An Update on the Messes: Church, Holes in the Wall, America, and Pants

April 11, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

It’s raining outside and the window is open because the puking kid in my bed wants it that way, and we all know pukers get what pukers want. Except red juice. Pukers don’t get red juice. Not ever again.

I can hear the delicate pitter patter of the rain drops hitting the patio interspersed with the giant KERPLOPS of rain gushing over the clogged gutters which we didn’t clear this winter — a mistake in Oregon — but there’s only so much time and SO MANY projects to fail to complete. The gutters made the Fail List this year. And I think last year, too. It’s OK, though. They’ll rust, and the water will get in, and the house will crumble around us, but it’s OK. It’s important, after all, to build Long Term and Short Term plans. Our Long Term House Destruction plan, for example, is water damage and mold which will lead to total structural failure. Our Short Term plan is, obviously, accidental fire. Since one of the kids left the gas oven on all night last week, we feel like that one’s a real possibility.

This is a strange season of life for Greg and me. For our family. For America. For the universal church, and for ours specifically. For the world, too.

We’re just… really weary most days. Struggling. Straggling. Doing what we can right now, which isn’t always what we need to do, like clean out the gutters, but we’re going for barebones survival here, you know? Trying to make it through each day with our awesome, assholish kid without doing irreparable damage to him or ourselves. Trying to figure out where we belong after finding ourselves in the wilderness of the unknown when it comes to our faith community. Trying to figure out how our country and our world can inflict so much suffering on so many people who are so very vulnerable.

It’s a strange thing to be in our 40’s and adrift, especially when we thought we knew where we were moored. We thought we’d carved out a space to belong in America, and we figured we were raising our transracial, multicultural children in a country devoted to becoming kinder and more inclusive. We certainly thought we’d always be welcome at church. I understand how clearly I’m highlighting our embedded privilege here and our naivety, but it’s still true. And now, the places we thought we belonged — the places we thought were sure bets — the places we thought we were well established — are no longer fully home. Maybe they never were. And we adorable, white, highly educated, middle class, English-as-a-first-language, Christian Americans are just now, belatedly, figuring it out. Bless our hearts.

Those on the outskirts and the margins of our church have been trying to tell us about their suffering for years. For years and years. But Greg and I, sweet little baby bunnies that we are, are only now waking up to the Matrix. We’re only now looking around, eyes beginning to see. Only now beginning to understand the price we’d have to pay in our Consciences and Integrity and Deepest Understanding of what it means to Love God and Love Our neighbors as Ourselves to stay in those safe-for-people-like-us places. It’s been a real eye-opener, I tell you, and I say this as a person who is still largely blind and who has much to learn before the scales fall fully away.

But here’s my secret for the day… shhhhhhhh, don’t tell… I’m starting to like it out here with the wind on my face.

I’m starting to feel excited about the unknown.

I’m starting to believe that being cut loose may turn out to be a gift. I had grown terribly weary, after all, of having to behave to belong.

I feel like we’ve jumped onto the ship of the Wayward and the Wanderers. All the way on, instead of trying to straddle it and the other. We had to pick. Stay on the old ship and comply, or leave and do a new thing. And so we’ve thrown our lot in with the Weary and the Wary and the Wild and the Free, and we’re out on deck, just getting under way. Just now feeling the wind pick up. Just now watching the shore recede.

And so, Greg and I are in the process right now of waving good-bye to the things we once knew and clung to. Waving good-bye to our false idols of Comfort, Conformity and Compliance. Waving good-bye to the rules of the evangelical Christian subculture which haven’t fit us well for a long, long time. Waving good-bye to our desperate desire to have beloved members of our former community approve of us, see the best in us, and believe we are racing toward God and the Gospel and Good News instead of away. Shoving the anger that masks our hurt firmly over the side, and shoving it over again when it crawls back up, because angry and bitter is not who we choose to be, and we’re not going to give it a free ride to the New Thing where we’re headed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where my loyalty lies as we begin this new journey. I’ve been considering what it means to live in the Freedom and Fullness of Love and Grace, and about what I might do — or who I might become — to help invite others, who are as tired as we are, into that space. I’ve been thinking about how to become a Light-bringer and a chain-breaker and a justice-monger and a Love-dweller the way Jesus taught us to be. The truth is, I don’t know yet. I don’t know, but I feel like we’re headed the right way.

Sending love to you, friends, and waving, waving, waving in the dark,

 

 

 

P.S. For lots of reasons, mostly related to the oldest boy child but partially related to being batshit crazy, I’ve been housebound this month. Housebound and focused on keeping my kid afloat. With an itchy brain. While contemplating a country and church that are hard to make sense of.  It’s been a MONTH, in other words. A MONTH, friends. But I’m able to put one foot in front of the other and no one has smothered anyone with a pillow, so we’re counting it in the win column.

