The Poop-Talk Embargo and Its Fallout

We recently instituted a ban on the word "poop" - and all its variants - while eating meals. Naturally, our oldest had lots of questions to determine loopholes, because that is what she does. She's a negotiator, and even at age 5 she wants to determine all the gray areas. She's already learned that a rule can be bent or circumvented.

Since Bob and I do not have unlimited reserves of patience and creativity, we issued a plain statement that any use of the word would land the speaker in her/his room for a time out. (Side note: I may utter this word tonight just to get a break.)

It shouldn't have surprised us what happened next.

First, there was the immediate use of a synonym. We nipped that one in the bud, clarifying that the spirit of the law also applied.

Then there was the finger pointing. Because if we're told we can't do something, we will make it our mission to ferret out anyone else who is doing it.

I will not get into how we resolved this situation, nor provide a tidy 3-step how-to in addressing strong-willed kiddos. This isn't a parenting blog. No, this is about the basic human drive my pint-sized powerhouse was exhibiting: The drive toward maintaining power.

  1. She did not want to be told what she could or couldn't do.
  2. She wanted to find a way to do it without experiencing the consequences.
  3. She wanted to control others' behavior since she felt powerless by our decree.

I thought about all the adults who create fancy ways to rationalize breaking laws and hurting others:

  • When People of Color make demands that unfair systems and customs be addressed, and they receive from the dominant voices an embellished version of, "Don't tell us what to do!" 
  • Perpetual misrepresentations of Sharia Law that are used to justify hateful words and actions against our Muslim neighbors. 
  • All the prominent leaders who have attacked the LGBTQ community and then been exposed as being gay or bisexual themselves.

When we don't like being told how to behave, when we don't understand and embrace a rule or a request, we are pretty much guaranteed to rebel against it. This may be obvious (option #1 above), it may be subtle (#2), or it may be subterfuge (#3). But all these responses show a heart that is striving against instead of toward.

I don't mind my kids fighting back, as long as they are fighting with a good cause at heart. I want them to question and, when necessary, rebel against unjust practices and unethical authorities. And God as our Parent showed that desire as well when Jesus refused to let the religious leaders of His day preserve their power. He called them out on it (Matthew 23:13-36) and told His disciples to stand their ground (Matthew 10:16).

And the fact is that Bob and I had to put a blanket rule in place where a simple and flexible guideline could have existed. We had to be strict on the front end so we could make adjustments on the back end. If one of our kiddos misunderstood or slipped up, we would extend grace; if a time came that we needed to talk about feces for a science project or if a teacher's name happened to be Mr. Poop, we would remove the rule from our dinner table commandments. The rule was never meant to be a tyrant, but rather the symbol of a greater purpose: Showing respect and sound judgment. Which speaks to our primary family statute: Show love.

I guess that's really what all rules are. They're emblematic of what we should all strive for. If we want the best for others as well as ourselves, we'll naturally do what so many rules fundamental to societies explicitly tell us to do. We won't steal or lie or murder, we'll put others first and listen without interrupting with our own agendas. We'll avoid mentioning poop multiple times in every sentence we utter.

When things have gone off the rails, though, we need guidelines, and they may need to be firm at first. But we can't let a rule dictate our existence, nor should we spend all our time trying to find ways around it. If we discover we are doing one or both of those things, we need to ask ourselves if we believe in the reason why the rule exists at all.


Hard-won advice from a reluctant event organizer and project manager

When I was in middle school, I got the itch to organize events. No, that's inaccurate. I realized the need for organization, so I did it. There wasn't really an itch, just a desire to get to the end goal and no bridges provided to it. The point is, I got started in event creation and project management shortly after I hit the double digits, so I have a little bit of experience in it.

I don't know how to make things successful in terms of large numbers, so if you're reading this for that info you should just go Google it and find a blog or article written by someone with huge events listed under their credentials. Large numbers aren't really my thing, although it may have been early on. What I've learned, instead, is that I want people who want to be part of the experience.

