Family. Food. Foot…in my mouth

This is what I’ve always said about thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. It’s about my favorite things: family, food, and football. What’s not to love?

Last night I was a guest host on Pub Theology and we were talking about the awkward and divisive holiday meals where politics is on everyone’s no, no list.

But no matter what, we always have family, food, and football. “How’s the family? You wouldn’t believe what the baby did!” or “Is that sage stuffing I smell? Remember when grandad was so afraid of salmonella he used cook the turkey for 8 hours?” And when all else fails, “what’s the score?”

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Family First. Families have always been complicated. All families are, no matter how well you all get along or how toxic you are for each other. Thanksgiving being centered around family is… complicated.

If you spend Thanksgiving single or with your nuclear family, like I do, then it somehow feels like something is missing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great too, but there’s something amazing in the gathering of multiple generations. Don’t be afraid to mourn about the holiday if that’s what you need to do, but don’t lose sight of what you do have.

Do something nice for yourself. If you cook, cook it all. Buy the flowers that you would have bought if company was coming. Go out to dinner, even if there’s only one or two of you. Or, treat the day off as a free day. Order sushi and binge watch a good show, have a junk food day, the sky’s the limit! This is an opportunity, what do you need most?

The midsize gathering is probably the hardest. This is a few generations gathered, say 10-20 people (some of those children). This is where awkwardly all the adult can sit around one table and soapboxes get stepped upon. Politics and religion, God and country, all the hot button issues are land mines. This is also the perfect sized group for passive-aggressive behavior and multiple generations of family dynamics get played out.

No thank you. But if this is what you’ve got then dive in! What other topics is your ranting Uncle Joe into? Do 10 minutes of research on his second favorite person (besides Trump, Patton?) and talk about that. If he tries to bring it back to politics or you get cornered, say “I’d really rather not discuss this” and change the subject. You are an adult, you have rights!

If you’re hosting send out an email (or however you communicate) the day before and state the obvious. “Tomorrow is a day to give thanks and focus on each other as friends and family. In a politically charged world, which we all care about deeply, I’m/We’re asking everyone tomorrow to avoid hot button topics and rest from the 24 hour news cycle so we can live into the gratitude of each other.” This will probably not work, but it’s worth a try.

Last is the large family gathering. Multiple tables, multiple rooms. Find your tribe, stick with them. There’s safety in numbers. If the conversation gets uncomfortable, leave it. This is not you being avoidant, this is self care.

Take your cousin’s baby for a few minutes and give them a rest. Go watch an episode of Parks and Rec in your aunt’s bedroom. It’s 20 minutes, they won’t call the police. Force your grandfather to talk to you about his first job, or bring adult coloring for everyone, others will thank you. Assign yourself a task, put yourself in charge of the kids, or the dishes, or setting the table.

Then when the dinner is done, or the weekend, go home, open a nice bottle of wine and call a friend and debrief the day. Also, if you’re the one that loves to discuss hot button issues, remember this is not the place, keep yourself in check and do the work, this is not the time to pick your crazy cousin’s brain about gun control.

Food is Good. Thanksgiving meals are often traditional. If you love to cook but aren’t hosting, then decide that you will show up a little late. Cook your own Thanksgiving meal with all your favorites on another day so you can have leftovers too.

If you have dietary restrictions bring a dish. This not only relieves the host of “one more thing” but you know you can eat and not offend your host but also be a little satisfied with your meal. Restrictions suck, but it’s your day too.

Make all the pies. Seriously, Thanksgiving is about having all the pies, this is not a day to worry about waistline. Eat the pumpkin and the sweet potato, they’re vegetables after all! Pecan? Pass it. Apple? ah…please! Minced Meat? Okay, everyone had their limits.

Also, when the host offers leftovers, take them or if you’re hosting and you don’t want to give them away, don’t. You did the work after all!

Football: Is Nothing Sacred?

We used to at least have football. We could gather around the tv and coordinate dinner schedules to halftime and then TiVo came along and we didn’t even have to do that. A group gathered in the kitchen around the food preparation and others gathered on the tv with the occasional scream.

A lot of Thanksgivings arguments have been avoided because of football.

But not anymore. Some will blame Colin Kaepernick for his kneeling, others Trump for his involvement… AND there we are.

Open mouth. Insert foot.

If you’re boycotting the NFL, like we are, this is going to be one tough holiday. I don’t know a way around a “Trump vs. #noKaepnoNFL” debate. Which leads to a conversation on white supremacy and #blacklivesmatter.

