The Fiery Ordeal

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4:12

 

Saturday morning a friend and I texted back and forth about the various horrific things happening in our country: about immigration detention centers, unaccompanied minors traveling across entire countries to relative safety to meet broken policy and hateful rhetoric, about emboldened white supremacists, and the level of discourse in local politics, a direct result of our chief executive’s influence.

 

I’m not necessarily mad at Trump, I wrote. This is Trump. This is who he is. I’m really, truly upset with the people who put him in office. Why would they do this to their fellow Americans? To all the people of this world?

 

“They have no reason to be surprised,” she wrote. “This is exactly who he told us he was.”

 

It’s not just him, of course, though he is the glaring example. Greed and egotism have run rampant for God knows how long (literally), and he is but the latest example. People die of hunger every day. People live without homes. People are enslaved by other people. None of this is new. None of this exists only in the past. It cannot be a surprise. Indeed, ICE is off the leash, as it were, but deportations and ghastly detention centers and human rights violations in our own country are not new.

 

So what are we doing?

 

But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

1 Peter 4:13-14

 

I hear verses like this tossed out to the suffering like stale bread. Blessed are you, O Starving One! Bear the suffering, or reach down to those boot straps, and pull yourself on up! And indeed, when we are uncomfortable, the idea that our suffering is not in vain soothes. But what I might ask is whether this discomfort at our political situation could be used as a barometer. Let’s say your life was at an 8 before this election. You know, you’d watch the news and, excepting some drone coverage or the mention of Darfur or Syria or a filibuster, your blood pressure remained the same. Now you can’t handle it. You’ve cried. You’ve gnashed. You’ve taken NPR off your radio presets. (Do other people still have those? Our car is from 1998.)

Or maybe you face losing health coverage. Maybe your job is at stake due to budget cuts– or hell, because retail is taking a hit since everyone is so dang depressed and uncertain. I mean, I hope you’re uncomfortable. This isn’t normal. This isn’t okay.

 

In fact, discomfort is the very LEAST we can and should be feeling. It doesn’t help, of course, to plant yourself on the couch with a pint of ice cream and cry over the state of the nation (thing I have done), but you CAN share in the suffering of others, and in doing so, lighten the load.

 

First, look at your time. Are you spending enough of it helping others? There is a LOT to do, and the burden is being borne by the few. Use your time to ensure that the powerful– the lawmakers, the moneymakers– are standing up for what is right. Have you researched your investments? Talked to your alma mater, your employer, your city, about divesting from institutions who perpetuate this state of suffering, like private prisons? If you have time to google “Handmaid’s Tale spoilers” (also a thing I have done) you can do the aforementioned, I promise.

 

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

Acts 2:44-47

 

Take a look at your money. Are you comfortable? Lots of others aren’t. And money doesn’t grow on trees, man. Give it away. Read Acts 2, and give.the.shit.away. I mean, I’m not here to tell you how much or to whom. I don’t know what you need. I don’t know what your obligations are. I just know that there is enough in this world– enough food, enough water, enough shelter– for us all. Spread it out. Enable others to spread it out. Look at your community, and see who does the good work. Help them.

 

Look at your stuff. Good Lord, I have too much stuff. I need to give it away. I need to stop getting it. I need to walk through the aisles of Target and wonder whether I *really* need another bundle of cheap sweatshop t-shirts or if I should take the $20 and buy Adelante a much-needed case of diapers.

 

As I’m writing this, I feel apologies and mitigations creep up, “I know this is too much…”, “I mean, you do you…”, “Just do what you feel you can do…” But honestly, we’re past that. Do more than you think you can do. Do. More.

 

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:8-11

 

Amen.

I have not written.

Well, I’ve written a lot of emails. Not enough, I know– you’re thinking, “but she never answered mine!” and for that I’m very sorry.

Instead of writing I’ve been working. Working at work. Working for Winnie’s school, a little nature education non-profit that just bought its very own building. Working for mothers, training doulas and home visitors in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Working with church, being part of an interfaith response to the immigration crisis, planning education forums, and being trained in the rights of immigrants. Folding and unfolding chairs and tables, filling water pitchers, so that people have a place to sit as they plan out who will care for their children, take over their car payments, consent to field trips and medical attention on their behalf should they be detained or deported.

