Thursday, September 29, 2011


 [warning: explicit language.  don't feel like holding back today.]

I'm angry today.

Last Sunday, I called my mother, to whom I had not spoken for 3 months (I had decided I wasn't going to call her until she called me, knowing full well that she never calls me because she feels guilty when she does).  We talked for two hours, about Greg and the kids, our little life up here in Nebraska, about her cats and dogs, my brother, and the problems with their (squallid, delapidated) rental house.

It felt amazing, a tightness easing in my chest and pure, beautiful, clean air pouring into my lungs.  And I hadn't even realized I was suffocating.

Then she called me yesterday, to update me on the steps she'd taken to get the problems with the house fixed (a massive undertaking for someone with my mother's mental and emotional problems).  We talked for over an hour, again.  She told me that my brother's father had called earlier in the day to let my brother know he was out of prison.  It was their first contact in seven years.


As Mom and I talked, that post-prison call took our conversation back.  Way back, to the days that are just blurry images in my memory.  Days when she was a young twenty-something, battling addiction and poverty and terrible abuse.  Days when she was struggling to protect herself and me (and later my brother) from the forces of violence and lawlessness and truly evil shit that threatened us.


As we talked, she told me a story about a few months when we lived with X, whose face I don't remember at all.  I remember a time spent out on a farm, where there were horses to pet and streams to play in and lovely woods to explore.  She remembers it as a time when we were basically held hostage by X, a grave but generous drug dealer who had promised to get us away from her abusive, strung-out boyfriend and take us home, but who ended up keeping us stranded in his farmhouse for months while gun buyers and drug addicts came in and out at all hours.

I hadn't heard my mother reflect on that time in this way before, but her words, soaked in disbelief and regret, keep replaying in my mind: "We had been doing so well, living in Higginsville.  You were in school and I had a job, and things were fine.  And then [the old boyfriend] started calling, 'Come on down.  I'm making good money.  We'll be a family.'  And I did, I left everything, all our stuff, thinking we'd come back for it, and went, and he was shooting drugs and running around with crazy people carrying automatic weapons...  I went with X because he promised to take us home, and it was worse out there!  Then [the boyfriend] destroyed my car, and we were really stuck.  I should have known. "

Angry, angry, angry

It makes me want to puke, to think of that impossible situation and how she must have felt, trying to protect me, trying to pull herself out of it and finding nothing to hang on to, no hand to help her up.  X was killed in that house the day after we left it. 

It's just so... fucked up.  I can't even process it.  That's where I came from.  What the hell am I supposed to do with that?  Thank God that we made it out, that I'm happy and healthy and safe?  I do.  I really do.  But I can't help but feel like, in order for me to be here, she had to leave a part of herself back there.  And she isn't okay.  And that's just so wrong. 

I'm not out of thoughts, but I'm all out of words.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Remembering "Sweet" Sixteen...

This post is part of a community effort called What We're Worth, which is very much worth your time to check out.

My birthday was this past Wednesday (leave it to me to be late with my own birthday post).  As I watched it getting closer and closer, I found myself thinking a lot about other birthdays I can remember, some great, some awful.  Here is one that is particularly memorable, from 15 years ago.

September 21, 1996: I started the day drinking Old Crow whiskey and getting majorly high with my mom's boyfriend's wife (no, seriously, let that sink in for a sec).  Mom and the boyfriend were fighting; I came home around 10 am to find them gone (to the hospital, I later found out, for stitches in the hand that he'd used to break a light fixture in our trailer, presumably during some good, old fashioned yelling-and-screaming; there was a lot of that in those days).

I don't remember the main part of the day.  A week earlier, I had wrecked the old '69 Kaiser Jeep I'd been driving, and I had a broken collar bone, a broken finger, and some pretty serious gashes.  I believe that the boyfriend and I got high again when he got home, because we always did, at least 3 times a day.  All the THC combined with the pain pills and it's no wonder I don't remember much.

I do remember that I ended the day crying in the driveway after a 3-hour conversation in which my mother said she wanted me out of the house and openly contemplated suicide.  I'm not blaming her or scapegoating here; she was in a dark, terrible place, from which she has never really recovered.  She disappeared soon after that, tossing my teddy bear I'd tried to send with her out the window and peeling out of the driveway, throwing gravel back at me.  I didn't see her for weeks.  I thought she was done with me, that she didn't want me anymore.