Just accept that you’re screwed.

If you decide to suspend the boycott for one day to survive your family, no one will blame you, survival of the fittest, but tell your family you don’t want to talk about it. Simply DO NOT ENGAGE.

If it’s too complicated and you don’t see a way around it simply say, “I know you don’t understand but please, it’s important to me.” If football was the only thing that bonded two people together, as it is for many families. Accept your life is built on a lie and hide beer in your car. Also, create a fictional work emergency that makes you have to walk away from people for 45 minutes out of every hour.

These are not good solutions, but you’ve accepted you’re screwed so how can it hurt?

Seriously, good luck, and I promise you’ll make it. Remember, you are enough, you are loved, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Oh, and just to get the party started Happy Holidays ūüėČ

Mi Familia Cubana


Today I board a plane and tomorrow (very early) I will be flying to Cuba once again. This will be my fourth trip in as many years. 

Each time I lead a mission trip I get both excited and nervous. As much as I miss being a participant I do not kid myself to know that I am a much better leader than I am follower. That being said, I will easily follow someone who has more experience than I. On this trip, however, I’m it. 

This trip is different. I am taking young adults, there is only one other who has ever been and her first trip was last fall. I am excited for these others to experience Cuba. I am especially excited to introduce my partner to Cuba. 

In therapy yesterday he commented to our therapist that I am more excited to introduce him to my “Cuban family” than I am to my “real family”. This made me terrible sad. It’s not that he doesn’t get it, the whole family estrangement thing, and all he was saying was that these people are really important to me.

For better or worse and much to the dismay of my extended family I have learned to make my own family in life. I would love for my collective parents to meet my partner, but for too many reasons to discuss I cannot. I would love to have a family where I felt accepted for who I am. I would love to have a family who embraced me in a warm and loving way. 

I’m going to stop there because I just wrote and erased several sentences because they just got mean. 

Let’s just say this. I don’t expect the Walton’s, never have, nor do I expect the Brady Bunch, but there is a middle ground between that and David and Bathsheba’s little brood. All this to say, I would love to have the “meet the parents” moment. 

I even married into a family where I thought I would get that. A perfect little progressive family where I would be cherished, and well, that didn’t turn out so well either…

So this little phrase has bothered me since yesterday. There’s a guilt voice that says “how dare you put anyone else above your family”. Then I thought about it. 

I’m excited for Derrick to go to Cuba. I’m excited to have him see the things that I’ve seen and love the people that I love, that’s what you want when you’re in a relationship, you want to share things that are important and life changing with that person. I dream of bringing our kids someday.

But I realized this morning as I awoke from a restless sleep, I am not more excited to have him meet the Cubans I have grown to love more than my family, it’s that, he has already met my family. 

This man to whom I love and am partnered co-parents my children, has met and talked to my sisters and my brothers. They may be blood relation, they may not, but he already knows them. 

Maggie, Gus, Sarah, Melissa, Nick, Tripp, and Jeff. My family. He has already been given the seal of  approval. I love them all and thank them for being part of my real family. 

Now, off to Cuba where I have more mothers and grandmothers than any girl could want (and love every second of it!). 

Side note, they’ve seen his picture, he’s got nothing to worry about except maybe a wandering eye… ūüėČ

The Stress of It All

In a week I will be in Cuba. The sun will shine, the humility high, the smell of diesel engines everywhere. I will spend a week with my Cuban family and I will be at home.

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. More and more people are getting to visit. In the long run these tourists will be good or bad for Cubans, depending on how you look at things. This will be my 3rd trip in the last 2 years. The church I serve has a sister church there since 1999.

When I go to Cuba it is like coming home to a family who has done nothing but sit around and missed me. Of course this is not true but it feels that way. I have a Cuban madre (mother), a cuban novio (boyfriend who is at least 70) and hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters).

They are people just like we are, they have hopes and dreams just like we do. They carry a burden of abandonment, of hardship, of oppression. But they do not want our pity.

As I prepare I am collecting the usual things – chocolate to bring, extra shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant. Writing a sermon to be translated into Spanish and I am pulling summer clothes from the closet, but what I am most preparing is my soul.

1422399_10203198787072619_1253925515_nWhen I arrive in Cuba I will arrive on a 747 will all the luxuries and technology of a chartered plane. I will walk through a Caribbean airport and security and then into a parking lot full of cars from 1962. I will be greeted with warm hugs and probably more than a few tears will be shed, a sigh of relief will come from my being. I am in good, loving hands.

