A Letter to My Daughter’s Other Mom

Mar 27 2018

26 March 2018

We found her. Finally. After nearly 20 years and an international investigation, we found our daughter’s birth mom. So I’m sitting here on a Tuesday, at my desk, with paper and a pen and a view of the rainy Oregon foothills trying to decide what to say to a mama across the ocean. A mama in Vietnam who shares my child. A mama who’s waited and wondered and longed for news. A mama who didn’t know if she’d ever hear. A mama, it turns out, who wanted desperately to keep her baby and who didn’t know her daughter would be swept away to America. A mama who, through no fault of her own, was caught up in a fraudulent baby adoption business. 

Dear Mrs. Ut,

Oh, she released Abby for adoption. Thank goodness at least that happened, and Abby wasn’t stolen away. But she thought Abby was going to Saigon to be adopted by a Vietnamese family. She felt she couldn’t take care of her baby’s needs so she trusted a neighbor to take her, but she thought she’d see her again, too. She thought she’d know Abby was OK.

I hope this letter finds you well.

As for us? Turns out we were naive, and we didn’t know then what we know now about the international adoption scene. About babies for sale. About bribes and coercion. About kids who could have stayed with their birth families. We went through a reputable agency. We had lawyers on the ground in Vietnam. We did think Abby was awfully young at only 6 weeks to be available for international adoption, given all the paperwork and legal hoops one must jump through, but, assured everything was on the up-and-up — and very young ourselves — we proceeded with unbridled joy.

I’ve wanted to write you for a very long time.

God, how do I even start this? What do I say when words can’t scratch the surface? My palms are clammy, and my heart is in my stomach. I’ve thought about this letter since Abby was a year old. That’s when we discovered more than one woman claimed to be Abby’s biological mother. That’s when we first suspected fraud, and our guts twisted, and we contacted our agency, and they shrugged, because what could they do? Two women claimed her. Both said they’d released her for adoption. No one was contesting it. All paperwork was legal. And, DNA tests not being what they are today, there was no real way to know. Still, I thought; even though there was nothing to do — nothing I was willing to do — I couldn’t help but think “one of these women is telling the truth; one of them is desperate for news of her baby.”

I’ve thought about you often and hoped we might find you one day, and I’m glad that day has come. 

She has been in nearly unimaginable pain and uncertainty, while I’ve had 19 years of joy. That my relationship with my precious baby girl, now a woman in her own right, came at the cost of this woman’s agony is unthinkable. And yet I wouldn’t trade it, even to take away her pain. What does that say about me? That I’m willing to pay for my deep joy with another person’s deep pain? But if I’m honest, I wouldn’t change it, even if I had a time machine and a do-over. Does that make me horrible, or just a mom?

Most importantly, I want you to know your little Bé is safe and happy. 

Do I overwhelm her with info? I would want to be overwhelmed with info. I would want every detail. I’d scour a letter about my baby again and again. But there’s a language barrier, and translation still needs to happen, and I need to choose whether to spend days and days on this letter or send it off, the first volley of what I hope becomes an exchange of information. 

We call her Abby, and she’s been a light and love of our life.

I’ve already spent 10 days going through thousands of photos from Abby’s childhood, trying to choose a representative few to send. Age two with Santa Claus. Age 4 in the pumpkin patch. With her cousins. In the snow. On her first day of school. Except now I’m looking with a new lens, different than my own nostalgia and sweet memories. Now I’m looking with a new measure of joy and sorrow; Abby was so happy, and Ut will only have these images captured of seconds in time. I got the minutes and the days and the months and the years. She will have a tiny pile of colored paper. Proof her baby was well loved, yes, and proof of all she missed.

I’m sending photos for you of Abby growing up, playing, with her siblings — she’s the oldest with three brothers and one sister — with her cousins, and with Greg and me, her mom and dad.

How do I describe who Abby is to the woman who longs to know her as well as I do? A list of adjectives seems so very paltry, such a meager offering in return for the Greatest Gift. But adjectives are all I have. I feel like the drummer boy at Jesus’ birth, wishing I had gold to offer but standing here with just noise. I mean, I know she’d rather have the noise over nothing, but it’s not enough.

Abby is smart, beautiful, funny and talented. She’s an accomplished dancer and is currently attending university in Hawaii.

