5 Quick Questions About Faith

Aug 29 2013

We play a get-to-know-you game here at the 5 Kids blog called 5 Quick Questions wherein I ask you 5 questions and you answer them. Usually, I ask you to tell me important things, like “Fill in the blank: The last time I had to clean up something wet but not mine was __________,” or “Pick two: Beauty, brains, brawn or brownies.

But I decided, given the Faith Series we’re (sort of) embarking on, to ask you 5 Quick Questions About Faith because I’m much more interested in facilitating an interfaith discussion than I am in a homogeneous conversation. Although homogeneous conversations where everyone agrees with my faith are RAD for justifying my beliefs, they’re, well, also terribly boring.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in support of asking questions, even when those questions are hard to hear or tread on thin ice or make me want to rip my ears off. And one of the comments from that post stuck with me. On Facebook, Marissa Kent-White wrote:

“I totally agree w/you! I have a special needs kid, and I am not very PC, to be honest. It hurts my brain to have to always say “the right thing.” I am sensitive and aware (hell, I am a child-family therapist) but I am also an open, honest book. I believe (for me at least) that is the best way for me to process who we are as a family (an awesome one, duh!) and to educate other people. I believe we grow through experience, and asking questions and answering them challenges us to have those experiences. And being a Jew, we’re told to QUESTION EVVVVVERRRRrryyyyyTHING!!!! Hence the Rabbinical debates. No vows of silence here. BRING ON THE QUESTIONS, EVEN THE DUMB ONES.”

And here’s what I thought when I read that: Wait. WHAT?? Jews get to question EVERYTHING? THIS IS SO UNFAIR! Also, this Jewish Question-Everything thing sure does explain a lot about Jesus ’cause that guy questioned a Whole Lot of Things.

Truth is, I’ve never (ever, ever, ever) been part of a Christian church that actively encourages us to question everything. Like, ever. I mean, I’m part of a Christian church that loves me through and despite my questioning, and some folks there love me even because of my questions, but I do tend to upset some Christian people who don’t understand why I can’t just accept their well-thought-out answers. I think of myself as the butter in the group. Butttttttt, what about this? Buttttttt, what about that?

So when Marissa mentioned she’s TOLD to question everything?? I was surprised, and I had a serious case of faith envy. It got me to thinking about all the things I really don’t know about other faiths. Or perhaps even my own. But how do we meet people who aren’t like us? Where can we go? How do we find the trailhead to enter the beautiful wilderness of meeting people heart to heart?

I thought I would start by asking you questions. So here we go.

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5 Quick Questions About Faith

  1. I am a(n) ________. (Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, Chocolate Lover, Trekkie, Member of the Church of the Never Ending Laundry Pile, etc.)
  2. Why?
  3. One of the stereotypes I hear a lot about my faith or lack of faith is _______. This is (true or false) because _______.
  4. One thing I wish people knew about my faith or lack of faith is ________.
  5. If I could apologize for one thing on behalf of my faith, it would be ________.

And here are my answers:

  1. I’m a Christian. I used to describe myself as a “follower of Jesus,” instead, because I wanted to disassociate myself from the very real emotional and spiritual damage some Christians have caused. I talk more about my journey back to embracing the “Christian” moniker in a post I like to call Authenticity, Asshattery, Faith and Fear. In addition to being a Christian, I’m a charter member of the Church of the Never Ending Laundry Pile and the Church of I Don’t Know What’s for Dinner STOP ASKING. I also really adore cheese.
  2. Hm. Why, huh? Who’s bright idea was this question? This is not a quick question. This is false advertising. Someone should sue. So, why? To be fair, I’m a Christian because I was raised in a Christian family and then when I tried to reject my faith, I found I couldn’t. Turns out, I actually believe this stuff. Maybe not all of what the universal Church tries to tell me; I don’t always buy their interpretation of the minutia of beliefs. But I believe absolutely that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy that is wider than the sea, and I believe with my whole heart that we were put here to learn Love, to be Love, to live Love.  In the words of U2’s Bono (in what I believe is one of the greatest Christian interviews of all time), “You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts.” Love interrupts. I just adore that.
  3. Probably the biggest stereotype I hear about Christianity these days is that we’re anti-gay. This is undeniably true for some Christian groups. This couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I think gay people are the same as me, which is to say horribly, heroically human; awful and awesome and messy and magical and capable of causing great harm and also loving others to a vast, glorious, unreasonable depth and breadth. Sometimes all in the same day.
  4. One thing I wish people knew about Christianity is that we’re more than our infighting. More that our tedious theological discussions. More than either just haters or lovers. More than the myriad verses posted on Facebook. More than guilt-mongers. More than our loudest members. More than “a decision to follow Christ.” Actually, now that I think about it, that’s one thing I wish Christians knew about us, too.
  5. If I could apologize for one thing on behalf of my faith, it would be for all of the ways we’ve judged and belittled instead of embraced and loved. I’m sorry.

