Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yellow Light

My life is generally ordered around a somewhat vague but rigid sense of fairness. More than, usually, love or generosity or even practicality, I decide what to do in any given situation using mostly a self-designed barometer of what's fair. Do I want to return this cart to the designated spot? No, but that's what's fair. Is it helpful to beep at the lady who just cut me off in the Target parking lot? No, but she was being unfair. Not all my examples take place in a Target parking lot but you understand what I'm saying.

This is how we relate to each other. Think about the very angriest you get - it's likely it's when you feel something unfair has happened to you.

A few weeks ago I interviewed a man who was shot by the National Guard during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University in 1970. I was struck by hearing him talk about the emotional realization of what had happened to him - he had more sadness, I think, talking to me about the moment he realized that he could be unjustly shot and no one would get in trouble than he had about actually being shot. And consider the cognitive dissonance here - I'm not blaming him, because I do this too - but here was a kid who'd spent years protesting a war he found to be profoundly unfair. He knew the world wasn't fair. But he still couldn't believe someone would shoot HIM. I get it.


For Lent I've been re-reading all four Gospels. It's engrossing, reading them quickly like this, in huge chunks. More than when I try to parse and meditate over tiny passages,  this makes Jesus' personality - and maybe something like his style? - emerge more memorably. And I will tell you: there has never been a time for me when pop-culture descriptions of Jesus have seemed more obtuse, oblivious, self-serving and outright wrong.

A familiar passage made my jaw drop again the other day. I'm going to paraphrase it.

Open on: Jesus running into a Syrophoenician woman. (AKA: not Jewish.)

Lady: Jesus! Thank God! My daughter desperately needs you. She's oppressed by a terrible demon.
Jesus: I didn't come to help *your kind.* You're basically a *dog* to me.


Jesus wasn't being accurate here - he meant what He said, but he wasn't being accurate. He came to bring the Gospel to everyone - Jew and Greek alike - and watching and hearing the compassion with which he tends to every person he meets makes it clear he deeply loved people regardless of ethnicity (and didn't consider anyone a dog.)  But He hadn't taken the step yet to open the gospel to the Gentiles, or even told his disciples yet that that was the plan. (Another thing standing out to me while reading the gospels quickly like this: timing. It is very, very very important to Jesus.)

Back to our scene:

Lady: Ok. I get it. I'm not Jewish. You didn't come for me. Whatever. But I'll take whatever you give me. The leftover crumbs from the food you feed the privileged.
Jesus: wowowowowowowowwwwwwww..... my Father has clearly given you an understanding of what I'm doing here. I can't believe this, it's amazing. Yes, yes, yes yes yes I will absolutely help you.

Can you believe this story?


Here's the thing I'm straining to say: for Jesus, the emergency was the gospel. IT WAS AN EMERGENCY. Think about the ways this interaction could've gone - he could've spoken to her gently, healed her daughter and used it all to teach his disciples that "there is no longer Jew nor Greek." In other words, he could've set down his message for a moment and done a great act of racial reconciliation. But he didn't.

It was entirely and wholly unfair that Jesus said this to that woman. She held absolutely no responsibility for not being born a Jew - just as the Jews had no responsibility for the happenstance of their privilege. But instead of wallowing in the injustice of it, the woman - a typical mother, if you ask me - focused instead on her daughter. I don't care if you didn't come for me. It does me no good to pull out my hair or grab a megaphone and cry about how unfair you're being. Whatever. Just help my daughter anyway; I know you can.

Immediately this takes my mind to the passage later, when his disciples think they're going to score some brownie points by waxing poetic over the beautiful temple in Jerusalem. "These great buildings, Jesus! It's so cool that God is your Father." And Jesus says "who cares about these? they'll be torn down in three days. They don't matter."

Jesus came for one thing: the Gospel. Telling people that He was God's son and that the kingdom was here was an emergency to Him. It's clear from the rest of the gospels that He cared about other things - including racial reconciliation and respect for His Father's house. But these were not even close to THE thing. Social justice wasn't his primary mission (are you listening, liberals?) Neither was preserving or promoting institutional acknowledgment of His Father (are you listening, conservatives?) He'd all but ignore these issues completely when it was more important to advance his primary mission.


