Tree of Life

IMG_1108 (2)It´s late November, and we are warm, soon to be hot.  Our fake plastic Christmas tree sparkles in the corner of our living room, while all the rest of our previous years´ Christmas decorations sweat it out as perpetual hostages in the storage space where I used to do business.  Unless we can take everything out at once, we don´t dare ask the landlady to sort through for individual items.  It´s a small thing, but it´s also a big thing.  I now have a significant quantity of items stored in two different countries, and I never really know if or when I´ll be able to have them again in one place.  They are a fine analogy for my life.  All the people I love are now spread across 3 continents, and it is a guarantee that I will never have them in the same place at the same time.  Sadly, this is the recipe for Christmas failure.

H, my daughter, sparse months from reaching 13, has finally realized that Christmas ¨here¨ is not the same as Christmas ¨there.¨  Here is hot and sandy, where pine trees are as exotic as milk in a gallon, and our relationship to extended family is limited in actuality to my father in law, H´s ¨Tata,¨ who has some inexplicable aversion to spending time in any house but is own.  (I recently learned the fun fact that he leaves work and goes home when he needs to use a bathroom, so he can use his own.  I feel less offended).  H asked her dad last week, ¨Dad, is Tio Lucho really your brother?¨  Her question was mildly baffling, because who else would he be? But understandable, because she has never seen the two of them share so much as a handshake.  That´s as much love as is lost between them.  My husband calls his niece here ¨the little girl.¨ Not sure he knows her name, but then again, I won´t read too much into it, because he also does not now how old I am, how long we´ve been married, or what my maiden name is.  Just for the record, 9 years (that we´ve been married). Not long enough, apparently.  I digress.

When we were about 12 and 14, my sister and I laid in bed together one Christmas morning and realized that it had happened.  The Christmas magic has dimmed.  What WAS the big deal, we asked each other?  We both knew that we´d spent a good decade being thoroughly thrilled by the event, but somehow, that year, the thrill ran thin.  And as another Christmas is on us, one in which we will stay in our desert town for the holiday, my daughter is keenly aware that there is a big difference between celebrating with Noni and Papa, Nini and Jeff, and all the cousins, and staying here.  What pleases me is that she hasn´t had the ¨oh crap, it feels wrong,¨ moment about Christmas yet.

She has however asked me if Jesus is real.  And I don´t wish to be disingenuous with her.  Recently, in a rare moment of introspection and doubt, she said to me with emphatically, ¨but how do you know he´s not just something made up?¨ And the honest answer is, I don´t.  Because that is the whole point.  There´s no scientific method that can make a proof for or against him.  And when I think of what to say on the topic that will be meaningful, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I can´t help but cringe at a mental reel of Will Ferrell dressed in a Wonderbread jump suit in Talladega Nights, praying a monologue to ¨dear little baby Jesus…¨ And worse, (now that I´ve googled it), I can´t help but think how accurately his monologue captures our decadent approach to ¨dear little baby Jesus,¨ and the commercial spirit of the holiday.

Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers in the South call you: ‘Jee-suz’. We thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family: my two beautiful, beautiful, handsome striking sons, Walker: Texas Ranger, or TR as we call him. And, of course, my red hot smokin’ wife Carley, who is a stone cold fox, who if you would rate her ass on 100, it would easily be a 94. I also want to thank you for my best friend and teammate, Cal Naughton Jr, who’s got my back no matter what…Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we also thank you for my wife’s father Chip. We hope that you can use your Baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. It smells terrible and the dogs are always botherin’ with it. Dear Tiny Infant Jesus…Dear tiny Jesus in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists…Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent. We just thank you for all the races I’ve won and the $21.2 million dollars… LOVE THAT MONEY, that I have accrued over this past season. Also due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates I mention PowerAde at each grace, I just wanna say that PowerAde is delicious and it cools you off on a hot summer day and we look forward to PowerAde’s release of mystic mountain blueberry. Thank you, for all your power and your grace, Dear Baby God, Amen.”

The theology of champions.  Instead of being grateful that we can hope for a greater future and truer happiness than the finite and frayed pleasures money or beauty can deliver; instead of understanding that we can´t take it with us, we pray earnestly for them, as if God is interested in our bank accounts and emerging wrinkles. And by we, I do mean I.  It´s hard to remember or even believe that the concerns and desires consuming us daily don´t have eternal value.  That is supposed to be a consolation when everything goes to shit, and yet, it isn´t always.  I feel like a fraud with God all the time.  Of course we want stuff and money, and pretty kids and easy lives.  Because it´s so much easier!  But what do those things make us? Wonderbread believers I suppose.

Hookie asked me last week why God doesn´t ¨do miracles anymore,¨ and I gave her my usual rhetoric on the topic, thinking as I always do of Dostoyevski´s Alyosha.

SOME of my readers may imagine that my young man was a sickly, ecstatic, poorly developed creature, a pale, consumptive dreamer. On the contrary, Alyosha was at this time a well-grown, red-cheeked, clear-eyed lad of nineteen, radiant with health. He was very handsome, too, graceful, moderately tall, with hair of a dark brown, with a regular, rather long, oval-shaped face, and wide-set dark grey, shining eyes; he was very thoughtful, and apparently very serene. I shall be told, perhaps, that red cheeks are not incompatible with fanaticism and mysticism; but I fancy that Alyosha was more of a realist than anyone. Oh! no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling-block to the realist. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also. The Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart even when he said, “I do not believe till I see.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

This was my answer to her; God doesn´t have a reason to do miracles, because they don´t compel belief and we as a generation are prone to discount the miraculous. But I of course had to contradict myself immediately after.  Look at your hand, I told her.  Think about the earth´s distance to the sun.  A few miles closer, we´d burn up.  A few miles further away, we´d freeze.   Those are miracles.  Think about a single cell splitting until it turns into you.  People who don´t want to believe in miracles will find reasons not to; to explain and justify them as a trick of the natural world or the mind.  I added that we are prone to forget miracles, even if we do accept them as such,  and my sweet, not so little inquirer said to me ¨well, I won´t forget that there are miracles mommy. We got a yes for our brother or sister, and that is a miracle.¨

To give some context, we are six months into a process of being approved to adopt here in Chile, after many many years of ¨someday.¨ And just a week or so ago we finally finished a battery of mandatory counseling sessions with a psychologist who has the power to approve or reject us as suitable.  And, as H noted, we got approved.  To H, who has been campaigning for years for a sibling, it is nothing short of a miracle. We´re not at the finish line, but she is ready to cheer.  And so she should.  One of the things that makes Christmas ¨Christmasy¨ are the kids.  The sisters (or brothers) and the cousins.  Subtract them and it´s a sad affair.

