Rogue Homilies by Deidre Price

a study of life that smacks of the divine

Category: Theology (page 1 of 2)

Rogue Homilies – Fall 2016 Issue Is Here!

 

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Oh, family. You’ve waited and loved well, and I’m happier than anyone to announce that the first issue of Rogue Homilies is here. Thank you for sharing your stories and your lives in these pages. You’re a generous people.

I’ll be blogging the story of how this magazine came to be in the coming week and hope that you’ll return for that piece, as it shares a story of stories, really, and preaches the goodness of community–even a community of veritable strangers that come together even just on the page, or just online, and maybe just for a little while.

I have few words left except to say that I’m so grateful for the experience of building this magazine. I hope that you’ll honor each author and artist by moving slowly through its pages. There hasn’t been a time I’ve sat down to edit or design and haven’t teared up. It’s been an humbling process to have my hands on others’ writing in this way, and each time I return to this project, it moves me in incredible ways. I hope it moves you, too.

xo,

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HOW TO DOWNLOAD THE ISSUE

To download the issue, click here: Rogue Homilies – Fall 2016 Issue.

 

HOW TO LISTEN TO FEATURED ARTIST GILEAH TAYLOR’S SONGS

 

“The Emergency” by Gileah Taylor from Songs I Have Sung

 

“Cheap Paper Phone” by Gileah Taylor from What Kind of Fool 

 

“Going Home” by Gileah Taylor from Songs for Late at Night, Vol. 2

 

 

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Toddler Jesus and Other Missing Pieces: An Advent Homily

I know motherhood. It begs me to wake at dawn and shoves me toward sleep at bedtime but keeps me up some nights, too.

It negotiates the vegetables onto melamine plates and scares the children out of the street.

My motherhood shows when I count to three, and you know I mean it.  I’m not going to tell you again.

I’m the one who hid the ice cream when I noticed Atticus was getting strong enough to open the freezer by himself, the one who relocated the plastic cups to the bottom shelf the day he decided to start getting ice on his own.

Independent mister.

Independent mister.

I’m a master detangler, the Skinned Knee Whisperer. I can find the second shoe, and I memorized the baby Tylenol dosages years ago. I know what Disney FastPlay really means and know that selecting it is a rookie mistake.

I know motherhood well enough not to talk smack about other good-enough mothers.

Because motherhood and I are so very tight these days, I can say with confidence that our Christmas Carols rival political conspiracy theories. Seriously. That “stable” is basically the Area 51 of the Gospels.

As a mother of human babies, I wager to say that writers have whitewashed Jesus’s infancy.  Just say no to “Silent Night.” Sleep in heavenly—nope! There’s no Similac in Bethlehem. I don’t recall a single passage where Mary is dousing her tired things in cocoa butter while Joseph is wearing out his sandal leather trying to get Christ to sleep for the fifth time in two hours.

It’s just not there. I have so looked.

You know the songs I’m talking about and how close they are to recreating the soap opera babies that pop out in delivery scenes, all bathed and four-years-old. You’ve seen the Little People plastic nativity smile.

False advertising.

False advertising.

“Away in a Manger” prompts us to sing, “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” but unless Mary roofied him with ancient Benadryl, I’ll say that’s about as accurate as Ricky Bobby’s creative account:

Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger, just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors.

It tickles me to think of the wise men coming a couple years later when the infant we see in nativity scenes is just getting to his two-year-old prime. Can you imagine? I mean, I just know how my kids pull out all the stops when we have company over. Son of God or not, Jesus threw a fit or two for Goldfish crackers.

You know he did.

Because we turned on the wrong Shrek.

Because we turned on the wrong Shrek.

Because the last waffle fry was broken. (She did it.)

Because the last waffle fry was broken. (She did it.)

Because I was singing.

Because I was singing.

Because I was trying to make her a construction paper hat like she asked me to in the wrong color. (She asked for yellow, and you can plainly see this isn't a yellow piece of paper. I never listen.)

Because I was trying to make her a construction paper hat like she asked me to in the wrong color. (She asked for yellow, and you can plainly see this isn’t a yellow piece of paper. I never listen.)

Part of her costume was still on for Trick-or-Treating. (Note: This was a makeshift backup costume after she vehemently rejected the Sofia the First dress I'd purchased from Target, complete with shoes and amulet.)

Part of her costume was still on for Trick-or-Treating. (Note: This was a makeshift backup costume after she vehemently rejected the Sofia the First dress I’d purchased from Target, complete with shoes and amulet.)

Ennui.

So, when candlelight services get all “radiant beams from thy holy face,” that smacks of grandparent-speak and a land of sugared oranges and all-you-can-eat Blue Bell Ice Cream.

No grown man flips a table in a temple without a couple practice rounds in his early years.

Which means you know Mary had her sweet-Mother-of-God moments, too, or what I like to call leaving the house or 4:30.

Also, Tuesdays. 

We’re human. We fray. This is our proof of life. 

It’s well known from my social media posts that I am least Christian on the way to church in the morning. When our children arrive, one in an iffy John Green t-shirt, another in rain boots, and the hanger-on with an insisted-upon tie worn backwards to simulate a tiny cape, and all three covered in donut dust, we still get high fives from the Guest Services team, and these saints just smile, helping us count heads to make sure everyone made it in from the parking lot. We’re seldom late, but they all run like the McAllisters in an airport trying to board a French plane.

Mother Mary, likely showered and on her way to Target.