That was probably my worst birthday.  I felt rejected and alone.  Worthless.  Hopeless.  I had no idea of the awful chain of events set into motion that day (Mom's disappearance and return, my dropping out of school, and a winter spent in a downward spiral of meth, paranoia, and ever-escalating violence), nor did I suspect the miraculous turnaround my life would take just 5 months later... I have written about that before on this blog.   

It's true that I have experienced a lot of darkness in my life.  But it's also true that God, in his mercy, has contradicted every person, every event, every moment that told me I was worthless.  In his eyes, broken and bumbling as I am, I am lovely and loved.  As are we all.  And that is certainly good news.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saying yes...

When the director of our church's annual singing Christmas Tree production asked me to join the choir this year, it was worth saying yes just to see her expression change from hopelessness to pure joy (not that I am a fantastic singer, but I can match pitch and she needed some altos.)

But then at Sunday's practice, as we practiced an arrangement of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," while my mouth was busy finding notes and making harmonies, my heart was saying, "I'm just not ready for this."

I'm not ready to sing about "joyful, all ye nations rise," because I'm too worried about our dysfunctional nation, and the other nations in the world that seem ready to implode or explode or bomb their neighbors or their own dissenting citizens...

I'm not ready to sing about "light and life to all he brings, ris'n with healing in his wings," because my mind has been full of situations, in my life and in the lives of my friends, that seem to have no help.

At the end of practice, we spent a little time on this beautiful song called, "We Who Were Walking in Darkness," and as we sang those words again and again, I found myself there.  As beautiful as my life is, when I let my worries overwhelm me, I go back to walking around in the dark.

I've spent enough of my life in darkness.  I crave the light of Christ, and so I guess I'm gonna have to make some room for Him.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Today... Life on 9/11/2011

Yesterday's lectionary texts all centered around the idea of forgiveness.

On the 10th anniversary of the darkest day America has seen in my lifetime.

For weeks I had been dreading the 10th anniversary.  More specifically, I had been dreading the wall-to-wall media coverage of it.

"We will never forget" has been the refrain, almost from the very moment it happened, it seems.  And I have always fled from that refrain, felt uncomfortable about it, and indeed, dreaded seeing it and hearing it over and over and over during the run-up to the 10-year mark of the tragedy.

It wasn't until Greg and I sat discussing the lectionary passage from Matthew yesterday morning that I finally understood my discomfort.

I believe that, most of the time, "We will never forget" really means "We will never forgive."  And Americans who don't claim to follow Christ are free to make good on that promise.  But as Christians, we are commanded, over and over again, to forgive.  Many times, our own forgiveness from God is linked with our forgiveness of others.

We will never forget that day.  Of course; we can't.  Trauma has a way of burning itself into our memories, into our very psyches.  We couldn't forget if we wanted to.  But we must forgive, as Christ commands.  And the constant refrain of "never forget" doesn't seem like an attempt at forgiveness to me.

Much like the Christians who crowed with victory at the news of bin Laden's murder.

Much like the Christians who gave the death penalty a standing ovation at a Rick Perry speech earlier this month.

Much like the way I can't forgive my mother.  My father.  My step-father.  Myself.

That's the tricky thing about forgiveness, you see.  We can forgive, but we can't forget.  So every time we remember, we have to forgive again, and again, and again until it becomes a part of us.

It's a long road.  May the Savior who forgives us walk it with us, again and again.

My Husband is not an idiot...

Sometimes, I think I might lose my mind if he doesn't put his butter knife in the sink instead of leaving it on the counter, and it's lost on me how he fails to understand that the knives in the knife block have assigned seating.

But he's not an idiot, an incompetent moron, or a knuckle-dragging ape like the men portrayed in today's sitcoms, commercials and other media.

Now, I am as much a feminist as the next gal.  I believe in equality.  I support women leading in ministry, and I'd have no problem voting for a female president (provided that the candidate wasn't batshit crazy).  But I can't get down with all the man-bashing that is going on on TV.

