Rearwards. Back to front. In reverse. Toward the rear. Inverted.
Guys. Life has never been stranger.
As I have put my finger on the pulse of emotions since the beginning of everything Covid, the rhythm, to my ears, sounds something like this: frenzied panic, fear, grief, grief, more grief, and now, finally, an exhalation and a quiet waiting.
By quiet waiting I mean the kind of waiting that comes before a hurricane touches down, the kind where you do everything you know to prepare, mentally and physically, but you have no clue when the storm will hit, for how long, or what sort of havoc will follow.
All this has gotten me thinking, a lot.
I bet you’ve been thinking too.
I’ve been pondering my thinking and its own inherent backwardness.
My Focus on Lack
Because nothing is ever good enough.
Nothing is ever enough enough.
And it never will be.
I have enough food, but I grieve the limited selection.
I have a wonderful family, but I grieve the loss of “hanging out with friends”.
I have a good marriage, yet I worry it will fall apart in the absence of dates.
You know what happens when I focus on lack?
I am blinded by it.
I am blinded to both beauty and to pain.
Because I am so lucky to have fun children and a best-friend husband.
And yet shame on me if I sit all comfortable-ish in my little house with my sweet family and do not have an awareness that for so many this is a dark time filled with abuse and fear.
Heaven forbid I sit here with plenty and do not have my eyes and hands open to the folks who are unsure where their next meal will come from or how they will pay their bills.
May I not be blinded by my own privilege.
Have you heard the explanations as to why Covid 19 is hitting communities of black people harder?
They come close, too close, to blaming the extra-hard sickness strike on genetics.
As blogger and podcaster Yolanda Williams points out in this excellent
article, “Systemic racism has biological impacts on the health of black people.”
Because, “Stress from hypervigilance, microaggresions, code-switching, navigating the never-ending cascade of white tears and playing white fragility bingo also contribute to the biological effects of racism.”
Williams goes on to cite a podcast episode in which she discusses the scientific basis of these claims with epidemiologist Dr. Theresa Chapple.
I must open my eyes and my heart.
I must see myself as part of the problem here.
Can I also be part of the solution?
And what are these terms Williams is referring to? What do they mean?
Microaggresion: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
I grew up overseas.
I remember being a young girl and running around in a dress, long hair streaming behind me. Yet the folks in the country I was living in called me a boy.
Because I did not have my ears pierced, a cultural tradition which was the only accepted signifier of female gender.
I grew tired of being mis-seen in this way, and begged my parents to pierce my ears so I could relax and quit having to explain who I really was all the time.
I also recall, when, living in Bolivia as an adult, a woman declared, “You Americans have it so easy; when you cook, all you have to do is open cans of food and eat them.”
Definitely a critique and a hard reminder of our privilege in America as well as, on the flip side, an insult.
Funny, not funny.
Microaggression, I think, is often unintentional and based on ignorance.
I am guilty of it, for sure.
It doesn’t hurt me, though, to think a little before I open my mouth, to remember that everyone has a right to autonomy and to speaking their own truth.
Code-switching: “any behavior of adapting to fit a new set of rules”...
People who are not born into the dominant white culture are often forced to code-switch in order to be seen, heard and respected.
Read this article for some excellent examples and explanations: https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/03/what-is-code-switching-12221478/.
When have I made someone else feel they must be just like me in order to “fit in”?
How can I change my attitudes and behaviors?
White fragility bingo: Reminding folks, “You’re not the only ones who have it bad, you know…” as a way of avoiding our own culpability. See this facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/allyhennypage/posts/presenting-white-fragility-bingosome-people-are-visual-learners-and-need-to-have/1293805774103063/
“‘White Tears’ is phrase to describe what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person's success at the expense of a White person.” Read more here: https://verysmartbrothas.theroot.com/white-tears-explained-for-white-people-who-dont-get-i-1822522689.
There is inequity in our world, in our societies. Some folks are on the front lines, doing dangerous work, while others hold jobs which enable them to stay at home safe and sound.
Check out this article.
By changing our mindset, shifting our focus, we can use this time of "in-between" to examine our hearts and minds, to change and be purified, to repent and apologize, and then to become humble learners and servants.
Because I have so much to learn from other folks who have completely different life experiences than I do.
Like the author of the blog Indigenous Motherhood who has some wake-up call words for those of us who feel our children hinder us, our "me time", or our careers:
“In our traditional kinship systems, children were the at the center of the family system.”
“And the idea of children being seen as a disruption to daily living was non-existent.
During this pandemic, the invitation that exists is be mindful of that, and to make these concepts a way of life.
Be mindful of any thoughts or feelings that may come up that are oriented around seeing children as a disruption, an annoyance, or an inconvenience, when they’re home with you.
Because this style of thinking derived from residential schools and the forcefully implemented colonial education systems.”
I challenge you, friends, read this article, let the thoughts soak in deep.
What can you learn from the author’s unique perspective?
Where have we gone wrong? How have our societal systems hurt others?
For further exploration, check out this article and explore the links at the end.
My Belief that Might Makes Right
It’s easy to read a Facebook post I disagree with and then explode, either all over myself or, more regrettably, into that little white rectangular box labeled “comment”.
Our tempers tell us that if we just scream and stomp vociferously enough, then everyone will listen.
Over the years I’ve learned the only result to these loud declarations of mine was antagonism.
Recently, I heard a story about Ghandi’s grandson.
Arun was having trouble with anger, justified anger, actually, against kids who had been bullying him, so he was sent to live with grandpa Ghandi for a while.
