Monthly Archives: January 2014

minutes and hours

Those stinking January blues descended here in full force last week, and my first response was to regret that I hadn’t done enough to stave them off. After all, I’d given in to my homebody tendencies too many times: weighing the energy it takes to go out with a one and three year old against the ease of just staying in and nearly always choosing the latter. I’d read too many serious books, and indulged in too many cups of coffee and not nearly enough glasses of water. All the usual signs of trying to comfort myself, followed by all the usual reminders that I need more.

The sun shone just a certain way some days and I started to think about Spring. I called my mother to ask if she thought it was too late to plant bulbs. Ricky was gone for six days, and I surprised myself by not turning into a total heap on the floor. I made good use of the Yes prayer during those days, most assuredly.

Still, I started to dread another day indoors, trying to set a cheerful tone and resisting the urge to pull the curtains shut. Tired mornings even after plenty of sleep. I get this way, in Winter. Do you?

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One day, Silas was wiggling around as I changed his Pull-Up, and I asked him to be still. “Just a minute, sweetheart,” he murmured, rolling his train along the side of the table. Something inside me was hibernating, and in that moment it stirred a bit. Sweetheart.

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On Tuesday it snowed again; magical because of the babies’ excitement. I did a lot of looking out windows and it felt like a metaphor for my life right now. I watched Nicky run in his clunky boots to the neighbor’s house to play with Legos and swords, I watched Silas and Aimee turn their faces up to catch the flakes. Aimee’s lashes were white with them. I watched, and it was all I could seem to do. The minimum things: laundry and dinner, were heavy.

In that heaviness I tried to remember: if I were someone else, I would give me a hug. I was full of questions as I tried to scrape my tenderness together into an evening meal. This song played in the background. Where Grace is found, is where you are. The image of God as a tired-but-trying mother hen, longing to gather chicks under wings, came to mind. I imagined myself being gathered there willingly, gladly. Cared for as I navigated the rhythms we all do: freeze, thaw, sleep, wake. Learn, relearn, teach, relearn. Every hour I need you–no truer words exist for me.

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The weekend came and I did some helpful things: a text message to our lovely babysitter, a dinner out, a long cold walk around a frozen lake. I seem to be better at caring for myself when I remember how deeply cared for I am. As another week begins, I remember this.

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Like a Child

Today I’m grateful to be sharing a guest post from James Stambaugh. James and his wife, Deborah, are dear friends of ours and some of my favorite people  to talk with about theology and its tangible effect on our lives, usually while drinking something interesting. We don’t see them nearly enough, and as I always learn something from our conversations, it’s a treat to hear James’ thoughts on the decision to baptize their son Edmund as an infant, and the ways children teach us how to approach God. 

Baptizing my son as an infant was a difficult choice.  I mentally accented to the doctrine.  I read the pertinent theology.  My wife and I worked through the information given to us by our parish, and met with the Christian education director.  We set a date to have Edmund James baptized, and chose godparents.  But there were complications.  These decisions are rarely only about theology.  Christian practice is messy.

Psychologically, it was hard to overcome twenty years of being told that infant baptism was wrong; that a person must choose for his or herself to be baptized.  I was baptized when I was nine after making a public profession of faith in Christ.  I don’t exactly remember choosing anything.  I remember it though, cold water on a January night, and value the memory.

The Anglican tradition, which I came to in young adulthood, affirms the value and the choice of baptism for older children and adults.  Since I began attending the Episcopal church I have seen many persons “of riper years”—as an old Prayer Book called it—get baptized, and it is always beautiful.  But, infant baptism is the normative practice of our church.  More by intuition than by dogmatics, I felt it was right for my son.

Some of our close family warned us before Edmund was born never to let them know if we baptized him as an infant.  They acted as if just knowing of an infant baptism in the family would cause too much shame and disappointment to bear.

My wife and I were faced with a decision between what we felt was right and what was normative in our faith community on the one hand, and what we were taught growing up and what our family wanted us to do on the other.

In the end, we went with our gut.  We brought our child to the font.  We promised in front of God and everyone to bring him up in the Christian faith, and help him to grow into the full stature of Christ.  We spoke the ancient words of the baptismal covenant, and our voices were strengthened by the voices of the whole congregation.  The priest poured water on his head, and anointed him with oil.  We received the light of Christ: a candle burning with Pascal fire.

That was two years ago.  Edmund is almost three.  Most Sundays we take him out of the nursery in time for Holy Communion.  He calls it “Jesus bread time.”

He points to the colors in the stained glass, listens to the rumbling organ, and says parts of the Lord’s Prayer—mostly just “Our Father” over and over.   Then we line up to go to the altar rail.  When he was younger we would take the wafer for him, break it up, make sure it all ended up in his mouth, but we don’t worry too much about that anymore.

Now Edmund kneels by himself.  His chin rests on the top of the wooden rail polished by a century of communicants.  He reaches up, palms open; absolutely committed to expectation.  He wastes no time shoving the whole wafer in his mouth.  He smiles as it melts on his tongue.  Once he grabbed the priest’s vestment as he walked past, and asked, “more please.”  The priest gave it to him.  Another time he begged a piece from the man kneeling next to him.  This man broke his wafer in half and gave it to my son.  As a member of our congregation, that gentleman also made a promise the day Edmund was baptized, and he took it seriously.