I'm not of the generation of women who say, "I don't need a man!  I can change my own oil!"  I'm more along the lines of, "I don't need you to change my oil, honey, but I'd like  you to, because I wanna check my Facebook and then go take a nap."

So there's that.

But every time I hear some guy threaten to take away some other guy's "man card," I get pretty annoyed.

And every time I see a guy say he doesn't watch a certain show, listen to a certain band, or like a certain activity because he's a dude or it isn't "manly," it really pisses me off.

Do you know what I think is manly?
  • My husband, diaper bag strapped across his back, pushing the baby in the stroller
  • My husband, honoring Creation by learning to grow the gorgeous flowers in our yard
  • My husband, spending all day every Friday cleaning the house and caring for the kids while I work
Greg is man enough to own what he enjoys (whether it be Coldplay's music, watching So You Think You Can Dance, or learning to garden) instead of lining up with the "manly" status quo.

And I totally dig that about him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years On... Remembering 9/11/2001

Ten years ago this morning, I was a junior in college on my way to my 9:00 class.  As I walked through the girls' dorm lobby at about 8:45, I saw a bunch of girls grouped around the tv, and I sat down to watch, too.  Ten minutes later, the South Tower collapsed.

I don't remember who the other girls were.  I knew them, no doubt, because our campus was small and we all knew each other.  But I can't remember their faces, can't recall a single word that was exchanged as we sat there, bewildered and afraid and completely shocked, watching people jump out of windows from 80 floors up and seeing the buildings that defined the New York skyline for us falling to rubble.

I know that, at some point, I went to class.  It must have been my 11:00 class, Modern American Poetry with Mr. Gibbens.  We watched the news for a while and then we went to lunch.  I remember wanting very much to see my boyfriend, wanting to be held and comforted.  He kept me at arm's length.  I knew in that moment that our relationship was over, that my life wasn't going to look anything like I had thought it would: The world was changing before our eyes, and I wouldn't be facing it side-by-side with him.

But this day, this horrible, unimaginable day, was another of Pastor Tom's hinge moments: the world changed, and my life changed.  For a couple weeks, everyone filled up their gas tanks constantly and worried about the next attack.  My brothers and many of their friends talked about enlisting.  Embracing the inevitable, I broke up with my boyfriend and went about learning how to live under this new shadow.  My parents drove down and took me to dinner for my birthday.  We had to go on.

Over the next weeks, we all exhaled a little.  The networks relaxed their constant coverage of Ground Zero.  We wrote papers, took midterms.  By Thanksgiving, I'd met Greg.  By Christmas, I wanted to marry him.  By New Year's Day, I knew that I would.

Terror attack or not, life had to keep moving.  We have to keep moving.  And so we do, sometimes with light feet and joy in our hearts, sometimes stooped and stumbling in darkness and pain.  But always knowing that someday, all will be redeemed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sometimes, the dam just breaks...

This morning, I took the kids to Grandma Ardys's house and turned down a subbing position so that I could have some much-needed me-time.

My plan was to listen to some great music and work on some sewing projects I've been wanting to get to.  My time started out rather well, except that, every now and then, I had to fight back the tears that sprang into my eyes and stop singing along so the lump in my throat could pass.

I took a break from sewing to check the next step in the online tutorial I was following, but instead, I read this heart-wrenching piece from Sarah over at Emerging Mummy, then I sat at my dining room table and sobbed.

As I sat in my chair, face in my hands, weeping from my depths and pleading Jesus, please, just please help, at first I could only see the images Sarah mentioned: the lost little boy, the hungry babies, the desperate mothers.... Those are images I see a lot, when I fall into seeing the dark things of the world, quickly followed by my own children's faces bent under suffering, hurting with pains I am helpless to relieve.

Then I thought of the boy in my class who lost control yesterday and lashed out at everyone because some other boys kept calling him a faggot and a homo, and about how, when I tried to talk to the boy about it, his tone was defiant but he couldn't even look at me as we talked.

Then I thought about my mother, and what a fun mom she was when I was little, and how beautiful she was, and how she worked so hard to keep wherever we lived in the best possible condition, and how she did her best to teach me how to be a decent person.  Now, after so many years of being beat down by life, she is just a shell of that person, one who has given up and decided to let the mental illness and despair have their way.  And I miss my mom, and I grieve that her grandchildren will never know her as I knew her.

