Tag: Friendship


Trail Marker

Enough time has passed since I’ve written about religion to revisit it, right? I usually imagine blog readers running for the hills at the first whiff of a controversial subject… but controversy is not what I’m carrying around these days. Instead, I’m wandering through new spiritual territories with a backpack of honesty and little else, and you’re more than welcome to come along.

Church was one of the first topics I wrote about on this blog, and though we’ve changed continents and denominations in the meantime, little has changed. Our current church fits me like a glove… on my ear. A few of the points make actual contact with me—for instance, the friendly people and the bustling social functions—but the rest flops senselessly off the side of my head. Nothing about the services connects with me, not a single song or prayer or message. The only bit of liturgy I find meaningful is the entire congregation sharing a glass of wine and a loaf of bread. I love the unity it symbolizes (and relax, no one that I know has contracted a sanctified strain of mono as a result), though I think the original intent of the Lord’s Supper would translate better to sitting down to a meal together and reminiscing about Christ. (Side note: Dan and I once suggested doing that at our home in the States, which, heresy alert!!! Apparently, bread and Jesus are only compatible within church walls, officiated by an ordained minister. Our bad.)

The thing is, one can’t exactly be picky about churches in a country with extremely limited options. Unless we want to attend a Catholic church, which studies show would turn me into a prune within the month, we’re left with a missionary-run Baptist church (no offense to missionaries or Baptists, but ::shudder::) and ours—part of the Italian Brethren network. It is sincere and brim-full of warm-hearted people I’m thrilled to know… yet my Sunday mornings still trickle down the drain.

Here’s what I don’t need one drop more of: scare tactics, sin management, crucifixion details, calls to repentance, shadows of doubt, words found in the King James Bible, theoretical sermons, fire-and-brimstone, self degradation, righteous anger, controversy, squabbles over which side of the stage the piano is placed, “preacher voice,” hard-backed pews, clichéd sentiments (“God is in control,” anyone?), or legalism.

And here’s what I’m parched for: conversation, open minds, collaborative creativity, practical messages in a practical format, spontaneity, field work, fresh ideas, meaningful-now traditions, questions, answers (or at least journeys toward answers), committed honesty, acceptance without conditions, extravagant generosity, and a tribe of soulsiblings (as Rachelle would say).

Is sitting through three hours of Same Old Religion every week worth the friendships I gain as a result? I think yes, it is… but I sure wish I didn’t have to feign participation to be part of our church group. The role of charlatan doesn’t suit me. I think often about a friend of ours, a former pastor, who caught this strain of religious disconnect and couldn’t keep up the pretense. He publicly announced his doubts about God and left the church under a shower of criticism I can only imagine. I find his choice incredibly courageous, incredibly sad, and incredibly not for me; I’m not ready to cut loose from the church, no matter how it fails to inspire me. But what other options exist for those of us with hearts and minds split down the middle, wide open and raw in the fresh air, unsure where to go from there? If and when I ever figure it out, I’ll be sure to put up a trail marker.


Social Housefly

Summer has been a sore loser this year. Rather than make its curtain call and exit gracefully, it’s been brooding backstage, pulling down sullen clouds to mask any potential autumnal glory. I can handle rain and wind and sun, but I never can figure out what to do with sulk. Feel free to blame my recent blog neglect on this.

Of course, by the time I finished writing that last sentence, the sun had flexed its ironic muscle and blazed through every wisp of mopey gray. It’s hard to stay pessimistic when the world is so stubbornly beautiful. It’s just… The things I’ve always loved the most about fall are all social. School starting up with fresh lined paper and gooey nuggets of knowledge to share with my classmates. A Halloween costume party with pumpkins to carve (though one year, I had to resort to cantaloupe), hilarious group games, and cauldron cakes. Thanksgiving dinner for everyone we knew didn’t have a home-cooked meal at his or her disposal; Cajun turkey and angel biscuits and no less than three types of pie, our large dining room bursting at the seams. I grow a bit desperate for community when the sky glazes over.

