Soup-Making Lessons for Immigrants

I “landed” in Florida about two months ago. My apartment is unpacked and organized and a new standing lamp and kitchen table have replaced the ones I left behind. I’m mostly settled in at work. I’m not anxious or lonely, but all the newness can still make my head spin.

Everything is new. Everyone I meet is a stranger. I dearly miss having friends who I can be snarky with, and knowing that my reputation is safe in their laughter.

Almost every outing requires a GPS and buckets of tolerance. Drivers quickly and loudly honk their displeasure here. I’m discouraged to find Florida motorists just as discourteous and aggressive as Californians.

I’m mourning the loss of authentic Mexican food and taste-testing the new flavors of Cuba and the Caribbean. I did, however, discover a delightful salsa made in-house at the local grocery store. It is bright and crisp in color and taste. I pull it out whenever my palate is tired of trying new flavors.

At work, I’m readjusting to using a desktop PC after 4 years of freedom with a Mac laptop. There’s new organizational and staff culture to learn and navigate, but thankfully there’s a lot of grace in those areas. My work days are longer and much more unpredictable, so I often arrive home wiped out physically and mentally.

Most of this change is good and enjoyable, but even positive things can be exhausting. I remind myself daily that all change comes with some loss, grief, and fatigue. Soon I hope to have the energy to put in time finding new friendships and having simple adventures. In the meantime, I’ve been making a lot of soup.

fall-vegetable-quinoa-soup-1By a lot, I mean vats — double and triple batches that fill my freezer and fridge. In the past two months, I’ve made six different soups. Two kinds of vegetable soup, two kinds of chicken chili, my favorite beef and barley, and then good, old-fashioned chicken noodle.

I don’t like to cook, but I do enjoy making soup. I think I like it because soup is low-maintenance. It’s easy and strangely soothing to chop veggies into uniform chunks. I like the rhythm and feel of the knife striking the cutting board. And then the smell of onions and garlic sauteing in olive oil. And the simple pleasure of tossing all the remaining ingredients into the pot and watching the seasonings swirl through the broth. And finally, letting it simmer away.

I always turn on music while I make soup. I’ve been on a hunt for the best chicken chili. Recently, feeling optimistic about a new recipe, I turned on some salsa music. The music made me dance more than the soup did, but the experimenting and creating was satisfying. I’ll try again with a new chili recipe and some more salsa.

It seems that all my soups have dictated their own soundtrack. The garden veggie soup simmered to classic rock, but the “fall vegetable” soup with its sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale, chickpeas and quinoa got a folksy mix of Joni Mitchell and Penny and Sparrow. I paired chicken noodle soup with the greatest hits of James Taylor — a no-brainer. My beef and barley tenderized to Celtic and New-age. It seems every soup must have its song.

And while the soup simmered and the scents and sounds wafted through my living room, I putzed or retreated to the couch to read. 30 minutes later I hovered over a steaming bowl, blew on a heaping spoonful, burned my tongue, and savored a good, wholesome meal. chicken noodle

I’ve discovered a connection between soup-making and starting over in a new place. The process of making soup has many lessons for immigrants like me. For instance, with soup there’s no rushing. In fact, it’s better to take the slower, fresh-and-homemade route because instant and canned soups are high in fat and salt and are bad for your heart.

My first soup-inspired lesson is to remind myself that there is no need to rush. In fact, you can’t really rush to “settle in.” Settling is something measured and deliberate. There’s no instant anything when you start over. Building a life and building friendships take time and patience. You have to be OK with that.

It’s a simple and predictable process to make a good soup: chop, saute, combine, season, simmer, and serve. A simple routine yields the best results. My second lesson is to find a routine, both at work and in personal time, and stick to it. I’m just now able to make weekly space for sabbath, and daily time for prayer and reflection. I’m getting up every morning at 6:00 to exercise. These routines anchor me amidst all the newness and uncertainty of my life. They remind me to begin and end each day, each week, and each new endeavor with deep breaths and some healthy stretching.

With soup, there’s no pressure to be perfect right away. You’ll discover that recipes are missing some flavor, or you make mistakes and put ingredients in at the wrong time. Thankfully, soup-making is forgiving. You can adjust flavors along the way, tweak a recipe the next time you make it, or look for a new recipe altogether. Lesson three for a new life is to be forgiving. Mistakes will happen. I won’t get things right the first time and maybe not even the third time. But each attempt is an opportunity to make things better.