We can't make the world more fair. It's just true. We can't. We've been trying since we started walking upright and we still haven't accomplished it, so learn the lesson. It takes some pretty intense hubris to think we'll get it right now that *we're* here.

So we need to de-throne our first priority of asking "For whom is life most unfair, and how can we help them?" That can't be first for us. We need to push forward with affection for the poor and marginalized because God loves them, and because tending to our brothers and sisters is a holy work called for by Jesus - but we cannot do this because we think we're going to solve it. 

We have to believe this for two reasons:
1. So that we do not lose focus on sharing that God's kingdom is being established for the sake of "justice."
2. So that when we do not see justice win, it does not shake our faith.

Jesus didn't really care that much about what was fair and what wasn't. (It would've been fair to just leave us here to die, if you want to go there.) He cared about fairness inasmuch as he cares when we hurt and he hates the exploitation of people and power and privilege - but he does not care about it more than establishing his Kingdom, and calling its workers to understand the seriousness of the task and the the perilousness of relaxing when they think they're doing it right.

If the Jesus you like to believe in is focused primarily with making the unfair fair, you must give him another name.

Monday, January 15, 2018

I Never Trust My Feelings/ I Waited for the Remedy

On Saturday I was in a bad mood because the snowstorm cancelled my trip to Phoenix. So Aaron, Naomi and I were on our way to Easton to return some Christmas presents when I turned on Sufjan Stevens, the obvious choice for this most solemn of moments. After a few songs of me thoughtfully going "mmm" and "oh wow" to several of the lyrics while staring thoughtfully into the middle distance, ("Should I tear my eyes out now/ before I see too much?") Aaron suddenly said (with his I'm-In-Charge-Here voice) "ok we're turning this off" and switched to his own playlist. Sufjan can take a good mood and make it bad, so bad moods pretty much go full Requiem-For-a-Dream when he's on. In my (correct) opinion.

Most of the time I have no idea what he's talking about, and it's just the melody and instruments that make me want to curl into a ball. An example: The very first episode of "This is Us" opens on a Sufjan song and - this is not an exaggeration - I literally decided then and there that I would never watch that show. I know what they're up to. It's just emotional manipulation! I don't need that in my life! Anyway - I don't really pay that much attention to his lyrics. But sometimes I catch little things and, to make myself feel better for him, I imagine that he's being so .... incredibly .... pain-stakingly ... self-reflective and pedantic. Like that whatever he's imagining, or whatever terrible meaning he's infusing into his little rememberances are ludicrous.  "Lemon yogurt/remember I pulled at your shirt?/I dropped the ashtray on the floor..." like, I imagine someone who remembers this scene in his childhood hearing this song and being like "STFU Sufjan, wasn't that just the time we went to Grandma's house to get some fruit roll-ups and play Mario? Damn dude."

There's a point to  this - it's that I think I might do that, and it has taught me a really good lesson. I really shouldn't trust most of my emotions. I respect them, of course. If Sufjan makes me go fetal I can express that freely and let myself get it out, and then probably get a treat later because life is hard and I deserve it. But I'm also getting better (I hope) at not making decisions in that fetal position. That's what I'm trying to say.

I haven't been good at that in the past. You can imagine all the crash diets I've decided to go on in those millions of 10-second intervals during which I've stood on a scale, or the number of times I've read a terrible story in the news and vowed never to leave the house again with Naomi, ever. These are not good decisions.

I never trust my feelings, the old Stevens bard says (then why you keep writing about them, bub?)

And here's the feeling I've been having the most lately: I'm doing this wrong, probably.

"This" being not necessarily Life in General, although yes, sometimes that. But for the purposes of this entry "this" means "being Naomi's Mom," and I've been told by more seasoned mothers that this is pretty much a hallmark of parenting forevermore, but I'm plagued by guilt on a very regular basis.