As a result, I’ve spent the last two weeks building the fairy house and pestering Greg to cut the door and find the right screws and drill holes and basically be my beck-and-call fairy house construction manager, which he has LOVED because who needs to work from home to make money when you could be running fairy errands for your wife? Amirite? Greg thinks so, too. You can tell by the loving way he rolls his eyes and says, “Not right now, Beth. Maybe tonight.”

The thing is, I’m finding solace in hunkering down and building a sanctuary for the magic to get in. It feels right just now. Like it makes All the Sense in the Whole Entire World to use bits and pieces of things we overlook every day to build a visual reminder that the mysterious is welcome and will be sheltered here.

P.P.S. Here are 100,000 fairy house pictures. Because priorities.

BEFORE:

The destroyed Mouse House.

THEN:

A bigger hole.

THEN:

The bones of the Fairy House.

THEN:

We get serious, man.

Also, side benefit — making Greg work on the Fairy House during his lunch break.

And cutting up 1000 pine cones for shingles.

THEN:

Assembly.

UNTIL, FINALLY:

A Fairy House.

Now, obviously, there are still a million things we can do with this, but for our purposes, this is essentially complete.

I decided to spend $0 on this project because a) I’m cheap, and b) I’m cheap. My mommy gifted me the fairy lights. They came in an old onion jar so they smell horrible. I think the fairies will like it.

And I pulled the wooden thread spools (table and chairs, obviously) from a stash I inherited from my grandmother.

I figure, anything else the fairies need, they can create with magic, just like I do.

So there the Fairy House sits.

Directly across from our hall closet, Harry Potter’s Cupboard Under the Stairs,

And when people walk in our front door,

they’re greeted by All Things Magical — the Fairy House, the Cupboard, and the Ravenclaw Room… and that end table, not marked, is from the set of Grimm.

Plus discarded pants.

I feel like this is just honest.

We’re magic and mess, after all. Magic and mess.

P.P.P.S. Love to you. That’s all for now. Hopefully more soon. xoxo

My Kid Experiences Disability. He’s Potentially a Very Rad Human. Right Now, Though, He’s an ASS.

March 22, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

Look. There are certain things that are harder to write than others. Mine tend to get a little flip flopped. Writing about the church? Ugh. HARD. Writing about pooping my closet? Surprisingly easy. So I’m not necessarily like everyone else when it comes to which subjects are agonizing and which are delightful, but, on this one, I suspect I’m like everyone else. Writing about my kid who experiences disability = hard. One of the hardest. Partly because I want to protect as much of his story as possible. And partly because there’s a sort of unspoken Hippocratic Oath among those of us who parent children who experience disability; we want, above all, to do no harm to these kiddos who already have enough challenges without their mommies making it worse by speaking out. You know? And so there’s an almost-covenant; if we DO tell our kids’ stories, we tell OUR PART ONLY. We tell the bits that help other mamas and dads like us know they’re NOT ALONE. We speak of our children in the BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT, always with sympathy, always with understanding. The world is already judging them, after all, more harshly than the world judges me or you, and we’ve made HUGE STRIDES over the last 5 or 10 years in helping the world SEE our kids as HUMANS FIRST and not CHALLENGES FIRST.

Disabilities of all kinds are less maligned than they used to be. We ARE making progress, at least among those of us who are kind and seek a diverse human experience. I see a new campaign every day to break down barriers. To increase understanding. To educate the public on how to treat each other. But, as a society, we still seem to need those who experience disability to be sweet and nice. To be cherubic. To be, if they experience difficulty, TRIUMPHANT about it, damn it. OVERCOMING their difficulties. And we’d like to hear about those difficulties after they’ve been solved, please. Never in the middle of them. Never, EVER. And so we rob those who experience disability of part of their humanity. Their ability to be fully, messily human when we insist they only have MAGIC and never mess. We make them caricatures of people so we can understand them in as few dimensions as possible; we steal their complexity and, in the end, part of their story, after all.

We’ve gotten to the part where we parents can admit raising kids — ANY kind of raising kids — and also raising kids who experience disability is HARD WORK. THANK GOD we’ve arrived there and parents are reaching out to each other to form networks and advocacy programs and person-centered decision making. THANK GOD and all the people who have made this happen.

We have not gotten to the part where we can share the full truth of what we experience.

But, friends.

Friends.

Friends.