The rest of week will be rest, visits, food, worship, prayer, travel, and leading “my people” through the journey of their own spirituality. I will be on Cuban time, there’s no hurry, no stress about being late, no worry at all. I will talk to others about hardship, about cancer, about lack of access.

I will probably play volleyball and dance, I will get yelled at for not covering my very pale skin in the sun (the concept of sunscreen is a little hard to explain to some). I will get stares in the marketplace for my skin color and a few colorful calls for the same reason, children will want to touch my hair and skin and I will smile and delight.

I will have no contact with my family and friends for a week, I will be, in a different world. I tell my family, if something happens, just don’t bother trying to contact me, there’s nothing I can do about it. No phone, no internet, nothing distracting you but the person in front of you and the beauty of the world.

In therapy this morning I was describing this world, the problem is not letting go. It’s coming home.

When that plane lands in Miami I thrill and turn my iphone on immediately. I can’t wait to get home and hold¬†my little people¬†and connect with my friends, but when you spend a week away from the stress of life, it’s crushing to come home to it. Credit Cards, finances, work in the second week of Advent, access to everything and anything I want at any moment. Cars, phone, internet, OH MY!

For people who have had pain management you will understand this metaphor- the plane landing is like the pain medication wearing off. Slowly the weight of life returns. The stress of it all feels unbearable.

I am nervous of this feeling. I am scared and anxious about returning home in the midst of Advent, the stress of Christmas. Truth is, it wouldn’t matter,¬†Christmas or not, the abundance of my life is crushing and I need to figure out how to handle¬†it better, period.

Truth is, being in Cuba just holds up the mirror of life. “You do too much,” it says, “slow down, breathe, live.” but in America, that too feels like pressure.

Light

So I didn’t quite make all my Advent Photo of the Day photos into blog posts and the truth is that the later we got in Advent the harder it was. Cause, you know, I’m busy…

Anyway, my last photo on Christmas Day was “light” and here it is.

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“A Star, A Star, Dancing in the Night”

It is, of course, a Chinese Checkers board, in the middle of the game (which was actually the end of the game because we realized that it was 10pm on Christmas day and 4 children under the age of 8 needed to go to bed, along with their parents…)

Anyway, here’s what happened.

Christmas Day is a wonderful day, but for me, it is a day of celebrating a secular holiday. Christmas Eve is about Jesus, Christmas Day- presents, food, and family. There is nothing wrong with this, secular customs are important too.

I have not lived near extended family in over 10 years. Occasionally some family members come to visit for the holiday but mostly it is my family of 4. This has great benefits as we get to do things “our way” aka, however we want. This year we got up, opened presents, ate, the kids played, my husband read, and I went back to bed! In early afternoon the kids were still playing I got up and my husband took a nap. It was marvelous!

However, it was coming close to time to cook Christmas Dinner. No surprise, but I LOVE cooking big meals! But it feels empty to cook a big meal for the four of us. The Christmas meal is a holiday meal to be covered in chaos and fun and laughter. My small family has spent many a holiday meal with just the four of us, and every year it is hard for me.

So my husband and I decided we would not cook the meal, which made things even worse.

Then, I was texting with my friend Bob and as we were exchanging “Merry Christmas” greetings and other pleasantries he asked what I was doing and I explained about the meal. Then as a joke, I asked what time we should be over for dinner (joking like this is not unusual for us). They had already eaten their family meal, with a lot of extended family of course, but after a few exchanges an invitation came to come over to their house.

I called. They had to be exhausted, they had a lot of family around all day and I was not convinced that this is actually what they wanted to do, but an invite out of pity. I was joking I explained, but no, they are my family and insisted, and of course, I wanted to go.

We brought our side dishes, they reheated some ham, and we drove the 1.25 miles to their house. I was in my pajamas (as I refuse to leave them on Christmas Day) and so was my son. My husband and daughter needed to look presentable (yes, read exactly what you need to into the personalities from that statement). We talked, we ate, we had a dance competition, and we played Chinese Checkers. I was so happy I almost cried in joy. (several of our children did cry from exhaustion…)

But back to the picture.

The board itself if a star, and it could not be a better representation for the light that shone in the darkness for me that day. I had a wonderful morning with my family, a relaxing afternoon, and a party with my “extended family” in the evening. It was the best Christmas of my life. Bob, Dawn, Reese, Carter, Will, Maggie, and Gus. Thank you. I love you.

I am grateful, I am overwhelmed, I am elated, I am blessed.

