Fresh, Not Frozen

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grilled pizza by Alise

When the dark days came the first time, I stopped cooking.

I was nearly 30, I had four very young children, and a husband who was battling demons that nearly took him out of the picture entirely. Chicken casserole gave way to frozen chicken nuggets. Spaghetti dinners turned into SpaghettiOs. The Chinese delivery person predicted my order before I placed it. I knew that my family needed more, but I had no more to give. Preservatives, sugar, fat. Uncomplicated flavors. In the midst of my own depression, I turned to that which was easy, that which was convenient. These became my mode of survival. Foods that filled me up quickly, but left me hungry again far too soon.

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t wake up one morning and announce to my family that I was going to stop cooking. It just gradually happened, without fanfare, without anyone really noticing. If someone had already gone to the trouble of making and packaging different foods, why did I need to bother making them?

Eventually, I took to saying that I didn’t really like cooking very much. But even that was taking the easy way out. The truth was, I didn’t like the circumstances that led me the place where I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t like feeling lonely, I didn’t like feeling separated.

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7 Ways To Honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day #BreakTheSilence

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Elliott hands and feet

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Of course, this remembrance is more for those who have not experienced this loss than for those who have. Those who have gone through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant live with that remembrance far more often than once a year. I know that my own pain is still fresh, but I can’t imagine a time when I will see a child the age that Elliott would be and not wonder about my son.

For those of you for whom this day carries a little less sting, let me offer a few ideas on how to help your friends who have experienced this loss.

1. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Certainly not all parents who experience a miscarriage share that information. And some people aren’t particularly chatty about the death of a child. But if a parent brings it up, please don’t ignore that. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out conversation, but at least acknowledge that they mentioned their child. Saying something simple like, “I’m so sorry,” shows that you heard what they said and that you care about them and the humanity of the baby that they lost.

2. Don’t forget the father. The loss of a pregnancy or infant has a more obvious effect on the mother of the child, but it is important not to neglect the feelings of the baby’s father. This baby shared his DNA. He had hopes and dreams for his child. Fathers experience loss when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or stillbirth or if an infant dies. When you are offering condolences, be sure to include both parents. Both lost a child, both experience grief as a result.

3. Don’t forget any surviving siblings. If the parents already have children, please don’t forget to include them in your condolences. And not in the, “Well, at least you already have children” way that made me want to rip that guy’s face off a mere DAY after Elliott had died. Death is hard for children no matter what, but losing a baby is something else completely. We expect older people to die, but the death of an infant reminds us, and especially young children, of the fragility of life. Recognize that they grieve as well, and they need your sympathies at least as much as the parents.

4. Use the language that the parents use. When I’m talking about Elliott, I will almost always say that he died, not that we lost him. Some parents prefer language that is less direct. Listen to how the parents refer to their loss and use that in your own mentions. This isn’t about right or wrong language, but about showing that you are listening to the parents and honoring the way that they speak about their child.

5. Keep religion out of it. At least until you know how the parents are using faith as a means of comfort. Using the loss of a child as a means to proselytize is manipulative and intensely inappropriate. But sometimes even well meaning statements about a child being in heaven or leaning on God during a difficult time can be hard for parents to embrace. There was a time after Elliott’s death that I felt abandoned by God, and any religious talk was just painful for me. “Shoulding” parents who are going through this darkness is bad, and when it’s related to their faith, it can be damaging on multiple levels. Allow the parents to show how faith weaves into their grief narrative.

6. Understand that it’s not something to “get over.” This is actually one point that might be good for everyone to remember. Just because there was little time spent as a parent to this little one, it doesn’t mean that the loss isn’t real and doesn’t last. There’s no expiration date on grief. It will crop up at expected times like the anniversary of the death or a due date, but it may also happen out of the blue. There is no shame in sadness at the loss of a child.

7. Listen to the people in your life. Ultimately, everything that I’m saying here is largely based on my experience. For me, sharing pictures of my son was incredibly cathartic – this may not be the same for someone else. Your friends may have different needs. The best thing that you can do to help a parent who has experienced the loss of their child is to ask them how you can help them. They will know what they need.