Soup-making has a final lesson — don’t forget to put on music and dance. Even when everything is uncertain, new, or no-quite-right, you have to be positive. To celebrate the moments of joy, even if they are few and fleeting right now. To try new rhythms and dance even if you are dancing alone in your kitchen.

If you are inspired, you can try any of my lessons. I’m on my 7th cross-country move, so my tips are trustworthy. And if this post made you hungry, try out my favorite new recipe — Fall Vegetable Quinoa Soup.

Six Essential Things

hollywood beach fl

Hollywood Beach, Florida

Six months have passed since I posted on this sorely neglected blog. Six full, stressful, eventful months. The loss of my foster daughter, the traumatic roller coaster ride that was our last few months together, and the receding waves of grief have uncovered so much inside me.

Once she was gone and I regained my health, I had almost nothing to do but work and reflect. (My job had been stirring up its own mess inside of me for a long time.) In the regained hours of quiet each day, I discovered things that are newly essential to me. Somehow once the immediate rubble of trauma was clear, so was what I want and what I need. Below are six things that have been uncovered this year.

  1. I want more adventure. I tend to be an indoorsy homebody. When I finish my work week, I usually burrow into my couch with a good book. Of course there’s nothing wrong with reading and resting, but I want some more adventure beyond a great story. I want to discover new sights and smells and people. To simply get out in the world and bump into unexpected moments and hopefully see more beauty.I started 2019 with a BIG adventure. I’ve moved across the country from California to southern Florida! I’ve taken a job as a chaplain once again, but this time in a large retirement community. Once I’m fully settled in at work, I hope to have many more adventures exploring Florida, Cuba, the south, and the Caribbean.
  2. I need neighborliness. I lived in Silicon Valley for 4 years. On my days off I spent several hours running errands. I’d see many people along the way, but usually no one would make eye contact, return my hello, or say anything other than what my total was at the checkout stand. My extroverted soul needs more human interaction and warmth than this. Part of my extreme relocation was to get away from the coldness of the Bay Area and find a more warm and hospitable culture.
  3. I will let go of proving myself and focus on simply being myself. For young professionals–especially for women in ministry–many of our early professional years are weighted with the need to prove ourselves. One of my pastor-friends says that we women have to be twice as good as our male colleagues to get noticed, receive affirmation, and get jobs that we are well-qualified for. I don’t believe that exactly, and I detest the implication that ministry is some sort of competition, but I believe it’s true that women often have a longer, more twisty and pot-holed road to fully living out our callings.I’m confident my new job is an excellent fit for my gifts and skills, but even if it wasn’t, I’m ready to leave behind every thought of justifying and/or proving myself professionally. I’ve been at this for 15 years. It’s time to stop pushing and striving so much, and to realize that I’ve arrived. I’m both the professional and pastor that I always wanted to be. I’m called and gifted and competent and have received all the affirmation I need to stay on this twisty path for life. Criticism will come and go. Growth and learning will never end. But from here on, I’m going to unabashedly minister and simply be me to the glory of God.
  4. I will not be a part of complementarian churches. (If you aren’t familiar with the theological categories of egalitarian and complementarian, you can google that.) I have many dear friends and family members who have complementarian beliefs and I love them. We disagree and still maintain a healthy relationship. However, I won’t compromise again and take a job with a church that doesn’t have a decided and clearly articulated egalitarian view. It’s excruciating to see the church hold women back. (Truly, the church holds itself back when it holds women back.) It’s discouraging and frustrating to watch churches devalue women and girls in active and passive ways. I’ve worked for three churches. Each one has gone through some process to discover, articulate, and/or reevaluate its stance on women in leadership. I feel like each process has taken a bite out of my soul. I can’t go through that again. And I can’t compromise again professionally because that would make me complicit in nurturing a system that sends harmful and erroneous messages about the gifts, value, place, and purpose that women have in God’s kingdom.
  5. I want more family time. Silicon Valley was a golden cage for me. I was blessed to have the income to live there, but I had no cash to travel. My family lived far away and I rarely got to see them. Though unmarried and childless, family is one of my highest values. I couldn’t get more time with my family if I stayed in California. With the cost of living in here in Florida, I’ll have much more access to my family and friends-who-are-family. I already have my first plane ticket purchased!
  6. I need therapy. I’m not trying to be funny. I really need to find a therapist. I still have processing and healing to do after my foster care experience. I’m putting this down on the blog to hold myself accountable. I can’t afford to minimize this need or to be lazy. I deserve to be as healthy as I can be for me, but also for the people I serve.

