The Wolf in sheep’s clothing

If you don’t know this, my dog is a war veteran. My oldest son adopted her from the mountains of Afghanistan.  Part Shepherd and part wolf, she was Marine-trained to keep watch.

Suffice it to say, she has a reputation as a bad ass. Every morning, at the break of dawn, she goes on patrol from my screened in porch.  She barks at strangers whom she does not recognize. She intimidates dogs who have not been properly introduced. She is prepared to go through the screen if she feels a significant threat.  She is my protector, my warrior, one of my best friends.

That being said, she has a story. Doesn’t everybody?  She was born in a war zone.  She learned to be overly alert and protective.  Frankly, she has post traumatic stress disorder.  Have you ever heard of that?

So do my two oldest sons who are also war veterans.  As a matter of fact, the whole family has it to some degree.  That’s what violence, intrusion, and the sudden death of loved ones leave behind.  Believe me. There are many military families like mine. Don’t get me started.

Some of you know from my recent facebook posts that my condo has become a haven for nesting animals. At the end of March, a robin built a nest on top of my front door. I adapted, using the garage or the back door as much as possible. I watched the eggs hatch, and eventually, the young birds flew the coop.

Then, a duck made a nest by the same front door and deposited 8 eggs.  I named the Mama duck “Ethel” and talked to her every day as if she belonged here.  I did the same for “Robin”.  Let me say, I used to live on a tiny farm.

My daughter raised ducks for a 4-H project.  We built a pen in a grove of pine trees to keep them as safe as possible.  We let out the ducks at least twice a day.  They would immediately take flight, circling our property three times.  Then they would land and expect us to chase them back to their pen. Heidi, our watchdog, loved their game.

Back then, Heidi would swim with them in our pond. To the ducks, she was not a bad ass, but part of the family. So, it didn’t surprise me at all that Heidi welcomed Ethel to our home.  Heidi was accustomed to ducks. In some odd way, she knew them as our kin. Then Mia, the golden retriever, showed up.

Mia is the darling dog of the community.   Because of her breed, everyone admires her.  Yet, she’s the off-leash blond bombshell who wants to take over the world.

Heidi, on the other hand,  is greeted with on-going suspicion. Because of her aggressive bark, she is labelled as a nuisance, one to be feared.  People have no idea what she’s been through. Neighbors have no idea that her bark is her cry for help. She is broken and overly-stressed. She is anxious and afraid. Like other war veterans, she longs to be accepted and loved. Could that also be true for other neighbors as well?

The other night, Mia was out and about.  As usual, she was the gentle and flirtatious  politician making the rounds, until she smelled the duck.  She charged the nest. Frantically, Ethel took off. I had to intervene.

In the meantime, Heidi was on lock down in the back yard. Because of her reputation, she was on the patio.  She was anchored by the gas grill, even as she lazily nested in the mulch nearby.

Mia is a sweet dog. There’s no doubt about it.  Perhaps, she just isn’t trained to be kind and welcoming to ducks. Perhaps she is so accustomed to being the center of attention, she doesn’t realize that there are other creatures in the universe who don’t want to be bothered.

Here’s my point. Beware of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” They can cause much anxiety and stress.  Here’s another point. Listen to the stories of others. Be gentle with strangers.  Give thanks for those who made sacrifices for us through service to their country.  Advocate for our veterans.  They deserve our kindness and respect, regardless of their species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bedazzled Silver Lining

I am a cup half-full kind of gal.  I not only look for the “silver lining”, I bedazzle it. I bedazzle it with shimmering sequins and light-reflecting Swarovski crystals.  Don’t be a hater.  It just is.

I took a week’s vacation, starting Saturday morning.  My village of friends knows, for a variety of reasons, that I have the blessing of travel.  Yet, this time, I took vacation to visit with my extended family in North Carolina.  The visit was past due. There was my nephew’s college graduation.  There were doctors’ visits with my father, and a bank appointment with my mother.  So, why did I boohoo for almost two hours in the car, as I drove from one town to another?

I’ve been thinking about that.  I’m not sad.  Yet, I AM humbled.  Okay, I admit it. I am a sap.  I don’t cry often. For instance, I don’t cry at weddings or funerals.  I’m sure that is a professional hazard from being the one often in charge. Instead, my tears flow in unusual circumstances.

