Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Closet Full of Shoes (an update)

Remember when I told ya'll I was waiting for more shoes to drop (in a post cleverly title The Other Shoe, read here)? After the toddler's hand got burned, and the husband lost his job, the MINI got sold, etc ?

Yeah, we got a whole closet full of shoes now.

The next week Valentine developed double ear infections, days of fever, and tantrums that shook my confidence in this whole parenting gig. Who'm I kidding? They convinced me I couldn't parent. Jason got intensely sick, and we lost opportunities to take short term work... yada, yada, yada (even I'm getting bored with calamity).

The thing is: I wouldn't take a single day of this back. Even though the daughter is sick again, and we are dealing with some significant criticism.

Because, through all these experiences, we found the depth of our community's capacity to love and support to be endless.

Our small group elected to sit in concerned silence as I told them of my heartache, then we all laughed over silly things. Members of our church text us, just to check in. Friends send encouraging emails, or stop in parking lots and on porches for extended chats. My counselor smiled gently and listened hard. My mother took the baby for a night when I was hysterical and running on four days of sleeplessness. My family planned a night away for all us grown-ups to celebrate my dad, and just be together.

I always struggled with needing people. Hated it, really. I believed if I needed things, then people couldn't, or wouldn't, love me. Such faithlessness... These last couple of weeks have converted me to humans.

I know we're still capable of terrible, horrendous, destructive evil. But, in our situation, Jason and I have been slathered in the simplest, most wholesome, selfless good. And, I found myself actively thinking of how to be transparent about our needs during this time. As we work to build real relationships with our friends, I wanted to tell them specifically how we craved their love and support. 

So, it's Ash Wednesday. As I prepared to speak the introduction to our service, I stumbled across a photo of me receiving the imposition of ashes last year. It dawned on me that my new faith experienced a sort of birth in those ashes. I felt the stirring of my need. Need for community. For love. For faith. For the Jesus I'm still learning about.

I also encountered beautiful reflections on what this holy day can mean from my brother (see below), mother, a local minister (see below), a distant priest, friends. It struck me that Ash Wednesday and Lent are inextricably connected to our humanity. Not in a shameful, or guilt-ridden way. Just an honest evaluation of what it means to be human. We are mortal. We are temporal. We are broken at times, and at times we do the breaking.  We need.

We need the receiving and giving of love.
We need the receiving and giving of forgiveness.
We need the receiving and giving of God's grace.

We spend so much time running from this humanity, covering it with impenetrable shields of religion, or defense mechanisms, knowledge, apathy. We deny our needs.

When we take on the ashes, we wear our shared humanity on our face. We wear our need on our face. We wear our imperfection on our face. We wear it together, each facing the acknowledged humanity of our God-family.

These last 2.5 weeks have been serious wind up for the brutal honesty of Ash Wednesday. I had to wear my humanity in full view. My need. My agony. My joy in being loved. My craving for hope and appropriate moans of sympathy and empathy from trusted friends. My confusion about the role of God in all these circumstances.

The grace, and forgiveness, and human depth all this taught me makes every single moment of struggle valuable. It turns out, in facing my humanity, my need, and being met with the loving, if imperfect humanity, of others, a whole lot of God showed up.  I'm still working out how that happens, and will probably write through the discovery process.

Also, I really like shoes anyway, and we have a pretty serious collection started...


Reflections on Ash Wednesday

My brother George:

"In the hubbub where the pitiful congregate" - Jeff Tweedy
One of my favorite songwriters (probably unintentionally) doing ecclesial theology. Ash Wednesday may be one of the more readily identifiable times that we have set aside to acknowledge that when we congregate, we do so as pitiful creatures. Strivings for wholeness and impenetrability burn away, leaving ashes and dust. O, the beautiful hubbub that ensues when we admit this together.

From Mike DeMoss, a Methodist pastor in my town:

Ever since I knelt before 10 year old Emily several years ago, she tracing a cross on my forehead with her ashen tinged finger and tender mercy, words like repentance, discipline, and renewal, now speak to me, in a deeply personal way, of a grace peculiar to Ash Wednesday. It is the grace of the possibility of a different direction, a new path, or perhaps, an old path recognized with new clarity. It is perhaps for this reason - the beckoning of that new way - the Ash Wednesday service is not among the most well attended. And yet...could it be possible that, as these ashes, still warm from this morning's burning of last year's palms, burn a mark on our hearts that will last long after the dust has settled?

My (abbreviated) intro to services tonight:
...And at the end of this solemn season of self-reflection and honesty we are faced with the ultimate hope: Our God is a God of life. Our God makes all things new and creates new paths. Resurrection is coming.

By participating in this season of Lent the sweetness, the joy found in the work of Jesus is all the more powerful.

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