Monday, September 21, 2020

Where Are the Single Moms?

I have been wanting to say this for about eight years and have never really had the courage to do so but life is so weird now people are doing and saying all sorts of things and so, hey, there's no time like the present. 

As most of you know, back in 2012 our then 20 year-old unmarried daughter gave birth to our granddaughter. I realize that for much of society a 20 year-old giving birth isn't a big deal, even an unmarried 20 year-old, but in the communities we were in, it was, well, an event. One to be talked about in hushed tones. One to be handled with care. 

Knowing how badly our daughter would need support and knowing that likely the best support would come from other women who had been in her shoes, I began asking around to friends if they knew of single moms in their churches. What I found was shocking. While many knew of a few single in their 30s and 40s who were divorced with older kids, almost nobody knew of a woman in their church who had been in our daughter's shoes. 

People, this is a demographic anomaly. For the past decade or so approximately 35-40% of the babies born in our country have been born to unwed mothers which leaves one to ponder WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY? Well, they certainly aren't in church. 

But why not?

Interestingly enough, a few months ago my husband and I were visiting a church nearby and I asked one of the men there about single moms in the church and his reply was shocking and disturbing. He basically said that single moms probably don't come to church because they feel so much guilt over the sin that got them in that situation in the first place. And I thought, no WONDER there aren't single moms in the church. If that is the attitude of those who are so unsullied as to not have to live forever with the consequences of their actions, then no wonder single moms make themselves scarce. 

I did, by the way, educate this man. I let him know the reality is that single moms are left out everywhere they go. They have no place to fit in. They don't fit in with the singles, because they have a child to care for, and they don't fit in with the families, because they aren't a couple. I watched my daughter attend two different churches and regularly get left out of things, not necessarily intentionally, but left out nonetheless just because she didn't fit. I would imagine that she is not alone in this experience. (For the record I know that my friends who are single moms via divorce have often had the same experience.)

I really don't get it. For all the pro-life talk out there, the support for women who choose life, so to speak, is pretty pathetic. A while back I saw somebody cooing over an article about how wonderful it was that a group of pro-life college students had donated some large number of diapers to a crisis pregnancy center. And while that is great and babies do need diapers, the help has to, HAS TO go beyond diapers. Babies don't stay babies. 

What single moms need more than anything else is community. People there to take up the slack. To give them a break. To notice them out there on the fringes. To invite them into community. To listen even when their words might be impolite and their honesty jarring. To listen without lecturing or fixing. To me it is really sad that this doesn't seem to happen in the church because that should be the place where it happens most of all. 

In the first church my daughter attended as a very young single mother, she tried to be involved with the other singles. And yet she would be crushed over and over again when she saw photos of the others in the group doing activities to which she was never invited. When she was struggling and went to the pastors they told her she had not been trying hard enough. One, that was royal bull***t because she lived with us during this time and I watched and watched as she tried to fit in. We even hosted the young singles Christmas party at our house. Don't tell me she didn't try. But more importantly, since when did church become the survival of the fittest? You can only get your needs met if you do all the right things and fight your way in to the core? 

Jesus, after all, moved toward, not away from, the marginalized. He knew something of the shame society heaps on people. He knew that the hearts of the least of these mattered more than all the programs and agendas in the world. He told his disciples to not get in the way of the little ones coming to him. 

Throughout scripture we are called to care for the widows and the orphans. I think unwed mothers and their precious children are the widows and orphans of our day. 

James tells us this: 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

I realize some people are completely at a loss for what to do. If and when you encounter a woman at church, here are a few ideas:

-Don't assume that she is married. Don't ask her where her husband is or what her husband does. 

-Invite her to do things with your family and/or friends. 

-Listen to her when she has had a bad day, without trying to fix it. 

-Ask her what she needs from you and from the church. 

-If you are a leader in the church, go to her. Ask to hear what life is like for her. Check on her often.

-Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Pour out on her grace and mercy, not accusation and judgment. 

