How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage

14 years ago right now I was applying 52 coats of mascara, willing my lashes to grow for this one day. I slid on my $100 dress and my $15 shoes, placed the veil my family friend had made on my head and promised to love Zachary until death parted us.

This morning Hagrid scratched at our bed letting me know he needed to be let out and I closed my eyes, kind of hoping if I willed it to happen Zach would get up and take the dogs out so I could get a few more minutes of sleep. It’s 11:30am and I still haven’t put on a single coat of mascara, let alone a bra. Zach and I gave each other a quick kiss before he took three of our sons to the barber while I stayed back with the other two kids to get some work done.

I remember the promises we made to each other 14 years ago. To love one another in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, etc. Zach wanted to write our own vows at the time but, even at 20, I knew myself well enough to know I would be ugly crying the entire time so it would be a pointless venture anyway.

But after 14 years if I had to write the vows now they would look something like this:

Zach I promise to love and support you. Sometimes that love will look like waking up early to start the coffee when you have an early meeting and sometimes that love will look like going for a long drive for no particular reason so that I don’t bite your head off and say things out of anger that I only partially mean. Sometimes that support will look like helping you with your resume and cover letter and sometimes that support will look like telling you that even though you think you want to quit your job and just surf every day you might actually want to try surfing before you make that kind of commitment. 

Zach of course I promise to stay with you in sickness and in health-those I can do with relative ease. But I promise that when you’re being a total dick I won’t take it personally. Because life is hard and we often take it out on the people we love the most. I vow to always stand up for myself but rather than harden my heart and mind when you’re functioning at your worst, I’ll soften myself to become an easier place to land for you. It won’t be easy and I’ll be pretty terrible at this for about the first 8 years but I’ll try to rally around year 10. 

I love the way you write and leave me little love notes all of the time to remind me you’re thinking of me. I promise that even as the notes become infrequent due to kids, jobs and life I will continue to cherish each one. And though your handwriting is barely perceptible now and, I imagine, will only get worse-I will continue to get misty eyed as I decipher your loops and squiggles and imagine you through the years huddled over the piece of paper, an image of your wife hovering above the page. 

I love the way you flutter your eyelashes to get what you want and the way you let me eat first no matter how long it’s been since you last ate. In 14 years when the things I love about you go from being rather superficial to rather mundane, I promise to be equally charmed by you. Though there’s no way for me to know right now what it will be like watching you wrestle with your sons and go on a paddle board trip with your daughter just to get an hour of quality conversation with her-I can see how you hold in your head and heart the ability to do all of this so well. And though I don’t know what it will be like to be an auntie or see you as an uncle, I know how much you love your siblings and how much you’ve grown to love mine so I can almost picture you balancing their little butts on your extended hand or stealing them away as they cry to work your insane magic and return with them sleeping peacefully. I promise to always stand in awe of your ability to love and delight in the children around you. Because kids are no fools-they can sense good from bad and so even when I’m incredibly frustrated with you I’ll remember your ease at being adored by those little ones and know that you are relentlessly good.  

I love that even when we fight we do it with respect and care and that you make me stay engaged the whole time. I know that in 14 years I’ll look back at the tiffs we call fights right now and recognize them for their adorableness but I’ll continue to be thankful that they are handled with respect and care when they are no longer adorable. I know right now that I know so little about the stresses that babies, jobs, adoptions and moves can have on a marriage but even in our short time together I know that we both know how to work incredibly hard so I believe we will get through it. Not around it but through it. And I promise that no matter how much time passes I will continue to work the hardest I’ve ever worked on staying with you. 

I don’t know what I don’t know. That will be as true on our 14th anniversary as it will on our 60th. But I know that each year will have what these last months with you have had-incredible highs, devastating lows and all the various in betweens. I promise that I will hang on for the lows and ride the swell of the highs and that I will reach out for your hand to walk through the middle stuff. I vow to lay down all of my armor whenever I come to you with any issue. I promise that I will never come to a fight with you armed with anything more than raw emotion and the desperation at making our love truer and bigger. And I promise that if I come armed with swear words or unchecked anger that I’ll be willing to apologize and understand it doesn’t make me weak but human. 

I vow to love you. Not in the way I do now that doesn’t know just how badly your feet smell or how frustrated I’ll get when you’re the epitome of patience in our adoption and I’m…not but in the way that knows literally everything about you and still loves you hopelessly, completely and truly.

I know it’s not sexy to title this one “How to Survive 14 Years of Marriage” but anyone who has been married will tell you that is what it is. There are so many variables that work against a marriage and sometimes it feels like you’ve built your marriage on the sand. There will be days, weeks or years when it feels like every time you try to add value to the marriage you’ll watch an even bigger piece get washed away. Sometimes it will feel like the tide is always high and that you’re fighting a battle you just cannot win. And then there are days, weeks or years when it feels like you’ve built your marriage within a bomb shelter. So even when outside forces hurl themselves at your doors you remain safe, protected, huddled inside, together.

This might be uniquely American but I feel like long term relationships are so hard because their success literally goes against virtually every American ethos out there. Independence? Not always great in a marriage. Dog eat dog world? Not so much. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps? Negates the necessity of interdependence. So while our culture tells us to put your head down, risk it all to find success in whatever makes you happy-marriage is asking us to sit down together and brainstorm what’s best for our entire family unit. While our culture celebrates independence, long term relationships wither under it and thrive on selflessness and interdependence. While our culture tells us to find jobs that will allow us the big house, the two nice cars and the family trips to exotic locales-a healthy marriage tells us that none of that matters as much as a husband who is home relatively early at night and who finds fulfillment in his job, a mom who loves her time at home with her babies making a few pennies teaching classes and creating a podcast and kids who don’t get world class vacations but road trips to see National Parks and hike trails left untouched by most of America.

