Author Archives: snesbitt

Lenten Reflections – Just a Little Bit of Cornmeal

Today’s blog post comes from Geoff Hubbard, Pastor of Cool Spring Presbyterian Church in Thaxton, Virginia.  He writes…

As Lent with its extra demands gets me tired I was refreshed by a memory of something a few years back. Our church has a food ministry to 3 leper villages in Uganda. At the time of this we were doing direct food relief giving cornmeal to the lepers. Cornmeal mush is called posh there and is what you eat when you haven’t got anything else. Starvation is widespread there especially among those who are too weak to grow their own food.

So on this visit a group from our partner church in Uganda and I went hut to hut in the leper villages. We had a couple of sacks of 100 kg of flour. We’d scoop out a large bowl of flour and give it to lepers who would put it in whatever they had and try to make it last. When we passed one hut I pointed that out to the driver. “This lady is Muslim” he replied.

“So what? She’s still hungry” I replied. We stopped and I scooped out a big pan full of flour and headed to the door. Out came a well-dressed man who I learned was the lady’s grandson. When he saw me he exclaimed, “You have come from God!” I gave grandmother the flour and repeated one of the Lugandan phrases I had learned “ Yesu akwagala” ( Jesus loves you ).

The man asked where I had come from and I told him. He followed me to the truck and said something to the driver. The driver smiled and said, “He says ‘’Tell me about this Jesus who sent a man all the way from America to feed my grandmother’.”

We explained Jesus to him. Another man stopped and listened. When we finished the other man said “We are both Muslim. But if Jesus can give someone from so far away a heart that wants to come here and help us we’d like to become Christians.” They prayed with us to receive Christ. The Ugandan pastor invited them to services that Sunday.

Times like this are such happy memories. I haven’t seen the guys we prayed with since then. But I know where I will see them. Yesu akwagala. Christ is risen. God bless you this Lent. And Easter is coming.

When I was training to be a chaplain, my supervisor said that sometimes, all it takes to minister to someone is a cup of cold water.  I’ve seen this done countless time.  Even something as mundane as cornmeal or water can break the ice and introduce someone to the abiding love of God.  It’s more about being love than about converting someone.  For this Lenten season, give the sacrificial gift of love.
Advertisements

Not Subtracting, but Keeping

“You don’t add divinity school to your life.  You have to subtract something.”  These immortal words greeted incoming divinity students at Campbell University Divinity School for over twenty years.  Dr. Cogdill gave this same lecture to every new class of students, and it’s a lesson that sticks with us throughout our lives.

My teen has applied to start classes at the local community college in the fall, going into their college transfer program.  I gave her the “subtraction” lecture as she was making this decision.  Then, before she applied for classes, we met with the counselor who works with private-, charter-, and homeschooled students.  Sitting in her office, I looked around and noticed, dead center on top of a tall bookcase, a Campbell University Divinity School diploma.  We took the moments to talk about this connection, as fellow alumnae do.  Then, later in this meeting, she looked at my daughter and said, “You’re going to have to subtract some things from your life.”  My daughter had this look like, “Oh no!  I’m getting it from everywhere!”  (When I told our pastor, a fellow alumnus, he gave Mary the word, “Subtract.”  She was less than amused, but we thought it was funny.)

Where my daughter is struggling is in discerning what to subtract.  She’s afraid she’ll have to give up her favorite activities.  In the process of ruminating about this, she determined that she doesn’t want to give up refereeing, because that’s how she’ll pay for books.  She also doesn’t want to give up dancing, because that gives her a mental break from school.  In the spirit of the Konmari Method, she’s not figuring out what to eliminate; she’s being thoughtful and intentional about what she wants to keep.

She wants to keep only those things that spark joy for her.   My daughter will eliminate whatever sparks the least amount of joy for her.  She likes everything she does, but she’s willing to forgo some pleasures in the short-term for academic success.  She’s approaching the process with a great deal of maturity.

As my fellow Div School alumni and I have carried with us the idea of “subtracting” throughout not just our time in school but also our lives after school, now I am taking this a step further and thinking intentionally about what in my life I must keep.  When considering what to keep, we must think about what sparks joy, what feels good doing it, and what brings with it a sense of fulfillment.  This is where we can find fulfillment in all we do and in how we live.  I’m convinced that finding the joy-sparks in how we minister will bring us ever closer to the heart of God as we minister.