I need to tell you a piece of that full truth now, because we Woolseys are in the MUCK and the MIRE right now, and we are NOT seeing the magic in the mess. We might someday. We cling to that as our future and carry that hope for our child who cannot carry it for himself right now. But today is not that day. Today is MESS, following days and days and months and months of more mess.

My kid — my kid with GREAT potential, who is beautiful and sensitive and had a HORRIBLE, HARD START in life and, since then, EVERY medical, psychological, mental and developmental reason for the very real challenges he faces every single day — is also an ASS right now.

Like, my kid is REALLY a jerk.

And it’s not Oppositional Defiant Disorder. There’s not some unearthed diagnosis here. We KNOW what this is — a large part is, in fact, medical — and we know WHY he does it, AND ALSO, he’s currently a big bully and his behavior is not OK. ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE at the same time. He has good reasons to be a jerk, AND IT’S NOT OK. Both/And, friends. Both/And.

My kid used to be kind. Truly, deeply kind, and he looked out for others. Lately, 95% of the time, he’s not kind. Not to his family. And, more and more lately, not to his peers, either. Nearly all of the words he uses these days around our house are intended to maximize rudeness, hurt others, or, if he accomplishes all of his goals in one fell swoop, both.

He punched his 10-year-old brother in the stomach a few weeks ago.

He told a kid at school he was going to kill him. “I didn’t mean it, Mom” and rolling his eyes didn’t go over as well as he hoped.

He uses his man-sized body to block people littler than him or stand imposingly over them while refusing to move — nonverbal threats of force.

He’s been banned by XBox Live for inappropriate (read: threatening) chats.

His Gmail count has been deleted — by Google, in an official decision — for the same. We have responded at this point by removing all access to everything online for the foreseeable future. Which, you know, makes him ECSTATIC.

These are not, in other words, cute misbehaviors or understandable one-off scenarios. These are consistent. Disheartening. Discouraging. Sad. And this is a child on the cusp of adulthood — knocking on the door of age 18 — so I often have to pull myself back from the brink of going Full Lizard Brain, all “FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW IS THE ONLY REASONABLE SOLUTION,” and assuming this is going to all end in a firefight with the police. The facts that he’s only ever at school or at home don’t seem to matter to Mommy Lizard Brain. She exists to call up the worst possible scenario, bless her catastrophizing heart.

Please understand, I am not unsympathetic to his behavior, nor do I blame the man child entirely. There are good reasons for this kid in particular to be a total raging asshole right now. In addition to intellectual disability, he is developmentally somewhere between an immature age 4 and age 6, with all of the impulse control that entails, while trying to navigate a 17-year-old body with hormones; he has expressive and receptive language disorders which keep him locked inside his head without the ability to talk things out the way you and I do, making for quite the pressure cooker of emotions and frustration; he suffers from anxiety and PTSD which he keeps on a tight leash at school and, therefore, unleashes entirely when he gets home; and, he is the perfect storm of social awareness — aware that he is different and desperately wanting to be cool with no real ability to navigate peer relationships in a socially normative way.

It is, in other words, a total cluster. Just an utter mess. This is a kid — a young man — who is trying to find his power and his purpose, and he’s found it very powerful to use his body and his words as weapons. To a person who feels otherwise out of control, having ANY amount of power is extremely seductive; he simply doesn’t have the developmental or intellectual ability to combat that right now. The problem is, we don’t know if he ever will.

I like to think, when Lizard Brain isn’t in control, that this is a phase.

I remind myself that many teenagers — myself at that age absolutely included — go through a raging asshole stage.

I remind myself of all the help we’re getting — from his school, from doctors, from specialist, from eating programs and emotional regulation, from my parents who are working tirelessly on his behalf to get him the additional services he needs.

I remind myself that my child who experiences disability is FULLY HUMAN, and all of this simply proves it.

I remind myself that he is also FULLY DIVINE, made in God’s own image, even if I want to drop kick him over the back fence right now and see if any of that damn divinity will shake loose so I can SEE SOME.

And, because I, too, am fully human, I succeed at those things some days, and I don’t succeed others.

So.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because my kid, like every person on this planet, is real. He’s complex. He suffers. He makes good choices. He makes terrible ones. He is not cherubic at the moment. He’s being rather awful, in fact. Part of being real, though, means being ALL MESS sometimes. ALL MESS with magic buried deep down inside.

Waving in the dark, friends,

 

 

 

 

 

Because I Needed to Fix ONE Damn Thing

March 20, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

There’s paint on my fingernails. Some of it’s nail polish. Some of it’s wall paint.

