When novelist Toni Morrison died last month, my social media feed was filled with tributes. I wanted to participate but I couldn’t just say “R.I.P.” or simply pick my favorite quote. It wouldn’t do justice to the gift of language Morrison had given me.

7908960-LI read her novel Beloved, set in the slave-holding American south, during my sophomore year of college, the same year I found myself unexpectedly pregnant, carrying a child whom I would give up for adoption. Beloved does not have a happy ending and in the final chapter, the main character Sethe grieves for the baby girl she has “lost.” She laments to her friend Paul, “She was my best thing.”

At 19 I read that line and my heart stopped. I didn’t know how to say it before, but it was true.

“She was my best thing” was everything I believed about the life growing within me and she was gone, or about to be. I remember telling Tim the story of Sethe and her daughter, confessing my deepest fears – that having this child and letting her go might be the “best thing” I would ever do.

I was right, but not entirely. Sarah Moses was “my best thing,” but  I went on to marry Tim and he engraved “my best thing” inside my wedding ring. I gave birth to three more children who became “my best thing” – one after another.

“My best thing” became a collective noun for my people, the ones for whom my heart beats and breaks and elates.

And as Toni Morrison passed from this earth this summer, I once again entered a phase of letting go of “my best thing” one by one.

Last month, I drove Finn to Yosemite National Park to embark on a 200+ mile trek on the John Muir Trail. I was so excited for him to make this journey, right up until it came time for him to walk into the woods. Then the water works started…. I wasn’t worried about the danger. Rather it hit me that this was Joseph-Campbell level shit. He will be a different person on the other side of this trip – transformed by the solitude, the hardship and the beauty of the experience. “My best thing” is out there alone.

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This past week, I flew to the east coast to visit Keara and help her organize a new life in Providence, Rhode Island. After her first post-college gig as a scenic carpenter with Williamstown Theater Festival this summer, I thought she was returning home. Instead she got an opportunity to stay and start a new life with new friends in a new city. I am beyond excited for her, but still…. All week long, I was overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance. This is exactly what I wanted for her, but suddenly it seemed like the worst idea in the world. “My best thing” is 3,000 miles away from me for the foreseeable future.

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This last Monday Molly began her senior year of high school. My baby “best thing” is still under my roof, still available for morning hugs and good night kisses, still asking me to be involved in her life on a daily basis. For that I am grateful, but I know it’s just a matter of time. This is slow-motion letting go, day by day, month by month until next fall when it’s her time to say goodbye. I don’t know where she’s headed, but “my best thing” won’t be here with me anymore.

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As I enter this phase of my parenting journey, I am more convinced than ever that Love means letting go – of our fears, agendas, projections, and pride – and at the same time Love means showing up – authentically, humbly, and gratefully. What a privilege it is to Love and be Loved. Truly, it is the “best thing” any of us can hope for.

It’s been a month, but I finally want to thank Toni Morrison for giving me the language to say goodbye, while still holding on to the ones I love.

Your gift was prodigious; your spirit was generous and the legacy of your language will live on in my heart forever.

 

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We all know what TGIF stands for, right?

THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY!!!

Nah, not anymore. I’ve found something better for those letters.

Last month, Brené Brown shared her own version of TGIF on her blog and it’s brilliant. I liked it so much I decided to adopt the practice as my own, not just as a way review my week, but as a conversation starter with the people I care about. On Friday nights, Tim and I are often with family and friends, gathered around a meal or drinks. Bringing up TGIF is the perfect way to talk about something more meaningful than the sports or the weather. We usually end up getting a little vulnerable, laughing at ourselves and each other and inevitably veering off into ten different conversations we wouldn’t have had otherwise. TGIF is a recipe for connection.

So here’s the ingredients:

T – WHAT AM I TRUSTING IN?

G- WHAT AM I GRATEFUL FOR?

I – WHAT AM I INSPIRED BY?

F – WHAT AM I HAVING FUN WITH?

Maybe it’s not surprising, but the T is the one people have the hardest time wrapping their head around. Maybe it’s the way the question is phrased – the WHAT. We’re not used to thinking about what we “trust in” besides people, but there’s a whole range of underlying assumptions that get us through the week – things we’re counting on, hoping for, or expect to be true. One week, I answered, “I’m trusting the process” when I was interviewing for a new part-time writing job. After I got the job, I was “trusting in” my ability to do the work that was asked of me. Tim has been “trusting in” his body to hold up and allow him to do the things he needs (and sometimes wants) to do for another four months or so until he has his hip replacement. T gets us in touch with our deepest hopes and desires.

