Mothers’ Day Friday: Seek Out an Invisible Mom

Invisible MomsThere are many famous, visible mothers out there.

We know them via art (Whistler’s Mother), celebrity (Kate Middleton), politics (Michelle Obama), literature (Marmee) or the Bible (Mary.)  Sometimes mothers are famous because of their children:  Carol Brady, Karen Kempner, Katherine Jackson.

Some moms are famous for a few moments of newsworthiness:  Toya Graham, Amy Chua.  And some moms are simply hard to miss.

But most of the world’s mothers are not famous, and some are essentially invisible. I would like for us to consider those moms today.

They are the mothers who will not be taken out to brunch this Sunday.  They will not receive a card or flowers.  But they are the heroes who raise children in refugee camps,  serve as the primary caregiver for a sick loved one, or parent children with special needs.  They are the ones whose children have died.  They are the ones who mother children as aunts and neighbors.

Especially if you are bummed out this weekend because you are not a mother but wish you were or you had a mother but she’s gone or you wish you had a different mother . . .

Seek out an invisible mom.  Look for the mom who gets no respect from the culture.  Notice the mom who is too exhausted to notice herself that it’s Mothers’ Day. Try to find a mom who will be forgotten by everyone but you.  And do something lovely for her.

Or make a contribution to an organization that supports invisible moms  – like your local women’s shelter or food bank or Dress for Success organization that supplies work clothes for women with limited income.

We who are privileged enough to celebrate a Happy Mothers’ Day have an excellent opportunity to do something that makes an uncelebrated woman visible this weekend.  Let’s do it.

If you want additional reading material about invisible moms: The annual State of the World’s Mothers Report is out this week.

Mothers’ Day Thursday: Sheryl Sandberg


I haven’t even read Lean In, but I can’t stop thinking about Sheryl Sandberg.  Her husband’s sudden death last weekend reminds us all that life can change in a blink.

From all accounts, he was a wonderful human being and I cannot imagine moving into Mothers Day weekend after just losing your best friend and spouse and your children’s other parent.  She recently wrote – of course – on Facebook:  “10 years of being a parent with him is perhaps more luck and more happiness than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful for every minute we had.

This is basically a post about being grateful.  Sometimes we don’t realize how enormously blessed we are until a loved one is gone.

The video is from Sheryl Sandberg’s address to The World Economic Forum in Davos in 2010.

Mothers’ Day Wednesday: Beautiful

boko haram releaseesBeauty is subjective of course, which makes it easy to say that I have extraordinarily beautiful friends and family.  The more imperfect they reveal themselves, the more beautiful they become to me.

I had a really beautiful Mom.  Even when she was in the throes of cancer she was beautiful to me and I told her so.  “I always loved that you were a beautiful mom,” I whispered into her ear when she was in a morphine-induced coma.

The Pretty Mother Story of the week has been Kate Middleton, appearing to have paid someone to give birth to her second child last weekend while she was off at a spa.  The truth is that she indeed gave birth, but Her People transformed her into a runway-worthy Princess.  Good for her.

The true beauties this week are those who don’t feel so beautiful perhaps, but their utter humanity makes them breathtakingly gorgeous.  My favorite candidates for Most Beautiful this week include the women and girls who have been freed from Boko Haram.  They have been subjected to traumas we cannot bear to imagine.  But look at these faces. These are beautiful women and girls.  Many of them have become mothers against their will.  They deserve our attention and our compassion.  We need to remember them  – the released and the not-yet-released  – this Mothers’ Day.

Image source.

Mothers’ Day Tuesday: Indispensable Mom

stay-at-home-momI thought I couldn’t live without my mother and – actually – I never wanted to live without her. But then she died when I was 32 and I was just 6 weeks into my own mom-ness, wondering how I could possibly live without her. She was the indispensable glue in our family. She created home for us and – bonus feature – in the words of Roseanne Barr, her uterus was indeed a homing device. She knew where everything was, from our socks to our keys to our baby books. How would we ever find anything again?

