Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Post in Pictures Signifying Many Gifts and One Sorrow

It's Christmas time in Iowa City, and sweaters wear trees. I'm super glad about this--a reason to giggle when I walk downtown through wintertime slush. You should see all the sweaters on all the trees, each with their own 70s-inspired pattern. Some hippies were very industrious. This Christmas I'm trying to be less industrious than them. I'm thinking about rest in the face of sacred cows such as The Holiday Photo Card, featuring all Webers, clean, smiling and otherwise in tact. And it's hard enough to let my left hand know that my right hand is not addressing all those envelopes this year, harder to articulate it in writing here. And that there are people who mean the world to me that I am just not. buying. gifts. for.  Because it's just so much frenzy, too much all at once. I'm trying, instead to sit still sometimes, in scenes like this one:

Yes, that's a pile of laundry you see behind Tiny, and a bag of groceries that is yet unpacked. Tiny is delighted by all the chaos left haphazardly around the kitchen. And her delight is a gift, it really is because it encourages me to pause and appreciate small and unexpected things, like joy over dirty laundry and empty baskets. And--how's this for a segue?--this guy is a gift, too. That's John, my friend and graphic designer for my 
book. He's pretty talented, and spent hours and hours and hours fine tuning my cover while I spazzed about details of alignment and shadows and brightness. Yeah, he should win an award. And he's also a great photographer too, and has taken most of the good pics you'll see of me and the fam on the FB and the blog. If you're in the area, you should look 'im up. 

Now, this here is a family tree. Not mine, but the one belonging to my half-brother, Henry, about whom said book was actually written. When he died five years ago, I knew, in theory that there were multitudes of relatives on his father's side (other than his own half siblings and dad), but I never thought about them as real people with names and memories and sorrows like my own over losing the Boy. This month's most surprising gift was the flurry of Bertka relatives who began buzzing on FB about the book, contacting me to introduce themselves, and to claim me as one of their own. It's been bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter, to hear their memories, to see their faces and family resemblances, and to know their stories with flesh now on skeletal plotlines. So, Rita, Mike, Mary--and of course, Naomi--I thank you. (And as I write this quickly, I know I must be leaving out others--it's a big family, as you can see!)

But here's the sorrow this month. My book, my beloved darling, has been literally misaligned by the printer. Many of the copies are produced with lines all aslant (see the bottom line of text--it's much more noticeable in person). It's depressing and left me a bit numb after unpacking sixty copies at my home yesterday. The printer will replace/refund any defective copies purchased by any individual or vendor, but it's still a sadness to know that some are going out into the world all askew. The manufacturer is investigating the problem at their production sites, but these things take time, as you know. If you buy a copy and it comes to you like this, it probably will do me and the book some ultimate good if you ask for a replacement. In the meantime, you could read the free kindle version that comes with purchasing the paperback book on Amazon. 

And there it is. And now I must go to preschool to pick up Tiny, and then it's off to dance class--hers, not mine.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When You're Not My Enemy

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about the healing and recovery process she's been in (the same one most of us have been on at one time or another, where we recover from whatever garbage-y messages we were saddled with as younger and more vulnerable versions of ourselves). My friend was saying what a significant thing it was to have accomplished a certain achievement--something she'd always dreamed about--but something that put her so out there, so her-own-person, living a life that is now in obvious and loud contradiction to everything she was ever told she couldn't or wouldn't or wasn't allowed to be. An achievement that asserted, Yes, I really am who I am, and who I am is not as shabby as I once believed. I'm a powerful person.

Have you ever been there? These are the moments in which the things we think and believe about ourselves in the world can rearrange themselves, where the truth we are living can get louder than the messages we cowered under for so long. (Oh, it doesn't always, but it can.) And those achievements or breakthroughs or "ah ha moments" are sometimes a little like pinnacles after long and exhausting climbs over and around all the obstacles on the path--the boulders, scraggly weeds, the heat, the altitude.

I've been In Process as a daughter, mother, writer, minister, a female minister. There were years when I spent a lot of emotional energy trying to convince myself that I was meant to do or be all those things and responding to the people who spoke against me or simply had different opinions about who I was or what my life should look like. Sometimes those people seemed like boulders, entanglements on the path. I wasn't on a mission to dislike them or fight against them, but they became like enemies simply by definition.

They were powerful and seemed scary + I felt weak and afraid = ENEMIES.

I spent a lot of time having interior dialogues with imaginary versions of my enemies--defending myself, explaining how they got my political views all wrong, my gender views upside down, and my basic constitution turned inside out. They didn't understand what I'd said over Thanksgiving dinner; they took a comment out of context; they misinterpreted a facial expression. Or: they just. didn't. like. me. I had essays in my head; sometimes I had short, sharp quips. I had a thesis defense ready against their rejection.

Like many of you, I have emerged onto a few mountain plateaus: I have a better sense of who I am and why that is a good thing. It doesn't bother me so much if I meet someone who doesn't think I should be a pastor, for instance. (Oh, it bothers me, but much less). Somehow the grace has been given for me to let my life, my tangible reality, do more of the talking about who I am and what I'm worth. I know I'm powerful, just like you are, and I can live without reacting even when knives are thrown because

you're powerful and may be unpleasant + I'm powerful and not afraid = 

Equals what? 

Jesus said, "Love your enemies. " Too often, we've equated love with quiet neutrality. But is disengaged tolerance the kind of love Jesus wants us to embrace?

Once we realize we're powerful and able to love anyone, once we think we have recovered some measure of ourselves and our true identities, once we realize we don't need to fight against anymore, is the answer really indifference and silence toward those who disagree?  Or does love bear more responsibility?

I've been musing on this and maybe you'll muse to--about love that disagrees and explores, that contends against and humanizes at the same time, that is powerful and at odds while blessing. 

I'm not afraid of you and I bless you.

What if this sentiment was behind every difficult thing we had to say to someone who doesn't see the world the same way we do? From...

I dislike your cranberry stuffing to...