Now that Naomi is more self-aware, she is becoming more and more interactive. She makes pretend things in her pretend kitchen and tells me about them with pretend words. She points to squirrels out the window and brings me books for me to read to her while she backs up, dump-truck style, into my lap (this is one of my favorite visions of all time.) So I find myself asking, after reading the exact same if-you're-happy-and-you-know-it book 500 times in the same day - how many hours should I spend doing this? Should she play on her own? Can I read my book on the couch while she's sitting here? I know the answer to this is yes, and I do, but while I'm doing it I swear it feels exactly like if we had company over and I just sat there like an asshole with my nose in a book in front of them. Am I the Entertainment?

This existential crisis centers on one really, really wayward belief I'm starting to realize I have: that I'm responsible for bringing Naomi here. My thought proof goes like this:

1. I brought her here.
2. She did not ask to be brought here.
3. Sometimes "here" can be really painful.
4. If she experiences that pain, it's my fault (because 1 and 2.)
5. Therefore, If 1-4, than I should make her as happy and comfortable as possible.

I know how this goes. I know she needs to be independent, and that it's an incredibly useful and important tool for life for her to work out how to be content and imaginative on her own. I know that constantly entertaining her is neither feasible nor good for her. But what I need to know (this is an "I believe, help my unbelief! situation) is that I didn't bring her here. I didn't do anything to deserve her, and I didn't choose her. God gave her to me. This is a hard thing, because the physical, emotional and mental process of bringing her here was so painful and exhausting, and I'd like to take some credit for that (and I do. Some.) But in the broad sense, I really didn't bring her here.

But the rub: if I accept that, that means she's not mine really, and THAT i just won't accept.

I accept, help my... unacceptedness? Unaccceptability?

Peace, friends. If you're happy and you know it, clap your damn hands.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Burning the Boats

In the Spring of 2007, Aaron and I had been dating for just a few months. He was so handsome and I was so smitten. One weekend before classes ended for the summer, he came up to my parents' house with me. He got a call letting him know he was being considered for an internship in Cincinnati. In the typical doe-eyed, college-romance way, that felt like 500 light years away (which is outright laughable now after having lived in Arizona.) When he got that call, I decided what I always decide in hard moments: I was going to Suck It Up and Face Reality and Be Strong and Do The Hard Thing. So I looked at him and said - dude, we should break up. Cincinnati is too far away.

What I remember most after that moment is that I went to the kitchen to get a drink of orange juice, and my Mom asked me something innocent like "what's up" and I said something innocent like "not much" but I felt like I couldn't fill up my lungs. It was like walking through sludge. What had just happened? This was terrible! I don't want to get a cup of juice while not dating Aaron. I don't want to make small talk with Mom while not dating Aaron. I don't want to do anything while not dating Aaron! Cincinnati is just a hop and a skip, right? Why did I think it was so far?

I ran back to Aaron and said "nevermind;" and while I assume he was a little alarmed at my neuroses, he said "ok." And we never really talked about it again. (He didn't end up taking that internship - but I got an internship that next fall in Colorado for five months. What star-crossed lovers! We survived. My journal from that period is virtually unreadable, guys.)

I thought about that story again recently because it is exactly what I've done, over this past year and a half, with Jesus.

I don't want to belabor the emotional and theological windstorm Naomi's birth sent me through. I've written about it and thought about it enough. But for the purposes of this story, the practical output of it was - especially in those early months after she came to meet me - that every night I prayed like this:

"God, please keep Naomi safe. Please let her sleep well. Please let her live through the night. Please help me help her."

And, this critical last part:

"God, if you take her from me, I will leave you."

I meant it, and it was important to me to tell Him. I wanted to be honest with Him. I wanted to prepare for the worst. I didn't want to be surprised at how I'd react if it happened. I didn't want to surprise Him, either.

And then, everything was different anyway - my news writing assignments became agonizing. Babies WERE taken from mothers. People hurt babies on purpose; people hurt babies on accident. Babies had cancer, sons and daughters joined the military; everything was agony. Every parent has felt this terrible emotional awakening, I'm pretty sure. (This is why moms can't watch Game of Thrones. That metal-bound torture victim underneath the castle walls is someone's SON, Mr. Martin. Tone it DOWN.) So my prayers, rather slowly, turned into this:

"God, you took those babies. I want to leave you."

