On the occasion of my son’s 18th birthday

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Everyone says, “Remember these moments, because they grow up so fast,” at least… that’s what everyone told me when I first held this screaming, wriggling, naked alien in my arms.

Certainly I loved my newborn son with a fierceness and fullness of emotions that I did not, up until that time, know I possessed.  But, if I’m honest, I felt as if someone had just placed a being from another planet in my arms and said, “Here you go.  He’s all yours.”

I remember crying that first night in the hospital from exhaustion and joy, but also over the realization of “Holy shit!  He’s mine – forever.”

Now what?!  I can’t actually do this.

So when my beautiful, blue-eyed son was still shrieking and wailing like a newborn Tasmanian Devil (I think the technical term is ‘colicky’) at 6 months and I’d developed bruises on my ass from the wooden rocking chair and resorted to turning the clothes dryer on at 2am for ‘white noise’ and people would say to me, “They grow up so fast,” I would pray they were right.

Or when I was covered with snot and throw-up, worn denim overalls for the 4th day in a row and positive I hadn’t looked attractive or sexy or desirable in months, and people would say, “Remember these moments,” I’d smile politely (and secretly want to scratch their eyes out in psychopathic glee) and nod, but wonder to myself, “Why in God’s name would I want to remember this?”

That baby…
He turned 18.
And I can’t help but remember.

So, on the occasion of his 18th birthday I cannot stress enough that they really do grow up too fast and you really must, for all that is good and holy and lovely in the world, remember those moments.

Remember when they could cite, with perfect pronunciation, the scientific name of every single dinosaur in their dinosaur encyclopedia and get lost in the dream of becoming a paleontologist.

Remember when they mixed the brand new set of playdough together creating a putrid greenish black color which then crusted itself into the Playdough Fun Factory, taking hours of cleaning to get it out, just because they had an idea only known or comprehended by them.

Remember when they wanted to play outside regardless of the weather: rain, heat, or snow.  They were always ready for a new day, even when it took 15 minutes just to wrangle them into a snowsuit, mittens, hat, and boots for a mere 10 minutes of snowball fights.  However, their day was complete and they needed nothing else in their world other than you, snow, and a mug of hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.

And remember when they glared at you because you asked one too many times if they’d done their homework and you reminded them that it was your job to ask (as if, at that point, they cared one iota if it was your job or not), because one day….
You’ll go to bed long before they do and they will tuck you in because they’re staying up late to study (without prompting) for a class that really does matter on the transcript.

Remember all that when they start exploring colleges, because dreams aren’t just for blue-eyed, white-blond 4 year old boys.  Now is the time to keep dreaming.

All those ‘remembrances’ were glimpses along the way of his growing up.  It’s those tiny, seemingly ordinary moments that now hold a certain sweetness to them which only the passages of times reveals.

I no longer lay his clothes out and bite my tongue at the outfits he pulls together; he’s developed some ‘taste’ in clothes, it actually does happen.  I no longer take him to the barber shop and direct them to give him the ‘traditional little boy side-part cut.’  But, when he wanted to grow his hair long (and it was prettier than my hair ever was), I let him.  And when he wanted to get it cut short because we were moving and he didn’t want to be different from everyone else, I understood.

For so long my first born son was the oldest male in my house and he’d often hug me, resting his chin on my head, reminding me that he was not only getting older and now bigger than me, but he cared for me too.  Not just about me.

Where had the tiny, screaming alien gone?

And then, effortlessly he careens between manhood and boyhood with just a delicate skip, and I’ll find him slaying imaginary dragons in a blanket fort with his brothers and the three of them together, get lost in a world unknown to me.

They’d play for hours, as only brothers can, until someone would start bleeding or crying and I’d watch my boy, slip back into man and mediate the fight and adjust the rules of engagement just so everyone could be happy and the game could go on.

And he could be a just a boy.

He’s not just a boy anymore though, technically speaking my boy is a man now.  I am not sure how that happened, because just the other day I held him my arms and thought, “Oh dear LORD, I don’t know what to do with a baby.”

I don’t know if it was luck or love, nature or nurture, but that boy… I watch him move with grace and ease between friends and strangers, marvel at the way he can make a crowd belly laugh with just one word, and swell with pride and joy when I get to utter the words, “I’m Carter May’s mom.

Maybe I did know what to do with a baby.
I don’t know what to do without that baby.
But the man he is… stops me in my tracks.

It all belongs

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“But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”

His body.

