Dad’s Nose, Mom’s Smile

Dad

I have my dad’s nose. Every bit of my face, dirty blonde hair to crooked smile, belongs uncontestedly to my mother, but the nose. That broad Hutchinson nose defies my mother’s narrow ski slope one, as if my dad had to lay claim to at least one feature to prove his paternity.

Honestly, the rest of it is Mom’s too, from blue eyes to bad kidney to oddly long, skinny toes. I’ve always called the awkward smile in photos the Hutchinson smile, but it’s clearly the Swanson smile, because my brother has it too, and he is not a Hutchinson.

My dad runs deeper in me than facial features, though. Though he couldn’t prove it by my face, much of me is his, more than I ever realized as a child, staring into the mirror assuming I must be my mother through and through.

Not so.

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Skye

I look up at the white stone arch, September-red leaves twining around it like tendrils of a Scottish lass’ hair framing her alabaster face. At least, that’s what one imagines, gazing at castle ruins and thinking of lairds and ladies descending that now-crumbling staircase to waiting fawners and flatterers.

It appears this Isle of Skye, my potential homeland, wasn’t the kindest place to run a castle. They tended to fight over them on the regular, exchanging land between the clans like I exchange paint colors on the walls. Every several years, but much more violently. Seriously, if you want a change of scenery, paint is a simpler call.

Coming to Skye has been a dream of mine since I can remember. Before I knew my maiden name likely hailed from Scotland more than England. Before I knew its possible origin lay right on this island, nestled in the Clan Donald castle in whose ruins we now stand. Some part of me has always longed to stand here.

Also, I’ve always known a castle by the sea should rightfully be my home. It’s obvious some ancient lady who had my nose once walked along this shore. I know it.

The other castle we tour has far more visitors, but this one calls me. It’s a period novel cover, and I love every last falling, moss-covered stone.

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Leaving

We make our way to the museum on the grounds, and the displays on emigration fascinate me.  There is a replica of a ship’s quarters, pieces of memorabilia, and a room filled with the history of those who left the island when persecution mixed with hunger grew too insistent.

The wooden trays pull out smoothly. Either the museum workmanship was stellar, or ages of people like me have pulled them out, searching for signs of who knows what, more interested in some hazy genealogical quest than the history of Skye and its clans.

The tiny bunk area, a scarce few feet wide and long, housed families leaving the persecution of the Scots and hoping for a new start, after weeks on a rough sea in their miniature quarters.

Do I have ancestors who made that sail? My father’s family hails from Kentucky, somewhere. That’s about all I’m sure of. Kentucky is a quick jump over the mountains form North Carolina, the settling place of some of these ships. Were distant grandparents on one of them, and were their names recored somewhere within these wide pull drawers?

I don’t know. I want to believe so.

Why do I need to know?

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Our exchange student years ago asked that question. “Americans—you say you’re Swedish, or German, or Irish. But you’re not—you’re American! I’m German. Why are you all so obsessed with being something else?”

She had a point.

Perhaps it’s America’s youth, its rootlessness, its diversity. Its rough and rumble beginning that makes it question its parentage like a child who doesn’t know who his daddy is.

But why is it personal? Why do I not simply want to know about the MacDonald clan of Skye but I desperately want to be one of them? Information isn’t enough. I want membership.

We wander the gardens after, looking skyward at the massive trees. Apparently, the laird loved his trees, and he brought them back form all corners of the world. There is a love of growing things in my heritage—more proof I belong.

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Gardens

Another garden, another time, two other people. One eats a ripe, irresistible fruit. The other stands beside her, neither encouraging nor preventing, complicit in the act. Nearly as soon as the act is complete, the questions come.

Who am I?

Who is my father?

Why am I hiding?

Will I ever know those answers again?

And ever since, God their father has been trying to give them back their identity. To tell them who they are. Whose they are.

Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “Identity. It’s always God’s first move.”

It’s what we all seek. It’s what we all want.

A name. A Place. A past. A future.

My identity may begin in Varmland, Sweden, and Skye, Scotland. It might not. I only know the former for sure, and I still deeply want to know the latter. Or maybe I don’t, because if it isn’t true, I’ll have to give up my dreams of lairds and ladies and castles by the sea and being Scottish which is, I think we all agree, better than just plain English. Certainly the accent is.

I have my dad’s nose. I have my Father’s image. Who I am doesn’t depend on those sliding trays of names and history. It doesn’t. But still, I want to know.

