Right about now, in the very early morning of this particular January 14th, I’m in the process of turning 34. It’s kind of hard to believe that there will be cake and singing in my honor much later today because this year, my birthday feels so insignificant. And it kind of is, in the grand scheme of things. But then again… it is the first time I’ve celebrated my birthday as a mom myself. And perhaps that makes it a pretty big deal after all.
I didn’t become a mom in the same way my mom did 34 years ago today, when she received the greatest gift of all (meeeee!), but I recently became a mom nonetheless. And I enter this, my 34th year, surprisingly grateful for the rocky road that led me here. (Note to self: add rocky road to grocery list.)
I don’t really believe in silver linings anymore, but I do believe that there is meaning in suffering and, in the end, I feel proud of the way my heart has grown over the last six years of infertility and loss. I’d be lying if I said I’d choose to do it all over again, if it were a choice at all, but I do find myself grateful now for how it prepared Seth and me to say the biggest yes of our lives.
Perhaps someday I’ll be in the position to share the whole fascinating story with you, but for now, the legally acceptable, but obnoxiously vague version is as follows:
Shortly before Labor Day, Seth and I received an out-of-the-blue phone call about becoming foster parents. Not a vague do-you-wanna-think-about-this kind of call, but rather a here’s-the-sitch-are-you-in-or-out type deal. I cried (naturally) and Seth logic-ed (of course) and we talked and thought and asked questions and ultimately had to listen to the nearly deafening “YES”-es our hearts were screaming. So with a definitive answer and a few other minor things (completing a metric ton of paperwork, opening our pasts and present up to a rather thorough investigation, begging non-relatives to write nice things about us, bumming Sunday morning fingerprints from the Marshfield Police Department, rearranging every cupboard and closet in the house, completing several hours of online training, etc.), we obtained our foster care license and became first time parents to a walking, talking ray of sunshine.
I’ve wondered so many times over the past six years if everything we went through to try to get pregnant had been worth it – worth the time, expense, pain, stress. And I always had to convince myself of yes, thinking that the only way to know was to have tried. But I don’t have to convince myself of anything anymore. It was definitely worth it, if only because without having gone through all of that, I may never have found myself in a position to say yes to this. And this – being a mom to the most amazing little soul – is worth anything and everything.
One of our favorite books at the moment is My New Mom & Me by Renata Galindo. I particularly love the end – “Mom is learning how to be my mom and I am learning how to be mom’s kid.” It’s an exciting time for our family as we figure it out together. So this year, whether we’re turning 34, 37, or 6, it’s going to be a good one! I sincerely hope you enjoy it too!
I laid in bed early yesterday morning, scrolling through Facebook’s daily reminder of what I’d done that day in history… and since I started Under the Tapestry, I’ve pretty consistently spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on a big theme, a lesson learned, a summary of the year about to end. I wanted to do that again, but my head was pounding and I hadn’t slept well and I needed to be up at and ’em for reasons I’ll explain momentarily, so bliggity blogging remained on hold. Even thinking remained on hold, to be honest.
Instead, I closed Facebook down, took a deep breath, and dialed my nextdoor neighbor. To my profound relief, he picked up the phone.
I’d left Lyle in his bed the night before, honestly unsure of whether he’d still be alive in the morning. He was so weak and confused, short of breath, complaining of a back ache. But all he wanted was sleep. He hadn’t eaten all day, just a bit of water, the glass of OJ his niece and I begged him to drink. He us to leave him so he could sleep. I called the hospice nurse as soon as I got home and though somewhat reassured, I still cried a bit, thinking of what that day somewhere in the near future is going to look like… when one of us finds him in the morning, having passed on. I know that’s the point of hospice, but I also thought the point of hospice was supposed to be comfort… a good death. This doesn’t seem good. It seems hard and scary and uncomfortable. What I’m learning though is that what hospice is truly about is autonomy… about saying enough is enough and living what’s left of your life on your own terms. We don’t always choose the best terms for ourselves, but that’s the thing about choices. No one else gets to make them for us.