Ghandi had Arun make an “anger tree” with two branches, one for “active violence” and one for “passive violence”.
Every day, Arun was instructed to add to the tree, noting the manifestations and the corresponding results of each type of violence.
Ghandi explained that anger was a powerful force that, when released into the world, always found a home somewhere new, where it was recycled, weaponized and re-inflicted.
The only way to break the cycle was to channel anger’s energy into something good, like compassion.
“Use your anger for good. Anger to people is like gas to the automobile - it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.” (from The Gift of Anger by Arun Ghandi)
Might doesn’t make right in my interactions with the adults or the children in my life either.
When I explode, I immediately shut down any opportunity I might have had to work toward resolution.
Not just that, but forcing my children to comply with my demands does nothing to nurture a caring nature in them.
You know what does?
My own attitude and modeling…
If a child complains of being tired when asked to do something, I have always offered to do the task with him or her, to help.
This has resulted in my son clearing the table for my daughter because “she said she was tired, so I wanted to help,”
In one of my daughters hopping up to grab forks when we realized there were none available,
In the kids cooking and joyfully sharing what they have created with one another.
We are so not perfect as a family by any means.
But I have seen the greatest results when I have lain down “might” and embraced and even served my children with grace and kindness,
When I have invited my children to share in the power of household decision-making, asking them what they would like to do and what their goals are,
In seeing that the way to win my children’s participation in something I’m invested in is to first enter their worlds and care about their passions.
My Desire to Hold Onto Safety, Security, Money
“There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn't it?
You're not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”
-Mary Oliver (Felicity)
I read this poem, and now I can’t shake the memory of it.
“Or giving your money away, all of it.”...“Your heart is beating, isn’t it?”
Though my knee-jerk reaction in these hard times is to hoard, that is not what will fulfill me.
You see, you can wait and wait and save and save and then, have.
And you will find that once you have that one thing you were waiting and saving so long for, you will receive the gift of a great big unsatisfied feeling and then,
You will begin looking for some new way to be filled, fulfilled.
Which leads me to realize that all that hoarding and holding on is really just a search for satisfaction, and maybe hoarding is the wrong place in which to find it.
Backwards writing can be understood if you just loosen up a little.
And reflections may be upside down, but they highlight natural beauty in a mystical manner that can just take your breath away.
And so, I urge you friends, in this time of uncertainty, if you have time, use it to introspect, to repent of wrong thinking, to be purified, to see, really see, those around you.
If you are suffering and can’t come up for air, please reach out and ask for help.
Not only have many of us been right there where you are now, wondering where the money for bill-pay will come from or the food to fill the hungry stomachs, but also, I know I have been a part of the problem itself, and now I’d like to also be part of the solution.
If you have been my victim, I’d like to apologize.
Sometimes the hurt I’ve doled out has been unintentional.
Will you do me a favor, though? Tell me where I’ve gone wrong, and why?
And do the same for others.
Let them know how what they’ve said makes you feel.
Let’s all learn and grow and do better.
Because while we don’t know what’s coming, we do know we will sorely need one another.
How many times?, I wonder.
How many times?, or, When will I ever be healthy enough to handle this?
Because, guys, I don’t do social media well. I just don’t.
I can either be feeling really really great about my life, hop on, and see someone whose good makes my great look inconsequential, or, I can be feeling like a gigantic piece of shit, hop on, and see what appear to be the put-together-lives of no less than ten friends.
A few days ago, my husband and I were chatting about the dilemma facing adults-seeking-real-friendship, and I mentioned we should create a find-a-friend version of Tinder.
“That’s what Facebook is for!” he said.
“No way, honey. Facebook is a modeling platform; not a friend-finding one.”
Please forgive my negativity, or ignore me altogether if this isn’t you, but damn!
My life isn’t hunky-dory glorious-beautiful, and yours sometimes really looks like it is.
The problem isn’t that you’re trying to make your life look better than mine, either.
The issue is that the one picture you or I post sums up only one small moment.
No way can a picture capture a whole day.
And life happens in long, knock-me-out, drag-me-down kinds of days, folks.
Ideas are good.
I’ve always been an idea person myself. They are really helpful, they are.
Fun is good too.
But we are all stuck in our houses right now, some of us more happily than others, but shut-ins we are.
House-bound people, whether doing life alone or in small droves, poop in their toilets at various times throughout the day.
And poop stinks.
Sometimes, the stench fills the entire house. It muddies the toilet water; it clouds the good.
Then, while we are choking on our family's collective stink, we open our beloved social media, and we see a picture, one that looks decidedly un-stinky.
Do they even poop?, we wonder. Ever?
Because I’m straining to see, but it looks to me like no one in that pic is holding their noses…
All silliness and sarcasm aside... Guys.
Some of you are so good at doing the things I suck at.
Like getting out into nature with your kids.
I really want to get out into nature...
Currently, however, I have one child who is terrified of bugs. And, as luck would have it, every time this child gathers her courage, chances out the door, she has a bad experience with a creepy crawly.
Some of you are doing this whole quarantine thing so creatively, with absolutely no tech. I’m amazed by you.
Not me. As a mom with no babysitter, I’ve come to appreciate tech.
It has its place in our house.
Some of you give the best parenting advice and the most stellar homeschool advice. I’ve always known this about you. And I love your wisdom.
Does it always work perfectly for you over there in your house, with your kids, though?
I’m happy for you. Truly.
It’s just that I’ve found sometimes the bestest advice doesn’t work for me over here, in this house.
After a while, I get kinda down and depressed. I shrink to half my size and my voice takes on a childish quality.