I had a dream about six months after she died, when Mom was in her 30s wearing hot red lipstick and she said, “Don’t worry Jan. You’ll know what to do.” And I woke up feeling much better.

One of my favorite bloggers – Vu Le – wrote about the myth of indispensability yesterday here and his mother is gone too. I’ve heard it said that we don’t become adults until our parents die, and – while I know lots of responsible adults whose parents are still living – I get this. Upon the death of our parents, we can no longer rely on them for back up and encouragement – and the silence is excruciating. But that loss teaches us that our parents are not in fact indispensable.

And neither are we.

Business professionals encourage us to “make ourselves indispensable” so that robots will not take over our jobs. Or something like that. And many parents keep us dependent on them because it gives them power or a sense of worth or something really sad and unhealthy.

And as Le Vu says in his post, we in non-profit leadership are so absorbed in our Change The World mindset that we believe the world might just collapse if we didn’t care so much/work all the time. Actually I know some government and for profit staffers who believe this as well. What would the church/agency/hospital/school/office do without us? (We kind of hope they would fall apart because we are insecure that way.)

The best leaders as well as the best parents are the ones who teach others how to thrive without them.

The best moms teach their kids how to be adults and take care of themselves. The best moms share the secret recipes and don’t clean up all the messes. The best moms teach their kids to make their own appointments, wash their own clothes, and do their own science projects. This, of course, goes for the best Dads too.

My Mom – as it turns out – wasn’t indispensable. I could live without her. I just wish I didn’t have to. This will be my 27th Mothers’ Day without her and it still sucks. But I’m grateful that she taught me how to teach my own kids how to bake cookies from scratch – and much more.

This post is dedicated to my TBC on her birthday. I never want to live without her either.

Mothers’ Day Monday (Let’s Make a Week Out of It*)

This is not what my house looks like.

This is not what my house looks like.

Moved by this brave post by my friend MaryAnn, I would like to confess before you and God that I am the weak sister of housekeeping.  Our home is basically clean and fresh-ish, but I, too, have projects that take forever to complete.  I write this post in our freshly painted living room (Benjamin Moore “New Chestnut” – see photo at left – completed in early April.) But the bookshelves are still empty because I haven’t bothered/had the inclination to put those books back.  They sit in another room in stacks on the floor alongside some random Christmas decorations. No, I haven’t put away all the Christmas decorations.  But I painted the shelves myself which was huge.

It’s high time I admitted that housekeeping is not my thing, nor will I ever be my mother in terms of utter cleanliness.  This is increasingly okay with me.

My mother was imperfect and so is/was yours.  For example, mine never taught me self-care (and I have the autopsy to prove it.)  She showed me so many wonderful things, but I wish she’d loved herself more and taught me that skill as well.  I’m learning it now in older middle age – an age she never reached – from friends and a gifted therapist.

In my head, mothers are supposed to be talented homemakers.  Many of us born in the 1950s had those moms.  I remember reading that Anna Quindlen’s mother caned chairs, for heaven’s sake.  Mine canned vegetables and froze fresh fruit that she picked herself.  Mine sewed my confirmation dress and all my other clothes until it became less expensive to buy them in a department store.  Mine grew roses and planted pansies. She created a wonderful home for us.  She additionally worked outside the home and she worried constantly about not being enough.

I believe it’s possible to create a wonderful home that has dust bunnies under the sofa while working outside the home.  And it’s also possible to create a wonderful home that’s dust bunny-less but has unsightly weeds in the flower beds while being home all day.  And it’s possible to create a wonderful home while being a mediocre cook, a lazy laundry folder, or a lame baker.

What makes a wonderful home doesn’t even need to have a mother living there.

What’s needed is safety and support and people who cheer us on and listen to our stories and laugh about random life events together.  Having someone lovingly mother us and father us is one of life’s excellent experiences.  Everybody should have this.

It’s not about perfect housekeeping, that’s for sure. It’s okay to be the imperfect mom.

