Why I’m Making a Rite of Passage Ceremony Today

Today, we celebrate my daughter by a rite of passage ceremony that we’ve been thinking about for a long time. 

We are getting her ears pierced. 

As I think about rites of passage, I realize that precious few exist in our culture to celebrate girlhood–not adolescence or graduation or marriage–but just being a young girl.  I wanted the ear piercing to have ceremonial, symbolic importance that she might remember for her whole life.

We will have friends and family there to witness the event.  

I wrote a letter to my daughter for her to read about what her ear piercing symbolizes.  I wrote that whenever she sees her earrings, she will remember God’s love for her, her family’s love for her, and her realization of her own worth–far more precious than any jewel.   We are making a rite of passage to initiate her into the next stage of her growth.  These next few years will mean so much in terms of identity formation, and I realize the role that ritual, symbol, and community will play in that secure sense of self.

I turn 35 years old this week.  I wanted my daughter’s ear piercing to coincide with my own rite of passage.  She has five years until high school, and I have 5 years until I turn 40.  What will we make, together, of these next years?  When I look at my daughter’s earrings, it will symbolize my own journey as a woman and a wife and a mother. 

And I need friends and family to witness this.  

Symbols and rituals help build a meaningful life.  We can pass them on, weave together a beautiful history, and mark our lives by them.  When I look at my daughter’s earrings, I will remember what they mean. 

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You Weren’t Alone Today

Do you remember when I cried while mopping my kitchen floor because I was thankful for the filth?  Well, today I bring out my mop to clean the floor once again, but this time, I think of a different narrative.

I imagine who else in the world is mopping a kitchen floor at this exact moment.  Of the 6 billion folks living on the planet today, chances are good that somebody is also mopping a floor.  Maybe thousands of us are.

And then, I start imagining you fellow moppers:  your countries, your lives, your particular sorrows.  I can’t help what comes next:  I start praying for unnamed, unknown people. I pray that you would find joy in the work; I pray that whatever happens on your floor today would be a good thing.

Then I go about my morning.  But something has changed in me.

I wash dishes, and I imagine other people who are scrubbing breakfast dishes at this exact moment.  Next I fold laundry and wonder who else of the 6 billion of us are folding underwear right now.  I smile and giggle to think of this community of underwear-folders.  And then I say a prayer for the people folding underwear out there. 

I’m not alone in these tasks.  I’m never alone at all.  We are all in this together–you, me, and people all over the world–mopping floors, scrubbing dishes, and folding underwear.  We did it together today.  So if you felt alone, you weren’t.

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Would We Have Done This?

Down the big hill and towards the school, some new neighbors moved in last Spring.  I met them once, and since then, our paths have not crossed.  Nobody on my street really knows them. 

Our community holds Trick-or-Treating on Thursday night, and as we approach this new family’s house last night, we are already freezing in the darkness as wind whips underneath our costumes.  Then, I see a sign in the yard.  It says: “Wecome!  Come in for Hot Chocolate, Cider, Coffee, Tea, and Donuts.”  Like a beacon of warmth and cheer, that house glows from the sidewalk.

We can’t resist.  We swarm the place.  We stay awhile.   

The family nobody knows cleaned out their garage and turned it into a little barn with tables and chairs for neighbors to rest during Trick-or Treating.  The couple dressed up as farmers, and as they pour cider and pass out donuts to us–strangers–they laugh and smile and introduce themselves.

The family none of us knows is now the family that everybody knows.

This family models how to enter a community with flair.   The next time I feel lonely, left out, or unknown because I’m the new kid on the block, I’m not going to wait around for the Welcome Wagon.  I’m going to make a sign, clear a space, and offer the kind of hospitality that folks can’t resist.  The kind of hospitality that makes people stay awhile. 

I love my neighborhood.

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Your Most Memorable Act

Last year, my daughter’s teacher asked me to provide some healthy Halloween treats for the 2nd grade party.  Everyone knows how terrible I am at anything involving baking, crafts, or decorating.  I try, but when it comes right down to it, I’m just not good at these things.

Halloween Boo Platter

I am good at words, though.  And I recalled the wisdom of my friend in Texas who says firmly, “Heather, God gave these children to you.  You are the perfect parent for them.  Your gifts are perfectly matched to their needs.”  So this time last year, I arrange some vegetables in the shape of the word, “Boo.”  I have no idea what I am doing.  I take some foil, make a pattern, and fill it in with vegetables.  That’s about as crafty as I get.

The Boo Platter

Despite my anxiety about this platter (was it cute? would the children love it?), I bring it to the school party.  My daughter beams.  Children come over to read the word, and they laugh and eat vegetables because they are in the shape of a word.   It isn’t even that beautiful as you can see by this photo. (Feel free to comment to make me feel better about this). 

Story over.  A year goes by.

