About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Leave No Trace

I first heard the phrase “leave no trace” when my kids became Boy Scouts. It’s an outdoor ethic that exhorts those who enter the outdoors to leave her as beautiful as she was before our arrival. To do good by Mother Nature, we leave no trace.

The movie Leave No Trace focuses on a father-daughter duo living off the grid on public land in the Pacific Northwest. They endeavor to leave no trace in order to continue their natural and mostly solitary existence. Through stunning cinematography and intentionally restrained acting (especially remarkable in young Thomasin Mackenzie), this intensely beautiful coming of age story leaves more than a trace.

The movie wrestles with big questions: what is humanity’s best relationship with the natural world? with other people? with the self?

Dad Will and daughter Tom obviously love each other. Will has done a great job raising Tom on his own since her mother’s death. One might even envy Tom her upbringing–she knows how to forage for food and water, to garden, and to cook with very little in the way of a kitchen.

Not only does she have incredible survival skills, she doesn’t suffer the insecurities and distractions of other girls her age. She has a constant companion in her devoted parent; she reads and plays chess; she doesn’t watch TV or engage with social media; rather than spending time and money on looking beautiful, she enjoys the beauty of the world.

Yet we see Tom struggle when authorities shatter their idylls and she and Will are put into social services. Tom likes having a roof over her head and a room of her own. She likes having neighbors to talk to and a club to join with other kids her age. She doesn’t seem to mind a casserole in place of miner’s lettuce and hard boiled eggs. She’s concerned about whether kids at school will think she’s weird, but she’s willing to take the chance.

Will, though, has an entirely different struggle. It’s disheartening to watch a man so at one with the trees sitting in a sterile office ironically decorated with wallpaper that feature the trees he’s been forced to leave behind. It’s downright heartbreaking to watch him forced into work on a Christmas tree farm, cutting and wrapping trees as decorations. It makes you wonder about our lingering commitment to Christmas trees; might it not be better to go hiking in the woods at Christmastime?

It’s one thing to care for the environment by leaving no trace, but humans are meant to leave a trace on each other. Most of us want to make a difference in the world; most parents want their children to fulfill their potential by using their unique gifts; and we do that in relationship to others.

When Will and Tom encounter the trailer park, Tom enjoys respite. She believes she has found a community of people not so different from her and her dad, people who live lightly on the land, who make or grow what they need to survive. Like the beehives, these people seem to thrive through their togetherness.

Problems arise when people forget that we are meant to live as a global community. Problems like war, which not only break countries and communities, but people–individuals like Will, who used to work well in a team but not so much any more.

Will is broken and, in striving to protect her from all that is broken in the world, he has splintered Tom from the possibility of developing healthy relationships. In love, he has forced her into living out of his brokenness.

As Tom points out, the same thing that is wrong with Will isn’t wrong with her, and therein lies the final struggle: how each will find their way forward to live in relationship with their own self.

 

Kids’ Connections

Long ago I had the privilege to lead this sweet young lady in following Jesus. Truly, it was a joy to walk together and I’m sure I learned as much from her as she did from me. Now she has the privilege of leading others… I love how that works!

Guest Post: Sara Pantazes

The opportunity to run our church’s mid-week children’s program was a perfect fit for me–resume-worthy job experience I could easily fit into my already full life of grad school, homemaking, and kid-raising.

The directive, however, wasn’t as easy: “Like youth group, for kids.” As a Christian educator in training, I felt up to the challenge. By Wednesday night kids have been in school and shuttled between activities for three days. Our program was part of that hamster wheel. Kids didn’t need another classroom lesson. But I didn’t want to spend that precious hour only on games. How could I balance the kids’ need to move and play with my desire to use that time for faith formation?

Providentially, inspiration came in a book I read over Christmas break. One chapter told the story of a children’s minister who focused her Wednesday night children’s program on contemplative practices. Quotes like these lit my imagination:

Rather than mirroring the media-driven culture, might churches instead provide space for children to step out of the fast-paced world and enter into meaningful community?

…these children will be called to something that means they will have to know how to find stillness and quiet in the midst of chaos and confusion.  If we do not provide them with this, we will have failed this generation.

Reading about this program helped me narrow in on a concrete goal that felt right for my program–connection with God. That children hunger for the ability to be still caught my attention, and teaching children how to quiet themselves in order to hear and connect with God sounded like challenge worth exploring. So I created my own format loosely based on the structure described in the book. It looked like this:

Welcoming: 15-20 minutes of games, usually Legos and tag

Sharing: The kids help me lay out a blanket for us to sit around and we turn on lamps and turn off overhead lights. We share what has been good and bad about our days, giving us a chance to calm ourselves and relax together.