I don't like it when you yell at me,

Your words are judgmental and they hurt,

I'm a woman in ministry,

I'm gay, a Muslim, an NRA member, a unitarian, a Christian,

or in the words of Mythbuster Adam Savage: "I reject your reality and substitute my own." 

I'm not afraid of you and I bless you.

It's easy for us to cling to our circles of safe people who think the way we do and talk the way we do. It's easy to let go of dialogue with those on the outside.  But when we do, we give up the privilege of engaging others in meaningful conversation about the change we want to see in the world.

I ran across a post by Sarah Cunningham today in which she speaks of the kind of bravery that goes hand in hand with powerful love.
"I must learn to hold bravery in one hand and humility in another....humility creates a better chance of being able to address hate without perpetuating it. To confront injustice without wielding more of it."
Yes, that is what I'm getting at. When we live in reaction, we often perpetuate hate. When we live defensively, we are poised to wield more injustice, more judgment, more wounding.  So, I'm asking myself--and us--what more is required now that we're not enemies?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

When Mothers "Happen"

I stumbled into this article by Shauna Niequest last night through Rachel Held Evans' blog. Shauna is the daughter of Lynne and Bill Hybels, founders of the mega-church Willow Creek. Shauna writes about her mother Lynne as a role model of healthy and whole womanhood--and about how, when Shauna was a teenager, Lynne began giving herself permission to pursue her passions, passions and gifts that weren't limited just to her role as a mother.
This journey she was on began when I was fourteen. I was just learning what it meant to be a woman. And the woman I was watching most closely was just beginning to reshape her definition, and in turn, mine.
Watching my mother while I was a young teenager gave me a front row seat to a hard, messy, important, beautiful transformation. I watched my mother become herself. I watched her come alive. I watched her discover her gifts. I watched her eyes sparkle when she returned from a meeting or a trip. I listened to her bubbling over with passion about what she was reading or learning.
And as I watched her, I promised myself that I would follow this new example she was leaving for me, to pay attention to my gifts and passions. The life I was seeing in her for the first time was so inspiring to me. I loved it in her, and I wanted it for myself.
I couldn't help but think of my own three daughters as I read these lines, about how, over the last 6 or so years, they've had a front-row view of their mother redefining and embracing who and what she could be. The two oldest have seen me labor through hours of graduate study, reading and writing furiously and excitedly and passionately (sometimes while crying, sometimes while laughing); they've watched me conduct science experiments in the kitchen, excitement bubbling over as foods fermented on the counter; they've watched me sit with a guitar or at the keyboard for hours, learning parts to songs because it gave me pleasure, because of a driving hunger to hear the sounds, to make melodies out of single notes; I've danced into the house after a prayer time with someone struggling, excited that the person was encouraged, that they encountered God in some significant way; they watched me pastor, teach classes, take difficult phone calls, solve problems, rejoice in making peace with others; they watched me labor nightly, for months, on a book and then listen to triumphant reports of "it's done!" They've watched me refinish furniture, paint endless walls, learn to crochet, use power tools, write book reviews, write sermons; they've listened to me read, through winter months with a quavering voice, literature and stories with which I long to fill their imaginations. They've watched me pack suitcases destined for far- off places, raise money for mission trips, take cookies to the neighbors just because.

Danny Silk talks about how important it is for women to "happen"--for life to surge through them, for their gifts to bubble forth, for the community to bless and encourage their pursuit of all God has called them to be. My own life has been happening these last six years or so, mostly because I've cooperated in ways I never thought about cooperating a decade ago as a new mother, or even as a teenager, when watching my own mother make her way through the world. I was a young woman afraid to open my mouth to sing or speak, afraid to stand up in a room of people sitting because they might see me; I was a woman afraid of being in my own skin, of happening.

There are other mothers happening around me, too. One friend has started a business around her phenomenal ability to create, re-design, and refinish anything she gets her hands on. Another friend decided to address some personal health needs that she'd been long putting off. Another is engaged in study, pouring over historical texts, researching ancient and holistic medicine practices. Others are standing at the foot of the path; they've said yes and they're about to step out on the journey.

I don't care what my daughters decide to "be" when they grow up, but I could weep with gratitude that somehow allowing ourselves to happen in front of their eyes might just inspire a confidence that some of us didn't have for decades, might just banish the protestations of self-doubt that haunted some of us for years, might just pave the way for them to happen, too.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#17, In Which I Experiment With and Ask Questions of Generosity

For the most part, Mark and I have systematically given away a percentage of our income since we were first married sixteen years ago. We've had years that were lean, cars that broke down, surprising and large-scale medical expenses and yet, (except for a year or so of re-evaluation of our giving) we still gave.

There's a biblical principle of giving that states (in my way of summarizing) that if you give, more will be given. Surely, there's not a formula here, not a calculation on returns, and perhaps the "more" is sometimes less tangible than what is given away, but more nonetheless. And, I would conclude that as we gave over the years, we were given more, we've were given enough.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as our income has grown, my concern over spending has grown along with it.  We have more income now than I could have imagined having when we were poor as crickets living in a basement apartment that oozed black slime through cracks in the kitchen linoleum. That money concerns me now almost as much as it did then disturbs me. That we've found so many things to spend it on disturbs me. Yes, there are three children now. Yes, we are paying for more vitamins and doctor visits now. Yes, we've traded in our white noodles for proteins and vegetables and healthy fats. All of this costs more.

More and higher expenses makes me, a "J" on the Meyers Briggs test, outline precise budgets and hold to them (read: I experience it as failure when I don't). And so, even though we give a respectable amount of our income away to pre-determined places, I haven't been very fluid in responding to the needs that happen right in front of me. I haven't risked spontaneity in giving more, money that wasn't pre-allocated, money or goods or supplies that someone needed right in the moment, right now. It was easy for me to say, "I've already given this month, therefore I cannot give to you." It was easy to say, "I cannot give to you because all I have left is my savings/grocery/phone/miscellaneous money."