I cry when hard work is completed and well done.  I cry when people let down their guards and choose to be unusually vulnerable. I cry when I hear “Pomp and Circumstance”.  Of course, like so many others, I cry when I am sleep deprived and world weary.

Crying is a gift.  Though it gets a bad rap, it is the raw fruit cleanse for the soul.   Sure, crying lubricates our eyeballs.  It kills bacteria and removes toxins caused by stress.  It also points out the obvious.

We are human.  I don’t care if you call it, “leaky tear ducts, rain on your face, or salty discharge”.  Crying reminds us that we are not always in control.  It suggests that there may be more vibes in the universe for which we cannot take credit or blame.  Our tears are a message to which we need to pay attention.

So, I took a day away by myself and drove to the beach.  I wanted to pay attention. Unfortunately, a two-hour drive from my sister’s house became a five-hour drive after a wrong turn.  Don’t laugh.  I was lost in my thoughts as well.  Oh, the trials and trails on which I find myself!  Suffice it to say, I couldn’t get there fast enough. Yet, I had a lot of time to clarify the moans and groans spilling out from within.

Now what is it about the beach that brings us such comfort and calm?  Is it the chronic white noise of tumbling waves? Is it the long walk? Is it the extra dose of Vitamin D?  For those of us who grew up near the East Coast, is it the flood of good memories of family vacations, high school rites of passage, being with friends in a spirit of freedom and relaxation?  For people of faith, is it the soggy baptismal pull, like gravity, that draws us back to the tide of Divine approval and love?

The answer to the question is all of the above.  There is one more thing.

Do me a favor.  Look at the picture below and use your imagination.  Tell me what you see.  I see a silver lining, bedazzled with shimmering sequins and light-reflecting Swarovski crystals. How about you?

Even if that time apart took longer than expected to get there, it was worth it.   I listened to my tears. I gave thanks for them, and for everyone else around me who humbles me.  Looking at that water brought me back to my true self.

So, the next time tears well up and start dripping down your face, pay attention.  Accept your humanity.  Listen to the moans and groans from within.  Receive the gift of the cleanse.  Then, in your imagination, take those tears and bedazzle them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When did This Mother Superior Pass Away?

Because I am a mother and a pastor, my children used to call me, “Mother Superior”.  As a matter of fact, that is how my youngest son would address my birthday and Mother’s Day cards.  Who was I to correct him? By the way, did you know that my middle name is Pope.  That is a fact.

For a Mom, so often torn between parenting and pastoring, that name “Mother Superior” was my favorite gift.  It was a dozen orange roses. It was breakfast in bed and a foot massage.  It was a home cooked meal prepared, served and cleaned up by somebody else.

In fact, Chris’ construction-paper cards addressed that way were his wink with a kiss.  I felt like it was his way of saying, “You’re no Mother Theresa, but your love for me is superior”.  I didn’t need anything else.  Then he grew up.

When Chris turned seventeen, things changed.  He began to separate from me.  He barely spoke.  He forgot to share his calendar. No longer did he have time for a shared meal.  I get it.  Self-differentiation is the work of adolescence.  Yet to say it wasn’t a struggle for me would be like saying that the Rock of Gibraltar is just another pebble.  Am I the only mother who went through this?

At some point, this Mother Superior passed away.  I don’t remember the exact date.  All I know was that I wasn’t even invited to the Memorial Service.

Before that, Chris and I would go out many Sunday nights.  It was just the two of us.   He would finish his homework, as he ate.  I would simply eat and offer my assistance if required.  I would take deep breaths after a long week.  Basically, we would re-connect after too many over-scheduled days.

However, during his senior year of high school, he did his thing; I did mine.  We barely spoke.  I don’t remember heated arguments.  I just remember silence, blank stares and the question quota.

That’s right. He thought I asked too many questions.  Can you imagine a mother doing that? Well, he thought I did. So, he imposed the question quota. I was only to ask so many questions before he shut down.

In my defense, I was still interested in his comings and goings. I wanted to know with whom he rode.  I wanted to know what he was thinking.

