Monday, December 23, 2013

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Oscar Wilde)

During the Christmas season, we are told by our churches and our families and Macy’s to BELIEVE—in Jesus and in Santa and in holiday cheer, and for some of us, it’s easy.  I am surrounded by the “faithful,” joyful and triumphant, ready to behold the King of Angels.  We will adore him in our Christmas Eve services with candles lit during “Silent Night,” our children acting out the Nativity at an altar built for a baby in a manger.

I count myself in that number because I really do BELIEVE in capital letters the gospel message of Christmas.  If you asked most people who know me well, they would undoubtedly call me a Christian.  But if I’m honest about my faith (and I don’t have time or energy for a dishonest faith) when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the Christmas story, I am a doubter.  Reading the Bible and theological commentaries jumbles things for me.  Add to that the ugliness that parades around as Christianity in our time, and I want to hide in my Hobbit hole with my fingers in my ears and cry.  I just have so many questions—and a lot of heartache and pain.  Luckily, I have in the last decade been part of two faith communities where my questions were welcomed, and in some instances, answered.  One of my favorite blogger/author/moms, Jen Hatmaker, gave me words to describe my faith when she blogged at A Deeper Story: I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest.

I’ve thought more and more about this kind of thinking faith that relies heavily on resting in love and grace, while struggling to reconcile reality with the narrative my faith provides.  I’m reminded of the importance of living this out transparently with the people around me when I get messages from new friends that say, “I liked your post today. For the actual story and also because I now know you at least won’t judge me for not being Christian…I am glad to know you will still accept me even though I have no idea what I believe…”

If this Christmas, you are a doubter or a going-to-church-to-keep-the-peace-with-my-motherer or a I-don’t-know-what-I-believer, this post is for you.  BECAUSE YOU ARE MY PEOPLE.  Even though I’ve labeled myself a Christian, a truly life-long Christ follower, my faith is a process.  Contrary to what some of my counterparts preach, I don’t have the answers to a lot of your questions (or mine), but I CAN tell you why at the end of the day, even when I’m angry about how my faith is portrayed in the media or by other Christians, I have not thrown in the towel.

One of the Christmas songs that rarely gets played on the radio but has been stuck in my head this season is “We Three Kings,” a song about the quest of the Magi to bring gifts for the Baby Jesus.  In essence, here are some smart people (who by the way were not kings, but pagan astrologers by most theological accounts) who leave on a journey to find salvation—from a hostile world, from eternal meaninglessness, from themselves.  Through the song, the chorus repeats:

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

The Magi were literally following a star, a medium with which they were all too familiar as astrologers.  We as Christians look for the star of wonder, the perfect light in Jesus.  When I say I am following Christ, this is what I mean: Jesus Christ is a shining star on a dark night.  My dark night looks like fear and doubt, like anger and depression, like disappointment and fatigue.  The Christ child represents love and confidence, happiness and perspective, encouragement and energy.  A guiding light in the dark.  
One of my favorite TV characters is Sue Heck from ABC’s The Middle, a lovable if clumsy high school sophomore, whose less than fashionable clothes and braces get in the way of her popularity.  She is the epitome of everything that was painful about high school, but she remains an eternal optimist, an idealist who believes the best about others and herself, despite what the rest of the world might be trying to tell her.  In a recent episode, Sue had some friends over for a sleepover and long story short, she experienced a supernatural experience in which she believed the ghost of Christopher Columbus had spoken to her through a shadow shaped like the Santa Maria.  (I know, it sounds stupid, but like most things, you’d have to see it for it to make sense—just go with me on this and keep in mind that she believed she’d had this supernatural experience.)

Afterward, her parents were horrified that she’d been telling her friends and teachers.  Worried about what other people might think, they sat her down to talk some sense into her.  Despite their best efforts, Sue responded with this:

There are so many beautiful, amazing things that happen every day that sound crazy.  Think about it.  If I had to explain the miracle of how babies are born to someone who didn’t know, wouldn’t I sound insane?  And stars!  I read somewhere that when a star explodes, the dust they find is the same thing that makes up humans, animals, the entire universe.  How amazing is that?  The same stardust is in everything and everyone—me, you, even Christopher Columbus.  You know, in his day, some people still thought the world was flat.  Columbus said it was round, and people thought he was crazy.  Look—I know there’s always going to be doubters, but it just takes someone who thinks, “Why can’t it be true?” to truly change the world, and I am one of those people, so how can you sit there on this planet made of stardust that was once thought to be flat and still not think anything is possible?

The heart of the Christmas message is this: Jesus was the star of wonder lighting the way for people who believed in the possibility of redemption, that when hope is lost, there might be a better way.  When Jesus spoke to his followers later in life, he told them to be the light of the world.  The star of the Magi, Christ himself, me, you—we are all made of stardust.  Later, in Christ’s last days, he says that we will know his disciples because of their love for one another.  At the end of the day, when all the stardust settles, I believe that we belong to each other, that we need each other, and that when we love each other, we are whole.

