I have a sermon that's live on our church website today. It's about the futility of all effortful endeavor. It also contains some things that one should probably not share in church, like references to birth and giving birth and not always relishing the sacred task of motherhood.
On the bright side, I didn't say "crap," "sucks," or "frickin." Not to mention the REAL things I say to my children between 3 and 5pm. So no matter how bad you think this talk is, I assure you it could have been worse.
I have often said that I have a mission in life, if one can be said to have such a thing — if our behavior is more than a sum total of our genetic proclivities and our learned habits. And I have said that my personal mission is to Say the Things. Say the secret things. The dirty truths about what things are really like in this senseless life that we all have to survive. And this is a mission, I say, because things are important, and hidden things can be torturous to those who hide them.
So I share and I overshare and some people see me as laughably inappropriate. And some people think I'm just crazy or gross. Or a bad mother. They can think all those things — they are fair assessments seeing as I've put all the evidence out there for analysis.
But I have a trump card. There is always The Mission. If I am making my faults public for the greater good, to empower honesty or grace or whatever in others, then I win if you like me and I win if you don't like me. And maybe if I take a truthful look at my own behaviors, I am not in fact so motivate by Mission as I am by a desire to control the mechanisms of my own acceptance or rejection.
I realized this today, when I was wondering what compelled me to drink almond butter straight from the jar like it was a mug of coffee (I mean, what compelled me EMOTIONALLY to do so. In practical terms, I was drinking the almond butter from the jar because I didn't have a spoon available in the car ride home from the store.)
If there wasn't something there emotionally, I told myself, something that I was covering up with the belief that nut fat could be either the solution to or the cause of all my problems, if there wasn't some truth I was trying to hide from myself then it is likely I'd eat almond butter in normal quantities.
Or at least in a normal manner. Not in a way such that I imagined the cop I passed, if he looked up at all, would think that I was holding a Dunkins.
And as I asked myself this question, I saw the sentence instantly, the great secret I am trying to hide from. "I can't make people like me."
They will like me or they will not like me and the circumstances will often be beyond my control.
I might like to believe I can make my body so impressive, either through my looks (yes I know my magical thinking is magical) or through feats of amazing endurance, then everyone will have to be awed into liking me. Or, I think in my darker more realistic moments, that because people will never accept who I am in all my frailty, that I will beat them to the punch with self rejection. I will make myself disgusting even to myself. I will buy something like almond butter with the liquid fat right at the top, testing whether a woman who hasn't worked out in a week because she doesn't have any stretch pants that haven't been vomited on by a child will not use the three minute drive from Whole Foods to home as an exercise in proving she is not really human but some kind of wild animal who drinks pure fat like a dog sips dirty water from a puddle. And this will mean that it's okay if everybody hates me, or thinks of me as a disgusting cur who can't keep her mouth shut, because, even though they may not be aware of the specifics, I am completely deserving of this judgement.
And maybe, just maybe, the fear of "I can't make people like me" is the emotional mission behind The Mission. And if I could just accept the world that may or may not include acceptance of me, I'd maybe be a lot less mouthy and maybe we'd all get a little more peace and quiet.
No, I still think it's important to say the things. One of them may one day rob the California almond of its power. In the mean time, please enjoy the jokes at my expense. And please do comment positive things about the sermon. I am, after all, so desperate to be listened to.
I find myself, this year, not so into doing Christmas. Most years I am the epitome of a Christmas elf. I stay up late every night knitting sweaters for my children and boiling moisturizing concoctions for all the ladies I know. I patiently roll out cookie dough with my children, and don't scream at them when the put a sigle cookie cutter RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of the space, then pull the rest of the dough away in clumps to extract that one, tiny, lumpy star. I go to church and stand up front and scream with all my might, "OH COME OH COME EMANUEL!!!"
This year, whatevs.
I am depressed from sleep deprivation that has long ago passed the "stage" mark and gone into constant chronic immune system suppression. I started a new job and have not yet figured out how to schedule both motherhood and "work." Every time I look at my phone I am reminded that the world is a terrible place, where these concerns of mine are not so much a drop in the bucket, where the net volume of human woe is so so deep, and to many people this year Christmas will arrive and pass and it will not seem at all like Emanuel has come.
I have lost my Christmas hopefulness. Christmases have come and past and Jesus keeps being born and life does not get much easier.
What do you do when you feel this way? When all you want for Christmas is a nap? All advice welcome, practical, spiritual, or jokes.