Notice that none of these suggestions have to do with diapers. Not the diapers aren't important, but they are temporary. They meet a physical need, but not an emotional one. Not a spiritual one. Diapers don't raise a child. A village does. This is what single moms need and it is too hard to find it in the church. Let's change that. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Canyon

I feel bad for Matt sometimes. He is a positive, upbeat, glass-half-full kind of guy. He wants to believe the best in everybody. He is a consensus builder.  He wants to bring peace. People love my husband for that. They love his brains and his reasonableness. His kindness and his wit. His cool head and steady demeanor. And yet he is married to me. 

I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) who feels things intensely. Many people would say too intensely. It is like my radar is always on, noticing the dynamics between people, the unspoken messages, the heartache behind the smiles. Matt calls me the canary in the coal mine. He says that is useful. I say that things rarely turn out well for the canary. 

There are times my insides hurt so bad I feel I am imploding in on myself or breaking in two. There are times I want to scream at the top of my lungs that what I am seeing is wrong or dangerous or toxic, but that is rarely received well by those who want peace at all costs or only want to hear nice, tidy sentiments. 

We are an odd pair. We've been an odd pair for over 32 years now. 

Thirty-two years was a goal of mine. My parents marriage lasted 31 years and 11 months. For some reason I felt doomed. How dare I think I deserved more of a marriage than my mother had? I was nervous and eager to get the the 32 year mark as if somehow hitting that line would break me free from the knapsack of toxic family dynamics I had been carrying my whole life. 

Our 32nd anniversary fell on a Thursday in May when everything was still shut down so we opted to celebrate pandemic style with Okie Dokie's BBQ in our front yard. Our daughter, Mary, was there as well to witness a surprise. My dear friend Hannah Kaminer showed up to provide music for our evening. But not just any music. 

A while back, Matt commissioned Hannah to write a song for us. Hannah is a fellow HSP and knows how deep my valleys can go. She knows that my heartfelt and honest words aren't always received well by those who wish for a papered-over world. She knows that sometimes I feel like I am a liability to my husband more than an asset. That he should have married a well tended garden. 

So Hannah wrote this song. From Matt. To me. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. 

The Canyon – for Matt & Ginny

They say that you’re deep

A canyon of need

A bad taste in their mouth

‘Cause you say what you think

They say that I’m kind

Just because I’m polite

I’m just slow to react

and taking my time

And people, they can be wrong,

As much as right

But if you are a canyon

And your walls have gotten steep

And the question marks are all 

that other people seem to see

Then I will be an echo

Calling back your mystery,

Wild beauty is a canyon

Just like she’s meant to be

They say it’s a shame

How you feel everything

They say you’re a grief-catcher

And it’s no way to be

They say I’m a steady current

A river of calm

I must be your grief-catcher

I must be your balm

But people, they can be wrong,

As much as right

So if you are a canyon

Well that’s where I want to be

Without you I’m only water

In a still and stagnant stream

Please don’t flatten out the landscape

I still want your mystery

Wild beauty is a canyon

Just like she’s meant to be


People, they can be wrong,

As much as right.

So if you are a canyon

Then that’s where I want to be

When the question marks are all

that other people seem to see

Then I will be an echo 

Calling back that mystery, 

“Wild beauty is a canyon, 

Just like she’s meant to be”

Please don’t flatten out the landscape

I still choose your mystery

Wild beauty is a canyon, 

Just like she’s meant to be Here is the beautiful song.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for ashes. This seems to have been the theme of my life. Not so much experiencing beauty for ashes, but wanting it. Longing for it. And rarely finding it. 

We all want a good redemption story. That is why we so often pass by the pain, minimize it, paper over it, in our hurry to get to the good stuff. The happy ending.

We tell the Ruths in our lives that God will bring a Boaz. We tell the Jobs that God will double what he has taken away. We trot out Romans 8:28 that God will work it all out for our good. We may rob those amid the ashes of the very thing they may need the most, our presence, all the while making promises that may not pan out in the end. 

It's not that God can't bring a Boaz. It's not that he can't give back in spades what he has taken away. It's not that he won't work things for our good. It is just that the beauty may not look like what we are looking for. 

