Do my stories scare you: Silencing voices that make us uncomfortable

I have heard from more than a few people that my stories of our parenting journey scare them. Or maybe it makes them nervous about having kids. Or that they wish I could be a be more positive and share more happy stories.

Please know, I am incredibly grateful to have a healthy baby girl who is growing and developing and has many happy moments throughout the day. I know there are many out there who are having trouble conceiving or are waiting to adopt or have a child that is more challenging than ours. By sharing our story and experience, I am in no way trying to invalidate or one up yours.

I’m simply sharing our story and experience because that is what it is, our story.

Overall, we have actually had a very good week (knock on wood). Jimmie is beginning to smile more, she is very curious and observant, and she is much more content to just sit on your lap, lay on her play mat etc. It’s also been a tough week for other reasons but this week there seem to be many more little victories to celebrate.

Here’s the deal though; I think my experience of people sharing that my stories scare them, make them uncomfortable, or wish I could be more positive speaks to a deeper issue in our country and in North American Christianity. We don’t like stories that challenge (what we think is) the dominant narrative or cultural ideals. We are all living the American dream, right? Well actually, for far too many, they are living the American nightmare.

#blacklivesmatter makes us uncomfortable so we try to cover it up and silence it with the response #alllivesmatter on Twitter and Facebook. While a war rages in Syria and more and more families flee for their lives and children are found washed up on the shore, we are outraged that pictures are shared on social media and the news . . . because it makes us uncomfortable. Sure, we call it respecting the privacy of others or their grief but really, it’s about what those images stir within us that we don’t want to face.

While we remember September 11th and the thousands of American lives that we were lost, we are outraged when attention is drawn to the stories of our Muslim brothers and sisters in our country and around the world by the hashtag #afterSeptember11. Are we even aware or do we even care that hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives as a result of attacks that were not their fault? I heard it said this week that when the U.S. is attacked it’s called terrorism but when the U.S. attacks others it’s called foreign policy. We create the narratives that support our causes.

I come back to one of my favorite quotes I discovered in a slave castle museum in Ghana: “Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be the hero.”

When people ask me what it is like being a chaplain, the know there is lot’s of pain and grief but they only want me to share the success stories. When I’ve witness a miraculous recovery, when the cancer is gone, and when the transplant was received just in the nick of time. But what about the countless stories I experience every week when a family and their church and thousands and thousands of people all over the world are claiming and believing in a miracle and it doesn’t come? What about when the cancer isn’t cured? What about when their isn’t a match for a transplant or even calling to mind in prayer and conversation that while one family is celebrating a new liver, that means another family is grieving the loss of their loved one who provided that liver? Are their stories any less valuable, meaningful, or needed?

We need to create more space for stories that scare us. We need to have eyes to see and ears to hear voices and stories and experiences that make us uncomfortable. We need to make room for all of our voices and stories and experiences at the table of grace and love and learning.

Today I was out running and there was a group that was hosting a small race and the volunteers were handing out water. Most of the time these groups only provide water to those that are a part of the race, their group that have a number. That was not the case with the group that provided water today. They were handing out water to those participating in the race and those who just needed a drink. The volunteers offered me water and encouraged me to finish strong. I received water from the volunteers and I thanked them for their hospitality.

They are my neighbors. They are my brothers and sisters. And they happened to be Muslims.

Let us rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Let us share our stories of a struggles and our strengths. May there always be room for stories of death and resurrection. After all, that is the way of Jesus.

Oh, that’s a lot of shoes: vulnerable living outside of the closet

Over the last 5 weeks or so, we’ve had a lot of visitors to our apartment. Without a doubt, one of the very first things people say upon entering our humble abode is “ooh, that’s a lot of shoes.” You see, here’s the deal, we live in about a 1,000 square foot apartment (we love it and we love living literally RIGHT ON White Rock Lake). We don’t have large closets and thus no where to really hide our shoes. We also don’t want to track germs all through our place so we leave our shoes on a rack by the door. I just counted and there are about 35 pairs of shoes (and that is not even counting my work/hospital shoes that I keep downstairs in our garage).

Here is what I am learning, far too many people live closeted lives. This is especially true in the church.

