#NeverTrump

I keep expecting someone to step out from behind a potted plant and say, “Smile! You’re on candid camera!” and then all of America will laugh and breathe a sigh of relief. After the nervous giggles pass and we finish pretending we knew it all along, we will go home and think long and hard about what would have happened had the whole thing been true.

And by “the whole thing,” I mean Donald Trump.

About an hour ago I learned that Ben Carson endorsed Trump. I was never a Carson fan, but from what I understand he isn’t a bad guy or anything. And clearly he’s brilliant, right? He’s a brain surgeon for crying out loud. He’s apparently also popular among “evangelicals,” which may just be the most over- and improperly used word in American media today.

Right now I’m watching a clip of a young black man being sucker punched in the face at a Trump rally by a long-haired man in a cowboy hat. This just a week or so after the Guy in the Red Hat went verbally psycho on Black Lives Matter protestors, and a couple of weeks after Chris Christie’s takeover by Trump-loving aliens.

Have I mentioned the KKK or “small hands” yet? No? Well there are those things, too.

Where’s a potted plant when you need one?

I’m about 99% sure that in 20 years we’re going to find out (assuming there’s no hidden camera, anyway) that this was all a conspiracy. I don’t know if Democrats paid Trump to run to ensure a Democrat would win, or if Trump is paying people to vote for and/or endorse him, or threatening their families, but something fishy must be going on here. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

Because that alternative is that there are a whole lot of people in America willing to vote for someone who, whether he himself is or isn’t, doesn’t mind giving off the air of a misogynistic, jingoistic, racist megalomaniac.

The hateful and insulting comments, the atrocious proposed policies, the lack of knowledge and experience to hold the most powerful office in the world, and all those other, more obvious scary Trump traits are one thing. The hate and violence and anger at his rallies and among his supporters are another. The “get ‘em out of heres,” and the “I want to punch him in the face,” and the screaming, punching, “go home” sign-wielding Americans frighten me, sadden me, overwhelm me, embarrass me, and sicken me. They drive me to an eschatological place I don’t want to be.

I get it to a certain point. He’s an outsider. He speaks him mind. His aura is one of success and confidence. He’s sort of like the bad boy/girl you might date in high school. You know what almost universally holds true about those relationships? They end. You don’t marry the bad guy/girl, or if you do, you regret it/get divorced/change the person/change yourself. Four to eight years of damaging, dangerous, and damning governance is a lot of regret. It’s also a long time to stay married to someone you can’t stand. That leaves two options: change him or change yourself.

I won’t say Trump won’t or can’t change. His efforts at self-moderation these last few days have been apparent. Clearly he gets that he needs to be “more presidential,” but in the end, he ends up right where he started: acting as the lowest common denominator. I won’t pretend to know Trump’s internal affairs, but if I had to guess, I’d say the odds of him changing are pretty darn low. So then, will he change me? Will he change us? Change America? I’d like to think he can’t. That even if elected that we’d somehow stand strong against him, singing Kumbaya in front of the White House while patchouli wafts through the air and babies coo from their mama’s and daddy’s slings and front packs and toddlers munch on homemade gluten-free granola.

But I never have liked the smell of patchouli and my kids are far too big for slings and front packs. I can also hear the bullhorn now: “Get ‘em out of here!”

It’s scary folks, really scary. This isn’t about electing a politician with whom we disagree, even on very, very important things such as cluster bombs. Perhaps it sounds extreme, but I would go so far as to say that this is about good vs. evil. Not that Trump is evil, or that Trump supporters are evil. No, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is, have you ever read Lord of the Flies? Remember Piggy? When you put a lot of non-evil people who have some not-too-kind ideas together in a big melting pot and stir them together—viola!—you get something pretty darn ugly.

Since I still don’t see a potted plant anywhere around, and since I may not ever know if there’s a conspiracy or not, I’m going to have to assume that this is real. Trump himself may be fake—I suspect that in many ways he is—but the voters… the voters are real. If they are both real and numerous enough to put Trump in the White House, I will be so scared, so sad, and so morally wounded that I may have to learn to bake my own granola and enjoy the smell of patchouli. But I’m still not putting my kids in a front pack.

 

Our New Life With Lupus

This is not a lupus* blog, and it will not become one. It is a blog, however, about my faith and my family (among other things). As such, it only makes sense that I might, on occasion, write about our new Life With Lupus (LWL).

I don’t know a lot yet about LWL. My dad had it, and passed away from it, so I guess I knew a little going into this. Don’t worry! I don’t imagine my fate will be the same, and I don’t want to pretend oh-so-dramatically that I think that. In the last ten years lupus treatment has grown by leaps and bounds, and 80-90% of those with lupus have a normal life expectancy.

