the thrill of hope.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  The season of Advent is a season of preparation for the Church.  We anticipate the birth of Christ celebrated as Christmas and anticipate what God in Christ is doing to reconcile himself to the world.

Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and including Christmas Sunday.  Each week we light a different candle that is symbolic of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus.  Depending on what tradition you belong to the candles can have a little different meaning from week to week.  In general, the 5 candles symbolize hope, peace, joy and love with the final candle being the Christ candle.  We read Scripture and each week we remember a part of the nativity story. For those of us who I will label “church nerds” it’s a pretty exciting time.

Today we light the candle in celebration of hope.

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Last week I was fortunate to spend a week away from work on vacation with my family. My in-laws generously and graciously took the whole family for 5 days of magic and wonder and food and airplane rides and games and messes.  And no internet.  I know.  It was anxiety provoking.  I mean, what was I going to use my fancy phone for?  What would I be missing out on? Well, for starters, I was going to miss out on being bombarded with a million things to fear in this world.  With who is angry or upset about what, who has wronged whom, what group of people were committing violence against what other group of people.  That’s right.  No news. I also missed out on hundreds upon hundreds of opinions, people trying to convince their neighbor that they are wrong, parents trying to convince the world their children are always well-behaved.  None of it.  No social media.  And guess what?  I survived.  Not only did I survive but I found myself refreshed and renewed.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some www.  I mean, seriously, this blog is made possible by the power of the internet.  But until you step outside the constant barrage of voices trying to tell you what to fear and why to be upset, you don’t realize how easy it is to lose hope.  It’s like each day it is squeezed out of us bit by bit.  We find ourselves with a little less room to believe in the good, the benevolent, the kindness of the world and its people.  Instead we are filled with offenses, anger, judgment and fear.  We must find a way to restore hope.

Long before the first Christmas ever occurred, a message of hope was shared with anyone who would listen.  People long ago and far away were fearful of what might be taken from them, what outsiders might impose on them, who might have power over them.  The message to them, and to us, is clear.  Hope will prevail.  You see, we won’t find the hope we need by electing new officials.  We won’t find it by moving to a new house or a new neighborhood or even a new job.  Hope isn’t found in a hundred “likes” or in the perfect picture of your tree, it isn’t found in the number of followers you have or even in a thousand views on your blog.  Where we find hope is in one another.  Not hope just for the future but a hope for the present.

Sometimes we Christians are caught up in what is to come.  When we focus on the future we miss out on opportunities to create hope in the world right now.  We create hope when we reach out to help our neighbor, when we make peace with those who believe differently than us, when we are generous with our time and resources to make the lives of those around us better.  For my fellow physicians, you create hope every time you listen to a complaint, hold a hand, or sit with a grieving patient.  You create hope every time you care for someone who is poor or marginalized.  For my church people, you create hope every time you are more than generous and expect nothing in return.  Young people create hope when they look past the differences in those around them and choose acceptance over judgment.  Hope is finding the good, the benevolent and the kind in yourself and then sharing that with the people around you.

One of my favorite Advent songs says “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” The world is very weary.  May we help our weary world rejoice.  Today, for me, hope is knowing that God is with each of us both in the suffering and in the joy. That He grieves the things we grieve and longs for what we long for and rejoices with us as well.  But mostly, that He continues to work in our world and through His people, through all people, to bring about HOPE.  My friends, today may you look past the darkness, find hope in the world and share it with someone else.

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someone has to do it.

If you frequent this blog, you learned last week that my kids have learned to call it like it is when it comes to their own bodies.  They are, so to speak, well informed. If you haven’t been reading, then read this to learn about teaching 4 year olds what a vagina is.

I had lunch with a friend this week who has teenage boys.  Terrifying to say the least.  She and her husband set high expectations for her sons.  And they talk to them about all the hard things in life.  I love it.  She would tell you she is from another planet…I would tell you that we should all move there.  Because, well, our kids will be well-informed or misinformed.  But don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t be informed.