Last year, I was too busy bringing forth offspring to wallow in loneliness, but this fall, I’m fighting my blessings tooth and nail. We have a lovely apartment in our dream country; I should be bowled over with gratefulness every time I walk in the door, but I can’t stop focusing on its size. Which is close to that of a matchbox. It snags at my sense of purpose not to be able to invite groups over, have overnight guests, or keep an open-door policy like we used to have for our friends. Tiny apartments, especially those inhabited by tiny children, are always, always, always a mess, and I’ve been keeping visitors at bay.

I should be glad I’m not in school too. I mean, I am glad to spend my days unshackled by assignments or deadlines. But oh, I miss the learning environment. I had some amazing classmates in college, and my brain goes into a panicky flutter when I consider never being in a circle of like-minded academics again. I’m aching to go buy pencils.

For the record, I have no reason to be lonely this autumn. We’ve made more friends here than we can manage at once, and all it will take is some effort on my part to coax out a fulfilling relationship or two. And other people have been quite willing to open their [larger] homes for our feasts so far. But the clouds are back, mountains of damp smoke piled just outside my window, and they whisper of a bleak social future.

How does a natural pessimist stop reading her fortune in the weather? And how does a shy conformist break out of her bubble to find community?



Not many people know that I left home at sixteen. It’s one of those facts I tend to keep stuffed in the back of my sock drawer unless it very specifically comes up, and that doesn’t happen often. I can’t help wanting to protect that girl who grew up without anyone to protect her.

That statement would probably confuse anyone who knew my family. We were protected from television, from popularity, from music, from current events, from trendiness, from junk food, from differing religious opinions, from school, from doctors, from other cultures, from puberty, from bad words, from the law. We lived in a double-plated steel bunker of protection. But my heart was left wide open—sometimes even pried apart—to deeper and vastly more sinister dangers than tank tops or measles shots.

I only had an inkling of my own identity, but that turned out to be enough. I snuck out of sermons and found ways to cope. I rose my own money each summer to escape to the Pacific Northwest, Central and South America, Africa. And less than a month after my sixteenth birthday, I left home. No one thought it was a good idea except for me, but I knew. I had to get away to give my heart a fighting chance.

In doing so, I made a surgical cut with iron resolve —no more church or high school friends or employers or family, no going back. And what I struggle with these days is what happened after I made the cut. My friends went on to attend college, marry, have babies, and attend afternoon barbecues together. I’ve contacted several of them lately, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, and they all wave awkwardly from the other side of the chasm wondering, Doesn’t she remember burning this bridge?

Relationships feel odder still with my family, which changed in enormous, unthinkably good ways after I left home. When I visit them—less than once a year since I’ve been married—I hardly recognize them. My siblings are happy and close-knit, every trace of their stress-related illnesses gone. After so many years of feeling guilty that I left them defenseless when I moved out, I am delighted to see them this way. But I am a stranger, by my own choice. They are with their family; I am with mine.

For the first time in my life, I feel pangs of homesickness for the people I walked away from. I chose a life of luggage tags and freedom instead of old friends and permanence, and this is absolutely what I needed. But as most choices in life go, this one has turned out equal parts bitter and sweet.


A Tablespoon of Time

Wednesday, August 13: Day 6 of Vacation (Day 3 here, Day 4 here, Day 5 to come… perhaps)

I had been looking forward to our lunch invitation today, old friends of my husband’s seeming at once new and homey to me. They have a little boy now who would be both a common denominator in those first shaky get-to-know-you conversations and an instant playmate, and the wife cooked up a beautiful Venetian meal. But the visit began to crumble two minutes in when the little boy bit Natalie, severely and without provocation. A minute later, he yanked out a fistful of her hair, and as we were busy comforting her, he wrenched Sophie’s nose. He hit them over the head with toys. He scratched their faces and stabbed them with drumsticks. I stopped him from biting my nine-month-old upwards of 30 times, but he did manage to pull her hair and yank her around on a regular basis. I have never dried so many little tears in one day.

