Roots and Wings

The here, the now and the individual have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet and — from time immemorial — the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family; the spontaneity of now; the vividness of here. This is the basic substance of life. These are the individual elements that form the bigger entities like mass, future, world. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea.

The car is packed! Time to go! 🙂

Tuesday morning’s op-ed piece by Michael Gerson was a fitting start to my day. Like him, we are sending off our younger daughter to college this week. As in, this morning.

She is now moved into her dorm room, getting to know her roomie, and starting to self-navigate all that college will bring her in the way of fun and challenges. The time has flown too fast, and yet has also taken forever. (And that perspective mutates according to which one of us is ready for more/less freedom. I do remember. I was a young adult… once… a long time ago!)

However, I’m not in suffering mode. We are celebrating Reedy Girl’s hard work and her readiness for what’s ahead. She’s more than ready to go; (she was packed by Monday afternoon!) So today is a milestone, a day to remember.

Many years ago, when her older sister was starting kindergarten, there was a short meeting for parents (mostly moms) with the elementary school principal, the amazing Mrs. Shirley. She told us that though we didn’t believe it, the years would fly by. Our days of helping with projects for school, of buying hiliters, paper, pencils and markers would end. There would be no “homework folder” to check, no concert to attend, no forms to fill out. It didn’t seem possible, and if we understood what she was saying, it was only intellectually. Then she quoted Hodding Carter’s wisdom:

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.” ― W. Hodding Carter


When she shared this advice with us, Mrs. Shirley’s children were in college. She knew what was coming. And that we might not be ready, when the time came for the “wings” stage.

We would stop planning carpools, playdates and soccer mom duties, and step back as our middle schoolers and high schoolers made their own plans. The time would come to watch them fly. When she talked about roots and wings, we all nodded, sagely, maturely, knowingly.

As if.

In the fast lane glance in the rearview mirror, I can see all that our daughters have learned, experienced and achieved. I can see where I would wish to have done a better job as a parent. But we all muddled through, and we still love each other! It is remarkable, really. And over in a flash. I think the roots we have offered them are strong and stable (eh – there’s knots and twists to be sure.) It’s time to see them fly!

So today I celebrate Reedy Girl’s journey and all of the wonderful experiences she will have ahead. I’m smiling at the new ventures her sister is on as she enters the workforce. I’m putting down a marker of sorts, thanking God for this lifetime job of parenting.

The journey changes. The challenges come and go. But roots and wings… there it is. And the screen isn’t blurry at all as I type this. Nope. Not at all. (Where’s my tissues?)

“Child-Free” again. Sort of.

This post was originally written for Viewpoint at Christian Feminism Today. It is published here with their permission and encouragement.

Lauren Sandler’s article in TIME magazine caught my attention. [“The Child-Free Life: When having it all means not having children,” 8/12/2013] In about two weeks, my husband and I will be “child-free” for the first time in 22+ years. Sort of.

Our lovely daughters
Our lovely daughters

One daughter has graduated from St. John’s College and one heads off to Annapolis for her freshman year this month. Our house will be emptier, our lives less busy, and our calendar much freer.

More than one person has asked, “What WILL you do with all that free time?” And then we all laugh. Because we are far too capable of filling up evenings and weekends with “other” things. My on call schedule, Bearded Brewer’s projects, gardening and home maintenance, and church… yeah. I’d say we will stay out of mischief.

Friends who still have children in public school are slaves to the calendar of teacher workdays and school closings. We could take that trip to Sanibel in October and enjoy the empty beaches, or a camping trip in early May before school lets out. These are enticing prospects, and I can relate to those who are “child-free” by choice and who revel in their ability to just pick up and GO.

The article, however, touches a nerve for friends, and even a few of my siblings, who have chosen not to have children. They are viewed as selfish, or immature or even decadent. Why reproductive choices continue to be a flash-point in our society is beyond me. But some folks apparently feel the need to comment or criticize if someone does not produce offspring, have them too soon, too late, too few or too many. It’s really NOT a matter of public debate.

This change has been coming for a long time. And it’s about time.

