Something New and Good: Asa

On July 20 our family grew by one! He beat his induction by a day, and has kept us on our toes for the last five days and rewarded us with no shortage of snuggles, and pro-level eating and sleeping. I haven’t had time to do much reflecting or meditating…but this is something I wrote in the last days preparing for his arrival. We picked the name Asa a long time ago, and in June and July I became more and more convinced that it was the right name for our boy. Here’s why:

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In the grace of the gospel there is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady. There is no spiritual disease, but there is power in Christ for the cure of it. – Matthew Henry commentary on Matt 10:1

Asa. It means “healer.” And if ever there were a time when we need healers, it is now. His name will be his charge: to go into the world and right wrongs. To hold hands with the oppressed, and to share whatever power he inherits.

He is our son, born into a world that feels like it is falling apart at the seams. A world that feels broken beyond repair. We did not know when we chose his name that he would be born during a local crime wave, in the wake of explosive racial conflict and the deadliest mass shooting in history. A time when America is so lost for leaders that it is pulling itself apart from the margins. 

We didn’t know that his birth would be a bright spot in a pretty dark time.

But we hope he will be more than a bright spot. We hope that he will be a continual, persistent, light that cannot be overcome. We hope that he will go beyond saying “this is wrong” and do something to fix it. We hope that he will be a healer.

Rev 21:4-5 ‘Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Lately we’ve seen the limits of our own pursuit of justice, how entrenched our generation is in broken systems. We are more free than those before us, but not free enough.

While we do our tiny part to pursue peace, perhaps the most productive thing we can do is to raise another generation into greater freedom, greater awareness, greater truth.

We are naming him in hope, as our flaming arrow into the darkness. We are committing him to the God of Peace, the Great Healer, in hopes that he will do great things.

Matthew 10: 7-8 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

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Something New and Good: A Son for Such a Time

Every parent of a daughter reads the headlines and cringes. Or cries out for justice. So much violence against women. So much inequity still, even in a world that claims to be past it. That’s just here in my own country. I sometimes can’t even think about the world as a whole.

Since I had my girl, I’ve been passionately praying for her to be brave and strong. I’ve been clothing her with dignity, so that she will stand on the necks of would-be abusers, and cherish the gifts of those who love her truly. So that she will know when to forgive the fumblings of an ordinary “dude,” and when to wash her hands of blood-sucking bastard.

But now…I am about to have a boy. I’m (hopefully soon) giving birth to the headlines that make me so angry. He will be born into privilege. He will be white, male, and the child of professional parents.

We, as parents of the privileged, have to fight against our children’s immature impulses to turn that privilege into entitlement. We cannot feed the beast that says athletes are somehow more deserving than lawn care workers. That their success is proof of their virtue. As much as I want my kids to take pride in their accomplishments, I want them to be even more grateful for generations of investors, workers, and taxpayers who made it possible for them to take the last tiny step across the finish line.

I do not want his teenage female peer to be the first person who tells him “no.” I do not want him to expect that the world will bend to his will.

So how do I treat this boy? This tiny body in whom rests all the potential for destruction?

He too is a child of God, entrusted with power and riches beyond what he has inherited from his parents. He too will need to be brave and strong. He will have to be bigger than his privilege. 

I want my son to be brave, not because he knows that society will not ultimately hold him accountable, but because he knows that God will hold him accountable. I want him to risk what he’s been given by us, in order to be faithful to the heart of God.

The heart of God is for the weak. The heart of God is for the hurting, abused, and oppressed. The heart of God is for his children. The heart of God is to bring Shalom, his Kingdom.

When lesser men (rapists, bullies, misogynists) see my boy, I want them to tremble. I want them to know that he will not tolerate evil, in fact he will stop at nothing to see it made right. When lesser men see my boy, I want them to feel a deep ache to be better, and I want him to be their voice of hope.

My husband is a radical and good man. He wears his own privilege with immense integrity, so I know my son will have a good example. My husband loves and honors me, and our daughter. He believes in justice, generosity, and living with a certain degree of discomfort if it means following Jesus.