I gave a talk at church last Sunday titled, "how to live after happily ever after." You can hear the audio recording there from the second service. I didn't get as many laughs the second time around, but I didn't say "poop" either, so I thought that version might be more appropriate for the official website.
But now that you're here on my blog, here's a moment of reality: POOP!
It's funny getting up on stage and talking about how life is poopy, and then everyone says hurray good job and I feel like maybe life isn't so poopy? And then I get back home and I'm like No Just kidding, life is still pretty poopy. While we were out at church Rascal ate turkey out of the trash can and then shit on the play room rug. The first thing I did when I got home was to stain treat the carpet. Which took me down a level from my moment of public speaking.
I have been wondering lately whether I should do something with my thinking brain, something normal people call "work." Part of my thinking perhaps includes an assumption that if my labor was remunerative I wouldn't have to deal with this other shit. At some level of success, perhaps, I might be so valued that I'm no longer touching other people's feces?
But no, poop is omnipresent. And even if I have an important speaking gig, that steaming pile of poop will wait politely on the play room floor until I get home.
I have been thinking that perhaps the work of this life cannot be outsourced. There is not someone else I can hire to nurse my baby at 2 in the morning. Or to wipe my 4 year old's bum. Or to validate my 6 year old's emotions. There is not a streamlined solution to replace the devoted attention of a mother.
Nor is the work of this life scalable. I think perhaps I will get systems in place, I will make all their lunches ahead of time, and then everything will go well, we will all get on the moving assembly line of Happy Day!
But no, there is no amount of prep work possible, no pre arranged bento boxes, that will alleviate the need to stop everything when a child has a breakdown. To put myself in the middle of their problem, to look them in the eye, to love that little screaming banshee, I cannot put that on my checklist. The march of progress much be stopped. lunch be damned.
There is no way to scale up love.
Love is teeny acts of attention again and again and loving little people is that plus cleaning. And no, I can't get out of it, because humans don't come out factory ready. For some stupid reason. Something something God probably knows what he's doing.
I wrote this blog post on my phone while nursing. It didn't get me out of nursing every 30 minutes all bleeping night. There is no app for that.
One time I was invited to a baby shower with all my old jewish friends, and I totally went there with this big gold cross hanging from my neck. Like some kind of wanabee rapper. But, you know, offensive.
It was the year that I was finally SAVED and I wanted everyone to know. I was a different person now. Not plagued by self-consciousness. Or doubt. Or the oppressive weight of my own jerkiness.
As if someone could express such a thing via necklace. Indeed, my actions probably contradicted my own theology. An instant internal makeover, one in which I became a sane, lovely, considerate person, was a tall order. Even for Jesus.
At the time I was very concerned with IDENTITY. A decade in, I'm more interested in FAITH.
There is some controversy in the news right now, or so I gather from Facebook, about the seasonal color of Starbucks cups. On the one hand, I can see how this irks people. A white and green cup is annoying enough, in the way it communicates, "Look at me! I can afford a five dollar coffee!" But a RED cup? Visible from a block away? It practically screams, "LOOK AT ME!!! I can afford a FIVE DOLLAR COFFEE!" And also, "My christmas is gonna be OFF THE HOOK, you guys! I'm buying my children mother fucking SKIS!!!!!"
So yeah, Starbucks. For the rest of us who take our caffeine at home, this was a little bit of a jerk move.
Some folks, though, seem to take umbrage with the red cups, not for the conspicuous consumption but for reasons of identity.
"My Christmas" means something different from "your Christmas," they say, and it's very very important that you understand that.
Know me. Understand me. This is an argument about identity. And look, I don't want to get down on identity. Identity is important. If you feel like you're one thing and other people say that you're not? That can be downright oppressive. Please please please, if you feel you're not adequately representing your true identity, do whatever it takes, buy whatever you need to buy, until you feel like a real punker / hippy / hipster / Christian. Solve the identity problem so you move onto other things.
Because as much as identity says, "I've got this Christian thing SOLVED!" long term faith stirs the realization, "I have absolutely nothing solved."
Ten years into following Jesus I am still a self-conscious, doubting jerk. I've been confessing my sin for over a decade and I still haven't reached the bottom of the great well of my wrong-headedness. I thought I knew a lot about Jesus when I broadcast my new allegiance through jewelry. The more I follow him, the less I know. Like how can he possibly stay interested in me? Day after day, with all my bad choices? Why did he extend his interest in the first place? When he know what a shitty person I was to begin with?