Here's how I got to this place with my events and projects, and some lessons I've learned the hard way that I'd like to impart to you as a shortcut past frustration, disillusionment, and reorientation. Don't worry - you can still go through those feelings in other areas of your life.

I used to invite everyone. Then I realized if the event was for everyone it wouldn't be effective. It would be too general. It would be like seeing a family doctor to remove your gallbladder: She could do some of it, but probably wouldn't go deep and precise enough to ensure maximum impact of the procedure. So I started creating target demographics. If others came from outside those demographics, that was fine; however, I needed to accept I couldn't focus on all people and all their needs and still make something important happen. This allowed me to weigh the feedback I received. For example, if I created a project for high school students and a middle schooler said it wasn't meeting them where they were at, I was able to adjust the value of that critique as it applied to my intention.

I used to count on people to attend who said they would. Then I learned that people love ideas in theory but often beg off when reality sets in. They have to figure out logistics, they have to sacrifice their time, they may have to get uncomfortable. This was one of my key takeaways from Jesus' parable of the banquet: Invite them, but plan for a significant fraction to not follow through. Experience and context of the event in question will allow you to figure out an estimate for yourself, but I tend to use a 25-40% follow-through rate as a rule of thumb for my projects. The more sacrifice/discomfort required for participation, the lower the follow-through rate.

I used to assume I knew what people wanted. Then I started listening to attendees to help me to expand the vision - and often cut off parts of my own. That was humbling but critical, and, like with any kind of good pruning, it led to new growth. I also found out the attendees didn't always know what they wanted, so we discovered it together.

I used to work alone. Then I figured out that I am lacking in a lot of areas. A lot. It's that whole body analogy the Apostle Paul writes about, but this became even more real when I first started attending film festivals, where I witnessed films that were written, directed, and edited by one person. There were so many parts of these films that went too long or in a weird direction, characters who weren't developed enough or had an unnatural amount of focus on them, and other errors or poor decisions that could have been caught by having someone else in just one of those three leadership roles. So I've brought on team members, especially ones who were different from me and could see things and do things I could not.

I used to keep going. I still do. I make strategic plans that get rewritten countless times, but the planning gives me a framework for future forecasts and goal-setting. I fail a lot, I recalibrate a lot, and I am constantly educated by the brutality of experience. I have had to kill off projects I really liked because the potential or people or my own longterm interest just wasn't there. It's not easy. It's not always fun. But I love it because when something truly works I get see the goal reached: The people who want to participate receiving something valuable to them, being part of something that matters to them.

I wish you the best as you create and manage your projects to your own goals, and then allow them to evolve to meet others' needs. I beg of you: Don't worry so much about others' external standards of numbers or volume - define your standards and your goals, then work toward those for real impact.


A Permission Slip to Deconstruct

Truth ought to come with this disclaimer:

"This will not fit right at first. You may find your reality shifting, and all you trusted slipping through your fingers. That is okay. Just press onward and rest in the uncertainty."

I'm writing this because no one gave me that disclaimer. I'm writing this for the people who have started asking big questions or who are seeing things they didn't used to, who are finding they aren't who they used to be and think they might just be going crazy.

You are on the right path.

It takes courage to explore beyond what you have always known, and becoming aware of how immense suffering is, how blind we are, how ineffable God is - it can all be overwhelming.


You may feel like you've come untethered, and that those you used to feel close to are unable to relate with you now.

This is not the end, my friend.

And that may sound like a warning, but it is truly meant as a comfort. This is how and where it all starts. But it means letting go of attachments that you once held dear. It means holding your hands open so that the Spirit can fill them with new treasure. It means taking new shape so you can venture where you never could have gone before.

One of the greatest disservices my Christian upbringing did for me was to tell me that my spiritual development was linear and could be categorized, quantified, with a finite goal that could be summed up as "Going to church, reading the Bible, and sharing my faith."

