Friday, October 30, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: Praise is What I Do

Dear Readers,

Last week's Free Shipping Friday apparently got lost in the mail (oops), but here's an old-school CD, in a bubble wrap mailer, ready to pop into your three-disc changer and put on repeat. Sorry, I also forgot to do a Throwback Thursday post yesterday...

For your listening pleasure, some beautiful music that I do listen to on repeat. Just without having to fight ridiculous cellophane wrappers or broken, clunky jewel cases or without having to lug around huge binders full of CDs. I love the internet.

In De Lord (Negro Spiritual)

Praise is What I Do (William Murphy/Shekinah Glory Ministries)

Bless the Lord (Son of Man)  (Tye Tribbet & Greater Anointing)

Monday, October 26, 2015

To Our Team (Players as well as Fans)

Dear Brave and Bold,

Yeah, this is going to be a pretty shallow, ridiculous letter. Frankly, I'm behind the eight-ball on paperwork and classwork and papers and classes and just plain work. So sometimes it's nice to just turn the brain off, talk trash, and revel in the feel of a ridiculous, beautiful, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes type of college football win.

Well done, boys. Good job, team. Thank you, coaching staff. And hell yeah, fans! I was there back in 2003 when we took down Auburn (and consequently, the goalposts) in an unprecedented upset. Kennan and Team Redd and I took to the field back then, and it was amazing. I would expect nothing less from fans for this game. I so wish I had a piece of goalpost... I know it's destructive and expensive but I envy our friends who have ragged chunks of bright yellow metal on their desks. I settled for a chunk of turf because I was young and crazy then (as opposed to now being older, crazier, but also theoretically more responsible, and concerned with the well-being of my kiddos).

I guess I'll get just a little political here and say: why not expand the definition of the "brave and bold" to include not just the football team but all of GT and her fans? I didn't even understand why the proposed song amendment "If I had a daughter sir, I'd dress her in white and gold; and put her on the campus to join the brave and bold" didn't make sense, because all along, I'd been thinking of the brave and bold as everybody. Which I realize doesn't make great sense, but hey--this proposed change wouldn't be the first time it was changed, anyway, as shown by these lyrics. If nothing else, "... put her on the campus to improve the ratio" is another option. Not necessarily the most flattering, or even helpful, but it at least acknowledges that engineering is a (sadly) male-dominated field.

As far as changing lyrics, I've been doing that ever since I became a fan, anyway. I sing, "He would yell, 'To Hell with Georgia!' like his mommy used to do!" so it's obvious I'm not above interjecting my own feminist politics into sacred words (I do the same thing with praise songs and hymns whose lyrics I find theologically questionable, though actually not targeting gender bias... but that's another post entirely). Really, I'm just here to cheer the team to victory, which is actually kind of possible. I remember another great game, in 2006 against Miami (weird to think of the days of Chan Gailey and Reggie Ball with fondness), where my delusions of fan grandeur were actually confirmed when I HELPED FORCE A TIMEOUT. We had amaaaazing seats in the student section, thanks to friend Kdids, and I screamed my heart out, along with everybody else, enough so that their QB had to call a timeout because nobody could hear the audible. This did not help me to calm down and not take things so seriously. But it was soooooo much fun. There's a small part of me that thinks that they can still hear me through the television, from hundreds of miles away. Like I said, now more responsible, in theory only.

Anyway, it's a rainy Monday morning but the glow from the weekend is sunshine enough for me today. Up with the White and Gold! Am I watching the #BlockSix clip online, again and again? Maaaaybe. Can you blame me? Go Jackets!

Drinking to All the Good Fellows (gender-neutral...?),
A Ramblin', Gamblin', Helluva (Wife-uva) Engineer!

Monday, October 19, 2015

To Those Who Want to Mourn Well

Dear Friends of those going through a miscarriage,

I've hesitated, for almost 10 years now, to write something like this, for several reasons. Firstly, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings who may have said something that we found unhelpful when we miscarried our first child. Because secondly, even I (though I know better) have said thoughtless and randomly hurtful things to those suffering from the loss of a child. When grief enters the picture, awkwardness and miscommunication aren't far behind. And thirdly, I recognize that everyone's story is different, and that what spoke love and care to us might not be helpful at all for other people.

