she said, it breaks down lots of options for cooking it in a pressure cooker, on the stove or in the crock pot, in addition to recipe notes and substitutions. So, this one could be a crock pot or not crock pot version.

Most intriguing ingredient: beer. I'd forgotten about how much beer can be just the kick you need for a good chili recipe. I think it helped influence my choice to substitute white wine for some of the broth in the white chicken chili I made last night.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Year of Showing Up

Ding. I looked down at my phone. A friend is hoping to visit her sister in the hospital - could I watch her two boys for the later part of the afternoon? My two kids are already well into nap time. It's the type of request that, years ago, perhaps even several months ago, I might have refused. The quiet of afternoon nap time is sacred space - time for processing and re-setting for the rest of the day. I guard it, I protect it. I cherish it. And, honestly, there's nothing wrong with that for young parents - it is one of the few breaks we get, and it's not always consistent.

But there's this voice that gently tugs at me too as I re-read the text: Show up. Show up.


There are two times during a year, generally, when it feels most natural to set new rhythms, leave behind unhealthy habits and create some new ones: once at the beginning of January, and once again at the beginning of the academic calendar near August or September.

I've never been huge on resolutions or intentional creation of space for reflecting and starting with new habits. A "word for the year" hasn't ever really grabbed hold of me. But this past spring as I contemplated the rest that would be brought with summer and a certainty that I was not being called back to serve in a particular place where I had served for the past two years, another thought entered: showing up. Choosing to serve in places and with people who just required my showing up - no frills, no circus, very little to no preparation, but ready with hands and feet ready to receive marching orders.

Preparation is good. Or, it can be good. And for some folks, especially the perpetually prepared Type A friends that I know and love, preparation and consistent service allows the calm and lack of anxiety that they tend to prefer, I think, in order to move through their days well.

For me, however, I have begun to notice particularly in this season of young motherhood, that serving in places or being with people in ways that require much preparation actually causes more anxiety - it's just one more thing I haven't done on the perpetual list of things to do.

As I thought and listened and decided to be intentional about where to commit my time as fall picked up the pace, I realized there was this constant thread of wanting to be in places where all that was required of me (mostly) was my being there. This summer, it looked like offering to drive Afghan refugee women and their children from their homes to English classes at a local church, showing up with a van. A couple times, it's looked like being able to watch after the children of friends while they care for others who are facing crises, showing up with a house and toys to share. For some people (and sometimes this includes me), filling in for these last minute needs would be stressful. And it's not that they are without their own stresses. I don't want my kids to resent time spent in the car shuttling people back and forth, but I do want them to learn about people coming from other countries to our own country to seek better opportunities. I want them to know these new acquaintances of ours firsthand.

But for the most part, opportunities like this do not stress me out the way they did before. They usually come last minute, and therefore require little thinking ahead. It's just a "will you be there? Yes or no?". I have gotten better at saying no when I need to, but most of the time we just happen to have an open afternoon or other plans that have been canceled.

I know of many people who much prefer to serve and be in places where there is more preparation required, or something that involves a more consistent schedule, and if you are one of those people I so admire you and thank you. Thank goodness there is a diversity of people when it comes to serving in different ways - we need both (and anyone else who falls somewhere in between)! I think there is also quite a bit of fluidity here - in some seasons, I will need to prepare more to serve in some places. But right now, when so much of my energy is going into keeping kids alive, well fed and mostly happy, I need spaces where all I have to do is get there. Sometimes, this doesn't even require me leaving my own house.


"Sure!" I text my friend back. "Bring them over, no problem."

I'm sure it helped that I happened to have popsicles in the freezer that day. And that my friend didn't mind that I let her boys watch television until my kids woke up. Or that the weather happened to be pleasant enough that we all played outside. Or that I already happened to have a plan for dinner that day (miracle of miracles!). What gifts!

This is my declaration: this is my year of simply showing up. Showing up with whatever I have and saying no (sometimes out loud) to anxiety and guilt for what I may not have. There's no shame in simply showing up with ready hands and feet.