Worshiping: We sing a simple song, the same one each week, with words and/or signs, to remind us that we are stepping out of our everyday lives and into a special time with God.

Listening: I narrate a Bible story using Godly Play materials (simple wooden carvings of the characters and setting of a story) and the narratives from Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman’s Young Children and Worship. Once the story has been told, we discuss “I wonder…” questions to help us think about the story, what the characters might have felt or thought, and where we might find ourselves in the story.

“She describes the approach as respectful of children and trusts that God will speak to and through the children as they enter the story together. She does not feel compelled to control the process but trusts that God is at work, drawing the children into relationship with him…”

Reflecting: We end with individual reflection. I give them a question to consider on their own through writing or drawing. After a few weeks I also let some children stay on the blanket to retell the story as they move the figures around themselves.

One child’s reflection on the Last Supper

Our program year is done now and, while I appreciate summer break, I’m already excited for next year. Our time wasn’t always perfectly reverent–kids will be kids after all. But it was truly amazing to witness how quickly they settled into the rhythm, how much they wanted to help with set-up, how attentive they were to the stories, and the insights they shared.

I’m hopeful that seeds have been planted, that–in one hour in the midst of their busy week–they were able to rest in God’s presence, and that it left them hungry for more.

We can connect to lots of things in our lives to fill us, sustain us, or maybe even help us thrive. Asking children to connect with God might sound like a tall order, but I had faith it could be done. It takes some work, but the results are truly beautiful.

 

Sara is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. A recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Sara is beginning to transition from full-time stay at home mom to part-time Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church of West Chester, a transition which will fully challenge (and hopefully enrich) her own ability to stay connected with and rooted in God.

Last Day//Best Day

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

When you’ve vacationed in the same place for so many years, you count time in days and traditions and experiences. It’s not just “Monday,” but what did we do on Monday, new and/or traditional? For example, the Monterey Farmers’ Market takes place on Tuesday evenings, and we know we will sample all the fresh fruit and we will buy the biggest bag of kettle corn, and root beer, and Indian food from the vendors all the way at the end, and that will be dinner.

We have to do some of the same things, though they’re always different because we are different; and we have to vary things up just enough to keep things interesting. For example, during Mom’s coffee with a local friend, the guys rented electric fat-tire bikes, something they’ve never done before and now want to do All The Time! Aquarium in the morning: tradition. Bikes in the afternoon: variety, new joy and new memories.

Over the years, we’ve let go of some traditions. We used to spend lots of time at the park (Monterey has a fantastic park), but the boys have mostly outgrown park-play. And once upon a time, they needed naps. Now, the teenagers just sleep in.

As we anticipated our last full day, the guys made plans to hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the evening, guys-only. Which left a whole day (and then some for Mom and me) to fill. The weather has been chillier than usual this trip, so we’ve had far less beach time. We had hoped for at least a few hours of blue sky and warm sun and sand between our toes…

I went to bed feeling blue—uncooperative weather, the last day, the passing of time… Because the last day could be the last day. Who knows what a year holds?—and determined to enjoy what time we had, even as I tried not to think too hard about time passing…

…and I woke up to seagulls squawking in a brilliant blue sky! It’s trivial to say, “God must have heard my melancholy prayers…” but that’s how it felt. I charged my batteries with an invigorating jaunt along the coast, and we did indeed get in some beach time. The guys put on wet suits and snorkeled along the rocks. We saw more sea lions porpoising. We climbed the rocky cliffs, explored tide pools, and searched for sea glass.

Only God knows what a year holds, but our last full day provided a picture-perfect day filled with memories.

Riding a Bike

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

They say, “…it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

They’re wrong.

I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember lobbying for my first ten-speed. I accompanied my friend when her dad bought her a Nishiki; she got burgundy, and I got blue.

We rode those bikes for what seems like forever, at least until puberty and junior high took us down different trails.

I don’t remember the last time I rode my bike. I do remember riding a rental with a high school boyfriend and a crew of others at one of San Diego’s many coastal trails. I felt way too wobbly. How could I be so insecure on a bike after such a short time? Isn’t the one skill in life you never forget?

Was that it, the last time I rode a bike? Q14 has been chiding me for some time, the only one in our family without a bike, that I have to ‘learn’ to ride. Biking may be his favorite form of physical activity and I miss out on sharing it with him.

The guys rented electric fat-tire bikes. We met along a quiet, flat street. Guy lowered the seat to my height. He showed me how to engage the motor and the brakes.

That’s all there is to it, right?

