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

 

Celebrating My Parents

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To borrow a 90’s phrase, my parents are totally rad. I don’t write about them much, mostly because they loom so large in my life that it’s hard to do them justice on paper. Tonight I’m thinking about them because this is the big week when they celebrate their anniversary and their birthdays. I already did the good daughter thing and sent them a little something in the mail, but I think a blog post might be a better gift. (And I bet mom will cry when she reads this.)

You may not know them, but here are some of the reasons why my parents are so great…

  1. Mom is playful and funny. This woman’s got wit and a well-developed sense of humor — and a great cackle to go along with them. She kept us laughing when we were kids with what I can only call antics. My mom is a dignified woman but she’s not afraid to be goofy. More than anyone else, she can make me laugh so hard that I cry and gasp for breath. As I was growing up, she was a favorite with my friends. “Momma G” was often requested as a chaperone for school trips and I didn’t mind when she came along. That says a lot.
  2. My parents are generous. They probably won’t like me telling you this, but when our family had more money than we needed, they gave away the extra. They have always supported great charities and non-profits, not only with money but with their time. They’ve served on more boards and committees, and volunteered at more events, than anyone I know. Every Christmas Eve they hosted our pastors and their families for a bountiful dinner. Whenever there was a spare bedroom in our home, it was filled with missionaries on furlough, poor college students, or people in transition.
  3. Dad is a great confidante. He has always been someone I could tell anything to without fearing quick judgment or dismissal. Even when Dad and I disagree on a point or a decision, we can share our opinions and have a safe and helpful conversation. The way my father listens makes me feel valuable.
  4. Kim and Pam define encouragement. I don’t have childhood issues to work through due to unrealistic parental expectations. When I got a low grade on a test or assignment, they’d ask if I was prepared, if I gave it my best effort, and then they’d tell me that they believed in me and move on. They never made me feel guilty or indicated that I’d disappointed them. In fact, my parents often gently urged me to loosen my perfectionist tendencies and have more fun. The only time they ever gave me an ultimatum was when I was giving all of my time to extracurriculars and was neglecting my spiritual life. They told me that changes had to be made because nothing was more important than my relationship with God. Their own lives have proved that point.
  5. Mom models faithfulness to commitments. Pam has taught pre-school Sunday school classes almost my entire life. Of course there were challenging kids, flaky helpers, and days when she just wanted to skip church and sleep in, but my mother never backed out of a commitment just because her feelings changed. She knew people were counting on her — both the kids, other teachers, and the pastor — so she showed up. Every time. How many people do you know like that anymore?
  6. My parents gave me an awesome musical education. Music was always playing in our home and in our cars. My parents’ musical taste is so eclectic that I can sing along to Cat Stevens; The Beach Boys; Luciano Pavarotti; Joni Mitchell; Simon and Garfunkel; Etta James; James Taylor; any of the Jackson clan; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Frank Sinatra; The Four Tops and many more. I know Broadway musicals and can tell the difference between Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven. Like many parents, Kim and Pam forced me to learn piano. That torture is one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. The ability to read music is a dying art, but since I learned how to read music, I’ve had some of the most exhilarating moments of my life making music with other singers.
  7. My dad is a storyteller. The grandkids always ask for Papa to tuck them in so he can tell them a story. He’s been weaving intricate stories about Chief Red Cloud for decades. (It’s probably the Ojibwe blood in him.) Dad’s gift lives on in my brother Brandon who spins great stories and makes up these spontaneous, rhyming songs for his daughters. I think dad’s love for story is probably why I love reading, acting, and public speaking of all kinds. There are few simple pleasures like telling a good story well.
  8. They’re still together. My parents don’t have a dazzling love story. (In fact, they way mom tells it, dad proposed in the middle of a casual conversation with something like, “So, do you think we should get married?”) But they do have stable love story, which might just be the best kind. If their marriage were a book, these would be some of the chapters:
    • Loyalty to one’s spouse is like being a Buckeyes fan
    • Parenting is cheerleading without the uniforms
    • The life-long friendship of doubles tennis and euchre table-talk
    • Adventure: sell insurance, travel far, drink wine, and find your husband conducting a band
    • Forgiveness: a kiss after another home project gone sour
    • Embrace your in-laws — Don’t bring up politics
    • Faith is obeying the call of God even when it leads to a desert and loss
    • Aging Well: Let her read. Let him play golf. Hold hands during the movie.

