Amy's blog


Some personal thoughts on letting go.....

Yesterday, driving home from a college visit in Eastern Washington, I was overcome by the site of trees in bloom.  "Spring is so refreshing!" I said outloud to my sleeping family nearby.  We've had a particularly cold, gray spring this year in the Pacific Northwest, and yet, here were the trees, starting to bloom just like any other spring.  I was reminded of the line from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  The Grinch is pondering how the Whos down in Whoville could be celebrating when he took all their gifts.  "Somehow or other, it came just the same," he muses about Christmas.  And here was spring, coming just the same, even without the usual gifts of warmth and sun.

Earlier that day, I'd been clutching palms during Palm Sunday Mass at the student chapel at Gonzaga University.  I am not Catholic, but I wanted to attend, because it was Palm Sunday, and the priest who was giving the homily used to be on staff at my son's high school.  Plus, he's funny. 

I use the word "clutching" on purpose about those palm leaves, because as this amazing man was talking to us parents about our children going away to college, and joking about religion, and making analogies with Holy Week, and talking about discernment, and the greater good, and what's it all about anyway--I needed something to hold on to.  So, I clutched my palm leaves. 

Letting go for me is a process, fraught with tension, private and not-so-private tears, blessed moments of laughter and gratitude,  intermittent regret--all of which eventually result in an unfurling of metaphorical wings and a greater capacity for love and acceptance.  Hanging on to those palm leaves allowed me to let go of another piece of what my family has been so I can continue to move forward and embrace what it is becoming.

And it is becoming.  Much like the tender, vulnerable, new leaves of spring--quietly but persistently unfolding--my family is blossoming.  It won't look the same way it did last spring.  There are some things that have been uprooted to make more room for growth.  There are others that are bigger and stronger.  We need to prune a few things so more growing can continue.  My husband and I will need to learn how to live in this spacious nest.  It's not always a pretty process, and involves not a small amount of pain.  But like spring, our family will continue to grow and become what is next. 

And that is reassuring.

Don't Let Them Lie To You from United Church of Christ on Vimeo.

Love is the Answer---Now, what was the Question?
Read this post!  

I'm not a big fan of burning books.  I figure I'm blessed enough to live in a country that allows free speech and protects it, so I need to be supportive of folks giving voice to their opinions.  That's one of the great things about America--that we're free to disagree with each other, and our government, and as long as we don't turn violent doing it, no one needs to go to jail.

So, when I hear about book bannings, or book burnings, I confess, I have judgement.  I imagine someone is so fearful of an idea that they give it more power by taking drastic steps against it and calling all kinds of attention to it, instead of saying, "Well, that's the way some people think about that, but I disagree because...."  I believe the latter way encourages people to think about what they believe, and the former way encourages people to be afraid of what others believe.  

Being a person of faith, I think fear is a big sign for me that I'm not looking at something with faith and love.  So, when I heard that there's a church in Florida burning as many copies of the Qur'an, I sighed.


Not surprisingly, this pastor's view and tactics are so extreme that they have gained a worldwide audience. Also not surprising, people oversees see this as a mainstream "Christian" response.  Which really torks me off.  I'm really tired of extreme Christians commandeering the media and implying they speak for me. Let me be clear: they don't.

Someone who comes much closer to speaking my truth is a Christian pastor in my denomination (United Church of Christ) who has a church in the same town.  Here are his thoughts, actions, and beliefs:

Just to call out a key phrase, when he was asked what he'd say if he could preach to the Qur'an-burning congregation for 5 minutes, he said:

"The danger to our faith comes not most from outside, but from the shadows within. We must pay attention to our neglect to look at ourselves, instead of automatically pointing the finger elsewhere. God’s call is for constant opening.”
Amen, Pastor Reimer.  See, this is why I love my church.  We don't see different ideas as a threat.  We see them as an opportunity to learn and expand our love.  And isn't that what Jesus was about? Expanding our love for one another?

This means, then, that I have to expand my love for the Qur'an-burners, and their pastor, no matter how crazy or disturbed or fear-driven I may think he is.  So, don't worry Pastor Jones, I'm praying for you, too.

Some churches have joined together to agree to include words from the Qur'an in their worship on Sunday, September 12.  I hope you'll consider joining them and embracing expansion, love, and freedom of religion.