Jesus isn’t Safely in Your Church

When my dad and I get together as we did yesterday, eventually the discussion will turn to ecclesiology – things pertaining to the church.  We talked about things that multi-campus mega-churches are doing and how the limitations of social media and internet access inhibits their doing the work of Kingdom growing.  These churches know, and they frankly don’t care.  I told him how I confronted our pastor about the heavily advertised smart phone app for our church that creates exclusions to those in our church who don’t own smart phone and for the few youth who don’t.  What it comes down to is, the church wants to be hip and cool, relevant to the culture surrounding it.

Since when did Jesus stop being relevant enough?  Since when did Jesus stop being enough, period?

A careful study of the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry as it is recounted in the four gospels shows that, of all that time, Jesus spent very little time in the synagogues or temple, and when he was there, often he was teaching (though he went to the Temple as a regular guy for Passover).  The other six days of the week – sometimes all seven days – Jesus was out everywhere ministering to people.  Jesus dealt with spiritual illnesses, physical illnesses, broken hearts, sinful hearts, innocent children, racial inequality, and matters of justice.

With only a few exceptions, Jesus touched people’s lives along the highways and byways of Palestine with a brief foray into the Decapolis on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus not only sent out the apostles, but he modeled this going out every day of his ministry.

So what makes you think you can sit on your ass in church and encounter Jesus?  The Jesus you seek isn’t there.

Jesus says in Matthew 25 in the parable of the sheep and the goats that ministering to people means getting cozy with the least of these.  That means feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and imprisoned.  Caring for “the least of these” means welcoming the alien and the refugee.  Serving Jesus means fighting for justice for those who would be denied justice.  Micah 6:8 lists acting justly and loving mercy as two of the three life-long sacrifices God requires of us.  Sitting in church on our blessed assurances and passing judgement on others didn’t make the short list.

It’s been a year since a horrendous injustice happened.  Gilles Bikendou is a member of a Baptist church in Cary.  I spoke of this church and our experience worshiping with them in my 3-part series about our Hurricane Florence-induced “exile” last September.  Gilles was from the Congo and was a refugee.  While he was doing all that was right and legal, ICE entrapped and deported him.

People like Gilles, refugees who come seeking safety and also receive needed medical care not easily available in African countries, are part of who Jesus is talking about being among “the least of these.”  They have names, names like Jen and Joy, names like Dylan and Adrian and Missy, names like Doris and Jennifer and countless others who have touched my life in 19 years of ministry, all of them “the least of these.”

It is vitally important that we stop talking about the least of these as “those people.”  They’re not “those people,” an epithet normally delivered with a sneering voice and a nose wrinkled as if it smelled something repugnant.  These people are children of God.  These people are fellow co-createds with us.  These people are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are systems in our country that are broken.  The more privileged on one end of the political spectrum cry out that the poor should just work more or get better educated.  The more privileged on the other end of the political spectrum cry out for more government assistance to cover things like health care, income inequality, much-needed food, and education.  The thing is, these social reform programs have only been under the purview of the federal government for fewer than 100 years.  But going to the Bible, we discover that the early church was responsible for taking care of everyone.  It was, for lack of a better term, fairly socialist.  All people gave to the church, and the church distributed food and money equally to all.  In times of disproportionate distribution, the church then appointed servant leaders to make sure that non-Jewish Christians received their fair share.  Amazingly, the sick were looked after, the widows and orphans had food and shelter, and the church thrived.  In short, not only did the church attend to the needs of the every day working man and his family, but it also took care of others in the community.

We have failed as the church of God, because we have decided that the least of these aren’t important in the Kingdom, we have changed ourselves and the message of Jesus Christ to conform to the culture, and we won’t get our butts out of the pews.  We think that worship needs to be whatever we like it to look like for one hour a week on Sunday mornings.  That’s not what our worship should look like.  There is a regular cycle of Word and response in corporate worship, but what is our response when the Word comes to us Monday through Saturday?  We are called to respond even then.  Only then will our worship come alive, and only then can we humbly bear the banner of “Little Christ.”

Remembering in the Cold

My feet are ice.  Nevermind that they’ve been snugly encased in fuzzy socks and Sherpa-lined slippers for the past 5-6 hours.  My feet just can’t get warm this time of year.

