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.
“You are doing a *&^% great job.”
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 left a job and waited for the just-right next job to come along. 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.”
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.
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.
This past weekend, Charlottesville made national news when dozens of people with torches – yes, torches – converged on Lee Park in downtown Cville. They were goaded on by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist. It was an apparent protest against the city’s decision to rename Lee (as in Robert E. Lee) and Jackson (as in Stonewall Jackson) Parks and sell the enormous statues of Lee and Jackson that sit in the parks.
I moved to Charlottesville a few years ago, and never have I lived in a town with such simmering racial tension. Of course, racism is everywhere, but it feels especially poignant and always below the surface here. Maybe it’s the memory that Charlottesville decided to close its schools rather than integrate its students in the 1950s. Maybe it’s the fact that in 1963, even the Unitarians – the liberal Unitarians! – told their pastor that he could not drape the church in black as a sign of grief over the deaths of the four black girls killed in the Birmingham church that was bombed by the KKK.
Or maybe, just maybe, it is because we sit in the long shadow of a plantation on a hill that robbed children and women and men of their freedom and autonomy. We call the owner of that plantation, the enslaver of people, Mr. Jefferson.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa, wrote this beautiful prayer: Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.
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.”