Does that mean Lupus doesn’t suck? Um, no.

Because it does. It sucks a lot. Not every day, but many days. And even when it doesn’t suck, per se, it does impact each day in some way, whether big or small.

There are a lot of things that come along with a diagnosis (finally! A diagnosis!): relief, mourning, anger, denial, frustration, disbelief, etc. It’s really the seven stages of grief. I think I’m in the acceptance stage now because I’ve decided that I can be open about it, and even write about it here.

Honestly, there’s some very good stuff that comes from a diagnosis of a serious chronic illness. I signed up recently for a Lupus support website, and it asks all new members to answer questions for their profile. One question is, “Knowing what I know now, what I recommend to others is…”

My answer?

Love your kids, your partner, your parents, your friends. Love yourself. Love your neighbors, the homeless guy on the street, the business exec on the street, and everyone in between. Learn to say, “there’s no rush,” and truly mean it. Learn to say “no.” Learn to say “yes” when possible, but give the caveat that you might just have to flake. Flake if needed. REDUCE STRESS. Use your community; they truly want to help. Never take them for granted or misuse their help. Find a good rheumatologist, but always do your own research. You can diagnosis in 2 days of googling what might take even the best rheumy three months to diagnose. That said, beware of the internet and what you Google. Take pictures of rashes, swelling, hairballs, splinter hemorrhages and anything else you can. Because, of course, the day of your long-awaited appointment everything will clear up and you won’t be able to make your case. Download the “My Pain Diary” app, and use it not for pain, per se, but for all the other medical things you need to keep up with. Eat right, exercise, rest, and stay positive.

 Sure, there are things I could add (many things!), but these are the bones of it.

I’ve had a lot of loss in life, and so I always assume that I’m already living life pretty well aware of its importance and fleeting nature. I get on my little kids’ level and look them in the eye when they speak. I don’t giggle and brush away the silly things they take seriously; there are too few years they will be honest enough to say what they think, and perhaps even fewer years that they’ll care what I say in response. I try to ignore my cell phone and computer when they’re home (goodness, the two little ones are home a lot!), and I try to drop little tidbits from the past, my past, into the life of my oldest. Someday they will want to know it all; no use beating around too many bushes. I try to have dance parties, and not sweat the small stuff, and have lots of white space so “I don’t have time” are four words I seldom have to say. Do I always succeed? Of course not.

My point here is that I thought I already fully realized and appreciated the time I have here on Earth. But let me just say that there is nothing like hearing certain words from a doctor to make you really realize and appreciate the fleeting nature of things.

That sounds awfully serious given medical advances and that the numbers are significantly on my side. But that’s neither here nor there in the late night and early morning hours when one’s mind turns from all the rational things we focus on during the more civilized hours, to all the irrational things we pretend we’re too grounded to think about.

Because really, we aren’t that grounded. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Perspective shifts. Hermeneutics readjust. And yes, love and appreciation and faith grow.

Most mornings my little kids and I sing Rise and Shine together to get our days going. Often we follow it up by singing Psalm 118:24:

This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

These are the words I will bind to their wrists and put upon their foreheads. These are the words I will live.


* SLE in my case (and my dad’s)

There are tons of resources online, but here are a few:

http://www.lupus.org

http://www.mollysfund.org

http://www.lupusny.org/about-lupus/lupus-links

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Whole Women, Whole Families, Whole Truths: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say

The number of abortions in the United States may have declined by more than one-third over the past two decades—reaching its lowest rate since record keeping started in 1976—but the issue is far from settled. Today the Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case in almost 10 years, and, barring a 4-4 split due to the death of Justice Scalia, will likely hand down a decision by the summer.

This case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, questions the constitutionality of restrictions the state of Texas is imposing on abortion providers—restrictions like requiring abortion providers to hold admitting privileges at a local hospital and for centers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents argue that these standards are unnecessary and will cause clinics to close, resulting in significant limitations on women’s access to abortion.

This case has far-reaching implications as the Court is set to consider what regulations constitute an undue burden on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. As it is in all Supreme Court cases of this significance, media coverage is intense, and the protestors are many.

Significantly, this whole discussion is taking place during an election year, which is sure to force presidential hopefuls to address abortion head on. A study by the Barna Group has found that while only 30 percent of the general population places abortion as a priority in determining which candidate will get their vote, 64 percent of evangelicals say the same. And that means, because abortion will again be in the spotlight, this 64 percent will have their views heard by a larger audience than normal.