And our marriage specifically is constantly struggling against a patriarchal society that tells Zach he needs to “man up”, push down his emotions and hide them from anyone-including his wife-lest they think he weak. A healthy marriage requires constant communication and openness but traditional patriarchy (celebrated in America) asks Zach to avoid these things and just get to work-leave the talking and the feelings to me. Most of our arguments these days are because I can tell Zach is avoiding his feelings. He’s still feeling them, mind you, but hasn’t been taught the words to use or the way to voice them. As desperate as I am to hear how he’s feeling, he’s (sometimes rightfully so) worried I’m not strong enough to handle it.

But patriarchy has a way of working against me as well, right? We are often fighting this martyr complex that is built on the other side of a patriarchy that bills men as the breadwinner and women as everything else. Zach is constantly reminding me that taking on more than I can joyfully bear isn’t a sacrifice worth doing for our family and that doing all of the things in the hopes that someone will find me to be the closest thing since Jesus Christ-and then being SUPER pissed when they don’t-is maybe not healthy. And I also have to fight against the idea that if Zach tells me he is worried about the future in any way that it means we are all doomed. When I react in a negative way to his vulnerability it makes him less likely to share with me, understandably so. I find myself constantly fighting against this kind of cultural reaction so prevalent in the underbelly of patriarchy. Because WE are strong enough to weather whatever emotions come from either one of us.

And then this new phenomenon I refer to as the social media marriage. All the couples going on incredible vacations, beautiful date nights and taking professional pictures. The ones who must live in a space that has perfect lighting and 24 hour access to nutritious food and personal trainers. The outside perception of these relationships can burden the very real marriage you’re living with, right? The one that any candid photo would show you still in your house clothes and him in the other room getting a few more things done for work. You know, the one whose anniversary is today but because of kids and life might not allow for you to share space let alone good lighting until the sun’s down. The “spouse challenge” was going around Facebook recently where you were supposed to post a picture of you and your spouse for 7 days. I got tagged to do it a number of times but never did. Because all of the pictures of Zach and I looked the same-a quick selfie before a rare date night that had no less than 4 filters to hide the black chin hairs I forgot to pluck and the stray gray eyebrow of his that grows overnight. I don’t want to be just another unrealistic representation of marriage out there for people, I want to try as hard as I can to represent our marriage and our life as real as humanly possible (with a few filters, obviously. I’m only human). Unrealistic expectations in a relationship can be fatal, I have no interest in contributing to those.

This is why survival is really the best term for marriage. Because you never come to an anniversary smelling like roses-you come smelling like the mud and muck you’ve treaded through to arrive at a place where you can high five each other and say, “Whew. We made it. Another year down. Hey can you wipe off my ass a little bit? Still dirty from the last fall. Ok, let’s get back to it then.” Some years there will be enough time for a full dinner and a full bottle of wine but other years might be a cup of coffee gone cold or one sip of wine before tending to the screaming child you snuggle until you’re both asleep. At 8pm.

Our marriage had humble beginnings in almost every way (except for the actual wedding-thanks mom and dad!) and continues that way as well. But in so many ways I’m grateful that we’ve had to claw and scratch for everything we’ve had because just 14 years in and we are some of the best fighters I know. When it’s with each other we’ve learned to wait until we can do it in a way that’s vulnerable, open and calm. When we are fighting outside forces we fight back to back, knowing we will always be supported and protected by the other. We’re not afraid to get a little scrappy if it means we grow closer to each other and thank goodness for that.

I don’t know how to survive 15 years of marriage or 20 years or 60 years but this is how we’ve survived 14. And I hope that when one of my kids or grandkids is considering marriage and they come to me asking how we’ve done it that I have the courage to say: “Honey if I could show you my heart you would see that it’s been battered and it’s been bruised. Because in all these years I’ve endured all the ways in which forever linking yourself with another human can hurt you. But if you could see my heart you would also notice that it’s twice the size of your average person because Zach has made it grow and bloom in a way that can only happen when you choose to stay with someone every day. You want to know how we’ve lasted? Because both of us in the hard times whispered to ourselves ‘It will be hard but it will be worth it.’ And that’s never been truer than it is today.”

Reader I don’t know your current status in life and I don’t know whether you’re in a season where your marriage or partnership feels like it’s currently built on sand or cement but I want you to know that you’re not alone. There is not a single marriage out there that hasn’t been where you are. Maybe you’ll make it through together, maybe you won’t. This post isn’t to persuade you to stick it out, it’s really just an acknowledgement that sticking it out is hard.

But for me it’s been so worth it. Because Zach is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. And he continues to be my harvester of light.

Love you more than you can possibly imagine, Z, thanks for continuing to choose me every hour, every day and every year.

TL

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#nofilter (seriously).

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Trump

How to Talk to Your Kids About Trump

A few months ago my sister-in-law and I started a podcast. (This is genuinely the real reason I haven’t blogged since it began.) I’ll go into that more in a future blog but it is because of that podcast that I’ve had MANY emails, Facebook messages and texts asking me how I talk to my kids and my family about Donald Trump.