*Mothers’ Day is not my favorite “holiday.”  But this week, I’m tackling my own demons and I invite you to consider yours.

When I Say “White Privilege” Do You . . .

. . . roll your eyes?

. . . feel ashamed?

. . . get angry?

. . . want to talk about it?

800px-Flesh

I write this as a privileged white person living in the USA.   I have orthodontally straightened teeth, a driver’s license and car with new tires, a house with a big yard in a safe neighborhood, medical and dental insurance, three higher education degrees, annual paid vacations, a cell phone, a Kindle, an iPad, a laptop, reliable electricity and plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, regular hair cuts, occasional pedicures, a Starbucks gold card, cable television, streaming television, a dishwasher, a microwave, a double-wide fridge with ice maker and water purifier, one and a half bathrooms, memory foam mattresses, access to public transportation, occasional meals out, and (until they died) a mother and father with exceptional capacity to parent me.  I am rich.  I am profoundly privileged.

Talking about white privilege makes many of us defensive and snarky.  The White Privilege Conference in March 2015  provoked this response from one news organization.  News reports that mock their subjects is not real news.  (True for both Fox and MSNBC.)

As long as we who are white and privileged see ourselves as the default race and culture, we will not be able to connect with The Other as Jesus did.  This is totally about Jesus for me.

Not only did God put on skin and move into the neighborhood (as Eugene Peterson famously transliterated) but then Jesus moved out of the neighborhood into Samaria, across the Jordan, in Tyre and Sidon.  He crossed gender, class, and religious borders.

As long as these stats continue to be the truth about our future, we who have been the majority will need to adapt and try to understand what has been our privilege based on the light color of our skin.  My own denominational middle judicatories will be making a concerted effort to send as many people as we can to the White Privilege Conference in 2016 in Philadelphia.  I hope to see you there. We have some things to learn.

Some of us will be old enough to remember when the “flesh” colored Crayola crayon was “white.”  This image makes more sense.

Nobody Does It Better

In these days of struggling denominational middle judicatories, this post offers a h/t and thankStronghold Castel you to The Synod of Lincoln Trails who sponsors (what I think is the only remaining) New Pastors program in our denomination. I’m with NP23 this week which is why the posts will be few and far between.

When I was a New Pastor, there was a denominational program that brought together the newly ordained for a three year cohort to discuss everything from the grief of losing our civilian lives to the discernment of our second call.  The program was eliminated for financial reasons.  But my Synod still does this for our own eight Presbyteries in Illinois and Indiana.

Where else can new pastors (and I include those in specialized ministry as pastors as well) talk freely about Crucial Conversations, Personal Boundaries, Personal Finance and other delicate issues without fear?  Clergy colleagues are essential in this life and we are creating strong bonds with every campfire.

Short post today because I get to be with these colleagues in a few minutes. Nobody does New Pastors better than my Synod.  Grateful.

Image of Stronghold Castle where NP23 is meeting for the 4th (out of 6) retreats.

Girl Groups in the Age of Gender Fluidity

Photo of Diana ROSS and Florence BALLARD and Mary WILSON and SUPREMESApparently Bruce Jenner is transgender.  This was The Biggest News over the weekend during the same news cycle when over 2400 souls perished in Nepal.

Yes, it’s certainly big news when a male Olympic Gold Medalist announces that he is transitioning/has transitioned into she.  But it feels a little icky when this story is impacted more by the fact that she is part of a family famous for being famous than the fact that she is an accomplished person in her own right.

In pondering this post during a long drive half-way across the country, I tried the count the number of girl groups I’ve been a part of.  I came up with seven:  high school cheerleaders, Young Life girl’s small group, Capitol Hill clergywomen’s group, Lex Girls, Writing Revs, Preaching Roundtable, and RevGalBlogPals (whose book you can order right here.)  Note:  Both men and women are part of RevGalBlogPals but we are described as “a supportive community for clergywomen since 2005.”

Within those groups, there were both gay and straight friends who ran the gamut of traditionally feminine characteristics.  Genetically we are all female, but there are variations on how some of us self-identify.

