On Motherhood in a crisis

The last week has been a whirlwind of stress, pain, exhaustion and moments of absolute clarity.  It all started last Thursday when my husband and I learned that his father had been injured in some sort of accident on the job and had been rushed to the hospital.  We live several states away, so there was immediate panic.  How bad is it?  Is he going to be okay?  Could we get my husband out there if we needed to?  Thanks to the generosity of my parents, my friends, and a handful of random strangers, we were able to raise the funds and airline miles to fly my husband out to be with his family.  As I’m writing this, my father-in-law has yet to regain consciousness, although his eyes sometimes open and his fingers sometimes move, which is better than where things had been.

It is so surreal, being out here while my husband is out there, trying to be the still point in a turning world when the center of gravity seems out of place.

I can’t say I know how hard it has been on my husband.

I do know, to some degree, how hard it has been on my children.  I can’t say how many times in the past week it seemed like the household turned from happiness to panicked chaos in a split second.  One moment we’re talking about our favorite My Little Ponies, the next minute it’s, “what happens if Pappy dies?”  One second it’s plans for the Minecraft server, the next it’s, “what if Pappy stays alive but never wakes up?”

Questions I can’t answer.  I long for the good old days of just having to explain that it is dark earlier because of the way the earth tilts on it’s axis and that the sky looks blue because of how our brain interprets the refraction of light.  That stuff is child’s play compared to explaining how when there’s bleeding inside of the brain, the brain can’t send signals the way it should and…  ugh.

We’re walking through the store and it’s this ghost that haunts us.  I want to lay down and cry, but I can’t.  I have to buy the groceries and clean the fridge and fold the laundry and check the homework and cook the meals, and meanwhile these questions follow me around the house in the irresistible and unignorable form of my children, panicking every time I have to think before answering.  “Why can’t Pappy talk on the phone?  Will he ever talk on the phone?”  I cook the food, I serve the food.  We sit around the table and try to act like nothing is missing.  “I don’t like eating at the table without Daddy.  Can we just watch a movie?”

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Time for bed.  Time to try to act like we can do this.  Change into pajamas, brushing teeth.  Here come the tears again.  “I don’t like going to sleep without daddy praying first.”  “We can try to call daddy.”  “Daddy is with Pappy.”  And here it comes again.  The kids keep getting out of bed, coming to see what I’m doing.  Wipe the tears quickly before they pop their heads in the room.  Smile.  Keep smiling.  Tuck them back in, again and again.  Be firm but not angry.  You have to sleep, you have to go to school in the morning.  Yes, it’s very sad that daddy isn’t here and we don’t know when Pappy will wake up, but in the meantime we have our lives to live.

Monkeypants keeps me up until midnight.  I sneak a few moments of silence before laying down, wake up before everyone else so that I have a moment to clear my head.  Wake the kids up with tickles and laughter, try to keep the questions at bay.  On the way to school they creep back in.  “My teacher asked about Pappy, what do I say?”  Smile, say that we’re keeping hope, we’re staying positive, daddy will be back home soon.  “Will Pappy wake up before daddy comes home?”  We can’t know.  “What if Pappy doesn’t wake up?”

Whatever happens, we’ll be okay.  We have each other and we love each other.

“Don’t fall down and hit your head until your brain bleeds,” my son says in a very serious voice.

I put my hand over my heart, “I promise to try not to,” I say, “but no matter what happens, you would be okay.  I know you would.”

He shakes his head, “I don’t like the fact that people get hurt and die,” he says.

No one likes that.  Who would?

Another bedtime, this time with less tears.  Another night where I’m up past midnight, putting them in bed again and again and again.  I wonder how little sleep I need to survive.  6 hours a night doesn’t seem like quite enough.  I make coffee in the mornings, I never make coffee.  I smile.  The questions are quieter today.  They aren’t always asked, but I see in their eyes, I see the questions they aren’t asking so I smile, I hold them tight, I speak softly as I check the homework and put out the food.  The questions always come out eventually.  “How much blood can come out of a brain?  Like, all the blood in the body?”

Gosh, that’s a good question.

“Do they put more blood back in him?  How does that work?”

I need to take more physiology classes.  The two weeks we spent on the brain in Psychology are not enough.  We Google things and talk about them.  “I hit my head on everything.  It seems stupid to put something as important as a brain in somebody’s head when they might just fall down and break it forever.”

We talk about miracles and people who come out of comas after months or years.

“I don’t want Pappy to be asleep for that long.”

No one does, but Pappy’s job is to sleep and heal and our job is to wait.

Another day, and another.  I find myself randomly nodding off on the couch while Monkeypants plays in the other room.  Wake up!  It’s not over yet.  My job is to stay awake and wait.  And I wonder, how long can I hold off my own questions, my own tears?  How long can I keep showing them how to be brave and keep hope?