Of course, neither a Supreme Court case nor a presidential election is a top motivator for pro-lifers* to make their voices heard. Still, if history is any indicator, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole will provide a unique opportunity for influence that may not come around again for quite some time.

So the big question is how best to assert that influence.

Public perceptions of the pro-life movement are often significantly and negatively shaped by high profile cases like that of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who last November shot and killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. At his first court appearance, Dear proudly professed guilt and claimed to be “a warrior for the babies.” Not much earlier, a pro-life group released highly controversial, sting-style videos of Planned Parenthood executives that resulted in a wide, public debate about federal funding for the organization. And, of course, we’ve all seen the heart wrenching and anger-inducing footage of protestors blocking young women from entering into clinics, making clear their opinion that the young, scared woman will burn in hell.

There is also the perennial issue of conservative politicians taking a hardline pro-life stance, yet seemingly disregarding the hardships that can come from an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy, and eliminating funding for programs that could either help minimize these hardships or stop the unplanned or unsafe pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

It’s a hostile context, with various “camps” pitted against one another. Surely there has to be a better way, a way far removed from pickets, judgment, hate, and hypocrisy.

To this end, it’s important to remember that when hoping to sway public opinion and/or policy to align with one’s belief system, moral credibility is key. That means the pro-life movement must become one associated with believing all life is sacrosanct—whether in the womb or already born. Perhaps it should go without saying, but the most basic tenant of eliminating abortion must be rooted in compassion and love, and not just for the unborn, but also for the expectant mothers. Certainly, pregnant woman who feel trapped by their pregnancy and are considering abortion should think of the church as the first place to turn for help, not as the last.

Thankfully, there are faith leaders who are opening their doors wide to those both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Last year Pope Francis declared that women who have had abortions could seek forgiveness from any priest, without authorization of a bishop. President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote of those who have had or participated in abortions, “God has already pronounced what he thinks of this person: ‘You are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.’ … Offer [] mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.” There are those who will take umbrage at the notion that a woman needs either forgiveness from a priest or mercy from church members, but for many women, both avenues of grace are desired and significant to their lives.

By decreasing social stigma within the church environment, providing non-judgmental counseling and assistance to women suffering at the hands of a partner or family member, and putting in place the go-to tried and true church supports of meals, rides to the doctor, deacon’s fund assistance, and the like, local churches can provide tangible support to women both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Shaming, shunning and judging will only drive women from the church.

Of equal importance is the significant contribution of churches and faith-based organizations to social services (the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world). One of main reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial. In fact, studies show that women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions, and this particular demographic has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation (52 per 1,000 women). Given that six in ten women who receive abortions already have at least one child, it seems clear that greater systemic support for families below the poverty line is a prime way to reduce abortions.

These numbers indicate that being pro-life is about speaking up and acting on socioeconomic matters just as much as it is on abortion itself. Recognizing this, faith-based non-profits can and do provide subsidized childcare, job training, financial and material support, housing, and counseling for women in the “at risk” category. These efforts should be seen not just as economic in nature, but as essential ways to demonstrate  one’s commitment to ending abortion.

Similarly, better educational and vocational opportunities, workplace protections for pregnant women, and low cost, high quality childcare would help reduce the stressors on women who seek abortion for financial reasons. Many of the socioeconomic changes needed must be systemically implemented at a policy level, but others are within the grasp of individuals, places of worship, and organizations.

For those interested in having a direct, personal impact, there are many options other than marches and protests, all of which are considerably more effective. The influence of making ones position known to state and federal legislators through letter writing and phone calls, petition signing, ballot measures that increase socioeconomic support of women and families, and an individual’s voting power cannot be overstated.

For those less politically inclined, there are ways to advance one’s beliefs that may not change laws, but will fulfill the primary goal of both reducing abortion and creating more sustainable futures for those lives once they enter into the world.

Pregnancy centers, most of which are religious in nature, make it their goal to support women through their pregnancies as well as achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Women who might otherwise feel there are no options other than abortion can turn to these centers for help not only throughout pregnancy, but also into the future by learning the life skills necessary to successfully parent a child and run a household.

Despite the high number of women served by pregnancy centers, they aren’t without controversy, and some are more reputable than others. Volunteering at or donating to centers with a track record of providing sustainable assistance with long-term implications is a great way to make a local, direct impact. Before partnering with a pregnancy center, affirm that the center has appropriate medical oversight and licensing, as well as non-deceptive advertising, literature, and practices. Some pregnancy centers have come under criticism for these things, and to truly help women and the unborn, maintaining credibility and compassion, not merely pushing an agenda, is key.

