All posts by mamacharla

Dogs, Banana Bread, and Grace to Love the World

A friend of mine was the unfortunate recipient recently of drive-by anger. Having just wrapped up a walk with a friend and her dog, the women were two blocks from home when my friend’s dog spotted another owner and dog and the two began sniffing each other (the dogs, that is!). My friend’s dog was momentarily unleashed because (seriously) the leash had broken a few blocks back, and the other dog’s owner immediately took issue. She launched into a tirade at my friend who was summarily insulted over the quality of her leash-buying skills, her dog ownership capabilities, and her clear threat to the neighborhood at large. All of which was communicated at a fever pitch. And all of which was completely unnecessary.

But that’s not where the story ends.

Two Dogs

Rather than returning anger for anger, my friend immediately said to her walking companion, “Wow. That woman must have had a really hard day to have treated me like that.” Her friend was incredulous. “Aren’t you mad? I can’t believe you kept your cool.” “Actually,” my friend replied, “I don’t want to fight back. To be honest, I want to make her some banana bread.”

As non sequitur as it may sound, she’s right. That over-the-top reaction had absolutely nothing to do with her or her dog, and everything to do with…something. The point is, we have no idea what people are going through when they whiz past us with their middle finger extended, or tailgate us on Highway 82, or leave a lengthy meeting in a huff, or fire off a hurtful email. But one thing’s for sure: it ain’t about us. People have stuff, man. It isn’t always rational, and it isn’t always known to others, and it almost always colors the way they view the world. You know what they need? Banana bread. Something’s wrong, make it better. And if you can’t make it better (and the chances are slim, friends), give them grace. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God and the bestowal of blessings. How about we try that on for size? Give them a wide berth (because you need your own peace of mind, for goodness sake), and some safe space to just figure out their nasty ol’ self. Banana bread them. Banana bread says, you are obviously going through a hard thing that only comfort food can fix; I’m your girl.

Banana Bread

But here’s the thing — you don’t actually have to bake banana bread, people. Banana Bread is a mindset. A way of life. A way of offering grace to the hurting people.

Grace is you smiling at the screaming dog lady while you’re actually thinking, “You are acting like a crazy person right now, but you must have some stuff you’re dealing with so I am going to just move along.”

No, it doesn’t ever feel good to be someone’s punching bag. But it feels “less worse” to know their punches most likely aren’t even aimed at you to begin with – they’re just a horrible shot. Let go, let God, and get the heck out of their way.

Grace.

Because you know what we don’t need more of in this world? Vitriolic anger, divisive back-stabbing, sarcasm, put-downs, jealousy, spitefulness, bitter words, people projecting their own issues, or making assumptions, or terrorizing, or creating fear, or just…whatever. Banana bread them.

xo

Charla

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
~Kent M. Keith

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Why Your Kids Should Never Ever Go To College (and other things you’ll tell yourself when they do)

Well, another successful handoff of my ACTUAL HEART.

There’s this kind of energy in dropping off kids to college that’s equal parts excitement and physical and emotional shock. Not unlike going off an awesome ski jump into knee-deep snow (I live in the mountains where skiing is an appropriate metaphor for just about everything. Roll with me.). You launch into the air with exhilaration, a smile of excitement on your face and a good “hell yeah!” whoop, except somewhere before the hell yeah you accidentally land on a rock and your skis fling out from your body unnaturally causing you to land face first in the powder stash, back aching, snow down your pants, and skis nowhere in sight. Yep. Drop-off day feels exactly like that. Like an embarrassed “what the….?” kind of moment.

What I think my son still looks like....
What I think my son still looks like….

This is my second go at handing off my heart, and if I’m being honest I have to admit that this time it sucked waaaay less than the first. But I still have a bit of advice for anyone contemplating sending their kids to college: Don’t.

Just kidding. College is a thing, and it’s good for your character. I mean their character, duh.

