Tag: Miracle

30Jul

Breaking the Rules

I’m sitting halfway out of an open window, bare feet double-dipped in sunlight, espresso and milk on the rocks in my favorite mug. It’s just what I needed after a week of sulking weather and self-doubt. It’s also the first time in awhile I’ve been able to sit and corral all the little thought-bytes sifting around my soul, and seeing the bigger picture of what I’ve been processing piecemeal lately is its own kind of sunlight therapy.

Here’s the thing—

If traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible are true, then I am a better parent than God is (even when I’m grumpy).
The “good news” is just one facet of the worst news imaginable.
Free will is a test designed to fail.
There is no such thing as unconditional love.
The end justifies pretty much any means.
Jesus was a terrible evangelist.
It really is all up to me.

I have done enough mucking around in my soul over the last decade to say this with absolute certainty: If traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible are true, then I want nothing to do with God.

Nothing.

My philosophy professor in college taught that we are only motivated by a desire for truth, and I want to argue with him as strongly now as I did at my desk nine years ago. The idea that a God whose master plan involves eternal torture for most of humankind might really be truth is the thought that sends my spirituality into hiding the most quickly. If it’s true, then I’m damned anyway because I cannot—and would not, even if I could—love the orchestrator of infinite cruelty.

The spin on all of this is that I have felt God. I’ve looked miracles full in the face. I know the thrill of a nudged heart, the mystery of peace replacing panic, and the deep-rooted sparkle of love breaking rules, and the rule it’s breaking down right now is that I have to choose between my own conscience and truth… or at least other people’s version of truth.

Here in the sunlight, this statement doesn’t seem to carry the weight of all its sleepless nights and shadowed days, but I’ll say it anyway: I believe in God. This belief isn’t a thing I can dismiss any more than I can will away cloudy Julys or untannable skin or a questioning mind, but I’ve come to recognize it requires sacrifice on my part. I have to give up the notion that any of the seven translations of Bibles on our bookshelf is a perfect, untouched directive straight from divine lips. I have to let go of the mental hierarchy we make of religious leaders/teachers/authors with us laypersons on the rung marked “Irrelevant.” I have to say goodbye to my reputation as a good Christian and welcome labels like “heretic,” “apostate,” and “disturber of the peace.”

In essence, I have to give up the three things much of Christianity is built on—Bible worship, traditional teachings, and the appearance of holiness. I would never have imagined sacrifice for the sake of my beliefs looking like this. (Avoiding miniskirts and cigarettes? Well duh. Martyrdom? Sure. But voluntarily free-falling off the edge of orthodoxy? Uh… no.) However, if my path lies somewhere outside of traditional, commonly-accepted Christian interpretations of the Bible,
and if Jesus was a glimpse of the true God,
and if the heart-nudges I’ve felt are merely previews,
and if unconditional love matters, wins, is
then I’m willing to give up everything I’ve ever stood for—and then some—to find out where this belief will take me.

If I’m not mistaken, this is what they call faith.

 

2Mar

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

I’ve written before about my sad history with the workplace. I have a deep aversion to authority figures—an unfortunate side-effect of being micromanaged from birth—and I have a habit of taking jobs that require far more of me than they give back. Case in [multiple] point[s]: I once spent days putting together a portfolio of carefully researched reports only to find out that the job for which I was applying was unpaid. I also spent a few years editing for a company that turned out to be a scam. My last teaching job in the States lost us money. It’s not the most impressive track record, and my experience-fueled sense of logic tells me I should avoid job offers like the Black Death.

