Normal

When most everything feels so abnormal and foreign to us right now, it’s okay to feel it and at least to normalize the feelings. We’ve never been here before, collectively. The adrenaline of new information and new risk is wearing off as we settle into our shelter-in-place lifestyles. The novelty of using Zoom, Discord, FaceTime, and any video calling service is wearing off. And our bodies are finally starting to catch up with our racing minds.

For two or three weeks now, all we hear about, all we think about, maybe all we talk about is the coronavirus and what impact it will have on us. And our bodies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. Personally, I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and sleepiness throughout my days than I ever have before in my former, office-working life. My body is teaching me what it’s like to mitigate risk by running marathons, not sprints.

So if you’re starting to feel the adrenaline buzz wear off, the novelty is just not so novel anymore, and you’re missing the old life, it’s normal to feel that. We all lost something, albeit temporarily, so abruptly that we went into fight-flight-freeze mode to get through the immediate danger, and now we’re realizing that the enemy moves much slower, but can run much longer too. We are feeling the adjustment as we shift into road trip mode instead of drag strip mode. Allow yourself all the grace you need and know that it’s normal.

We’ve never been here before. It’s totally normal to feel anxious and worried.

Some of us have never been homeschool parents. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and stretched thin.

Some of us have never worked from home. It’s totally normal to struggle with focus and feel like your work and home are too close.

Some of us have never been without work. It’s totally normal to feel angry and afraid of how you will provide for yourself and family.

Some of us have never stayed in one place for so long. It’s totally normal to feel restless and confined.

Some of us have never been alone for so long. It’s totally normal to feel a need for human touch and affection.

It’s totally normal to feel exactly what you are feeling.

Yes, beloved, it’s totally normal and I hope you can rest in that. Thank your body for taking care of you so well.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Bonnie

This is the toughest thing I’ve ever sat down to write. A couple weeks ago, my wife Dixie and I were crushed by a sudden and unexpected miscarriage. This post will be a combination of writings and voices. We will briefly share the news. Dixie and I will each have a section of our own writing. Then, we will close in the prayer we’ve been grieving through for the past couple weeks.

We have been trying to start our family for the last three years. For various reasons, this has proven difficult and leaves us with no luck, even with medical interventions. To spare much of the medical detail, Dixie has PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which makes getting pregnant very difficult. This involves her body getting off her cyclical patterns and making it very hard to tell when different moments of a typical cycle are happening. What we thought was a “normal” (again, normal for Dixie, not medically typical) late cycle blindsided us as a very early miscarriage.

Here’s a bit of an email Stephen sent out to our closest friends last week:

“We had no idea or indication that we were pregnant until the miscarriage started. By the looks of everything, we were about 4 weeks along the process.

Right now, we’re both in emotional shock with sudden strong waves of grief. It’s not lost on us that we are able to get pregnant, as our health improves and as we continue to pray for the beginning to our family. So there’s an odd nugget of hope in the midst of the huge loss. But I speak for both Dixie and I that we feel stunned, incredibly sad, hurt, robbed, sick, cheated, and betrayed by the body. We are swinging between being furious and angry with God to weeping prayer with Him being our only comfort. Neither of us are sleeping very well at all. Food doesn’t really taste right now. I am finding it very hard to focus at work.
This is very new and very raw for us now, but we needed to let our closest loved ones know. We’re sorry to bring you down into the grief with us, but we don’t know how to do this alone. Thank you, and know that we love each of you dearly. Thank you for loving us.

Grace and peace,”

Following the news going out initially, our family and closest friends continue to bring us tremendous amounts of comfort by their presence and love. We know being in the same circles as grieving people can be uncomfortable and awkward, but a strong hug, a crying shoulder or just a quiet movie night is enough for us to know we’re loved and prayed for. We’re thankful for these who don’t feel like they need to tiptoe around us. We’re also thankful for these who know that we can talk about other things, even play games and have fun.

The grief process here is a new one. The sudden strong waves of sadness and loss rise and fall as they have from the beginning. But the in-betweens feel so normal, really like life just keeps going. I (Stephen) expected grief like this to cripple me and confine me to dark rooms and boxes of tissues. Yet life just keeps going. It really is a weird thing to come to terms with as we talk and pray through what our hearts, bodies, and minds are experiencing.

After much prayer and thought and the tender advice of loved ones who have walked this path, we’ve decided to name our Little One. We were so early in the process when things started breaking down that there was really no way to know the sex of our baby, but Dixie has that deep, momma sense that it was a girl. A sweet baby girl, that both wounded us with love and sparked hope for our future. The beautiful answer to our prayer for the last few years: that we could get pregnant one day. So after the Celtic word for Beautiful Good, we’ve named our little girl, Bonnie. We continue to pray and live as though we will meet our sweet Bonnie one day in heaven paradise. We have the faith to believe we will then and there, where “our hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflow, and our joy is like swords, and we pass in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” (Paraphrase, The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien).

