Thursday, March 19, 2015

Last Night's Recap

I have a thing now.  For the last 3 years.  
With ambulances.  And Emergency Rooms.  

PTSD is real.  And it sucks.  It is what happens when, for example, I pick Cade up after a track meet and he's dazed, confused, and having trouble expressing himself and using words correctly.  This disorder can rear its head when my daughter is sleeping heavily and doesn't wake up right away. 

Other times, it shows up.  
In the middle of the night.  
For no good reason.  
Robbing my sleep.  
Robbing my breath.

I am immediately in the spot I found myself on the morning of Monday, August 27, 2012.  I can know in my head exactly what is happening logically to my body, but I am unable to change the emotional impact, lack of reserve, tragic thinking--in that moment.  No matter what my head says.

And, NO, PTSD is not about facing or being in physical combat in war, though that is a prevalent situation in and among the military.  PTSD is a stress condition, as a result of emotional and/or physical trauma, that can change the brain when the brain goes through some type of trauma.

So my post on Facebook last night is that.  That post was NOT posted in the worst moment.  Usually, I have enough sense not to do that. I didn't post until we were settled in the ER, and I had already expressed myself.  To my people.  And did exactly what I needed to.  And they did exactly what I needed. Let me be mad.  Let me be.  They did not chastise me, or patronize me, or deny my feelings or their validity. They didn't tell me to clean up my language.  Or to quit worrying.  Or that it's all going to be just fine.  Or that being mad wouldn't actually do anything.  No big deal. These peeps hold space for me.

I shared a post a few days ago on Facebook from a woman I'd never heard of.  The article, How to "Hold Space" for People, plus Eight Tips for Doing it Well, by Heather Plett is the most impactful, on point blog post I have read--probably EVER.  Plett correctly, articulately, and compassionately explains what it means to hold space.

"What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control."

Plett's article is so good, so accurate, so helpful.  The traffic with this post and her website completely shut it down for over 24 hours.  Completely.  I implore you to read it.  And then read it again.  Not for me.  For you.  For your family.  For your friends.  For your acquaintances.  For people.  If I never write a sentence again, it will be ok if you just read this.  And try it out.

This is what we humans need of each other, especially in times of crisis.  Everything I have been trying to share, encourage, model, educate others on in the last 3 years is this.  HOLDING SPACE.  

People talk, especially in religious circles in recent years about "doing life" together.  (In several churches I've attended.)  This holding space Plett speaks of?  THIS is doing life in the truest and purest sense.  It is not about seeing each other at church or small group.  Sharing information, your story, this does not cause "doing life" to happen.  It does not include "speaking truth."  Giving advice. Sharing competing stories.  Your own examples.  Showing up for the parties and fun times, this is not "doing life" either.  Not in the sense that truly hurting, struggling, grasping people need.  Really need.

People holding space walk in everything with you, they do it with love, and without judgment or trying to take control or asserting their influence.  In a crisis, in a PTSD moment, we need that space held so that we can express safely what we need to, be validated, heard and understood, SO THAT WE GET IT OUT.  SO THAT WE CAN MOVE FORWARD, BACKWARD, OR SIDEWAYS.  Which way we're heading isn't as important in the moment as that we are truly safe and protected and feel nothing but LOVE with someone.  Holding space isn't a physical activity, though it can be.  You can be present and hold the space by being nearby, listening, supporting without words. That's the hard part for many of us.  Not using words.  Looking straight in the eyes. With nothing but love.  Reflecting, loving, acknowledging.  

Holding Space is about BEING not DOING or PERFORMING.  WHO YOU ARE BEING for someone who needs their space held.  THAT is the POINT.

Even more so, holding space is emotional, relational, and psychological.  Our natural bent is to try to fix people or situations, give our uninvited advice, express our opinions, ask a lot of questions, or share our judgments of decisions. I am guilty as charged. We ALL tend to that.  Not helpful.  Not holding space.  

So, holding space is INTENTIONAL.  I have to make a conscious choice, to chuck my own ego, opinions, judgments, advice, questions, and thoughts out the window.  If someone is holding on to these things while holding space, attitudes communicate it--not just our words communicate if we are truly HOLDING SPACE.  You know it.  I know it.  I can say the right things, I can even attempt to carry the right things out.  But if I am still holding to an opinion, a judgment, what I think is right for someone else, what I want them to do, trying to fix it--I will communicate that in my attitude and body.  Clear as a bell.  Words and actions and attitudes must align to truly hold space for someone.  