Mother Mary, likely showered and on her way to Target.

Mother Mary had Tuesdays and 4:30’s, I bet. 

See, aside from a raging case of love for one another, toddlers and mothers have one more thing in common: We melt down.

It’s the I give up, but I won’t, so I’ll just stand here and cry in the kitchen until you stop acting like a lunatic and I stop feeling like a failure.

It’s the I’ve had enough, but I’m staying anyway because we’ll both be worse off without each other than with, and we’re the best thing each other’s got.

It’s the I just can’t even, which translates, I’m sure, in every language and spans every century that’s ever been.

It’s the worn edges, the lines that finish out our faces, those scars that mark where love has been.

And, hand to the heavens, it’s this very fray, the wear and the unravel, that’s proof we’re all doing it right. 

 

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You, then Me: An Advent Homily for San Bernardino

[December 2]

I wake to small voices behind a nursery door each morning. Two-year-old Evangeline calls out first, sweeps the long bangs from her face, and pulls her blue and white polka dot blanket over both shoulders, its train following behind her; she is regal. She swoops up an oversized stuffed wolf into one arm, tries to wake a stubborn sleeping brother and begins the knocking as she takes turns trying out all our names.

Stubborn, sleeping brother.

Stubborn, sleeping brother.

In San Bernardino this morning at a state facility for the developmentally disabled, a holiday party begins. Armed and armored shooters burst into the room, saying nothing. They fire indiscriminately into the crowd. The news gives numbers like fourteen dead, seventeen wounded, deadliest massacre since Sandy Hook, between one and three responsible. Two suspects dead. One man. One woman.

But I’m seeing children like my children in these photos, their hands held by bigger people. But in these photos the adults themselves have their hands up, too, spoiling the illusion that there’s any safety to be had.

Ten years into being an only child, our oldest walked in on us as we changed the diaper on her new baby brother. Not used to noise in the middle of the night, she entered the nursery fist to her chest, my sharpest paper-cutting scissors pointing out in preparation for self-defense. She’d come to save him, suspecting an intruder had come and the worst was about to happen.

My husband asked her, “What exactly were you going to do with those if it had been an intruder?”

Her answer was “Whatever I needed to.”

Since the birth of our even-newer newest edition, she has since switched to knitting needles as her weapon of choice for imaginary home invasions, but her heart’s still the same: you, then me.

An officer leading survivors out of the Inland Regional Center where the shooting occurred, reassured them, “I’ll take a bullet before you do, that’s for damn sure. Just be cool, OK?”

I thought of my oldest, our family shepherd and resident badass. We’d be safe with her—or at least feel safe, which is sometimes even more important.

Daina, the spare mama bear.

Daina, the spare mama bear.

San Bernardinos are happening every day now, aren’t they? They’re as scattered as the bullets that fall, but they’re here and here to stay it seems. My students, thinking nothing of opening or closing doors, do not know I stop to look each time, to keep tabs on who’s in and who’s out. I’ve run the scenario too many times, the clamoring and chaotic stampede to the door, the drop to the floor to seek safety in a room that’s made of half windows and filled with rolling chairs no good for a barricade. After every click of the latch and spent breath, I think of my husband’s question, “What exactly were you going to do with those if it had been an intruder?” and hear where my daughter gets it from when I respond, “Whatever I needed to.”

This is what we’re called to: you, then me.

My ordinary, selfish self doesn’t budge too easily, but in those crisis moments when the brake hits the floor, my mothering arm extends, airbag-fast to hold life steady—everyone else’s but my own. This has nothing to do with being brave. And we hear this all the time. Good Samaritans risk themselves to save other people, and journalists call them brave and ask them why they didn’t hesitate to risk their own lives to spare another’s, and the response is nearly universal. I didn’t think; I just did it. I just did whatever I needed to do.

They never accept the word ‘brave’ because it’s not a bravery situation. It’s instinct that’s derived from necessity.

This idea of instinct derived from necessity becomes ever more beautiful and apparent to me during the holiday season when my mind is drawn to Mary and her waiting and Jesus and his coming.

Let me say that neither were ‘brave.’ Brave undermines the profundity of the sacrifice both made—a life devoted to the calling of ‘you, then me.’

At advent our focus tends to be on Mary’s ill-timed pregnancy and barn/cave birth, but as mothers know, those memories are but a flash compared to the life lived. Again, ‘you, then me.’

When I think of Mary, instead, I think of her son’s death she witnessed up close and how helpless she must have felt, surely wanting to hold his hand but being able only to hold her own up to God in the meantime because this is what we do when we do not have the words, this is what we do—to try to be held—when there is nothing left to hold on to.

I pray sometimes with my hands up, shaking them as though, like Evangeline, I’m trying to wake my own stubborn sleeping brother.

I begin the knocking as I take turns trying out all his names.

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In Praise of Keeping Time: A Homily

I have little interest in being cryogenically frozen upon my death, but I’d be lying if I said I weren’t sympathetic to the Larry Kings of the world who might one day push pause on their very bodies, to suspend themselves in time while everything else must keep on moving and ticking.

If I should be frozen for a day, I’d give up Christmas Day.