This is how I’m entering 2019. I’m honoring that what I want and what I need is important and of the highest priority. Honoring my needs means that I’ve made some very difficult decisions and huge changes to have these needs met. Even though the fall of 2018 was a whirlwind of transition, I feel refreshed, positive, and so very hopeful for the future.

What is essential to you? What are you living toward this year?

 

Fostering Afterword

“How has this experience changed you?”

That was the question a friend asked me about my first foster placement. My brain spun, searching for an answer, but I couldn’t find one for him. Months later, I still can’t. I know I’ve changed, but knowing how I’m changed is not that important to me. Right now, I’m focused on mending after a season of trauma.

Trauma scrambles the brain and the emotions, making truth-telling so much harder. This story has been locked inside me for months; I’m just starting to find words to pray. I’ve tried to write about my experience, even just for my own processing, but the story was locked up tight behind a wall of confusion and tears. Things are finally loosening up and now I want to share a bit of my story with you.

When I took in a young girl last year, I also took in her history. It was fed to me by social workers and therapists in tattered and disjointed pieces that, when gathered, told a story that no child should have to live. There were generations of family dysfunction, major traumatic events, and a chain of broken promises and misplaced blame. Every adult in this girl’s life failed her in big ways. Past trauma and present uncertainties made her anxious, angry, scared, and depressed. Those big emotions led to difficult and unpredictable behaviors, and to some unsafe situations. Every day was a battle. I fought for her and she fought me.

She was desperate for her family, for love, and for a sense of control in a fractured life, but she would have none of that. A judge determined the course of her future. She would never have the life with her family that she desperately prayed for every night at our dinner table. In her loss and grief, she could not accept the love I offered her. It wasn’t personal — I’m simply not who she wants. Somewhere in month four she declared me a primary villain in her tragedy and began to lash out in both passive-aggressive and openly aggressive ways.

I want you to know that love her. Yes, my heart broke over her history, but my love did not grow out of sympathy. I love her because of who she is underneath the PTSD and challenging behaviors. I wish you could have seen and known her as I did in her purest, happy moments. (And I weep that pure, happy moments were so few.) For all her quirks and difficulties, she was goofy and hilarious, shy yet curious, courageous and sweet. She enjoys lip-synching, spontaneous dance parties, YouTube, slime, drawing, unicorns, science, and hip hop music.

I battled for this brave, precious girl every way I knew how. I did my best to parry her behavioral and emotional sword thrusts with calm, patience, empathy, compassion, redirection, healthy boundaries, and reassurances of understanding and love. I tried to teach and show her that I was her ally, not her enemy. I tried to build up her sense of safety and stability. I advocated for all aspects of her wellness — physical, mental, relational, emotional, and spiritual. I sought the advice and skills of experts. I kindly but firmly battled a frazzled case worker who didn’t take our crisis seriously because, apparently, there were emergencies that took precedent. Maybe if things other than hearts were breaking, the case worker would have responded appropriately.

I spent every inner resource I had seeking help, but the stress of our daily life was too much. She was stuck and heartsick. I was stuck and physically depleted. Help wasn’t coming. My hardy immune system failed, succumbing to three major infections in two months. You can only live and battle hour-by-hour for so long. Eventually, I made the most difficult call of my life. I asked them to find her a new home.

In the foster care world this is called a disrupted or failed placement. I hate those words. I hate this reality. I hate that I had to make that phone call.

I hate that children are victimized. I hate that adults are weak and selfish and broken and sick, and don’t or can’t protect their children. I hate that trauma can rewire the brain and while healing is possible, I hate that it is slow. I hate that the best therapies we have don’t always work. I hate that “the system” is underfunded and mismanaged. I hate that social workers suffer an undue burden when all they want to do is help, and I hate that they don’t or can’t always help.

But most of all, I hate that she might hate me.

I mourn that she couldn’t accept my love and that she couldn’t love me back.

I wish that love was always enough.

I am heartbroken that our story together ended this way. I wanted more joy for her. More healing. More friends. More stability. More laughter. More smiles that reach her eyes. I wanted my home and family to be a place where she discovered so many more good things. Now I fear that she’s left my home with only the aftertaste of rejection and remembers nothing of the good and the love. So now I surrender my broken heart and broken hopes to God. I picture her future in God’s hands and pray that there will be overflowing goodness there.

