Friday, September 30, 2011

I serve two masters


Mom you make my life special.  Your life is crowded with 2 kids and 1 baby and 1 pet and 1 Dad.  You might have no time to play but you love me every day.  I love you how you cook dinner and coach our church.  But you love me below and above.  I need you brush my hair.  Your husband loves you too!
Thank you for all you do!
I love you Mom.”
I got three things I really needed this morning: a cup of coffee, a nice chat with my husband, and this note from my 7 year old.  It fell out of the desk drawer, just when I needed it.  As you can see, my kids don’t sugarcoat things for me.  They know my life is “crowded.”  They probably know better than anyone that I’m pulled in more than one direction and have to constantly make compromises between what I want to be doing and what I need to be doing.  Let’s face it, everything else aside, I’d pull them out of school every single day to follow some flight of fancy and adventure.  They might never learn to read and we might have to subsist on grass and berries, but it would sure be great to spend carefree hours together, discovering every beauty the world has to offer.
Scripture says we can’t serve two masters, because we will love the one and hate the other.  Of course, this is referring to God and money.  Sometimes I struggle with the ways that truth applies to my life, though.  I’m called, at a minimum, to serve at least three: my family, the church, and the Lord.  Making it even more complicated, I’m actually getting paid to serve the church, so perhaps the church should count as two – God and money?  But I already made a distinction between serving God and serving the church.  I guess because they sometimes seem like two different masters, as well, when the challenges and expectations of church life come into tension with my ability to devote myself singly to God.
Most of the time, I find ways to keep my masters happy.  Even if I don’t have time to play, I still manage to cook some meals, brush some hair, and “coach the church.”  Other times, I find one master or another to be exceptionally demanding, and I end up having to make things up to the others later.  I had a demanding master this week, she hardly napped during the day; she insisted on eating twice every night; she refused to enjoy her Jump-a-roo when I needed to prep lessons and make meals.  A string of sleep longer than 3 hours would be an incredibly welcome luxury right now.
But my husband got the kids ready for school every morning this week and kept the baby happy so I could teach the kids and youth on Wednesday.  The big girls pitched in when I needed someone to grab me a diaper or empty the dishwasher; they were well-mannered at the doctor’s office, and didn’t complain when I made zucchini.  And neither God nor the church stuck me down for being sleep deprived and scatterbrained at work this week.  Even the teenagers, as usual, were good natured and accommodating.  Who doesn’t love masters like mine?
My daughter’s note this morning brought all those moments together for me.  It was a welcome reminder that, even though I’m struggling to keep up with my many masters, my most important calling is still being accomplished: my kids know I love them “below and above.”  And hopefully my other masters are getting that message now and again, too?
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13

Friday, September 23, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with my minivan

We’ve all seen her at the mall, I’m sure.  She’s wearing 5 inch heels and fake fingernail tips, balanced on the running board of a Sequoia, trying to wrestle a baby seat up into the base without snapping a nail or getting her hair in her lipstick.  Not realizing how much she looks like the butt of a reality show joke, she wears her biggest fear on her Armani sleeve.  She’s a slave to anything the design editors have told her is “in.”  If you savor this sort of entertainment, and you can walk slowly enough to your car, you can catch the sequel, where she tries to fold up the stroller and lift it in under the hatch without crushing her shopping bags or spraining her ankle.

It’s not really fair for me to pick on Designer-Mom.  It’s probably not smart either.  If she gets ticked, she could run over my whole house with that SUV.  Seeing her struggles, however, I shake my head and pity her a little.  It’s not that I don’t like cool stuff; I do.  It’s just that I try to incorporate fashion in ways my lifestyle can actually accommodate.  I feel a different sort of coolness wash over me when I load up my three kids, and the stroller, and all the scenery and puppets for Sunday’s outreach, and am on my way while Designer-Mom is still stretching over seats to fiddle with car seat buckles she can barely reach without climbing into the third row of her fabulous vehicle.