Yesterday, Plett posted another blog post as a follow up for Holding Space.  She writes about what it means to hold space for ourselves, and this is the hardest space to hold for most of us.  We need to hold space for others, we need others to hold space for us, but we especially need to hold space for OURSELVES.  Ourselves.  We are part of it.  All the space needs to be held for us, by us for ourselves, so we CAN hold it for others.

How timely it was, that this article was posted and read by me, not too long before I picked up Cade and began a stressful, scary couple of hours.  I knew in the thinking part of my brain what was happening, and that I didn't have much reserves, and I knew last night in the ER that I do NOT hold space well for myself.  It's crucial.  It's putting on the oxygen mask, taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.

We MOMS.  We want to fix, smooth, and take care of everything for everyone.  We put our children first, and we push and pull and trudge through anything and everything for our kids.  Yet, we don't do it for ourselves.  But that is part of holding space for ourselves, putting on our oxygen masks, and being our best selves.  For our families.  So counter-intuitive for most of us!

Not holding space for myself?  It's why I am on my 3rd antibiotic without stopping, my 3rd round of steroids, and have gained weight.  We just can't do it all, especially when life is stressful, as is mine on a regular basis these days.

Today, I have held a little more space for myself, but I'm definitely a work in progress.  I have communicated some with my people.  I crawled in my bed and turned off all the lights and didn't join the dinner table, with no judgment or derision towards myself.  (And I like everyone sitting down to the dinner table together.  We still do this nearly every night in our house.)  But. Tonight. I needed quiet and my bed and sleep.  Tonight, I am going to take a Xanax.  And I'm going to rest fully.  Give my head and stomach a break.  It is an oxygen mask for me.  And one my psychiatrist recommends. With good reason.

In case you are unaware, if you/a friend/family member is dealing with a mental health condition--whether chronic or situational, there is help.  In therapy, in support groups, in education, and in medication.  If sufferers do not get help from these best practices, they overwhelmingly turn to alcohol and/or drugs to self-medicate.  Research backs it up.  Over and over.

So, don't judge.  Just hold space.  Let go of your ideas, suggestions, and advice.  We know it is often shared in love, but we just don't need that kind of love.  Not right now.

We need a love that just envelops.  
That just is.  
That just warms 
and caresses 
and touches our spirits.

From ourselves, to ourselves, from each other and for those around us.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Song and a Season

Music has always been an outlet for me and a place of worship, praise, release, and strength.  Songs minister to me in a way nothing else does.  Currently, there is 1 song that embodies the exact place my faith lives.  
I love their sound, 
but the words of this song. 
They are everything.  
A place of doubt and grief, 
yet a place of reassuring truth.

Never Alone by Barlowgirl

You can watch the video here:

Here are the simple, yet perfect-for-me lyrics:

I waited for You today but You didn't show, no, no, no
I needed You today, so where did You go?
You told me to call, said, You'd be there
And though I haven't seen You are You still there?
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
And though I cannot see You and I can't explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance, yeah You've placed in my life
Oh, oh, we cannot separate, You're part of me
And though You're invisible I'll trust the unseen
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
Cannot separate, You're part of me
And though You're invisible I trust the unseen, yeah
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
We say people come into our lives for different reasons and some just for a season.  If you live very long, you've experienced this.  It is normal.  It can also be sad. And it can always be a learning, growing experience.  

My friend, Blair Lewis, is someone I've known since our Abilene High days, and can I tell some tales!  (Warbirds forever!)  He was the wild son of 2 professors at Abilene Christian University.  There was a time Blair wanted nothing to do with church or God--and he split ways.  At some point about 3 years ago, I saw on Facebook that he was in seminary and interning at a Methodist Church in Arlington.  I first reached out to Blair wanting to hear his story.  I was interested in it.  Stories are important. I wanted to find a story that was hopeful as I was in the early days of Keith's atheism.  I was reeling, and there was no one to talk to who understood.  Blair did, and he is brilliant and funny, and I knew Keith would connect to him. And he did. We heard Blair preach more than once. We shared meals and conversation--all 4 of us. Blair was talking about seasons quite a bit at that time and the people who enter our lives just for a season.  

