On Collecting Rocks

I emptied my purse recently, to make sure that I had everything I needed in there, which is not always a guarantee with me. I found a whole lot of random items—a phone charger cable, chalk pens, a jewelry case, some mail, my watch, business cards, credit cards, bus passes. Five different lipsticks, a hairbrush, and my Bluetooth speaker. The contents were a little more random than normal because of the wedding.

My baby sister got married in the middle of January, and as bridesmaid, my purse still bore the remnants of a bridesmaid’s emergency kit. I had used up all the Shout wipes cleaning the hem of her dress after beachfront photography, but there was plenty of evidence for all the ways in which my purse had been used on the day. What I did not expect were three rocks.

Three small beach stones, smoothed by the ocean, gray and innocuous. I held them in my palm for a moment, confused. I’ve been known to pick up rocks to symbolize special occasions or moments I want to remember. Near my fireplace rests a large blue-glass jar that holds my rocks, shells, pieces of pottery, bits of sea glass…the detritus of journeys taken.

Some of my rocks are slightly illegal, picked up on travel to historic places. Some are plain, some are especially pretty. None carry any real value, except to me. Once when my sister helped me move she picked up a small box and, surprised by its heaviness, opened it. “Is this a box of rocks?” she asked, nonplussed. “Yes.” I said. She gave me an acid look and added it to the stack of boxes for the moving truck.

I looked at my jar of rocks, and then at the three pebbles currently resting in my palm. I took the sharpie pen at my desk and wrote a word on each of the rocks.

*******

Over the past year, I’ve been doing an inspection of my life. I’ve come to think of the emotional baggage I carry around as rocks. Some of my rocks are legitimate. Some are really things that I own and should carry around for a while, perhaps because I need to learn from them. Some, maybe, I need to let go, drop them into the ocean and let them be gradually worn away to sand by a force bigger and stronger than myself. A lot of these burdens I carry around unnecessarily. Perhaps I’ve even taken them on without realizing it, as with the three real rocks I found in my purse.

I had two guesses, by the way, as to where those rocks came from. The day of my sister’s wedding, we were taking photographs at a beachfront park with the wedding party, which included all three of my siblings and my two nieces. My youngest sister, who was the bride, wasn’t suspect as she was a) a little busy thinking mainly about managing the hem of her wedding dress, and b) not as explicitly prank-minded as the other two suspects — my other two siblings. Those sassy middle kids. The following story explains why they were my top candidates.

Once, on a family trip out to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state before there were any in-laws attached to our family group, my parents and all four of us siblings hiked to the Dungeness Point lighthouse. Dungeness Point lighthouse is at the end of the Dungeness Spit Trail. The spit is 5 miles long, one of the longest natural sand spits on the west coast, so the “hike” is just over 10 miles to the lighthouse and back. And the word “Trail” is misleading, because walking on a sand spit is not like walking on a trail—the spit itself is maybe 50 feet wide, depending on how high the tide is, with water on either side of it. Like any beach, it is not flat, but peaked in shape because the tides push earth and debris up to the top of it on a regular basis. Since it’s such a narrow piece of land, the tides work on it from both sides.

Hiking the spit is best done one of two ways; one, playing “hot lava” and jumping from driftwood log to driftwood log, where they are arranged along the top of the spit, and the other, to walk it at a lower tide time so that you have more solid, damp sand to walk on. Otherwise, hiking through ankle-deep sand that spills into your shoes, or walking on ankle-rocking seastones are your only options.

We took a few rest stops along the five miles in to the lighthouse, stopping to sit on driftwood to rest our over-taxed ankles, snack on granola bars and sip water, and watch a pair of seals that tracked us most of the way, popping their heads up every now and then and cavorting in the surf.

At the lighthouse, we sat on the sandy green lawns around the buildings and ate sandwiches for lunch. Dungeness Point lighthouse is owned by a collective private group, and each member of this group has the chance to keep the lighthouse for a week every year. Each new group of keepers is driven out by vehicle at the lowest possible tide (the only time the spit is wide enough to accommodate a vehicle), along with food and water for the week. They mow lawns, lead tours, maintain the buildings and, presumably, write beautiful short stories and novels while looking out at the gorgeous pacific sunsets and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges seen in 360 degrees from the top of the lighthouse. I want to keep the lighthouse one day.

We hiked—or more accurately, trudged—the five miles back out, keeping pace with the seals. I had one earbud in and was listening to music off and on as we trudged through the soft sand toward dinner. Back at the parking lot, we piled into our old suburban. I dug through my backpack for my lip balm or some other such necessity and there, as my hand was swimming through the detritus of necessities, food, snacks, phone, etc., it came across something large, cool, round and heavy. I pulled it out and stared at my hand while my two middle siblings giggled like hyenas. I looked up at them, and held the open bag so I could see more clearly in the late afternoon light. Inside were several pounds, at least, of granite beach stones, most about the size of my palm. At every rest stop along the way, those two chuckleheads had entertained themselves by sneaking rocks into my backpack.