And now it’s your turn. How would you answer these questions? Please feel free to answer just 1 or 2 or fewer than 5. Or to ignore these questions entirely (which are really meant more as a writing prompt) and just tell us what’s on your heart. Or ask me or our community your own questions. It’s all fair game, friends, and I can’t wait to see what you say.

With love,
Beth

……….

P.S. This is the 2nd post in the Faith Series, but I didn’t plan on it, so there’s definitely at least one more. A series of at least 3! Woot!

Glasses on Old Books image credit to adamr via freedigitalimages.net

 

On Parenting, Faith and Imperfection

Aug 28 2013

Today we’re going to talk about faith again. And, in fact, we’re going to talk about faith at least, like, two times in the next couple weeks because then this is a SERIES. A series of at least TWO posts, because I’m a mother of five kids and school is starting any day now and that’s all I can commit to right now. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be more than two posts – like, perhaps THREE posts, which is 50% more than two. Also, maybe I’ll actually make dinner tonight! It’s a whole world of possibilities out there; anything can happen, I tell you.

And I know. I know. Believe me, I know. I know some of you (Emily) just hate it when I get all faithy, but some of you (also Emily) stick around anyway because you’re kind and you let me be me even though I’m different than you, and you trust me to let you be you even though you’re different than me. And I love our community for this! It’s one of my very favorite things about us, this freedom to be deeply, authentically who we are in this space. A mosaic of extraordinary beauty.

But I know some of you (Amy) are all YEEHAW! Finally! Talk about faith on purpose already, Beth. Because you get all wordy about Love Pursuing Us and all of us being made in the Very Image of the Divine and being Enough Right Now as we already are and blah, blah, blah, but enough for what? Like, what’s the point here? When do we get to the part about being sinful and Jesus dying for us and redemption and Heaven? And I know it’s disappointing to some of my fellow Christians that the answer to that last question is, essentially, never. That I have no desire to write for conviction or conversion. That I’ve abandoned the Christianese language to the point I no longer use phrases like covered in the Blood, or fellowship of believers, or saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

So what is the point, then? Of this series and of talking about faith at all and of putting this smack dab in the middle of a parenting blog?

The point is to welcome you, to see you, and to love you.

That’s it.

That’s all.

That’s the crux of everything I hope to do with this life.

And I do that, in part, by letting you see me. The real me. In this case, the real me who’s a woman of imperfect faith, trying to raise children to ask questions, to look for answers, to trust Love, and to breathe.

I wrote this essay in May 2012 for Rachel Held Evan’s blog as part of a series on Parenting and Faith. It’s republished here with permission.

……….

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box.

Not a jewelry box. Or a moving box. Or a giant refrigerator box. Or even one of those pet store hamster boxes with breathing holes like the one I bought in 1980 with my best friend Tracy because two seven-year-olds co-owning a hamster is always a good idea.

Nope. My God-box was different.

My God-box was more like a Lunchables box. The kind that’s well-shaped with plastic compartments for neatly stacked crackers and round spheres of pressed meat and contoured for protection against breakage. 

That was, in my mind, the very best, most structured kind of a God-box, and my God deserved the best.

I liked my boxed God very much because He was neat and tidy, and also a He with a capital H. And everything in my life fit into my God-box compartments.

I think that’s normal for a kid raised in the Church, and it isn’t bad or wrong. It just turned out to be, well, a little too easy and preserved for the realities of my life as it unfolded.