I think the rest of the letters are pretty self-explanatory, so I’m just going to share my TGIF for the week. Try it out tonight, or some Friday soon with your people

*If you have little ones (or people who are resistant to the TRUST concept), adapt it! The T can work as a Thankful and the G can move to – WHAT WAS I GREAT AT THIS WEEK?

T – TRUSTING IN

If you can’t tell from these pictures, I am TRUSTING IN the next generation. There is so much negativity about the “kids these days” – always has been and probably always will be – but I love hanging out with people who are younger than me – not just my own kids, but other people’s kids too. Not only are they hilarious, but they are also risk-takers, hard workers and deep thinkers to boot. When I can listen from a place of curiosity instead of doubt or judgement, I learn so much from their perspective about what’s going on in the world and where they think we’re headed. My 30-something friends are pretty awesome too, always ready to engage me in new adventures (like belly-dancing) and lovely conversations. (I love people my own age and older generations as well, but I’m TRUSTING IN the next one!)

G – GRATEFUL

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This past week, I’m beyond GRATEFUL for the six nights that all five members of Team Kirks slept under one roof.  That’s the longest stretch we’ve all been together in a year and a half. We had home-cooked meals, game nights, hot tub sessions, movie outings, and stops at Long Island Mike’s, our all-time favorite pizza place. I moved two college kids home and then moved one back out to Massachusetts her first post-graduate job in her field. Also, for the first time ever, we even had a moment where four members of the family were working at Wavelines at the same time. That’s a good day at work!

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Tim snuck out the back door and missed the photo opportunity!

I – INSPIRED

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Last Sunday, we saw Rocketman, the biopic about Elton John. Do yourself a favor – go see it. Not only was it a creative musical masterpiece, but it was also a beautiful, heart-breaking testament to the power of parenting and families, culture and talent to shape our lives. What I found most inspiring of all was Elton’s determination to overcome his addictions midway through his life. The film showed how much courage it takes and how difficult it is for addicts to choose to fully experience what it means to be human after years, or decades of running away from it. To face your trauma, to actually feel your pain, to learn new coping skills, to look in the mirror every day and see the unadulterated truth of who you are and all the ways you’ve been f*@ked over and then f*@ked up – Man, that deserves an Oscar, if not for the film, then for everyone who has ever gotten sober.

F – FUN

It’s always hard for me to narrow this one down, since usually I’m GRATEFUL and INSPIRED by the things I am having the most fun with, but, this week, I am having FUN with music.  I am currently in a six-week personal training group at my local YMCA.  I love my trainer and the people I meet, but man – it is hard work to eat well, drink water and exercise all the time! Whew! I cannot keep it up for more than these forty-two days, but Amazon Prime Music is keeping me company and keeping the tunes flowing. Big props to that next generation that keeps making some incredible and incredibly awful pop music that keeps my feet moving on those timed miles and countless lunges!

It’s a Friday afternoon here on the California coast, just miles away from the Pacific. Summer hasn’t really begun yet, but the sun is making a rare appearance this afternoon and it’s making me smile. I think I’ll grab a book that is TGIF all rolled into one and sit outside and read.  In a few more hours, I’ll be ready to gather with my people ask the question: What are you trusting in these days?  I hope you get a chance to ask them as well.

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Over the years, I’ve often shared what my Mother’s Days were like, how my hopes were met or dashed, based on the performance of my kids and husband. I am a slightly abashed to read those vignettes now, at the neediness they reveal, though they also make me smile. But this year, I had few hopes for Mother’s Day, besides waking up in my own bed. (I’ve been traveling way too much lately.) Mission accomplished! Instead of having my coffee and a pink donut delivered to my bedside, I got my own darn coffee and it was a delightful way to start the day.

At church on Sunday night, I was reminded how our modern Mother’s Day has so little to do with the first speech that inspired it. The original “Mother’s Day Proclamation” of 1870 was written as a protest against war, and a reminder that if women were in charge, things would be run a little differently in our nation and around the world. It reads in part:

… In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before

Arise, then, Christian women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God…

Preach, Julia Ward Howe!

I just wish we had heeded her call more effectively. Peace protests have happened and anti-war movements have had their day. MADD has significantly curbed the violence of drunk driving and Moms Demand Action is making inroads for common sense gun control, but there are still many places where women’s voices are not, and presumably never will be heard.

One of them is a place I have held near and dear to my heart, the Roman Catholic Church, where you will not hear a female voice. Not in leadership, (except to other women, and always under the “authority” of men), not preaching during mass, not speaking for the church at large, not making decisions, or even having more than a minority stake in any decision-making process. Though it was totally normalized in my childhood, I simply cannot wrap my head around it any more. I look at my daughters, my nieces, and their friends and I can’t imagine them being silenced and disenfranchised. I’d like to think my son and his peers wouldn’t allow it either, which is why I was so disappointed in the recent public discussions about the diaconate for women.