But I've discovered that is not the case. These are only parts of the journey, not the destination. The destination is the arms of my Savior in a dance of sweet surrender and intimacy, and there is great mystery in the whole process that can't be measured. When I stopped having words in my prayers and started having heart conversations that transcended sentences, it was frightening because it hadn't been explained to me as part of the relationship.

But it is.

It goes beyond the structure and out into the mystical. That area is indescribable and confusing, so it often gets skipped over.

To many thirsty souls' detriment.

If you're finding yourself adrift in a space of deconstruction, know that God is in that. It is written into your adventure; it's not separate from it. This is a place where you wait and receive, where you let your soul sigh or sing, putting pause to all striving. Just rest in it, and find safe people who will listen with you and not judge you in your development.

I've spoken of the science behind a butterfly's metamorphosis before, but I need to share it again in this context.

The caterpillar doesn't go into the chrysalis to get wings taped on. It becomes goo, completely dismantled and melted so that it is unrecognizable. But only then can it become a new creature with new abilities and a new destination. It has no desire for caterpillar things, and it cannot return to them anyway. That may be a scary thought, but the goo time is a great place to let go of comfort zones. The butterfly has other responsibilities it must attend to - that it wants to attend to.

My gooey friends and butterflies in process, you are on your way. It doesn't look like it, but change is occurring. And when you arrive in truth, you will likely find that the old life no longer fits. But you'll be more you than ever before, the you that you were created to be.

Maybe I should add that to the disclaimer.


The In-Between

We are currently church orphans. I guess that term is preferable to church shoppers, and it feels more emotionally appropriate because we left our church after discovering it was moving in a different direction from us. To be blunt, it felt like it had already left us, and we had just received the news.

This post isn't about our former church. We love our family there and the work they are doing in the name of our Savior in the city and world.

We just feel saddened.

Correction: Bob feels frustrated. I feel saddened. Deeply so. So I guess my deep sadness averaged with his frustration equals general sadness. Or irritability. I don't know. We're just grieving, okay?

When people ask if our choice to leave was a private matter, the honest answer is that it was not so much personal as it was based on personal convictions. And we recognize not everyone shares these personal convictions.

It's never easy to leave a church, and it's especially hard when there isn't a plan b. We weren't like those serial daters who identify their next prospect before they write the Dear John letter. So it would have been much easier to stay and see if things changed, making it clear we did not agree and giving disclaimers when we invited friends to church. After all, that was how we had been doing it before we learned the info that caused us to reconsider our attendance. However, our loving Daddy has our family in a path and community where that wasn't an option, given what we had learned. We knew that we were called to leave and trust that the next home would be waiting for us.

While I contemplated our current circumstance of living in-between, I began to see how our family may no longer fit in to many churches we once did. In the past, speaking from the pulpit about issues like LGBTQ rights, racism, and gender equality were a nice-to-have, but did not define where we would be planting our tushes each Sunday morning. Now, though, we are hungry for spaces that are intentional in diversity, that practice radical grace and inclusion and provide opportunities for all people.

A friend who had gone through a similar maturation in his faith once shared a faith development model with me. He pointed out that, as a person grows beyond conventional faith constructs, it can look to others like "backsliding" because it goes outside of established structures. He himself had been rebuked for his spiritual development, and he ended up leaving his faith community to find one that allowed him to keep growing.

I have been working on a project for the past year, interviewing people who have left their faith communities and listening to their stories. My friend is not alone in saying he feels closer to God than ever before but distant from the concept of church. This is where I feel like our human attempts can get in the way of divine relationship. We create rules and standards and practices to maintain order, but they can start to cloud out the Reason for gathering in the first place.

And so we have an endless flow of congregants moving from one church to the next in search of authentic community and potential for healing and/or growth.
And so we have house churches that defy the format which many are no longer responding to, welcoming the spiritually hungry with the hospitality of the home.
And so we have church orphans who are wondering if they even fit in anywhere.

As for my family, we have peace in the mourning. We have turned this into an adventure for the kiddos and are praying that we can create safe spaces for others who feel abandoned by human structures. Our prayer is that they - like we - never feel abandoned by the One who designed the Church, regardless of its flaws from mortals' interpretations.