The morning that I found Jerica near death when I went to wake her, I had no pastor.  We had not found a church home after our move to Cedar Hill several months before, and I was angry and struggling at having to find one on my own for myself and the kids.  At some point in the flurry of those moments that morning, when the paramedics were all in Jerica's room and made us leave, Keith reminded me to put on clothes.  I picked up yesterdays dirties and put them on.  No teeth were brushed, no hair done, no medicine, no water, no breakfast, etc. The paramedics moved quickly, as my child was so sick.  Her limp body was carried down stairs, already all hooked up to monitors and IV to the waiting stretcher.  Things moved very quickly and I found myself speeding in the front passenger seat of the ambulance, full lights and sirens, willing the school traffic to get the bloody hell out of our way.  I had moments then to send a couple of texts.  Blair was one of the people I texted.  He and his wife, Dawn, met us at the 1st ER and stayed until Jerica was stable and we were transferred to Children's ICU by another ambulance.  He brought:  tooth brushes and tooth pastes, encouraging notes, pen and paper, brush, a prayer shawl prayed over by the women who made it, bottled water, snacks, I can't remember it all.  But I  clearly remember immediately brushing my teeth by Jerica's bed, and alongside Blair, Dawn, the medical staff, friends who showed up, my mom and dad.  Blair was my pastor during that time.  He and Dawn drove all the way down to us in Cedar Hill later on, and sat with us, and brought pizza and wine--$4 buck chuck!  He also prayed over the unfortunate situation we found ourselves in with Keith's family in those early days.

That season has passed. PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE BISCUITS. I have had another pastor since then for a time.  Now I have a priest, Father Jim.  I miss Blair and Dawn, they are good people.  It's just not our season now, and that is ok.  

The same goes with churches.  Every church I've ever been a part of has served a purpose, has taught and changed me, has opened my eyes to the world, even though some of those situations have had some very, very hard parts. All that serve a purpose.  I am thankful for different things from each of those churches, and there is ALWAYS something to be THANKFUL for.  

I also believe in the idea that Jesus 's church is made of people, not buildings.  Going along in that same vein, we have all probably heard ministers talk about how we can't leave a church.  I know I have!  
But.  I'm here to tell you that you can.  
You can leave Jesus.
Keith has.  
You can also leave the fellowship of any church you attend.  
I've done it.  
More than once.  

I don't see anywhere that God condemns that. I don't know how that idea came to be one of several "catch phrases" we hear from the pulpit.  The cynical side of me believes it's mostly about numbers and growth, which appears to be the goal of most leadership teams in churches from my experiences.  

Just so you know, the following catch phrases are very, very sore spots still:
"Divine Appointment," "Doing Life Together," "You Can't Leave the Church," there are others, but let's move on.

We are fortunate in this country to have choices.  I haven't ever come across a church that had it all together or had everything I've wanted or that I needed or which would use my gifts. That's ok.  I do not expect a perfect church, nor would I fit in to one!  This does not anger me.  I don't see God condemning those churches either.  For right now, I have to find a fellowship that best fits my family's needs and gifts.  We're not leaving over trivial matters or disagreements.  We're not opposed to working things out in relationships with people in churches.  

I also see immense value in experience and learning--actually that is THE VALUE to me.  In education, standards and tests have come to rule in this long, tired season.  Standards and tests focus on outcomes and results.  
This is NOT the most important aspect of learning--by far.  The PROCESS is the important part--no matter the topic. 

Wrestling, struggling, brainstorming, questioning, learning how to ask critical questions, evaluating, synthesizing, applying, having to think inductively and deductively, collaboration and problem solving are what happens in the PROCESS.  

No matter the results, if I, as a teacher, equip my students with the skills, critical thinking and experience to work the PROCESS, they will be successful.  
These are the skills needed in life.  
This is the meat, the maturing, the stuff that makes us.  
It really matters little what the topic or problem or question is.  

Learning other denominations or flavors of church has value.  Don't talk or judge what you don't know, haven't researched, or experienced. Seeing the beauty and unity of other traditions, and finding the unity,  the common,  the solidarity in all of us searching for God. These parts of the PROCESS prepares us in our faith journey as well.  God is going to meet me anywhere He is.  And He's not limited by buildings, labels, or signs on buildings, or even my perceptions and misconceptions. He is not restricted by denominations or non-denominations, a denomination all its own.  And neither am I.  I want my children to see the love, the striving and choices of us all. I want them to have every piece, experience, and opportunity to work through the process so that the faith they come out with is wholly theirs and Holy God's.  It is not my job, or the job of a church, to restrict that process or to deny it or judge it.  If we can think critically for ourselves, and we know how to wrestle and work and struggle through, they/we all will have what it is needed to understand, to make decisions, to evaluate the options.  