I slip into bed, not removing my socks until the very last minute before I tuck myself under the covers.  My husband is asleep, having gone to bed an hour before, since tomorrow is an early day.  There is this delightful heat radiating off of his body, and I’m tempted to place my frozen feet against his legs, but that would be mean.  When he’s awake, I might try to soften the Arctic blow with humor:  “Irish ancestors say, ‘Better cold feet after the wedding than cold feet before,’ or Cherokee ancestors say, ‘Wife with cold feet has warm heart.'”  But not this night.  So I place my feet close but not touching, sucking up the radiant heat while the electric blanket warms us from above and my cat warms my side, my own personal space heater.  Eventually, I get warm enough to be able to go to sleep.

As I lay shivering in bed, waiting to get toasty, my mind drifts to studies of the Holocaust.  I read once about the frigid conditions in the drafty, unheated barracks of the concentration camps.  Women and men crammed onto bunks, their bony, emaciated bodies struggling to get warm off of the scant heat from other equally emaciated bodies.  There were few thin blankets, and when someone died, the survivors fought to claim this anemic additional covering from the newly deceased.

Poland and Germany in the winters of 1939-1945 were much colder and harsher than my room warmed to 64 deg F.  Survival was harsher than simply waiting for ambient heat and an electric blanket to warm a cold body that had been wrapped in fleece for hours.  Those the frigid temperatures didn’t kill were at risk of dying of starvation or disease; typhus was epidemic.  On top of that, inmates worked 12-16 hours a day on very few calories and were at risk for being executed or used in Mengle’s warped experiments.

Survivors of Auschwitz lay on wooden bunks in the men’s barracks. Photo credit: USHMM

We are here, about a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day.  As you feel winter’s chill, be it in cold sheets or a cold floor, remember those who lived and died long before us, who suffered endless cold nights before death or the Allies brought liberation.  As you adjust your thermostat to bring blessed warmth to your home and as you hear the whisper of heat coming through vents, remember the history and learn from the history, so that we don’t repeat it.

Why the Separation Between Church and State is Vital

I love my home’s warmth this time of year.  Our heater keeps our home at a desirable temperature, and even better is when the sun streams through the windows, adding a little extra solar heat.  When we come in from being out in the cold, the warmth of our home embraces us in a comfortable hug.

It sure would be great if I could share this warmth, wouldn’t it?  I’d open the windows and doors, letting the warmth out into the world.  It’d touch the homeless guy huddling in the doorway across the street.  It’d warm the man walking his dog along the sidewalk in front of our house.  The warmth would go out to those who I think need it.

This follows my agenda, though.  I don’t know the guy.  He’s from up north and doesn’t feel what we call “cold.”  In fact, he finds our chilly temps pretty mild and they remind him of spring back home.  Yet, I’d be forcing him to accept something he doesn’t want.  Surely the homeless guy would like the warmth.  Right?  Having the moment of warmth just makes the cold that much worse.

As I’m warming the world with my heat, I start to notice that my home is getting cold.  All that cold air I was trying to heat up has come into my house, making my house cold and negating what I’m trying to accomplish.  You see, it’s impossible to heat the world with the warmth in my home without also letting in the world’s cold into that same home.

The same holds true with the church and the government (e.g., state).  Conservatives want the church to influence the government’s policies and laws.  However, the church cannot open the door to influence the government without the government also coming into the church.  (I actually saw this at a fundamentalist church when they invited a conservative senatorial candidate to speak during Sunday worship.)  Neither exists in a vacuum, and opening the door between the two opens the pathway for both to move back and forth.

What I find most amusing as a life-long Baptist is how many conservative Baptists – and I was raised in a conservative Baptist church and don’t discount its positive influences on my life and ministry – want the government to legislate morality along their belief system.  They believe that everything from reproductive rights to prayer to the Christian God in schools needs to follow the conservative evangelical agenda.  These Baptists don’t know squat about our history, because our history doesn’t support these ideas.

The Baptist faith sprung out of resistance against the Church of England and started in 1609.  We were part of the Separatist movement with no interest in improving on the Church of England.  Early Baptists first moved to the Netherlands and met over a bakery.  From there, they sailed across the Atlantic to the New World.  A man named Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in America, in Providence, Rhode Island.  He’d later move south in the Colonies to Charleston, South Carolina, where he founded the First Baptist Church, Charleston.