I became a mama for the first time in the Fall of 1998 when a foster mom, in the dark of night in a tiny home in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam placed a nine week old baby girl into my shaking arms. It was eleven days shy of my 25th birthday, and my husband and I marveled over Abby’s fingers and toes and the fact that two whole governments were willing to entrust us with her little, perfect life.

I had everything I wanted. A husband I liked nearly all the time. A daughter I adored. A home. And a personal relationship with JesusChristMyLordandSavior.

I was wildly, deliriously happy and fulfilled.

Except when I was terribly unhappy. And except when I was oddly empty. And except when I felt like I was choking in the dark of night as I sat for hours and hours on the hardwood floors outside my baby’s room and my butt grew numb while I wondered why I lacked for peace when I had gratitude and faith.

My confusion and bewilderment felt a lot like drowning or despair which I suspect are two words for the same thing. The wild flailing of arms. The gasps of air at the surface that were too brief to provide real respite. The rather desperate panic at the idea that, perhaps, being a mother wasn’t enough and being a follower of Jesus wasn’t enough, either.

Both ideas terrified me beyond description. How could they not, raised as I was by a loving Christian community to understand that God always fills the empty spaces and that a woman’s satisfaction comes from being a wife and a mother?

Instead, I found myself as a young mom lost in a wasteland of spiritual and emotional loneliness. Adrift. Isolated. Living in the opposite country from the illusive and idyllic Village where I was sure all of my friends’ children were being raised by content mommies who were far more Godly than me.

And so it was that becoming a mother stripped me down to nothing and left me bare, exposed to my fears and my not-enoughness and my God. It was there, in that empty space, that I slowly began to unpack my Lunchables box, trying to discover whether any pieces of my God-meal matched a more significant, infinite, loving God who could sustain me… whether I could somehow mesh my easy, compartmentalized answers with my difficult, messy questions…. and whether, perhaps, I might find myself in the process.

My box was loaded with things that were striking to me in the way they didn’t fit with my understanding of a loving God. Things I was surprised I’d carried for years and in secret because I thought I would be shunned by the Church if I discarded them. Things that I thought were core to being a follower of Jesus, but which I found out… weren’t. Things like:

  • a Letter of the Law fundamentalism that’s married to mob-mentality politics,
  • “the Lord helps those who help themselves” and “love the sinner and hate the sin” and other trendy sayings that embrace a cringe-worthy sense of entitlement or judgment and, strikingly, aren’t in the Bible,
  •  and the pressure to deliver the Horror of Hell story with enough conviction to scare people toward a merciful God and into Heaven

These and a thousand thousand other things stuck in my throat and became increasingly difficult to swallow. They clogged my faith and made it hard for me to breathe. And so, with the cacophony of “but you must believe these things to raise righteous children” and a great deal of uncertainty ringing in my ears, I let them go.

I let them go for the risky pursuit of an authentic faith. A faith based on the person of Jesus in the Bible. A faith based on Christ as my present, accessible, here-with-me-now teacher. A faith that embodies my desperate longing to see all people treated equally, to follow the deeper Spirit of the Law, to welcome strangers, to reject fear, and to love people with abandon. A faith that’s far scarier and more thrilling than platitudes, easy answers and trendy sayings because it means telling my children that I don’t know everything.

Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things, but now that I’m a mom, I think this was one of the most radical of all:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8

It seems to me that Jesus’ words are a clear directive.

Ask, Jesus says. SeekKnock.

And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God God, the Lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To, oh, anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a “Pardon me, but I don’t get it.” Or “Really, God? Can you explain further?” Or “I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me.”

I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we do. That’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

If I am a parent who follows Christ and is honest about all of my not knowings, though, about still being in process, about being an asker and a seeker and a knocker, then I have to change my Christian parenting paradigm. I have to say to my children, instead, “I know only some of God’s heart, but I’m willing to share what I have” and then humbly leave that piece sitting on the counter for them to accept or reject.

But if I do that – if I tell that truth to my children – what will happen to their faith?

The truth, it turns out, can be an extraordinarily painful thing to tell. When I’m truthful, I find myself wading through my doubts, flashing my insecurities in public, and flipping through my dog-eared and coffee-stained questions like they’re well-worn copies of my favorite books.