8 days in, I realize the truth.  I can do it as long as I have to.  I can do it forever.  As long as their eyes are watching me, I can do whatever is asked of me, because in proving to them that everything will be okay, I prove it to myself.

“You work and go to school? Who takes care of your kids?”

So I’ve seen this blog post getting linked around Facebook, and I’ve mostly scrolled by it with a good-natured “harrumph”.  It’s Matt Walsh writing about how his wife is doing a bang-up job of raising his kids, what with the birthing life into being and instilling of morals and hygiene and societal values while staying at home and never having a career anymore.  Most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are stay-at-home moms, and I don’t want to disparage what they do.  But one friend of mine took exception to Walsh’s tone because it seemed really patronizing to the mothers who do work, and that made me think about a lot of things.

Let me start by saying that being a stay at home mom is hard, incredibly hard.  I did it for five years, and looking back I think it was more emotionally draining and difficult than parenting while working.  You never get to clock out of being a parent, especially when your kids are on top of you every second of the day and a good bit of the night.  It’s hard to deal with feeling unappreciated and unproductive.  It’s nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while from someone who affirms stay-at-home-mommyness as something of a sacred calling.  But being a working mother is a whole different type of hard, and while I can’t say the two are equal or unequal, what I can say is it takes a strong-ass woman to do either with any amount of grace.  Women who manage to actively raise their kids into productive members of society in today’s world deserve praise REGARDLESS of their employment status.

My family needed me to have an income, so I went to work.  Then, I went to school and work.  And it’s funny, because while my professional life post-stay-at-home-mommydom has gotten me many “god bless your heart” pouts and shoulder rubs and people with wide eyes saying, “how do you MANAGE?”; there’s a lot less of a sense of screw-everyone-else solidarity amongst working women than there was in the stay at home mom world.

I suppose there’s a feeling that we’re betraying someone, or something.

It doesn’t help when people, in feigned congratulations of my courage, say things like “so you go to school AND you work?  Who takes care of your kids?”

Um, I do.  And their dad.  We raise our children together, thanks for implying that I am somehow crippled as a mother because there are hours I am not home.  No, I can’t always pick them up from school or tuck them in to bed.  But I am present in their lives, the moon that pulls their tides, regardless of if I am available to them every second of the day (including bathroom breaks) or if I am only with them for two hours.  What matters is if the connection to them is actively nurtured.  What matters is when over dinner I ask them what the happiest and saddest moment of their day was.  What made you feel victorious?  What made you feel like you failed?  What will you work harder at tomorrow and what you do differently?  What can I do for you?  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Want to cuddle and read a book?  Need me to mend the sleeve of your dress?

I mean, I may have to boil a days worth of parenting into a few hours sometimes, but there are other days I’m home all day.  There are days where I give my essay project the middle finger and decide to make cupcakes with my daughter or play Minecraft with my son.  I still actively work at being a parent.  I do not shove that responsibility off on anyone else (except their father, who actively shares it).

Being a mother is hard.  Being a parent is hard.  It’s hard whether or not you work.  All of the reasons to stay at home, or to go to work, belong to the parent and not to society.  Stay at home moms need to ask themselves if they have the patience.  Can they go for a few years without even peeing alone or reading a book uninterrupted?  This is a serious question, because child abuse happens when they cannot.  Working moms have to ask themselves can they feel connected to their child if someone else is the one seeing the first steps, hearing the first word?  Can they marvel at their children without having to know every detail?  These are serious questions.  My dad got a lot of Monkeypants’s firsts.  That was really difficult for me.  But you know what?  I get her everydays, and her everydays do not suck.  They amaze me.

Mothers shouldn’t have to stay at home to be congratulated and praised.  Fathers should be praised, too.  You know why?  Because like Matt Walsh says we bring life into the world and we rear it… regardless of whether or not we have another job.  We worry about our children and we do our best to raise them well.  We give ourselves to them, we center our efforts around them… and, yeah, sometimes we make getting or keeping or furthering careers a priority because as a parent we have a responsibility to ourselves as well.  We have a responsibility to model how to be a good member of society, and sometimes that means learning how to be a doctor or a schoolteacher or a nurse or an accountant or what have you.  And sometimes for financial or spiritual or personal reasons that means staying at home.

Sure it does.

But whatever being a parent means, we shouldn’t all have to be competing with each other to prove that we are somehow good parents regardless of how we live our lives.  We’re good parents because of who we are to our children and who they are to us.

 

luck is what you make of it, says the teacher.