We end each episode of the Mama Bear Dares podcast with a dare that (we hope) inspires the listener to live life with more love and compassion-for themselves, for their significant others, for their children and for all of humanity. So people aren’t reaching out to me because they think I have it figured out, they are reaching out to me because Leslie and I have created a platform that encourages people to continue to reach out in kindness and love.

The honest answer to their question about teaching my kids kindness when they are hearing sound bites from a man who could be our next President being the very opposite of kind? I’m genuinely not sure how to answer that.

I admit to saying truly unkind things about Trump. Maybe some are true, most are probably just fear coming out in words. Sometimes my kids are around, sometimes they aren’t. So if that’s where you’re at-where the fear and the anxiety and the sleepless nights have you being unkind-I get that.

Here’s what I’m going to try to do today though:

  1. Instead of just give my kids sound bites from me I’m going to sit them down and tell them why I’m not voting for Trump. I want my kids to see that I arrived at my decision because of facts not fear. I want them to learn what we value as a family by who we elect politically. When we read the Bible and hear about all of the times Jesus came to help the people the governments of the day forgot-I want my kids to understand the relevance of that today. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that Christians vote Republican. I want them to grow up being able to differentiate between someone who says they love Jesus and then treats everyone around them like hot garbage from someone who just does the daily work of loving those around them consistently and (sometimes) quietly. My kids deserve to hear smart, rational, non-fear based facts about how our country is right now and my hopes for the future. They won’t get that from me yelling, “What an idiot” at the TV.
  2. I will show them videos of past Presidents during their acceptance speeches at the conventions. I will try to raise kids who don’t just fall for the flashy lights, pretty words and rehearsed pauses. We will stop the videos and ask “ok this is what they said, what do you think this means?” Just like when we go past magazines at the store and one of them comments on the models I remind them of photoshop, lighting, make up and angles-I will also remind them of the difference between rhetoric and reality. I never want my kids to be disengaged consumers buying whatever anyone is selling. I want them to see past the rhetoric. Who is being included? Who is being left out? If Trump were to make this actually happen who benefits? Who doesn’t? In that phrase he just said is it inclusive or exclusive? Overall did you get a feeling that he loves this country and its people or did you get the feeling that he hates this country and most of its people?
  3. Every time I hear another racist, misogynistic, islamophobic, homophobic (all the ists and bics) instead of reacting out of anger I will label those things appropriately and, when able, ask our kids to imagine someone from that target audience and ask how they think it would feel for them to hear that. Because when Donald Trump is coming at us with anger, I want my kids to instead react with empathy. Just like I encourage my kids to empathize and defend the kid from the bully at school, I want them to see what Trump is doing and recognize it as the same. And I’ll also discuss the danger in other-izing an entire group of people. Once again asking, if someone talks about a group of people who looks, believes or acts differently than they do in a way that’s derogatory do you actually think they would ever go out of their way to make life better for a member of that group? I hope this teaches them that in the future when they hear of kids or adults speaking poorly about an entire race, gender, nationality or religion it’s probably a good indication that my kids’s energies would be better spent on someone trying to heal the divisions rather than widen.
  4. When my kids come home to tell me that their friends are voting for Trump instead of reacting with a “Jesus” (this is my go-t0 response, it’s whatever. I’m working on it but dam*. Bless) I’ll react with a “and how does that make you feel?” If my kids don’t have the words for how that makes them feel I’ll give them words for how it makes me feel when I have friends voting for him. It makes me scared. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me feel like maybe we don’t have as much in common as I thought we do. It makes me feel like we need to move. It makes me feel like I’m alone. It doesn’t necessarily erase any of their feelings but I hope it helps them process them in a healthy way. In a way that is able to sit back and understand that maybe those friends are just regurgitating what their parents say. That it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the children themselves but on their desire to relate to and be a part of the conversation in their own homes. It’s a good example of how wanting to be included can lead to things that maybe don’t actually reflect how we feel or what we think and I’ll stress again that being an independent thinker is one of the most powerful things you can be. Sometimes it’s lonely but you’ll always be able to fall asleep knowing you’ve stayed true to who you are.
  5. I’m going to remind my kids that they can make a difference. I genuinely believe this election will come down to who shows up at the polls. Obviously every election does to some extent but this one feels like the stakes are higher. I have told them for as long as I can remember that their voices, their bodies and their stories matter. But I’ll show them I believe my own life matters by voting in this election. And I will remind them that as they get older I want them to vote however they see fit not how I see it, not how their grandparents or their friends see it. I don’t want them to think that because they are Christian they need to vote Republican. I don’t want them to think that because they are white they vote this way or black they vote another. I don’t want them to vote with who their husband or wife is voting for. I want them to do their own due diligence and research all of the candidates. I want to equip them with the knowledge of how to do that and this election seems like a pretty great time to start so that when they turn 18 (just did the math…Trysten is eerily close to voting in the next Presidential election. Gulp) they are confident in their ability to choose for themselves and no one else. It took me far too long to learn that lesson.
  6. And I will point out the things that they aren’t old enough to see but that I believe is important. I will show them that most of the people at the RNC this week were white. I will remind them that whiteness doesn’t represent our country and that when any majority is allowed to go unchecked it always spells disaster for minorities. Always. So when I encourage them to be kind I mean to be kind to the people who are being left out of the conversation when Trump is at the podium. The people who run the risk of being exploited even more than they are already. I will remind them that our kindness is ALWAYS better spent on the people for whom our communities, our countries and our world discounts and sees as disposable. And I will wake them up to the privileges they have that others don’t. And use Trump as an example of unchecked and unregulated privilege. Though I’ve talked to Trysten specifically about winning the virtual privilege lottery (white, male, middle class, intelligent, no visible signs of disability, cisgendered, currently straight identifying, etc) I haven’t talked to the others about the other various ways privilege plays out and how we have to stay awake to the realities of others or we run the risk of neglecting them too.