And I hate this, because it keeps me from living and loving like I want to.
So lean forward, friends, if you're at all like me; I want to tell you some things that have set me free.
There is never ever enough time in one day to do all the things.
I mean, by the time you’ve successfully mixed the right amount of glue with the exact right amount of contact solution, you’ve also hurriedly and simultaneously wiped zillions of little glue trickles off the floor and harriedly de-glued someone’s suspiciously clumpy hair, and you are completely and totally WIPED out.
Time to go play in your room guys. Enough projects for the day. We’re done.
I'm admitting right now, in front of everyone, I can't do it all. I just don't have that level of energy.
Now, where’s the wine?
Are you honestly telling me your kids don’t fight?
No way could I ever claim this.
No fucking way.
If we're all getting along, compromising, enjoying the day, someone's abrupt burp is sure to get on someone else's nerves and spoil the mood instantly.
The one perk of my kids’ nattering fighting is that it gets ME out of the house and into nature. Just saying.
You can’t expect all your kids to like all the same things.
They are unique little critters.
They like. They hate.
They do. They don’t.
It’s okay to do those separate little things that each kid likes with each kid, separately.
There is this myth of the perfect family that always does everything together, and likes it.
That’s not our family.
We are miles above mythical.
And by the way, while you’re hanging out with one kid at a time, it’s okay to let the other kids tear up the house, or even play a few video games.
Technology is a thing just like anything else.
Overdo it, and yes, everyone may develop a case of grouchiness.
Or, they may not.
Not all kids react to tech the same way.
Some grow up to be professional gamers and YouTube reviewers who lead surprisingly balanced lives.
Some young uns, cough cough, will be inspired to cook or learn history because of their love of the game.
Treat tech like any other hobby. No need to feel guilty about it.
It’s okay to need space.
It’s okay to go on long luxurious walks all by yourself.
You can even tell your spouse you need time alone. And by alone, I mean, "I’m going to close the door and stay in this room for the next few hours," alone.
Just because advice is good doesn’t mean it is good for you.
Your fam is unique, one-of-a-kind.
So are you.
So is your significant other
Yes, we should all be spending time working, playing, socializing, resting, learning, and exercising.
But that can look however it needs to look for you cocooned there within your own four walls.
Maybe it will be a day or two of rest followed by two days of learning followed by a day of exercise.
Maybe socializing-from-quarantine, for you, looks more like Marco Polo than Zoom.
Perhaps you’re in survival mode and it all just looks like survival.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or the same for everyone.
Simply ask yourself...
Are my kids happy? Why and why not?
Am I happy? Why? Why not?
What are my values?
What are my kids’ values?
Do I agree or disagree with them?
Why or why not?
How then shall we live in this one imperfect house so as not to kill one another? Good. Then that is how we shall live.
If you find yourself getting upset when you take social media excursions, like I do, will do, and have done, now’s the time for some introspection.
Why am I upset by this post or that picture?
What unspoken rules am I trying to follow?
Do I agree with those rules? Why or why not?
Do I have a list of good resources to go to to find answers to the questions I have?
Am I judging someone else, either for being too put together or for being too strict or not strict enough?
What does that say about me?
What pain am I trying to heal with judgements’ ineffective balm?
You have permission to ignore all the ideas, mine or anyone else’s.
Go ahead and give yourself permission.
It’s okay to cry a little.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
In the voice of Elsa, “Let it go…”.
I value freedom, guys. Can you tell?
These are weird, hard times. And we gotta survive.
Some of us are extremely privileged middle class folk, though we’re not above job loss and pay cuts.
We really ought to stop trying to be so perfect (or at least I do) and start looking at the very real needs around us.
There are those among us facing job loss and financial ruin.
Some are struggling to find new ways to make ends meet.
This means that right now we will not be perfect parents, lovers or friends.
Because, food. #priorities
Some among us are facing a multitude of crises, piled atop each other like shitty scoops of ice cream: illness, death, tornadoes, etc.
I can’t even imagine.
These are the times to let go of all the rules and the learning opportunities and the projects and to-do’s and just live and love the best we can.
Let your kids eat ice cream for breakfast and veg in front of the tv all day if that’s what helps you get through this.
If that does not help you and yours, then stick to a routine.
You do you.
Do what you gotta do.
All right, now, rant over.
Now I need to take a dump.
Three years ago, if you would have told me my son would soon be diagnosed with a dangerous form of cancer, I would have…
Just to name a few...
But that cancer, it morphed and grew right here, in our own house, beneath our collective naive nostrils.
When the diagnosis came, it was the last thing we ever expected.
And honestly, there is nothing we could have done to prepare ourselves for it.
We simply had to walk through it.
I remember wishing it all away, wondering, hoping that maybe, maybe it was all just a nightmare.
Yet, we had to wake each day and face reality's glare.
And, we survived.
Have we been traumatized? Yes.
Do we now live in fear of the next bad thing that will happen? You bet.
I would never want anyone to trivialize, sugar-coat, or glaze over our experience: “but look at how you’ve grown,” or “at least xyz didn’t happen”.
That would suck; it would not help...
What I am amazed by, though, is that we DID walk through hell.
You see, shit happens.
You cannot stop it.
“You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it... "oh no!", you have to go through it!”
We all fear lots of things.
And I think, beneath it all, what we all really fear is death.
Some of us dread the finality of it.
Some imagine walking through the suffering and the grieving involved and do everything they can never to go there.
Most all of us fear the witnessing of death, from either the side or the front lines.