Last year, I wrote a piece for our church’s Advent devotional about a Walt Whitman poem that illustrates how I feel about my evolving faith: 

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Like Whitman, I’ve listened to all the experts, the God-monopolizers, the unshakable-faith-havers, and all the charts and diagrams started to make me tired and sick.  When I take a moment to glide out of the lecture-room and look up, the way those wandering kings might have, I am awed into perfect silence at the stars.


Merry Christmas, friends.  For unto us a star is born.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Friendsday #7

I’m lucky to be part of a project called Somebody’s Mama.  Our mission is to bring awareness to issues affecting women across the globe, to create a community of people who care deeply about finding real solutions, and to turn ideas into action.  We live by Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  This week, our Facebook page admin posted this:
If you glanced at it and scanned back down to my words, go back.  If you read it, read it again.  I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS.

The first time I remember having this experience was in elementary school when we started playing competitive sports.  Through softball and soccer, I found myself surrounded by girls who loved the same things I loved and who rallied around me win or lose.  One of the people I still love most in the world stood in front of me as a sweeper when I was goalie and behind me at third base while I pitched.

Throughout high school and college and into adulthood, I can point to groups of women who carried me through challenging times and brought the party when it was time to celebrate.  Some of my best memories as a military spouse are of nights when I shared dinner with other spouses whose husbands were also deployed. The thing about finding and loving a group of friends is that you never know when or how it will happen.  Sometimes it’s a result of organizational structure (sports teams, sororities, community or church groups), and sometimes it happens organically over time as a result of just living with each other—getting naked together as Jeanette Leblanc says in the picture above.
I met Stephanie when we were eight years old.  Our families were attending the same church, and we spent those formative years scheming about how we could spend the night together every weekend.  She was the first person I told when I started my period, and I gave her my training bra when she was too embarrassed to ask her mom to buy her one.  We crushed on the same boys and wrote notes about them on church bulletins when we should have been paying attention.  We traveled on mission trips and family vacations together, and when I decided to move “home” after my freshman year of college, the only thing that made sense was for us to be college roommates.  If there is one person on the planet who could ruin my chances to be president, Stephanie is the one who holds the key to my closet.

In elementary school, I thought Stephanie and I would grow up to be like CC Bloom and Hillary Essex from Beaches.  I, of course, was Bette Midler’s loud and obnoxious CC and Stephanie was Barbara Hershey’s demure and kind Hillary.  (Thankfully, we did not play out the plot of the movie for so many reasons—primarily because I very much like having Stephanie alive and well.)  I had the soundtrack on cassette tape, and even then, I thought of Stephanie every time I belted out Wind Beneath My Wings in my bedroom.  While my personality may have been bigger at times, I always appreciated Stephanie’s quiet strength.  

I asked her to stand with me at my wedding, and she asked me to officiate hers.  When she and her husband struggled to get pregnant for three years, I was astounded at her ability to never lose hope.  Watching her become a mother has been an awe-inspiring lesson in never taking life for granted.  Stephanie has always been a deep feeler, and I have come to appreciate her sensitivity as a strength, something that pulls me out of my head and grounds me when I’m thinking too much.  A few weeks ago, she called me crying because one of her other best friend's sisters found out her cancer is back, and the diagnosis this time is--well, it's not good.  As we cried over the phone together, she said, "I just need you to know I love you.  And pray.  Just pray."  That phone call was in large part the impetus for writing these Friendsday pieces in the first place.

Our friendship is one with history, with layers, with ups and downs and twists and turns, a long road for a joyful journey.
I met Jennifer because she’s Stephanie’s older sister. Because she’s a *wee bit* older than us, growing up, I thought she was beautiful and fancy.  She threw parties with real food when we were poor college students.  She was the first person we went to with good news about a new guy in our lives or for help if we needed a picture-burning party.  While she knew how to have a good time, she was also a well of wisdom during that time of life when we needed a mom but didn’t want to talk to our actual moms.  

As I transitioned from college kid to real life adult, my relationship with Jennifer evolved.  Ten years ago, her daughter, Elizabeth, was a flower girl in my wedding, and now when we visit OK, her house is one of the first places my kids ask to go because she has a swimming pool and “the best snacks like candy and marshmallows.”

On one hand, Jennifer is deeply private, someone who works through things mentally before she talks through them, something I tend to do as well.  On the other hand, she is generous with her time and energy and truly invests in the lives of her friends and family.  She is the first to open her house for a party, and she has shown up at all the important events in my life—my wedding, my baby showers, and even my husband’s promotion party—because she understands the value of hospitality, gathering, and togetherness.

When I think about my relationship with Jennifer, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the Romans in chapter 12 verse 15, “When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad.”  She’s truly a friend for all seasons.  Aside from my mom, she's the one person who nags me the most about publishing a book--with gentle reminders that what I have inside needs to be shared with the world.
I met Erika because her brother was Jennifer’s first husband.  After both of them went through divorces, Jennifer and Erika were still friends, two single moms of young daughters.  When I think about that time in their lives, I’m in awe of both of them.  With life experience and perspective, I’m able to admire Jennifer and Erika for their determination and strength in adversity.  They have known difficulties different than mine, but I recognize and covet their ability to come through challenges with grace and an appreciation for the lessons learned. 

