The Lady With the Lion Scarf

Why yes, I did wear this scarf AT you.

It is my shield, it is my defense, hear it roar!  Now, some context.

Many of you know that we’ve been church-searching for over a year now.  That’s a whole lot of Sunday rounds of “oh-hi-first time?-you-from-around-here?” small talk and it’s loving and hospitable and exhausting.  Oh to enter a church like Norm entered Cheers; “SARAH!” and then everyone goes back to what they were doing.

I do not like small talk; it’s like a limp handshake or filling a swimming pool only to ankle’s depth; it’s so much of an almost that it’s exasperating.  The equivalent of needing a good long hug and having your loved one standing arm’s length away smiling compassionately, arms just dangling at their side.  Give me your you-ness, already!  Cut the crap and be substantial!

Visiting churches is small talk purgatory.  It’s not that I’m not interested in talking to people and getting to know them; I just don’t want to watch the parade and processions of fluff words that seem to have to pass by before we actually land on any good ones.

I would feel such profound relief if someone approached me, we introduced ourselves, and then conversations like these would happen:

Where are you at in your spiritual life?  Journeying with God, ignoring Him?  Right now I’m________________.

What did you think about the verses read today?  The thing that resounded with me was _________.

I fought with my husband the whole way here to church.  Do you struggle with the incongruence too?  I feel like such a hypocrite. 

Give me something to chew on with you; let us feast, us two, on words that frame life.  Give me you or give me the parking lot.  So I wear the lion scarf.

Scarves vary in their approachability factor.  Nothing says I’m a nice Christian gal like an infinity scarf.  Like you’re infinitely nice.  Especially when paired with a softly glamorous updo, a shirt with either pale stripes or chevron, topped with a bright cardigan on the opposite side of the color wheel, a nondescript skirt, leggings, and soft brown leather boots.  Oh, and there would be earrings too.  And a slouchy purse.

This is a soft, good look.  I like it.  I know that person would give me gum or a tissue or a kidney if need be.

That’s why I wear the lion scarf.

See, when you wear a royal blue silk scarf that is peppered with bright mustard yellow lions and trimmed with vermillion red, you are sending a message.  Or, rather, you’re introducing static into the transmission.  Imagine the nice lady figured above but wearing also a fur hat.  It’s a bit “off”; off-beat, off-trend, off-clarity.  You had her pegged but then she did that so now you’re not sure if she’s the nice Christian lady who would always be asked to teach Sunday school to the fourth graders, OR some odd eccentric who may or may not be nice, and someone whom it would probably pay to orbit for a while rather than approach directly.  I want to be orbited.  The scarf helps.

You may laugh, but it really works.  It can be the lion scarf or my gigantic toothpaste-colored purse or all black clothing with yellow earrings.  It’s beside the point that I like my particular shields.  The thing is, they work.  They seem to repel the surge of small talkers toward the “new family”, or at least to deflect them to the always normal-looking husband. The ones that do approach me, and my lions, tend to be braver sorts and I tend to like their words more.  I don’t feel exhausted and pained in the facial muscles from pulling smiles out of nothing.  A tugged-in smile has nothing on a genuine one, and, dear Greeter, I can tell which one you’re wearing; you can’t possibly be that happy to meet us.  Be warm, indeed, but don’t beam at us like we’ve cured cancer.  Be real, be nice, be you; that’s more than enough of a welcome.

I get that all visitors want different things when arriving at a church for the first time; some I’m sure would be glad and grateful for small talk ad nauseum and gushing hospitality.  But for a lot of us?  We just want to nod “good morning”, slip into a back pew, and see what’s what.  Let us come out of our shell, or out from behind our shields, when we see what you’re like and how the wind blows around these parts.

Until then, the lions.

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On Tenderness

I had just unloaded my two little sons from the car into the shopping cart, Henrik all grins and Tobi all wide-eyed with the wonder of being outside.

“Shut the f— up!  GET IN THERE!”

A man was shouting at his child.  The rest of the words were indistinguishable, but the tone was all cruelty and rage.  The man menacingly leaned his whole body into the vehicle as he roared.  I imagined the child within cowering before his anger.  My mouth went dry.

I couldn’t see the child, five rows away as I was, but I saw the mother, nonchalantly climbing up into their pick-up’s bed to situate grocery bags.  This while the man raged and raged and I felt sick.  I froze in place, staring at them.

I knew there wasn’t anything I could do; most likely confronting the man would make things worse for the child, not better.  And I had my little boys with me and wasn’t sure what he was capable of doing to a stranger if that’s how he treated the ones he loved.

The woman caught me standing there, looking right at her.  For a brief moment our gazes locked, mine saying “This isn’t okay” and hers saying “Oh, someone is noticing this”.  She looked away and I walked with leaden feet into the store, praying, praying.