But here’s my advice: For starters, it’s super helpful if your first child chooses a military service academy because that feels approximately like cutting off an appendage which makes sending off child #2 a walk in the park. I actually love the military now that they own my son, and my perspective on what constitutes “hard” is a bit, ahem, changed.

Also, once you’ve waved your last goodbye you’ll need to do something to take your mind off your sweet, adorable kid who said umbalella and trawballellies precisely two minutes ago and is now taking college courses you can’t even pronounce, and rooming with an actual firefighter. A nice two-hour drive in a snowstorm on windy roads in the middle of nowhere should do the trick. This takes concentration which means you can’t cry. This is a good thing.

You can also try lightening the moment (good luck with that). For instance, I overheard one dad choking back his tears as he hugged his sweet baby girl and said in a trembling voice, “I love you baby. Don’t do crack.” Well, at least it lightened my moment. She might still be a little freaked out.

Lastly, enroll in seminary. I realize this might seem like an extreme measure for a simple college drop-off but hear me out. In seminary you will study people like Freiderich Schleiermacher and Augustine and Immanuel Kant which makes your brain hurt. This leaves little room for things like wondering if your child is remembering to wash his underwear. It also gives you lots of homework and friends who like to talk theology and drink, and since Jesus drank a lot of red wine himself I think he’d basically approve.

Oh, and one last thing. You will want to look at old pictures and videos and reminisce about the cute things he or she did when they were little. You might even post said things on social media. I do not recommend this.

Set your hearts to Christmas break when he will once again leave his wet towels on the floor, come home at 2am and forget to eat until you make him dinner.

What he actually looks like leaping into his future…. Photo credit: http://www.MelissaYoungPhotography.com

Holy Ground: Harnessing the Love

camp SMB week 2 2015-98

In case you are of the opinion that Christians are mired in rules and order in an 18th century kind of way, read this. We run some ah-ma-zing summer camps for kids. We do zero preaching with words and one thousand percent preaching with love and smiles. A LOT of love and smiles. And by “we” I mean I sit in my office and listen to the laughter and squeals of delight while trying to actually work, and then occasionally I have to plunge a toilet because, you know. Kids.

So I thought about just posting a bunch of photos in this space because the faces that grace our campus in the summer make it truly HOLY GROUND. They are beyond adorable. I felt it would be the polite thing to do, just post photos and let you take in all that cuteness for yourself. But then you wouldn’t know all the details behind the cuteness. SMashBox 2015 week 4-75

Like, I figured you’d want to know about sweet Charlotte, one of our campers who came to my office every single day to hug me. I thought you might want to know about middle schooler Bella and her friends, who begged me to “let” them be helpers at our Mountains of Faith camp (puh-lease). How about little Omar, whose grandma showed up an hour into our first day of Kindergarten Readiness Camp because she’d only learned of it that morning and wanted her boy to attend. (He did.) Or the little camper at Camp SMashBox who one day was going completely commando when our Administrative Director, Caroline, walked by and said, “Hey buddy — where are your clothes?” He looked a little puzzled and then said with a shrug, “I can’t find ’em.”

Yep. That’s pretty much the way it goes around here in the summer. Kids havin’ so much fun they can’t keep their pants on.

2015 SMashBox week 3-20

There were the precious comments, the adorable preschool friendships made, the vacationing mamas who saw the activity on our grounds and signed kids up on the spot, and the teens who traveled across country to join us on a boat in Lake Powell.  There were — count ’em — 40 teenagers who worked their butts off as counselors every single day. I can personally attest to the massive amounts of fun mainly as evidenced in my 19 year-old college boy who came home EXHAUSTED after every day working at Camp SMashBox, but raring to go back the next morning to once again convince more than a few kids he was ACTUALLY in magician school. The fun.

So if you’re wondering, “Ok, so you have fun and kids are cute and Aspen-Snowmass is awesome, but what’s the big deal?” Well, I am about to tell you.