Last week, Pope Francis responded  to the reports from a committee he had commissioned to study the history of women’s diaconate in the early church. While they affirmed that women were certainly ordained, they could not agree on “what kind” of diaconate it was.

“There were deaconesses at the beginning [of the church], but [the question is] was theirs a sacramental ordination or not? … There is no certainty that theirs was an ordination with the same formula and the same finality of the male ordination.”

With those words, Francis affirmed again that women must continue to be patient, that more study could be done (with no indication that it would be) and that Divine Revelation would surely continue. In the meantime, he assured the public (I imagine, specifically, the nervous among the all-male clergy), men will continue to be in charge and run things as they see fit, paying little attention to the voices of women.

I’m sure Julia Ward Howe shares my frustration, but she’s not the only one. From the same pulpit, I also heard a powerful response to Francis’ position, written by a group of Irish priests, for whom I am deeply grateful. I consider it a Mother’s Day Proclamation for 2019.

Pope Francis’s comments on women deacons at the press conference on the plane back from Bulgaria, his kicking the can down a timeless road, is a major disappointment. We had come to expect reactions like this from previous popes, but we thought Francis was different, and consequently our disappointment is greater.

The equality of women is critical for the credibility and the future of the Church. Introducing women deacons is such a minimalist step that if he cannot move on that, there is little or no prospect of any real movement towards equality.

His comments send all the wrong messages about women to women and men.

It confirms that women are not good enough, and that in the eyes of the ‘official’ Church men are more worthy than women.

It confirms that many of women’s gifts will continue to be wasted.

It confirms that the official institutional Church is a men’s Church.

It confirms that to be a full member of the Church, exercising all the privileges, you have to be a man.

It confirms that the Church is a structure built by men for men.

It confirms that the Church continues to be a clerical hierarchical patriarchy.

It confirms that injustice is built into the heart of the Church.

This is an enormous blow to reforming the Church and bringing it into the 21st century.

Now is the time for all of us who believe in equality to make our voices heard, clearly and without equivocation. There must be no fudge about where we stand; bishops, priests and people in the pews. Now is not the time for looking over our shoulders, thinking of our chances of promotion, or of offending those in authority. This is much too important.

If you aren’t “into” church, church history, or church politics, you might run right past this post, but if you are “into” women: raising them, teaching them, loving them, partnering and working with them, then I hope you’ll understand how important this subject is.

How the Roman Catholic church, (and Christian churches in general) treat women has a huge impact on how women are treated around the world.

They could do so much better. I have no doubt that God wants them to do better. We would all be better off. And that’s what I really want each and every day – for mothers and for women everywhere.

When my kids were small, Mother’s Day felt like it needed to be all about me, because my daily life seemed so little about me. But every day now, I spend some time alone. I wake when I decide; I go to bed when I’m ready. I cook what I like to eat; I spend time with people – in places I want to be. I work at things I love. All those things were less true to some degree for the last twenty years and so it feels like a turning point. It went from a day when I wanted gratitude to a day when I am overwhelmed with it.

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Yesterday, Tim and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with  dinner at the La Jolla Shores Inn. It was a beautiful sunset, like hundreds of others we’ve enjoyed together on that sand.

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After our meal, we headed north towards Scripps to watch the stars come out. That mile of beach has played an important role in our lives for as long as we’ve been together.  It was the site of our first date, (read about that here) and our first whispered, “I love you,” just a few months later. I walked myself into labor with our first child on that stretch. We have spent countless beach days, birthdays, holidays, sunny days and rainy ones too, first as a couple, then as a family. It has been an oceanic witness to our laughter and tears, our joy and pain, our silent thoughts and our deep and sometimes distressing conversations. It made perfect sense to commemorate the quarter century we’ve spent together as husband and wife right there.

As far as Tim knew, we were just going down with a beach blanket to spend a few minutes honoring the occasion, but Molly and I had planned something a little different. While Tim and I were at dinner, Molly and a friend created a romantic place on the sand for us.  A beach blanket and a chair, a dozen candles, photos of us and our family, and a speaker playing some of our favorite love songs. After a quick hug and kiss and she was off, leaving us to enjoy ourselves and reflect on our life together.

