Sunday, February 18, 2007

the only constant is...

“My husband said I needed to hear the sermon this morning,” she tells me, explaining as she approaches why she is here, alone, at the 9:15 service. “It’s about change.” I cannot help but laugh, although it is not even remotely funny.

“Great,” I reply, half-hearted even in my sarcasm.

“Yeah,” she chuckles, “I think you’ll need it, too.”

She is right, of course, though not necessarily due to any great revelatory insight on her part (not that she’s not capable of such, mind you)—it is a widely known fact, among those with whom I am known, that I do not deal well with change. At all. Like my front-wheel-drive micro-van trying to get up my unplowed and thrice-frozen-over street, I do best when I keep in my deep little ruts. No one gets stuck, no one gets side-swiped, everyone is happy. It works for me. Until someone goes and plows the street.

Like, say, my friend.

Over six years ago we moved to this town, leaving behind on one hand my very dear parents but on the other a group of very hurtful and difficult friendships I was eager to be free of. God’s provision began with a small group of young moms who met twice a month at the church I’d begun attending with my husband, and it continued from there. That group was a life-saver for me in more ways than one, and out of that group grew two of the best friendships I’ve ever had. The friend beside me now is one of them. She will not be beside me for much longer.

Occasionally I’ll hear my mother-in-law refer to women she classifies in the “we were friends when our kids were little” category. I often found myself wondering what happened that those friendships shifted. While I don’t recall ever actually thinking the words, “that will never happen to us,” I know the thought was there, just the same. I would never have that category. It was as simple as that. Nothing would ever change.

But, alas, nothing in life is simple. So, what happened when their kids weren’t little anymore? Families moved, mothers who once stayed home went back to work, lives got crammed full with the kids and their activities—all these friendships that are life-lines for me, are they headed in the same direction? I pull over to let an on-coming vehicle through, swerving and fish-tailing as I go, then struggle to pull back into the middle of the road where the traversing is easier. How long will these ruts remain?

Nostalgia, our pastor reminds us, is an attempt to retrieve the irretrievable. I know this far too well as I am, by nature, one who is constantly looking longingly back over my shoulder. It is our attempt, he asserts, to deal with change apart from God. “The only way to know God as your security is to give up and surrender to his sovereignty.” Living this way, I suspect, is a little more like having four-wheel-drive—less ruts, more freedom of movement. The ability to maneuver through obstacles with power and agility. The ability to navigate life without my foot on the break in fear. The ability to embrace the open road, wherever it may lead.

The only constant is change. My friend understands this, and points me to the God who is both “the rocks and the rapids.” I cannot pick and choose where I will trust him and where I will not—it is an all-or-nothing proposition. Once again, he is doing a new thing. Once again, I must learn to trust him.

Once again, I must say good-bye.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

an "ill-conceived" sentiment

For the past few wintery evenings, I have turned on the bed early and cozied up to a delightful book by Rachel Simon entitled Riding the Bus With My Sister. Ms. Simon, whose younger-by-eleven-months sister Beth is mildly mentally retarded, takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through both her childhood and her mid-life “coming of age,” both set around her relationship with her sister, whose sole focus in life is riding the public buses from morning until night around her Pennsylvania city. The year that Rachel commits to riding the buses with Beth is nothing short of life-changing—challenging, among other things, Rachel’s self-protective busyness and her concepts of mental retardation and self-determination. Other than a few conversations that felt overly-philosophical and forced, it was beautifully written and well worth reading.

That being said, I had one jaw-dropping, “I can’t believe she said that!” moment about half way through the book that greatly disturbed me. Rachel recounts reaching a point, once Beth is living on her own and becomes “involved” with someone, when her family must make a determination about birth control. After much deliberation, it is agreed that she would never remember to take the pill, couldn’t be trusted to use a diaphragm, couldn’t manage a condom, and would never agree to an IUD. It is at this point that Rachel remarks, as they are feeling the urgency of the situation, that “…the thought of Beth undergoing an abortion seems unbearable—not that she would anyway, as she is the one family member who objects to abortions.”

This is not the comment, just to be clear, that made me gasp. The fact that Ms. Simon does not object to abortions, while it says something to me about her politics and sense of morality, does not, unfortunately, shock me. It is entirely all too common in our “my rights and my needs above anyone else’s” and “there is no right or wrong, just what’s right for ME” culture. What caused me to wake my husband up came two pages later.

After determining as a family that a tubal ligation is the best option for Beth, Rachel accompanies her to the procedure. It appears she is not prepared for her own emotional response afterward. She writes:

Then, after I pull away, waving with a big, sunny smile, when I am too far down
the road to glimpse them in my rearview, I weep. It is a terrible act to
eliminate the possibility of children, to terminate a long march of futures.

This is the same woman who does not oppose the elimination and termination of a fetus? What am I missing here?

Now, I will grant you that some people may argue that what Rachel is really grieving here is the loss of Beth’s choice. Both abortion and conception are, after all, about “a choice, not a child,” correct? Given the articulate nature of the rest of her writing, however, I am not willing to entertain this argument. Her writing is very blunt and intentional. Had she meant that, I’m confident she would have written it as such.