Another quote:

“I’m not trying to make this a national or international event, but I feel that those who understand that allowing [the Qur'an burning] to pass silently by allows Dove Outreach to win in the fight against tolerance and religious compassion will stand up and share scripture from the Qur’an.”
And the article ends with this, which is why it is important to not do nothing:

Not a moment too soon. In the words of German poet Heinrich Heine written in 1820, now enshrined on a plaque at the site of Nazi Propoganda Minster Joseph Goebbels’ book burnings, “There, where they burn books, they will in the end burn people.”

 Why Vote?
Faith and Fate

Julie and I met at the end of a flight from DC to Denver.  We were sitting next to each other and struck up one of those conversations you strike up when you think you'll never see the person again.  45 minutes later, we were still on the tarmac, and as it turned out, only beginning our adventure together.

Both coming from the East Coast and traveling to Seattle, we had different stories. Julie, a mom with young children, had taken on the adventure of leaving them with grandparents and flying across the country to a blogger conference in Baltimore, stopping to sight-see in DC on her way home.  I was chaperoning the three youth/young adults from my Wayside.  We were returning from a trip to DC where we had joined members of other faith communities to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education at the SEAT (Sexuality Education Advocacy Training).

As it turns out, we were stranded together all night in Denver, due to a late March blizzard that shut down the entire airport.  We adopted each other, ate together, stood in line together, scouted options for each other, and rallied around the youth for the couple of hours of sleep we got on the nice mats we were given to put on the floor. I felt God had dropped an angel in my lap--another adult to see the humor in the situation, help with logistics, and generally aid in keeping each other sane through the night.  Here's a video of our adventure: Download Coming Home...

We all miraculously ended up on the first flight out of Denver the next a.m., bonded for life.  Now, Julie has thrown her hat in the ring on the Oprah site for her own show.  It's about things people do everyday for fun and exercise.  I am a big fan of this idea, especially since Julie witnessed me and Sam (who's mom happens to be a yoga instructor and co-owner of Three Trees Yoga in Federal Way) doing yoga in the airport during our strandedness.  So, please go here and vote for her.  You can vote as many times as you want, as long as you're 18 or over, so go ahead--vote early, vote often! 

Julie also has her own blog and website:  Chubby Mommy Running Club.  Plus, you can find her on facebook!  Have fun, and make it a great day!

Here's an article I wrote about  religion and sex ed clashing in Mexico:

Never place a period where God has placed a comma!  Click on the link above to learn about the UCC!



I know better.  I really do.  But every once in awhile I do something crazy like run errands involving purchasing Easter Candy during the lunch hour.  When I'm hungry.  Maybe it was a rebellious reaction to the "spring cleaning" yoga class I'd just attended--one designed to detoxify our bodies from heavy, fatty, sugar-laden food ingested during the holidays and winter months.  Maybe it was just too much detoxification for me in one day.  At any rate, suffice it to say that a small chocolate binge occurred in my presence this noon.

Later on, when I was looking for Easter in the storage closet (where are those boxes I so carefully re-organized earlier this year?  Where did I put them?  I know the stuff is in clear boxes--oh!  There they are.  Right next to Christmas.  Hmmm.  Appropriate....), I began to reminisce about this holiday.

When our boys were young, we would tie a string to a note or picture and they would follow the string to find their baskets.  This evolved into picture clues, then multiple word clues in multiple places, generally alternating between up and down stairs, so they would wear off a bit of excitement before digging into chocolate and jelly beans and counting the change we'd hidden in plastic eggs.  We'd cut some flowers from our yard for the cross here at Wayside, place them reverently in the cross, help out with the egg hunt for the children, and sometimes gather as an extended family afterward for ham and fruit salad.

This year, we'll celebrate Easter apart--three of us on a plane to California for the Great 2010 College Tour, the fourth happily at college with his buddies.  But I kind of feel like I've already been given my Hallelujahs this year, since I happened to be in Washington, DC when the health care legislation was passed. (I'd also like to note for the record, that Joe Biden stole my line.  I didn't actually say the f-word though.  On Sunday, when I was saying I wanted to eat dinner somewhere where we could watch the proceedings on CNN, the youth I was with were unimpressed by the historic relevance of this moment in time.  "This is history!" I exclaimed! "Everything you've just said is history," they said, with the swagger and confidence of youth.  "Well," I responded to their response, "it'''s a BFD is what it is!  A Big Freakin' Deal!" At which point the Rabbi in the room who'd been listening to our conversation quietly got up and started streaming CNN on the laptop through the projector in the room.  Gotta love Michael Namath.)