From June 15 to August 7 Snowmass Chapel hosted 378 kids at our various camps. 378! That many kids could more than double the size of some small towns. Now, take that 378 and multiply it by a billion and that’s about how much love and laughter was on display. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we could harness that? Peace, love and joy, that’s what.

We are a church but most of the kids we see don’t know and don’t care. You know what they like? Being loved. Getting a hug every morning and a high five and a shoulder-ride and a partner who will help them build a sweet boat out of scrap wood or a patriotic float for the 4th of July parade and some attention that tells them they are more than the sum total of their years in school — they matter. Deep down and forever, they matter.

“Let the children come to me…” Jesus said. I think Jesus would have just been sitting on the lawn this summer giggling with all the cuteness. And he might have gotten pied in the face because that’s what happens when kids can’t contain all the love they have for their counselors.

SMB week 1 2015-199

On Neighbors, Race and a Certain Flag

Not long ago I read a news article about a young 17 year old black male who was living with his white foster family. The family had recently moved into a new neighborhood and when the boy returned from school one day he found the front door locked, and so he walked to the back of the house and entered through the back door. A neighbor watching through the window mistook the boy for a burglar and called police, who then surrounded the house and demanded he open the door. When the boy tried to explain to the police that he wasn’t a burglar but in fact lived in the home, they cried foul because, they reasoned, all the photos on the wall were of white people. So they arrested him for trespassing. In his own home.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was discussing the film Selma with a friend who said he didn’t care to see the movie and relive all that — why can’t people just get over it, he asked; after all, it had happened 50 years ago! We just need to move on, he said.

I would argue the reason we can’t move on is because we refuse to move on. Black people would love nothing more than to move on. We just won’t let them.

The recent shootings of the nine precious lives in a South Carolina church — spiritual leaders and counselors who were gathered together in prayer — is evidence to me that each and every one of us bears responsibility for the fact that we remain stuck post-civil rights. It is not enough for us to say the young shooter was mentally ill, or that this was an aberrant act of violence. It was an act of misguided racial superiority perpetuated by a society that allows the gaping racial wound to fester.

And with those words, our divide grows. Because upon reading those words many people say, “not me.” And I am one of them. For years I would say, but I’m not racist; I’m not allowing the racial wound to fester; I know how to reach across the aisle; my parents ever tolerated racism; I love everybody! None of us is intentionally racist. I know this. I just don’t always know how to do it better. It’s hard for me to even write about racism, because for the love, what does a white girl from Aspen know about it anyway?

In Luke 10 Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. A religious leader first asks Jesus what he considered to be the greatest commandment. Jesus replied with his own question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?

The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Isn’t it ironic that the Savior of the world boiled down the kingdom of heaven to such a simple formula while the rest of us analyze everything to within an inch of its life. Love God and love people. Do this and you will live. The end.

But the man took it a step further. “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted justification. Qualifiers. Who exactly should I be neighborly to?

So Jesus told the story of a man beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead. Turns out the neighbor, the one who eventually stopped to help the beaten man, was the least likely person. He was from a rival clan, if you will. But Jesus describes the neighbor as one moved to compassion by the very humanity of the beaten one, who bound up his wounds and took care of him.unnamed

When it comes to healing wounds of any kind, perhaps WE are the least likely. We can say we love everyone; yet sometimes our love requires action.

I believe this is how we begin to heal the wound and narrow the divide. The Bible tells us in 1 John 3 “let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” What symbols do we each cling to which may be unintentionally or subconsciously holding us back from loving our neighbors? What systems are in place that we simply accept as tradition, heritage or institutional practice? What actions, what language, what rationale do we prattle on about to justify the incarceration of black males six times the rate of whites…the shooting of one more unarmed black male…the arrest of young black pool party goers… police brutality unequally aimed at black men…the profiling and the discrimination…the arrest of a young high schooler for trespassing in his own home.

Are we ready to confront these things with love in action? Because black people no longer need us to make room for them on the bus. They need us to make room for them in our lives. They need more neighbors.