Gah; this sounds like a job recommendation. “In conclusion, I would highly recommend Abby as a biological daughter.”

Will she see the pride behind the words? The love? The fact that I would die for our child, hers and mine? Do you think she’ll know? I just… don’t want her to wonder anymore whether Baby Bé‘s second mama loves her as deeply and truly as she does. Whether I honored the unspoken Mommy Contract to give my very soul for this child. Whether her baby became also my blood and also my bone, tied as securely as any umbilical cord ever was. Will she know, somehow? Is there a way to imbue this letter with magic to ensure it?

We are so very proud of her and the woman she’s become.

We would love to hear from you and about your family and life. Our address is enclosed. 

With love,

 

 

 

On Eating and Life: I Know You Understand

Mar 16 2018

I’ve been a little radio silent around here for a bit. Mostly because I’ve been eating. Or thinking about eating. Or planning the eating.

To be fair, this is the case for me All the Time. I like food. But in my defense at this particular time, my friend Maggie and I just held our first ever Food and Wine Retreat, so All the Thinking About Food = LEGIT.

I cannot adequately express how very much I needed the time away at the Oregon Coast to just hang out and relax.

It’s been a month, friends. One of those sort of Stunning, Beautiful, Brutal MONTHS. Anyone else?

And these pictures from the retreat have nothing to do with the Month I’m about to share, but, perhaps against the backdrop of the Real Life we’ve been living, you can see how grateful I am for Rest and Good Humans and Amazing Food by the Sea.

A friend approached Greg at church a few Sundays ago. She’s kind, and she knows our family, so she thought we’d want to know about the post in a public group on Facebook, describing a teenager on the path near our house who was threatening a young family, aimed at hurting or robbing them. A teenage boy who, when physically described, sounded too much like our oldest boy to ignore. 

Since the post mentioned his service dog, too, we had no doubt, really. I also knew he wasn’t going to hurt or rob anyone. Ian is very much like his Golden Retriever, Zoey; he’s much more likely to lick you to death than do anything to hurt you, ever.

But his disabilities — intellectual, verbal, and developmental — none of which are visible, mean he’s regularly misunderstood. And, if I can be perfectly frank here, our Guatemalan son is no longer seen as an adorable little boy with big brown doe eyes; now that he’s a 5’10”, 190 lb, brown male, people see a threat. I cannot adequately describe how much, over the last 15 years, our eyes have been opened to systematic and entrenched racism and to our own enormous privilege as white people.

So I did what any mommy would do. I joined the Facebook group, read the message about the lurking boy who followed the family, read the comments encouraging police involvement and warning the public to be wary of him, and attempted to defend my kid and dispel the idea that he’s a danger.

I wrote: “Hi. The boy you mentioned is my son, Ian. Ian is significantly intellectually disabled, and the dog, Zoey, is his service dog. As you noticed, Ian’s disability affects him socially, as well, and he is unable to accurately identify how others feel. His speech is also significantly impacted (he’s unable to understand others well or make himself clearly understood) — not sure whether you talked to him or not, but thought I should let you know that, too. I’m so sorry his behavior caused fear and anxiety for you and your kids. The good news is he wasn’t going to rob or hurt you; he cares deeply for others and isn’t violent or dangerous in any way — he’s just awful at understanding social cues. Ian’s only unsupervised activity each day is walking Zoey for 15 minutes on that path. He’s 18 now, so, alongside his therapists and teachers, we’re trying to give him “more responsibility” to do a few things on his own. Taking Zoey for a walk is his one thing right now. We regularly talk to him about the fact that people respond differently to him now that he’s “man sized” than when he was small. He’s very interested in and likes people, so it’s difficult for him to understand that lurking beside people, their kids, their conversations, etc. makes people feel nervous. Please know this is something we’re continuously working on with him and also that we had a long discussion with him about your experience. He said he “didn’t mean make them feel bad.” We’ve emphasized the importance of giving strangers a lot of space so we don’t appear threatening. Wishing you peaceful walks in the future…” 

I hit send, and then I cried for a really long time. 

There’s a grief inherent in raising children who experience disability. I haven’t met a parent yet who hasn’t felt it. But I’ll tell you… the last two years have been extraordinarily hard. Defeating. Exhausting. Relentless. 