But I am still trying to solve the problem of how to explain what makes Christmas miraculous, without talking just about tiny little baby Jesus and his golden fleece diapers.  Because that is where we focus at Christmas; even she knows that.  She keeps stealing baby Jesus from our little Holy Family, leaving Joseph with his arms open wide in surprise, and Mary praying in a panic (I imagine).  She scolds me that ¨he can´t be there until Christmas.¨ At least she understands the power of expectation.

I have been forcing her to sit and read devotions with me, before I let her rip into her tiny chocolate advent window, for the not so chocolate advent chocolate.  She protests, and I ask what exactly does she think the advent in ¨advent calendar¨ means? It is as much for me as her.  I´m trying to work it out-how to talk about what Jesus means to us and for us, without invoking the dreadful ¨invite him into your heart,¨ rhetoric that makes me wince and every 8 year old imagine an action sized figure of hippy Jesus baking flat bread in her aorta, nicely adorned by an exterior finish of Valentine heart.

Until Terrance Malick rescued me.  If you haven´t watch Tree of Life, don´t, at least not after about 7:00 at night.  It is too slow and beautiful, with Jessica Chastain whispering deep thoughts as she ushers you into REM.  It´s like a movie for a lava lamp.  That said, do.  Watch it, when you´ve had your morning coffee and you´re feeling pensive.  Watch it in parts, watch parts with your kids.  Better yet, head over to Vimeo and watch this:

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

This is what I want my daughter to know about Christmas, and the baby she keeps hiding.  When around the world people and places are blown up in the name of God, we have this promise from him, left in a story and the grace we show each other, that he sent himself in the humblest way to be a servant to us, individually.  He took off his crown, took off his robe, made himself an ant for us to step on and spit at; it is hard to comprehend the message without really dwelling on this detail.

1) IN the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2) He existed in the beginning with God.  3) God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4) The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 1: 1-5

He was bigger than the universe; he spoke it into being, and yet he made his way into the world in a single cell. He followed the rules of the natural universe, until he became a man.  It´s like the plot from an Ursula Le Guin novel.  He tells us that if we are going to accept him, we have to do more than believe the story-we have to get inside of it. We have to give grace also, which is truly against the grain of human nature.  He washed his disciples feet, he prayed for forgiveness for his captors, he protected an adulteress woman from shaming.  He touched lepers; he loved and valued women and children.  He hated hypocrisy and corruption.  I tell you that, like Dostoevsky, I want to believe in the story and the man as much as I don´t.  I don´t really want to be like him, to forgive freely and love stinky people.  I like my stuff and my space, and most days I agree with Bill Maher; I want to be a ¨spend¨ timer (on earth), not an end timer. If you´re not a refugee, if you´re not in a politically or socially oppressive country, life can be good.  So this call to think beyond the good here, to believe in such a thing, is taxing.  Like my daughter says, what if none of it´s real?

But what if it is?  I want the gift of faith, for myself and for her, for everyone I love.  Because it is a light in a dark world, and that is where the magic comes from. Charlie Brown knows it, and I want to believe it.

¨I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and scepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.¨

¨I believe in Christ and confess him not like some child; my hosanna has passed through an enormous furnace of doubt.¨

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

Pretty is…

as pretty does, my dad used to say.  He also used to say we were more than pretty.  So what message did he send?  We were pretty where it mattered.  Pretty because of our contributions to the world and our treatment of others. 

I’ve spent my morning following bunny trails of videos and articles about women’s bodies.  The last was an Ellen excerpt with Australian “plus” size model Robyn Lawley.  She is lovely and luscious (sorry-it’s on my ick list too, along with “panties”-but there’s not a better word for it!) in a way that catwalk skeletons can’t understand.  In a way that makes me shake my head in wonder at the sheer absurdity at the idea that beauty is fat free.  Especially female beauty.  Just compare these, side by side, and tell me which women are more attractive as women, not as clothes hangers or concentration camp survivors.

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And it struck a chord for me, after my daughter spent a few minutes leafing through a photo book and focusing on a photo of two of the most beautiful people I know.  One of my cousins (who are, incidentally, both scientifically beautiful) and my sister.  And I am reminded again how lucky we were to be raised in a family culture that promoted authentic concepts of beauty.  

My morning’s bunny trail took me through a Huff Post video about two model scouts and their process for finding potential money makers.  One clip shows them approaching a mother in a mall to admire her daughter, and propose that she may want to model.  Before they could even finish, mom was blowing them off like the plague.  No no no, not interested.  Wise mother.  My sister used to get offers like this, with her 13 year old basketball player 5′ 9″ body and blond cornflower beauty.  But my mom, with perhaps less bluster, would turn them down.  Because she knew that a girl’s body is not a woman’s body or a billboard, and the adoration and obsessions about size 2 waists and thigh gap are a cancer that will rob any young woman of her sense of value as she grows into her adult self. 

We have puppy syndrome as a culture.  We want the cute and malleable ball of new, but are bored by the dog.  I live in a city where this is demonstrated with cruel regularity, as grown dogs are regularly abandoned on the streets.  Puppies you can jam in a purse and carry around to be admired.  Dogs have bigger needs and are not so cute.  They are not convenient, not like a puppy.  Big surprise-because they’re NOT puppies.  Just like adult women are not 13 year old girls. One comment that was made on the video with the model scouts was that the 14 and 15 year old models that are usually featured on catwalks will DO anything you ask them too.  Puppy syndrome?  Grown women have (or should have) expectations and boundaries. That’s what makes us adults.  Apparently, that’s also what makes adult women so unattractive to an industry trying to exploit and sell female bodies. Hips, thighs and self respect.  The thing they work so hard to make us loathe. 

What defies logic is that so often, these self same women (i.e. adults) buy into the lie with the same naivety as an 8 year old child wanting to buy a toy because a commercial told them to.   Why do we insist on making every grown ass woman feel like a failure because she’s not built like a child?  So you have a booty and hips, and weight settles around your waist.  Instead of recognizing that this is the biological destiny of being female when we are no longer in the taffy pull stage of adolescence, women have been convinced that if they just ate enough celery and did enough crunches, they could be the way they should.  Hipless, thighless, “muffin-top” less, but of course, not breastless.  Imagine a world where we demanded as much body diversity as we demand ethnic diversity. 

