Monthly Archives: October 2011

It’s Halloween, y’all!

And in honor of Halloween, I’m re-posting what I wrote last year, Why I believe in Halloween.


 

Though I was raised evangelical and can speak Christianese with the best of them, I doubt I’m anyone’s Evangelical Mother of the Year, especially when it comes to all the big things on the Christian no-no list. That said, I will now post about why I have celebrated Halloween my entire life, and why I think it’s Christian to do so.

  • First of all, I love the fall. Halloween encompasses all of the cozy chilliness of a lovely fall night: The sun goes down early, the leaves crunch under your feet, the childhood giddiness of dressing up combined with the shiver of being outside at night doubles the excitement. Plus, jack-o-lanterns are (mostly) warm and welcoming.
  • What other holiday invites neighbors (who are, let’s be honest, essentially strangers) to your home, and yours to theirs? When Christians boycott this holiday based on the notion that it is evil (or, as many churches do, have their own festival on the day of in which church children only receive candy from church adults), we miss out on the chance to meet and interact with and care for our neighbors. Whether or not our culture thinks this is important, being a neighbor was incredibly important to Jesus.
  • Children are allowed to celebrate their own creativity and I believe that God the Creator is honored when we copy him in the act of creation. Therefore, Halloween—especially when children are allowed to use their imaginations and play—is beautifully honoring to God. This is where I will now stand on my soapbox and say that 12-year-old girls in slutty nurse costumes is not “celebrating” creativity. Neither is the helicopter moms’ unspoken competition to see whose child can dress the cutest. Halloween should be about kids getting to experience an opportunity to play a part, to pretend in the fullest sense. (Can I just say here that my 10-year-old niece is a perfect example of using her creativity for costumes? A couple of years ago she was a “Halloween Tree,” her idea. What, you say, is a Halloween Tree? I have no idea but she got it and that’s what mattered. This year she’s one of those mushroom people from Mario Brothers.  She comes up the idea and her family helps her carry it out. It’s a beautiful thing.)
  • CANDY!!! Free candy, placed in your bag. How is that not good and honoring to God?
  • It’s an opportunity not only to be a neighbor, but to show kindness, hospitality, to practice the art of preparing in advance for a stranger to arrive at your door. It doesn’t happen much anymore, but as we buy our candy and make preparations for the little (and sometimes grown up…two years ago I had college student trick or treaters) creatures who arrive on our step, it’s a reminder to be prepared to welcome and make space for everyone who enters our lives. I like that.

And what do I think about the ghosts, the witches, the monsters of the holiday? Honestly, I don’t know. August has two cute Halloween books that we’ve been reading. The ghost is a friendly one with rosy cheeks. The witch flies on a broom with a sparkly pink hat. We’ve never talked about what they are or what they represent and I don’t think we need to.

I’m not afraid of allowing August to see or experience things in our culture that I don’t agree with or want to glorify. So, I’ve decided not to be afraid of his being exposed to these things. (He’s been making cute ghostly art projects at his school, as well, by the way). He will spend his childhood and young adulthood exposed to values and ideas we don’t agree with: a sexually perverted culture, greed, and inequality, to name a few. My job is to point out what we believe and why…and to steer him to a life that knows and follows Christ.

Teaching him to say hello to the neighbors is a beautiful first step…

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Snow piled

We wake up to snow piled on the outdoor table, still parked where it sat all summer. We were not prepared for this: two inches stuck on green leaves, quivering out of concerned trees. They weren’t prepared either.

“Mama, does this mean it’s almost Christmas?” my boy asks in his pajamas and I shake my head. It’s not even Halloween yet. “But, Mama, you said when it snowed it would be almost Christmas!” I know I said that. I was wrong.

Seasons exist for a reason. Snow is not supposed to sit on green leaves. They sag by the window.

We’re visiting my parents in the part of Texas that actually gets snow. (Though not in October!) I dress my boy in what we have: sweatpants, grandma’s socks, sneakers, lady cotton gloves, and a light jacket. He runs out back and sticks his hands in the wet snow. He needs help with the snowball smashing. I leave the baby playing on the living room floor, put boots over my cozy socks, a jacket over my pjs. We make snowballs and laugh.

I’m inside much sooner. What is it with little kids and their inability to feel cold? He doesn’t mind, comes in only with the promise of hot chocolate.