Despite the distance, Erika and I have an every day kind of friendship.  She’s the only person I literally text/talk to/message every single day.  I frequently go to the mailbox to find a package from her for no reason—a book she thinks I might like or on one occasion, a knitted Princess Leia doll that brightened a really dismal week I was having.  She’s insanely thoughtful in the way she loves her people and understands the details of friendship. I named one of my chickens after her—the only one not named after a famous writer or book character.

Most recently, we have been venturing together into new territory—the world of “human care” (she’s the Facebook admin for Somebody’s Mama I mentioned above).  We each have our strengths, and we make a great team.  If I am the brain behind Somebody’s Mama, Erika is the heart.  I’m a thinker; she’s a doer.  I’m a questioner, and she’s an answerer.  We are creating a community of people who care deeply about improving the lives of mamas around the world, and Erika is the reason it’s happening.  She’s going to hate that I put it that way, but it’s true.  I brought the ball, and she’s getting it rolling.

Because I'm an only child, and she doesn't have any sisters, it makes sense that we have adopted each other.  If there was a process that existed to make us legally bound as family, we would be the first in line to sign the paperwork.
Our shadows in Sedona--I had this picture mounted on canvas
for everyone for Christmas one year.
While my relationships with all three of these women continue to evolve, we formally named ourselves the “Four Sisters” a little over two years ago when we traveled to Sedona, AZ to celebrate Jennifer’s 40th birthday.  Since then, we have very purposefully gathered together when I am visiting OK, intentionally celebrating each other—through Christmas present exchanges over brunch, days by the pool with our kids, or dinners out.  I could write pages about the lessons I’ve learned from each of them, but the bigger point is this—I NEED these women in my life.  These are friendships forged in the fires of life’s greatest messes and on the mountaintops of celebration.  I need them in my life because they remind me that I’m not my weaknesses or my failures, and they reflect all the best things I love about myself.

When I was in the middle of writing this piece, I (no joke!) got this text:
While I can’t be there in person, you better bet I’ve got a date via phone with my girls.  I’ll bring the virtual mimosas.  As we head into this week before Christmas, I am thanking my 8-pounds 6-ounces newborn infant Jesus for these three gifts he’s given me in the form of laughing, feeling, thinking, loving women who choose to dive in, hold on, and love it up with me—so much so that I believe the fabric of my being is woven together with theirs.  


Merry Christmas, sisters.  I try to tell you as often as I can that I love you, but there is no such thing as too many times.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Is What Ten Years Looks Like

I have been married for ten years.  Did you get that?  Let me repeat.  I HAVE BEEN MARRIED FOR TEN YEARS.  You know how people talk about dog years?  Well, I like to say we count by Air Force years—that’s when every calendar year counts as ten years, so because of that, I want to say, happy 100th anniversary, Scott Johnson!  On this day, in 2003, you made me a kept woman, and I want to celebrate by taking a walk through the eleven Decembers we’ve been married.  And we’ll start here…

2003

I woke up the morning of my wedding completely at peace.  Honestly.  I’d written love letters to my husband since long before I knew he was going to be my husband, so when I chose him as the one, I was positively sure I was doing the right thing.  I didn’t have jitters or second thoughts, and the only reason I had cold feet was because it was freezing outside.  As the day progressed, rain turned to sleet turned to twelve inches of snow on top of frozen ice, and yet, somehow, we were able to fill a sanctuary with almost four hundred people.  I walked down the aisle to The Beatles’ “Blackbird” played by a string quartet, and when I got to the end, I let go of my dad’s arm and took Scott Johnson’s hand.  It took close to twenty minutes to drive two blocks to our reception, where we danced our first dance to “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by an ancient man in a forest green crushed velvet tuxedo jacket.  Scott danced with my Grandma Hazel—the first dance in her Pentecostal life—and I threw my bouquet completely over the heads of all the single ladies waiting.  Magical.  The whole thing was just magical.


2004

We were weeks away from finding out where we would be stationed for our first assignment out of pilot training.  Knowing we would be moving to one of the coasts and therefore less likely be “home” for Christmas in the coming years, we made the rounds for all the Christmases—visiting all the grandparents and great-grandparents in OK and MO.  It would be our second and last Christmas as a family of two, as in this picture, Will had been cooking for about two weeks.

2005

I’m cheating with this picture.  It’s not December—it’s the end of November, just after Thanksgiving.  We don’t have any family pictures in December because Scott had started his stop and go schedule, which involved very short stops at home before he would go again for weeks at a time.  If I look tired, it’s because I was.  Will was not a fan of sleeping, and without someone else to take shifts most nights, I was…well, I was the mom of a three-month-old.  It was the first of a handful of holiday seasons that Scott celebrated over the phone (and later over Skype or FaceTime).

2006

Scott left for his first official deployment in the fall of 2006, so it was just me and the Will-man in December.  While the deployment was difficult, I’d found my rhythm as a part-time single mom, and we were lucky to be part of a flying squadron, which deployed as a whole, so I was never without the support of friends, whose husbands were also deployed.  I saved all our emails, and most of my deployment emails involved stories about Will not taking naps and updates about who got kicked off of Big Brother.  Scott said things like “i miss you crazy insano madness (that’s a lot).”


