Food for Thought, from a City that has Fed Me Well

Walking down a busy street in downtown Portland at rush hour, a man stops me at the corner. “Can we be friends?” he asks. I reply, “I think we already are” (after all, the light was red and I knew I was going to hear him out).

It was clear by his outfit that he was soliciting donations for a cause. He asks me my name, if I’m from here, and a few other strategic questions. The final question was “what do you do for a living?” I knew this answer was likely going to prolong our conversation, but I couldn’t think of anything better to say.

“I’m a minister,” I said. He smiled. “A minister?” (with a little chuckle). “Really?”

I assured him I wasn’t lying.

“You do know that Portland is the least religious city in the country, right?” I told him I had heard that.

From there he said, “well next I usually ask people if they like kids, but since you’re a pastor I know what you’ll say to that so I’ll keep going.” He proceeded to tell me about the non-profit organization that he works with that supports kids and the development of communities in other countries. He was surprised to hear that I had been to two of the countries they work in- Malawi and Uganda, and even more surprised to hear that we had adopted two kids from that region. He explained in detail why the organization was not religiously affiliated, but told me I could use my personal correspondence with my sponsored child to “spread the good word, or whatever you like to do.”

I told him the program sounded great, but that we are supporting a family in Uganda already and also a couple other kids through World Vision. I wished him luck and thought I’d be on my way.

My non-religious, philanthropic friend had one more question. “Can you tell me what Jeremiah 22:16 says?” he asked. “I have meet a lot of Christians and I always ask them if they know this verse.”

I stood silent and thought for a moment. “I know Jeremiah 29:11” I replied. “Is that the one you mean?” “No!” he said. “That’s what Christians always say.”

He proceeded to recite the verse.

“(Your father) defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.”

I smiled, told him I wish that I had been able to give that answer, and told him that’s really what all of this whole “Christianity” thing is supposed to look like- love for God, and love for other.

We shook hands and I continued walking to my dinner destination. I kept moving, but I was still stuck on that street corner mentally. As I ate my meal (I was alone, because I’m currently traveling for work), I began to pinpoint what was frustrating me.

I was bothered that I didn’t know the verse, not because I think I should have all of scripture memorized, but more so because I had memorized (and thought he was referring to) a verse a few chapters later. In fact, most of evangelical Christianity could probably quote the same verse I mentioned. You know it (or have seen it on a bookmark or bumper sticker)- it’s the one that talks about God’s plans for us being plans to prosper us, not to harm us. Plans to give us a hope and a future. Beautiful words for sure. Important words. But why is it that the verse we are quick to memorize is about our own future and prosperity? That is not the heart of the Gospel I read. The other verse, the one my friend quoted, that’s the one that we should be memorizing. The one that says that defending the cause of the poor and needy is what it means to know God. What about that? In fact, that’s not the only verse in the Bible that says this is what “true religion” is… caring for the poor and oppressed, loving God & others, and laying down our own lives. True religion is not supposed to be about our own security, but that is so often what we make of it.

It made me sad that no one could quote the obscure text that my friend had asked about, but even more sad that we all were so quick to admit that we had memorized the verse about our own prosperity and well being. I wish that the “religious folks” (myself included) had a reputation for caring more about the people of the world than about ourselves. Which brings me to my next musing & this note I jotted down while at dinner.

Portland, for being so non-religious, you sure do challenge my own spirituality. You care about the earth and its resources. You take care of the poor. You give yourselves away to fight against injustices of all sorts. You value all people equally, and you treat them all with dignity and respect- whether on the street, or at a table. You befriend the stranger. You are comfortable in your skin, and you free others up to be the same. I’m not saying you are perfect at these things, but they are clear cultural values that I have felt and experienced and appreciated while spending time here. You have challenged and refreshed me, and you have welcomed me on numerous occasions as if I were your own. Thank you.

And I have to say, though you do not claim to be religious, you might be closer to the heart of God than you think.

With admiration,

Me

portland watercolor

Ode to King, Woe to me.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I’m having a hard time. Maybe it’s because I woke up to three wet beds, a kid with a fever, and one who couldn’t make a good choice for the life of himself. Or, maybe it’s because the one with the fever caused a reshuffling in my creative mom plan to celebrate MLK and to teach my kids about diversity and instead has kept us at home, indoors. Maybe it’s because I’m tired from a long weekend and it’s day 4 of solo-parenting, and because we’ve already had some pretty epic adventures this weekend.