To own their faith.  
To own their process.  
To own their choices and consequences.
Life-long skills.

Relationships change.  Faith changes.  My faith is an old one, began in childhood--I do not posses a memory or a story without God.  The longer I live, the less I know.  What was once black and white, is now a muddy gray.  I value my faith, I think, more than young, on fire Christians I see regularly. I remember that faith.  There was a time that was mine.  Life changes that, but I see my faith now as much more valuable.  It has ebbed and flowed, affected by struggles and victories.  It's a history winding back many years, a story and testimony of God.  It has stood the test of time.  
It is a rougher faith, 
not so shiny and bright, 
Forged and sharpened
Steel velvet.  
Think about how strong and amazing relationships become when you struggle through hard things and hard times with someone.  The relationships that survive this stand the test of time and are prepared for the next trial.  These relationship mature, are seasoned beautifully, and provide rich texture in the the music and story that is our lives.  

I want this same relationship with God.  This relationship that has been seasoned, tested, and scarred--this is a stronger relationship, a lasting faith, having weathered the storms together, not run from the hard questions, faced the daunting doubts.  With my God.

What I once looked for in a church family has changed dramatically.  I wonder now if it is not the answer to a prayer.  As I have sung and prayed the words of the song Ocean by Hillsong for more than a year. 
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
The acoustic verson of Oceans is my favorite.

Now I'm jaded, admittedly, by more than one church experience.  These were not one time events, but each a couple of hard years ending with unexpected and very unfortunate consequences for my family. I know this.  I pray daily to forgive and for no bitter root to take hold, while I am cleaning up the collateral damage still. The wake my family was temporarily pulled under water by. 

I am not interested at this time in emotion or services meant specifically to evoke emotion.  Emotion changes, is much too fickle.  Sometimes, emotions cannot be trusted, nor decisions always made on emotions. My emotion with God is a deep well.  I don't need help evoking it or drawing from it.  I also live enough life with so much emotion.  

I need a straight line to God.  
Pared down.  
In unity with others.  

I'm not interested in programs, production, prodding, or persuasion. 

I want something that has stood the test of time.  

Old faith.  
A different kind of community.

I have currently found that, for now, in an Episcopal church.  Centuries of practice, art, beauty, music.  A tradition of inviting and encouraging, struggling, wrestling, and accepting doubt and disbelief.  The PROCESS is the important part, and the shared path no matter where we find ourselves on our faith journey is the unifying part.  The rest is between the individual and God.  This is in Saint Anne's for me at this time.  And it is a stretching experience I am treasuring deeply.

I relish the old hymns, the priests' robes, the beauty, the art, the symbolism, Holy Eucharist every time we meet, the Gospel proclaimed in every service, liturgy, on our knees, the Nicene Creed regularly, the Doxolgy.  Every time.  

In an Episcopal church, the PROCESS is celebrated and encouraged. It is not looked down on. The parishioner is not shut down with judgement or proclamations about who is a true Christian or not, because that is with God alone.  The process of doubt, disbelief, questions, experiences, and study are celebrated as the faith journey.  And it is healthy and liberating, and encourages a life-long process that strengthens the participant and equips him/her with the skills to keep going.  To not lose their faith.

For a quick background, from Questions on the Way:  A catechism based on the Book of Common Prayer by Beverly D. Tucker and William H. Swatos, Jr.

"Far from being a church ruled by an autocratic hierarchy" [as Anglicanism began in England] "the Episcopal Church is one of the most democratic institutions in the world, in which at all levels, the laity and clergy have an equal voice and responsibility.  This is not because we distrust our bishops, but because we believe that the Holy Spirit leads the whole church, and that every sincere and faithful Christian can hear the voice of God, is called to be an apostle for Christ, and to share in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9)."  page 130

"Q:  Is the search for truth a part of God's will for us?A. Yes.  God is absolute truth and has given us reason and intelligence, so that we alone in this earthly creation, can know and understand ourselves, the world, and even in part, God.  Thinkers, scholars, explorers and scientists have been searching to discover the truths of God's world, and to help all of us to know them too.  Knowledge and love of the truth are of the essence of humanity.  To seek the truth is, in part, to seek God.  Our use of knowledge must always be in the context of love, for love is the highest truth.  Here on earth we see dimly, but in heaven we shall see the full truth in the glorious light of God's love (Job 28, Prov. 8, John 8:31-32; 14:6; 1 Cor 13:8-13, 2 Cor4:6-7; 1 Tim 2:3-4).  page 105

(P.S. The Book of Common Prayer is taken straight from scripture.)