In fact, my return to the working world this week started almost by accident. At some point last year, a friend with whom I had collaborated on an editing project (also unpaid; why do I do this to myself?) recommended I call up her former employer and ask if they needed any new English teachers or translators. However, considering that

  1. my friend hadn’t worked for the company since the ‘80s, and
  2. polite, people-pleasing American gals don’t just call up businesses hoping to be hired, and
  3. I wasn’t sure my immigration status would allow me to work,
  4. the details of which I didn’t feel like looking it up because
  5. I was hoping to write a novel with my oodles of spare time, and anyway,
  6. jobs and I don’t have the best history together, so
  7. I was very unlikely to get hired, and, even if they were to offer me a job,
  8. I didn’t particularly want one,

I chose not to call.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. A new company in town was looking for English teachers, and I started updating my CV just for kicks. As long as I was applying for a job, I figured I might as well try my friend’s suggestion too.  The new company wanted to hire me. My friend’s former employer did not. Yet my gut told me that something was off about the job offer I did receive. Maybe my instincts have grown hypersensitive over the years of poor career choices, or maybe anyone with a smidgen of common sense would know not to accept a position that came with stipulations for age and gender. (That, I believe, is a tactic generally known as illegal.) At any rate, I turned down the job. Aside from the residual people-pleaser guilt, it felt good.

What felt even better, though, was hearing again from my friend’s company—the one that hadn’t had any openings for me. Would I like to come in for an interview? Would I like to attend an informal office orientation? Would I like to meet the other employees? Would I like to start Monday? Surprisingly… yes!

The job seems perfect for this stage of my life. I am now a part-time English tutor with hours that will allow me to be home with the girls after school and even give a little TLC to that erstwhile novel. The staff is friendly, the office is five minutes from home, and I can wear jeans. (My soul rejoices in distressed denim.) After my past work experiences, I never would have thought I’d feel so honored to return to employeedom… but I guess the right job was just an accident waiting to happen.

4Feb

Highland Fling – Part 13 (and the last)

February has been a perfectly charming house guest so far. Blossoms are exploding on the mimosa trees, sunshine is beaming the chill into compliance, and our thoughts have turned to summer vacation. There is talk of Belgium, but I’m hoping the other possibility of Portugal wins out. I would love to camp our way through French countrysides and Spanish vineyards, maybe take a ferry to the Azores… or not. Now that I’m looking at the map, I see that the Azores are practically halfway across the Atlantic. It was a nice daydream though. At any rate, this line of thinking keeps snagging on something at the back of my brain… something about our epic camping habit… something I’ve forgotten to finish…

Oh. Oh dear. Seven whole months have passed since our trip to Scotland, and I have somehow neglected to post the last installment of my related letter to the girls. Seven months are an embarrassing amount of time to wrap up a vacation, no matter how many adventures it entailed, and I am appropriately sheepish. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me… and possibly even to keep reading. (Even though I’ve done my very best to ensure that none of you will remember what happened up to this point. Egad.)

~~~

(Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, & 12)

Early the next afternoon, we rolled into Munich and the waiting hospitality of our dear friends the G’s. Your dad, the car, and I exhaled a collective sigh of gratefulness that we didn’t need to unload the camping gear; for our last night of the trip, we could luxuriate in home-cooked meals and mattresses, not to mention wonderful company. Don’t be fooled though into thinking this meant we spent the afternoon sinking our toes in the carpet and marveling at our proximity to indoor plumbing. That’s just not our style. Instead, we outsmarted both the heat and Germany’s lack of beaches by spending the afternoon at a local creek sinking our toes in the sand and marveling at how far our water cannons could shoot. You, Sophie, weren’t as keen as the rest of us about the creek… and once I slipped into its knee-deep silt, I could certainly sympathize. (Shudder259103738992.) However, you happily used the hours to collaborate on sand soup recipes with your friend Noah, and I’d venture to guess we all got our fill of pure, slimy fun.

Natalie fires backThe inconvenient thing about shooting water straight up in the air is that it insists on coming straight back down. Of course, that might have been the whole point…

With an indefinable mix of reluctance and glee, we set out the next morning for the last leg of our trip home. To say the drive was noisy would be putting things mildly. You two put on spectacular performances of ‘80s hits (“I’m walking on sunshine, WHOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOAAAAAHHHHHH!”) using your German sausages as microphones and your vocal cords as battering rams. Your dad and I were three-quarters deaf by the time we made it through the Dolomites, but eardrums are overrated anyway… especially when it come to surviving a 51-hour road trip.

Opera singers in the back seat“…don’t it feel GOOOOD!!!!!!!!!”

And survive we most definitely did. I suspect it’s something of a miracle that we all still liked each other at the end of so much concentrated togetherness, but I guess that’s what fighting off hostile farm animals does to a family. (That and blueberry muffins.)  I can’t emphasize enough what rock stars you girls were about our whole crazy undertaking. It would be asking a lot from mature adults (which your parents are not) to expect them to speed-camp across Europe with a fraction of your cheerful adaptability.  You girls weren’t just tagalongs on the trip; you were participants, and you colored each new experience with a shade of delight uniquely your own. True, some of that delight seemed a little like being skinned alive with a pair of rusty nail clippers (*cough*climbingHolyroodHill*cough*), but I will forever be grateful that I got to share these adventures with you… theatrics and all.

Extracting giggles from a tired Sophie
Love,
Mom