If I say to my kids, “I don’t know; I’m a seeker just like you,” have I fallen down on the Christian Mama job? Have I led my kids astray by failing to hand them the answers? Have I abdicated my responsibility as a spiritual leader?

I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why.

My sister-in-law, Kim, has been wandering around our faith community lately asking hard questions about the way the Church loves and harms people through acceptance or exclusion. About our collective fears. About the ways we engage in conversations. She’s letting her questions fall out all over the place, raw and beautiful in their authenticity. And she’s making people uncomfortable – or giddy – with her inability to accept the class’s answer and her insistence on raising her hand over and over and over.

Kim said two things that struck me as inordinately true during her questioning process. The first is her belief that the way we engage our conversations may be more important than our conclusions, for if we abandon love, kindness, forbearance and gentleness in favor of fear, self-righteousness and anger, what have we gained with a mere conclusion? And the second thing she said is I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough?

I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough. 

As a mama who cares about my kids’ relationships with God, I have to ask myself… am I engaging in spiritual conversations with them with love and kindness? Or am I fearful and angry about their doubts and conclusions? Do I actually believe that God will answer my kids’ questions with true discoveries and open doors? Or am I trying to rapidly solve their theological dilemmas by assuring them that God has already gifted me with all the answers and so they needn’t bother God by asking themselves?

I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational.

“Are we,” I asked, “supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my family – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God.”

You see, I have a lot of inadequacies in the aspirational areas, but the main one is I know too little, and I admit it too often. I confess to cleaning my toilets and my children with embarrassing irregularity. I make people wear shoes in my house because I’m not sure what they might step in, and I should probably make people wear shoes in my theology for the same reason. I parent less-than-perfect children in less-than-perfect ways, and I actually prefer it that way.

“This is no way to be an example to others,” I told my dad, “no way to point the way to Christ, despite the relief I feel in living this life. Some days, I don’t strive to be the best Jesus-follower I can be. Some days, it’s all I can do to breathe.”

But my dad said the most amazing thing to me in response.

My former-Marine father who likes things to be orderly; my Christian missionary father who stashed emergency-reference copies of Dr. Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child throughout my childhood home; my traditional-interpretation-of-Scripture father who wonders where I get my wild and crazy theological ideas; that father of mine said,

“What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?”

And I thought, Oh! If this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that.

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box. Neat and tidy. Quiet and nice.

Now my life is full of questions. It’s messier and louder, more disruptive and fulfilling, than I imagined.

And I?

I can finally breathe.

……….

In the next part of this faith series ( <— See? It’s a series, I tell you!)I plan to ask you some questions about faith — whatever faith or nonfaith background you claim — because one of the things I think we lack on the internet are good places to have open, loving interfaith conversations without agendas, you know? Wouldn’t that be incredibly refreshing? I know I would LOVE that. So plan on it. For now, though, I’d love your thoughts on this — this piece specifically or this series idea in general. Does this resonate with you? Or freak you out? Or what?

……….

 

This Is My Body, Sacred and Scarred

Aug 26 2013

We were at the lake this summer when I saw her, the woman with my body wearing a bikini, her thighs round and her stomach rounder, both decorated with long lines chasing each other up her skin, identical to my own stretch marks which go on into infinity. I stopped and I admit I stared, although I hoped she didn’t notice because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say or make her understand that I meant it, which was, “Good for you, mama” and, “I wonder if you know how beautiful you are?” And then she was off, into the water, playing with her kids, splashing in the sunshine, living her life with her scars on the outside like the playing and the living were more important than the flaws. I loved her in that moment for being brave and being herself and teaching me to love myself a little better.

To be clear, you won’t catch me in a bikini. Ever. Not because I think bikinis are bad or that only women with certain body types are entitled to wear them. If you want to wear a bikini, friend, I will go all Mama Bear on anyone who says you can’t, shouldn’t or to DON’T. But me? Nope. Not interested. I’m happy to leave my bikini days behind me, along with skinny jeans, leggings and feathered hair.

Which is why this is a strange transition I’m about to make. A strange thing I’m about to do. A strange turn of events to follow my (stretch-marked) gut and push publish on this picture of my belly, bare for all to see.