We adopted Ian when he was 3, and, until he was 16 or so, we dealt in possibilities. He could possibly drive some day, we thought. Or maybe one day he’ll have his own apartment. While kids his age were earning trophies for their sports teams, we were happy for them… and grieved that Ian will never experience the camaraderie of going to State with water polo or wearing a letterman’s jacket on campus. But still, we thought; he still has potential for Some of the Usual Things. 

Until we didn’t think that anymore.

Until his childhood was over.

Until we arrived at the barriers he cannot climb. 

And then we grieved again, both for the life he cannot have… which we long suspected… but perhaps even more for the end of the possibilities.

 

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Ian has a LOT of potential and will learn and change and grow as the years move by. But the goals are different now. The capacity isn’t there to drive and it would be both foolish and dangerous to try. Now the goal is learning public transportation. Similar with independence; he won’t get to go away to college like his sister or live in an apartment unsupervised or handle his own finances. And so we look to what he CAN do… but we grieve, too. There’s a lot of that.

And the grief over the “threatening teenager” was founded in the reality that he will face this sort of thing forever. That he can’t live only inside our family bubble. That he’ll go out into the world for more than 15 minutes at a time, and more people will feel threatened by a man-child who really would love to have a friend. That 15 minutes is all the time it takes for that to happen. 

I mourn that he can’t go into the world like I can and disarm people with words. I mourn that he’s 18 and must still be supervised 23 hrs and 45 minutes a day. I grieve that he will be judged “creepy” or frightening or a danger to women and children. 

It’s impossibly hard to love a child and not be able to give him the world. You know? Impossibly hard.

The community response to my message was beautiful, really. Strangers sending love, letting us know they’re eager to meet and greet Ian on his walks, and telling us about petting Zoey and chatting with Ian. “I’ve met this young man and his beautiful dog, as I walk the trail very often. I also have taken the time to stop and talk to him and Zoey (who he was kind enough to let me pet) I never felt a threat or worry around him, to me he just seemed a little lonely and a friendly hello seemed to really brighten his day. I hope they continue to enjoy the trail.”

I cry again, every time I read that. I needed the reminder that some people are magic and have the power to see past the surface to the precious person within.  

But the whole experience threw me for a loop, especially coming, as it did, on the same day my oldest girl asked us to find her birth mom. I’m a fan of that plan. I’m really excited for her… and also for me, truth be told. I’ve wanted to hug her bio mom for years. To thank her for giving my girl life. To tell her Abby’s been happy and healthy and well loved. To share how proud I am of our girl, hers and Greg’s and mine. But dealing with the emotional aftermath of the Path Situation AND trying to figure out how to hire a private investigator in Vietnam? That was something, friends. Just a teeny, tiny bit overwhelming. 

So it’s been a little radio silent around here. And I think I’ve made the case for Why Food, and Why Retreat, and Why Rest and Respite.

Because life is lifey. Yes?

Yes.

Life is lifey.

But life can also — at least for a little while — be fixed with fresh pasta and pizza and risotto and local wine…

…with outstanding people and human connection…

…with goofballs and laughter and a frickin’ break from the grind…

…and with the reminder that we’re all in this together.

None of us alone if we’re brave enough to reach for each other.

Signing off for now (and headed to get myself some food, because obviously),

 

 

 

P.S. Retreat season is a busy time for me. Lots of thought, planning and energy go into these events, none of which would be possible without my steady staff,  Maggie and Polly Peterson, who have made my dream of rest and respite built on human connection happen. The retreats are how I’ve met and spent time with many of you, dear readers and friends, and I’m grateful for every minute. (Including the naked on the beach ones.)

P.P.S. We do have two more retreats coming in 2018 — the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat in May (for new and experienced writers alike) and the Mindfulness Retreat in November. There are still some spaces available at each, and I’d love for you to come. Maggie will be cooking. 😉 You can find all the details here

On Standing for Good When Evil Is Loud

Feb 28 2018

I wrote my first term paper in the 8th grade. It was on the Holocaust. I rewrote it again in 10th grade and one more time in college, partly because it was easier to build a paper on earlier work and partly because the Holocaust fascinated and horrified me and birthed an intense desire to work out why it happened, how it was possible that people could allow it, and how we might ensure it never happened again.