But what if it's the right thing to give those things in those moments? And what if it's precisely the wrong thing to turn away from the Philippines relief fund on Facebook or another struggling minister because I've already given, as if this excuses me from relieving and refreshing those who need refreshing most in the moment?

And if the biblical principle holds true, then won't I continue in abundance?

I experimented this month. I gave a small sum, a little more than was allocated. I responded to two different needs in two different moments. On one of those days, after giving, I sat in prayer and mentioned to God the upcoming medical expenses, the Christmas gifts for our kids, the holiday travel. The next day we received a check in the mail that was five times the extra I had given. It was a random, just-because gift from a relative, but really it was a gift card from heaven, a memento reminding me of provision.

And then, a few days later, a car engine started rattling badly. And then, a second car's ignition broke. And the batteries in our cordless home phones suddenly gave out.  And my replacement cell phone dropped every eight out of ten calls. This culminated all on one day, a day I was near tears and my husband and I were a little less than patient with each other due to the mounting anxiety about repair costs. But then, when the cars were rounded up and brought home in their various states of disrepair, while we waited on appointments with mechanics, while I suddenly remembered we had an old-fashioned (read: not "smart") cell phone tucked away for emergency use for our kids, I was able to calm my anxious heart down and I heard in my head the inaudible words watch and wait.

So that's what I'm doing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Perfectionism, Self-Worth, and Why We Write

Is it okay to take a moment to say that perfectionism is killing me? There are a lot of checks a writer must make before a book is finalized, and in my case--because us Ovenbird authors retain more control than usual over the interior--there are a lot of checks. But honestly, everything's looking pretty good right now. It's just that the anxiety of there being some sort of unseen problem with the book is almost overwhelming--it's almost enough to keep me from ever stamping my approval. Sometimes, I have to tell my OCD-self that my editor-self made an editorial decision that is just, simply, out of my hands. Tough luck. Deal with it. This is a collaborative effort, after all, between editor-, artist-, and OCD-me.

That aside, I've had a few readers purchase the Kindle version (thank you!) and I've already heard back from some of you (mostly friends and extended family). You are reminding me that I opened wide a window to my life that doesn't normally get cracked in the day to day. Obvious, yes. But when you spend so much time objectively and robotically proofreading a manuscript, you might forget that it's about something; you might forget that what it's about has to do with things that move people, things that make people feel connected with you in a way you weren't even thinking about when you wrote those things.

Now, in truth, there is a corner in my mind rooting for this book to make some sort of impact, some kind of (splash is entirely. the wrong. word.)...maybe what I mean is that I am hoping it will color the world in some way, if only by hue or tint--some shade (nuanced is fine) that reveals its having been here. I'm rooting for a plop into the pond that will send ripples (minute ripples are fine!) to the farthest reaches of the water. And, let me be perfectly and shamefully honest, if those ripples did happen to shimmy all the way over to Oprah's living room, I'd be ecstatic.

But forget about books and writing for a moment: don't we all feel that we want our very existence to make ripples that reach the far side of the pond? To find out, at the end of the day, that we made a difference, that we made some contribution that shifted the landscape of a soul or altered the dialogue of a community or a world? That Oprah would find us interesting and meaningful enough to sit us down in her living room and ask, ask, comment, ask, offer her two cents, mention Nate Berkus, and, when it's all said and done, give us a car? 

I remember Anne Lamott describing the faulty expectations of insecure writers that, once they were published, self esteem would arrive by phone, fax, and mail. Thank God I didn't publish in my twenties because I'd be an absolute basket case after having found out that a book in print wouldn't do anything to soothe my raging need to BE OKAY. So, if it's not self-esteem we slightly less neurotic versions of ourselves are after--what drives us? What do we want? Conversation? Dialogue? The catharsis that comes by storytelling? Or, to be so dramatic: the healing of the world?

I don't know. I really don't. But, like any author, I hope this book is widely read. I hope it matters to strangers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Because the Kindle Edition Has Been Released

If you need something to read this weekend, you can snatch Dear Boy up for your e-reader. It's been released in its Kindle edition two weeks ahead of the print release! Happy reading, readers. And, if you want to chat about Dear Boy, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section of the post!

Friday, November 15, 2013

On the Occasion of the Boy's Birthday, an Excerpt:

I'm told that Ovenbird Books' new web site should be up and running in the next week or so, and Dear Boy is set to release shortly thereafter in print (so many considerations in the first stages of founding a press and its first releases!). And, ironically, today is the Boy's birthday, in honor of which I'm posting an excerpt, the memoir's opening letter:

Dear Boy,     
I wrote you an email last year, addressed to your tattoo shop. Did you ever get it? It was about our cousin’s wedding—you were invited, but she didn’t know where to send the invitation. You know, your house really was out in the middle of nowhere. How many houses are there in that tiny town, anyway—five? And a church? And some railroad tracks? And just a little bit up from the churchyard, that narrow country road where you landed after flying out of a car.
You never saw this house I live in, and you’d been living in your home for years before I ever visited. We weren’t too busy, but were we scared to act like brother and sister? Today I was thinking that it’s still July, a few weeks before your blood marked the gravel with a great brown stain, but the leaves on the silver maple in my front yard have turned sunny gold speckled with mildew. Meaning the accident already happened. Too late for me to ask you how the distance between us unfurled, why your once-tight grip on my hand loosened into a flat, retracted palm.
Too late now—but death demands an account. The closer the death, the more detailed its demands. And all this accounting I must do with you, Boy, is like sending a hundred years’ worth of birthday cards and getting none in return. But so it will be. I have no other way to speak to you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Notes #17, A Conversation

Did you floss your teeth?

Yes. Yeah.

Wait a minute. Did you? [making eye contact]

No.  [Sighs. Turns on her heel for the bathroom]

I'm confused. Why would you lie to me about that? [following her] Do you realize that when you lie to me it interferes with my ability to have confidence in you about other things? 