I’m working very hard to practice meditation daily.  The good thing about being incredibly busy is that it forces me to prioritize.  Where I once was lax about meditation (who needs to make it a priority when there are all of these HOURS I can squeeze it into?) or exercise (hey, there’ll be time tomorrow, I don’t need to push it to the front of the agenda) or spending time with the kids (we’re around each other ALL THE TIME, why be intentional?) when time becomes scant, every second gets doled out like it is made of gold.  Here are the minutes for the kids, for exercise, for meditation, here are these precious minutes and I must let them linger on my tongue like fine wine.  Here they are.  These ones.

In my World Lit class we somehow wandered off on a rabbit trail, talking about what makes a person “lucky” or “privileged” or “the right person for the right time.”  My teacher said that luck is what you make of it.  Luck, she said, is ultimately how you choose to be aware of and take advantage of your experiences.  Everyone may walk by the same dollar on the street, what makes someone “lucky” is being aware of it.  Everyone may talk to the same business man at a party, but what makes the investor “lucky” is cultivating that relationship.  Sometimes even the worst experiences may be “lucky” if you are the sort of person who makes yourself lucky.  A bad accident may lead to an early stage cancer being caught, for instance.  Unemployment may let you write that novel.  Luck, then, is a state of being in the same way that awareness is.  Luck is a choice in the sense that we all label or own experiences, we can label ourselves as lucky if we view ourselves in a positive light.

I am choosing to focus on awareness and cultivate it in myself.  I am choosing to label my experiences as fortunate.  I am choosing to cultivate relationships.

Sometimes bad things happen, but I choose not to label my life as “bad.”

The past few days I’ve been slammed with being busy, but the funny thing is that in all of that I feel things have gone better than they’ve gone in a long time.  I’ve been deliberate about taking control and not resenting the things I have to sacrifice in return.  Little things, like groceries coming under budget, pile up and it feels like mounds of blessings amidst the insanity.  It’s strange, how being deliberate about being in charge of your life can bend something from feeling like a curse to being a blessing.  It’s like the difference between choosing to run a marathon and being chased by a murderer in the night.  But of them are about being in a race, but only one of them feels like a death sentence.

But our entire life is like that- we all have to go through more or less the same motions and emotions.

But how do we attribute them?  What label do we paste on everything that happens around us?  Do we choose to be lucky?  Do we cultivate the behaviors of luckiness, the awareness and relationships and attitude?

Or do we treat every single challenge as if it is a murderer bursting into our home, and constantly cover our eyes and wail about our unluckiness as we walk right by the twenty dollar bill in the gutter?

I’ve written a note to myself that I have to look at every now and then to remind me of the choices I want to make.  It says, “this is the life you are living.  You are not passive.  It doesn’t happen to you, you happen to everyone else.”

There was a time I allowed myself to feel like a victim.  I gained 50 pounds and moved across the country and did my fair share of wailing, and it really did feel like everything I cared about was wrenched out of my arms.  That’s what happens when you would rather be backed into a brick wall than listen to what the spirit is saying to you.  That’s not my life anymore.  I could be supplicant and pray and cry and get all legalistic and feel owed a better life, but what would change?  I’d become more of a jerk and I’d still have everything wrenched away from me routinely while the universe worked on getting my attention.

So it goes.

Hi-ho.

Or, I can choose to be lucky.  I can be open and aware and understanding, and cultivate the now-barren places in my life in expectation of finding seeds.  I find, as I am more aware, that seeds are small but all around me.  My life just needs time right now.

Time that I can treasure to the second, and dole out carefully.  Time I can choose to be aware of.  Time that I am not a victim of.

I’m lucky, guys.  I’m lucky.

 

The ruins of the garden

My garden is in ruins.  The soil here is poorer than I expected.  Next year it’ll be truckloads of manure and wood chips, trying to get a little less sandy of a texture in the soil, better water retention and better quality.  Right now everything is dying, between the heat and how quickly the soil dries.  Not that the garden ever produced as much as I’d hoped, anyway.  We only got a few pounds of tomatoes off of most of the plants, It was a serious disappointment.  Part of me is bitter.  I put in all of that work for what?  Some spaghetti squash and green beans (the only things that seemed to produce with any kind of fervency.)  I feel cheated.  Cheated!

I look at the ruins of the garden, my little kingdom, dying off bit by bit like the Roman Empire.

I grumble and curse.