Pretty is as pretty does.  And I know some awfully gorgeous woman, who happen to gorgeous on the inside too.  And that’s nice to say and nice to think and true.  But my real sense of outrage is that we live in a looking glass world where we have convinced actually beautiful women that they aren’t “good enough.”  And I want to be purely superficial for a day, and say with some reverse sizism, (sorry skinny ladies), that women who look like women are comforting, alluring and mysterious, and far more attractive than women who look like coat hangers or teenage boys.  I personally got the build of those boys-no hips at all-which means if I collect anything around the middle, it shows.  I am one of those skinny fat people that can hide under clothes (you know what I mean, if you are one-lots of lumps and bumps, but skinny arms and legs sticking out), so I’m not pretending I know how it feels to live in our backwards world looking very different from the purported ideal.   I don’t even particularly hate my little donut, but some hips would sure be nice for dispersing it more pleasingly.  Anytime I try and carry anything-kids included-for a distance, they slip right off.  Hips are what make women women-so are bellies and thighs; so all the representations of women minus these parts should aggravate ALL of us.  And we should reject them as easily as the idea that we should grow beards.  We should find them as horrifying as foot binding and genital mutilation.  Why don’t we?

My husband never NEVER passes on cake or a candy bar because it might “stick.”  As a rule, I refuse to pass on these things either.  If I did, I would resent him for having his cake, eating it, and still having a rocking body too.  Which he earns through lots of exercise and by being a dude.  He likes to ride bikes, good for him.  He was born a dude, good for me;)  But he never ever feels guilty about his body, or worries how he’ll look in his swim shorts.  There is a strange paradox in our times of Cosmo and Sex in the City, where women feel entitled to careers and respect, but abuse their bodies for love.  If we expect equal respect for our personhood in a job or community or home, why do women as a gender feel so much guilt for the very bodies that define us as women? 

In the last 5 years, I’ve gained some weight, with little change in diet or exercise.  If anything, I eat less.  I have some hormonal problems and sleep problems, both of which contribute.  But guess what?  I’ve got bigger boobs, and that’s fine with me!  Because here’s a math equation our culture at large manipulates with silicone and surgery; bigger girls have bigger boobs.  It pisses me off when women cheat the system, throwing off the benefits for all the real girls in the world.  Men should have to choose-tiny waists & tiny boobs, or bigger girls & bigger boobs.  If everyone agreed to stop screwing with the system, we’d all have something to offer, and feel much better about ourselves.  Instead of feeling like we all had to  fit into the same chocolate mold, we’d just each be a handmade truffle.  Something unique and delicious and unpredictable, wrapped up to be unwrapped by one person, one day.  I fact, my husband’s godmother used to tell him that men who like sweets make better husbands.  I think there’s an analogy here.

When we buy into female guilt for just looking however we do, we are part of the machine that has turned female bodies into mass manufactured products for mass consumption, which is how our culture treats women’s bodies.  We need to reclaim ourselves as something handmade and unique.  Part of that equation is treating yourself like something valuable, for one person’s pleasure and appreciation, not the whole world’s.  The whole world won’t appreciate you.  It doesn’t need to.  But don’t let everyone take a bite out of you proving the point.  In our current cultural climate, we can’t much control the fact that lots of men have been convinced we should all have the dimensions of a Hershey’s bar, but we can learn to think of ourselves as truffles.  There are some rules to this. 

We have to STOP looking at glamour magazine at all.  Do you hear me?  We have to practice what lovely Ms. Lawley does, and tell ourselves that we are great the way we are.  (You are!  Believe me-you’re a truffle:)  I am not trying to say that it’s good practice to, as my dad likes to joke, lay around eating bon-bons and reading True Detective all day.  But be as close to 100 cocoa as you can-find your set point, and embrace it.  Some girls are tall, some girls are small, some are curvy, some can’t keep the baby on their hip-but we’re all truffles.  Just don’t forget about the filling!  Because pretty is as pretty does:) And pretty doesn’t give a shit what Anna Wintour has to say.

The Life We’ve Got

I can’t sleep.  And as I do 50% of the time when I can’t sleep, I have just spent an hour following a bunny trail of foster care photo listings for children needing homes, to an orphanage in Haiti (look on a map, it’s exactly between you and I-doesn’t that seems like a sign?), to blogs written by adoptive and occasionally birth parents, to pinterest “pins” of sibling photos.  I suppose it’s like a rosary of sorts.  Rub these 8 links in this order, and someday, it will be you writing that blog.   It hasn’t worked for 8 years, but I’m crazy like that.  And an insomniac like that.

Since I’m peeling back the band aid, I’ll admit that I dream of handing my daughter a baby the way some people dream of handing their husband a baby.  Maybe it’s evolved to this in recent years because her longing for that scenario has grown as fierce as mine.  The day I can snap a pic of her with her Huck Finn beauty holding onto a sibling will be the day I can sleep again like a normal person.  Or, at least blame my insomnia on a person and not an idea.  And yet.  The last bead I read was a great post from a blogger who was adopted and who has adopted.  She has a great commentary on overthinking the mechanics of love, and a fine conclusion about her life, which follows a little anecdote about how her birth parents almost revoked placing her with her family.  She segues into her commentary this way:

A bunch of adoptive parents were talking recently.  They were discussing about whether their kids would have been better off if they hadn’t been adopted internationally.  If the loss of their birth families, homeland, culture was too great, too damaging.  These parents love their children.  They agonize for them.  They see the hurts that their children suffer.  They are open, honest and raw as they share this with each other.  I honor and respect that.  I hurt for my boys, too.  They have lost so much.  However, I don’t find myself wondering if we are what is best for them.  Not because I am sure we are what is best for them, but because it doesn’t matter.  There is more than one path to a good life.  Our paths led us to each other.  We’ll just take it from there.

When I was a baby,  I spent a couple of months in foster care before being placed with my adoptive parents.  During that time, my birth parents went to the adoption agency and told the social worker that they planned to get married and wanted me back.  After spending time talking with social worker, they decided to stay with the adoption plan.  But, had that happened, when I was older, they may have told me the story of how they almost went through with an adoption plan for me.  They may have told me about their last minute change of heart and how they got me back so we could be a family.  I would probably be horrified that I had almost been given away and raised by strangers!

Instead, I found this information out as an adult, an adopted adult, and felt horrified.  I wouldn’t have been me!  I would have a different name, a different life, no Kurt, Devyn, Maddy, Mikias or Jemberu!   I wouldn’t have had my parents!  I would have had the wrong life!