And I did. For an afternoon here or an afternoon there, I would pretend I had. I would practice saying in my head "I used to be a Christian." I would guiltily study my hands during worship at church on Sunday, being careful not to sing words I wasn't sure I meant ("whatever my lot, You have taught me to say it is well with my soul.") Those moments never felt right, but I was trying them out. I was putting on the skin of a non-believer; poking my head out of my life to look around. What was it like?

Those moments felt freeing when I was pissed. When I read another terrible news story or heard another struggle from a friend, I felt liberated. Cocky, even. Ha! At least I don't have to explain this away on God's behalf, I thought. But I did notice something a little odd - I still wasn't looking at these situations from the lens of a person who doesn't believe in God. I was using the lens of a person who does; but who just thinks He's terrible. A God I wasn't going to waste my time defending or worshipping - because, frankly, in those moments, I couldn't figure out why I would.

There were some moments and friends that offered me alternatives, mostly in the form of a god that is powerless against bad things, cries when I cry and wouldn't ever really let anything terrible happen. (This perspective always left me sweating, worrying - wouldn't it be worse to have a god who's not in charge than to have one in charge who does inscrutable things sometimes?) Or there's the worldview that pretends everyone is basically good, and anything bad that happens is just, I don't know, a bump on the road to Harmony. (This also left me sweating, because if the people in these local news stories who hurt kids in the way I read about - if they don't burn in hell, constantly reminded of what they did, I don't want to live in that world, either.) But soon I came to a realization:

I would rather reject the real God than accept a fake simulation of Him.

Once I got there, I had a decision to make. Or, I thought I could make. But something else started happening.

As the hormonal haze that marked the beginning of my motherhood has mercifully receded, I've discovered something else about my faith: it's stubborn as hell.

Every time my heart grabs wildly for something to hold on to - whether it's comfort, or the assurance that someone who did something terrible WILL pay - I find Jesus there. When I'm reading with Naomi on my lap and I don't know where to put that joy that feels like it's going to break out of my body, Jesus is there. Every confusing question I find, every time I look hard in the mirror and wonder what kind of life I want to have, Jesus is there. And not just Jesus - I find people in the Scriptures who've asked all the questions I have, or felt the frustrations, or been pissed like I've been pissed, and who've still found a Just and Faithful and Good God. Just like Jesus knows what it is to be human, our forefathers (and mothers) know what it's like to serve an unbelievably frustrating and confusing God from the depths of tragedy and the height of joy. These fathers and mothers of my faith lost their families; they lost their heads and they spent years in prison. They cried and kicked and screamed, and they tried to count it all joy, because they had seen a man rise from the dead and tell them that they could, too.

I can't let Him go. I don't want to get a glass of orange juice without Him, I don't want to make small talk without Him; I sure as hell don't want to raise my daughter without him. I don't think I could if I tried. He is in my bones and blood; in my mind when I'm not quite awake but find myself praying for help, or when I'm frustrated beyond belief and grasping for empathy. He is real, and thank God I have spent years knowing that and growing in my knowledge of that. Because now, when I spend days realizing the cost of it (that I could lose everything - my baby - and still be called to worship the One in Charge) I come to find it's worth it. It has to be, because I don't have a choice.

Pastor Frank said in his sermon a couple weeks ago (goodness help me, I can't stop listening to Redemption podcasts. There is no substitute for a Frank sermon) that "mature faith has burned the boats." (He was quoting another author, so don't give him too much credit.) Mature faith has given up on all other options. It's on the island, with no escape, with enough confidence and holy recklessness to burn the only point of return. There's no going back.

I've burned the boats. Thank God.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Honey, This City Isn't For You."