Edmund feasts on the Sacrament with unadulterated joy.  When he breaks free of my grasp and runs to the rail giggling, I see what Jesus meant when he told us to approach His kingdom like a child, with innocence, joy, and expectation; with careless laughter.  At the rail, receiving the Eucharist with Edmund, I know that baptizing him was right.  He is a member of the Body of Christ and participates in the life of the Church in his own, completely legitimate way.  And who cares that he approaches donuts in the fellowship hall the same way? [1]

Edmund is teaching me that children intuitively understand the Incarnation.  They make no distinction between sacred and profane, between spiritual and material.  They worship just as truly with sticky hands full of cake as with prayer book and hymnal (though the combination of all three is not recommended).

Some will still argue that children cannot worship, or be baptized, or take the Eucharist because they don’t know what they’re doing.  But do any of us really know what we’re doing?  Regardless of how ripe in years we are when it happens, we are all infants at baptism.  The extent to which we think we are spiritually mature is usually inversely related to how mature we really are.  If we do not approach the Sacraments as a mystery—with the spiritual discipline of expectant unknowing—we are in grave danger.  Children don’t have to worry about that.  God grant me grace to be like them.

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James is in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest and will be attending seminary in the fall of 2014.  Right now, he lives in Albuquerque, NM with his beautiful wife and darling children.  He occasionally blogs at cynoceph.wordpress.com.

[1] Who can deny the sacramentality of coffee hour?

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Epiphany

There’s a fair amount of second-guessing going on in my head as we settle into our wooden chairs on Epiphany Sunday. I’m preoccupied with thoughts about human stubbornness and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit ; how we force things and also how we can be too passive. Our family takes up a whole row, save one seat. We break the ice: we who braved frozen driveways and cold rain now jokingly congratulate ourselves, and when the pastor asks what church season we’re in, Nicky pipes up, “Winter!”  I laugh easily, and leave off the pondering for now.

Managing to remember a few phrases without consulting the printed service, I notice for the first time the closed eyes around me, the words being recited by heart.

I feel like a kid peeking out from under the covers. It’s hard to tell how much I’m super-imposing my own issues, but I sense that I may be in the company of seasoned question-lovers, which helps a great deal with my breathing. Actually, I’m not reminding myself to breathe at all. Huh.

Funny how it works: while I’m busy noticing the space left for the unknown, Belief herself slips in and sits in that extra seat on the end of the row, kind eyes and hair all a mess, and I hear her voice harmonizing with mine as we sing about thorns infesting the ground and wonders of His love.

She stands by my side as I hold my hands in front of me, I daresay eagerly, for bread. Earlier this morning I chose a shower over breakfast; now the generous portion placed in my palm satisfies in more ways than one. Fed by this, warmed by wine, I return to my seat and find my place in the hymnal.

It occurs to me that all of my hunger has met at this one point. I’m not sure I’ve ever allowed it all to exist in the same sphere before. Reverent, ravenous, here I am. Sitting next to Belief in this row of wooden chairs.

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Grace to Show Up

Today, for A Feast of Crumbs’ inaugural guest post, I’m thrilled to be hosting my lovely friend Norissa Lears. We met when I was in college and she was in graduate school. I’ve found Norissa to be a person who chooses her words carefully and tells the truth: if something is hard, she says so. She’s navigating the early motherhood years with honesty and truly, grace. I appreciate her voice so much and consider it an absolute honor to share her words here.

I feel like I keep failing the Sunday morning test. The one where I’m supposed to get myself and the two kids ready and out the door for church without yogurt smears on my skirt or sweet potatoes caked in their hair, and without going all Crazy-Mom on the four-year old when he strips his pants and underwear off to go potty and will not be wrangled back into them 20 minutes past our departure goal. The one where I’m supposed to show up on time.

The one where I’m supposed to show up, period.

Sometimes, showing up seems downright impossible.

And I guess that’s what I’m learning from this particular struggle. That it is impossible, but for Grace. And I’m starting to think that’s a lot of what Grace is: the ability, as well as the opportunity, to show up, trailing behind, empty-handed and broken, stained with the efforts of trying to please others, grimed with the remnants of attempting to satisfy my cravings, with the jagged holes and dark places, hair unkempt and no make-up. All of it showing.

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Showing up was the last thing I wanted to do on this particular Sunday. Given that my husband had a rare break from playing the piano during the service, we could all go together as a family. But I was tired, disgruntled and frustrated about several circumstances, and wanted to just stay home.

The only reason I acquiesced to attend was the lure of an interesting biography. The Sunday morning before All Saints’ Day, which my church observes in conjunction with Reformation Day and with a carnival for the children, the sermon always features a past saint–not in the sense of someone holy in and of themselves, or someone who performed miracles, but in the sense of being a follower of Christ, an ordinary person whose life was transformed by an extraordinary God-Man. Though many a sermon has washed over me in the same time, I can list the subjects of each of the past 7 years’ biographical sketches from memory. This time, though, not even a narrative could vie for my attention as I nursed my anger and disconnection.