But of course the thing is, I wouldn’t have had the wrong life.  I would have had the life I got.  Just like our adopted kids.  This is the life they got.  We can’t change the circumstances or decisions made that led them to an orphanage.  We can’t change the fact that they were in a place where they needed a family.  We honor their past.  We acknowledge their hurts.  We do our best.  We love them.
(Alison Boynton Noyce, They’re All My Own, Practical Love)

Just last night, my insomnia was fueled by the necessity of revising a letter to immigration, asking them to let us return to the US as a family.  My attorney appointed mission is to convince some stranger somewhere who reads the letter that a.), living in Chile is a hardship on me, and b.) living without my husband in the US would be a hardship.  If you have more than 2 brain cells, you probably need to reread that last line with a “say what?” as a dear friend did.  As in, what the HELL? How is living perpetually anywhere without a spouse NOT a hardship? But I digress.

My concluding thought to Mr. or Ms. nameless immigration employee who will one day read said letter is this:  Trying to decide what is best for our child is the hardest hardship.  Is a father worth giving up a life with all near and extended relatives? Is having a father worth living with what seems to be infinite economic concerns? Giving up a traditional education? Is a nuclear family more important than old friends, warm water, mountains, trees, summer camp, mornings waking up in a hot tent under a pine tree? Worth missing for years the smell of sage, rain, pine and waffle cones? Holidays, bookstores, nieces, nephews, birthdays, weddings, and decent coffee?  Is it worth living in a literal desert?

The only good answer is that it’s the life we’ve got.  And there are many paths to a good life.

There is a corollary here between marital love and maternal or paternal love.  However or why-ever you married your spouse or came to parent your child, they are the life you’ve got.  Many marriages and families are sacrificed on the alter of romantic ideas like soul mates and destiny, and greener grass over there, because our culture doesn’t teach us the common sense value of appreciating what we’ve got.   And to be honest, it’s a virtue I have been working on badly for a few years now.  I am a book nerd and an Oregonian with a sensory aversion to sand and dust and a rash that is exacerbated by heat, living in a desert without bookstores or decent coffee.  I wrote a book my husband will never read, and when I tell him it smells like Autumn, he looks at me like I’m crazy.  He is bike obsessed, and has a semi secret smoking habit I won’t elaborate on. On paper, we have 1 thing in common, and she’s Huck Finn gorgeous.  We are not the stuff romantic comedies are made of.  We don’t lay in bed at night whispering about the future or reading poems. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s day (thank god;) or anniversaries (wipe a tear, seriously).  Because that’s not the life we’ve got.

My daughter has lost connection to her first family and her first culture; she also has been shuttled away from her second culture, and her extended family.  Just this year, she has begun to really appreciate her cousins, and miss them.  She has somewhat accusatorily asked me (again) recently why I can’t have kids, as if it was something I did against her.  And I have had to tell her, it’s just the life we’ve got.  But next time I will tell her “there is more than one path to a good life.”

And sometimes, it looks like this:

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when we really, really want it to look like this:

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And if I had to explain why, I’d read her chapters out of Exodus. Because they really explain everything about being human.  There was this group of miserable people who were saved miraculously from eons of slavery.  It involved plagues and parting seas and almighty power.  And what did they do? They began complaining about being hungry about 5 minutes later.  So then what happened? -(Cliff note version)- manna falls-literally falls- out of the sky, and they were happy for a day.  But their compulsion was to hoard it.  Instead of learning to appreciate the “manna” in our lives, we are no better than the Isrealites, wandering around the desert, looking for another idol to worship.  More stuff to hoard.  Not learning to trust the living holy god that literally meets our daily needs, and sometimes does a miracle or two.  It’s never enough.  We always want something flashier.  Something more exciting.  Something big and sexy that would make a good movie.  And by we, I of course mean me.  It is a reflection I have had to contemplate in the last week, after our city experienced an 8.2 earthquake and EVERYTHING stood.  Like the wise man and his house of brick.  Solid. No tsunami came, no buildings fell, no one died.  Even the enormous bookshelf I had told my husband a week before to anchor to the wall fell TOWARD the wall.  As in, did not come crashing down.  Did not break.  My daughter observed the little chalkware people on a shelf intact, and said “even they are okay mommy!” And to be really honest, in the midst of all that shaking, what mommy was really truly thinking was “Noooooo, not the tomatoes.” And then “crap!  I love those little chalkware people, and they’re fer sure a broken disaster.”

And yet.  Hard to exhale.  Hard to stop waiting for the next thing, and just enjoy the manna.  Disaster averted! A friend said a psychologist advised people experiencing post traumatic stress to just “be.” And then we laughed about “what does that mean?”  Because the just being, not planning, not worrying, not doing, is…so….hard.  And explains exactly why I am up way too late.  I am not a good “be”er.

I was watching the episode of Friends a day or so ago when Phoebe introduces Monica, who is already married, to her “soul mate.”  In short order, the two hit it off and discover they both dream about living in France in a “house made of cheese.”  Monica’s husband watches it all unfold, almost as convinced she’s got the wrong guy as Phoebe is.  But Monica gets it.  She gets the principle of “the life we’ve got.”  She tells Chandler later she doesn’t believe in soul mates.  There are many paths to a good life.  You pick someone, and you work hard to make your life together a good one.  The only two variables in these scenarios are ourselves and our circumstances.  We get to control one.  That’s 50 percent of the pie.  And just as Boynton Noyce observes, we do our best.  Because, as my dad told me 1,000 times growing up, it’s all we can do.

And so I conclude that a father is worth giving up all the other stuff, because a.) he’s her father, b.) he’s my husband, whom I inexplicably adore more than coffee and bookstores put together, and c.) it’s the life we’ve got.  It’s really really not easy somedays.  But that’s all relative, and no matter where anyone stands, there are always times when it’s really really not easy. But there are also times when the manna blankets the landscape like snow.  We just have to remember. And so I try to make little alters, just like those Isrealites.  For the time being, chalkware figures will have to do. Because as my daughter said-they’re okay! And so are we.  And maybe the why in it all is best answered by the alters.  They’re lessons in gratitude, and we’re still in school.

Its a Small World

 

Lessons from a Rabbit

My daughter longs for a few things.  More days at the beach, less days (i.e. no days) doing school, no hair brushing ever again for the rest of her life.  A Ninjago Lego set. A horse, in her room, preferably. A My Little Pony, come to life. A tiny hippo.  A sister.  As of today, a sister with allergies. (Because she watched a movie about a boy … with a sister … with allergies.) Some of her desires more realistic than others. I guess she’s no different than anyone else.

wish candlesHer birthday wish this year was to go to a baby shower and a wedding.  Read into it what you will. I expected it to come from the above mentioned list.  Just goes to show, there are other things on her mind.  I imagine that, in the same way it sometimes feels to me that the whole world is sporting a swollen belly (in the summer, to be scientific,) it must seem to her that every other child has a built in playmate.  Someone to hide from mom and dad with, someone who gets the jokes that mom and dad don’t.  Now, to be fair, we know lots o’ ladies that aren’t pregnant, and quite a few only children, so neither of these are full scale tragedies.  And I get that.  But much as I’d like to address it like I do her requests for a phone or i-pad, because “everybody else has one,” for once, I am sympathetic.