Abby came home from college for Spring Break. She left warm, sunny Hawaii where her friends spent the week on the beach in teeny, tiny swimsuits getting perfect tan lines, for cold, rainy Oregon and her mommy and daddy. I told her she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong. But kids these days; they never listen.

“LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE,” she said, Spring Break Day 1.

“OMG! YES. YES, LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE RIGHT NOW,” I said back, which I’ve never previously said to her — never in her whole life — because it costs $25 to get ONE PERSON’S NAILS DONE ONE TIME, whereas an ENTIRE BOTTLE of nail polish is $3.99 at the grocery store, OR, if you insist on being fancy, $8.99 with a $2 off coupon.

But Abby knows exactly when her mommy is a sucker — Spring Break Day 1, man — because even if she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong, I’ve at least taught her the life skill called How to Manipulate Your Mama So She Does Whatever You Want, Always. And so, I sit here typing with manicured nails, but also hands dotted with wall paint because I’m why we can’t have nice things.

“Tracy and I got fake nails today,” I wrote in my 5th grade journal after we snuck to the store and squandered our allowance on press-on nails, “but then we dug up a gopher hole, so they fell off.” My 43-year-old hands are, in other words, exactly like my 10-year-old hands. I tried to look like a grown-up, friends. I tried real hard.

I painted my bedroom this week.

It wasn’t part of the plan, I have 36 other priorities right now, my teenage man-child with special needs is having a rough go of it lately, but, suddenly, nothing felt as important as painting, rearranging and redecorating my bedroom. Not one thing.

Instead of mock myself for it, though, I’ll tell you — and myself — a more gentle truth: I needed to control something in a world that feels out of control. I needed to make something pretty in a world that seems ugly. I needed sanctuary as our church falls apart. I needed a sanctuary to sit in. I needed to find sanctuary in the ethereal sense. And, while there’s a very, very small, logical part of me that understands painting my room ultimately provides no substantial fix, there’s a much larger part that is soothed by fixing something. Anything. One goddamn thing. Even — especially — if that thing is where I lay my head at night.

More soon, friends. I’ve been trying to wrap my fragile, fabulous, fearful, fierce brain around what to say about the world these days and how to navigate it. I’m almost there. Stay tuned.

With love, as always,

 

 

 

P.S. Here’s what I’ve done to the room so far…

I forgot to take “before” photos, so these are mid-way pics… in the middle of cleaning and reorganizing pre-painting and moving furniture.

BEFORE(ish):

BEFORE(ish):

We’ve switched where the bed and desk are located. Thus,

AFTER:

AFTER:

P.P.S. I DID think about making the bed for you — it’s adorable with all the different Bohemian-feel linens which are a combo of stuff we already had, like that weird and fabulous 1960’s quilt from my great aunt, and the throw pillows you can see on the dresser, and the other linens like the blue and white bedspread I scored from Goodwill — but, honest to God, our bed is only made 0.0001% of the time so making it for you felt too much like lying. So we’re going with “it’s the thought that counts.” I thought about making the bed, so it counts, yes? Yes. This is why we’re friends.

P.P.P.S. The Nolen’s Booksellers sign was Greg’s score at the recent sale in Portland of all the prop pieces from the Grimm TV series. Seems fitting to put with Aden’s werewolf self-portrait and our twins’ zombie pic.

P.P.P.P.S. The desk wall isn’t done.

I’m considering doing a word mural on the wall with what has become my theme…

There is MAGIC in the MESS,
and GRACE in the GRIME
and WONDER in the WILD
of this LIFE lived OFF-COURSE
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

It seems like the perfect place for such a reminder. I’m just not sure how to execute that idea. Thoughts??

P.P.P.P.P.S. I have a beginner’s writing retreat coming up in May at the Oregon Coast! I’d love to hang out with you there. You can find all the info here: Writing 101. Please do consider coming! And contact me if you have any questions. <3

Is This Normal? Some Thoughts on Love. Also, Dogs. Also, Bodies.

February 23, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I took my rings off the other night.

My wedding ring. My engagement ring. The two stackable rings I wear with them that I bought in a fit of extravagance for $12 at a fancy strip mall with immaculate sidewalks and enormous, Christmas-tree-lit palm trees in Southern California after an hour of agonizing over which to pick.

I took off the twisting ivy ring I bought to remind me that I grow fast and strong and have the power to break down huge barriers, at least eventually.

And I took off the filigreed silver ring with a riot of flowers and leaves; the one I bought in Mexico and wear on the middle finger of my right hand. I call it my flip-off ring, even though I’ve only ever flipped off Greg’s back with it, and, much more often, myself, usually in reproach for saying something Self decided was stupid. Self is all, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. JEEZ, Beth. WHY DO YOU SAY WORDS OUT LOUD? TO PEOPLE?” Then Self pulls out the flip-off ring, points it at me, and waves it around. In other words, Self can be a real asshole. Self and I are working on this.