Now, I love my siblings and my family, but the best of families can still do this kind of thing to each other in an emotional sense. We may not even know what kinds of rocks we’ve subconsciously added to each other’s burdens. The thing is, it’s up to us to occasionally take the time to review our rocks, take a conscious inventory, look at the things we’re carrying with us and decide if we need them still. Perhaps there are things we can learn from carrying some weight for a while. But sometimes I just need to lighten the load. The truth is, once someone has unloaded a rock into my purse, whether intentionally or subconsciously, it’s mine and I get to decide what to do with it.

I haven’t thrown out my rock jar, but I have begun labeling them. I write the date and sometimes their found location. Every once in a while I sift through them, remembering moments of realization, moments of grief, anger, joy, peace from when I picked up those stones. They are tangible reminders to me, and they tell my story when I need to be reminded of the truth about myself that I sometimes forget.

rocks1.jpg

Those three little rocks are now labeled, too. They had their portrait taken and posted to instagram, and my brother very much enjoyed his little joke.

And they, too, are reminders to me—reminders this time of what I do not have to carry.

 

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False Positives of Life

I’ve had arthritis for almost two decades now and one of the most difficult part of the diagnosis to come to terms with has been when what I feel doesn’t match with what is really happening. This has one of two different appearances:

Either I feel wonderful, but my disease is very active (according to blood results).

Or I feel terrible, but the arthritis (according to blood tests) appears to be stable or even inactive.

What do you do when what you feel doesn’t match up with what’s really happening?

If you’ve ever met someone who’s in a safe place enjoying their favorite food with their favorite people but still seems weirdly on edge, it’s probably because they’re familiar with the concept that when the stars align, it doesn’t necessarily indicate it’s for your own personal benefit.

These are often the same people who are comfortable with life’s more difficult situations which seem to indicate to them that at least they are aware of where the problem actually is, and can be addressed accordingly.

But false positives lead to a chronic and perpetual awareness of the other shoe dropping. You don’t know when, or why, but there is another shoe, and it’s going to drop and oh man, be prepared for the fallout.  False positives awareness, I am saying, does not exactly lend itself to pleasant people.

In general, anxiety does not lend itself to pleasantness. And in life we’re often stuck in this discomfiting experiences where you can’t tell if you’re in the clear, or if you’re in a false positive. I’ve yet to find a satisfactory sign for letting me know it’s time to start celebrating instead of hunkering down in a panic room.

But I am in my 30s now which means I’ve learned a wee little bit about life and I can tell you this much: if a false positive and a positive look the same the only difference is what comes after this time of ease then do this: enjoy the false positive.

Do you know what a miracle it is for an arthritis sufferer to feel genuinely good? Not to mention when science tells you that you should be feeling miserable? It’s rare. It’s a blessing. Who cares if it’s fake or not? Temporary or not? If you can enjoy the moment before you than do so.

With enough time and distance any false positive will inevitably look like the real thing anyway.

Guest Post: Child-Free By Choice

Guest post today from a dear friend with a good open heart. Leigh Vander Woude has a voice worth listening to. — Katrina

Spoiler alert: I’m married.

For some reason, Katrina and Jana have entrusted me to host this blog for a post. I’m going to try to share some of my thoughts and feelings on a subject that I think relates to what many of you singles feel. But I’m also very self-conscious of the fact that I am most definitely not single. So I beg for grace from you, awesome single people, as I do this. (I will also try to stop saying “single” so much. I think I’m going to replace “single people” with “awesomely independent folks” instead from here on out.)

So here’s my story.

I have always been a quite traditional and conventional woman. Even stereotypical. I grew up loving Barbies and Disney princesses (and if I’m honest, I still love Disney more than I dare admit). I also love romantic love. I ate up romantic stories in books and movies. I’ve wanted to be married for as long as I can remember. I can’t tell you how many boys I liked growing up, because since the age of 10, I seriously wondered with every single one I met, “is he ‘The One’???”

For basically just as long as I’ve wanted to be married, I’ve loved God. Loving God and loving His plan came pretty naturally for me. It felt natural. I wanted to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I also very much wanted to be married to one person for as long as I lived.

I never wanted kids.

But there’s one stereotype I sidestepped… I never wanted kids. Ever. In fact, even when I think back to the Barbie days, I cannot recall ever playing with baby dolls. I mean, even Skipper was a downgrade. Kids have never been my thing. Playing make-believe always included true love, but never a “mommy” and a “daddy”. I just had no interest in it.

Now let me explain why this is strange, beyond just the fact that I am so otherwise traditionally feminine. It’s strange because I love taking care of people. I love to be there when my people are hurting so I can pick them up and help them feel loved and safe and brave to go after their lives. I even love helping them feel cared for when they’re sick. I once stayed by my sister’s bed when I was 10 for who knows how long, because she had broken her leg and simultaneously gotten the worst case of hives anyone’s ever seen. I laid on the floor next to her bed and got things for her, even feeding her at times, because moving her arms would make the hives break out worse. And you know what? I weirdly love that memory.

Taking care of people is my jam.

Taking care of people is my jam. But actually creating humans and then caring for them? No thank you. When I “finally” met my husband at the ripe old age of 21 (I really had been aiming to be married by 20, not kidding), and we started dating, the dreaded question came up quickly.