All morning I stare at those tree leaves. I feel for them. It’s hard to wake up to such a shock; those branches need their dry bones of winter to hold snow. But here they are living and aching with the weight. I want to help them, to bring out a broom, a hairdryer, my bare hands, and wipe them clean.

Of course, snow like this can’t stick long. After all, we were wearing shorts and t-shirts three days ago. The sun shoves itself out on them, a savior for the leaves just now turning orange. Everyone sighs. Especially the squirrels, who hoped they’d have a little longer to gather.

The boy stomps in the slush left in the driveway. The baby wears a brown fleece bear suit his brother perfected 3 years before.

I hold my hands out at the sky and wonder.

 

I’m feeling the “Just Write” again…

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College Thankful

Welcome to Thankful Tuesday on a Thursday. I hope that’s not terribly confusing.

The boys and I get our "guns up" at my Homecoming game. (Yes, those are streamers around August's and my heads.)

I spent the weekend at my college’s Homecoming for my ten-year reunion. Now, let me explain something to you. I did not go to a school known for its academic rigor, though I learned plenty. I didn’t go to a school that anyone has ever heard of, even in Texas, and especially not in the parts of the country I’ve been living in for the past decade.

But I went to the perfect school, the place where I was most able to be myself, where I was most loved and embraced and challenged to think and create. I went to a college that was kind and silly and small and full of music.

I could write something long about the ways that being in a Southern Baptist university brought me to a point of frustration and doubt and discouragement at the state of Christianity in our culture. But I can just as quick recount the rich kindness of my professors, the sweetness of the culture of the students, the safety I felt in that place.

I’ve taken Chris (Mr. Ivy League) to my campus before, but both times it was during the winter break, no students around, buildings locked. This past weekend I was thrilled at what he was going to see: my dearest college friends gathered in one room, my chance to serve as co-emcee for our reunion dinner. My emcee partner, Lex, and I were passionate (and ridiculous) karaokers in our former collegiate life so we made great plans to perform “Reunited” to kick off the class dinner. My husband was more than concerned. Every time I talked about it, he said, “I’m just not sure that’s a good idea,” while his eyes took on the look he saves for wanting to protect me from life’s scariest people. He just knew that when we sang our former classmates would stare back quietly in disgust and horror.

He had no idea that my college experience was a lot more like youth group than like college. His concern was brought up many times and I did my best to alleviate his fears. But I still saw it in his eyes Saturday night…until Lex and I began to sing “Reunited and it feels so good!” There’s something about that place that allows for silliness. It was a wonderful night and my husband was all kinds of relieved.

So, here’s my list. Homecoming weekend thankful:

  • That I now live four hours from where I went to school so I was actually able to be part of my ten-year reunion (which would never have happened otherwise). That Chris got to experience what I’ve been trying to tell him all these years.
  • Staying up until 2 am (what?!) with old friends just talking Friday night. We were so proud of ourselves for our late night craziness.
  • How proud I felt of my friends introducing themselves at our sorority breakfast. This is a little silly but I just about burst every time my college roomies Jamie and Melissa introduce themselves as an attorney and pediatrician. They worked so hard for those titles.
  • The most significant teacher in all my life was my creative writing professor in college. Uniquely goofy (he did a puppet show with socks in my American Lit Survey sophomore year), his shoulders shake up and down when he laughs. He challenged all my thinking about poetry when I was an earnest twenty year old and he never fails to write me back the moment he gets an email from me. I got my graduate degree because of him. I learned to write poems because of him. I hate to use “and” after two commas because of him. And I have the warmest of hearts for him. He and his wife came up to campus Saturday morning just spend time with my family and me. So grateful.
  • Since we moved to Austin, August has become best buds with Jamie’s (see: attorney, above) little boy, Cameron. They have the same sort of quirks for unusual information, they talk a lot, and they have that sort of little buddy connection that I’ve only seen August have once before with his friend Alton in San Francisco. Saturday morning at the homecoming “Kids Posse Corral” (we’re the “Cowboys”), my son got to ride a horse, pet a pony, and slide down a blow up slide with Cameron. It was awesome.
  • Friends so dear that my heart aches when I’m with them because I want more of them in my life.
  • My amazing parents who drove four hours to Abilene to watch our kids Saturday night and then drove the boys and me to their house for a week of Halloween fun with cousins.
  • Getting to experience all my school traditions with my husband by my side. He watched a football game, sat through three hours of All School SING! with me, sang the school song with his hand in the shape of a gun, and videoed me singing outside with my sorority. It was sweet. Then we held hands and I walked him through all of campus, showing him where all the important conversations with boys happened, where I threw candy from my dorm window at smooching couples, and where I spent Senior year eating a burger every day for lunch (seriously). I’m thankful.