And now friends, we are facing an unexpected sickness that is spreading faster than wildfire.
We cannot predict who will become sick when, for how long, or how severely.
We are frantically clearing shelves in grocery stores, hoarding resources and fretting over the news.
And the news?
How sweetly it alerts us to every new death.
How thoughtfully it stirs up new fears within us, ones we had not yet imagined, like “Will the internet break, since everyone is now working from home?”
And guys? We are scared.
We are the generations nurtured on sci-fi and fantasy, the children who imagined zombie apocalypses and planets ruled by apes.
The empty grocery store shelves, those people wearing face masks garbed in hazmat suits standing precariously in empty subways? These images conjure fear, fear and more fear.
We are scared, yes.
But I want us to remember.
I want us to know.
We stand on the backs of our ancestors, ones who weathered plagues and wars, who survived holocausts and depressions.
Shit is happening again, just like it has so many times past.
We didn’t have time to prepare for it, and we don’t know how bad it will get.
But here’s the truth: we really can’t control shit. Not any of it.
We cannot control the invisible. Not at this time anyways.
And we, the collective world community, WILL PASS THROUGH. We will see the other side.
One day, our children’s children will read all about it in their history books.
“My grandma told me about that,” they will exclaim.
Now that we have settled that, what do we wish to be remembered for, when the proverbial storm has passed?
How we protected ourselves at all costs?
Anger and vitriol, the spreading of lies and rumors, frosting shit with shit?
Or, how about as... the people who pulled through, they who were resilient?
They who stolidly accepted life for what it was and dug deep for the courage to do the right thing, the loving thing?
Because there really is only one element in all of this we can control, and that is our own thoughts, words, attitudes and actions.
And when you stop, take that deep accepting breath, you will see the single mother struggling to feed her kids, suddenly without a job or school lunches, the horrendous endless suffering in Syria-what will those families do if they contract the virus?-, or, heaven forbid, the lonely death of an elderly man or woman.
We have a job to do still, friends, in this world God loves.
Let’s focus on controlling that-which-we-can-control, and leave the rest to rest.
Are you a yes person?
I certainly am.
On a healthy level, I’m an optimist, and my kiddos certainly don’t complain about my yes-ness.
On a not-so-healthy level, though, saying yes has become a way to keep the unhealthy people in my life happy. You see, I hate conflict; saying yes has felt like a solid way to avoid all that complicated shit.
Also, have you ever noticed, when faced with a decision, there are usually a myriad of choices? And when various choices are presented, my FOMO kicks in, big time.
In college, if there were two events scheduled at the same time, I didn’t say “no” to either; I merely left one event early and arrived at the next one late. Missing out was not optional.
Even as I write these words, I see how egocentric this yes-habit has been.
Looking back, I notice that saying “yes” was also an intrinsic element of my spiritual DNA.
Recently, I was visiting with a person who was raised Mormon. He mentioned that if someone held a gun to his head and said, “Choose, Christianity or Mormonism?”, he would pick Mormonism. His reason? Mormons are genuinely “nice” people, but Christians, in his experience, are two-faced.
Saying yes to everything made me flat as paper and, yes, it also made me two-faced.
Because deep down, I had likes and dislikes, and there were certainly people I ought to have said no to but didn’t (usually because I was trying to be kind and loving).
Eventually, I tightened the lid on my container of flatulent no’s and gassy tempers so much it would all quite suddenly, and nastily, erupt. This came as a surprise to everyone, myself included, because I was supposedly such a “nice person”.
Two-faced? You betcha.
In my current favorite self-help book, lovingly deemed the “fuck book”, Mark Manson says, “...we need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. If nothing is better or more desirable than anything else, then we are empty and our life is meaningless. We are without values and therefore live our life without any purpose.”
“We need to reject something.”
I recently said yes to lots of things that weren’t in line with my true passions. And some of those things have been “good”, bringing extra income into our household.
Yet, there’s something we don’t always realize about increasing our cash flow— living just to make money may cost us time, energy, relationships, and sometimes, even our dearest values.
I have been feeling as though a part of me had died, or at least was comatose, these past few months.
Now, I am looking through all the “yes’s” I made which led up to this point: Do they line up behind my core values? Do they lead me closer to being who I want to be?
I am sorting decisions, putting lots of crusty old “yes’s” in the “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-anymore” pile.
In my relationships, I am removing the sticky tape from my lips, voicing all my “no’s” and “I don’t want to’s”.
I am outlining myself in reddish-no’s: “...if we reject nothing…, we essentially have no identity at all.” (Mark Manson)
As I’ve been voicing my vehement no’s, I’ve been struck by how afraid I am of some sort of vitriolic anger or ugly retaliation from the people I am saying no to.
I’m not sure why this is. It just is.
Maybe it’s because of entitlement, I don’t know.
“The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement.” Why? “Entitled people...feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad.” (Manson)
Whatever the reason, I see now how my refusal to say no in the past has hurt both others and myself.
I am becoming a yes person to freedom, to healthy, spirited living.
And, yes, for me, that often means letting out some big ol’ lusty “No's!”.
I’m just gonna come out with it.
I struggle, you guys.
I’m not sure how to describe it, really.
It’s this thing where if I write something and it strikes a nerve with a few people, I go all weak in my mental knees.
I paralyze because, well, that one bit of writing that struck a nerve, what if, what if, I can never ever write another piece like it?
And then, what if, after penning endless irrelevancies that are both boring and meaningless, I am discovered to be,
Some sort of human fluke...
