Growing pains

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what I wanted to be was COOL.

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

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

And that’s cool.

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Good Friday

Good Friday. We call it good because we know what happens on Sunday, but the first Good Friday was anything but. The weary world that rejoiced at Christ’s birth now groaned in grief at his death.

Growing up, the part of the Crucifixion story that transfixed me the most was the tearing from top to bottom of the veil separating the inner court of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, where God lived.

This is still the jewel I most cherish from my evangelical upbringing: that we can know God for our selves. There is no veil separating us from God. The pain of our humanity – grief and death – ushers us into a knowing of the sacred.

The OR Principle

I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.

My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”

The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.

As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.

But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”

That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.

“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.

And everything changed.

In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.

When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”

OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.

OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.

I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.

You do, too.

 

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If this post resonates with you, I’d love to hear about it! Comment below or join me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (c_v_bennett).

The day I found out Christians could be Democrats

One of the most important reasons I started this blog: to fill the void of too-few liberal voices talking about how our faith inspires our politics.

When I was about ten years old, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I asked my grandmother if she was a Republican or a Democrat. Obviously, I knew she was going to say Republican, because all Christians were Republicans. (My grandparents, who were given awards for their perfect Sunday School attendance – as adults! – and watched Bill Gaither Homecoming videos, were most definitely Christians, in the cultural sense and in the most personal.)

Except she said she was a Democrat, and it poked a hole in my worldview.

It was the first hint I had that politics might be more complicated than I had previously realized. (To be fair, I was ten. The entire world was more complicated than I had previously realized.) What I didn’t know then was that Democrats, with their New Deal and Social Security and fairer labor laws, had made the American Dream possible for people like my grandparents, who never graduated high school; who drove a garbage truck; who worked at a factory. Democrats made it possible for them, and so many others, to create a good life out of hard work and to raise children who had more than they did. One of their sons went on to own his own business. Another, my dad, got a doctoral degree. My grandparents were so proud.

My grandfather who was a garbage truck driver was also a farmer. At his funeral, people our family didn’t even know packed into the church and later told us how he would bring them food from the farm when they were down on their luck. That was part of my inheritance from my family: I learned that you’re supposed to help other people because that’s what Jesus would do. That’s what love would do.

Republicans argue that government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people, because people should be helping people. I can understand that to some degree. Certainly, the onus is on us as individuals to love our neighbors as our selves.

Unfortunately, no matter how I and my local faith community may help people, I have to recognize that not all people have access to a community that gives generously. I have to recognize that too often churches place restrictions on their helping, that exclude the very people who may need it the most. Additionally, I recognize that not all congregations have equal resources to help their communities. Some areas of the country need more help than others. I appreciate that there is a federal government that can provide help and is accountable to us, its people, for doing so in fair ways.

One may deride that as socialism, but when all is said and done, it is, for me, more personal than any political label. It’s about my faith. It’s about what I learned, deep in my bones, from the words of Jesus and the life of my grandma and grandpa.

A prayer for Lent

Witnessing the dis-eases of our bodies and minds,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing that which prevents us from hearing and being heard, from seeing and being seen, from knowing and being known,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our lack, the times when we do not have enough, the needs that go unmet,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing the dis-connection between us, we who are made for connection,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our grief, and our grief too great even for tears,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our powerlessness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing how we use our power in ways that create and perpetuate inequality and injustice,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our ignorances,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing the choice we make when there is no good choice,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our words and actions and attitudes that cause brokenness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our brokenness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our pain,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

*****

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Praise report

I’m a big believer in Praise Reports, as we used to call them in Sunday School. Not because I want to make my life look like it’s perfect – you know I’m also a big believer in #keepingitreal.

I believe in Praise Reports because gratitude and contentment are practices, and I have found the more I practice, the more natural they feel. I believe in Praise Reports because I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for a long, long time, and one of the most powerful antidotes is having a full cup emotionally. So when I experience goodness, I try to let it all in, drink it up, get full.