As I sat in the maroon recliner at Lyle’s house that morning after the phone call (and a quick run to Dunkin Donuts for an uneaten breakfast sandwich and undrunk cup of coffee), Lyle dozing, in and out, in the blue recliner next to me, I began pecking this post out on my phone. Vague ideas and misspelled, fat-fingered words, just a start. Because I’d realized, despite the headache and the fear, that the idea of what exactly constitutes enough is what I learned in 2016.
Most recently, I’ve worried desperately about Lyle. We’ve lived nextdoor to him since moving in o our house in the summer of 2012, and in that time, we watched Lyle care for his rapidly declining wife, Marlene, Mar, through an awful battle with Alzheimer’s disease that ultimately ended with a broken hip, brief hospitalization, and rapid death last December. In the year since, Lyle has declined even quicker. I’ve seen what a broken heart and battered psyche can do to a man’s body and all the while, I’ve worried about whether what I’m doing to help is enough. As I watch Lyle suffer loss of appetite, mobility, strength, weight, will to live… I’ve constantly wondered about whether I could have done more. I feel like I tried so hard, but had I really tried hard enough, wouldn’t this be a better process? It was yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, as I emptied out Lyle’s catheter bag that I knew suddenly, in no uncertain terms, that I had indeed done enough. Because enough, in this case, is my best… in the face of what Lyle has chosen to be enough for his life. Lyle and I, both imperfect, are both doing our best. For ourselves. For one another.
When I realized that, all the other moments of “enough” throughout this past year flooded into my mind.
After our miscarriage late last year, I needed to demonstrate that I could make my body do something I really, really wanted it to do — for that, only a marathon was enough. And it was exactly what I needed, extreme catharsis.
I desperately wanted (and still want, really) a family, but every aspect of our infertility battle has taken a lot out of us, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, temporally We were fortunate to find a doctor that understood me, both medically and psychologically – she knew I needed to “leave it all out on the field” or I’d have questions, always wonder, and she advised me accordingly (Christine Broadwell at Generations in Madison, should anyone reading ever need such services). After the second round of IVF with donor eggs, third round of IVF this year, all with no success, we’d finally had enough. Somehow, despite the sadness, profound grief, feelings of failure… there’s also incredible relief in saying “enough!” and believing it.
Likewise, I desperately wanted to make things better for myself and those around me in my place of work and I felt like I fought the good fight for a long time. Actually, I know I did. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t keep doing it. It had become so hard to get out of bed in the morning. So I put down my sword and took a new job in a new department. Two weeks in and I am already profoundly certain that I’ve done the right thing… and I feel good knowing that I did everything I could do to try to stay before saying enough and making the choice to move on.
Enough, upon reflection, is a beautiful thing. It’s a step back from must-be-perfect to as-good-as-it-gets and I’ve-tried-my-best. To say “enough” and really mean it is a huge relief. Yes, even to give up on a baby, to say enough to infertility treatment, though sad, honestly feels like a relief. We’ve had enough.
Getting to “enough” reflects my autonomy to make a decision about what’s right for me, and to have that kind of autonomy and the wherewithal to use it is a blessing. So, hasta la vista, 2016 — I’m glad to have learned from you, but have really had enough. I suspect I’m not the only one.
Happy 2017, friends! May this year bring you the courage to say “enough” and really mean it!
A week ago, Seth and I were sitting at a stoplight somewhere between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale on our way to brunch when a white plastic bag tumbled across the road in front of us. When it caught Seth’s eye, he barked at it. A brief fit of barking punctuated by suspicious growls.
To anyone else, this would have been insanity. Random, bizarre, and inexplicable. But to me…
I laughed so hard that tears were streaming down my face and my heart filled to bursting with love for this man and for our little family — me, Seth, and our sweet Curls, whom he was mimicking.
Seth had been working in Florida for a week and I went down for the weekend to join him as a birthday treat and to attend his company’s end of year party. Besides the Miami-style kiss-kiss greeting, which makes me all kinds of awkward, it was just awesome. We ate good food and enjoyed the warm air. We treated ourselves to Godiva truffles after lunch and a nice view from an upscale hotel room. We went to a movie and found an Original Pancake House. We dressed up and drank good wine. We were together.