This admission of mine? It’s vulnerability’s territory, and I’m really not comfortable there- it’s all so soft and squishy. My brain keeps shrieking, “Run, damn it. You’re gonna get eaten alive!”
In telling the truth, though, I’m showing up to lick the proverbial waters, litmus testing whether or not truth-telling really enlivens old failing flailing limbs.
“It feels so great to finally dive into the water; maybe you splash around and flail for a while, but at least you’re in. Then you start doing whatever stroke you can remember how to do, and you get this scared feeling inside of you - of how hard it is and how far there is to go - but still you’re in and you’re afloat, and you’re moving.”
My little boy, he’s always had nightmares.
He used to wake in the night, crying out in fear.
Would someone jump in the window and grab him while he slept?
Was there a monstrous being in the closet?
As he grew older, his fears became more sophisticated, until, one day, he fretted, “What if I get cancer?”
My heart aches and I cringe upon each remembrance of my answer: “Kids rarely get cancer. That is not going to happen to you.”
I mean, really, what were the odds?
On fear-riddled nights, I would sit by my son’s bedside, encourage him to “bring his fears to God”.
And then came that dreaded day with the sudden limp and the agonizing hospital stay terminating in the horrifying diagnosis.
I was shocked and, frankly, pissed. The child who worried he would “get cancer”, who prayed he wouldn’t, got cancer.
You can bet my dialogues with my children surrounding fear and faith have changed drastically since then.
I had held to this strange notion that if a child petitioned God about something, God would answer in the affirmative, in order to build that child’s faith.
Oh, the lore and the mythology we humans concoct to comfort ourselves…
I realize now how screwed up my thinking was.
How many millions of children have cried out to God as their abusers tormented them, only to have their abusers go on abusing?
To assume God would keep my child from suffering while simultaneously ignoring other children the world ‘round made God out to be an exceedingly dysfunctional deity.
What did I think entitled me or my family or any of my children to receive some sort of extra special divine intervention?
To be fondled by pain is to be human.
God is not my family’s ticket out of suffering either.
The little boy Jesus, the young man Jesus, suffered. He grew tired and weary. Guaranteed, he stubbed his toe, lost his favorite toy.
As a parent I have seen the error in rushing to rescue my children from hardship.
My children are welcome to come to me, of course. But my constant intervention would keep them from tuning in to their own strength, ingenuity and wisdom.
We all have minds and wills, don’t we?
Like, when the weak among us are crying out at the hands of their tormentors, we sure as hell better be using our ingenuity, skills and gifts to ease their suffering, should we not?
Assuming God will hear these least ones and rush to their rescue with fire and brimstone or something, it lets us off the hook.
I mean, we don’t need to do anything if God is doing everything, right?
I asked Aydon recently what he thought of God during cancer and now, after cancer.
He said that on some days he thought God wasn’t real, and on others, he knew God was with him.
We then launched into a deep conversation about suffering and God, in which I apologized to him for the faulty ways I had informed his childhood faith.
I wondered aloud whether God perhaps isn’t about rescuing us out of hardship, because to endure hardship, after all, is to be human. And we are all only human.
I wondered whether that is why Jesus lived a life filled with pain. And perhaps that is why Paul talked about sharing in the hardships of Christ?
The wise man Buddha would say that while pain is universal, suffering occurs when we have trouble letting go of “illusion, false desire, superiority, and separateness” (Richard Rohr in The Universal Christ).
Maybe encountering the pain of cancer pissed me off because I assumed that the path to God and abundant life would be free of thorns, and I found myself angry, not because of the pain, but because I found I was indeed wrestling my illusions and false desires.
Both Christianity and Buddhism are saying that the pattern of transformation, the pattern that connects, the life that Reality offers us is not death avoided, but always death transformed. In other words, the trustworthy pattern of spiritual transformation is death and resurrection. Christians learn to submit to trials because Jesus told us that we must ‘carry the cross’ with him. Buddhists do it because the Buddha very directly said that ‘life is suffering,’ but the real goal is to choose skillful and necessary suffering over what is usually just resented and projected suffering. (Rohr, The Universal Christ)
This is a mystery I have only tentatively tasted, friends.
I wrestle daily, with God and life and pain and what it means. And I’m afraid I usually choose suffering over dying.
My answer to those childhood nightmares now? I’m sorry, child. I get it. And I love you.
That is all.
“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.” (Mark Manson)
Ouch, I penned into the margin of the above paragraph, truth-hammered.
Oddly, the “ouch” came with a sense of pressure-releasing-relief.
Truth sets free, after all....
I don’t know if it’s being close to 40 or what, but I’m tired of approaching every situation like it’s a battle to be fought-and-won.
I’m tired of pretending my life is better, somehow, than it really is.
I’m tired of fighting things I cannot change, about myself, about my family, or my husband.
I’m so fucking tired of trying to avoid suffering. Suffering, after all, has a mind and will of its own.
It will catch up to every single person eventually, if it hasn’t already.
You know what?
Trying to avoid suffering, to escape the negativity and avoid struggle, pretending and Instagramming your life perfect?
It’s weird, but in the end, it’ll isolate you.
Because no one, no one, has a perfect life.
And if that is true, if imperfection is universal, than it is something that connects us all, isn’t it?
“Suffering of some sort seems to be the only one thing strong enough to both destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion,” writes Richard Rohr.
When my son was being treated for cancer, I bumped into so many other ordinary moms and dads helplessly bed-sitting their horrifically suffering children.
I felt as though, before cancer, I’d been living in an artificial Matrix where everyone had healthy kids.