Later, after the Revolutionary War, a Baptist preacher named John Leland met with James Madison.  Madison was drafting the Constitution and running for Congress, and Leland, representing the Virginia Baptists, felt that there wasn’t a much-needed provision for religious liberty.  He made Madison an offer he couldn’t refuse:  He stated he’d run against Madison for Congress in order to have an avenue for ensuring religious liberty for all.  Madison promised to put that provision into the Constitution, and Leland stated he wouldn’t oppose his Congressional race.  Both men upheld their promises.  From this, the First Amendment came to be.

Baptists in history knew what it was like to be persecuted for their religious beliefs.  First in England, then in the Church of England-dominated Colonies, Baptists were one of the most persecuted faith groups in the New World.  Because of this, Leland wanted to ensure protection for Baptists, and also protection for those of other faith traditions.  In 1802, Jefferson would declare that the First Amendment had erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”  This separation would “shield government from religious interference” while at the same time protecting citizens from having the religious beliefs of others imposed upon them (http://americanhistory.si.edu/religion-in-early-america/freedom).

For those who want the marriage of church and state, which religion would we choose, and which denomination of that religion?  American has no national religion, we weren’t founded as a Christian nation, and we are not now, nor have we ever, been a Christian nation.  We are a nation of many people of many different religious beliefs, but the heart of our laws rests in Judeo-Christian principles.  When the people want to impose Christianity on every American citizen, it strikes me as horrendously unjust – and hypocritical.  We hear stories of persecuted Christians in predominantly Muslim or Communist countries who are arrested or executed for practicing their faith.  Would we do that?  Would we Christian-Americans who vilify church-sponsored governments persecuting our fellow believers then turn around and do the same thing to our fellow citizens of different faiths?  First it starts with mandating Bible study and prayer in schools – the indoctrination of children.  Then it moves into marking those who aren’t Christians and violating their homes and businesses.  Next it devolves into isolating non-Christians before outright persecuting them because they’re “not us.”

The separation between church and state needs to be present in our country because both sides need the separation.  When it comes to the government and the church, healthy separateness between the two is absolutely vital.

 

 

Being a Christian with Anxiety

Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.  Today has enough troubles of its own.  (Mt. 6:34)

I know I’ve read this verse no fewer than a few dozen times.  I’ve preached it, exegeted it, and read it again and again.  It’s one of my top 5 favorites, just dangling there at the end of chapter 6 in Matthew, tacked onto that whole passage about not worrying, that God feeds the birds of the fields and makes the lilies look far more spectacular than even Solomon in all his royal finery.  Up until recently, that’s all it was – a part of that greater whole passage.  Then I started thinking about anxiety itself, and I realized this verse says so much more than merely, “Don’t worry.”

Back in May, I was diagnosed with anxiety, and not being a huge fan of pharmaceuticals as a first line of attack, I resolved to try non-pharma treatments:  Counseling, yoga, and meditation/mindfulness.  It’s gone well.  Really well.  Not only are these treatments working fabulously, but I also have a new tribe at church that’s walking this journey with me.  In fact, this is the first Advent season in many where I have been calm and settled in my spirit, heart, and mind.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the very nature of anxiety.  It’s not like depression or schizophrenia which have distinct physiological etiologies.  Anxiety truly is all in the mind.  Or, rather, it’s caused by how we think.  Even people who don’t have anxiety feel anxious from time to time.  We always feel anxious about what’s going to happen, about some future event.  We almost never feel anxious about anything going on in the present, nor do we feel anxious about what happened in the past.  Nope, it’s always the future, because the future is a great unknown.  We can work ourselves into a right fine state fretting about something down the road.

Earlier this month, I had my big holiday selling event, and I needed sales to be good.  At nearly zero hour, I found out that the coordinator had made some changes out of her benevolence that felt threatening to this goal I had.  My anxiety shot straight up.  In fact, I woke up during the night before the show worrying about the show.  Then, when I arrived at the venue, still fretting some, all that anxiety disappeared.  The event was in that moment; it was no longer a future event.  At that point, my focus was on setting up.

Part of the treatment for anxiety is exercising mindfulness, being in the moment.  Whether it’s while actively meditating, practicing yoga, or doing some mundane chore, being present to the moment reduces anxiety.  Why?  It is in those moments where we are existing.  We aren’t present in the worry-causing moment two weeks from now or that paycheck from now, we’re present in this “now.”