“How many kids do you want?” He asked me during a car ride.

“Um… I don’t know. Maybe 1?” I replied tentatively, not wanting to scare him off by telling the truth boldly. I mean, most people want kids. Especially Christians. So I figured he would probably want at least one, too. And he was pretty great, so maybe I could compromise?

“Wait, do you not want any?” He said with a smile. “I didn’t even realize that was an option!”

And that was that. We agreed that we’d leave it open to God, but unless our hearts changed, we weren’t going to have kids. This, of course, did not sit well with either of our mothers and a lot of other people we talked to. I was assured by many that I would change my mind eventually. “Just wait,” they’d tell me with a smirk and a knowing glance. And I would reply with something like, “Okay” and we’d move on. I mean, no use arguing about it. Maybe we would change our minds.

But as of this coming September, Ben and I will have been married for 12 years. I’m 34 and he’s 33. While there’s still plenty of time for us to have kids, neither of us has had the slightest change of heart and we don’t see that changing. I’m fairly certain both our mothers aren’t waiting for us to change our minds anymore, either.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Christian world around me (and the non-Christian world, too), almost all my friends have gotten married and begun having babies. I have some friends who stopped at one and I have some with four or more that aren’t sure if they’re done yet. Most of those children are under 10, usually closer to 2. And the lives of my friends are, understandably, consumed by their child(ren). Especially at the ages their children are at, parenting is not just a full-time job. It is 24 hours a day, every single day. If your spouse can’t stay home with them, you literally have to pay someone to get a break.

I am the odd woman out.

With this child-consumed lifestyle comes child-consumed conversations. My friends who are moms, when gathered together in a group, rarely talk about much else. Diapers and feedings and school choosing and no sleep and praise God they have daycare at the gym. That’s what they talk about, because that’s what their life consists of. It makes sense. They have playdates with other moms and they go to MOPS. I am the odd woman out. Listening and sympathizing, but never relating. And it’s killing me.

Now let me stop here and say that I think all my parent friends are freakin’ superheroes and I tell them that on the regular. These people give up so much to raise babies. I literally do not know how they do it. But part of that is because to me, there is no upside to their situation. I don’t want kids. So paying the price for them seems unfathomable to me. But to them, they are blessed beyond measure by these gorgeous children. They are God’s gift to them, even when they’re stealing their sleep or peeing on their couches. Because they’re also taking their first steps and saying their first words and giggling in the precious way that only 2 year olds can. They are pure joy to these parents and totally worth the price tag.

But for me, I feel… frustrated. And lonely. And left-out. And constantly combating the idea that I’m selfish because I chose not to do what everyone else seemed made to do.

Ben and I have done some serious soul searching on the kids front since we got married. We have prayed and searched the Scriptures, doing all we could to make sure that kids really were just a blessing and not a requirement. There are plenty of people in the Christian world who would look at our choice and call it “sin”. And while I won’t go into a defensive stance and reflect on all the reasons why I believe that those people are wrong; I do believe they’re wrong. I also believe that God can change my mind and that I truly believe He will if He wants something different from me than the life I’ve chosen based on my (not sinful) desires. After all, that’s exactly what my friends with kids did. They didn’t have kids because they were mandated to or to be more holy. They had them because they WANTED THEM. When people say that it’s selfishness that leads me to not having kids, I really want to say that it’s selfishness on the part of parents for having them. It’s not like anyone has kids because they’re looking to work on their selfishness, for pete’s sake.

So here’s the thing I’ve realized for a long time but been afraid to say out loud: I want a friend who has a life like mine. And today was the first time I really believed that it was okay to ask for it. After all, there are MOPS groups and singles groups. There are even groups for women struggling with infertility. But somehow the CFBC (childfree by choice) group doesn’t exist. And here’s the other thing: I would feel rude, unholy or selfish asking for such a group. Because God-forbid I want to hang out with someone like me… who’s hardcore, sold-out, crazy-in-love with Jesus and wants to give Him her whole life, but also simultaneously doesn’t want to be a mom.

I’d love to be able to go out to dinner with a friend and talk about life things and not feel like I’m condemning my friend’s husband to babysitting duty after a long day of work (I’m sorry, parents, but you do make it feel that way… like your husband can pay the price of watching the children because you’ve paid your dues for the day and it’s his turn to deal with the chaos). I’d also love to be able to go out to dinner with a couple and not feel terrible knowing they had to pay $50 for a babysitter (seriously, what is with babysitting prices these days?!?). Not to mention, most of the time, I feel less-than-useless to my mom friends. I mean, I can sympathize with you that you don’t know what daycare to send little Sally to or that she’s had the same cold off and on for 3 weeks, but ultimately, all I am is really sorry for you and even more sure of my own choices. Which basically makes me feel like a bad friend AND like a selfish jerk. But the truth is I’m ill-equipped to relate on these things and that makes friendship hard at times.

I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from.