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{Practicing Benedict} Nothing harsh or burdensome

Welcome to Mama:Monk’s weekly Wednesday series examining St. Benedict’s Rule and what it has meant to me as a stay at home mom. (Full disclosure! I’m no expert on Benedict or the Benedictine Order. I just love him/them and can’t seem to stop reading books that have “Benedictine” in the title.) 

“In the guidance we lay down to achieve this we hope to impose nothing harsh or burdensome. If however, you find in it anything which seems rather strict, but which is demanded reasonably for the correction of vice or the preservation of love, do not let that frighten you into fleeing from the way of salvation; it is a way which is bound to seem narrow to start with. But, as we progress in this monastic way of life and in faith, our hearts will warm to its vision and with eager love and delight that desires expression we shall go forward on the way of God’s commandments” (Prologue, St. Benedict’s Rule).

I first came to the St. Benedict’s Rule because I had read in Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk that the Benedictines have always believed there is enough time in each day for work and study, for rest and prayer. I was at a moment in my life as a new mom where I couldn’t imagine there ever being enough time for anything again, especially prayer, especially rest. I came to Benedict because I wanted someone wise to tell me the secret of time: how to have it, how to use it, how to believe it is enough.

Do you know what Benedict has been teaching me about time? Not better time management skills (though the use of bells calling me to prayer would be a welcome help in my world). Not how to fit more good stuff into less time.  Not why I ought to do more.

What I’ve been learning is the gentleness of “nothing harsh” and “nothing burdensome.” I came into motherhood as a taskmaster of the Christian faith. It was supposed to be hard, it was supposed to hurt to follow Jesus. After all, it was the narrow way, right? I was taking up my cross, right?

I’m not denying that following Christ is difficult. Jesus said it would be. He said we’d face persecution for his name’s sake. It should hurt to give our money away, to choose generosity over accumulation. It should hurt to give ourselves in relationships, to give up comfort time in order to love those who are lonely, in order to value those our society fails to value.

But I lived in a different realm of following Jesus. I made myself hurt by scheduling my time away in unhealthy ways. I committed to too many things. I failed to savor the time I had with my husband. I told myself in the midst of tears, of aching for more time to rest, that I was doing what God wanted me to do. The truth is that sometimes I was doing what God wanted of me. But sometimes, I was just doing what I hoped would make God like me more. Prayer was not a loving pursuit of God’s presence, it was burdensome appointment.

St. Benedict shocked me because he was first ancient I’d ever read who seemed to recognize our human frailty in the midst of our commitment to Jesus. I had lived my life believing that knowing Jesus ought to have made me super human. The reality was that I often felt just as broken, just as tired as the world around me.

Benedict wrote this rule for his monks, understanding that to put something in writing for them—something to shape their relationships with one another, something to mark them as Christ followers under a monastic-vow—meant that his role was to help them be pushed into their best, without being pushed into unhealthy discouragement.

So what does this have to do with time? It’s this: Does Jesus keep track of how long I pray in the morning? Does he get angry when I fail to praise him as often as the fellow believer in a totally different phase of life? Does Jesus roll his eyes at my legitimate exhaustion when my son screams “no!” at me all day I feel completely worthless at correcting him? Does Jesus say: “Micha, it’s 5 pm! Why aren’t you stopping your work with these kids and giving me some time?”

No, he doesn’t. He knows what’s true. He knows what I need and he knows what I can give: right now, on this day, in this moment. He has never stopped calling me. He has never stopped asking me to listen to the Spirit. He has never ceased to direct me toward the people in my life who need to know he loves them. It’s just that what is demanded is demanded with love: with a deep understanding of my reality.

So…nothing harsh or burdensome. That’s my time management. Because there is always enough time in the day to work and study, for rest and prayer, as long as we carve our days in the knowledge that we are loved, that wholehearted in a few things is a lot more life-giving and God-ordained than weak-hearted in many.

