“Holding hands keeps you safe!”

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.

 

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Growing pains

I’ve written before about how Nine Years Old feels like an important milestone. The realization of this began percolating for me earlier this year, as my oldest daughter prepared to turn nine.

Nine was when I began to experience anxiety. It was also the first year I remember feeling shame. A couple of kids in my class informed me that I was chubby. The kidney reflux that I had been battling since I was born flared up again, requiring several hospitalizations. The physical pain of the disorder was exceeded by the terrifying humiliation of the procedures to try to correct it. During this time, the bubbly, outgoing kid I had been grew quieter. I found myself unable to think of what to say to people my age. I was shy. By the time I was 13, the shame was so pervasive, it was hard to know where it left off and I began.

*****

Last night, Emma joined a local basketball league and attended her first practice.

When I was around eleven, I tried out for basketball at my small private school. I didn’t make the team. I proceeded to try out for softball. I didn’t make the team. Nevertheless, I persisted, and tried out for cheerleading. I didn’t make the team.

When Emma asked if she could join the basketball league – anyone who wants can be on the team – I felt the tenderness of pre-teen Christa. My heart leapt at the chance for Emma to have what I didn’t have.

It brought to my mind two things: first, the amazing capacity of this life to give us do-overs.

I wish my parents had been paying closer attention to my desire to play sports. I would have never been an all-star, but I think with the right help, I could have made a team, or at the least played on a city league. I think that would have given me more confidence around my peers.

As pastors, my parents devoted countless hours to the church. They have both told me as I’ve grown up that they wish they would have spent more time focusing on our family and what we needed as kids and less time at church. They’ve apologized for that.

I know one day, I will have to apologize to my kids for something I wish I had done differently.

As I parent, I am so thankful to have the ability to call my parents up and talk with them about raising babies. There is such kind grace in being able to cry and laugh with your own parents. The laughing part is important. We laugh together at how hard and absurd parenting can be, and it makes the heaviness of knowing I will make mistakes at parenting – the one thing I most want to get right, just like my parents wanted to get it right! – more bearable.

I am thankful for do-overs. That, as parents and children and people, we get to keep loving each other until we get it right.

Second, thinking about trying out for the basketball team reminded me of my lifelong quest for coolness.

I’m smart. During middle school and high school, I took special summer classes just for fun. I graduated high school and college with a high GPA.

But what I wanted to be was COOL.

I wanted to be like the girls who played sports and were effortlessly pretty and always knew the right thing to say. I wanted to fit in. I wanted people to like me.

I married my husband because he is cool. He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. But he’s the kind of cool you can talk to. It’s cool beyond cool, because he couldn’t care less if he’s cool or not. He is himself.

And that’s cool.

It’s been in recent years that I feel I’ve “achieved” coolness in a way that no one can ever take it from me. Which is kinda funny, because in recent years I’ve become an in-my-30s mother of two who drives a minivan. (Not just drives a minivan. I love my minivan.)

For me, coolness means I feel comfortable with my self. I’m at ease with my self. This has a direct relationship with my shedding of shame in recent years. It doesn’t mean that shame doesn’t ever show up. Sometimes, still, when I make a mistake or am anxious for whatever reason, a voice whispers to me, “Should I be ashamed of my self?”

The difference is that now the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”

I hope we’ve given Emma what she needs in order to grow up feeling cool. To grow up feeling like she is alright, just as she is. Or maybe peace with one’s self is only found on the other side of a struggle. Maybe that is part of being human.

*****

The weight of all of this sits with me. It is in my heart. Sometimes I sit in meditation, with outstretched hands, and I actually feel the heaviness in the skin of my palms. I don’t have any other answer but to be with it. With the weight of humanity. Of imperfections and failure and anxiety and shame and do-overs and coolness. To love the hell out of all of it.

Rumi wrote, “Through love all pain will turn to medicine.”