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How in the world do you make a decision to bare your scars to the world? To wear the bikini at the lake… or to stand virtually naked in front of a mirror in the quiet of your own home and tentatively take off your shirt and step out of your jeans and lift the camera and watch the light and suck in your gut and puff it back out and choose to push the button that will capture this image? The one of the belly you love for growing babies? The one of the belly you hate for the scars that drip like candle wax? The one of the belly that made one friend gasp in shock and another say how beautiful? The one of the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t? The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?

How in the world do you make a decision to share that belly like it’s lovely? Like it’s worthy of not just words but a picture, too?

For me, it was this e-mail from my friend Sarah. This e-mail that made me laugh and smile and cry and run my nails along my scars and nod and say, “I know. Oh, I know.” Because Sarah wrote:

My husband grabbed my now dried up boobs last night and I started crying.

He was laughing and then I started crying.

And then he stopped laughing.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Remember that time he found me in the fetal position crying my eyes out about the fact that I could not stop the train wreck of motherhood that was hurtling toward me?

It was just like that. Except this time I was crying about the aftermath of the wreck and how I was no longer, nor ever going to be again, the woman with the perky boobs and nice rear he married. The full effects of having a child have left their ugly, stretchy, purple, saggy marks all over me.

My glory years are officially over. Or at least that’s what I was feeling like in the moment.

And, yes. My glory years are officially over, too, Sarah. Or rather, my glory years have been transferred from my broken body to something deeper and less physical and far more profound than a mere body. Not that that matters during the crying moments. It doesn’t. Because broken bodies must be mourned.

But someday – eventually – just like motherhood gets stronger, the body matters less. Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life. And I don’t just mean to our biological babies. Oh, no, I sure don’t. Because this body of mine was broken with my first baby even though another mama grew her. My body was broken by late nights and early mornings that melted into each other. And by the burn in my back from holding her and holding her and holding her. And by the grind and the gore and the grace and the glory of motherhood which walk, always, hand in hand.

When I see myself in the mirror now, I think, almost always, “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Which isn’t sacrilegious. Or self-deprecating. Or disdainful. Or sad. Not now. Not anymore. No. Because the broken body points always toward life. Always toward triumph. Always toward resurrection. It just took me a while to find the sacred in the scars.

……….

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P.S. I laughed out loud at my panties the other day. In an epic move of comedic solidarity, they thought it would be awesome to mimic my stretch marks by getting stretch marks of their own.

—>

Good one, Panties.

……….

The Sand in My Shoes

Aug 24 2013

I’m sitting in the sun on the beach on the northern Puget Sound, listening to the relentless cries of seagulls. We’ve been here four days and they bicker day and night, night and day, never resting. I hear them at 3pm while I watch the water, wondering whether I remembered to sunscreen the littles today, and I hear them at 4am while Greg and the littles snore around me. Bicker, bicker, bicker all the time. Or maybe they’re celebrating and not fighting at all; my kids will tell you I get those confused sometimes.

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The kids are arguing on the shore about who’s going to be the fetcher and who’s going to be the thrower. They’re on all fours, carrying pieces of driftwood in their teeth, racing toward the water and away, bickering, bickering, bickering. Or celebrating; what do I know?

A harbor seal keeps poking his head out of the water, stretching higher and higher to see, like a toddler at the window sill standing on his tiptoes. I think he wants to be a fetcher but he doesn’t know how to ask.

The ocean breeze is blowing off the water in gusts that smell like clean and sometimes like rot. We sit here together and breathe them both deeply, the fresh air and the wafting stench. It feels like all of life, this moment.

There’s sand in my shoes, the same sand that used to bother me, make me sigh and wonder how I’d get it all out later, tense about the work, the work and all the work to clean up this insidious mess. Now I enjoy the grit between my toes, smoothing out the rough edges even while it wears away the shine of my polish and defines the wrinkles in my toes with dirt and grime. I don’t know when the sand changed for me from irritant to pleasure, but here we are.

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See You Next Week

Aug 19 2013

I’m on vacation this week, camping with my family.

Camping with my family for 8 days.

Eight days in a row.

Of camping with my family.

So far, here are 5 Fun Facts About Our Vacations:

  1. Someone will always throw up the night before we leave.
  2. Someone will always throw up at the beginning of a long ride in the car.
  3. It will not necessarily be the same someone.
  4. No matter how prepared we are, the throw-up will never entirely make it in the ziplock bag.
  5. Certain husbands and wives who love each other very, very much should never (ever, ever) put up tents together. Like, ever.