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Tim was surprised enough, but I had a couple more tricks up my sleeve.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve worn my wedding rings consistently. Time and genetics have taken a toll on my hands, leaving my rings just wrong-sized enough to make them uncomfortable for everyday living. So in honor of our anniversary, I finally got them resized, and I wanted to invite him to place them on my left hand again.  But first, I had to ask him a few questions. Twenty-five years ago, at 21 and 25, we didn’t know anything except that we loved each other and were committed to making a go of it – declaring in front of God and just about everyone we (and my parents) knew – that we would honor each other all the days of our lives. But would he do it all again, knowing what he knows about the ups and downs, the goods and bads, the triumphs and the tribulations that every relationship encounters after so many decades together? So I asked him:

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of watching her change – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually – knowing that she will change just as much in the next twenty-five and that they probably won’t all be for the better?

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of mediocre housekeeping and sloppy accounting and basic, “same-old, same-old” meals?

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of financially supporting her, while she finds cheap, but temporary emotional support in the clearance aisles of Target and Marshalls and haunts the halls of thrift stores, looking for just the right thing?

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of her continual assaults on your preferred systems of stasis, instead foisting on you, on us, on our family, program after program for improvement and change?

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of watching her bounce from dream to dream, challenge to challenge, school to school, lacking a single focus, (except the one of loving you and creating a loving family) in an effort to accomplish she knows-not-what exactly, but only to “be of service,” and to “love the world,” whatever in the world that means?

Do you take this woman to be your wife after twenty-five years of watching her fall many times and fail at many things that were important to her and having to pick up the pieces, knowing that pattern will most likely continue?

Do you take this woman to be your wife again after twenty-five years, even though she snuck “God” into the relationship in disguise – through her sneaky, overwhelming, passionate, personal, desperate Love for you, which grows “higher than soul can hope or mind can hide”?

In case you’re wondering, he said, “Yep,” to every one of them, just like I thought/hoped he would, (though he did pause for a moment or two after a couple of them).

And this is what I said to him,

I take you too, sweet man. I take you with your fears and insecurities. I take you with all the subconscious ways you try to isolate and disconnect yourself from me, the kids and the world. I take you with your bad singing and beautiful prose. I take you, not just with your love of your job and your business and your fierce independence, but also with your real, and to me incomprehensible, contentment with the 5’x10’ foot cave you call an office. I take you with your physical desires that have kept our love life alive for the last twenty-five years. I take you with all your achy joints and wherever they lead us someday.

The scriptures say that “Perfect Love casts out all fear” and if the last twenty-five years have taught me anything, it’s that you must love me pretty perfectly, not because you never fear when I bring you things, ask you to change, tell you I’m going to change, or that I want to do, or try something new, but because you respond out of that perfect Love and say, “Yes” anyway. You cast your fear out, or at the very least temper it, ask it to stand aside, so that the ones you Love – me and the kids – can become more perfectly ourselves in this world.

Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know you would love me like this; twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know I would need a Love like this, but I did and I do and I will and I can think of NO ONE on this planet to whom I would say, “I did” and “I do” and “I will,”  besides you and I say it today and always.

So that was that and we spent the next hour or so reminiscing about the times that built us up and broke us down, slow dancing in the sand and looking up at the stars. But life isn’t all romance. The moments were precious, but they were over soon enough. We packed it up and headed home, joining Molly on the couch to watch The Office, before getting in bed for our nightly episode of Jeopardy. We were out, like all the lights in the house, before 10:00 p.m.

That’s what twenty-five years feels like to me. Romance when you can get it, make it, feel it, respond to it, create it, be inspired by it, need it. Companionship, kindness, compassion and curiosity in all the spaces in between. It’s enough to make a life and I’m grateful for all of it.

 

Last week, we dressed up for dinner at my folks’ place with our kids to celebrate the occasion.  Finn pulled out his camera and at my request, they all smiled (sort of).

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For the last twelve years, our family would be at La Casa de Maria for Family Retreat this week.  On a normal year, we’d be basking in the glow of family affirmations from Monday night and preparing ourselves to battle it out on opposing teams at pool games this afternoon, a favorite Tuesday tradition. But this year, after the devastating mudslides that hit Montecito on January 9, La Casa de Maria had to close its doors – for a while at least. Family Retreat was left homeless, but not hopeless. In late January, the team got together to grieve and then get to work. It was too late to relocate, but not too late to re-create our time together in what we called “Family Camp Lite.”

We stayed as close to La Casa as we could, taking over a dozen rooms at a local beachside motel and an entire second story deck with an ocean view. We gathered for music and prayers on the sand in the morning, shared several communal meals, celebrated mass on the beach and spent one morning working in the Shalom Garden at La Casa de Maria and touring the property. As we worked in the hot sun, we blessed our beloved spiritual home not only with our sweat, but also with our tears and songs and laughter. The devastation we saw there was both sobering and sanctifying. It is clear that Family Retreat will not be returning to the property any time soon, but equally clear that La Casa de Maria itself will continue its mission of being a holy place of healing and service for the world. We took a lot of pictures, but left some banners of hope in our wake.