It is well known that our society has a screwed up standard of beauty. We women, especially, know the pain and frustration and heartache of not measuring up to an impossible standard, a standard that may not even exist in the real world, given makeup and Photoshop. When those who love us tell us we are beautiful, we don't believe it because we long to be THAT kind of beautiful. 

What if...what if we ARE getting beauty for ashes and we just don't see it because we have been told that beauty only comes in one shape and size? What if beauty isn't in the Boaz but in the camaraderie of dear friends who know the loneliness well? What if beauty isn't in the getting back the goods but in sharing with one another when you have so little? What if the beauty is actually sitting with the mourning in the ashes and watching your heart of flesh soften and embrace the heart of your neighbor? 

What if we are missing the beauty all around us because we are looking for the wrong thing: a makeuped, Photoshopped, papered-over life that really is no life at all? 

Maybe it is time to rethink what beauty for ashes really looks like after all. I wonder what I've been missing. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Be the Village

One of the things that I think has been most tragic about the pandemic has been the loss of the village. The village in our western culture was never much to begin with. Some people didn't want it at all. 

I remember hearing the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child" back in the early nineties. It may have been from the mouth of Hilary Clinton and because it came from her it was vilified as socialist ideology and the intent for the state to take parental rights away from parents. Sigh. How quickly we turn anything into a political agenda. 

The truth is it DOES take a village. Some parents, those who are highly competent or uber self-sufficient or just plain paranoid, may not agree. But I think the rest of us see that we NEED each other and we need each other even more when we are doing the hardest task on the planet: raising a tiny human to adulthood. 

Parenthood is hard. Parenthood can be lonely. And no parent has all of what it takes. 

In times past parents could depend, if they were so fortunate, on family members, on friends, on neighbors. On teachers and coaches. On pastors and the church. But not everybody had these connections. For them the village was too small. Or nonexistent. 

But now, now, so much has changed. For almost six months parents have had their kids 24 hours a day with little to no support from the outside world. No school to go to. No soccer games to attend. No playgrounds to let off kinetic energy and meet other moms. No coffee shops to serve as mini therapy sessions with another weary soul. No church gatherings. The village has all but evaporated. 

And while life as kids know it has changed dramatically, the demands of life, work, responsibilities, obligations of parents have not. No wonder parents are 

All this to say, if you have time on your hands or an extra batch of energy in your soul, reach out to a parent and offer to help. Offer to come over and assist with online school or take a child for an ice cream treat or a bike ride. Offer to come sit and be another adult presence in a house of 24/7 frustrated kid chaos. Offer to bring a meal that isn't chicken nuggets or yet another frozen pizza. Offer to listen the the exasperated, exhausted cries of a mother  (or grandmother 😉) who can't do it all. 

In the craziness of life that is 2020, we need the village now so much more than ever. You can make a difference. You really can. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Healing, Not Healed

 Earlier today a friend asked me what I had been learning. After spewing out a verbal volcano of old struggles and fresh insights, I hit upon this. 

A few months ago I was yet again beating myself up (one of the few things in life I really excel at) because I am 56 years-old and not yet fixed. (When you see your first psychiatrist when you are eleven you really hope to be fixed by the time your hormones have evaporated and your hair has turned the color of a smoldering campfire.) 

It seemed that some of the lifelong struggles were barnacles on my soul that wouldn't.let.go. On top of that, new and improved experiences were cropping up right and left, causing me to cave inside myself emotionally, feeling incapacitated and hopeless of ever having the maturity level greater than that of a frightened five year-old. 

Then, out of the blue (because blue is my favorite color and that is where most of my insights come from even though it is likely this came from God but God created the color blue in the first place) it hit me. We call them "recovering alcoholics," not "recovered alcoholics." Alcoholics know they are always recovering. They are not a finished product. Never will be. 

So here I am. A "healing Ginny," not a "healed Ginny," because that is not going to happen this side of heaven. 

What that realization did for me is that I was able to take the energy I spent beating myself up for not being healed and funnel it into finding new pathways for the ongoing process of healing. 

