All posts by Donna Mathwig

About Donna Mathwig

Serving as Executive Director since 1994. Choices is a 501c3 whose mission is to care for those in need of someone to walk with them through their pregnancy and/or parenting journey, and restoring hope. Young women and men, their little ones and families are in need of connecting with someone who will sit down with them and essentially say, “You are worth my time, you are worth my support - I want to help you find your way back to hope, so that you can live your life anew."

Conscience and Survival

Metaphorically speaking, this strikes me as salient to tomorrow’s decision – it’s not a plea to change your vote, it’s simply a  quick-write personal reflection that jumped out at me with this morning’s reading:screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-11-02-01-am

“By 1974, Douglass [James W. Douglass, Catholic theologian, author, and conscientious objector] and his wife Shelley, were living with extended family in Hedley, British Columbia, a remote mining town in the Canadian province’s vast interior. One day, Robert Aldridge, a Lockheed engineer on the design team for the Trident missile, arrived at their doorstep. He told them he had resigned from his job because his conscience was tormenting him.”

Like Aldridge, I know a little something about not tolerating the party line, i.e., default script – and also about my conscience being tormented. Survival for me meant stepping outside that box and proceeding with much fear and trepidation, wrestling to redefine what it was that would inspire and nurture life.

Ironic, perhaps, that this day before election day, I read those words in ‘A Still and Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President, and a Church’ (John A. McCoy).

The realization that the Trident (a first-strike weapon) would escalate the arms race was daunting, terrifying even – nuclear annihilation was looming.

As a child, I recall that terrifying feeling – and, in a more grown-up way, I’m feeling it deeply today.

One of these two primary candidates is not like the other.

True, I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton, (my friends and family who are will hopefully still love me), but Donald Trump terrifies me like no other presidential candidate ever has. He’s a hothead with very limited understanding of building relations with heads of state – having him responsible to oversee world-stage politics and potential military actions leaves me feeling sheer terror for the United States – but also the world.

“In January 1975, the Douglas’s and fourteen other Canadians and Americans had founded the Pacific Life Community (PLC), a motley group of radical Christians, Quakers, feminists, and Catholic Workers. A summary of their initial meeting noted that ‘almost the only thing we had in common was our concern with the nuclear arms race and our hopes for peaceful social change. In language that would later be embraced by Hunthausen, they said they also wanted to confront ‘the Trident within’ themselves by rooting out the personal violence in their own lives.”

Truly, we’re all in different places, i.e., a motley group like McCoy mentions above, we all have our interests and passions we’re trying to represent, and these can be perceived to be in conflict with one another. But, we might be able to recognize that the core of each focus is that life is sacred, and to be preserved if at all possible.

My life as an American is not more valuable than any other life on this planet, and so I will make decisions to the best of my ability that considers that perspective.

Oh hey, and just to reaffirm – because it has become so much about this – born and unborn, I believe that life is to be held with compassion and sacredness whenever possible – and also true, I say often that it’s not my call to judge another’s decision, and I stand by that. But when the candidates demonstrated personalities outstrip this one-issue concern to implicate the entire world’s annihilation, which includes the expected fallout from world-stage bullying and even nuclear annihilation, I’m conscience-bound to vote for the one who represents the lesser threat.

May we dig deep to find peace in the midst of difference, and ways to sit well with one another in the coming days.

Disclaimer: This is no way reflects the political views of Choices Mt. Shasta, nor is an endorsement of any political candidate or platform. 

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Musings on Practicing Medicine & Faith

Musings (because musings seem grace-inviting) on the practices of medicine and faith – because time has been plentiful here at UCSF Benioff.  And because I process my way-too-many thoughts through writing. Thanks for being on this journey of hope with us! 

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Practice: perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. (Google)

Practicing medicine, seems to be a lot like practicing faith. 

Practicing infers hoping in both regards, yes?

For most of my life I’ve tended to look upon doctors as gods. They were the mega-educated, mega-knowing, mega-fixers. My heart bowed before their presumed omnipotence, even as my mind knew they were but human. 

My faith tended to evolve over a similar course. I tended to look at priests and pastors as gods too. What they said mattered. Greatly. I was taught not to question. But, after a few experiences in diverse Christian traditions, what they said, differed greatly. I began to question.

When one pastor (eons ago) told me I was not permitted to attend another church, the rebel in me, (I mean seeker-of-more), went anyway. What was being hidden from me? I wanted to practice other understandings, and wonder if there was a better fit for the person God had uniquely created me to be. I mean, seriously folks, how could there be just one model of faith for the great God of the universe – how could it be that certain? And so I explored a few traditions, interestingly finding peace amidst the uncertainty of an exacting representation of faith. 

Over the past decade or so, I’ve left the realm of certainty in some matters of the Christian faith. So much reverence, beauty and creativity in the ways in which the people of God incarnate (represent in human form) God’s presence and hope for the world. It speaks so much less of exacting, certain ways of living and reflecting – and much more so of shades of grey. Practicing. We’re practicing toward hope in gaining understanding about what is helpful in our pursuit. 

Dylan’s rehab doc said this morning that he likes to refer to the practice of medicine as the art of medicine rather than the science of medicine. Love these snippets that just show up. Surely medical practitioners must carefully develop and rehearse the art and impact of language. 

And yes, there’s my current reality that’s been unfolding over the past month. (Longer, if you count the two months prior when the spoken diagnosis was likely carpal tunnel syndrome, with a significant delay for a nerve-testing referral, due to an admin snafu.)  Again, practice, right? 