This political season is a really great training ground for teaching my kids that fighting fire with fire burns the entire country to the ground. We are seeing this play out on the national stage but my kids do not need to see it play out in my house. If I genuinely want my kids to react to an angry person or an angry idea with respect and rationality then I have to show them how to do it. I’m absolutely going to mess up because I’m human and I’m still learning to process my emotions in a healthy and beneficial way but I have to start somewhere.

Last night a friend who, like me, has Republicans running down all sides of her family. People she respects and loves messaged me with “I need someone to tell me what to do.” I don’t think I know what to do but I’m going to start here.

Equipping my family with knowledge, agency, love, empathy and compassion feels like the most profound thing I can do. Today it certainly feels like the most revolutionary act that is needed from us.

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Are you feeling this same tension? What are you doing with you kids?

 

 

Dr. King’s Dream UNrealized…

Dr. King’s Dream UNrealized…

I think one of the more frustrating things about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr day is watching as many white people who had terrible things to say about the protestors in Baltimore and Chicago share some of Dr. King’s more famous quotes on social media. It’s always the more comfortable ones, the ones that don’t push or pull at any of their preconceived notions about what it’s like to be black in America. “The time is always right to do what is right.”  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

I haven’t seen anyone post some more controversial but ultimately more timely of his quotes. Allow me.

It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

I think it is good and right that we are celebrating the life and legacy of a man who disrupted the national language on race. He was not the first and he won’t be the last but he is certainly the most widely acknowledged and for that, I am forever grateful. Of course my current life and roll as mom to my five humans wouldn’t have been possible without his and so many others who sacrificed. And yet…

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

I can’t help but believe there is no way Martin Luther King Jr would have been okay with the current status of our racial relations in this country. I can’t believe that when he penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail (excerpts in italicized bold throughout this post) that he would see a boy like Donald Trump who openly espouses racist ideology leading the polls of an entire party as progress. And what of the confederate flag still waving above state capitals? Would he not see the unjust irony in the same state capitals waving the confederate flag taking the day off of work to commemorate his life?

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

And yet people point to having a black President of the United States and many other black Americans in positions of power. Steps forward, to be sure, but Dr. King never talked about allowing a few African Americans to be let in to the benefits of society that white Americans were naturally allowed because of the color of their skin, he was talking about all Americans being afforded the opportunity. I’m sure King would’ve celebrated Obama’s victory but also challenged Americans who believed it was a symbol of the death of racism. Particularly when faced with the reality that in 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks were still stuck in the airtight cage of poverty, compared to just 9 percent of non-hispanic whites.

A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law… Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

53 years after King wrote the above, there are states in America that are passing Voter ID laws that place an undue burden on mostly poor and disproportionally black and latino Americans. Every bit of research proves election fraud is a nonissue and in that rare case that it happens, it’s mostly by mail-in absentee ballots (and thus not weeded out by the Voter ID law). 53 years and and the call to lift the obstacles in the way for black Americans and their right to vote remains.

I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys…

And what of the incarceration rate of black men in America in 2016? Can we honestly say King’s dream has been realized when African Americans are imprisoned at nearly six times the rate of whites? Even though 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. 53 years later and black Americans are still being slapped, kicked and killed by police with impunity. How do we celebrate the man but okay the status quo?

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I admit to being for many years one of those moderates to which King references. I had no idea what white privilege meant or how I could possess it without ever having asked for it. I think because of that I find myself not in a position of pointing fingers and accusing other moderate whites of being terrible people or outright racists because they aren’t out joining protests. What I am saying is that I understand how the moderate whites who say nothing do more harm than the outright racists who spout such terrible rhetoric only other terrible people will agree. We whites who are kind, thoughtful, smart, considerate, community and business leaders who are not doing our part to educate ourselves and the people we love about what America is actually like for people of color hurt the cause more by turning a blind eye and encouraging others to do the same. We can no longer claim we are ignorant of the plight of people of color because we have access to their stories at our fingertips. Our ignorance is no longer bliss it’s poison and I believe King knew that even then-years before the Internet.

I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; an too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

The church. King writes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that he has wept for the laxity of the church. “But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church.” Man do those words hit home for me as well. I’ve blogged before about my issues with the church and it seems King’s words are more prophetic than ever in that regard. It turns out I’m not nearly as forgiving as Dr. King because the church’s silence on matters of race is one big reason I still haven’t walked through the hollowed doors of a church in awhile. The deafening silence of my fellow christian when black life after black life is taken is enough to make me wonder if God is listening at all. And yet, I believe He is and I believe in the church-that she will come again to walk alongside the oppressed as Jesus once did. I know enough church leaders who are doing their part to call their congregation to come alongside their African American peers and to fight the injustice that pulses through the veins of our country to have hope. Dr. King taught me that.