Sandler notes the trend in women ages 40-44 who have chosen to be childless. (Sadly, there are no statistics listed for men with the same choice. But that’s another topic.) According to her article, in 1976, 1 in 10 women of that age bracket were childless. In 2010, it had dropped to 1 in 5. I don’t see it as being a problem. In fact, I see it as a good idea! And even a biblical one.

Though limited in number, there ARE examples of women in Scripture who had titles other than “mother of ___________.” They were judges, prophetesses, midwives (heh), and Bible teachers. Some were even evangelists and apostles. Producing the fruit of the womb is not the only task God has given to women over the centuries.

Economically, legally and socially, women are no longer restricted to beings wives and mothers. They run countries and businesses and own property, instead of being property. They pay taxes, defend our freedoms and keep our streets safe. They would rather slay their own dragons, thankyouverymuch, than find a knight to do it for them. This is progress.

Having children may be a natural biological function, but nurturing them is NOT a natural psychological one.
Some people don’t want to have their own children. Given the freedom to choose a life and a child-bearing status of one’s own preference, couples and singles today are finding that they do not want to have offspring, by birth or adoption. They have found a way through the norms to choices which a century ago would have been rare, if not unthinkable. They. Don’t. Want. Children.

Many women feel like they “have” to get married and have children. It’s portrayed as something women just DO if they are ____________ (godly, mature, you pick the adjective). Women are SUPPOSED to be married and have babies. It’s held up as a Divine Order. But it’s really more of a Calling, and it isn’t for every woman. More than one mother has confided in me that they “didn’t like kids very much” and yet… here they are on the playground watching their children. They feel guilty and have a severe case of “the shoulds” because this whole butt-wiping, snotty-nose patrol thing is just not their cuppa.

So it’s really OK if a woman chooses not to have her own offspring. She is no less female, no less feminine based on her choices.

Being female does not mean you want to work with children.
And, yes, it can take a while to figure out that this is not for you. After a degree in education and teaching music, I realized I didn’t really want to do that for the rest of my life. No thanks. Those who DO teach — I salute you. You have invested a considerable amount of time and expertise in our children, and I am grateful.

Hello Church. I’m looking at you. Let’s stop assuming that all women want to help with children’s programs. Invite men AND women to participate. I have helped out here and there over the years, but I chose support roles that did not require my spending time with small children when I was home with my own all week. Even now that mine are older, I decline. Courteously. 🙂

Being an adult does not mean you want to always be around other people’s children.
We have all been on the flight where a child was not the best behaved example of humanity. (Ahem. And with adults too, from time to time.) Public transportation is one arena that we all learn to grin and bear it. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to be helpful to a stressed out family.

But families can try to be considerate. For instance, couples without children have been complaining — and asking for other venues to have child-free zones and hours. Huff-Post reported that La Fisheria in Houston now limits guests to those 9 and up from 7-10 pm each evening. I find that a little extreme, but I can see how a four-year-old needs to be home in bed, not eating dinner at 9 pm. When the kid across the street starts shooting hoops at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, I’m not grace-filled in my thoughts, that’s for sure. Consideration on the part of parents is key — what would be fair to expect if the situation were reversed?

When they have the time and the inclination, childless adults are — simply — the sprinkles on the triple-decker ice cream cone of life for kids.
Childless adults have been amazing role models to our daughters. They are entrepreneurs, investors, physicians, health care workers and professors. They are engaging, encouraging and a lot of fun to be around (for the whole family.) They bring a new kind of love and mentoring as “not-parents”. Who but our friend Carol could convince Reedy Girl to stuff those six remaining green beans in her mouth all at once — just so that she wouldn’t miss out on ice cream? Who but Bridget had the time to indulge The Johnnie in riding lessons when she was in her horse-crazy phase – and did it for free? Who but their amazing aunts mailed surprise packages with THE BEST books, American Girl doll clothes, and made them feel loved and special? Or filled them with ice cream from Sonic and their favorite kinds of candy or pizza… just because. (We did our best not to make them into free babysitters, either. They were our friends and family, and we welcomed them at our table and in our home. And that’s pretty wonderful — for all of us.)