Last weekend, with great solemnity and ceremony, I relocated my aloe plant from the landing on our stairs to our deck outside. To get some sun, because I'm pretty sure it's dying. (I always kill the ones that are supposed to be low-maintenance. And the needy ones are thriving. This is probably a metaphor about me? Is it?) Anyway, this afternoon I was patting myself on the back for my steely resolve in the face of cruel nature and science, etc.; sacrificing the feng shui of my staircase landing all in the name of abundant aloe life, and then it starting pouring rain. It went from zero to Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm in .5 seconds and I was powerless at my kitchen window. That rain is gonna kill my aloe now. Aloe drowns in the rain.

We live about a mile from downtown Columbus. I can see the skyscrapers from our third-story window, which sits just opposite the Naptime Treadmill 2017 (as we affectionately call it around here, because it is almost exclusively used during naptime). On pretty regular occasions, especially during rush hour when the highways are clogged, I find myself driving through the middle of the city. (Columbus has a really strange number of pizza places. And hot dog places. And grilled cheese places? We have a grease problem.) Anyway, right now on every major city lamppost downtown, there are giant signs heralding the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade and Festival in a couple weeks. The signs have been up for over a month now. They're city signs, on city lampposts. With a great font.

I see them every time I pass through town, and a couple errands ago I realized I hadn't quite put my finger on how they made me feel. Because I was definitely feeling something, but I didn't know what. The easy answer would be anger. Taking a quick inventory of my college years would lead right to that conclusion. I was an angry little freedom fighter back then - everyone was out to get me and everyone but me was WRONG. But the signs weren't making me angry.

Was it sadness? Melancholy? Tenderness? Fear? Confusion? No. None of these really fit.

It was loneliness.

They make me feel lonely, is the thing. Like my own city doesn't want me. Because I'm not proud of our cultural obsession with sexuality, or the way we reduce people with same-sex attraction to a single identity, or the way we bully people - via Twitter, via legislation, via lawsuits, via church pulpits, via podcasts, via blogs, via books, via boring ol' peer pressure - into accepting, celebrating, and promoting the idea that we're powerless in the face of our sexual desires, that we can be happy as long as we get to do whatever we feel like doing in any given moment, and that marriage isn't a True Immovable Thing but can be whatever we want it to be, and that marriage only exists to make us happy. In fact, I don't like that we do that. I don't think homosexuality is an identity. I don't think it allows people to flourish. I don't think it's good for hearts. I don't think it's the way God sees us. And for that, my city doesn't want me.

(A few weeks ago I met a woman for coffee who does some local freelance writing. I was hoping to pick her brain on the ins and outs of  the freelance landscape around here. But when she asked me what Aaron does for a living, and I told her about his nonprofit, this happened:

Her: "Honey, you don't want to write for any Columbus publications."
Me: "What? Yes, I do."
Her: "...it's a very progressive city."
Me: "...ok?"
Her: .....
Me: .....

Me: ... "Do any of the publications cover the news? Because that's what I write, and that's what I read in them. I don't see a lot of opinion pieces... and I'm not qualified to write opinion pieces anyway."
Her: "I just don't think you'd want to write for them.")

Loneliness. (With a dash of injustice, bc: WTF?)


I feel strongly that I will really screw this whole thing up if I start to focus on whether, or how, I'm being wronged. That would be fruitless and self-serving and, frankly, boring as hell.  What I'm hoping to do is maybe use this to try to understand better the other people who have felt like this. Maybe for a long time.

I'm thinking of African-Americans who were (and in many cases still are) treated as unwelcome in their own cities. At water fountains and schools and restaurants and on certain streets and in certain neighborhoods or jobs or clergy positions or city councils. Or men and women without washboard abs and straight white teeth who don't see anyone who looks remotely like them on any billboard or advertisement anywhere. I guess I've spent most of my life, thanks be to God, feeling pretty represented. Pretty included. And now I'm starting not to feel that way. It's sad, and it makes me feel lonely, but maybe it will make me wiser. And help me remember that suffering - even on this little level - isn't The Thing To Always Be Avoided. And that it arguably doesn't do me too much good to feel perfectly at home in a world where sin is still pouring like Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm.

