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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Today is my mother’s 70th birthday and although I could think of a few things she’d like more, I’m hoping the gift of words will be enough for now. Her favorite gift will come in a week’s time when our whole family – all 20+ of us – will gather in my sister’s backyard for dinner and drinks and dancing. Cutting a rug with her grandbabies, sons, daughters and in-laws is her idea of heaven!

A few months back, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in front of family and friends with a big celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, my siblings and I, along with our spouses, each shared a few words about what their marriage has taught us.

How had we grown and benefitted from their love and commitment to each other and to our family?

As you can imagine, we talked about love, loyalty, commitment, hard work, inclusion and integrity. You don’t make it fifty years without knowing a thing or two about those qualities. It was hard for me to decide what to speak on, because I wanted to talk about ALL THE THINGS. (No surprise there, I’m sure.)  But what I landed on was faith, and that brief reflection is probably one of my mom’s favorite things I have ever written. So, in honor of the woman who raised me, I’m sharing it here today with all of you.

If you ask my mom, her family is the best thing she’s ever done, and if you ask any of us, we’d probably agree. Our mom taught us that Love was never just a feeling. You had to live it out too through service, loyalty, and sacrifice. She embodies the art of “showing up,” sticking to your guns, speaking the truth (as you see it), and then releasing the outcome, because she loves you so damn much. My mom lives by the motto that with God, and with her, you get “forever tries.”

Happy birthday, Mama!

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Sylvia’s Squad on June 10. 2017. She’s the short one in the middle, between my dad and me.

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Hey Kids,

Tomorrow’s your first day of school.

Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to tell you ALL THE THINGS.

All the things…

About how to be brave and kind and helpful.

About how to give your teachers a chance.

About how to say hi to a kid who looks lonely.

About how NOT to gossip, or believe the things other people tell you.

About how to work hard and expect the unexpected and do your best.

Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to hold your hands while we say grace and I’d close with my favorite reminder that our hands create a circle of Love and how that makes us pretty darn lucky and so the least we can do is spread some of that Love around.

Normally, I’d get to kiss and hug you goodnight and make sure there were Lucky Charms in the pantry (our traditional good luck breakfast). I’d get to wake up early and pack your lunches and make you take a picture with the neighbor kids as we have for the past fifteen years.

But tomorrow isn’t normal, because two of the three of you aren’t here to do them!

Tomorrow is your first day of school at COLLEGE and you aren’t living here anymore. Molly alone will suffer through (or bask in) all my attention. Molly alone in the morning pictures. Molly alone with a big box of marshmallow goodness.

Will she survive? Will I?

Of course.

It’s all good, just weird, which is probably why I’m writing. It’s how I work out what’s weird at any given time.

So, here’s a rundown of your mom’s past week.

Wednesday, Finn and I drove up the coast and started moving him in.

Thursday, we visited Keara at Cal State Long Beach.

Friday, we played.

Saturday, I left.

And I’m not going to lie, I cried.  I held Finn in my arms for one giant last hug and I felt my heart ache, just like it did when your dad and I left Keara at college for the first time.

Why? I thought. Why is something so exciting, so natural, and so good, so hard to do? What is it about that final moment that tears me apart?

I listened to sad music for a while on my drive home, but it was getting hard (and dangerous) to see through the tears, so I put on one of my favorite episodes of On Being – the one with Richard Rohr. (I know, I know, kids! Big surprise!) But this time, I heard him explain those final moments we shared and why they were so surreal.

“In the Greek, in the New Testament, there’s two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time.”

 

Chronos: Those were my first eighteen years with you guys – day in and day out. The chronos of diaper changes and playgroups and skinned knees and teacher conferences. The chronos of school days and carpools, casseroles and soccer teams. The chronos of homework and dishes and bed-making. The chronos of the lives we’ve shared.

And then he goes on to say:

“But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” or, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life,” things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.”

 

I listened and I thought, Kairos. That’s it, Keara and Finn! That’s why hugging you goodbye was such an out of body experience for me. That day, even up until that very moment, was chronos – the final touches on your new room, the twenty dollars snuck into your wallet, the walking out to the car. It was sad, but normal, until it wasn’t.

In our final embrace, my heart touched yours and then I time-traveled into kairos. I felt the “summing up” of our last eighteen years together, from the moment I first held you in my arms until the very moment when I symbolically let you go. If it were a movie, it would have flashed on your sandy blonde hair, your chubby cheeks and gap-toothed grins, the way you would both squeeze me tight each night and beg for one more hug, story, or song. It would have covered the slammed doors and raised voices and moments of tearful reconciliation. It would have covered your moments of greatest bliss and greatest heartache, when your dad and I were the first ones you looked to for assurance, because we were the way you made sense of the world.

