Thanks, Dad

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The Field of Honor flags hang still as I walk among them, their stripes melded together with not a hint of breeze to break the humid, stifling July early evening. Yesterday, they fluttered and flew. Today, nothing. I wish they would, walking between poles in the slightly curved display of hundreds of flags.

It would be a better photo op, at least.

A few years ago, I zip tied these flags to the poles, along with a couple dozen other volunteers in the VFW multi-purpose room. I purchased one for my dad. I thought he would be proud to have his name there, giving passing people the chance to thank him for what he had done long ago on a ship in the South Pacific.

I toured that ship last summer. I walked the same decks he had as a boy in 1944. Yes, a boy he certainly was. Sixteen year old—probably the age of one of the cafeteria servers in the black and white photos that hung in the bowels of the ship-turned-museum. For all I knew, that photo was my dad. I didn’t know what he looked like at sixteen. I didn’t know what he had done on that ship.

I don’t know how much of his choice to enlist resulted from patriotism and how much stemmed from a deep desire to get away from home. Regardless, for two years that teenaged boy who would be my father walked those decks, heard those guns, ducked enemy fire, and committed acts of both bravery and horror of which he never, ever spoke.

Maybe the flags hang silent for a reason.

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For the first time in the twenty-two years we’ve lived in our little community, I didn’t march in the July 4th parade. (Technically, it’s July 3rd here, but who wants to be technical?) I heard the celebration from my backyard, the usual pre-parade chaos of sirens and drums, not quite ready for prime time. I usually heard it from a much closer proximity.

I’ve walked that parade route as a 4H volunteer, a community theater board member, and, most recently, as a library participant. Possibly as a garden club member, too, tossed in one year for fun. I’ve walked it in rain and in scorching heat. Once, we walked it in a thunderstorm, but that disbanded quickly, and I spent a couple hours locating my children who had fled the 4H float and taken refuge in that same VFW hall.

It seems community can’t get rid of me here. Part of me missed the chaos and camaraderie; part of me appreciated the relative quiet and definitely the air conditioning.

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Seventy-five years ago, my dad stepped on a ship that must have been the largest structure that southern-Illinois-bred boy had ever seen, sporting a new buzz cut and a uniform doubtless too big. He fought a regime that only believed in human dignity insofar as the humans looked like white northern Europeans and thought like they were instructed. Which means, they didn’t think. They chose to look away. They chose to scapegoat their personal fears and woes. They chose to excavate multiple reasons why what was happening must be so. It had to be a deep dig.

There is nothing, nothing on the face of this earth or in heaven, that justifies treating an image of God as anything less than that. We must dig far to find those things, because they do not lie anywhere easy in God’s good world.

A few years ago, I bought that flag and its memorial, waterproof pouch for my dad, and they put his name on it. They printed the years he served the US Navy, 1944-46, and I remembered that pouch when I walked the metal stairs and touched the cold bunks of the USS Iowa. What he did there died with him, but I knew he had grown up quickly in those years, and I knew he understood why he had gone.

This year, I chose not to walk the parade, because I could not step in time to a theme of “Let Freedom Ring” when it does not and is not for so many. When boys my father’s age on that boat are in cages and babies have to defend themselves in court. When parents who only want their children to live have them stolen instead. When people die because they dreamed of freedom, and even to request it was denied.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

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I think that choice also honored my dad. Dad believed in fairness. He believed in treating humans as fellow humans. He believed in fighting evil and naming it for what it was, even if that fight for him began more as a way to leave his parents’ difficult home than as a declaration of human rights. He believed Teddy Roosevelt.

He had seen what happens when we look away.

The Big Questions

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This is one of the things you do when you stop questioning everything. Yes, worth it.

I’m a questioner. I knew this without putting a label to it, but Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, labeled it for me and offered me ratification to be what I was. Questioners are happy to do anything for anyone—but we must be assured it makes sense, first. We have to know we’re making the effort for a reason.

This annoys my obliger husband—who follows rules because the rules are there to follow.