My parents are not perfect people, nor were they perfect parents, but they are easy to compliment. They know how much I love them and now you might too.

Happy anniversary and happy birthday Mom and Dad! May you have many more years together.

Home

Where are you from? Where’s home? Everyone answers these questions at some point, but some of us answer more succinctly than others. The older I get and the more I move around the country, the more trouble I have telling people where I’m from.

If home was just about place, about where we are born and grow up, I could simply say that I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I grew up in a sprawling, suburban neighborhood where most of the streets are quaintly named after local trees and terrain – Circle on the Green, Oakbourne Court, Beechlake Drive. I lived on Hickory Ridge Lane. As a child, when I gave directions to our home, I always said the same thing: it’s the third house on the right, a white, two-story colonial with black shutters and a red door. I had no idea what “colonial” meant, but my parents always used that word, so I did too. Over the 18 years that I lived on Hickory Ridge, a few extra descriptors popped up – a basketball hoop, a wide-planked, white fence that ran along the path to the front door, and the red Mercury Tracer my brothers parked in the driveway after school hours. Our home was easy to find.

1328 Hickory Ridge

This is a recent picture of the Hickory house from the internet. The landscaping has changed a bit since I left for college in the 90’s. The bushes flanking the front door are different. The fence and basketball hoop are gone and so is the beautiful red maple that stood in the center of the front yard. The maple wasn’t planted deeply enough, so the roots that knotted and spread just below the grass caused many twisted ankles and made mowing the lawn into straight lines nearly impossible. For all its shade in the summer and the kaleidoscope of its leaves in the fall, the new owners were wise to remove that tree. So things have changed a bit at the Hickory house, but overall the picture is so similar to the one imprinted in my mind, that when I saw it I flushed with happy memories.

I have such nostalgia for my childhood home. I associate so many wonderful memories with that house and the life our family of five had there. To my great dismay, my parents sold the Hickory house during my freshman year of college and built a new home several towns over. Since they moved while I was away in California, I didn’t help pack or get to say goodbye to the life I had there. Maybe I was overly sentimental at 19, but I was really sad. I grieved the loss of that house like some people grieve the loss of a beloved pet. I realized that I’d never get to go home for the holidays and reminisce with my brothers when we saw our height measurements etched into the basement door. I’d never again have to wear thick socks on winter nights to protect my feet from those crazy cold hardwood floors. I’d never again earn five dollars a bucket or stain my hands black as I chucked rotting walnuts out of our backyard into the farmer’s field. I’d never again be woken by the chattering of the raccoon family that lived atop the chimney outside my bedroom window. My life on Hickory Ridge Lane was suddenly closed like the cardboard boxes my parents packed and sealed. Nevertheless, it would remain the home of my heart for many years.

For all the stability of place I’d know the first 18 years of my life, I’ve since learned that home is an adaptable concept. I’ve now lived in 5 more states and in Canada. While the idea of moving this much is foreign to baby boomers, those of us from Gen X and Gen Y see it as the way things are. Few of us expect to work 10 years for the same company in the same location, let alone 30+. If I can be my own judge, I think it’s fair to say that I’m rockin’ the modern-American-nomad thing. Some people have heard my story or looked at my resume and wondered if I’m flighty, lack commitment, or if I’m a lost soul. None of those are true. I do have an adventurous spirit. I love to explore, learn new cultures and meet new people. And I follow where God leads me. Sure, I’ve lived a lot of places, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hippie, aimless or running from something. When I land some place new, I dig in. My top priority – more important than finding the best grocery store, a reliable mechanic, or my new doctor’s office – is to cultivate relationships.