This is the second time in two days that I’ve heard men raging at children.  Tantrums are unpleasant in children; in adults they are disturbing and ugly.  Edison was with me yesterday as a man belittled and insulted a child with him, raising his voice, and eventually disciplining her right there in the store aisle, her wails echoing about.

Edison blushed fiercely, his mouth tightening in stress and fear.  I know, son, I know.

Every parent hollers, every parent loses their temper (I certainly do), but there is something I’m seeing that is blacker.  Parents are raging.  Why are they so angry?

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Sophia had I curled up on the sofa, her likely-dying hamster cupped within our hands.  She sobbed and sighed and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes swollen; all the love was in her face.  “It’s okay”, she whispered in a choked voice to her little Peanut, who rested uncharacteristically still.  We offered a tiny spoon of water, a fresh leaf of lettuce; the last bits of a good hamster life.

I didn’t say any of the “well, at least…” statements that comfort no one, never.  I haven’t learned much, but I’ve learned that.  I held my daughter and I held her dying hamster and we carried the pain together.  The pain of loving and losing.

I am not a perfect mother; I am well within the league of shouters and temper-losers, but I realized that why I was so disturbed by the man today was that he was not merely losing his temper, but he was abusing that child; lashing with full throttle fury.  Not just blowing off steam, but scorching, scathing, looking to damage.  How can such a little one endure all that fire?  How many children go to bed each night burned in their very souls by the violence of their parents’ words?

As I pushed my grocery cart, looking out the wide store window as the couple finished unloading their groceries, I prayed those words which come so quickly and seem to encompass all my flailing emotions, “Lord have mercy”.  And as I held my grieving daughter, the same words.  And for me also, the same.  That God would keep me always constrained by tenderness and mercy and love from exhibiting the same sickening ways I had witnessed.  And for the children, oh the children, so harmed.

And again I say, Lord have mercy.

The Non-Farm of Now

The most self-torturous thing I do is to take a drive through farmland.  Especially farmland with plenty of sparkling streams and stone barns from the 1700’s and farmhouses that have hosted many a human story over hundreds of years.  If there is a summer kitchen AND a functioning pump house AND a spring house, I near choke on my longing.  If there are lambs frolicking about I am undone.

There’s something so wrong in it and I don’t see a way to fix it; when a county that is bursting at the seams with banks and shopping centers keeps paving over prime farmland in the name of more of them.  I just look at that good dirt, those wide sweeps of it, acres of it, that could keep on feeding us and supporting a family, and I think acerbic thoughts and half-sentences about the businessmen who see every bit of open ground as a financial opportunity rather than the treasure that it is, just as it is.  All for ANOTHER Chipotle or a Staples or a (shudder) Walmart?

And what of the farmers whose families through the generations have been sustained by the land, and suddenly in their retirement years they decide to parcel off their inheritance to developers, to be hacked into grids of streets, peppered with homes, and never again to be a farm?  Do they consider what they received?  And how many would love to take up their yoke and earn their bread that way, but because developers can offer so much they can’t even buy five acres?

So, no farm for us, leastwise here in Lancaster County.  And no chickens, no goats; our township having some prejudice against animals that actually produce something usable.  It is nonsensical.  But so is paving over farmland, so the course must be set.  Dogs?  That you have to haul in feed for and pick up poop for, poop which isn’t fit for composting but must be hauled out with the trash?  Sure, as many as you want!  Chickens?  That feast on bugs, mosquito larvae, weeds; who break down leaves into fine compost, who turn kitchen scraps into delicious eggs, whose manure benefits the gardens?  No, none of those.

I am aware I am ranting.

Switching course…. In my non-farm of now there’s still a lot of learning and living and production happening on our little .33 acre.  This spring will see three beehives up and running (Lord willing), three elderberry bushes, three grapevines, two apple trees, a peach tree, a nectarine tree, blueberries and strawberries, rhubarb, and a whole garden full of produce and herbs.  There will be clothes on the line, jars in the canner, and herbs in the dehydrator.  There will be kids in the mud, sticks that were swords and harpoons strewn about, and slowly rusting bikes in varying degrees of disrepair.  There will be life, cultivated right in the teeth of weeds and deferred hopes and expensive farmland and zoning ordinances.

_MG_4736IMG_2592IMG_0966IMG_1283IMG_1772work4notbusy4diapers2diapers3IMG_1895 IMG_0665 IMG_0672 IMG_1933 IMG_2139 IMG_2142 IMG_2146 IMG_2147 IMG_2155 IMG_2158 _MG_4875 _MG_4888 _MG_4890 IMG_4933 IMG_4947 IMG_2305 IMG_2309 IMG_2315 IMG_0966 _MG_5001  Yes, there will be life.