I’ve always preferred presents wrapped to presents unwrapped—the waiting to the reality. The 72 hours of Christmas Eve, Day, and the day after were absolutely the most disappointing days of the year during my childhood. My last-minute mother would spend much of Christmas Eve still in stores, practically pushed out of them when they closed, and would spend hours after the candlelight service holed away in her bedroom wrapping presents while the rest of us waited in the living room for Christmas to happen. On Christmas morning, my brother and I would awake to a sea of unwrapped Santa things, dump the stockings filled with oranges, walnuts, and Kisses onto the floor, and sort the loot until my parents would whisk us off to Alabama to go from grandparents to grandparents. We’d arrive home late and wake up the next morning to the sound of my father’s annual vacuuming, the tree already stripped and lying on the curb for trash pickup. He loved ordinary days better, too.

There’s more.

My father, wrecked with cancer, didn’t want to die on Christmas morning, but we’re worlds within worlds, aren’t we? We don’t get to decide it all. Some things just happen. Some things just are. And so he died on Christmas morning, and I said goodbye to him with the sound of Ralphie still pining for a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun coming from the TV ever-on in the background.

The moving and ticking continues despite our absence. It’s a comfort to know this will happen one day when we ourselves stop moving and ticking, but it’s a curse to have to carry on like nothing when others do. But rest assured, traffic and rain and radio and breakfasts will find their way into the big world no matter the weather in your own smaller one. They are part of the system, that comfort and curse.

Cappuccino, donut, eggs, and cheese grits for Atticus because these Legos aren't going to build themselves.

Cappuccino, donut, eggs, and cheese grits for Atticus because these Legos aren’t going to build themselves.

I take comfort in self-imposed bustle, but the bustle of the holidays overwhelms me. They fall into the category of the days that just happen, the days that just are. The expectations are just too much for me. I want to wake next to my husband and breathe in my children and think/read/write and drink a dirty chai if I’m feeling frisky. That’s my short and skinny.

Tacky sweater, dirty elephant, white Santa whateverness is just no. And anything involving those mischievous elven spies is just not happening. What surely started as an action figure with book is now the emotional equivalent of adopting a puppy.

Anyone who willingly raises the bar that high had better make it an open one.

Evangeline, a.k.a baby girl who watches me like a creep if I try to sleep until a reasonable hour.

Evangeline, a.k.a baby girl who watches me like a creep if I try to sleep until a reasonable hour.

Listen to me, all bitter and whatnot. I would love to love the holidays. I would. Christ-loving people especially are supposed to love Christmas. It’s his freaking birthday.

(I do know he was a spring baby. I’ve read books.)

What frustrates me the most is how puffed up and plastic some of us make this season when Christ is my jam precisely because he was so ordinary: a Middle-Eastern kid born to a scared teen mom in a place that was not their home.

I feel out of place most days, too. Sometimes while driving in the car, I’ll realize I have three children in it and that, by some fortunate twist of the universe, I am their mother—and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and fear of inadequacy all at once.

A good day.

A good day.

I should not be their mother. They deserve endlessly more than I can offer. I cannot be enough.

Me, mothering.

Me, mothering.

I wonder whether Mary thought these things sometimes:

I should not be his mother.

He deserves endlessly more than I can offer.

I cannot be enough.

It’s universal, isn’t it: the wonder in the waiting? Again, we are worlds within worlds. We don’t get to decide it all. Some things just happen. Some things just are.

And so we wait.

Emmanuel, God with us, sums up my hope for the advent season this year—that I notice the bits of the divine around me despite the hectic sparkle of the season and that I find the sacred—because it’s here already, in the middle of our moving and ticking, in the middle of our keeping time.

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Me and the divine.

Me and the divine.

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Anyway Love: A Rogue Homily for Sarah Bessey [A Synchroblog]

When Out of Sorts author Sarah Bessey posed the question, “What did you used to think but don’t think anymore?” I realized I could’ve answered in bullet points leading active verbs, could’ve made a full-on documentary complete with singing cartoon interludes, and could’ve packed crates full of flyers dropped from 10,000 feet and scattered into countries at a time.

Could’ve.

Didn’t’ve.

People are tied up in my opinions, and opinions are tied up in my people. They’re tethered to one another as I am tethered to each, and so when my opinions get far from my people or my people get far from my opinions, I feel pulled a little taut.

My divided mind, completely unassisted, pulls itself taut sometimes, too. If I were a superhero, my origin story would lead you to label me mutant. My flashbacks would cut from bottles of anointing oil and prayer cloths to pipe organs bathed in stained-glass-tinted sunlight. I studied John Wesley and Oswald Chambers with Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson preaching at me in the background.

I might’ve attended a Carman concert. I also might’ve attended Hell’s Fury, a “here’s hell” house at a local church. Both left marks where love could’ve been.

By the end of high school, I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I’ve changed not at all in this regard.

Erasmus - books

I chased my childhood with a philosophy degree I picked up alongside my English one—and fell in love, too, with all those questions. I cannot resist a good mess.

After all, I know my own. A story I tell sometimes is about the elderly man in the OB/GYN’s office who looked at me, nineteen and nine months in, and said, “Poor baby.” I published a poem years ago called “Under Construction” about how I wore those words like skin after I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant my baby or me.

Other, worse words would follow. Casseroles were delivered with advice about what to do next since God clearly “didn’t have a plan for this child.”

Disenfranchised, weak, and wounded at the time, I had no words.

I have them now.

We are called to love. Period.

It’s so incredibly simple, it’s a marvel we get it wrong so often. Although, I get it, the stakes are high. If that’s our only calling though, we had better get it right.