That is all. I’ll see you on the flipside.

Back next week,
Beth

P.S. If you don’t already hang out with this community on Facebook, come on over. We have a good time, usually when I tell an embarrassing or inappropriate story and then your comments make it way more hilarious. Like here, and here, and here, and here.

P.P.S. Here are some of my favorite pictures of this trip so far. ‘Cause — hello! — MOMMY BLOG.

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The True Story of a Seven Year Marriage

Aug 15 2013

My friend Leah Harrod Rupp, the writer behind the blog Fly Softly My Love, wrote this beautiful piece. I’ve republished it here with her permission.

……….

The True Story of a Seven Year Marriage
by Leah Harrod Rupp

I used to scoff at those who simply made it work, couples who lived long and tedious years together even if the fire had died. Life is too short I thought, to spend it with someone who doesn’t kindle your passion.

That was before I knew that passion isn’t something that floats around and lands on you like a lucky butterfly (at least not all the time). It needs to be tended, like a fire in your heart, by breathing life into a spark over and over. You choose where you build your fire, and your heart listens to your choice.

When our turn came to meet and marry, I wondered how we might avoid the boring fate of the uninspired; the settlers who had aimed high and fallen short.

What made us special, more right for each other than the others? We fooled ourselves and listed off the reasons.

Years came and went in a blur of working hard and spinning our wheels. We filled our days with what we thought we had to do, passing each other on our way to office jobs, college classes, cafes where we did our homework.

No one did the dishes, I scarcely remember what we ate, and our tiny apartments never really felt like home.

We were careless with our love, sending out sharp words and criticisms and then rushing out the door to our next obligation. We thought we were building a life for our future. We didn’t see the cracks in what we were building.

A few months before my graduation, we got the best news of our lives. Our little boy was already growing inside of me.

We looked around at the pieces of our life together so far, the noisy apartment by the railroad tracks, the stacks of books and papers, the eighty hour work weeks, the anxiety and stress headaches. We knew it wasn’t what we wanted for our precious child and we dreamed bigger.

Envisioning a garden, a sandbox, a home, we bought a beautiful old yellow house and settled in. We brought home a beautiful, perfect child and hoped to give him the peaceful start he deserved. We didn’t realize how much work we had to do.

Pipes broke, the baby screamed, work piled up, and I grew into a sad and lonely version of myself. My heart sank lower and deeper, knowing this wasn’t what we had hoped for.

We looked to each other for the answers, and only saw more confusion reflected back. “Can you save me?” we asked each other. “I would if I could, but I think I have to save myself.”

We both cried about where we had ended up. We were hoping for a soul mate and found that we barely even knew our own souls, let alone another person’s. Taking a long hard look at the age old question, we dared to ask it and listened for the answer, “could it be that you weren’t the one?”

That question echoed high in the ceilings of our one hundred year old house. It bounced off fir floors where our own babies crawled. We noticed the bare places where the wood had worn and splintered. How many years did the forest grow before it could be cut to make floors that would last beyond a century?

We knew we were sinking fast and that more years spent in battle would only pile up and add more weight until we reached the bottom.

So we put a solid foothold down, somewhere to stand still and look around. The foothold was our commitment to each other, our desire to love the person across the breakfast table.

The question of “one” seemed foolish now and we quickly brushed it aside. We placed that question firmly in a box labeled “myths and lies.” What makes you “the one” is the extent to which your heart belongs with the other person. The one, the two, the three, the four of us. It’s all the same now really: family.

We gained new skills, started owning our feelings, and dared to believe in each other again. Most of all, we started listening and each moment of listening piled up until we could start climbing right up and out of our hole. We added laughter when we could muster it and that made the climbing feel lighter.

We let things go, saw with new eyes, and stood in the other person’s shoes. Most importantly, we stood in our own shoes and examined where we had lost ourselves along the way.

One day I opened my eyes and really saw him again, or maybe for the first time. I saw him pull out his entire tool box to fix a five dollar broken toy train because it meant something to our child. I saw him water fragile seeds in tiny plastic cups, set them by the sunniest window, and then finally plant them in our dirt where he grew them into food. These hands knew how to build things that would last.