Know me. Understand me. This is actually the business Jesus is in. Once we can get past the identity thing.
I like Starbucks coffee. I wish I could afford it more. According to some infographic I saw on Facebook, it's very high in caffeine.
But I worry that all the choices Starbucks offers us, even the choice to be mad or bemused at a certain colored cup, these choices stoke the fires of our own personal posturing. How does this coffee fit into my IDENTITY? Am I a tall? A grande? a venti? What does that say about my discipline / income / work ethic? What does this say about my Christianity?
You guys, I invite you this not-yet-holiday season to take a multi-colored view of faith. Where all of us look like posers in one way or another. And that's okay. For some reason Jesus doesn't care.
Let's just start this story at the grossest part, which is to say lice. On Monday of last week I found a single head louse on myself. It was 4:45 in the morning. I had woken up early to work out, and had snuck into the kitchen for some coffee, when I felt a small shivery thing scurrying along the back of my neck. I would have felt so relieved had I pulled a tick from behind me, but no, what I found pinched between my fingers was a single, unmistakable, louse. Before the rest of my family had roused themselves out of bed I had doused my entire head in rubbing alcohol. When Dan came downstairs I had already pulled the covers off the sofas, and the washing machine was running full tilt. Nothing like a good morning, "LET ME LOOK AT YOUR HAIR RIGHT NOW" to get everyone's adrenaline pumping first thing.
I never did find another louse on me or anyone else. But it set my internal tone for the rest of the week. Which was something like CONSTANT VIGILENCE! Or BUGS will EAT you! You think this f-ing place is clean? YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE WORKING HARD ENOUGH!
The rest of my week was consumed with packing for a 30-hour retreat. If you don't understand how every hour on an island might require two hours of planning, then you don't have small children. Perhaps you are in the sort of life stage where you can simply throw a change of clothes into a backpack and lightly skip onto a ferry. Tra la! Perhaps you thrive on industrial-style dining (breaded chicken doesn't have gluten, right?) If this is the case, stop reading this blog right now and go have sex on top of your kitchen table. You have no idea, but your DAYS of carefree living are NUMBERED. Tick. Mother f-ing tock.
Meanwhile, I will share with the actual mothers in the crowd that I got so ill from all my food / outerwear / first aid packing stress, that I woke up retreat day with a mild fever. My protein bars might have been better replaced with elderberry syrup, but I am not a walking apothecary, not with the extra pair of rain boots I had to carry for each child on the train. So the outing was dominated by me shivering on the beach with a toddler strapped to my chest because he'd developed a sudden fear of water.
I said to Dan, "When this is all over, I want to take an actual retreat."
"Like going running?"
"Like you watch the kids while I go to Whole Foods."
If I may speak frankly, church-time spirituality isn't great for me these days. When I walk into church Elijah screams for nursing. Or he screams for home. Or he screams because he's tired or because he's bored or because he senses that I don't want him to scream at that moment. As I walk him out towards the parking lot other adults smile and say, "How's it going?" and I want to say, "How does it LOOK like it's going?" but I don't want to kill someone else's buzz if they're in the kind of life stage where they can go to a worship service one day and another day have sex on a kitchen table. They should enjoy their weekend.
No, if I want to be around people who understands my needs at a very deep level, I just go to Whole Foods. The girl in the vitamin aisle knows SO MUCH about oil of oregano. One thousand times stronger than garlic!!! Or I wander the aisle of nuts and dried fruit and imagine the world is a magical place filled with delights specifically designed to amuse me. "Have anything you like!" I say to myself, as if the message comes directly from God himself, as if I believe in a loving creator who cares about my desires and not just about my dedicated perseverance. Or I pace around the hot food bar. Look at all the lovely food that I DIDN'T HAVE TO COOK! Every ingredient clearly listed. It makes me warm inside, not just the proximity to a low-level heat source, but the marriage of OPTIONS and KNOWLEDGE. In Whole Foods anything is possible, even transcendence.
When we drive to church we pass a Whole Foods and sometimes I look out the window longingly.
Okay, so I don't want to be this woman, this mother who can't have any fun. This killjoy shrew who looks down on 20-somethings, whose chief role in retreat is attentive shlepper of bandaids and snacks. When did I become, above all else, a woman who ENJOYS food shopping??? Somewhere my life seems to have taken a wrong turn. I'd like to get back to where it was a bit freer and easier. But the journey seems perhaps long. I can't imagine how I'd pack enough snacks...