The hashtag for today is #BreakTheSilence. Those of us who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of an infant can help by sharing our stories. Those who have not can help as well by creating a safe space for those stories to be shared. Grief is often hard for us to understand, and the loss of one so young can be a grief that is frightening to sit with. But when we listen, when we include, when we love, we make the grief less frightening for everyone.

Believing the Right Words

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piano

I’m playing piano in church again.

I feel like there’s probably a more artful way to build up to that statement, but the truth is, I’m just kind of giddy about it. Church music is where I most connect with God, and for a year, that was missing. For a year, I wondered if it was ever coming back.

In this past year, playing any kind of Christian music, even just on Spotify, left me feeling raw, undone. There was rarely comfort in it, only pain. Music, the thing that draws me closer to my faith, was the thing that reminded me of how far I had fallen.

In the absence of music, the condemning voices in my head had free reign.

You forfeited the right to ever stand in front of a congregation when you had an affair.

How can you ever sing about love when you acted in such an unloving manner?

Getting up and playing again is just your way of glossing over your sins.

I’d like to say it was just a whisper, but often it was much, much louder. I hadn’t just committed adultery, I was an adulteress. I couldn’t separate myself from my actions. I was overwhelmed by the shame of what I had done. I believed these words.

But we started attending a church. We had uncomfortable conversations with pastors, both old and new, where reassuring hands clutched the knee of the person who was telling their part of the story, and where forgiveness and acceptance were freely offered. And as hard as it was, we chose to hold to those offerings rather than to the condemnation that we had been clinging to.

We asked, with hopeful expectation, could we play? Could we stand on a stage, this time as husband and wife, and minister? Could we allow music back into our lives, and use the gifts that we have as a means to open up conversations about how redemption is possible?

Now the sounds of church music are in our home. I hear words like “You have covered all my sins” and “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets” more often.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe them. Sometimes the old voices feel more real. Sometimes I wonder if I should even be saying them if I am having trouble believing them.

But the louder I proclaim them, the more these words of Life seep into my soul. They are the right words, and I will believe them.

Embracing Shame

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Guilt and Shame

At some point in the past year, I became addicted to shame.

I’ve neve been a huge fan of the Jonathan Edwards ideology where I am no more than a spider that God is dangling over the fires of hell. I shake my head at statements like, “God hates you.” Constantly examining my life to make sure that God won’t smite me hasn’t been the way that I’ve approached my faith. I’ve always been more motivated by the carrot than the stick, so give me kindness that leads to repentance any day.

In the past year, that changed.

Not completely. I’m still far more motivated by kindness than by wrath. Nothing about vengeful God appeals to me. No threats of hell and damnation make me want to live a better life. My core beliefs haven’t changed.

But I’m seeing how the Church has compounded my own feelings of shame.

We use so many hurtful words to describe not our actions, but ourselves.

We are sinners. We are wretches. We are unworthy. We are unclean.

All of these are meant to point to the goodness of God. To show that God can take ugly, used up, disgusting things and make them holy. Our weakness shows God’s strength. Our sinfulness points to God’s righteousness.

And all of a sudden, my relationship with God is one built on shame. One where God’s goodness depends on my wretchedness. One where I need to be torn down in order for God to be lifted up. 

We rightfully eschew this manipulation when we see it in our interactions with other people. We recognize it as dysfunction when someone requires the destruction of one person for their own edification. Yet we accept it as normal, or even good when we are talking about our relationship with God.

In this, God ceases to be good, but simply becomes a bully. A megalomaniac who can only function when those around are suffering.

If God isn’t good, then forgiveness becomes a pipe dream – something that we can never really attain because at our core, we are bad. We can follow the list of rules, we can set up all of the boundaries, but ultimately, we can never be good, we can never be enough.

Brene Brown says that the difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’ I fear that in our churches, we say the first far more often. 

There is benefit to recognizing our shortcomings. When I see the areas where I have failed, I can make different choices. I can seek forgiveness from those I have wronged. I can behave in a way that is more honoring to myself and to those around me. When I experience guilt, I can acknowledge my wrongdoing and take steps toward peace.