And my brother, too, lives a hard life, chock full of injustice and rejection and pain.

And in my adopted family, my brother and sister-in-law buried their baby daughter just over a year ago.

And our country's government is broken, broken, broken, and our leaders are showing no discernible signs of getting their shit together enough to fix anything.

And sometimes, I just have to close my eyes against all this stuff that weighs on me, but today I guess it just couldn't stay hidden anymore.

Thank God for that 10 minutes of horrible, undignified sobbing (and a text message full of love from a dear friend).  I can't help but feel that Jesus heard everything my soul needed to say.  Now I can breathe again, and I can remember His presence here with me and with us all, and I can remember that He is enough.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Early September 2011
Yesterday, I got my kids dressed and ready, and since Greg had come home to grab something for the office, we all walked across the parking lot to church together.  Later in the afternoon, we all went to do a little shopping, then I made homemade chicken noodle soup (with carrots that I picked from our garden) and buttermilk biscuits, and while Greg was off leading the youth group, Sophie and I dyed cake batter and made little mini rainbow cakes.

To an outside observer, that little snapshot might seem like a sappy-sweet slice of a life devoid of deep darkness.  This blog, now that I look at it from an outsider's perspective, could look like that, too, with all its talk about sweetness and babies and sleep training and pictures of pretty things.  So here's another, quite different, snapshot.

Early September 1996
During this week 15 years ago, when I was 15 years old, my summer came to an end when my mother and her boyfriend came to fetch me from the house where I was living with my friends: Hesper, a teen mom and recent convert to mainlining rather than snorting her meth; her friend Kenny, who was in his late 30s, had recently been released from prison, and who I had watched shoot Hesper up with meth three months before; and my boyfriend, Bill, who was twice my age.

The four of us had spent the summer in a little 2-bedroom house Kenny rented in Rolla, Missouri.  Kenny repaired electronics up and down I-44 to finance our rent and drug habits.  Hesper found a job at Burger King.  Oddly enough, I don't remember what Bill did; I don't think he did anything "on the books."  I spent my days cleaning the house and caring for River, Hesper's infant son.


I have no idea what possessed my mother to show up and collect me that day. It was one of those "hinge moments" that my pastor preached about last month, when we talked about Jesus' strange exchange with the Canaanite woman.  I can't remember talking to Mom all summer long; I vaguely remember her boyfriend saying things about needing to be near my mom and needing to be in school.  I took it to mean that she missed me and wanted me with her (but that move, ironically, signaled the advent of the very darkest days of my life). 

And I'm not sure what to do with it.  I don't have a nice little package to wrap this up in.  It just is, and sometimes these memories just build up until I write them out of my head, and this moment has been on my mind this week.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Calling It a Win

The Wee Little Joel Baby is rising, pretty predictably, at 6:30 a.m. these days.

After all my bitching and hysteria, it seems like getting up and going down at the same times every morning and night, combined with having cut the nursing down to just once a day, after bath/before bed, have lined him out a bit.  (I thought my boobs might explode on Monday, but my body adjusted way faster than expected... or possibly I just sabotaged my milk altogether and will shortly run out completely.  Whatever; I don't really care, because we're all getting a lot more sleep at night now.)  He does consistently have a freak-out around midnight or one that usually sends us into the living room so he can wiggle around on the floor, sans-crib slats to bash his head into, but I don't mind sleeping on the couch, because I'm actually getting to sleep.

I'd forgotten how nice sleep feels.

And I love getting up early.  Not early-early, but between 6:00 and 6:30 is nice, because on work days, I have time to get ready comfortably, and on off days, I can just chill (and drink a pot of coffee in the dim quiet).  Right now, Greg and Sophie are still sacked out in our bedroom, and Joel and I have had a lovely, quiet morning of surfing the Internet and eating random bits of stuff off the floor (guess who was doing which).

I worked a lot this week (every day, actually), so it's nice to have no particular place to go this morning.  Also, it's gonna be nice to make and eat this amazing-looking blueberry cake for breakfast. 

I should go do that.