When the initial MRI came just after midnight on December 1st, and the pediatric resident came in to let us know what had been discovered, he asked if we wanted to look at the scan. My immediate emotional response was “No! I do not want to view the  mass that has formed on my son’s spinal cord, that has caused the mysterious and debilitating left-sided numbness of his fingers, hand, arm, torso and tingling of his leg.” I actually recall turning my head away so as not to look. 

Then, hearing the additional words, “…it looks to be a mass with a solid border” was somewhat comforting, and I decided that to love was to do hard things, and dove headlong into the terror of what the scan represented: I looked, even as my mind was yearning for the certainty of the words: “Every little thing, is gonna be alright.” 

Dylan’s neurosurgeon spoke with us just seven hours later, the morning of surgery, saying, “This looks to be the best kind of tumor, in one of the worst locations.” Do you hear the essence of the word practice? Not is the best kind of tumor, but looks to be. Uncertainty from the start. They know from experience, that this looks more hopeful than not. 

But they’ve practiced this procedure, and they’re gaining on it (especially here at UCSF Benioff), but there are just too many unknowns. They hope. We hope. 

Sitting with a small gathering of family and friends for an excruciating eight hours of surgery was one of the most brutal experiences of this journey. The call from the surgical suite that arrived every two to three hours was both terrifying and encouraging, and each time it was good news. Dylan is tolerating surgery fine; they are making progress, but it’s taking longer because of the complexity of removing the very vascular hemangioblastoma. They expected a four to six hour surgery. But, they couldn’t know how complicated it would be. Excruciating uncertainty loomed for eight plus hours. 

Sitting in this (amazing) hospital for almost a month has deepened my reality that faith and medicine fields seem to coalesce, or come together in similar ways – that hope is always before us, even if we can’t see it, feel it, or define it. We’re called to walk into the darkness, one step at a time, in the company of many who’ve gone before us, and who’ve practiced a hopeful path toward healing. Some things are simply unknowable. 

What I keep hearing here at UCSF Benioff are echoes of uncertainty. There are some certainties, but not many. We’re finding it necessary to sit with uncomfortable answers, that aren’t actually answers, rather possibilities, and hoped for outcomes. These amazing practitioners are doing just that – and we’re waiting to see what happens. 

Mopping Messes With a Friend

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Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. It was way overdue. (I confess: I’m the queen of good intentions, with a side of shy.) In my defense, the past few years have been a bit (extra) chaotic. But, yes, I digress – that’s not the point, except, maybe it is.

Life being a mess is a commonality that descends upon us all – thank God, not all at the same time.

I’ve been grateful for faces, hugs, understanding eyes and words – people to love me, and to remind me that life can be found in the midst of the crazy –  and it is survivable with friends who are courageous enough to journey alongside us.

But lunch. It was seriously one of the messiest lunches I’ve enjoyed in awhile. The mountain of paper napkins, (sorry earth!), bore witness to the juicy burger and sandwich elements that needed constant wiping away from both our faces.

There was delightful conversation amidst those oh-so-attractive swooshes of garlic aioli on my friend, and my own swath of thousand-island-ish dressing that decorated our faces. In conversations over the past few years, we’ve identified in our common wounds of life.

I met this friend soon after I arrived back in Weed/Mt. Shasta from what has become known as The Seattle Journey, wounded, wondering, grieving, even unaware of what would be heaped on in the coming months.

She was having her own up-ended-ness in life. But, it was my job-and-calling-as-a-human-and-hopeful-Christ-follower at Choices to welcome folks in pregnancy, parenting, and sexuality-related circumstances – to be a presence of compassion. So, that happened even, and especially in the midst of mutual crises. Manageable crises, by which I mean I wasn’t crying all over my new friends who came for conversations – because that would be awkward, right?

Here’s what I know, and what I try to communicate often: life crises happen, now and again, throughout our lives. It’s called a cycle. Expect it. It happens to everyone. Repeatedly.

Another new friend taught me a soundbite recently: “You make your mess your message.” You already get this instinctively, it’s similar to the vulnerability discussion of how when we communicate our hard places, we find we’re not alone. Shame (and hiding) keeps us from living life abundantly (or at all!), and binds us in fear. Exposing our hard places can often help us to break chains of bondage that keep us from living and thriving.

I’ve walked into to this place of refuge and hope for more than twenty years – not because I have it together, but because that’s where my life landed – and where I’ve found life. I choose to believe God called me here, because I’ve needed this place as much as those who happen by for an (often broken) season of life. (I’ve been known to say that I collect nurses and therapists as friends – I suppose there might be a reason.) My hard places have included a broken heart, divorce, abortion, second-trimester miscarriage, losses of many kinds, and so much more. I relate to the folks walking through our doors. My mess has become my message. I am certainly no better than anyone who has ever walked through our doors – and I truly do not always have it together more than those who come seeking help. But, hey, I posture/put on a game-face quite well.

I explained to my lunch friend that while I hadn’t ever made a formal appointment through the years (actually, decades) to meet with an advocate at Choices, I had, in fact, experienced the same level of compassion and care when life was unraveling for me – only it happened in my office, in the kitchen, or in the front office with so many of our ambassadors of compassion.

Insert it takes a village understanding here. We were never intended to meander through life alone.

“A deep sense of love and belonging is…a need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

Thank you Brene Brown for those needful words.

Read Brene’s words again. And again. Print them. Post them behind a magnet on your fridge. Wonder who in your world needs love and belonging – people you already know, and those you don’t. People who don’t present as tidy and together. Commit to noticing and acting on behalf of those God loves. Be love. Be(longing).

Our guests at Choices are often tempted to think that when they are desperate for help, and finally make the decision to seek it out, that we have it together, have privileged lives, and/or are thinking less of, or looking down on them – so completely not true. Seriously. 

