Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Buckets Lists and Details

My friend Cheryl began adding to her Bucket List this week and wondered what others had added to theirs. I told her in my very worst snot-nosed-brat voice that I don't have a Bucket List and don't plan to have a Bucket List. I simply must do a better job of keeping my mouth shut. Or at least moderating my tone.

I don't want to start a Bucket List for a few reasons. The first being, I'm not a huge fan of thinking about my mortality. Not that I think I'll live forever in this body on earth. Thank God that's not the case. It's just too sentimental for this mama's heart. So there's that.

While I do like the idea of planning adventures to do before we die, I get lost in the grandiose and forget to focus on the smallest details. And that's really the main reason why I don't have a compilation of hopes and aspirations. I've been to England, France, Italy and Switzerland. I've visited the islands of the Caribbean. I have ziplined, parasailed, water skied, tubed and jetskied.I've had babies at home and in the hospital. I have driven crazy long distances. I have laughed and cried and have done once-in-a-lifetime. And they were all fantastic.

When I dream of taking my husband to Japan for a month so he can enjoy first hand what he finds endlessly intersting, I forget to look at him and love him right now. When I wonder what it would be like to take my daughters away for significant birthdays, the years have mentally passed and I overlook the joy in their play and thoughts today. When I imagine my son graduating high school, the last child to fly the coop, I forget that my home will be empty of all their beautiful faces.

Sure, I want to travel and play and try and do more with my family. Yes, I want to learn to paint and how to edit photos. I'd love to be able to take my mom to Venice and go fly fishing with my dad. But what I really want is to love them all right now, in the miniscule details of everyday life, amidst the clutter of homework and dishes and parties and practices.

My bucket list is, instead of being large and wild, a hope to shine a microscope of attention of each of the important people in my life. Right now. Today.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Whooo Are You?

My daughter B turned 11 this month. She is an amazing kid (aren't they all?); she is confident and funny and shy and serious. She likes to read but then again, she doesn't. She loves to play soccer but she gives me fits when it's time for practice. She's tall and strong and her heart is as big as the sky; it breaks over injustice and small differences. She's a lover and a giver. Unless we're talking siblings.

She received a gift card to spend at a department store. Unlike her mother, this child loves to shop. She still loves to play dress up, and she thinks it's even more fun when you get to bring those things home and wear them around and then leave them on the floor of her room, but whatever. The day we went to use her gift card, she was abuzz. The excitement of spending money on whatever she wanted was just too much to bear.

We wandered the aisles, her siblings and me making suggestions, offering opinions. She told us to buzz off. We did. She made her selections and tried them on. We left with a bagful of new garments, a mother approving of her choices, a child thrilled with new goodies.

She waited a week for an opportunity to wear her new garments: a brown and olive print skirt with a wide brown belt, a brown embellished tee with a square neck and a soft white cardigan. Oh, and bronze sandals from the women's department. Girl's feet are bigger than mine. Yesterday she put on her clothes for church and we oohed and aahhed about how pretty and grown up she looked. Her face grew dark and she followed me into the bathroom while I finished my own morning toilette. You know, hair, makeup, shoes...

"Mama." She said. She looked sad in her pretty spring clothes. "Do you think I still look like myself?"

Of course she looked like herself. "What's wrong?"

"I'm afraid," she told me, after hemming and hawing, "that putting these different kinds of clothes on will change me."

Her question, of course, spoke to me, her mother, on so many levels: the child beginning to wrestle with identity, groups and styles, plus the insecurity that comes with it; the growing young person balanced between kid and woman, unsure how to walk this balance beam. Her question digs to a deeper level about who we are and how we present our selves to the world.

Are we the clothes we wear? Are we our glasses or the music we listen to or the car we drive? Is it true that "the clothes make the man?"

Many of these things do send off certain vibes: hipster, fashionista, athlete, academic. But these are just the first glimpse others get of us, and sometimes our clothes just mean: I'm working out or I'm going out or I'm staying in. And we can alter our attitudes, I think, a bit by how we choose to dress. When I dress in sweats and a tee, I'm a bit lazier. When I put on shoes and an actual outfit, I'm ready to work.

But the ME putting on those clothes has not changed. I am the same person, despite not having showered yet today.