Why I celebrate Dr. King today is because he is proof that a completely fallible human can carry out a revolution. Anyone who has done their homework knows that Dr. King wasn’t a perfect man and yet he became the voice of a generation who had been oppressed for too long. He is proof that you can do big things with your one big life no matter your past and no matter your current shortcomings.

Let today be a reminder of how far we’ve come, thanks in part to Dr. King, for sure. But let it also be a reminder of just how far we have to go.

Let it remind you that our current justice system is the exact same justice system that was in place in Dr. King’s time. It is currently working exactly how it was intended. This means we don’t need an updated justice system, we need to tear the current one completely down and start from scratch. We cannot possibly expect equality in our prison system when the system began on the backs of African Americans.

Let it remind you that current housing policies and racial bias in the workforce continue to keep people of color smothering in the airtight cage of poverty at far greater rates than whites just as they did 53 years ago.

Let it remind you that the school to prison pipeline is taking our children of color and setting them on the same paths of imprisonment that Dr. King abhorred. We can claim to have come so far but when we are stacking the cards from such a young age we can longer be surprised when the lives of people of color crumble under such weight.

And let today remind you that you are capable and have the moral obligation to act on behalf of those still oppressed. That you have a moral obligation to listen to their stories and not count them as false just because they differ from your own. Yes, the moral arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice but we have to be the ones to bend it. Let today remind you that no matter who you are, how little you think you matter or how many mistakes you make that you can make a difference. That your voice matters. It’s time we stop whitewashing Dr. King’s legacy and start taking up the cross that burdened him and continues to burden America. Because even though part of Dr. King’s dream has been realized there is far more that has been unrealized and it is that part that needs your voice. Lend it.

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Ethiopia Trip-Our Second Day in the Villages

This post was written on Wednesday, November 11.

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I woke up this morning knowing I was going to make it to the villages. I had slept soundly through the night, despite sleeping most of yesterday. After careful calculations I realized I had slept 21 of the last 24 hours. My body put up a good fight and won, I’m so thankful.

This morning we were off to Tomas and Binyam’s village first. We spent the morning talking and playing soccer with his special people. Though the crowd of 200 people wasn’t there to greet us today, we had a truly beautiful time in the hut with our special people. True to our experience in Ethiopia, there was a steady stream of community members who came and sat at the doorway of the hut just to watch the ferengi (foreigners) talk with their fellow villagers. Binyam and Dailah remained fixated on the tiny chickens. Binyam, I think, because staring back at the dozens of eyes staring at him was just a little too much for my introvert. Dailah because they were simply too cute (one of T & B’s people told Dailah she should name the chicks. She named one “Cutie Patootie” and they all really loved that. )

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I loved that the special people didn’t just ask Tomas and Binyam questions but also Tariku, Dailah and Trysten. It was clear they saw no difference between the siblings and loved them because of their relation to T & B as well. It’s rarely like that in America where one of the first questions we get asked is, “But are they brothers?” about our Ethiopians, as if the fact that I called them all my kids wasn’t enough proof that they are brothers. The Ethiopians never asked if Trysten and Dailah were our biological children or how/why our family came to be. They just started calling Trysten, Dailah and Tariku “son” and “daughter” as well. What a beautiful thing that is.

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We were served roasted beans (delicious), crackers and soda. Despite my churning belly I was struck by how relaxed I was. Obviously no one in the tent save for our family, our translator and our driver spoke English but it never felt uncomfortable. It just felt really, really good to surround our boys with so many who love and pray for them every day-Ethiopian and American alike-and sometimes just sit and marvel at the miracles they truly are.

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We got to hear funny stories of Tomas and Binyam when they were younger. Both sides of the family (Ethiopian and American) loved to hear that, though so much has changed, in many ways the boys remain remarkably similar to how they were when they lived there. We have told similar stories they told with just a few different cultural variables. Some of the stuff I had worried might be adoption related with both of them turned out to be something they’ve done from the beginning. It felt so reassuring to hear details on those personality traits and think to myself, “Oh my, they’ve been doing that since they were babies, everything is going to be ok.” Very rarely with international adoption do you get to fill in holes of the adopted child’s story so I genuinely can’t tell you what it meant to do that in so many ways for Tomas-adopted at age 6 and Binaym-adopted at age 3.

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After many photos and prayers, we were off to Tariku’s special people for the afternoon.

We found out that one of Tariku’s special people had essentially told the village they weren’t allowed to hang around their hut the two days we were there. This special person didn’t want a spectacle made of the return of a beloved. It is perhaps why it felt so much like spending time with family while we were in their village.

They set up a soccer game, Tariku’s special person chose teams this time and definitely stacked one of the teams with all of Tariku’s people. Normally I would question the fairness as Tariku’s gift of excelling in sports ran rampant through his team, but it was clearly making his special person so happy so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

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Zach and I sat on chairs with other special people to watch. Our translator walked around so it wasn’t as if we were holding conversations but there was something so universally joyful about those moments. To be watching the two worlds collide in such an ordinary way. No fanfare, no staring. It felt like a regular Wednesday in so many ways. I have to admit it was maybe my favorite time of the whole trip.

I’ve been asked if it was weird to not be able to communicate. Of course there were times when the translator was maybe in one area and we were in another that I would’ve normally started small talk with the people around me. But without the small talk, when we were able to communicate via translator our words had more purpose and more weight.