Mom, you say it's better if we lie and then tell the truth instead of just lying, but I do that and you freak out about it.

Wait a minute--it's not good to lie-and-then-tell-the truth. What would be good is if you just told the truth in the first place.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

#16 , In Which I Interview Myself about the Book and Matters of Truth and Memoir

I love how my mentor and friend Fleda wrote an interview with herself about her latest book, No Need of Sympathy. She's a fab writer, by the way, and many of us could learn a thing or twelve from her. For instance, I learned last week that conducting an interview with oneself is indeed a possibility and, not only that, a worthwhile venture. In praise of Fleda, I imitate:

I ran into my Self in my sunroom where I like to sit on the couch with a laptop (or two), my cell phone, a bottle of water, and whatever books I am currently reading. She wasn't busy, so I struck up the following conversation.

Heather: Hey, so glad to see you here. I've been noticing all this activity on Facebook about a book you have coming out--Dear Boy, An Epistolary Memoir. What's that all about? I thought you were a pastor?

Self: Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? Well, three years ago I actually completed an MFA program in creative writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Great place--great people. And my creative thesis has become this book, Dear Boy, that is being released by Ovenbird later this year.

Heather: So, what does "Epistolary" mean? I notice that word trips people up now and then.

Self: I know--it's an uncommon usage of the root word--epistle. Think about the Bible and the Pauline epistles--the letters Paul wrote to various groups of believers: so, epistolary has to do with letters, and at least half of the book is written in letters to different people in my life.

Heather: Wait--are these real letters? Letter that you saved from correspondence with family members?

Self: No--see, I borrowed the techniques of fiction to tell this story. The letters are made-up, but when they combine with parts of the book that are in third-person narration, they tell this story about my relationship with my brother (who died five years ago) against the backdrop of other complex relationships and dysfunction in our family.  It's also, in large part, what I call a "grief book."  Not that I think it's a guide for grieving people or anything like that, but I think there's something universal to the story that people who have suffered loss or are currently grieving will be able to relate to.

Heather: I know you're a very spiritual person and pastoral ministry is a very important part of your life. Is this a book that will help others?

Self: I think people could make a lot of honest assumptions about the kind of book that a "minister" would write--that it is, by design, intended to point people to God or give them insight about living a more God-centered life.  But I don't know if this book will do that for anyone. It wasn't written with that in mind. What it is is an honest picture of a part of my life, written during a season where I was experiencing some of the worst heartache and having to wrestle with questions I'd never had to wrestle with before. I don't pretty up any of that in the book, but I do think that there is a lens that I, as the narrator, offer--one of compassion to those who have hurt me. One of forgiveness.

Heather: So, there are people to forgive in this story?

Self: Sure, but the book doesn't use language like that.  There's the woman who raised me--my mother. One of the tricky things I and other memoirists have to work out is that the telling of our stories intersects with other people's stories by default. I did everything I could to protect her identity as much as possible because it's important to me to honor her in that way. She's just another human being who deserves to face the world on her own terms without anyone else interfering. I don't want the telling of my story to get in the way of that.

Heather: But why write this book and publish if there's a chance that this could hurt someone?

Self: That's a tough question, and I'm not sure I have the right answer. All I know is that I feel like it's the right thing to do. I have this faith that it's the right thing for an artist to tell the truth as best they see it and in as compassionate a way as they can. All of us writers have to grapple with the fact that truth and art can hurt. There are even those parts of the Bible that cause me excruciating anguish to read--like in Judges when an innocent woman is raped all night long; then her body is cut apart and distributed to all twelve tribes of Israel and used as an excuse for civil war. That's the kind of thing that you read in the Bible about God's "chosen" people and think, How did this get here?  How are we supposed to react to it? Why did the Biblical narrators put it there? What do we do with that? I think Dear Boy also begs that question of the reader: when evil happens--when people hurt us--what do we do?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#15, On Charles Finney, Love, and Parenting (As Separate Subjects)

My husband brought Charles Finney into our marriage in the form of multiple editions that have found their way to bookshelves in the various homes we've lived in. I never read Finney till last week (that's sixteen years of not getting to know this guy when I had the chance).  And now that I've started, I'm not so sorry it took me this long.

I picked up Principles of Love because, like so many of you good-willing humanoids, I'm trying to become a more loving person. Trying to figure out what it means to lay my life down, swallow pride, take the high road, love the lovable in a moment when they are very unlovable.  But Finny is not helping because Finney is all "Love is intelligent. Love is volitional. Love is impartial. Love is courageous" and none of it is inspiring me to shut my mouth when that would be the loving thing to do. None of it is girding me with the inner strength to bear up without complaint the inconveniences put upon to me.

The only piece of his book that has helped me is the "For Reflection" piece at the end of chapter one (a segment I'm not even convinced was written by Finney). Here's the worthwhile declaration that comes, most likely, from Finney's editor (thanks, man): I have decided to consecrate myself to loving God and others, rather than allow my feelings and actions to flow from a decision to gratify my selfish desires.

Editor, 1. Finny, 0.  Do I keep this guy?

Last night, I was dead to the world at 9:30, but my littlest peep Tiny was getting sicker and sicker. Mark was more hands-on at the beginning of the evening and about the time he was giving up, I gave it my all and managed to sit in the recliner in her room from about 1 a.m. on, monitoring her breathing. It sounded like she was sucking air in through a mucous-made straw.  When it got as loud and awful as I could take, I packed her up for the ER at 3:15 a.m.

The ER is such a lesson in human compassion--the greatness or lack thereof depending on the day--and I was warmly grateful when the male check-in nurse reported to me all of Tiny's revealing vitals, fretted over her cough, and offered to help me carry something back to the exam room (I was juggling a purse, water bottle, two stuffed animals and Tiny).