Friends, there's my love theme again.  Over and over.  God says LOVE.

A Song, A Season and Love

I know some of my friends and family have more questions about my faith and where I am worshiping.  There are many misconceptions about the Episcopal church from the Reformation Evangelical types.  I have found much more in common than not in my study, research, and conversations with Father Jim.  I know there are people who have already condemned me.  We was told years ago we were going to hell and taking our children with us when we left a particular church.  I'm ok with that.  I don't need man's approval.  However, I am always willing to participate in the discussions, to share the road with another traveler, to spend a season together, and always, always to educate those around me.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Crooked Stick

Recently, at a Bible study I attend, the teaching leader talked about a Crooked Stick and how 
GOD can draw a Straight Line 
with a Crooked Stick.  

As a Wordy Girl, I love analogies and word pictures, really any literary device.  This thought and image of God drawing a straight line with a crooked stick has been powerful for me this week.  (We've been studying the life of Moses this year, and, OH, can I identify with Moses in his doubts and sins.)

I am very much the Crooked Stick.  I am a mess, while trying to live a meaningful life despite my crookedness.  My list of hardships and heartbreaks is a long one, as are my doubts and sins.  Yet, I get up each day, hoping still, searching still for the goodness and blessings and impact to come out of this messy life.  Honestly, I am often still searching for God.

I tend to wear my mess.  And I am ok with that. Self-awareness is something developed strongly in me in these recent years and therapy.  I know my strengths and weaknesses and own it all.  God created me to be a passionate person, an advocate, a voice--really it's the passion I wear most on my sleeve. Passion is often born of heartache, hardships, and wanting more and better for those you love.  While there are people who do not appreciate that in me, I am ok with that as I don't need for them to.  I am expecting God to use it--every piece, bit, tear, and healed scar.  I do not live and breathe and serve and engage to fit into any one's idea of the correct mold that some have tried to fit me into in the past.  It's not me, it's not my role, and it's not even right.  

Our faith journey as a family has not been a typical one, and there have definitely been some crooked sticks in our paths.  Some of these pit stops we've made, I wish we had skipped right by, though I don't want to skip any of the blessings that HAVE COME.  Keith and I grew up in Churches of Christ, though VERY, VERY different churches.  I am thankful for this heritage, even though it's not been the place for us for some years.  I can't say that is the same for Keith.  Together, as a couple we chose Churches of Christ at first, but CofC's that were different than most--you know "progressive" and "liberal."  We've been welcomed and enjoyed deep fellowship and joy at a black Baptist Church.  We experienced the most Spirit here.  We tried out a CofC that has dropped that label, because of the changes in worship, women's roles, and the Spirit.  We tried a home-church from a non-denominational background that didn't end up being very healthy.  We've attended non-denominational churches, some with charismatic roots and some Bible churches--often offshoots of Baptist churches. We've visited several Methodist churches.  A lot of what we've searched for as a family was authentic communities, connection, fullness in the Holy Spirit, and churches plugged in to justice and service.  

And diversity--we have always longed for and searched for churches truly integrated.

Recently, I have been visiting an Episcopal church and meeting with the head priest, Father John.  Aaaaaaannnnnd, I am going to just leave that right here for now.

We've been told along the way straight up that we are going to hell.  For things like going to churches where hands were raised, where women had roles in public & in the service, where prayer languages are allowed, where there were instruments, where services were not on Sunday mornings--or on Sundays at all. For not going to the one true church.  People!  This was before Keith was even an agnostic or atheist!  I have sat in services where ministers have declared who is a true Christian and who is not, based on beliefs about creation, evolution, and the Bible--and who do not leave room for doubt or for those trying to figure it all out.  My children have heard in children's classes they have to believe 100% in creationism, and where the discussions were shut off, and they were promptly sat down to view hardcore creationist videos.