Of course, pregnancy centers aren’t for all women, such as those who feel unprepared to parent. For those in this situation, adoption agencies are often presented as an alternative to abortion. Like pregnancy centers, these agencies provide pregnant women with services to help them throughout their pregnancies, but also help match birth mothers with adoptive families. Many provide prenatal care, help with housing and other expenses, and even maternity clothes and rides to the doctor.

Some of these centers are religious- or state run non-profits, others are privately owned and for profit. As with pregnancy centers, some are more reputable than others and must be thoroughly researched before a referral can be made. Each state has its own regulations, but as a general rule, adoption agencies should be licensed, been in business for many years with a well-maintained reputation, have a high number of successful placements per year, and should not pressure clients into making certain choices. Individuals and faith communities should take the time to research near-by agencies and be prepared to make a knowledgeable recommendation to a woman in need.

In so doing, it must be remembered that for adoption to be a truly viable option, women must feel emotionally and physically able to make it through nine months of pregnancy. This means pro-life advocates must recognize that the reasons women seek abortions can take all kinds of forms, including social stigmas, lack of health care, abusive relationships, family pressures, and financial and work or educational limitations, among other things. Those committed to ending abortion should consider putting time and energy toward finding a workable solution for as many of these problems as possible—although certainly no perfect or easy solution exists, nor does this list address the myriad of needs that present when women become pregnant through rape, or when a pregnancy compromises the mother’s health. Those are complicated, emotion-laden, and highly individual cases that I cannot begin to address here.

Promoting and achieving pro-life goals will come from establishing credibility by honoring the sanctity of life, both born and unborn, and taking compassionate, non-judgmental, prayerful and loving action to reduce the reasons women seek abortion in the first place, primarily their belief there are “no other options.” Simply put, we must give them options.

What if rather than creating picket signs and coordinating protests, efforts turned instead toward creating options by caring for women and families in need, and working towards systemic change that does the same? This is not only a third-way of being pro-life—it is the best way. It’s a way that respects and honors all life, at all stages, without judgment, but with honesty, compassion, and a nuanced understanding of the very real hardships faced by women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

State laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t change the fact that the real work of making pro-life mean all life often takes place behind the scenes, through small acts of love and kindness that have a big impact on the lives of many, both those born and those yet to be.

 

* I use the term “pro-life” because it is the term most commonly used and understood in public discussion. I find it to be a misnomer, however, as those who are pro-choice are not, in fact, anti-life. Similarly, many who may deem themselves “pro-life” for lack of a better term, are not “anti-choice,” although they would limit situations where that choice might be employed.

 

 

 

Loving Hard: In Memory of Gideon Bruce

In many ways it made perfect sense that I would call her at 7:30am, blurry eyed and frogged-voiced, having just rolled out of bed, bone-weary. It was the day after Christmas. All six of us were sick—whooping cough, we’d later find—and exhausted from both the fun and the coughing.

After I received her text—stilted, formal, apologetic for its intrusion—I called every hospital in the area, finally finding her where two of my own four were born.

Her husband answered, his voice making clear his surprise. After all, who calls the hospital phone these days? But I didn’t want to call her cell. At least I was awake enough to think of that.

“She’s with a nurse right now. She’ll call you back.”

Of course, she didn’t. And who can blame her.

She’d been at my house just four days prior, shuffling from one foot to the other the way pregnant women do. Her daughter ate a cupcake. They left within moments—I’m sure she was tired.

He was born a trimester too early, weighing barely one pound. Placental failure. Not insufficiency, but failure. I cried all day.

One hundred and ten days later—on her birthday, no less—he came home. Still tiny, still feeding through a tube, still too cold for his own good.

I finally met him at five and a half months, found him not yet the weight of my second the day he was born.

“Are you kidding, he’s huge!” His mother protested.

I was embarrassed at my gaffe.

“Yes, yes! He is. Of course.”

He was beautiful. I held him as long as I could, only putting him down when I ate my burger. So warm… he had finally learned the trick of self-regulating his temperature and he performed it masterfully.

He was beautiful.

A mere three weeks later, I cried again. This time the news came by mass email, one I read at least three times before feeling it settle, hard, between the shoulder blades, the eyes, the heart: “Almost zero chance of normalcy… Leave us alone. We’ll let you know. We don’t need anything. Just… let us be.”

“Should I come home?” A text from my husband.

“No. It’s fine. I’m praying.”

I’m praying.

I prayed to God, to Google, searching every avenue for an answer, but finding none.