It’s still totally worth it to me, don’t get me wrong, but I crave friendship from someone who gets where I’m coming from. I try very hard to validate the lives of the moms and dads I know, but I rarely get that same validation in return. I would guess that’s mostly because it probably feels a bit like a third world person trying to validate the economic struggles of an American. I’m the one taking naps and sleeping in on weekends and spending our extra funds on things like vacations, while they’re getting four hours of sleep that’s constantly interrupted by things like bodily fluids that need to be cleaned up.

Mybe what I’m asking for is too much. I mean, even just because there may not be another couple at our church who wants a similar life to ours. But if I could possibly just have one friend where we could meet for coffee without it taking a scheduling miracle, I really would love that.

Here’s where I’m hoping it’s relevant for you, awesomely independent folks. I do get what it’s like to feel like the odd man out. I know what it’s like to feel stuck in conversations that have nothing to do with things I relate to currently or will relate to in the future. I understand what it’s like to have no one in your age group who seems to be where you are or who wants to be where you are. I know what it’s like to have people looking at your life and assuming you’re missing out on the best parts of it.

And can I just say, from all us dumb married people, thank you for putting up with our idiocy if you’ve ever felt us looking down on your current state of romantic involvement. The truth is, your relationship status/title (mom/dad, wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.) has zero effect on your worth as a person or the fullness of your life. You are valuable just for being the spectacularly made-by-God you that you are. Anyone who assumes something is missing in your life because you’re single (even if that person is you) is just plain wrong.

I would also like to say that if you happen to know any couples that are childfree by choice, it is very likely that one or both of the people in said couple are very excited to have you awesomely independent people in their lives. I often take it for granted, but my friendship with Katrina is one of my all-time favorites (mostly just because she’s awesome, but it’s also super nice to just get to be adults without children to think about).

I don’t have any solutions to offer here, for my situation or for the awesomely independent folks who feel like they can’t relate. Honestly, I wrote all of this because I just needed to write it down and get it out of my head. There was a weed of bitterness that was taking root and I think this was my attempt to pull it out before it choked the friendship flowers.

I will say that when I stop and look at the big picture, as frustrating as it is not to have someone in the exact same place in life as I am, the truth is there is so much value in being friends with people who aren’t like me. Whether the difference is their relationship status or their parenthood status or their race or their denominational preference. I see different sides of God in the variety around me and I’m so thankful for that.

But I’m still going to ask God for just one friend that gets where I’m coming from. We’ll see what He does with the request.

To Our Mother Friends

My mother-friends.

They are beautiful. They hold the impossible potential of a child in their arms, and rest under the incredible burden of loving their children. I am old enough now that I have lots of friends who are mothers, and some of them invite me in to their homes and lives and let me learn and observe and play and pick up from school and twirl in circles and make cookies and paint pictures, and generally bounce back and forth between my mother friend and my new child-friends with the energy of a temporary installation. I have conversations with these little ones, who are fed, clothed, diapered, and rested almost entirely in spite of themselves by their mothers. These little ones who could do nothing by or for themselves, and prove it daily with their runny noses and eating habits. I watch them move in confidence of each provision for their welfare, utterly faith-filled in their unconscious expectation of the good from their Mothers.

I see them grow older and awkward, quiet, morose, angry, confused, rebellious, a little ridiculous, as we all were. And I see my mother friends hold the impossible potential still, a little more bent by the storms of becoming A So-Called Person that seem intentionally aimed to hurt the mothers, to resist and estrange them, to separate from their families—this second labor that seems to hurt as much as the first. I see my mother-friends who have suffered unutterable losses, multiple deaths— not only of life, but of hope, of joy, of health, of promise or expectation, of friendship of Son or Daughter (or in-law), of unborn-stillborn-miscarried. I hear the conversations of wondering, worrying, of dread and fear and sorrow and stillness and unanswered prayers that continue into infinity because Mothers. Never. Quit. No matter how much they want to.

You are beautiful, my mother-friends. I see in you the stories of Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah, and Sarah. You are consistently exhausted and exhilarated and filled with a passion that defies understanding. You are hiding in your bedroom for one more minute of peace before facing the enthusiastic barrage of questions, contradictions, commands, and cuddles, and yet the instant something threatens the noise-makers you can move with lightning-speed. Know this; it is a privilege to watch you love your children—even when you (or they) are irritated, frustrated, or disappointed and (obviously) unable to hide those honest emotions.

Even when they call you out on your shit in front of strangers, family, or friends. Even when they melt down while we are shopping for their Halloween costumes. Even when they give me sticky food-faced kisses or pick their nose for twenty minutes solid or loudly act up when I’m visiting. Especially when they make very honest and usually hilarious observations about my age, marital status, relative maturity (“are you big or little? Cause you look little. But I think you’re big.” “Are you in college?! No?! BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE KIDS BY NOW!” and, recently, “How old are you again? You’re THEWTY-EIGHT?! One-two-thwee-fou-five-twelve-eleven-thewteen-sixteen-seventeen…”). It is an honor to hear you speak about the joys and sorrows and fears and inadequacies you feel as you parent, to hear you dream about their futures, and to talk about the talents and troubles you see taking root in them as they grow up.

Your love is extraordinary, and it is transforming you into the woman you were meant to become. Your love changes the world. One diaper at a time. One recital, one soccer game, one swimming lesson at a time. One meltdown, one rebellious, scathing comment, one prayer at a time.