 

Dixie

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until the pregnancy was over. It was so shocking. I was so numb and didn’t even know what to feel. I don’t think I felt anything until about a week after everything happened. I was so confused. I still am. I was torn between grieving the loss of this baby and simultaneously feeling content knowing that we can actually get pregnant.

Finally, after years of prayer, doctors, needles, pills, and trying, we did it. I got pregnant. But by the time I realized what was going on it was already over. She was already gone.

I am grieving the loss of our precious girl. I know she is in her heavenly Father’s arms. She was the physical manifestation of all those quiet prayers and bitter tears. She is the very answer to our prayers. She is a representation of God’s promise to me and Stephen. I will grieve the loss of my Bonnie girl and rejoice in what she really meant to us and what this promise means for our future. We can get pregnant.

“Thus up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith. To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

 

Stephen

This is a letter I wrote to my daughter in my journal over the last few days.

Bonnie, my dear,

I wish I could have watched you grow in mommy’s belly and spoken to you while you were still growing within her. I wish I could have heard the moment of your first breath and cry. I wish I could have held your little body to my chest. I wish I could have watched you nurse and grow with your mother and witness that sacred bond between you two. I wish I could have held you close and kept you warm during your first winter. I wish I could see your bewildered face when I blow softly on your nose or raspberry your tummy. I wish I could deal with the sleepless nights and endless diapers like I’ve heard so much about. I wish I could listen to your first words. I wish I could teach you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I wish I could feel the terror of dropping you off for your first day of school. I wish I could watch you grow slowly and quickly into a woman before my eyes. I wish I could take you on ice cream dates. I wish I could teach you my favorite video games and board games. I wish I could go to your bad middle school choir or band concerts. I wish I could cheer you on while you played soccer. I wish I could dance with you while you practice for your first prom. I wish I could cry at your high school graduation. I wish I could help guide you through college. I wish I could give your hand in marriage to the man who dares to love you. I wish you could meet your grandmas and grandpas, your aunts and uncles, your cousins.

I wish you could meet your mother. Dixie loves you so much, far beyond what I could say in words. She’s much cooler than I am. She’s brave, strong, smart, kind, generous, hilarious, beautiful, passionate, considerate, patient, firm, powerful, creative, and above all, she is loving. She brings so much color and imagination into our home. She would probably sit and watch you and me play for hours, joining our giggles and laughter. She taught me what beauty can really be like, and so do you.

I miss you, my love. It’s so hard to miss you like this. But I know Jesus is holding your hand and teaching you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I know he’s as in love with you as I am and is taking the best care of my precious baby. Please give him a kiss for me and wait for me there, love. Daddy loves you so much.

 

Together

Lord, into your gentle open hands, we commit our baby girl to your care and your love. We don’t understand what is happening. We’re mad at you and we’re desperate for you. We want Bonnie with us now, and hold on to the hope that we will all one day meet where our tears are the very wine of blessedness. Kiss our baby girl tonight and tell her all about us. In the meantime, let us love her how we can from here and teach us to glorify you to the end of our days. Amen.

 

Know Normal People

I launched a podcast this month, called K(no)w Normal People. My wife, Dixie, and I host the show together, while we interview the interesting people found in our circles of family, friends, and acquaintances.

The podcast was born out of a desire to have fun conversations with the interesting people in our lives. We didn’t need another show on the internet that interviews the same authors, artists, and thought leaders. If you’re a regular podcast listener, you may have had a similar experience. An author comes out with a new book and begins the media circuit. A podcast you follow interviews the author with some insightful questions and some pretty standard media questions. And then another show interviews them, and another, and another. On the whole, you hear most of the same questions with most of the same answers. Little variety. Once you’ve heard one, you’ve likely heard them all. So why not try a podcast with a fresh format?

We wanted an excuse to interview and learn from the people already in our lives. We knew that we are surrounded by interesting “normal” people and created a brand new show from the idea. We know deep thinking baristas, energetic pastors, passionate leaders, humble business owners, inspiring parents, photographers, musicians; friends. These are the shows we release every week. A fun conversation getting to know the normal people in our lives.

We’re willing to bet that not only are you interesting too, but that you are surrounded by fascinating people! In line for your favorite coffee, sitting in the desk next to you at work, a few rows in front of you at church: all these people have passions, interests, and quirks that make them unique. Why not ask them some questions and dig for something more than small talk? We’ve discovered that it’s a lot easier than we thought and our lives are exponentially more interesting since adopting a curiosity mindset.

Visit www.knownormalpeople.com to listen and subscribe. And remember…

“The only normal people you know are the ones you don’t know very well.” – Alfred Adler

Eucharist [Pt. 2]

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul in his letter to the Romans, 8:38-39. If I may be so bold as to add one to the list, I’d say that the church cannot separate you from the love of God, especially through the Eucharist table. I believe that a tragic misreading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, coupled with any power structure’s natural bent toward exclusion, has inappropriately disqualified many from partaking of the Lord’s table. All ought to be welcome at the table of the Lord. An open table is an inviting table.