South Carolinians are calling for the removal of the confederate flag which has flown over their statehouse for 50 years as a symbol of massive resistance to racial desegregation and the civil rights movement. Finally, people are recognizing that the flag oppresses rather than dignifies its people. Regardless of where we live, I encourage us all to consider: what is our confederate flag? What’s happening where you are that oppresses and what can you do for the least of these?

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). As white Christians, we can own that. Weshould own that! If Jesus preached one thing besides loving our neighbors, it was to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized. We can, and should, be cautious of people who deserve our caution, but kind to those who need kindness, regardless of their color, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other God-given trait that we nonetheless find ourselves afraid of. When confronted with racism, let’s remind ourselves and each other that we are all children of God, a God who reminds us daily: “Be not afraid.” And let us remind each other that even in our ordinariness we can achieve extraordinary change.

In a recent interview, the young Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said, “Many people think a Martin Luther King will step forward or a Nelson Mandela should rise among us and speak up for us, but we never realize that they are normal humans like us, and if we step forward, we can also bring change just like them.”

My prayer is that we step forward courageously as neighbors and be agents of the transformational love and grace the world needs.

Charla

Minus 6 With a Chance of Sunshine

Nothing says Happy New Year in Aspen like, well…six below zero. You Southerners who come to escape the heat in July don’t know how good you’ve got it in January!

As I reflect back on 2014 I feel doubly blessed. Not only was it a great year but it was all the sweeter because 2013 stunk so bad. You win some you lose some! Some years are just like that, aren’t they? They’re like a whole string of six-below-zero days. Parents take ill, jobs are unstable, kids struggle, knees get blown out, beloved pets die, the pipes burst, credit cards get stolen…and that’s just January!

Add the wind chill and it can feel like minus 67! You know what I’m talking about: low-grade stress at work, those extra holiday pounds that never went away, flu, insomnia, freakin’ perimenopause (just sayin’). You know: wind chill.

wind chill

Some days all you can do is promise to just show up and try not to be a jerk. But then, just like a beach vacation in winter, the promise of the New Year is sweet and sure and oh-so-needed. It’s like a shiny new toy or a steaming cup of coffee when you’re suuuuper tired.

Despite familiar songs to the contrary, friends, you can absolutely forget auld lang syne. You can say goodbye to sadness and grief and disappointment and heartache and unrealized goals, and hurts and anything else that has made your precious hearts ache this past year. Sit on it, reflect on it, brood about it, talk about it till you’re sick of hearing your own voice….and then for God’s sake let it go.  Because we cannot accept all the goodness and blessings that await if we are chock full of all the stuff we don’t want more of.

In the Old Testament there’s a story about a great king named Hezekiah, whose troops were slaughtered and his kingdom near ruins thanks to the former King of Assyria. All that remained was a bunch of ragtag soldiers and a patch of desert.  But Hezekiah gathered the few (the proud) before him and said something remarkable. He told his troops to send up a prayer for what little they had left. In the midst of near utter defeat, when everyone else seemed to have abandoned him, Hezekiah prayed for God’s favor on what little they had. I guess I find this remarkable because in the middle of despair it’s easy to believe God has left the building, when in fact, God is still here. Waiting. Patiently. Always so patiently.

Hezekiah sends up his prayer and next thing you know God made him prosper “in all he set out to do.” Bam! Hezekiah didn’t dwell on his losses (though they were many). Holding on to old hurts means less room for the good stuff to come in. We have to empty our pitiful selves out and make room for God to fill us right back up.

good things happen

So in this shiny new year, forget those six-below-zero days. Let your mind wander to the glorious 70s! Recall that day or week or…maybe you were lucky enough to have a whole month!…when the sun shined a little brighter. Send up a prayer for what you have, for even just that one day where the sun shone on your gorgeous face, and then know there is more of that just waiting for you in the new year.

 

And Hansel said to Gretl ‘let us drop breadcrumbs so together we find our way home….’