Then I remember that I have learned so much.  I’ve learned about gardening in the Steppe, which is so very different from gardening in the Midwest.  I’ve learned about what kinds of things I can expect to flourish here (beans, squash, corn, hardy tomatoes) and what I can expect to wither and die at the first sign of summer heat (peas and lettuce will never do well here, spinach has a short but boisterous growing season).  I have learned to water in the early hours of the morning.  I’ve learned to bury my compost to keep the neighbor dogs out of it.  I’ve learned that the stakes and tomato cages that worked in the Midwest WILL warp and give way here.  I’ve learned that I can start my seeds indoors even earlier than I expected, and that when I plant I need to cover EVERYTHING EXCESSIVELY will bird netting.  EXCESSIVELY.  My melons produced nada, nothing, zip.  But it is because the birds stole the shoots and I had to replant 12 weeks after the original seeds had germinated- those 12 weeks stole my chance at fruit.  Next year I will not let that happen.  I’ll keep my tomatoes indoor longer and force germinate them to start out with, and I will stake those puppies in hand knotted hammocks nailed to two-by-fours.  They will NOT have half their fruit rotting from being on the hot soil.  I’ll plant a lot more eggplant so I see a better chance at getting some fruit off them.  I’ll fall in love with more varieties of beans.

The garden next year will be bigger.  Bigger.  A better chance of enough of it surviving my learning curve, a better chance at produce.

Yesterday I was talking to a classmate who confessed to feeling like she’d started out this school year behind.  “I’m failing at everything!” She was gritting her teeth in exasperation.

“You need to give yourself permission to fail,” I said, commiserating.  “Accept where you are now so you can move on from it.  Accept, and keep fighting.  Don’t despise yourself and give up.”  Our teacher, eavesdropping rather obviously, had a knowing smile.

Ah, yes.  Yes.  I realized just seconds later that I was speaking to myself, too.

I need to accept where my garden is right now, accept the lessons it has taught me, and move on.  I need to plan for success and accept the failures and just keep going.

Because that is life.  Bitterness that life has cheated us is just thinly disguised rejection of the true gifts it has to offer.

Having God say, “Hells to the No,” is an answer to prayer, too.

And brown, withering corn produces the wisdom to plant it lower in the ground next year, where the water will pool better around the roots.

Scrawny, underproductive melon vines produce the knowledge to plant them where they have room to spread.

It all matters, even the failures.

Sometimes, especially the failures.

Sometimes the biggest learning comes in the ruins.

Mennonites and Ladybugs and Me Learning Not to Whine.

In the last week, I’ve seen six conservative Mennonite women with their hair pinned under bonnets and long, flowing, flower dresses.  I know it was 6 times because I counted.  There was one working in the emergency room, there was another one shopping at Target, another one shopping at Safeway, one walking around the campus at my school, and two walking together downtown.  This stands out so clearly to me, because in the entire time I’ve lived in Yakima I’ve never noticed one.  People have told me that there is a conservative community out there, somewhere, as in:  “I think they live in Moxee and make cheese.”  But have I ever seen evidence of their existence?  No, I would have noticed.  (I think.)

So this past week I’ve been wondering why now?  I’ve been missing my home town desperately, so maybe it’s just my mind being tuned to the signs of what I lack.  Or perhaps in all my praying about where the future may lead, this is the universe’s way of reassuring me.  Or, who knows.

Yesterday while I was in the garden, I saw hundreds of ladybugs.  I always see ladybugs in times of great change.

I was crying.  It’s hard to verbalize why.  I was picking tomatoes and red beans furiously.  Just furiously.  I was angry because my best friend moved to the other side of the country.  I miss her, I miss having very many friends.  I feel so lonely most of the time.  It’s not because I don’t have friends in Yakima, although I pretend I don’t so I can feel sorry for myself.  I have a lot of friends but not close friends, not “let me lay my troubles on you” friends, although I have many friends that could become that if I took the time to nurture the relationship.  I suppose I was crying because I was realizing how selfish I can be, how selfish I’ve allowed the past five years to make me.  How guarded and defensive I’ve become, how unwilling I’ve become to invest in others.  How resentful I’ve become of my life.  And why?  Why am I feeling that way?

My life right now doesn’t suck.  I enjoy school, I enjoy work, I don’t fantasize about my husband getting in a car wreck and dying.  Life has made progress!

But I still feel the hangover of exhaustion from all the trauma that led me here, the constant desire for some kind of vacation that I will never get.  It’s been years since I’ve had a single night away from the children.  YEARS.  I can’t even put my finger on the last time I woke up in the morning not feeling completely exhausted.

I sit in the garden picking red beans and wondering when that chore will end.  Why?  I enjoy it.

I stare at the tomatoes and wonder if I should stop watering the garden and let them die.  Why?  I enjoy them.

I curse the fact that anything, even the things I love, even friendships, ask something of me.  Why?  Why?  Why?

When did I decide that I have nothing left to give, no more energy to invest, no more desire to make the effort to make my own life better? I’ve spent the last 30 years waiting for someone to come along and take care of me, and there is still this little part of me that constantly says, “damn it.  Why do I have to take care of myself?”

My mom’s latest favorite phrase is that we have to be ridiculously responsible for our own worlds.

Ridiculously responsible.

It’s still something I’m learning.