Enter nurse Kelly, a sweet-talking young blonde woman. Enter a resident who walks right up to me and Tiny without offering his name and asked, "So, what's going on here?"  And then: "Can I look in her mouth? Can I look in your mouth?" I ask his name and say to Tiny, "Can you open your mouth for Dr. Hassan?"  No, she shook her head. She couldn't.  Out went Hassan. In breezed Miller (supervising physician, female, forties) who introduces herself and asks if she can look in Tiny's mouth. The room is filled with a chorus of Please can you open your mouth? I know you can do it! It won't hurt. Miller pulls out a killer whale flashlight/keychain thingy. The killer whale has a retractable jaw.  See? Even the whale can open his mouth!

This is not persuasive.

The night is full of cajoling and unfabricated threats of shots if Tiny doesn't drink her Tylenol, prednisone and take her epinephrine gas mask, the latter advertised by a breathing treatment on myself, her stuffed puppy and her stuffed bunny.  The gas mask induces many tears, but once going begins to loosen up the phlegm in her chest. I can feel the epinephrine tendrils curling into my own nose and mouth, loosening up my own lungs and head.  Nurse Kelly suggests a song and I start with Tiny's bedtime favorite, wondering if "Be Thou My Vision" will forever more live on as a PTSD trigger involving memories of gas masks, insomnia and shortness of breath.

As soon as we get the mask off her, I see Tiny's arms trembling.  As I lay her down to change her pull-up, she gags and vomits Tylenol and prednisone all over her shirt and the Wreck-It Ralph sticker reward Kelly had grandly presented only seconds before. I strip Tiny down; nurse Kelly brings anti-nausea meds because, yes, Tiny could throw up again as a side effect of the epi.

I wonder if it's necessary, all the intervention. Tiny hasn't ever had her body so full of drugs in her life.  Her little self collapses on the pillow for the next two hours, intermittently sleeping and then awake.  Her fever breaks and she sweats through two sheets. There is one moment, in the darkened room, when she sits up with her index finger pointing right at me, and she's crying and shouting, Done! Done! and another moment when she stirs and asks, Is it good morning yet? (because in Tiny's book, good morning = morning. There is no other kind).

On our way to the hospital that night, she had been so concerned by the dark. Tiny is not a creature of the night. Mommy, she said in her whisper-raspy voice, I can't see the trees.   

I know, I know, honey. We'll see them soon.  I pray for her so quietly that only God can hear me.

When she is finally released four hours later, I carry her into 80 degree sunshine, a bright and humid August morning. Mommy! she cheers with clearer breath, it's good morning!

And now we're home and sleepy and Tiny is cranky but her breathing has improved and it is good evening and tomorrow we'll have good morning all over again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Notes #14, Particularly on Parenting


First-day-of-school failure: I didn't take pictures of the girls holding signs saying "First Day of Preschool" "First Day of 3rd Grade" and "First Day of 6th Grade." Apparently, my back-to-school mothering skills are lacking.  Did you even know that signs were a thing?  Well, you must've--because every other mom on FB had the pictures with the kids and the signs and the cute new back-to-school cowgirl boots. Mark and I had to divide and conquer this morning, meaning he waited with Middle in the 3rd grade line and I took Tiny to preschool. She got her picture taken--next to some overgrown shrubs and the preschool building's siding in the background. There is no sign or identifying characteristic to the picture. She was wearing a green skirt I bought from a re-sale store in town. In five years, I'll wonder if this was taken in front of the dentist's office or the library.

It's the small wonders I celebrate today, like the fact that lunch making was easy and well-planned out; I had the food on hand to make everyone happy. And: They. Ate. It. All of it. Or mostly, except for three jellybean tomatoes. Day 1 down! Oh, and here's my advice for Day 1 lunch packers: Set the bar low for Pete's sake. That way you're sure never to disappoint on Days 2-180. Today, the girls didn't get dessert. But tomorrow, they get brownies.  Already, they are soooo thankful.

And looky there, you've killed the second bird of cultivating gratitude in your offspring.

You're welcome.  That was for free.


I tried very hard to make this morning flow smoothly, but one of my offspring had a series of temper tantrums that won her half an hour of "room-time" in the evening. While I coached her on respect and speaking in a calm voice, she yelled at me about how disrespectful it was to ground her, and didn't I know she has feelings too and that I'm "damaging our relationship and connection" by giving her consequences? This is where all those big feely, relational words I use come back to bite me.


You probably guessed I wasn't writing about Tiny just now, but please don't try to narrow it down from there. These girls desperately need privacy even if their mother does a slap-bang job at providing it 100% of the time. They don't need the weight of everyone else's opinion about their short-lived sins. God knows we all want less of that! Anyhoo, I know you're not the sort of person who would ever go up to an 8- or 11-year-old with a sing-songy You got in tro-uble. I read it on your mom's blo-og. And if you are that kind of person, Oprah says that when you know better, you do better. Do better. I'm holding you to it.

So no real worries, but to be on the safe side, maybe just pretend I'm writing about my godchildren who live in Bali and have come to stay with me for the decade. 'K?

Btw, I'm not allowed to sing anywhere that is remotely public (i.e. a parking lot or the sidewalk). These children have sing-dar. The second I open my mouth in under-my-breath song, they panic. MOM! Mo-om, STOP! they implore in these hushed stage whispers while looking frantically around. You'd think the Titanic was sinking and there weren't any lifeboats left. You really would.

Have you all heard those mom-lines that go something like this, "But Honey, it's my job to embarrass you" (*wink wink nudge nudge smile elbow poke*)?

These godchildren of mine will take none of it.