One of the traditions the team felt strongly we wanted to continue even at “Family Camp Lite” was time for family affirmations and reconciliation. During a normal week, each of these rituals are given their own sacred time and space, but in our condensed schedule, we only had one chance on Saturday evening and they invited me to share a few words, which I’d like to share here with all of you.

 

Tonight we are combining two of our most cherished rituals from Family Retreat – affirmations and reconciliation. When we get started, each family will have to decide what they want to emphasize. Do your people need to hear, “I love you and here’s why,” or “I’m sorry and will you forgive me” more? Of course, both of those messages are deeply intertwined and deeply necessary, so maybe there will be time for both.

I want to start by reading just a few short lines of scripture. You just might be familiar with the passage from 1 Corinthians 13. (Sarcasm intended.)

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

 Let me say those last lines again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

How many married couples here had these lines read at your wedding? (A few hands were raised) How many of you have heard these lines at almost every wedding you’ve attended? (Most hands went up) Do they feel trite and commonplace? Probably.

And yet, if we can get past our familiarity with the passage, I hope some tender part of your heart can still be touched by hearing it, is still open to the radical beauty of a Love like this, and still invested in living out this kind of Love whenever humanly possible.

In 1 John, there is a simple, but powerful statement: “God is Love” and “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,” which means that everyone is born of God and at some point in their lives has known God, because we are all born knowing how to love. We are born knowing how to connect, how to make eye contact and seek comfort in a warm embrace, how to forgive and draw near again. I’m not saying every child in the world is created out of love, or is born in a loving home, but Love is in our DNA. In fact, Love is our Divine DNA. It is only through repeated rejection, difficulty, suffering, hardship (and a thousand other things that happen to us over the first decade, or two of our lives) that we forget how to Love and separate ourselves from God, separate ourselves from our internal awareness of our Divine birthright as daughters and sons of God, made of Love and made for Love.

I think that’s why Family Retreat has become so important to so many of us! We know and have experienced on a deep, deep level what happens when we give up a week of our lives, a week of vacation time, two weeks’ paycheck – all the things we sacrifice to be here – in order to participate in reclaiming and reframing our identity and our family’s identity in Love.

The other 51 weeks a year, though we may spend time with our Bibles, or go to church weekly, or even lead deeply spiritual lives, we are still immersed in a culture that values other things more – productivity, success, consumerism, critical thinking, busyness, sports, appearance, power, security.

It’s a relentless onslaught of not-love, a constant denial, or derailing of what matters most.

So we come here for a week, or a weekend like this one to reclaim the power of Love, to witness what Love can do in our own family and in the families that surround us, to be reminded of and to strengthen the Love that flows between each of us and our Source. God, our Creator, Jesus, our brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, which simply a fancy word for our defender, or protector.

I want to return to that last line again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

One of my teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and author, takes this passage from Corinthians and offers a new way of looking at it in her book Love is Stronger than Death. It came across my desk just this past week, but I’ve thought a lot about it and how it might change everything we think we know about Love. When we gather with our families in a few minutes, perhaps we can think about how our family can Love like this.

Love bears all things.

For Love to bear something is not just to “grin and bear it,” to put up with something we dislike, or is causing us pain and suffering. It can mean that, but to “bear” also means to give birth to, like a child, or to make fruitful, like a vine, or a fruit tree. Love “bears,” or brings new life wherever it shows up. That’s how you know it is truly Love, not a facsimile. If it isn’t bringing, or sustaining new life, it’s not Love.

Love believes all things.

Paul isn’t talking about magical thinking, about believing in fairy tales, or romantic myths. While it might mean giving people the benefit of the doubt sometimes, Loving doesn’t mean letting people lie to, or manipulate you. But in almost every critical situation, we will have a choice between a response that leads to openness and continuing possibility and one that closes off possibility and leads to cynicism and despair. To believe when we are alive in the spirit of Love means that we try to stay open and imagine the highest, best possible outcome and then work toward making it happen.

Love hopes all things.

Hopecan be a response to a history of positive events. Good things have happened in the past, so we allow ourselves to hope that more good things are coming.  But there is also a deeper hope based in Love, a fountain in the center of our hearts that will not let us despair, at least not for long; it just keeps bubbling up. With Love, in Love, it never runs out. When we Love and are in touch with the source of all Love, hope is the natural outflowing.

Love endures all things.

To endure is to abide, to continue to stand, not rigid like a brick wall, but supple like a willow tree. Love like that allows us to sway in the gales and yet hold our ground: flexible, rooted, injured perhaps, but ready to rise again.