There are other really good reasons why men AND women choose not to have children.
And it really isn’t any of our business. But — in case you can’t get your head around it, consider that…

  • It may be an awareness that we share an over-populated, under-resourced world.
  • It may be that they want to change the world through their life’s work, and so they have chosen a trail-blazing career instead of parenting.
  • It could be that they can’t conceive or can’t afford to adopt. (Let’s face it – adoption is lauded as a great idea, but we give little-to-no financial support to those who try that route.)
  • It may be that family needs and finances dictate they invest their nurturing in others.
  • And it may be that, really and truly, they don’t want to be responsible for raising children. As one friend commented to me, “I can’t keep goldfish alive. Why would I decide to have children?”

So… back to our being “child-free” soon…

I’m a realist. Just because our daughters are moving into their own lives and plans doesn’t mean we won’t make time for them, or be available when they need us. More than once, I moved back home in between college and grad school, summer jobs and new careers. There was room. There was love. There was storage for furniture, books and clothes. There was help when I needed it with finances and planning, and even loading the UHaul. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, by the way.)

I’m grateful that I’m married and that we have two wonderful daughters. I wouldn’t trade a single year of our parenting journey and family life for any amount of money. I’m not a perfect parent, but I love being one. But I don’t hold it up as a prescription for anyone else. Nor do I feel it validates adulthood, maturity, femininity or biblical life choices.

Let’s give it a rest, shall we? Life’s too short. Love the people that are your life — however you find them. That will make a world of difference.

RevGalBlogPals: A Birthday Carnival!

Teri over at Revgals writes:

Happy Birthday to us,
Happy birthday to us,
Happy birthday dear RevGals,
happy birthday to us!

That’s right, this week is the birthday of RevGalBlogPals. We’re eight! It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since the comment-conversation that led to t-shirts and a website, then later a board and an annual event and now a staff person! We are growing almost as fast as an eight year old, and we love every minute! As many of the founders can be heard saying: “we made a thing!” It’s always said with an exclamation point, of course.

I have a friend who always wishes people happy birthday with the greeting “happy new year!” It’s a reminder that a birthday both marks things past and looks forward to things to come. So may our birthday be an occasion for looking back (as we have done the last two weeks) and looking forward at what God has in store for us next!

Because eight year olds love things that are slightly complicated but not really, and because 8 year olds are some of the most imaginative people I know, we’ll be doing a two-part carnival this week!

Such fun, this month of Carnival posts! 🙂 And I just met a bunch of RevGals (though they didn’t know it yet) from Wesley Seminary who visited our church yesterday. I hope they come find all of us, because they are some amazing Local Pastors who will enjoy this camaraderie, too.

On to the questions!

1. What’s your birthday tradition?

We always ask the birthday person to request a menu (or a place to go out and eat) for their birthday dinner. They also get to choose the kind of cake or sweet treat. Bearded Brewer is happy with a birthday pie (just about any kind except coconut!) and rest of us are prone to want chocolate or one of the luscious desserts the Reedy Girl makes.

2. If you were blowing out the RevGal birthday candles, what would you wish for us? What’s your dream for RevGalBlogPals?

I would wish for continued support and caring among a widely disparate group of women pastors and their “pals.” It is so easy in this day and age to get huffy. Though we are so very different, we are accepting of those differences. Even if how someone else worships is not our cuppa, there’s no theological head-bashing. Among religious and Christian bloggers, that is just simply unusual. (A hat tip to the trolls in my comment section. I’ll still not publish your rants.)

I would also wish that we knock down those walls once and for all so that those who are gifted  will be able to serve the Church, regardless of race and gender, according to their Calling.

So may it be. Thanks be to God.

RevGal Carnival continues: RevGal surprises

RevGalBlogPals continues a “carnival” of blog posts… so if you are female and a Rev or a Pal of a female Rev, you qualify to play along! 🙂

Teri asks us this question:

What’s the most surprising connection you’ve made through RevGalBlogPals? Or the most surprising or helpful thing you’ve learned/experienced through this galship of friends?

