S*** and the peace of Christ

A few months ago, a friend and I shared a conversation about a longing to inhabit prayer, to live a life of conversation with God. We agreed to exchange a text at the end of the week or every few weeks to check in and to keep each other mindful that deepening relationship is a choice. A day or so after our phone visit, I texted her and asked her to also pray for me about my mouth and the words I choose to say, or not say, that add life or take it. It seemed to me a contradiction, seeking on-going communion with God while maintaining a lazy-word mouth.

Engaging in both elements was like sitting down to a table full of real and beautiful food, savoring it and appreciating the nourishment from it. Awareness of the presence of God and listening to the still small voice of the Spirit feeds me; like nutritive food, it goes all the way to the cellular level, restoring and repairing me.

Except this one thing: I keep saying the word shit. At first, after I asked for prayer and sought to be more intentional about the quality of my speech, I found other words. But in the last two or three weeks, I don’t wait for other words, don’t look for other words. When something presses against a core value of mine–like justice, or honesty, or beauty–it fires something within the deepest parts of me. And I say it. Sometimes quick and precise. Sometimes drawn out like I talk when I go back to Kentucky. Sometimes by itself, and sometimes accompanied with “I don’t give a” or “bull” or “horse.”

Today, I watched a video of men reading real tweets to women sports writers. I worked hard to share the post without using the word s*** when what I wanted to say most contained that very sentiment.

While trying to grasp what it means that no protective barriers exist for my kids and what kind of s*** is hurled at them on the regular, not to mention the atrocities raining down on children here, there, and everywhere, I holler bulls***.

As I hit the parenting pavement another day and lift my weight to pull against mediocrity and underwhelming glory when I know what kind of shine exists a little deeper down, past getting by and being tethered to fleeting garbage, I just get spitting mad.

Politics….inequality….sexism….racism….infighting….exploitation….falseness….

It’s a barometer for my soul, the s*** overflow. Fear, anger, fatigue, powerlessness. I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m not saying it is not okay. I don’t think it speaks to the reality of transformative power available to us, to me. My bullied insides let out a cry for peace, a prayer for the separation between myself and the dung that sticks and smells and pollutes and makes toxic.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” Jesus told his closest companions, because he knew they needed to have it to hold onto and hold close. He knew then and knows now what kind of anti-nourishment this world doles out. It is unsatisfying and tastes like, well, you know.

So to my friend:  I am pouring out my heart to Jesus today, walking as close to him as I know how to. Bad words and all. I am asking for his peace to settle me.

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On being a woman and raising a son

Our home lot borders the green belt. One of the five park benches that lines the walking path is just a little way from our fence. People hang out at the bench from time to time. I recognize most of the faces–my neighbor and her grandkids, a regular walker who stops to rest after laps, another nearby neighbor and their Rottweiler-mix dog who likes to mark the grass by the bench again for good measure. Sometimes students from the high school across the way come during lunch hour to vape or smoke this or that. Open spaces are public places, and you see things in them.

When I came into the kitchen to start dinner last Monday afternoon, I noticed a couple on the bench. She sat on the end closest to our house. He stood at the other end, though he moved a few paces in any direction from time to time. I wasn’t trying to spy or pry. I just saw them.

Her head was down, and she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. I paid closer attention on purpose, as this was not the first time the public space outside our yard exposed a male/female drama unfolding. On the first occasion, all of our windows opened wide for an afternoon breeze, we (my kids through their upstairs windows and me through the back windows) heard every word as the pair carried their troubles up and down the pathway. “You just want to f*** someone else! What about me-ee-eee?” the girl wailed through tears and unchecked volume. He kept trying to shush her and walk away. She threw herself at his feet and grabbed onto him, begging him to please, please, please not do this. He managed to walk a few feet with her clinging to his legs. Very dramatic, and very sad. It went on for 30 minutes or more, people passing them on the sidewalk; she never wavered in her lament, not once. As these two new folks talked a Monday ago, I kept an ear and an eye out, waiting with a caution in case something turned sour or violent.

After a little bit, the young man scooched his way to make enough room to sit beside her. He put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulders. Maybe we are on the way to a mending, I thought, and I kept working on the vegetables at hand. They both stood up. I put my knife down and turned my sight again toward them.