But somewhere in the mess of the garden ending, in the gallon of dried pods of red beans and the pile of halfhearted tomatoes, in the soil that badly needs more nutrition and the yard that is giving up on life for lack of nutrients, I heard a small voice asking me if I was willing to be taken care of.  Isn’t all of this part of the same cycle, the cycle wherein I pretend there’s nothing I can do?  As if my life is still something that happens to me, I am still a victim, instead of someone who is capable of making life what I need it to be.

I swear, I heard God laughing.  As if he can’t be my rest, my care, my friend.

As if I’ve been missing the point.

There were ladybugs everywhere, on everything, crawling on my hands.  I was wondering, have I even seen ladybugs out here before?

It’s okay.  It’s okay that I don’t know my future.  I haven’t known my future for five years now, and it’s been okay.  So I had one future wrenched away.  So what?  That future wouldn’t have been good for me.  I do have friends, I do have a life, I do have ladybugs.

I’ll get some sleep eventually.

I tell myself I don’t know how much longer I can remain strong, how much work is left in me.

But don’t I want to find out?

It’s like resenting going to the gym but at the same time wanting a nice body.

When am I going to learn to be grateful for the fact that here, now, I have a chance to make my life something that nourishes me?

So I laid down in the dirt like a crazy person and laughed and cried.  The neighbor walked by and said, “garden fell apart, eh?”

I threw a tomato at him and replied, “it still makes food, ya jerk.”

We had a good laugh.

Laughing is good.

Princess or Warrior?

Brace yourself for a ramble.

So last night, my darling two year old, MonkeyPants, decided to dive-bomb me from the pass through behind the couch and nailed me between the ribs with her knee, causing me a world of hurt.  This is something that she does often.  Her favorite thing is when I’m folding laundry on the bed.  She’ll come up behind me and dive over my shoulder, and I have to catch her with one hand or she’ll do a full roll and sometimes tumble off the bed. Of course she has to plant it JUST RIGHT or I also get a knee in the back of the head.  Now, I’m not complaining.  I can take a good beating and still keep a smile on my face, and I have to say that one thing I love the MOST about MonkeyPants is that she is WILD.  I love having a wild daughter.  I love wondering what she’ll come up with next and seeing her control of her body grow.  It’s incredible, because at two she can lay out her 7 year old brother flat and get him in an arm bar, and she’ll tousle with the dogs and cats and pretty much everything.  She once saw a video of Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile and, with awe in her voice, pointed and said, “I DO THAT.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if some day she did.

And then this morning she picks out the FRILLIEST, PINKEST, most bedecked in bows and layers of ruffles, most princessy dress she owns and wanted me to do her hair with a pouffed up hair piece.  And I did it all, chuckling to myself because here’s the girl who quite possibly dislocated one of my ribs in a Tarzan-like performance last night wanting to be the perfect little princess, probably so she could sit on the dogs and yell at them in style.

But I have to wonder, why should these things not belong together perfectly?  Why can’t a girl be a crocodile hunter in a pink frilly frock?  (Of course there is the maneuverability problem.)  But honestly, why is it that these days there are so many anti-princess sites telling people not to tie their kids down to the princess ideal?  I get that you don’t want to force being a princess on a child, or portray it as the only or best option, but why is it that these days it seems like being a princess is the enemy?

If the goal is to let our children determine who they want to be without restriction, being a frilly pink crocodile-wrestling mountain exploring zoologist should be on the table.

Princesses don’t have to be helpless, simpering idiots.

After all, Leia was a princess and she was a better shot than Han or Luke!

Okay, okay, so I get that by and large in the Disney-style mainstream princess culture, pretty girls are helpless prisoners of their beauty, like Snow White, who have to be saved by someone else.  All they are good for is keeping things pretty.  But do we really want to send the message to our girls that being beautiful is the enemy?  That by seeking beauty you are limiting yourself?  That you should hate pink dresses and all they represent?

Someone else decided that pink and frilly meant demure and in need of masculine aid.  I want MonkeyPants to decide for herself what it means, and God help anyone who sees her in a pink dress and decides she’s delicate.  By Heaven, she will rain down punishment on them from above and get them in an arm bar and force them to admit that being feminine does not mean being weak.

And I love that about her.

I love her in a pink dress sitting on her brother’s shoulders and telling him he’s being Batman wrong.

There’s always been this debate about Xena the Warrior Princess and whether or not she’s a decent feminist role model because of the iron bikini.

I mean, screw that.

By choosing to be beautiful women are not objectifying themselves.  Beauty, delicateness, comfort, submission, providing for others, selflessness, none of these are qualities that we should desire to beat out of our daughters.  Princess or warrior is a false choice.

No woman is an object as long as she never allows herself to be made silent and stationary.

And putting a dress on MonkeyPants certainly doesn’t shut her up!