I didn’t ask questions out of suspicion, most of the time. I was genuinely interested. Looking back, I realize I was still craving the long talks. I craved his need for my help. I missed the invitation to scratch his back. Yet, he was growing up and growing away.

Chris is now 21.  He is a stellar son.  He is in college, figuring out his core values and passions.  Though I wish he called more, he participates in required family gatherings. For instance, this past Easter Sunday, he came to church for worship and the annual family photo. He didn’t growl or grumble. He was on time!

Yet, under his breath during Easter lunch, he muttered something about going to Europe in a few weeks. “whhaat”? I wanted to shout? Instead, I chose to be thrilled.  I refrained from asking ANY questions. I simply said with great joy, “tell me more”!

I said, “Wow! Clearly, you’ve been resourceful. It sounds like you’re pursuing one of your dreams”. I expressed pride in his initiative. Then, he showed me pictures and shared more details.

Yesterday, while I was at church, Chris called me from Barcelona, Spain.  With great animation in his voice, he shared some of the highlights from his travels.  He called ME.  He didn’t ask for money.  He simply wanted to share some of his comings and goings.

Maybe this Mother Superior had to die for a new relationship to rise. I hate to admit that. It was a slow death. The good news, however, is that the pressure has been lifted. These days I’m satisfied to be Mom.

What does partnership really look like?

I am sad to say that my partner in ministry for the last nine years, Pastor Tom, is retiring at the end of June.  We have been a great team: yin and yang, extravert and introvert, female and male. To say “it has been a great ride” is an understatement. At times, he has been my calm in the storm. At times, I have been the match that lit his feet on fire.  Tom has been my colleague, my pastor and he will forever be my friend.

A few weeks ago, Tom sent a letter to the congregation announcing his retirement.  It was well received. We are now busy trying to create a celebration worthy of his impact, yet subtle enough for his approval.

Shortly after his letter went out, I got an email from a church member.  He was sad to receive the news of Tom’s retirement, but ready to join the celebration for his ministry.  It was a supportive email and I appreciated receiving it.  It was the P.S. that made me chuckle.

He wrote, “P.S. after Tom retires, maybe you’ll get to be the Big Cheese”.

On paper, I am the Lead Pastor.  At first, I wanted to chalk up the confusion to sexism or age-ism.  Tom is older than I and has accumulated more years of service.  Still, I wanted to huff and puff, then burn my bra!  I immediately heard Helen Reddy’s song in my head, “I am woman, hear me roar”. It was followed by the chorus of “We shall overcome”.

Then I took a deep breath and decided to look at the comment from a different perspective.  Once I did that, all I could do was be grateful.  The truth is, I aspire to be a team player, NOT the Big Cheese. Let me explain.

I am an identical twin.  We are hilariously competitive and the very best of friends.  Growing up, she was the short stop when I played second base.  There was nothing sweeter than making a double play.  It was about knowing each other so intuitively that we had a rhythm that was successful most of the time.  Of course, there was the occasional over-throw and the dropped ball.  Let’s tell the truth. No partnership is perfect. Yet, isn’t that the kind of relationship for which we’re all striving?

Years ago, I was on Match.com.  Yes, I admit it.  I wouldn’t say that from the pulpit, but this blog is different. I intend to get real.

On my profile, I wrote, “I am looking for a short stop to my second base and a lifetime of double plays”.  It was pretty descriptive. Don’t you think?

You see, from the very beginning, I was created as a partner.

All of this is to say, I am sad to see my colleague retire from our partnership though I promise to love him forward.  It is also to say that I am proud that the lines of our titles were blurred.  It doesn’t matter who did what.  It doesn’t matter who got credit, or who specifically got the rare blame.  What matters is the partnership of symbiosis.  What matters is the mutual respect and the appreciation of each other’s unique strengths. What matters is nine years of double plays.

Do me a favor.  Look at the partnerships in which you are involved.  Do you have symbiosis?  Are the lines of leadership sometimes blurred?  Are you equally satisfied to lead and to follow?  Do you have mutual respect and the ability to forgive the occasional over-throw or dropped ball?

It’s time to look at partnership in a new way.