The son of my husband has every reason to be a radical and good man.

The son of myself? What can I give him?

I want to give him my intensity, so that he will not sit passively and be silently grateful that he is on the right side of privilege. 

Ultimately, I know I don’t have the final say in who my children become. I would not have picked the full two-hour score of Cats: The Musical to listen to twice already today, and that’s not the last battle I’m going to lose. But I can beat a drum or two along the way.

If I have anything to do with it:

My daughter will be a warrior. She will breathe fire and swing a mace, and inequity will not survive her fury.

But it’s not enough to teach my son to love her and her kind. It’s not enough to teach him to control his impulses, and that “yes means yes.” That’s not far enough. I heard someone call for the return of “old fashioned gentlemen.” And I thought, “That’s too small for my son.” 

He has to join the fight. He cannot sip his genteel whiskey inside the club while the victims (finally) rage in the streets. He has to proactively promote the dignity of God’s girl children, God’s brown children, God’s gay children. I don’t want him to step aside and let a lady pass. I want him to take her by the hand and charge forward into the fray.

My son will be beside my daughter, with his sword and his arrows. He will scour the deepest jungles until every captive is free and take no prisoners in the slaying of institutions of injustice.

They will be peace-making missiles. No cheap peace of dropped charges and long-suffering wives. But the hard won peace of “all that is sad coming untrue.”

Their weapons will be truth and beauty. Their fire will be light and warmth. Whether they pursue it as their vocation or simply in their day-to-day interactions, they will push society toward Shalom. Whether they sit behind desks, or roam the edges of safety, they will be fearsome and yet gentle, and they will carry with them the heart of God.

If I have anything to do with it.

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Love is an Endurance Sport

Lewis and I started dating a month before my first marathon. We got engaged a month before my second marathon. We got married a month before I started training for my third (his first). By our first anniversary we were training for an ultra-marathon.

Endurance training is the back drop of my love story.

It’s not really surprising that on the back of a picture frame holding a cute photo of us I wrote, in a fit of dramatic resolution: “Love is not a game of desire. It is a game of endurance.”

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You can’t tell in this picture, but this is the day that Lewis carried a writhing, sobbing one-year-old UP the switchbacks of Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park. He never complained.

At some point in our dating relationship old wounds reared their heads and the giddy, moonstruck, giggles became intense conversations. My irrepressible excitement was replaced by a nagging sense that he was not giving me everything I had dreamed my love story would be.

The truth was this: He was living by a poorly calibrated internal compass and unable to see it was getting him nowhere. We were in an uncomfortable holding pattern waiting for some kind of magic to awaken in him.

I was on the brink of breaking up with him, because I was tired of waiting on his magical feelings to kick in and make me feel like the fairytale princess I’d waited so long to be.

But I remember the night I stubbornly looked at him and thought, “Damnit, I’m going to win this. I am going to outlast your issues with love.”

Because love isn’t for fairytale princesses. Love is for endurance athletes.

This all came up again as we were talking to some friends about the deficiencies that we all fear will keep us from ever being “enough” for someone’s lifetime love.

What if we can’t make them feel beautiful or desired?

What if we lose our own looks?

What if we can’t give them the emotional support they need in difficult times?

What if we turn out to be crappy parents?

We concluded, of course, that we are all going to ruin our partner’s fairytale at some point. But we might give them a great triathlon. 

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In that same Utah trip, I ran a half-marathon, and impressed Moira with my medal more than my speed…

My endurance sport is actually marathon running.

When you are falling in love, and considering commitment the question is not, “can you make each other’s lives perfect?” Instead it is, “do you want to imagine your life without them?”* If the answer is no, then you’ve found your marathon, and it’s time to commit, because you’ve already started running.

I’m not saying love is a bloodbath. I’m not saying it’s a war. Others will say that, but I don’t feel that way. Love is a marathon, and I like marathons.

It’s a rush of excitement and a groovy seven-mile high of “I WANT TO RUN MARATHONS FOREVER.”