I'm reading more and more articles these days about believers' unrest with church.  We want more, different and less all at the same time.  We want less patriarchal & traditional gender roles.  Less showiness, less focus on programs, and less production; less trendiness. More authenticity. More safety for being real, open, upfront, saying doubts aloud, and asking the hard questions.  

The reasons for leaving sometimes vary by the individual.  Many of the articles, posts and blogs repeat reasons that are coming up across the board.  Professional women are leaving because of traditional gender roles that don't fit their lives or their gifts or beliefs.  These women do not wish to serve in the children's classes or the kitchens and for whom crafts and/or decorating are not an interest.  Young adults leave because traditional religions completely shut off and won't discuss science, evidence or doubts.  Intellectuals also tend to leave when doubts, science, and evidence is not open for discussion.  It goes on, these are just frequent, current examples.  Generally, all of the writings and reasons I've read support that most people are looking for a church home that meets them where they are, as they are, and connects deeply--inclusiveness.

I've even read articles about what some are calling the "done-ers."  "Done-ers" believe in God and Jesus and even have avenues of fellowship with other believers, but are DONE with churches and organized religion.  They stay home on Sunday mornings. There are way too many believers who have so much to offer sitting on the fringes looking for something and someone and a place that truly pulls them in--not just the elite, core, leadership or original members.  

And many of these done-ers have been trying to hang in there.  
For YEARS.  
And, then, they are Done.  

I get it.  

I've been close to being a "done-er" for some time now.  I am just sitting on the curb, one foot in, one foot out.  I'm weary of church stuff.  I'm disappointed in the church as a whole.  I'm tired of being beaten up by church people, ignored by church, and often see little point in attendance.  Seriously.  And though I am not currently working outside of my home, I still think very much as a professional woman.  I do not want to teach kids' classes, change diapers, or cook or serve food or do crafts.  Yes, I can do those things and have, but they are not MY GIFTS.  I have a WEALTH of skills, expertise, and more than one life full of experiences, all of which have NEVER been tapped into by any church, though I remain open, willing, and ready to use it all for God and God's people.  

Please don't think I am completely alone.  I am not.  I have a couple of people who are mine.  They love me and get me. They speak truth.  They know when not to speak.  They show up in many, many ways. They are not tied to a church for me.  They are my people no matter what.  And I am their people.  Keith is our people, too, regardless of faith.  I have had to face my expectations for and beliefs about community in recent months, let them go, and grieve their loss.  I no longer look for a church to be my community or my place for authenticity or service.  I tried desperately, begged, pleaded and was open about what we needed as a family when questioned, but churches are not a place where community can happen for Keith and I as a couple and with our children.  I have these things, but they are not tied to a church.  Togetherness looks different for us than I would have ever expected, and I am ok with it.  I have forgiven those who are not willing to be together with us.  And I am moving on.

I've also read articles and posts on how we shouldn't talk about any of this.  This is private business.  And we should not be debating, discussing, pointing out flaws, or calling Christians out.  The thing is, it already isn't private.  The world is already watching and knows our strengths and weaknesses.  When we don't or can't own up to these things, we can't work on them.  When we don't or can't own up, we turn many people off.  
Because they already know.  
We all do.  
And in an age, where women, intellectuals, done-ers, and youngsters can access anything and everything, we need to be ready, able, and equipped to meet people where they are.  Publicly.  We can also find a precedent in history, such as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, and in the Bible, in the letters of the apostles, for convicting, encouraging, and training each other as church people publicly.

What I'm not seeing addressed so much in articles, posts, and blogs is that when done-ers just leave church,  they often end up leaving God down the road.  For agnosticism and/or even atheism.  And I remember my husband being there.  Before agnosticism.  Before atheism.  He could really find no good purpose for church after a while.  Attending, volunteering, serving, etc, really had no impact on his life.  We weren't really in community,  though we tried.  Looking back it is always easier to see the progression. And I fully believe, if Keith in his doubts since childhood, could have had a safe place to speak them, feel them, wrestle with them and still be accepted and loved, I believe we would not be where we are now as a family standing together on different foundations.  I'm concerned now if everyone feeling disillusioned with church and who are questioning if churches are truly meeting their purpose,  are headed in the same direction as Keith?  
Are they going to fall away?  
Am I? 

Some have told me not to worry, let it go, it'll all be good, because God's going to be the victor in the end.  While I believe God is and will be the victor, I am not willing to let it go and wait, doing nothing to improve our footprint in the world and hearts of unbelievers and strugglers.  
I am unwilling to let this conversation die.  
Because in my life.  
It's real.  