All said, I see the light at the end of their tunnels (on some days more than others, true), but I was thankful today when I noticed good choices in the midst of the bad and was able to say how sweetly one was setting boundaries with her sister, taking charge of herself, using self-control.  And when I named what I saw, there was that little head-nod of acknowledgement, the moment of eye contact where despite the rocky morning and rocky afternoon, she knew I saw her and, I daresay, was again convinced I love her.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Raven Street Notes #13

Ever have those weeks where the same ol' topic comes up with different people in different contexts and you get on this internal soapbox and you start trying to articulate and re-articulate how a direction the world has gone is wrong just wrong and how it needs to be righted, just righted, but there are a million people who can say it way more succinctly/smartly/creatively than you and then you read it somewhere and you're like, Yeah, what she said!! What she said!!?  Well, this was one of those for me, and then I read this guest blog post today on Rachel Held Evans' blog, and my heart was singing amen and hallelujah (figuratively) until I got to the end, at which point I just head-scratched for a while. See if you head-scratch too. I'm curious. (Sidenote, if you're not in any way familiar with evangelical/pentacostal church culture, then this article might augment any unconfirmed suspicions that we Christians haven't got it all figured out yet).

Parenting + Summertime = bootcamp for Mom and Dad.  School starts in one week and I am conflicted.  On one hand I think we could use more time Ironing Out all the behavioral kinks that seem to have surfaced out of the Boredom of Summer; I believe that If We Could Just Get To The Bottom of this complex psychosis of whiny and/or disrespect and/or lethargy, that I could probably set these young people on a path to a more solid future.  My therapist, on the other hand, is convinced that boredom is the simple Bottom of the Problem and that school will solve it.  We shall see.

Ah yes, now you're probably wondering if I'm crazy (the therapist?). Right. Well, I'm of the opinion that we are all in need of a good one or, if not, at least someone in our lives who gets the job done even if we don't pay them.

If you live in eastern Iowa, you probably know that 7 people died on Sunday from auto accidents. A sweet, lovely woman in my church has died because of a hit-and-run; she left behind two children, a husband and a million family members who loved her dearly. This is the sort of week where you are sober, so sober, in the midst of life's necessary tasks and parent bootcamping and even blog-reading and idea-exchanging online. And you're praying for peace and comfort with what are at times wordless groans. And you listen to different people process shock and grief and you cry with them or you just are silent--and it's like you're just sitting and yearning and waiting for God's felt presence to settle on the community, the grieving, like a thick blanket that insulates against the winds of any hopelessness and any despair. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

On 35

Here's what came of navel-gaze-y conversations this week:

I was the kid in a hurry to grow up. Race, run, climb, move up the ladder. Get done, there, fast. High school, marriage, kids, grad school, credentials for what have you. I was precocious, my friends were always older. But at some point, you catch up, get 'er done. At some point all the obvious and expected "firsts" have either happened to us or we've given up on them happening ever.

Then what?

Of course, I'm not saying life is over! I'm saying it's a new day. I'm saying that all I've been obliged to complete and compete in and endeavor has at least been solidly started, and if not completed then on the path to it. Time to recalibrate. Time for some new dreams. Most of them have nothing to do with tests and studying (for the first time in 20 years).

Paint more walls in my house
Grow a vegetable garden (successfully)
Grow kombucha.
Advance in kettlebell training.
Ride my bike more.
Go to more soccer games.
Play soccer
Try out for a play
Invent delicious, nutritionally dense recipes that my family LOVES and can't live without (tall order)
Get so good on the keyboard that it's easy all the time
Get so good at harmony that it's easy all the time
Read more books
Install wood flooring
Take risks with giving generously
Challenge others to take risks
Give up on scales forever
Complete ministerial ordination
Go to the L.A. Dream Center
Go on more mission trips
Have another "easy" baby
Help people connect with people
Help people connect with God
Be my girls' biggest fan
Teach them how to cook
Teach them how to play keys (if they want to--I think they do?  Or maybe I just want them to want to)
Pray. More.
Conduct group inductive Bible studies
Laugh more
Be patient no matter what
Be joyful no matter what
Be faithful no matter what
Be truthful no matter what
Be selfless
Be humble
Buy a self-propelled mower and mow a whole yard without quitting
Practice hospitality. More.
Stop checking email between the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays
Have more parties
Invite neighbors I hardly know
Make new friends
Hang on to old ones

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Afternoon

I'm reading a book for review called The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book. It's filled with hundreds of outdoor activities for children. Reading it has fanned nostalgia for my own childhood into flame--the exploring and wandering and discovering we did in a neighborhood tucked up against railroad property. Trees and deer, rabbits and giant spiders abounded. Creeks and other mysteries in the nearby woods kept me and my friends properly entertained for hours. 

Saturday, when Middle was spending the afternoon at Grandpa's house, I took Oldest and Tiny out to Woodpecker Trail by the Coralville Res. I normally do not venture out into snow for fun, but the day was warm as far as snow-cold winter days go. The snow was fairly fresh and the woods were quiet. Oldest, who gets plenty of outdoor time in the neighborhood, was not too keen on leaving the comforts of our warm house and her iPod but I coerced convinced her to come. And luckily we had Tiny's sled, otherwise we'd have been on the trail for hours while the girl waded through eight-tenths of a mile in knee-deep (to Tiny's knees) snow. Our trek was all downhill until the last quarter mile, at which point I had to enlist Oldest to help me pull Tiny in her sled part of the way up a steep incline with snow-covered stairs set at random intervals. We were sweating, and my heart was fluttering faster than it did during my first foray into  Jillian's 30 Day Shred.

I don't want to sell Tiny short, though: the kid has endurance. She insisted on walking different portions of the trail, telling me "I don't need a hand" when I tried to stabilize her on the snow-covered steps.  She was intent on collecting snowballs (i.e. any pre-existing, nature-formed chunk of snow) and stockpiling them in her sled as she tread along with no consciousness of the setting sun, the almost-dinner hour, the lostness we could experience in the dark out on the trail. 

We've been reading Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day a lot at our house.  In it, a young boy named Peter goes out into the world to experience the snow and the things it covers. On every page, Peter takes his time. First with footprints, then with snow angels, then sliding down a hill of snow, then making a snowman, then packing a snowball. His mother is not hurrying him a long; his mother is not even present for these adventures. I could see Tiny channeling Peter on our hike. She'd take one step up the hill to placate my steady stream of urgings, and then she was plopping down into the fresh snow at the sides of the trail.