I’m a bit broken but I’m also healing, slowly. I’m through that first, overwhelming wave of grief where you can’t think or see straight. Now I contend against the smaller (and sneakier) crashes of grief. They’re like waves at the beach that look like nothing on the surface but suddenly smack you off-balance, pull you under, and spit you out on the sand. I’m being swept over right now. I’m crying as I write this, dashed hopes stinging my eyes like salt water.

As hard as this was, I know a few things. There was and is some good in this story.

I know this was not a failure of love or resolve. I did everything I possibly could to keep us together and keep us well, but I’m not Jesus. I’m not super-human. I’m not a mental health professional or a child development specialist. I’m just a Jesus-follower who was called to work for justice by loving a vulnerable child. I’m an ordinary woman with a big heart and a spare bedroom and lots of time and life I want to share. So I got licensed and trained. I opened my home and fought wholeheartedly for as long as I could. But I’m human. I have limits and I reached them. It’s good to know your limits and to listen to them. I did my best, and my best was very good, but she needed more than I am equipped to provide.

I don’t regret that I spent my life and love this way. Sometimes good, valuable things are monumentally painful and costly. I know that I didn’t make the wrong decision — to be a foster parent, to love her, or to make that phone call.

So here I am. I’m a post-failed-placement foster parent. I’m rung out and a bit salty but getting back on my feet. I’m changed though I can’t say how. And I’m healing, though the process is slow and lonely. I know I’m going to be ok.

Everything I Cannot Do Alone

I’ve been fostering for five months now. There’s a reason they mark our certificates with the title “therapeutic” foster parents. These days, I’m in the thick of that therapeutic part. Last week, a friend told me that I look sleep deprived. Surprisingly, I still get 8-9 hours of sleep a night on average, but now I deal with much more stress.

I was reflecting that I simply could not manage my new life without the help of others. I’m trying to keep up on handwritten thank you notes, but the reality is I have very little time and brain power to spare. So I’m going to take some space here to name and thank as many of my teammates as I can. Maybe it will give you a little window into my world.

To my “support friends” team, a group of individuals from my church who are committed to offering practical and prayer support. Thank you for grocery deliveries, dropping off dressers, hanging out with the kiddo when I have evening meetings, the hugs on the church patio, your faithful prayer, IKEA trips, detailing my car, and most especially for those of you who took the kiddo for the weekend so I could go on a retreat!

To Parent Child Connection, my foster/adopt support group. Thank you for making me meet you for coffee to process the hard things. For offering your homes as places of respite. For letting me vent and not being alarmed, but “getting it.” For helping normalize my daily life and these wild emotions. For helping me benchmark what is “normal” in the foster world and helping me discern what I truly need to be concerned about. For sharing your own stories, failures, and successes.

To all the women who brought a meal the first two months. It may have seemed strange to bring a meal to a family who does not have a new infant, but this support helped me greatly when I was overwhelmed with details and paperwork and drives back and forth to the county offices.

To Sarah and Jake. Thank you for listening. For caring with your hearts and hands. For sharing your trampoline and your wine. For random dinners and Christmas Eve movie night. For Costco runs, and meat, and gifts of homemade ranch dressing. For bedtime back-up, and music therapy, and Thai lunches. If I were a scuba diver, you’d be my air tanks.

To Leslie G. Thank you for shopping for school supplies that first week when my head was spinning. Your easy friendship is constantly refreshing.

To the Zeisler family. Thank you for puppy therapy, holding my spare key, checking in, praying, and for keeping your door open to us.

To the Bell family. Thank you for Christmas lunch; we needed a place to go and make the holiday as happy as possible. And for loaning us a ski outfit for winter camp!

To Alma, Carolyn, Rolana, Holly, Jana, and Roslyn. They say the future success of foster kids directly correlates to the number of safe and loving adults in their lives. Thank you for truly loving this girl and changing her future.

To the Krehbiel family. Thank you for moving into my apartment complex and then sharing your home, your cookies, your baby, your movies, and your hearts with us. Please never move away. And please keep going on dates so I can have regular baby therapy.

To Jessamy. Thank you for mending that wretched Halloween costume 86 times.

To the Neschleba family. Thank you for gifting us a bigger dresser. The girl’s got clothes!

To Kip, Paul, and Jake. Thank you for being my on-call handymen when I can’t or don’t have time to fix something myself. The doorknobs, grill, towel bar, and front door are all working well.