It was the first time I heard the clarion call of Good versus Evil, and it was the first time I suspected there may come a time in my own life when I would have to choose between championing the outcasts or protecting myself.

Eighth grade is an odd time of self-discovery and trying on new selves to find one that might fit. Rapid growth, of course, ensures nothing, not even our favorite clothes or selves, fit well for long. They get ripped and torn, threadbare, or suddenly too small to contain us anymore, and so we let most clothes and shoes and selves go, picking only a few bits to remain with us always.

In 8th grade, I was kind, and fierce, and funny, and creative, and a liar, and in love with Certain Boys after my friends and I had divided them amongst ourselves, careful to allot crushes the same way we divided treats, as equitably as possible. My hair was permed and feathered, my teeth were askew, my legs were perpetually covered in bug bites and scabs from scratching, and I longed to be pretty more than Just About Anything. Studying the Holocaust didn’t change that, but it added a depth, perhaps; a dimension I didn’t previously understand with only 13 years under my belt.

I waited during my teen years for the Crisis of Our Age to come. It would be war, I thought. Or the persecution of Christians, which the Church promised me was inevitable. I watched, and I waited.

I thought it had arrived when we went to war in Iraq in the early 90’s. I sat in my little Toyota Tercel hatchback, and I heard the announcement on the radio. But, as is true for so many of us without close family and friends in the military, it affected me very little.

And then the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11. I was a mommy by then, and I watched the second tower fall while my toddler slept in the next room. This is it, surely, I thought. But again, I wasn’t directly affected, and, well, life proceeded as life does. No gas lines. No rationing. No concentration camps. I mean, I don’t like taking my shoes off at the airport, but all things considered, no real change for me and mine or, I dare say, the majority of my countrymen and women.

I thought I would recognize it when it came — the Time I Would Have to Stand Up for What Is Right at Great Cost to Myself — but it came slowly, and I didn’t see it while I raised my babies, and went to the grocery store, and fought with and loved my husband, and went to church, and volunteered, and started writing. I didn’t see it, and I don’t blame myself much, because I’ve learned as I’ve aged how subtly Evil moves. How quietly. How insidiously. How it masks itself as Rules and Righteousness and Right Thinking. How it plays on our need for Belonging, afraid, as we are, of being Cast Out. How it cows the Questioners and shuns Those Who Will Not or Cannot Subscribe or Conform. How it creates Tribalism and Exclusion and Fear of the Other, lest we be infected or destroyed by the Them.

But here we are.

Here we are, living in a world where Evil has arrived. Where we turn away widows and orphans and refugees at our borders. Where we steal healthcare from the sick. Where we mock our young as immature and entitled while we steal their educational and financial future, and they beg us not to keep letting them die at school. We live in a world where our churches truly believe that their 20th century interpretation of the Bible is the One Correct Reading of Scripture and use that to excommunicate people who love God and love their neighbors as themselves, because that last is, somehow, no longer the litmus test, no matter what Jesus said.

Here we are, friends. And I’ve heard it said that people who compare this current time to the Holocaust are overreacting. Being dramatic. Being hysterical. While we let the world’s largest refugee crisis continue, millions suffering and dying. While we refuse to listen to our children. While we stand stalwart behind the closed doors of our churches and use Jesus to justify our rampant nationalism, our goal of self-preservation, our hoarding of weapons, and our lying leaders.

Here we are, and I can’t help but feel that the world right now is covered in a shroud, like the alien planet in A Wrinkle in Time. We’re covered. The heartbeat of Evil is loud, and many have believed Evil’s lie that it is Good or that it is Necessary or that it is the Best Way Forward. It feels… opaque right now, like trying to see through ash and move through mud. No wonder we’re exhausted. No wonder we’re sad. No wonder we’re groping about in the dark, trying to find our people, tentatively, by feel. We’re living in the darkness we all suspected may come.

The time has arrived. Our Crisis is upon us. Millions are dying — our refugee neighbors, our minority neighbors, our LGBTQ+ neighbors, our children in school — physically and emotionally, literally and spiritually, we’re dying.