I spent some time yesterday in nature feeling all the feels and being honest about where I am. I wrote about how I'm used to going through phases of doubt and trial, but then I know the reward that awaits me.  This one, though, is particularly puzzling. Part of that is because I recently came out of a year-long Dark Night of the Soul, which I am still piecing together...or deconstructing...or whatever it is you do with such a mind- and heart-altering season. The point is that I don't know what is waiting for me. I feel like I'm in a free-fall, and I know God is going to catch me - that isn't a question - but I have no idea where or how. Will it be underwater? Will it be on a spaceship? Seriously, that is how disoriented I am by all this.

Driving home from my respite, I tried to use voice command on my iPhone to pull up an encouraging song I'd recently heard. I tried multiple requests, but it kept pulling up some subpar instrumental rendition. I finally tried it one last time, using the name of the group. Instead of what I was requesting - "Through It All/It Is Well" - I heard the following song. I hope it will bless you, stun you, or reduce you to grateful tears as it did me.


Thick Skin and the Girl Who Doesn't Have It

“I’m not political,” I said.
“Must be nice,” she replied.

Know what’s weird about this conversation? I don’t remember with whom I was speaking. It has transcended an actual setting and characters. All I recall is that I was in a majority class - white, Christian, straight, able-bodied, whatever - and my friend was not.

This simple dialogue has taken place in various ways on more than one occasion, boring itself deeper and deeper into my psyche, each time convicting me that I enjoy privilege I have not earned.

These conversation partners would prefer to have the luxury to say, “Need I speak up on this issue? Nah, I’m good.” They do not eagerly await the opportunity to be the person who has to take a stand, to advocate on their and/or their loved ones’ behalf on controversial issues. But they do it because that is how they have earned rights - or reclaimed them, in some cases. That is how they bring attention to their plight, because a lot of the rest of us don’t get it.

I haven’t gotten it in the past, and I’d bet a fair amount of these friends would say I still don’t. But I’m learning that I don’t get it, which I’d like to think would evoke a small nod from Socrates.

These friends have absurdly thick skins from having to be the designated killjoy, saying, “This isn’t okay,” when we in the majority assume it is. So when I started watching them experience fear from different actions taking place in our country, I knew it was a big deal. I felt sad because I loved them, and, I admit, I was anxious for them, too. I kept reminding myself about the guidance in Philippians 4:6 to “be anxious for nothing,” instead taking care of such predicaments with prayer and thanksgiving; nevertheless, the stress over their struggles was pervasive.

Then a weird thing happened to me: I went into a depression. As the news piled on, each item affecting a specific person for whom I cared deeply, the rending of my heart worsened. I assumed it was a grief reaction, which it was. But that wasn’t the whole story.

I was pouring out my sorrow to one of my marginalized friends named Shai, expecting empathy from her and a brainstorming session on how to Galatians 6:2 the current immeasurable burden I believed she was facing. Instead, she shrugged. “Yeah, it’s just Tuesday for us.”*

That said it all.

I was doubled-over from a teaspoon of the reality she drinks throughout every day. 

My pale skin was too thin to handle what hers had endured during our equal lengths of stay on this planet. We had similar backstories of a difficult home life and bad relationships, but she had experience from a societal component that I could not comprehend, which thus allowed her to walk through bizarre and intense situations without crumbling.

Yes, she felt fear, but it was no greater than that which she had learned to cope with at school, in the workplace, even riding public transportation.

This feelization that I was receiving a compressed file of some of those sensations - a kind of cultural sensitivity intensive training - helped me to sit with my depression instead of fight it. In that space, I had to confess with no small amount of shame that there had been many times I had practiced a compassion borne of intellect, not heart. 

Though both are forms of compassion and share a goal of honoring another’s suffering, intellectual compassion maintains a distance. It’s like the city-dweller who visits her uncle’s farm with genuine offers to help, as long as it doesn’t mean getting dirt under her fingernails. It isn’t that she’s trying to be condescending; she just doesn’t know what farming is all about.