This week I sat with our three year old while he worked long and hard on building block towers. He had to come to grips with the laws of physics, that you can’t put a huge block on a tiny foundation and expect it to stand. Each tower crashed and the blocks rattled on the same ancient floors. I held him while he cried and then watched as he bravely tried again.

This is the sum of what I hope he learns about loving another person. Before you can make high towers, it’s best to build a good strong base. It comes from laughter, empathy, forgiveness, accepting the other person’s struggle, and knowing yourself.

But sometimes without knowing it, you build too high and too fast. Things get shaky and start to wobble.

There is always a way to rebuild if you’re willing. Always new and different blocks to try, always time to take a few steps back and build the bottom stronger.

So these days, I honor the builders. Those who have made high and lofty towers or those still limping along at the base. Those who have built once and decided to start again, and those who have been building for decades, creating a shelter for the rest of us.

To those whose love I dismissed so easily because it didn’t look fulfilling to the untrained eye, I see you now. I see how you walk through days and years of knowing another person, of letting go of who you thought they were and holding on at the same time to who they are and who they will become.

If you’re going through the motions, I see the art in that. I now know how foolish I was to think the motions were boring and uninspired.

Motion brings movement and life when things have gone dry.

You water the dry ground and something grows that surprises you. You sweep the floors and life flows through a room. You bend over hot skillets, and your children eat the food and become strong. You build your life the way you want it, and spirit comes to breath life into what you’ve made with your labor.

I honor you and follow in your solid, shaky footsteps.

Once, on a long evening walk with my friend, I asked her about her own marriage. “Why are you together? What makes your love stick through all the years of change and growth?”

She took a few careful steps over a cracked sidewalk and then laughed her answer. “I’m with him because he’s my home.” Those words echoed in my heart and rang true for my own life. Yes, I’m finally home as well.

Rupp1Rupp2 Rupp3 Rupp4

Leah Harrod Rupp is a beginning blogger who cares about true stories and learning to accept struggle. She writes about her soul experience as a parent which involves therapy, healing, and a lot of breaking down. Her goals for the future include actually remembering to water her garden and raising kids who live freely from their hearts. She wears dangly earrings and tracks the phases of the moon.

To this post, Leah adds this note: Sometimes the only safe thing to do is distance ourselves from dangerous people who aren’t willing or able to become healthy. If you decided to leave a damaging or toxic relationship, I want to affirm your brave choice!

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P.S. I wrote The True Story of an 18 Year Marriage earlier this year. My story is here.
xoxo, Beth

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DMV Responds Quickly to Adoptive Families

Aug 13 2013

Yesterday, I wrote about an unfortunate situation at the Department of Motor Vehicles. To recap, the Oregon driver application form required me to identify myself via checkbox as my daughter’s “adoptive parent” which then caused confusion for the DMV employee about whether we would be required to provide proof of adoption before Abby would be allowed to receive her driver’s permit.

The situation was frustrating and disheartening. As I said yesterday, “on a day we should be only celebrating a right of passage, high-fiving and waving that permit in the air, whooping and hollering for her success, I had to defend my right to act as my daughter’s mother. And Abby had to watch.” You can read the original post here.

I realized – reluctantly, I admit – that I needed to do something to work toward changing the form. Reluctantly because OH MY WORD, the BUREAUCRACY, right? And THE GOVERNMENT. And NO ONE WILL CARE. And THE RED TAPE. And IT WILL TAKE FOREVER.

But I knew this was my battle. Something I needed to fix. Because it may seem like a tiny thing, an insensitive checkbox on a form, but I couldn’t stomach the idea that adoptees would show up for a day that’s supposed to feel fantastic and leave with a lump in their gut, instead. At an age when we all question who we are and how we fit in and where we belong in this crazy, mixed-up, awesome world, I needed to do my small part to make getting a driver’s permit just… happy.

This morning, I sighed a giant self-pitying sigh and picked up the phone to call the DMV administrator’s office. (Thanks for finding me that number, Denise!) Of course, I knew I’d have to wait on hold for 47 years before being shuffled from person to person and then accidentally disconnected at which point I’d have to start over, so I was prepared. The kids were all in front of screens with mountains of snacks and strict instructions to let me finish talking on the phone, “Even if I’m on the phone for a long time, OK?” So I braced myself and dialed… and got right through to Kristin, the DMV administrator’s assistant, who was – get this – professional, personable, and eager to help.