Love never fails.

We could read this to understand that Love never makes mistakes, or that if we do, we must not be loving enough. Or we might believe that if someone fails us, they must not actually Love us, but maybe that isn’t the whole picture. Crops can fail, and not yield a harvest, be destroyed by the weather, or by blight, or bugs.  But Love never fails like that. Love will always rise up; it will always produce a harvest. We might not know what seeds we have sown with our love but Loving will always produce an abundance of something this world needs, even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor.

As you gather here tonight and share your Love for one another, perhaps you can think about some of these things. How does your family’s Love bear fruit in this world? How has believing in each other allowed your family to heal? How has Love allowed you to hope, even when things seemed hopeless? What has your family endured, not easily, or without injury, but faithfully rooted in the Love you have for each other?

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Overall, “Family Camp Lite” came together even better than the team imagined it might. Families laughed and cried, prayed and played, talked and reconciled. We celebrated what had been and saw a glimpse of what still might be, both for La Casa de Maria and ourselves.

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I spent a fair amount of time this morning, scrolling through my iPhone photos, trying to find a good one to post of Tim in honor of Father’s Day.  I have some of us as a family – at parties and on trips, and some of he and I on dates, or at concerts. But those were just said – Hey, here we are! They were fine, but they didn’t really tell a story about what I like most about Tim as a father. Then I came across some pictures of us at some of this year’s protest marches, including the 2ndAnnual Women’s March and the March for our Lives after the Parkland shootings. Those were better, because it’s one of the things I most appreciate about Tim as a father – the example he has set for our kids that part of being an adult is a willingness to stay open, learn and advocate for others.

But this morning, Tim had a funny request. He wanted to go see the new Mr. Rodgers’ documentary called, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I didn’t see that request coming, but why not? All our kids were working, so we had a couple hours to kill. I highly recommend the film, but there was one moment in particular that brought me to tears.  I won’t give it away, but Mr. Rodgers sings one of his classic songs, “It’s You I Like” with a guest on the show. If you don’t remember, it goes like this and you can listen to him and sing along here.

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

 

That’s it, I thought.

That’s why Tim is such a good father. He makes it clear to each of our very different children that he likes them as they are. They don’t have to be perfect; they don’t have to change; they don’t have to be shaped or molded or directed by him. It’s not that he doesn’t parent them, or help them make good decisions, but first and foremost, I think they hear the message, “It’s you I like.” I think that makes him a pretty good father.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a dad like that, but I hope you do, or did and that it has helped you become the kind of person, who can share affirmation like that with the people you love. I know I did, which is probably part of the reason I married Tim. From the moment we met, I never doubted that, “It’s you I like, the way down deep inside you, not the things that hide you.”

Happy Father’s Day to the man who raised me and the man I’m raising a family with. Don’t ever doubt that “it’s you I like.”

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Team Kirks before and after Tim tells a joke 

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These four faces made me a mother: the first by birth, the second by fire, the third by boy, and the fourth by grace. Every step I’ve taken in health and growth, spiritually, physically and mentally, has been to make me a better mother to them.

They gave me the question of my life: “How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

The answers have often surprised me and almost always cost me something I didn’t expect,  but it has been worth it every time.

When they were small, I gave up my body, my time, my work, my sense of autonomy, and even some of my dreams. As they grew, I gave up thinking I always knew what was best, right, or even true for them.

Instead I just tried to love them well and set them free to be whoever God made them to be. In return, I’ve received the privilege of their presence, intelligence, humor, curiosity, compassion and company and I also received the gift of that question, the one that animates my life and keeps leading me down new paths and to new discoveries.

“How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

So Happy Mother’s Day to the kids who made a mom of me!

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March 1, 2018

Dear Readers,

I’ve always loved newsletters, but I must be in the minority, since they seem to have gone the way of magazine subscriptions, to be replaced by tweets, status updates and email “blasts,” whenever something noteworthy happens. But I love the reflective tone of a newsletter, its way of looking back at the last month or quarter and assessing what was actually significant, successful, or transformative, instead of just “advertising” about it in real time.

In that vein, I thought I’d offer a “Newsletter from a Fool” as the month of February comes to a close. (I’ll get to the “fool” part a little later.)

February was a big month for our family.

Keara Moses turned 21 on the 18th and happened to be in town on her birthday, so we took her to the Station Tavern in Southpark, one of her favorite restaurants. She started with a coffee stout and after a veggie burger and tater tots, she finished up with two mixed drinks.  She didn’t even seem buzzed, which is strange since they were her first drinks ever (I’m pretty sure). But we all had a good time and raised our glasses of beer, lemonade and Dr. Pepper to the woman we love, who challenges us and makes us laugh and wonder and worry all at the same time, which is pretty much the job description of a 21-year-old college student, as far as I’m concerned.