I emailed a client—world-renowned pediatrician, a fellow congregant at my church. He would know.

“This will be difficult. No matter what, this will be difficult.”

The next day a follow up: “Be patient and hope that some sort of answer will come in the years that follow.”

And the next day: “Do they go to our church?”

No.

When I lost my son, eight months old, flaming hair, world’s most gummy smile, I thought those answers would never come. No years would follow—the earth stilled, and with it, my heart.

I know her days are frozen—she’s said as much. Each day she lifts him, tries to gauge if he’s gained an ounce. Half-an-ounce. A stack of envelopes in one hand, a baby in the other. How do they compare? Which fatigues her muscles more?

She looks at his head. Measures it’s circumference. Eyes it against her daughter’s .50 cent bouncy ball—the kind on end caps at grocery stores, drawing the sticky eyes of children, begging meter money from purse bottoms. She’s refined the skill—can tell you the weight and width of a fly these days. She and her husband take bets; they’re experts now.

I pray.

Google frustrates me with its ambivalence, God tries my patience. I keep living. Cooking, cleaning, writing. My daughter hits her first single. My oldest lands an internship and the youngest just won’t quit climbing the stove. We are living.

She’s living too. Living in fear, in doubt, in the hollow place between inhale and exhale. She watches him breathe. Smooth, warm, the way he should. Air fills small lungs, routes oxygen to all the necessary places. Escapes in sighs so sweet a flower bears its name.

But his name is not sweet. His name is that of a warrior who dared ask God for more. More miracles, God, and I will do your bidding. Do not be angry, God, but I simply must have more. God relented and the trumpets blew and the idols fell. And when that warrior died, years later, the alters were resurrected and the false Gods rose.

Let him live, God.

Full and healthy, conqueror of enemies. Bearer of swords and trumpets and weighty things of glory. An unlikely warrior, God. Let him live.

**********

I wrote this prayer in July of 2014. Four months later, on November 28, 2014, Gideon passed from this world and into the next. He was not quite one year old.

Today, on this one-year-anniversary, my household is where it should be: in a time of board games and late nights, of midnight pie with cream, and just one more game of pool before heading off to bed. We’re enjoying the smell of simmering soup while the just-put-up tree glitters with fresh-bought lights and tip-top star, and the littles dance to a singing snowman we plot to sneak away as soon as their heads are turned.

We are living life as it should be lived. As Gideon’s mom would say, we are loving hard.

I can think of no greater tribute to a boy so loved and missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Sorry–I Just Don’t Like Your Shoes (or Tupac)

When I was in my late twenties and, after a several years’ long, self-imposed dating hiatus, decided to start dating again, I created a firm set of criteria for men:

Good shoes
Good taste in music
Liberal politics
A little older than or the same age as me

There were deeper things as well, of course, such as matters of the soul, heart, brain, and spirit. But shoes, music, politics, age… those were the immediate first impression items that would make or break the possibility of a first date.

I recall getting an email from my son’s baseball coach, Steve, sometime soon after I reached this dating decision. Steve wrote in his email that the team would be getting a new assistant coach (AC) in a few weeks, that right now the new guy was traveling in Africa but would have a lot to offer the kids upon his return. Steve said something (I don’t remember what) in the email that made me realize this new coach was probably my age and the question flitted, unbidden—unwanted even—across my mind: was Africa Guy a dating possibility?

I promise it really was a fleeting thought. I still wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to date, and I don’t recall thinking of it again. Not until I first saw Andy, anyway.

I could tell as soon as I pulled into the parking lot that the new AC had finally arrived. I saw him standing by third base, separated by only a chain link fence and a few feet of dirt from where I would be sitting. He was tall(ish) and thin, but that’s all I could tell from my car. Minutes later, as I climbed onto the bleachers to watch practice, I took advantage of my dark sunglasses and close proximity to take a closer look.

Ugh.

Bad shoes. Terrible, even. Beat up sneakers, laces dragging in the dirt. Just really, really bad.

Oh well. I wasn’t really looking anyway.

If your child has ever been on a travel team, you know that travel teams require a lot of practices, games, and, well, traveling. Parents become very close during these months of game playing and road tripping and hotel staying, and at the end of the traveling season as everyone says goodbye with empty promises to stay in touch over the break, you can’t help but feel a void where those parents had been for so many months, day in and day out, whether you wanted them there or not.

During these forced but somehow magical months together, I was surprised to find myself strategically maneuvering into whatever car this ugly-shoed guy was riding in to whatever hot-as-heck town it was we were headed to at 5am on a Sunday morning. I was even more surprised when I later realized he was doing the same thing.

