Tag: Friendship

13Mar

Religulove

When we enrolled Natalie in first grade last September, we opted out of religion class. Even though we share some fundamental beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, we weren’t comfortable with her learning doctrine as an academic subject. Frankly, I find it incredibly dangerous when any religion is painted in the same black and white lines as grammar or algebra—right versus wrong, subject to a grade—and I’d like to think that we would have opted out of the class even if it had taught our exact beliefs. (Sunday School is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it’s easier to discuss what the girls learn there without having to discredit the entire academic system.)

I was at peace with our decision until we picked Natalie up after her first Friday at school. She was as cheerful as ever, happily recounting how she had gotten to go out in the hallway during religion hour and watch the other teachers have their coffee. I was… less cheerful. Bit by bit, Dan and I uncovered that Natalie was the only child in the entire elementary school in the entire course of its history to opt out of religion class, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with her other than send her out of the room. My heart thudded straight down onto our granite tiles.

I know all too well what it is to be the odd child out… the only kid at the grocery mid-morning, the only girl in our homeschool group wearing a jumper, the only teen not pledging for True Love Waits. I remember the icy sense of exposure and the sharp loneliness, and I’ve never, ever, evereverever wanted to subject my daughters to them. However, that’s exactly what I found myself doing that Friday, wielding religious principles that banished my six-year-old to the hallway.

I hurt all over for her, but Natalie was clearly not bothered by skipping class, so Dan and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, we talked to the teachers and arranged for her to join the other first-grade class while hers was doing religion. Some of the other parents overheard us, and the next Friday, Natalie was joined by a little boy. For all the countercultural drama we were putting her through, at least she was no longer alone.

The subject of religion class hasn’t really come up in the months since, but this morning, the little boy’s mother caught up with me after school drop-off. “Guess what I found!” she chirped, taking my arm as if this were the seventy millionth instead of the very first time we’d talked. (I immediately wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself sooner. Or, you know, at all.) “Looking through my son’s workbook, I found a little note he had written during religion hour: ‘Dear Natalie, you are beautiful!’” We laughed together, and I felt a little like crying and a little like skipping all at once. She asked about our church (evangelical), and I asked about theirs (Muslim), and it didn’t matter a single bit that some members of both our religions dedicate energy to hating each other. Our faiths didn’t affect our ability to be friends.

And yes, I know I’m realizing things all the time on this blog that are probably common sense to most people and it’s got to be irritating by now, but I realized in those three minutes of conversation that this is the lesson we’re teaching Natalie with our lives here. She and her classmates might not attend the same church, but our families’ homes are open to each other. We share meals and swap recipes and give each other’s children rides, and if I hadn’t been bracing myself so hard against alienation, I might have noticed sooner that there was no need. Our differences don’t prevent us from loving each other well. Our separate journeys with God don’t make us enemies. That this is even possible makes my soul giddy with hope, and I find myself grateful in a way I couldn’t have imagined last September that my daughter gets a front-row seat.

6Mar

Loved Dizzy

New days don’t feel quite so new when I wake up muffled in allergies, my head packed with fiberglass wool. This blog entry probably couldn’t get any further from profound, but life right now involves gouging my eyes out on an hourly basis, and one of my aims for this year is to present myself as accurately as possible, so here you go:

Self-portrait with allergiesYou’re welcome.

In fact, I sounded like nothing so much as a hyperventilating goose last night on the phone with Rain, but that’s the thing about soul sisters—they don’t care if you sound (or look!) like a barnyard death scene or if your thoughts trip at the back of your throat and send your conversation skittering in a thousand directions. When you speak the same heart-language, conventional ones aren’t really all that essential… and this is how I see God the most clearly.

Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages theory which suggests that each person senses love primarily through one of five ways: affirming words, quality time, gifts, service, or touch? I can easily pinpoint the love-receptors of many of my friends and family, but my own falls outside the standard categories. I feel the most loved when I’m the most understood, when others can see my heart between the lines or untangle my intentions from their emotional trappings. I realize that this is a tall order for my dear ones, impossibly tall, because what I’m really asking for is intuition, and how can a kinship of heartbeats and brainwaves be engineered?