Sometimes, though, questioners can ask too much, fear too much, make too many excuses for our hesitation. We lean, hard, toward perfectionism. If we can’t assure ourselves the next step won’t fail, we’re reluctant to take it. We always want to know if there might be a better choice.

Questioners suffer a lot from buyer’s remorse.

Read more about how I deal with buyer’s remorse (and other regrets of a questioner) at The Glorious Table now!

Ode To the Middle-Aged Mama

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We meet her first when she sends a scathing letter to her son—what JK Rowling terms a “howler.” Ron Weasley’s embarrassment makes us roll our eyes at the overbearing mother who scolds her son for all the world to hear.

Whoa, mama. take a step back.

She sends her youngest son and his best friend Christmas sweaters—enormous seeming wastes of yarn that swathe her children in embarrassment, again. (Let’s not even talk about the Yule robes.) We silently (or not so silently) laugh at the middle-aged woman who would create such things and believe they’re beautiful.

Then, we discover–we don’t know Molly Weasley at all.

Favorite Books and Favorite Heroes

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Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

While discussing books that have meant something to me, I thought a post on one of my favorite heroines might be fun. Mrs. Weasley. The quintessential mother hen. The character we instantly stereotype—a caring but essentially nonessential woman. What many teenage boys think of their mothers, we suppose. But we agree with that teenage boy, Ron. She’s a good heart, wrapped in mom jeans and irrelevant conversation.

Shows what we know.

Many years after reading Harry Potter, and after a dozen or more movie viewings, I’ve learned why Harry and Hermione don’t, after all, end up together. I’ve come to understand what it is about the Weasleys that draws them both into the family orbit.

It all centers on Molly. It always did.

Molly’s sweaters and letters show us something, if we’re really looking. We see in them, and their creator, a fierce loyalty and love for family that doesn’t care about embarrassment or anything else on its quest for insuring her offspring are safe and good people. Her love and loyalty drive everything—and they know nothing on earth that will intimidate them.

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Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Harry is drawn to something he’s never known. Hermione Is drawn to what she intentionally gave up (in my vote for saddest scene in all eight movies). There’s something about fierce love and loyalty that cannot help but pull in whatever circles it. It’s a black hole of sorts, but in a positive way.

Love and Loyalty for the Win

“Mrs Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms. Bellatrix spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of her new challenger.”

Bellatrix never imagined this middle-aged mama could bring her down. To be fair to Bellatrix, neither did anyone else. We deeply underestimated the lady. We simply never saw what drove her to knit. To bake. To open her home to anyone in need. To risk everything when those “bonus kids” she loved were in deep danger. To bolster her husband’s work in defying evil.

We didn’t see that it was a great work of its own in the fight against evil, those clacking knitting needles and that open guest policy. We didn’t realize that what she really knit together was a web so strong it held and protected so many of the “good guys” we lost count.

I’m pretty sure I whooped too loudly in the theater when she made her heroic stand to protect her daughter. I saw, in that moment, what I should have seen before it. Molly Weasley had been saying, “Not my loved one, bitch” to evil for a very, very long time. And her loved ones were many.

We simply hadn’t noticed.

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Our Story, Too

Isn’t this the story of many middle-aged mamas? Isn’t this why we love her? We feel sometimes so mundane, so overlooked and pointless. Then we see someone who feels as we do about it all—and she doesn’t hold back.

She won’t be irrelevant, and maybe, in that moment, we recognize that we refuse to be as well. We realize we never were.

Women, we are knitting those webs, aren’t we? We’re holding the forces of evil at bay, too, but often in an unnoticed way, and the glory goes to the Harrys and not to the Mollys. It always does.

Yet we keep on knitting

Maybe not literally. I can’t knit to save my life. Yarn skills evade me. But without us, women, where would the fight be?

  • What children would not have been raised who are now the good people we imagined and fought for?
  • What injustices would still be occurring if we hadn’t written that letter or volunteered those hours?
  • Who would still be in despair if we hadn’t opened our ears, our hearts, our homes?
  • What life wouldn’t have been redirected if we hadn’t spoken those words, even in a howler, if the need decreed it?
  • What need wouldn’t have been met without our constant watch at the city gates—bringing casseroles, knitting scarves, cleaning toilets, and yes, protesting on the street corners, telling the truth about sexual abuse, and loving the other?