Because aloe drowns in the rain.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Swimming Naked

There's a guy in Australia who hosts a nude swim every year. At first I assumed he was a perverted weirdo, but I saw an interview with him and changed my mind. He said he does it to force people to think about their priorities. He said people usually only re-evaluate their perspective when one of the terrible "d's" happens to them - death, disease or divorce - and he wanted to create a positive situation that would yield the same positive results. It sounds crazy, but I actually think it's totally plausible that plunging naked into the freezing Australian ocean surrounded by a whole bunch of other naked weirdos would give me a broader perspective on life and its many challenges. (I could probably argue that the people who sign up for something like that in the first place probably aren't the people who need it, but I don't want to be a downer.)

Anyway I think I have the opposite problem. I think it's from writing the news.

Before I go on, a word to pre-child me and anyone else who has an eyeroll at the ready for the next person who talks about how "becoming a parent changes you":

Becoming a parent changes you.

Like, I don't think it makes you morally superior, or even more wise. You're not a bad person, or weird or selfish, if you don't have kids. You can still experience deep, meaningful and fruitful human emotion. You can still teach others, and have passionate feelings. BUT.

The Maria Baer before Naomi was a different Maria Baer, with shallower fears, less weighty daily concerns and more inward focus. I wasn't worse, but I was different, and less emotionally stretched. My love wasn't as deep and my fear wasn't as wide. I didn't know how to prioritize stressors the way I do now. (An aside: this literally makes me feel like a Completely Amazing Person on a daily basis. Do you know this feeling? My kid is crying, I just spilled coffee on my shirt, someone's knocking at the door and my phone is ringing. What do I do first? Tend to the kid. Then door, then phone, don't worry about shirt. This is a small example but it's hard to quantify how empowering these kids of little stress pop quizzes are.) My point is I am different now and probably slightly more wise. This is not an opinion or a moral judgment, it's just a fact, and it's emotionally mature to accept it without getting defensive (still talking to my pre-child self here) and move on.

A few weeks ago I wrote to my pastor in Phoenix about how guilty I felt for singing "I Surrender All" at church on Ash Wednesday knowing full well that I very much DON'T surrender all, because I don't surrender my daughter. If God pulled an Abraham-and-Isaac thing on me, I don't even have to think about it; I'd say no. I just would. It troubles me to say that, and confuses me because I don't know what it means about my faith necessarily, but I do know it's true.

Anyway my pastor said (among many other things, which were a great help) that when God told Eve that there would be pain in child-bearing after the apple incident, THIS is what He meant. All of this. Not just the contractions the breathing and all that, but the fear, and the desperate and terrible love. I feel like a broken record. (Having a child has changed me and I am still dealing with it).

Writing local news roundups every night has exacerbated this. All these car accidents, tornadoes, mothers arrested for neglecting their babies, heroin overdoses at 21, accidental fatal gunfire, sexual deviance, teachers abusing students, men robbing convenience stores at knifepoint, drunk driving accidents - It's salt on a very fresh, confusing wound that I'm still tip-toeing around, staring at from different angles and trying to parse. What is this fear? Is it real or exaggerated? Is it wisdom or irrational, hormone-induced anxiety? Am I living with a wise, much-sought-after "eternal perspective" ("life is short") or just paralyzing myself with fear and worry ("Oh shit, life is short!")

Pardon my irreverent French, but John Piper is an asshole about this. Remember when he started a Twitter controversy (remember when it was possible to NOT start Twitter controversies?) after the deadly tornado in Missouri by tweeting something about how it was all part of God's plan? He said it much more aggressively than this. Lately I've been reading a book of his called "Don't Waste Your Life." I bought it at a conference and will sheepishly admit I was drawn in by the title. I was secretly hoping it was going to be a nice, comforting little treatise on how accepting the Gospel means you could never possibly waste your life, even if you're a newly staying-at-home mom still trying to figure out how to spend her time. (If I spend the next 15 minutes doing the dishes, will I Regret For The Rest Of My Life that I didn't spend those 15 minutes with my too-rapidly growing baby? Don't they make flowery instagram memes about this? And if I don't do the dishes, won't it annoy me the next time I go into the kitchen, and the time after that, and eventually we won't have any dishes to eat on? How the hell do I make this kind of decision?)