So anyway, a part of my soul feels like Easter already came, even though tomorrow is Good Friday, and there are forces at work to tear down the hard-won victory.  Isn't that how it always goes, though?  Work for good, someone might wreck it--do it anyway?  (I'm paraphrasing here...).

This year, I'll put out the bunny and egg decorations, I'll lovingly create Easter baskets (a day early, and 2 "to go" ones for the college roommates), and I'll pray and sing Hallelujah on Sunday, no matter where I am.  And this Easter,  I will also hold in my heart and celebrate the face book status I read yesterday, attributed to John Fugelsang: "Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gives away free health care. You're thinking of Jesus."  Yeah, that Jesus.  He was a BFD, too.



Watch this:

Prayer of the Children


What You Need to Know About the Abstinence Only Study


A new wave of media has hit this week regarding a study that had somewhat favorable results with an abstinence-only sexuality education program.  I could probably write a book on how and why this has been oversimplified, but here are the main points.

First of all, the study was well done.  Control group, good methodology, well-respected authors.  However, this program used an "abstinence-only" curriculum that did not meet federal guidelines for programs federally funded under the abstinence-only criteria, and it was significantly different from the bulk of "abstinence-only" programs reviewed in the past.  Here are some of the differences.

  • The program did NOT contain INACCURATE information.  Many federally-funded abstinence-only until marriage programs do contain inaccurate information. Check out this site (skits are based on actual curricula material in the state of Texas).  In fact, the State of Washington is one of several states that passed a law in 2007 rejecting federal money for these programs and requiring that any sexuality education provided in schools now be medically and scientifically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and inclusive.  What's scary to me about that is that we had to pass a law to require that.  It wasn't required, and it wasn't happening before that.  It's still not happening everywhere in our state, since it's an unfunded mandate.
  • The program did NOT portray sex in a negative manner, nor use a moralistic tone.  See above link.  Or check out this one about an Abstinence Clown (for real).  Your tax dollars at work!  In these tough economic times, when jobs are flying out the doors, don't you think there's a better use for our government's money?
  • The training and curriculum manual explicitly instructed the facilitators not to disparage the efficacy of condoms or allow the view that condoms are ineffective to go uncorrected.  In many federally-funded programs, facilitators were mandated to focus on failure rates of condoms.  Seriously.
  • The facilitators wer not mandated to say there was never a time when sex was inappropriate outside of marriage. 

Look at all the hoops that had to be jumped through to have an effective result from the program!  Reasonable and accurate information had to be shared to have effective results, measured by the fact that only a third of the 6th and 7th graders who took that program were sexually active 24 months later.  Here's a question:  how safe were those that were sexually active, since they had NOT been taught about contraception?  Even though they were not to disparage condom use, they did not teach it, either.  How many pregnancies and diseases occurred in that group as compared to the group that did have sex, but had had the information about contraception?  No data yet.

By the way, comprehensive sexuality education programs teach about abstinence as a part of their program.  The developmentally appropriate part of these curriclua emphasize that abstinence is the best choice for young adolescents--which the kids in the study were.  They were in 6th and 7th grade, and average onset for sexual intercourse is actually age 17.  

To quote our president from the National Prayer breakfast today, "You can question my policies without questioning my faith."  Those people of faith like myself who teach comprehensive sexuality education in our churches and faith communities and communities believe what we are doing is right and good and for many of us, yes, a Christian thing to do.  You can decide for yourself--just make sure you have all the facts. 

Tragic Miracles


I could be angry, but instead, I just feel pity.  Pity toward Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson and all the people who think those two men have a point.  I pity their lack of faith, their subscription to fear and bullying tactics in the name of Christianity, and once again, I wonder, "Are they reading the same book I am?" 

I've read the facebook status quotes, and had my own moments of wondering why the earthquake in Haiti happened. I imagine that God is quite sad, and busy with all the comforting and shoring up of faith that is needed, especially right now.  I've spent some moments grappling with my faith over Molly Hightower's death.  Molly was a 22-year-old graduate of my sons' high school and the University of Portland, who was killed in the earthquake while volunteering in an orphanage there.