It was both too easy and too difficult. The motor propelled me forward and distracted me from pedaling. I had to break before I could put my feet down and manually turn around to go the other direction.

Q14 shrieked as he whizzed past: “Look at my MOM learning to ride a bike!” My nephew aimed straight at me in a game of chicken as I begged him to stay out of my way. Q14 laughed and told me to watch him, to follow him, as he showed me how to turn. I stopped, and laughed and watched and said, “Ah, no thanks. I’d fall…”

I’m not a big risk taker. You laugh, too, because riding a bike isn’t a big risk (although the scars on my legs that haven’t faded since childhood might be evidence to the contrary).

This bike felt scary to me. Even on this short, flat street—not so scary and also scary. The frame seemed too big. The motor and pedals, too many things to manage.

Yet, the motor made the bike worth the rental. Worth the risk. We probably wouldn’t have rented regular bikes. And if the guys had, a regular bike wouldn’t have intrigued me into trying it.

I took a very small risk, and it was fun. Exhilarating, and just enough. They had an absolute blast and I can’t recall when I have seen that gush of unmeasured joy on Q14’s face.

I may need to rediscover how to ride a bike.

Greatness

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

“Do you think this makes one too many visits?”, my mom asks as we’ve ‘lost’ the teenagers again in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“No,” I reply, “never too many visits. The kids just know their way around. They know what to look for and what to expect. And they’re bigger, so they move faster.”

We’ve been coming here for so many years, truly, their lifetimes. We know what we’ll see in each exhibit, each tank. We’ve long ago determined our favorites and, also, the ones we’ll quickly pass by. We know where to find each other for the long looks, the tanks that even now warrant wonder, our focused attention.

Okay, so maybe the teens are a little underwhelmed after all these visits, but that comes with the age.

No matter how many times I’ve been here, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has earned my respect. Their work in research, conservation, and education is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Just today, we saw a program we’ve never seen before: a live-narrated video presentation about Great White Sharks. We have seen Great White Sharks live, in their tanks (though they don’t have one now); most people have never seen a Great White except in a movie.

I don’t always love a zoo. There’s something about animals in captivity. But the best zoos, including aquariums, care for both animals and viewers. MBA is The Best Aquarium.

These creatures…we’d never see them otherwise. Fish with vibrant colors. Shore birds swimming in silly circles to churn up whatever delicious bite might have lodged itself in the mud. Baby bat rays that swim up and slide down the glass. Penguins treading water as they watch crazy humans. Octopus tentacles clustered against the tank while it sleeps. Cuttlefish marvelously changing color as they glide.

The beauty and variety of these creatures amazes me. No matter how small they might be, they make me feel small. Together, we are the creations of an infinitely creative God who loves all of us.

Later, I walked along the coast, finally perching on one of the many benches (with a coast this dramatic, there should be this many benches). I soaked in the view, the smells and sounds and sights: the crash of waves on rocks; the delighted squawk of a seagull discovering a fat, dead fish; two sea lions ‘porpoising,’ taking turns gracefully arching their bodies up and out of the water; an otter, bobbing and diving in the surf.

I clicked open my daily Bible reading app to Psalm 145, a favorite.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power” (vv3-4).

While we admire God’s greatness mirrored in the beauty of His creation, my sister lies in a hospital. Again. For fourteen years, she’s been fighting for her life.

“The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (v9).

If she could be here, she would be as enthralled by the coast and its creatures as I am. But of course she is also fearfully and wonderfully made, more precious to God than all the rainbow fish. So we pray that God will fulfill His promises:

“The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope” (vv14-15).

We pray and we hope…

 

[Update: she is out of the hospital but, given her chronic illness, she will never be entirely out of the woods. We pray and we hope…]

jean wimmerlin

“I Like You As You Are”

[I don’t often post 2x/day but I’m making an exception… GO see this movie!]

Last night in the car I heard the words to the new Florence + The Machine song, Hunger:

At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness
We all have a hunger

The song was still running through my head as we entered the theatre to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? also known as “the Mr. Rogers’ movie.”

If you haven’t seen it, go. If you can’t find it in theaters, get it as soon as it drops on DVD.

Though Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began airing before I was born, what child growing up in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t watch at least a few episodes? Q14 told me that, though Mr. Rogers died before he was born, even he’s watched episodes online (so much for the naysayers claiming Mr. Rogers was too slow for kids. Despite the increased speed of today’s world, my kid sought him out and calls him “soothing”).

My dad, an airline captain with Pan American, met Fred (once upon a time, he brought home for me an autographed picture). He said Mr. Rogers was exactly the same in person as he was on TV, nothing fake about him. Mr. Rogers may have been one of the few clergy members for whom my dad held genuine respect.