The beauty of good enough in relationships

On a quest to add a challenge to the same workout routine I’ve been doing for years, I decided that this summer I would learn to swim laps. I already knew how to swim, but the kind of swimming you do to play Marco Polo, not the kind that builds muscle and stamina. I started with the breaststroke. It felt so unnatural that I abandoned it after a couple of attempts at laps. It dawned on me that freestyle would be much easier and why didn’t I try that in the first place. Even in freestyle, though, I had one tiny, little problem: I couldn’t figure out how to breathe.

My husband advised, “Don’t worry so much about the technicalities. You just need to get laps in.”

When we were newly married, I probably wouldn’t have handled Mike’s feedback well, to be honest. I might have been exasperated that he didn’t understand the intricacies of the problem (breathing is very complicated). I might have felt defensive.

But in eight years of partnership, I’ve learned to be more trusting of Mike as one of my people.

I’ve also learned that being one of my people doesn’t mean that he will understand or say the right thing 100% of the time. I won’t, either.

That last point tripped me up for a long time. I didn’t know how to resolve differences. The slightest disagreement made me terrified that we were doomed. It might have been a decade after my own parents’ divorce, but I was still tensed for the moment I needed to cut my losses and run. Maybe it would be over an irreconcilable difference of life values previously undetected. Or maybe it would be because he gave me the wrong advice about swimming.

Somewhere along the way, though, I figured out that good enough is… good enough.

A couple of years ago, I ordered a picture from our wedding printed onto a puzzle. I put the puzzle in a frame, leaving out one piece. It is a chunk of leaves from the tree behind us that is missing, nothing that prevents us from seeing me smiling up at Mike and him beaming down on me.

The framed puzzle sits on our dresser, a reminder that one missing piece – the times we don’t get each other, when we disagree, when we are tired and angry and human – doesn’t have to keep us from seeing the big picture.

And sometimes we do get each other. Sometimes we know exactly what to say.

I jumped back in the pool. I slowed down my pace. I circled my arms in and out of the water. I put in laps. My breath grew rhythmic. I swam for 45 minutes.

I once debated against gay marriage

Or: An Essay on How Someone Could Look at Jim Obergefell and Not Be Happy for His Love to Be Recognized

Let’s be clear: the Apostle Paul got a lot of things wrong. But one thing I think he got right: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me”.

In 1998, I participated in a school debate and chose the side arguing against marriage equality. My premise, I am very sorry to say, was that it would be bad for children. I was 17, and I was regurgitating what I had heard from those around me. I hadn’t actually met anyone who I knew was gay. Within a few years, my intellectual understanding had grown enough that I knew I had been wrong, that regardless of whether I “agreed” with homosexuality (that’s how I heard people around me talking about it. Like being gay was some sort of political stance, a side you chose), equality before the law was an issue of civil rights, and all adults capable of consent should have the right to be married.

As I came to this conclusion, I continued to wrestle with whether homosexuality was a sin. By this time, I had a gay friend. He, too, was a Christian, and he tried to date girls. One night I sat beside him and held his hand and cried as he talked about his internal war. The fight to not be who he was.

He loved God just as much as I did.

By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had opened my heart to the reality that I didn’t know it all. That there were people who called God by a different name or not at all, and they loved and were good and smart and kind. The religion I grew up in didn’t have the corner on knowing God. My world had grown larger, and I had a better understanding of my place in it and the possibility of many different ways of being.

When we are children, the world is me-centric. We think the rest of the world is or should be like us. But we are supposed to grow up. We are supposed to put the ways of childhood behind us.

Of course I am incredibly relieved and encouraged by the Supreme Court’s legalization of same sex marriage this week, but my heart still drops at some of the comments I’ve heard or read from acquaintances and friends. People who I know love their families. Would give their friends the shirt off their backs. But there is a disconnect in their sense of common humanity. I can only hope that as they get to know gay families, as their own children and grandchildren come out, the disconnect will be fused. I know the momentum is there. I see it happening like a river, like a never-failing stream, and yes, sometimes like a thunderbolt.