My daughter hit on something big and I know we'll be talking about it for some time. How do we reveal ourselves as complex creatures under the limits of a superficial world? By superficial I mean that we all make snap judgements largely predicated on how something or someone appears. So, who are you? Just a pile of cotton and wool or a crazy mixed up salad bowl of traits and characteristics? How do you shine through?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can I Ask You a Question?

Today's post is written by my great friend, Cyndi. She is an incredibly talented photographer with an artistic, funky eye. Her graphic designs are amazing. Check her out. She taught herself to crochet and now she whips up sweaters for her dog, Betty. She is a Steelers fan, a loyal friend, a careful reader and a woman carving out her life, just like the rest of us. Say hi to Cyndi and hear what's on her mind.

I've spent a lot of time deep in thought lately about the meaningfulness of me. Yeah. Trying to find who I am and what "I" mean to those I love and care about. Much of this search for meaning is anchored in my never ending search of figuring out who I am. I've become entangled with a crisis of identity that never seems to get resolved.

Sometimes I am convinced it has passed. But like those missing pairs of socks that turn up after you used its mate to dust and polish furniture? Or the flip flop you thought went to that black hole where all unmated flip flops go until you discover it vacationing in the back of your closet? I realize it is there. Waiting. Ready to zap the badda from my bing. The ying from my yang. The hunky from my dorry.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about the worth of our friendship, all the while trying to find out the answer to that question I think we are often afraid to ask of those we care about---'What, if anything, do I mean to you?' Hard question to come straight out and ask, so we hide it in 'safe' prompts and take the easy way.

At least I do...

When was the last time you had the guts to just come out and ask a friend or someone you love 'do I mean anything at all to you?' Because sometimes, especially when friendships and relationships of significance start depleting you emotionally, isn't that the question we really want to ask?

I think so...

Don't we sometimes just want to know if our emotional energy is worth it for a friend?

I think so...

Or do we shy away from asking because the answer might not be what we want to hear?

I think so...

Is this fear of truth in the answer holding us back?

I think so...

So in a round-about-beating-around-the-bush way, I asked my friend. And this is how it turned out:

Me: "If you had never met me & I wasn't in your life would you be better, more happy?"

Friend: "That's an odd question. I would be the same as I am now."

Obviously that wasn't the answer I wanted. But then again, I didn't ask the tough question. I asked the safe question.

I'm such a wimp...

Affirmation of my meaning in relation to those I love is what makes me get out of bed on days when all I want to do is sleep away the pain & sadness of not knowing who I am & what I mean to be here on this earth at all.

My identity is sadly defined in many ways by what others think of me and feel for me.

I'm such a loser....

I don't think I'm alone in this thinking. I know many women who define themselves via their husbands & how he treats them, their children & how they treat them & in their friends & how they engage & relate with them.

I'm one of those women...

Asking my friend that question made me have a "Come to Jesus" moment with myself.

I'm such a cliché...

If I invest myself emotionally in a friend I want to know that I meant enough to make some kind of difference to help make their life happy & rich because they knew me and for my having genuinely cared about them. Why? Because friendships and relationships are so wrapped up in how I view myself.

I'm so needy...

But the next time, if there ever is a next time, I see this friend in person? I'm gonna ask the tough question. In person. So I can't hide behind the text in a message. So I can see face to face what I mean, if anything at all.

I'm so gonna be brave...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Day Diatribe

Maybe today isn't the best day for me to write this post. I woke up with a raging sinus headache that has literally left me speechless. If you know me personally, this is the kiss of death; I sure like to talk. My precious children are on a scheduled break from school despite having had only 3 full days of school so far THIS MONTH. And we're all about to go bonkers. In other words, I didn't just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I dug a hole in the mattress and started growing roots.

I opened the dreaded facebook page to a smattering of Happy Valentine's Day wishes. Twitter was rife with the same well meaning drivel. All I could do was sneer. Bah! A pox on all these red hearts and "one of kind" corporately manufactured "sentimental" gold charms. Gag me.

To be clear, I have no problem with people expressing their love for one another. Fantastic. My problem with Valentine's Day stems from an early predilection for romance that has since been replaced with a deep and abiding love for myself and the people in my life.