And together, we welcomed 2016 and my 32nd year.
(Or actually, my 33rd year, right? I mean, I turned 32, which means I’ve completed 32 years… so yeah… hello to 2016 and my 33rd year. But to be clear, I’m not 33. Yet.)
I’m not sure what it’s like for everybody, but for me, with my birthday being so close to the New Year, the two weeks between the rolling over of the calendar on January 1st and the additional candle on my birthday cake on January 14th always feels like a time for reflection and reset. A brief window of time where I prepare to take on what’s next. The notion that was on my mind this time came from Dean Koontz’s latest, Ashley Bell:
“Home is where you struggle, in a world of endless struggle, to become the best you can be, and it becomes home in your heart only if one day you can look back and say that, in spite of all your faults and failures, it was in this special place where you began to see, however dimly, the shape of your soul.”
Until I read (well, heard, actually — it was an audiobook) that line, I had been so over 2015 it wasn’t even funny. I had chalked it up as a bad year and I was ready to move on, forget about it, and never repeat it. I mean, 2015 was hard — it started with our last failed attempt at IUI, was characterized primarily by the physical, emotional, and financial hardship that is IVF, and ended with profound pain at the loss of our baby. So 2015? Goodbye and good riddance.
But then again, as my family briefly grew and then shrank, as my body and heart endured things I didn’t think it possible to endure, I somehow in the end found myself more at home in my life and in my body than I ever had been before.
Same as every year, actually.
Every year does that — it gives me another opportunity to struggle, to do the best I possibly can, and to examine my faults and failures in the context of my growth and my place in this world, ultimately making me a little more at home in my own skin, in my own life, and perhaps more so this year than every before, in my own little family.
I’m currently taking a semester long e-course by Brene Brown through her COURAGEworks website. It’s called the Living Brave Semester and is based on two of her books — Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. At present, we’re really digging into the idea of vulnerability as presented in Daring Greatly and one of the first exercises we did was to identify the values that light our way, that provide us with the foundation for our behavior and guide us toward the person we want to be. After considerable reflection, I believe that for me, those things are connection, grace, and humor.
Although it didn’t necessarily strike me at that moment, when I later considered the fullness of my heart as Seth barked at that tumbling plastic bag, I thought about how it really represented my own personal value trifecta. Yes, Curly is a dog, but she is also our baby and we love her, weirdnesses and all. And we’re connected enough to one another and to her to laugh hysterically at the fact that an unexpected anything seen out of the corner of her eye is enough to make her crazy — even something as simple as a tumbling plastic bag. When Seth barked, I insta-understood. We were connected to each other, to our pup, we expressed our humor, and we gave grace to our darling girl as we laughed. It was just one moment, but one of millions… it is these moments that fill my heart. They are what make this time and place and space and body that I occupy my home.
Re-framing the new year in this way, I can imagine myself inhabiting a spread in 2016/32 magazine, standing on the doorstep of my metaphorical house, a smile on my face, the door open behind me, ready to welcome others to experience the connection, grace, and humor on which my foundation is laid. I am at home, in spite of and because of this last year and all those that came before it, and home is a good place to be — a place to to grow and to rest, to love and to laugh.
Perhaps most importantly, home is a place to weather the storms that will rage around us… and the very next year becomes the place that weathered the storm.
***Earlier in the week, before I headed to Miami, I talked to my niece Emma via FaceTime. Midway through the conversation, she demanded to talk to my boy. “Auntie Rachel, where’s your boy???” My boy? She got frustrated with me, like she couldn’t believe how dense I am, and explained: “Uncle SEF-Y!” So that’s what Uncle Sethy is to me — my boy. Ugh. That girl gives me a million moments too!
For my upcoming birthday, I’m building myself a library. A special little space full of coziness and books. (And when I’m in it, a big old nerd!) A space to read, think, relax, unwind or wind up, depending on the book, maybe even write a little. And I’m pretty dang excited about it. All I need is the chair — and that’s going to be my birthday present from Seth. Something big enough so that should Curly choose to join me, there will plenty of space for the both of us.