I took my rings off the other night, but not because I didn’t want to wear them. I did. It’s just that my fingers felt jittery. Scritchy. Like they buzzed with constant, tiny electric currents. Bees under the skin. Restless Finger Syndrome? I don’t know. I just know the rings had to go away for my fingers to survive; strange sensory attacks that subsided when the rings came off. I took them off again just now, triggered, I suppose, by frantic finger memories.

Is this normal? Is this a thing the average person experiences? Or is this a symptom of mental illness? That’s a question to which I never know the answer. Not ever. About rings and other things. Does it make a difference that I also had to put on a tank top because my forearms turned scritchy, too? That the buzzing traveled through wrists and up my arms like something both alien and organic? Foreign and ingrained? Like the buzzing is the Borg and like resistance is futile? Does that make it more likely to be an illness issue? Or is this just part of having a body? I’ve never been particularly good at this part of being human — the How to Have a Body part. Why do some people seem to know how to have a body? And how to work a brain? Or are those myths, and it’s all a mystery to everyone? How is it possible to be past 40 and not know?

I took my rings off the other night.

I took the rings off, and then my shirt, and I wore a tank top and naked fingers and somewhat ugly panties which were lacy but worn, and I pulled my knees to my chin in my chair and stared at my computer screen and didn’t know what to say.

I didn’t have Writers’ Block. The opposite, maybe? Too many scritches and jitters and too many words pushing against the dam.

Too many thoughts about the state of the church and what it looks like to leave.

Too many thoughts about the state of our country and what it means to be both fierce and kind in the world right now.

Too many thoughts on why I can’t be silent these days, even though people tell me I’m complaining, or I am not respecting authority, or I should just “let it all sort itself out” and “see what happens” which appears to be something only privileged people say to each other because their lives aren’t on the line.

Too many thoughts about which wins when the choice must be made — ferocity or kindness — and which is the way of Love. Both, I bet; it’s just a matter of when to flip over the temple tables in a righteous rage because politics has married religion to make profits of gold, versus when to eschew the Sabbath rules to heal the sick, and give sight to the blind, and harvest food for the hungry, and to lift our neighbors’ oxen out of the ditch where they’ve fallen.

It’s rule breaking, either way — ferocity or kindness — to choose the side of the vulnerable. So often the way of Love, though. Over and over, the way of Love.

I stared at the screen the other night with too many words in my head, and no rings on my fingers, and I gave up quickly because I’m working these days on being gentle to Self even when Self isn’t gentle back.

Instead of writing, I put my computer to sleep, and I got in the bathtub and turned the water to hot.

I read a novel that was unedifying and captivating and perfect.

I listened to squabbling children whose arguments were repetitive and endless.

And I let the dog lick my toes and gaze at me with consuming adoration. I thought my dog should give Self lessons in Love, and lessons to the world, too, though the world will accuse her of being too affectionate, and too in-your-face, and too unable to understand the bigger issues at hand.

I took my rings off the other night. I don’t know if I did it because I’m ill or because I’m human. Probably both, though. Probably both.

Love to you, friends,

To Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza

February 8, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

 

Dear Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza at the Seattle Airport,

I don’t know how many frantic phone calls you field every night. I don’t know how many of those come from mommies who are too far away from their kids to help them. I don’t know how many times you have to calm them the heck down and tell them not to worry because you’ve got this. I don’t know if this was old hat to you or a first. All I know is, you handled it like a rock star.

My kid was stranded the other night at the airport with a flight cancelled due to snow, which you already know because we talked about it on the phone while we became best friends. She’d flown to Seattle from Oregon on her way back to college in Hawaii, but, after waiting inside the airport 6 hours and another 3 hours sitting on the plane, the flight was cancelled, the passengers returned to the gate, and she was stuck. Tired from a long day of travel and delays, and stuck.

Now, yes. My kid is 18 and a half, so technically an adult. But she’s a BRAND NEW adult — a baby adult — and, perhaps more importantly, her mommy is new to having an adult, so we’re just learning the ropes around here. She could have handled herself. She would have done fine. But she was traveling alone for the first time, and it was snowing buckets outside, and the next flight wasn’t leaving ’til morning, so MOMMY TO THE RESCUE, right?? Except I couldn’t really rescue her. I could only try to find a place for her to sleep while she navigated the rest on her own.

I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza.

