Tag: Grace

13Jun

Hiking Underwater on Fashion Week

On Monday morning, I was sipping cappuccino outside a café in downtown Milan when a woman of indeterminate age sat down at the table in front of me. I say indeterminate age because while her unsteady movements and long yellow-white hair hinted at an elderly woman, her fishnet stockings and stilettos put out a different vibe. Her face was no help either. It was a mask of surgical enhancements, a puffy and almost animatronic façade that shifted in little jerks as the woman berated the waitress. I could tell you about all the diva behavior I witnessed from one table over, but that isn’t the point. The point is that later in the day, I ran an image search for woman in Milan with too much plastic surgery and called Dan over triumphantly when I found a photo of my café companion:

Donatella[Image found here.]

I’m not sure if it’s a point in our favor or an inexcusable lapse in pop culture savvy that neither Dan nor I recognized the woman in the photo as Donatella Versace until we’d read the post. I just about choked when I saw her name. “You don’t think… Could it really have been…? I’m not 100% sure…” It hadn’t occurred to me to snap a photo of the woman at the café, so all I can tell you with certainty, dear readers, is that I may or may not have spent Monday morning watching Donatella Versace spill various beverages on our waitress and then snap at her for it.

This whole week in Milan has had a surreal quality for me. I had planned to go about life as normally as possible while we’re here, unapologetically retreating however many hours of the day necessary not to lose myself. Time hasn’t been the problem though. My physiology has. It’s as if my body has been keeping tabs on all missed hours of sleep from the past few months and decided to collect on them at once. I have slept so much this week that dignity prevents me from being more specific, yet my brain continues slumping over with fatigue. Trying to work my way back to myself right now is like hiking underwater while pulling a disobedient walrus on a leash. I feel psychedelic, and not in a groovy way.

All this rest has to be making a difference though, and I have every hope that soon I’ll be able to recover lost attributes like energy and consciousness. I’m letting myself accept this week as an unintended reboot. I’m not all the way to relishing it yet, but there is such a unique brand of relief in surrendering to a nap, in sprawling out under the ceiling fan and letting all my expectations for the next hour (or four) evaporate off my skin. I hardly ever slow down unless my body up and forces me to, so even though this week has felt surreal and disconnected and maddeningly slow, I can see how it too is a form of grace.

16May

Curse-Word Hymns

One of the best things about road-tripping with Dan is getting those long, uninterrupted miles of time to talk. Early in our relationship, I worried that we’d eventually run out of things to say to each other, and I suppose there’s some validity in that. After all, we live together and work together and can pretty much catch up on each other’s news over a three-minute espresso break. Our day-to-day interactions tend to cluster around the present though—how work projects are going, what to do about Parenting Challenge #5,000,008, which brand of toothpaste is on sale at the grocery store, who’s going to take one for the team and vacuum—and while these are all incredibly glamorous and sexy topics to be sure, they don’t exactly cover the scope of human communication.

In eleven years of marriage, we haven’t left many conversational stones unturned, but coming back to them is always a new experience. I’ve changed so much in the past decade. My views on any given subject are liable to be 180º degrees from what they were when we first talked through it, and part of me feels guilty over that, as if I got Dan to choose me based on false advertising. His love has proven to be expansive though, more than enough to cover all the different iterations of me. Through Dan’s unconditional fondness for me, I’ve been able to grasp the idea of a spacious God… and that’s where one of our road-trip conversations led us last weekend.

We were talking about how people commune with God, and I confessed that no matter how much I’ve tried over the last several years, I just cannot get my soul to click with religious music anymore. Christian bands, worship songs, pretty much any churchy phrases set to chords chafe at me like an outgrown hat. This makes me sad sometimes. I remember what it was like to agree with my heart and my vocal cords with the sentiments of an entire congregation, to float out of my body on the strains of communal devotion. I don’t have that anymore.

But talking with my husband about it helped me re-remember for the umpteenth time that I don’t have to fit in a mold to love and be loved by God. I don’t have to speak or think or vote like a stereotypical Christian (whatever that might be) in order to align my life with Jesus. I don’t have to accept traditional spiritual practices as the only way. And I don’t have to connect with “religious music” to have a religious musical experience. In the end, this thrills me far more than it saddens me. Finding God in unexpected places makes spirituality real to me in a way that predictable experiences never do, so if God is meeting me through rap rather than hymns, I can only take that as proof that my ever-changing self is still very much covered by love.