He leaned down to kiss her. Intense kiss for an public walkway. He put his hand on her breast, and she backed away a little bit, looking around. He moved where she moved, and he kissed her again and put his hand between her legs. She backed away again. I found myself becoming angry and protective of her. She seemed a bit anxious as she turned her head in this direction or that several times to see if anyone was approaching. He pressed into her again and put his hands on her, in several places. He put his hand down his own pants to adjust himself. She backed away again. As one of the regular walkers came closer, he sat down. They played casual until the coast cleared, and she bent from the waist and leaned her face in to kiss him, her body far from him. After a few more minutes, they gathered their things and left.

I thought of an article I read earlier that day. The title alone hurt my heart before I read one word: “Sex Before Kissing: 15-year old girls dealing with porn addicted boys.”  Another article I had read a few weeks ago, “What It’s Like to be a 13-year old on Social Media Today,” directed me to more information I wish I didn’t have to learn. These represent numerous links to material that I have read over the course of the last 8 years or so as we’ve tried to navigate well the process of raising kids in an internet world.

A friend on said internet shared a story about a restaurant owner who booted a customer for being a pig, and I took it in with heightened awareness now that one of my girls flies solo and the other one works in the service industry. I applaud this guy–“Brewery owner boots sexist customer, unleashes must-read rant for women in the service industry“–but the overall content gives me a shudder to think my girls will have to learn to traipse through this kind of manure for years to come.

Flashbacks from high school and college stirred within me after the scene out my window.

A male co-worker walking into me and pressing against me without warning or permission while we were in the cold room by ourselves.

An upperclassman who told me if I dressed differently (the right way) I would be able to show off my body.

An older regular at the restaurant where I waitressed who talked to me often; I politely refused a gift he gave me, and turned cool and stopped talking to me.

The time I stood there, and before I realized what he was doing and why, I let a young man pull on the hem of my shirt so that he could see the outline of my breasts.

A first date who, after one or two kisses (not long and elaborate ones), unbuckled his belt and began unbuttoning his jeans, because sex was the obvious expectation. I said no. The date ended. I never heard from him again.

An employer who accidentally brushed my chest with the back of his hand as he handed some papers to me.

A male who found out where I worked and learned the phone number there, who showed up unannounced, who did nothing “illegal” but robbed me of freedom to come and go without looking over my shoulder every two seconds.

The reality that my anatomy puts me at a disadvantage in many settings. What a shitty feeling.

I know countless other stories of women with whom I have shared some life–accounts of subtle abuses and objectification and overt abuses and violations and misogyny. My stomach wrenches, because I didn’t have words to call those things what they, in actuality, were. I possessed no defensive tactics to stop or report it, nor education to avoid any shame that came as a result. I know I am not alone.

“Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing.”

–From the article “The Thing That All Women Do That You Don’t Know About.”

Most of the above memories hail from 30 years ago. I’ve written before about my own complicity in this scene. My relationship skill set lacked a few good and important pieces. I knew enough to imagine what boys really wanted, and I knew the desire of wanting to be seen and valued. My deepest longings mirrored long-term love stories and marriage, and a regular dose of Girl Porn* fed that fantasy for me. Typical, regular ol’ pornography was hardcopy then, magazine form and bootlegged videos on VHS. I had access to that, too, which doesn’t help any person become a better human. Walking through adolescence way back when was challenging enough. What of now?

I have been afraid of raising a son, because his anatomy puts him at a particular disadvantage also. My context for boys his age rest primarily in my memories, and the rest I gather from what I observe around me. I don’t want him to be that guy. His context is different; it is not my own, nor is it the contexts of those boys I knew or the boys I see out there. No one can parent the kid that they were or the kids not in their care; they must parent the kids that they have.

The couple sharing some kind of exchange outside my house last Monday didn’t ask for my commentary. They may be an example of a perfectly healthy high school dating relationship where everything is consensual. Or maybe they (either one of them) don’t really know about consent, because a lot of people don’t. (This helpful illustration will help you if you are confused yourself.) I don’t think that small slice of relationship glory represents every single young person here or abroad. I know that it doesn’t mean my son will be casually placing his hands on a girl’s body right out in public, or that my girls will be prey to males with one appendage directing their mobility. But it gave me pause. It gave me sadness. It drove me to prayer.