To PWP, my women pastors support group. Your constant humor, love, and encouragement make ministry easier to bear at church and home.

To Ruby and Amy. Thank you for December 27-29. For using your air miles to spend those wide open days with us. For keeping us occupied, and positive, and laughing, even when we lost the car in the parking garage.

To Stephanie. Thank you for checking in so often. For making the time to call me across our 3 hour time difference and amidst your 3 kids and a random work schedule. For remembering me in prayer. For being there when I need you.

To Liz and Monica. Thank you for making our yearly reunion a priority. For your laughter now and across these 20 years of friendship.

To my fellow pastors and Jerry. Thank you for listening to this new and often bewildering story. For your patience when I cry. For your encouragement. For your continued energy in ministry.

To Alyssa, Blanca, Krissa, and Kylie. Thank you for sharing your expertise, tips, and reading lists with me (for free) via text, messenger, and over lunch. I’m so blessed to have friends who are social workers and therapists.

To my family. Thank you for your support, even if you had, or still have, concerns about me fostering. For the ‘welcome to the family’ care packages, Christmas gifts, and birthday cards. For your prayers, listening, compassion, and love. I know my decision impacts us all, so thank you for giving me the room and grace to follow God’s call on my life, even when it’s on the wild side.

I may be single, but I am not fostering alone. Each and every one of you mentioned here, and those I’ve forgotten to name, are an integral real part of our daily lives. You sustain me. Thank you.

 

Love, from a Mom

You may have noticed that Pastor with a Purse has been pretty quiet this year. I’ve been spending a lot of what used to be my creative writing time praying, resting, and scooping up fresh motivation.

But life has also fundamentally changed. The good news is that I’ve accepted my first foster care placement. Those of you who have been with me for years know that I began this adventure back in 2008. There’s been a lot of discerning and waiting and praying and preparing to turn the dream of fostering into a real person who now shares my home and life. You can read more about how and why I got here in Mother One Day and Today is the Day. Now, I can say with profound gratitude and a dash of trepidation–the wait is over.

Almost four weeks ago, on an ordinary Wednesday, I got a call about a young girl in need of a new home. We met on Friday and she told her social worker that she wanted to live with me for two reasons: I’m nice, and she wanted to go to church. She visited my home on Sunday and she moved in on Monday. Two days later we had her registered at her new school.

The past month has been a flurry of phone calls, appointments, social worker visits, emergency team check-ins, back-to-school night, emailing teachers, finding new healthcare providers, and adjusting to our new normal.

I’d love to chronicle all the new experiences, struggles, joys, and fears, but one challenge of being part of a foster care story is that I can’t legally share any details about her on the internet and social media. There’s a chance that one day she may legally be my daughter, but there’s also a likelihood that she will be a temporary daughter. Only God knows that bit–the big, uncertain future–but I’m content to live each day simply focusing on her needs here and now.

Rather than fret about things I can’t control, I’m focusing on the fundamentals like her knowing I will always feed her and provide her with clothes and school supplies. Academic “success” in the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley? That doesn’t even make my list of top 25 priorities.

I’m tossing aside conventional parenting expectations to meet the most basic and important human needs: to feel safe, to be loved unconditionally, to build trust, to care for our bodies and our hearts, to know what to do with the nasty emotions that make sneak attacks and leave us reeling, to be free to be a kid after your childhood is stolen from you, event by painful event. If I had to do a 30 day review, I’d say we are doing pretty darn well.

There are so many feelings and so much exhaustion. Here’s what I posted to my Facebook wall last night as I lay curled up in bed, limp and weary but wired:

This is the most significant thing I’ve done with my life to date. I’m mostly living hour by hour, flexing my life around the ever-changing and delicate needs of this precious human that has taken over my house and my time and will likely take over my heart. I sink into my beloved mattress at my new bedtime of 10pm and gulp in the stillness and quiet, and take lots of deep breaths and think–this is so big, and good, and scary, and fun, and motivating.

I’m doing ok, good even. We’re alive and safe and functioning well (despite a head cold for her and a virus for me and a wicked heat wave all over the holiday weekend). We are laughing over board games and our hundredth game of Uno, learning to let loose as we lip sync to Selena Gomez, taking bike rides and shopping trips, braiding hair and negotiating what clothes are age appropriate, and tackling homework to mixed reviews. There are so many thoughts and feelings and appointments that my brain is now constantly leaking details, but what is most important in this life is not being forgotten.

