Christmas, Mothering

The Stockings Were Hung

Stockings hung with care My mother excelled at Christmas stockings. She made our charming red, felt Christmas stockings, decorated to a fare-thee-well with our names sparkling down the leg. She had a knack for finding the right little thoughtful things and making them fit into the stocking in the most interesting way.

When I began to have children, she embellished the rather plain stockings I first hung for them.

Accordingly, I have spent many years putting pressure on myself to do the same thing. I wrapped all the tiny little presents in white tissue paper and tied the packages with ribbons color-coordinated to each stocking.

It's what mothers do to show their love, right?

Well, no.

It's what *my* mother did to show her love. 

And because her words of love and affirmation were so few and far between, I relied on the Christmas stocking as proof that she really cared.

This also means I've put pressure on people in my adult life to make the stocking happen, as if that were the only way to show love. This year I told my children, "We're going to keep Christmas low-key. Let's just do little things that go in the stockings."

Well, heck.

I managed to put the pressure on all of us to excel at the one thing that someone who has been gone since 1993, I kid you not, would have done so beautifully, a person who has been gone so long that the last time she filled a stocking for me or for my boys was 1992, a person who never, ever knew my daughter or filled a stocking for her. 

In other words, no one else even knows what I mean. I'm creating an unmeetable expectation.

Today LP expressed concern that she hadn't gotten me enough presents. She is worried about my stocking not having enough.

Dear Baby Jesus, please make it stop. Please make me stop. In this family we express our actual feelings with words. All I really want for Christmas (besides that awesome, mind-blowing, life-altering trip to the Boston Pops) is to worship tonight and to have my three children at the dinner table together tomorrow. 

Next year, I promise, I will set no gift-giving guidelines.

My stocking is already full, as full as my heart.

Children, Mothering, reverb10

Moment — #reverb10 day 3

Here's the third prompt for #reverb10:

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

Laundry bag The car pulled up in the driveway on a Tuesday afternoon in August, the summer air the kind that feels good on your skin. All summer communication failed between us. He lost one phone when things flew out of a convertible, then broke the go phone replacement. He finally had a new phone, but packed the charger deep in the trunk of a small car full of four kids' summer luggage. I held back from running to him, waited for him to get out. He unfolded himself from the crowded back seat; his face appeared over the top of the car, a broad, lopsided smile shining as he met my eye.

The words in my head were scattered: alive, home, love, happy. The kids with him didn't know me, but their goofy expressions told me they understood. My boy, so nearly dead, had lived and returned home, and no one who heard him tell the story could doubt the wonder of it. He had to learn how to hug, this one, but on that day we hugged a summer's worth, a life's long.

Then I met the others, learned their names, shook hands, got his things out of the car. He seemed to have nothing but laundry bags. He had to explain it to me. The suitcase did not survive the accident. 

(This is my worst nightmare for a writing prompt, to be assigned detail. Ugh. I am aware of emotional details and the physical things that point to them, but rarely the other way around.)

Mothering, Poetry

Make It Better–a poem for Mother’s Day

This is one of mine, written last year, hopefully worth repeating as they are on my mind today.

Make it Better

When I think of God as mother She has the darkest skin

Black coffee, licorice, bittersweet chocolate

The skin of Eula who carried me, who rocked and changed me,

Of Catherine who stood me on a stool where I mixed boxes of Jiffy Cake 

In a bowl, flour everywhere, messes wiped up magically:

Her broad nose, the Great Mother, Her strong arms and capable hands

Kindly guiding when we go astray, Her deep voice raised not in anger

But in a song that calls us home, where a kiss will make it better.

Eula and Martha Sept 5 1961

(With Eula at Virginia Beach, Sept. 5, 1961) 

Faith, Generation Hug, If I Were Preaching, Mothering

Loving Ferociously

At Confirmation class the other night, we did an exercise called Spiritual Gifts Bingo. I'm not sure I ever understood the rules as laid down in the teacher's book–my co-teacher has taught this for so many years, I get to skate on some of those details–but what we did in practice was go around and suggest to one another which of the gifts listed the person might have, and if they agreed they put their initials in the appropriate square.

I loved seeing the reactions of the students when I suggested to them they were "fair" or "empowered others," the smiles that crossed their faces in surprise or appreciation. I liked the things they thought I might be: "caring leader," which I accepted, and "patient," which I did not. Sometimes I'm patient…but not always. I'm quite patient with them, but generally not at all patient with myself.

And I wonder if these aren't things so programmed into us from early life that they are nearly impossible to change, at the same time I would, no doubt patiently, encourage the Confirmands that our faith is all about the possibility of transformation.

A long time ago, so long ago it seems like another life, I moved to Maine and started attending a church where they used Inclusive Language for God. What that meant most of the time was leaving out the masculine pronouns. We still sang from the very old-fashioned Pilgrim Hymnal (which I love in many ways), but our Doxology spoke of Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father and Son. Coming from a Baptist background, I didn't have much experience with liturgy, so that part didn't throw me. 

But later, later, I realized there were people around me thinking of Goddess rather than God, of Mother rather than Father, and I had to grapple with my understanding of God. It was the beginning of a long period of transformation, a spiritual turning point with no apparent destination at the moment the turn began. I came to love the idea of God as Mother, and eventually I moved onto a place where I could see both masculine and feminine characteristics in the First Person of the Trinity, but to have neither of them feel very important to me.

