Huge black bats swoop
Round your head,
Filing you with an awful dread.
My 5 year was all ready to recite this poem in his kindergarten class today. The sheet came home a week or so ago. I quickly got the parent invitation details onto my calendar. Yesterday, I even found multiple bat-related accessories at Target for my son to wear, as the kids were invited to dress-up. #winning
This morning, we parked and started towards school. As we walked, Nathaniel started crying. He saw some of his classmates ahead of us. None of them were dressed up, as if it were October 31st. My boy looked like he was ready to go trick-or-treating.
With tears streaming down his face, he insisted we go home. I barked back. “No, we have a poetry morning and we have to go. We are going to be late!” For about five minutes, my five-year old and I went back and forth in what was a delightful public display of my fantastic mothering; his tear-count and my blood pressure increasing by the minute. Because, God Damn it! I had set-us up for a successful morning. All he needed to do was listen. We finally found a compromise: he’d take off his costume in the car and save it in his backpack, just in case (I was still convinced that he’d see today was poetry morning, as soon as we got to school). As we got to the classroom, I was surprised to see that none of the other moms seemed to be staying or planning on a poetry morning. Uh-oh.
You know that moment when you realize that you’re wrong? It sucks….especially, when you felt so secure in the ‘rightness’ of your position just 30 seconds prior. Looking back, there were signs. He’d repeatedly asked me if I was SURE today was the day. In the middle of all the roadside tears, he’d even said, ‘Mom, just ask Siri!’. Dear Lord…my child, in that moment, had more confidence in Siri knowing what was right, than in my own calendar confidence. But, let’s face it – Halloween is still a couple of weeks out. At the very least, I should have considered that October 27th makes a whole lot more sense than October 13th. Or, maybe I could have looked at the sheet sitting RIGHT THERE on the counter.
Tuesday, I had lunch with a friend who attended the Belong Tour with me. She reminded me of something that is such an obvious but elusive truth: Jesus did not heal or save everyone. Think about that! Even the Savior of the world gave us a picture of discipleship that doesn’t attempt to do it all….even when you are God in the flesh, with all knowledge and power. My friend and I promised to check-back in the coming months. For two ‘I want to save the world’ types, we both need people who spur us to figure out what we’re called to, but also help us say ‘no’ to what we’re not. I’m just starting Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect. At the start, she writes, “For me, this has taken the shape of a nearly four-year journey from exhaustion, multitasking, frantic and frayed living into peace, connection, and rest.” A few paragraphs later, she shares the wise words from a friend who said, “no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough.” I’m trying to change before the pain level gets untenable. I want to be a disciple but I also don’t want to be divorced. And, the reality is that women who try to shore-up the gaps in our societies, often do so at the expense of the people they hold most dear.
The quandary is very real. There are homeless living among us. There are foster kids who just want to be loved. There are refugees who need an advocate. There’s a city digesting the scathing report from the Justice Department, documenting abuse of power and bias. There’s a nation that’s waking up to the truth of its very big struggle with sexual assault. Our world is broken and hurting. Many friends inspire me with their big hearts and sharp minds, which together make for a powerful combination in combating some of these ills. They make their faith tangible and real, taking up the crosses of those who need a helping hand or advocate.
Like huge black bats, the competing forces of helping at school or volunteering at the homeless shelter or serving at church, swoop around us. In addition, there are our friends and families. And, these people closest to us do not deserve the scraps that remain after we’ve doled out pieces of ourselves to a dozen other causes. John Ortberg writes of this great exchange between himself and his mentor, Dallas Willard. He asks him how to be spiritually healthy. Dallas replies, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Show me a mom who isn’t hurrying MOST of the time, juggling about 101 different things. They are a rare breed, which says something. And, I admit that the tension between when I should drink that extra cup of coffee and attempt to do more good versus when I should just stop, pour myself a glass of wine, sit with my family and be still – that tension is real and palpable every single day. When I get to heaven, I want to stand, in all my brokenness, knowing I left nothing on the table – that I’d showed up in the places God had put before me. But, I know that God’s plan is not for me to show up at Heaven’s Gates, hallowed out and weary. Jesus says, my yoke is easy and my burden light; we don’t have to hustle for His love. Why, then do we carry so much? Why do we try to be masters of multitasking? Why do we always try to be Martha?