I arrived at that high school yesterday morning to give scheduled presentations in health classes as a guest, and sat quietly with the class first thing in the morning as the announcement was made that Molly's body had been found.  I wept with others as they informed us that the morning's liturgy, which had been planned as a prayer service for all those in Haiti and for Molly's recovery, was now a memorial service, that overflow seating would be in the theater, and that media had arrived to cover the event.

I sat amidst the younger students in the theater during the mass.  I prayed, wept, sang and passed the peace with them, and listened to Molly's uncle Craig, a priest at Bellarmine Preparatory School, lead the service.  And I was lifted up by the faith, love, community, and respect of over 1000 students, faculty, parents, and community members who joined as one to honor Molly's life and pray for those still suffering.  At a memorial service, I was lifted up.  I am deeply humbled by that.

There could have been anger.  Instead, there was sadness, respect, and honor.  This girl died doing what she was called to do, what she loved doing, and she was doing good in our world. She was giving her love in a place it was most desperately needed, and to those who longed to feel human love and God's love. Yes, it's a tragedy, but there is also a beauty in a life lived that well, that fully, and that filled with faith. And her life is what the school, the church, her uncle, and her family chose to focus on.

This morning, after having heard the ugly comments made by Mr. Limbaugh and Dr. Robertson earlier this week, I opened up my browser, and there was a wondrous sight.  Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush standing together, united in their concern for Haiti and using their joint power as current and past leaders of our country to appeal to us for help.  God is indeed alive, well, and working miracles.

One of the greatest gifts we have from God is our free will.  I challenge you to find the miracles in this tragedy.  I am not asking you to ignore the tragedy--look at it full on, and then look at the good people are doing in its wake.  Focus on that.  Build on that.  Pray about that.  Give to that. Find ways for your children to give and help make a difference.  Build the hope.  I believe this is what Jesus would have done.

*Addendum 1/17/10:  4 youth was all it took.  Four youth came up with an idea this morning, and in 25 minutes after worship raised over $250.00 for Haiti Relief efforts through the UCC.  Always remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.  

Room for Hope


A small miracle occurred in our home this weekend.  My husband and I, faced with an afternoon alone (one teen was at work; the other at the Apple Cup) both shared our fantasies of what we wanted to accomplish, and both had "clean out the storage closet" on that list. 

The storage closet houses emergency food supplies, luggage, wrapping paper, golf clubs, back packs, and various holiday paraphernalia.  The latter is what seriously needed to be gone through.  I undauntedly carried each cardboard holiday box into the house to sort.  I felt a bit like Scrooge on his journey into holidays past, smiling at old Halloween costumes (I think I put three "Scream" masks and capes in the give-away pile), masses of unmatched plastic Easter eggs, and heart-shaped Valentine baskets and pillows.  I had a moment of wondering how we got here--to the place where I was truly ready to throw some things out, pass others on, and do so joyfully and clearly, without a lot of grief or regret.

Armed with measurements of storage space and numbers of containers needed, I headed to Fred Meyer to purchase plastic bins with tops to deter whatever had chewed the last bag of dog food we had stored in the closet.  At home, I put everything in its place back in the closet, and turned to look at the boxes of Christmas decorations still in the living room, waiting to be undone and put out.

There was a kind of grace and serendipity to doing this the day before Advent began. In years past, I have felt there was hardly enough room in our lives for Christmas, and all the shopping, activity, stress, and chaos it has brought with it.  I felt as though I had suddenly been handed a mandatory part-time job on top of an already full plate of work, family, friends, church, and such.  I tried planning way ahead, which only served to prolong the stress.  We started drawing names for gifts, which helped some.  Slowly, over the years, I realized I was the one who was stressing me out, and only I could cure that.  I began to make a conscious effort to make time and room for things that bring me joy during the season, and to be more OK with mediocrity in some areas, which took a lot of pressure off.  Good enough is sometimes, well, good enough....

This year, with the other holidays nestled snug in their plastic bins, I realized I feel like I have room for Christmas.  I have room to choose good-enough gifts, to make a few cookies, to light a fire and watch cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel.  I have room to put a small tree on my desk, room to spend time with youth and children at church crafting a pageant, room to look at the beauty of lights in the darkness with my sweetie.

This is the true gift I have given myself--room to prepare.  On this First Sunday of Advent, I asked myself, "What could be more important than giving ourselves time and energy to prepare for the greatest love of all? "  And I felt it--Hope.  The hope that springs from room in my heart.  

