Tag Archives: faith

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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Poop Part Two: Life of Poop…

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So, we are potty training the baby. I remember with my first child praying about the potty training. I remember strategizing and having interminable patience. I remember having the epiphanic moment at the grocery store, slowly scanning the produce department, “Every single one of these people was potty trained by someone.”

Somewhere in between one and three whatever novelty there was to potty training has worn off and I’m left most of the time thinking, “This should be done by now. How come he’s not already potty trained? Wait, who’s supposed to be potty training him?”

He’s doing really well and today was a no-diaper day. I got home from work and Dad and baby happily reported no accidents. So proud. And then Dad left.

And now it is my turn. It is bed time. I am tired. It is still light outside and there are complaints from all children that they have to go to bed while it’s light. I explain AGAIN about how the light gets longer but our daily hours don’t change for two more weeks, only two more weeks! “When school’s out it’s going to be different, but for now we still have to wake up at six-thirty.” And waking everyone up was a killer this morning.

I think I’ve got everyone down. Then I hear, “Poop coming, Mama.” I run to find a tiny well-contained turd on the floor and rush the boy to the toilet. One additional tiny turd plops in the pot. There is excessive wiping with a yard of toilet paper that has been squashed into a sphere the size of a golf ball. The pajama pants are poopy enough that they go in the laundry. The boy goes back to bed and I entertain with slightly less patience another complaint of going to bed in the light.

(“Poopy enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate the item’s position past a threshold marker on a long gradient scale that moves in correlation with the inconvenience of adding anything to the laundry pile.)

Two minutes later, “Poop coming, Momma.” I come in to find a larger, yet, still-contained turd on the floor. This one left a trail down the leg. I wipe the leg clean. One additional turd in the potty later followed by excessive wiping and yet another pair of pajama pants. The boy is back in bed.

And yet again, “Poop coming, Momma.” This time we make it with the turd still firmly clenched between his butt cheeks. Now we sit on the potty. One tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus. Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus.

“Are you all done? No more poop?”
“No. Poop still coming.”

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Some gets on his fingers, he wipes it off on his shirt. I realize we’ll need a new shirt. I wipe the fingers.

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. He lifts up his penis to see the poop. He gets pee on his hand and wipes it down his leg. I realize he is now dirty enough for a bath.

(“Dirty enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate a child’s contamination level past a certain threshold point on a long gradient that moves in correlation to the parents willingness to snuggle said child.)

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. I try to explain how to wait and wipe just once at the end. He doesn’t buy it. I eye the dwindling roll of toilet paper and tell myself to let it go. Take your victories, leave some battles for later. One square to get the drip of pee off the tip of his penis. We flush to make sure we don’t clog the toilet.

Forty-five minutes later AND a bath AND an entire roll of toilet paper, a fourth pair of pajama pants, a new shirt, kisses, hugs, and covers, and we are in bed again.

It is now dark. No one is complaining about going to bed. The girl is already asleep.

And I realize again that the two greatest things I may ever do in this world are teaching three human beings to read and teaching three human beings to poop on the potty.

Ibtissam…

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Her name means smile.  And boy does she have a good one! I met her once before, months ago, on the playground around the corner and we stumbled along in French. I’ve since tried to ring her door bell a few times but we haven’t managed to find each other.  Until two weeks ago.

She was at the park by the kids’ school. I recognized her underneath her hijab and we began at once just where we left off. By the sometimes miracle of six months, our babies were actually old enough to play without our ever-intervention.  So we chatted along in French in the sunshine, with the line of Presidio trees rising along our shoulders to the left, the city blinking bright below us on the right.

I noticed a woman watching us and edging closer.  I turned to her and smiled.  She stepped over.  Our French had reached her ears and she came to sit by us.  As it would turn out she just moved from Paris six months ago. She introduced us to her darling baby and confessed to knowing no one, a couple French families, she said, but no Americans. We exchanged numbers and promised to have coffee.

I was going to walk back and invited Ibtissam to walk with me.  She went one step further and invited us into her apartment for a full Moroccan tea.

Like any hostess she apologized for the mess and hastily moved toys aside. Her two daughters played with my three kids. And we talked happily while she set out cookies in beautiful little crystal dishes.  She showed me how to scoop the mint and tea into a pot, how to steep it and how much sugar to add.  We had a feast of peanuts and pistachios, beautiful butter cookies dipped in chocolate, and little gold rimmed glasses of sweet hot Moroccan mint tea. When those were finished off (by many little fingers besides our own) she got out two beautiful flat disks of homemade bread and olives in oil for dipping.

We ate and talked well into the dinner hour and as it was getting dim we tore ourselves away. We had talked about the similarities between Lent and Ramadan. We had shared about our faiths. We had talked about the loneliness of motherhood. And we had shared what makes us ourselves outside of these domestic spheres. “This,” she said, spreading her hands, “Sitting like this with friends. This is what I love.”

I am thankful for the gift of language that has enabled me to get to know one of these beautiful mothers. And I am thankful for this experience that has forever changed how I see the women underneath the hijab.

Seasick…

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Well, you can say a little prayer for me this week.

I’m doing well. I mean, I knew this was going to be difficult, new job, joining anew the workforce, making my crazy dreams for children’s ministry at City Church of San Francisco a reality. And it’s not so insanely difficult. Indeed, I am at times overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. But then I just turn around and get drunk on the overconfidence of my amazingly heady ego and get stuff done. It’s dizzying being Barbara. (And imagine how my husband feels?!)

I feel like an apostle sent out on the boat. I am supposed to go to the other side. But the other side is not the destination. It never is. The other side is merely the end measure of the destination, the destination, and the point of all of this, being jumbled up somewhere in the length of this crazy ride over the time it takes to get there.

I am on a boat going to the other side. And I can’t tell which Bible story I’m in. I don’t feel like I’m in a storm, so maybe I’m in the one where the apostles are just not making much headway. Whatever, the wind’s against them or something. And Jesus has in mind to beat them to the other side just by walking across the water. Maybe he thinks they have it under control?

But they’re struggling after all. And so he goes to them, just right across the water and in the face of the damn wind he goes. And there’s me, Peter, the rock, saying, “Command me! Pick me! Let me do this job!” And Jesus says, “Ok, c’mon.” And there I am, Peter, sinking like a, well, a rock. I’m sinking like a rock at my own request.

“Save me!” “Command me!” “Save me!” “Command me!” “Save me!”

That’s me this week. It’s dizzying. And yet, it’s surprisingly secure. I am commanded. I am saved. I am being commanded and being saved.

I commanded. I saved. I am commanding. I am saving. I am. I am.