But maybe it’s also because I have a hard time celebrating this day of “equality” when I still see so much inequality, hate, racism, ignorance, all around me. Maybe it’s because I feel like the “celebration” of this day, by a lot of us, is more of a pat on the back, a “look how far we’ve come”, “we are so glad that’s not an issue any more” kind of a thing. Maybe it’s because words, without action to go with them, frustrate the heck out of me.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with my 7-year-old daughter along these lines, which I think put some words to this frustration I feel. She was learning in school about Martin Luther King Jr. and about the civil rights movement. She learned about some of the great laws that were passed for equality in voting, in public places, in schools, etc. She was dumfounded by the fact that laws even needed to be made in order for people to have equal rights, but she was glad that they were in place, and that equality was mandated. But there have been a few things in her little life so far that have allowed her to see that despite the laws, everyone is still not treated equally, and this caused her great heart ache (and still does!). To her, the law is a good starting point (like MLK himself said, “(the) law can keep (a man) from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important”), but what she longs for is love*. And this is the important work that is still before us, the great divide between equality on paper and true equality.

So, YES, to good law for equality and for the protection and value of all people (we still have some work to do here, too!). But please, good brothers and sisters, let’s not just stop there. And let’s not just rest on the work of government and legislation and think we have arrived (or that we will through that avenue). We, the people, have our own guilt in this, and our own part that we play.

Which has me thinking: maybe the best way to celebrate Mr. King’s work is not to talk about how great he was and how far we’ve come, but to take a look at our own selves in the mirror. Where are we extending love and crossing boundaries of race? Where are we speaking out for those around us whose voice is diminished or silenced all together? Are we oblivious to the fact that there are people around us who are experiencing that reality still today? I can tell you it happens. I’ll tell you stories of my black friends in Newport Beach who are nervous to drive at night because they get pulled over by the cops for “suspicious” activity. I’ll tell you stories of my Hispanic friends, who are ostracized on their campuses and in places of local business that most of us can step into and receive quality attentive service, no problem. It happens. And unfortunately, our silence and blindness perpetuates it. Inaction and silence is compliance with oppression and so we had better figure out, friends, how to get ourselves involved in a fight that is still very real and very close to home.

So, here’s to a day of critical thinking and hard-question-asking, not just a day to celebrate our arrival at somewhere that we still are a long ways off from. Progress, yes**. Arrival, no. And now, this plea from Mr. King himself: “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” #mayitbeso

 

*This 7-year-old daughter of mine, in her desire to show her love for her black brother and sister, and her desire to see a different world for them to grow up in (no joke!) has requested to have a “Black Lives Matter shirt.” She will be the whitest, blondest kid to wear one, I think. And it’s going to make some people wonder about what she really knows or cares about all of this, but it’s her authentic expression, and I’m proud to support it.

**Lest you think I am not deeply appreciative of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the progress we have made, please be assured, the weight of his work and the distance we have come is not lost on me. Thank you Mr. King, and those who have worked (and do work) tirelessly for freedom and justice for all people. Forgive me for the ways I have made that your work, and not mine.

mlk-jr-i-have-a-dream

the mom I want to be

At a staff meeting a while back, we did an exercise where we had to think about and talk about what we would like written on our epitaph when we die. Mine was something like this:

Jessica Rae Ludwig, fierce in her celebration of life and her love for others.

This exercise got me thinking about how others, particularly my kids, experience me on a day-to-day basis. I feel they know me as a structure and rule-keeper who takes care of them when they need something and puts food on the table, but I’m not sure they often get much else from me (is there even time for anything else on most days?). Do they know me as someone who celebrates life and loves others extravagantly? Do they feel loved and celebrated by me, or do they just watch me do that for others? Do I allow room for adventure and beauty and unknown in our regular day-to-day relationship?

My epitaph didn’t say anything about leaving the kitchen really clean every time I leave the house, or having kids who do their homework really thoroughly, which is funny because these are things that I often use as measures of my daily “success” and things that are the result of my present strivings and intentions.

I’m working to shift my perspective, and their experience. I want to pass along to my kids more than just a love for order and the ability to make good choices. I want them to see life as a beautiful adventure and to live in a way that invites others to join the adventure, to uncover beauty, and to love well. So, we are making some changes around here.

I resolve to:

  • Celebrate the small things. This means every day, specific, individual, celebrations with and for my kids (the fact that its Monday, Owen putting away something that was not his, an act of kindness to a friend, etc.). This also means that we celebrate random, small, “holidays” in ways that are meaningful and fun.
  • Involve my kids in the celebration of others. I put a lot of intentionality into celebrating the people I love, but I rarely give my kids the chance to participate in the brainstorm, creation, and execution of these celebrations. I also sometimes have celebrations begin when the kids are in bed so that I can be more focused on the celebration. I’m trying now to involve my kids and to allow them to think about ideas to show appreciation and to help plan celebrations. I’m also trying to be more strategic to allow them to participate in at least part of the celebration for people who are important in their lives, even if it means staying up past bedtime and potentially consuming more sugar than I’d like (ha, but, really).
  • Eliminate the word “late” or “hurry” from my regular vocabulary (especially in the mornings). This is my quest: make mornings meaningful instead of maddening. Instead of rushing around and shooing my kids out the door and into the car so we won’t be late, I choose moving slower (even if it means setting my alarm a little earlier so I can get a head start, ugh). I choose to smile, to speak softly, to hear the requests of my kids (but likely not to accommodate them all), to look them in the eye, and to send them on their way feeling good about themselves and about the day. There’s no need for us to leave the house feeling stressed and frazzled, and it has occurred to me that it is up to me, by my language and my actions, to set the tone for the day. A few intentional choices here (like actually not using the words “late” or “hurry” even if we are or if we need to), and I notice the tone in our household and the disposition of our kids is drastically different. If this means we are a few minutes late to school, I think it’s worth it (though, for the record, I do value timeliness and want to teach my kids that too).

Sometimes, I get too caught up in the every day monotony of checking all my “boxes” to keep things going and in good order that I get a little short sighted and I don’t think about whether or not the things I am doing now are going to produce the results I am hoping they do in the future. In these times I also tend to forget that the formation of my self and my family are more important than the other items on my to do list.

beach play

from outside my closet door: what progress looks like

Today I did my second closet purge since being home from Uganda. When we got home I went through seemingly every room in the house, getting rid of things we didn’t need or didn’t use regularly. Then I moved on to the garage and did the same. It felt good, but over the last few months, I realized that there was yet another level of simplification that needed to happen. This round of purging meant parting with things I actually “like,” and things that I may have recently worn, just because they are excess and because others can make better use of them than I can. This process of simplification is teaching me two things:

1) More choices (in this case, more clothing options) do not mean more freedom. Some choice is good. Too much choice creates stress and clutter (internally and externally), and, with 4 small children under one roof, I don’t need more of that!

2) Less choice does not inhibit my creativity. I used to think more choices meant more options for creativity, but, I’ve found that too much choice stifles my creativity whereas less choice enables me to better see color, texture, layers, etc., and how they can work together.

I continue to be surprised by how affected I am by our time in Uganda- the simplicity of life I experienced there, and the redefining of what I actually “need” that took place in me as a result. I’m learning that, when I eliminate areas of excess, I don’t actually lose anything, but that new freedom is found. I’m also learning that simplicity is a discipline and a gift. It is progressive- always in process and never complete. It’s a journey I’m so glad to be on.

from outside the bedroom door: what progress sounds like

Tonight, when I left the twins’ room after tucking them in bed, I stood at the door and listened for a while to the little voices calling out, “I love you mama” repeatedly in tones that were too sweet to adequately convey in written words. I remembered standing outside the same door just a few months ago, tired after trying to soothe anxious and upset babies, wondering how long the bedtime strife would last. Tonight’s noises were a wonderful reminder of the progress the twins have made in their adjustment to life as Ludwigs. There is other evidence of progress too- Cora’s 8 teeth that are just starting to come in, Elias’ need for size 3t t-shirts (he was barely filling out the 18month size when we came home in October), the ever increasing vocabulary of both kids, their huge smiles, their willingness to greet strangers and to share food, their normalized bowel movements (this one I am particularly thankful for), their fearlessness on the playground, Cora’s complete change in countenance and disposition, the continual singing and chatter that can be heard pretty much ALL the time, the dancing, the clapping, the wrestling… oh man.  Every day, these two seem to become more “alive” and more themselves.

To be fair, we do have our fair share of tears and timeouts. We have the battles of the will, testing of limits, a disdain for sharing, and a whole host of “normal” two year old struggles (times 2). But these challenges are developmentally healthy and normal and are actually signs of health and progress in their own ways. So, we celebrate them (at least in moments of silence at 2am, maybe not when both kids are throwing a fit in time out, ha!), and we embrace them, and we remind ourselves that, in the grand scheme of things, we are all doing really, really well.

I still can’t believe that we are all under the same roof. I remember not so long ago when I tucked a weepy Macy in bed as she cried for her brother and sister that she so desperately wanted to have home. I cried too. It felt impossible- the idea of all four of my kids being in one place seemed out of reach and a long way off. And now, well, I think I’ll go peek at the four of them as they sleep soundly in their beds…

the gift of presence: how to make a kid feel loved

Proof that physical presence is one of the most important ways to express love to a child: this entry I came across in my Uganda journal.

August 18th, 2014

Tonight at bedtime Macy (6 years old) prayed, “thank you for Tyra and Sophie- that they love us so much that they wanted to come to Uganda with us to help with the adoption.”

She knew we were loved by their presence with us. There’s something to that, I think.

Amen.

Sophie and Tyra sneak in some quality time with the kids before bed time in Uganda. These ladies are such a gift to us.