We usually stay at a different hotel at the Seattle airport. One with crumbling asphalt in the parking lot and a very long, bent chain link fence. They serve horrible coffee with powdered creamer, and the carpets are stained, but the rooms are clean and cheap, and, frankly, that’s all we usually look for in a hotel.

But I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza. The price was $50 more than we usually spend, but I wanted a place that made her feel safe. I wanted a place that made me feel safe. A clean room, not as cheap, but safe. I assume this is what people talk about when they say they have “standards.” Ours are usually lower than other people’s, but this time, no. Crowne Plaza it was.

I called you after I made the booking because I know hotels don’t usually allow 18-year-olds to book rooms, and I needed to make sure you’d let her check in. It was 11:00pm, dark with flurries furiously falling, and Abby was making her way to the hotel shuttles. She was texting me every minute to ask if she was in the right place. To ask if I was sure.

“This is the Crowne Plaza, Tomicka speaking. How may I help you?”

“Tomicka? My name is Beth. My daughter, Abby, just had her flight canceled so I booked her a room with you. She’s 18.”

“Well… our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to stay alone here…”

I interrupted you. I was maybe a tiny bit frantic. “But my kid is STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT, Tomicka, and she’s ALONE, so WE NEED A SOLUTION. What is our solution here??”

“It’s OK,” you said. And “DO NOT PANIC.” Which sometimes I need to hear, even if I say back, “I AM NOT PANICKING, TOMICKA. I AM VERY CALM.”

“Let me finish,” you said, and I took a deep breath which was really just me preparing TO FIGHT YOU TO THE DEATH for a room for my child, but then you said these words to me, “Beth. Listen. I am a mommy. I will take care of your daughter. Although our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to check in alone, I will call my manager right now to get an exception approved. I am on this. We can make this happen. I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.”

Listen, Tomicka. When my kid was tiny, we had one rule if she got lost. I drilled it into her over and over.

“If you get lost, what do you do?” I’d ask. “FIND A MOMMY,” she’d reply.

Find a mommy. That was our rule. Because I knew, if my little lost one wandered up to a mommy with a stroller, or a mommy handing out goldfish crackers at a park, or a mommy pushing a kid on a swing, and said “I am lost,” the mommy would protect her. The mommy would help her find her way back to me. Oh sure, the mommy’s reaction after that could go either way — she might be amazingly sympathetic and pat me on the back and say “there, there” while I cried out the adrenaline of losing my kid, or she might be mean and ask me what kind of a mother I am, anyway to lose my child like this? — but I knew she would keep my kids safe before that reaction. And that’s all I needed to know. One rule: Find a Mommy.

You called me back 10 minutes later, just like you said. And also like you said, you’d fixed everything. My kid could check in with the caveat that she couldn’t order room service because they serve alcohol, so delivery would be restricted on her account. “Don’t worry, though,” you said again, “Here’s a number to call if you want to order her a pizza or something. She’s probably hungry.” She was. She hadn’t eaten for 12 hours. She was tired and she was hungry. “BUT IF YOU ORDER,” you clarified, “make sure you have them deliver it here to the front desk. It’s probably fine to have them deliver to her room, but she’s 18 and traveling alone, so let’s just have them meet here where I am.”

 

“And listen,” you said, “ANYTHING she needs tonight — anything at all — you have her come find Tomicka, OK? I’m a mommy, too. That’s what we do.”

That’s when I said I love you and that you’re my best friend forever.

People ask me all the time, with all the terrible things happening around the world, why I stubbornly think people are good. Why I think there’s still hope. Why I insist that people I haven’t met in real life are, too, my very real friends and not virtual at all. You, Tomicka, proved my point. I keep thinking that way because people like you exist. People who look out for others. People who find common ground. A community of mommies. A community of momrades. Which is why, even if we never meet face-to-face, I still will always be,

Your best friend forever,

 

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Tomicka’s name as Tanika (as can still be seen in text photos).

On Being Mindful. Or on Putting on Clothes. Whichever Comes First.

February 6, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

It’s Greg’s birthday today so I’m seriously considering changing out of the pajamas I’ve worn for 10 days while caring for sick kids (and a sick me), and changing into regular clothes. I mean, it’s mid-afternoon, and I haven’t actually taken anything resembling action to Put on Regular Clothes, but it’s a possibility, is what I’m saying. Also, by “regular clothes,” I mean leggings and a t-shirt. Possibly a bra. If he’s really lucky, I’ll wear my fancy bra; the one that’s not stretched out in the back, and doesn’t have the fine pieces of elastic erratically fraying like they’ve been fried in a horrible electrical accident, and whose underwire isn’t about to snap, making one boob significantly saggier than the other. It is, after all, important in any marriage to keep romance alive! Also, birthdays are special around here.