So many years have passed since those things were true. Chronos marched on, but kairos preserved it in my memory and gave it to me as a gift when we left you. And that’s the thing about kairos. It has to be recognized and welcomed, when we’d rather let it pass us by. We’re rational, cynical, linear people. The shift feels disconcerting and uncomfortable, and you can’t shut it down. You have to get past that before it can work its magic.

Kairos whispers to us: Take it all. Take the Love and the hurt, the hopes and the fears, the reality and the possibility.  Experience it and then let it change your chronos, the way you live and love and look at your people day after day after day. 

I don’t mean to say that this is the only kairos moment I’ve ever had, or will have with you. College drop-off isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. It’s just an opportunity, but milestones of all sorts abound. Moments of deep joy and deep sadness are woven throughout our lives. Trust me, you will experience it, perhaps with me, but certainly with other people you will come to know and love. We often make a big fuss about the event itself, but maybe, just maybe, it’s really about the shift in time and the chance to experience the totality of Love.

So one last thing, kiddos. Here’s the piece of advice I wanted to share. It’s from an IG poet called Atticus.

 

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Imagine me calling you to the family room tonight. You’d come out of your rooms complaining, itching to get back to your phones, or Netflix, or closets where you were deciding what to wear tomorrow. But you’d come, because you always do. You’re good sports that way.

Put your hand on your heart, I’d say.

And I’d walk you through the wisdom of the poet.

And I’d will you to know your power

Tomorrow and always

My children.

I love you.

Mama

 

About this time two years ago, Tim and I took our eldest child, Keara, to college for the first time. It was a tough day for all of us, and it brought back a lot of memories of another “leaving day” that I had experienced twenty-five years earlier. You can read about it here.  Even when we heal, there are parts of a broken heart that will always be more tender. But two weeks ago, on a midweek morning, with no fanfare, Keara packed up a car and headed back to her third year at CSULB. What a difference 700 (or so) days make! With the day already at 90+ degrees, even a long hug was out of the question, so I stood in the street and waved goodbye as she drove away with David Bowie blasting out the car window

But that doesn’t mean this Fall will be easy. In a few days, child #2 is moving out and heading to college about 100 miles away. This time, it feels just the same and totally different. The same part is that it’s a portion of my heart walking out the door and setting up residence in another jurisdiction. You learn to function that way, but you walk with a limp for a while. The different part is that it’s Finn. If you don’t know what I mean, check out my post from June. The house will be quieter, less fun-loving and jokey, but just less loving too. When Finn’s been out of the house at dinner time this past year, Tim, Molly and I have kind of looked at each other sideways across the table, each of us thinking, “Just the three of us, huh?”

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Graduation Day: Finn and Dr. Renfree, principal of Serra High School

Molly probably feels the most anxious about the 40% population drop, a little ripped off by her change of circumstance.  I was the “big sister” in my family and never experienced the sense of abandonment that the younger ones must go through as siblings move out on their own, one after another. However, Molly is thrilled with Finn’s decision to move in with my parents and attend junior college for two years before transferring to San Luis Obispo.  For one thing, it’s 200 miles closer; for another, he can’t dictate (exactly) when she can and cannot visit him. She’s got her own key to Grandma’s house! She adores her big brother and some of the most tender moments in the hospital this last Spring were when he sat by her bedside. No matter how she felt, Finn always got a smile.

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February 2017

A mama knows that the fabric of her family will eventually be stretched by time and distance (and other things), so she spends the first decades of her kids’ lives stitching them together, so that when the bonds are tested, the Love of her family will stay strong. Undoubtedly, some of the threads will come loose and the edges will fray, but she prays the integrity of what she’s woven will hold.

With that in mind, I approached this summer with the goal of creating as many opportunities as I could for the five of us to be together, tightening the threads, and stockpiling enough hugs and laughter to last us for the months (or weeks) that might pass before we are together again. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t, but there were beach days, dinners out, movie nights, evening body surfing sessions, Scrabble games, Slurpee runs to 7-11, conversations across the table, sing-a-longs in the car, and Snapchat videos shared.

Every once in a while, I would find myself wondering – a little anxiously if I’m honest – “Has it been enough? Have I been enough? Have I done enough before I let them go? Will our fabric hold?” It takes a lifetime for those answers to unfold, but I was getting all teary-eyed thinking about how my time of biggest impact was coming to a close.

