EEK!

In my graduate studies and practice as a minister, I teach spiritual practices that connect the Christian tradition of scripture, prayer, and worship to emotional intelligence, embodiment, and mindfulness. As a mom, I hope to ground my young son’s faith in this as well.

71gzgMdUewL

Eek! Said Amy by L.J. Zimmerman and Charles Long is one of the best tools I have found for this. The story explores body and emotions with a boy named Devon and Amy, his amygdala. They’re a great team, most of the time, but Amy sometimes gets in “red alert!” and Devon struggles with very big fear at some small things like a little bug, social anxiety, or stepping on a sidewalk crack. These worries are relatable for children, and so are the hopeful practices offered: a talk with mom, a simple breathing meditation, and some Bible verses to memorize and remember when things are scary.

I read this with my son who’s 20 months old, and while it’s aimed at older children, he was engaged with the book. He requested, “Amy?” “Emotions?” long after we put the book away. My five year old nephew connected more deeply, wondering if he has an amygdala, too, and practicing deep breaths full of God’s love along with Devon. This is a book to grow into, with layers of emotional intelligence, body awareness, and prayer for different developmental stages.

Also, it’s funny. The pictures and dialogue are clever, and I didn’t hate reading it five times in a row for a toddler. And let’s be real, mamas — that matters, too.

You can order Eek! Said Amy on Amazon or from Abingdon Press this week! I will definitely be buying a few copies for friends and family, and keep on revisiting it with my child. With the terrible twos around the corner, we can probably both use some deep breaths of God’s love and a gentle reminder that God can help us be brave through big emotions.

 

Crash and Burn (or: Stop and Listen)

Well, it’s been crickets here at #seminarymama for a good long while.

Do you remember that post last summer when I talked about hitting my limit and letting go of some stuff, saying no to say yes?

That was cute.

Turns out I needed to learn that some more, and then some more again. Here’s the short story: I left my job as a children and family minister, missed a whole bunch of deadlines for school, got sick a bunch of times, and questioned just about everything in my life. I’m an achiever, and have been going turbo with graduate school, seminary, multiple jobs, internships, clinical chaplaincy, pregnancy and new motherhood, always working more than full time on emotionally intense, serious responsibility for about 8 years. No surprise, really. Turbo overachieving plate spinning works…until it doesn’t any more.

You know what I’m talking about? In recovery circles, this is what you call “unmanageable.”

I’m hoping to be done with the crash and burn for now, and am finding a lot more space for enjoying my son and partner, getting caught up on seminary work, and discerning what might be ahead next year. I got a Passion Planner for some organization, and I block out time for nothing.

And you know what’s just astonishing? There are all these things I had been missing and didn’t even know it. I have not been able to say “yes” to so many things that I love and value, and it’s like the minute I let the crash happen, I was reminded of what I hadn’t been making space for.

There’s space to make a lot more pancakes with S., even on weekdays sometimes, and read all the board books 15 times in a row without worrying about the other stuff I’m not getting done. There’s space to tell an overwhelmed mama friend to just come on over and have a tea and let the babies play while we talk. There’s space to journal and walk, to catch up with friends who live far away on the phone, to worship and pray in new ways. There’s space to rest as well as to stretch my soul and skills in ways I hadn’t considered.

To my surprise, an opportunity to say yes emerged in the fall and has sprung up in surprising ways. A series of conversations with my friend Michael led to the creation of Keep Watch with Me, the advent reader for watching and waiting and peacemaking. We decided to make the devotional that we had been waiting for on themes pertinent to the liturgical season and key in the struggles of our lives in the last while. We’ve been humbled and thrilled and freaked out to be joined in this endeavor by two dozen incredible contributing peacemakers and 5000 readers worldwide.

I’ll be posting today’s advent reflection, by yours truly, in a second post here, but in the meantime, if this piques your interest, you can sign up to receive daily reflections here, and join the “Keeping Watch Together” online community of folks reflecting and connecting here.

This week in Lent

Matthew 11:28–30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

From A Room Called Remember by Frederick Buechner
To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness — especially in the wilderness — you shall love [God].