We are the same.
We are people who get it.
We are people who’ve been there.
We are people who can walk alongside you.
We are people who need you to contribute nuggets of life to us. (And you do!)

“We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. ” Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

I don’t get out to lunch very often, but I’m grateful that my circle of friends includes people I’ve gotten to know from the place I hang out during the week, and that we’re comfortable sharing our mutual messes.

And yes, it’s pretty ordinary what we do – except it’s pretty extraordinary too. 

Volunteer Application: Judas?

(The following are random thoughts related to my long-time work as the leader of a faith-based non-profit, and deeply wrestling with the realities of needing volunteers, while simultaneously trying to please organizational stakeholders – a journey that is not for the faint of heart. And yet, here I am.) 

http://photopin.com/search/dartboard
http://photopin.com/search/dartboard

Technically speaking, none of Jesus’ disciples were ‘believers’, in the sense of a modern day born again understanding. It hadn’t been developed yet. Our focus on who’s in and who’s out has really only been in existence for around 150 years.

Judas, a thief, was put in charge the money box. Smart one, Jesus. Somehow I’m thinking they skipped the pastoral reference part of the volunteer interview.

What did Jesus know that no one else did? Why did Jesus trust that all would be well? Did Jesus have such a light hold on the value of money, that he would risk it’s loss at Judas’ hand? (Hmmm, something I might need.) Or, did Jesus trust that Judas was a work in progress, and nonetheless still valuable to do his work in his little corner of the world? (Which, by the way, became stories that we would read to discern their place in our own lives – eons after their occurrence in a different time and place and culture.)

Moving on.

‘Disciple’ essentially means ‘learner’. I’m learning more every. single. day. month. year. decade.

Decidedly, (to which some are now raising their eyebrows in mournful agreement), I am not the person I was decades ago, who held (supposed) truth with a much more firm and knowing hand.

My faith gets refined, defined and mined all the time. On an aside, I just realized that mined can have the meaning of excavation or explosion – both are valid.

My faith remains steadfast; my beliefs adjust with age, experiences, culture, and calling. 

So, the primary motive for enforcing a volunteer proving ground of enough faith is presumably the who’s in/who’s out paradigm – because, if one doesn’t embrace an exacting model, how does one effectively evangelize? (Which is the primary value for some traditions.)

Let’s take this down to a bare-bones query: “Make Jesus known” – what does that even mean? Emulate Jesus’ behavior to the extent our humanness can? Yes, okay, I can buy that.

It’s my desire to generously embrace an understanding that we’re all on a spiritual journey. Some of us found our way to the front of the line via something akin to Disneyland’s Fast Pass, in that we were very eager to get closer to figuring it all out, due to our drivenness, our jobs, our fears, our whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and we checked in early, inquiring minds wanting to know, and all that. The other option is that some of us are just neurotic.

And sometimes we even feel like we’re getting closer to the center target of Jesus. In my view of faith-shaped living, I’ve embraced what’s referred to as a centered-set model. Picture a dartboard: Jesus is at the center as the target, the money shot, and we’re all somewhere on the way there, sometimes moving forward, sometimes backward, and sometimes on the perimeter, fearful or apprehensive of our place – sometimes even hanging on for dear life!

What’s the purpose of knowing Jesus? For me, it’s about joining in the work of God for the good of the world. Bringing grace, mercy and justice for all, in the places I live, move and have my being. It’s likely going to look differently than your knowing.

Ever hear the saying ‘love God – love others’ as a personal mission statement/mantra? The above paragraph is just that, only simplified.

Assuming someone is a safe person (no judgement, no agenda, able to be confidential, full of kindness and compassion), who am I to decide whether someone has permission to intentionally love another person when they’ve expressed a desire to do so, but they don’t fit in a neat and tidy box?

Is it possible to have policies that are too exclusive, considering that we’re all broken people needing love, hope and compassion? Without a doubt, much of my own wrestling and healing from less-than-stellar life choices has come about through my sitting with others in similar circumstances – as a leader. Still does. (Because, you know, ‘I’m not perfect just forgiven’, right?)

Jesus set a standard of grace in his selection of disciples, including Judas. 

Judas wasn’t perfect, far from it, but Jesus nonetheless saw that he had value, including him among his inner circle. Let’s afford people-who-desire-to-volunteer (love) the same courtesy, respecting that if one is on a trajectory toward getting closer to representing Jesus’ character, it just might be okay? It’s a posture of hope – for us, and for those we desire to welcome among us.

Could We Just Agree to Make Beautiful Music Together?

I worry. A lot. Some would say (and have), “Get some meds lady!”small__3199296759

What I often worry about, is how people perceive my faith – especially those who financially support Choices, the mission I’ve served, fought for, deconstructed and reconstructed, for more than twenty years – and taken seriously the mission of nurturing life, thereby upending some former tightly held beliefs. (And as Kathy Escobar recently captured so well, my faith hasn’t changed, only my beliefs. If you have a few minutes, take a listen to her wise guiding.) I’ve given up certainty and rightness for faith, hope, love and mystery, which, while that might make some nervous, brings me a sense of closeness to God.

Most people don’t care. Some people do. Others wonder why I even talk or write about it. My life is complex, in that, I’ve mostly not been allowed to be honest about my faith journey – it’s a risky venture when you’re in ministry. And frankly, it has been a tremendous time of loneliness, grief, depression, anxiety, stress, and sadness. Interestingly, there is a life-giving sense to letting my life speak more openly and vulnerably. Why? Because what I find is that I’m not alone, and too many hurting others are desperate to know hope beyond the circumstances of their lives. There’s a sea of people out there shamed and controlled into hiding, for fear of being cast out from their communities of faith after (re)considering and (re)experiencing their faith in new ways.