Maybe a little side table for the lamp and cup of tea I envision at my side. My set up will face the fireplace, of course, for night time reading, and soak up the sun from the big window when it’s shining. But most importantly: the books. And I’m definitely an avid collector in that respect. Physically and mentally. I just soak them up, always have, always will. 2015 has been no exception in that respect, although it has been exceptional in a million other ways and because of that — books have been even more important than usual. They have consoled me and distracted me in a way nothing else possibly could and I am so grateful that comfort like that is always, always, always available. Words are so powerful. And well-timed words are probably the most powerful thing of all. I read some spectacular ones this year.
As I moved my most special books from their stacks, shelves, and cupboards into my new little library, I thought back to the Lincoln Later El library (I think it’s maybe called Brick now?) — where I spent all my lunchtimes many years ago. Sixth grade was probably my peak of loser-dom and recess was kind of a nightmare. So to avoid it, I reshelved books in the library. It was glorious to spend my lunch that way every day — handling the books, seeing what others were reading, getting ideas about what I should read next, and helping Mrs. Van-can’t-spell-the-rest a little bit at the same time. (But most importantly, avoiding the playground.) As I looked over my laundry baskets of collected books, I thought back on those lunch times, about the Dewey Decimal System, and how I would organize things in my own little space. A story about the stories I’ve read began to emerge and it suddenly seemed like an appropriate way to sum up the year I’ve had… my mental shelves are bursting, after all. So a little recap of 2015 — in a literary context:
Even before it started, I was quite aware that 2015 was going to be a tough year. Our last round of IUI was in December of 2014 and when it was unsuccessful (again) we knew that IVF was next. I was unhappy and I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Kayla, and I were both dealing with stuff, feeling unhappy, and so we thought we’d read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin together. We started and I thought the research on happiness was fascinating, but we quickly petered out — I don’t know. It just wasn’t really for me, maybe it was the rigidity? Under normal circumstances, I’m a big fan of plans and dates and times and the like, but there’s something about the beauty of evolution and letting things naturally develop over time that I guess I find preferable. Happiness is always a worthy goal, to be sure, but I guess I prefer to take a step, see what happens, and let that inform the next step over making a 12 month plan with its 12 pre-planned steps and putting checks in the boxes as I accomplish them. (Gasp! I love to check boxes! A revelation that that does not apply here.) I’m not sure what Kayla’s thoughts on the topic are (note to self: ask Kayla for her thoughts), but I think the read was worth it just to better understand the science of happiness — the idea of a set point that you can’t sway too much and the notion that little things can make a surprisingly big difference when they become part of the every day.
One of those little things that makes a huge difference for me is audiobooks. I subscribed to Audible in the middle of 2014 and started listening to books while walking, running, mowing the lawn, sewing, driving long distances, etc, and ho-ly cow, I’m so in love. While there’s no doubt in my mind that reading is a worthwhile activity, I somehow always either felt guilty for reading while I could/should have been doing something else or, conversely, while doing something else hobby-ish, I’d rather be reading. Audible has solved that problem completely — now I can do both. This year alone, I’ve listened to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial Barbery, Lightning by Dean Koontz, Saint Odd by Dean Koontz, One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz (so yeah, I’m a big DK fan, and his books are so fast paced that they’re some of the best I’ve found for running to), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (although admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet — probably better for something like driving than running), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which I hated so much, but we chatted about that before), all three All Souls Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and, at present, Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (his newest — yay yay yay). I also listened to Scrum by Jeff and J. J. Sutherland. That one was not my choice. It’s a book about a business productivity technique that Seth wanted to listen to and he talked me into listening along as we drove across the UP in September. It was interesting, but not super duper applicable to my lone wolf work environment. On the plus side, however, it was in exchange for that listening experience that I talked him into listening to The Five Love Languages with me on our next drive to and from Madison. As far as self-help goes, it was ridiculously cheesy and almost alarmingly intuitive, yet, Seth and I had an excellent time mocking the self-important and overly serious author and, honestly, recognizing the primary way in which we tend to hear and speak love (me in words, Seth in action) was excellent for us both. Five hours of car time well spent! As far as the rest go All the Light was so beautiful and so hard, but so important and I’m so glad I read it; Orange is the New Black was interesting and informative, definitely a good look at the broken prison system in America, but probably not what you would expect if you just watched the show — sometimes I felt like I was in prison listening to the overly long descriptions of kind of boring things, like prison cheescake and salad bars, a thousand times over; and all the Dean Koontzes were delightful as expected, except that I’m craving so much more about the smooth and blue than the final Odd Thomas book had to offer. The others warrant special attention, however.