And at home, of course, with these growing humans. Georgie has all of these words. WORDS. “CHAIR! BONK! LEG! TRIP! FALL! FLOOR! HIT! OUCH! CRY” she’ll yell with a smile. Like, did you get that guys?! I CAN NARRATE!  Winnie loves rhyming and singing and playing her dad’s trombone. She is so aware of so much that goes on around her that I sometimes find it hard to believe that she is three going on four, but oh, is she three going on four. She has lived exactly as many days as she has lived, and extracted just every bit of life from those days that she could.

I cry and giggle at every one of her dance classes. And Georgie in overalls! The way she calls rocks “rockets” and yells SEE! LOOK! PUPPY! SEE! DOG! every.single.time she sees a dog.

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I am perseverating on theology these days, in the shower, between emails, between questions at the shop. Sacraments as action rather than symbols, grace as liberation of the oppressed. I’m trying to draw the line of connection between the bread in my hands and my atemporal connection to the whole Communion of Saints, and how that can eradicate poverty, violence, disease. Reading this.  And this.

Oh, and I went to a spin class (never, ever again) and I’m teaching a class on pairing cheese with German and Austrian wine tonight, lest you think my life is lived entirely in the space of work and thought. It surely is not.

 

 

Hunger, Thirst, Serve, Walk

I don’t even know.

Good lord, what a mess.

What an absolute, gut-mangling mess.

And what now? Twee pictures of our adventures, of sweet smiling faces, rosy-cheeked and wide eyed? Recipes and reflections? I feel like covering this blog in old, grey oatmeal leftovers and burying it beneath bulk mail circulars and old phonebooks.

It is Advent. Sometimes described as a season of hope, peace, and love, but OH the expectant waiting. Oh, the hunger, the thirst for justice, for goodness, for what is right and meet. It’s not mindfulness. It’s not sitting here in the now, being only present. It is yearning, deep and painful and essential want for what is to come, for what has been promised.

I believe– far beyond my own capabilities, driven by the grace of faith– that the oppressed should and shall be liberated. I believe that I must do all that I can–and when I reach my own limit of “can” pray that I shall be enabled to do some more– to facilitate that liberation. I believe that no human is illegal. I believe that to imprison our brothers and sisters in poverty and debt while turning a blind eye toward the funnels of power and wealth to the few is a sin, a grave sin. I believe that I am part of the problem and must be part of the solution. I believe in grace. I believe in miracles. I do not believe that we ought sit and wait for miraculous grace, but that such grace is manifested through our actions.

From the Book of Common Prayer, emphasis mine:

“Grant us strength and courage to love and SERVE you, with gladness and singleness of heart.”

“[…]that we may delight in your will, and WALK in your ways, to the glory of your Name.”

Serve.

Walk.

Chop wood, carry water, divest, protect, serve, and walk.

All quiet on the southwestern front or: how anxiety is eating my lunch

All quiet on the southwestern front, I know. It’s hard to write when things are hard, not because there is less to say, but because it feels like those things might be less worth saying.

My instagram feed this weekend was a flurry of sunny pictures from the garden along with captions detailing my anxiety. Nothing if not dualistic, I guess. The last few weeks have been a challenge, a collection of challenges. I’ll go to open a spreadsheet or word doc, to pick out a shirt to wear, to look in the fridge for a snack and suddenly feel myself gripped by what can only be described as waves, Herculean waves, of panic and fear crashing into my core, the tips of my fingers, my shoulders, my everything. I’ll stand up, jump around to try to spur an endorphin rush. Pick up my phone and open the mental health app that provides prompts for helpful exercises, like breathing, meditation, or other ways over/around/through the anxiety. I’ll do 15 minutes of yoga. Text a friend. Change my setting. Eat something. Take a shower.

And sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I still do those things, because as a friend and I commiserated this weekend, one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves in the heat of the moment is that those things aren’t worth it. They are. They absolutely are.

I finished a course of treatment (cognitive-behavioral therapy with somatic work) a few weeks ago, after pain from a surgical procedure triggered a traumatic event. It was, by all measures, successful. I processed the trauma, learned new skills, kept myself centered in the present. I saw my doctor and reported that things were, technically speaking, pretty okay. Yes, Mike had lost his job and that was stressful; yes, the transition was creating new challenges and we were experiencing some growing pains. Yes, Georgie is still nursing, with all the hormonal shifts that entails, but I’d gotten through it before, right? I could recognize those as external stressors and plan for additional time and space to cope.