It seems horrific, which it is, and hopeless, which it’s not. Evil is winning, as Evil does, but Evil doesn’t win forever, and I keep coming back to this one thing: we know that it is dark. We’re living under the shroud right now, and it’s oppressive and disheartening, but there are many of us who can see it. Who know that it is Not OK. Whose eyes are wide open to see that this is Wrong. Who are resisting. Who are fighting the crawl of Complacency and Compliance. Whose hearts still beat to their own wild rhythms which echo the image of God and who listen for the heartbeats of others, which is the way of Love.

Oh, friends, it’s hard right now. Just… hard to be under cover of darkness with only pinpricks of flickering light in the sky. It’s hard to be Betwixt and Between and to wonder when — when, dear God — the dawn will arrive. It’s hard not to feel helpless tumbling in the tidal wave, trying to stop its destruction. It’s hard not to give in to its power and be swept away. It’s hard, always, when the old is passing and the new is not yet come.

But this is our time. This is the one. This is when we Stand for Good or Fall for Evil. And the world needs us even though it’s hard. The world needs us especially because it’s hard. The world needs us to see through our fear stricken societies and find new ways of living. To lead the charge. To keep reaching out for each other.

All of which is an incredibly long way to say, I’m waving to you in the dark, friends. I see it. I see the dark. And I see you, too. Together, we’ll beckon the dawn.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. In case this post is too heavy for you, here are some pictures of our latest foster puppy. Her name is Nikki, she’s 4 months old, has survived parvovirus and pneumonia in her short tenure on earth, and she’s partially blind, but the darkness doesn’t stop her. Not ever.

P.P.S. And this…

A Letter to the Youth of Today Who Deserve to be Heard

Feb 21 2018

Young friends, there are things you need to know. Things that must be said. Things you’ve hopefully heard, but just in case… just in case…

You’ve heard it said that you’re the leaders of the future, friends. But I need you to know that’s a lie. You are NOT the leaders of the future. You are the leaders of NOW. Your time is NOT still to come; it has ARRIVED. You already know this, or you sense it inside. You are ready to join the ranks of the resistance. You already have. You are its soul. You are ready to persist, and you will. You are fierce and on fire, and you have a perspective our world desperately needs. 

There are those who will tell you to slow down in the days ahead. They’ll tell you that change takes time. They’ll tell you there are more polite ways to protest. They’ll tell you to use your nice words and to be content. They’ll tell you it could be worse and they’ll ask why you can’t just be happy with what you have. Guess what? They told Martin Luther King, Jr. the same thing. And Sojourner Truth. And Malala Yousafzai. And Adam Rippon. Every great Change Maker has heard the same message. And every great Change Maker ignored it in favor of Justice and Equality and the Wild Call to be more Fully Free. 

There are those who will tell you you’re simply pawns, that you don’t know your own minds, that you’re patsies and proxies and being used for causes you can’t possibly understand. They’re wrong. They’re attempting to quiet you. They’re afraid of your voice. They’re eager to undermine your senses of agency and  conviction. Know why? Because you are POWERFUL, and when your generation speaks together, you will CHANGE OUR WORLD. You’re changing it already. 

There are people who will try to belittle you. They will try to undermine your confidence. They will try to shame you. Dare to speak anyway.

They’ll say you’re reacting out of trauma instead of truth, as though trauma isn’t an author of understanding. They’ll say you’re being manipulated. They’ll tell you your political opinions are worthless because you’re too young to know better. They’re wrong. Dare to speak anyway, friends.

They’ll say you’re undeveloped and immature. They’ll say you’re responding to strong emotions as though strong emotions don’t tell us Important Things. They will do whatever it takes to maintain a power structure that benefits them. Dare anyway. Dare and dare and dare again.

You will face hard things in the days and weeks and months ahead, and you are up for the task. You can do hard things. People will be mean. Ugly words will be hurled at your entire generation. They will be wrong, but you will feel discouraged at times. Dare anyway. Your world needs you to.

You will lose people in this fight. There will be those who cannot stand to let you speak. But there will also be those who encourage you. Those who champion you. Like Mr. Rogers said, “When things are bad, look for the helpers.” Look for the helpers. We’ll be here, daring with you.

You will make mistakes along the way. Hooray for mistakes! Mistakes — failure, even — means you’re in the arena. You’re trying. And it’s only by striving for positive change that it’s ever happened. This is the meaning of persistence. We try. We fail. We try. We make mistakes. We try. We LEARN. We make smarter mistakes next time. And then we succeed. We succeed because we DARED to persist. We dared to stay in the arena and damn the booing crowd.