But the reality was, there were so many folks suffering, unnoticed by society at large, and I had suddenly been given the gift of sight, Seeing Them and also, simultaneously, Not Being Alone.
And so here it is:
My children love each other, but they sure can fight.
I love homeschooling, but sometimes I feel disillusioned and discouraged and wonder if I’m screwing everyone up.
I wonder, constantly, if I’m making the right choices in life.
I worry my independent, freedom-loving nature is keeping my children from finding friendships outside of our family; I can’t seem to stick with just one thing for long enough for them to find long-term friends.
When one of my little ones struggles with anything, I blame myself.
My own mind is always on, on, on, learning, absorbing, thinking, and it wears me out.
My husband and I love each other fiercely. But opposites attract, right? We fight. We argue. We disagree.
Questioning my faith has been equally freeing and isolating. I can’t “buy into” one side or another fully, and it all leaves me wondering where I fit.
I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and stay thin. One day, I lost my appetite and gained so much weight. I then spent years hating both myself and my new body.
I am friendly yet I struggle with vulnerability. I encompass the paradox of being everyone’s friend and no one’s.
Every “perfect” Instagram picture I’ve ever posted, I swear, came before either a major fight or a minor disaster.
I am horribly disorganized. Recently, I found a recipe for pineapple salsa in a file-folder labeled “Ryan- Career”.
And yet, I must have a tidy-looking house before company comes over.
I say yes to everything because I really think I can do everything and then when it becomes very apparent that I (and my family) cannot handle all the yes’s, I hibernate, sometimes for months.
No matter how many times they shatter, I continually find new rose-colored glasses and put them on.
There, my friends, is some I’m-tired-of-giving-a-fuck-about-perfection truth-telling.
I can’t wait to share more, but this is a start.
It’s been a while, I know, since I’ve written a post.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them being that my son had yet another surgery and the Christmas season is busy.
Another reason is that I still feel as though I am trying to really dig in and find my voice for this blog: Who am I, and what am I about? Who am I writing "stuff" for?
And, what’s the point of writing on a blog in 2019 when most everyone feels far too busy to be reading articles?
The voice-for-this-blog dilemma is a microcosm of my current life.
Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Am I living my best life?
These are questions I have been wrestling too, which have also stalled my writing.
I am one of those people who can envision myself in a variety of careers, wearing a variety of different hats.
In other words, I have a great imagination.
When I was a child, I had endless ideas.
I remember exploring a new career each day (usually one employing creativity), imagining myself becoming “great” in that area. Then, I would either become bored or disillusioned with my lack of natural talent, and move on to exploring a new idea for future-me.
I always dreamed of being great and making an impression on this world.
I also love children.
I love being a mother.
I have loved playing with my babies and watching them morph into tiny human beings.
Lately I feel as though I am straddling an imaginary line between the small beautiful world of my own little family and the great big world of possibility.
Children do not choose to come into this world. They are much smaller than us and ridiculously powerless. They grow and change every single day.
I am not sorry I have focused on my children for these years of their young childhoods. I believe I will never regret this choice.
Now that the little ones are getting bigger and more independent, I have this burning desire to figure out what I want to do with myself, though.
I want to inspire my children by working hard at something.
I want them to see that men and women can wear many different hats throughout their lifetimes.
I want them to see that choosing themselves and choosing their children are not mutually exclusive: different phases of life might require more of a focus on one or the other, but everyone in a family (as in life) is equally valuable.
I know I am rambling here…but can you empathize?
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. Returning to the classroom as a teacher is not something I want to do, though I loved my years of teaching.
After exploring my options, I have tentatively landed on a master’s degree in applied anthropology.
I have always been fascinated by culture, and I also have a heart to help the immigrant and the marginalized, which applied anthropology would give me excellent tools for.
While I am literally clawing at the starting gate, other pressing matters have reared their heads: I don’t want a bunch of debt when I’m finished getting a degree, my family could currently use some extra income, and I have to take the GRE, which I won’t finish on time for next fall.
Following that thread of reasoning has led me to the decision to build a business teaching online and writing curriculum for fellow homeschool parents.
Sometimes I get excited about all of these "things" I want to do.
My husband, thankfully, believes in our equal partnership and will be there for our kids as I become busier.
Other times, doubt makes an appearance, warning and condemning me to failure.
How will I find the time to do all this?
What if I spend lots of precious time trying to build a biz, and then it all falls apart?
What if going to school “takes me away” from my ever-evolving children too much?
What if our family can’t handle all the stress this will bring?
What if my son’s cancer returns or another one of us gets sick or something costly in our house falls apart?
But I know I have to proceed, one step at a time, making the most of every moment as I go along.
What is my point in writing this post?
First, to say to other friends who are looking at big changes in their lives, "I'm right there with you".
But also just to process where I’m at and why, and to say I will absolutely keep blogging...it may be sporadic, but even if no one’s reading, at least I’m getting in some great writing practice.
And eventually, I think I will begin to iron out what my voice in life and on this blog is, as well as my purpose.
To anyone out there reading these posts, thank you for hangin’ in there with me.
If you don’t mind adventure, incongruence and wild random thoughts on life that connect in strange or surprising ways, then definitely stick around, ha!
Finally, Merry Christmas to all.
If you are feeling more heartache than joy this week, I get it. Just know that you are not alone; reach out to others, let them carry hope's torch for now, know you are deeply deeply loved.
What does hope mean for the hopeless?
For me in my cozy Americana life, it's easy to feel like “hope” is attainable.
Yet if I'm honest, hope for me is more like anticipation.
I anticipate Christmas.