My challenge to you this holiday season, whether you celebrate Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, or Kwanzaa--is to give yourself room to prepare, and to hope.

Honor Society


Last night, my youngest son was inducted into National Honor Society at his school.  There was the usual grumbling about going--not sure what "dressed up" meant on the invitation, are others really going to be there, etc. Busy schedules and multiple conflicts aside, we went--my son, his dad, and I.

We arrived to find the principal gesturing us to where there were still a few open seats in a packed chapel.  Since he attends a Jesuit high school, the ceremony began with a prayer, thanking God for the gifts of scholarship and asking for help in using them well.  I love this about the school--that there is a thoughtful prayer shared for the occasion.  I know that this is not appropriate in all schools, as this type of prayer is particular to one faith.  However, since it is my faith (Christianity, not Catholicism...) and the school we all chose, it soothes me as a parent to hear words about God when we gather.

Another aspect I admired about how this achievement was honored was the perspective that the speaker shared.  Essentially, she said, "We know you're able to get good grades--you've shown that.  Now what are you going to do?  How are you going to share that talent, that gift with others so that everyone is lifted up?"  Service is a requirement of National Honor Society at this school.  Students must commit to several hours of tutoring others in need each year.  It's not a huge commitment, but it is there, and it is integrity with what they espouse, which I admire and support.

Afterward, there were cookies and soft drinks.  I mean, you deserve a cookie if you get into National Honor Society, right?  We mingled with other parents, whom we have seen at other events--scouts and band and swim team and graduations of older siblings.  Some looked a little more ragged than others--we have crossed into the time in our lives when many are dealing with difficult decisions about parents with dementia or Alzheimer's or "confusion."  But my thoughts turned to the kids who weren't there.

I wished that every child could be acknowledged in such an honoring way for their gifts and talents.  I wished that every school could honor the academically successful, the athletically successful, the dramatically successful, the artistically successful, the service-oriented, the scientifically successful, the socially successful--and the kids for whom making it to school each day is their success.  I wished there was a way to give those kids who have slept on the couch, or endured another night of drunken parents, or no parents at home, or fighting parents--those who have not had enough food, or who are sick and don't have health care, or who just really need someone to talk to--I wished there was a way to appropriately honor those kids.  To let them know that we, the adults whom society defines as "successful,"  see who they really are--that we see their beautiful spirits and we love them and are here for them; that we are able and willing to reflect back to them the best of who they are instead of the worst or their mistakes.

I don't know how that would look on the school calendar, but I trust there are those people every day who are in the schools doing just that.  Sometimes, we have to redefine our definitions of success. 

Appropriately, last night's ceremony was closed with this prayer from St. Francis of Assissi.  May we each take it to heart today, and reflect the best in all who cross our paths:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


The Spirit of Intersex

I have written recently in The Federal Way Mirror, and in the Parenting by Strengths Blog about Intersex issues.  The media coverage of Caster Semenya, which coincided with my finishing the book, Middlesex,  has prompted these writings.  Our society, by and large, is woefully ignorant about intersex issues--the frequency of their occurrence, the number of issues that cause them, the difference between sex and gender in general.

Here, on my personal blog, I am struck by what God thinks about all of this, having created each and every individual exactly the way they are and loving us all--those of us who are intersex, along with those of us who are woefully ignorant about this topic and still use the outdated and inaccurate term "hermaphrodite." 

This video is a performance by Eric Bibb of his song, Spirit I Am.  I was introduced to this song this weekend at a Satsong at my favorite yoga studio.  I think it brings it all home.  We all live the spirit we are, in the bodies we have.  Amen.

Grace Among the Blackberries

I was picking blackberries the other day, and I got to thinking. Not native to our area, they are invasive, thorn-ridden pesty brambles that folks love to hate--except when they bear their annual fruit, at which time we all rush out to pick as many as we can to create delectable jams, cobblers, crisps and such.

As I navigated the thorns with bowl in hand, I began to think of the analogies with life.  Which parts do I look over, deeming them not good enough for my attention?  Which parts are not quite ready for my attention?  Which parts am I willing to make careful plans, go through thorns, and even put up with an injury or two to get at?  Which parts take me unaware?  Which parts are past any help?  Which parts stain my hands as I deal with them?  Which parts are sweet?  Sour?  Moldy?  Out of reach?  Hidden?