Each day feels a bit like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon–you know, the parts of the park where there is not a guard rail or even a frayed rope between you and the sheer cliff? It’s wildly beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying all at the same time, but that’s life.

So now it’s 42 minutes past my bedtime and my eyes are telling me I’m too old and too parental to be up this late. So, off I go to the wonderland I call sleep. 6am comes too soon, but there’s never been a better reason to get up early.

Before I became a parent, I worried that I would feel constantly watched and judged by other people’s expectations of my child or their expectations of me as a parent. I also worried about whether I would feel like I was constantly failing. I so often see Facebook statuses and blog posts and articles about family life where moms are tossing about “mom fail” jokes, which I suspect often cover insecurity.

What has surprised me most in this new, wild place is that I feel nothing but satisfied with my efforts. I’m far from perfect. I don’t know nearly as much as I could to help this child thrive. But I’m giving her and myself heaping amounts of grace. There’s freedom to learn, and wide columns for mistakes. There’s open range to ask questions so we can both do better next time. I’m often shaking before some of these new challenges, but I keep looking back at all I’ve overcome in my life and remembering all I’ve seen God accomplish through my simple obediences, and then I’m able to move my trembling feet forward.

I guess I’m being brave. In case you didn’t know, that’s not just for children.

Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m texting friends and professionals a lot for perspective and advice. I’m asking for prayer regularly. I’m asking for practical help more. But at the end of the day it’s me and her and the Holy Spirit in our little home now packed with a second life’s worth of goods and baggage. So I’m telling myself every day–this is important. You are doing well. She is safe. Build from there. That is good. That is enough.

So Pastor with a Purse may have gone quiet, but there’s a whole lot of good going on under the surface. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to share with you more victories and more of what I’m discovering.

Until then my friends, be brave. Be obedient to your call even when it seems crazy and outlandish, and even when people you love discourage you with their concerns. Give yourself an embarrassing overabundance of grace in new and wild places. Never forget what is most important.

Love,
Corrie, the new mom/mum/mama

 

The Strange and Hopeful Summer Reading List

I’m an avid fiction reader. Spending 2-3 hours reading in the evening is both how I unwind and how I engage my imagination. Well-written stories are alive and vibrant. They have that same crackle of energy as actors spitting their lines across a stage, aiming at the hearts of their audience. Through story I am quickly transported to new or hidden places. I encounter ideas and people very different from me. Reaching ‘The End’ of a good story is not an end or an exit at all. It is an invitation, a continued path into a potentially bountiful garden of reflection.

Lately however, I’ve found myself growing a bit bored or restless with fiction. Maybe it’s the turbulent American political climate of the past year that’s left this gnawing feeling in my gut. Or perhaps it’s the unpredictable and startling challenges of ministry that’s heaped me with questions and concerns that stories cannot easily answer. Something is making me crave a different kind of engagement, a new way to be soothed and assured that things will turn out better than I see them now.

As a way to address this new restlessness, I’ve compiled a summer reading list that’s quite different to those of innocent and lazy summers past. I’ll lay them out for you and then tell you why I’m drawn to them.

My first two picks are Ojibway Heritage by Basil Johnston and Seasons of Change: Labor, Treaty Rights, and Ojibwe Nationhood by Chantal Norrgard. The first book is a compilation of Ojibway ceremonies, rituals, songs, prayers, and stories. The second book zeroes in on the particular era in Ojibwe history when native culture was jarringly sifted by colonialism.

My father is an enrolled member of the Ojibwe or Chippewa Tribe, the largest tribe in the state of Minnesota. Dad has always been a storyteller, often sharing bedtime stories borrowing native names and themes, but he grew up outside of the reservation in a thoroughly white culture and was mostly disconnected from Chippewa culture. Still, dad’s stories always made me curious about this strand of my heritage. I grew up in white, suburban Ohio. I am not Chippewa the same way as someone who grew up on the White Earth Reservation in rural Minnesota. But if we go back just a few generations, our stories would co-mingle on the shores of the same lakes. My childlike curiosity over native bedtime stories has grown into something more serious as an adult.

Soon there may be a day that someone with even my diluted native blood will be an official member of the Chippewa Tribe. I’ve been wondering what that will mean. Will I enroll if given the opportunity? Would I contribute to any more loss for our native people if I did so? What responsibilities would I take up if I did enroll? Questions like these are not quickly or easily answered from northern California, but they continue to rattle around in my head.