And true love doesn't sit by and let the person, the receiver of its love, drown in front of them.  Because it will work out 

I've watched my husband struggle and fall away.  I know what that does to a family, a marriage, an individual, to children and even a community. These conversations are dark and light, LIFE and DEATH.  
  • How can we be so nonchalant about it all?  
  • How can we so easily dismiss those challenging us--whether they're in our fellowship or without?
  • How can we use our energy just to put up defenses, quiet doubters, and circle up with those just like us, ignoring who Jesus called us to be and to reach?  
  • Are you willing to become another Pharisee? 
  • Don't you want to fulfill your beautiful purpose as the Bride of Christ attending to his body

For almost 3 years now, love has been the message coming through to me--through multiple Bible studies, messages, & sermons, individual people and words of knowledge, experiences and affirmations. I am done with lots of things, but I am not done with Jesus.  I am not done with love.  Right now, it is scripture, the hope of better, and my kids that keep me going to church--whatever church it is. It is this love and hope that keeps this Crooked Stick believing God will use me, and is using me, to draw a straight line--a line pointing everyone back to Jesus.
And I'm searching.
I'm searching for MORE JESUS and MORE LOVE.
And I'm speaking and acting.
I'm speaking and acting for those on the fringe, those never invited in, and those unable to speak up for themselves and who have never had a place at our tables.

And this Crooked Stick will not go gently in that good night."  
And I will "rage, rage against the dying of the light."
(Borrowed from poet, Dylan Thomas)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Read Banned Books

Really.  I do.  I read banned books.  I even have a bracelet that says so.  

I read banned books for good reasons, mostly--because they are excellent pieces of literature, and because I choose to read what is popular with teens and young adults (my favorite genre), as well as keeping up with my kids and their peers.  For the not-so-good reasons, it's because of that bit of a rebel in me.  If you don't know it already, teachers are often the worst rule followers.  ;-)  Tell me not to do something, and that's exactly why & what I want to do.  And in case you are not aware yet, teenagers do the same thing.  When parents/teachers/school boards get involved with books and trying to ban them, it just increases the readership, by their very own children and students.  Book banning and those discussions and their ensuing battles turn out to be fantastic press for the books and authors involved.

As a teacher, I do not believe in banning books or even limiting books.  Approximate age ranges are assigned to books that teachers and librarians typically adhere to.  If you are dealing with typical students, these are pretty good guidelines--age-wise, topic-wise, etc.  If you are dealing with gifted students, for example, these are NOT usually good guidelines.  Often these students read at a level of books, and are interested in advanced topics, not contained in their school's library.  Generally, there is not an issue with advanced students reading at their advanced levels and with advanced topics.  As a teacher, I never want to keep a child from reading.  When I had middle school kids reading Stephen King, we went with it.  

They were

and if they could read what they wanted to, 
what interested them,
what spoke to their level of development and understanding, 
these students 

Do you know how rare that is in this day and time especially?  

(Please know, I am not referring to required class-read books, but those for "personal" reading where students chose  their own book to read, also a requirement.)

As a parent, I understand there are times we limit what our children read, see, and hear.  I still do not believe in banning books, but I can steer my children towards or away from what is appropriate for them at the time.  Because of my family's history, there are topics that we steer our children away from sometimes, if it's a topic that is a trigger, or hits too close to home.  That is our prerogative as parents.  And I have no trouble putting my foot down as a parent.  Often, I don't limit a book for my own children, but choose to read it as well so I can dialogue with them about what they're reading and how to handle certain topics.

My biggest issue with banning books is this:  Most people who are screaming from the platforms to ban a book from a school or library or


I cannot handle this.  
If you have an issue with a book, make sure you have read it.  

We are so quick in this technological, social media driven society to give our opinion to everyone on the internet.  Unfortunately, I see so many of these types of status posts, shared signs or pictures, forwarded videos, blogs and articles--ones in which false information, rumors, or bias is spread as truth.  And often as these things are shared, a bandwagon is formed, and no one jumping on has stopped to check the facts, look at the background information or sources, nor have they gone to sites like SNOPES, or similar resources, who weed through the false, debunk the myth, and document the history of false information shared online.

There is a PLETHORA of wrong and false on the internet.
Checking that is not that difficult.