Finally, Matthew 6:34 made perfectly good sense from a very practical standpoint.  This verse is nestled in the Sermon on the Mount, which is an excellent treatise on living the Kingdom life daily.  As part of that theme, Jesus is saying, “Be mindfully in this moment.”  We cannot deal with the whole rest of Kingdom living if we’re stressing about something that hasn’t even happened, yet.  Having the full life Jesus desires for us means not allowing anxiety to suck the joy from it.  It also means not worrying about what will happen tomorrow or next week or next month when there is Kingdom work that has to happen today, even if that just looks like having a simply good day of showing love and compassion to one other person.

Sometimes it’s really hard being a Christian with undiagnosed anxiety.  Well-meaning people will say, “Just pray about it more.  Oh.  You still have it?  Pray harder or with more faith.”  Who are they to judge another’s faith?  Others will say, “Take it to the cross and leave it there.”  Where is that in the Bible?  And do they think I want to take all that inner turmoil back with me after my time “at the cross”?  Heck no!  It just followed me like one of the neighborhood cats tends to.  People want to judge those who are struggling, because they don’t know how to be present, so instead of helping ease the burden of dealing with psychological issues, they heap on an unhealthy load of judgment and guilt.  My husband and I found a small group at church who are safe, non-judgmental, and vulnerable themselves.  This has made being a Christian with anxiety much easier to handle, because I have a tribe who loves and supports me.

Having anxiety is especially tough during Advent with all there is to do.  Besides the decorating and the work-work, there is everything else with the expectation it needs to be perfect.  The cookies should look just so.  The house should be cleaned up nicely.  The cards need to go out at just the right time.  Oh yeah.  And in addition to all this, there are children to teach, parties to attend or chauffeur said children to, caroling, and spending time together as a family.  (Time?  What time???  Don’t they know I still have so much to do?  These cards won’t address and mail themselves!)

Something different happened this year as I reflected on today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, whose theme is Peace.  For the past many years, peace was something I wished I could have during Advent.  It didn’t matter what sorts of good things I had going on or how blessed I was/am, I felt stressed, frazzled, and overwhelmed trying to get everything done.  My anthem was Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night,” and Christmas Eve service was my attempt at grabbing an hour of peace – surrounded by getting the family fed and everyone out the door on the front end and playing Santa on the back end.  The only thing I was looking forward to about Christmas was having it behind me, which was a totally horrid way of feeling about it, because Christmas was such a beautiful, special part of my life growing up.  I think it was last year, I compared Advent to planning a wedding – a whole lot of work and stress that’s over in mere hours.

Ironically, because of the pastor-friend who first named what was possibly causing the tic in my facial muscles, we won’t be worshiping at her church tomorrow night for Christmas Eve service.  I don’t need to go to church to find that hour of peace; I have found it all month long.  With it came its close companions of the Advent season – Hope, Joy, Love, and Anticipation.  In fact, I’m so loving being in this place that I wish Advent could last just a little bit longer, to drag out that expectation just a wee bit more.

What did my Advent Love look like?  It looked like longer hugs shared with friends and stockists.  It looked like money in Salvation Army buckets.  It looked like text messages, emails, and verbal exchanges where I check in on people and also tell them how much they mean to me.

My Advent Peace has been in yoga.  It’s been in walks at sunset.  It’s been in walks around the beautifully decorated town square.  It’s been in this moment of baking, this moment of looking at decorations, this moment of playing on NORAD, this moment of watching mushy, romantic Christmas movies with my daughters, and it’s been in this quiet moment under the couple’s cocoon of coziness with a cat curled up against my back.

My Advent Joy has bubbled all month long.  At my last counseling appointment, my counselor said, “You look calm.”  I laughed and said, “I don’t feel calm.  I feel effervescent, excited, eager.”  That joy reached its zenith (so far) on the day of the Winter Solstice.  It was unseasonably warm, nice enough to tolerate being barefoot for a bit.  I went outside in a tee-shirt and lounging pants to do some grounding.  As I stood in tadasana, bare feet feeling the cool, damp earth, I looked up at the gorgeous blue sky and a laugh just bubbled out.  I haven’t felt this type of spontaneous joy during Advent in probably sixteen years or more.

And my Advent Hope?  That this feeling will last.  I nearly cried with joy while singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” at my friend’s church.  It was a Lovefeast service, which harkened back to Christmas Eve traditions and warm memories in the city where we used to live.  Tears of joy are something new for me for Advent.  This feeling simply must last, because once the tree is down and the decorations are stored away in the garage, the real Christmas Kingdom work begins, and I really don’t have time for anxiety to steal my joy, my energy, or my focus.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!