*the photograph above was taken by my friend Laura, on a short weekend trip with the girls, which for the first time included a second generation, my niece Lucy.

 

I Can’t Say “No”

I’m never too busy. It’s impossible. I’m single. All I have is “me” time. And yet I can go several weeks at a time feeling that it’s impossible to take a clean breath of air, overwhelmed by tidal ways of obligations and activities that I genuinely wanted to do, until they were all scheduled for tomorrow, or oops, is it today?

Last month I decided on a novel concept. I was going to stick to my obligations only — that I’d scheduled a month or so earlier — and I was not going to add to my weekly plans unless I was confident it would be a positive experience that would be enjoyable, and presumably non-taxing.

In summary, last month I practiced saying “no”. You wouldn’t think I have trouble with that word, with telling people that one thing, with disappointing them. There’s something about my face that indicates I say it on the regular, but the reality is I HATE saying no to people. I hate canceling plans, rescheduling plans, or saying outright that I won’t be doing something.

I’m especially bad when the phrasing is “do you have time?” because, as has probably been sussed out, I’m single. All I have is time. I also have a very flexible schedule that allows me to shift priorities or obligations. Like sleeping and eating.

I’ve often confused the concepts of “can” and “should”. It’s taken more time than I feel is reasonable to admit that just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I should. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m the right person for the job. Availability doesn’t equal aptitude.

What I learned in my month off is that my priorities are different from those of the people around me, and that — to some degree — I have very good priorities that I should focus on. That it’s okay to say “no” to people in favor of the things that I value. I also learned that simply because I’m asked doesn’t mean I’m required. Sometimes I’m just an easy ask.

Most importantly I discovered that saying no isn’t the worst thing you can say to someone. It doesn’t crush them, ruin their day, destroy their hopes, or tear down God’s master plan.

Amazing what can happen with a month of clarified priorities.

Now of course, it’s August and I’ve totally shot that horse in the face with overbooking my first two weeks. I learn, but I learn very, very slowly.

Which is fine, there are weeks ahead of me with whole nothings planned, and now I know how to keep them safe from all the busyness I usually can’t resist.

Unmothers’ Day

I may stay single permanently, and for me, that means giving up motherhood. Some might debate this–I have friends who have done artificial insemination, or adopted or fostered children. I do not think this is a path down which I shall go, personally. So for me, one of my occasional difficult emotional battles around singleness is when I wrestle with the idea of never being a mother.

Not only do I give up the idea of physically popping out (ew gross, I hate that term) a child of my own body, but I have to give up on my perceptions of what a role of motherhood means to me. When my younger brother and sister and I played together as kids, they went out on adventures from the playhouse. I stayed inside, tidying up and cooking “dinner” for their triumphant return. I hung curtains. I drew pictures for the walls. I set the table.

Motherhood and homemaking, to me, always seemed to be ideal roles in life. To do it well, you had to enjoy being creative–my mom, for example, sewed, cooked, read, and did all kinds of projects for fun, some for budgetary considerations, and mostly for the sheer joy of creating beauty around us. She shopped and thrifted and planned and reupholstered things, arranged simple and affordable meals to look lovely, used the nice plates for birthday cake, and worked side by side with my dad on Saturdays to clean up the yard. As a pretty sensitive kid with a soft spot for beauty and a love for making things, I saw the potential in the role, and from early on, looked forward to that life.

It’s been a long and difficult process to give up the idea that in missing out on falling in love, I’ve also somehow missed out on my dream ‘career,’ in a way. But it’s deeper than that, too. I remember thinking about the millennium when I was about 9 years old. I calculated my age–I’d be twenty years old. Of course that seemed like a VAST age, old and wise, and far removed from impending teenagerhood. I wondered what life would be like. I’d probably be married, I thought, and have one, maybe two kids by then. (haha, kids, amiright?)  I thought maybe it would be fun to have a baby in the year 2000–a true millennial. In reality, the year 2000 was my second year at university, and I had to laugh at myself as Y2K came and went, and I was just as close to marriage and babies, apparently, as I had been at 8 years old.

Singleness means giving up Grandmotherhood. I mean, it means giving up grandmotherhood for me, obviously. But it also means giving up seeing my parents as Grandparents. It was a tense, long time of wondering for my parents, if they would ever be grandparents. My mom endured plenty of ‘Gratefulness Brags’ from her friends about their many grandchildren. Thank goodness I now have nieces from my sister and brother-in-law. At least one of the four of us kids has given my parents the chance to enjoy being grandparents, and I love watching my mom and my little niece Lucy develop their sweet relationship–I love seeing my dad laugh at her antics and proudly take pictures holding her sweet tiny sister, and hearing him tell me how he held me the same way, stretched along his forearm with my preemie head in his hand.

I love every rich moment with my family, and I don’t regret a single one, nor would I trade them. They are special in a different way for me. I’ve been able to be there within hours of both my nieces being born. I’ve been able to bring gifts and shower attention on my sister. I’ve been able to spend time with my siblings and parents in different ways than if I had family obligations of my own.