And then Keara left.

And then the date of Finn’s departure neared.

And then Charlottesville (and our President) happened.

And then my tears dried up.

I’ve got nothing to cry about.

(I’m not saying I won’t cry, or that there’s anything wrong with crying about our kids leaving, but it gave me some serious perspective.)

My son is going to be just fine, and there are so many things in our world that are not fine at all.

I’ve raised a white, middle-class, soon-to-be college-educated young man in a two-parent American, “Christian” home. He has been privileged in every way his whole life. Of course he’s worked hard and honed his skills, but every door has been opened for him, except the ones we couldn’t afford (but those were few and far between and he didn’t need them anyway). Every step of the way, from parents to teachers, coaches to employers, police to waiters, he has been given the benefit of the doubt, not just because of the color of his skin, but because of the smile on his face, the kindness and confidence he exudes, the vocabulary he’s developed (in part from having two parents with multiple college degrees between them).

All of it comes “naturally” to him and that’s a form of privilege.

So is that fact that he can wear clothes from Goodwill, and loiter in the local park with his friends all hours of the day and night without “concerned” neighbors calling the cops.  So is the fact that he can go to school for the next two years without taking out a loan. So is the fact that when he needs a job, we can call upon dozens of professional connections to help him get a foot in the door. So is the fact that he can “follow his heart” and pursue a career in photography. If it all goes belly up, he’s got some money in the bank and many, many places to land.

To be sure, he isn’t guaranteed a damn thing. He is going to have to bust his ass to make his dreams come true. He may fail many times, but this kid has multiple choices and multiple chances to succeed. Anything he accomplishes will be based, not just on his own talent, grit, hard work and luck, but also because the world welcomes him with open arms as a straight, white man and that’s privilege.

Last week, when everything in Charlottesville went down, Tim and I had Finn to ourselves on a 20+ hour road back from Montana. It was a gift to have so much time with him, right before he leaves the nest. We talked race, religion, politics, enneagram, technology, social media, national parks and the environment, our dreams, fears and failures. We offered our takes and heard his and I have to say, I am less worried about him than ever. I believe in him – his talent, skills, vision and work ethic, but most especially, his heart.

I haven’t posted anything about Charlottesville, because I didn’t want to add my voice to the fray. There were so many good, and important things being said by people who were there and people who have wrestled with these issues their whole lives, people like Brené Brown and Brian McLaren and  Ruby Sales, among countless others.

But I do want to highlight two voices I came across that were kind of hidden away, but are every bit as worthy of wide-scale attention.

The first is a bit of parenting advice from Brian Vincent from Farmville, Virginia, a born and bred Southerner, who contributed to a forum on BitterSoutherner.com.

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“As I looked at my girls this morning, I remembered that I have the most potent weapon against this kind of ugliness, right at my fingertips. We can Raise Warriors. We can raise children who speak out in defense of love, and denounce hate at every turn. We can combat a long history of calculated disparagement of ‘others’ by educating and reminding our children of this country’s history, while emphatically celebrating its diversity.

Step your game up. Engage in the uncomfortable waters of contentious conversation. Fight back with sharp intellect, and a heart filled with fierce morality. Teach your children that this war will not be won with physical combat, but with a spiritual warrior’s discipline and adherence to love. Be bold.”

@The Bitter Southerner

The second is from the Native American award-winning poet,  and author, Sherman Alexie. His brilliant poem, HYMN, was written just days ago. You can find the whole thing here, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it, but here is an excerpt to get you started.


It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.

So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet

For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?

Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?

Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?

My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.

But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist

To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.

I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.

I will sing honor songs for the unfamiliar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.

I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.

I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.

And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.

I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.

We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.

We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.

Finn gets it. He knows he’s got a head start and that to judge, dismiss, divide and denigrate others is a bullshit way to make it in the world. What do the gospels say? “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded.” We have been given so freakin’ much, we’ve got to start giving back, somehow, in some way. Maybe Finn won’t in big ways for a while, but the fact that he gave me the “okay” to publish this is a start. He’s just a kid after all, but I’m the adult and I’ve got to step up my game.

Welcome to the world, Class of 2017.

I’ve known some of you since the day you were born and I’ve watched you grow up, go to school, play sports and skateboard in my front yard. I’ve surfed and studied and supped with you. I’ve watched you float and falter like all kids do. I have fallen in love with your hearts and witnessed your potential to change the world, so get to school; get to work; get to learning how to Love. We’re counting on you.