~~~

~~~

Fin.

30Mar

Latent Swashbuckler

As my last post made abundantly clear, courage is not something I come by easily. I assume God kept this in mind when he nudged single me toward single Dan seven years ago and then hid conspicuously behind a potted plant singing “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It” just loud enough for us to hear. At least, I fervently hope so. A girl could use a bit of divine reassurance upon realizing her husband considers mountain biking, racing through airports, and eating fist-sized octopi to be marital bonding activities.

Dan’s sense of adventure and gift for tenacity (sounds better than stubbornness, right?) have formed the perfect antidote to my sense of being a delicate flower and my gift for hanging out safely indoors for weeks on end. He brings out the latent swashbuckler in me, and I recognize this as a good thing. Usually.

A little less so two Sundays ago. It was the first full day of our settimana bianca—a week in the mountains nearly as important to Italian culture as a week at the beach in August (and involving nearly as much sunbathing). Some dear friends were chaperoning the girls’ naps, so Dan and I grabbed our snowboards and headed up the lift… straight into a cloudbank. Notably, we had forgotten a map.

“No problem,” said my undaunted husband. “We’ll just had straight across until we find an obvious trail.”

“Straight across the mountain?” squeaked his rather daunted wife. “Without a map? Inside a cloud that fancies itself opaque?”

“Sure. Why not?”

Because I am a gutless invertebrate, I didn’t say.

Twenty minutes later found me clinging to the snowy mountainside with the tips of my boots while trying to keep a grip on my board. Above and below me were sheer nothingness—emphasis on the sheer. In fact, the only things I could see were the perpendicular slope directly beneath my feet and Dan’s vague outline ahead. The rest of my vision had been smothered in whiteout. I hadn’t heard anything for a quarter of an hour besides my own footsteps and that landlocked fish flopping around inside my chest, and panic was turning my tired muscles to jelly. Granted, the circumstances didn’t really warrant panic… but I was raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, and my imagination is nothing if not skilled.

We inched along the mountainside twenty minutes more, then another twenty minutes, then yet another twenty, and I really have no idea what I’m saying because time was swallowed up in fog along with the rest of the world. All I know is that each step was an exercise in panic-squashing bravery. And we took a lot of steps.

Want to see?

Danger Mountain

Why yes, we did cross the width of an entire mountain. In steep snow. Through blinding fog. Carrying our boards. Terrified of losing civilization forevermore and/or tumbling down a precipice onto razor-sharp rocks (this one might have been just me). With no idea that at pretty much any point, we could have snowboarded down easily.

Once we finally got a feel for our surroundings and made it to the bottom, my floppety heart decided it had racked up enough [imaginary] near-death experiences for the week. I was ready to race Dan to the cable car and spend the rest of our vacation communing with our hotel room. But then he got me laughing about our ridiculous mountain trek, and then he got me on my board again, and before I knew it, we were wrapping up a fantastic week on the slopes.

Our last morning, we found ourselves at the same starting point staring into yet another cloud.

“We have to get to the opposite side one way or another,” he said.

“Mmm.”

“And it would be so much easier to just snowboard across the top than to walk with our boards at the bottom.”

“Mmm.”

“And even if it is foggy, we at least know what we’re doing this time.”

“Sort of.”

“Just as long as we don’t lose momentum.”

“Or look down.” Or think about Little House on the Prairie. Or use my memory in any capacity whatsoever.

“So, you up for it?” asked that irrepressible husband of mine.

From behind a ski lift pole drifted an unmistakable “Na na na na na na na.”

Cable car parents

“Sure,” I answered. “Why not?”

26Feb

A Miracle in Third Gear

