I was in my car when the 1985 song, “The Search is Over,” by Surrender came on the radio. I had not heard it in years and for a moment it reminded me of being a 13-year old girl pining over some boy or another who refused to acknowledge my existence in a reasonable way like a bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, or a boom box blaring a romantic song outside my bedroom window. (Then I remembered it was my Whitney Houston album I played at such somber times of adolescent angst – not Surrender.)
Lost in thought about those days when I would cocoon myself within my four lavender bedroom walls and lament my imperfect body, wardrobe, and life’s entirety, I had a most random thought of a certain guy. He was never my crush, or who I fixated on when I drowned myself in pity, or whom I even had a fleeting thought when I sat idly and listened to sad songs about people who once knew love. I heard the lyrics “The search is over. You were with me all the while,” and I thought of God. I was surprised at how my brain went from unrequited teenage infatuation to the essence of total and complete love that is God.
Yet it made sense to me because in the time since record albums were replaced with cassette tapes, and cassette tapes were replaced with CD’s, and CD’s were replaced with music subscriptions, and music itself degraded into some sort of homage to one’s booty — I’ve searched for many things. I have searched for the perfect man, house, job, couch, school, church, outfit, plant, publisher, vacation, vocation, doctor, and dog. I have spent so very much time on a search of some sort. What I found is that none of it compares to my relationship with God. In all of the searching that so often felt paramount to my satisfaction, to any chance of happiness, all I really needed was what I already had. An abiding God, who faithfully stood at my side, humoring my distractions, patiently awaiting my many detours, and holding me upright despite wayward falls. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Read more
I was subbing for a first-grade class when I received a text message from an unknown number. It was from a family friend’s college-aged daughter seeking help for her friend considering an abortion. She knew that I had volunteered at the Women’s Help Center, a pro-life organization that supports women throughout pregnancy, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her friend so that she understood all her options.
Of course, I said yes. As implausible as it is to think any of us has the right to terminate life, it is a legal choice in our society. A choice that is clearly devoid of God who created us out of love and with the innate purpose to love. Taking God out of the miracle of motherhood feels illogical, but there are many who do. Even biologically speaking, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world. Not just our bodies’ ability to create life but the innate desire to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for our offspring. In the animal and the human species, this is the norm, and while it is standard it is also fierce. Everything else – including our own survival is secondary to the “it’s in our nature to nurture” phenomenon hard-wired in most living things. It hardly seems like a matter of choice.
Being in a room full of six-year-olds is a frenzy of joy. They are dynamic, unique, curious, and flat-out funny. They give spontaneous hugs, ask personal questions, listen attentively when a middle-aged woman talks about cats, and without hesitation trust you with their day. They are also complicated like the rest of humanity and will become increasingly so. Even as an outsider, I can see their proclivities, strengths, struggles, and basic need to be loved and accepted. They have a keen sense of the world around them. They are paying attention. They are fully alive. Each one a choice.
By the end of that school day, I learned that the woman made an appointment to have an abortion. She was still agreeable to speak with me and was supposed to call me the next day. She never did. Her friend explained to me that she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision. I called the young woman and assured her I was here if she wanted to talk, and would be after her appointment as well. Not to judge or lecture or to act like a caricature of a pro-life Christian in all the variances of absurdity they are portrayed as – but just to listen. My heart ached for the burden of choice this young girl carried. It would sound condescending to say the woman didn’t understand her choice; presumptuous to say abortion will affect her deeply, and Pollyanna to say that if she has her baby it will be full of giddy laughter and flying unicorns, when I know how gut-wrenchingly hard motherhood can be. Everything that can be said can be construed as flippant, dismissive, over-simplified, insensitive, or unrealistic. All the best words can come out wrong. Read more
During my senior year in high school, I had a small part in the school play, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. My role was of the scandalous secretary who was presumably having an affair with her boss. I wore a tiny off the shoulder black dress and slung my waist-length hair around with a flick of my wrist while hinting to the more dutiful office employee about my clandestine relations. That was almost 30 years ago and the only flicking of the wrists I do now is after washing my hands in the kitchen sink when I’m too hurried to use a dishtowel.