I don’t believe in only children.  I wouldn’t have picked “singleness” for mine, if I had a choice. If you have never read Anna Quindlin’s lovely essay on siblings, you ought to.  I would quote her here, but my copy is in deep storage.  (And it only costs $2. bucks on Amazon for your own copy:).  To summarize, she says something to the effect that a sibling is the best gift you ever give your kid.

Now, I have a sibling.  And I know kids don’t always see it that way.  A large percentage would happily trade their sibling for an i-pad.  Because they don’t understand the appreciating value of a sibling.  Especially a sibling who is close in age.  Yes, there is a little circle of mommy hell reserved for women who have multiples under the age of 3. (I haven’t tried it personally, of course.  But even poking it with a stick from far away, that’s a whole lot of mommy mommy mommy and sleep deprivation.  And diapers. And fingerprints on the walls.)

But bless those mommies, because they are giving their children the incredible gift of collective memory.  There is no one else in the world who is going to know the ridiculous phrase your dad made you (I mean us, of course) repeat when asking for “official permission to enter the quonset hut, sir,” and how it  made you giggle.  Who will reminisce with you about fighting over the toilet seat and the heating vent, when that luxurious warm air was growling out with a little sigh, and how it blew your nightgowns up like hot air balloons.  There is no one else who will know what you mean when you laugh about how you used to burn your heiny on the heater that was as big as the world’s first computer, warming up out of a shower on a winter morning. Or make fun of you for decades for driving against the proper lane of traffic when you crossed that bridge, until you got wedged in wonkywise. And one of you had to climb out a window.

Now, I must interrupt this ode to the pleasure of collective sibling memory by acknowledging that yes, you’re correct, maybe someone else will.  If you are lucky enough to have an incredibly intimate childhood friend that sticks around through adolescence and adulthood.  And cousins can be pretty good stand ins.  Let’s call them second siblings. They’ll know some of it, I concede.    But not all the ins and outs of mom and dad’s “isms,” not the weird rules like no unicorns allowed, no watching “Gimme a Break,” millet in the cookies and nothing good to trade at lunchtime, because mom was onto rice crackers waaaaay before Portland “got weird.”

And here’s the other benefit of collective memory.  It is the tensile fiber that holds you together with people that you would probably never pick or fall in with as friends.  It teaches children to be loyal for loyalty’s sake. Not because you both love Johnny Depp or Mumford and Sons, but because you belong to each other.  You get to use titles between yourselves no one else can claim.  I used to dress like a bag lady, before Nirvana made that cool.  (Okay, sometimes I still do, on weekends)  My sister was a prom princess and accidental cheerleader, and got picked to be the lead in plays.   You’d be hard pressed to guess we lived together, but somehow she always made me, the book obsessed bag lady, feel like the bomb.  Once I got over resenting her golden existence, (I did show my mom the door the day she brought her home) I discovered she was my favorite person.  In spite of myself.  Probably because she was so good at making me feel like her favorite person. Definitely because she is cheeky and sensitive, thoughtful and sometimes chatty, sometimes solitary, with a man’s communication patterns and in need of no one else’s affirmation.  She has secret dance moves you just wouldn’t believe, and dispenses hug therapy where it’s needed. Did I mention how she laughs? I know that’s like saying someone has beautiful eyes, but seriously.  If I had to pick one thing to hear before I die, it would be Sister laughing.  Than I know I’d meet God laughing too.

How do all those good things make themselves at home in one person? And did I mention, MY person.  You may be her friend, but you’ll never be her sister.  Sorry, but it’s true.  Sisterhood is primitive.  Which is why only children long for it.  Just as barren women long for babies. Some part of us knows we were made for it.  And the good news, if you have no sisters, is they can be made. Adoption isn’t just for babies.  It’s for anyone who cares enough to make you their own, Velveteen Rabbit style.  It won’t be pretty, and it will hurt.  But it will be real.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Children, with their funky breath and wonky toes (you say pinkies?) and friends are precious because we claim them, and love them until their fur rubs off.  Not because of who they are, contrary to the culture of child idealization.  We love our kids because of all the nights they kept us up holding their hair back while they puked, or checking their temperature 32 times, or worrying over them on the playground. They can be ugly, or stinky, weird or hyper hypos.  But if they’re ours, we’re gonna love them. And if you have a friend who will hold your hair back or stay up all night with you, who genuinely worries over you, you’re gonna love them too. If you put in the time.

velveteenrabbitI once made a psychology student redo a report she had made about our family, in which she consistently referred to our daughter’s father and myself as her “adoptive” parents.  She was young, and just learning her profession, and was not yet aware of nursery magic.  “Adoption isn’t a chronic disease” I explained to her.  “It is a fact of origin.  But our family is not defined this way.  We are her REAL parents.  Not substitutes or stand ins.  She is our REAL daughter. We don’t need subtitles.”  The nursery magic happened. Our child does not idealize us.  She sees the fur that’s been rubbed off and the loose stitching, just as we see hers.  We are her real to each other.  And the more we pay to be a family, the harder it is, the realer we become.

If there is power in disowning someone, it is only because there is greater power in owning.  I’m not talking about pimps or control freaks here.  I’m talking about the chord that wraps itself between any two people when at least one devotes themselves to the other.  It’s why people still get married.  It’s why some sibling relationships are more intimate than marriage. It’s why Samwise Gamgee followed Frodo Baggins to Mordor.  Love isn’t born out of beauty.  It grows between the cracks of brokenness and vulnerability. Because our siblings are often the first person to hear us cry in the dark and share a changing room, we trust them with the hairy stuff.  We don’t have to prove our lovableness to them. If we’re lucky, we can be that naked with a spouse or a friend.

I know that not every sibling relationship is like ours, but every sibling represents an opportunity for a closeness that cannot be duplicated in any other context.  It can be approximated, but the lining of memories from that first golden decade of childhood, with a shadow that stretches longer than any of the subsequent combined, can never be hemmed in after.

I read a funny little article recently about marriage, and how men and women bring different expectations into it.  Women want companionship, a life partner, security, and some other warm fuzzies, apparently.  According to this article, men generally want two things out of a relationship.  Drum roll…1.) sex (yes, I know you knew.  Gold star for you:) and 2.) not to be criticized.