Here’s what you must do — TRUST YOURSELF. You feel it in your gut, the things that are Right. Listen to that voice. Question what you’re taught and what you’ve been told; the things that are Truth can always withstand the questions. Always. 

Listen. I will follow you. I will follow your lead when you say enough is enough. I will sign my own youth and children out of class when you say it’s time to take to the streets. I will back you with my words, my money, my time, and my actions. 

I will believe you. When you say you’re being harmed, I believe you. When you say our schools aren’t safe — physically or emotionally— I believe you. When you sound the rallying cry, I will amplify your voice. And when you tell me it’s time for boots on the ground, I’ll cinch up my laces. 

And I am not the only one. Those of us who BELIEVE IN YOU are legion. In the thousands. In the millions. Look for us. We’re your support troops.

You know things we no longer know. You hear the Polar Express bell, and we’ve grown immune. Hardened. We need you to hear the clarion call. We need your passion, your energy. Your knowledge of right and wrong. Your clarity. Your wisdom. Your strength. 

You, friends, are of deepest worth. You are worthy of our respect. You deserve to be heard. 

 

With love,

 

 

I Got Dressed Today (and I Don’t Think That Bar Is Particularly Low)

Jan 17 2018

I don’t want to brag, but I’m a big goal setter, and I usually accomplish my goals, too. Last night, for example, I thought about what I really wanted for myself today (it’s important to plan ahead, you know), and I decided I’d set a goal to Get Dressed. Friends, I DID IT. I got dressed today! All the way dressed, including panties and shoes, because when I do goals, I do thorough goals.

I realize this sounds like a Setting the Bar Low piece, and it is, I guess, but it also isn’t. It’s been hard lately to get up while it’s still morning, to wash my face, to brush my teeth, to shower more than once/week, and, frankly, even that often feels like a chore. I mean, I like being clean, it’s just that that’s becoming more of a memory or an ideal at this point and not so much a reality. 

I’m not worried, yet, about depression rearing its head. To be clear, that’s exactly what it’s doing, but I’m still winning, and this is just part of it. A new skirmish in an ongoing war, but I have depression outgunned for now.

Last night, I just wanted to lay on my couch, face down in smashed Cheerio shards and wispy dog hair, prone and unmoving, breathing through the corners of my mouth. I managed to make it through yesterday, but barely, and I wanted today to be better.

Now, if I had my druthers, I’d wave my magic wand and be All the Way Better, Right Now. Like the magician who reappears after her trick in a puff of smoke, a slinky sequined dress, and stilletos, hair perfectly coiffed and hand upraised. TA DA! Sadly, though, my wand is on the fritz, so I have to try for better the old fashioned way. Incrementally, which is a real bummer. 

So I set a goal. One thing about today that I wanted to be different than yesterday. I picked Wearing Clothes. I wanted to pick wearing clothes, grocery shopping, writing, actually responding to emails instead of reading them and intending to respond, showering, scheduling, budgeting, and cleaning my room, but I know better. One thing at a time, Beth, for sustainable change. One thing at a time for a lot longer than I would wish. One thing at a time because, in a shocking twist, Something Sometimes is often healthier than the All or Nothing I prefer

In conclusion, I got dressed today, friends. I planned it, I prepared diligently, and I achieved my goal. Rejoice with me! And feel proud of yourself, too, please. Sometimes, reaching for the goals that seem small to others are, in fact, making a choice to live. 

With love,

A Jumbled Mess That Makes No Sense But Maybe I’ll Write About Watermelon Thumbs Tomorrow

Jan 12 2018

I keep trying to write to you but my brain is all over the place in the current political and religious environment in the U.S., so half the time I want to unload my thoughts on serious subjects like our president’s abhorrent use today of the word shitholes to describe Nearly All the Countries Where Black People Come From, and the other half of the time I want to ask you how many Maturity Points I get, exactly, for not posting the photos I took of Greg sporting the kitten speedo I gave him for Christmas. 

In other words, my thoughts are like a tumble dryer spinning on the infinite cycle, a symptom, I suspect, of the anxiety of our modern era, and it’s difficult to stop the spinning long enough to pull out Just One Thing and write about it well. Do you do this, too? Do you spin and spin and spin and spin? Or is it just me?