I recently told a friend, “Nothing will make you pray to Jesus like having a baby.” And it’s true. Not always in some profound way, but often like “Dear God make him sleep” and “Lord have mercy, I don’t know if I can keep nursing him with all these teeth,” and “Keep me kind, keep me sane.”

In these weeks of teething, rocky sleep, and small but strong opinions, parenthood is breaking me, sapping me of what I thought I had to offer, what I knew, what version of self there was before, what capacities for accomplishment were wrapped up in my life and work. I’m deep down in my bones and deep down in my spirit tired. I haven’t done laundry, much less checked in with God beyond those stretched-thin mama pleas for present grace.

In the above passages, two of this week’s readings for Wednesday Eucharist, there was so much deep acceptance for those stretched-thin mama pleas for present grace. The difference between my tired efforts and the efforts of God in me is blurred, brokenness and wholeness together all at once. In the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are reminded, “to dust you shall return,” and I am dust and dirt, all broken up and low, and at once rich and full of life, more promising and complex than meets the eye, nurturing the next things in myself and in S.

Bitch, a meditation

In Nashville last weekend, there was a Friday inauguration day march, explicitly intersectional and put together by a conglomeration of groups whose concerns and members will be negatively affecting by the new president. Renters’ rights, refugee and immigration protection, and LGBT advocacy to name a few. S and I were running late (first we nap, then march) but caught up to the march as they walked across the downtown pedestrian bridge with signs, chants, drums, and even a small brass section. We were peaceful and law-abiding, with a significant number of marchers in reflective vests working to keep things moving and signal vehicles. We sang, “We Shall Overcome” and “Which Side Are You On?” We laughed and looked out for each other.

How many times that night was I called “bitch,” walking in my city with my baby, singing and chatting? Two times? Ten?

How many times have I been called “bitch?” From those first murmurs in junior high when I came back at a boy who touched me to now, leading meetings and challenging colleagues… how many times have I been called “bitch?” And why that, in particular? That word originally meant to describe a dog, used now to dismiss and dehumanize, to reduce me to animal property.

This week I came across this beautiful essay about the difference between a “nice girl” and a “kind woman.” This author was too gracious to offer the other term for a strong, kind woman: “bitch.”

Consider the (not unproblematic) white feminist embrace of “Nasty Woman,” our new president’s verbal attack on his debate opponent. I was not a wholehearted Clinton supporter, but this slur was not directed at a political rival, a debate opponent. It was an attempt to verbally diminish her right to be there. It was a slight to any woman with the nerve to question, resist, stand up, formulate independent thought, do the homework, and assert herself.

“Bitch” is for a woman with the gall to march and sing through the evening, bringing her baby and her anointing oils, all her vocations, into the public realm. “Bitch.” That one jarring, harsh syllable so discordant with the snaking line of determined and joyful people moving through the city like a stream, so wrong for a healer, so untrue of mother, partner, and friend.

“Bitch.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

Vetiver, palo santo, geranium, basil, sage, grapefruit, bergamot

The child, the child, sleeping in the night…

Last advent, I was a few months pregnant and consistently a weepy mess about anticipating birth and the fine line (if there is a line at all) between the immanent and transcendent.

This year, the wonder of my sweet babe at Christmastime has been undercut by the anguish of teething, final exams and papers, and one head cold after another cycling around the family. Between shopping for gifts, work gatherings, and our diocesan clergy conference, the spirit of Advent has been elusive, hiding behind the irritation and mundane.

Then this past Sunday, S. got to be the baby Jesus for the St. Augustine’s Christmas pageant. He was the fattest snaggle tooth Christ child you ever did see. I wept with pride and I will hunt down every single picture that was snapped of the precious scene. Poor pastor’s kid.

IMG_4783.JPGBut the real magic of it all happened on Saturday, when we headed over to pageant rehearsal. We were running late, and when we got to the chapel, the full nativity scene was on display, sans costumes, and the narrators were running lines from the lecterns. As we walked down the center aisle, one of the directors said, “Look everybody, baby Jesus is here!” And all those kids stopped and turned with audible “Oooooh”s and a few “Hooray”s. Mary and Joseph held out their arms for him and marveled over his toes, his fuzzy head, his Santa jammies. After the run through, there was a short line of 9 or 10 year olds who wanted turns holding him. The smaller kids wanted to see and touch him too, with the parental admonishments of “Gentle!” or “Just one finger!” “Don’t touch his face!”