One of the greatest gifts of my life was/is to experience frustration with my faith and beliefs. To have my taught understandings not fit my life experiences – to being increasingly desperate to find a different understanding…as in, well, surely, there must be more to the story – or at least a more compassionate perspective, that would better represent the person I was created to be – and reflect back to the world.

“Learn to be humble by doing all the humble work and doing it for Jesus. You cannot learn humility from books; you learn it by accepting humiliations. Humiliations are not meant to torture us; they are gifts from God. These little humiliations—if we accept them with joy—will help us to be holy, to have a meek and humble heart like Jesus.”
— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Thanks for the reminder Mother Teresa. I get it. But, the joy part? Maybe not so much…yet.

So, shifting gears a bit by way of metaphor –  these are random musings – here’s a little something Jim and I were conversing about this morning – these are just short little insights to help us consider how we might sit with others of different beliefs – but the same faith.

Some people believe there’s only one way to parent, so if you’re doing it differently, from their perspective, you’re wrong. Now consider all the parenting articles, books, blogposts, and opinions from friends and family. I think you get this.

  • Children don’t listen to what you say, they do, however, watch what you do.
  • It is a lived life that speaks, and not the mouth. (Thanks for these words, beloved hubby of 22 years on Friday.)
  • So many perspectives, but love shows up as the strongest factor for change.
  • Even when parents abuse or neglect their children, those children will defend their parents. They will choose to be with them.
  • Every parent has his/her unique gifts – it is as they live into who they are that they give their best gifts to their children. Living into infers it’s still happening, that is, the learning part – after almost 40 years of parenting. (Yes, early start, coupled with later additions, equal lengthy parenting experience.)

This morning, I made the decision to not wake my 15 year old up, because after doing so several times, and hearing his complaint, “Mom, I was just getting up – you didn’t need to come and be sure I was up,” I chose not to, even though I feared he would be late. Was it wrong? Should I have gone to be sure he was up? Some would say yes, some would say no. And that’s my point. There’s no exacting way to do it right.

These albeit somewhat random thoughts are intended to invite us to consider the unique ways in which we respond to people who come for care at Choices – we believe that the belief differences present among our volunteers, are a healthy balance in community.

Even when there’s tension. Even when our beliefs are in conflict with one another. Here’s an example of what that looks like: birth control. So, some believe that birth control prevents procreation which is their high value, others believe birth control invites more sexuality-outside-of-marriage, and others believe that if you (actually) want to curb abortion, you will most definitely be a birth control proponent.

Head spinning yet? Just try juggling these, and other tension-filled talks of best practices on a given hot topic!

And here’s where some of the fear shows up for me: depending upon where one lands in the above conversation, one might withhold critical dollars. Consequently, people will not be cared for. People will suffer. Maybe people will succumb to whatever keeps them from finding life and well-being, because having a precise and quite certain perspective implies that difference must not be supported, and by extension, neither must people – the very people we’re called to love and nurture.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who isn’t in a faith stream who uses the word saved, and her first priority isn’t to ensure that they know Jesus – at least not in the sense of reciting something they don’t yet understand. She prefers they experience what knowing Jesus feels like: compassionate, loving, generous, merciful, and grace-filled. Does that make her of no value as a volunteer in a mission where one’s faith compels one to serve? Well, duh, right? Except, I’ve lived with the reality of having your thoughts, words, actions, and life scrutinized – and truth be told, I’m not very good at being under a microscope. Frankly, it’s terrifying and dehumanizing.

And so I live in constant fear – some would say irrational, hence the meds suggestion – that the manner in which I hold my beliefs, and subsequently that which informs the processes of caring for pregnant and parenting folks is less-than sufficient, or worse (as I have been told), just plain wrong.

But it’s who I am. It’s who, after years of discerning and wrestling with ‘how then shall I live’ most honors my Creator’s createdness in me.

Is there only one way of holding faith? Given that our Creator God, (and creative God?) has shown such grand diversity among the world’s people and places, I’m going with no. I’m going with another metaphor, that of an orchestra, where each musician, in concert together with others, plays their unique part and together presents beautiful music. If everyone played the clarinet in the same manner, with the same notes, well, boring, just boring. I want to hear the cello, the viola, the double bass…and more, the percussion instruments of the cymbals, drums and maybe the gong. Each sounding a bit different – and each contributing to the wholeness of the orchestra.

Could we just agree to make beautiful music together?

Interestingly, and conveniently, my friend Jim Henderson posted this today, on his birthday – his faith work being one of the key reasons we originally moved to Seattle. If you take the time to read it, my sense is that you’ll grasp a better understanding of my approach to faith and belief, especially this, because, well, this has been on the repeat cycle for the past several years:

“My experience with most Christians and Atheists for that matter is that they cant find a way to sit in the room with difference. They can’t stop themselves from mentally comparing their best with their ideological opponents worst. They either try to re-educate them, control them or exorcise them.”

I thought exorcise was a typo, until I used an online dictionary to remind me that to exorcise is to drive out or attempt to drive out (an evil spirit) from a person or place. And sadly, that is too often what occurs with difference.

Could We Just Agree to Make Beautiful Music Together?

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photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I worry. A lot. Some would say (and have), “Get some meds lady!”

What I often worry about, is how people perceive my faith – especially those who financially support Choices, the mission I’ve served, fought for, deconstructed and reconstructed, for more than twenty years – and taken seriously the mission of nurturing life, thereby upending some former tightly held beliefs. (And as Kathy Escobar recently captured so well, my faith hasn’t changed, only my beliefs. If you have a few minutes, take a listen to her wise guiding.) I’ve given up certainty and rightness for faith, hope, love and mystery, which, while that might make some nervous, brings me a sense of closeness to God.