It's our attitude, I decided, that makes quite a difference in how we see things, be they blackberry bushes or life.  God created this plant, this life, and depending on our perspective (what's in it for me?), we see more prominently the thorns, the fruit, or the potential.

Fast forward to a meeting at church last night, where I was decidedly wearing thorn-colored glasses.  I vocalized my concerns, my complaints, my....issues.  This morning, as I was thinking about it, I was humbled.  I needed to take my own advice.  I was looking only at what was in the way and had forgotten to count my blessings.  I had forgotten that I am more than a body, more than a youth director, more than a congregant.  I am a Spirit, a Child of God, and I had momentarily lost my connection with that fruit and potential, only to be mired up in the thorny patch of "reality."

Reality is over-rated sometimes.  Or maybe I should say, what we define as reality is over-rated sometimes.  I am staring squarely at a choice of focusing on what could be or what is.  Byron Katie has done amazing spiritual work by living her belief of not only not resisting, but loving what is (she has a book by that name, by the way.....).   I can, as in so many situations in life, stay caught up in what I wish were true, what I think would be better or best, what I know could be only if....Or I can take stock of what is in front of me, practice gratitude, and move forward in grace.

This morning, I choose grace.  I've begun phone calls to let people know how I am grateful for them.  I am creating a new reality--one where I know I am Spirit in this body; much like our church is a place where God can hang out and inspire people to do Her work.  And I'm having blackberry cobbler for lunch.


Blinded by the light....

I took a walk bright and early yesterday, as it was the first day of school for one son, and I was up anyway.  I have to admit that my intentions of walking more regularly this summer did not manifest as I had hoped.  I simply didn't take the time to get myself out the door first thing in the morning, which is when I need to go or it just doesn't happen.

As I felt the familiar rhythm of my feet on the pavement, my mind began to settle, and what usually happens began to happen:  I remember stuff I need to do.  So, there I was, at 6:30 in the morning, on a beautiful late summer day, coming up with an acronym so I could remember all the stuff I needed to do when I got back home.  It wasn't very relaxing--more anxiety producing, because I began to worry I would forget all the stuff I was remembering.

As it was dawning on me that I was likely undoing any benefit from the walk by increasing my anxiety, I turned the corner, literally.  Then, as I was blinded by the angle of the bright sun, I noticed that the pavement seemed to be glittering, much like Edward does in the Twilight movie when he reveals his grotesque beauty to Bella (it took Stephanie Meyer to enlighten us that vampires don't necessarily burn up in the Pacific Northwest sunlight--they just glitter).  Anyway, at that moment, I turned the corner figuratively as well, realizing that I really could enjoy my walk, and it was the relaxed mind that remembered better than the anxious one.

Today, on the radio, I heard a new song by Francesca Battistelli, and some of the lyrics grabbed me:

I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own I'm so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I'm free to be me

Now, this cute young thing is all of about 20, but still, I loved the message.  It's ok that I'm not perfect--in fact, God wants me to be me.  And the dents in my fenders and rips in my jeans just mean I've been engaging in life. 

It's like when my dear grandmother had cataract surgery a few years ago.  I called to see how she was doing.  "OK," she sighed.  "What's wrong?" I asked.  "Well," she said, "now that I've had the surgery, I can see how many wrinkles I have!"  "Grandma," I said sincerely and with as much love as I could infuse in my voice, "you've earned every one of those beautiful wrinkles.  They are your wisdom lines." 

Now, I am growing my own wisdom lines, and they come with a few dents and rips and aches in other areas.  I like to think this means I am living my life well, and using it up.  I can't take it with me, so I might as well give what I've got while I'm here, and enjoy as many moments as I can.  I'm pretty sure God would want that.  I just need to keep the faith that temporary blindness can make way for clear vision.