Is this realistic? Well, that is not the topic of my little bunny trail, but it does say something about the difference between two of the most intimate relationships you can have.  If you’re trying to make a marriage work, you might take this to heart.  It certainly explains the origin of many fights.  But marriage is like all human relationships in that it won’t satisfy the deep longings of your heart.  We yearn to be loved for or in spite of our imperfections.  The truth is that our spouses will weary of them, but may be wise enough not to harp on them.  But siblings will celebrate them and make fun of them with a familial affection.  They will not refrain from criticism, because they have nothing to lose.  In the first family unit, siblings are the ones who can best recognize the “you”ness of you. And exactly because they’re not married to it, they will pull no punches.  “Remember that time you asked when the Fourth of July was?” “Are you SURE you don’t want a map.  I just don’t want you to drive to California on accident.” But when they say it, you can smile.  Because it’s not criticism.  It’s affection.  You do that stuff because YOU do that stuff. Don’t ask my sister directions.  She may know the way, she may not.  But she’ll punk you into being sure she does, and when you got lost because you listened to her, she’ll deadpan “well, you didn’t have to listen to me.” It’s the her-ness of her.  And together, we spend a lot of time analyzing that dad-ness of dad, and the mom-ness of mom.  It’s something we can only do with each other.  It drives our husbands crazy.  But sorry guys-we’re simply turning over the rocks from our home planet and admiring them together.  Even if they’re sharp or slimy. They’re native rocks. And we’re ladies.  We want the companionship of analyzing.  Yes, that’s a real thing.

When we fall in love, we want the affirmation that comes from an alien landing on our planet and admiring it’s unique qualities. Woman in particular want to feel like someone “gets” our planet.  Admiring it is not enough.  You have to understand it.  And sometimes, we’re silly enough to think the alien does get it.  But how could he? Or she? They are not from the home planet.  The seasons make no sense to them.  After some time, the beautiful rocks seem t0o abrasive, the air that once felt cool and refreshing may over time feel cold and inhospitable.  And the flowers may become increasingly recognizable as weeds.  But siblings, they are from the planet.  They will always get it.  They may not always like it, but they are citizens too.  They can read the hieroglyphs.

I watched a really remarkable film late one night based on a true story about a woman who spends 16 years getting her degree to be a lawyer, just so she can represent her brother who is serving a life sentence for murder.  In the process, she loses her husband and both her sons elect to go live with their dad. Her husband doesn’t get her attachment to her brother.  He feels displaced.  She jumps through many, many hurdles to get her brother released.  She passes through many disappointments and injustices.  One day, her boys (now older) are play fighting in the car, and one says to the other “I wouldn’t waste my whole life to help you, like mom did for uncle Kenny.” And their mother, instead of being offended at their conclusion that she had “wasted” her life, says “really? You wouldn’t?” A little part of her dying, because she hopes for more.  If you read more about this woman, you will see that what is remarkable about her is how unremarkable she is.  She loved someone, and she didn’t give up on him.  It sounds so simple, but if you’ve ever tried to be faithful for a long time through adversity, you know it is not simple.

It is my personal philosophy that if you marry a dude, you should not expect him to act like a girlfriend.  That’s what sisters and friends are for. And if you marry a girlfriend, it should be no surprise when she doesn’t speak dude. That’s what bros are for. Sometimes, we try another person’s planet, and just can’t get the hang of it. And the first impulse is to go back to ours.  If you have created an intergalactic species between yourselves, you can create a whole lot of harm following your impulse for home.  You may just have to learn to be a stranger in a strange land, waving at your planet as it twinkles in the dark.  And taking some comfort, like the little Velveteen rabbit did, that you are real.  Because somewhere else, someone loved you enough to make it so. Perhaps the alien you live with will not know every nuance of your species, but that’s okay.  Somewhere out there, someone does:)  And if they don’t, there’s always time to adopt a sister.  Or love your alien until his antennae break and his silver skin grows dull.  Just be prepared to get your heart broken a little in the process, and to put in the time.  It’s what makes you real.

An Inconvenience Rightly Considered

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
― G.K. Chesterton

When we were much younger,  my sister had a teacher she adored, who generously shared her life with her students.  One salient feature of her life was her child, who happened to have Down Syndome.  I will never forget the gist of a parable that she shared with her students one day; a small story that made such an impression, it was worth repeating by her students.  You could ask my sister to confirm the details, but it goes something like this.  Having a child that is different than you expected is something like getting on a plane for Paris, and ending up in Holland.  The language is different, the customs are different, the topography is not what you expected.  You learned French, and prepared for Paris, but ended up in Holland.  Can you guess the moral here? Holland is different, and you are less prepared.  It is an inconvenience.  But Holland is also a beautiful, wonderful adventure.

I must admit that in the wee small hours of the morning, on nights when my daughter is sick or my husband is gone (or, as happened last night, both are true), I am frequently guilty of following a bunny trail of insignificant “news” (i.e. human drama) stories through yahoo and Huffington Post, if I’m not derailed by clicking episode after episode of Jimmy Fallon videos on youtube.  All that to say, I end up reading things about people I never heard of before, like, for example, Charlotte Dawson, who was found dead in her condo yesterday morning.  Because I have never heard of her, I started reading a bunny trail of articles about her life, to know what she did that her death merited notice.  I don’t really want to delve into defining her life, but there are two facts that made me pause while reading.  One is that she had a very short lived but long on impact marriage to Olympian Scott MIller.  The second is that they conceived an “inconvenient” child together.  What she said about it was this:

“I could sense some hesitation in Scott,” she says. “My due date would clash with the 2000 Olympic Games and this was very concerning.

“Everything Scott had done was leading up to this moment and nothing could stand in his way, so it was decided that we would terminate the child and try again later. Who needed a developing foetus when a gold medal was on offer, eh?”

On the day of the termination, Charlotte says she was in “total turmoil”. Her husband accompanied her to the clinic, but “couldn’t cope with the atmosphere” so left her alone.

After the procedure, Charlotte went home and tried to behave as though nothing had happened, but says something had changed forever.

“I felt a shift,” she says. “Maybe it was hormonal, but I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression.”

(excerpted from Australian Women’s Weekly)

If you look up Scott Miller today, you will find an interview where he seems so high he might fall asleep, and cannot give a coherent response to the interviewer.  The tone of Charlotte Dawson’s reasoning for an abortion is not one of agreement, or acceptance.  She never came to a place of saying “good thing we aborted that baby.  Everything turned out for the better.”  That baby was Holland, and her husband was dead set on France.  I remember reading a collection of essays in my twenties about couples.  Not sure why I picked it up, but I have ever after been haunted by the story of a woman whose husband was a doctor, and insisted that they abort their unexpected second pregnancy, as they had “successfully” raised their first child to adolescence, because he didn’t want to risk “messing up” with the second.