In childhood, there’s a beautiful blurring of factual and mythical. The different kinds of true and real that we more efficiently categorize as adults are somehow spun together without contradiction. Suddenly S. is not just Miss Claire’s baby that we see every week (although, of course, he is). He is the baby Jesus (although, of course, he isn’t). And this incarnation stops them in their tracks, trumping the glamour of the King Herod costume and the hilarity of the three-person camel suit.

The complete awe and focused attention of a stage full of children snapped me back to attention. Not attention to my own child, really, but to the icon of Christ he can be. S. points to all the complicated mess of incarnation in all the sweetness and frustration of babyhood. Jesus arrives in ice storms and head colds, with diaper rash and reflux and sore gums, calling our attention to the presence of God in the inconvenient. 

Term Papers

In conclusion, S., aged five months and one week, has grown two teeth and suffered his first cold over the last week and a half. This has resulted in an incredibly grouchy attitude to the detriment of my schemas of meaning-making and resulted in a sense of alienation from, rather than connection to, my larger community. He wants to nurse every hour and a half, refuses to be consoled with anyone but me, but yells at me just the same. We could, in fact, be construed as the parishioners who are brought into unwilling Eucharistic solidarity through the breaking of a body (his) and the ingesting of a body (mine).

Incidentally, it takes approximately forty-five minutes to: settle him into an adequately distracting activity; use the restroom; fix a cup of coffee; answer a text message; settle him into a new adequately distracting activity; and sit down at the computer. This hour and a half circuit routine has extended into the nighttime hours. My sense of belonging to larger community constructed framework of time has also been demolished. I am trapped in a cycle that eliminates any semblance of futurity.

I am in need of a profoundly embodied and communal sacramental grace to move me through the transformation of this theodicy, so it is in the spirit of theological praxis that I request that you waive the additionally required 5 pages for this essay.

Copaiba Vitality for S., Clarity for Mama.

Snakes and Babies


img_4697

When I come to the readings for the second week of Advent, familiar as they are from year to year, I am reading them with fresh horror and inspiration as a new mom. Prophesying the Kin-dom of God, Isaiah writes, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”

Whoa, now! Not on my watch! My nursing child is almost always at my side, and when my five month old is with his other parent, beloved grandparents, or a carefully vetted babysitter, part of my mind is trained on him, often preoccupied by neurotic nightmares of all possible harm that might befall him. Stepping into parenthood as a young adult is no cakewalk. I have a million anxieties and insecurities of whether I’m a good enough mother. I worry for his well being.

But after sitting with my gut level reaction to these verses, allowing myself to lean into that horrified response, aversion is transformed to hope.

What would it be like to let my rolypoly baby play outside in Tennessee woods with full confidence that no harm would come? I tick through my mental safety list of reminders and checks, and think, “What if this was a world where I could let those go?” “What would it be like to parent without worry of these dangers?” 

What a beautiful motherhood that could be!

Even beyond the physical dangers of being human, these are frightening times to have a child. I fear for my son in a world with so much uncertainty and hatred, the spiritual violences that sting the unsuspecting innocent. I worry about the daunting task of trying to raise a good white man in a society that would have him believe he can run roughshod over women and people of color. But my hope in this Advent week is deepened when I read on to Matthew’s gospel, in which John the Baptizer is preaching repentance in the desert. “You brood of vipers!” he exclaims to the Pharisees, whose closed hearts and anxious spirits led to spiritual legalism and wielding power over others.

The brood of vipers—ah, much scarier serpents. These are the ones who poison with a fear twisted into anger, bite with anxiety the hand that offers peace. But what if this Kin-dom of God is also a world where I might release fear of these social, spiritual snakes? What would it be like to parent without worry of the powers and principalities, in confidence that hope and love protect the hands and hearts of babes?

What a beautiful motherhood that could be!

Yes, says the prophet, the earth will be full of the knowledge of God, and God’s dwelling shall be glorious. What a vision of peace and play! We work toward this Kin-dom of courageous love and community that overwhelms the anxieties of alienation and temptations to power. We await the coming of our humble peacewager.

Valor II: ylang ylang, coriander, bergamot, spruce, frankincense…