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Just a Stay at Home Mom (how liberation frees me to love my non-job)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Thankful Tuesday to bring you my most recent guest post at Her.meneutics (the women’s blog for Christianity Today.) 

I am a product of the Second Wave Feminism of the 60s. By the time I was a child in the 80s, movies were full of women in shoulder-padded jackets at their corporate desks. The working mom was alive and figuring out her place in our culture. And my grandpa was picking me up after school and watching me until my mom got out of work.

I came into my role as stay at home mom slowly, with frequent hand wringing and deep doubts. I was in full-time ministry before that, in a form of work that demanded loads of energy, crazy hours, and a great community of support (especially during my son’s first year). . . [to read more of the post, click here.]

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Just Write: The Miracle

You’re up at 5 am. They call this “sleeping through the night.” I groan and meet you in our secret place: dark room, soft carpet, a rocking chair in the corner. The glow of nightlight feels sacred when I’m here, like I’ve been roused from my sleep for some holy appearing, a light leaking, heaven-glow.

I’m barefoot. My t-shirt says: “Brooks was here” across my chest. It’s a quote from a movie but it’s also your name. And you’ve definitely been there.

In the darkness, you’ve scooted your body sideways in the crib. Your leg is caught in the open space and you’re crying. My hands move quick under your arms (how many times have I gathered you this way, like a mama kitty snatching babies with her mouth?) and I scoop you out of your trouble. That’s my job. You know that.

Seven months in this world and you know enough to need me. Milk, you sign with that frantic, animal look in your eyes. I know a please when I see one. We sit together in the chair I nursed your brother in, the chair I held you in when you were barely a life at all, just a flop of a body cradled in my arms into the shape you were meant to hold. You had to learn even this, how to pull forth milk, how to latch and swallow, how to open your eyes and look for mine.

I’ve been thinking lately how quickly this time has gone. The old ladies in the veggie aisle are always right, you know. You do grow up before we know it. You’re already 20 pounds and I’m sure that each of your thighs weighs 10. A spike of blonde hair sprouts out from your crown and in the front, your bangs are begging for a cut…again.

Yesterday your brother was thrilled to share a shopping cart with you: two steering wheels for two little boys. You pounded on your wheel and waited to see what August would do to his. He would turn to look at you when strangers walked past as if to say: “Yes, he does belong to me. Don’t get any ideas.” I stopped my shopping and recorded the two of you from behind. Looking at each other and smiling. I kept thinking: Don’t let this float out of your mind. This, right here! Remember it.

And here, you and me in this rocking chair, the rest of the house asleep—even the cat. I’m too tired to talk and you’re slowly fading back into the haze of milk and sleep, your arm in the air reaching for my face. Sometimes our bodies say what our minds fail to get across. I think: I will fail you soon enough, little boy. So, now, at 5 am, I’ll give you what I have: my sleep, my milk, my presence. I’ll hold you while I doze and awake to the two of us—your mouth drooped open, head back in bliss. I’ll lay you down and forget to wonder at the thought of you: that you exist, that we’re yours and you’re ours.

In the daylight we’ll dress ourselves and scratch off to-do lists, strap into car seats and accomplish important grown-up things. But you, my love, will gaze at shapes and dots, stripes and textures. And when you see me across the room, you’ll smile, or turn your eyes to find my voice speaking into a phone. And, sometimes, momentarily, I’ll remember the miracle, catch your eye and we’ll both know.

Linking up with Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary in order to “Just Write”…

 

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‘The Evangelical Rejection of Reason’

If you haven’t yet read Monday’s op-ed piece in The New York Times, now is your chance.

Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens, both professors at Easter Nazarene College, write with conviction, honesty and fairness toward the anti-intellectualism of the greater Evangelical conversation in our culture.

This article was written on behalf of all of us in the Evangelical sub-culture who are frustrated with “fundamentalism [that] is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary,” those of us who, in the words of Giberson and Stephens, seek, “a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking.”

This is good good stuff. The kind of work that makes me sigh a big ole breath of relief that there are many of us out there who love Jesus and are thinking and learning and striving to be engaged with the world. I’m proud of their words:  “But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.”

Read the article here.

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