Huh. Alright.

Her boss wasn’t in the office, Kristin explained, but I would be more quickly served by talking to the policy analysts and form writers, anyway. Could she get ahold of them for me and have them call me right back?

Um, yes, please.

And then, guess what? Kristin got ahold of them and they called me right back.

I KNOW. It was a total bummer, you guys, because then I had to confront my own prejudice about how I thought this was going to go down and about how I think government agencies work and about how I depersonalize the people who work there.

Becky called me from the DMV this afternoon. She coordinates the provisional licensing program in Oregon, and she got right to the point. There’s no reason to differentiate adoptive and biological parents on the driver’s application, she said. We should never have been questioned about my status as Abby’s mom. Upon the next printing, they will change the form to eliminate separate boxes for legal parents. She will update me when that happens. And she’s sending a memo to all Oregon DMV’s to ensure this doesn’t happen to other adoptive families while we’re waiting for the current forms to run out.

BOOM.

Becky, you’re RAD.

And Oregon DMV? You folks earned this title: DMV Responds Quickly to Adoptive Families. Thank you.

Here, to recap what just happened – you know, in a more figurative sense – is my son Cael at age 3.

Transcript:
Psssssss.
It’th pee and poop.
It’th pee and poop.
It’th pee AND poop.
It’th pee and pooooop.
WOOOOSH.
Now dis is de HAND washing.
Psssshhhhhh.
And now dis is de SOAP.
QUAHhhhhK. Psssshhhhhh.
Now we’re all cwean! 
NOW LET’S DRIVE AGAIN!

OK, obviously I’m kidding when I compare a potty video with this situation. Except, of course, I’m kind of not. ‘Cause although everyone’s intentions were good, it was just a great big mess, right? Pee AND poop. But life is like that. Full of messes caused by people with good hearts who mean well. It’s OK, though. It stinks, yes, but it’s OK. We looked at it. We identified it. We called it what it was — a pile of crap. And then we flushed it away. Purged it. Cleaned it. And we did it together. Abby, me, you, the woman across the counter at the DMV, Kristin, and Becky. Together. Because that’s what community is. That’s what community does.

So, in the words of my wise, wise son,

Now let’s DRIVE AGAIN!

photo (74)

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Please join me in thanking the DMV for their swift, honest, compassionate response.

THANK YOU, DMV.

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UPDATE

I just received a response from Becky in writing. I thought you all might like to see it, too. Here it is!

Beth,

I have contacted our field services section and informed them of your situation. It will be discussed at a meeting next week at a higher level (Customer Service Coordinators) and the reminder to NOT request documentation for adoptive parents will then be dispersed to the offices. The individual offices typically get their information through a standing weekly meeting. This would just be a reminder as our current policy already states to NOT ask for proof. As we discussed on the phone, I somehow think the new checkbox threw the employee off and made her question whether she had maybe missed a new requirement. Not an excuse, but I am thankful she was polite about it.

As for the Driver License Application form: it looks like that will be up for revisions in about a month, at which time I will combine the two parent boxes to one box “BIOLOGICAL or ADOPTIVE PARENT” and LEGAL GUARDIAN will be the second box. It will go through a review process that takes a little while, but the timing is perfect to get this done sooner rather than later. As we talked about on the phone, checking the LEGAL GUARDIAN box is the indicator for an employee to ask for proof and the boxes help eliminate unneeded questioning if used properly.

I apologize for any discomfort the situation may have caused you or your daughter.  Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this and make a positive change. I appreciated that you thought to propose a reasonable solution-certainly made my job easy!

I will do my best to let you know  when the application is revised. I’m guessing a couple months. You can always check online for the most current version of the form at: http://www.odot.state.or.us/forms/dmv/173.pdf

I took a look at your blog and noticed what looks like a tasty scone recipe. I might need to try that!

Feel free to contact me if you need further information.

Thanks again,
Becky Renninger
Oregon DMV, Driver Programs
Operations and Policy Analyst
Provisional Licensing Program