We live in a solutions-oriented, task-accomplishing culture. It drives us crazy to not be able to fix a problem and move on to the next. But the souls of people aren't automotive transmissions and life isn't an assembly line. It is a relief to understand that always healing is as good as it gets. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Exponential Damage

Hurricane Laura just blasted ashore in Louisiana and one of the reporters reminded me of something. An increase in wind speed can result in not more damage, but exponential damage. Exponential meaning it doesn't add to, it multiplies. 

It seems like life can dish out a lot of hard things. Sometimes the hard thing can flatten us or sometimes we can handle it with grace and finesse and land on our feet (there seem to be people like that). There are so many factors that play into how well we can weather a hard thing. Too many to mention. But add hard thing to hard thing and then another hard thing to hard thing to hard thing and almost anybody can begin to flail. Add the hard thing to the hard thing to the hard thing onto the hard thing that happened five years ago that drained your emotional resources, and the hard thing can hit like an tsunami. Add the hard thing to hard thing to hard thing to perhaps a highly sensitive personality or a brain wired for anxiety and depression or to childhood trauma and you can get a real, excuse the language, clusterfuck. 

There are ways to measure hard things and their damage, such as the Holmes Rahe Stress Inventory, but those things are measured via addition, not multiplication. And I think multiplication is where it is at because, like a hurricane, the increase in another 10mph of wind speed doesn't add to the damage, it multiplies it. 

So think of this year. We have a pandemic with huge amounts of uncertainty. Life as we know it has been wholly interrupted. It has brought changes in work. It has brought changes in how we educate our children. It has brought changes in home life. It has brought changes in our ability to connect with our support systems. For some it has brought a huge change in our ability to make a living, with job loss and potential eviction or foreclosure. It has brought changes in our local landscape, with some of our favorite restaurants and stores, perhaps many of them, closing for good. It has brought fear. It has brought division. It has brought anger. Some of these things cannot even be measured. 

Then we have the racial strife with justifiable outrage over horrific, race-motivated deaths, followed by protests followed by again the division between the Black Lives Matter and the All Lives Matter people followed by the further polarization of the issue. 

Add to that the political landscape of an election year. I can't even begin to describe this level of tension. 

This is just what EVERYBODY is dealing with. And then some people have additional hard things. Death. Divorce. Estranged family members. Loss of some kind. Job stress. Family stress. Physical health challenges. Mental health challenges. You name it. 

And then there are those who, on top of all of this, are grappling with hard, hard things that have followed them from the past into the present and where do you even start? Where do you even begin the cleanup process? 

You begin, I think, by understanding that damage is exponential so you aren't surprised or shocked or ashamed of the mess around you and inside you. The last thing anybody needs is adding shame to all of the brokenness in life. 

I am dealing with this right now. I am looking at exponential damage and trying to understand it. It helps to see how the damage happened and why, even seemingly minor things, had such a huge impact. I am working through the process of identifying and naming damaging events as part of the cleanup. Normally the fact that there has been so much damage would have keep me focused on my own inadequacy to handle hard things, but I have found that understanding exponential damage to be so freeing. Whereas my energy used to be used up by beating myself up over the damage, it can now be used to weather the storm and plan the cleanup. 

It has been a hard year for everybody. There is no shame in being flattened by the Category 5 Hurricane of 2020. No shame at all. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

True Leadership

I want to say something about leadership and this applies to anybody in a position of leadership or power: parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, elected officials....presidents. Leadership...true leadership...does not dominate or control. It is not obsessed with self-interest or looking good. It is not "do this or else." It is not about making people in your own image. 

True leadership is not about coercion and control but about empowering the powerless and marginalized. True leadership requires knowing those you lead: their hopes and dreams and strengths and weaknesses, their trauma and sorrows. 

True leadership means coming alongside the wounded more than charging the hill to be the biggest or the best. True leadership means a lot more listening than talking. True leadership seeks to understand more than be understood. True leadership means asking what does this person need more than what do I want.

True leadership isn't always convenient or efficient. It doesn't feed the ego. I can't always be measured in ways we want to see. True leadership requires humility. Compassion. Empathy. Conviction. Courage. It requires laying aside the personal agenda for the greater good.

Come to think of it, true leadership looks a lot like Jesus.