I’ve discovered in adulthood that I can’t call a place home until I there’s someone I can call and invite to a movie, someone to share rich conversation over good coffee, people who I can call friends. As I’ve moved around, I’ve learned that home is not bound by a sense of place or limited to a physical structure. It’s just too big a thing to be bound by earth, drywall and shingles. Home, for me, is a spiritual thing. It’s about planting yourself deeply in a community of souls. It’s about knowing and loving yourself and standing confident in that, but then deeply intertwining your soul with others’ and growing together.

Now when I think of home, I think of visiting my friend Karen during frigid Boston winters and laughing at ourselves as we ran out at night for pints of ice cream. I think of sharing a sunny park bench with Stephanie as we watched her daughters play. More sister than friend, Stephanie and I talked all day for four days when I visited this May. After I left, her oldest, Seraphina, observed this about her usually introverted mother, “You and Auntie Coco sure do like to talk a lot.” Home is the warm feeling that spreads from my chest to my fingertips when I snuggle with a new baby nephew or niece. It’s the joy I felt officiating Emily and Matthew’s wedding and standing up as the maid of honor for Holly and Dave. Home is realizing how much I am loved as cards and kind words piled up after my recent ordination. It’s the few days every year when I get together with my college roommates Elizabeth, Monica and Brooke. We laugh (or giggle in Liz’s case), eat really good pub food, and share totally real conversation about what’s happing in our lives and souls.

For this nomad, home is a spiritual thing. It’s about knowing and being known, loving and being loved. It’s got everything to do with my ability to see and acknowledge God’s presence in my life and very little to do with where I live. It’s more about gardening than using a GPS.

This is exactly why I feel settled and at home no matter where I live. It’s why I feel no fear, only excitement, knowing that I will be moving from Hawaii to California and starting all over again in January. But it’s also why I have such a hard time answering questions like, “Where are you from?” No one expects me to wax poetic about things like trees and friendship and God, but that is the best, most real answer I have. Don’t worry though. I usually have mercy on unsuspecting victims and simply say, “Columbus, Ohio.”

And then, maybe, I add a few sentences about life on Hickory Ridge Lane.

Advent: All About the Details

Every Christmas season my extended family traveled to my maternal grandparents’ home. Like every family, we had a few traditions. There was, of course, the obligatory ham dinner with creamy mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, buttery sweet rolls coated with cinnamon and always some kind of unnaturally colored jello salad rife with fruit chunks and marshmallows. (Just the sight of these “salads” gave me the heebie-jeebies so I learned to serve myself a very small portion, chew once or twice and quickly wash it down with a swig of apple juice.) Though our ham dinner was a feast of smells and tastes (except for the jello salad), food was so abundant in the Ford household that it was almost unremarkable.

I preferred other traditions like presents. We children connived, cajoled, complained and otherwise sweet-talked our way through a multi-year campaign to win the right to open a gift on Christmas Eve. Of course, we each chose the gift that was the largest or made the most noise when jiggled. We always knew if the gift was from our grandparents; those were labeled from Frosty the Snowman, Mrs. Claus, Rudolf, and even, occasionally, friends like Betty Boop or Strawberry Shortcake.

Perhaps our finest and most under-appreciated tradition was packing our five family units into defrosted vehicles to crunch over the snowy streets of Youngstown, Ohio on our way to Evangel Baptist Church for the candle light Christmas Eve service. We arrived after twenty minutes, the car heaters just starting to thaw tingly toes stuffed in our Sunday-best but winter-worst shoes. We’d enter Evangel, drape our heavy coats on the clanging metal hangers and move into the sanctuary to be hand-shaken, bear-hugged and cheek-pinched into a bashful warmth. The Ford family filled two pews in the front, closest to where our grandmother perched at the organ. We children sat, hushed and squirming in the reverent low light of candles, the silence broken only by the sniffling of our thawing noses.

candlelt1-main_fullThe service was always the same. Hark the Herald sung, the nativity story pieced together like quilt squares from Matthew and Luke presented in monotone by a man in a drab suit with a scarlet or powdery blue tie, my grandmother traveling from the organ to the center microphone to offer another soulful rendition of Sweet Little Jesus Boy. The service concluded as we passed a small flame person to person, one taper candle bowed to its neighbor, turning glossy white wicks to blackened tinder. Once the unison melody of Silent Night drifted into quiet, we extinguished our candles, quietly bundled in our coats and braved the cold again for our return trip to the Ford home.