The duality of my feelings hit me after lunch as I stood holding a crying baby in one arm and a glass of chilled prosecco with the other. As a mother, I was hurt. You cannot watch your own children sob without feeling their pain ten times over. I wanted justice, which is mostly unheard-of in Italian parenting; couldn’t they put him in time-out or take away his toys or send him to toddler juvie? But as a woman and, more importantly, a friend, I understood that two-year-old boys can no more moderate their own frustrations than their mamas can apologize away the guilt. I felt so sorry for our friends who find themselves trapped with “un mostro”—a monster, their own baby—and couldn’t bring themselves to believe me when I said it would get better.

I guess the thing to remember is time. Because with just a wee dash of it, the girls’ bruises will heal. With a bit more, maybe a tablespoon or so, our friends’ boy will learn less violent ways to express himself. And after a while, once the sprinkling of hours pile up into a new layer of life, our friends—and quite possibly we too—will find that we have the guts to be parents after all.


Construction Zone

I know people whose days are shaped like circles, bringing them smoothly back to their concentric beginnings each night. I know of others’ days like squares and rectangles and octagons, structured in short, linear periods. Some ambitious people live in shooting lines, and some spontaneous ones ride out dizzy rollercoasters. Little children play on their days like playground equipment; octogenarians sink into theirs like pillows. PMSing women survive days shaped like chocolate briar patches. And my days? They’re the erratic patterns of an echocardiogram.

That upward peak is my heart bursting into light when one of the girls giggles, and that downward surge is my pessimistic realization of how quickly their joy will be diluted by age. This low point is the laundry basket lid, floating on the sea of my never-ending responsibilities, and this hopeful spike is an uninterrupted hour to pretend I’m Zen. That sudden quickening is a mad dash of courage to leave the house, and this gentle slowing is a half-asleep bear snuggle with my family. The points fluctuate, beeping steadily, a constant gauge of my emotions.

I once overheard someone close to me indicate that “moody” women aren’t worth marrying. That thought has stuck perniciously with me. I think of it during both up and down moments and especially during those dark flat-lining days. I’ve spent numerous birthday wishes on stability. I’ve hammered at my brain, trying to reshape its landscape, trying to replicate those titanium-plated models I envy. After all, multi-colored emotions = moodiness = worthlessness.

But believe it or not, self-performed brain surgery doesn’t work. Not even when I’m desperate for a transplant and especially not when my fingers are skidding on the guilt of being “complicated.” I often feel defective, and, unfortunately, the frontal lobe doesn’t come with a return policy. (Damn frontal lobe.) I guess this is the main reason there are often gaps and caverns and craters of time between my blog entries–because I can’t think of anything un-moody to write about–because no one will want to marry me* if I can’t equalize my feelings.

However, there’s this funny thing about the blogosphere… It’s made up of people–real people, not just unattainably cool, authory ones–who “sit down at a typewriter and open a vein” as Red Smith said. And I’m learning, in large part due to some wonderful, open-hearted bloggers, that nearly every woman is an emotional storybook. I had no idea that so many women found themselves dog-paddling through sudden oceans in their minds. Loneliness. Confusion. Depression. Doubt. Frustration. Irrationality. Pessimism. I also hadn’t realized how many women buoy the world with their hearts. Creativity. Appreciation. Compassion. Hope. Wonder. Devotion. Beauty in a million shades.

I’m still thick in my quest to disown regret, and this might need to become a construction zone. Maybe we women were made this way on purpose, to touch a largely impersonal world with our varying forms of tenderness. Maybe our emotions provide both the balance and the upheaval necessary for life to plunge forward. Maybe vulnerability shouldn’t be shamed or hidden or stigmatized. Maybe I should stop grimacing at my honest reflection on the page. Maybe someone can remind me that the heart monitor’s peaks and valleys and persistent beeps signal above all that I’m alive.