The trouble is I keep hearing that we are called to love one another as Christ loved the Church—which is to say we should love…

anyway,

despite our superficial good intentions,

even though we have our own loud blueprints for peace,

with our tongues lodged in cheeks,

with our inadequate words and our vapid thoughts and our cheap acts

 even though some of us are savages, gray in the heart, worn down to the bones,

and despite the fact that we’re absolutely clueless about how to love him back.

This ‘anyway love’ is precisely what we’ve been called to have, be, and give. Get it down pat. The exam is now and every day for the rest of your ever-loving life. Fill in those bubbles darkly and quickly. When time’s up, the pencils will go down.

Instead of this ‘anyway love,’ some dole out citations and rummage through your medicine cabinet. Some are just bouncers; others are bounty hunters.

Hear me well: The debt’s been paid. 

You’re free. You’re clear.

Love is a casserole without the condemnation.

I used to think being like Christ meant acting perfect, but I’ve since been charmed to know him as an underage, rogue preacher in the temple when he should have been at home.

I used to think being like Christ meant biting my tongue, being agreeable, and keeping the peace, but it charms me, too, to remember how he flipped the tables sometimes and raged against religion that would have us do anything but come closer to God.

I used to think being like Christ meant a one-piece, G-rated, PDA-free life, but it charms me to remember how human he was: a bread-breaking, wine-drinking man who was wild about his friends and mad with love for the ones he’d save over himself.

I’m not saying accountability is overrated, but some of us have lost our life ledgers to strong-armed robbers, and the wrong people are keeping our books.

I used to think I had to feel guilty to be good with God, but now I think I had him confused with someone else.

I love these thoughts by Sarah Bessey on the subject of changing our minds and our hearts along our path toward God: “God isn’t threatened by our questions or our anger, our grief or our perplexed wonderings. I believe that the Spirit welcomes them—in fact, leads among them and in them. We ask because we want to know, because it matters to us, and so I believe it matters to God. And sometimes the answers are far wider and more welcoming than we ever imagined; other times the answer is to wait in the question, and sometimes the answer is another question altogether.”

Here’s to good questions—and an everlasting pursuit of goodness and mercy for each other and even for ourselves.


 

Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts is out now. Run to find your copy here.

Find more of Deidre Price’s ‘rogue homilies’ here.

uPRIVATE PROPERTY

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“My Mom, the Spanker”: A Rogue Homily on Teaching and Why We Don’t Get to Decide What People Learn

I try to learn one new thing a day. That’s it. One thing. It’s easily done enough. I’m a professor who grades forty thousand papers a day, give or take, and I’m a reader, so knowledge finds me.

My work goal each day is to teach one person one thing. Once I’ve done that, it takes the pressure off. I usually check in with my students after a class ends. I’ll ask, “Did anyone learn anything?” If I get even one hand (I usually get most), I celebrate that. One person has learned something from me—that’s humbling and honoring all at once. It means they were listening, they were watching, they were waiting.

It’s nothing short of the stars aligning for learning to happen in a computer lab where click is king, so when my words get through, it’s a marvel to me. And they do most days.

I’m a good teacher even though I never set out to be. I tried to be a good writer and a good reader. I wanted to know how to love literature well through the study of it. I ended up in a classroom because that’s where people think you learn to be a good writer and a good reader—spoiler alert: It isn’t. Quite honestly, it isn’t how you learn to be a good anything, really. It’s analogous to an expo, really. You see a lot. You’ll use less than we show. Your job is to browse and to familiarize, to pick up information you can use later, when the real work starts.

The trouble with teaching is that you only get to decide what you’d like to teach, not what they actually learn.

Sometimes in class, I’ll follow up with my “Did anyone learn anything?” and what they say they learned is tangential to what I thought I was teaching. I might be talking about an essay mode and, in the process, end up talking about getting started and mention that one could start with the body paragraphs instead of the intro paragraph to avoid writer’s block, and that might be so liberating to them that it sticks, and they get all “Free, body and soul free” on me. I want to say, “Cool it, sister. Did you hear anything else I said? Did you hear anything else I needed you to hear?”

The answer? Nope. Nada. Zilch.

The same is true in parenthood. We decide what we teach but not what they learn.

I learned this myself when my son brought home this gem:

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I swelled with pride over the pages upon pages of construction paper stapled together into a makeshift catalog of things that defined his very four-year-old being.

My mind raced from thing to thing he loved and how it would be represented on the pages before me. I thought, Surely he mentioned Legos or how we play Play-Doh together for hours on end. He had to mention woot beer fwoats or maybe soccer. I’m sure he mentioned his curls. Everyone loves his curls.  

Batshopping 4

And then I opened to this:

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First of all, I’M A TIME OUT MOTHER! I can count on less than three fingers how many times I’ve ever spanked this kid, and I cannot remember the last time he was even spanked. Was it a year ago? Maybe two?

Despite my own spankalicious upbringing, my mother, Grandmother of Endless Grace and Peace and Mercy in all her glorious grandmotherliness takes issue with even the timeouts I dole out for his bad behavior because, well, Atticus is the perfect angel who never deserves anything but hugs and trucks full of ice cream.

I can hear her explaining away his vitriolic sass as I carry him off to his room for four measly minutes to allow him to get ahold of himself, an opportunity for resolution, a chance for peace.