I realized that in America it’s so easy to “know” people. Maybe we small talk on a pretty regular basis, perhaps we comment on all the social media the other posts. We share the same language and perhaps we talk all the time but we don’t know each other. One of the truest gifts we received in Ethiopia was our ability to get to know our special people. When you don’t speak the same language there’s no fluff-our conversations were about the hopes, dreams and fears the other has. The stories told weren’t just silly anecdotes they were glimpses into a larger narrative about who my boys were then and how they’ve affected who they are now.

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We had some funny moments too to be sure because there was an awareness of the weirdness of the whole situation.

There’s no doubt God never intended Tariku to be with us and not with them, adoption was never part of the original plan. I think we were all aware of that in a rather profound way. But somehow we found ourselves huddled over a large plate of injera and shiro celebrating the messy, traumatic, complicated way in which we had become a family bound together by the absolute love we share for Tariku. If Tariku’s special person would’ve allowed village members in I have no doubt they would’ve recognized the common language of love in our adoring eyes and directed smiles whenever Ethiopian or American looked Tariku’s way.

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I was asked recently if it was awkward to be around Tomas, Tariku and Binyam’s special people knowing in some ways we share the same roles in their lives. In all honesty, I feel so grateful to have partners in this monumental task of raising our sons. An open international adoption is weird and inaccessible at times but when I’m feeling dark or hopeless about my abilities to raise my boys right I’m reminded of who is alongside me and I get a tremendous amount of strength from that. I feel more reassured that the boys will be okay knowing I’m not alone in raising them.

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When Zach was speaking to Tariku’s special people he said, “I just hope that I make you proud as his father with how I’m raising Tariku to love you and to love Ethiopia. I think of you often when I’m with him and just want to do right by you. Thank you for the opportunity to help raise our son.”

I thought it perfectly summed up our time spent with all of the special people. It was our way of thanking them for the gift it is to help raise our sons and to celebrate the gift in a beautiful multi-cultural, multi-lingual way.

Coming to Terms with My Own Struggles So I Can Better Help My Kids Come to Terms with Theirs.

Last night we had to sit down with one of our sons and break the world down for him a bit. We’ve noticed this child has started to do things just to be cool. For now it’s nothing alarming, mostly just wanting to wear all the “right” clothes. He layers on his accessories like he’s never heard the phrase “less is more”. Bless.

If one of the kids has a friend over this child is known to say things that are so clearly wrong -last night it was telling a friend that tofu was a fruit-only to try to sound smart. He also claimed to have finished a book his siblings had already finished so that he could watch the movie with them. With just one question about a main plot point in the book it was quite obvious he hadn’t read it.

Even just a few weeks into school we are starting to see a pattern where he’s finishing his tests and work in class as fast as he can or not bringing work home to study at all. Though his intention is to look smart/cool, it all crumbles when he receives a D on his test. His friends might not know about his terrible grade, obviously, but he momentarily forgets that his mom has 24 hour access to his grades online and that she checks it roughly once every hour knowing he is not a kid who will be able to skate through school on his smile and good humor alone.

In some respects I believe this is typical behavior for boys his age. The struggle between the illusion of independence from parents and the obvious dependence on the parents is real. It is, of course, the human condition to want to be liked and admired. I don’t even believe this in itself is a terrible thing. More often than not when other parents or teachers talk about this son of mine they mention how kind, caring and respectful he is-all attributes built from the same place his desire to be liked is housed. A double edged sword indeed.

But it’s also typical orphan behavior as well. This charismatic son of mine did what the adoption community calls “mommy shopped” for almost 2 years before we met him. His desire to be loved and seen as cute/cool went spectacularly in Ethiopia, every time a friend of ours went to Ethiopia before us they gushed over his adorableness and his friendliness. As soon as I was able to make public his photographs I received an influx of emails from people who had traveled the previous 2 years saying roughly the same thing, “As soon as we got home my husband and I prayed about going back for him. If we could’ve gotten the resources together we would have. You are so lucky!”

I remember when the kids were little being physically exhausted roughly all the time. Trysten and Dailah slept through the night since they were 8 weeks old (don’t hate) and the boys have all been phenomenal sleepers since we brought them home as well so I’m not really referring to the sleepy fog. I’m talking about being physically exhausted in the way that, when Zach got home, I basically threatened him within an inch of his life to not touch me. I so vividly remember being a human playground and often the only one able to comfort an upset child.

As the kids continue to get older I’m no longer physically exhausted, the tables have reversed a bit in that department-I’m typically the one smothering them when I’m feeling a little low or needing some personal connection. Parenting older kids feels so emotionally exhausting instead.

This thing with our son has stirred up some heavy reminders of when I used to be so concerned with being cool. I never did it in the ways he is doing it: I didn’t ever care much about what I was wearing or being the smartest in class. But I did care about my status as an athlete, always having a boyfriend, being liked by as many people as possible.

I’ve done some pretty terrible and painful things to other people and to myself in the name of “being cool”. One of those things I did when I was roughly the age of my son that still haunts me from time to time. My best friend in elementary and I had decided to be locker partners in middle school, we had bought the mirrors and other things in which to adorn our shared locker. But that summer I started hanging out with someone else more. She seemed so cool and didn’t have the elementary baggage that my other friend had (by the way, none of this is on the middle school friend-she continues to be one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know) so a week before middle school started I called my elementary friend to let her know I was changing things up and would no longer be sharing a locker with her. How she forgave me for that (and many, many other things) over the years and continues to be a friend I have no idea.