We all have them.  Bodies aren’t some unique trait to the Son of God.  For some unknown reason God decided that becoming a human was a good idea.  God decided to concentrate love, mercy, forgiveness, and absolute salvation in a fleshy, soft, fragile body.

We call this reality incarnation.  And if and when we talk about this concept, it’s usually at Christmas time, when God, in Jesus, is a baby.  We like to think of Jesus as a baby.  They are lovable, sweet, and fairly close to perfection, holding a vast potential of possibility and dreams.

But just as we do, Jesus grew up – going through toddlerhood and puberty before inhabiting an adult body.  For many of us as we grow into adults our view of ourselves and our body diminishes.  I don’t know if this was true for Jesus, but seems universally true that inhabiting a body isn’t easy.

Often we don’t know what to do with them.

We desperately try change them, improve them, shrink them, hide them.  We compare ours to others. We analyze them, take them apart, and we like some parts more than others.

True?
And being much more powerful than babies we are able to exert control over them: tighten them, shape them, mold them.  Make them be what we want them to be.  Or at least we try to.

I’ve been able to make my body do what I want it to do for most of my life.

I’ve trained to run faster.  I’ve watched what I eat.  I’ve cared for my skin with sunscreen and lotions.  I’ve even made my body do things I shouldn’t have made it do: like weighed too little or pushed my body too far in training, but by all accounts I could do that because I am in control of my body.

I’ve been able to self-select what I like about my body and what I want to change, until fairly recently.

I thought a lot about whether I’d say this next part, because I don’t want the message of the entire sermon to boil down to this… and that sometimes happens when you share a story, but this experience is a reality of bodies.

This is still a bit of a raw wound for me and fairly sensitive but, I need everyone to hear that I am okay.  This is not a worry for you.

8 weeks or so ago I had a miscarriage.

It rocked my world.  On so many levels.

I’d had three healthy children with no problems.  I hadn’t even gotten my head around being married when I found out I was pregnant.  And we won’t even go into the anger and confusion I felt at and with God when as quickly as I was pregnant, I wasn’t…

This.  This I could not control.  My body had failed me.  Maybe for the first time ever.

Bodies fail.  We spend much of our lives trying to pretend they don’t, but they do.

This matters because if we take the incarnation seriously it means Jesus’ body was just as frail, broken, and unpredictable as ours, which is fairly striking if you stop and think about it.  The savior of the cosmos didn’t overcome the body, but was the body.

The whole body.

We tend to focus on The body as a baby, The body as a healer, The body as risen, The body as a savior….

But, Lent is The body anointed, The body beaten, The body killed, The body entombed.

What saves the world in many ways is Jesus’ humanity – his willingness to be fragile, vulnerable, and to have his heart broken.

His willingness to have his body fail on the cross.  Saviors don’t die.  At least not until Jesus.

So, Jesus’ radical statement that the body, his body is the temple of God matters.  A lot.

What the people heard and saw on that day as he shouted through the temple, over-turning tables, and sending animals screeching was:
Violation, blaspheme, disregard, and wreckage.
They saw a desecrated temple.

But, by saying his body is the meeting place of God, Jesus does the exact opposite of desecration.  He purifies the temple by utterly humanizing it. Everything about the body now belongs in the temple.

His body becomes a temple where miscarriages and eating disorders belong.  A place where cancer and puberty belong.  A place where broken hips and failing eye sight belong.  A place where irritable bowels and PMS belong.

And not only do they belong, but Jesus on the cross claims that even a temple which is crushed is still a living testament to God.

Jesus couldn’t be partially human, selectively human, just as we can’t. If you are human, well then, it means the whole thing.

This matters a lot to me right now.  It means that while I feel my body failed me, while it may have been crushed, it’s not separate from that which is godly and good and right.

It belongs.

Jesus’ incarnation didn’t come to an end on the cross.  Rather, now he makes his temple in our bones. He isn’t just saying that his body is the location of God.  He’s saying mine is and yours is, too.

Since this is true, it means our bodies reveal truths of God.  I think this is fascinating to think about in light of all those things we despise about our bodies; all those things we wish were different; all those faults in our bodies…

What do those things say about God?  Where is the goodness of God in the brokenness of the body?

That my body could live in the very midst of death – I don’t know – that is something…  That is something that my words will fail to give voice to.  This I know.  But my body knows how it feels to experience grace upon grace.  My intellect may not comprehend how it is true, but what my body knows is not only does Jesus reside within the body, but he has claimed our hearts for the holiest of holies.

This is the embodied truth of the Gospel – that Jesus gave his very life for.

It is in your very own body that Jesus’ heart beats.