*Except my glorious husband, who insists on liking me despite my chronic unmarriageableness. (::Love::)


Unstuck From the Molasses Swamp

I woke up this morning already wading two feet through the floor. Between yesterday’s toddler overdose, the callerless phone calls at 1 a.m., and the overnight transference of all my remaining brain cells to the baby, I started today with the mental acuteness of molasses. (IQ in 2002: 130. IQ this morning: Ooooze.) If I had been capable of conscious thought, it would have sounded something like this: The dishes are piled around the sink, the floors are sticky, the refrigerator is empty, my daughter is needy, my husband is gone, and if I get out of bed today, I will surely die.

Right on cue, the phone rang. I choked on the momentary bout of panic I experience every time I realize I will have to communicate solely in Italian but answered it anyway. And the cheery voice of Help replied.

Now, I am the kind of gal you often see lying semiconscious on the floor with a fractured hip, flames bursting out of the stove, and a tornado tearing off the roof in the next room who will not ask for help because she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Plus, she is sure she can fix it all herself, even though she is neither a surgeon, nor a fireman, nor Zeus. Nor, apparently, capable of dragging her 8-month-pregnant self through a day of banal household duties alone.

So I didn’t exactly call for help, but I allowed myself to be the damsel in distress that I unquestionably was today. Graziella flew in first, like Superman, rescuing me from the drafty ledge of grocery shopping and taking poor, cabin-feverish Natalie to the playground for an hour. Then Mari showed up for a chatty lunch so that my aura could shift from beached whale to “Sex in the City.” She and Graziella put their superpowers to work doing the dishes and sweeping the floor, while I lounged back wanting to cry from relief. Heike sent me a heartwarming package stuffed with enough chocolate to make me swoon and a soccer ball to be Natalie’s bosom companion for the next few hours. Vanet and Maria bounced by to mop the floors, clean the bathroom, and bestow on us a stuffed duck and a dazzling array of cookies. Then another Maria called to apologize for not coming by and promise an outing with Natalie tomorrow.

Though I’m still ending the day fatigued and straining to breathe through the crushing weight of my abdomen, I feel full rather than drained. I feel the familiar pang of guilt too, as if gratefulness were a vice, as if I’ve wrongfully indebted myself to others. But it’s not debt; it’s a gift. And as I watch Natalie play delightedly with her new soccer ball and duck, I realize it’s not so bad to be on the receiving end of people’s generous hearts.

I want to say something more eloquent and profound, to give proper homage to the beautiful souls who have lifted my day out of swampy futility, but I’m already typing like this,

Sleepy Bethany

and do keep in mind that my brain resembles this,


so I’ll do us all a favor and stop


Is There Life Outside of Blogging?

What I’ve been doing instead of blogging:

– Staggering around in a state of mild extreme shock at the fact that our earthly possessions actually made it across the ocean and to our door. Intact! In just one month! Our stuff! (Keep in mind that we haven’t had access to it since May. See, it’s not that bizarre for me to keep groping our lovely, soft mattress…)
– Unpacking, and unpacking, and then unpacking just a ton more.
– And cleaning, which you would think could have the decency to wait for a week or two while I tackle our sea of boxes. (You would be wrong.)
– Eating marvelous food at the homes of marvelous new friends, and keeping up with conversation more easily every time. Perhaps I will learn Italian after all, despite the fact that I have been
– Not studying my Italian books. Bad, Bethany, bad!
– Growing more bellyful and simultaneously less capable of things like movement and rational thought.
– Pining away for DSL, which I am estimating–based on current speed and helpfulness of phone company–will arrive in 2010.
– Forgetting how to write.

To those of you still reading, thank you. I’ll get back into my daily rhythm eventually. Or rather, since I haven’t had a daily rhythm since EVER, I’ll just try to carve out more quality time with my laptop in between unpacking the picture frames and forgetting where I put them. (Ah, the joys of placenta brain…)

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