**Please note, I am in no way trying to be insensitive or make light of an important term/phrase to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I actually believe the LGBTQ community can help us, and most importantly the church, learn the significance of freedom, joy, and the vulnerability of not living closeted lives.**

A while back one of my good friends asked me: “What is the distinct witness that [the LGBTQ community] can offer about the gospel?” This is such an important question because my LGBTQ friends and acquaintances are the most courageous, vulnerable, and authentic people I know. We (the church) have so much to learn from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters!

Parenting and newborn/infant life with Jimmie has been far more difficult than we could have ever imagined. We have somehow experienced both our brightest and darkest days over the last 5 weeks. We have shed more tears and said more curse words than I care to think about or count.

Instead of putting on a happy face and only sharing the good moments on social media, we’ve embraced vulnerability and we have been very open about our joys and struggles. It was incredibly scary to do this and we experienced some vulnerability regret (most of my thoughts about vulnerability come from Brene’ Brown’s book: Daring Greatly).

Here is what we are learning though: there is freedom in vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weakness or throwing in the towel. In fact, I believe vulnerability is the most courageous thing any of us can do.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have joined us in vulnerability and said, “me too.” I believe our embracing vulnerability has given others room and freedom they have never felt before to be vulnerable too. Continually people have shared with us “I never had anyone to talk about this with when I was going through (fill in the blank).” My friends, this should not be so!

This got me thinking, how many of us, including those of us who follow the way of Christ, live a closeted life in some form or fashion? I am guessing nearly all of us have something we are fearful might spill out of our closet. Yet, in the midst of the fear, it is really our deepest longing and desire (this is one thing I have learned from my LGBTQ brothers and sisters) to be fully known and loved! We are not meant to live in the closet! We are meant to live in FREEDOM!! We are not meant to live in darkness and isolation. We are meant to live in light and community!

We are choosing to embrace vulnerability and freedom regarding our struggles figuring out parenting and life with a newborn/infant. In the last five weeks I have had people come out to me about their own struggles with parenting, alcohol, their sex life, depression, loneliness, doubts about God, public image, finances, and many other areas where they have for far too long lived in shame and fear but are now embracing vulnerability and freedom.

Vulnerability is courageous and vulnerability is contagious.

So yes, we do have a lot of shoes by our front door. We will leave them there unashamedly as we figure out this whole new season of life, one day at a time.

Here’s to vulnerable living outside of the closet.

Reflection Round Up

I tried to come up with something witty or profound or both to title this blog while I was running this morning but I came up with nothing.

As I was running, I was reflecting on the tensions of life. If we are honest, life and spirituality are truly a series of tensions, paradoxes, and both/ands.

Love and risk, joy and pain, order and chaos, vulnerability and inauthenticity, saint and sinner to name a few.

Parenting a infant is full of these tensions as well. How can can a baby that is so sweet one moment create so much anxiety as she screams two seconds later? How can a little bundle of cuddly goodness turn around and do so much destruction to a diaper and a onesie?

Over the past week or two, I’ve been blogging about my (and really our) experience as a parent. It is has been a beautiful tension and paradox. We’ve experience unimaginable joy and wonder and utter exhaustion and helplessness.

These are some of my reflections, shared from a place of vulnerability and gratitude. I hope you’ll share them with someone who might need some encouragement or just to hear the words “me too.”

8.29.15 Fake it ’till you make it? Nah, let’s just be vulnerable:

8.26.15 Barf, poop, and pee:

**8.23.15 Parenting and Loneliness: (This is my most read blog ever!) **

8.21.15 Introducing a daughter into the world and into the church:

8.15.15 The pictures we share: a moment of vulnerability:

8.8.15 That’s an interesting name:

So, there you have it. These six blogs posts are probably the most vulnerable I have ever been in about 10 years of blogging. This vulnerability is the culmination of a lot of things but the tipping point was reading the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown. I highly recommend it! At the conclusion of the book, she shares “The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.” You can download a neat graphic of it from her website. We printed it out and have it framed over our glider in the living room. We are trying to allow these words shape how we parent. I close with Brown’s beautiful words. Have a blessed Sunday!

The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

“Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions–the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.

I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.

We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.

We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.

You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.

I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.

I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.

When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.

Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.

We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.

As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.” –Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly, 244-5

Fake it ’til you make it? Nah, let’s just be vulnerable.

“Fake it ’till you make it” was an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) mantra that was instilled in me growing up. No, this was not so much something learned at home but at church. Put on your Sunday best, literally and figuratively.