2007

Remember when Ugly Sweater parties were actually a thing?  Some of our best friends, the Wetzels, hosted this one, and we took on the eat, drink, and be merry challenge with gusto.  Scott fell asleep on the couch, and we wrote on his face with markers.  We slept on a futon in the loft and ate leftover chicken wings for breakfast.  So, basically, it was JUST like college, except we had kids who woke up needing to be fed and diapered.  I think we were all just giddy to have husbands around long enough to have a party.  At the end of this December, I told Scott it was now or never if we were going to add to the family, and his answer was resoundingly NOW.


2008

Ben was born three days before Thanksgiving, making him the youngest baby in the church when the Christmas Eve service rolled around.  This picture—THIS PICTURE—is all of the feelings.  There we are, all four of us, feeling like everything was perfect and right in the world.  We’d been tasked to be Mary and Joseph for obvious reasons, and Will suggested a re-write, so instead of riding a donkey, this Mary and Joseph had a pet sheep (a sheep who would strip his wool halfway through the service and run out to his Mimi who was sitting in the pews).  Fun fact: unbeknownst to me, I had MRSA coursing through my body, a little gift from Ben’s delivery, and two days later, I’d land in the emergency room to be lanced and drained.  HOWEVER, in this moment, I’m sitting next to my favorite wild sheep and staring at the child born unto us, and I couldn’t be any more in love with the look on Joseph’s face.


2009

In all of our pictures of December, there isn’t one with all of us, but this picture is perfect. Scott was around a *little* more this year, and we had a good thing going.  This was the year of toddler trenches—when some days, I just had to go upstairs and shut the door for fifteen minutes of silence, as soon as Scott walked in the door.  And when I was finished with my sanity breaks, I’d come downstairs, and the three of them would be stacking blocks or reading books or watching football, and I saw my future unfolding.  Scott was a good husband and a good daddy to these tiny people and a good man, and I felt like the queen of the castle.  A somewhat sleep-deprived queen of a relatively disorganized castle, but I wouldn’t have ruled any other way.


2010

Home for Christmas four years in a row!  How did we pull that off?  Oh, yeah, I remember now—Scott was preparing to leave for weapons school—a six-month program which involved a lot of anxiety for both of us.  I remember feeling disconnected for the first time in our marriage, like he was moving into territory without me for some reason.  I’d been doing so much “on my own” (I know this concept is preposterous given my wide circle of support, but it felt that way much of the time) for so many years, and something had shifted.  It was a fun holiday season, spent in OK with friends and family, but when we pulled back into Charleston, I had a six-month single-parenting stint on my horizon, during which I would have to pack our house for a yet-to-be-determined cross-country move, all while raising two children (and a dog who insisted on peeing at the top of the stairs every day).  I was right to be anxious, and so was he.

2011

What a weird year.  After Scott was gone for a very stressful, strained six months, we moved from SC to WA, and three months later, he deployed (again!) for the last three months of the year.  We’d run the gamut of emotions in those twelve months, asked a lot of hard questions, and gave a lot of ugly answers, and in the end, I think we were both feeling apprehensive about the future to say the least.  We were diligently communicating throughout the deployment, both desperate to continue with the momentum we’d gained before he left.  My friend, Renee, said of her husband (also a pilot) once, “When I give my husband the chance to be my hero, he does it.  Every time.”  That had been stuck in my gut this whole year, as we worked through a really trying time in our marriage.  I had to come to a place where I trusted Scott to be my hero again instead of approaching him from a place of bitterness and resentment and anger.  And that’s when he did this.  Unbeknownst to me, Scott organized a surprise “anniversary dinner” with all of my closest friends from OK.  What I thought was going to be a night out with one friend was actually THIS.  Not pictured: my dad and the boys who stopped by to say hi and I love you, Scott’s best friend, Jefferson, who read a letter on behalf of Scott and delivered flowers, and my mom and mother-in-law, two marble pillars, who held up the roof of our house for us during this year.


2012

What a difference a year makes.  And a change of scenery to beautiful WA.  And a time when Scott was “home” with just a few short trips for almost six months in a row.  We hit our stride again with an astoundingly quick recovery—it’s amazing how things come together when you’re actually together.  In Olympia, we found great children’s theater and Thai food and farm stands and chickens—we got chickens!—and a house in the hills where you can see the Olympics on sunny days.  We found a church and preschool all in one and hiking trails and a boy scout troop and horseback riding lessons and and a gymnastics gym and highways that will take us north to Canada or south to Voodoo Donuts in Portland.  And we were happy—really happy.  It was a year of reevaluating EVERYTHING.  And on Christmas morning, we woke up TOGETHER, looking a little less Hallmark and a lot more Cousin Eddie, and it was perfect.


2013

And we’ve made it to this December—our last December in WA, as we know we’ll be moving this summer.  Right now, the house is a mess of winter coats and decorations and stacks of dishes and school supplies, and tomorrow marks ten years of marriage.