I texted Greg to see if he wanted to pick up a few boxes of scalloped potatoes, which are his favorite, so I can make those for dinner along with ham from a locally-raised pig because we believe in Both/And around here; both delicious, preservative-laden, dye-infused, freeze-dried, simple-carbohydrate potato products from a box which we will rehydrate with yummy, yummy saturated fat (read: All the Butter), AND hand-fed, gently-raised, locally-produced, happy, organic ham. Maybe I’ll find some freezer-burned green beans to microwave so my kids will have a green vegetable to refuse to eat, too. That sounds fun. Happy Birthday, Greg!

We’re hanging in there, friends, during this weird, weird season. But we’re doing it by taking one thing at a time, deciding what’s actually critical right now, letting everything else go, and being gentle with ourselves when we drop balls and mess things up and live in the muck and mire, muddy and mangled. We are tired. Donald Trump has been president for 17 days, and we have been sick for 10 of those. Our Christmas tree is still up, and we have no plans to change that anytime soon. We are working our usual 3-4 jobs. Our kids’ book reports and science assignments are late. My son just spilled Gatorade all over the living room floor, which WAS NOT PUKE, so HOORAY! And we spent the night on the phone with our college kid who was stranded in Seattle trying to fly back to college in the midst of a snow storm.

Yes, we’re tired — like All of America, I suspect — but we are trying to be kind to each other because changing the world starts at home with tiny acts of kindness and choosing to lay the infinite opportunities for bitterness aside. Some days, all we have the energy and wherewithal to do is put on clothes. Or make scalloped potatoes. Or just breathe; one breath in, one breath out, in and out, over and over. This, too, though, is an act of love. This breathing in madness. This remaining in the midst. It’s a choice to find magic in the mess. An insight into grace in the grime.

So, friends, if you are here, too, in this messy space where the only thing you’re doing right now is taking one breath at a time, welcome. We are not alone.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. I tend to be more of a doer than someone who knows how to rest and take respite. I react more than I respond. But I am attempting to learn to be more attentive. To take in what the world sends me and to let it flow back out; in, through, and out. A conduit for Love. A conductor for Grace. A reflector of Light. I am better at it some days than others.

Along with some of my most trusted people, I’m trying a new thing next month when it comes to retreats. As you may know, I have hosted writing and spiritual formation retreats in the past; the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat (next one in May), and the Grace in the Grime Spiritual Formation Retreat. I love both. I’m also asking myself, though, in the midst of what we’re experiencing as a nation and a world; as mothers, mud-dwellers and magic-makers; as humans who want to learn how to listen well and love much, how I can HELP? How can we, collectively, learn to reset so we can SEE each other for who we all are, with curiosity instead of judgement? Out of conversations like this — what does the world need most right now and what do we need in order to not just survive it but build something better and brighter — the Mindfulness Retreat was born.

Simply put, mindfulness is taking care of our nervous system. It is noticing what’s happening right now. It is using curiosity instead of judgment, for others, and, perhaps especially, for ourselves. It is digesting the intensity of being human. Schools throughout the country are learning how valuable it is to teach this practice to kids; I think adults like me need it just as much. On March 9-12, just over a month away, at the Oregon Coast, we are going to offer our first Mindfulness Retreat. Unlike the spiritual formation retreat, this one is secular. Like all of our retreats, it’s open to people of all backgrounds who need rest, respite, and a safe space to learn in a community of friends. Also, we have a shit-ton of fun. I hope to see you there. You can find all the information about the retreat, including how to register, here.

P.P.S. Sorry I didn’t give you more advance notice about the retreat. See the rest of this post for reasons why.

P.P.P.S. Not to brag, but I just put on deodorant. #WINNING #HappyBirthdayGreg

 

What to Do When the Needs Are ENDLESS

February 4, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

The needs of this world are endless, and I cannot meet every one of them, which I hate. I particularly hate it right now while I watch refugees suffer, and our LGBTQ neighbors suffer, and people of color suffer, and women suffer, and my children with disability suffer, and more, and more, and more. Nearly every day, I resent Magical Jesus for failing to issue me the Wand of Solving Everything or make me Benevolent Queen of the Universe with Awesome Cosmic Power, and then I remember that Magical Jesus isn’t real and didn’t come to issue wands, damn it.

Real Jesus and I are working on this tiny bitter attitude I have toward Magical Jesus.

Real Jesus makes more progress on some days than others.