Do you ever feel like everything is falling apart at the same time?  The summer, we needed to replace our roof and get new windows.  This week, our dryer broke (we narrowly avoided a fire), the cordless phone is on the fritz, the answering machine keeps resetting, and we had to repair our printer.
Somewhere along the line, I began to think, "Boy, I'll be glad when everything is done and fixed."  Then I realized, that's not the lesson.
Life isn't about getting everything done and fixed.  Life is messy, inconvenient, and unpredictable.  And yet, God is there through it all, if only we're paying attention.
I don't pretend to understand all the ways God has been there this summer, but here are a few ways I believe He has been watching over us.  We have had professional, competent, kind people taking care of all the projects around here.  We avoided a fire by detecting the smell and smoke early enough.  We've had opportunities to take stock and re-prioritize activities, this summer, this week, this day. 
I can decide if I want to stay annoyed with everything that "doesn't work right," or if I am willing to look at things in another way, finding joy in the new, upgraded pieces of our home and ourselves, and thanking God for being with us on the journey. 
Perhaps things aren't so much falling apart as they are falling into place.
Rough Waters

It's another emotional summer around here.  Last year, we launched our first child; this year, good family friends are launching their first...or last.  Either way, our summer experiences have been punctuated by a tenuousness--will this be the last time we...go to camp together?  all participate in swim team in some way?  have family vacations with all of us?  see these dear boys/young men? 

As I navigate through these waters that are becoming reluctantly familiar to me, I also hear the pain and strain of good friends whose marriages are in trouble.  Some didn't make it past the changes of having children; others collapsed in the midst of rearing children with special needs, drug and alcohol use, arrests, abuse.  But an unusually large number seem to be finding that, once the children are gone, they have grown so far apart that they can no longer see the relationship they once had or hoped for.

I am grateful for my marriage, which has been nearly 23 years of laughter, tears, anger, intimacy, happiness, and incredibly hard work. Simultaneously, I am saddened for those who have not found the help and support we did in order to get through those rough times, and who face an uncertain future--perhaps alone, perhaps relieved, perhaps starting anew.

Exhausted from a week at camp, I attended the graduation party of a dear friend of my son's, with whose parents I am also fortunate enough to be close friends.  We have shared much of our families with each other over the years.  Watching a slide show of this young man's growing up years, I teared up.  So did his dad.  We had a few teary moments with each other reviewing how much we've meant to each other as our children have grown.  Our spouses gracefully exited to remove themselves from the emotional display in the kitchen and converse elsewhere....

I was reminded of a youth group activity from a couple of years ago.  Imagining that Christ's head was at one end of the room and His feet at the other, we placed ourselves one at a time where we thought we were in terms of doing His work here on earth.  Many chose the hands or feet.  Some the head.  I chose the heart, saying, "because I just love everybody so much."  They laughed and agreed that was a good place for me. 

But it takes all of us to do Christ's work.  We need those who keep their heads, and those who love everyone.  Those who will travel with their feet to wherever the work is, and those who will use their hands to do the work.

And now, as I look around at the changes happening in families of dear friends, I know we all need to be the arms of Christ to put around each other and hang on as we maneuver through the rough waters of change.

Grace and Gratitude

Savoring the moment is one of the characteristics associated with life satisfaction, along with gratitude. There are few things I savor more than a sunny summer morning.

Where I live, these are relatively rare. This year, though, we've had an abundance of them, and I have found myself beginning to take them for granted. This morning, though, I took my coffee outside to our gazebo to simply sit and be with the morning.

I love the sound of the birds, busy already with their bird business. I love the sunlight and shadows on the deck and how the sunlight shimmers off the worn screens on the back of our house. I love the absence of people noises and the temperature and density of the air. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, even summer morning air is cool and full of dew, and on occasion, the clean, salty smell of the Puget Sound. God's grace seems to abound.

I love noticing the contrasts between light and shadow, cool air and warm coffee, quiet and chirping. For some reason, on mornings like this, I find it easy to sit and "do nothing" for quite a while. But am I really doing nothing? Or am I taking time to notice, observe, savor the world around me? Something that I rarely do in the busy-ness of most days.

In my spiritual readings last week, the focus was on gratitude. I love gratitude! Gratitude can change my attitude from cranky and annoyed to centered and peaceful in a relatively short period of time. Cultivating gratitude is worth the time and effort to learn. A line from the reading struck me: God is grateful for you. I had not taken that perspective before. I have been grateful for all God has given and done--but to think that God is grateful for me? Really? But I'm so imperfect.

The ideas shared went on to claim that God has created us, and we are savor-able and worthy of His/Her gratitude because we exist. If we have caveats to that grace, then we are not forgiving ourselves or someone else. Wow. God's gratitude seems to be as unconditional as Her/His love.

I find myself approaching this concept slowly, catching glimpses of it from time to time, testing to see if it could really be true, peeking around corners to see if it's still there. I have a feeling that it's much like a sunny summer morning: full of delight and there for my savoring, if only I will take the time.