Meffing Goatsheads: or, all I need to know about sin I learned from my garden.

Goatshead thistles, or puncture vine, is the most obnoxious weed in the world (according to myself) and one I never had the acquaintance of until I moved into our current home.

goatshead

 

That’s a picture of a bucket of the stuff.  I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I suggested burning all of the stuff growing in the driveway and was met with laughter.  Why?  The seeds are so waxy that burning them only helps them germinate faster.  You can spray the vine with weed killer but if it has already seeded, the weed killer won’t affect the seeds.  You can pull it up as it grows but you’ll be doing that for years, and years, and years.  The seeds can live for ten years or more in the ground, and it’s only a matter of weeks from germination to seed.

So what do you do?  There’s one thing that most of the gardening blogs seem to agree on:  Goatsheads thrive in acidic or base soils but don’t do well in soils that are well balanced.  They do poorly in competition with other plants, so planting another kind of groundcover and fertilizing the hell out of it will quickly crowd the weeds out and prevent them from seeding.

Yep.

The best way to get rid of them, to put it simply, is to make sure that your yard is a healthy place for other things to grow.

Which is tidily the best analogy I’ve ever heard for how to deal with sin.  Want to get rid of anger?  Focusing on your anger will never work.  Focusing on your anger will only amplify it. The only way to get rid of your anger is to make your heart the right condition to cultivate gentleness.  Want to get rid of judgmental attitudes?  Trust me on this, focusing on sin will only lead to more judgment and deep hypocrisy.  You weed it out by planting other things there: understanding, love, trust.  This is true of so many other things.  Greed can be treated with giving, addiction can be treated with self-control or self-knowledge, jealousy can be treated with self-care, and bitterness can be treated with grace.

If I had an empty plot in my yard and I thought I had to get rid of all the goatsheads before I started my garden, I’d spend the rest of my life cultivating nothing but mud.

It’s gotten easier to keep them at bay the more the garden has grown in, and for the most part now they are only growing at the edges where they are easily pulled.

And I think about the times I’ve spent in dark depression spiritually, growing nothing but figurative mud as I dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole I thought I’d never grow out of.

And the whole time, God was throwing me situation after situation full of the seeds that I needed to hold onto and cultivate for myself.  Constantly I threw the seeds back and then petulantly asked God why he wasn’t helping me.

I imagine God was much like I can be when I serve my kids a great healthy meal they just don’t want to eat.  An hour later, their plate is still sitting on the table full of food and they are whining, “what can I eat?  Mom I’m hungry!”

And I’m trying very hard not to roll my eyes and very patiently saying, “you can eat the meal I have made for you.”

God must shaking his head and trying not to tap his foot and saying, “you can grow the things I want for you.  Seriously, kid, stop worrying about that sh**.”

So you can spend your life giving yourself splinters and sores pulling up a weed that can multiply faster than you can kill it, throwing acid and poison on it and killing everything good and beautiful while it burns and doesn’t even care,

or you can think about what kind of garden you want to grow.

Like I said, it’s all I feel I ever need to know about sin.  Because, like with my yard, it’s not the bad things that you should be focused on anyway.  It’s the good fruit that you can grow there anyway that really matters.

It’s all that matters.

Don’t tell me about what needs to be killed.

What needs to be cultivated?

Your feet aren’t the same size as mine.

So I’ve been thinking lately about the whole idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.  It all started during a more or less innocent conversation.  I was talking about canning and gardening and how I always seem to overshoot things, and my mom made a comment about how she remembers those days.  I almost immediately wanted to say, “I’m not you!”

I’m glad I bit my tongue, because on further reflection I can see how from her point of view, we are the same.

But then, I’m not.

We’ve traveled some of the same old dirt roads.  I’ve relived many of her experiences.  If life were walking mountain trails it would be safe to say that she and I have seen the same panoramic views.  But we haven’t walked all of the trails the same, and I couldn’t ever walk a mile in her shoes (or she in mine) because our feet just aren’t quite the same size.

This is true of so many people.  We like to take our experiences and all the knowledge we’ve gained from them and just thrust all of that onto others, forgetting that our experiences are a product of who we are, and the knowledge they give us is personal. Are there some experiences that are universal?  Sure.  It’s always good advice, for instance, to tell people to lay down hoes and shovels blade side down or hang them up.  (Step on the blade and get smacked in the face just once, and you’ll realize that this is a universally crappy experience.)  I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from being reminded to always look over your shoulder before putting a car in reverse, or always cover the coals before bed when camping.  Sure, those are mistakes that no one, regardless of their perspective, would want to make.  The potential danger is just too great.  It doesn’t matter whose shoes you are wearing, you want to avoid potential damage.