I AM A VERITABLE MOTHER TERESA OF DISCIPLINE, THE SAINT OF ENDLESS MERCIES. I AM THE UNKEMPT VERSION OF SUPERNANNY. I WILL SO RETURN YOU TO YOUR ROOM SEVERAL TIMES IN SILENCE WHILE I YELL INTO A PILLOW IN ANOTHER ROOM. I HAVE SELF-CONTROL!

I suppose I should be grateful. What kind of questions are these? Is it an abuse and neglect screening disguised as a quaint little arts and crafts project?

He could have said, “I get sad when Mommy leaves for work every day to leave me to the recreational torture of friends and playgrounds only to be picked up by Grammy who makes me enough eggs and grits to last for the ages. The nerve.”

Or, when they asked about anger, he could’ve said, “When I get angry I’m typically encouraged to exercise deep breathing and look into my mother’s cold, dead stare while she says yoga things to me. Namaste, nama-go.”

Instead, he dubs me Mommy, the Spanker, in the first month of preschool, and it’s sent home as what, I can only assume, is a warning shot before the anger intervention people come for me in their white coats. I know how this world works.

And so I say to my son…

Atticus, darling.

Angel.

Let the good things stick and the bad things fall away.

Forgive.

Move.

Let the ick be like snow that melts into the ground.

You do not get that reference as you are a Floridian, but I assure you’ve seen snow on one of the iPads, iPhones, flatscreen TVs, laptops, or desktop computers you’ve been privileged to see in our sweet home in your sweet, short life so far, right?

Maybe you’ve seen snow in one of the thousand trips I’ve taken you to the library to pick out your own books? Maybe in one of the thousand books we’ve read in the aisles of Barnes and Noble while you tried to distract me with Thomas the Train cars?

Maybe you’ve heard about it in your favorite seasonal songs we’ve tolerated hearing on repeat during the Christmas season, like “Dominick the Donkey” in the month where I forfeited sanity for the sake of your sonic delight?

Maybe you’ve seen it in the seven dozen times we’ve circled Northgate Estates to look at their luminaries during Christmas while dining on sugar cookies and red velvet cupcakes and while sipping on Starbucks hot chocolate that I ordered special at “kid temp” because I care about something as silly as a burn on your tiny little unforgiving tongue?

To all this, I say, “Let it melt…

into the ground…

like so many other transgressions and missteps and slippery words…

Forget the spanks, the timeouts, the STOP, DON’T, WAIT, NO.”

I ask him, “Why did you tell them I spanked you?”

He replies, nonchalantly and matter-of-factly as though he hadn’t just wrecked my whole world because it depends solely on him and whether he thinks I’m a Glenda or a West witch, “Because you did.”

It’s true.

I did.

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How We Hold Out Best: A Rogue Homily on Fear

I used to count on death. This is what the depressed do. It’s the “suicide pill” the broken mind keeps in its darkest corner. That “out” looks almost like hope in this light. The resemblance is uncanny.

That kind of light casts the widest shadow so that even happy comfort words get met with a cynical, anxiety-ridden me.

The gift of cyclical depression is that one starts acknowledging feelings as temporary; this is a healing notion because it turned my stop into wait, and while I can’t always stop, I can almost always wait.

The downside of all downsides is that the happy-happy seems inauthentic and insufficient, so it doesn’t work like it used to. It just doesn’t stick.

I’ve traded my want of happy for a want of true.

True sticks around when happy can’t.

So the bumper sticker Christianity is lost on me. The prosperity gospel simply does not compute. I wish upon all my wishes that I’d see #grateful instead of #blessed. You don’t get to brag about the favor of the God upon your life just because you’re driving home in one of Lane Pratley’s brand-new, pre-owned Sonatas.

Don’t even wait. Just stop.

I do believe there is good news, even capital Good News: Death doesn’t win.

But I also know from experience that just because capital Death doesn’t win doesn’t mean lowercase death doesn’t happen.

It does, and it’s awful.

I say things casually to my husband often, like, “If I die, please delete all my selfies, burn my papers, and save my books. Make sure the kids know I love them. Tell the doctors it started with a slightly sore throat. My knee also kind of hurts. Please hire someone to clean before your mother comes over; you’ll be too wrecked with grief to do anything. If you have to move, stay in town until the little ones hit middle school; they’ll already be mad at you by then. I need to write all my passwords down for you. Ask Patrice to finish grading these essays; give her my D2L password.”

Without missing a beat, Jonathan responds, “You mean when you die. It’s not if.” He seems not at all concerned with the memoirs he’ll have to extensively edit. Not a worry in the world with that one.

Because he is precisely no comfort in this area (he has other gifts), I turn to scripture, which gives me less sass, to find even less help:

“…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” –James 4:14 ESV

What kind of inspiration is that supposed to be exactly?

Give me unicorn Jesus. I want rainbows and airbrushed lions next to harp angels. Seriously? A mist!? That was your best shot? It’s a marvel James had any friends.

One of the best preachers I’ve known said something deep but simple about life that stuck with me: “No one is getting out of this alive,” which was, if you think about it, both incredibly depressing and incredibly true at the same time.

I loved how those words knocked the fear out of me for a moment. He made death sound ordinary, like it was the most normal thing we’d end up doing.

Again, not if but when.

Once you realize that something is certain and coming for you, even if slowly and maybe less menacingly than you once speculated, you begin to plan for the eventual.

If you can’t beat it, at least get ready for it.