Sometime after that comes the first hard mile. It can be rough terrain, a nagging old injury, and new blister, or just plain old fatigue, but once you’ve had your first hard mile, the rest of your miles will be an uneven mix of agony and ecstasy.

Mile 12 you may see a familiar face and get a burst of happy energy. Mile 16 you might hit a comfy stride and find yourself in zen mode.

And at mile 10 you might trip and fall and skin your knee. At mile 18 you might get a cramp you can’t shake.

This is the average marathon experience. For all but the luckiest and unluckiest, marathons are an “acquired taste” kind of pleasure and a “hurts so good” kind of pain. And so, for most of us, is the person we love. Except those first seven miles. Those are fabulous. That’s why, in life and in love, some people only run 10Ks.

(Time for the caveat: in marathoning and in love, it’s possible to drop out of the race for perfectly wise and legit reasons.)

Lewis showed me his marathon side this year when I showed him my own dream-shattering deficiency. I couldn’t keep living in the renovated home in the inner city “transitional” neighborhood he’d poured his heart and soul into for the last five years. I felt weak and tired and I needed a more stable place to practice motherhood. He was devastated.

It was a really tough mile with no steady stride and no easy breathing. But loving me is the marathon Lewis is running, so he did not cross his arms and demand that I continue to make his dreams come true. He did what he needed to do to love me, and showed me just how much of a marathon runner he really is.

*I can hear the professional Christians trying to think of a way to Jesus-up that paragraph. I’m preparing a much cheekier blog posts with my thoughts on this. For now, we leave it at this: it was the pastor who married us who told Lewis that “can you imagine your life without her?” was the main question. Lo and behold. Here we are. Married as hell.

Appendix: every marathon needs a playlist. This is my marriage marathon playlist (definitely not for literal marathons):

“Walken” – Wilco

“That’s What’s Up”- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

“Born”- Over the Rhine

“Hard to Concentrate” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Get it Right” – Amy Cook

“Dead Sea” – Lumineers

“Both of Us’ll Feel the Blast”- Waterdeep

“Two”- Ryan Adams

“You Are the Best Thing”- Ray LaMontaigne

“I Hate Everything (But You)”- Derek Webb

“Home” – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

“A Million Years” – Alexander

“I Hate It Here” – Wilco

“Trying My Best to Love You” – Jenny Lewis

“This Tornado Loves You”- Neko Case

“Lucky Ones” – Pat Green

“You’re the Ocean” – Teitur

“Shelter”- Ray LaMontaigne

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The Confidence of a Two-Year-Old, On Her Birthday

Moira’s second birthday started off like most special days in our house, with me overthinking things and stressing everyone out trying to maximize the “special” and minimize the disruption to her routine.

But after a 5 am wake up, and a long time falling back to sleep, we all slept until 7:30, and school starts at 8am.

My plan for donuts and bacon breakfast was foiled by the fact that she ate way too much candy on Easter yesterday, so I felt like she needed something healthy in her belly to take on her big birthday.

Basic meals with Moira take at least 30-45 minutes on a good day, and she was not too keen to cooperate today. We did manage to squeeze in some special things, just a little faster than I had envisioned. She only got to listen to half of her favorite song. Because it’s 8 minutes long, and we’d gotten dressed and brushed out teeth and it was still going…

As she and her dad drove off to school, me watching from the porch, I got a feeling that must plague every mom on her child’s special days: “I just want her to feel special today.”

Reality check: Moira is two, and she’s an only child with an enthusiastic support system. She feels special every day.

Moira - Geronimo Creek

She cheers for herself (and demands that we join in) every time she eats a bite of food she doesn’t like. (We have a Draconian policy that she try everything on the plate, so she’s found a way to motivate herself.)

She looks at herself and the mirror and says, “Oh, you look so beautiful.”

She sees signs for the zoo and says, “That giraffe is looking at Moira. He says, ‘Hi, Moira.’”

On the one hand, yes, I hope she develops some Jesus-like humility as she grows. Obviously. I want her to appreciate the Gospel, be socially tolerable, work hard, and survive setbacks.