This week, my daughter bursts from the school doors and calls out, “Mom, I signed you up to make treats for the Halloween party.  Everyone wants the Boo Platter!  Let’s make another Boo Platter!”  She’s holding my hand, staring up into my face, and talking about this Boo Platter like it’s become a public school legend.  

I wake up this morning and arrange the foil in the shape of a word.  It might be the most important thing I do today, the thing that matters as the years go by.  God made me a certain way, and when I act out of that authentic self, I leave a beautiful mark.  A simple embellishment–in my style–to a platter created a memory–a tradition–that children remembered and needed.   These small acts that I think make no mark, that make no difference, that seem silly and awkward and out of place, actually embed themselves in neighborhood memory. 

Living with flair means pressing on in small embellishments that flow from my personality that help shape a family and a community. Sure, some other parents made more creative and impressive things, but what my children remembered and love was a word.  Because that’s me. 

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Be Impressively Vulnerable

Yesterday, I admit to my dear friend that I’m not good at being vulnerable.  I’m better at listening and giving advice and pretending I have it all together.  I’m better at being cheery and funny than admitting when I’m not feeling well.  Maybe, deep down, I think that folks won’t love me as much if I admit my struggles and my weaknesses.

I spent five years studying the emotion of shame.  One would think I could see through my tactics!  We hide away and protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable.  We preempt the mere possibility of feeling inferior, exposed, or judged by tucking ourselves away in protective spaces of various forms.  But my research regarding shame proves this:  when we make ourselves vulnerable, we create pathways for intimacy.  Our capacity for intimacy directly correlates to how vulnerable we are.

My cats perform dramatic displays of vulnerability.  When they roll flat on their backs and expose their tummies, they welcome affection.  Dogs enact even more impressive acts.  With incredible submission, a dog will lay down, roll over, and endanger himself by revealing an unprotected belly and throat.

In the animal world, showing the belly and offering submissive gestures signals love and trust.  What submissive gestures might I enact to signal to my friends that same love and trust?  A willingness to expose my underbelly–those weak and unpleasant things about me–might seem dangerous and shameful. But these impressive acts of vulnerability are what make friendship happen. 

Who wants a friend who can’t be vulnerable?  Who wants a life shackled by the fear of shame?  Roll over, show your belly, and just see what love you find.

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This Doesn’t Happen Every Day

As we walk to school, we find a cell phone and keys tucked away into the hollow of a tree.  These treasures arrive some days and leave by afternoon.   It’s so. . . intriguing.  I imagine the tree in To Kill a Mockingbird and the gifts the children discover as they walk to school. 

Our walk to school, once mundane, now offers a complicated plot twist.  Who owns these things?  Why are they here? 

The crossing guard announces that she hides these items in the tree as she goes about her work.  She retrieves them after her shift. We slump down, the intrigue gone.   For a moment, we had a real riddle on our hands.

And we loved it.  We need intrigue.  I’m in the presence of the intriguing when I can’t help but be curious, when I can’t help but ask questions.  Intrigue, according to my neighbors, drives us to read novels, to absorb ourselves in television and movie plots, and to abandon everything to learn more and unravel the complicated twist.

I’ve got to see the intrigue, even in a town like this, on a day like today.  

As we approach the school, we gaze up to the morning sky and the tall trees surrounding the building.  A deafening crack interrupts our chatter.  One of the tallest trees, bare and majestic, splinters and falls.  As it falls, it takes another enormous tree down with it.  Children, parents, and school administrators stand there, paralyzed by the power of it.   Is this really happening? 

How intriguing this whole scene is!  We’re delighted by it, entranced and curious.  We search and discover the ground crew, blocked by school buses, who orchestrate the event.

These things don’t happen every day.  Intriguing trees have taken over my morning. 

What else can I find about today that truly intrigues?  If I lift my eyes, I might just see something.

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3 Rules of Civility

As I teach about “civility”–showing politeness and regard for others–I realize how foreign of a concept kindness has become.  I ask the class why it’s so hard to be civil.  We practice writing arguments that persuade others, and adopting a civil tone makes all the difference when trying to persuade. 

“It’s more interesting to be angry and mean,” one student insists. 

It’s true, perhaps.  It’s more entertaining to insult another person than to argue with fairness.  And it’s easier. 

It’s hard to be kind.  It’s nearly impossible to be civil when we feel so passionately about our beliefs.  We speak from our anger and our passion.  

But our anger and passion do not always persuade.  

If we want to begin to have conversations that change individual minds (at least in today’s communication climate), we have to begin from a point of fairness.   

What does it mean to be fair?  We mention 3 ways:  recognizing a good intention within the opposition, uncovering the story that generated their viewpoint, and summarizing their opinion without condescension.  Only then have we fostered a suitable communication climate where people feel heard and ready to engage. 