Somehow, Jesus is more welcoming of us in suits and ties and dresses was what the church taught me (what ever happened to come as you are?). We may not be clean and put together on the inside but dammit, we’ll look like it on the outside. Smile, look good, and tell everyone you are fine. (By the way, I learned in CPE that f.i.n.e. really stands for f***ed up, insane, neurotic, exhausted or emotional). If you do have any struggles you’d better only mention them as an “unspoken” prayer request.

Very rarely do I ever remember demonstrations of vulnerability or authenticity from the stage or pulpit. Sure, there were the occasional personal stories (typically on a Sunday night or Wednesday night) of overcoming cancer or praying really hard about something and it was eventually fixed.

This just always seemed too put together and fake. Where was the mess and chaos of life? I have very few memories of people taking risks and sharing vulnerable stories of actively seeing a counselor, being on anti-depressant medication, feeling like a failure as a parent, being part of a marriage that is an absolute mess or being part of anonymous programs like AA.

Well, that is not entirely true, I was part of a church in Norman, Oklahoma were there was this level of love, risk, and vulnerability. However, the senior pastor was f.i.n.e. and he and his cronies exploited people’s vulnerability. That church eventually imploded. Some of us managed to crawl out of the ashes and as the dust settled found healing and a home in small church start-up.

Vulnerability is the most courageous thing I know to do right now. Vulnerability is what gives me hope that I can make it to tomorrow. Well, vulnerability and Redbull.

The most life-giving thing of our week has been mom after mom (from all stages of motherhood from infants to teenagers) stopping in to visit or sending us a message. Time and time again we have heard “me too” and “yes I remember those sleepless nights” and lots of confessions of “no one ever told me it would be this hard.”

This also got me thinking, where are all the dad’s at? Surely it isn’t only mom’s that feel this way? I’d love to hear “me too” from another dude.

We need more people who will embrace vulnerability. We certainly need more vulnerability in the church. Not in private conversations and in dimly lit basements but on Sunday mornings from the pulpit and on the live web feeds.

We are in the midst of a moment of tranquility. Someone from our Sunday School class just brought us lunch and shared lots of “me too” moments with us. Thanks be to God for some risk and vulnerability. We’re looking for some fellow pilgrims who are on a journey of love, risk,and vulnerability. Would you consider joining us? I’ll bring the Redbull.

Barf, poop, and pee

The other day I was doing a bit of humorous venting on Facebook. I had just been barfed on (or as we Mustain’s like to call it “ralphed on”) and while I was cleaning up Jimmie and changing her diaper, she had an explosion out the other end and I was pooped on as well. There was nothing left to do but laugh and of course post the experience to Facebook. I received the usual well wishes, encouragement, and advise. There is just something life giving about hearing “yeah, been there done that” and “oh I remember those days.”

One of my former CPE colleagues gave me a real gift during our two years together by sharing about the dirt she grew up in. With her usual timely pastoral and parental wisdom she respond to my status update: “You are doing great Chad. You now speak of barf, poop and pee without hesitation. Parenting gives an earthiness to your theology too at some point, so be warned…”

Parenting gives an earthiness to your theology. Now that’ll preach!

When I hear the word dirt, I often think or hear negative connotations. Dirty, messy, and chaotic.

One of my pastors, Father Alfred offered a re-frame and taught me that word human has origins in the Latin word “humus” that Webster defines as: “a brown or black complex variable material resulting from partial decomposition of plant or animal matter and forming the organic portion of soil.” He shared out of his own story and experience the richness of the image of farming, of working the soil, of the delicate balance of both life and death, death and resurrection found in the dirt in order for growth to occur.

When I think about the dirt I grew up in, I am reminded of ultra-conservative churches, being dedicated by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, rules, and fear. Now, this isn’t a judgment against my parents or a critique of their parenting skills. It’s something that just is. That’s just where we were at in that season of life together. In this same dirt I learned to love family and stories and reading and music and friendship and baseball and good food at church potlucks.

Rachel Held Evans captures this tension beautifully in her latest book Searching for Sunday. For better and for worse, the dirt I grew up in introduced me to Jesus, taught me how to love and risk, and my dirt is where I first experienced God calling me to participation in the mission of God.

Dirt is the stuff of life. Barf, poop, and pee are all part of the dirt (literally). Earthiness is where we find our beginnings. In the creation poem of Genesis 2 we are created from the dirt and in Ecclesiastes 3 that from the dirt we have come and to the dirt we will return and in John 9 Jesus brings about healing from spit and dirt and delivers one of his most profound teachings writing in the dirt. Life and death. Death and resurrection come through the dirt.