And honestly, as I got older, the stakes were higher and so were the MIstakes. The need to be loved and adored was so acute I hurt people so deeply that some, rightfully so, haven’t forgiven me since.

Last night I related all of this to my son and told him, “Do you know why I fell so hard for your dad? He showed up to our first date in clothes from Goodwill and shoes made of duct tape. He was the first person I ever knew to be so completely him all the time. Your dad has never put much thought into what people think of him and yet people love your dad. They are so devoted to him because they know the person they are claiming their devotion. They know it’s not going to shift and change depending on the season-your dad is your dad-take him or leave him.”

Then I reminded him that we aren’t expecting an overnight success in his ability to just be ok with dropping the masks and showing the world just who he is. We are ever evolving humans after all and, though Zach has inspired me to drop all of my masks since the day I met him, I continue to struggle with the old demons from time to time. That struggle is the reason I got “I am God’s beloved” tattooed on my collarbone-it’s a daily reminder that no matter how badly I’ve effed it all up (and woof are there some doozies in there) I am so completely and incomprehensibly loved.

And so is he. Because, as I told him, the people who will be put off by the real him were never meant to be in his life in the first place. And the people drawn to him? Those will be the people who will live and die for him. Those are the only people he needs to worry about doing right by.

I slept so poorly last night because I just kept thinking of ways in which I could save all of my kids, this son in particular, from making the same mistakes I’ve made in my life. I longed a little for the days when I was terrified of outlets and steps rather than BIG feelings like self acceptance and people pleasing gone too far. The risk feels greater now, the repercussions heavier. It’s impossible to know whether I’m doing the right thing as a mom now that my kids are becoming fully formed young adults before my eyes but every night I fall asleep knowing I did my very best and will apologize in the morning for the ways in which I fell short.

The risk is indeed greater but so is the reward. Getting to know my 5 on a personal level is one of the coolest experiences of my life. It’s so humbling to watch them wrestle with the same things I did at their age and so gratifying to watch them beat the beasts that took me so much longer to conquer.

Last night I looked my son in the eyes and said, “God made you so perfectly, son, I am so in awe of how wonderful you are. I love you so much there is absolutely nothing you could do to stifle that and nothing you could wear to make that love any bigger. Let’s show everyone else the son I get to see-they will be awestruck by the awesome.”

He smiled and went to bed and as he did I realized I was talking to myself, too.

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On being a Christian who doesn’t go to church.

One of the more popular texts/emails I received after my last blog was from the Christian contigency of readers asking if I had found a church. If you’re not in Christian circles you might not be familiar with the very prevalent idea that once you find a church, you will also find a group of people to hang out with and thus never feel lonely.

I used to be better about accepting that ideology. Go to church, meet other believers, build your family around that church. When we first moved to the Quad Cities I was having a hard time finding friends with kids so my sister-in-law suggested I try a church she thought we would like. We did and I did. I ended up meeting some really amazing women there (you might remember it was at that church and with those women that the idea of Water for Christmas began.) I forgave a few things that bothered me about the church (namely that the pastor often said some rather sexist things in the form of terrible jokes) because I loved the women. But then the church waved proudly all the red flags I had been seeing over the years when, instead of helping some friends of mine after their world was shaken, they chose instead to kick them while they were down. It was an in your face way of showing how they really felt about sin-hide it, suppress it and don’t speak of it otherwise we will publicly shame you and push you out of the church.

Message. Received.

I didn’t go back to church after that and I started questioning everything I had once believed. I decided that if I were to go back to church, and take my family with me, I would no longer stick around if the pastor was a teeny bit sexist or if I thought the message was a teeny bit derogatory towards poor people. I didn’t (and don’t) expect perfection from pastors or a church but I certainly expect to hear more love and a little less joking at the expense of an entire group of people.

A few years later we happened upon a church that was taking place in a bar.* Sunday mornings they gathered, soles of their shoes sticking to the floor from the previous night’s shenanigans. It was a group of 50 or so who worshipped with their eyes closed, hands raised and their feet moving side to side coming unglued from the alcohol laden floor with the rhythm of the music. On our second time trying out the church a parade of members including the pastor and his wife got up on stage. As the music played they turned over cardboard signs with the worst sins they had committed written on them. These weren’t your “I stole an eraser from my friend in 4th grade” (I did that by the way) these were the big ones. And I started the ugly cry immediately. To be in a place where the leadership of the church was so openly admitting to their humanness was exactly what I needed.

Of course we stuck around. The two pastors were both equally amazing, always on point with their message. They never went for the easy sermons either, meant to make you feel ok about heading home to your cushioned couch to watch the football game on your big screen without a second thought to what it means to be a Christian. They were always asking us to do more, love more, give more (not to the church-but to community organizations or to the Water Party), volunteer more. Once a month on Sundays instead of a service, the whole church would volunteer at area organizations. Sometimes they literally just went to the neighborhoods surrounding the church and did little projects for the elderly that lived there. They welcomed refugees and helped them navigate life in America. They never confused a relationship with Christ and a relationship to a political party. We naturally became friends with people from that church, and continue to be today.

And then we moved. We moved to a small town in Michigan that features many churches. We’ve tried the largest church in our town that many of our friends go to. It’s not for us. I hold no ill feelings towards that church, its pastor or its members but I just can’t do it anymore.