All the same though–I feel a little bit on the outside of things. I watch my sister and our mom talk about parenting, discipline, stages of growth, medical needs. I watch them develop something new and different in the way they treat each other with respect and kindness, the way my sister reaches out to my mom for help and advice and time, and the way my mom lights up when she sees her grandbabies, and when she watches her daughter be a mother. It’s beautiful, and I still do think of that relationship with longing.

Odds are I may never know what it’s like to be a mother. And people may say you can’t miss what you never had, but that’s a lie. I miss, sometimes, what I would have been, what would have changed in me through the deeps and darks and dreams of motherhood.

Remembering Un-Memories

A couple years ago at a dinner party one of the guests told a story about an absurd exchange his wife had at the hospital. Seems as she was being wheeled in for surgery someone else was being wheeled out, someone she knew, and as the two gurneys passed each other the prone patients high-fived. Not in a coordinated maneuver, or a planned exchange. No words needed to go with it, they just gave each other a pre/post-surgical high five and were wheeled past, leaving a stunned husband in the wake.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover at the dinner party that I was the other patient. I can’t remember what surgery this was, or if I got the roles reversed and she was going in as I was going out, and I don’t remember high-fiving anyone at all, anesthesia is a hell of a drug, but this is one of my favorite anecdotal stories about myself.

Out there in the world people have memories of you that you don’t have. People know things about your sleeping habits you could never know. And you’ve made impressions that have long outlasted your intentions or thoughts in the moment.

What the missing high five tells me is that I’m coordinated when I’m under heavy medication and not overthinking things. A lot of over-thinkers are like this. I’ve got a family member with incredible reflexes — as long as he’s had a couple beers.

But the more important revelation is that even the things I’ve forgotten, or the things I’ve been too drugged to remember, are indications that I’m me all the time. What I mean by that is when you spend so much of your time overthinking your conversation and actions, wondering what people will think, those conversations you can’t remember, or when you act on impulse and instinct without analyzing it, it’s nice to know that if I let myself off the leash I’ll do something in character.

We do more stuff unconsciously than I think we realize, too. We can’t account for every moment in the day, and those blank moments can haunt us. What are the stories people tell when I’m not around? Are the lingering impressions of me embarrassing? Horrifying? Wildly inaccurate? Do people replay the same stories to their friends that my devilish imagination plays for me on repeat as I cringe?

Un-memories are telling. They tell the story of the person you are, not the one you wish to be. Of the interpretation of your actions — for good or bad. They don’t have the context of “I was sick that day” or “I’d just gotten great news”, they’re just actions with limited context, and for that reason alone they tell a much bigger story. Because people put you into THEIR context. Their experience with you prior to this frames it. So when you hear one little story, what you’re hearing is the tip of a similar iceberg. These memories explain you to you.

It’s terrifying, isn’t it? The stories people have that you don’t know about could be absolutely horrible, couldn’t they? Or embarrassing maybe? Or what if they’re great? Maybe they’re those moments when you were generous and thoughtful even when you thought no one was looking. Trick is, to get one of those special un-memories you have to put in a lot of work, because a lot of what we do does go unseen.

To be the person you want others to think you are you have to be that person all the time. It’s the un-memories that tell others and eventually us that people know the difference between who we really are and who we’d rather be.

Now’s a good time to start being the you that you actually want to be.

 

We Need to Talk About Anne-with-an-E

I wouldn’t call it “hate-watching.” Not exactly. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “hope-watching.” One hopes that someone else will really get your favorite characters, and that the translation from book to script to production to actor will be like the most perfect game of telephone you’ve ever played.

While really, you’re probably expecting us to be talking about the really big news of the Gilmore Girls and their infamous Last Four Words, PBS made a move to compete by kicking off the holiday season with a film-length remake of Anne of Green Gables.

I’m not going to dwell on the surface mistakes like the carefully placed freckles and spectacularly frenetic shade of red hair forced on Ella Ballentine’s Anne, Marilla’s drastic eyeliner, the face-full-of-manure farm joke that occurs in the first scene, and how Diana Barry’s hair is FAR from raven black. And don’t even get me started on the instances of “oh my gosh!” and “yeah, ok.”

Of course, the definitive Anne, produced during the 1980’s and starring the most perfect Anne ever seen on film, Megan Follows, is hard to beat (side note–who must she have wronged to deserve that imdb profile photo??). Follows’ portrayal is hard act to compete with, as is Richard Farnsworth’s portrayal of sweet, shy Uncle Matthew, and Colleen Dewhurst’s stoic Marilla, although actors Sara Botsford as Marilla and Martin Sheen as Matthew turn in respectable performances. I found Sheen’s character hilarious to watch, though. He’s so irrepressibly charismatic, at odds with the painfully-shy character of the book’s Matthew.

Two mistakes are common when the movies adapt from novels; one is diverging so strongly from the original story that it becomes unrecognizable, and the other extreme is simply stringing together dialogue out of the book so faithfully that the film is composed mainly of words–it tells you the story instead of showing it. While the first is annoying, and the second is presumably more faithful to the book, it still fails to reveal the heart of a character, focusing instead on surface appeals to drive the plot.