Sure, sure. Romance is amazing. Who doesn't love the scene in "Pride and Prejudice" where Mr. Darcy confesses, clumsily, that the opinionated Miss Bennett has "bewitched [him]. Body and soul." Sigh. Sure, I loved the early days dating my now-husband of nearly 16 years. We couldn't wait to talk on the phone (people used to do that), we would pedal bikes through Pittsburgh snow storms just to be together. Delightful days, all. And yet, there is something so transient about those days. While now I can see, almost touch, something so adhesive about having come through the last 16 years together. And more.

But my abhorrence for Valentine's Day is more than just being content in my marriage. I can't help it; I'm disgusted with a culture that elevates couples and relegates singles to the sad little corner with their sad little single selves. It is not unlike the grotesque ideals of beauty women confront every day: thinner waists, bigger boobs, and a man on your arm. There is always someone telling us we are not good enough, pretty enough, or worth enough. The suggestion is that you're loser if you are alone today. And I will not abide that.

So, it comes to this. Women and men have value because they are inbued with it. Not because they've earned it. Second, people are of value, whether single, married, dating, divorcing, etc. Just simple fact. Finally, I love my husband every single day. I know he loves me every single day. I don't need card companies and jewelry makers to mandate my love.

I know some of you love this day and that's great. I will even smile if you tell me to have a nice Valentine's Day. As much as you can celebrate it, I can choose not to. So there.

I told you I was in a snit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You Can't Make Me

Tulsa is just beginning to dig out, or melt out, of our biggest snow storm in decades. My precious angels have been home going buggy with me for two weeks straight. It's taking a toll.

And I don't mean on the kids. They're having the time of their lives.

I mean this girl. I haven't been able to get outside for a nice long run in those two weeks. Sure, I've bounded through snow banks with The Dog, in the snow, in the cold, like a reluctant pioneer who forgot to bring her woolens. The roads have been covered with layer upon layer of packed snow and ice. The sidewalks were worse.

Eleven weeks from today I plan to run my first half marathon. The massive snow had me all wigged out that I would have to totally restart my training. A few things are funny about this. First, I never wanted to train in the first place. It just sort of happened. Second, the fact that I'm now referring to training in somewhat serious terms shows some level of self awareness on my part that this effort will require...effort. Finally, this will mean the adoption of some kind of plan.

Perish the thought. I'm decidedly anti-plan. Plans suck all the joy out of running. Plans make official the voluntary and fun. Plans mean some outside authority is asserting its will upon mine. I really dislike plans. Truth is, one doesn't just wake up one day and run a half marathon. Or, if one does, one will surely endure injury, pain, frustation or failure. I try to avoid those things.

I worry that adopting a plan will crush the spirit of joy I like to engage while running. At the same time, I recognize that anything worth doing, like our mothers always told us, is worth doing well. My personal coaches (I have a bunch of them) have made suggestions about distance and timing. They urge some kind of consistency. The best advice they've each given, though, remains the same: enjoy the run, have fun, do what comes naturally.

I will resist the plan even while I try to find one that doesn't cramp my carefree style. I will embrace the joy. So, maybe you can make me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Asking to be Loved

My day started with a lurch. I went to bed angry that something I had planned and looked forward to wasn't going to happen. At least not in any way remotely like I had imagined it. I woke up with the tang of resentment and bitterness coating my tongue. This sensation crept into my abdomen and built a small hut. It stoked a fire of pity and whining that smoked up and filled my body with loathing and lethargy.

I trudged from room to room, gulping scalding hot mouthfuls of coffee, restless but unmotivated to make a change. I stood pointlessly in the office and allowed the bitterness, the resentment, the frustration and anger to send its permanent address card to the postmaster.

Yuck. If there's anything worse than feeling sorry for oneself, it's standing resolutely knee deep in the stinking pit of it and declaring, "Come on in! The water's fine!"

I posted a little blurb on Facebook, a pitiful request for someone to say something nice to me. You know what? You staggered with your responses. I feel like Sally Field. You like me! You really like me!

What surprised me about the comments was how divergent and representative they were. Of course, I mean my friends made comments that truly represent me, or aspects of me. But more than that, the comments they made represented them. And what an amazing display of unique and wonderful people I saw! I saw the beautiful face of each person who replied: earnest, funny, quietly witty, brilliant and simple.