Most people don’t care. Some people do. Others wonder why I even talk or write about it. My life is complex, in that, I’ve mostly not been allowed to be honest about my faith journey – it’s a risky venture when you’re in ministry. And frankly, it has been a tremendous time of loneliness, grief, depression, anxiety, stress, and sadness. Interestingly, there is a life-giving sense to letting my life speak more openly and vulnerably. Why? Because what I find is that I’m not alone. But, that might be another post.

One of the greatest gifts of my life was/is to experience frustration with my faith and beliefs. To have my taught understandings not fit my current life experiences – to being increasingly desperate to find a different understanding…as in, well, surely, there must be more to the story – or at least another perspective that was more compassionate, that would better represent the person I was created to be – and reflect back to the world.

“Learn to be humble by doing all the humble work and doing it for Jesus. You cannot learn humility from books; you learn it by accepting humiliations. Humiliations are not meant to torture us; they are gifts from God. These little humiliations—if we accept them with joy—will help us to be holy, to have a meek and humble heart like Jesus.”
— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Thanks for the reminder Mother Teresa. I get it. 

So, shifting gears a bit by way of metaphor – remember these are random musings – here’s a little something Jim and I were conversing about this morning – these are just short little insights to help us consider how we might sit with others of different beliefs – but the same faith.

Some people believe there’s only one way to parent, so if you’re doing it differently, from their perspective, you’re wrong. Now consider all the parenting articles, books, blogposts, and opinions from friends and family. I think you get this.

  • Children don’t listen to what you say, they do, however, watch what you do.
  • It is a lived life that speaks, and not the mouth. (Thanks for these words, beloved hubby of 22 years on Friday.)
  • So many perspectives, but love shows up as the strongest factor for change.
  • Even when parents abuse or neglect their children, those children will defend their parents. They will choose to be with them.
  • Every parent has his/her unique gifts – it is as they live into who they are that they give their best gifts to their children. Living into infers it’s still happening, that is, the learning part – after almost 40 years of parenting. (Yes, early start, coupled with later additions, equal lengthy parenting experience.)

This morning, I made the decision to not wake my 15 year old up, because after doing so several times, and hearing his complaint, “Mom, I was just getting up – you didn’t need to come and be sure I was up,” I chose not to, even though I feared he would be late. Was it wrong? Should I have gone to be sure he was up? Some would say yes, some would say no. And that’s my point. There’s no exacting way to do it right.

These albeit somewhat random thoughts are to help us consider the unique ways in which we respond to people who come for care at Choices – we believe that the belief differences present among our volunteers, are a healthy balance in community.

Even when there’s tension. Even when our beliefs are in conflict with one another. Here’s an example of what that looks like: birth control. So, some believe that birth control prevents procreation which is their high value, others believe birth control invites more sexuality-outside-of-marriage, and others believe that if you (actually) want to curb abortion, you will most definitely be a birth control proponent.

Head spinning yet? Just try juggling these, and other tension-filled talks of best practices on a given hot topic!

And here’s where some of the fear shows up for me: depending upon where one lands in the above conversation, one might withhold critical dollars. Consequently, people will not be cared for. People will suffer. Maybe people will succumb to whatever keeps them from finding life and well-being, because having a precise and quite certain perspective implies that difference must not be supported, and by extension, neither must people – the very people we’re called to love and nurture.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who isn’t in a faith stream who uses the word saved, and her first priority isn’t to ensure that they know Jesus – at least not in the sense of reciting something they don’t yet understand. She prefers they experience what knowing Jesus feels like: compassionate, loving, generous, merciful, and grace-filled. Does that make her of no value as a volunteer in a mission where one’s faith compels one to serve? Well, duh, right? Except, I’ve lived with the reality of having your thoughts, words,  actions, and life scrutinized – and truth be told, I’m not very good at being under a microscope. Frankly, it’s terrifying and dehumanizing.

And so I live in constant fear – some would say irrational, hence the meds suggestion – that the manner in which I hold my beliefs, and subsequently that which informs the processes of caring for pregnant and parenting folks is less-than sufficient, or worse (as I have been told), just plain wrong.

But it’s who I am. It’s who, after years of discerning and wrestling with ‘how then shall I live’ most honors my Creator’s createdness in me.

Is there only one way of holding faith? Given that our Creator God, (and creative God?) has shown such grand diversity among the world’s people and places, I’m going with no. I’m going with another metaphor, that of an orchestra, where each musician, in concert together with others, plays their unique part and together presents beautiful music. If everyone played the clarinet in the same manner, with the same notes, well, boring, just boring. I want to hear the cello, the viola, the double bass…and more, the percussion instruments of the cymbals, drums and maybe the gong. Each sounding a bit different – and each contributing to the wholeness of the orchestra.

Could we just agree to make beautiful music together? 

Interestingly, and conveniently, my friend Jim Henderson posted this today, on his birthday – his faith work being one of the key reasons we originally moved to Seattle. If you take the time to read it, my sense is that you’ll grasp a better understanding of my approach to faith and belief, especially this, because, well, this has been on the repeat cycle for the past several years:

“My experience with most Christians and Atheists for that matter is that they cant find a way to sit in the room with difference. They can’t stop themselves from mentally comparing their best with their ideological opponents worst. They either try to re-educate them, control them or exorcise them.”

I thought exorcise was a typo, until I used an online dictionary to remind me that to exorcise is to drive out or attempt to drive out (an evil spirit) from a person or place. And sadly, that is too often what occurs with difference.