The Invention of Wings and The Elegance of the Hedgehog were two of the best books I read all year. They’re both amazing, thought provoking, fascinating. And, while I didn’t think of it really until now, both have in some respect shaped the way I feel about life’s unexpected turns as well as its meaning. Like, so much so, that I should really go back and read Elegance again with an eye to the point of existing, as I’ve lamented over recently. I was so annoyed with both narrators at first — the self-important adolescent and the chip-on-her-shoulder concierge. But they grew and I loved them for it so much in the end. So so much. Anyone can grow, everyone has purpose. Even if just for a moment. Oh, love, love, love! Similarly, the main character in Wings seems so naive at first — and she is, I suppose, because she’s 11 and it’s basically your job at 11 to be naive. But growth and change and heartbreak and breaking hearts, standing up for what’s right for others and recognizing what’s right for yourself, all of that. It’s just beautiful. One of my favorite, favorites. So much so that after I was gifted a second copy (thanks, sweet Ellen! you do know me well!), I re-gifted it to my dear friend Marie and then again at Christmas to my friend Deb. And now you should all read it. Because it’s so so good. (Btw, Sue Monk Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, which you know you loved, and that should be an even better recommendation for The Invention of Wings.)
Speaking of good fiction… I also devoured The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and think it was truly the best of the best that I read all year. It’s a World War II-based story about two sisters who are both simultaneously jealous of one another and insecure about themselves, in the end realizing that they’re both incredibly courageous in two distinctly different ways. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful story. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart making. This is probably the book I’m the most insistent that other people read — when Aimee said she was reading books with bird titles I was so excited for her to get to this one, I told Erika to start here when she was looking for recommendations, I sent it to Melissa after she had surgery, and gave Marie a copy for Christmas. These are people I love very, very much and this is a book I love very, very much. Definitely my 2015 Must Read. Oh! And one more “deep fiction” winner — At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants knocked it out of the park once again with another fascinating look back in time, although this time it was the Loch Ness craze in war battered Scotland rather than the depression-era circus scene. Loved.
But it’s not just prize-winning, super deep fiction that I love… I just love, love, love a good story, and twice this year, Lara Lacombe delivered, with both Lethal Lies and Killer Exposure. The biggest problem with Lara’s books is that if you have even the tiniest inkling of nerdy girl-ness inside you or potential for enjoyment of romantic suspense, you better start reading on a Friday night so that by the time you have to go back to work, you’re done with the book and ready to come up for air. I can never put them down and I think that Killer Exposure was actually my favorite that Lara has written so far. It’s crazy to me how addictive her stories are! Similarly, I devoured lots of Dean Koontz, as mentioned above, including my old hard copy of Life Expectancy, which again, proved itself to be my favorite Koontz of all time. It’s just SO good. I also forced Erika to read it. And she loved it. N = 2, must be true! I also loved One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, which wasn’t quite as amazing as Me Before You, but still excellent and a good reminder that when life is super crazy hard, we can, and should, lean on each other; Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a race-exploring New Orleans-based book with super likable and interesting characters; Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck because I’m a total sucker for stories about fat girls finding acceptance, friendship, worth, purpose, self-love, etc (a la Jemima J by Jane Green), and this book totally fits that bill — brilliant and interesting and funny and witty and super feel-good; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which is apparently a stand alone part of the Gilead series that I obviously need to read more of. Sadly, however, not all the fiction I read delivered quite so well and I did find myself pretty disappointed in Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, probably because it was my understanding that Le Guin was a science fiction writer and I just couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality of the book — although if I really wanted to read about a woman bogged down by unreasonable expectations that had to overcome great adversity, particularly within the context of her unexpected husband, I’d re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (a total masterpiece) instead. I was also disappointed by The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which is so sad because it’s a legitimately brilliant idea for a story — I just didn’t really dig the execution, I think. It could have been such a lovely little love story wrapped up in history, but instead felt cheesy. I feel like I want to read the same story with an author like Sarah Gruen or Sue Monk Kidd instead, which seems like such a mean thing to say, but it’s my truth. Sorry, Susan.
