Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

bagpipe darthI was talking with a church member yesterday, who told me the following story.  Over the weekend she and her family had gone down to the waterfront, where they encountered a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle while playing the bagpipes.  Let me repeat:  a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle playing the bagpipes.  Only in Portland.

All of which got me to thinking:  we really are fearfully and wonderfully made, and then we add to that.  Some add tattoos and piercings; some add pounds, stretch marks, cellulite.  Some add hair color, some shave their heads.  We add contact lenses and titanium hip joints and pig valves in the heart.  Our hearts add other stuff too: grief and joy, regret, disappointment that washes everything to a dull grey, hope for something better the next time around.

As a pastor, I think a lot about the community of fearfully and wonderfully made people, and the “I” and “we” of that, and the tension of individual desires and needs and the common good of the community.  Even after twenty years in ordained ministry, I struggle with pastoring well to everyone, knowing that that is an impossible yet necessary (but maybe not necessary) goal.  Several years ago, Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas observed that in the modern day, ministry had reduced to a pastor being “a quivering mass of availability.”  While that is the shortcut to burn out, there is something about the pastor being available, or present, or caring for, our fearfully and wonderfully made folk.

And we aren’t always.  Every time I drop the pastoral care ball, I lose sleep, and the Tums rest on the bedside table for a while.  I hate letting people down, and I do it, and so there’s some therapy in my future, I think.  And I wonder what role grace plays in all of that.

Do I have enough grace to rejoice that someone delights in riding the Darth Vader/Bagpiper unicycle?

Do I have enough grace with myself not to wallow in my regret and self-judgment?

Am I holding out grace as the tie that binds the fearfully and wonderfully made community together?  Do I teach that, and do I practice that?

It takes grace to ride a unicycle, and to play the bagpipe.  I’m not sure I would say that grace is needed to wear a Darth Vader mask in public – courage, maybe, or divine foolishness.  I think there was some grace involved in our creation, too – fearfully and wonderfully and gracefully made.  Amen to that.

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The Pitfalls of Mother’s Day

As I lay in bed snuggling my daughter tonight, I started thinking about people I know for whom tomorrow is going to be difficult – the mother whose daughter was just diagnosed with cancer.  The husband and two daughters whose wife/mother died suddenly earlier this year.  The friend whose relationship with his mother is strained because of deep-held and widely different understandings of what sin is.  The mother of a preschooler and an infant who posted one of those things on Facebook this week about the utter frustration about not being able to get it all done.  The mother who was first to find her daughter’s body.  The woman whose daughter has made bad choice after bad choice, who was treated savagely this last month.

But then there’s the first-time mom, a woman I knew in her twenties, who glows in every picture she posts.

Flowers, chocolates, and sweet cards can’t make up for all the fraught-ness of Mother’s Day.  I dread Mother’s Day in church, knowing that for some it’s right up there with Easter and Christmas and for others it’s a day to avoid the worship and sweetness and light.  Before I met my husband, when my own hope to become a mother was slipping away, silently and ashamedly, I was leading prayers one Mother’s Day.  At the first service, a well-intentioned person asked prayers for all those women who had hoped to become mothers who never did.  I felt as though he had shined a klieg light on all that I was trying to suppress that day.  I made it through that service, and then collapsed. My good colleagues covered for me, but it was excruciating and humiliating.

Why all the fraughtness? Why is Mother’s Day the be-all-end-all for some and the nadir of existence for others?  Does Father’s Day carry the same peculiar heft?  Maybe it goes way back to a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to bear children, especially those of the male variety.  Maybe it has to do with the different emotionality of women (which, I suspect, isn’t really all that different from the emotionality of men.)

But maybe in the end it’s because Mother’s Day is really about life, but pinpointed and concentrated.  Mother’s Day reminds us of how we’ve been loved in this life.  Mother’s Day reminds us of hopes fulfilled and crushed.  Mother’s Day magnifies the grief and the joy, the disappointment and the exhaustion.

This morning my daughter and I painted the door to our garage.  I really wanted to do it by myself, so I could get it right; she really wanted to do it with me, because she loves me and loves to be with me.  Seven years into this mother-thing, I have figured that part out.  It’s not about being perfect; it’s not about the flowers and chocolate and matching apron and oven mitts that I know are waiting for me tomorrow.

It is about the moments, the little moments of squirting paint, and getting out splinters, and shouting and making up.  The grief and the disappointment and the frustration lurk around the corner.  But we got our door painted today, on Saturday, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already had a great Mother’s Day.

So raise a glass or a mug tomorrow to someone you love – someone who’s here, or someone who’s gone; someone who is your mom or someone who is your hero; someone who’s load is unbearable, or someone who radiates joy in every fiber of his being.  Raise a glass to the good, however it comes, and whoever it looks like for you.photo