"I need to make an angel," she'd tell me and wiggle like a beetle on its backside when she tried to get up.  "I need to make a glove," she'd say, pressing her protected hand into the snow and smiling with satisfaction at its impression.

Sometimes Tiny is so caught up, so present, so in the moment. 

It's how we were all those years as children, I suppose.  I have no memories of feeling rushed in the woods because dinner was coming, because the sun was going down, because my mother might be looking for me.  There was only the woods and the trickle of the creek and the corner fence post I used as a lookout, the horse in the field on the other side of the fence and me sitting on my lookout, watching the world sit still. 

I'm alone with this third child of mine quite often when the older are at school or running around the neighborhood unattended.  Her process of taking in the world makes complete sense to her (a step, a snow angel, a glove impression, another step). It slows me down tremendously. But I haven't been fighting it so much these days.  In truth, I enjoy reacquainting myself with a still world.

But the sun does eventually set, so I nudged (and pulled) Tiny onward toward the top of the trail, putting off her request for a snowball fight until we got to the parking lot. With this reward in mind, she soldiered on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Sexy Means and Other Things Middle Doesn't Understand

It’s the parenting moment I looked forward to for years—that one when my eight year old came home from a classmate’s birthday party and asked, “Mom, what does sexy mean?”

“Why do you ask?” I said.

“Because we were dancing to ‘I’m Sexy and I Know it’ and Jenna* was all like, ‘I’M SO SEXXXYYY!’” Middle growled and clawed at the air in bear paw fashion.

“Where did you guys get that song?”

“It was on Emily’s mom’s Ipod.”

“Did her mom know you were listening to her Ipod?”

Yeah. So what does it mean?”

I'll admit it: I was surprised that my 8 year old was dancing to "I'm Sexy" at an 8-year-old’s birthday party. But then I realized that this song was featured in the recent kids’ movie, Madagascar 3, which just came out in 2012. Everyone under five knows it now.

Language has changed since I was 8. When I was 8, sexy meant just sexy.  Now sexy means sexy and, if you’re 8 years old, it means cool because when you’re 8 you can’t understand the actual meaning of sexy if you don’t understand sex. And most 8-year-olds don’t seem to have a holistic grasp on that one. So sexy gets translated as cool because the rest of the lyrics are too fast, too confusing, to slammed together for them to really make out their mysteries. Although, in Madagascar the song is pumping, “Girl, look at that body. Girl look at that body,” and  if Middle actually was asking to know the lyrics to the song and then added those to the context of some barnyard critter going all googly-eyed over a rotund brown bear in a tutu, she’d know that sexy meant a little more than just cool like your-bike-is-so-cool cool.

I’m only 34, but I’ve been wondering: Am I old-school already?  Am I not flexing with culture in a way that makes perfect sense? Should I start calling my Middle sexy for fun when I think she looks cute and sparkly and peppy on her way to school some day? Can you imagine complimenting your 8-year-old in such a way (put on your best smile and happy voice, now):  

Hey Middle, you look so SEXY today!!! 

You can’t, can you.  So I’m not the only one who’s old school.

Middle has also been coming home requesting to listen to Kidz Bop songs. She’s hearing them in her classroom once in a while during writing time (the teacher plays them from his computer).

I don’t listen to much pop music on the radio so I didn’t recognize Miley Cyrus Partying in the USA or Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” remade/re-edited into children’s songs when she came home asking me to play them on Spotify.  What I did notice was this:

The main feature of these songs is dancing on dance floors. In clubs.

My Middle doesn’t go to clubs. In fact, she probably can’t legally get into any in the state of Iowa because they serve alcohol. Also, people smoke there. And wear clothes she’s too young to wear. And do things with their bodies she’s not allowed to do yet.

A little more digging into her two favorite Kidz Bop song lyrics: Jay-Z and “Brittany” (both totally appropriate role model-artists for an 8-year-old) are mentioned in Miley’s “USA,” which seems to be an ode to all things Hollywood through the eyes of a young, impressionable girl who thinks “famous” people are the bomb.  I was truly thrilled to find out that “Fire Burning” in its original form is all about a guy getting an erection at the club while watching a woman dance. Oh, but maybe not. I’m not sure: Does “My pocket started tickling/the way she drop it low, that thang” mean that a few stray bills in his pocket suddenly took on a life of their own?  And of course, she’s “that thang” (or some part of her body is).  And he likes her body and he’s going to “take it home.” 

And while the Kidz Bop version is a little more PG, the woman is still an object: she’s a fire, a birthday cake, she’s gotta be “cooled down” by Shawty.

You might be able to guess what happened next. I got all psychotic-mama-bear on Kidz Bop (just the two songs I knew) and I emailed Middle’s teacher, a sweet 25-year old Justin Timberlake-from-ten-years-ago lookalike. I dropped a lot of big words into my email (objectification, sexualization, concern), thinking I’d either be his worst nightmare or his friendly neighborhood feminist. I was channeling warm, sweet, smarter-than-a-whip Naomi Wolf from The Beauty Myth days, hoping to be perceived as the latter.

It turned out to be a useful exchange; we’ll talk more at our conference next week.  But I’m stuck tonight in awe at the marketing model of Kidz Bop, which seems to be: get some kids under the age of 15 to do covers of the most popular current songs (age-appropriate or not), and market the songs to babies. From break-ups to angsty love to clubby dance-lust, the central themes of most of the bops seem not to be a good fit for my Middle, who’s reading Little Women and The Boxcar Children and drawing self-portraits and playing spies in her free time.  And I think someone as wonderful and charming and energetic as she deserves some good dance music.

*Names were changed to protect privacy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Raven Street Notes #12

It's an eerie situation I find myself in at the OB/GYN for an annual exam, tap-tapping away at the computer check-in kiosk. No more paper forms to fill out about my grandfathers' histories of strokes, no boxes to check with pen and ink about mental illness and substance abuse in my extended family. It's a "smart screen"; alls I have to do is finger-check the right rectangles on screen.  But this smart screen sucks and I'm tapping upwards of 12 times, insisting it recognize that I do not smoke.  After checking "yes" to another box about the health of my various relations, it asks to know the name of my brother. Giving it is my mistake, oversupplying information to this obtuse inquisitor. Now it wants to know if Josh has fertility issues.  