It’s Not Real? Whew. Or Not.

Twitter: @abdulaziz_Photo
Twitter: @abdulaziz_Photo

Yes, the disturbing picture of a Syrian boy sleeping between his parents’ graves isn’t real. Actually, the pic is real, in that it exists. We’ve seen it. But the story behind the pic, well, that’s the not real part. Except, as in much of life, it could be, and is. And, it is certainly the reality for many Syrian boys, and girls, and others. Sometimes roles are reversed, and it’s a parent grieving graveside. (My apologies if this triggers pain in my friends with this unthinkable kind of loss.)

The ‘hoax’ part of this disturbs me a bit, because many breathe a collective sigh of relief, “Whew! It’s not true,” releasing us emotionally to go back to our cushioned or somewhat cushioned lives, keeping a certain distance from the devastating realities that exist in Syria, (among other locales) – but it also keeps us from our own proverbial backyards: the places we live, and move, and have our being – and therein lies my interest today. 

The place I live, and move, and have my being includes an extraordinarily high rate of child abuse, technically, it’s child neglect, that translates to abuse. Siskiyou county ranks with one of the highest rates of child abuse & neglect in the state of California.

There are also other high rates to contend with here, often resulting in loss to parents and children – and by extension, to our communities: life-threatening economic stressors, harmful addiction (alcohol, hard/prescription drugs, gambling, porn), domestic violence, all resulting in general apathy or loss of hope, that keeps parents sidelined from engaged parenting – or engaged life.

Sometimes I think it’s relatively easier to see devastating pictures and grieve from afar – we’re still somewhat removed from the reality, and absolved from any sense of responsibility.

So, while we could, (and should), consider the needs of far-reaching children and parents across the globe, what of our own, whose emotionally moving pictures you don’t see? But, maybe you do? Maybe pics show up as in our news and FB feeds as desperate and grievous actions in our communities?

I just read this in a FB meme: “Students who are loved at home, come to school to learn, and students who aren’t, come to school to be loved,” attributed to Nicholas A. Ferroni.  Deficits show up. And this is kind of what I’m getting at – it’s at least part of the picture. It seems I have an abundance of nurses and teachers in my life, thus, I’m aware of the impact of parents who struggle with the above-mentioned life-sucking challenges. Parents love their children, I have no doubt, but it’s these life stressors that often get in the way, and make living in the day to day – and then the future – a challenge.

Children who head to school without breakfast – or packed lunch (and not all schools provide lunch). Children who don’t have sufficient/clean clothing. Children who aren’t able to sleep because parents partying late into the night. Children who come home without a snack – and, in many cases, dinner, left to fend for themselves on a regular basis. I’m sure you could name others. And I’m not even referencing ideal here, i.e., nutrient dense. I’m talking about a connected, caring sense of family that is needful for life success – even if it’s sitting around a table with Taco Bell, that is better than a kid (or a parent), who is sitting alone wondering how to make the basics of life appear.

But I’m not here to beat parents up. I am one. And, at the end of my tour of duty, (at least the first 18 years of each child’s life), I will have parented for 40 years. Crazy. I get the struggles; I’ve had many less-than-stellar moments. Life has given me many opportunities to turn right when I turned left, and I had to find a way to rebuild for self-preservation and survival – for me, but also for my kids – but I had support, family, friends and a village to prop me up til I could stand on my own again.

Whether it was a divorce and a move, a season of yelling too much (even though I had the tools to know better), worry and anxiety that made me a wicked helicopter mom, homeschooling with too-high expectations to prove ourselves, too-often McDonald’s for lunch (sorry first two offspring), or losing a house in the recent crash and forcing the leaving of friends behind, way too much time between dental visits because of no insurance – yes, I’ve had moments of less-than-fabulous mommying. So, I’m not here as an icon of parenting perfection. But, I hope, between the crazy, my children know they are deeply loved.

Refocusing on the Syrian boy between his not-dead parents: image of devastating loss, no doubt. But what of our own kids, who hang out with kids in need of noticing? Or don’t hang out with them, because they’ve been relegated to social outcast status. True, you can’t fix other parents – or their kids. But I think we can mitigate at least some of the absence, hopelessness, and life-havoc if we intentionally seek to welcome others – even those who don’t fit our typical social preference profile.

When we strengthen a parent, we strengthen a child, a family – and a community. (That’s you and me folks.) And it just takes making oneself available. We may not see the fruit of our labors, at least not in the immediate, or in a timeframe we’d like, but we just keep doing the next right thing: making deposits into a life that matters.

So, yes, the pic isn’t real; a photographer didn’t just stumble into this deeply moving pic about a boy and the death of his parents. It was art, and staged. And we could say the same of so many of the movies we watch, or the historical fiction we read: they’re only fictional characters, it’s not real. Except, it is, for many others unnamed. Because, even if it is not true, it’s still true.

Morning musing brought to you by Italian Roast and gingersnaps. And remember, it’s only a perspective, just a slice of what could be a much larger and meaningful conversation. May you have found a nugget the speaks life to you – so that you can (continue) to bring life to others. 

Robbie-the-Dog: Shaking, Scars & Love

“Imagine someone surrounded by love. but they still can’t quite believe it,” came out of my wise husband’s heart this morning, referring to Meg and Bella’s dog, Robbie AKA Bubba-dog, who is still apprehensive of the affection of people, and has a tendency to shake when his family members leave.1795707_10202412436925443_7836239920263314160_n

We’ve all provided much attention, affection, and provision of his needs, and yet he still remains tethered to his life experiences prior to living with Meg and Bella, and us (for the past two and half months).