We underestimated women have known this since Shifra and Puah, since Abigail and Ruth. Too often, we don’t believe in our own power, but God affirms it.

God credits them with the saving of lives, these middle-ages mamas of the Hebrew world. He writes boldly what others overlook. Fierce loyalty and love know no force they fear. They are the specialty of the middle-aged mama.

We’ve been saying, “not my loved one, bitch” to evil for a long time. And the older I get, the more loved ones I accumulate. They come in all colors and languages and creeds, nowadays. Maybe I can’t knit a stitch, but I can expand my reach to hold these new loved ones, too, in a fierce, protecting love. It’s our superpower, women.

God continues to affirm when we women use that superpower, that gift of grace, of love and loyalty to continue the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) fight.

It all centers on the Molly Weasleys. It always has.

 

Who is one of your favorite heroes? I’d love to hear!

I Am the Resurrection

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It’s four days before Easter, and as I write this, I’m hacking up my guts with coughing and suffering through the mother of all sinus headaches. It’s what happens when I catch a cold, because I do not catch common colds. Fortunately, I don’t catch them often, either.

Not terribly conducive to writing Good Friday and Easter sermons, not to mention all the things a mom does to make Easter wonderful.

2018 has been like this. It’s been a two steps forward three steps back kind of year so far, and looking toward Easter, even if it is only four days ahead, seems like a resurrection hope on the other side of an abyss big enough to put Texas in.

I know I’m not the only one.

Working on that sermon, I found a diamond in a story many of us know well. It’s a detail easily overlooked—but the difference it makes to our hopes.

Jesus hears that his dear friend Lazarus is sick. He waits a couple days, then tells his disciples he’s going to “wake him up.” His disciples are concerned.

They politely try to remind Jesus that the last time they went to that part of the country, people tried to kill him. Not really on the tour itinerary anymore, they’re thinking. And, Jesus, the dude’s taking a nap. This is not something that requires you to risk your life. Or ours.

Since euphemisms are clearly lost on the disciples, Jesus has to explain that Lazarus is, in fact, dead. Well that escalated quickly.

They go anyway, because Jesus.

John 11.17-27 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

I am resurrection and life. Do you believe this?

This is Martha’s worst nightmare. They’ve apparently already lost their parents. Lazarus is likely their only source of income. Two women alone in the world at that time? It was a terrifying prospect. She mourned the loss of her brother deeply. She also looked at the future with eyes filled with fear.

But notice this one point—he’s not asking Martha if she believes in something she’s seen. Lazarus is still in the grave. Jesus hasn’t performed his own stunning special effects show of now-he’s-dead-now-he’s-not.

He’s asking Martha is she believes in something that has not happened. Has she known him enough, followed him deeply enough, understood his heart and his identity enough, to believe he is what he says he is, regardless of the evidence in her life?

Lazarus is dead. That hasn’t changed. Martha, do you believe anyway?

Jesus is the Resurrection of all things.

That includes anything in my life or yours that needs resurrection. He can (and did) raise Lazarus from the dead, but he is also the Resurrection of all the small deaths in our lives. There is nothing can’t be raised.

Of course, Martha has to put Lazarus in the ground first.

I wonder if sometimes we don’t receive our resurrection because we’ve never properly buried the thing we need revived. We cling to it, sure we can revive it. Sure it’s not really so bad as to be dying.

We won’t give it up to the grave, and then we don’t understand why it’s not revived. I’m not even sure right now, after the beginning of this year, how much Jesus wants me to let go of and bury. I don’t know if it will be four days or four years or more. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this tomb. I do know that if I want resurrection, I’ll have to bury a few things first.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can_t resurrect_ No, but you might have to bury it first.

But Then, the Dead Body

There are parts of our lives we have to bury if we want them healed. Then, maybe worse, we have to let him deal with the dead carcass of what we’ve created.

When Jesus tells Martha to roll the stone way from her brother’s tomb, she replies that it will stink something awful. The man’s been dead and behind that rock for four days. In an Israeli climate, that body’s going to reek.