Yet impossibility has a way of coaxing miracles into the open, and the sweetest mystery of my life is that I do know love. I am heard and understood and loved dizzy by precious people all over the world, and it’s why I continue to write, to reach for the goodness that you all see in me. It’s also what stirs the embers of my relationship with the divine. I can’t attribute this meeting of souls to coincidence, and I can’t compartmentalize the life that flows between these other growing, glowing beings and myself. My heart has always recognized its kin.

So to each and every one of you who sees through the itching insulation, who hears through the honking, who understands through the far-strewn words, thank you. You are my own personal proof of light and Life, and it’s not just the spiky green pollen leaving me dizzy this morning; it’s realizing that you’ll read this and know exactly what I mean.

Soul sisters
 Selves-portrait by Rain, who always leaves me brimful

22Feb

With

As of yesterday, I still hadn’t picked a word for the year. As much as I wanted that to mean I was too cool and self-actualized to need one, the fact is that wordless and directionless are two sides of the same coin, and anyway, I’m only slightly cooler than a mealworm. Lately, I’ve been ungluing myself from bed at the last possible minute before getting the girls ready for school, and then hygiene and breakfast and allergy meds follow (not necessarily in that order), and by the time I sit down to take soul-inventory for the day, it’s already 9:00 without a single stray epiphany to show for it.

I know that life is a dynamic, untamable tempestress and that if I ever try claiming to have her figured out, I can expect a bitch slap upside the head.  But really. “Huh” does not count as a mantra.

Here is what I’m talking about:
The delightfully dreadlocked Mandy Steward chose “vulnerable” for the year.
Sarah Bessey, whose writing is fire and water all at once, went with “fearless.”
My precious warrioress Rain honed in on “unafraid.”
Erika Morrison, who is cooler than a whole stage of mealworms with their own backup dancers, picked “celebrate.”
Alise chose “do,” and Jeff chose “start,” and all around me, I see bravery, the determination to live life to its fullest. I see how starting the year with a focus puts each day into hopeful perspective, how it catapults daily routines into another stratosphere of worth.

To be honest, I feel like I’ve gypped myself by not staking the same kind of claim on 2012 from the beginning. However, my main goal when the calendar turned was riding out a dust storm that threatened to keep me an ocean away from my husband and girls. January was turmoil and surprise and blinding uncertainty, and the only thing I found myself whispering on repeat was “God with us, God with us.” The concept of Emmanuel, carried over from the Christmas crèche, carried me back home.

Since returning, I’ve taken the gift of joblessness as a wide-flung opportunity to be present for the people in my life—saying yes to invitations, penciling in long afternoons for relationships, participating in this online community, being with instead of just around. And I finally saw it this morning, the thread strung like a lifeline between January’s upheaval and February’s calendar blocks:

With

God with me, the warmth of divine-to-earth whispers in my ear even when religion leaves me cold.

I with you, here, fully engaged in connecting through my words, offering my authentic heart.

I with you, our conversations growing well worn and becoming ever more Real as I care them threadbare.

Partnering with the causes that rip compassion-wounds in my defenses.

Communicating with the people I’m inclined to write off.

Walking with my loved ones, old and new (even if this means [thinking really hard about] answering emails in a timely fashion…).

Making eye contact with my own life instead of ducking away to hide when it gets overwhelming.

Waking up with us—all of us, you and me and Emmanuel whispers—on my mind and my path for the day stretching double-wide.

I might be late to the party, but man, it’s good to be here.

17Feb

Shelled

One thing I have learned a lot about over the past year is that Italians do community they way they do pasta: effortlessly, enthusiastically, and often. It’s both one of the most daunting and one of the most delightful aspects of life here.

The above picture I snapped at yesterday’s neighborhood Carnevale parade isn’t likely to win any photography awards.  In fact, I don’t even recognize anyone in it (that may or may not have anything to do with the camera angle), but I love it regardless. The people in it made up a small portion of the neighbors who paraded the streets yesterday disturbing the peace with high-volume joy. Little girls skipped through snow slush in their princess dresses, and little boys dressed as pirates tried to make it more than two yards before staging another sword fight, and grandparents held hands, and we mamas chatted over the clatter of homemade maracas while keeping an eye out for each other’s offspring. We were superbly loud.