I am heartened. In light of my recent posts about identity, I find the diversity of my friends illuminating. In fact, I do "belong." Because I know you and you know me. Thank you, every one. You make me blush.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who are You? Dance Remix

Maintaining this identity theme I've been chewing on, I wonder about the self, or how we behave, in certain groups. I think of all the times I flitted from one Christian group to another, making the necessary adjustments along the way, attempting to assimilate.

In other words, in the simplest terms, that most Christians can agree with, I am a Christian.

However. We Christians can be like a world of middle school girls: clique-alicious.

I have theologically conservative Christian friends and theologically liberal Christian friends. Unsurprisingly, these folks tend to be polar on politics as well. I know moderately knowledgeable Christians and incredibly academic Christians. I know Calvinists, Anabaptists, Catholics and some others whose names I forget. I move among the groups that denounce gays and lesbians, and I move about the devout gays and lesbians. I have Christian friends who are all about the love. I have others who are all about the law. Some of my Christian friends have the wisdom of the ages, and others have this gorgeous simplicity that astounds me.

There are times I'm in groups where I must bite my tongue to the point of bleeding in order to maintain a modicum of decorum and peace. There are other times when I'm popping off like Papa Bear O'Reilly, loose and loud with the opinions.

So. You see where I'm going. How does a woman, finding her identity in Jesus and full of passion, talents, gifts and questions navigate her way through these crowds, crowds of alleged "sameness," and still remain herself? And by "herself," I mean the "she" God made and mandated. The "she" God crafted with his intense attention to detail, with all her conflicting humanity boiling over inside.

And the larger question would be, how do we, as believers, navigate "the other?" The challenge is to be a group of believers willing to explore, to expand, and to find the smallest common denominator and work from there. Moreover, how do we love "the other" in the mess, in the polarization of politics, in the heat of theological debate? Do we honor the uniqueness of God in our treatment of "the other?"

Again: I don't know. Do you?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Who Are You?

Last week I felt overwhelmed by the number of blogs I read about depression. This is at once disheartening and encouraging. Paul was right when he admonished the early church to "carry each other's burdens." He knew that this life we walk through contains a lifetime of scrapes, bruises and bone crushing agony. He knew because he lived it, in prison, being beaten, living on the generosity of others. Paul knew a world of hurt. Paul was not too big for his britches. He knew humility and he practiced it when first meeting the disciples, when speaking to crowds, when giving thanks for the many gifts he'd received. Paul knew that when we share burdens, it makes them lighter. Duh.

Seems like another burden I'm hearing about is this question of who we are. I recently spent about an hour with some wise women on twitter talking through identities, categories (boxes), and busting them down. Jules offered this: "I just don't know where I fit in all this."

Isn't that a question of the ages. Where do I fit in? Do I want to fit in? Am I compromising some other aspect of my identity in fitting in? Does the act of fitting in over here shortchange me or my peers over there?

Kristin reminded us of the dreaded "twitter bio," wherein one boils the self down to a few well-chosen descriptors. Or not. I've long had a knee jerk reaction to personality tests and other methods whereby we ascribe certain characteristics to another. They feel so limiting and prescribed: answer these questions this way, then we'll draw a perfect little box around you, and there YOU are. Forever and always. Just so reductive and far too simple.

Except, not really. Read the chapters in Exodus where God through Moses tells the Israelites exactly how to construct the ark of the covenant. He doesn't simply say, "Hey. You know what would be totally rad? What if we had, like, a pretty box, or something, and you could all carry it around?" Nope. He goes on for CHAPTERS about the kind of wood, the types of workers, which sides the angels heads should face. He describes in detail what kind of fabric to use for curtains, how far apart to space the clasps, which are to be made from specified metals. From start to finish he is intimately involved in the design and execution of production.

As I read, on and on and on about the ark and all these seemingly senseless directions, knowing full well that they each, I'm sure, have their reasons, I couldn't help but think in much smaller terms. The twitter convo reminded me of that. If God spent that much time giving explicit mandates for the ark, if he cared that much about this piece of wood and metal and fabric, how much more time does he spend being the ultimate artist, calling us to a glorious, messy, fantastic identity.

If he cared so much about something that he'd blast apart with the birth of his son, then what does that say about how he views his people?

I don't have the answers, and I know it's trite, but really, isn't this the beginning and the end of the identity question? Where do we begin? Where do we end? Can we live in a world without descriptors? If not, then how can we engage them to work for us rather than against us?

I don't know. What do you think?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is Virtual Community Still Community?