I tried again tonight, and no luck. Zero. So I stream-of-conscienced it, instead, which did no good at all.

All I want in this moment is five minutes of quiet — five minutes to gather my thoughts and take a deep breath and just, you know, try to release a modicum of the pressure that’s been building in my neck and shoulders and back all day — and, because I’m a good communicator who doesn’t expect my family to read my mind, I have told them this. With words. And also with the red laser beams shooting from my eyes, dramatic sighing, and saying, “Seriously, you guys. SERIOUSLY.” 

Here’s how it’s going:

  1. I have one kid reading me all the titles in a cookbook — “Pressure cooker Chinese chicken, Mom. Tex-Mex beef and rice casserole! Bacon apple pork chops. That sounds good. You should make that one, Mom. Mom? You should… oh! Souvlaki! What’s souvlaki? Mom? Mom. Mom. MOM. Are you even listening to me, Mom?”
  2. I have one kid with expressive language disorder and an abiding desire to be the Boss of Everything correcting the first kid on his pronunciation — “Dude. That’s SHELL LOCKEY.”
  3. I have one kid who just slammed his toes on the leg of the couch, jumping on one foot and yelling, “FUCK. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck,” because of science.
  4. And I have one kid turning up the volume on his Minecraft YouTube videos because “EVERYONE IS TOO LOUD FOR ME TO HEAR. EVERYONE. EVERYONE IS TOO LOUD,” which I couldn’t agree with more.

^^^That’s it.^^^ That’s all I was able to write. It felt like my brain was cross-eyed and on fire.

But now it’s after 10pm and the children are in bed, which means I’ve got approximately 9 minutes before someone comes back out with a question about this week’s schedule… or a request to make cookies tomorrow… or a permission slip to sign. I will remind them that bedtime is Not the Time for These Things and tell them to ask again tomorrow, they will fuss because they forgot and they neeeeeeeeeed to know noooooooowww, and I will threaten to take away their screens which obviously distracted them from remembering. I’ve wasted 2 minutes already telling you this, which, if you have children, you already know, so that’s 2 minutes I’ll never get back. 

Friends, I am weary. For real. So, SO tired. I mean, physically tired, yes, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually spent. And trying to raise kids right now? Knowing the Trump presidency and the church’s complicity in it, along with the church’s exclusion of us and of gender and sexual minorities, will be a major part of their formative memories? It’s overwhelming. 

So, in lieu of a brain that works, I’ll leave you with the encouragement to go watch this today, on the 8th anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake: Anderson Cooper’s emotional tribute to and defense of Haiti whose people deserve our love. He explains more eloquently than I ever could why we need to treasure each other and learn from the dignity of the Haitian people. 

Waving in the dark,

 

 

 

P.S. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about watermelon thumbs. That will make more sense than this jumbled mess. Maybe.

 

Sometimes We Can Walk Through the Mystery and Not Even Know It’s There: Thoughts on the Cluster That Is 2017

Dec 17 2017

I have been moving at a frenetic pace, friends. Every minute of every day it seems, and I hardly have words to put to the whirlwind of desperate activity in my mind.

Two thousand seventeen has been a series of flash floods; powerful, destructive, and pulling everything off its foundation. I feel like I’ve spent December trying to distract myself from the devastation — QUICK, BETH! DO ALL THE THINGS! COOK! CLEAN! TRAVEL! MAKE CINNAMON BREAD, STAT! — and simultaneously picking through the rubble to see what’s left.

Refugee crisis = FLASH FLOOD.

Brexit = FLASH FLOOD. 

America elected the Lyingest President of All Time = FLASH FLOOD.

Trump, who brags about sexually assaulting women and bans immigrants during the largest displacement of vulnerable populations the world has ever known is mainly supported by Christian Evangelicals. FLASH FLOOD. 

Our umbrella group of churches has removed us from membership. FLASH FLOOD.

The camp our kids have always attended — the one at which Greg and I met and volunteered for 24 years — has notified those of our ilk (who are affirming and inclusive of our gender and sexual minority (GSM) neighbors) that we are no longer allowed to be in leadership roles. FLASH FLOOD.