Do you see the police car at the front of the line? Several officers came out to block traffic for us, and it made my heart swell every time one of their firm faces cracked into a grin at all the exuberance. Even the car drivers, whose big important plans were having to wait for short legs, waved and cheered from the sidelines. And do you see the man across the street toward the left of the photo wearing a bright blue scarf? His name is Michele, which I now know because the crowd made up a cheer for him as we walked past. I mean, why not?

After looping the neighborhood, we all squeezed into the elementary school gym for an epic dance party complete with disco lights and paper ribbon explosions, and it struck me that what I was doing at that moment—boogying with my girls and admiring their friends’ costumes and making plans for a moms-only date night and laughing with my neighbors—was exactly what we’d hoped for in moving to Italy. Doing community. Sure, neighborhood-wide disco parties can daunt an introvert like me into hiding, but it turns out that the delight of inclusion, of intentional, joyful togetherness, is just the thing to sweep an introvert like me right out of her shell.

 Carnevale Sophie(Not an introvert.)

13Feb

Like a Child

Last September, Sarah Bessey shared an incredibly touching post about the prayer of a two-year-old girl when she didn’t know how to express hurt over her parents’ failing marriage. The little girl simply prayed through her tears, “Jesus. Mommy. Daddy.” and trusted that he would understand.

Perhaps that post touched such a deep chord with me because I don’t know how to put words to prayers either. In the religious culture of my childhood, prayer was a minefield requiring spiritually PC language and doctrinal gymnastics while we conjured up select interpretations of scripture like robed genies to our aid. Talking to God required as much ceremony and flattery as approaching a volatile dictator; it was more strategic groveling than anything, and it wounded me all the more for being labeled as love.

I knew the right words, but they came to represent a complicated and soul-mangling kind of subservience to me. Even now, if someone puts me on the spot to pray aloud, I can feel the old scripts grind into my heart with muddy boot heels. (Hopefully, no one notices me tripping flat over the initial “Dear God…”) For all my belief in a rule-breaking, boundlessly loving God and in miracle answers, I still can’t bring myself to frame requests with words. I won’t go back to groveling for scraps of divine favor.

So I feel prayer, and I soak it in through my headphones, and I breathe it on the open air, and I feel our connection the way I sense light through my eyelids. However, none of it quite replaces the intentionality of conversation… and so I turn to this.

Jesus. Dan.

Jesus. Natalie.

Jesus. Sophie.

Jesus. The friend being torn slowly apart by divorce proceedings.

Jesus. The friend heartbroken by infertility.

Jesus. The loved ones facing major life decisions.

Jesus. Our own major life decisions.

Jesus. Our finances.

Jesus. Our marriage.

Jesus. This complicated soul-life I wrestle and grow and wake with.

And I trust him to understand.

27Nov

Year of Plenty

I don’t know how to describe this year. I keep trying to find words and coming up just short of unintelligible emo lyrics croaked over a wailing guitar. I realize that after the upheaval of 2007, this is saying a lot, but we’re nearing the end of our most challenging year as a family to date. It seems that every week since July, there has been some new circumstance beyond our control, and we’re currently dealing with some things we never would have imagined having to face. It all compresses on our mindspace, pulls us thin.

And yet, despite huge losses, we haven’t gone without. Even in the midst of betrayal, injustice, and good old-fashioned misfortune, we have always had enough food and love to go around.  I keep trying to weave our circumstances into the cosmic net of suffering, but when I take a step back, all my raveling ends connect to the simplest reality: plenty. Every fall from security this year has landed us in unexpected provision, and somehow, impossibly, we have always had plenty of what we truly need.

That’s what we opened our house up to celebrate last weekend. A group of friends who have been like family to us, who continue to overfill us with companionship and kindness. A house large enough to host them, to invite the sprawl of Thanksgiving in to linger. An enormous turkey which had the whole supermarket talking and barely fit in our oven. Side dishes and laughter and everyone at the grown-up table and Cheers! in an overflowing circle. Plenty.