Scott Johnson,

Before bed tonight, you told me you loved me and you were sorry that you fell asleep before I got home from running errands.  It’s okay—because when you’re sleeping, and I’m up being a night owl, sometimes I sit on the couch, listening to you puff in the other room and writing love letters for you to read in the morning.  I sit on the couch in my ugly pajamas, reminiscing on the life we’ve made together, a gurgling mess while I think about those two babies in the back of the house who are blessed to call you Daddy.  

So, on our anniversary—you’re going to go to work, and I’m going to buy groceries and run Ben to preschool and homeschool Will, and then we’re going to meet up at Ben’s Christmas program (6:30—don’t be late!), and we’ll have cookies and juice in the church atrium, where I’ll watch you help our boys and have polite conversation with the teachers and the other parents in that easy way that you do.  And then we will grab buy-one-get-one burritos at Chipotle on the way home, tuck our babes into bed, and grub down while we catch up on The Daily Show.  I will probably eat some chocolate or maybe a spoonful of peanut butter for dessert, and you can have an extra Cherry Coke if you want.  We can play Skip-bo when we’re done eating.  After all, we’re celebrating!  

And it will be the most perfect and romantic 100th anniversary we’ve ever had.  Here’s to 1000 more years.  The other night, I was reading our bedtime book with the boys, and I came across this passage that tells how I feel about the future:

“Nicholas, we have what we need.  Brave hearts.  And sharp minds,” Ombric reminded him.  “And as you might recall, we always abandon our plans and end up doing things we never imagined.”

That’s it.  I can’t imagine what’s in store.

xo


Leia

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Friendsday #6

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here and here and here.


I got a message this morning from a friend saying she waits with bated breath for my friendsday posts, and while I am sure she was being dramatic for effect, she’s not the first person to express his or her excitement over reading these posts.  While I would flatter myself to think that you love reading because I’m such a spectacular storyteller, the reality is that I think it’s something so much more.  

We are all busy—some of us too busy—and yet, each week, somewhere between 150 and 250 of you have taken the time to pause in your day and read a story.  And you want to know why I think this is happening?  Because in a time where more information is at our finger tips through cable news and smart phones and social media, we all want to be reminded that we’re human.  When every other story on my Facebook wall is something about war or mass shootings or corrupt politicians or celebrity gossip, I don’t just want to read something uplifting.  My spirit NEEDS it.

I have friends who use their talents as nurses and baristas and teachers and booksellers to bring smiles to the world’s face through their work, and in that vein, writing is the talent I can use to heal and serve and encourage and educate all of us into a better place.

So, with that, let me introduce you to my friend, Leigh.
I met Leigh when her husband, David, took a call to be the associate minister at our church in Charleston. The majority of our friendship-building happened over wine and cheese at the women’s Bible study Leigh held at their house, where we and a few other “same stage” women studied the Bible and other spiritual-ish matters, while bonding over the challenges of toddler-rearing.  It was on those Wednesday evenings, when I was stuffing my face with Danish blue cheese because I’d forgotten to eat lunch that I realized just how wise Leigh was.  Also, she always had wine.  Did I mention that?

At the time, there was a book circulating among my peers called Mommy Wars that addressed the issue of the tension and criticism happening between moms who chose to work and moms who stayed at home.  The “mommy blog” phenomena was relatively new, as well, but the conversation being had at the time was one similar to what our mothers experienced in the years during and following the women’s lib movement.  What is the “right” choice?  Can we “have it all” so to speak?

Leigh is a CPA whose schedule is typical of her profession—long hours.  With each of her children, she took the requisite maternity leave and then went back to work.  I, on the other hand, was the poster child for stay-at-home moms.  Together, we were the benchmarks of motherhood, and our culture was telling us that we should be at odds, judging each other’s choices, and feeling inadequate based on that comparison.

Often times, I think the fear/judgement/tension involved with anything that is different is dissipated quickly when one is exposed to living, breathing, fleshy difference.  As I got to know Leigh, I had a real example of what a working mom looked like—not some cartoon character of a frazzled executive whose children call their nanny “Mom.”  I hope in return Leigh saw that I was not a disheveled, crafty, jumper-with-baby-spit-up-on-it-wearing nightmare with no ambition that is often portrayed.  Was she frazzled sometimes? Maybe. Did some spit up slip by me once or twice?  Sure.  But the reality—and this is the case with most issues that divide us, I believe—is that we both lived in the middle most of the time.

Leigh’s girls are smart and funny and loving and opinionated.  Watching Leigh mother her children was and is a gift because it is obvious that they know they are loved and are being raised to be caring citizens of the world they inhabit.  David and Leigh’s kitchen is covered in school artwork, and their family room is full of games and toys and books and comfy chairs for snuggling.  I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is steady independence—the sense that when they go out into the world, they can hold their own, and when they come back, we are their safe place.  When I saw pictures this summer of Leigh’s oldest daughter’s trip to her first overnight camp, I thought—man, Leigh knows what she’s doing.  (Sidenote: I’d put David on a list of top ten dads I know, too.)
And in all of that, you know what is not a factor at all?  Leigh’s choice to work outside the home.  My admiration for her as a mother has nothing to do with that choice and everything to do with the fact that while her day-to-day hours look really different than mine, she has clearly placed loving her children at the top of her list of priorities.  It’s evident in both her attitude toward her children and in the way those girls love their mama.