And I guess the Piper book does essentially say that (the Gospel thing, not the dishes thing) but it's just so... mean. I finish each chapter thinking "why are you yelling at me, John Piper?" I'm paraphrasing here but I'm pretty sure there's a paragraph that basically says "if terrible things happen to you, who cares! You shouldn't, because Jesus is eternal."

The odd thing is, in the same season as this fear has been swirling around me, my life has gotten really deliciously small. Like, the kind of life I always wanted. I wake up in the morning slowly. My girl and I eat breakfast. I make coffee, she plays. We sit on the back porch and talk about the weather and the new flowers blooming. Maybe we take a walk to the park. I sit at the piano for a while. We read books. She naps. You get what I'm saying. I'm still reading and writing and seeing other adult friends and cooking fun things and running on the treadmill and everything. But I'm not stressed. I feel really present.

And in all those same moments, I'm also terrified. I realize some folks need to jump naked into the Pacific be reminded of what's important and to find the encouragement to stop spending so much time on frivolous things. My problem is the frivolous things aren't fun anymore because I'm too consumed with the frailty of What's Important.

Sometimes I feel like I can't win. This is why I like reading fiction. (And drinking wine.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It's Cramped But We're All OK: October 2016

The setting: an apartment that's too small. The characters: A woman and her dog, mortal enemies by the cruel providence of a cross-country move and an unsold house, that's now been sold but wasn't by the crucial moment of moving, necessitating this in-between "homestead" that was definitely made for one person, or maybe two, but certainly not two and a half, and a dog. The dance: the woman and the canine try to avoid each other but cannot; his fur flying everywhere, into socks and shoes and drains and newly cleaned counters and drawers; his dumb dog butt taking up the entire hallway as she attempts to bring out the laundry basket and doesn't see him below her, causing her to stumble, he screeches, pride wounded, but no wiser about stashing his dumb hairy self a little off to the side next time. Her toe is stubbed; temper rising melodramatically.

It's cramped in here.

My other little creature is slowly learning to talk, and more quickly learning how to manipulate me with her little whimpers and huge blue eyes. She started saying "mama" this past week and I'm absolute toast, all my determination to help her "learn to go to bed on her own" out the window because the second I put her down and her tiny, sing-songy and terribly dramatic little "mama"s start floating down the (too-short) hallway to the (cramped) couch I'm up and back in the bedroom, picking her up for a long rocking sesh. How could I deny the "mama"s?? YOU try.

Our old house sold almost immediately after we got here, and that is such a gift. We've saved so much money and angst. On top of that, we found a dreamy little brick house in the neighborhood to top all neighborhoods (library and giant historic bookstore within walking distance), and there's plenty of room for both woman and beast (and husband and babe) and even more, and we close on said storybook house at the end of this week. Lots to be grateful for, sighs of relief to sigh and hands to high five and gratitude journals to fill (who actually does this?)

Still, it's too cramped in here.

I miss my friends. The ones who would cry tears of joy with me at the "mama"s (and who did, honestly, over the phone, but it's not the same). I miss the ones who make us carnitas at 9 pm, patiently waiting for my evening run to finish and for us to zip over in our pajamas with wet hair and huge appetites and hearts convinced we deserve a weekday night beer (or three) with our Mexican pork. I miss the ones who run into the Church building Sunday morning, faces lighting up when we see each other like it's been more than four days, talking too loud about how we love each others' outfits and how work sucks and isn't this summer way too hot? I miss the ones with the cutest babies who watch the garbage men and love donuts and in fact, shall we stop over to Bosa and pick up a dozen on this lazy Saturday morning?

My days now are somewhat formulaic, and the formula is actually full of ingredients I like: coffee in the morning, an episode of something funny on Hulu while baby bounces in her little playset, then we eat (sweet potatoes are YES, JUST THE WORLD-EXPANDING SNACK WE WERE WAITING FOR), then we read books and play just before our nap while Mom e-mails and writes and reads, and then we cook dinner or go to the park or call desert friends or write sad letters to desert friends. These are all lovely things, but they're lonely too.