Jesus, however, remained a guy.

George_HenWithChicks_Large  Today I talked with a group of women about the feminine image of God in tomorrow's gospel lesson, when Jesus speaks of feeling like a mother hen, wishing to gather her chicks beneath her outspread wings. I shared a Barbara Brown Taylor piece from the Christian Century that pointed up how brave the hen is as she defends her young with nothing but her body. She has no weapons to use against the predators. She puts herself in the way to give the little ones a chance to escape. 

I struggle when I hear of the triumphal theology that some contemporary Christians have, the kind that says Jesus is the buff defeater of evil. 

No. His wings are spread, his chest exposed, his life given vulnerably, going down without a fight. 

It's a ferocious love, that willingness to sacrifice yourself, to be hurt yourself.

At the end of our session this morning, I asked the group, and I'm asking myself, to look around us this week and see who or what needs our ferocious love? Now, I'm not suggesting we can be Jesus. We can't. Everyone in the room identified with that image of the protective mother, of doing that protecting, and I'm pretty there's a place for us to employ it.

But I'm not sure I've ever been on the receiving end of such love in this life.

And in a phase when I am quite impatient with myself, I wonder if I don't need to show it to me, to fend off my own predatory perfectionism, to own my vulnerability as a shield instead of a weakness.

Mothering, Perfect

Dreadfully, Perfectly

Tonight I have to mark the future hem of LP's concert dress with pins. It is not an exaggeration to say I am dreading this task. My lack of sewing ability reminds me of all the other motherly things I don't do, or haven't done, well. Last night I could not figure out how to pin up something that has seven extra inches of fabric, and I gave up and went to bed, but then I lay awake worrying about it.

My sewing advisor, who will actually sew the hem, suggested I simply mark the level at which we want the hem. She will cut the fabric. (Thank you! Thank you!)

Sewing eludes me. Maybe it's too much like geometry, something which also filled me with dread. 

I think I dread them because they leave me feeling incompetent. I don't know if that incompetence lies in a lack of effort when I first had the chance to develop the skills or in a lack of talent for pursuing them. Either way I feel lacking. I tend to hate things I'm not good at doing, or think I'm not good at doing.

It's possible I have handed this trait down to my daughter, and it seems that when she is in the grip of those feelings, I then feel I have failed her and we become an unpleasant matched set, dreadfully and perfectly.

I wish I could say I quickly become conscious of what's happening and never get upset.

I wish I could say I'm perfect at parenting.

I wish.

It's possible I'm avoiding the pins now.

Do you avoid things you fear you cannot do perfectly? I used to think this was my own unique psychological complex, until my oldest pointed out that wanting to do things well, or rather not wanting to fail, is part of the human condition. 

This fall, I've been finding myself stretched and inadequate to meet some of the demands in my life. I don't like to give less than everything to anything, and that leads to not having anything to give at all. I could use a time of rest for the spirit.

But not tonight. Tonight, I pin the dress.

Ministry, Mothering, Weblogs

Why I Do This

  In the midst of probably the lowest blogging ebb I've had in the past five years, I received an email from one of my earliest blogging friends, Jody Harrington at Quotidian Grace, who will be writing an article about clergy bloggers who are also mothers. It was a great reminder of what blogging has meant to me over the years. I started blogging with 3 posts in 2003, then came back to it in the winter of 2004, but it was probably another year before it became a daily habit. I've done it at three blogs:

  • the defunct Blogger version with the non-pseudonymous lame title;
  • Set Free, to which I moved all the old posts, though I lost the comments;
  • and finally, Reflectionary.

Fall Break Apple Pie blog What does it mean that I've had a slump this fall? It's a combination of a very demanding job and children reaching an age where writing about our life together feels like over-exposure of their individual lives. I used to blog when we made a pie, but as blogging has declined overall, I don't know if anyone cares, whereas in 2004, when we made the pie in the picture, I didn't care if anyone knew!

And I'm not preaching every week, so I don't have the "need" to write as a sermon process.

But I think I do need it for other reasons. I need it as a spiritual discipline. I need it as a release valve. I need it as a place for processing. Sometimes I need it as a resource for feedback or affirmation or wisdom from others.

November is that month when people commit to write a novel, or a short story, or knit a sweater, or simply to blog everyday.

I'm more likely to be writing a Christmas pageant than a short story, and although I have a sweater on the agenda for a certain someone for a certain holiday upcoming, I think I'll choose the blog commitment and simply make it to myself.

Grief, Living in This World, Mothering

What would your mama think?

Last week I wondered how a Congressman's mother might feel about his incivility, and I thought the same thing over the weekend about a tennis star, but the one I really wondered about most grabbed a microphone from a young woman, in what was not his first unscripted moment on a live television show. On that night four years ago, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I became aware of Kanye West for the first time. Since then I've listened to his music (used "Jesus Walks" in a sermon), noted his intelligence and his not-so-smartness and learned about his relationship with his mama.

Jay Leno asks the question (at about the 2 minute mark):

In this era of jump cuts and quick edits, we cut away from things that make us uncomfortable, just as the director of the Red Cross fundraising special did. I'm glad Jay Leno let this one ride for all those empty, uncomfortable seconds.
We can't move forward without recognizing what we have done. And in this noisy world that worships activity and busy-ness, it's much easier not to bother.