This is true of our smelly things, too.

If we hand our things over to him to resurrect, we know they could stink all the way to heaven. We know they could make us smell, too. The stench is often of our own making, but we don’t want to roll that stone away to smell it.

If Jesus is going to resurrect it, it’s probably going to get smelly and messy before it gets good. The cross got that way. It was bloody and grimy and messy—but it led to an empty tomb.

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How much do we really want resurrection? Enough to let Jesus roll that stone away? Enough to allow him to pull away the grave clothes of our pain and sorrow and inabilities? Enough to listen as he calls us out, still wrapped in our mess, believing that he has a resurrection in mind if we simply come out into the open?

Martha, do you believe this? Do you know me and love me enough to trust that, even if it gets smelly and hard, you can trust me with the outcome?

Probably my favorite quote from Jen Hatmaker’s book Of Mess and Moxie is this—”We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too dead for resurrection. It can be worse than you think, and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”

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Nothing. Not financial issues, parenting issues, job issues, relationship issues, sin issues, nothing —nothing is too dead for resurrection.

Do we believe it enough to let those things die, and then let him raise them the way he has planned?

I am the raising up. The everything rising from the dead. I am the not dead, the opposite of death. I am death you don’t win, and death, where is your sting? I am the rising—no one can stop me from raising myself or you.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can’t resurrect? No, but you might have to bury it first.

Do we believe it?

Plowing Up the Hard Road

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I LOVE sunflowers. But I have an issue with them. Every time I plant sunflower seeds in our yard, I get nothing. No sprouts. No flowers. Nada. I put those things all over the place, but it doesn’t matter. I plant many other seeds quite successfully, but sunflowers don’t care. Absolutely nothing has come out of the ground when I plant sunflowers seeds at any time in the history of sunflowers.

Here’s the issue—when my husband plants them, those things jump out of the ground. We have a bounty of sunflowers. I don’t do anything differently. But I can’t grow sunflowers to save my life. I need to stay married if only to have a source of sunflowers in my world.

Even a good seed sower can have problems with uncooperative soil.

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Last week, we talked about how good stories change us for the better so that changed people can tell good stories with their lives. When Jesus laid down that idea, he began with a story to illustrate that very thing. It’s what we call the Parable of the Soils.

TLDR version: A farmer planted some seeds. He wasn’t very discriminatory about the way he planted them or where they fell. This was actually not too far off from current farming practices for Jesus’ time. Or he just had really bad aim. Whatever.

Some of the seeds landed on the road, where birds ate those babies right up. (I imagine starlings or blackbirds, because those things scarf seeds at my feeder like there will be a worldwide seed shortage within the next hour.) Starlings and blackbirds are also rather nondiscriminatory when it comes to eating.

Some ended up in the middle of rocks, and some dropped in the weeds. Rocks aren’t very fertile soil when the drought hits, and weeds . . . well, as a gardener, I know how fast weeds grow. Crazy fast. Either way, the good seed doesn’t fare well.

And some fell in soil that was juuuust right and grew big and strong.

It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for farmers.

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Of course, Jesus was talking about our hearts, not basic dirt. What kind of heart will produce big, strong, plentiful crops from the story seeds he offers?

Spoiler: It’s not the first three.

“Some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.”

The footpath has had years to be packed down into toughness. The more it’s been walked over, the more unyielding it’s gotten. Every step has made it harder, every day has tamped it down just a little bit more. It’s hard.

Maybe you know someone like that.

The hard, hard road doesn’t feel the need to give way for seeds. It doesn’t bend. It knows what it wants to accept, and anything else bounces off into the ditch of indifference.

Hard roads don’t want to hear anything that challenges their assumptions or threatens to change their minds. That stuff gets bounced right out. They have their rules; they know what’s what. Getting soft only creates people who compromise.

It just gets you hurt.

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Yet Jesus has no use for the hard roads. He knows no true kingdom values will grow there. Not until they are tilled up, plowed and furrowed and deeply dug to allow new seed to grow. 

Hard soiled hearts have to break in so many places to allow them to be vulnerable to the seed and sun and rain God has for them.