The thing about miracles is that they fade over time. The more I run my fingers over the fabric of a perfect memory, wondering at the embroidery, feeling the threadcount of joy, the less color it has to offer until it becomes just another beloved quilt in the bottom of a trunk… and I start to forget that miracles exist. Until a new one falls bright-side-up in my lap.

Yesterday’s miracle started three Octobers ago…

Dan, Natalie, myself, and my prodigious baby bump had recently moved to Italy (after a summer that gave itself calluses fixing us up with miracles). We had a little apartment near Dan’s workplace but no car, so on this particular evening, we had taken a bus to the grocery store. We loaded the bottom of Natalie’s stroller with packages of diapers, cartons of milk, and a whole crate of mineral water before slinging as many bags as possible over the handles. My superhero husband shouldered the rest, and Natalie chattered two-year-old pleasantries while we made our way out of the store and up the hill to the bus stop—an endeavor that made me wonder if babies could pop out of their mothers’ straining neck muscles. Getting the loaded stroller and all our purchases onto the bus turned out to be something of a spectator sport, but at last we got ourselves settled in. Hard part over. All we had to do was relax and enjoy the ride home, albeit with the eyes of the entire bus on us crazy Americans and our menagerie of bags.

Two blocks from our stop, the bus took a hard left turn. In one dreadful moment, Natalie’s heavy-laden stroller fell over and our grocery bags flew down the aisle. Everyone on the bus let out a collective gasp and watched with various degrees of shock as Dan and I scrambled to right the stroller and comfort our terrified toddler. While I tried to balance Natalie on my massively pregnant lap feeling like the worst mother in all of human history, Dan tracked down peaches and jars of tomato sauce from under people’s seats. Any hope of dignity had fled the scene.

After making it home, checking Natalie over for bumps, and laughing a little ruefully over the whole thing, we came to a decision: We needed a car. Neither our produce nor our self-esteem could handle another bus episode like that (as if our impending Sophie weren’t reason enough), so we forked over €1000 for a rather old, rather used station wagon.

The idea from the beginning was that we would drive the car until it died and then get a better one. The clutch was already going, so it wouldn’t be long, but we expected to have all our legal paperwork and an Italian bank account  within six months so we could get ourselves a proper family car. Only… the paperwork was delayed. And delayed. And then lost in a governmental black hole for two years. Meanwhile, our temporary car cheerfully zipped us around town. Okay, so one side-view mirror fell off (twice), and the other had to be held on with duct tape, and the gear shift knob tore off, and the trunk hydraulics broke, and the indoor lights didn’t turn on, and some days the hand brake wouldn’t work, and the battery had to be replaced after a harrowing experience in Rome with Rachelle, and we received dire warnings about the clutch going at a moment’s notice.

However, the car was unswervingly faithful to us and our lifestyle. It took us over ancient cobblestones, up the Dolomites, along the Amalfi Coast, through Austrian Alps, into Welsh fields. It accompanied us on countless day trips, on trains and ferries and country roads, and on our fantastically insane road trip to Ireland and back. We asked more of that car than we had any right to expect, but it always came through.

This brings us to last week when Dan finally received the document we’ve been waiting on this whole time and opened a local bank account. (Hooray! we say; also, How could that take 2½ years?!) The following afternoon, I was driving the girls home from the grocery store when the clutch started sticking, then growling and nipping and digging in its heels. It abruptly refused to go into gear anymore the moment I pulled up to our driveway. I shook for half an hour afterwards thinking of what could have happened had the car died a moment earlier and felt quite sure a divine power was looking out for us. But the miracle wasn’t quite finished yet.