Preparing for an eventual death, likely decades away, is not as easy as stocking up on batteries and bottled water. You can’t shop for life insurance. Well, you can, but not the kind I wanted, which was that, basically, I wouldn’t die ever—or at least until I was super, super old, like suspiciously, Death-Becomes-Her old and then it would be absolutely painless and instant—but I would have enough notice prior to it so that I could make sure the laundry was caught up, et cetera… et cetera meaning I’d delete my own selfies since Jonathan, again, so racked with grief, might be inclined to make wallpaper out of them for public posterity.

Also, the moment it happened, someone would erase everyone’s memory of me. This would be some cross between the short-term Men in Black flashy thing and the more calculated approach of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is the future, so I can be picky. I’m sure we will have gotten there by then.

The rest for my worry-weary mind came one night while sitting in my living room with a few dear mama-friends of mine. My mind wandered again toward death and what these lovelies of mine would do should my family ever be without me. I knew they’d do for me what I’d do for them:

We’d take care of each other’s others.

And that was it: YES! Our stories will all end one day, but they probably won’t end at the same time. We will die but not all at once, and even though it’s not happy-happy, it’s true, and that was enough to wash the worry from my ever-heavy heart.

We take turns. Always. In life, in death, we take turns. This solves it. It’s flying tandem. It’s circular breathing. It’s sharing the tank in an underwater emergency.

And even when it seems like we’re all on the same ship that’s going down, down, down, there’s peace in knowing we won’t be alone. Know that that’s enough, too, to sustain you, that that’s enough to make you wait even if you can’t stop.

We were born to take care of each other, to offer shelter, rest, and soup. We were born to hold hands, in life, in death, and in uncertainty, no matter the mess.

Take this lesson as a broken benediction. My friend Jen has a beautiful one-year-old son about whom she shared these words tonight:

“Tonight while cooking dinner, Owen runs in, puts his hand up, wanting me to hold his, but then he just stands there holding my hand. He closes his eyes and bows his head. Then he lets go and takes off back to the living room. One minute later he runs back in the kitchen and grabs my hand with his little sweet hand (my heart melts every time) and again closes his eyes and bows his head. I think, aww…is he praying? Then I realize that, no, he is not praying. He is preparing to go into the incinerator. That’s right, the boys turned on Toy Story 3 for him while I was cooking. It was the end of the movie and he was acting it out. It was one of the funniest, sweetest, saddest things ever.”

I replied to her, “Aww! He knows you’re his ICE.”

What a beautiful thing that instinct is, especially for a baby, to reach over, reach out, reach up.

And how much better to wait together when we cannot choose to stop, to occupy ourselves with one another at bedsides, on the sides of streets, and yes, even in the darkest corners of our mind.

holding

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Dr. Pepper and God: A Rogue Homily on Faith

Meet my new genre: the rogue homily. Let’s be clear; I’m no preacher man. I do want desperately to reconcile my life ledger and make sense of the mess in the margins, but my theology’s hot—stolen from people way better than I am.

I want to put God on the page but usually end up finding him in people. So I tell stories about the people and put them on the page instead.

My friend Ashley Besser's answer to my husband's insistence that I didn't have enough street cred to pen homilies.

My friend Ashley Besser’s answer to my husband’s insistence that I didn’t have enough street cred to pen homilies.

I’m playing dirty here, I know, with the homily approach: dining and ditching and leaving you to foot the bill of a hundred indecisions, a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of toast and tea. Maybe just make like I’m Alice, you the rabbit; follow me out the door.

Dr. Pepper and God: A Rogue Homily on Faith

My fourteen-year-old daughter and I have been splitting up lately. I send her in one direction with a cart as I yell out a few items for her to track down, and off I go in the other direction.

She goes for the usuals—the dog food, the toothpaste, the granola. I go for the unusuals—the interventions, the spontaneous, and surprises—the things she’d never ask for. She’s such the humble one.

She’s fourteen and doesn’t smile as much as I remember smiling at her age, so I lighten her days with occasional delights, like books or a Dr. Pepper.

Daina has the loveliest network of spare mamas. Some, like Lexi, borrow Daina’s books and call her room their own personal library. Daina, of course, loves playing librarian and book reviewer for them. All her spare mamas from my work are writers and lit Ph.D.s who send me home with New York Times clippings of bestseller lists and bags of books for her to try.

Yesterday, Robyn (my colleague and her personal YA novel consultant) messaged me to say that Magnus Chase had been released, so when I arrived to Publix, of course, Daina split (practically lickety) to head to Books-a-Million, leaving me to hunt and gather on my own.

When we arrived home, her book and my groceries in tow, we were unloading the trunk, and I was fumbling with one bag with root beer cans falling out of the top.

“I got you Dr. Pepper,” I told Daina as she worked to beat her last best bag-holding record.

She looked into the trunk disappointed but sorry to have to tell me at the same time, “Oh, I don’t like root beer.”

“I didn’t get you root beer,” I told her, as if she hadn’t heard me clearly.

“I don’t like root beer though,” she said, confused.

“I know. I said I got you Dr. Pepper,” assuming she’d understand the root beer was for Atticus, her brother who loves root beer for his occasional woot beer fwoats.

“That’s root beer, Mom,” as if to shore up all the teenage know-it-ness she could manage.

“Stop focusing on what you’re seeing and listen,” and I pointed to the bag she’d already gathered into her arms with eight tiny cans of Dr. Pepper in it, just like I’d tried to tell her over and over again.

I kept thinking, Man, she’s so sure of herself. Why is she so sure of herself? She didn’t even set foot in the store. 