In a season of my life when I was sorting through the messages being sent about motherhood, Leigh encouraged, edified, and supported me on the good days, and she commiserated with me on the bad.  She’s the kind of friend every young mom would be lucky to have, and she’s one of the reasons I try to be that person to all my friends who make different choices than mine.


Leigh, you are one of the most honest, caring, down to earth women I know, and it’s an honor to watch you grow your happy little humans.  Thank you for your inspiration.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Friendsday #5

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here and here.

When I’m in OK for visits, I have a standing date with my dad and a few other friends on Tuesday nights.  We play trivia at the 51st Street Speakeasy, where my friend, Patrick, of The Lost Ogle fame dishes up pop culture/OK-specific/headline news trivia, while we eat nachos and bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

A couple of summers ago, my friend, Jim, invited one of his friends to join us.  I was happy to meet a new team member, especially because I am frequently the only girl at the table.  Fallon was already part of a regular trivia team—The Oklahoma Atheists—but they only met every other Tuesday, so on her off Tuesdays, she joined our team.  Fallon was witty and laid-back, and her engineering background gave us a skill set to add to our team’s collective knowledge base.

I quickly learned that Jim had originally met Fallon at church.  They were part of a group of people that met regularly outside of normal worship hours called a “life group.”  Clearly, I was curious how Fallon went from being an active member of an evangelical megachurch to being an active member of the Oklahoma Atheists.  Luckily, Fallon was and is completely open and honest about preeeeeetty much anything you would want to know about her, so over time, I learned her fascinating story.

Allow me a tangent for a moment.  Growing up “fundie” as we evangelicals like to say, I was taught to love God and love my neighbor.  I was taught that mature Christians are servants like Jesus.  I was taught that the church is not a building but a people.  I cherish the lessons I learned in Sunday school from little old ladies, at youth group camps and retreats, and in Sunday morning services.  Along the way, however, I picked up a lot of things that I’ve had to unlearn over time—one of which is the submissive role of women in the church and in the home.

Most of what I was taught as “Biblical” was—to oversimplify—that I was inferior because I didn’t have a penis.  Our church was progressive in the sense that women were allowed leadership roles and even preached from the pulpit at times, so I’m not saying it was all patriarchy and submission all the time, but there was certainly an undercurrent of inferiority complex, especially in matters relating to dating and marriage.  I was to be pursued.  I was to be modest and genteel and quiet.  I was to submit to my husband’s spiritual authority.  (I ran this by Scott one time when we were dating, and as the good democratic Presbyterian that he is, he stared at me like I was speaking Martianese.)

I spent my teen years and the time leading up to marriage (at age 23) trying to separate the grain from the chaff so to speak.  While I certainly liked the idea of having a boyfriend or husband who could lead me spiritually and protect and provide for our family, I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the idea that a penis was the thing that qualified someone to lead.  The argument was that this was “God’s design,” but when I looked at my parents’ relationship, which was configured like a partnership rather than a top down structure, that made more sense to me.  I also saw many of my friends who were being raised by single mothers, either through divorce or the death of their fathers, and those families seemed to be pretty tight with God, too.

Okay, one more tangent, and then I swear this is all going to come back around to Fallon and why I’m glad she’s my friend.  Just after college, I read Jeffrey Euginedes’ Pulitzer prize winning novel, Middlesex.   Aside from being beautifully constructed, the book is the hauntingly stirring story of Cal Stephanides, a man with gender identity issues due to a developmental sex disorder.  Several years later, Oprah would choose the book for her book club and then host several shows with real people dealing with intersexual issues.  In being exposed to these very human stories, I became fascinated by this aspect of human sexuality—boys who were genetically girls or girls who were genetically boys.  In reading and dime store researching, I learned how wide the spectrum of sexual “disorders” is.  From hormonal differences to chromosomal differences, “male” and “female” seemed to be more and more limiting in terms of human sexuality.
Which brings me back to Fallon.  Lovely, funny, open Fallon.  Who is a girl.  But who is technically male.  Fallon describes herself as an AIS patient—someone with Androgen Insensitivity Syndome, which means that she is technically XY, but by all outward appearances is female.  (You can watch this talk she gave at the University of Central Oklahoma in February of 2012.  It’s long, but if you have the time, I encourage you to take a listen.  There is so much to be learned when we listen to other people’s stories.)

Over time, I learned from Fallon about how during puberty, she came to know of her condition for the first time, and how over time, her struggle to define her sexuality (meaning human sexual function, not just sex) led her to walk away from her faith as an evangelical Christian.  One of the things I appreciate about Fallon’s approach to the faith/science dialogue is that I have never felt judged.  In other conversations with atheist friends, I have at times felt condescension for being a person who believes in God.  Whether it’s on purpose or inadvertently, some atheists have a tendency to treat people of faith as if they are stupid or just haven’t thought about their faith.  On the flip side, people of faith tend to assume that all atheists are angry and reactionary, when many of my atheist friends are such because that was how they were raised and/or they have reached their conclusions logically and not just from a place of hurt.