We found our dream car over the weekend (at an incredible price, thanks to a dealership goof). The salesman agreed to take our old car as a trade-in, and we got the call yesterday that everything was ready for the switch. We arranged for the insurance to be changed over at 6:30; the problem was that Dan didn’t get home from his business meeting until 7. And that wasn’t the only problem. Possibly more concerning than the lack of insurance was the lack of gas in the car, and more concerning still was the stuck clutch. However, we had to get the thing to the dealership, so Dan managed to jam the car into third gear and set off into rush hour traffic. Without gas. Without insurance. Without being able to drive in anything but third and neutral.

And then the clutch bottomed out.

When Dan recounted the story to me later, I had a heart attack at this point. Rush hour traffic is brutal around here, and there are no road shoulders. Even with him talking in front of me, I was sure he had ended up in a mangled heap on some roundabout with the coverless gear shift sticking through an artery. I couldn’t look as he continued telling me how he could no longer take the car out of third or take his foot off the gas, and the engine was fighting for life in the bumper-to-bumper traffic… how he made it through the big roundabout but nearly stalled navigating the U-turn entrance to the dealership… and how the car shuddered to a final stop in the one open parking spot. A miracle.

We took our new adventuremobile out for a family joy ride later, but my thoughts were still with our old car. As I saw it, the timings of the past week could not have been coincidental, and I could feel the residual glow of the supernatural touching an otherwise mundane circumstance. It was a moment for feeling the thanks I couldn’t quite articulate. And with the texture of our experience still palpable and lush in my mind, I wished one thing above all else: that I could see the saleman’s face the moment he tries putting our old car into reverse.

Goodbye old car 2

Rest in peace, sweet car. You’ve earned it.

P.S. – Hello, sexy.

9Sep

Optimism at its Stabbiest

Sometime last week, I tripped into a pothole—a deceptively deep one, maybe a rabbit hole in disguise—and it’s still too murky to see which direction is out. I’ve spent nearly every afternoon opening a blank document on my computer, staring at it, closing it, opening it again, cranking up Muse on my headphones, and thinking stabby thoughts. I’m hoping this is a sign of impending genius rather than just a depressingly generic slump. The one positive aspect of my creative mojo being replaced by a violent slug is that I can finally recognize this as temporary.

There was a day earlier this year so mindwrenchingly awful that I still can’t bring myself to write about it. It was the culmination of a jagged-edged winter colored with a sense of abandoment so vivid I couldn’t see anything else, and I lost my capacity to understand temporary. That was the line across which dying seemed less painful than living. Once deep became bottomless… well, it was hard to see the point in treading anymore.

So right now, despite an afternoon [unsuccessfully] stalking my creative energy with a garlic press and thinking in ferocious guitar riffs, I know it’s only a phase. This is what we here in Brain of Bethany call an accomplishment a miracle.

15Jun

Ay to the Caramba

What was that? You want to hear the details of our overseas trip and/or are in the mood for horror? Well, if you insist.

I keep wondering if it all went wrong because we didn’t call a taxi. Saturday morning in Madrid was quiet, the whole city and the sun itself still groggy from their traditional late nights, and we decided to save money by taking public transportation to the airport. Technically, nothing went wrong (which is probably a miracle in itself). But by the time we had taken the bus, found the right Metro entrance, lugged the stroller up and down three sets of underground stairs, caught the two different trains for the airport, bought the ticket supplements to get into the airport, and walked for a week to the international terminal, we only had two hours left before our flight. And we couldn’t find the check-in counter.

