When I was in college, the president of my university gave a speech that made a lasting impression on me, about how we make choices, and that limits the other choices we can make. I appreciated it because it was really thoughtful and honest, like he was preparing us for adulthood: “You’re going to have to make choices. That’s great! How lucky you are to have choices! When you do make those choices, there are other choices that will no longer be available to you. That’s called growing up.”
I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve made a lot of choices. With that has come the bittersweetness of knowing (or wondering if) there are things that aren’t available to me anymore. It is bitter in the sense of grieving the loss of things that I thought might be – but aren’t. It is sweet because I have received what I wanted most.
Last night, Mike came home from dinner with a colleague we had both known in CA. He said that she had asked how I was doing, and that he had told her, “She’s busy being the first Christa.”
The first Christa! Ha!! There remain many fewer “first” or “youngest ever” opportunities for me. But Mike sees that I am trying to very carefully create a life that reflects my deepest values and to be the best mother I can be to Emma and Maggie, who have never had any mother ever before. I am trying to not waste a drop of this one wild and precious life.
Being named the first Christa is the best birthday gift I received this week.
And you are the first you! Congratulations!!! You must be so proud. ❤️
This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.
The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.
When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.
In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”
We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.
The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)
As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.
A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.
There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.
That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.
And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.
“I like you just the way you are.”
This fall, I framed several drawings that my daughters created when they were younger, like their first self-portrait and the picture of our family that our firstborn made when her younger sister was born. I hung them in the entryway of our house, along with photos of our family and a reminder: “I like you just the way you are.” What a declaration from that revolutionary, Mr. Rogers.
I want my daughters to remember, every day, that they are unconditionally accepted and loved.
Of course, the most powerful reinforcement won’t come from a sign by the door but in how I accept them and how I accept my self. Liking my self just as I am is hard work. I have never attempted anything more radical in my life. Yet it is also the easiest thing there is, because it feels so good and true to my soul. It feels like home.
My word for 2018 is mothering. Since I first saw “Pregnant” appear on a stick in a bathroom stall at a CVS, I have been becoming a mother. Not only to one and then two little girls, but to my self. Mothering is not just one day or one happening. It is not just “Pregnant” on a stick or when you push the baby from your body or first hold the child you have adopted or the first time you decide to be gentle with your self. Mothering is every day. As my body changes, as my children grow and increase their independence, I have to choose again to mother, to like and love and accept.
For me, for now, if I had to summarize mothering in one thought, it would be Mr. Rogers.’
I like you just the way you are. I like me, too.
A light shines in the darkness.
It is for the rejected, the immigrant, the one in need, the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick, the sick, the hungry, the alone, the desperate, the dying, the broken, the weary, the grieving, the one making a choice when there is no good choice.
And the darkness has not overcome it.
“I’m doing the best I can.”
I have repeated this near daily since June, when I took on a new job with more hours – more weekly hours, in fact, than I had worked since having two kids. It’s a good project, and I’m glad to be doing it, but there may have been one or two or ten days that felt like running a race with only one shoe on. Or without socks. Or maybe I had on socks but they were dirty because the laundry piles in this house are everywhere.
Today in the mail, I got this lovely Emily McDowell magnet from a friend.
It was accompanied by a note, written with marker on brown construction paper, “I’m sorry about the icky brown construction paper, but my kid won’t use it so I have to….”
I’m not sure which I appreciate more, the magnet (which I promptly placed on the altar in front of my desk (yes, I have an altar, don’t you?)) or the note (because if using the brown construction paper isn’t a metaphor for motherhood, I don’t know what is).
I do know that I love my friend and that she thought to send this to me and the holiness of the space we humans-doing-the-best-we-can hold for each other.
And for you, in case you need to hear it: “You’re doing a *&^% great job.”
Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.
I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.
During #thisis36, I became a full-time freelancer. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.
To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.
As the whole world now knows, yesterday in Charlottesville, a man plowed his car into a crowd of people. Several people quickly posted videos from the scene. I watched in horror. As I viewed the video of the Charger speeding in reverse from the scene, I noticed something red caught in its front fender. I watched the video several times trying to figure out what it was and finally realized it was one of the red Jordan sneakers being worn by one of the victims. In the picture that has been posted by numerous newspapers of two men flying in the air after being hit, you can see one of the men wearing these red Jordans.
My daughters and I went to the downtown mall to place flowers at the site of the murder. There was already a memorial there. At the back were several of the victims’ shoes left at the scene, including a red Jordan.
This small detail continues to stick with me. A piece of this person, dragged off by the speeding car.
What the racists, fascists, white nationalists cannot take, what no one can drag away, is the dignity and value of any of God’s children.
* * * * *
The gathering at the mall tonight sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”
And the darkness will not overcome it.
I’m not angry. I’m awake.
Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.
A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.
The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.
This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.
An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.
Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.
I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.
I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.
I’m not angry. I’m awake.
This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.
There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”
Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”
The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.
The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.
And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.
UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”
The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.
That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.
The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.
After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.
Parenting is hard. You know you’re going to unwittingly do something that messes your kid up, but you’re not sure what it’s going to be. There are many things that I’m not sure I’m doing right, but I know we’re doing our best.
On this Father’s Day Eve, Mike is downstairs dyeing Emma’s hair with kool-aid, something he helps her do every summer, at her request. When you have a dad who helps you dye your hair blue, everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok, don’t you think?
When I was in middle school, I was in a spelling bee. After the bee, my dad gave me a Precious Moments figurine – I collected them – that said “You’re A Winner” on it. He bought it for me before he knew if I had won or not. I had not. Didn’t matter.
Everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok.
And for those of us for whom it is not yet ok, I believe there is always a second chance to be fathered, by fathers who know better now or by friends or pastors or brothers, biological and the ones we meet throughout life. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end yet.
Today is Mike’s birthday. Last night, Maggie asked me to tell her a story, and I told her about how we started dating the week of his birthday, ten years ago. I was living in London but visiting him in Boston. As we were walking around Boston the day before his birthday, he surprised me by reaching out to hold my hand.
At this point in the story, Maggie piped up, “Holding hands keeps you safe!”
Yes, Maggie. It sure does.
For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.
For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.
If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”
So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.
Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”
Much love, from my mama heart to all of you. xoxo