I haven’t done a Non-Churchy Songs for the Soul roundup in a while, but today feels just right for sharing eight more unconventional tracks that are pulling at my soul-strings these days:

1. Glósóli by Sigur Rós
I can’t watch this video without crying. I know that drum-beating rescuer with the kind eyes, don’t you see. This is the story of Jesus… and of the tremulous hope, the rag-tag trust, and the dizzying joy of freedom that have become my story too.

“And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are…”

2. Rambling Man by Laura Marling
All of Laura’s songs are poetry, but this one in particular folds me into a higher mindset. It’s introspection and self-evaluation and a determined authenticity, and the video above should give you a clue as to how I interpret the rambling life.

“It’s a cold and a pale affair,
And I’ll be damned if I’ll be found there.
Oh give me to a rambling man,
Let it always be known that I was who I am.”

3. Starting Over by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
I have proven myself incapable of doing anything but sitting up to listen when Macklemore’s on the stereo. This track is one of the best biographies of grace I’ve ever heard, and it always makes me grateful for the hard, beautiful work of being human together. (Just a heads up that this song involves decidedly non-churchy language.)

“We fall so hard,
Now we gotta get back what we lost.
I thought you’d gone,
But you were with me all along.”

4. I Want to be Well by Sufjan Stevens
I’ve posted this song before because it so fully expresses my gut feelings/thoughts/prayers when PTSD yanks my breath out from under me. (Note: The following does not involve polite language either.) What comes to mind when I listen to it is a question from the Bible that Jesus asked a lifelong invalid: “Do you want to get well?” How many times had that man wailed to God, “I’m not fucking around”? And to learn, after all those years, that neither was God…

 “I want to be well, I want to be well,
I want to be well, I want to be well.
I’m not fucking around, I’m not, I’m not,
I’m not fucking around.”

5. Me and God by The Avett Brothers
Now, you know I’ve got to love anyone who admits to using curse words when they pray. (See: previous two songs.) I can still remember what it was like to read in the Bible, of all places, that God just wanted our honest, simple selves—no church-sanctioned polish, no middle men on pedestals, just us. The relief of it still makes me grin wide.

 “Well I found God in a soft woman’s hair,
A long day’s work and a good sittin’ chair,
The ups and downs of the treble clef lines,
And five miles ago on an interstate sign.
My God, my God and I don’t need a middle man.”

6. When Death Dies by Gungor
I’m fudging my own rules to include this self-proclaimed Christian band on the list, but I’ve never heard a beat-boxing cellist at church, so I think you’ll forgive me. This song is everything I believe about heaven, everything I believe we get to dream of one day.

 “Where it comes, poor men feast.
Kings fall down to their knees.
When death dies, all things live,
All things live.”

7. Bible Belt by Dry the River
This is another one that speaks directly to my experience growing up under fundamentalism. It’s sad and beautiful and ultimately shining bright with the hope that comes of bravery and companionship. And if I said that Jesus was the one waiting for me on the 5:45 to whisk me away from the Bible Belt, would you believe me?

“Cause we’ve been through worse than this before we could talk.
The trick of it is, don’t be afraid anymore.”

8. Take Up Your Spade by Sarah Watkins
Sarah’s always had a way of making life sound uncomplicated and pure, and this little hymn to new days and new grace helps get me out of bed when the morning dawns heavy. Plus, that’s Fiona Apple singing with her. Perfection.

 “Shake off your shoes, leave yesterday behind you,
Shake off your shoes but forget not where you’ve been,
Shake off your shoes, forgive and be forgiven;
Take up your spade and break ground.”

What about you? Any songs been tugging at your soul-strings lately?

Previous roundups:

Sweaty Horns, Cracking Voices

Reggae and Redemption

Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

14May

Reentry

It might surprise you, given the nature of my blog, to hear that I’m not a natural at traveling. Don’t get me wrong; I love traveling and take every available opportunity to trot the globe. I’m just not particularly well suited to it.

Here’s what I mean: Planning itineraries sends my ISTJ brain into decision-making purgatory, though not planning them is worse. (“Let’s just wing it” is not nor ever shall be a valid sleeping arrangement.) Packing takes me about six times longer than it should, and I end up bringing the wrong kind of shoes regardless. If I don’t get stretches of alone time during a trip to process and recharge, I end up losing myself, though every minute I do take for myself take feels like a misappropriation of resources. I blend in almost nowhere on the planet, I sunburn at the [literal] drop of a hat, and public transportation gives me gray hair. Also? I’m hopelessly squeamish. Spiders in our tent, lobster eyestalks in my scampi, any animal, plant, or mud-related life form in a lake… They’re liable to make me faint on the spot. For real. Just ask Dan how well I handled the extreme anatomical accuracy of our seaside dinner Friday night.