But when I embrace shame, I can never move on. I will always be stymied, reliving my past sins over and over. I will internalize my negative actions and become those things. When I do that, I can never really experience forgiveness. I can never really experience acceptance. I can never really experience love.

I can never really experience God.

And when you accept shame, neither can you.

Rather than the negative labels that we give ourselves, I believe it is time to remember the things that we have been called by God.

We have been called God’s workmanship. We have been called the righteousness of God. We have been called clean. We have been called friend.

We have been told there is no condemnation.

Which sounds like the opposite of shame to me.

Clean

feet

It was the evening meal. Often a raucous event, tonight it was uncharacteristically  quiet. The events of the past week were being replayed in the minds of each of the men at the table, especially in that of Simon Peter. The mood had shifted from the beginning of the week when their teacher and leader had been hailed as the King of Israel among shouts of Hosanna, to when Jesus took a whip to the money changers in the temple, causing anger and suspicion in the minds of many of the Pharisees. Peter worried that more violence was to come and while his trade was primarily peaceful and solitary, his mouth often got him in trouble. He was no stranger to a swinging fist on the docks.

And Jesus was talking about death a lot these days. Often in the shadowy stories that he told, but more than once he said it outright. One day Peter couldn’t stand to hear it, and he had, in typical Peter fashion, declared that it would never happen, not on his watch. The response from Jesus was somewhat shocking. One of his dearest friends turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” He called him an offense. He told him that he was not mindful of the things of God. The rebuke had been stern and left Peter speechless. It reminded him that he was not enough, that he could never be enough.

Jesus broke the silence by standing and taking off his robe. He went and found the foot washing basin, filling it with water from the nearby pitcher. He wrapped a towel around his waist and began moving around the table washing his disciples feet.

Peter was aghast. The man who he had followed for years, the one he called Rabbai, the one he believed was God’s own son, was coming to him not as his leader, but as his servant. This could not happen.

Peter was dirty. Days of walking along the roads, following Jesus all over the countryside left him consistently covered in a film of sweat and dust. The smell of the fish that signaled his position lingered on him no matter what he did. But it was more than just his physical appearance that was covered in grime. He knew that spiritually he was unclean as well. Years of religious upbringing had taught him this. There were those who were priests and those who were fishermen and only one of those groups was clean enough to speak to God. Peter was not among the chosen.

Jesus approached Peter, beginning to kneel at his feet. In a panic, Peter shouted, “You shall never wash my feet!”

That cry was more than just a denial that Jesus should touch something as filthy, as shit-stained, as rank as his feet. It was a cry that said, “I’m not good enough.”

Jesus looked up at him gently and said, “I must wash you so that you may be a part of me.”

Peter wanted that. He wanted to belong, to know the mind of this man he loved, the man that he followed. But he knew that his feet were not the only part that were dirty. He knew that the rituals of cleansing to be good enough weren’t limited to the lowest parts. No, he had to be completely cleansed, from head to toe. Maybe that would be enough. Maybe then he would be enough.

“Wash all of me. Not just my feet, but my hands. My head!”

Jesus put down the basin, rubbed his hands on the towel. He looked Peter square in the eye. He wanted the words to be heard. He wanted the words to be understood. He wanted the words to erase the shame, and fear, and rejection that Peter was carrying. He wanted the words to be the start of a new way of thinking.

He wanted Peter to know that he was accepted, that he was loved, that he was enough.

“You are clean.”

Autumn Afghan

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autumn afghan

It’s been years since I’ve crocheted an afghan.

I learned to crochet from my grandmother. She had been crocheting my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to approach her about learning that craft. One afternoon, we sat down together, she gave me an extra hook and skein of yarn, and she showed me her technique. Learning how to read patterns and how to make the stitches wasn’t that difficult for me, but it took me a long time to figure out how to hold the yarn in my hand, finding that sweet spot between too much slack and too much tension. My first project turned into a doll blanket for my daughter that was more triangular than rectangle due to the learning curve I needed to figure out how to hold the yarn in a way that allowed my stitches to be even.