During these weekend drives, I came to find out that this guy has (present tense) HORRIBLE taste in music, clothes, and shoes, and that he’s five years younger than me. In fact, I found that the only first-impression criterion he met is that he’s liberal. Very, very liberal. (also present tense)

But I also found out that he loves kids and practicing random acts of kindness, is crazy intelligent, and that my son adored him. That I was kind of starting to adore him, too.

If you’re anything like me in this kind of situation, you may agree to go on a first date that turns out to be really lame, but for some crazy reason feel in your heart that a second date is in order. And then a third. And so on and so forth until one day, crazy upon crazy, you find yourself walking down the aisle towards this man who wears very bad shoes and doesn’t even know who the Misfits are.

I promise you, this is what you might find. Of course, you might not. But you might.

And a few years down the line, you may realize that sometimes it really does make things kind of tough that you can’t share musical references, that you sometimes feel a little too irksome over something as shallow as shoes, and that, on occasion, you will make a joke that he is too young to get.

It isn’t a one-way street, of course. Being forced during kitchen clean up time to listen to honkey tonk, British folk, or screaming once-twenty-year-old punk rockers who are now in their 40s and 50s with saggy tattoos probably isn’t too fun either.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to lie and say that these things end up not mattering. They do matter and, yes, it adds a few complications to the already-complicated institution of marriage when husband and wife don’t share some things in common. But it would also be unfair of me to act like these things matter-matter. Because they don’t. 

I’m not incredibly old, and I haven’t been married an incredibly long time. But I’m willing to bet that marriage, like the rest of life, happens in stages. In the early stages you simply don’t care about anything other than the overwhelming newlywed love you feel towards one another. In the tired middle years—which is where my husband and I now reside—you care about who takes out the garbage and gets up with the baby. During the initial empty-nest stage, I imagine you might want to be with someone you don’t mind sitting with in a too-quiet and kid-lonely house. Bonus points if you can hit the RV with that person and travel to places unknown without killing each other. And I’ll bet that during all of the stages of marriage, the infamous notion of a helpmeet comes into play far more than my 25-year-old self would ever have wanted to admit. If you aren’t familiar with the notion of a helpmeet, don’t google it. All I mean is: spouses who help one another. A wife who moves across the country for her husband’s job. A husband who endures four-hours of sleep each night for month’s on end so his wife can get some recuperative rest. Partners who, together, agree to tackle finances and kids (not literally) and heartbreaking 2am phone calls and bouts of occasional melancholy.

Shoes and music and even age matter so little when you get a call from the principal’s office. Or the hospital. Or the police.

You know this to be true when you stop to think about it, but thinking in the face of a first impression or first date is typically not done. In fact, I’m willing to bet we’re at our stupidest during the heady early months of dating.

If you’re in those stupid months right now, or hope soon to be, my “old and married” advice for you on this once-religious-now-Hallmark-secular holiday we call Valentine’s Day would be to not get too hung up on the particulars of things you’re not even going to have time for later in life anyway (trust me, you won’t. Unless by “music” you mean the Frozen soundtrack and by “shoes” you mean slippers.) I could see age being an important factor in some instances, but even age may not be as important as you think. I can’t really speak to the politics part of it since that particular assistant coach and I ended up being on (mostly) the same page. I can, however, point you to James Carville and Mary Matalin, who are apparently still very much in love. I don’t really know any other examples of polar political opposites, so take what you will from their odd little union.

My “old and married” love note for my husband this Valentine’s Day will not overflow with flowery and poetic language, but rather will convey the simplest but most important of sentiments: Thank you.

I will write:

Dear Africa/Assistant Coach/Bad Shoe Guy,

Thank you for helping me so much and meeting my needs. For letting me roll my eyes at your clothes and ask you to turn your music down, especially if I’m trying to cook. For sighing when you don’t get a 1970’s punk reference, and for teasing you when you try to pretend that you do. Thank you for using your exaggerated Mark Twain accent to tell our little girl stories of a “Mr. Goldwater who in 1964 went home to fish due to one Mr. Johnson, who probably should’ve been fishing, too.” For getting our oldest concerned with sovereign debt issues, and for getting our youngest to occasionally wear pants. Thank you for loving me, neuroses and bad hair days and all.

If there’s anyone in this world I want to have so little in common with but so much love for, it’s you.

(You can read last year’s Valentine’s Day post here.)