We cannot tell good stories unless we’re willing to face our hardness.

As a kid, I responded to being an actual, real-life Ferdinand (the bull who preferred to sit alone and smell flowers) with deep cynicism and sarcasm. Oh yes, you’d better believe I could do sarcasm as an eight-year-old. I didn’t get this good without years of practice. Also, I learned years later the secrets of the INFJ door slam. (“It’s been said that when INFJs get hurt or angry, they don’t hate you, they nothing you.”) 

I pushed others away before they could declare me too weird for words and push me away. Rejection as as preemptive social strike. I wasn’t very big or very popular, but I was strategic enough to know good warfare tactics.

Except human community is not built on warfare models.

When I started to face the reasons I lacked friends, the reasons behind why I reacted defensively and rejected others first, I began to heal and dip my toes in the open water of vulnerability. I learned to go first in bridge-building. I discovered that other people were just as afraid as I was. I allowed others to see between the chain mail loops about my heart.

I got hurt. But it didn’t kill me, and I found it was better than being hard.

Jesus’ words can’t enter a heart that’s defending itself from invasion. His pleas that we put others above ourselves, show mercy as our default, forgive completely, ask forgiveness, and start over—they can’t find fertile ground in hard hearts that won’t yield to the soft foot of understanding. We have no worthwhile story to tell without vulnerable hearts.

Go ahead. Plow up the ground. Face those things that scare you about letting others in. They won’t kill you. I promise that you’re tougher than that. I also promise that the relationships you will gain, the changes he will make in you, are so very much worth the scary bit. Stop hardening up. Plow deep. Allow him to plant seeds for a story that’s unique to you.

You’re a great storyteller in the making.

all the way to Rio

I have a new Olympic hero. My old hero—who is still my main one—is Keri Strug. Because 1)—she is a gymnast, so duh, and 2)—She took that whole commitment to team thing seriously and did something really hard and courageous for the sake of others. That’s heroic behavior in my book. I will never forget watching that event. A whole lot of us could be taught a lesson from Kerri Strug about going through tough stuff for the sake of people you’ve made a commitment to. But about that new hero . . .

My new hero is Anne Abernathy, who is old news, I guess, but to me she is new. And I love her, in a non-creepy-though-I’ve-never-met-her sort of way. She has been a luge athlete qualifying in six Olympic games. That in itself is an achievement. But . . . Anne was also 53 at her last qualification.

Here are a few stats on this lady (courtesy of Wikipedia): 

  • Abernathy is the oldest woman to ever compete in the Winter Olympic Games, breaking the old record during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics (a record she set).
  • She is the only woman to qualify for six Winter Olympic Games and one of only two female athletes to compete in five Winter Olympics.
  • In 2006, she became the first woman over 50 to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
  • Abernathy was the first woman to qualify for six Winter Olympics.
  • During the AlbertvilleWinter Olympics, she became the first athlete to compete with a camera on board–a feat that was nominated for an Emmy in technical broadcast achievement.

And oh–she dealt with recurring cancer and a life-threatening brain injury during these years. Sheesh. I will cease and desist the whining about getting off my butt and doing a little aerobic walking. (Who am I kidding? No, I won’t. But I should.)

And—deeming it unwise to continue on in luge, she is currently training in another sport with sights set on Rio in 2016. Archery. Hey, I do archery. Kind of. Maybe . . . Except I’d need lasik surgery before qualifying for the team. Still, a concerted effort and maybe 2020.

So, is this one of those posts meant to shame you and make you think you’re not working hard enough or doing enough with your life, a la that “What’s Your Excuse?” ad that enraged so many post-partum women?

No, it is not. I hope it’s encouragement. I believe Anne would hope so. Encouragement that for every barrier out there that might be real, there is one we can knock down, one that may even be strongest in our imagination. For everything that blocks our way, there is somewhere we can move forward toward whatever we dream of. And if one opportunity ends, it’s not the end. It’s a chance to try a new outlet and see where it takes us. 

Anne wants it to take her to Rio. What barriers are trying to keep you from your Rio? Where will your next step take you?