Books Have Helped

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Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

In the beginning, the baby bird’s cries sounded not so much plaintive as curious. “Are you my mother?” He didn’t know, as he ran from one being to the next, dog, cow, boat, plane, asking his question. Nearer the end, I’d hear the increasingly frightened baby, fearful of being alone in a giant world of snorting cranes and belching barges.

The turquoise cover with the sparsely-drawn little hatchling always closed on a happy ending, and I didn’t know if it was his safe return to his mother or his adventures in the great wide world I loved the best as a little girl.

Favorite Friends

I can still see my favorite book covers that I pulled open over and over as a tiny girl. Are You My Mother? sat on the shelf near the white polka-dotted Put Me in the Zoo and the Old World deep red of Ferdinand the Bull. They all fell open easily, their bindings creased with jelly-butter hands and little girl adoration.

Now that I review the past, it shouldn’t amaze me that all three have a protagonist who feels mismatched with the world he experiences.

Those are the stories that spoke to a little girl, the last of seven, the one no one in that family of nine quite understood, except perhaps my sister Marilyn who stayed home with me all day, because her wheelchair didn’t allow her the freedom to explore the world as she would have liked. My smallness didn’t, either.

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Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

More Old Friends

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Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

By eight, I rode my hand-me-down teal green bike to the McHenry Library once a week. We lived outside of town, over the one-lane metal Old Bridge, so it felt like riding to the next county. My mother told me it was only a mile—google maps now tells me two. Mom didn’t have google.

At least a couple times a year, I strained high and took a blue book off the shelves in the “big people” section. I knew exactly where it resided on that shelf, a biography of Helen Keller the name of which I don’t remember but the content I don’t forget.

The cover felt worn, partially because I had worn it but mostly because it was old, the blue fabric wearing into strands rough on my small fingers rather than a smooth linen. 

Helen, too, felt alone. Helen, too, had dreams of leaving her confined world. Helen, too, was, as my mother described her last offspring, “stubborn as a mule.” I liked Helen. I loved that she won. I struggled with her every time I read her story, and I read it a lot.

I didn’t know as a little one that my firm standing as an INFJ and a female Enneagram 5 would always ensure I felt not quite “in” anything. Such knowledge comes much later, if at all, and we’re left to navigate the whys of feeling in this world but not of it on our own when we’re small.

I only knew books helped.

It wasn’t even hard to feel countercultural when I became a Christian near the end of high school. I already was.

The hard part was taking “me” out of the center of it all, a struggle I continue every morning when the alarm wails at me.

Books have continued to help.

New Friends

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Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

When I stood beneath the venerable tan archway of Wash U as a new student, looking alternately up at the looming arch and down at the bronzed, scuffed circle beneath me that honored our equally venerable founder, William Greenleaf Eliot, I knew the next four years would involve a lot of books.

I planned a major in political science. Economics stood in the second-place slot, at least until I discovered how much calculus it involved. Third, in what the horses races call “show,” was English. Somehow, by the beginning of sophomore year, that third horse pulled around the outside corner to become the winner, surprising no one but me.

Four years later, with a black flat cap, gold cords, and a three-hundred degree graduation ceremony out in the quad (English majors know the proper use of hyperbole), I held a degree that led me to teach high school literature, not sit at a table learning of amicus curiae, habeas corpus, torts, and writs.

Thank you, Jesus.

Always Friends

Books saved me as a child. They told me there were others out there like me. No one could be completely alone if stories brought into my bedroom nearly-orphaned little birds, not-quite-dogs whose spots led them to seek acceptance in a zoo, or bulls who sniffed flowers and imagined a world in which they didn’t have to be who they weren’t.

Books opened my confined world as a teenager. Sometimes, the discovery left scars, because the world I didn’t know could be brutal, even more than the one I did. That was Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. Darn Steinbeck. 

Sometimes, they left yearning, like half-breaths I didn’t know I was breathing, catching in my throat. That was Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time—books I didn’t even read until I was twenty-two, but that doesn’t matter.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Books have formed me as an adult. I’ve turned from fiction to theology, sociology, biography, history. Non-fiction, well done, still drives the imagination, and that it drives mine toward a better me, a better church, and a better world resonates with me more than fiction these years.

With the tribute to Eugene Peterson last week, I thought perhaps I would continue in a series of books that changed me, in some way, spiritually. In a positive way, that is. We’ve got way too much negative swimming around already.