Our arrival home was like the clanging of a bell, marking a new chapter of life. We went from hushed, taper-lit reverence, to the bustle and brilliance of the kitchen preparing for a party. Wassail was passed into waiting hands as grandma uncovered the frosted marble sheet cake, dotted it with pastel colored candles and lit the wicks with a match. Then, with nearly 20 bodies packed into the small eat-in kitchen, we sang a boisterous rendition of Happy Birthday, for Jesus.

Twenty years later, I can close my eyes and see those Decembers like cherished memorabilia framed, thick and gold, and hung above the mantel. I wouldn’t change them if I could. But as an adult, and as a pastor, I don’t want to perpetuate only the sentiment of Christmas. This is more than a holiday, it is a holy day. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia. I don’t want to scrooge all the merriment, but I do want to focus on the spiritual gifts of this season. I want to cherish the family traditions, but hang my heart on the miracle of what began two thousand years ago when Christ was born.  

For years I’ve read the early chapters of Matthew and Luke and skimmed the parts about Elizabeth, Anna and even Mary. Because I’ve always loved babies and Jesus, I skipped to the good part about Jesus being born, about him bundled in something soft to protect him from the hay of his trough bed while surrounded by a cuddly petting zoo. I zeroed in on the fairy-tale moments like the prismic star that led foreigners to the new infant king and to the choir of angels singing in the night sky. But as an adult, I’ve learned something about stories, and about life, that I missed as a child. When reading, it’s the skimmed over parts, the slow parts, the seemingly unremarkable details that build to that unimaginable moment, to the moment of discovery, to a new spark of life within.

It was the smell of cinnamon, my grandmother’s vibrato, the heat of wax sliding onto my fingers during Silent Night, the way the candlelight flickered across my cousins’ faces, the crunch of snow under our tires – all of that led up to the moment were we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. It’s the details that build the arc in any story. I’m a better writer than I was five years ago and a much better reader than I was twenty years ago because I’ve learned to I slow down and pay attention to the details. And that’s exactly how I can enhance my experience of Christmas and my understanding of Christ’s birth.

This month we’ll spend hours planning, shopping, wrapping gifts, decorating, attending parties and baking and that’s on top of our regular schedules. We’ll be like jack rabbits leaping through December at a frenzied pace, zigzagging all over the place in search of a tasty morsel. To keep Christmas about Christ, we have to choose to slow down, to stop, and to settle into the details of Advent.

That’s my plan, anyway. I’m taking walks so I can get away from the distractions in my house. While I walk, I focus on breathing deeply and praying. I’m reading the nativity stories in Luke and Matthew daily, now with an eye for detail, seeking out the snippets that I may have glossed over. Suddenly the bits about Elizabeth, Mary and Anna glow from the pages like taper candles. The stories of these women are significant in ways that I never saw before. These sages of Advent are helping me understand not just the miraculous birth of Jesus, but the grandeur of his entire story.

Christmas is not a story in itself; it is the beginning of a story. We don’t celebrate Advent simply because a baby named Jesus was born. We celebrate because Jesus grew up to travel his land preaching good news to the world-weary. Strangely enough, we celebrate Jesus’ birth because he died, and because through his death he defeated sin and death. We celebrate because Jesus rose again to life and because he ascended to heaven where he lives and reigns eternally. And we celebrate because his story, and ours, is not over.

To celebrate well, we need to begin well. That’s why I advocate for Advent, the season of anticipation that builds to the Christmas celebration. That’s why I’m slowing down and focusing on the details. That’s why I’m listening to the sages of Advent. Join me in looking closely at Elizabeth, Mary and Anna, so we can better celebrate Jesus.