Unlike my children’s lives, mine isn’t particularly well-documented so when I came across an old VCR tape of the school play, I thought it would be fun to transfer it to DVD. The decades-old recording had aged much like the cast of characters it chronicled. Faces were a blur and I had to rely on sound more than sight to distinguish fellow classmates. It’s odd to think back that far, at how young we were, how sure we were, and how unsure we were. Dizzy hopes for the future dangled like a cliffhanger in the drama of our own lives. One of the boys who had a leading role in the play passed away last year. His grainy silhouette was punctuated by the boom of his voice. His animated gestures and rhythmic inflections belied the premature hush that came upon his life. It made me sad. Read more
My son was on one of those whirling amusement park rides that circled the clouds like a frenzied dog chasing its tail. Somewhere vertical in the sky he spun so fast that the metal contraption that contained him angled sideways – much like my stomach felt down below. I could barely stand to watch him, and I fervently prayed he wouldn’t end up with whiplash or vertigo or otherwise be thrust into outer space. I’ve always been the girl at the park who held the drinks, the jackets, and whatever else the “fun” people couldn’t take on the thrill rides. I am okay being this girl. I don’t feel even the slightest pang of regret for my union with solid ground. I hang out with squirmy toddlers in their strollers and watch pigeons as their heads bobble in search of food.
So, I don’t typically think of myself as brave. That’s a word I associate with the kind of courage it takes to ride a rollercoaster or kill a roach without screaming and spastically throwing shoes. I am not that girl either. I yell for my husband, sons, and even the cats (who look at me in disdain as if I’ve just equated them with some kind of animal). If no one is nearby, I resort to evacuating. I figure shelter is overrated and the roach can have my residence.
This year, I aim to be brave. This doesn’t have anything to do with rollercoasters or roaches, but instead, my relationship with God. For the last several years, I have focused on surrender. Surrender is one of those words that is easily confused with defeat. Yet in the battleground for our souls, Read more
All of the hoopla of a new year — a new decade can feel overwhelming like the throngs of crowds who enthusiastically greet it in celebration when the clock strikes midnight. This year I slept right through it. Partly because it makes more sense to start anew with a proper night’s sleep and mostly because I am just not that into the hype of a new year. I’m not interested in goal-setting or resolutions or crushing it (whatever “it” may be.) It’s not because I’m complacent or lack ambition or betterment. It’s just that for me, resolutions never seem to be the way to affect genuine life change.
By nature, I was always a rules person. I played by the rules. I made countless rules. I was disciplined (and neurotic) enough to think the criteria I set for my life was paramount to achieving success or at least to maintaining order.
Not in the span of a day or even a year, but in incremental shifts and small seemingly insignificant moments, I realized that however well-intentioned my resolutions were, they were feeding a mindset of unworthiness. Instead, I began to consider the threshold of unconditional love that is the basis of Christianity. I tried to wrap my head around the enormous truth of being loved right where we are and I started to question the motivations that ruled me. I came to know mercy in a meaningful way. I didn’t use it as a crutch to allow myself to do whatever I pleased. It wasn’t an invitation to complacency. It was motivation to stop putting emphasis on the worldly and pay more attention to the worthwhile. It was permission to let go of the perfect and find grace in imperfection. It was possibilities made endless through the merits of forgiveness, the boundless pursuit of compassion, and the insurmountable power of love.
It was Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait for Santa to come. I am not even sure I believed in Santa at this point in my childhood, but I believed in presents and that was good enough. I had trouble sleeping, and hearing the rustle of last-minute gift-wrapping upstairs only heightened my anticipation. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I prowled the attic, my mom’s closet, and any other place I could think to snoop. The idea of being surprised was overrated. Practically speaking, I could just as easily be surprised by looking inside a plastic bag while standing barefoot on the attic’s plywood floor. I felt certain that I had watched enough television to feign astonishment on Christmas morning. I even fantasized about my Emmy-award winning performance. It would be as bright and colorful as the lights on the tree that would spotlight me.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for during all that prowling but that’s part of the journey of discovery, right? It’s the thrill of seeking, of what could be, — maybe even of finding something better than we imagined. In my case, what I found didn’t compare to the curated wares hawked in the Spiegel catalog I carefully perused as a pastime. There was a Tootsie Roll piggy bank filled with chewy chocolate jerky. Meh. Fun socks — as if those two words could possibly go together. Toys that were obviously for my brother. I certainly had no use for G.I. Joe. He was too short to use as a suitable partner for Barbie. Then there were a few miscellaneous clothes that I hoped were for my sister because they weren’t quite cute enough for me.