On the other hand, her two-year-old confidence is exactly the kind of confidence I want her to have. She’s not waiting on me or anyone else to tell her “today you are special” or “today you look beautiful.” For Moira at age two, that confidence comes from a deep well of love and acceptance that’s been built up in little ordinary moments.

It comes from a Daddy who dances and sings with her, and teaches her to draw straight lines with a ruler.

It comes from a church family who swoops her up and snuggles her whenever she comes running.

It comes from grandparents who take great delight in figuring out what she’s “into” these days and letting her do it over and over and over, long past when ordinary people would have gotten tired of watching “Cats: The Musical” or reading Winnie-the-Pooh.

It comes from a caregiver who has given her the gift of two languages and a consistent routine.

It comes from aunts and uncles who let her play with the remote and the car steering wheel and jump on the bed.

And more and more, as we sing “Jesus Loves Me” every night, I know she’s going to find it in the most secure place of all.

The time will come to accept strengths and weaknesses, and to get a little smaller as the world gets bigger. One day we will talk about accomplishments worth celebrating vs. what’s expected of a responsible human. However, when she gets there, I want her to unshakably know who she is, and that she is loved. 

So really, on Moira’s second birthday, I want to thank all of the people who have filled her up with love, so that there’s not such enormous pressure on birthday breakfasts, parties, and presents. I’m reveling in the freedom that I can’t engineer a day happy enough to compete with the joy inside her, and I hope that nothing ever changes that.

I hope that all her accomplishments pale in comparison to her sense of worth.

I hope that all of her beauty is overshadowed by her freedom.

I hope that every person who loves her only reminds her of Who loves her the most.

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Something New and Good: The Surprising Freedom of Mama Bear

If I had one fear going into motherhood, it was that their hungry little mouths, and needy little souls would be the death knell of my freedom. In fact, when Moira was born, I went through a period of mourning for my afternoons of deep contemplation, for the concept of “browsing,” and the ability to lose track of time.

The beginning of a baby’s life is hard for the mom.

I felt like I had about 45 minutes between breastfeeding sessions in which to cram in all of my personal maintenance, and graciously thank all the well-wishers and meal-bringers. Life had never felt more scheduled, crammed full of nuts and bolts.

But looking back, I realized that something miraculous began in the midst of that.

I became freer.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

First, before this starts sounding like tales from the joyful martyr, let me say this: I’m writing this in a coffee shop, processing my thoughts, and sipping tea. My first baby’s season of hourly scheduled needs is over. A second baby’s is about to begin, but I don’t think I’ll need to mourn so much, because I realize how quickly it’s over. Continue reading

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Twig Book Challenge Wrap-Up and a New Adventure

Well, I did it. I forgot to post about it, but I did complete the book challenge.

My last two categories were “A book over 500 pages” and “A book over 100 years old.”

I used these categories as an opportunity to transition into my new adventure: starting this year, I am now a full time writer. Not the novel-writing kind of writer, but the “multiple commercial, journalistic, and creative projects at once” kind.

Quitting my steady paycheck to pursue a lifelong dream would have been a very bold Millennial generation kind of thing to do, if my job hadn’t been a dream job. I was paid to travel. Comfortably. More than comfortably. Luxuriously.

But, I have a calling. It’s become fairly clear. And that calling is to write.

Because Lewis and I are both firm believer that funding is an essential part of creative endeavors, I’m freelancing for my supper. In addition to bringing in pretty decent money, commercial projects give me daily writing exercise.

I’ve also taken on a more official role at The Rivard Report. Business cards and all. As their education writer, I’ll be sitting in on a lot of board meetings, yes, but also exploring what might be one of the great social justice issues of our generation: educational outcomes. So, in addition to stimulating conversation, it helps me sleep at night knowing that if the world ends before I publish a book, I haven’t wasted my time.

Which brings me to the big creative project that pushed me over the edge into full-time writerhood.

First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.

                                              First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.

For the next four months I’ll be following the trail of Frederick Law Olmsted’s journey across Texas, documenting the changing fates of the places he visited. Conveniently, his home base was San Antonio. So it will be a series of smaller journeys following his timeline, rather than one epic road trip.