But I'd like to try to offer some ideas on how to care for a friend in this situation, in hopes that it will be helpful. And I hope that offering a majority of "do's" (as opposed to a list of "don'ts") will avoid hurting anyone. These are general suggestions, and it's important to understand that although ours is not a dramatic story of multiple losses, ours is a sadly common story. The statistics are disheartening: some show miscarriages as occurring in as much as 20% of known pregnancies. The likelihood that you know someone who has had a miscarriage is high, as is the likelihood that you aren't aware of their loss, for a variety of reasons. For some folks, it just isn't as painful as it is for others, so they don't dwell on it. I want to in no way make them feel guilty for that. But for some others, the pain, grief, and even shame is too much to share publicly. They prefer to grieve privately. And for some others, they just don't have anyone they feel close enough to with which to share such a personal thing.

But some, like us, want to share both the joy (we found out about our pregnancy at 6 weeks, and shared the news shortly thereafter) and the pain (we learned the baby had died at 11 weeks, and I fully miscarried at 14 weeks) with others. So if you have friends who are going through this painful time, and you are aware that they are grieving, may I suggest some things to know, things to say, and things to do to help you grieve well with them? The following is brutally honest and rather graphic in places, so be forewarned.

Something to know: if your friends are like us, they consider this miscarriage to be the death of a child.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." I know this seems simple, but sometimes it's the best option. Offer condolences and then silently grieve with them.

Something to know: if your friend has suffered this specific loss of a child, she is also having to sort through a lot of heartbreaking information and difficult decisions while in the midst of grieving. Though it is very different from the paperwork and arrangements required in the death of someone ex-utero, she still has difficult decisions to make and a painful road ahead. She will either have to wait for her body to expel the remains, or she will have to undergo surgery to remove them. If you want to know more about the physical and emotional pain that will accompany surgery, read this beautiful, harrowing piece (warning: it is very descriptive). If you're wondering about the first option, let me say that (warning: very graphic language ahead) the only thing more horrific than the waiting (in my case, for three weeks) is having to flush the remains of your first baby down the toilet like so much refuse. Far beyond even the excruciating physical pain, the gore of the blood and tissue, and the fear of complications, is that knowledge. The knowledge that your baby is gone, without a funeral, or a marker to visit, or anything. Just gone.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." I cannot emphasize this enough. It can be very hurtful if well-meaning people try to minimize the loss, as though downgrading it to "just a miscarriage" could make it hurt less. "I'll be praying for your health and recovery" could also be a good thing to say.
Something to do: Send a card. Send flowers. Bring food. Bring groceries. Bring all the things you would normally bring to the home of a family who has experienced a death. This includes, hopefully, a willingness to sit and grieve with them.

Something to know: if the loss was indeed a baby, then your friends are also indeed parents. They may not get to hold and raise their child (oh, the ache of those empty, longing arms!) but they are parents nonetheless.  They loved their baby as best they could, for as long as they could. The mother, especially, may be feeling guilt, shame, and horror at how her body has betrayed her. She may be worrying that the glass of wine she had or the extra mile that she jogged is what caused the miscarriage. In truth, the most likely reason is a chromosomal abnormality. If she knows this, it may only make her feel more guilty and hopeless. While there is something pure and holy about housing life inside your own body, there is something dark and horrifying about carrying a tiny corpse around inside of you. For me, at least, this constant presence of death weighed very heavily.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." Again, these simple words can mean so much. As holidays like Mothers' and Fathers' Day draw near, saying "I'm praying for you--I know this day will be difficult for you" might also be a kindness.
Something to do: If there aren't other children in the home, remember this couple's baby has died, and many precious dreams along with that baby. I would have given anything to know the exhaustion, frustration, and fear that comes along with parenting a living child. It can be very hurtful if someone implies that life is better or easier without children. That is true; life is "easier" without kids. But only say things that you would say to someone who has lost a child out of the womb (like "I am sorry for your loss.") While it can in no way replace a living child, one of the most precious gifts we received was a stuffed animal with long, furry arms. I cried into that bear a lot, and it is still one of my most treasured possessions. If there are other children in the home, it might be helpful to offer to take them to the park for an afternoon. Either way, bring meals, offer to do laundry, mow the lawn. Like I said, whatever things you normally do for someone with a death in their family, do for this little family.