So, while I may complain about barf, poop, and pee, I’m reminded that this is the stuff of life. This means Jimmie’s body is functioning as it should. In the midst of the exhaustion, the crying, and the barf, poop, and pee I say, thanks be to God.

Parenting and Loneliness

So last week, a work colleague who primarily works out in our community facilities sits down next to me and says “I haven’t seen you in a while. I didn’t know if you were still around.” I thought to myself, I just finished my 2nd year residency, I’ve been around about 50-70 hours a week for the last two years. I did a little self-supervision and chose to withhold a cutting remark. I shared with him I have also been out on some PTO as my partner and I recently had our baby. His response? “Yeah, I thought you were looking pretty tired at the lunch earlier today. And, it looks like you’ve put on a few pounds.” Seriously? Who says that? Again, I had to self-supervise and share that might be true as I have been working through a foot injury the last two months and that I’m just now with the new baby and all getting back into my regular running routine. He wrapped up our inspiring conversation by sharing “you think it’s hard with one, just wait until you have three or four.” Really? Thank God my pager went off and I made my exit.

Parenting, I’m learning, can be a lonely, isolating, desert type experience. On top of sleep deprivation, a majority of conversations being about poop, pee, and breast milk, and starting another load of laundry, sometimes it feels like bringing home a newborn baby is like you just brought home the plague.

Seriously, where did everybody go?

I get it, people want to be respectful and give you your space. Yes, we are tired and we are cautious of germs. We do appreciate that. But sometimes it would just be nice to get a call or a text saying “hey, how are you?” or “let me know when a good time to drop in for 10 minutes would be, I’d love to say hey and meet Jimmie” or “is there anything I can do for you?”

I’m learning that while a newborn is a season of joy, excitement, and wonder, it is also a season of loss, grief, and loneliness. Why didn’t anyone share this with me before hand?

I never knew I would feel so much loss, grief, and loneliness. No longer do last minute lunch invites work or going out to catch a late movie. It’s all we can do to make it to 7:45pm when Jimmie goes down for her first 3-4 hour (if we are lucky) sleep cycle of the night. I miss being able to go out with Heather to “dink around” as we call it in the Mustain family. It’s tough seeing pictures on Facebook knowing that a few weeks ago you would have been part of those pictures and memories that were made but this time no one invited you.

The other day, a member of our Sunday School class brought us dinner. It can be a bit tricky navigating your way back to our apartment so I went out front to entrance to meet her and guide her back to our apartment. I invited her and her little boy up to our apartment to say hello and to meet Jimmie. I’m sure it was not terribly convenient to unload her son from his car seat and to help him navigate three flights of stairs up to our 3rd floor apartment to pop in for 5 minutes. But she did and I’ll tell you what those were 5 of the most life-giving minutes of my week.

Just to hear another mother say to Heather “me too” brought me so much relief. For just 5 minutes someone stood with us in the joy and the frustration of this season of life and said “me too” and “I remember that feeling” and “hang in there, each day gets a little better.”

I’m not sharing this to shame anyone or so that you’ll immediately send me a message or ask to drop by. I’m embracing vulnerability to say this whole parenting thing is freaking hard and it can be really lonely. This is the side of parenting that doesn’t show up on your Facebook feed or in your Instagram photos.

Please also know that my heart in sharing these blog posts is not to seem like I am bitter about parenthood, that I’m not grateful to have a healthy baby girl, or that I’m throwing a whoa is me pity party. I am overwhelmed with joy to be a parent. I am so grateful that Jimmie is healthy (and Heather too). The outpouring of love and care that we have received throughout the pregnancy and the first few weeks of Jimmie’s life have been so humbling.

This whole season of life isn’t an either/or, it’s a both/and. Actually, that is the whole of life, if we are honest. Life is a both/and. We just don’t always make room to embrace life’s tensions and paradoxes.

I want to help Jimmie experience love AND risk. I want to model for her excellence AND messiness. I want to help teach her that vulnerability is not weakness but is fact incredibly courageous.

Well, Jimmie is starting to stir again so that’s my cue.

Grace and peace to you this day.

Introducing a daughter into the world and into the church.