And then those words snagged my mind cardigan: Stop focusing on what you’re seeing and listen.

drpepper

I told you so.


 

*Note to Rabbits: I realize that I’m God in this analogy. Just go with it. It’s been a mom day.

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From Refugees to #shoutyourabortion: Stop Closing Your Eyes During the Scary Parts

Years ago, I used to manage a video store and take home the new releases each week so that I could talk about them with customers. Because my parents never properly desensitized me to media, my head’s a little fragile with horror and thriller movies. My skin’s grape-thin.

I remember watching The Others, a psychological thriller with Nicole Kidman. (I know, I know; it’s not even an actual scary movie. Again, think grape-thin skin.) I watched it while home alone and remembered being too jumpy to comfortably sit in the recliner, so I stood up against the wall behind it, and the music was still freaking me out, so I muted the sound. These were my coping mechanisms for watching scary things—blocking the exits and turning on the closed captioning—and closing my eyes during the scary parts.

I’d still get nightmares, of course. I don’t know how I didn’t learn sooner. I remember going to see The Watcher back when Keanu Reeves was still trying to act and coming home to my apartment (I lived alone at the time). I don’t think I slept for a week. I might’ve just spent my days checking behind and under everything to see whether anyone was waiting for me, telephone cord in tow.

I eventually learned to shut it all off, not to look, not to listen. If I didn’t know it was there, then it practically wasn’t.

I regularly have to do a media detox after an election cycle. I’m such the political junkie during peak seasons. Shutting off my outlets, choosing not to read, watch, and listen when I know it will affect me is important, and I try to make sure I’m not over-consuming because that over-consumption comes at a cost to my sleep and my peace of mind.

But I’m hearing more and more often about people just choosing, wholesale, not to pay attention, not to watch, not to listen because of world events that upset them. I’m hearing of people giving up on all news outlets because they’re fed up with the 24/7 system that manufactures drama with its up-to-the-minute coverage and tickertape that runs alongside the screen like an IV line. I’m hearing of people stopping listening because they’re just overwhelmed.

They’re tired. They hate Chris Matthews, or they hate Megyn Kelly. They hate Rachel Maddow, or they hate Bill O’Reilly. They hate these personalities. They hate the poisonous noise of it all.

I understand being fed up with the manufacture of drama. I understand being fed up with the business of left and right talking heads that are more full of ego than information. I understand not wanting to feed the machine that’s creating the drama.

The trouble is that the world is cracking open, and some of us are hanging up “Do Not Disturb” signs because we’ve decided we’ve had enough.

Our relentless attention and addiction to information has created a system where now we think we’ve heard it all, and we cannot be bothered.

We must be bothered. We cannot afford to be unbothered.

Yes, much of it is scary. You have to watch it anyway. It’s your job.

Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton has been doing a series on refugees this week. Here is the project in his words:

For the next several days, I’m going to be sharing stories from refugees who are currently making their way across Europe. Additionally, I’ll be spotlighting some of the people who are attempting to help facilitate their immigration and asylum. Together, these migrants are part of one of the largest population movements in modern history. But their stories are composed of unique and singular tragedies. In the midst of the current ‘migrant crisis,’ there are millions of different reasons for leaving home. And there are millions of different hardships that refugees face as they search for a new home. Since the situation is constantly shifting, I’m still not sure of all my destinations. But over the next ten days or so, I hope to share as many of these stories as I can find.

These refugees’ stories will absolutely break your heart.

I have not read a single one where I haven’t cried at my computer. I’m reading them anyway.

Amelia Bonow’s story, “My Abortion Made Me Happy,” has also kept me awake at night. Bonow’s story founded the #shoutyourabortion movement in an attempt to support Planned Parenthood and remove the shame from abortion procedures.

I’m a feminist who had previously only met people who’d had abortions because of deeply dark circumstances. Reading some of these abortion tweets, both from men and women, has illuminated for me the reality of what abortion actually is to many and what it might mean if we, as Bonow says, talk about this subject as “plainly, proudly, flippantly even.”

The reduction of this matter to a cheerful tweet is deeply unsettling.

It is a heavy thing. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Some of these heartbreaks hit even closer to home.

September 25 marked two years since the DRC issued an exit permit suspension, which no longer allowed fully and legally adopted children to travel home to their families. This means I have friends who have children they’ve adopted that they are separated from because of legal red tape. Here are the words from one friend explaining the dilemma:

The reasons have been varied and today, after two years, no one in our own Department of State, United States Congress, or the President himself, even knows. We are STUCK. We have paid over $21,600 in EXTRA foster fees in these two years so our boys are safe and living in foster care. We have missed birthdays, Christmases, and summer fun. Would you join us in NOT giving up on our boys, and PRAY. We are also doing a social media campaign to bring awareness to the issue, and you can participate by changing your profile pic for the day and tweeting the hashtags. Here’s an official video by Both Ends Burning Campaign that clearly explains what has happened for this two-year anniversary. Enough is enough.

 

Again, this is heavy…and real.

Actual children are actually waiting in actual countries for their actual parents. If people truly knew the weight of this, how on earth could we go on with our days?

How could we have the same old dumb conversations about Common Core, the football lineup, or pumpkin spice anything? How could we?

Thursday, as I drove my children to school, I saw a taped-off crime scene where, minutes earlier, a deputy had been shot in the back multiple times, one bullet striking him in the head, by a man who’d wielded a concealed weapon who was being served domestic violence injunction papers by the deputy.