What works have stuck with me, making me a better version of the small child who wondered if anyone else out there understood what life felt like, real life, the kind that feels everything and wants to know the limits and go beyond them. That child is still there. I hope, believe, she’s less her, more Jesus by now.

Books have helped.

In the Weeds

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Weeds are the supreme challenge for an enneagram 5.

You simply cannot accomplish the elimination of weeds. You can’t feel capable when surrounded by waist-high thistle. You cannot prove your worth by becoming the master of every errant dandelion.

I have a problem with this.

Back to Work

Mornings around here have evolved into their common summer patterns. First thing, I go out into the yard to spend an hour or so working in the yard, before the sun has had its chance to turn this acre into a sauna and me into a sweaty, dirty sauna-ee.

Usually, it means pulling weeds. Giant weeds. Weeds that are taller than I am, if they’ve been left too long.

I don’t mind the work. The bigger issue is what it does to my mind. It’s created a problem with the way I see things. I can’t go out into my yard without seeing the weeds. There my be lilies and roses and coneflowers flashing and dancing all over the yard, but what do I see?

The weeds.

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No matter how much good overflows my yard, I am conditioned to look around and see all the work that needs to be done. Unless I make the conscious effort, I can’t enjoy the beauty because I’m focused on what isn’t perfect.

I know how long that to-do list is, and I know I haven’t reached the bottom of it. I don’t know why I’m convinced there is a bottom to it—we rationally know there never is. Yet we still believe there will one day magically be a moment when we look around and rejoice that everything is accomplished.

(I think that day is the one we die, so why are we do eager for it anyway?)

Meanwhile, weeds.

This might sound familiar to some of you.

Grace

I don’t do this in other peoples’ yards. When I go to their gardens or their homes, I see gorgeous flowers, delicious dinners, a house that looks welcoming or a garden that invites me into relaxation.

I don’t see their weeds first. (OK, I do see weeds—I have a tendency to almost start pulling them. Occupational hazard. But I don’t think they’re terrible people for having weeds.) I see what they’ve managed to do, not what they haven’t done.

Why am I so quick to see the flaws in my own world and not the beautiful pieces?

Why do I only notice what needs doing instead of relish what has been accomplished?

Why do I offer grace to everyone but me?

Take Time To See

I’ve been taking some time this summer to do that. To intentionally look around and see the wonderful places my hands have created. I’m looking first at the flowers, the patchwork of foliage and the different textures playing together in dappled light. The hues I placed next to one another on purpose—a purple-leaved heuchera here to catch the purple vein in a fern there. There is artistry. There is accomplishment. There is an unfinished canvas, to be sure, but there are corners of triumph.

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What’s required in my garden might be needed in my life, too. After so much time recovery from last winter’s injury, I began to learn this lesson, too. Look at the wins. The losses are hard, and they are to be grieved. But they do not define who we are.

There are corners of triumph.

Even in my date book, there are spaces for writing down “this week’s wins.” How wise is that? What would change in our joy if we habitually wrote down this weeks’ wins and focused on them, rather than this week’s items that did not get checked off the interminable to-do list?

I wonder.

So I’ve begin that practice, too. I’ve started looking at the list of tasks for church, writing, family, and life and started telling myself the truth.

What doesn’t get done doesn’t change my value.

What does get done is cause for celebration.

Whatever is left over can be done another time, or never at all, and the world will still turn, and I will still be beloved.

These are hard truths for an Enneagram 5 to believe, wrapped up in our need to feel capable. So I’m learning to turn over that need and focus instead on a more necessary one—the need to know who and whose I am. The need to offer and receive grace.

The need to accept weeds. But not see them.

We Don’t Need Permission (First Encounters with Jesus)

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You’re not listening to me.

I’m joining Suzie Eller today for #LiveFreeThursday to talk about momentum. You know–just keeping keeping on. Sometimes, we feel like we need permission to keep going, or to venture out into something new. Maybe we can take a page from Jesus, though, and see–there’s a difference between being heard and making sure you speak up. Don’t hold back on the latter, even if the former is’t happening. You see, Jesus knows.

 

Maybe you understand this scenario all too well. You have an idea for solving a problem. You voice it. You’re ignored. A few weeks later, someone else “happens” to have the same idea. It’s hailed as genius. At which point, you briefly contemplate some extremely passive aggressive move to make that person’s life miserable. In Christian love.