Lord, have mercy. We live in this world you made, a world full of possibility and promise and hope and beauty that breaks us in the best of ways. And we don’t always live here well. Fractures and splinters cut us. We make larger the chasm between ourselves and the glory for which we were created. Have mercy. 

 

*Melanie Dale addresses this first from the point of view of a married woman, since she is married. But Girl Porn is a real thing for females of any age, and I’ve known a high school boy or two to utilize it to round the bases. It could go in the flashback section above.

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Honestly, not moving. Or moving honestly, fearfully. Or get moving.

The point of creating a blog space four years ago was a way of accountability for getting my butt in a chair and writing, writing, writing. Even if the product resembled a mediocre manure pile, write anyway. I did. Over 220 posts are tucked into the archives.

For the past several weeks (maybe months), I’ve pulled up a chair, sat my butt in it, opened the blog, clicked on Posts and then Add New. A few times, I hammered out two to three short paragraphs, and I either highlighted the words to delete them or let them sit in the Drafts section. Mostly, highlight and delete. Other times, I stared at the blank page and tried like everything to add anything of value to a world spilling over with too many words.

I don’t have anything to say right now.

Then I go and put my hands to cooking or reading or cleaning or Facebook or Instagram or Duolingo or watching hockey or making lists of stuff to accomplish or listening to a podcast or just about anything besides spilling words onto any kind of page outside of my journal.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that penning two posts per month seemed more than reasonable–one post in the narrative vein and one post in the scripture reflection and spiritual growth vein. Words and sentences, heck, whole narratives and reflections scroll through my mind at any given time. But they exit the building when I try and write them in actuality.

Wanting to be heard and a fear of being heard. A strange tension, is it not? A desire to communicate, a desire to communicate well AND in such a way as to provoke critical thinking without provoking categorization and labeling. What if so-and-so reads my words and questions my faith and theological soundness? Or, and maybe a worser fear, what if my honest reflections about moving as authentically as I can through all of the areas of life simply fall silent in the woods?

A dear friend of mine challenged me a few years ago. “If the words are in you to write, who are you to say where they should go or how they should live and how they should find their way anywhere in the world? Your job is to give them life and trust the Giver.”

Next post, number 231:  what makes me afraid of being the mom of a boy. If the point is to move/write honestly, then I want to face forward momentum without trepidation, without nagging questions about what happens when I let the words live.

 

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A title about ducks and moving and growing up

Two sets of ducklings hatched and waddled their way into the big world of our neighborhood. The ones that made it past the peeping, fuzzy stage grew and changed before our eyes. I spent a lot of time observing the duck families as they interacted under the shade trees clustered on the opposite shore. From my kitchen window view, I had a hard time determining which ones were the ducklings and which were the mature ducks. A ruckus captured my attention on several occasions, and I stared at the scene across the lake. These mature-looking ducklings set off in a series of valiant take-offs, short and sloppy flights, and splash landings–one right after the other, all in the safety of the water. Day by day, attempt after attempt, they learned to fly.

Twenty-two years ago, as equipped or not as I was to use my own wings, I took off and got married to the gentlest of men. We set our clocks to a moving calendar that seemed to sound, on an average, of every 3.7 years. Moving and transitioning have been testing my mettle since 1993.

The first move in our life together, a simple in-city move, provoked little change for us. With two children in tow for the second, an out-of-state relocation required more of us, but we managed well. For the third big transition right after the birth of our third child, we trekked back to the familiar water of the Bluegrass State. Those first three moves weren’t so bad. The kids were young and adaptable. My roles centered around mom duties, circling the kiddos under wing, letting them venture out here and there. (I’ll save the highlight reel from the next three moves for another time, though I find it helpful to see in a retrospective that I did handle at least some of transitions with a level of grace.)

We’re not moving this year. No packing of all of our boxes. No making another home. But changes enough challenge me. All of us, really. The pinioned wing sounds appealing sometimes.