Of all the different challenges that come with travel, however, reentry is by far the hardest for me. No matter how much I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and slipping back into my own routines, returning from a trip tends to go about as smoothly as the final third of every astronaut movie ever made. The atmosphere rubs me the wrong way. My mind begins to malfunction. Everything is shaking and dramatic and underscored by off-key violins, and it always takes a few days before I’m able to readjust to gravity. Or in this week’s case, to get my land legs back.

Bethany on the boat

Dan and I spent this last weekend on a boat (a brilliant Airbnb find on his part) to celebrate our upcoming 11th anniversary. We slept under the Mediterranean stars, picnicked just off the coast of Cinque Terre, and formed our own tour group of two to explore the coves and islands nearby. We were either on or in the water for two days straight, and the waves and I have been mutually reluctant to let the other go. I can still feel the floor sway ever so slightly when I close my eyes. The sun is still painting jewel tones on the bay. The breeze is still singing a cappella with the seabirds and the rigging of passing sailboats. I was never going to be ready to leave.

Lighthouse on Isola Palmaria

Captain Dan

Islands from above - 1

Bethany and Dan hiking

Chiesa di San Pietro - 1

Porto Venere

I’m getting my equilibrium back though, slowly but surely. Absurd amounts of sleep have helped, as have molasses cookies, fresh nail polish, and a spontaneous family outing to the park this afternoon. I think that often, in my love for chronicling our adventures, I skip over the frustrating or sad parts—the romantic dinners that fall flat or the tourist attractions that end up being closed or the homecomings that are less Norman Rockwell and more Deep Impact. As a result, I forget to add extra grace to future packing lists. Frustrations then magnify, and I berate myself for feeling anything less than relaxed when the trip is over. It’s as if I believe that nostalgia should work like a simultaneous interpreter, infusing experiences with a real-time sentimentality that leaves no room for disgruntlement.

Life is not a Hallmark movie though, and I should know well by now how multi-faceted and messy travel can be is. Sure, some days it’s sea and sky and colorful villages and cold wine on the beach… but some days it’s reentry and struggle and the real-life work of forging melancholy into nostalgia. I’m not particularly well suited to this part either. But if I can get over myself enough to keep camping with the spiders and ordering the scampi and saying yes to the vast unpredictability of going somewhere new, then I can summon grace enough to let this week’s crash landing be a part of the beautiful whole instead of its undoing.