So it begins.

If you had asked me eight months ago not if but where I would be attending seminary I would have laughed in your face. No offense; it’s just that the thought had quite literally NEVER occurred to me. Until it did. And then the thought would not release itself from my brain or my heart and I found myself tentatively asking my husband one day, what would you think if

Isn’t that the way big things always begin? With some ridiculously outlandish idea that turns into your actual honest to goodness life?

Now, if you’re wondering how a full-time working mom of three just casually goes back to get her Masters of Divinity, let me assure you there are no dorms or cross country moves involved. For starters, living on campus and romping around with frat boys is mostly not the vision I have for my 50 year-old self, nor one that any sane college coed would want!

So this is my classroom.

kitchen table/classroom (dirty dishes in the background are just part of the charm)
kitchen table/classroom (dirty dishes in the background are just part of the charm)

Most of the work my classmates and I do is online and then we get the privilege and pleasure of seeing each other three times a year on campus, where we drink beer and talk about the meaning of life just like regular college kids.

So, after weeks of online discussion boards, misunderstood posts, obscure assignments, and reading far too much theological interpretation without the benefit of, well…interpretation, I finally met my 22 online classmates in person. And can I just say: they do not disappoint. They are in this thing heart and soul, not to mention piercings and tattoos.

We hail from all over the U.S., from a variety of denominations, and our reasons for studying theology are as diverse as our political leanings and the ages on our driver’s licenses. But these are people ready to build bridges across those divides. There’s a common thread of humanity, of vision for a brighter future, of hope that, together, we can and will heal the heart of a broken world.

It’s not easy. The first quarter so far has expanded my brain (which likely explains all the headaches) with the likes of David Hume, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Frederick Schleiermacher (try saying that three times fast) and a host of other brilliant minds; and challenged the way I look at people and things like systemic oppression, racial and socio-economic privilege, and LGBTQ justice. You know — a whole lot of things I have been, for the most part, happily in the dark about.

We are not residential students and not solely online so ours is called the Journey. It’s fitting. And together we will find our way.

Life is not meant to be experienced in a vacuum. And even though I was ready to be home which means typing away online rather than having deep discussions in person, I am already looking forward to sharing the same breathing space with my classmates again soon.

As for you — some day you may find yourself in need of a prayer; desperate for peace as you witness the end of life of a dearest; sitting in a pew looking for words of inspiration; looking for insights from a teacher; or simply needing to hold the hand of a kind military chaplain who just gets it. And when that happens, I pray you’ll be lucky enough to be looking into the face of one of these beautiful souls.

iliff jump

So be it.

Amen in Aramaic
Amen in Aramaic

There is Love

What strikes me most about homelessness in Aspen is that a.) it exists at all and b.) most school children can list all of the homeless by name or at least by identifying characteristics. Think about that for a moment. Our town is so small and so privileged and we have so few people suffering from true homelessness that our children can tell you about each one.

And you don’t have to live in a fancy-pants neighborhood to call yourself privileged; any small town kid has probably had the same experience. Because whatever your definition of privilege is let’s face it: having a roof over your head and food to eat is tops on the list.

So when our group of 19 showed up on Skid Row in Los Angeles on our last day of “Surf and Serve” we were as prepared as any small town privileged group could be to come face to face with the thousands of homeless living on the streets in a roughly six square block area. Which is to say… not at all.

halfsizesurfandserve-253

I’m ok telling you that the night before our visit I was just a teensy bit anxious. The images I’d seen over the years of this place didn’t exactly look welcoming and I was about to drive 15 teenagers into the “Devil’s Den” as it has been called. Not gonna lie — knowing the staff at Union Rescue Mission would be waiting for us in a secured parking lot and escorting us directly to the secured office made me breathe easier. I would need that period of adjustment before my mind could take in the massive sea of desperation on the other side.