At the end of this service, though, my attention was riveted during the concluding hymn, when the instruments dropped out of the last verse. I don’t remember the words, or even the song we were singing, only that all of a sudden, everything changed. Instantly, voices became distinct around me: the operatic soprano, whose voice sailed from across the other side of the sanctuary; the smile in Catie’s bright descant behind me; my husband’s unpolished tenor beside me; the baritone plodding the supporting tones in front of us. And I could hear the catch in my own voice as it wobbled, the hardness I had built up over the morning starting to crumble.

Suddenly, I felt seen.

“(He) will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

In that moment, without the usual instrumentals blanketing the singing, each individual voice became to me a lifeline, a note in the Creator’s Song of Grace.

Eyes closed, I pictured the pared down worship of pioneers absent an organ or piano, of believers in underground churches today on the other side of the globe, of the first followers of the Way. Saw myself as part of a body, broken and fumbling and in need of restoration as it is. Connected, if only by the strains of a harmony in this moment, to the ones immediately surrounding me as well as those across town, across the world, and throughout the centuries, across the divide of time and eternity. And the Divine Voice, rejoicing over all of it– the mess, the broken, the Redeemed.

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Photo credit: Monica Lau

Norissa Lears is a wife, mama to two small boys, and writer who blogs at Gracewritehere.com, where she attempts to record the incredible, radical Grace she’s experienced, and create some beauty out of the messy, imperfect moments of life.

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resolving to listen

Yesterday, I shared the results of my 2013 resolutions, as well as my new resolutions for 2014. Today, inspired by the OneWord365 campaign, I’m sharing my word that I hope will describe 2014 well. I deviate from their mission a little in that I’m still a fan of resolutions, but I love the idea of focusing in on one word.

In 2014, I want to listen. It’s timely, for me. Social media is wonderful in many ways: it’s a fairly easy venue to express creativity, it connects us to like-minded people, and it helps us know we’re not alone, particularly during a shift where we feel less connected to a specific community than we once did. I believe that, in many ways, social media saved my faith. However, for all its good qualities, it doesn’t seem to encourage much listening.

Everybody find your tribe, everybody defend your tribe, everybody talk about why your tribe is the best. From what I’ve seen, this could be the slogan of the social internet. It’s not all bad, either: it feels good to belong to something,  and if I’ve chosen a tribe, it’s probably because those within hold the same things to be precious.

But sometimes, one tribe decides that another tribe is stupid, or wrong, or oblivious, and the arrows go flying.

I was going to give some specific examples, but we can probably all think of plenty without help, and I certainly don’t want this post to be about some hot-button issue instead of what it’s supposed to be about. Can we just pause for a collective sigh, though? Is anyone else tired of it? I am.

And so, I resolve to listen, especially when it comes to social media, but in person as well. I’ll voice my opinion when it’s warranted, but I hope that it’s only ever with a healthy dose of humility.

When I hear a statement and immediately think that’s outrageous! I’ll take a moment longer to listen. I’ll give people a chance to explain. I’ll do my best to assign positive intent, if at all possible. Then, and only then, I’ll offer my thoughts. My resolution to listen has nothing to do with timidity, but it is an attempt to resist the high of outrage.

And so, in the spirit of listening, I have a happy announcement to make.

Earlier this year, I asked a group of people ranging from acquaintances to close friends if they would consider writing a guest post here on the blog that described a “bread crumb” moment for them. Many of them responded; enough to host two guest posts a month here, starting tomorrow!

I have a confession to make, though: initially I only wanted to ask people who fall along the same political and theological lines that I do. It seemed like a risk otherwise: what would people want to say on MY blog? Would I censor it? Maybe I was setting myself up for incredibly awkward situations. And then I felt so, so convicted. It’s embarrassing to admit: I was thinking of asking people to share something quite intimate: a moment of spiritual clarity that was sacred to them, and then I was thinking of who might say the right sort of thing. Isn’t that the very thing, the very lack, that’s broken my heart; that almost drove me away from my faith?

I seemed to have forgotten, in my zeal for a particular tribe, that we have much to learn from each other. It was this realization, among others, that led me to choose listen as my word for 2014.

One of my favorite lines of literature comes from Jo March in Little Women. “I should have been a great many things,” she says, when someone notices one of her strengths and comments “You should have been a lawyer, Miss March.” She’s speaking mainly about opportunity, I think, but her words have another meaning. Each one of us already is a great many things, and we shouldn’t be defined solely by any tribe or affiliation. I’d like to take this year to remind myself of that, as often as possible.

And so, we’ll be hearing from people of faith with a broad range of views, because that is what Christianity actually looks like as a whole. I don’t know to what extent their views will influence what they choose to write about, and honestly I’m not expecting anything very controversial. It seems like a good way to practice listening, though. To practice not dismissing. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, not to mention fellow humans, and I’m beyond excited to hear their stories and be reminded of all that we have in common.

Happy New Year to you! It’s a bit of a wild hope, but maybe this year we’ll listen better. Maybe we’ll hear each other.

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