(You can follow the trip on select social media sites: #olmstedintexas, and expect regular blog posts starting…soon)

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. In preparation I read the following books, among many others, as a point of transition:

  1. Over 500 pages: Rough Country: How Texas Became the Most Powerful Bible Belt State, by Robert Wuthnow- basically, if you want to understand why your friends from other states assume you like Ted Cruz, but don’t assume you like Julian Castro…this is the history for you. Why people assume more of Texas looks like Dallas (fundamentalist Bible belt and big business) than like San Antonio (Catholic Southwest and not-as-big-business).  Technically, the prose in the book ended at 480 pages. But they were dense pages and I read a lot of the reference material and footnotes, so I’m giving myself this one.
  2. Written over 100 years ago: Journey to Texas 1833 , by Detlef Dunt – Olmsted actually refers to this widely publicized account of a German immigrant to Texas while it was under Mexican rule. He basically says, “Who was paying this guy?” The author (Dunt is probably a pen name) gives a pretty encouraging account of what he found on arrival in Texas, which upon reading Olmsted and Wuthnow, I’m tempted to agree was something of an advertisement for others to follow his lead and come to Texas, which was then a very rough country.

 

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Plush nativities and communion…

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. But Christmas always brings out the blogger in me. Most likely because of a long and conflicted history with the holiday and my need to externally process.

This year, with a toddler, we have entered the vortex of American Christmas. “Do you guys ‘do Santa’?” (which is a creepy question). Grandparents are wanting to buy her presents, which leads to conversations about the kinds of toys we want to have in the house, and how much regulation is appropriate for us to exercise in that realm. She also has her own interests, which makes me more inclined to impulse buy all the Daniel Tiger merchandise, bison toys, and musical instruments I see around town. (Yes, bison. That’s her favorite animal.)

Continue reading

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Twig Book Challenge: Third Quarter

This year our local bookshop is conducting a reading challenge. Now that Moira goes to bed at 7:30pm, I thought, well, why not! Reading is quiet, portable, and doesn’t require me to get into a “mode” the way that writing does. As January revealed, I like a structured challenge, and I have been enjoying the Twig’s reading challenge since January 2. I’ll be reporting on my progress periodically. This quarter’s reads have reviews in this post, previous quarters’ reviews are on the previous Twig posts.

AND I still need a 500 word page turner to close her out! (if you’ve already recommended, please remind me, as social media tends to bury these things) Continue reading

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Something New and Good: An Intense Mom’s Gospel

The last 16.5 months of my life have been amazing. As Moira grows, I grow as her mother.

Some of that growth is fun. She learns new words. My heart melts when she says, “books!” first thing in the morning. She loves to swim. I love to swim with her.

Some of that growth is not fun. She gets new teeth. I learn that going to dinner with her at 8:30pm is a terrible idea, even on vacation. She learns to wait. I learn not to fear meltdowns in public (because, like many other animal instincts, fearing only makes them more aggressive, while not fearing seems to pacify them).

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Somehow, Lewis and I thought that things with a baby would either be happy-sunshine-fun (him) or miserable-scary-impossible (me). For the past 16.5 months so many of our date nights have ended in the same conversation.

“I don’t understand this…intensity that I feel,” I say.

“I just wish you could relax and not let things bother you,” he says.

Then I freak out that I’m freaking out. Obsess on not obsessing. Get intense about not wanting to be an intense mom. Continue reading

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Another blogger writes about racism and where it begins

So every blogger on in America is telling us how to respond to the shootings in Charleston. Everyone is trying to say the one profound thing that’s going to send an arrow straight to the heart of racism and explode it.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because, like many have said, we need to talk about it. We, the white folks (who seem to all have blogs), need to talk about it. We also need to listen to our black, brown, and everything else friends. To fall back on my grad school vocabulary: it’s time for everyone to interrogate whiteness.

So this blog post does not contain the one nugget that’s going to change racism. Continue reading

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