A Little Slice of Heaven

Here's the thing. I don't go to church much in the summer. I spend time with my family relaxing, visiting, going to family (church) camp, and boating. But I'm not often in that lovely sanctuary between mid June and September.

Today, I wake up. There is laughter downstairs from my son and his friend. I get up and make coffee, lunches, pack the cooler. We are going on the boat. The house is messy--leftover items from a swim meet are strewn on the stairs and in the entryway. I don't care.

We get ready and are pulling out of our street in record time for us--8:12 a.m. We drive down the freeway in the early morning quiet, casually discussing Harry Potter past and present. We have two extra teen boys with us, for a total of four. When we pull into the top of the boat launch, my husband sighs happily. Glass on the water.

We put the boat in the water and drop off three teens to wait on the tube while we pull Eric for the first run, which he routinely takes, and then happily pulls everyone else the rest of the day. I go next, doing a spectacular face plant on some errant waves, then have a fabulous run. We take each of the boys, cheering as they get up, get in and out of the wake, do jumps and tail grabs, attempt and almost land a 360.

We say hi to friends who live on the island on the lake. We retrieve the tube, head to the cove and have lunch. A pontoon boat full of young women comes by, loudly proclaiming it is one of their birthdays. They entreat our boys to dance to the music we are playing. They decline politely and sun bathe on the tube and back of the boat.

We run our eldest back to the dock so he can go to work, then head back to the cove to retrieve the others and take them tubing on the now wavey lake. They are laughing, bouncing, falling off. I go to the front of the boat to sit and enjoy the ride.

There is really nothing more wonderful I can think of to be doing on a gorgeous Saturday in the summer. The zen of being in the moment, watching these guys laugh and play, hanging out with my family and friends, reading to them from a book that is interesting--connecting and laughing. What more could I possibly want?

I don't go to church much in the summer. Today, I am in heaven.

To see what I've been blogging about lately, check out these posts:
Just a note:  God is not sexist.  Period.  Amen.  :)

The uncharacteristically-warm-and-sunny-weather-for-an-uncharacteristically-long-period-of-time has been lovely.  This is our third week of sunny, warm weather, and I am loving it!

I find myself in such a lovely mood, especially when I awaken to a sunny morning.  My energy is up; I want to get up and not miss any of the sunny day.  I want to sit outside, breathe the warm, soft air;  smell the soft, sweet scents from all things a-bloom--ahhhhh.  I relax just thinking about it.

One day, I found myself considering this on a deeper level.  Have you ever taken off from a cloudy location on an airplane and climbed above cloud level to the flying altitude?  If you have, you know that it's sunny up there above the clouds.  Logical, yes, but also a bit magical.

There's a saying out here in the Seattle area that I've been amused by (I am originally from the midwest, though I have lived here longer than I lived there).  On sunny days when you can see the majestic mountains, especially Mt. Rainier,  people say, "Oh, look! The mountain is out today!"  As if it weren't there the other days.  Sort of like not realizing the sun is up there shining away above the clouds.

That got me to thinking.  I wonder if I remember this when it gets cloudy and rainy again.  That the sun IS there; I just can't see it.  The mountains ARE there, even if they are not visible. 

Taking it to another level, the lovableness of our family members and friends IS there, even when we aren't noticing.  The divinity of each person--the Christ-like qualities--ARE there; it is up to us to notice them and keep them visible on the cloudy days.  And God's love IS there for us, each and every moment of each and every day--we just need to see it, feel it, and accept it.

What would the world be like if we could see all the sunshine, even on cloudy days?  Ahhhhhh.

Don't you find "coincidences" interesting?  When I have a bunch that line up, I stop and wonder what God is saying to me.
This past week, I was invited to be on a panel at Seattle University on Faith and Reproductive Justice.  What an honor and privilege it was to sit between Vincent Lachina, State Chaplain for Planned Parenthood, and Yohanna Kinberg, Rabbi at B'nai Torah in Bellevue.  Also on the panel were Dan Dombrowski, Seattle U Philosophy Professor, and Jodi O'Brien, Seattle U Sociology Professior and Chair of the College of Arts and Sciences.
We were like-minded on many aspects of the issue, including believing strongly in preserving at least some aspect of choice around pregnancy.  In addition, we all agree

Contact Information:
Amy Johnson, MSW


Wayside United Church of Christ