I anticipate road trips, meeting career goals and the next fun outing.
A few days ago, I tuned in to an NPR special on slavery and Ghana.
Did you know this year, 2019, marks exactly 400 years since the first boat of approximately 20 enslaved people from Africa was brought to American shores?
The NPR program focused on Ghana as a center of the slave trade.
It traced the history of the slave trade, pointing to the deep-rooted guilt many Ghanaians carry because of their ancestor’s part in helping to capture their fellow Africans to sell to greedy foreigners.
During the program, one woman, an archaeologist, mentioned that at her dig, an old castle used as a holding cell for slaves, people refuse to work at night because they can hear screams and cries for help.
At another point in the program, a woman shared what it means for African Americans from Ghana to return there and see both where their ancestors came from and the horror they went through.
She shared that many Ghanaians are holding ceremonies in which they apologize for their part in the slave trade.
In the process, these African Americans are finding peace with their heritage by tracing their roots and realizing their ancestors were people of enormous strength and courage.
When the archaeologist shared how her slave-castle dig was haunted with screaming pleas for help, I choked back tears, for momentarily I too heard the hollow anguished screams piercing the stench and the darkness, screams that would never ever be answered.
My heart ached for the women who were raped repeatedly and then, instead of rescue, healing and hope, gifted a lifetime of ravaging dehumanizing slavery.
I felt an inner tormented crazy-making helplessness at the mental image of children screaming for their mothers whilst being sold and shipped far far away, robbed of identity, heritage, home, safety, belonging.
I pictured the men, beaten and humiliated, translated as cattle, their very human dignity violated, lost.
How the hell did these people have anything even remotely like hope? Even a glimmer of freedom-light was assuredly snuffed out within a week or two of capture.
Yet, somehow, miraculously, as they heard tidbits of the word preached by their persecutors, they absorbed ideas like salvation, and rescue.
The stories of Daniel and of Moses were written for them, to them, weren't they? God was on their side.
God would rescue.
They wrote songs and they sang: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.
And their spiritual songs paradoxically displayed both torment and impossible HOPE.
Isn't that theme, after all, of salvation, of deliverance, all over the pages of the word?
Save me, rescue me, deliver me, we cry out...
And I am left spinning, dizzy, wondering if I've gotten hope all wrong.
I search for it and reach for it.
Sometimes, I try to manufacture it from the empty stores of my own cavernous interior.
And when I can’t find it or feel it, I do what I can to forget about it, the thought of its un-attainability impossible to hold.
What if we are living in the upside-down of Stranger Things, seeing hope all warped and wonky, ever-reaching, stretching, grasping, clawing?
What if the very nature of hope, though, is that it is always there, regardless of our striving?
What if hope isn’t something we attain or create?
What if it isn’t something we discover or buy?
What if, instead, hope is simply "The Thing That Is".
What if, like the slaves of old who wrote the spirituals and sang them jubilantly as they plodded through endless days full of torment, we simply acknowledged hope's existence as longing's perfect parallel?
What if hope has always been about the seeing rather than the grabbing, the holding, and the hoarding?
Light a candle, friends, right now, in the darkness, right there in the middle of the cancer diagnosis, the uncertainties, the insurmountable injustices.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
I remember as a young mom being flooded with fear when my oldest child yelled, “No, mommy!”, and ran.
I wasn’t going to spank or otherwise punish him, so what was I going to do? And was I making a mistake? Was my son turning into a rebellious child?
Fast forward ten years, and now I don’t flinch when I hear, “No, I won’t!” or “Why?!”.
To be honest, I rarely hear those words.
If I do hear them, though, I know it is time to dig deeper because there is something going on in my child’s life, some unspoken stress or frustration or unmet need.
You see, I have learned through experience that children want to please parents with whom they have a good relationship. Children want to feel at peace in their worlds; they do not want to cause chaos or distress.
I have learned through experience, and also through memory.
I remember being a child.
I remember my point of view.
I remember making wrong choices, and I remember why I made those choices, and it certainly wasn’t because I was evil to the core.
I was simply a child making precocious, not-always-wise decisions. After all, isn’t childhood about experimenting, failing, retrying and learning, over and over and over again?
Parenting author and speaker Barbara Coloroso gives the following guidelines in her excellent book Kids Are Worth It:
“The Golden Rule, as it is called, can serve us well when applied to our relations with our children. If we are not sure whether what we are doing with children is right, we need only put ourselves in their place and ask if we would want it done to us— not was it done to us, but would we want it done to us? If the answer is no, then we have to ask ourselves why we would ever want to do it to our children.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I would not want to be hit, punished or verbally shamed when I make mistakes. So why would I do these things to my children?
And yet, as young parents we are fed so many messages which fill us with fear.
Incidentally, fear isn’t a great baseline from which to parent.
I remember all the confusing, fear-inducing messages I once received.
One was, “always win your battles”.
The idea behind this way of thinking was that children come into this world armed and ready to go to war with their parents; it is therefore the parents’ job to show their children who is boss.
Another was, “teach your children to fear you, because fear is the beginning of wisdom, and fear will lead them to God”.
Again, at the root of this idea was the thought that children were born far from God and desirous of sinning, and it was a parent’s job to send them running toward God.
When I was a teenager, I overheard our next door neighbor brag about spanking his daughter.
He mentioned that even at six months of age, she was rebellious. And so he began to spank her. By the time she was a few years old, he claimed, he had bred an obedient daughter.
Later, when I was a teacher (and before I had kids), I would think to myself, “I’ll never allow my children to be as disrespectful as xyz students. No matter what it takes, I will train them to behave better than that.”