At the very least, I’m committed to following my curiosity into better understanding. A few years ago I read my first book on Chippewa history, written by a professor who is Chippewa. Eye-opening is a trivial descriptor of that read. I learned much about the history of the Chippewa people both before and after the arrival of European settlers. I was intrigued by the Chippewa understanding of tribal sovereignty, and found their way of relating to the land both unique and refreshing. I encountered stories of injustices brought by a young American government and by people bent on “progress” and “civilization.”

So now, I take up Ojibway Heritage to engage Chippewa culture from afar, and Seasons of Change to know more about the most troubling and painful years of Chippewa history. Will I find more of the same pain and outrage? What will capture my attention here? What new questions or convictions will be produced from these books? I’ll have to wait and see.

 

I recently took part in a racial unity group at my church. I wasn’t there to lead the group as a staff member, but to be a participant and fellow learner. We read Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ, which was a rich springboard for both our group discussions and my personal reflection.

My experience with our racial unity group combined with the current racial unrest in America spurs me on to more. I want to learn more about what is behind the unrest, the injustices, and the inequalities I see. I want to seek out and listen to the wisdom of people who’ve experienced these inequalities and injustices, especially those who have not been destroyed by them, and have something constructive, even prophetic, to say to us today.

I’m disturbed by what I see going on in my country and sometimes in my own community. If I am truly one of God’s agents on earth, meant to be a servant of the Prince of Peace, one who carries the power of God’s Spirit within me, then how might I respond to the turmoil around me? What truths do I need to face or confront in myself? How should these truths change the way I live and minister? How might I as a (mostly) white woman, a person of privilege, be a peacemaker in our land, in my church, and in my family?

These questions lead me to three books: America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas, and The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. All were highly recommended to me by friends who are farther along this quest than me.

That’s it. Just five books. Were I reading fiction, I could tackle 20 or more books in a summer. But this summer I’m giving myself lots of time to read slowly and to reread when needed. I’m building in margins to put a book aside for both internal wrestling-matches and restful prayer times. I guess beyond the restlessness I feel, I’ve also been feeling a bit stagnant. I’m hoping these reads will shape me into a more informed, compassionate, and mobilized disciple and leader.

 

 

On Crying in Meetings

I confess. I have cried in professional meetings. Many times. In fact, three weeks ago in a meeting I cried so hard that I could barely speak.

A few things to keep in mind. First, I work in ministry. I’m not a PepsiCo executive sitting at a boardroom table crying over shrinking distribution numbers or a software engineer suddenly overcome with emotion because I screwed up a line of code.

Also, I’m not much of a crier in general even though my maternal family is full of criers. My grandpa can never make it through the dinner prayer if any of his grandkids are at the table. My mom has been known to cry during commercials and in restaurants. I may be equally tenderhearted, but I probably cry (the kind with tears sliding down my face) less than ten times a year.

So when I cry, it means something. My soul is engaged. Something I deeply care about is being probed.

As a pastor, I work both with people and for people, as an advocate. I regularly step into messy situations and respond to raw emotions. In 15 years of ministry, I’ve witnessed premeditated acts of hate and their aftermath. I’ve been a first responder to traumatic events like attempted sexual assault. I’ve been the person who showed up in the middle of the night, took the bottle of Advil out of shaking hands, and called for help. In my office, people process some of their most intense experiences — the effects of abuse, the loss of a loved one, rejection, mental illness, loss of faith, suicidal thoughts, and sexual issues.

This is not the kind of work you can do well and remain untouched. You can have great boundaries in ministry and still need to cry. Sometimes tears are the only way to expunge some of the toxins you’ve been exposed to.

My dearest hope is that my “work” reflects the deep love that God has for each and every human being. Since I ultimately serve God, it’s important to me that I strive for excellence in my work. I exercise best practices in counseling. I attend conferences for professional development. I read new research and consult the works of experts in the many fields that affect Biblical studies, ministry, and theology. I believe that ethics are as important to a ministry environment as they are to any other work setting. All that to say, I’m a professional. I try to be the best professional I can be.

But I still cry in meetings.

As a Christian pastor, the Bible is the most important book in my life. I believe its pages tell the story of God’s love for all people and reveal God’s plan of redemption for broken individuals. In a world that is slowly but painfully wasting away, I believe that the message of Jesus is the greatest news. His words are hope for the disillusioned and for aimless wanderers. They are a fresh breath of life for the suffering, the oppressed, and the depressed. They’re a warm light for all the people forgotten in the dark or dirty corners of our streets. God’s story and his life-giving words are precious to me.