I am going to make an argument here that the church and its people should be responsible for teaching our children about sex.  And I’m not talking about the usual screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-17-am“don’t do it” speech.  I’m talking about the real deal truth.  What it is, why people do it, what happens when you do it.  (And yes, all those “do it” puns are intended).  When we fail to do so, I believe we, the church at large, must think of ourselves as responsible for the consequences.  For too long we have sat silently in judgment of pregnant teenagers assuming it will never happen to one of our great kids.  Well folks, I’ve got news for you.  Right here in what my preacher friends call the belt buckle of the Bible belt…we have a problem.
In my state, Oklahoma, the teen birth rate is 42.9 per 1,000.  Compare that to the United States as a whole with a teen birth rate of 26.1 per 1,000 young women.   (Note that despite a decline in teen pregnancy in the last decade, our nation still ranks among the worst of all developed countries).  In fact, there is ONLY ONE STATE that has a higher teen pregnancy rate than us.  As a gynecologist, this is kind of embarrassing.  And that’s not all we excel at.   Our state provides, on average, about half of the sexual education services to teenagers when compared to the US as a whole.  Not surprisingly, we rank in the top 15 when it comes to gonorrhea and chlamydia infections.  As in, more than a bunch of other states.  Not just alarming, but gross.
So, as they say, what then must we do?

 

First, we must love our kids.  No matter what.  We must make sure they know how much they are valued.  We have to be honest with them in order for them to be honest with us.  The Pastor and I assume everyone is having sex.  And drinking and doing drugs.  We live in worst case scenario world…which allows for a lot of pleasant surprises.  One of my favorite friends had everyone write advice to her son as he went off to college.  Among the lessons I learned mostly through trial and error, I added one line that I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way.  “Don’t get anyone pregnant.”  And when I see him around we exchange high-fives and am assured that he knows the Pastor and I will be there for any problem he faces.  With open arms.  My college girls I breakfast with know my sage wisdom of “getting married or having a baby never fixed anything.”  I try to remind them often how much they are loved and to call when they are in trouble.  I will pray for my own kids as much as these and I hope they will come to me with honesty about their lives.  And if not me, maybe one of you who they will listen to or call when they are in trouble.
Second, we have to tell them the truth.  They will learn about sex.  Most of them will not abstain just because you tell them not to do it.  My best analogy for this is cupcakes.  Kids know cupcakes are good.  You can’t hide it from them.  You can tell them cupcakes are terrible but they know.  The same can be said for sex.  We harm our young people when we tell them sex is bad and not to engage.  And they don’t buy it.  Sex is cupcakes, not cauliflower (sorry for all you cauliflower lovers out there).  Instead, our kids should know that engaging in intimate sexual behavior has consequences…both good and bad.  They should be informed about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections with long term health and reproductive consequences, the stigma and health consequences of genital herpes and warts, and both the joy and the heartbreak of shared intimacy.  They should know about and have access to contraception because kids who make a choice I wouldn’t make for them deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

Last, we must be well-informed adults.  Tonight the fourth grader was telling the preschooler about snap chat.  Thankfully the Pastor knows about snap because this mom is clueless.  As parents we have to be educated.  Not just on the latest social media craze, but also on what we really mean when we talk about sex and our kids health.  We can’t buy into the prevalent idea that we can pronounce ourselves pro-life and against all things immoral and then not have the guts to stand up and care for the pregnant teen who shows up at our church.  You can’t ignore the black girls at your after school program who desperately need to know they are loved and valued.  Instead we need to understand, as best we can, the full depth and breadth of reproductive rights.  We need to adhere to our call to care for the orphans in our midst left from unintended pregnancies.  You see, the government will not stop abortion.  New or different laws won’t lower the teen pregnancy rate or decrease sexual assault on our college campuses or even create a culture that values its women as equal to its men.

This is our calling.  To love and educate our children, to care for our community, to be well-informed adults who can lead the generation behind us into a safer, healthier and more whole future.  And to have kids that will not be afraid of delicious cupcakes.

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call it like it is.

I often wonder what the girls will say about their home growing up.  I grew up in a home where my dad worked in health care administration so I was familiar with the halls of a hospital and nursing home.  Mom was working full time too so we stayed with our grandparents after school.  I have lots of amazing memories from those days and hope my girls will as well.  But, as you might imagine, our house is a little more crazy.   Midnight phone calls sometimes come for the Pastor, sometimes for me.  Emergency babysitting needs are not infrequent.  Dinner conversations are, to say the least, interesting.

My oldest never really had a desire to know what I was doing while at work.  In fact, she gets nauseated when some other kid at school gets a bloody nose.  But my little one, well, she is totally into mom’s career.  I remember finishing up dinner one evening and I was called to the hospital as my patient was ready to delivery.  She looked at me and said, in her best pirate voice, “is that lady gonna push out her baby or are you gonna cut it out?”  I lost it.  She was holding up a butter knife from the table like she was going to come and screen-shot-2016-01-23-at-7-40-39-pmhelp me.  I politely explained that my patient was probably going to push the baby out but I and a whole team of people would be there in case cutting was needed.  She seemed relieved.  The older one just rolled her eyes.