 

In other news, Molly Grace celebrated the one year anniversary of her spinal surgery on February 22. Though she had begged to take the day off school, we sent her anyway, since we had taken a three-day snowboarding break in Mammoth earlier in the month. But she was greeted that afternoon with flowers, went thrifting with me at the Buffalo Exchange, enjoyed a hot tub session at the YMCA, a sushi dinner out and finally was surprised at Dairy Queen by her two best friends and their families, who have been with her every step of the way for the past fifteen years. This past month, we reflected on her amazing recovery and how she has finally done everything post-surgery that she did pre-surgery. Grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.

 

On a sadder note, we lost a wonderful woman and friend, Gretchen Kelly, to cancer this past month. Tim had known Gretchen for over thirty years; our kids thought of her as their local grandma, calling her “Nana Gretch” all their lives. We loved her homemade carrot cake, her “Sunday ‘do,” her full-bodied hugs and full-throated laughter. She was a legend and her memorial service was a testament to that. Friends from all generations and family from all over the country gathered to honor a woman who lived her life with passion, generosity, loyalty and faith. Gretchen is truly an example of how open-hearted living and loving extends the circle of connection and compassion, making the world a better place. Gretchen is seated on the far right in these photos, which hold pride of place in our kitchen, right next to my mother-in-law Ruth and their friend Patsy.

 

I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the day of Gretchen’s service and I think it could have been written just for her.

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from Evidence, 2009

Finally, on a more foolish note…

I always think of February as the month of Love and try to do something a little special for my family. Since there are so many miles between us this year, I had to get a little creative, which wasn’t a problem, because I have discovered SNAPCHAT and my kids created a FAMILY GROUP, so now I can torture them all hours of the day and night while endlessly entertaining myself. Instead of love notes on their pillow, they received a daily love song.

untitled-1_158I’m going to admit it: filters are my friend. Stickers speak to my soul. Bitmojis are totally bitchin’ and voice changers are game changers for people like me who don’t have musical talent.

Am I sounding foolish enough yet? Is your respect for me leaking away, slowly but surely?

Stay tuned. There’s more.

I was inspired to take my foolishness to this next level by my church community’s theme for Lent: “Holy Fools for Love, Holy Fools for Christ.” I don’t know how many times I have shown up as the latter, but the former? Any day of the week! I’m your gal, especially when it comes to my kids.

As I’ve dug into this theme, proposed first by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and later practiced by my favorite saint of all time, Francis of Assisi, I’m more convinced than ever that foolishness is something to be cultivated and cherished, not condemned. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill stupidity, immaturity, or thoughtlessness. I’m talking about the foolishness on the other side of seriousness, or as Rob Bell likes to say, the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

My family knows how much I love them and they know that my light-hearted singing is not an expression of the depths of my love, but of the lightness of my love. It is the aspect of my Love that wants to lift them up “higher and higher” in the words of Jackie Wilson. We have been to the depths together and have come out the other side: heartbreaks, betrayals, depressions, medical interventions, coming out, moving out, standing up for justice and kneeling down to ask forgiveness. We’ve gained some wisdom during our twenty-five + years of loving each other, so I gave myself the permission and pleasure of being a fool for Love this February. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat and all the good times that can be had with it, here is some evidence.

(I ask that you watch with generosity! This is amateur hour. I am fully aware I have no musical, filming, or editing ability. The talent may be weak, but the spirit of Love is strong.)

Have you ever been a fool for the sake of someone you love, not because you were weak, but because you had the strength to offer them your own vulnerability? When or where have you chosen to lose, even though you could have won? Who, or what inspires you to fall to your knees, instead of standing tall? These acts of radical foolishness are so rare. We cultivate an image, a “brand,” a level of seriousness, beauty and respect, which we vigilantly guard, but unless we are unprotected, we will not be connected.

There are so many things that keep us from “fooling” around: pride, efficiency, fear of ridicule, loss of standing, lack of practice, cultural expectations. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. We can stop it anytime, simply by looking at each of those pre-conditions and seeing if it is more important in any given situation than communicating Love, connection, humor, tenderness, grace.

Is there room to “fool” around right now, right here? 

I know the answer won’t always be yes, but it isn’t always no either.

Finally, because poetry is often the language of fools, especially the wise and holy ones, here’s a final offering from Mary Oliver.

 

I Don’t Want to be Demure or Respectable

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.

I was that way, asleep, for years.

That way, you forget too many important things.

How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.