“This is hard,” we all agree.  It’s hard because if we feel condescending–if we feel superior–it inevitably comes out in our speaking and writing.  So we have to admit some difficult things about ourselves.  We have to admit we don’t know everything.  We have to concede points and believe that our opposition’s viewpoint might contain an element of truth.  We have to treat that enemy with dignity even if we disagree with their point of view. 

Only then can we hear people.  Only then can we open the door to a conversation.  Civility in conversation means we are discussing, not fighting.  We are finding common ground, figuring out what we believe, and journeying together towards truth. 

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A Glorious Death

Autumn Leaves

I’m looking up into the autumn leaves, and I realize I’m watching a glorious death.  These colors–this vibrant display of glory–come at the point of death (technically the disintegration of chlorophyll).   This beautiful moment represents the end of life for these leaves.  I don’t name it as tragic.  I revel in this autumn landscape.  I take a picture and marvel.

What forms of death are glorious?  When, like these leaves, is death a moment of glory?

A Glorious Death

I think of when the will bends to God in a moment of surrender.  I think of what it means to become absorbed in divine purposes–letting my right to my own life, my own plans, and my own demands disintegrate like chlorophyll.  Like autumn leaves, I am most beautiful when I’m at the end of myself.  The Christian life might be seen as a glorious dying–a surrender of self–to become a child of the one whose Glorious Death wasn’t tragic but victorious and radiant.

Decaying Tree

Later, I hike through a forest and come upon a massive decaying tree.  I think of this as a glorious death as I imagine the refuge and nourishment such a dying tree provides for the ecosystem.  Might I see my own life as a fallen tree, bowed down, dead to self, so that I might find the life that’s truly life?

A life surrendered might feel tragic and painful.  But not for long.  It’s nourishing, radiant, glorious.  We see and marvel.

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Annoyed or Delighted?

Whenever it’s time to make up a bed with fresh, clean sheets, it’s as if the cats know.

They run to the bedroom.  Soon, I wrestle two kitties out from underneath the sheets.  They return to burrow and tumble, peek out and retreat.   I coax them out, urge them to the side of the bed, and start to make the bed again.

Just as I tuck in the last corner and turn to smooth the blankets on top, I see the perfect round lump right in the middle of the bed and under my sheets.  

These cats!  They infuriate me!  I start from the beginning and remake the bed so the sheets and blankets rest smooth and precise.  Somehow, a cat wriggles his way back up beneath the covers and lounges there.

I hear purring.  I hear satisfied and taunting purring.

I look at that rumpled mess of a made bed.  No order, no smooth lines.  Finally I realize that as long as I have these mischievous felines, I will have a lumpy bed.  You can’t make a bed properly with cats around.

Once I realize this, I just go about the process of making the bed differently.  I loosen the corners, I fluff up the blankets, and I invite a cat into caverns and caves I design. 

Those things I resist, those battles I fight, might be moments of surrender to the annoyance.  Some evenings, I retire to bed to see round lumps hiding under the covers.   Purring.  Loud purring.   It’s funny.  It’s endearing.  It’s a source of delight.

Could the things that annoy me the most become a source of delight somehow?  Those things about my family members that I want to change might become endearing things.  Things I would miss if I didn’t have them around.

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Your 30 Minutes of Free Time

I ask my students what they would do if I gave them 30 minutes of free time.  What if I let class out early?  How would they spend their time if I gave them recess?

With unexpected minutes given them, they’d drink more coffee.  They’d study more for the exam at 10:00 AM. They’d prepare more for a presentation. 

A recess refers to a period of time when a person or group is temporarily dismissed from duties.  In schools, teachers mandate recess.  Children go outside to play, and they do not feel guilty about missing work or losing precious minutes of productivity.

Other cultures regularly foster guilt-free recess moments in the form of a siesta or tea time.

I’m thinking of instituting siesta, high tea, or recess as part of my day because in the absence of a mandated time, I fear American culture resists free time.   

Stop everything.  Go outside.  Relax and just enjoy something.  For 30 minutes–without my phone or computer–I have to go play.  I might rest on my bed.  I might sip a cup of tea.  I could even kick a ball around in my driveway.

Once I asked a woman to share with me her top 5 ways to relax and rejuvenate.  She couldn’t think of one.

Recently, my children forged a trail through a forest so vibrant with autumn colors it seemed the heavens spilled paint down.  I walked with my husband and a neighbor as the sun set through the pine trees with that unmistakable golden light. 

The world moved on around us–the hustle and bustle–but out here in the woods, we had recess.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll have afternoon tea.  Maybe Sunday we’ll take a Sabbath siesta in a homemade fort.  Whatever form it takes, I’m ringing the bell to release us out to the playground.

30 minutes of free time built into our day–like a class we have to attend–sounds like rejuvenation:  restoring vitality, making us fresh again.

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