And then– I don’t know what. Something changed. It felt like the medications I had come to peace with, that I took dutifully every day, just stopped working.  As I write, the kids are asleep, I have the house to myself, I’ve taken my medicine and had a cup of coffee and done some stretching, and yet– despite dutifully checking all of the self-care boxes– the knot in my stomach is tightening and growing. I’m breathing into it, pressing my feet into the floor, scanning my body for sensations of anxiety, or calm, or nothing.

I’ve been reading articles on how to talk with your children about depression and anxiety, and I think we’re doing okay on that front, being honest and respectful but putting no weight on the babes. I’m not feeling well, but I’ll be okay, and it’s not your job to make me feel better.  I completed an intake for a psychiatrist closer to home, with more availability should I need more frequent appointments, Mike and I are starting relationship counseling this week, and I’m seeing a GP to identify any nutritional deficiencies or health problems that might be exacerbating the issue.

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I don’t ascribe any agency or ill will toward my anxiety; it’s more like a force of nature: a cold wind that blows through your sleeves and skin and bones and then doesn’t, whether or not you have to walk to work and forgot your jacket; ocean waves that knock into your face if you’re there, or carry you gently to shore, you know, just whatever they need to do, with no regard for whether it benefits you or not. I respect that about nature, that sometimes there are ripe thimbleberries on our hikes and sometimes there are poisonous mushrooms, that sometimes it hails mercilessly on the mountain even when the sun was shining moments before, not out of animosity or generosity, because there isn’t anything moral or value-based about it. It just is.

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There are absolute, very definite spots of brightness: the words and actions of friends, knocking out a work task with skill, planting and harvesting our little backyard plot, those two girls so full of life. I can still volunteer with a postpartum mother, still eat roast bison dug from a five-foot-deep pit of burning juniper and corn alongside friends, still knock out some sauerkraut and kombucha and homemade wine from grapes Mike and Georgie harvested that Winnie and I stomped. It’s quite all instagram-y, really, including those captions:

My garden is still alive; look at this fennel! Also I suffer from debilitating anxiety

This is a pinto bean grown from seed and there is a lead ball made of worry in my belly

Spaghetti squash and tomatoes and sage and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, did I mention those?

And later, I’ll pick up Winnie from school, pick up Mike from the same, and we’ll head to dinner with friends. I’ll sharpen my wit and my tongue and make biting, hilarious comments during the debate tonight, I’m sure. Soon enough, I’ll come out of this haze, the knot will soften, and like any pain, I won’t fully remember just how hard these moments were. Thank goodness.

I’ll also post a truly excellent zucchini bread recipe soon. This is a mommyblog, after all.

winnie-market-1

 

The Goats and Their Hooves

I trimmed goat hooves for the first time this week. I’m not going to turn that into some kind of metaphor, so relax.

We’ve been in New Mexico for ten months now, a little longer than it took to grow Winnie or Georgie (barely). I met a friend (ten months means we’ve made one! or even a few!) for cocktails a few weeks ago, our first time hanging out without children or partners. We first bonded over our mutual vaccination schedules and lack of guns in our homes, then found out we had other things in common, like being and raising excellent humans, etc. This night, we wandered a whole block away from our cars to a bar– the Lowrider themed bar, thankyouverymuch– where the partner of a mutual friend was bartending. He made us strong cocktails, and I somehow woke up the next morning signed up for a shift at the goat co-op.

No, really.

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So I’ve been working every week at building those milking muscles, getting faster and more efficient and better able to note when Itsy is about to stick her hoof in the milk bucket or Souffle is sneaking up behind me to make a break from the paddock. Dee still manages to toss her bowl upside down every once in a while, but I’ve built up a wicked fast catching reflex, so the chickens only get an extra treat of spilled goat feed every once in a while.

The goats at a local school had some overgrown hooves and I had expressed interest in learning everything  how to trim hooves, so the woman who runs the co-op kindly picked me up and showed me how to brush and clean and scrape and trim and clip and scrape and brush and trim those hooves. It was immensely satisfying.

 

I’ve been acquainted with goats and their output for a decade or so now, but I’ve learned more about goats in the last month than I likely had the ten years prior. About bloat and mastitis, about their teeth and their toes.