Shauna challenged us at the Belong Tour to do the next right thing. I don’t think that we can solve the problems facing our nation if only a few are trying to solve the challenges of the many…if only the well-resourced, kindhearted and civic-minded are charged with caring for the millions in need. Not only is it impractical, it is inefficient and ineffective. We can only move forward if we’re all taking a step in the right direction, looking for the best synergies between private and public collaborations. Along the way, there will be superstars who inspire and motivate the masses. But, at the end of the day, we are in this together.
Most Americans were probably ready to be done with the election, like 6 months ago. As much as we’d love to just lock up these issues in a box and throw away the key – I hope that we continue leaning into these challenging conversations, because there is so much we can do, starting with finding the ways we can support women and families. For example, Melinda Gates published compelling data on the time inequity between men and women. When we fund our schools, we not only get a higher quality education but we free up stay-at-home moms to tackle other projects (rather than filling the holes where staff funding falls short). When we pay for universal preschool education, we alleviate a very real childcare challenge. Especially, in lower-income families, the ability of moms to seek employment without costly daycare, is a huge benefit. Anne-Marie Slaughter writes of the American workplace, saying “For many Americans, life has become all competition all the time.” Isn’t that the truth!?!? We are running a race that we can’t win and never ends. When American workplaces and businesses acknowledge that the current pace is unsustainable (and even detrimental long-term), we will begin returning humanity to the people (men and women!) upon which our economies depend. We are not machines or robots. No matter where you are on the Totem pole, you matter. And, we need to live and legislate as if that were true. We collectively benefit when families up and down the economic scale can live sane, sustainable lives.
Drive down El Camino Real; you can feel the urgency that we all dash around with. I am reminded of the way folks I encountered in Ireland seemed to march to the beat of a slower drum. They could hustle when circumstances necessitated it, but they were not in a perpetual mode of running like a hamster on a wheel that only had one speed: fast.
One of my favorite examples of this mindset was on the Irish streets. The roads were narrow, sometimes only one lane. When two cars would meet, we’d begin a dance. Maybe one car would back up. Both would inch over to the edges of their lane. What seemed impossible was always possible. We always worked it out. And, when we did, there was a split second of shared rejoicing. Together, we’d wave to one another, always with a smile and sometimes with a thumbs up. Please, please. Can we try to pivot as a nation to a posture that’s less about pointing a finger and blaming others, looking out for only ourselves and more of just trying to see how we can all do the next right thing? Instead of refusing to budge, could we slowdown and see how we can work together? I know, I know. Some readers are skeptically waiting for me to suggest we start singing Kumbaya. This fuzzy stuff sounds naive and impractical. But, IT IS VERY REAL AND VERY PRACTICAL when you are the family that can’t find affordable housing or your school is under funded. Aside from the one percent, we have pushed our societies to the brink.
This afternoon, I was back at the OSC Life Moves shelter, serving lunch. There are always a few people who are so exuberant in their gratitude or delight with a warm meal. There was this one lady, who after getting a couple refills, said with a very satisfied look on her face, “It feels so good to be full.” These folks wear on the outside, a hunger and brokenness that we all carry on the inside. Jesus taught us that we will always come out ahead, if our posture is one of love and generosity. God doesn’t ask us to fix every problem, but He does ask us to see others the way He sees them, and to just do the ‘next right thing’.
My thoughts are a bit all over the map today. But, I don’t want the drumbeat of my calls to do more for the world to project a false impression that I’ve cracked the code on juggling it all. More often than I’d like to admit, I drop the ball, I get dates mixed up, I’m short with my kids, I’m too tired to give my best to my husband. There are days when I wonder why I try. But, then I remember that lady who was so happy to be full, or the guy from a few weeks back who was so delighted by blueberry muffins. Saying ‘no’ to some things in our own lives can’t equate to a macro rejection of everyone who needs help. No where does the Bible demonize compassion and provision that comes from sources other than charities. Maybe, we Christians were wrong to think that small government was always better. Maybe that notion has more to do with ideology than theology. Maybe Jesus can show up in places other than church and work through people who aren’t card-carrying Christians.
Reflecting on this morning, my heart still aches over the just tears of my boy. He was right. I was wrong. I can’t wait to see him, so that I can look him in the eyes, and tell him I’m sorry. Patsy Clairmont challenged us to lean toward mercy. She said, what you give comes back to visit with you! We all need grace and mercy. Jesus says in Ephesians that it is not by our good works or our great faith or any other force…but, it is BY GRACE, that we are saved. This is a universal truth. It is the truth that saves our hearts. It is the truth that lifts the dread and banishes the bats. It is the truth that sets us free.