I’ve heard varying accounts but the truth lies somewhere in this startling fact: each night in L.A. somewhere between 58,000 and 90,000 people are homeless. Only two cities are “home” to more homeless than Los Angeles: New York City sits at the number two spot in the world, and Manila, Philippines, with more than 2 million living in slums, is number one. How is this even possible? It doesn’t get better. In fact, people, the United States of America has ELEVEN of the top 25 cities with extremely high homeless populations according the U.N. Have mercy.

To say that some of these people choose homelessness is probably accurate, inasmuch as a person in his right mind chooses to live on a sidewalk where people regularly defecate and shoot up. Are some abusing the system by using their welfare checks to buy drugs? Sure. But others use the gift of those monthly checks to buy a tent, shop at Goodwill for clean underwear and buy a hot meal at McDonald’s rather than sit on a corner begging for your pocket change. God bless.

Water walking on Skid Row

Project 18 volunteers hand out cold water on Skid Row in the heat.

 

I know you have intelligent, worldly minds, my friends, and you can imagine all by yourselves the sights and sounds and, yes, even the suffocating smells of Skid Row, so I won’t bother to illustrate the depths of utter despair we saw on the faces of these people. Instead, what I want you to know is this: on every corner there is love.

There are activists, outreach workers, patrol officers, and volunteers aplenty, all working to bring a little joy into the lives of people who have forgotten what joy is, if, in fact, they ever knew. At Union Rescue Mission alone there are 600 homeless people in transition, living temporarily or long-term in the five-story building. Close to 200 staff members make it possible for them to get everything from food and clothing, to financial counseling and spiritual support. Police are not only present, they are compassionate and involved. Everyone, it seems, wants the best. Including the homeless themselves.

One gentleman, waiting patiently in the hour-long line for his nearly melted ice cream, wears a shirt that reads Justice is what love looks like in public. 

Please let us get this one thing right. Let us give them justice.

I witness an elderly woman (perhaps she is man, I can’t be sure) with near-ghoulish makeup on, her colorful scarf hiding unwashed hair and wearing an outlandish dress and tights. She sits on the cement outside the women’s shelter attempting to pull on a pair of ratty ankle boots. A blanket and tattered suitcase sit nearby.  A much younger woman in a midriff and tight shorts saunters out of the shelter making a beeline for the ice cream but stops short. “You need some help, baby?” she asks the woman in a sweet southern drawl. She gives up her prime spot in the ice cream line to help another struggler.

A man waits in line for 20 minutes and when he reaches me at the front he motions to a man just ahead of him on crutches. I think he’s going to tell me the man cut in line (the theme of the day) or that he was using the crutches just to get ahead (these people learn fast that wheelchairs, elderly and disabled can get to the front of the line quickly, so there’s no shortage of canes this day.)  “He needs help,” the man mouths to me. I can’t make out what he’s saying right away so he mouths I can’t speak and points to a quarter-sized hold in his throat where he has had his larynx removed. Don’t smoke, he cautions our young volunteers with a soundless laugh, then shows them the hole in his throat as if to say “or this might happen to you.” He turns back to me and points again to the man on crutches, who now reaches for a bowl from our volunteer. He needs help carrying his ice cream.

He needs help. God bless.

Justice is what love looks like in public.

There is also in this place of poverty and hardship, gratitude beyond words. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people thanked us for serving ice cream in a parking lot on a hot day; thanked us for walking in the 100 degree temps to hand out cold water bottles; thanked us for being there. They waited patiently in line, and if they grumbled to each other about the heat and the ones who cheated or cut in line, they rarely did so to us. Always polite and willing to wait “just a little longer” while our precious teens scooped ice cream and offered toppings and, yes, even sprayed on some whipped cream.

See, ice cream is a luxury that we, the privileged, can get whenever we have the craving. For them, ice cream comes only at the hands of a volunteer willing to set up a table in a hot parking lot and scoop up just a little bit of joy. 

Justice is what love looks like in public. halfsizesurfandserve-218