 

My Bad Attitude

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.  The tree is trimmed and lit, candles are making their ways to windows, Christmas music plays, and we’re whiling away many a cold, wet hour huddled under blankets as we stream Christmas movies (the mushier, the better).  In other parts of the state, snow has fallen – inches in some places, feet in others.  Lots of people down here were hoping for a snowy morning, but while I hate the rain, I’m happy putting snow days off for another month or so.

Church this morning was a given.  We went to Sunday school and worship.  It was as we were sitting in the sanctuary that I started noticing my attitude was off.  I felt disgruntled about many variables.  There is the woman in the choir who talks like being at church is the most important thing in the world yet doesn’t make her children attend, and when they do, they’re in their phones, talking, giggling, and disrupting worship for those around them.  There was my disappointment that the music minister didn’t follow my suggestion of putting the lyrics to the praise songs in the bulletin to make it easier for the smaller people (e.g., children) in the congregation who can’t see the screen for all the taller people.  Isn’t worship, Advent worship in particular, supposed to be inclusive?

If you’ve been following this blog for longer than a minute, you know that I have two children, one of whom is a teen.  Trust me when I say, I know bad attitudes.  I have no problem calling the kids out when they’re dishing ‘tude.  So, when I was sporting my own bad attitude, it was only fair of me to own it.  When my teen asked during the prelude what was wrong, I whispered, “I’m having attitude problems today.”

In the midst of Advent, we think that we should have the purest attitudes of love, joy, hope, and peace.  We are supposed to be all about “Goodwill to all people” and sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth.  Yet, sometimes, our attitudes aren’t quite in line with these messages.  Lines are long, people can’t drive, and the gingerbread cookies make you recite that popular line from preschool:  “Taste counts, looks don’t.”  I often think, What if it were as simple as that night over two thousand years ago instead of this craziness we’ve made it?  Even paring down on the commercialism doesn’t particularly help.  There are still activities and parties, and there is still time spent with people you only see once a year – and maybe that’s too much.

It’s OK to have an attitude that’s a bit off.  Pay that place a visit, but don’t live there.  Name what is causing the bad attitude and release it with grace for yourself.  Then, once that ugly, unpleasant attitude has disappeared into the winter wind, fill yourself with goodness.  Find peace within yourself.  Seek joy in all the blessings God has given you.  Love people – family, friends, enemies, strangers, people like you, and people quite different from you.  And embrace the hope and anticipation of the season.  It reminds us that a baby really does change everything.

Sorry Momma, but She Doesn’t Want to be You

It’s a Wednesday evening, and as my daughters and I drive home from the evening’s church activities (youth games and worship for my teen, aerobics for me, and aerobics and handbells for my younger), we talk about our time apart and share what the experience was like.  I might say something like, “Tina about killed us tonight!  I’ll be good until tomorrow when I try to laugh.”  Or, “Dang!  Celeste still has her soccer moves!”  My youngest will talk about how they’re supposed to play and sing for the Hanging of the Greens service, and she hopes she remembers her part.  My teen is more reflective as she talks about her peers, some of whom have moms in aerobics with me.

“I really feel sorry for Bethany*,” she might say.  “Her mom is so hard on her!”

“How do you mean?” I ask, knowing her mom.

“She doesn’t let her do anything.  When we went on that trip, while the rest of us ate the awesome cooking, her mom made her eat salads.  And when we stopped for breakfast, there was this grill, and the breakfast sandwiches smelled to-die-for.  I could tell Bethany wanted one, but her mom wouldn’t let her have it.”  I know Bethany, and she’s a trim, athletic, healthy teenager, certainly not one who needs to worry about her weight.

“She was talking about how her mom is making her do cheerleading.  Bethany used to run track, and she really misses it.  She didn’t want to be a cheerleader, but her mom insisted on it.”

It sounds an awful lot like Bethany’s mom wants her daughter to be like her for whatever reason.

My teen goes on to the next person, a lovely young lady who tears it up on the basketball court but who feels forced to one day don crinoline and parasol for an annual event – all because her mom wants her to follow in her footsteps and do it.  This girl is tanks, ponytails, and Jordans; not lace gloves, sausage curls, and hoop skirts.

At this point, I tell my teen to let me know if she ever feels like I’m pushing her to do something she doesn’t want to do.  She assures me she will and expresses gratitude that I am happy to let her be her own person and do her own thing.