I have been up since about a quarter to five with Jimmie. She just can’t make up her mind if she wants to eat or sleep or stare at me with those deep blue eyes. It’s my turn to be up so H can get some sleep. So, naturally, I’m thinking and reading and experiencing some anxiety about introducing a daughter into the world and into the church.

During Jimmie’s latest stretch of sleep before she decides she wants to try the bottle again, I finished Rachel Held Evan’s latest book Searching for Sunday. Wow. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I love to read and I can honestly say this is one of the most important and accessible books I have EVER read. The chapter “Body” has me thinking about introducing Jimmie into the world and into the church. RHE is writing about the church, the body of Christ. Yet, I believe deep down, she is writing about the experience of being a woman. RHE writes:

“‘The church is a whore, but she is my mother.’ The quote is attributed to St. Augustine, but no one’s really tracked it down. I’d venture to guess it originated with a man, though, and an unimaginative one at that.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment — that despite her persistent wanderings and betrayals, the church births us and feeds us and names us children of God — it’s just that when we leave men to draw all the theological conclusions about a metaphorically feminine church, we end up with rather predictable categories, don’t we?

Virgin. Whore. Mother.

But what might a woman say about church as she? What might a woman say about the church as body and bride?” (248)

I worry a lot about how men will attempt to define Jimmie. Until the voices of women are truly valued and heard as equals, men will continue to be the authority. That pisses me off. It makes me think of the African proverb we have hanging on our wall “until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be the hero.”

RHE continues:

“Perhaps she would speak of the way a regular body moves through the world — always changing, never perfect — capable of nurturing life, not simply through the womb, but through hands, feet, eyes, voice, and brain. Every part is sacred. Every part has a function.

Perhaps she would speak of impossible expectations and all the time she’s wasted trying to contort herself into the shape of those amorphous silhouettes that flit from magazines and billboards into her mind. Or of this screwed-up notion of purity as a status, as something  awarded by men with tests and checklists and the power to give it and take it away.

Perhaps she would speak of the surprise of seeing herself — flaws and all — in the mirror on her wedding day. Or of the reality that with new life comes swollen breasts, dry heaves, dirty diapers, snotty noses, late-night arguments, and a whole army of new dangers and fears she never even considered before because life-giving isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, but it’s a thousand times more beautiful.

Perhaps she would talk about being underestimated, about surprising people and surprising herself. Or about how there are moments when her own strength startles her, and moments when her weakness — her forgetfulness, her fear, her exhaustion — unnerve her.

Maybe she would tell of the time, in the mountains with bare feet on the ground, she stood tall and wise and felt every cell in her body smile in assent as she inhaled and exhaled and in one loud second realize, I’m alive! I’m enfleshed! only to forget it the next.

Or maybe she would explain how none of the categories created for her sum her up or capture her essence.

If the church is like a body, like a bride, then perhaps we ought to take her through what Barbara Brown Taylor calls the ‘spiritual practice of wearing skin” […]” (248-9).

I hope to help Jimmie learn how to be comfortable in her own skin. I think I can help her learn this because a large part of my journey the last two years has been learning to be comfortable in my own skin. I was continually told by patients, families, and even other pastors I look too young, I’m not old enough, I don’t look like a chaplain because I have messy hair or thick rimmed glasses. I’ll never forget my very first on call shift when staff member told me “you aren’t old enough or fat enough to be chaplain.” Sounds like just the opposite that women typically hear that “you aren’t young enough or skinny enough to be (fill in the blank).”

Here is what I am learning. It’s not my degrees, my credentials, my strengths, and striving for excellence that make me a damn good professional chaplain. Don’t get me wrong, these are good and valuable things. But as I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin, my own identity, I’m learning it is vulnerability, risk, weakness, and growing from my mistakes that enable me to be a son, husband, father, friend, pastor/chaplain, and pilgrim that can sit in the mess of life with others and say “me too.”

RHE closes the chapter by sharing: “Sometimes I think the biggest challenge in talking about the church is telling ourselves the truth about it — acknowledging the scars, staring down the ugly bits, marveling at its resiliency, and believing that this flawed and magnificent body is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ.

Perhaps there is more to the church than mother and whore. And perhaps we might learn this from a woman” (250-1).

OK, Jimmie is beginning to stir again. I wonder what she needs and what she is attempting to say? It’s OK sweet girl, we are going to figure out this whole sharing life thing and being comfortable in our own skin, together.