And, of course, the knock-down, gut-punch, breathless realization that our GSM friends were systematically wounded by our churches and our camp all along, while we remained silent and were complicit in maintaining the power structure that caused such pain. FLASH FLOOD. And ugh. 

Flash floods, friends — calamity after calamity — are running down the hills of 2017 and crashing together at the bottom, the confluence too tumultuous to separate into streams that can can be crafted into concise explanations. Words become hard to shape from the madness, and my pace in trying to outrun the landslides keeps increasing. It’s like being manic, I suspect, this relentless frenzy I find so appealing lately. Like being on uppers, rushing from cooking to baking to cleaning to shopping to wrapping to cooking again. Running to events. Running up the stairs because I forgot my wallet. Running out the door to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. No time to rest or else 2017 will catch me, and I’ll be swept away. 

My right butt cheek hurts — it has for days, so if anyone can explain why and what to do about a butt injury other than, you know, rest, please do tell — and also my left bicep, the space between my shoulders, and the back of my skull. I should sit down. I should go to sleep at a reasonable time. I should stop watching zit popping videos until midnight. Instead, I pop ibuprofen like it’s candy and keep going as fast as my internal monologue which never stops. “THOSE 6 LOAVES OF CINNAMON BREAD ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THEMSELVES, BETH. DO MORE.”

Do you get it, friends? Do you know what I’m saying? 

I mean, I realize I could blame “the Season.” There’s so much to do for Christmas, after all, but if I’m honest it’s not Christmas. Sadly, no. The pressure comes from me in my haste to busy myself out of feeling all that 2017 has had to offer. 

But I went to church this morning — our church that kept us when the other churches had no room for us in the inn — and I sat with the cool college humans, and I sang the Christmas songs, and I discovered I have something important to tell those of us who are the Frenzied Folks right now. I remembered something critical. 

We are in the middle of the mess. 
Yes. OBVIOUSLY.
Which also means we need to be on the lookout for the magic.

I FORGOT for a while. I forgot that there is ALWAYS magic in the mess. Even though we talk about it ALL THE TIME here, I forgot until Pastor Kim talked about the Mystery. 

Pastor Kim is our children’s pastor. She wore her grey dreads up in a yellow wrap this morning, and she was very beautiful and very brave as she taught her lesson to the kids on the big brown rug, with us, the host of larger humans, looking on. 

“Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there,” she said. “And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Jesus to be born, but Jesus is also already here.”

Now, remember, friends, that you can substitute “Love” for “Jesus” anytime we get too Jesusy up in here, and the point is the same. Love made flesh and dwelling among us. Love that challenges everything we thought we knew. Love that champions the lonely and distressed. Love that is fierce. Love that makes the weak strong. Love that never fails. 

Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there. And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Love to be born, but Love is also already here. 

THE WORLD IS SUCH A MESS RIGHT NOW. But there is magic in the mess, friends. There is magic here, too, for those of us on the lookout. There is magic, called Love, and even as we’re longing for it, not sure we can wait for it to be made REAL, to be BORN already and dwell among us, it’s also already here. And we get to make more.

The flash floods of 2017 took out some of our foundations, sure, but only the faulty ones. False worship of America. False adherence to Silence and Compliance. The false idol of Maintaining the Status Quo. But I’m digging through the rubble now, and I’m starting to hit bedrock; a firmer foundations than the former could ever be. Two thousand seventeen has given me the gift of sight. The cards are on the table. We know where folks stand. We know who’s in. We know who’s out. And we get to pick where and with whom we stand. We get to pick what we stand for. 

As for me and my people, we serve Love. That’s it. That’s the foundation. So we stand with the vulnerable. We make camp in the wreckage with the outcasts. We share whatever little we have as refugees of another life, even if all we have is our words. We are the Magic-Bringers, after all. The Agents of Love. The Justice Mongers. The Voice Amplifiers. We are the Hope-ers who sit in the darkness and believe the dawn is coming. We are the ones grasp the hands of our neighbors and whisper, “You don’t wait alone.”

This year has asked a lot of us. A LOT, a lot. And next year looks to bring its own share of the mess, so we must be very brave. But remember how the Christmas story started, with an angel saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. We have every reason to be, but we can defy fear anyway. We can embrace the promise of dawn after darkness. We can search for the magic in the mess. And we can stand together on Love…

…which I’m sending you now,