Upsizing

houseMover (holding a heavy couch): “where do you want this?”

Me: “in the master bedroom”

Mover (looks at me inquisitively): “The Master Bedroom?”

Me: “yes- you’ll see”

Mover (seconds later): “Holy Crap!”

Just last week my husband and I bought our first house. Needless to say it was a very exciting and nerve-racking process. We talked a lot about where we should live, the kind of neighborhood, schools, and community of people we wanted to be around.

I often tell people that I would love living in a commune- and i say it non-ironically. Now people find this very strange from a minister. Visions of mass suicide and kool-aid drinking come to mind. Obviously there would have to be certain boundaries, respecting each others privacy, marriages, and sometimes families just need some time alone.

Really I imagine a very nice senior center where people have different levels of housing. There is a community hangout, dining area, shared outside space, etc. but everyone has their own living space. But really what I’m describing is the type of housing situation I had in seminary.

No, I never want to go back to the two room apartment my husband and I had with cinder block walls, but what I would take any day of the week is that you could have your free space in your apartment OR (and this was my choice most of the time) spend your free time with your friends and neighbors.

In seminary my best friend lived upstairs from me. We walked in and out of each others apartments freely, what was mine was hers and vice versa. And there were dozens of us like this. I miss that community desperately and understand how lucky I am to have even experienced it.

My husband and I have great jobs, wonderfully crazy kids, and now a beautiful house. We moved into a community that is friendly, warm, and socially oriented, but I am still struggling. I long for the deep sense of community that I once had and that I have when I am in the presence of “my people”. Yes, I absolutely need an escape from the world and my family needs together time just us.

But…

This issue is bigger than a house and a neighborhood and a school. For some reason this single family, detached home is reminding me just how detached we are becoming from each other. We quarantine ourselves to separate rooms or compartmentalize our friends into work and sports and family.

In Mark 13:31-35 Jesus asks a rhetorical question, “Who are my mothers and my brothers?” Jesus is always on the side of the oppressed and in many cases is asking the question how can we care for each other in our relationships? We do not need to be born of the flesh to care for someone as a mother, we not not need to be raised in the same household to for you to be my brother.

What we do need, however, is a strong understanding of connection and community.

Connection, true connection with others cannot and should not be separated or detached, it should be embraced and brought into our homes. So that is my challenge in this new house. Instead of longing for the community I once had, I must ask myself, how will I create it in this new place? So next time you’re in the neighborhood come on over, no need to call. Or if you live far away, I’m just a phone call, email, text, facebook or tweet away.

See you soon.

I’m Praying for You

225994_1636So as a pastor I have taken on as my person duty to pray for those part of my “flock”. Okay, I literally laughed out loud as I wrote that… I don’t know, maybe it’s the word flock.

Anyway, I pray- a lot- for my congregation,the people individually, for the community, for the world, for direction, etc.

There is a lot of conversation about this subject and the empty “I’ll pray for you” in my house.¬† The idea being that “I’ll pray for you” is literally the least we can do as being in community.¬† That Jesus, while meeting someone in pain, never turned to them and said, “I know you’re starving, or need shelter or are freezing to death, so I’ll pray for you.” In fact the whole point of the Good Samaritan was this- That Jesus took action and calls us to do the same.¬† Rob Bell says in his Nooma Video ‘Open’ “Don’t ask God to feed someone when you have food to share.”

So yes, I’m with it 100%, following through is a challenge, which I am constantly striving to do better.¬† However, there are simply not things in this world that we can “will into existence” or “think positive thoughts about”.¬† For example, When I was struggling to get pregnant that is not something I could will into existence to simply think positively about, I had to take action with the help of doctors (more people than I care to count) and pray, just simply pray in my hour of need.

I grew up thinking, “you can do anything you put your mind to, be anything you want to be”.¬† Yet the older I get the more I see that this philosophy is not always true. I am a very private person, and yet, I am an open book (I’m a conundrum, what can I say… and I really don’t know how my husband puts up with me).¬† I keep friends very close and those friends become family to me.

And lately I have been praying and sending love to the people in my family who are hurting. These are not empty gestures.  There are things in our lives, demons that we face, hardships, depression, sadness, stress, being overwhelmed that we simply have to walk through that shadowed valley to get to the other side.  And when my friends, loved ones family face this I pray for them, I send them love in my prayer, I envision their well-being.  I envision them happy, healthy, and able to put love and joy into the world again.

This is community, this is what it means to be the body of Christ.