I was assuming that parenting was simple; it was all about control and forcing children to behave.
I once heard child-rearing compared to nurturing a weed-free garden. Children were fertile, producing verdant greenery, but their gardens also invited weeds.
It was therefore a parent’s job to pull weeds, prune plants and drive stakes to bind and straighten the unruly plants. I shudder at the implications of this analogy.
I also inherited a tangible fear of parents who didn’t punish their children.
The implication I received was that parents who didn’t punish really didn’t care about their children.
I often overheard people say they didn’t know how they would control their children if they didn’t spank or punish.
And yet, I could not, just could not, ignore that question: How would I want to be treated?
I could not ignore my heart’s answer either: I would want to be approached with wisdom, insight and opportunities for restoration and repair, not with some wielded implement designed to fill me with pain, shame and fear.
Discipline vs. Punishment
I’ve read many parenting experts who equate spanking with discipline. I heartily disagree.
The way I see it, you can either discipline your child or you can punish your child.
And what is punishment?
Punishment is basically a system of correcting misbehavior which involves making a child pay for their wrongdoing in some way. It may be by spanking or hitting the child, but it could also be shaming a child or portraying a strong disapproval of them until they have sufficiently made up for what they did.
I believe punishment is overall a culturally acceptable way to deal with children.
I have often seen people post on social media: “I was spanked, and it did me good”.
I have seen other people lauded as good parents for publicly shaming their “rebellious” teenagers.
There is another way to teach children, however. It is called discipline.
Discipline has the smaller word “disciple” in it and implies being proactive, relationship-oriented, and restorative rather than reactive and punishment-oriented.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard many folks blame behavior problems in schools on teachers no longer being able to wield the “rod”.
I have heard it said that if more parents were spanking their children, then children “today” would behave better.
This makes me sad.
I want to tell people that treating children with dignity and respect isn’t the source of “behavior problems”.
If children are ignored by their parents, then yes, they may struggle to know how to behave “appropriately” in this world.
If they are raised permissively, then yes, they may “rebel”. It is frustrating for children never to know what the boundaries are, just as it would be frustrating for adults if their GPS systems regularly led them in the wrong direction.
It is possible, though, to raise children without shaming, punishing or inflicting pain on them. Trust me, life will deal enough of this to them. We as parents ought to be the safe haven, the shore for their beaten-down ships.
If Punishment Isn’t The Only Way To Raise Children, Why Is It Preached As "The Best Method" In So Many Circles?
Let’s go back to those confusing messages I received as a young parent.
Woven through all of them were some common themes:
These ideas had to come from somewhere, right?
Philip Greven is a history professor at Rutgers University. He wrote an excellent book entitled Spare the Child in which he examines “The religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse.”
I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a parent wrestling with these issues.
In Spare the Child, Greven outlines both religious and secular rationales for punishment.
I was sickened by some of his words in regard to Christians, though I personally know them to be true, “For centuries, Protestant Christians have been among the most ardent advocates of corporal punishment.”
Why is this?
It makes me angry.
Christians, who claim to be all about love and forgiveness, have for so long advocated for violence against children (and so many others seen as "inferior") as “God’s way.” Many still do.
This is not to say that if you spank or punish your children, I am angry with you.
I have no right to judge you.
But I do ask that you take some time to ponder your own thinking on this matter.
I urge you to explore history and culture and ask yourself if this is the best way to raise a child.
And please do not tell me that spanking your child is any different than hitting your child.
How would you feel if someone bent you over a bed and used a belt, a rod, a stick or even a hand to inflict pain on you?
Since this is a blog about faith questions, I would like to examine the reasons Christians advocate spanking. I will be using many ideas from Greven’s book and some thoughts from my own experience.
Deep-Rooted Cultural and Religious Beliefs Affect Our Parenting Paradigms
Punishing children is nothing new. It has been the chosen method of child-rearing and guidance for centuries: http://www.localhistories.org/corporal.html, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/corporal_punishment.
Since ancient times, corporal punishment was the norm in most cultures; it was in fact considered an equitable method to correct children; it was also a chosen method of correction for criminals and slaves.
Are you as horrified as I am that children in their innocence and incomplete understanding of life would be treated in the same way as hardened criminals (and no, I’m not saying beating criminals is a good idea either)?
There are many reasons Christians site in defense of the corporal punishment of children. Here are a few:
Then there are those themes I mentioned earlier which were woven throughout the cultural parenting messages I received. I’d like to review those briefly:
I posit that this view of children and childhood, combined with the afore-mentioned “Christian” points of view, have led to the belief that not only is corporal punishment mandated by God but it is also the best way to teach children.
The way we think matters.
If we think children are at war with us and born filled with sin, if we are terrified children will “go to hell”, then we can see why parents might take desperate measures.
Not only does the way we think matter, but our way of thinking, or paradigm, comes from somewhere.
Once we trace the roots of our thinking, we can examine it.
We can ask ourselves if there are other ways to think about children.
Next week, I will delve into more of the roots of our cultural thinking about punishment, both Christian and non-Christian.
Meanwhile, I ask you to spend some time imagining your spouse or best friend approaching you with a corrective voice and then inflicting pain on you or publicly shaming you.
What if this favorite trusted person of yours were to proceed to tell you that what she was doing was mandated by God?
What if he told you that what he was doing was because he loves you?
Would it be difficult to look this person in the eye with the same level of trust and devotion you once had? Would you be unsure whether to fight, flee or hide? Which would you pick?
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I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.