Well, I stumbled on to RevGals when I googled the phrase “women pastors” or something similar. I hadn’t started seminary yet, but I was in process. (It was only a broken dream at that point, one I was struggling to revive.) They were real. They were funny. They brought insight and perspective into this path I was heading down that both scared and excited me. They shared honestly and with great sensitivity. I read every post. Then I began to read from afar about RevGals in the path of Hurricane Katrina, and met via their blogs some of the RevGalPetPals who blogged. That inspired our cats to blog! (Though it’s a bit less these days… I’ll have to talk to them about their slacker ways!)

I made connections all over the place…

  • Buckeye fans
  • Cat/dog people
  • Women who had lost a parent
  • Chaplains
  • Women who were struggling through seminary
  • Pastor-parents

Most of the women were from traditional denominations, and I was not. But I was still welcomed, despite the fact that preaching the Lectionary was not something I had done personally. I took it as a challenge to read, reflect and blog on the Lectionary this year. (So far, I’m only batting about 50% on that, but nevertheless, it’s been a good practice.)

There was acceptance. For example, though I won’t ever get on a BE Cruise, (it’s a phobia… just can’t do it),  I’m still a part of the group.

What surprised me the most, though, was the outpouring of encouragement and support when I hit sticking points in my seminary studies and in my career. Gals and Pals whom I’ve never met offered up prayers. Parenting worries were understood and the advice given was not condemning nor in a manner of superiority. In so many places in the world, the tendency we all have is one-up’ing each other. Not so on RevGals.

And that, perhaps, has been the most refreshing part of all.

“Rules” for dating our daughters…

You’ve probably read the “joke” rules from someone on dating his daughter. (One version is here.)

These rules are not funny. They border on brutality and reek of chauvenism. They suggest that every young man can’t keep his pants zipped and is only out for predatory dating. And they assume that because we have a daughter, that she is not capable of taking care of herself. That she needs a “prince” to rescue her from a “dragon.” Or that she needs our “help” in assessing who is a good person to date.

We hope that, by our example, conversations and the company we keep that we don’t need to screen their dates. Even in the internet age, we find that trust and openness are more likely to come as we teach and then back off and let them try their hand at life, relationships and the rest. In the interests of raising daughters who have common sense, and can face down and kill their own dragons, thankyouverymuch, here’s my rules. (By the way – It’s not difficult to impress her, or us. Just be a grown up!)

1) She has her own interests and her own pursuits. Find out about them, support them and genuinely cheer her on as she develops her skill and expertise. She will reciprocate.

2) Treat her as a piece of property and you will be evicted off hers. By her. (Corollary: She is not your property. Don’t treat her like it.)

3) She has a brain and knows how to use it. Same with some basic Chin-na moves.

4) She has feelings and doesn’t want them abused. She knows that the same applies to you.

5) When she says, “NO,” she means, “NO.” And don’t assume silence is a “YES.”

6) Remember to demonstrate the manners your parents tried to teach you. I promise she will try to use hers.

7) Act primeval and you will not impress. Any of us.

8) She has friends, a sib and parents who always, ALWAYS have her back.

9) Post online a snarky remark about her or text her a rude comment — you will find out that while she is forgiving, she is not stupid. And that it was nice knowing you.

10) We will welcome you as a guest and a friend in our home and our lives. We’ll celebrate your achievements, support your dreams and treat you well, because people who make our daughters happy, make us happy.

Why doubts are OK. And unanswerable questions.

There are situations that come in chaplaincy that have no answers. They just. Don’t. In my readings in theodicy (the study of evil and suffering) there are complicated schemas, but no answers. Not really.

In fact, the more I read about someone who has “all the answers,” the more I wonder. I wonder if they have struggled or wrestled in a life-defining, painful way with the issues they explain in so many easy steps. Or perhaps their strategy is an attempt to deal with a personal anxiety; they create a structure of “becauses” to answer their personal “whys.” There is no way of knowing, of course. But I have my suspicions.