Church people can be bad about this, really the worst.  Sorry, Church People, but it is true.

I remember dealing with this particular issue when the first of the Harry Potter books was published.  The Golden Compass also brought about similar reactions. I have even heard people complain about The Diary of Anne Frank.  Adults were jumping up and down screaming about witch craft, evil, the devil, normal sexual development, etc. about books which they had not read, but had heard about all of the evil.

When these conversations start in my presence around such topics, I always ask right off the bat, "Have you read the book?  On what are you basing your criticism of it?"  Generally, it is extremely easy to detect if someone is speaking from hearsay or from actual research/experience.

I am MORE than willing to listen to criticism, feedback, and information about a book or a topic which you have read, a movie you watched, an observation based on your experience.  In fact, I am very interested in these types of conversations.  Conversations and debates based on experience with a book, movie, or topic are educational, have an impact, and strengthen all of us no matter which side we land on an issue.  Informed conversations can communicate respect as every one has taken the time to look at and understand an issue.

If I EVER have a concern about a book, movie, television show, video game, etc., in regards to my children, I check it out.

Myself.  First.  

Only when I have done my job as a parent and completely vetted it out, can I make an informed decision for my child.  I read the first Harry Potter book, as well as many, many others, before I entered in to any conversations about it with friends, colleagues, or family.

Our son, Cade, was very interested in seeing The American Sniper recently.  We do not generally allow our children to watch R-rated movies.  However, because of the topic of this movie, we were willing to consider it.  Do you know what we did?
We saw the movie, Keith and I.  Then we talked about the movie in regards to each of our children.

Is it appropriate?  
Is it too violent?  
Are there any triggers? 
Are there topics that are too mature? 
Is there nudity?  
What is the language like?  
What will he/she gain from viewing this film?

After that process, we agreed to let Cade see the movie.  Keith took Cade to see it and they talked it over afterwards to process what he had seen.

We should model these examples and conversations and decisions for our children.  We are all confronted with different view points on various issues--whether it be books, movies, churches, religions, etc.  We do best for our children when we teach them HOW to have these conversations--how to research a topic, what kinds of critical questions to ask, how to weigh information in light of our beliefs and experiences, and how to act on that appropriately.  I did this as a teacher and as a parent.  This is critical thinking.  This is what children need to learn to do for their life.  When someone understands how to critically think and question and make decisions, we empower them for life--no matter the topic or situation.
This is called LIFE SKILLS.

For another example, this is precisely why I have NOT written about or commented on or shared others' status updates or blog posts on the 50 Shades of Grey books or movie.  I know just from the basic information I can research through the publisher that there is content in the books and movie that I have no interest in reading or taking in. However, that does not mean that I am in a position to advise others on the books or movie, so I have not done so.  And the people so against it, who are writing so much about it--even though they haven't seen it, are drawing much more attention to the books, movie, and author.

Young people growing up today do not know life without the internet and instant information.  They are adept at searching out information for themselves.  These individuals, therefore, are less likely to believe or accept something just because it's the "way it's always been done" or because "____________ said so." (insert name of expert or parent or whoever)  We, in the "older" generations, would do well to remember this not only for those who are watching and/or listening to us and whom we hope to influence, but also for ourselves.  We should want to operate as engaged, informed, and critically thinking adults.   LIFE SKILLS.

I feel the same way about the various denominations and non-denominations that make up the Christian faith community.  Who am I to criticize something or someone I do not understand?  I've currently been exploring denominations and religions, as well as seeking to understand those who claim agnosticism and/or atheism.  We all have heard things and we often think we understand people and systems.  Too many times, though, we are wrong.  We are operating off of someone else's opinion or what they've heard from a friend of a friend--or an article or picture forwarded over and over online.  Many times, there are errors in that information that is born out of fear, ignorance or hearsay.  We would do well to find out for ourselves.  Often, there is much more we have in common than not.

Oh, and those books people are trying to ban? (Even this year in Highland Park, don't even get me started...)  Often, those books prove to be good literature, opportunities for learning critical thinking skills, honest and open discussions, teaching moments, and are not the tools of the devil some have claimed them to be.

(P.S. Parenting is NOT a passive pursuit.  It takes work to stay engaged, and it is more important in the teen years.  Parents tend to be involved less and less as kids get older and have left elementary school.  From this teacher/parent's experience, the opposite is necessary.  Please know your teen's friends, teachers, and activities.)