Mediterranean in the distance

8Apr

Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

From the time I stumbled across D.L. Mayfield’s writing a couple of years ago, her perspective has intrigued and challenged me. Her blog was the first place I came across the term “downward mobility,” and her conviction that Jesus’s teachings and the American dream might be at odds has set off powerful ripples within my own thinking. Through her writing, she draws those on the margins of society into the middle of the picture, over and over until readers can’t help but start to see the world differently. In short, she’s a game-changer. I’m honored to be sharing her space today with a cross-cultural redemption story that has become my favorite earworm; join me there for the rest, would you?

~~~

When Marcus Mumford and his band of indie folk-farmers hit the scene back in 2010, I had never heard the term hipster. I didn’t know suspenders were the new rubric of cool; I just knew that their music spoke to me, that Mumford’s “newly impassioned soul” plucked the strings of my own longing for a full-volume life. I queued up Sigh No More and played it on repeat for the next six months. Chances are, you did too. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and was the third most downloaded album of 2011. Everyone, it seemed, was getting his or her British bluegrass on.

But this story isn’t about Mumford & Sons. It’s about an almost impossibly obscure group of musicians from rural India who recorded an untitled EP with them.


Dharohar ProjectImage from last.fm user rahsa

They went by Dharohar Project (pronounced “Dah-RHO-har”), and the only thing I knew about them was my own disappointment. I’d been hoping for a fresh dose of the barn-dance rock I’d been cycling through my stereo—not the wailing and twanging I associated with traditional Indian music. I gave the MP3 samples a once-over, but they only confirmed what I already knew: Jaw harp just wasn’t my jam.

{Continue reading over at D.L. Mayfield’s place}

25Feb

Cappuccino On The House

Now that we’re on the other side of the holidays and [nearly]never-ending head colds, we’re settling into a pretty great morning routine here at Casa de Bassett. Dan gets up first—how early, I can never bring myself to ask—and then brings me a cappuccino sometime in the 6:00 range. I spend the next hour and a half filling my soul up to the brim with reading, journaling, and music, just me in the pre-dawn lamplight. (A note: If I skip this part of my day, I feel disconnected from myself and God and basically just turn into Gozer the Gozerian until nightfall. As much as I might think I like sleeping in, nothing beats this early morning routine for making me feel human.) I then help the girls get ready for the day, and Dan walks them to school around 8:00 while I work out. After breakfast and various concessions to hygiene, we disappear into separate rooms, he to the office to run his business, me to my writing nook to tease words out of hiding, until school pickup and lunch with the girls.

My afternoons are usually spent wearing my other hats—mom, housekeeper, errand-runner, book-keeper, friend—and then Dan and I get the evenings just for us. The mornings are what I wanted to talk about though. More specifically, the 6 a.m. cappuccino part of the mornings.

Those coffees that Dan delivers, steaming hot with the perfect sprinkling of raw sugar, are what get me out of bed. No question. My sleep-drunk brain has the willpower to hold out against alarm clocks and knocking on the door, wakeful children and good intentions, principalities and powers and everything really except a delicious source of caffeine set within arm’s reach. After 10½ years of marriage, this is an established fact.

And yet… morning after morning, when my husband’s whisper and the scent of coffee tug me toward consciousness, my gratefulness is quickly superseded by guilt. The blunt truth is that I don’t feel I deserve his kindness. At 6 in the morning, I haven’t had a chance yet to make up for yesterday’s relational blunders, much less the weeks and years of marital TLC received on the house. The only strings attached to my husband’s sweet gesture are of my own invention, but I can invent some real humdingers when it comes to guilt and what-I-deserve.

In this kind of situation, the kind in which my brain translates love into liability, the Shoulds are especially eager to bolster my neurosis with their shackle-heavy logic. You should feel bad, they explain. You should be doing more to deserve a husband like yours. In fact, you should be the one bringing him coffee in bed instead of snoozing away expecting to be served. (Ever thought about trying that “helpmeet” label on for size?) You should require less sleep, less handholding, less of your husband’s valuable energy, and certainly less caffeine. No proper wife would rely on room service each morning. You should be ashamed of yourself.

And I do feel ashamed. I blush red-hot anytime my morning coffee comes up in conversation, sure that everyone is now wondering why Dan chose to marry such a lazy-ass diva slug. I indulge in a masochistic round of criticism every night when I purposefully don’t set my alarm. I’ve even tried talking Dan out of making me coffee ever again, but he’ll have none of my self-recrimination. “I do this because I love you,” he says. “End of story. Besides, do you have any idea how hard it is to make a cappuccino and bring it to the bedroom?”

“Something on par with Hercules slaying the Hydra and then rolling it Sisyphus-style up Mount Olympus while an eagle feeds on his liver?”

“Uh… no.”

Unfortunately, since Dan refuses to stop coaxing me awake every morning with a mug of dark-roasted excellence, my only option is to accept his loving gesture as such. This is hard, folks. I don’t know if it has more to do with my personality or with the tit-for-tat theology of my childhood, but I cannot easily wrap my brain around the idea of gift. Instead, I keep grasping at the concept of fair, an even slate in which nothing is owed and favors are performed in equal balance.

This is so not the way of love though, and I know it. When I’m able to pull my perspective back from the limits of my own small experience, I can see that this is how the world was always meant to operate—with selfless intention, with joy in the giving, with the extravagant grace that shows fairness to be a miser by comparison. In this world, the fact that I am loved is a songbird ready to soar on a breeze or a tune at any given moment. No strings attached.

Gift is a concept I’m working to comprehend, and I may not fully grasp it this side of heaven. For better or worse, I will always have this brain to contend with, and this brain can’t easily remove “deserve” from its vocabulary. I have ample opportunities to try though; my husband and his string-free 6:00 cappuccinos are seeing to that.

24Feb

Becoming My Name

Let me tell you about my friend Erika, the Life Artist. She applies soul to life the way Pollock applied paint to canvas, and the resulting swirls of color and energy keep me glued to my front-row seat. The way this lady loves her husband and her little punks and her city and her God is like nothing I’ve seen before. Her stories are a mix of the gritty and the gorgeous, and each one leaves me looking at life with new intention. (I don’t think you could look at a Jesus-following reality the same way after reading her tale of Plus One.) I am flat-out honored to be posting at her place today—a story of names and close encounters of the spiritual kind—and would love it if you followed me there to soak in a little life art for your Monday.