Our best friend is off at meetings during the week, driving everywhere and making friends and charming the pants off anyone who looks at him for more than 15 seconds, including your humble correspondent who doesn't get to hug his neck enough these days but loves counting down the hours until she gets to.

It's too cramped in here, both apartment and brain. We miss our friends but love the autumn, and we're so grateful for this apartment because so many mamas and babies and charming men and annoying dogs don't have a place to lay their heads, but we want more space and to be able to find all the cutlery. And now you're up to speed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Baby Baer had a doctor appointment the other day, at a pediatrician's office in the same compound as the hospital where she was born. My room in the maternity ward overlooked a patch of green grass and a bike path that weaves through the campus, and seeing it again sucks the air out of my lungs. It's a good feeling, sort of - a happy memory, certainly - but jarring. I can't believe she started life in that building. Isn't that a strange thing to think about? That she wasn't breathing air and then suddenly she was, and it was inside those four walls? How could it be a real, physical place and not some spiritual fifth dimension?

That's also the hospital where I found myself a few months after moving here, with side-splitting stomach pain that we soon found out was an ulcer. I also went to that hospital for outpatient physical therapy back then. I've visited a crop of fresh new babies belonging to various friends there.

It's weird to get nostalgic about a hospital, but I guess this is where we are.

These last couple of weeks in Phoenix feel like this: I feel like my heels are dragging a valley through the burning asphalt. I feel like if you listen closely enough, you can hear my proverbial breaks squeaking. I don't feel ready to leave. I don't want to leave.

I used to blog all the time about the weather here. It's too monotonous, certainly too hot. I never quite adjusted to it, though I learned to cope and hate the summers a little less. (This one has been a doosey though - carting a gradually heavier carseat and drooly baby everywhere you go in the 115 degree heat is... grumpiness-inducing. No matter how scrumptious said drooly baby is.) And truthfully, I feel a little sheepish having so much emotional trouble leaving. I know the impression I gave my family and friends back home was that I hated it here and was desperately homesick for Ohio. That was true for a long time. But then we steeled our resolve and found a beautiful church and a book-of-Acts community, and by the time Aaron suggested we buy a house I didn't even blink. We made a home here.

Part of this is that I simply hate change, like most humans do. It's really unsettling to be sitting here in my living room, with gray morning light coming through the windows like it does every morning, and Jethro the dog lying on the rug waiting to be let outside, and the air conditioning humming and my clothes in the closet and groceries in the fridge and laundry that needs done and then realizing: in about a week and a half, none of this will be. We'll be in another place.

But part of it is also that I love it here. Our routines, favorite dinner joints, book stores, coffee shops. And the people. Mostly the people. Forever the people.

On Sunday I got a tattoo with three of my closest friends, a little prickly pear cactus with a bloom on top on my left wrist, and not to be dramatic, but let's be dramatic about it for a second: it feels so appropriate, like acknowledging that Phoenix dug itself into my skin, and that I'll wear it forever, along with these people, and the desert, and that it hurt while it happened but it was so worth it, and have I overdone the metaphor? You get what I'm saying. Pain, permanence, beauty.

I really should be packing instead of ruminating, but my talents favor the ruminating and isn't packing what husband's are for? Moving is the worst. Just this moment I came face to face with the reality that I'm about to have to bubble-wrap every single dish in my kitchen cabinets. This is cruel and unusual.

Once in my more dramatic days (clearly I've overcome that vice) I wrote this quote on one of my journals in mult-colored gel pens, as one does: "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." It's something Nelson Mandela said. I know it's not perfectly representative - Columbus and Ohio have certainly changed, and I'm not returning exactly as I've never lived in that particular city. But I'm a little afraid of what I'll find out about myself when we get there. What if I'm not as adventurous as I always thought I was? What does this move mean about me?

Sometimes things don't mean things about you. Sometimes they just are.