Sometimes Love Looks Like a Poop-Filled Bag and Half-Eaten Burger

Marriage necessitates so much giving up of one’s self. I’m not very comfortable with that because I kind of like all my parts and want to keep them. I like the part of me that often wants to  be alone. I like the part of me that wants calm, cleanliness, and order at all costs. I like the part of me that wants to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it.

But I’m finding that these parts don’t fit too well in the machine of marriage.

Instead I have to think about him and his needs, which, unfortunately, don’t always match up with mine. It’s easier to think about the kids’ needs; I’ve been putting kids first since I was fifteen. (Fifteen I tell you! Can you even imagine?) I can also do this for people to whom I am not related or married. But putting the needs of my spouse first? That is where I draw the line.

I promise you, and him, and our offspring, that I am indeed trying. I don’t take this marriage thing lightly. I mean, if I’m going to give up that expensive law degree and my girlish figure and all my wonderful, fantastic, perfect alone time with cocoa and a book, this marriage thing better work out. Because I’ll be damned if after all this sacrifice I end up changing my own diapers some day.

Today I even offered to split my bacon cheeseburger and fries right down the middle with my husband, and I hate sharing food. This bit of selfless giving on my part came about because I thought my husband didn’t want fast food, but that was only because I only gave him about six seconds to respond to my text asking if he wanted fast food, and by the time second seven came around I’d already ordered and gotten my burger from under the heat lamp.

I felt bad.

I kind of also felt unhealthy and fat even though I’m trying to gain weight right now. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. My husband, home sick watching The Hobbit at top volume while I worked my fingers to the bone and he pretended not to notice, declined my offer.

No matter. Now I had a point to put up on the little chalkboard in my mind. Jamie 1, Andy 827. He’d better watch out—I’m on his heels! Somewhere after my kindly act and his utter disregard, I got really snappy. I think it’s because he wanted to borrow my computer, but he has his own darn computer. He’s been saying for months now he’s going to ask his boss about getting a new one, but has he done it? Nooooo. (Note that this brings Andy down to a lowly 826 points) So this means he has to borrow my computer. The one he gave me as a gift and cost about as much as a used car. The one I pour my heart and soul into and leave my email up on, and have goofy Facebook talks with my bloggy friends on. Reminds me of my dad going through my poetry and cassette tapes, asking just what exactly it means, this album called Songs of Faith and Devotion? Faith in what? Devotion to whom? And why is that song by the Violent somethingorothers entitled Gone Daddy Gone? What does this mean, Jamie?

Bless him and his helping heart.

So anyway, Andy used it, and I gave myself half a point since I did, after all, loan it to him. I did angry, slammy things the whole time he used it maybe, or maybe I picked up poop in the backyard since it’s going to snow tomorrow and who wants to pick up half frozen/half smushy poop? And I think I seethed the whole time about how poop pick up is his job, not mine. A battle raged within me:

Yes, but he has a cold, Jamie.”

“He’s had that cold for two weeks now. One should not malinger! I gave birth with a cold! I bleach the bathtub and pre-treat whites with a cold!” And the clincher: “I cleaned the baby’s vomit as I was vomiting.” Boo yah!

But then:

You just lost a client; you have plenty of time on your hands to pick up poop.”

“You wanna’ ask me why I lost a client? Because I have to cram 26 hours of work into two-hour naps! Andy’s side of the bed is messier than mine and takes ten seconds longer to make! I do everything around here!”

Only one poop pile left now, Jamie, so you’re going to have to get over it.”

Eventually I lost to myself, and gave myself another half point, which brought the score up to a strong 826 to 2, I think.

It’s a bit after 5pm now and my tea’s gone cold. I know that Andy and the kids are almost home—picking the kids up from preschool scores Andy a whopping 200 points per child—and I’m thinking of dinner, and backpacks, and lunch box cleaning, and papers, so many papers, scattered all over my just-cleaned kitchen. And then the dishes and counters and trash, maybe the floors if I’m feeling domestic, and then the scramble to get the kiddos to bed before our backs give out.

And I’m thinking that I’m thankful, oh so thankful, that I don’t have to do all of that alone.

Nothing but Love in God’s Water

We began today much like I imagine many other touchy-feeling, social justice-y, liberal do-gooder families did: by reading about Martin Luther King, Jr. The littles and I gathered ‘round and read from the book of Common Prayer, but in an act of civil disobedience we read from January 15th instead of today. The 15th is MLK’s birthday, and it’s where the good stuff is. Our sweet educational moment went something like this:

Me, reading: “In 1983, celebrating his contribution to the civil rights—”

“Mama, hold on. Stuffy’s not supposed to be over there. I need to get Stuffy.”

“Two seconds, Rachel. You’ve got two seconds.”