Something to know: you will probably say something awkward or hurtful, and without even knowing it. Don't let that stop you from loving your friends as best you know how.
Something to say: "I am sorry for your loss." Keep saying that for as long, or as often, as they need to hear it. Depending on their personalities, you might ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. Rely on the same cues in your friendship that have thus far told you how to be a good friend.
Something to do: but also don't let your feelings get hurt by their erratic grief or anger. A miscarriage (like all deaths) is a life-changing, heartbreaking event, and your friends will not be the same. Your friendship will need to grow and mature as you walk alongside them, as it would in any tragedy. Remember (and send a card for) what would have been the due date. Remember (and give a call on) the anniversary of the miscarriage. Pray with them. Pray for them. Cry with them. Keep loving them.

Almost ten years, two beautiful healthy girls, one failed adoption, and several health issues and surgeries later, we have learned much about parenting, grief, each other, and God. We have learned much about friendship. We have been comforted, been able to comfort others, and found much joy in community. I'm glad that your grieving friends have you, that you care for them, and that you want to love them well. Lament with them, and be blessed by it.

Grieving with you,
A friend.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: Beautiful, Broken Christian Ancestors

Dear Readers,

Still not famous, nor have I won the lottery, so no makeup samples or totebags or cars to send to you. However, may I present: folded in half, rolled up neatly, secured with a rubberband, and tossed expertly on your topmost porch step (I was a papergirl in Jr. High), a gracious, nuanced, helpful article diving into the complexities of race in the South, especially in the church.

Sometimes we follow tradition, and are grateful for it. Sometimes we strive for progress, because we see the need for change. But always, Tish Harrison Warren reminds us, we follow Jesus.

Christianity Today article (link should work for non-subscribers, too)

Monday, October 12, 2015

To a New Graduate Student's Family

I had the honor of guest posting on the Emerging Scholars Network blog.  So today's full post can be read by clicking on the link below:

Dear New Graduate Student's Family,


Friday, October 09, 2015

Free Shipping Fridays: The Danger of a Single Story

Dear Readers,

It's Free Shipping Friday! Alas, I don't have any shiny, tangible items to send to you for free. What I do have are thoughts and ideas, which can sometimes be the most expensive things of all. (cue orchestra)

For today, let me present on your doorstep: a "brown paper package, tied up with string," containing a TED talk. I am passionate in my belief that we are all complicated, nuanced, made-in-the-image-of-God people. Still, I forget this sometimes. I reduce people to a single anecdote, belief, or moment in time. I reduce people to a single story.

Chimamanda Adichie reminds us why we must strive to look deeper.  Enjoy!

TED Talk video

TED Talk transcript

Monday, October 05, 2015

To My Brothers in Seminary

NOTE: a letter to my sisters in seminary will be forthcoming. :) But for now,  I speak to the brothers.

Dear Brothers-in-Arms,

I've gone back-and-forth on whether to mention names or not. On the one hand, I want to give a shoutout to my classmates who have been true brothers, and praise God for them. On the other hand, most of you would be terribly embarrassed by such praise, and I'd no doubt (unintentionally) leave someone out, which I'd hate do to do. So I've decided to leave it fairly anonymous... but y'all know who you are. And I'm grateful.

Thank you for being true brethren to me. We've laughed, studied, cried (okay, that one's mostly me), prayed, parsed verbs, debated fine points of theology, broken bread, and lived life, all together. You've encouraged and exhorted me, offered (and received!) loving chastisement, cheered for me, and stood up for me. You've seen me as a classmate first, and a female second. You've understood that I'm not trying to be "one of the guys" here, but that I am one of the student body, and should be, as such, treated with respect. You've modeled good study habits, how to love family in the midst of grad school, and how to keep faith and a sense of humor through it all. One of you even coined the term "M.Diva," and that is priceless.

Some of you are also good friends of, and brothers to, my husband, and a blessing to our entire family. Rather than being threatened by me, you've chosen to live life with me and my family. You've understood that I understand healthy boundaries and that I respect your spouses. You've taken the time to get to know me for who I am and you've affirmed me in my calling along the way.