The character of Anne Shirley in the books written by L.M. Montgomery is an unstoppable force, driven by an unending thirst for beauty and love. While the new production focuses on her dramatic tendencies, passionate emotional outbursts, and fanciful imaginings, and no one could accuse it of glossing over her abused first years by way of a few on-the-nose flashback memories filmed in black and white, what it misses is her authenticity. It’s a horribly difficult nuance for a young actress to portray, and that’s what made the older Megan Follows so wonderful at it. In the new film Anne seems as overly precocious as her perfectly-glossed lipstick and perfectly-spaced eyeliner dots…I mean freckles.

Plenty of small details are included that show the filmmakers are fond of the characters. Marilla uses a magnifying glass to inspect a small seam while she is sewing, referencing her weak eyes, and scenes from Prince Edward Island are nicely fitted in; sunrise over the tide flats, oysters being shucked on a wooden stump, the pastoral scenes of farm life, the change of seasons along the avenue of trees.

But Anne as written by L. M. Montgomery  was far from a pastoral, old-timey cliché. Anne Shirley was a spark, something of a revolutionary, a change-maker, a poet, a believer and a dreamer. She defied the odds dealt to her by life and persevered.  She was not spun-sugar daydreaming. The enduring character of her indomitable optimism, her fits of rage, her deep sense of sorrow and grief, her ability to feel everything so keenly and yet survive lends depth and direction to her dramatic episodes. Montgomery’s life was difficult, and she reflected in Anne her ideal response to the darkness of life, the ability to rise above circumstances through education, idealism, and a wild pursuit of beauty and truth. We need to talk about Anne, and Emily of New Moon, and Pat of Silver Bush. We need to not forget them and their ways of wrestling with bitterness and sorrow, and somehow finding the sweetness and joy in it all anyway. Perhaps the 2017 miniseries in the works from Netflix will get it right. We can always hope.

What about you? Did you watch Gilmore Girls or Anne of Green Gables?

 

Didn’t We Pray?

So maybe this story begins as many do. With a “sweet friend’s” post on Facebook. You know the kind of Sweet Friend I mean. The sweet eternal optimist, whose every dream or whim seems to get fulfilled. The champion tennis player, who also toured nationally with the select choral group in high school, who garners accolades and yet never seems affected by success.

The one who, years ago, tearfully prayed in youth group about being called to be a missionary…in Paris. And then actually went to Paris, and actually did mission work there for 3 years while you were slogging it from dorm to classroom and worrying about failing Philosophy of Religion. In the rain. Uphill.

That same Sweet Friend who went cheerfully to every prom and dance in a beautiful dress with a nice boy who also happened to be quite good looking. That same sweet friend who seemed in some way to be elevated above true drama and bitchiness that might come with such a role for less worthy people. In fact, she was the prom queen that everyone actually liked. You know, because that was the only dance in high school that you went to.

That same Sweet Friend who was asked to sing in a friend’s band in New York City when she was 25, just back from Paris, and while there, met the portrait photographer/Craft Woodworker/expert drummer who of course fell in love with her very white teeth and her shiny long hair that never seems to have a bad day, and her clear skin and her smiling eyes, and oh yeah, her actually glowing, phosphorescent, pearly personality and kind heart.

THAT friend.

The friend you can’t hate. The friend who actually empathizes because she is kind and sensitive, although she may not truly understand. But it doesn’t bother you because she actually never gives  you those abhorrent chunks of romantic advice like “it’ll happen when you’re not expecting it,” because she’s also eminently sane and smart and doesn’t have a death wish.

THAT friend.

That friend who you cried for in the bathroom at her wedding, just because you’d miss her, and then you redid your mascara and went out to smile and dance, not because you had to, but because you wanted to.

That Sweet Friend, of course, who posted a beautiful, emotional tribute about her husband of 5 years, which ended with an exhortation to girls to pray for their future husbands, because she had prayed for this man since she was little, and God had answered her prayers and more by bringing this wonderful man into her life.

I direct you to my go-to author on this matter, the great C.S. Lewis, speaking in the voice of Aslan the Lion to Aravis in The Horse and His Boy: “I tell no one any story but their own.”

This Sweet Friend of course has her own story about the events of her life. Far be it from me to assume that she has no trials, no heartaches, no sadness, because her life has been dissimilar to mine. I don’t need to know, perhaps, all of her story. Perhaps it is all true. She has prayed for this man to come into her life since she was small, and God said yes.

But…I can’t help but feel that I know a few women have prayed for a husband since they were small, and, to use Sweet Friend of the Shiny Hair’s rhetoric, God has said (so far) no. Many weddings I’ve been to have been marked by teary parents saying that their greatest prayer for their daughters have been answered. There are songs about it, even, praying for the little boy your daughter will grow up to love (which sort of creeps me out).

But what about those parents who have prayed faithfully, prayed in tears, prayed and prayed for their sons or daughters, or those sons or daughters who have prayed to be part of a family of their own?

I know it’s the bride’s day on her wedding day, but I always felt my face grow hot with shame as I sat with my parents at a reception table, poised to race to the bathroom at the opening notes of ‘All the Single Ladies’, while the bride’s parents praised God for answering their faithful prayers.