Maybe one day we’ll have a couple of goats, a few chickens. The high desert has surprised me in the garden– after months and weeks of being sure that nothing would every get any bigger, the plants have exploded. While I see my friends in other climates rolling in ripe tomatoes and even winter squash (how do you do it, Okie Foodscapes?!), I’m delighting at the first pinto bean pod, the fact that my cassava melon plant is blooming and not, in fact, dead, and nearly ripe apples and grapes. The peppers are blooming, and so are the spaghetti squash. The basil has come from behind. Even the sage and the fennel are hanging in!

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We’re sowing turnips, broccoli rabe, radishes, winter peas, and some grains soon. Mulching has paid off. Weeding is a full time job, but watering isn’t because of these beautiful monsoons. We saw a puppet show at the farmers’ market. We’ll show up to milk and water and feed and greet the goats on Monday morning, bright and early. Friends will join us for dinner, perhaps just to see where I’ve worked in the raw goat’s milk and the purslane and lambs quarters I can’t seem to stay on top of.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

If only life were my tenth grade English class–

We wrote and wrote and wrote and read and talked and wrote that year.

It wasn’t the year of my favorite book- Julius Caesar, Old Man and the Sea, A Separate Peace, all were fine- but we wrote and we wrote and we wrote and wrote that year. It was– and if I’m honest, always will be– the writing.

Why does it have to mean anything? A student asked of the Old Man and his pieta. Why couldn’t he represent a lawnmower, over Christ? He bemoaned. Well, a lawnmower’s hands don’t bleed, for one, and I’ve yet to see one teach a man to fish.

We wrote autobiographies that year, individual exploratory writing exercises. Lists of things we loved and hated, moving ourselves into metaphor, “if I were a- if I were a- if I were a fish, I’d be a carp” and “if I were a jazz musician, I sure wouldn’t be Miles Davis, have you read about that guy?”

Perhaps inspired by all the self-reflection, I walked into class one day–probably late, probably without my assignment done, probably with plenty of excuses in hand– and told my teacher it meant a lot, her teaching. The writing and writing and reading and writing and thinking and talking. I knew we were getting better, and we’d always use those skills (it would take longer for me to feel the same about compounding interest, relevant though it might be). She thanked me, I went off for lunch with my friends.

The next day she pulled me into the hall. Stepping out into the hall with a teacher wasn’t new. I walked those halls with lots of weight, the weight of never finishing an assignment on time, of wondering if attendance had been taken the day I’d decided the park was more beneficial than class, of all that was going on at home and my inability to articulate it. I was afraid of everything. I knew I could but I wouldn’t. I ran, and hid, and destroyed any evidence of success.

The door latched. My stomach turned. “I was being thrown to the wolves yesterday,” she said. “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that it mattered.”

Weeks later, I turned in a completed autobiography, printed and bound. There were two post-it notes with her comments. The first–taking exception to my description of a clarinet as “soothing”. Sure, word choice could have improved there. The second–where I’d noted my wish to learn how to care for others without feeling guilty: “when you figure it out, let me know”.

Two children, one marriage, and many friendships and relationships and changes in the family dynamic later, here I am. A recent conversation about volunteer commitments met with disdain: “Shouldn’t you be spending more time with your family?” Shouldn’t I be showing them the size of the world, the size of our hearts, the size of our need and our obligation to one another? Shouldn’t I show them how to care?

I pulled myself into the hall that day. Told myself it mattered. Dropped the guilt in the recycling bin and watched it tumble into a truck, carted off into the distance.

If I were a- If I were a- If I were a- If I were a-

 

 

Apology

It is, every day, a reconciliation. An understanding that I will never have enough to give, but what I give must be enough. Reliance on grace to fill in the gaps, faith that one step and then another leads me somewhere, or through somewhere, or nearish somewhere.

I say lots of I’m sorrys, but I still work on repentance, to literally and figurative turn, and in so turning, view my wrongs, my sins, where I have taken from another, or not given what I ought. For not listening. For not being present. For taking my anger at and lobbing it full force at my husband’s heart, saying, “Take this. I can’t. It’s yours.”

I’m sorry is not an apology. It is a placeholder, a glib acknowledgment on my part, that just as soon as these wounds heal, just as soon as I find a minute, just as soon as everything is perfect, I’ll turn, and I’ll view you, really see you, and give you what it is you need, from me.

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Most Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry, and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me, that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.