Nothing explains this. Nothing.

This isn’t a world I want. This isn’t a world I’m okay with.

I’m okay with it doesn’t always come out in those words. Sometimes it sounds like,
“We have to take care of our own first.”
“At least it’s happening over there and not here.”
“Things could be way worse.”
“I have enough problems already.”

Hear me well.

If wi-fi is on your list of problems, or you’re mad about anything related to Starbucks or Facebook, you can afford to add another couple worries to your list. Trust me.

If you’re thinking about things like “leggings as pants,” you can work in a little social justice.

If you’ve had time to watch and share Jimmy Fallon’s celebrity sing offs or Jimmy Kimmel’s mean tweets, then you have room in your life to advocate for someone with less agency and platform than you.

If you have the fortitude to either whip and/or nae nae, you have the luxury of charity. 

You see, you don’t get to stop paying attention. Actual, real things are happening to actual, real people.

I say we stop closing our eyes and hold hands instead.

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To My Fellow Worriers: How About We Actually Live This Year?

To say I’m anxious is an understatement. I’m more like a forecaster of doom. You know, the mundane oblivion we’re all destined for, the kind that’s coming for us on the sure horizon.

I roll my eyes at the hoarding doomsday preppers stockpiling their munitions and canned foods in repurposed school buses. But I wonder if they might roll their eyes at me if a documentary crew followed me around, taping my tells—

how I feel for swollen glands at the top of my neck at stoplights as some might glance at a text…

how I time my pulse sometimes when I think my blood pressure is up and a stroke must be coming on…

how I swallow hard after a new meal I didn’t make (Was I allergic to something? Did it expire?)…

how I follow self-exam instructions to the laminated letter in the shower every day and think of a friend lost to something that looked like a mosquito bite she didn’t know wasn’t…

how I remember my late father’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma at age 55 and how his doctor and my doctor and another doctor said it wasn’t genetic…wasn’t genetic…wasn’t genetic…

how I dream up all the things I might have but don’t know because I didn’t land in med school—How would I even know if I had multiple sclerosis? I might have the beginnings of it now! I don’t know I don’t. How am I supposed to know?

how I think of all my grandparents’ ages and how they’re completely rocking their eighties and then my mind turns to the ratio of what I’ve lived versus what I might have left, and I wonder that I haven’t done enough, said enough, or been enough yet and that we’re doomed, doomed, doomed if I can’t settle everyone’s checks first?

how I think of writing a note to my kids in case of an accident so that they know what to do in case I’m gone, and then I wonder where on earth I’ll put it because the house is always such a blasted mess—and why is the house always such a mess?—and is it making us sick over the long haul?—We have to get rid of the carpet.

It turns out that I’m worse than the end-preppers. I look at them and think, “But the weather’s nice today. And I’ll bet you haven’t read all the David Sedaris your heart can handle yet, have you? And do you know how to make a good crab cake? I’ve always wanted to do that.”

But then they probably look at me and think, “You’re totally screwed. You’re over there worrying about K-cup carcinogens, tomatoes in aluminum cans, and bad feet when you need to grab the Beanie Weenies and run, bunions be damned.”

I’m starting to hear that our message is the same: We don’t have much time.

We’re both right, unfortunately. But in the midst of trying to salvage what we’ve got, to fight the end, and to keep our eyes wide open all the time, we’ve missed the point completely. We’re trying to lengthen something we don’t own.

You would think with all these worries I’d take slightly better care of myself—go on walks, lose the same old pounds, look up sweet potato recipes, eat more kale, sleep more.

I don’t.

Like the jerky hoarders, I live in survival mode. I’m no better.

So, let’s just stop this year, okay? We’ve been running and avoiding running for too long. We’ve got to get over the onions and coconuts—the little hang ups that keep us from figuratively eating that which would otherwise bring us sublime joy.

We’ve got to stop hollering over fire ants and moving those hills into our neighbors’ yards—even on accident. Our paranoia is contagious, and that stress is contagious, and that fear is contagious. These are the things we should truly be afraid of—the pressure that will cook us from the inside out.

My daughter is in eighth grade. People are asking her what her major will be and where she will go to college.

To them my husband and I say, “Do not pollute our lakes and rivers.”

She is stressed because she is not stressed about that which stresses them. Come on!

Here’s the Price litmus test for our children’s success:

  • Do they love learning and know how to do it on their own?
  • Do they understand the importance of hard work and intentional rest?
  • Do they know to put people, in every instance no matter what, before things?
  • Do they have enough love in their pockets to give some away?

To quote my Rowling-loving daughter’s response, “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” And she’s talking about a calling here. She gets it. When you know, you know.

Let’s not be in a hubbub about college acceptance this year. She’s thirteen. She really is just now starting to know what she likes on a sandwich.

Let’s believe the best about this year for a change. Let’s just live for a bit! How about it?

Let’s line our pockets with love instead of fear.

Let’s warm the hearth not because we won’t survive the winter if we don’t but because the flames are pretty.

Let’s write love letters and actually mail them this time.

Let’s fall asleep and let late work be early work because those REM dreams are worth having (the sleep not the band, but to each her own).

Let’s work miracles in the daylight, surprising people with our generosity of spirit.

Let’s remember how far a glass of water and a deep breath go.

Let’s have people over with the laundry on the couch.

And let us feel the echoes of each new joy all year long.

 

 

 

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