I believe that what Rachel mourned in her rearview mirror was the loss of life in her sister’s womb. The problem with this is that Beth’s womb did not yet contain life—it merely contained the promise of life. I cannot, therefore, reconcile how she could mourn the loss of the promise or hope of life—the “possibility,” as she put it—yet could be perfectly okay with the actual loss of life within her sister’s womb. The contradiction was apparently not as blatant to Ms. Simon.

It is this type of ill-conceived sentiment that convinces me that many in our nation still have a conscience, but refuse to heed it. We know, in those moments of feeling, that there is something lost—that there is something amiss. We feel it in our gut, it washes down our cheeks, it bunches up in our throats, causing us to be unable to swallow. But so many are unable to untangle the web of feminist politics to see that what is amiss ARE the feminist politics, and therefore go on buying the rhetoric that you can have it all—sex without strings attached, choice without consequence, possibility without the true promise of life.

I, too, grieve for Beth, and for other women who have lost the choice to have children. But I grieve even more for the women who elevate the loss of choice over the loss of a child.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

how i spent my weekend

A good time was had by all! (Now, I'm off to BED!)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

what part of "no" don't i understand?

He stood at the top of the hill, leaning against the guardrail with the nonchalant air of an adolescent, not even glancing my way as he spoke to me. “No, I don’t want to. Not today. Maybe next year.” His tone was clear and even—no trace of the soprano tremolo that usually indicated he was upset or wound up. I tried again.

“Come on, Buddy. Sit right here—try it just once.”

His voice was firm. Matter-of-fact, even. Not a voice I was used to hearing out of this child’s mouth. “No, I don’t want to. I just don’t want to. Maybe next year.” His words didn’t even register. I tried again, my friend joining me this time. “Come on, Buddy—just one time. You’ll like it.”

“No, I just don’t want to.” Were it not for my friend’s daughter inadvertently starting my down the hill alone, I would have probably continued to press the poor child further. It was then, as I sped down the hill at full speed on some orange flyer advertised to break several bones in one fateful trip, that I finally realized the idiocy of what I was doing.

I don’t like sledding.

Neither does my son.

So why was I trying to force us both to fly down this hill?

I teach my children to assert themselves, and then I don’t listen when they do. I tell them to listen to my “No,” then I railroad over theirs. What was I thinking?

I was thinking of my own fear, and of having lived a life paralyzed by it. I was thinking of the things I’d missed as a result, and the regrets that accompany them. I was thinking about my struggles as I’ve lived my life on the sidelines, watching my husband and my daughter soar and fly and climb and run while I stand by, both feet firmly on the ground. I was thinking about ME. Fortunately, my four-year-old was not. Secure enough to speak his mind, he let me know where he stood. He stood at the top of the hill, and he was very happy to keep it that way. When will I learn to listen to my children?

“Maybe next year,” he reminded me when I returned, his sister flying by behind us for the umpteenth time. I took his hand, and we headed for the snowplow pile he’d been eager to climb since we’d arrived. “Whenever you’re ready, Buddy. Whenever you’re ready.”

Maybe next year I’ll be ready, too.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

mirror, mirror, on the wall...

It is the bane of my existence.

Its slim, graceful frame hangs above the sink, halfway imbedded into the wall, sleek and silvery against the muted gray of our bathroom. Having just slammed it shut, its mirrored surface now returns my furrowed brow, my likeness cursing in unison with my own mouth. The irony is that though the image looks like me—my eyes, my hair, my lips—my true reflection is actually found on the other side of the door.

Several times a day—especially lately, given how our lovely Midwestern winters affect the health of our household—I open the glass front, holding my breath, and tentatively reach within. Three shelves in height crammed with six levels of various remedies and elixirs, all precariously perched, disassembles at my slightest touch, sending multiple boxes and bottles and paraphernalia crashing into the porcelain sink below, usually when the children are sleeping. “Are you trying to wake the kids?” my husband calls, as I slam the medicine cabinet shut after three attempts to balance all that I know fit into it because it all came out of it. My usual reply is not fit for print.

Brightly colored band-aids, just out of my daughter’s reach so as to not run out of them in a week’s time. Beige colored band-aids, so that my husband does not have to go to work with Barbie on his boo-boos. Thermometers, tweezers, nail clippers and dental floss. Creams for itching, creams for burning, creams for bumps, and creams for bruises. Pills that make certain things run and pills that make other things stop running. Orange colored bottles, half-full, labeled “BE SURE TO TAKE ALL OF THIS MEDICATION.” Seven different types of pain relief, most of them legal. (That’s a joke.) Boxes of this, bottles of that, tubes of the other—the medicinal menagerie has gotten unmanageable.

It feels all too familiar.

If it’s not the cabinet, it’s the pantry. If it’s not the pantry, it’s the linen closet. If it’s not the linen closet, it’s the basement. Crap is falling on my head all over the place, and that’s just the external problems. If it’s not my marriage, it’s my parenting. If it’s not my parenting, it’s my weight. If it’s not my weight, it’s my relationship with God. Crap is filling my head all over the place, falling out at the wrong times in the wrong places with the wrong people, and I am constantly trying to cram it all back in and make it fit. Too much stuff, not enough space. This is my headache.

All I needed was a flippin’ ibuprofen.

Now, I need a tranquilizer.

one big happy...


Happy Birthday, Baby!