Where do we get our concepts of love and success? Love is not a business deal, where we cut our losses and report our quarterly gains.  If success is defined by “not messing up” we will only be measured once we’re dead, and have no further possibility of “messing up”, whatever that means.  I think it is fair to say that the very definition of love is risk and sacrifice.  God himself sent us a baby to save us all.  He gave us his son, to mistreat and murder.  Jesus could have come full grown out of the ocean, like Botticelli’s Venus, or spring from God’s forehead himself, replete with armour, like Athena.  If we are inventing dieties, that’s how we do it.  Actually, our God would probably look like Scott Miller, in his glory days, ironically.  But God knows better.  Heroes are not made from narcissists and easy lives.  I have noticed that my sister’s catch phrase these days is in regard to “following the path of least resistance.”  It is what 90-99 percent of the population do, myself included most days.  We do not do the moral thing, the brave thing, the unpopular thing.  We do not rightly consider inconvenience.  Abortion is always the path of least resistance.  Putting ourselves first is the path of least resistance.  Sacrifice is not.

In what I would call one of the best short stories ever written, O’ Henry wrote about a young destitute couple, wishing to give the other the best gift each can offer, after making the biggest sacrifice they’re capable of.  In Gift of the Magi, Della and Jim have little else but the love between them, apart from Jim’s watch, and Della’s long, beautiful hair. So what do they do? Jim sells his watch to buy Della a comb for her hair, and Della sells her hair, to buy a fob chain for Jim’s watch.  So here we compare the story of Charlotte and Scott.  Would a baby have robbed Scott of his Olympic Dream? Compare their story to Jim and Della.  I do not wish to draw a parallel between a human life and a watch.  But think of how beautiful Della felt, with her hair chopped off, to know Jim had given away his most precious possession for her pleasure? What if Scott Miller had done the same?  How would Charlotte Dawson’s life have looked?  How would his? Instead of being an Olympic has-been with nothing much to show but a history of drug use and a broken hearted ex-wife who loved him still, he might be a family man, with a child to love and an adoring wife. She made the sacrifice, hallowing herself out for his dream.  But what did he offer in return?

Even God would not take Isaac from Abraham.  What God wants our reciprocal love. If you have ever been angered by the story of Abraham and Isaac, perhaps you do not understand O’Henry’s story.  God does not wish for us to give him everything, so he can hoard it.  He is Jim.  He already gave the best he had, and we are Della.  He is waiting, to see which of us understand the intimate nature of the exchange he offers.  He wants to know the color of our hearts.  He is the king, dressed as a pauper, waiting to see who will love him truly.

If I told you a story about a woman who drowned her baby because her boyfriend didn’t want it around, you would call her wicked.  If I told you a story about a woman who “disposed” of her pre-born baby, because her husband didn’t find it convenient you would call her practical, and modern.  Or, you might see her for what she is, and call her very, very sad.  And if you have children yourself, you might point out that children are NEVER “convenient”.  From all accounts, Charlotte Dawson was a kind, lovely woman, and she probably would have been a wonderful mother.  I do not wish to cast stones; simply to point out the illogic of our moral and legal laws.  God knows better than we do the end result when we spurn his gifts.  When he offers us Holland and we insist on France.  We assume we can always go to Holland later, if we decide to.  But sometimes, the offer never comes around again.  Our folly is assuming it will, and insisting that regardless, France is better.

Consider this well known but little implemented wisdom, from Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In the same book, before the better known “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), we find another verse, that reads: 26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen…Image

On the subject of Holland: If you look up the percentage of woman who choose abortion once they are aware that their child is likely to have Downs Syndrome, almost every source shows that between eighty and ninety percent of the gestational carriers (hesitate to call them “mothers”) will abort.

This is, as one article suggests, a form of eugenics.  It is also, as Cassy Fiano writes so directly in a convicting article on the topic, a selfish convenience:

Recently, I wrote about an article in the New York Times, where the author lamented her friend’s missed opportunity to abort her child with Down syndrome 30 years ago. One commenter, perhaps inadvertently, showed why people really choose to have abortions due to Down syndrome: convenience.

We terminated after a positive DS diagnosis. I am so glad we did. Our quality of life would have been terrible. We actually have the chance to retire in 9 years at age 54. Had we birthed such a needy child, such dreams would have gone down the drain as would our summers in Spain, Mexico and Israel.

This couple allegedly had an abortion so that they could go on exotic vacations. Having a child with Down syndrome would have ruined all of that, so bam – sorry, baby, no life for you!

Would this be acceptable in any other situation? Grandma was too much of a drag when we wanted to travel the world, so we killed her. Little Susie got leukemia, which was just really inconvenient for our trip to Spain next year, so we smothered her with a pillow. Society would rightfully shun anyone who expressed such thoughts. Yet the logic is literally exactly the same, so why is one acceptable and the other is not?

When you think that 80-90 percent of woman would choose to abort their child, knowing he or she will have Down syndrome, it’s hard to think of a better example of a “despised” group of people.  When you think of the simple cognitive abilities of people with Down syndrome, its easy to categorize them as “foolish” or “weak.”  And so, I think it’s fair to say that these are the “despised God has chosen” to essentially teach us how weak we can be, how foolish we can be.    If you look at the statistics of families that have children or siblings with Down syndrome, you might be surprised at how HAPPY they are, both the individuals Down syndrome, and the parents and siblings who love them.  It is not sentimental to call these people gifts.  God made them, he loves them, and he gives them to us as gifts, just as any baby is a gift.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that I once, while working for the program Big Brothers Big Sisters, had the pleasure of matching a grown woman with Down syndrome to a little girl with Down syndrome.  Katie, the adult, was a productive, contributing, lovely individual.  She swam regularly, and was proud of her accomplishments swimming in Special Olympics.  She was a proud auntie, an excellent friend, and a role model to the little girl she mentored.  To my knowledge, she never did anything that brought sadness or harm to the people around her, (and I had interviewed them before matching her).  Could the same be said for Scott Miller?  Does he, an “able bodied, able minded” Olympian have more right to live than her? Did he cause his parents less grief, his wife less pain by being “normal”? He is simply a different trip.  And, as I hope for any individual, I hope his family loves him through his failings, and grows through the experience. As the Hokey Pokey says, that’s what it’s all about.  If they do, he will know that they really loved him.  Not for his Olympic medals, or his perfection, but for himself.

Probably my daughter’s favorite song these days is by J.J. Heller, called “What Love Really Means.” She sings it soulfully, and frequently, and I listen.  And I hope that she, and my husband, and my family and friends, and YOU will always know that you are loved for being yourself, imperfections and failures included.  I imagine that Charlotte Dawson had the lyric playing in her heart the day she died “who will love me for me?”  It is a tragedy that she didn’t know, or believe, the chorus.