Leibniz first coined the word “theodicy” in an attempt to explain why God could exist in the midst of pain, suffering and seeming imperfections in the world. Or, more accurately, in his book Théodicée, he explored the questions of “the goodness of God, the freedom of man and the origin of evil.” He created a word that is a mash of the Greek words for “God” and “justice.”

I try to read the various books on theodicy. Including Leibniz. The mind boggles. And my brain hurts. A lot. So let me take this into my real, imperfect life as a chaplain…

As I talk with patients and families, as I listen to staff members, I hear doubts and disbelief. I note the consistent questions that stem from a lack of confidence that God even hears our prayers, let alone if God even exists. And I try to affirm that it is OK to be confused, to NOT have answers, to struggle with doubts.

Sometimes this feels duplicitous. For in my own heart of hearts, I hate it when that happens. I rail against being left in the dark. And I beseech heaven for answers.

It is in this place of uncertainty and insecurity that we find our friend Thomas, the disciple of Jesus. His story is part of the lectionary this week.

John 20: 19-31 (Common English Bible)

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

You know, I can relate to Thomas. After the arrest, betrayal and burial of Jesus, he and the others were left to wonder. In paranoia and distress, they went into hiding because of fears for their own lives. His rabbi, his leader, his teacher… killed. The teachings he had been absorbing seemed twisted. Though he had gone out in the name of Jesus and participated in healings, and seen Lazarus raised from the dead, he just didn’t know what to think. He heard Jesus preach first-hand. And yet, when the other disciples told him – “We have seen the Lord! He is alive!” Our friend Thomas needed more than the word of others.

In a way, this comforts me.

When I have been let down, disappointed, discouraged and confused by my life’s events, it’s pretty hard to be believe that God will do what God promises. It seems too fantastical, too impossible. It’s kind of like everyone else in the universe won free tickets to Disney World, and I won tickets to South of the Border. During a hurricane. With a flea infestation.

So I really get Thomas. Afraid. Anxious. Confused and let down. Everything he understood, or thought he understood, was apparently wrong. And the words of Christ he did remember seemed too fantastical. “In three days I will rise again…”

Maybe you have been in this place of doubt as well. It doesn’t feel safe. It feels vulnerable and scary and out of your control. And people tell you to “just have faith and hang on…” and you’re wondering why you have to hang on for so long! You don’t want to be told how to feel or believe… You just want answers! You want it to be over.

I think it is human nature at work… when we have faith, we believe God will come through for us… We want to be proved right in our trust in God.

It does not feel safe. At all! It is life, completely taken out of our hands.

Or as the group Nickle Creek sings:

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me

I’m a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe
Oh me of little faith

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I’m a coward
If there’s a master of death
I bet he’s holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

I’m a doubting Thomas
I can’t keep my promises
Cause I don’t know what’s safe
Oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe
Oh me of little faith.

“Doubting Thomas” by Nickle Creek

If you read these words and you are in that unsafe place, there’s two things I want you to know. Not two dogmatic “here’s your answer” things. But two very tenuous, honest things from the places of love and life that I have learned in my stumbling-along walk with God.

First – and this is important – you are created and loved by God exactly as you are. We really don’t need to qualify that. It is the basis of life, the universe and everything. Whether you believe you are part of a 6 day creation story or a cosmic Ka-POW that resulted in the development of the human race, you can not be any more loved by God than you are. Right now.

Second – every person that I have learned from, loved, respected and studied has had struggles with doubts. About God. About life. About whether 2+2 must always equal 4. (They tell me it doesn’t have to equal 4. And again, my brain hurts.) So as we wonder, worry and doubt, recognize that you are in a huge company of humanity that has been asking questions and looking to God for answers. And that sometimes, the answers we discern from the perspective of our finite minds and hearts are simply… inadequate. So we doubt.

Living in the love of God, struggling in the honest, real way that life comes at us is OK. It’s not the not knowing that is so hard, really. It’s the waiting around time!

Doubts keep us honest as well. We can’t be complacent and at ease in our faith if we don’t occasionally entertain a few sincere questions and doubts. Or as Frederick Buechner wrote:

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Here’s to a growing faith, one that entertains many “ants” in your life’s picnic. 🙂