But then there are the more vague adages, and the more personal experiences. Someone may say, “never get married young, trust me, you aren’t ready.”  Then someone else says, “have your kids in your twenties, you’ll enjoy them more that way.”

Whose advice do you take?

One man says, “leaving the homosexual lifestyle helped me avoid so much pain,” and a woman turns to him and says, “it wasn’t until I accepted my sexuality that I experienced true love and devotion.”

Their shoes couldn’t fit more differently.

And my mom makes a harmless comment to me, full of love and nostalgia and regret, and I have to accept the fact that whatever pain in  life she wants to help me avoid, it’s my pain to feel, and we may find it fits us very differently.  Like that last purple sun dress on the sale rack that we both try on and size each other up in, we may find that even though we are so alarmingly similar, it fits one of us better than the other, and we both know it.

You can’t just walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and understand their life.  You have to take all of the context into account:  who they are, how they feel, how they’ve interpreted their experiences, what they want from the future, what lessons life has given them so far and what they’ve learned from it, and if they are even remotely like you.

You can’t just borrow their shoes.  You have to walk in the essence and understanding of who they are.

You can’t shove your biases into their loafers and then say, “see, I can really rock a mile in these suckers.”

Your feet aren’t even the same size.

The only person capable of walking a mile in their body in their shoes is they themselves, excepting God.  (And we all know the trouble that comes from thinking that we can be God.)

So let’s leave all this business of shoes behind, and change the conversation.  Don’t retort, as I was so sorely tempted to, that nobody knows your life.  Say, “this is my life.  Now show me yours.”

Listen.

Being Weeded

So yesterday I weeded the entire garden.  There are four different beds, the largest of which is fifteen by twenty five feet, so it can be time consuming.  When weeding, I’ve discovered that there are few ways to keep myself from going insane.  One is offering my kids a few dollars to do it for me, although that is tricky because they’ll pull up EVERYTHING.  Another is singing show tunes to pass the time, but the fact that the neighbors are often in their yard working on cars and playing the soundtrack to 8 Mile on instant repeat (alternating with insanely loud Mariachi) is a bit of a damper to that.  The third, and the one it seems that I am most likely to use, is going into a semi-meditative state and asking Very Important Questions and Listening To The Universe.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a valley and questioning if my faith is productive and if I am becoming the kind of person I want to become.

(Disclaimer:  I’ve been in a bit of a valley and wondering if my faith is productive for the past 15 years, so this isn’t anything new.)

So, anyway, I’m pulling up weeds by the bucketful and hauling them across the yard to dump in Ye Olde Stinky Pile of Yard Waste (which was, at one point, higher than the fence) and pausing to eat a nearly perfectly ripe apricot (which makes the haul across the yard more bearable) and going into this very quiet place in my head where everything is rhythmic and all the scary stuff is tuned out.  I’m thinking about myself, and how I’ve been lately, and feeling pissed off and disappointed that I haven’t been better.  I’ve been stressed and overwhelmed and angry and everything feels like it is too hard of work.  This is a harmonious parallel to the weeding itself, which when all told took most of my day yesterday and left me absolutely whooped.  It was one of those times when I knew that as soon as hit the bed my entire body would cry out, and I wouldn’t want to be getting up in the morning.  There was a part of me that was angry and wondering if the garden was worth it and wondering why I hadn’t kept up with the weeds better, earlier.

Side note:  if you garden, you know that there are several stages of weeding.  The first is just turning everything with a hoe when the weeds are itty bitty and hacking them apart.  It’s tough on your shoulders and it can be a bit of a drag, but if you pretend you are a ninja or a giant terrorizing a teensy tiny village it’s not too bad.  If you go at it hard enough, you can FLY through the garden. The second is pulling up little weeds by the handful once they’ve gotten enough purchase to be hard to hoe.  If you do this well, it takes a lot of time but it isn’t hell on your body.  The third, which can be avoided by doing the other two, is having to use both hands to pull up weeds nearly as large as your plants, and believe me when I say it uses every muscle in your body and will make you rue the day you are born, and if weeds like that are all over all four of your fairly sizable beds that take up the majority of the side yard (ahem, like mine were) they will make you curse your mother and your grandmother and everyone who ever raised you to believe that things like Sustainable and Homemade were the great ideals, before hipsters made them fashionable.

I realized that it was all a tidy metaphor for my spiritual life.  See, our sins or foibles or what have you are like weeds.  If they aren’t deeply ingrown we can fly through them, merrily hacking to bits, and only feel it a little later on.  We realize that we are doing important work in our hearts and we feel good about it afterwards, but it only makes us cry a little.  We can see the benefits right away and our good fruit is growing faster than the weeds.  But if we put off working on ourselves a day, two days, a week…  that landscape changes, and it changes drastically.  Soon we are having to crawl through our hearts pulling up weeds by the fistful, and before we can get it under control our whole selves are involved in the effort and it feels like it will never end, and we lay down at night with our heart and soul crying out and feeling like we are dying.  And all the good fruit?  It’s failing, and we’re not seeing it as productive as it could be.