So. Praise Report: I love having returned to my job as a freelance fundraiser/grantwriter/social media guru. I’m currently focused on the last bit, and I love that I get paid to use social media to communicate. I find it engaging and exciting and meaningful. And fun. Did I mention fun?

And I love that I have more afternoons to pick this girl up from the bus stop. Just look at her. Those ridiculous dimples. Those eyes through which her smart and funny and creative soul shines. The upturned cuffs of her jeans with her Chuck Taylors, which I know she planned just so, because she loves putting outfits together, and I could see her being some sort of designer one day.

Praise Report. And all God’s children said, Amen.

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Nature therapy

nature-therapy-trees-picOn Monday, I engaged in nature therapy down at the creek near our house. Nature therapy is a very sophisticated form of self care, involving mud and sunshine.

*****

One of the benefits of being married to a neuroscientist has been a clearer understanding – and, subsequently, acceptance – of the anxiety that has accompanied me from a young age. I better understand anxiety to be a physiological activity of my body (some people say brain, but you know our brains are part of our bodies, right?). The activity is a result of my genetic make-up and its response to circumstances. It is something I experience. I used to think it meant something about who I was, but, while my sense of self and anxiety have some interplay, they are not the same.

In the past couple of years, I have begun talking more candidly about anxiety, which has helped take some of its sting away. I have told friends that I had to change plans because I was feeling anxious and needed to give my self a time out, in the same way I might have said, “I’ve broken my leg and can’t make our hiking trip.”

*****

On Monday, I was feeling anxious. I put one foot in front of the other as we traipsed through the woods down to the creek. I breathed in and out. I paid attention to how the ground felt bumpy beneath my feet and to the temperature of the air on my skin.

*****

For years, when I’ve talked with close friends and my husband and my therapist about depression and anxiety, I’ve said that I’ve dealt with them since I was 13. On Monday, I realized that I’ve actually dealt with anxiety since I was 9.

This thought crystallized in my mind as I sat on a rock, using a long stick to stir the creek water soup that my toddler and I were making together.

*****

In addition to my toddler, I have Emma, an eight year old who turns nine in April. I wonder what nine will be like for her.

*****

Maggie and I stomped around in the mud to feel it squish up between our toes. We knelt and built mud castles. Being Mama means to be making constantly. Making dinner, making doctor appointments, making children’s hearts and my own heart.

It is not in isolation that I walk with anxiety, that I breathe through it, that I learn how to recognize when it is rising and step away from control. Let it flow away. Like the creek over our feet.

I am doing it while holding the hands of my baby girls, which makes it easier and harder, but – for me – it is also the only way. In cupping their hearts with gentle hands, I hold my own. I put broken pieces back together, the crevices filled in with mud and spit and love. In other words, with grace.

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Bind up the brokenhearted

Two passages of Scripture are on my mind this Inauguration morning, from the Psalms and from Isaiah:

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry…
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”

“God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

God is Love, and we are here to do Love’s work, to bind up each other’s broken hearts, to do good, to seek peace, to work for freedom. Let’s do this. Also, let’s give out a lot of hugs today. I am pretty sure Jesus said that, too. The disciples just forgot to write it down.

Morning with a toddler

Morning with a toddler:

9:30   Begin getting ready for our romp and stomp library class, for which we need to leave the house at 10:15. Put on three AND A HALF year old Maggie’s clothes.

9:45   Make packed lunch to take to the park after library class.

10:00 Mommy gets dressed.

10:10 Maggie decides going to the library is the worst idea ever.

10:14 Maggie, yelling her library protest, kicks off her shoes. She does not remember where they are.

10:20 Give up on finding shoes. Put on rainboots. It is a bright, sunny day.

10:30 Park near library. Convince Maggie to at least walk to library to return book. She is adamant that she does not want to go to library class.

10:33 Maggie wants to go to library class.

11:15 Library class is over. It was so much fun! Let’s go every day!