I am no longer impressed by fog machines, cafes and hundreds of people. I am impressed by vulnerability, openness and authenticity. Those will always, always win out for me.

I no longer feel like church has to be a part of our routine “for the kids”. I would rather them experience God in nature on our Sunday hikes or in a book on our Sunday reading sessions. I would rather them get to know God because of how He talks to them in the quiet stillness that accompanies our relaxed Sundays than hear a bullet pointed kids sermon while they are gripping a climbing wall.

I would rather them grow up knowing God is love than grow up learning from the church and its people about what God hates. And by that I don’t mean what God actually hates but what Christians often hate.

I refuse to go to a church that dives into politics unless to talk about our commands to help the poor, welcome the refugee and love one another.

Any mention of an “us” versus “them” philosophy is a non negotiable for me. Whether that be Christians versus non-Christians, Republicans versus Democrats, Americans versus non-Americans, etc. If you’re into polarizing rather than uniting-I’m out.

If you spend more money on your church renovations and your coffee than you do on local community support, I’m not interested. If your church would close its doors and the community wouldn’t feel the pang of loss (other than the members), you’re doing it wrong-I’m out.

I don’t have much interest in piousness (as evidenced by my affinity for cussing and my aversion to the modesty culture for women) but I can’t get enough of the tenets of forgiveness, peace, hope and love.

I love Jesus but sometimes I find it so incredibly hard to love Christians.

In Rachel Held Evans’s book, Searching for Sunday, she writes, “I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.”

Yes.

I know many can grow in their faith and love in humanity through the hallowed walls of a church and, in some respects, I’m jealous of that. Because for me the times I’ve felt God’s presence the most have been when all 7 of us are snuggled on couches reading books, in the quiet moments right after my meditation when I’m breathing in the vastness of the world and in a tiny room in Ethiopia sharing tears and coffee with our special people.

In the end, though, I can’t quit the church entirely. Being surrounded by relatively likeminded people can be a salve at the end of a long week. A sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself is a powerful thing. Find me a church that’s not defined by who it leaves out but by who it lets in, and I’ll be there. Probably crying, definitely being vocal when I agree. Standing with my brothers and sisters who have done and seen the worst but still claim the worst powerless against love.

 

 

*Connection Church in the Quad Cities, go check it out or just listen to the podcast like I do!

12 Years

On Sunday Zach and I celebrated the fact that these two crazy kids

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have survived 12 years of marriage.

I know it’s not romantic to say “survived” but anyone who has been married will tell you that’s essentially what it comes down to.

In the car a few days ago some terrible love song came on and I switched the station. Dailah asked me to switch it back so I asked her why she liked the song. She liked it for all the reasons young people like love songs: it’s a man/woman professing their undying attraction/lust/warm feelings towards someone else. We want that for ourselves.

And I get it, totally. I considered letting my 8-year-old in on the secret about real love but decided maybe it’s not the worst thing that she believes that’s love for a little bit longer.

The truth is love inside of a marriage is more about doing hard things. It’s about both people waking up in the middle of the night when your great dane has a terrible case of butt pee and, wordlessly, divvying up the disgusting task of clean up. No arguing about who did what last but just silently agreeing that you’re in this together. Also no more letting the grandparents give the dog bacon.

The truth is staying up until 2am talking about what’s got you both upset even though the kids need to be at school in a few hours and a day full of meetings is within breathing distance. It’s knowing it would be a lot easier to ignore it for a few more hours/days and discuss it when it’s more convenient but also knowing it’s too unhealthy. Knowing that resentment builds, shit is dug up from the past and by the time it’s more convenient the original anger has been blown into World War III proportions.

The truth is after 12 years together I would buy the shit out of a song that expressed the sexiness in hearing your husband say to your kids, “Can you believe your mom works this hard for us?” Or describes that moment when your husband looks at you-all decked out in sweatpants and on day 4 of unwashed hair-and you know he is overcome with love and the slightest bit of lust. That’s the good stuff, right there.

I want a song that celebrates the mundane just a little bit more. I know that’s what scares so many singletons before marriage-waking up to the same person every morning and doing basically the same thing every day-but what no one can tell you until it’s arrived is that there’s some comfort in that. There’s some comfort in waking up to see coffee made, my favorite mug (Dumbledore, obviously) positioned next to the pot. The slow dance we do around the kitchen with him starting toast and me putting away clean dishes. Get out the peanut butter, two step, grab the knife, two step, fill two cups with ice water…

My in-laws watched the kids so we could go on a date for our anniversary. We chose to go to Boyhood at our favorite Kalamazoo theater. We liked the idea that Boyhood was a film that took 12 years to make. The parallels were perfect.

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And I loved the movie. Absolutely loved it. Because nothing really happened. I don’t want to give it away but it really is exactly about what the Director set out to make it about. It’s about 12 years in the life of this boy and his family. As someone who consumes entertainment on the regular I’ve been classically conditioned to expect major life happenings but was so pleasantly surprised that instead it was just life. On the big screen. It was beautiful.

Probably Z and my marriage won’t inspire any Hollywood blockbuster. In the end if someone were to have been taping us all along  I think it would be most easily described as “it wasn’t really about anything.” But for those who are also living their lives with the people they love I also believe they’d end it with “but it was beautiful.”

Love you, Z, thanks for doing the hard work to make this life so beautiful.

Read also about How We Met.

11 Years.