Or you’re sitting with your dear family and you say something, something somewhere on the importance scale between, “I’m on fire, call an ambulance” and, “Dinner is ready.” Those people you live with are sitting within six feet of you. Their (non) response signals that they have all been hijacked by alien beings who removed their brains and replaced them with red jello. You briefly contemplate actually setting something on fire to see if it garners any attention at all.

Not that this has happened to me. Except–All. The. Time.

It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It does not feel good not to be heard.

Being Heard

So I can relate a bit to Jesus in his next public appearance, at the synagogue. “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown,” he says. That’s about right. At least if no one is going to listen to me, I’m in good company.

Everyone has heard of this young up-and-coming teacher, Jesus. Most likely, many of them already doubt the chances that a carpenter’s son could teach them anything. A pauper from Nazareth? Not really rabbi material. And yet, there are those persistent stories about his wise words…

So it’s SRO in the synagogue the morning he shows up.

Part of the audience is waiting for the next big thing—some spectacular show like the water and wine gig.

Part of the audience is waiting to trip him up and dismiss him.

How many of them are there really to hear him? I wonder.

I think I have some idea of how Jesus felt. It hurts not to be heard.

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Luke 4)

Those hearing Jesus for the first time here see some important things in this first encounter.

First, they see a man who is unafraid to assert his identity and authority.

IMG_0767He knows they expect little. He is fully aware of their skepticism. He confidently takes hold of the Scriptures, reads, sit down, and then unleashes a giant bomb on the little meeting.

“These holy verses? They’re talking about me. I am the product of the prophecy. I’m the One. That’s all for today.”

Mic drop.

I love how Jesus just drops these little gems into conversation and then goes back to eating his Cheerios or whatever like it is a common, everyday occurrence to go around telling people you’re God.

Only God could pull this off successfully.

Second, they see a man who is unafraid to say some unpopular things.

As long as his listeners could smugly put themselves in the position of oppressed martyr, they were fine with his words about releasing captives and helping the poor. But Jesus had no plans to let them color themselves the victims in this picture. He insisted they join him in being the agents of change for the real poor and marginalized. They did not like it. Most of us prefer to feel like martyrs rather than oppressors. It’s decidedly more comfortable.

Jesus wasn’t too concerned about comfort. He knew who he was, he knew why he came, and he knew he had the authority to carry it out. And he wasn’t afraid to say so.

I love this sighting of Jesus.

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Yes, I’m the King. G’night.

I know that many people are rightly turned off by the presentation of Jesus as an angry, judging, vindictive God.

But I wonder if many others aren’t equally turned off by the presentation of a Jesus who can’t or won’t take charge and tell the truth like it is. A wimpy Jesus who hangs around going, “Hey, whatever, it’s all cool in the end.” A Jesus who is just OK with whatever we want to say his mission was and whoever we want to believe he was.

That’s not a Jesus I would want to stake my life’s purpose on. I would find no comfort in trusting a Jesus who couldn’t make up his mind to be who he was and stick with it. So I am comforted and empowered by this Luke 4 Jesus. He is bold. He is purposeful. He is unafraid. That’s a Jesus I can follow with confidence.

And in the times when I feel unheard and unheeded, it’s a Jesus I can appreciate.

I wrote an article recently on women in leadership and how we often downplay our own abilities. We put on a Christian costume of humility and allow ourselves to remain unheeded and unheard. In the name of being good Christian women.

Only it’s not good at all. Jesus demonstrates a better way here. Now, I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. So, we don’t have the authority to go around asserting our opinions like they are infallible. We desperately need to err on the side of love and grace. But there is something important to see here.

When you know who you are, you know why you’re here, and you know Who has the authority to help you, there is nothing wrong in asserting that reality. We don’t have to coat it in sugar or wait for someone else to bring it up. We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us. He’s already done that.

We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us.

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I get that fear. For a long time, I listened to it, afraid to write about what really mattered to me and, I was pretty certain, to God. Look what they did to Jesus here. They chased him out of town for reading a passage that challenged their complacency and then claiming he had the authority to make it real.

I was not interested in being chased out of the virtual town.

Now, I’m OK with it, because being heard is more important than being liked.

That’s why I love the Jesus I find in Luke 4. He doesn’t care.

  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He isn’t afraid to tell the truth.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows what matters.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows who He is and why He came.

I want to be more like this Jesus.