Rachel grabs Stuffy then returns, satisfied. She and Stuffy settle in and I began again: “…. We also remember his insistence that the church exist as the “conscience of the state—”

“Mama? Can I have two more seconds? Stuffy needs a baby wipe.”

“No, Rachel, you may not have two seconds! We’re trying to have a learning moment here, darn it.”

Eventually we made it to the end, Aaron attempting the never before seen feat of climbing into my left nostril while Rachel alternated between caressing Stuffy with great love and swinging her around like a cowboy lasso gone wild.

What went a bit better than this sad (but worthwhile!) effort was the impromptu moment we had in the kitchen this morning when Rachel and I talked about dark skin and white skin and the miracle of love. Aaron, wearing his diaper around his ankles and in hysterics over the shuffling this caused, didn’t stop throwing all the low items off the pantry shelves, but Rachel seemed to be listening and, importantly, absorbing. And really, that’s all we daisy-picking parents can ask: that a little bit of our pacifistic hot-burning ball of ginormous love be passed down to those entrusted to our care.

We’re working on it.

Later, driving our dog Winston to the groomers where he would magically become slightly less stinky, I saw a great big sign that read, “Hatred has no cure.”

Hmmmm.

I almost wrecked, this bit of wisdom caused me to think so long and so hard.

I know a local church put this sign up. How do I know this? Because they put a similar looking sign up right by their giant cross display, which somebody has surrounded by symbols of other religions. (I think this is awesome: Put it all out there people. All of it). Anyway, I’m betting that these church folks had good intentions with this message. I bet they were saying hate is bad and love is good. But they sorely missed the mark.

I’ve hated. I’ve hated and loathed and cursed and even broke someone’s nose once. I’ve wished death upon my enemies, preferably of the slow and painful variety. I’ve acted on this hate in hateful ways, and felt it eat away at my soul. And still I’ve hated. Rolled in the crap-filled pigsty of self-righteous anger, ate at the trough of soul-killing slop. It’s addictive.

This isn’t the kind of hate that aims itself toward a person simply because of their skin color or religion. No, this is the kind of hate born of having something done that I took offense to. But no matter—hate is hate is hate.

And, dear church people with the cross on the hill, it has a cure.

I know this because I myself have been cured. I’ve forgiven the very worst of the worst, and I promise you that the worst really was quite bad. I don’t hesitate to say we all know what the cure is, so there’s no need pretending that we don’t, however cliche it is.

It’s love.

(can I throw a “duh” in there somewhere?)

Elie Wiesel said the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. C.S. Lewis said love’s opposite is power. Okay, sure. That’s some deep stuff, and I’m not saying it’s wrong, but we’re talking about the cure for hate, not it’s opposite.

Self-education helps too, as does removing one’s self from hateful groups of people, among other things. But those steps can’t be taken without the first desire, that first hot spark of love, to do and be something better. To begin your journey down the path of namby-pamby daisy-picking love.

But really it isn’t so namby-pamby after all.

It actually takes quite a bit of strength to stop saying, “But I’m RIGHT, dadgumit,” (okay, maybe only I say that), and start saying, “maybe I ought to reconsider…” And then do just that. You and I both know this from experience.

Frankly, I feel rather like an idiot writing about love. Like I’m jumping on a love bandwagon, because oh dear God, folks have been writing and writing on this forever at this point, banging their heads against a seemingly-unmoving wall. But I saw that sign sticking out there on a busy road for impressionable early readers to see, and it struck me as so odd a message, so wrong, that I just couldn’t help myself.

On the way to pick up Winston from his doggie spa appointment, I listened to a radio program featuring the author of a book, “Nothing but Love in God’s Water.” Before becoming the title of his book, this cool little assertion was (and still is) the name of an old African American spiritual. I agree with its point and think it’s kind of lovely, so I stole it to use here. This title got me thinking in a sort of shallow, bad analogy kind of way that when a group of folks turn up pregnant at once, or crabby, or whatever, some like to joke that “there must be something in the water.”

And to this I say: There sure is, and there’s no drought in sight. So drink it up. There’s no reason not too, other than the fact that for some strange reason it’s absurdly hard to give up poking a voodoo doll of yourself by claiming the glory of self-righteousness.

It’s been quite a while since I vandalized anything. Almost two decades by my math. But I’m thinking of taking up revisiting my teenaged years in an act of civil disobedience in honor of this day. If you Annapolitans drive down Forest and happen to see a big red X through the sign proclaiming there’s no cure for hate (followed by a link to my blog) I swear I didn’t do it.