So, what’s the future of “girl groups” in this time of gender fluidity? I’m a big fan of being with people who have similar experiences for support and truth-sharing (e.g. clergywomen who’ve been The First Woman Somebody’s Ever Known.)  I love the pep talks of encouragement between women.  I love the “heads up” moments.

But I also recognize that there are male colleagues who are excellent supporters and they get it.  There are also women with whom I have zero in common except for our chromosomes.  Are we (slowly) moving into a time when we will connect with each other based on something deeper than gender?

I frankly don’t know.  But I’d love your insights.

Image source.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

There's a woman in the pulpitI never saw a woman preaching in a church pulpit until my first month into seminary.  I’m not sure what I was thinking – a 20-something woman taking required preaching courses who had never laid eyes on, much less heard, a woman preacher before.  But there I was.

“My first” was another student – MH – who was clear and strong and smart.  I’ve never forgotten that moment of witnessing her in the pulpit.  She – who would eventually receive the senior award for Best Preacher – delivered the sermon with confidence and grace.

Years later, after I’d preached countless sermons myself, a couple visiting Washington, DC on vacation came to worship in the church I was serving.  On the way out of the sanctuary, the gentleman said to me, “I was very surprised when you stood in the pulpit.  You seem to be a woman.”

Why, yes I was and still am.

It used to be considered odd and unusual to find a woman in the pulpit, and in certain denominations, it still is.  But there are quite a few of us now.

I remember when all the clergywomen in my Presbytery could fit around a dinner table for six or eight.  A few years later, there were enough of us to fill a whole fellowship hall.  And now we number in the thousands.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit tells stories about the experiences of these clergywomen.  And it’s a great read.

This book is for everyone who seeks beauty in both the common and uncommon. There’s the story about the woman who baptized her own mother.  There’s the story about the pastor who sat at the death bed of a frail man who loved to put puzzles together.  There’s the story about the woman adorning her hair in preparation for standing in a sanctuary full of wedding guests – but she is the officiant, not the bride.

Most parishioners have no idea what their pastor does all week.  There is no one watching us visit the sick, writing our sermons, preparing for meetings, making choices that impact our personal lives and our ecclesiastical lives.

If you’re interested, this lovely collection explains it beautifully.  It will change the way you see your pastor and your own ministry.

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I have a story in this collection too.)

No Crying in Baseball, No Sabermetrics in Church

I don’t get baseball and the only reason I go to games is for the ambiance and theNo Crying in Baseball singing. I don’t understand sabermetrics and specifically I don’t want to understand W.A.R. (Wins Above Replacement.) Too much math.

But this article struck my fancy recently, especially in regards to assessing our leadership skills.

In a recent conversation with one of my extraordinary colleagues about closing/shifting/creating congregations he asked: Do we have any leaders who could pull this off?

We have challenging congregations out there needing skilled pastors. And we have lots and lots of pastors out there looking for work/a new call.

But do we have leaders who are skilled at guiding our challenging congregations?

How do we learn skilled leadership? It doesn’t seem to be taught in seminary. Maybe it can be absorbed by osmosis in field education (and that’s assuming the field education supervisor is skilled.) But most of our best leaders tweak and fine tune and assess and develop their skills on the job, bolstered by effective evaluation, coaching, and mentoring.

From Marty Fukuda’s article cited above, these are great questions for reflection:

  • Is your leadership making your team and everyone on it better?
  • Do your leadership and personal actions strengthen your organization’s culture?
  • How would you evaluate the strategic decisions you’ve made for your organization over the past year?
  • How do you rank against the average worker when it comes to overcoming obstacles and adversity?

That last question is the kicker and it seems especially connected to our spiritual depth. Do we trust God in times of uncertainty? Are we the kind of leaders whose first response to conflict is self-protection? Is this ministry first and foremost about me?

We cannot measure church leadership like statisticians measure baseball performance. But, thank God, there’s crying in church. And thank God that we can learn more skilled leadership for these days.

Image source.