One child, flight-ready and no longer a child at all, gathered her own boxes. She landed some distance from here. We rearranged rooms, rotating the other almost-grown children into a few more square feet each. New paint, fresh perspectives. There’s excitement and hope. And grief, too.

It is inevitable. The indistinguishability between the growing ones and the grown ones happens as we watch, as we eat breakfast and then lunch and dinner, as we paint one room to cover over careless nicks and pen marks, as we trade one size of hockey skates for a larger one. Mags found the hang of those wings away from the safety of the water. She made use of a prevailing wind that took her to a new pond for a time. Audrey and Aidan build more strength, taking off and splashing, and gaining longer distances with each attempt. It won’t be long until they put their senses to the air and wait for just the right prevailing wind or rising thermal.

It takes a lot of work and sweat and tears to protect against natural and predatory threats, to nurture the best you can, to know when it is time for them crash in the water, to teach them what it looks like to soar. And just like that, they learn to fly.

 

 

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perspectives from a kitchen floor

My grandmother worked with diligence. My brother and I had been at my grandparents’ house for a least that whole day and maybe the night and day before. Granny never stopped, except to read her Bible and to go to the bathroom–or both at the same time. She was up before anyone else, and she kept busy at unpaid work at all times. This night, after the cooking and cleaning and laundry and keeping grandkids from any damaging troubles, she stayed in the kitchen to finish waxing and polishing the floor. I knew I wasn’t to bother her.

My grandfather sat at the end of the green couch, the end by the pedestal ashtray and the side table covered with Granny’s papers and Bible notes. He smoked a cigarette and watched something on the television. I stood with my hands on either side of the doorway between the family room and the kitchen, and I watched Granny work. From time to time, I put my foot over the line, not touching the shined floor but pushing the boundary, swinging my leg back and forth. I couldn’t go in there, but I could watch and wait for her to be finished, and I could ask her how much longer and if she could hurry and when it would be that she could get me a snack or a piece of juicy fruit gum.

My grandfather kept an eye and listened. After a time, he said to me, “Shannon, leave Granny alone. Come in here and sit down.” I ignored him. My brother, taking in everything from the oversize armchair opposite Daddy Hob, offered a low-voiced warning.

Keeping my post, hands holding up the door frame and body facing Granny, I disregarded my brother’s quiet plea. I turned my head in Daddy Hob’s general direction. “You’re not the boss of me,” I said over my shoulder.

In one swift movement, Daddy Hob’s belt was off and my backside was barely tanned. My pride, however, knew a solid mark, an indelible impression. My grandfather wasn’t prone to physical discipline with any of us grandkids. He wasn’t to be trifled with, but we weren’t scared of him. I wasn’t scare of him after that, but my stubbornness wouldn’t let me make up with him for some time.

Last night, I mopped my own kitchen hardwood. I watched it glisten for just the few moments after I rubbed the cleaner on it. The glow disappeared, and I sighed. If not shiny, at least it was clean. I remembered my small-girl self, four or five years old at the most, pressing my grandmother while she worked and sassing my grandfather like I had the right.

The commotion between me and my grandfather didn’t interrupt my grandmother. She pressed on until it she completed the task in front of her. One of a million occupations of her hands in her lifetime, one of a half million things for which she never heard a thank-you. I never thanked my grandfather for sitting me down when I was too big for my britches. I don’t think I really thanked either of them for any of the things that really mattered. The lack of gratitude didn’t stop either of them from doing what came natural to do, what came as necessity–tend the fires, mop and shine the floors, work the soil, milk the cows, direct the young’uns and correct them when they strayed.

I finished the floor in my kitchen, hundreds of miles and 40 years away from Granny and Daddy Hob’s house. I turned off the lights to hide the scratches and marks that can’t be wiped away with my spray cleaner and old cloth diaper rag. I thought about how early pride settles in on a human, how we learn to feed it. I thought about the grit to set one’s hands to hard and often undervalued work. I thought about Granny and Daddy Hob, about how their own kind of softness looked more like rough edges and shelled hearts to a small girl. I said thank you. I hope they heard me say thank you.

 

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