The Pastor and I have always tried to be honest with our kids.  We figure that eventually they will encounter all the joys, fears and difficulties of life and the more information the better.  It’s how I operate in daily life.  Knowledge and information is comforting and empowering to me.  That being said we have always tried to teach our kids the truth about their physical, as well as their theological health.  The rules in our house are that the Pastor will explain the Trinity and the resurrection to them and I will tell them where babies come from.  And so they know about their bodies.  When they are taking a shower and spilling water everywhere I will hear one of them saying “don’t forget to wash your vagina” to the other in the loudest voice possible.   It’s no different for them then making sure all the shampoo is out of their hair or than their stinky feet are clear.  For many years this declaration was followed by the Pastor or I asking “and who is allowed to see your vagina?” and them shouting out names off a list like it was a Jeopardy game.  Names that include mom, dad, Dr. Melissa (another hero to my 4 year old), and Grandma.

There is a reason why we approach our kids with anatomically correct names.  And it’s not just because hearing a 9 year old screaming at her sister about washing the thing is entertaining (although that is hilarious sometimes).  It is more about empowering them.  I wanted them to know from an early age that their bodies belong to them.  They should be handled responsibly and, most importantly, they can be honest with the Pastor and I about whatever is happening to their bodies.  I think we do a disservice to our kids when their genitals become “woo hoos” and “ding dongs” and even “private parts.”  We disempower our kids to call it like it is.  To tell us, out loud, what is happening to them in private.  I want to know if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable.

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So at our house we have dinner discussions on how babies are born and what God looks like and who this Holy Spirit character is.  We remind them daily to always choose kindness and to act like the Jesus they hear about each week at church.  And they will continue to ask how long mom will be gone delivering those babies and whether they are being pushed out of someone’s vagina, or cut out of someones uterus.  I have my speech ready for when they ask how babies get inside the uterus.  But for now they are satisfied knowing who is picking them up from school and when mom will be home.  And I am satisfied knowing they have been empowered to know their bodies and speak up whenever and to whomever when they feel uncomfortable.  And to call it like it is.

 

saints among us.

This morning we will celebrate All Saints Day at church.  A Sunday to remember all those we have lost in the last year.  On this Sunday Pastor Jason will stand and say the names of the church members we have lost in the last year.  We, as the church, are then invited to stand and speak the names of those in our own lives who we know and have been impacted by who have passed away in that same time period.  This is the second time I will stand and utter the name of one of my colleagues.

I mean, officially, saints aren’t usually alive.  But when I think of someone who “is a saint” I think of the people I see every day who embrace the brokenhearted and care for the wounded.  I used to think being a saint meant that you were soft spoken and never said a bad word and sat still and maybe prayed a lot.  I don’t believe much of that now.  To me a saint is someone who is silent in the darkest hour with you.  A saint is someone who will stand up and raise their voice when they spot injustice.  And saint is still when you need them close but at the same time they are always on the move.

I also happens to be that November is National Family Caregiver month.  I learned this from another #keepingitrealyo mom who’s blog is awesome.  If you want to learn more about caring for ill family members head over to Meredith’s blog or website to see how family caregivers are exceptional people. The strong people who care for their acute or chronically ill family members I consider saints among us.  Amidst all this saints and caregiving talk I thought to myself: who are the saints that surround me?

Some are obvious.  For me, they are parents and best friends who change their plans and pick up my kids from school when I can’t leave the hospital and the Pastor is gone.  They are the friends who offer hot coffee, a seat on the couch and a blanket in their home to this doc who sometimes feels she is always hosting and listening without a break.  I also count as saints those doctors and nurses and hospital staff who take care of the most vulnerable women in our state and provide empathy through some of the most difficult situations life can present someone with.  Others that come to mind are the incredible women who have patiently and passionately taught my oldest each year in school and I hope will have the privilege of teaching her sometimes out of control younger sister. I also believe the chaplains and pastors who make space to visit the ill, the dying and the homebound are a clear reflection of Jesus.

Today we will read the words below as we recite the names of those who have gone before us.  Pastor Jason will remind us to find comfort and peace in the naming of names and I will be reminded to look for the saints around me and try to continue the work to bring the Kingdom of God near.

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