Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ashes to ashes



I had just finished marking the ash cross on her forehead when someone walked up and told her she had something on her face.  We smiled and she explained that it was Ash Wednesday and the mark was intentional.  "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return," I added, continuing to share "ashes to go" in the lobby of the student center.

There is vulnerability in being marked in this way.  It makes us stand out, and not in the way we usually seek attention.  We want to be noticed for being special, not for what can be perceived as weakness.  We are marked to distinguish ourselves, the cross as a sign of our faith that is sometimes in opposition to the values of the world in which we live.  We are marked to show repentance and mourning.  In Lent we are confronted with our own mortality as we follow Jesus on the road to his crucifixion once again.  We put down our illusion of invincibility and power and wear a visible sign of our humility.

I love the priestly duty of anointing with oil and looking into the eyes of the hopeful and the humbled.  I am struck by the mixed blessing: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."  The words are haunting, and yet the touch reminds us of our connection to God and to one another.  There is intimacy in the moment, a sense of God's presence.  It provides a holy space where people are freed to share their stories.  One by one, students opened up about their struggles and what they hoped to take up and let go of for Lent.  I was inspired as they moved beyond the typical vices like chocolate and soda to those who were seeking positivity and acceptance, and letting go of negativity and overbearing control.

We wait for hope to be rebirthed as the ground is covered with a cold blanket of snow.  More snow falls like manna from heaven, a gift that we struggle to receive.  It seems like more than we can handle; we are so tired and overwhelmed.  We long for the growth and warmth of spring.  We make weak promises to do more to grow our faith when really we feel like we have nothing left to give.  But the gift that is there for us, if we open ourselves to receiving it, is that God is with us and that we are enough just as we are.  We don't have to work harder for our salvation.  We simply have to open ourselves to accept God's love which is always there for us, a love that is stronger than death.

We are marked, not just with the image of death,  but with the sign of grace.  Our salvation comes through our acceptance of the gift of vulnerability.

Friday, February 6, 2015

An Open Letter to My Child's School Explaining Her Tardiness

Dear School Administrators,

Let me start by saying I appreciate your work.  I believe you have a job that is as difficult as it is important.  You are educating our future leaders on fewer and fewer resources each year.  When we send our two children to you each morning, I say a little prayer of gratitude and strength for you while I'm doing my victory dance for the eight joyful hours I get to spend at work uninterrupted by their needs.

That said, I was a little peeved to receive the letter yesterday about my daughter's "excessive tardies."


I realize that you must send a form letter out to all parents of students with excessive tardies as we also received one last year (ahem).  You asked for our response, so please allow me to share my thoughts:

1. Yes, these tardies have been under our supervision.  She is six, so she has not been driving herself to school late or sneaking out of the house to skip school.  My husband has been the one that has personally delivered her to the school office on these occasions.

2.  While you are highlighting the 5 days she was late, I would rather celebrate the 98 other days that she was on time.  Do you realize what a miraculous occurrence this is?  While the tone of the letter is punitive, I was pretty amazed the number was so low.  I'm giving my husband a big high five and myself a pat on the back for managing to get two strong-willed children awake, showered, dressed, fed, and to school for five months now. 

3.  You're threatening to get a social worker involved?  Great!  Please let her/him know to arrive at our house at 6:15am daily to wake up said child.  Please warn the social worker that alarm clocks, soothing music, gentle nudges, and cuddles are not effective at getting her alert.  Threats, rewards, bribes, earlier bedtimes, and engaging conversation are also no good.  Protective gear is suggested due to the threat of kicking, hitting, and scratching.  Prepare to engage in a battle of wills for at least half an hour, which will be followed by wrestling the child out of bed and getting her dressed without any cooperation from her.  Tears and screaming must be ignored in order to reach the bus stop by 7:07am so that she will not be tardy!

4.  Does she have a chronic medical condition that prevents her from attending school on a regular basis?  Hmm...well, not a diagnosed one, but see #3 and judge for yourself.  Note that we did not receive a similar letter regarding her brother.

5.  Please note the child DID attend school on these days.  It's not like the year (ahem, last year) when the kids missed 5 days for a Disney Cruise.  We do value their education.  I am the girl who had perfect attendance from kindergarten through high school graduation.  Yes, that was once a mark of pride for me, but now seems rather sad.

6.  I deal with enough guilt as a parent, woman, and person of a religious background.  Perhaps you should try talking with my daughter, who doesn't seem to have enough to motivate her into action.

Thank you for your concern.  We are with you.

Sincerely,
A parent who is doing the best she can.



Friday, January 30, 2015

Where sanctuary is found

Art by Abigail L. Dela Cruz of Abby Draws (used with permission)

I desire sanctuary in my life, spaces where peace pushes out the anxiety that tends to lodge in my heart.  Instead of the press of obligations to prove my worth, I long to feel at home where I am, embracing the reality of my life as it is.

Sanctuary, for me, is often about the holy places outside of church, although I have experienced it there as well.  But more often I have found it in the coziness of a coffee shop with a pot of tea and a fireplace, during a solitary walk through the woods,  or while sitting by moving water.  I find it in my warm bed with a book and time that demands nothing more of me.  I feel it in the process of writing as a spiritual practice of theological reflection and self-understanding.  These moments feel like Sabbath: holy, protected, renewing, transforming rest.

These days I'm looking ahead to our December cruise vacation, knowing from experience that this sort of getaway (without access to phones and the internet or household responsibilities) is the only way to truly entice me to stop and rest.  But on the other hand, I'm trying to embrace my word for this year, wholehearted, and find ways to live gratefully in the moment.

It's difficult, when I wake to the sound of my two children fighting and feel the dread of another day that feels the same as the one before.  My husband and I are getting by these days by alternating "days off" when one of us is free to leave the house alone.  I don't want to just get by, though.  I worry that I'm missing out on the joys of these days when our children are still young and want to be with us.  Even though that want feels like a ball and chain; though it feels like every last ounce of my energy is being drained away as they fight for our attention.

I write and reflect on the sacredness of parenthood and my journey to embrace the messy beauty of it all (as Glennon Melton speaks of the brutiful life that is brutal as it is beautiful).  Yet it is difficult moving this truth from my brain to my heart to my actions.  My kids like to protest that things aren't fair when they don't get what they want.  Perhaps they have learned this from me as I protest even when I get exactly what I have been seeking.

The truth is that this is the life of my dreams.  I am married to my love who supports me and truly makes me better than I could be on my own.  We have two bright, creative, and relatively healthy children.  I have a calling and a job that provides gratification and pushes me towards new growth.  Why is it that my quest for sanctuary pushes me to retreat from all of this?

Maybe it is the introvert within me.  Perhaps it is an ongoing struggle to reconcile my unrealistic expectations with reality.  I think it takes stepping away to get the bigger perspective I need instead of focusing in on all that seems wrong.  I need breathing space to release my frustration and clear the clutter from my mind.  It is only then that I can see things for how they truly are, and that it is good.

In the sanctuary moments I am reminded that all is well enough.