Mangling the Spanish language beyond recognition, we asked an airport official for the American Airlines counter. He pointed us to the opposite end of the building, at which point we asked another official. He pointed us back the way we came. I thought bad words in Spanish. We finally found an information desk with—heaven!—someone who spoke English. “Oh no, no, no,” he clucked at us. “You can’t just ask anybody these things. You have to ask someone who knows. No, no, you are in the wrong terminal. You have to go outside and take the bus to Terminal 4. Here is the number for your check-in desk, and don’t worry; your flight has been delayed an hour!” We ducked away as he launched into a story about why some of the international airlines were not to be found in the international terminal, blessing the powers that be that we had an extra hour on our hands.

We took the bus. We found our counter. We waited in line until our turn… and found out it wasn’t the right counter. Not even the right airline. Oh, and our flight had not been delayed at all; it had been moved up. With only one hour left, we found the correct counter and waited a-tremble through the line. “Do not worry,” said the woman behind the check-in counter. “You have plenty of time. Except, there is a big problem.” She explained that their system did not show a ticket reserved for Sophie, and we were sent to wait in line at the ticketing office.

Natalie and I trotted off to buy some breakfast while Dan solved the situation, and when we came back, he was begging to talk with the ticket agent’s supervisor. Ten minutes later, he was still begging to talk with the supervisor. Twenty minutes later. Thirty minutes later. Finally, the ticket agent relented and called her supervisor, who shrieked on the phone, “Their flight leaves in twenty minutes?! Why are we still talking? Get them on the plane!”

Eight blue-clad employees sprang into action. They slapped tags on our luggage, shoved a temporary ticket into our hands, and told us to run. “We’ll figure this out by the time you get to your gate,” they assured. So we ran the fifty yards to security. We got through and ran to the shuttle. We got off at the right stop and ran to the passport check… and nearly plowed into the 400 people in line before us. No time for courtesy; we dodged our way to the front, explaining in-between breaths that our plane left in a few minutes. We made it through and ran like we’ve never run before to our gate, where flight attendants were calling “Bassett!” Natalie and I dashed onto the plane while Dan paid the finally-determined amount for Sophie’s ticket, and we settled into our seats with still-warm breakfast sandwiches as the overseas flight took off.

The situation was decidedly un-funny until we were up in the air, at which point a laugh and a few more bad words and then another laugh were in order. The flight was smooth, and the girls did great. Once we landed, all we had to do was catch a short connecting flight, and we’d be done. Well, pick up our luggage and then catch the connecting flight. Well actually, only pick up the particular luggage items that the airline hadn’t lost.

We waited while someone in a uniform looked below for our luggage, and by the time he assured us it wasn’t coming, the line for Customs was fanned around the carousels to the very back of the building. We looked up the time at the exact minute our connecting flight was scheduled to take off. I thought unscriptural things about our airline. After this point, the story just gets tedious and teeth-gnashing: more lines, still more lines, a screaming Sophie who got us promoted to the front of the line, no way to call the relatives who were supposed to pick us up, replacement tickets for a flight several hours later, a flight delay, a second flight delay, a third flight delay, a 20-minute flight through a lightening storm, and finally a safe arrival at an hour our bodies expected to be waking up from a long night of sleep.

I will need counseling and maybe a few exorcisms to get over the trip itself, but I can’t entirely begrudge the effort taken to get here… soaking up the Florida sun in the lazy river, eating chocolate frosting with forks, and cramming into the minivan to sing Beastie Boys at top volume (while Dan’s mom teaches Sophie DJ scratching motions). Oh, I love my family-in-law. Their superpower is talking—both the Italian mealtime variety and the midnight heart-to-heart kind—and they like each other. It’s exactly the kind of vacation my sponge-thirsty heart needs.

Especially after that trip. Ay to the caramba.

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