So this message is for all you moms of teen girls out there:  Your daughter doesn’t want to be you.  Your daughter is a separate, unique person, and if you’ve done your job as her mother well, she owns that.  Daughters of healthy mothers are free to embrace their wishes, wants, dreams, and desires and feel accepted in following them.

Healthy mom-daughter relationships don’t have a mother creating a her-clone in her daughter.  They have stages of accountability (Mom is still Mom, after all) and through the teen years, friendship begins to overlap the parenting responsibilities.  But parent, a mother always will be, even after her daughter has grown into this really wonderful, likable adult.

Healthy mom-daughter relationships create space for both to grow.  They create room for the daughter in particular to become the person she wishes to be.  Sure, it’s cool seeing your daughter doing things you did as a teen.  Mine dances, so we talk about how our experiences are different and similar.  And, certainly, I get certain emotions when she mentions toying with minoring in Psychology (my major).  (Usually, those emotions are along the line of, “Don’t,” but I don’t voice that.)  When I was receiving my second Master’s hood, my teen was an infant, and the dean who was placing it across my shoulders predicted I’d be sharing it one day.  The idea thrilled me at the time, but given my daughter’s talents and gifts, I want her to pursue her interests.  My feelings don’t come into play here; my role is simply to support and encourage.

So, fellow moms of teen girls, lay off your daughters.  They are wonderful beings created by a loving, wise Creator who gave them gifts, skills, and talents.  They have their own knowledge bases, their own ways of looking at the world, and their own ideas of what they wish their lives to be like next year, three years from now, and five years from now.  What God did not create them to be are clones of their mothers.  God did not create our teenage girls to be the fulfillment of the best and most-wished of our own teen years.  As well and as intimately as you know your daughter, God still knows her better.  Stop trying to play God with your daughter’s life.  Wait.  That’s not what you’re doing, because even God allows them to exercise free will.

 

*Not her real name.

We Need a Mr. Rogers for Today

My teen daughter and I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor earlier this week.  It’s a biodoc about Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was growing up.  I have forgotten much of this show, having watched it only a fraction of the 33 years it aired.  What made this show so remarkable, though, was how Mr. Rogers treated people.  It was radical for its day, and sadly, it is still radical, 50 years after the show first aired.

The first remarkable thing in the show was how Mr. Rogers spoke to current events.  He did this in the very first episode with a not-at-all subtle protest of the Viet Nam Conflict in 1968.  The message wasn’t so much anti-war as it was pro-peace.  Through the show, Mr. Rogers talked to children about why divisions and walls are bad and how they may be afraid about what they hear.  Walls are bad.  Things that separate people are bad.  Wars are bad, too.  It’s bad when children are scared or frightened about what’s going on in the world, and it’s good when adults can help the children name that fear and offer comfort and presence.  Throughout the show’s run, Mr. Rogers would later address the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Challenger tragedy, and made a special speech in the wake of 9/11 (though the show had ended just a couple of weeks prior).

The second remarkable thing in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was his acceptance of all people of all skin colors.  Show regular Officer Clemmons

Officer Clemmons and Mister Rogers, reprising their 1969 foot bath more than two decades later, during their final scene together in 1993.

(played by Francois Clemmons) was a black man who Fred invited to share a kiddie pool of cool water on a hot summer’s day.  This was an open slap against all those who would deny Blacks the opportunity to swim in municipal pools because of their particular shade of brown skin tone.  It later came out that Francois is gay, a fact that was significantly more problematic for the sponsors than for Fred.  Officer Clemmons was with the show for most of its run.  Yo Yo Ma, the world famous cellist of Asian descent was also an invited guest on the show.

Another remarkable thing about this show was how Mr. Rogers dared to speak to children.  He addressed them as people.  He recognized the fact that they feel things that many adults don’t give them credit for feeling – fear, confusion, uncertainty, and anger, to name a few.  Mr. Rogers named these emotions for them and normalized the children’s experiences of these emotions.  For him, it was always OK for the children to have these “ugly” emotions, and it was important to provide words of empathy and comfort to the children, too.

The fourth but definitely not least remarkable thing about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was what Mr. Rogers said to children.  Messages like, “I’m glad I got to see you today,” “You’re a very special person,” and “People really care about you” that children heard day after day filled them (us) with a sense of our uniqueness and specialness.  (Some of Fred’s detractors blamed his message of “You’re special” for the cause millennials are so entitled, but as my teen pointed out, Gen X also heard this message and didn’t turn out the same.)