Eventually, I improved. I was able to churn out hats and dishcloths at about the same pace that my grandmother did. I had access to the internet and she did not, so I would print off new patterns for her to try. One time, I was able to teach her a trick she hadn’t seen before. For Christmas, I crocheted her one of my first truly ambitious afghans. She kept it over the back of her couch until she moved out of the house a few years ago.

Crocheting afghans is something that I rarely do. I like small projects, things that I can finish in an evening or two. When my children were young, every day was a vast ocean of unending tasks. No matter how caught up I was on any number of chores, there would always be the same ones waiting for me the next day. Finishing a hat or scarf was nice because I could say, “Look. I did that. It had a beginning and an end.”

When I’ve made blankets in the past, they have primarily been for a special occasion. A new baby coming. A Christmas gift. When I started writing in earnest, I stopped knitting and crocheting almost altogether. All of my free time went into working pitching agents, working on book proposals, writing up sample chapters. Taking on a project as large as an afghan seemed like a waste of time.

Right now, writing is not my primary concern. The dream of writing a book is not dead, but it’s certainly on hold for this season. And while it feels right now like many of my goals are of the long-term sort, I wanted to make an afghan.

I’ve inherited most of Gram’s yarn over the years. I’ve gone through and found colors that match speak of autumn to me. I found a new pattern that I know she would have wanted me to print out so she could try it.

So I’ve started working on an autumn afghan. Something that brings warmth. Something I can cover a child with when they fall asleep on the couch. Something my husband and I can cuddle under when the temperatures turn cold. Something I can wrap around my shoulders when I want to sit out on the porch on a Sunday morning, watching the fall creep across the landscape. Something that adds a bit of comfort and beauty to our home.

It won’t finish quickly. I don’t even know if I’ll have it done before this season slips into the next. But with each stitch I am making something that will last not just for this autumn, but for many to come.

3 Reasons Why I Think John Piper is Wrong About Lust Being Worse Than Nuclear Holocaust

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Not as bad as lust

A few weeks ago, the Ask Pastor John podcast posted a link called Lust: More Dangerous Than Nuclear Holocaust.

I thought that surely had to be some click bait and it probably wasn’t quite so bold a statement in the greater context of the podcast. Because really, let’s not get carried away here. But no, the context doesn’t dilute it at all. At one point in the clip, Piper says, “I think I can say with the complete authority of the Bible, the consequences of lust are ten million times greater than the consequences of nuclear holocaust. The only reason for denying that would be unbelief in eternity.”

He bases this statement on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. In this passage, it talks about God as a punisher of those who commit sexual sins. Nuclear holocaust “only” kills bodies, so no big deal. Piper’s God wipes out whole nations of people, so apparently that’s of no concern. But lust will send you to hell, therefore it’s all of the bad. So yes, we absolutely need to spend time making sure that people who commit sexual sin get piled on extra hard. Otherwise we don’t care about their eternal salvation, because clearly they already don’t care about it.

Perhaps because I’ve succumbed to lust I don’t get to have an opinion about this, but I am going to go ahead and say that I disagree with John Piper. Pretty strongly, even.

1. This makes a pretty strong assumption that Avenger God works only in the eternal. But the truth is, when I had an affair, what I felt from God wasn’t anger, but rather a loving embrace. That didn’t mean that there were no consequences, and perhaps that could be interpreted as a kind of punishment. There has certainly been guilt that has come up, but I would suggest that most of that is related to reading or listening to statements like this that put an affair on equal footing with, or even worse than mass genocide.

2. Getting into the business of others is specifically mentioned a mere three verses later. In verses 11 and 12 of the same chapter, Paul writes, “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.” The very passage Piper uses as a reason to explain why it’s important to talk about the sexual proclivities of others almost immediately says that people shouldn’t talk about the sexual proclivities of others.

3. It diminishes the value of human life. When we treat genocide in such a flippant manner, we ignore the beauty of the lives lost, and the agony of those who are left. And while I do agree that we should not fear those who can kill the body, I don’t think that lack of fear automatically translates into lack of action. The scripture speaks to the importance of doing justice numerous times, so to speak of that desire as though it was no real Christian would pursue, strikes me as missing at least a part of Jesus’s comment that loving our neighbors as ourselves is part of the greatest commandment.