The practicality of a minivan completely reigns for me.  Driving a third-row SUV would be, to me, like wearing thong underwear.  It may impress that one person who actually catches a glimpse of it, but you’re the one who has to live with the chafing wedgie all day long.  It’s just not worth it.

My minivan does, however, have a downside.  While it has changed our lives for the better with its sliding doors, seating capacity, and cargo space, it has indulged our worst hording tendencies.  The back seat is constantly piled high with leftover fastfood cartons, markers, personal electronics, dirty socks, and, usually, whatever item the girls needed for school and couldn’t find.  Every time I clean it out, I vow that I’m going to enforce better habits.  My husband and I have our own stash between the front seats, usually the leftovers from our last road trip: the GPS tangled around a mess of half-eaten combos, museum fliers, and, if you’re lucky, enough loose change to park downtown for a quick lunch.

A fashion crisis on wheels, our minivan also sports a cracked windshield, bubbling paint spots, a wide array of door dings, manual-close doors, and the interior has cords strung around like Christmas lights to run the portable DVD system.  I fantasize about trading it in for an upscale minivan, with power doors, built in A/V, leather seats, and a moonroof.

Basically, I’m sitting back in my granny-panties, wishing for some nice, cotton bikinis.

Your country will be covered with caravans…  Isaiah 60:6

Friday, September 16, 2011

I ruthlessly remember birthdays...

…well, I used to, at least.  As my family started to splinter and spread out geographically, it became a bigger and bigger challenge to stay connected to each other.  One way I tried to bridge the gap was in remembering my parents and siblings on their birthdays.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how, in a family that didn’t put a priority on celebrating these holidays, my attention to them left my family with mixed feelings.  At one point I was accused of “ruthlessly remembering birthdays.”

When my husband and I got married, it wrought havoc on my birthday discipline.  As in many marriages, I am generally the keeper of birthdays, so my list doubled at the altar.  In the last decade, it has multiplied by marriages, births, and expanding friendships.  If I once ruthlessly remembered birthdays, there are probably some people who would now complain that I ruthlessly forget – and I even do that inconsistently.  Sometimes I purchase the gift early, only to have it sit on my counter until it’s late.  Sometimes I remember a birthday one year, and then don’t the next.  Sometimes I find something grand to send, other times my honoree has to settle for nail clippers and a comb.  For the first time ever last year, I was so late with a gift that I put it away and sent it for the next year.  It was very humbling.  Anymore, I feel successful if I get a birthday gift sent within 3 months before or after the day – that’s a six month window and I don’t always hit it!

Despite my failed ruthlessness, my loved ones can continue to expect erratic birthday acknowledgement from me.  I may not be good at it anymore, but I’ll never give it up, because there’s only one of you – and you are remarkable and cherished.  So, to my beloved aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, parents, siblings, friends, and in-laws, in case this is the year I forget – Happy Birthday.  I’m so glad you’re here.  I really do love you and miss you – I just can’t seem to make it to the post office.

God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  2 Corinthians 9:8

Friday, September 9, 2011

I hate being afraid.

I interviewed a Catholic monsignor for an assignment once.  He was elderly, very pastoral, and won me over right away with thoughtful responses to my questions that surprised me, being far from the typical theology I expected from a Catholic priest.  Our conversation ended up off-topic, as my conversations often do, and he shared with me about an experience he had as a young man, exorcising demons.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that evil is real, that it is terrifying, and that a person should never open themself up to evil.  Some people might say he was a quack, but I believed him.  The fear he expressed, and the sincerity of his warning made a strong and lasting impression on me.