Being friends with Fallon has made me more sensitive to other people’s perspective on my faith.  If I—a person who was raised in the church and still very much believes in God—struggle to find my place based on the social/gender constructs set up by the church relating to how men and women are to interact, what is Fallon to do?  When we talk about he “role” of women, where does Fallon fit?  Since Fallon dates men, does that make her gay since she’s technically male?  If we have distinct gender roles, did God make a mistake when Fallon was born?  If we really believe that we are made in God’s image, well…

These are HUGE questions, and I don’t have answers that will satisfy everyone, but if we as Christians are to live out our faith in practical ways, we have to come to terms about what we believe about my friend, Fallon.  In thirty three years, I’ve had approximately ten official “pastors” who have challenged me to a deeper faith.  Some of them have been great teachers, some great mentors, some great friends.  I’m adding Fallon to my list of pastors because she’s led me to new places in my faith that I never could have imagined, simply by sharing herself, by just being Fallon.

The thing is—Fallon is obviously much more than her AIS.  She’s a daughter and sister and friend.  She’s always up for a good time, and she loves her dog.  She’s an adventurer, a risk-taker, a person who feels deeply and doesn’t know how to be something she’s not.  She’s an open book that I’ve been lucky enough to read over the last couple of years, and in that vein, she’s a bestseller.


Thank you, Fallon, for challenging me in ways you don’t know.  And for all your help at trivia.  This world is bigger because of you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friendsday #4

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here.

After attending a private school through eighth grade, my parents made the decision to send me to the public high school by our house.  Aside from the excitement and anxiety everyone experiences transitioning to high school, I went from being in a class of 65 students to a class of nearly 400.  My personality has always lent itself to making a few deep friendships, and in a sea of strangers, there was one person who made the changes slightly less painful.

The first week of school, the school organized a Sadie Hawkins dance—you know, the kind where the girl has to ask the guy—which is in fact one of the worst of ideas ever.  I mean, I’m sure the girls who had just gotten back together with their eighth grade boyfriends following their summer break-ups were fine, but I was starting at ground zero, so I did what anyone in my situation would do—I asked the boy who sat next to me in my first period English class.
Dan with his sweet wife and manchild.  Love this picture!
Dan was funny and smart, and in the three days I’d known him before I had to find a “date” to the dance, I decided he would do.  You know how there’s this theory out there that there’s no such thing as a platonic relationship between guys and girls?  Well, that’s stupid.  From that night on, Dan became a confidante and a study buddy and eventually the stabilizing third wheel in my relationship with my high school boyfriend.  Many of my fondest memories of high school involved cheering Dan on in his football or soccer games and wrestling matches, eating Taco Bell at late night AP History study sessions at his house or mine, or missing curfew and getting grounded because we were doing something stupid.

When we each prepared to leave for college (I was headed to Trinity in San Antonio, and he was headed to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), I had no doubt that our friendship would survive the long distance.  Labor Day weekend of our sophomore year, I traveled to CO to visit him over “parents’ weekend” at the Academy.  His family was leaving earlier than I could get away from school and work, so they connected me with a nice family, the Johnsons, who were traveling to see their son who also attended the Air Force Academy.

Three months later at a New Years’ Eve party, I answered someone else’s phone that had been left on the counter.  On the other end, a voice said, “Who is this?”  When I answered, the guy said, “You mean Dan’s friend, Leia?”  Up to this point in my life, I’d been “Steve and Nancy’s daughter” and “Lyn and Lisa’s niece” and “Hazel and Claudine’s grand-daughter,” but yes, I was “Dan’s friend, Leia,” too.  I gave Scott Johnson, the son of the nice people who helped me get to CO to see my best friend, directions to the party.

When Scott and I got married three years later, we asked Dan to stand with us, and when his Air Force duty would not allow him to fly home for the wedding, we didn’t replace him.  We were down one groomsman, but it didn’t matter.  His absence as we held his place was far more important than balancing the wedding party.  On some level, he was the reason we were even celebrating our wedding in the first place.

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were struggling to find balance in our family life and marriage.  I was deeply depressed, and Scott was attempting to keep too many plates spinning at work.  The result was a palpable feeling of distance and reevaluation on both of our parts.  Dan showed up to support Scott at his graduation ceremony from an Air Force training program, and in some of our free time, the three of us were lying by the hotel pool having beers and catching up.  At one point, I made an exasperated comment, intuitively knowing it was safe to say certain things out loud to Dan that I wouldn’t have said to most people.  After filling him in on how the stresses of military life were adversely affecting me and the kids, I said, “I can’t stay married if things stay this way.  I’d rather be divorced than keep living like this.”

Dan’s response was steady, but also unexpectedly emotional.  His words were simple: you don’t mean that.  I could see in him surprise and disappointment and pain.  Those four words came back to me in the following months when Scott and I did the hard work of therapy, communicating in ways we had never needed to in the past.  Dan’s face literally came to mind in times when I needed to combat negative thoughts that were the result of depression, rather than based in reality.  He was right—I didn’t really mean that.  And Dan was just one of many people who would have been surprised and disappointed and hurt if Scott and I had decided to throw in the towel.