When the body and soul feel all but dead, we intrinsically trust that His stubborn and persistent pulse will not give up on us.
And will beat for us.

If the temple was and is a place of meeting between God and God’s people and if the temple is now YOU, then… whatever your brokenness may be is a place where others might meet God through you.

I will never say I am glad that other people have had miscarriages.
But I am ever so thankful that I didn’t have to be in that space alone.  A few gracious women met me in that desolate place, soothed my fears and carried my anxieties with me.

It was not their words or actions, but their actual bodies which understood and communicated the love and presence of God.  They were living sanctuaries of healing in my world.

It is not only in our wholeness that Christ calls us to be places of meeting, but also in our brokenness.

When God uses that which was destroyed or defeated to bring about hope and new life TODAY, it is a way that we testify that the truth of the cross has dominion in this day and age.

So, if you are someone who met God during a mastectomy or prostate cancer,
or someone who found God didn’t abandon them after an abortion or struggled with drug or alcohol addiction,
or if you are someone who God cradled during abuse or neglect,
or if you are someone who learned to love their body after years of trying to change it,
then you are a temple for someone who is seeking refuge.

These are our temple stories.  We house God for one another.

And if you are someone who is looking for that holy meeting place… I promise you there is refuge and peace and acceptance in the body of Jesus.

It.  Is.  All:
Holy hands and feet.  Holy eyes and ears.  And everything in between.

We are all:
Holy in pain and in shame.  Holy in joy and in confidence.  And everything in between.  For He is glad to make His temple in you today.  Amen.

[This post is from a sermon preached on the second weekend of Lent 2 based on Mark 8: 31-38 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.
Typically we video sermons but with our technology being down this past week, we are using the good old written format.]  

What about the boys?

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On the back of my van I have a bumper sticker which declares, ‘I run like a girl.  Try to keep up’.  It’s my little tongue-in-cheek way of displaying my own version of ‘girl power’.  I know darn well that most men my age can’t keep up with me, which I am proud of.   I was one of those people whose heart soared watching the ‘Run like a Girl’ commercial which aired during the 2015 Super Bowl, which sought to reinterpret the insult that ‘like a girl’ has become.

That girl power stuff – I eat it up.

Like many people, I detest the images magazines constantly project of smooth-skinned, flawless-faced, perfectly toned women with long flowing blond hair.  I know they don’t exist; at least not in reality.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t (or don’t) still try to obtain that level of perfection, which was always allusive to me.

And while I truly believe beautiful people are those with compassionate hearts and intriguing minds, it doesn’t mean I don’t put my make-up on in the morning and spend more money than necessary on skin creams and lipgloss.  I, with millions of other women, watched and shared the Colbie Calliat music video which reminded girls and women that we don’t have to try so hard to gain worth; we already are valuable.

If I had daughters, I’d want them to see those types of commercials; those types of videos, because I’d want them to grown up into women who are comfortable in their own skin.  I’d want them to know their voice is important.  I’d want them to know that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

But I don’t have daughters.
I have sons.  Three of them.
And I want to know where all the videos are that tell my sons (and all the boys and men out there) that it’s okay to cry; that being the star football player isn’t all there is in life; that real men don’t have to drive pick-up trucks (but they can); that they are valuable just as they are.

If girls are growing up with this idea that they must be sexier, smarter, and prettier because of what they’ve seen, heard, and read, then it stands to reason that our boys have seen, heard, and read these same things.

How do my sons know that most men carry six packs in their hand on the way to the summer barbecue and not tote them on their abs, if they’ve been told that real men do?  And how do my sons know that pouty lips, firm breasts, and bedroom eyes aren’t a reality if they’ve been inundated just as much as our girls?

The question we should be asking is what affect those glossed images of women and men are having on our girls and boys.

I know it’s scary to raise girls, but it is just as scary to raise boys.
We’ve set our boys up in a fantasy land, just as much as we’ve peddled it to our girls.

So to my sons who are growing up faster than I thought possible [actually to anyone – boy, man, girl, woman]:
The sexiest thing you will ever do is hold someone’s hand and cry with them – no cowboy boots necessary.
The strongest thing you will ever do is stand up for someone other than yourself – no bulging triceps needed.
The most beautiful thing you will ever see is yourself in the mirror looking back at you – no pornography or pin-up required.
The most courageous thing you will ever do is embrace the life you’ve been given – no video game will ever come close to that.

I don’t care if you ‘run like a girl’ or ‘fight like a man’; my only dream is that you grow into the men you want to be.