That was early in my seminary career, right around the time that we had a collective experienced of evil, September 11th, 2001.  My oldest girl was two months old and I was getting us ready to go to work at the church, when I flipped on the TV to check the weather and instead found out that there was a new world unfolding.  The towers were still up, wounded and smoking.  I began to pray the people inside would know peace.  It felt so weird to look at those towers and know that people, who were otherwise just fine, were in a death trap from which they would not escape.  I pictured them, possibly huddled under their desks and in stairwells, and couldn’t think of anything else that would help, so I prayed they wouldn’t feel panic, but would be overwhelmed by the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit.  It seemed wrong that their last moments should be overwhelmed by wasted panic and worry, I hoped they could experience peace.
If my prayers were answered, and there was any peace, I haven’t seen much of it since.  Hate and fear dwell in such close company.  One leads to the other in an endless cycle of human brokenness.  There have been moments where it peaks for every generation: WW II, the assassinations of JFK & MLK.  There are many others, but for my generation, it will always be 9/11.  In the ten years since, we’ve normalized a level of hatred and fear that I still struggle to accept.

Ten years later, we are still at war.  I tied up a yellow ribbon when it started, and it weathered for so long, as one war faded into another, I couldn’t decide what was appropriate – take it down? Replace it?  Eventually it wore out and fell off the tree.  I wonder what kind of fear and hatred our extended presence abroad might be stirring up.  Ten years later, being X-rayed and frisked is the price of travel.  As much as it frustrates us, it also reminds us of that day.  It reminds us to look around and be afraid of our fellow travelers.  Ten years later, we pay European prices for gas, and the economy has yet to stabilize.  My generation, and the one after me, is defining ourselves by our relationships, because we’ve come of age in an economy where our wealth and careers are never secure.

I know we can’t unsqueeze the toothpaste tube.  Many of the changes evoked by September 11th, like those of the Cuban Missile Crisis or Pearl Harbor, are changes we are right to normalize, because they aren’t going away.  But I’m tired of hate and fear.  If we assimilate them into our culture, we invite the evil they breed.  The scripture claims that through Christ, we have power over demons.  We can order evil to pack up and leave us.  Instead of using religion to fuel the flames of hatred and fear, I want my faith to be a tool for peace, that the love and power of Christ could prevail.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Friday, September 2, 2011

I sound corny when I talk about my husband.

Nothing felt odd or out of routine to me until the women I was standing with dropped their jaws, and one asked what I had done to train my husband so well.  We were at an event where the big girls were running around with friends, and my husband and I were keeping up with them and one another, in a sort of tag-team way.  I was holding the baby, standing in a small circle of women, visiting, when my husband came into the room, and without a word, took her out of my arms and disappeared.

The other women were shocked that he would take the baby off my hands, without my requesting it, or making a show about it.  I didn’t know what to say, because being a great dad is so normal for my husband, that until their comments, I took it for granted.  All I could say was, “I didn’t do anything.  She’s his daughter; he’s allowed to hold her when he wants.”  I have to admit, I felt really proud to be his wife.

Another humbling moment, recently, was when my daughter was, without a doubt, acting like me.  I felt an urge to curb her, because it was a trait I have never liked about myself.  Much to my chagrin, my husband began to engage her, and even to enjoy her and egg her on.  Suddenly it hit me.  He even likes things about me that I dislike about myself.  Seeing him with our daughter changed my whole attitude.  Love multiplied in that moment – his love for her reflected love right back on me.

When we first got married, thirteen years ago this weekend, I felt a full heart of love for my husband.  The biggest surprise in these years, to me, has been how much deeper my love has grown, as I’ve seen his commitment to our children.  We’re this unit, in which love just seems to multiply extravagantly.  The more the kids see us love each other, the more they love us.  The more we love the kids, the more we love each other.  I probably sound pretty corny, and maybe a little na├»ve, but that’s not the kind of family I grew up in, so sometimes it overwhelms me that I get to be a part of something so amazing.  It’s a blessing I don’t deserve and I wish I could share with everyone I know.

I don’t know who I’d be, if it weren’t for the incredible man who showed me true love.  And it doesn’t matter whether we are at year 13 or 30 or 300, it only gets better from here.

As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife." This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33