A bad reading of some rules Paul gave to the church in Corinth. See, as I understand it, the Eucharist was a new practice for this first century church, and in their Greco-Roman culture of the day, there was a social strata. There were already customs of feasts and gatherings in these cities, but it was organized according to class and social status. So when Christianity swept through this area of the world and many saw the beauty of Christ and his message, the church formed around an idea that was directly opposed to the culture of the day, namely, the poor now ate with the rich as equals in the dignity and goodness of both belonging to the body of Christ and recognizing the goodness and holiness in each other.

Except, old habits die hard, and the rich in this particular city were starting the party early to pre-game with all their buddies before the poor had the chance to show up because they weren’t released by their masters or off work for the day. So by the time the poor arrived, there was little food left at the Eucharist table. Of course, this just made the Christian church look like everything else in the culture, instead of the upside-down, “first shall be last” core teaching of Jesus. So Paul warned these rich dudes to wait for the table to be full before they began eating, unless they wanted to eat and drink themselves into a stupor before the poor showed up, thereby “eating and drinking judgment upon themselves”, meaning that the city culture around them just took them for another party and not the radical, counter-cultural thing they were attempting to model and encourage. They were disgracing the radical work Jesus started by regressing into their old lives and excluding the very beloved ones that he had died to redeem. The unworthy manner of partaking in Eucharist meal is excluding the poor and more needy at one end of the table, not recognizing the dignity and equality of all humanity. The same old traps of riches, wealth, status, position, and thinking you are more righteous than “that” man. Paul envisions the table for what it was intended to be at it’s institution in that Upper Room, a place where all are sustained by the body and blood of the human Lord, a place where we are served by the foot-washing king. No one is beneath Jesus or beneath sharing a meal with him and his people. No one.

That’s where it started, but of course, a church system that grows around any kind of doctrines or teachings will eventually develop a power dynamic with it’s masses, especially when eternities are at stake and the very Word of God is ordaining it. Go ahead, you claim that you’re doing the Lord’s work, regardless of if you are doing it or not. Say it loud enough and often enough and act as if it’s true, and you will gain power. Claim that you have the power to forgive sins yourself, absolve your flock, lead them into the light and snatch them from the cobweb that grips them precariously over the lake of fire, you’d get powerful too.

Power is a curious thing…Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall and a very small man can cast a very long shadow. – Lord Varys, Game of Thrones (S2E3)

Power inspires bigger cathedrals, fancier robes, gold lined plates, extravagant altars, taller hats (in the case of the pope). Power suggests that those entrusted with the fancy stuff, with the better costumes, should be separated from the masses to preserve their power and grip on the image. Power asks for more adjectives and labels, more dividing lines drawn, more separation, more exclusion. This, my friends, is when a bad exegetical reading of a letter by Paul pairs nicely with the nature of power. The church use this passage about eating the Eucharist meal in an “unworthy manner” to teach that you’re not worthy if you’re not a part of the system that they defined for themselves. Are you a confirmed Catholic? Are you the right kind of inerrentist, creationist, apologist, cessationist, determinist Calvinist, evangelist, apostolic, complementarian, pre-millennial, non-denominational (but closeted Baptist) Evangelical that defends the sanctity of marriage on the Supreme Court steps, that got your purity ring at age 12 and shared your first kiss at the marriage altar, that fights the culture war as hard as you’d fight the empire’s real war with your 12 stockpiled guns which are named after the 12 tribes of Israel under the banner of the divinely inspired and ordained red, white and blue? No? Then you don’t get communion either, it’s just for us.

[Please, please, please hear me when I say that I have no one person in mind. Caricatures are easy to vilify, so I leaned into the satirical absurd. I’m choosing to lean into every label I can think of to help support my point, which is that we divide over small things when we’re allowed the luxury to do so, and that that division lends to excluding the very lovable people that Christ made room at the table for]

The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Neither slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one body, knit together by partaking of one body. Not only are we looking forward to a future in which we are one under Christ, we are softly listening to what this meal is doing to in causing us to become one in this very present moment. The holy city consummated between heaven and earth in the final chapters of scripture paint an image in metaphor of a cosmic city, stretching North, West, South, and East. Encompassing all creation with a holy dwelling place, lit by the glory and light of the Christ that leaves the gates thrown wide open. Amen and amen.

The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: We are one, we are equal in dignity, we all eat of the same divine food, and Jesus is still and always “eating with sinners” (for which people hated him) just as he did when on Earth. – Richard Rohr

Contrary to what I learned as a younger man, this is not a time to remind myself about how shitty I am, or be afraid of what “wrath” I may be drinking upon myself with unconfessed sin in my heart (because who doesn’t have that?). This is a time to reflect on beauty, grace, the messy and beautiful realities of being knit together with those beloved humans humble enough to say “I am not sustained, but by the Eucharist that you too eat and of which I share with you.” Now, instead, I choose to speak and call the words of the great traditional prayer of invitation:

“This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”