I think any time we try to rank sins, we’re going to start picking things that seem most vile to us, and there’s a good chance we’re going to say something that just is monstrously stupid. And when we say something monstrously stupid like that, there’s a good chance that we’re going to inhibit those who need grace and forgiveness from having access to those things because we have created a hell of shame so great that they will never seek it.

Photo Credit: The Official CTBTO Photostream

Beauty in the Blurry

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Wheat-Fields-at-Auvers-Under-Clouded-Sky

I stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields at Auvers Under Clouded Sky in the Carnegie Museum of Art, and couldn’t stop myself from crying. Here I was, just inches away from a piece of history painted by one of the world’s foremost artists. I couldn’t contain myself. The tears would not be held back.

I walked among the impressionist artists that I love so well. Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir. Pastels with occasional bursts of bolder colors. Up close it is just a mess of color and odd brushstrokes. A dot here. A swirl here. Nothing particularly discernible. But when you step back and see the full picture, it becomes clearer. Pictures of waterlilies on a pond, or of two men chatting in a garden, or of a field waiting for harvest. Seemingly insignificant things, but wondrous nonetheless. These artists didn’t need momentous occasions to convey value. They didn’t need exactness to show beauty. Through the use of color and shape, they showed us the worth of the ordinary.

We limited ourself to just a few minutes in each section of the art museum, but truth be told, I could have spent my entire afternoon examining the paintings in that one corridor.

Will you join me today over at A Deeper Story?

The Desperate Woman

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desperate

The man kissed the woman, and she kissed back. She was promised to someone else and so was he, but she wasn’t thinking about the other people right then, not really. She wasn’t thinking about long-term consequences, not really. She knew that with that kiss everything changed, but the full weight of that didn’t matter right then. They were two people who had found their way to one another. Friendship had birthed intimacy, intimacy had given way to love, and that love carried with it a hint of lust. The friendship, intimacy, and love were still present, but that night, the lust won out. The need to connect with the man who had held her hand through countless difficulties and joys was so great that it consumed her. She was lonely, she longed to be desired. She knew that what she was doing was reckless, but she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

+++++

She hadn’t taken a pregnancy test yet, but after four babies, she knew. She was tired in the way that she only felt when someone else was leeching off of her body. Her breasts ached, her hair was fuller, her period was late. But the father was still married. She was barely divorced. Between them, they already had six kids who were struggling to understand this new family dynamic. She was approaching forty.

But more than that, she felt alone. The man she planned to marry was an amazing support, but when a baby comes, a woman wants her tribe of females to surround her, and right then, she had no tribe. Her mother was desperately ill, and if she was still alive when this new baby came, she would certainly be in no position to help. Her sisters were far away, pushed away by her – by her shame and embarrassment. She had no church women to cook her casseroles or to laugh about birth stories or talk about sore nipples. Loneliness consumed her thoughts.

Her whole life she had been staunchly pro-life, but her search history contained information about RU-486 and directions to nearest clinic where she could terminate this pregnancy. She knew that this went against everything that she believed, but she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

+++++

She was married to the man who had kissed her. The baby she had considered aborting became a cherished dream that was lost to pre-eclampsia. Relationships with her family were healing. Relationships with her children were improving. Relationships with her friends were starting to mend.

But her relationship with God still felt distant. Sometimes she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was still an adulteress. Sometimes she wondered if her hesitancy in accepting her pregnancy and the circumstances surrounding his conception angered God and made him take her baby from her. The shame that she was slowly dismantling in her earthly relationships seemed much harder to tear down with her God.

She knew that it started with the Church. Past rejections made it hard to make herself vulnerable again. Could she risk another escort to the back pew where she should sit quietly? Would acceptance really be full or would it come with terms and conditions that she could never meet?

She steeled herself, put on her favorite dress, and held her husband’s hand as she walked through the door. She was afraid, but she was desperate to connect to God, and desperate people do desperate things.

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