Because I love God and his word so dearly, it can be tough to live in a pluralistic society that denigrates the church, the Bible, and the people who worship one God exclusively. Sometimes that makes me cry.

But I think it’s far more painful to be a Christian among other Christians. It’s disheartening to sit down with your spiritual family, to read the Bible together, and to have such divergent views of the same text. This is a book we all revere and cherish because it’s God’s. We are all sincere and loving, and we serve God well in our unique ways. We even love each other. So it doesn’t feel good when we disagree. It hurts to see smirks or eyes roll as someone shares their opinion. It’s painful when people make light of topics or passages that impact other people every day. It’s dismaying when we see each other’s blindnesses but we can’t find a way to gently expose them.

So this month I cried in a meeting.

But no matter who I am with when I cry in meetings, I usually walk away feeling a little embarrassed. Our culture isn’t very welcoming to public displays of emotion, is it? We’re even less accepting of emotions in the workplace. There’s an unspoken belief that strong emotions are a sign of immaturity, or weakness, or irrationality, or overreaction, or instability, or of (said in a hushed tone) being hormonal. And those things don’t fit the excellent or professional persona, so tears are generally unacceptable at the office. Instead, our culture champions clear logic, precise speech, and undisturbed rationality.

After I cry during a meeting, I worry that people think less of me. That they will regard me like a whiny puppy who just needs a pat on the head to be quieted. And I hate thinking that my tears may make others disregard my words altogether.

But here are some things that I believe are true about emotions. All human beings have them. We all have a wide range of emotions that we can experience: from rage to sorrow to utter joy. I believe God designed us this way. It’s we humans who choose to either express or suppress our emotions. Which way is healthier?

I also believe that God gave us brains capable of keen intellect, logic, and impressive creativity. The same brain that houses these things also houses our emotions. We are all both rational and emotional beings. Both things make us human. Both reflect the image of God.

So why is laughter safe and respectable in a meeting, but tears are not? Why do we prize rationality but look askance when people express their emotions? And why do we always talk about rationality and emotions like they are the opposite ends of a spectrum? They may be closer together than we think. We might be wise to consider that they are linked.

There have been times in meetings when I was crying and thinking clear thoughts at the same time. Imagine that! Now, sometimes it is hard to verbally articulate my thoughts amid the stirring emotions, but that doesn’t mean I am just a puddle of messy feelings. My identity is not reduced. Instead, what you are witnessing is a powerful moment of realization, something deeply true that finally crystallizes, or a strongly held belief that’s been triggered. Such moments are rarely emotionless.

When I cry in a meeting it’s because my mind is engaged. In these moments I am, perhaps, more fully human because I’m experiencing and expressing thought and emotion at the same time. My brain is firing on all cylinders. You may think it looks messy, but maybe you could learn to see the beauty too.

When I cry, I hope you will learn to read my tears. This is what my tears might say — this is a very important topic to me. What we are talking about has very real implications for me, or for you, or for people who we love. That thing you just said? It was either deeply true or it missed the marked, but it certainly moved me to respond. Sometimes my tears say that I’m grieving. Sometimes they say that you’ve caused me pain. Emotions are a language all their own.

So rather than avoiding eye contact or patting me on the head, would you offer me an equally human response? When you see my tears, would you sit up and pay better attention? Would you consider, or even ask, what my tears are saying? Would you be patient if it takes me time to get the words out? And would you offer me more compassion than I’ve come to expect, and not think less of me?

I cry during meetings. When I was a young professional I would apologize profusely, swipe away the tears, and try to tamp down my emotions. I rarely do that anymore. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and to not be ashamed of being a human being who feels. I’ve come to accept that this is just a part of who I am.

I love and serve a God who grieves when his people suffer, and when they wander far from him. I think my tears are often a reflection of the heart of God. 

When I cry, when I express any emotion, I’m being human. I’m resisting the tight bindings of cultural norms because there are just some things that need to be expressed. Triumphs and tragedies call us to respond. I want to be the kind of person who listens and responds well to the needs of the world around me. I hope my tears invite others to be and do the same.

I cry in meetings. If my tears make you uncomfortable, so be it. I’m being real. I probably won’t stop any time soon. And we might all be better for it.