I wanted a fur coat like the one I lovingly pet in the department store inspiring a lecture from my mom on animal cruelty. What seemed crueler was her begrudging me this accessory that I was certain would make me look as glamorous as Sue Ellen on the Friday-night soap-opera, Dallas. (If they didn’t want children to watch such smut, they should not have run it after an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard). I would have settled for a rabbit’s foot keychain like some of the other girls at my school had. They were supposed to bring good luck. Who wouldn’t carry around two inches of a dead animal foot in exchange for a little luck?
When I reminisce about Thanksgiving, I don’t think about food. If I am being honest, I don’t even think about being grateful. What I recall is the excitement of being out of school, the quiet wonder of gazing out the car window at the rows of pines that lined the highway as we traveled to my Granny’s house, and the creak of her screen door as it flew open and I rushed inside her modest two-bedroom home straight into her warm and wrinkly arms.
I don’t think about the turkey.
Instead, I remember running to the park with my brother and sister and our two cousins. With a coveted cardboard box, we perched at the top of a giant hill that spilled onto an oval track. Squeezing together so we could all fit, we flew down the hill on our makeshift sled. We slid easily on the dead grass beneath. The nippy air rushed our faces. My heart raced with a giddy mix of joy and exhilaration. Then, having reached the bottom, we sprinted back up the steep hill to do it again with the same joyful tenacity as a Golden Retriever fetching a ball. We were tireless despite our pounding hearts, icy hands, and the tattered box that eventually disintegrated into pieces. I felt free.
I don’t think about sitting around a crowded table or how the brown gravy spilled onto my green peas.
Instead, I remember curling up next to my Granny and reading from her stack of magazines. I remember the gentle roll of her belly with each inhale and exhale. I folded into her quiet breath and wasn’t distracted by the din of the television or the mundanity of adult conversation. I felt safe. Read more
Lately, when I catch a glimpse of my face it appears to be melting like candle wax or colorful taffy in the hot Florida sun. It evokes the hollow horror of Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream.” Since I haven’t taken any LSD, I figure this droop must be part of aging. I spoke with my doctor about the way my origami shaped eyelids are folding in on themselves, and she said that she thinks I could qualify for the medically-necessary surgery to put them back in their proper place so my vision isn’t impaired. I didn’t know whether to feel validated by her comment or virtually hopeless.
Earlier that day I was speaking with a friend who is teaching a class on the Book of Ecclesiastes and he mentioned its humanistic view of vanity which goes beyond society’s obsession with appearances. The only thing I knew offhand about the chapter is the passage that begins “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
It reads like beautiful poetry, a cadence of simplicity making sense of a senseless world: “a time to be born and time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,” (Ecclesiastes 3: 2-3). A time to be young and cute with body parts in their proper spot and a time to have your eyelids tied up with thread so you can see every new crevice of decay. Somehow that line must have been edited out. I suppose for the sake of brevity, not lack of validity. Read more
It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school. The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions. Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college. For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda. We’ve made our list. We’ve pared down our list. We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day. At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.
It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating. There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope. It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives. Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write. It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways. Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto. Yet I know I can’t keep him. He needs to go and I need to let go. It makes me think a lot about what love means. So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on. Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own. It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you. It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding. Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured. It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want. It’s beautiful and boundless. Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.
When my son was seven years old, he was trying to balance. One minute he was excitedly saying, “Look, mom, I found the spot!” Moments later, mid-wobble, he said, “Oh, wait. I lost the spot.” Of course, it was losing it I related too.
Somewhere in the zig-zag of daily life is the sweet spot where we teeter in balance between work and rest, fun and fulfilling, and, social and silence. It seems sometimes like we live in a world of extremes. We have tiny houses and McMansions, hoarders and minimalists, and fast food and the slow-food movement. There is polarization in almost every category of modern life. Perhaps it is our obsession with busyness, where this extreme has become most evident. Busyness has become a badge that says my career is at a crescendo, my family is an extracurricular expert, and my personal life is a page-turner. But are we really living a harlequin-romance novel amidst kids and career, or are we huffing and puffing from here to there, texting our spouses our agendas and their assignments, as we scurry our kids to their next activity?
The other day I was rushing my son to an orthodontist appointment when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the car window I was squeezed between. To my dismay, I was only wearing one hoop earring. I looked like a rogue pirate without the talking parrot companion. Instead, I had a teenage boy who doesn’t speak as my counterpart. He only repeats “okay,” “I know,” and “fine,” as a series of responses. “Polly wants a cracker,” has become, “Mamas going to go crackers if she doesn’t hear a complete sentence soon!” (But that’s another conversation for another bottle of wine, as a good of friend of mine likes to say.) Read more