11:16 Mommy realizes that in the dash to find toddler shoes, she left her lunch on the counter. Fortunately she remembered Maggie’s. We split a PB&J sandwich. Maggie is against sharing her apple slices.

These days. These are the ones I want more of, the ones I’m working my schedule around because I don’t want to miss them, even when they involve missing shoes, and I have to put on a sweatshirt of questionable cleanliness because I’ve lost the battle with laundry, and I owe $100 in library fines (true story. I’m sorry, library ladies, you are very nice to us. I promise I am going to try to be more responsible).

But the wonder in Maggie’s eyes, and how she pronounces the words she’s learning, and those angel kisses across her nose. Oh those angel kisses. I want to look at them forever, but I know they won’t stay just that way, so for now, we’ll go to the library in our rainboots so I have enough memories tucked away to last.

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O Christmas Tree

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Every night of every December, I look down this hallway as I’m going to bed and think about one of my favorite verses, “A light shines in the darkness…” And I think about how we are celebrating the arrival of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. How salvation is found in places deemed unorthodox or even heretical. But you must follow the star you know by heart, the light you recognize as your hope and truth. Also, this year I’m thinking about how the top of our tree is a little crooked. But mostly, you know, the light and darkness stuff.

Thanks

For a friend who comes over at the end of a long day to sit with me while I cry and talk and cry some more, I give thanks.

For friends and family who don’t even vote the same way but still care for and hold my heart and grief with gentleness, I give thanks.

For a pastor and community of faith that is far away in geography but close in spirit, that is right now lighting candles for ALL the people in our country who are hurting, I give thanks.

For little girls who ask, “Why you eyes wed (red)?”, then put their small hand on my cheek and draw me in for butterfly kisses, I give thanks.

Christmas Day Survival Guide

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Christmas is my favorite holiday, but let’s be honest: it can be hard.

It’s a loaded day, heavy with expectations. It may be spent around people who know our oldest stories yet are also part of our deepest wounds. It’s one of the days when I like to say something the journalist Connie Schultz wrote, “For those for whom this holiday is difficult, I hope today lands gently.”

Even when we are happy to be with our loved ones and enjoying good memories, expectations of perfection on this one specific day following weeks of extra busyness can really set us up for a fall. I have a few suggestions to pass on (read: remind myself of) to help one get through Christmas, and if you use them, it is 100% guaranteed* you will have a wonderful day.

1.    *How ridiculous. Maybe about 3% guaranteed. My first suggestion is to accordingly lower expectations. Don’t ask much from the day. My expectations for tomorrow are to have a cup of coffee and go for a walk. Anything else that does or doesn’t happen, I’m going to give it a pass for the day. (If it rains tomorrow, walk may be substituted for a few downward dogs.)

2.    Extend these lower expectations to others. Don’t expect them to be nicer, more like you politically, or changed in any way because it’s Christmas. In fact, if anything, some of us – we know who we are – become less nice versions of our selves during these special days.

3.    Be gentle with your self. Give your self lots of room to breathe. If you find your self berating, criticizing, take a moment to think of you as your own child. Draw your self in with compassion. As with children, it’s likely that you need a nap, something healthy to eat, or a quiet time out.

4.    Go outside at some point. If possible, go for a walk, even if it is just 5 minutes around the block.

5.    Wear comfortable clothes. Really, this is most of the battle.

6.    Breathe with me. Big breath in, big breath out. Big breath in, big breath out. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes I also remind my self of something I once heard an instructor say in the middle of yoga class: “Breathe in. Take as much as you need.” When there is not enough food, enough wine, enough presents, enough anything to make us feel less scared, less sad, less hopeless, we can take just as much air as we need. We will not run out. There will be enough.

7.    Know that I pray for each of you:
May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from mental suffering and distress. May you be free from physical suffering and pain. May you live with ease.

Merry Christmas!

I once debated against gay marriage

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

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

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

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

He loved God just as much as I did.

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

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

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