Real Jesus, when I’m willing to listen, reminds me that he came as Love Incarnate and to show us how to love one another in turn. Which means we have to do the hard work of love. And I don’t mean to complain here — really, I don’t — but I feel like Real Jesus could have made this all just a LITTLE easier. (Psst…see: idea above about the magic wand, Jesus.)

It’s just … interesting … these days the way love looks. The way love takes shape. The way love, if we listen very, very hard, unmakes and remakes us, and unmakes and remakes our boundaries, too.

I’ve been in my pajamas for 7 days now. Sick kids + a sick me will do that to a girl. Plus I like my pajamas.

I’m tired right about now. In fact, I look like this this very minute:

No make-up. Wonky hair. Frankly, I feel good about this choice. I plan to change nothing about it in the foreseeable future.

But I have spent the week wondering, as I suspect all of us do, whether I’m doing enough to meet the needs of our hurting world.

Which is when I ran across a blog post by my friend Doreen called “the personal cost of living on high alert: wringing out the sponge that is my self.” Friends, I’m telling you right now, if you, like me, are living on high alert, and, well, also like me, you don’t plan to stop anytime soon, you kind of totally have to read this. I’m going to put the beginning right here, and then you need to click on the link to read the rest, because then she tells us about the sponge… and you need to read about the sponge. Like, if we’re going to live through the days to come, and if we’re going to love each other well, and if we’re going to spend our time defending the vulnerable and creating safe spaces, and if we’re going to be cleaning out our kids’ puke buckets while we do All the Things in our pajamas without a magic wand, we NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPONGE.

I have a million things to do. Writing deadlines, research to review, thank you cards to write, parties to plan, news to catch up on, causes to research, and, and, and. It’s all a lot and it’s all things I’ve promised myself I’ll do or things I’ve promised others I’ll do or things I feel as though the-world-and-everyone-in-it NEED me to do. Seriously, there are so many needs right now. Needs that pull at my mind and my heart. Needs to feel and to process and to know and to act. So, a bit ago, I closed my laptop, went into my kitchen and roasted a squash. I went in to get a glass of water but the squash was right there and slicing it brought me close to the earth. While it was cooking I lit my favorite candles and got out old calendars to cut and fashion into valentines. I tossed some nuts and spices and quinoa in with the soft flesh of the roasted gourd and taped and glue sticked and sharpied the most rag-tag valentines ever made. I feel a lot better now.

More than any other time that I can personally remember, we are all on high alert. With the world feeling topsy turvy and fear, anger, and grief all around and within us, we stoke the fire of our overwhelm by trying to make sure that we are informed and active. We put ourselves to sleep with the news and wake up with it. We scroll through endless Facebook posts, finding ourselves falling down rabbit holes of discontent and disagreement, even though we’ve promised ourselves we’ll stop. Out of a sense of powerlessness and insecurity we buttress our weary selves by clinging to the few things we feel that we can control or we become hyper vigilant, being sure that our call is to attend to whatever need we see.

Let me remind us: The need is not the call. The call is the call.

What I mean by this is that every one of us has a unique part we are made to play in this world. We are who we are by intention. I choose to believe that came to be by a Creator in whose image ALL OF US are made. Even with radically different how-we-came-to-be stories, however, I believe that we can universally hold to the idea that each of us has specific and special resources that we are to invest in this crazy thing called life where ever we happen to live it. The trouble is, when we are tired, scared, overwhelmed, under-informed, in denial, or rushingrushingrushing from one thing to the next, we have no way of being with our selves intimately enough to hear what our unique call is. We know what we wish we were good or skilled at. We know what seems most important based upon that which is in front of us (or that which we put in front of ourselves). We attend to our surroundings and the news and our friends/family/neighbors in hyper vigilant ways, trying to ascertain what we should be doing or thinking or feeling in order to make change in the world/be liked/get by. So we keep researching, doing, acting but we never really feel we’ve arrived on a meaningful or sustainable path.

When we feel like this, and there is no break on the foreseeable horizon, it is likely time to step away… [READ THE REST HERE]

Go read the rest.

Did you read the rest?

OK.

Here’s the thing: I’m not stopping now, nor am I stopping anytime soon, in doing the things I feel called to do. HELL, NO. But I needed Doreen’s reminders that a) I am NOT called to meet ALL the need by myself, b) I have a unique part I am made to play, so I’d best prepare to play that part very, very well and not get distracted by all the rest, and c) I can better play my part and answer my call when I take the time to step away… for an hour, for two, or for 20 minutes… to wring out my sponge.

Fiercely, lovingly, tirefully yours,

 

 

 

P.S. I’m going to go take a bath and read a trashy novel. The end.