 Our eighth turkey together... awww

I’m especially thankful this year for impossible provision, for these chances to re-learn the whisper of miracle, for far-flung hopes, for the beautiful souls buoying us, and for hunky Italian poultry named Luigi (naturally). What are you celebrating this year?

10Aug

Despair and Contrast

I’ve been doing a bit of blog spring summer cleaning over the last few days—super-gluing links, spit-shining categories, that sort of thing—and I found myself reading back over the first two years’ worth of entries while gravity slowly condensed in the room. My God.

The summer we packed up our lives to move to Italy, my head was unstable territory. I had been juggling four part-time jobs which suited me not at all, my plans for graduate school had been shot down for the second time, and I had stopped writing… which meant I was no longer checked in to my own life. On top of this was the vast unknown of our future. I was in my second trimester of pregnancy with Sophie, and the delay in getting our Italian paperwork had left us literally homeless and living off the generosity of friends.

It was during one unsteady weekend curled up in the guest room of our friend’s house that I started this blog. I was desperate for the outlet, the perspective, the satisfaction, and the community, though I couldn’t have articulated those reasons at the time. Blogging still only registered as a hobby (I had no idea how much the blogosphere had changed since our first fling; Dooce was now a verb?!), but it got me writing and connecting with kindred spirits again, just in time for the greatest upheaval of my life.

We moved. I adjusted piecemeal to the new culture.  I pined for friends and set up house and gave birth, and somewhere in the rock ‘n’ reel of it all, depression yawned up underneath like a sudden sinkhole. I’ve had melancholic tendencies my whole life, but nothing could have prepared me for the following year and a half. I never admitted here on my blog just how bad my depression was, but the utter hopelessness in mind still left its imprint on posts about frustration, insufficiency, and unrelenting exhaustion. My personal journal entries delved into far darker territory, and reading over them now recalls the pain so intensely that my lungs flail against its memory.

Have you seen those “depression hurts” commercials with the sad-faced people blankly going about their daily routines? I only wish my experience had been so serene. For an eternal year and a half, my mind was trapped inside a darkness that I couldn’t measure, couldn’t make sense of, couldn’t get enough of a grasp on to fight. I couldn’t describe it without sounding crazy, so I tried to pass it off as allergies, nutritional deficiencies, standard new mom tiredness, even weather-related gloom. (In retrospect, maybe my doctor would have helped me more if I hadn’t done such a good job playing down the crazy.) I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t know what I needed except OUT, and I didn’t have the courage anyway to admit my problems to our new Italian friend-quaintances.

I knew the stigma of mental disorders as faux illnesses, socially unacceptable displays of weakness. I had judged people before for not being able to “get a grip” and even for seeking counseling. So I kept the darkness within the walls of our apartment and only wrote about it on the good days… days in which I could handle getting out of bed and putting on some makeup, maybe even taking the girls to the park for ten minutes. On the other days, the not so good ones, life pressed in from all sides with an impossible weight, and continuing to breathe was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t want to survive.

Yet I did. No matter how unbearable the panic of being, I couldn’t leave my daughters or husband bereft, and flickers of hope from here in the blogging community helped me keep that resolve on days when darkness started to win. Encouraging comments from kindred souls. Liz’s virtual hugs. Nino’s information on long-time postpartum depression (up until then, I had never heard of it lasting beyond six months). Jennifer’s honesty about her own time in the valley. Prayers from people who read between the lines and got what was going on. Together, they lit the way to my freedom.

And now, more than two years on the other side of endless night, I’d like to follow Jennifer’s lead and show you a photograph from the very worst stretch:

Tackling sick Mommy

It was taken mere days before I started to get better, and it kills me knowing that the me in the photograph had no idea. I wish I could slip back through a shortcut in time and promise her that spring is already there, even if she can’t feel it yet. I want to tell her that in a few short weeks, she’ll be tossing sun-drenched hair out of her eyes and chasing those sweet little girls through streets full of stories. I want to assure her that she’ll laugh again and that her daughters will forget the tears. I want to show her the beauty masquerading as a demolition project, the grace dissolving her terror of motherhood, and the art whispering promises, and I want her to see this next photograph of an August afternoon two years later on that same red sofa:

We like each other

There is hope.

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