Here's another question:  How many times have you been pregnant? 

Seven for sure, most likely eight. There's not a box for eight, just "7 or more," probably 'cause it's the upper end of the spectrum. How many women have seven or more children, after all?  But it would have been some comfort to me had there been a box for  "eight" and a box for "seven" because, I think, it does matter whether I lost five pregnancies or four. It matters that another not get lumped into the sameness of the first four even if the pregnancy I call my "eighth" (really seventh in sequence, eighth in impact) was so short-lived that I wasn't even late. So short I didn't give myself a day to thrill quietly with the news. The ending happened so fast I didn't think to be sad.  

But it matters now: this subject of my grave curiosity: conception and an embryo's disintegration inside my body.

How many live births have you had? 

Three. I've had three live births. 

I'm a schoolgirl chomping at the bit while the teacher makes to move on with the lesson.  The computer's asking how I'd like to be identified in the waiting room by the medical staff (Should they call my name? Should they just find me?) while I'm stuck in the stories the computer didn't ask but conjured in me all the same. Images of operating rooms and stained ceiling tiles, hospital gowns, blood blood blood blood blood, small jars containing tissue from placentas, waiting waiting hoping waiting, butterfly needles, syringes, pregnancy tests pregnancy tests pregnancy tests, phone calls, calendars, ultrasounds, waiting rooms, emergency rooms, cancer docs, OBs, flowers, a stuffed Snoopy in a Santa suit, knitted blankets.

I could tell you the story. If the computer was actually a rational and empathic being. If it was a psychologist asking, say. Or if we had decided by appointment to sit down and talk about me.  Then I would tell the story of my body--how it made babies and how it didn't. And you know, I sort of wanted to tell today. Even though there was only the computer and it was only a routine visit and I was just doing what normal people do every day of their lives, tending to the business of safekeeping health, making appointments, riding in elevators, driving in cars. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Raven Street Notes #11

1. I am fasting from Facebook this month, and so naturally, blogging is the next best thing for satisfying my social media needs. But truth be told, I'm a little disappointed in myself--with my craving to dialogue with five hundred people at once about my offspring, my dinner, the articles I'm reading, a movie I watched.  Since January 1, I have been on the verge of pulling out my smart phone to take a picture of Tiny singing/baking/dancing (you name it) only to remember that I don't have "anyone" to share it with, and by that I mean I won't be able to make it visible to hundreds of people with one tap.  I could, I suppose, send it to my husband and Tiny's grandparents, but that doesn't seem as satisfying.  I want the world to know if anyone's going to know. I must broadcast to all audiences if I broadcast to one.  And what this means, my friends, is that if a tree falls in the forest and I don't document it for a FB status update, it didn't really fall.
This is pitiful. And I must take measures to appreciate, witness, and acknowledge the fallen trees sans status update.

2. I need a Vitamix, that $500 dangling carrot of kitchen appliances that facilitate healthy eating.  The big girls and I are enamored with the traveling road show that pops up at Costco every so many months.  And the young and peppy Vitamix Guy in his apron, hair net, Vitamix cap, and microphone headset (to be heard over the whirr of his demonstration) is as compelling and enamoring as the machine itself. He grins, slack-jawed and loose-tongued as he peels pineapple, squeezes an agave nectar bottle with a flourish from high in the air, sloshes puree into dixie cups and twirls the Vitamix plunger in and out of the bucket of rinse water. He's got recipes on bright yellow card stock he's handing out: "Derick's Recipe Cards" is printed at the bottom in a some kind of home desktop publishing scrawl. If corporate made these, they want you to think Derick did it himself, at home in front of his MacBook making sure he didn't forget the cinnamon in the applesauce recipe for the moms who make their own baby food. I'm totally hooked on Derick's enthusiasm, the Vitamix, and having someone else make food for me.  I remind myself that the $500 does not pay for the personal chef. I also have terrible luck buying pineapple in Iowa and, therefore, the tropical green smoothie is still truly out of my reach.

3. I am most aware than ever I have been of great joy accompanied by suffering. "It matters what we focus on," I heard Heidi Baker say earlier this week. It's true; it does matter because simultaneously I'm inundated by the goodness of Tiny's laugh and the celebrations of Oldest and Middle's art projects and the sorrows of calamities in places like Newtown as well as the geographies of my children's bodies and my own, which betray us with weapons that sound like, respectively, recurring strep, ear infection, asthma, miscarriage, hotflash.  Too many times, I departed from my happy oblivion-of-normalcy for the continent of Grief, although it might be less a continent than a rugged ice floe you stand around on in the bitter cold for endless months, jumping up an down in your thin, ragged parka (no hat, no gloves), blowing on your hands for warmth until you drift into whatever land Grief is taking you too.

I put my toes on Grief this month and then shrank back from its awful death-ice. I hate Grief.  And so I've decided to turn up my nose at its hospitable arctic habitat. I'm going to find another way to--I don't know--not skirt around it, but maybe keep one foot planted on warm undrifting ground and stretch my leg out so just a little pinky toe rests on the ice floe.  Why the pinky?  Because you can't ignore Grief--or maybe you can, and I'm thrilled for you--but I can't ever seem to shake it no matter how I try.  In the old days, on Grief's floe, I questioned things I won't question anymore. I've resolved not to. Such lines of inquiry as: Is God good? If God is good, then why am I on this ice floe? But like I said, I'm not getting on (fully) this time; I've got what I think is ample evidence of God's goodness: the hope that fires away in spite of calamity, the tenderheartedness of people in the midst of deep suffering, my children's laughter, and my two-year-old Tiny saying over and over last month as if this were truly significant to her, "Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!", a reminder of Emmanuel, that God is With Us.