He makes strides though. We get glimpses of his ability to enjoy life when he plays outside, or especially with Molly, the excitable and energetic year and half old pup – whom he guards and protects.

But, despite those glimpses, he remains the scarred/scared dog that is unsure whether to trust his surroundings for his personal safety and security.

(And he laps up being bowl-fed on the couch – laugh, it’s true – so as not to trigger anxiety because Molly would be happy to eat her kibble and Robbie’s.)

Maybe it’s Robbie’s ‘normal’, it’s just who he is, and it’s okay. Maybe our triggers and apprehensions are just present, and will always be, to some degree.

We are a composition of the entirety of our life experiences. They have shaped our being-ness, who we are, and whether we turn left or right, and how we live.

We may shake in our souls – as the broken-yet-whole. Perhaps we show up with our cracks and scars and find renewed strength precisely because of them.

So, maybe having an eye on loving, not fixing, but being okay with folks showing up with their scars, shaking in their souls, and moving beyond tolerating to collaborating in life toward caring well in the places we live, move and have our being actually make us more suited to acting justly and loving mercy. Wounds will do that.

Robbie, with all his baggage, is the most cuddle-able – while also the most fiercely protective. There’s something in those words to consider: we need brokenness and we need scars to make us more human – something God seems to be familiar with. 10428060_10202651408299578_4207302453510170024_n

Tuesday morning musings fueled by French roast and day old, half-burned (yet still desirable) zucchini muffins. Oh, and forgive the title nothing seemed to work. Feel free to suggest an alternative. 

Unchurched Neighbors Being Jesus-y

small_151594308Our retired neighbors go salmon fishing a few times every year – and they always bring us a portion of whatever they’ve caught. This time it was just minutes after they arrived home, and it came as nearly a foot long slab of bright red-fleshed fish.

If you know me, you know I’m generally not a fish eater, and I know, sad, because it’s so healthy. Whatever. It’s fishy, especially salmon. Now halibut, that would be another story. Pure, white flesh, decidedly non-fishy, yet fish. Win. Oh, and battered please. It’s good, especially with a generous splash of malt vinegar. And a side of potatoes cooked any of a bizillion ways. But, Jim loves salmon, and so I joy in this generosity for him.

Here’s some random thoughts that have been ruminating, and are more to the Jesus-y theme about our delightful and kindhearted neighbors. 

First off, I didn’t set out to inquire whether our neighbors know Jesus. I know, right? Evangelical fail.

Or not. “By their fruits you will know them…” so I’m thinking I kinda know them. Excepting our six year Seattle hiatus, they’ve been our neighbors for many years. Gracious. Encouraging. Generous. (Oh, and long-suffering, since we’ve had some renters who were less than fabulous.) We know their fruits: goodness, kindness, and so forth.

Their language doesn’t show up with the salvation assurances that are key to some traditions that seek to hear to be sure we’ve done our job. Formulaic Christianese lingo, has been decidedly absent from our conversations – perhaps that’s why we’ve had so many of them.

And they’re not churchgoers, well, at least not these days. So, they can’t be Christian or know Jesus, right? Wrong. (Yes, I’m aware of all those Scriptures that people use to mandate church attendance.)

And, I really like these words from Roger Woolsey’s adapted variation of D.T. Niles quote: “Give me rules and I will flee. Give me Jesus and I am free.” 

For me, frankly, I’m exhausted from the wrestle of needing to define our faith in an exacting manner. In my work/calling/mission life, it’s become somewhat of an expectation or necessity to do so – and yet I resist. (If you’d like to split a four cup French press sometime, let me know.)

For my purposes, the element I’m most interested in, is that people discover there is a faith that invites hope – that there is something beyond what we currently experience, and even if we have doubts about the certainty of it all, it’s the direction our heart is (increasingly) oriented. See, there’s the hope: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. That there is a greater Force at work in the world, and maybe the world beyond what we can see. But I have no interest in telling someone what that faith should look like. Jesus said “Do not be afraid, only believe.” I’m trying. And I’m finally embracing the reality that it’s enough.

Years ago a kindred spirit Catholic friend remarked: “You Evangelicals always need to attach the Christian label to everything,” after I had excitedly shown her my newest acquisition of a Christian chemistry book for my youngest daughter. It was yet another significant moment that invited me to reconsider the way I held my faith. Would a regular chemistry book be any less Christian? Doubtful, unless it intended to bend science.

Several years ago I decided I had no need – and no desire, to insure that other people’s faith looked like mine. So, our neighbors faith looks different than my experiences, my understandings and my story. Okay. No problem.

But there is a problem. Some Christian expressions size people up to determine their worthiness to God, or their insurance for heaven, by their specific beliefs, in specific language, a specific lifestyle, and specific attendance at an approved church. And that makes me not only sad, it makes me irked (weary, irritated, bored). But don’t be tossing daggers at my view here: church can be a fabulous place to express and practice one’s faith. I have loved some church experiences – some of you know I’m a community junkie who craves conversation. But I’m here today to say that Christians who don’t attend a church aren’t any less faith-full than people who frequent church. (Yes, the co-opted version of faithful was intentional.)

Why is this important? There are people to care for and love: People who are waiting to be included, welcomed, and heard. People whose stories are in process. People who desire to access hope in the form of a believable, beautiful faith, inspired and created by a Beloved God, lived out in the life of Jesus – but not necessarily in a church. And mostly these people aren’t as crazy focused on this God stuff as I am, but they need a voice.

So, yes, I detect reminders of Jesus’ character, and the admonition to love God, and love others in my relationship with my neighbors. These salmon-sharing people also bring us bountiful shares of their garden harvest to our door. They invite us to pick wild plums from their tree. And who knew she is a former school librarian, who helps with managing our little corner book-house (as part of the Little Free Library awesomeness)?