I am surprised by my emotional response to the film. I’d heard enough to know I’d enjoy it, but even now I’m dealing with all the Big Feels, almost like I’m grieving the loss of someone I loved but didn’t have a chance to know well enough. The movie–truly, Mr. Rogers and his message–touched my heart deeper than I expected.

We all have a hunger…

Love motivated Mr. Rogers life and work. Because he loved, he intentionally demonstrated respect to everyone, especially to children, especially to the least of these. With honesty and gentleness he addressed all the hard topics and current issues. He created a safe space in which children (and perhaps their parents) heard that they were loved, special, important just for being alive.

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I gulped when Daniel Striped Tiger asked Lady Aberlin, “Am I a mistake?”

Like Daniel, I’ve felt like a mistake. Haven’t you? Like Daniel, I’ve noticed that I’m not like anyone else; though I try to live genuinely, some days I muddle (fake) my way through.

Lady Aberlin’s response, “You’re not a fake. You’re not a mistake. You’re my friend” doesn’t silence Daniel’s doubts, but it helps to quiet his loneliness. Friendship helps. Love satisfies the hunger.

Mr. Rogers reminds us that life is a gift and that we have gifts to share with the world. No one is exactly like you (me. him.) and the world would be less without each of us.

Most mornings I don’t pop awake and hop out of bed to “make a snappy new day” because “it’s such a good feeling to know I’m alive.” But maybe if, after I’ve hit snooze and begun to stretch life back into my sluggish being, if then I remember that…

…I am special;
…I have friends;
…I am not a mistake or a fake;
…I am loved;
…and I hold the potential to be for someone else, even a few people, what Mr. Rogers was for a whole generation of children who grew up under the care of his TV ministry…

…well, then, today might be the snappiest day of my life.

We all have a hunger, but we also have more than enough love to feed our neighbors the whole world over. I am happy to see you, neighbor. You are special, neighbor. You are loved, neighbor.

Let’s grow the neighborhood. Won’t you be my neighbor?

The Person Right Here

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

True confession: because we work at a church, we don’t always hit a church on vacation Sundays. Because, in too many ways, church = work. We love Jesus, but we can’t help evaluating church (What would we do differently? What could we do differently?) in the midst of worship.

Seventeen years of vacationing in this one town, and this year the Spirit took us to church. A church plant/launch that began one month after our last vacation here: we noticed, we felt intrigued, we went to church.

We loved it! Inviting music, insightful sermon, everything felt familiar in the best ways, comfortable and unforced and, oh yeah baby, This Is Church!

It’s truly something when church ‘professionals’ are able to so fully enter a worship experience… So of course we wanted to greet the pastor, to thank him and connect and jive on this great God-led morning.

In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t.

He was all smiles at the handshake. Less so when he learned we were clergy on vacation. He said, “Hey, do you mind if I make the rounds?”

Of course, it is the pastor’s job to greet his own flock.

We made our way to their generous coffee hour, coffee and cookies and homemade apple pie–lions and tigers and bears, Oh My–the hospitality! People were warm, smiling, edging us deeper in.

When I joined Guy next to the always-welcome morning coffee, he was thanking the worship leader for her leadership. She couldn’t contain her God-and-church enthusiasm. She gushed her love for this church and what it has meant to their family, how they have experienced God in this place. We couldn’t help but smile and be grateful to God who makes all things new.

Still, I left feeling uneasy. The service had been an amazing whole, but…?

It hit me later: I saw a dimming in the pastor’s eyes, after we had shaken hands, when he realized we were not going to be new converts or new congregants. We were not going to be his. And so, we didn’t matter, at least in ways that matter. To him. I felt like, because we wouldn’t count, we didn’t count.

As Guy and I walked the coast, I told him my impression, my dis-ease even after an incredible worship experience. I encouraged him: the person in front of you is the person that matters. Not for what they can give you or how they might count on a tally sheet. They matter: to God, and to you.

The pastor should have been stoked to have another pastor totally digging the service he’d crafted. We went to the same grad school, had the same professors—that alone should have been reason to connect. We’re in sister denominations—another reason.

Instead, he seemed eager to be on to the next person. And if that person is someone in his congregation or community with whom he wholeheartedly engages, fine. Appropriate.

Except, we went to coffee hour. And never saw him again.

The worship leader got it. She was happy to share her experience of God in this place, happy to connect with people who want to connect.

A year from now, I imagine we will again plop ourselves in their pews. The experience warrants another go. And every other Sunday between now and then—every day between now and then—I hope we both remember that whoever stands in front of us is the gift God has given us in that moment.