~~~

Out of all the insults leveled at me as a child, my name was the hardest to bear.

Bethany.

In its syllables, all the other taunts—“goody two-shoes,” “cover-up chicken,” “freak”—condensed into a three-pronged weapon that I sharpened with my own arsenal of self-loathing. I didn’t meet another Bethany until my teens, so for years, I imagined myself the sole embodiment of the name. I was told it meant “house of God.” I knew better though.

Bethany meant little girl, over-young, embarrassingly naïve. It meant one deserving of abuse. It meant unworthy, unlovable, the lowest common denominator in all of God’s harsh kingdom. It mocked me with an air of churchy pomp that was neither warranted nor wanted. When I heard my name spoken, no matter the context, I cringed. It felt like a prison sentence, this identity printed as bold bureaucratic fact on my birth certificate.

My middle name was even worse, a Christian buzzword that sounded oversized and ironic coming from my lips. I had been told what it meant too, and the theological implications spoke of a God who saw the worst in me, who obligated me to eternal servitude by deigning to save a wretch like me. I never said my middle name without flushing inmate-orange. I vowed never to tell it to anyone who didn’t absolutely have to know.

Our church nurtured a conviction that names are destined by God and hold powerful meaning, and I knew that going by a nickname would be counted unto me as sin. Nevertheless, as I entered my teens and began to carve a new facet of myself out of each new inch of freedom, I asked friends to call me “Beth” or “B” or “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” if they had to. Anything other than the name-nooses in which I had been choking. Anything to forget, however temporarily, the shame and condemnation that were my birthright.

{Continue reading over at Erika’s place}

19Feb

Anti-Survival Instincts

Yesterday, I poured myself into a writing project that drained every last bit of me out through my fingertips and left me as useful as an empty waterbed. I emerged from my computer around 5 p.m. to be on active mama duty, and let me tell you—the following three and a half hours until the girls were safely tucked into bed rivaled snowboard cross for difficulty. Every “Mo-om! out of their little mouths felt like someone ramming my board just before a jump. The fact that they expected to eat dinner sent me skidding. Our bedtime routine stretched from here to Russia. It. was. hard.

This is how things go when I’m tired; everything ramps up in intensity, and a wipeout is inevitable if I don’t let myself slow down. That’s the key, isn’t it? Slowing down? It sounds so simple here in the straight lines of a paragraph, but in the glorious mess of real life, slowing down runs exactly opposite to my instincts. Here’s what goes through my head when I feel fatigue start to drag at my reflexes: Oh no, I’m running on fumes. Better SPEED UP so I can get to the end sooner!

Yeah. Have I ever told you about my other anti-survival instincts? Like how my palms start to gush sweat if I even consider the human act of dangling from a precipice? Or how my fight-or-flight reflex could more accurately be called the curl-up-in-a-ball-and-forget-everything-but-the-lyrics-to-Bohemian-Rhapsody impulse? My instincts do me few favors when it comes to winning at life.

So yesterday evening, I sped up to reach the finish line faster, and it wasn’t pretty. Sure, I got the kitchen cleaned and the laundry put away and the allergy treatments administered and the children homeworked/fed/cleaned/pajamaed/storied, but I did it with a kind of urgent clumsiness that left the girls reeling and myself too tired even to sleep. (Irony at its most insomniac.) What I’m trying to say is that no one was particularly happy with the result.

Here at the starting gate of another exhausted day (see above re: ironic lack of sleep), I’m writing this down to cement some facts into my modus operandi:

  1. Daily life is not a competition… unless you’re on reality TV, which I am not nor ever shall be so help me God.
  2. Slow is good for the soul, especially when said soul is feeling drained.
  3. Putting down the frantic dishrag and curling up with my daughter is a two-way grace.
  4. I should probably consider hiring Bear Grylls to be my personal life coach, help balance out these unfortunate instincts a bit.

Wiping out in style
(Oh yeah, I could totally rock the snowboard cross.)

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