There was one other message:  “I will keep you safe.”  That hurts my heart.  Sure, as a parent, I will do whatever I need to to keep my children safe.  But I know that some things are outside my control.  There are child molesters that lurk in places where children should be safe.  Cars run past stopped school buses and kill children who are going to school.  The child who’s been bullied for months takes a gun into a school and kills innocent classmates.  Racists walk into churches and synagogues full of worshipers and open fire, killing people who are worshiping God.  How can we promise to keep our children safe when there are hate and evil that can wipe them out in an instant?  How much more so for those parents of children of color?  How can Hispanic parents keep their children safe from being taken and locked in dog pens?  How can African-American parents keep their children safe from those racist, trigger-happy cops?  How can Jewish parents keep their children safe from nationalists who are inciting the fear that Jews will take over America and killing out of that sense of nationalism – in the name of their Jewish Jesus?

We need a Mr. Rogers for today.  I thought that while watching this biodoc, and a wee little voice inside my head kept whispering, “Why not you, Sara?”  I have no idea what that looks like; I can’t boast Mr. Rogers’s gift for ministering to children – and that’s exactly what he did.  Through his show’s 33-year run, he ministered to hundreds of thousands of children every single day.  That’s holy, and no one else actually gets that opportunity as he did.  I can at least be affirming and caring, finding opportunities to give children the little heart strokes they need, whether they realize it or not.  We can all use those every so often, can’t we?

I’ll start here and now.  I’m glad you stopped by to read this, Friend, and you are special.  It was good to spend this time with you.

Get Out of the Sewer!

If you don’t like the shit, get out of the sewer!

I made that up earlier this week.  Clever, huh?  There is a point to my opening a faith blog post with vulgarity.  Hang tight.

I hear over and over from people about how someone from their past keeps slinging crap at them.  They threaten the other; they cause drama in their lives; and they often will, in some way, prevent the target from moving on and living a rich, fulfilled life.  Yet, so many times, it’s because the victim chooses to be in that position and to stay there.  One friend told me that she’s enjoying bugging her ex, yet she doesn’t like her ex texting her. In other words, she is choosing to live in the sewer but complaining about the shit there.

Paris boasts a phenomenal labyrinth of sewers – over 2,100 kilometers of a waste-carrying network winding under this bustling, thriving, beautiful city.  Modern technology, innovation, and understanding of sanitation have led to the Paris sewer system being what it is today.  However, in the 14th-19th centuries, the sewers did more to contribute to the problems of the city than they prevented, helping with the spread of bubonic plague and typhoid.  They were more conduits for diseases than a significant help in city sanitation efforts.

picture of Paris sewer

Part of the Paris sewer system

Why were the Paris sewers so vile?  Because they were full of crap – and dirty water, animal refuse, animal carcasses, and spoiled food that might have washed into the system.  The sewers were disgusting, putrid, and perfect breeding grounds for disease and death.

Some people’s lives are that way, too, all because of choices they make.  Yet, they make the same choices over and over again.  (I’m not talking about those situations where we get tossed into life’s sewers against our wills.  These are all about choices.)

What are the sewers in which people stay?  A lot of it seems to be relationship-based, but not entirely.

Sewer – Staying emotionally involved with an abusive ex to “get back at him.”

Sewer – Ignoring the fact that woman you’re “madly in love with” has 2 ex-husbands and is living with husband #3 while she’s sleeping with you and wondering why all the drama.

Sewer – Being that woman who keeps cheating on her husbands and finding yourself in divorce court time after time.

Sewer – Feeling like your family life is getting stale and stagnant when you spend too much extra time at work.

Sewer – Allowing your children to be spoiled, egocentric, manipulative little jerks who have no respect for others – or you.

Sewer – Forcing your children to be something they’re not, making them unhappy and not liking you.

Sewer – Being chronically late for work and showing up hungover and getting fired from job after job after job.

These are all life choices we make that have detrimental effects on our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our happiness.  As I look back over this list, I notice that none of these sewers exist in vacuums; each and every one not only affects the person in the sewer but other people in their lives as well.

I tell my children all the time:  If you want different consequences, make better choices.  If you don’t want to keep putting up with the shit, then get out of the sewer.