How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky,

it’s been there before.

What traveling is that?

It is a joy to imagine such distances.

I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.

There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.

It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.

The glimmer of gold BÖhme saw on the kitchen pot

            Was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.

Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.

Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?

Listen to me, or not, it hardly matters.

I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.

I’m just chattering.

 

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Give it a go! Get on your hands and kick up your feet! Look at the world a little upside down. The foolishness of God is wiser than we know.

 

Dear Readers (and hopefully soon-to-be listeners)-

One of my favorite projects of 2017 was working on a podcast mini-series: “Practice Without Preaching: Creating a Family Spirituality”.

Here’s how it started.

About a year ago, my friend Paul, host of the Contemplify podcast, emailed me and said: I think you should start a podcast.

No, was my obvious answer.

He knew I was going to say that, so he had an alternative for me:

Record a podcast series. I’ll produce it and put it on Contemplify. Easy-peasy.

He believed in my blog, my stories and my content that much. We could all use more friends like Paul in our lives – the ones who think that the world would be a better place if more of YOU were in it, the ones who not only encourage you, but support you with repeated follow-up messaging and put their own resources at your disposal.

So after a lot of back and forth, a fair amount of technical difficulty on my part, and then actually screwing up the courage to listen to the sound of my own voice with all my “ums” and “you knows” and other verbal idiosyncrasies, I share with you Episode One of “Practice Without Preaching”.  It was released on January 18, with additional episodes being released, one per day for the next five days.

Depending on when you tune in, you may be able to access all five hours of content at one time. Is it binge-worthy? Who knows? You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but I hope you’ll give it a listen, beginning with the first episode where Paul puts me through the Contemplify paces, normally reserved for the rarefied air of published authors, eminent PhDs and theologians, world travelers, poets, filmmakers and the like. I have to admit; I felt a little intimidated going in. My primary job title for the last twenty years has been “mom,” but as Paul kindly points out in his bio on me, I wear a lot of other hats too, (including “an Ambassador of Love,” which just might be my favorite title ever.)

You might be wondering what the series is about. Why should you give up so much of your time (even though it can be down-time, driving time, gym time, etc) to a podcast on family spirituality? If you read, #Signs of Love, you’ve got an inkling of what’s coming. I talk about family, faith, fidelity and all the ways I (we) can fail to Love, but I also get out of my comfort zone and actually get prescriptive instead of just descriptive.

I tell stories, but I also offer some serious “how-tos” when it comes to offering kids a sense of faith and values outside traditional church settings. I challenge parents to intentionally honor their own truths, but also to consider the triggers that keep them from being the people and parents they want to be. I talk about the importance of finding a place to worship with integrity, not just convenience, or cultural acceptance. None of this is easy stuff, but I long for families to develop a healthy spirituality, one that honors the questions, the journey and the dignity of each of its members.

Here’s why I’m hoping you’ll tune in.

  • If you’re a twenty-something spiritual-seeker, I hope you’ll find that God is with you along every road you travel and all the way home.
  • If you’re a thirty-something parent with young kids, I hope you’ll find comfort in finding someone a little further down the road, who can help you map the terrain ahead.
  • If you’re in your forties or fifties and have teens, or young adults on their way out the door (like me!), I hope you’ll find the language to have some important conversations about who they want to be and how they want to show up the world.
  • And if you’re a grandparent whose kids have left the church, maybe this podcast will open up a dialogue about how the signs of your faith might be made manifest in future generations, whether they share your theology, or not.

Anyway, that’s what I hope for this project someday. In my mind, this series is just the beginning of a conversation I’d love to have with you, so stay in touch. Ask a question; post a comment; offer a constructive critique, and let the journey continue.

Start HERE on Contemplify. Paul will offer you all the links to all the places the podcast can be found, including iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.

 

Knowing the podcast on family spirituality was coming out, I asked the kids to take an updated photo. Polished and perfect? Not by a long shot. Perfectly ourselves? Amen.

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I’ve been itching to write something for a week in order to get my #Me Too post off the front page of my website. Instinctively, I wanted to hide what I revealed there behind something brighter and more beautiful.  But I was mindful of why I was in such a hurry, so I forced myself to wait until it didn’t bother me anymore to see that part of my past laid bare. While I can’t say that’s entirely true, I want to talk about the other side of that coin –a positive reflection on what it’s means to be a woman.

When I was visiting with my mom last week, she handed me a folder.

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It was a biography project I had completed for a Girl Scout award at the end of 8th grade.  I laughed at the cover. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I put a picture of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on it. Most of the project was pretty boring, but there were a few pages that were surprisingly accurate.

At the age of thirteen, I had called my shot.

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