I do a lot of apologizing these days. I’m okay with that. That’s where I’m trying to develop my thick skin: Recognizing and owning up to how many times I’ve gotten it wrong in the past. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity to reflect on our mistakes, take responsibility for them, and promise we’ll make even more in the future. Or maybe it’s just an indication my friends should sign a disclaimer when they agree to join my life.

Either way, to my friends who are not of my demographic, I’m sorry for the times when you’ve needed heartfelt compassion and all I had to offer you was the intellectual kind. Please forgive me for thinking I could opt out on things that directly affected you. I’m trying to put my love into action so I can be the type of good neighbor Jesus talked about in the story He told in Luke 10:25-37 - you know, the one where the hero was from a different religion and culture than His own.

To that last point, my friend Sebastien, one of my favorite humanists, asked me recently if Christianity shaped my belief in social justice. I answered with honesty: Not entirely. Because Christianity, like any belief system, has human flaws and limitations. What has most shaped my belief in social justice is Jesus. When I spend time reading about His life - words, actions, attitudes, scripture He quoted, friends He chose - I can’t help but want to live mine in a way that brings out the best in others. (Then I pray He’ll fill in the gaps when I don’t.)

So, to all of you, thank you for loving me despite my biases and shortsightedness. If it means anything, I’m depressed because I care so freakin’ much about you. When I get a thicker skin to go with my tenderized heart, let's get down to business, okay?

Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

* - Shai asked me to clarify that she can't take credit for her pithy remark, but was actually quoting Samuel L. Jackson.


Why my kids may have a lot of hospital visits OR The undervalued gift of doubt

I gripped her hand in mine, adrenaline surging, eyes unblinking, reluctant to look at the bloody mess that likely lay within.

“Never!” I exclaimed with more force than I expected. The fear was shoving words out. “Never grab at the food Mama is slicing!”

Yanking my hand open, my pupils fixated on her thumb. I scanned it for flaps of flesh. Nothing. Masking my relief, I looked up at her eyes that were as wide as mine.

“You could have gotten a big ouchie! We could be on the way to the hospital right now!”

At this point, my young daughter was shutting down - she had heard enough and was starting to deflect the attention. I wrapped her in my arms and told her that I loved her and was looking out for her safety. After we thanked God for protecting her, I sent her off to play so I could decompress.

“Be in the world, but not of the world.” The old churchianity phrase floated through my mind. An imperfect summary of Romans 12:2, it was supposed to be shorthand for living God’s way even as we’re immersed in humanity. Today, though, I saw it from the vantage point of a mom and it blew some doors off my mind barn. If that's a thing. Because I'm saying it is.

Okay, so we as parents are given the responsibility to raise kids into adults. This means teaching them decision-making, responsibility, love, manners, and other traits that will do them well in both relationships and society.

But how often have we lost track of this goal and instead tried to keep those in our care away from lessons? Instead of allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions, we prevent them from making the decisions in the first place. By doing so, we deprive them of a chance to mature in their problem-solving; we teach them to rely on us, to simply follow directives, so that their confidence in their internal compass diminishes or completely deteriorates.

Funny enough, this is all in the name of keeping them safe and happy, and we pat ourselves on the backs for being good parents. Granted, in some cases we should. Giving a child the opportunity to play in the street so he learns what it feels like to be hit by a truck is sheer idiocy.

But there are so many other developmentally appropriate ways they can experience consequences that shape their ability to choose for themselves, such as telling them they can't have the car because they didn't bring it home on time last night or letting them bonk themselves on the head with a TV remote when they reach up to a tabletop they can’t see. (Probably not in that order, because that would indicate a problematic developmental arc.)

As they begin to grasp and appreciate cause and effect, they can start to make better choices and maybe trust us when we tell them something isn’t good for them.

And that is what God did for us.