Many of you have used your relational capital and places of privilege to advocate for me, and for other Others (especially the faculty and staff--thank you). You've stood alongside me when it wasn't popular or beneficial. You've even chosen to bless and support me though we have many differences of opinion in matters of politics, education, practice, and theology. You have chosen to celebrate our areas of likeness, and provide safe space for exploring our differences. What a gift.

Many of you know what it's like to be the Other, whether by race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or educational experience. You have graciously extended welcome and belonging to me where all-too-often, you have also known what it's like to be on the outside. Rather than nursing your own wounds, you have chosen to care for mine. That is true Gospel.

I am so blessed to know you, labor alongside you and your families, and to count you as brothers.
Your Sister in the trenches

Dear Brothers-at-Arms'-Length,

I won't mince words here, but I hope I can speak both candidly and gracefully. You've hurt me (more than you know), mocked me (which I can handle), looked down on me (which is infuriating), and dismissed me (which hurts worst of all). For many of you, it's unintentional. For a few of you, you didn't realize just how hurtful your actions and words could be. And for a very rare few, well... we all need Jesus, is all I'll say.

You've asked me if my diploma will come with an asterisk (it won't), assumed I'm a raging feminist (I'm not), questioned not just my calling but my very faith (so that's helpful). I have been screamed at for daring to disagree with a professor, told that my type of "diversity" is not needed on campus, and condescendingly called "honey." I've been asked, several times by the same person, "Now what is your degree program, again?" as though he was hoping he'd misremembered, or heard incorrectly the first eight times.

I think some of you really do think I snuck on campus when no one was looking. For the record, I was recruited, welcomed, and affirmed by the staff and faculty. I'm not even asking you to accept me on my own merits, but rather to accept the leadership of our institution. If they endorse a certain student in the program, who are any of us to disrespect that? I also sought the advice and blessing of my pastor back in Atlanta, my pastor here in Jackson, and most of all, my husband. And I received confirmation and affirmation from all of them. A few truly rough days, my husband has comforted me as I wept. I guess I should thank you for further strengthening our marriage and my resolve, but I'm afraid it would be mostly sarcasm if I did.

But I am trying to forgive you. I'm trying to learn to pray for you, your ministries, and your families. I'm trying to see things objectively, not assume offense where there is none, pardon unintended offense, and extend grace where there is certain and calculated offense. You and I need the gospel, gentlemen. It is perhaps the one thing we can agree on, so I'll cling to that.

In Christ Alone,
A Sister

Dear Acquaintances, and Brothers by virtue of the Gospel,

Please forgive me for where I've judged you. When I've sensed judgement from you (deserved or not), when I've assumed I know your stories and your intentions. Thank you for your work on campus. Thank you to some of you who have worked hard to not judge me, to not alienate me, and who are also just trying to survive grad school. I hope we can be friends. I hope our families will get to know each other, and that I will rejoice as each one of you graduates, not because I'm glad to see you go, but because I'm happy for your successes. (Because let's be honest, it's going to be awhile until I graduate. As many of you have come and gone before, many more will do so before this part-time student/part-time ministry staff/wife/mama/church member earns enough credits to graduate.)

Especially to those classmates from when I first started seminary, thank you. Thank you for putting up with my outbursts in class, my then-terrible study habits, my newness to graduate school and formal seminary education. Y'all were very patient with me, and I'm truly grateful. I hope putting up with me prepared you well for those difficult congregants and counseling clients, etc...

A Fellow Pilgrim

Dear Jesus,

You've called me, claimed me, and made me a co-heir in your Kingdom. You are with me everywhere I go, including school. So thank you for being my perfect brother in seminary. Thank you for humbling me, teaching me, leading me, growing me, and loving me through it all. And thank you for doing so in community. May my studies be glorifying to you, O Lord. May I learn from your perfect example and rely on the grace of the Holy Spirit to see me through grad school and all my endeavors. And may I labor not for my own glory, but for yours, and to see new brethren added to the Kingdom.  ... And may I please graduate before I retire?

A Child of the King