He cries in the corner where nobody sees,
He’s the kid with the story no one would believe.
He prays every night, “Dear God won’t you please
Could you send someone here who will love me?”

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become.
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means.

Her office is shrinking a little each day;
She’s the woman whose husband has run away.
She’ll go to the gym after working today-
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed.
And she says:

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become.
Who will love me for me?
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means.

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone,
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done.
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul,
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…”

I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew.

May you be loved for you.  May you know, in the darkest, loneliest night, that you are always loved by the one who made you, and knew you in your mother’s womb-no matter what you’ve done. May you learn to love the people around you truly, deeply, sacrificially. May you know the love of Della and Jim.  May you accept the gift, and feel that peace that passes all understanding. May you go to Holland, if the ticket ever comes. Please send a postcard, if you do;)

Sticks and Stones May Break Bones, but Words…

“I’m garbage, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I’m a blockhead.  I’m bad luck; I’m a one-leaf clover. I’m only worth a penny.  I’m ugly.  I don’t make good decisions.  It’s so hard.  You deserve a perfect child.  I’m not perfect.  I’m garbage.”

My daughter has had a full meltdown tonight, and a terrifying jumble of dark, frightening words spilled out of her.  She is right.  She does not make good decisions because it is so hard for her.  She is wrong. About everything else. After I accused her of treating me unkindly, she agreed too readily after a day of crossed arms and haughtily practiced glares.  But her repentance is so broken and sincere, her sobs so wrenching, that I felt I had stumbled over a trip wire, leaving an explosion in my wake.  Her despair at feeling so broken, so imperfect, spill out of her in almost poetic self-hatred.

My daughter’s attitude, like many a pre-adolescent, is frequently less than lovely, but she herself is worryingly beautiful. Her words, repeated like a sick mantra, tell me something darker is amiss: “I’m ugly, I’m stupid, I’m dumb, I’m ugly, I’m stupid…” They scare me.  I grab her, pull her in and try rocking her ever expanding frame.

“Baby, you are NOT ugly, you are NOT stupid.  You are BEAUTIFUL, you are SMART, you passed tests in two languages!  You are fun and funny, friendly and good at so many things.  Who TOLD you such wicked lies?” Because I know they did not come from home.

And she spills the well-guarded beans.  The kids, at school.

“Which kid baby, which kid said such a terrible thing?

“Not the kid, the KIDS,” she corrects me, so clear on the topic.  “They told me, twice a week, twice a day.  That I’m ugly. That I’m stupid.”

But baby!  You don’t BELIEVE such terrible lies?

“I do, yes I do,” she saws with raw feeling.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me before?” I ask, feeling like a failure.

“Because I was embarrassed,” she admits.  I try to erase the ugly words that have accumulated in her ribcage, reaching her heart.  I want a psychic eraser.  I want to squeeze my hands slowly around a few puny necks, and set fire to the school breeding them.  My beautiful, brave child.  Who has been dragged through 3 countries, gone to 4 schools, and tried so bravely to get along in all of them, in spite of focus and impulse problems.

The wicked wickedness of cruel words.  They are scratched into her psyche.  They are splashed across the mirror, so that she cannot see her own beautiful face.  They are voices in her ear, so she cannot believe in her own intelligence.  It will take so, so many more kind words and hours of scrubbing to cover and clean the graffiti they have scrawled across her soul.  Who said words will never break me?  What foolishness.  What can cause more permanent damage than a few well-placed serpent words? Image

We spent the day today with a little boy who has apparently gotten a paper route to save money, so he cross continents and propose one day when H is 19.  He has been planning this for about 3 years, so the kid has staying power.  And even after a day spent with such an ardent admirer, she will not believe that she is a treasure.  I happened to make the comment to this little boy’s mother just today that H threw me off, because she was my only good luck in a long string of bad luck.  She is the fairy tale that came true. But a pack of dwarves offered her a poisonous apple, and she took a few bites.  I am so afraid for her.  I know what caused the symptoms, but I’m not very confident I can expel it from her system.  Sticks and stones may break bones, but words will break hearts.  So much harder to heal.  I am reminded of a poster I have that cautions “speak words of kindness.  Every word matters.” So do me a favor this week, and tell a kid you know that she’s beautiful, that she’s smart, that she’s marvelous for just being her.  That he’s kind, that he’s funny, that he’s marvelous for just being him.  Maybe even after a bad attitude.  Maybe it’s an S.O.S. for redeeming a scratched up soul. As a lyric I have had on repeat the last few days goes, “Who will love me for me? Not for what I’ll do or what I’ll become?” Paint a mural on someone’s heart that says “you, wonderful you, no matter what you do or become.” Let me be the first.

You, wonderful you!  Fearfully and wonderfully made.  Knit together in (someone’s!) womb.  God knows you full well. You are a marvelous, unreproducible original work of art. Your lifelines, your earlobes, your wonky pinky’s and funny toes. The shape of your lips and the way you walk, recognizable even in a dim light.  You fill a niche in your friend and family ecology that makes you valuable and beloved. You were born with an innate intelligence.  It may be for finding nests or describing sunsets, for laughter that breaks into a hundred pieces of happiness, rocking babies or planning parties. It may be for accosting strangers with your brand of warmth and kindness just when they needed it, or discovering a star.  And you are beautiful.  Not, of course, as beautiful as my daughter! But as beautiful as your sister’s sister, or you mother’s son, or your husband’s wife. You are most beautiful when you’re kind.

As Miss Piggy once sang for Kermit the Frog, insecure about being green:

“I like your eyes, I like your nose.  I like your mouth, your ears, your hands, your toes. I like your face, it’s really you. I like the things you say and do.  There’s not a single soul who sees the skies the way you see them through your eyes.  And aren’t you glad? I’m really glad there’s no one, no one, exactly like you.”

And really, what would the world be like without loveable Kermie?  We love him, not for what he did or became (he was once a tadpole;), but for being him. For being green.

And to my daughter, I quote our new favorite, the boat song, by J.J. Heller:

If you were a boat, my darling
A boat, my darling
I’d be the wind at your back
If you were afraid, my darling
Afraid, my darling
I’d be the courage you lack

If you were a bird, then I’d be a tree
And you would come home, my darling, to me
If you were asleep, then I’d be a dream
Wherever you are, that’s where my heart will be
Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

If you were the ocean, I’d be the sand
If you were a song, I’d be the band
If you were the stars, then I’d be the moon
A light in the dark, my darling, for you

Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?
Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?