Dan and I are two years away from celebrating a twenty year frienderversary, which is totally not possible because we are not that old, and while his and Scott’s Air Force careers have never allowed us to live in the same place again, he remains the stabilizing force in my life that he was when we were fifteen.

From Dan, I’ve learned the necessity of surrounding myself with people who love me even when I’m a mess.  I am a fiercely loyal friend to the people I love largely in part because Dan showed me how and why that’s important.  Watching him become a husband and a dad has elicited pride in my heart not dissimilar to the way I feel watching my kids meet milestones.  I’m proud to watch him grow with his family because I have been privileged to be on the receiving end of his wisdom, dependability, and fidelity.  As an only child I can’t be completely sure, but I think this is what it feels like to have a brother.


Dan, I know you might be rolling your eyes at the sentimentality of this, but I don’t care.  I know behind the eye rolling is a giant heart.  Love you, man.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Friendsday #3

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here.

I’m in the middle of one of those weeks.  Everything that’s happening is fun and happy and great, but I have been going non-stop.  I fell asleep on the couch last night, lying against Scott, and he propped me up with a giant stuffed polar bear the kids have been playing with and let me sleep there all night.  I’m looking at my to-do list, fully aware that there’s no way I can get it all done, but I have been looking forward to today since LAST Wednesday, so I’m pausing for a moment (more like 43 minutes because that’s how long I have until I have to leave to take the kids to gymnastics) to say THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to another shining star in my life.  

I don’t want to sound all dramatic and sentimental, but YOU GUYS, knowing that I get to write about the people I love once a week has just…I don’t know.  It’s just been so life-affirming and perspective-shaping.  You should try it.
I had to use this picture of Kelsey because
1) almost all of the pictures on her FB page have other people in them, and
2) it's probably the best thing I've ever seen in my life.  I look at this picture sometimes
when I'm stalking her on FB late at night and need a pick-me-up.
So, I met Kelsey through my mom when she started working at the school where my mom had been a teacher and guidance counselor for almost twenty years.  Because I was living in SC at the time, I only knew OF Kelsey for a couple of years before I met her.  Once a week or so, I’d hear a story about something creative or smart Kelsey had done in her classroom, or my mom would give me a book recommendation, saying, “Kelsey told me I HAD to read it, so you know it’s going to be good.”  After awhile, my mom started joking around about her “other daughter.”

Kelsey and I are about the same age, and while I had never spent any *actual* time with her, I started to fall in love with who she was and with who she was to my mama.  What I knew about her: she was passionate about teaching and loving kids who had been labeled unteachable and unlovable.  She had a quirky sense of humor that carried my mom and the other staff members through some tough times for their school community.  She thought outside the box and challenged her kids to do the same, despite the fact that many of the kids she taught came from high-risk backgrounds that led other people to believe hope was lost.

Eventually, I was able to meet Kelsey in real life and stop living vicariously through my mom’s friendship with her.  I tried to make a point to hang out with her on my visits to OK, and my time with her rounded out the character I’d created in my mind.

This year, Kelsey made a tough decision to move back to CO to be closer to her family, and she’s one of the reasons I thank God for technology.  I can see what she’s reading on Goodreads, and I can say hooray when she finds an apartment, and I can cry (I know, it’s stupid—having children unclogged my tear ducts, and now I can’t stop) when she posts pictures of herself with her dad because even though I don’t know her dad, I know how awesome it is to love your dad that much.  When I started doing this two weeks ago, Kelsey was one of the first people to respond, saying that my quest to thank and love the people who have impacted me in ways big and small was “inspired.”

If I were to think of a word to describe Kelsey, that would be it.  We talk of ideas being inspired, but Kelsey is living an inspired life.  This is somewhere around the same realm of being a free spirit but with gravitas.  She’s living her life very much in the way I want to live mine—she’s independent but understands the strength of community; she’s funny—like laugh out loud wit funny—but understands the depth that sorrow brings; and she’s vulnerable—the way Brene Brown talks about vulnerability in Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”  I covet the way Kelsey gracefully embraces and exposes truth and courage in ways that make others around her want to seek truth and find courage in themselves.

I believe that every person who comes into my life has the potential to teach me a lesson, and I feel like I’m sitting at the feet of one of the greats in being Kelsey’s student friend.  She’s taught me the importance of appreciating the people who love the people I love.  I live far away from many of the people I love most, and during the few years that Kelsey was working with my mom, I knew that she was a soft place my mom could land if needed.  I’ve also learned to take risks, especially when naysayers tell me something can’t be done, and then to embrace the change with joy.  And finally, I’ve seen Kelsey nurture herself—through books and friendships and through the choice she recently made to move to CO, which I believe is the reason she has the energy she does to give so fully to those of us who have been witness to her beauty.


So, today, in the middle of the craziness, I took a minute to nurture myself by writing about someone who taught me how to do that.  Kelsey, you’re one of a kind.  I hope you know how much I love you.