And we share as well. New seedlings for their garden, eggs from our chickens, fresh-made jam, and invitations to periodic social gatherings at our house. But no aha moments of needing to seize the opportunity to make right their faith, by making it look like mine/ours. No manipulative steering of the ship that deters genuine relationship.

But, we’ve  talked. They hold belief in God, in the person of Jesus. We didn’t run them through a checklist, we just had conversations.

Can we be sad they’re not in a local church? Maybe. But if only because we who have experienced the beauty of a faith community can grasp the blessing there can be in sharing life and spiritual practices together in a more organized manner.

When we listen to their experiences, though, we can grasp why they might not be. They’re not so different from some of our own less than honorable experiences: command and control models that dictate what and how to believe, that somehow eclipse personhood and calling and grace.

And so we sow relationship, across the fence, with mutual interest in gardening, sharingmedium_14716688469 resources and goods,andwords of care that help us get through the day, week, month and year(s) with a few more smiles and a little more gratefulness.

Meanwhile, they’re still delivering broccoli, cabbage, carrots and lemon cucumbers by the armload – and we’re feeling cared for and nurtured, body and soul. And I’m grateful for the lessons we’ve learned from being neighbors, that give us a picture of the heart of God for other relationships in our lives: a bountiful, generous and gracious love.

If you’ve had an unpleasant experience in church when you were seeking hope, or to understand faith in a way that honored your need, I think I’ll just say, I’m sorry. If none of this interests or matters to you, and yet you’ve gotten this far, then, I think I’ll just say, thanks for hanging in there, and I hope there’s one tidbit you’ve gleaned that makes you feel refreshed and curious. Questions are always welcome. 

Random Reflection on Neighborhood

Each Sunday, we’d drive away from our newish, tidy cul-de-sac in Lynnwood, to a destination church about twelve miles away, where most of the folks were much like us, seeking the same experience much like us – and ultimately using economic resources, much like us. After service, being hungry for both physical and relational sustenance, we’d often drive to another location for lunch – we loved spending time together, reaffirming our standing and security in this group.

And, admittedly, without this Sunday jaunt, I wouldn’t have the vital, life-giving relational connections I have today. Truly a conundrum.

Heck, we even imported folks into the neighborhood, who, again, were mostly like us, thought like us, ate like us, and looked like us, (generally speaking). Our house had the promise of good food, good drink and good laughter and conversation. And we were meeting the needs of lonely sojourners (like us) trying to figure out how to swim in a church and life after having had some form of crisis of faith. Maybe it kind of resembled: connecting for the sake of us.

But also each Sunday, as we drove away from the cul-de-sac with well-manicured lawns and landscaping, I was increasingly aware of the need of, or call of community to bear hope for the inhabitants and lives of each house. Here we were, physically located within a few feet to a few hundred feet of one another. Surely people were sick, experienced losses of all kinds, were busy, and were lonely. People were ultimately seeking an  abundant life.

And here’s where my memory reminds me that interestingly, it was the minority ethnicities that were the most open to relationship – and one might consider that in those cultures, there was/is a decided healthy dependence upon community – it takes a village, right?

We could have had some amazing neighborhood potlucks and bridged some understandings of diverse cultures!  Maybe, we, collectively, could have even influenced cross-cultural peace-making as we listened to one another’s humanity. I’m reminded of our Sri Lankan friends, our Polish friends, our Vietnamese friends, and African friend – those being people we had actually met.

But we drove miles away every Sunday. We used our discretionary time, energy and economic resources for us – to fulfill some felt and learned principle that we must meet together as the people of God in approved and worthy representations of Gospel gatherings – and ultimately, if people knew what was good for them, they’d make the out-of-neighborhood trek there too. And, it was good; it was very good. But hindsight tells me it maybe wasn’t the best good – if we value place-making and neighborhood-care as our place of being-ness and calling.

And yet, in the midst of all this, there is a memory that comes to mind during one of the darkest times of our sudden departure from this neighborhood (in the ongoing carnage following the economic crash that began in 2008), there was a moment that defined relationship and community – because there was one family with whom we shared some life: a Sri Lankan family, who looked different, ate different, believed different – and even defrosted their windshield different, much to the annoyance of other neighbors.

A marginalized culture for which we developed a sense of justice for, and stood, with our children, demonstrating on their behalf at a Seattle protest of the ongoing civil war in their home country – because we learned about  human atrocities occurring among their people. And we were moved to join them in saying, ‘No more war!’.

This was a family who invited us to their children’s birthday parties where we were the only caucasians present, who came to our house for pie a’la mode on July 4th, for now and again visits and meals, and ultimately, a family who, upon learning of our sudden economic devastation, offered quite generously to help us with our mortgage, (which we didn’t accept, since it would only be temporary solution). This was a picture of relationship; and a display of compassion, i.e., ‘to suffer with’ – and it happened because we shared mutual stories and life and pain and hope.

Part of me grieves the (other) stories I never learned, the places of hope I never shared or realized for myself, and the relationships that never went beyond a quick wave. Oh God, you provided such an array of needful beauty and diversity, and I drove away.

So, I’m not beating myself up – at least not wholeheartedly. There were moments and times of neighborly goodness. But, my heart so wishes there had been more.

Note: And please know this isn’t a prescription for the universe, there’s no ‘you should’ implied here. It’s a reflection of my own experiences and understandings as of this moment in time. Though, I do wonder what kind of adjustments we can make to our lives that would invite more neighborhood connectivity that would lead to more care of others?