He didn’t keep us out of the world so that we could be protected from it, but rather put us in the world so we could have on-the-job training on how to make good decisions, as well as learn over time that He has our best in mind.

Here's where I'm about to get controversial: I want my kids to doubt. I want them to ask questions and explore outside their homegrown beliefs. I want them to compare and test and do all that stuff that helps them either see that it's for them or that they can't agree with it. Because if I'm going to believe in something and endorse it, I need to have faith that it can stand up to testing. Blocking those opportunities for challenge will only indicate that I don't think it can endure them.

I've known a lot of people whose parents kept them from firsthand learning experiences in the name of "protecting their family". For whatever reason - often out of good intentions or their own history of bad decisions - these parents did everything they could to curb the resources available, the friends their kids hung out with, the worldview to which they were exposed.

It may have seemed wise at the time, but, anecdotally, few of those offspring have gone on to truly own their faith. Most, it seems, rejected it outright, while others remained steadfast in those original convictions. Regarding the latter, they may adhere to their family traditions, the culture and flavor of the belief system, but they don't seem to dance with the abandon and sit in the mystery as do those who have taken time to investigate and question and know it intimately. Many bristle at confrontation and fear the prospect of doubt, which can, ironically, bring a new level of love when embraced.

Having recently watched the documentary series on A&E, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I think all us viewers can agree on the damage that limited and slanted information can do to a religion's adherents. Plus, it almost guarantees some kind of unspooling when the protected person becomes aware that an entirely different world exists out there. If nothing else, that show made me think, "I want my kids to know why people agree and disagree with our faith."

Do not misunderstand me: Critical thinking is crucial. We must teach how to evaluate, not just how to confront. And we can't simply send our kids out tabula rasa, without any template from which to make their comparisons. The truth is, though, we literally cannot, because we have helped them form a template, consciously or not, and they're going to make the comparisons. What we need to do is help them understand how we were intentional in arriving at the decisions and values we claim, why we believe what we believe, the difference it makes in our lives and the world, and what the endgame is. And then we need to release them, always maintaining a loving and open relationship with them regardless of where they end up in their personal theology. Who knows? They may one day help to shape ours.

If you've read enough Bible or sat in a church pew for a while, you've probably stumbled upon a reliable parenting favorite, Proverbs 22:6 (NASB): Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. I used to question this verse, because I saw so few kids following it as it's laid out. But in the context of what I'm describing, it begins to make sense.
  • If you train a kid to obey blindly, they will do so, and it may not be you whom they're obeying.
  • If you train a kid to make careful and informed decisions, they will do so, and they may not be the conclusions you came to.
  • If you train a kid to love, to care for others and show respect to all people, they will listen and learn and be really terrific friends with whom you can converse, regardless of your differences.
When I began to dismantle my family culture's narrative, I saw that there were views that appeared incomplete. I needed to understand why certain topics were highlighted over others, why we listened to some people and not others, why some issues were omitted entirely. This led me to explore the Bible, the news, other religions, other viewpoints. This isn't watering down faith, my friends - it's taking responsibility for it.

For me, I went on my faith journey and came to a fuller love of Jesus. I didn't come back to faith; I came to a new one. Others departed entirely, some are in transit, and some never left the station. My goal is to launch my kids, as well as anyone I mentor, disciple, or lead in any way, so they can adventure with a solid mind and humble heart, and then dance with their answer, whatever it is. And I never want to fear that journey, so please hold me to this prayer when my babies hit their teens.

I’m not saying I should have let Moxie get her finger sliced; I’m saying I intend to continue letting her in the kitchen - with some extra monitoring, of course. It may be hard, but it’s a lot better option than tossing her into the world at age 18 only knowing how to meekly follow rules. I want her to have the experience of being in this world - the kitchen, the living room, the restroom with all its toothpaste-paint potential - and choosing for herself while I can still shape some of the consequences and outcomes, while answering her questions and helping her to learn how to ask them.

My loving Daddy does it for me, and I’ll do it for her.