I'm going with, "Yes." Yes it is.

In Tulsa, we're on our fourth in a row snow day. More of the dreaded-by-moms, hoped-for-by-children white stuff is flying through the air as I type. I'm kind of enjoying the snow days with the kids because they are so relaxed and chill. I'm also resisting the urge to curl up in a corner and weep silently for the lost time of the work week and what little shred of sanity I thought I had left.

But it has given me some time to catch up on my favorite blogs. January and February seem to hit us hard, and that truth has never been more real than this year. As I click through links posted by different and amazing, clever and thoughtful, lovely and illuminating bloggers, I'm seeing a trend. That trend makes me sad but also hopeful.

I seem to keep reading posts about depression in its various ugly forms; what it feels like, what to do about it, how to talk about it, feel about it. Of course it's troubling that so many of my online friends grapple with the pain of the dark beast. What I like about these posts, though, is that these people are talking about it. They are telling their stories about it. They are kicking back at the many-headed monster through words and the sensitive touch of virtual community.

When I talk about my "twitter friends" I get a few different responses, but the most common is a sort of understated eye roll. And I get that. I know it seems empty and virtual and what possible good can that be?

Well, I'll tell you: it's community. And it is real and organic. I'm sure that's not what everyone finds there, and it sure doesn't apply to every single person whose updates I read. But, the sense of caring and compassion I've found online is as real and true as what I experience in so-called "real life."

Keep talking, people. About the mess of life, the pain of loss, depression, divorce and infidelity. Keep talking because when you tell your story, it gives others courage to share theirs. And when they do that, trust forms and healing begins.

Okay, enough of the love-in. Back to my black and gold updates. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mixed Emotions

You guys. You know it's Super Bowl Week, right? You know that all my favorite sports talkers (Dan Patrick and the Danettes) are in Dallas talking up the celebrities, attending Media Day, getting ready for the big game. You better know it. You know I bleed black and gold, just like all my fellow yinzers who are goin' dahntahn to watch the game and celebrate after the win, n'at.

As a kid, the paper printed a centerfold caricature of one Steelers player each Sunday. My brother and sister and I would carefully plaster this inimitable artwork to the walls of the staircase leading to our basement. By the end of the season, the stairwell was our own holy shrine to the Steel Curtain, our very own Pittsburgh-only Hall of Fame. Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert...we had them all. Now I've got Terrible Towels strewn about my house as if it's a known decorating scheme much praised in the world of design. My car scurries through town emblazoned with Steelers statements. You get the point. I'm tried and true.

This year I've been sitting on a very uncomfortable fence, stemming from allegations made against Steelers starting QB Ben Roethlisberger. His alleged sexual assault and/or rape, on more than one occasion, does not sit well with this feminist mother rabble-rousing Steelers fan. How can I stand behind a team that allows a suspected predator act as their strong armed savior? How does that square with what I want to teach my children about respecting oneself, that no always means no, that there is never a reason for such actions. How can I cheer when, by his height and strength and footwork, scrambles out of the pocket and finds my friend Heath Miller or Hines Ward downfield for a huge gain to win the game?

I'm torn between rooting for my team and throwing in the Terrible Towel in disgust. Allegations like these are hard to prove and even harder to talk about because of the celebrity status and money involved. It is easy to believe both sides of this story: that Roethlisberger is a total pig who needs to serve some time, or that these are women looking for easy paydays. These types of things boil down to he said/she said and carry the assumption of guilt for all involved. Public sports pundits want to wag fingers, cultural leaders want to advocate for tougher victim's rights laws. Spectators just want the game to go on.

In listening to sports radio, I've been disgusted at the willingness of men and women fans. We are all complicit, willing to keep watching the sport, to keep blaming the woman, proclaiming that "boys will be boys." All because we're uncomfortable talking about it.

But we need to talk about it. In light of recent proposed legislation to redefine rape, in light of a culture that's growing increasingly desensitized to aggressive sexuality, in light of our responsibility as adults, spectators, humans, to demand better treatment of our fellow humans. I applaud Terry Bradshaw for excoriating Roethlisberger and calling him to task for his inappropriate, possibly illegal, behavior. And if it's true, that Roethlisberger is indeed a changed man, when he gives praise to God on the winner's dias, I hope it's true.

But don't tell me you're a changed man. Show me.