It helps to understand that “no” is also an answer. It isn’t that my parents haven’t been faithful in prayer. I’m not single because I’ve dreamed about it my whole life and prayed faithfully to be single forever.

No. It may not have been the answer I wanted. But it is an answer. Some might be tempted to say that sometimes a “wait” answer to prayer looks like a “no” answer.  In fact, a friend of mine who has been single far longer than I have and has even written several books on it got married just this past weekend. I’m sure that she didn’t think she was waiting anymore. As it turns out, her answer was not a no, but a wait. And wait she did, faithfully.

Whether my answer is a no or a wait is not for me to decide. For now, I just want the catharsis of noting that just because God answers one girl with a yes, doesn’t mean he will answer every girl with a yes, no matter how much they might pray.

Instead of “praying for your future husband,” how about just pray? Pray for yourself. Pray for your neighbors. Pray for your pastors, your leaders, your friends. Pray for the people who will come into your life, male or female, because God knows they will need some prayer to deal with you. Unless you find yourself relating to the Sweet Friend in this scenario more than to me.

In that case, I love/hate you. Hugs, I really love you. You and your shiny hair and white teeth and Paris vacation-oops-I-mean-mission-trip, too. I may not like you very much, but I do love you.

 

 

Movie Over-Analysis: When Harry Met Sally

It is impossible for me to watch When Harry Met Sally and retain my well-adjusted single woman persona. Maybe it’s the Harry Connick Jr. music, or New York in the fall, but my guess is that it’s Harry and Sally.

My gosh, when he leaves her in the morning I turn into a pajama-clad, pint-holding, tissues-crumpled, sad-sack. I can almost feel myself becoming a cliche as I tell Harry Albright, “don’t break her heart”, repeatedly.

Of course, he never listens.

But by the end, as the credits roll and I return to my jean-clad, beer-swilling, regular-self with tear tracks on my face, it occurs to me not how important romance is, but how important relationships are.

Hold on to your shorts, I’m about to commit one of my own pet peeves by moralizing this movie. When Harry Met Sally is the epitome of this romantic relationship fixation we have in our culture.

Indulge me as I shred apart a favorite movie.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity and yet wrong. All relationships disappear as soon as they can no longer apply on a sexually interesting level. Sally’s married friend has all of one scene. Harry and Sally each have a best friend who is single, naturally these two fall for each other (oops, spoiler alert on a 30-year-old movie) and there are no other players — except ex-partners.

We realize how perfect Harry and Sally are together because we’re never distracted by anyone else, and neither are they. Maybe we all live small lives with only an intimate circle of friends, but I don’t buy it. I’m an introvert and even I can claim at least three-five close friendships. How come these two leads can’t say the same? what kind of relational retardation have they experienced? Are they so co-dependent on each other after ten years that marriage was the only option? After all, their best friends are married, wouldn’t it just be more convenient?

I know, I know, when you love someone everyone else disappears, but (I hate to say this because I love this movie passionately), maybe that’s the real tragedy. Maybe it IS tragic to be so consumed and absorbed by someone else to the point that your supporting cast is only 20 characters long (not counting “uncredited” and “documentary couple”, but indeed counting “Joke teller at wedding”).

I know what you’re going to say. It’s a movie. The limited cast is what makes it so realistic, so raw, so comedic and relatable. I know, I get it. I do. But what movies do us the disservice of validating is our persistent belief that true love is a completely consuming experience. That there is nothing outside of life for us except to be consumed in romance, or with romantic prospects.

Sally has a career, right? What is it? What exactly does Harry do? Do they have families at all? Have either of them experienced loss in their life? Severe health concerns? What impact does society have on them? Has Harry ever had financial worries? Sally, ever changed a tire on the freeway ?

We watch the movie and we feel they are well-rounded, but we know so little about them outside of each other. What if Sally’s that woman at work who always steals your sandwich from the fridge? Or Harry’s the kind of guy who prints off jokes and posts them outside the men’s room? We think we know them because we know them with each other. And we think they’re perfect because we only ever see how they effect each other.

But isn’t it remotely possible there are other people that bring out different better sides of them? Other people DO exist, do influence your life, do add color, confusion, pain, happiness. Perhaps a woman that makes Harry less morose, or gets him to a shrink. Perhaps a man who makes Sally less uptight, less “I like it the way I like it.” Sure they accept each other’s flaws, and that’s wonderful, but do they change each other? Do they make each other better people? Or does that not matter? Is the main goal to marry someone who expects nothing?

Or maybe it’s just a romantic comedy with clever dialogue and engaging characters.

It’s definitely that, I mean. Forget everything else I said. There is no conspiracy of film to make you aware of how mediocre your life is by comparison. Or drive home that you should be dissatisfied and waiting for your happy ending. That’s definitely not happening.

Eh. It’s like any other media isn’t it? It is what you make of it, I suppose.

What I DO know is that the old couple near the beginning, the high school sweethearts who connect after THIRTY-FOUR YEARS apart…I want to see that movie. I wonder what Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are up to these days…