It’s easy to curse God, or nature, or life.  It is, but the truth is that what we produce in our lives is a result of our own effort, just like awesome bucketfuls of food don’t come out of gardens that haven’t made anyone break a sweat.

The truth is, some of my emotional distress in the past few weeks was entirely avoidable, if I’d dealt with my own shit while it was small.  It’s MY fault for letting it grow bigger than the good stuff.  It’s MY fault for not heeding the call to go out in the trenches when I should have.  It’s MY fault for thinking “I’ll deal with that later” and looking the other way until it was completely out of control.

I need to learn that when I’m going through this mega dark weeks that make me want to spit at God, I have to ask myself if I’ve been living in my faith every day the way I need to, or if I’ve just been wanting the fruit without the sweat and attention.  My grandmother walked her garden every morning, and while she did it she talked to God.  She didn’t only go out there when she wanted something.  She lived in it.

Faith is like that.  If we only go after it when we need something, we’re always going to find what we need choked by weeds.

Okay, so she’s gay, what about the frogs?

So today, my kids overheard something on the radio and asked me what gay marriage was and if that was different from what me and their dad have.  I knew that things like this would come up eventually, but still felt a moment of hesitation before answering them.  I told them that gay is a word for a boy who wants to kiss another boy or a girl who wants to kiss another girl, and that gay marriage is for two girls or two boys that want to live together and take care of each other.  Initially, the kids were a little nonplussed.  Alana laughed and said, “all the girls I know are married to BOYS mom, I’ve never heard of a girl marrying another girl.”  I told her that I knew girls that married other girls, and that not everyone was the same, and just because no one in our family is gay that doesn’t mean that being gay is weird.

My daughter thought about that for a minute and asked me if she knew anyone that was gay.  I had to pray about that for a minute, because unbeknownst to Princess her godmother is gay, and I didn’t want to say anything that would change the very special relationship they have.  Fighter was sitting off to the side with his arms crossed and a very serious look on his face.  Okay, I trust my kids.  They are the best people I know.  They can deal with this.  So I tell them that their godmother is gay, and I would really like for her to be able to be married and have someone to share her life with some day.  What do they think of that?

Fighter shrugs, says that he once had a dream about two boys being married and why not?  If you love someone and want to take care of them that’s good.  Princess, always one to have to think about things more, asks if two girls can have a baby if they want.  Well, they can always adopt a baby.  “Not everyone wants babies I guess,” Princess continues.  Her eyes light up, “OH, I wanted to talk about frogs.  Can I have the computer?”

“Sure,” I say, wondering if this conversation is actually over.

“ME TOO,” says Fighter.

“Hold on one second,” I say, “because you should know that sometimes people say really hurtful things to people who are gay, or ask them questions that are really hard to answer like why don’t they just act like other people.  I want you to know that you can talk to me about that kind of stuff.  But be careful who you talk to, and if you hear people saying mean things don’t be afraid to just walk away.  You need to be careful, and understand that it can be painful for some people to talk about.”

“I get it,” Fighter says, and Princess is still talking about this one time she saw a video of a squeaking frog.  Apparently this conversation really, truly was over.

And then a few minutes later I get a text message.  The kids have been on Facebook, letting their godmother know that it’s cool if she marries a girl.  But, more importantly, what superheros is she into?  And does she know about the frogs that don’t say ribbit?  Because, when it was all said and done, they could pick up the relationship where they left it with nothing changed.

Nothing changed, except wanting their godmother to know that her life was cool with them.

And I think, I wish that it was always that easy to love and accept someone.  And it could be, couldn’t it?  If we, like kids, pushed all of the other questions out of the way and just worked at preserving the relationship.  Like kids, realizing without even thinking that what really matters is the connections we make with each other.  I asked my daughter if it bothered her that her godmother wasn’t the same as her.  Princess shrugged and said, “I already knew she was different because she doesn’t do hair.”  Well, that’s true.

“If it bothered you, you could tell me.”

“People are different from each other,” Princess says in her straightforward, life-is-a-constant-lesson way, “what matters is if you’re loving.  If you want to be friends.  If you want to learn about each other’s things.”

I’ve heard people say, “what will we say to the Children?” as if there is simply no explanation for the existence of gays that can be made.  Maybe we shouldn’t be worried about what to say to the kids.  Maybe we should be worried about our own capacity to understand what they say in return.  In this case, the lesson couldn’t be clearer.  Their love for their godmother wasn’t based off of their idea of who she was, it was based off of what they shared with each other.  Why should her sexuality change that?

It didn’t.