Perhaps my two most personally important fiction reads, however, actually fall under a broader category of books — namely, those I read in the wake of grief and really helped me to cope. I re-read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series this year, as we’ve discussed, and while I thought it was about making my maybe baby magical, it actually ended up being an important thing to have done for myself, as I learned only in the wake of my miscarriage. Interestingly, my friend Kristen also recommended to me an adolescent-fiction-slash-graphic-novel called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and it kind of had a similar story line — a young man’s mother is dying and he calls up a monster to save her, except, the monster wasn’t actually there to save his mother. The monster was there to save him. It’s a quick read, but ridiculously profound and I loved it so much. Probably my number one recommendation in the context of grief specifically. It’s beautiful. I sobbed. So did Kristen. I highly recommend this book. I also recently finished the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness as I mentioned above. Had I read anything about them before diving in, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped a toe in the water — the vampire, witch, demon deal sounds a bit too Twilight-y to suit my HP devotee style (Hermione for life!!), but my mom’s friend and former school social worker, Linda, recommended them to me as I walked and walked and walked through IVF and I am so grateful that she did because I absolutely adore these books. History and magic and love and family and meaning and spirituality and all of the above. Love, love, love, love, love. At nearly 30 hours a piece, it’s impressive to think how many miles I must have run and walked while listening to these three books. The main character even grieved a miscarriage at one point. It was perfection.
In addition to the grief-important fiction, I’ve also read a lot of grief-important non-fiction. Early after my miscarriage, Aunt Becky sent me a copy of To Live Again by Catherine Marshall and I walked with Ms. Marshall for a good long while — in Hawaii, on my way home, many difficult nights, and she’s proven to me over and over again why I find her Prayer of Relinquishment so meaningful, it’s how she lives her whole life. It’s the place she found after the greatest of tragedies, in the wake of the most difficult situation, and she and her words are really an amazing source of strength. Similarly, and then again so completely not similarly at all because there really is no comparing the Catherine Marshall of the 1950s to the Jenny Lawson of now, I also read and loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy this year. We talked about the brilliant Bloggess already, but to bring the point home one more time — to move from grief into a state of long-standing, long-battled, hard fought mental illness is not a surprise. Depression is always there waiting for me and I live with it, through it, in spite of it, every single day of my life. Some periods are harder than others and I am not alone. To have collaborated with my healthcare providers to decide to use medication, to participate in talk therapy, those things are not weaknesses — they are strengths, they are good decisions, they are active participation in my own wellness and growth. Also, Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and for someone to fit jokes in amongst all that good stuff? Well, that just seems rather amazing, doesn’t it?
(Sad sidenote: hoping for non-fiction goodness a la Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson and the like, I also picked up Yes Please by Amy Pohler at the Honolulu airport after I busted my Kindle on the beach. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — I feel guilty for even saying so, but it just felt so name droppy and gushy about the amazingness of her amazing friends without being particularly hilarious, except when she basically says, “trust me, we were all so hilarious”… I guess you had to be there? So sad about this… but it’s the truth, and it sits half read in a stack next to my bed. Sorry, Amy. This doesn’t change the way I feel about Parks and Rec. Promise.)
I also super loved The Shack by William P. Young and found it particularly encouraging to read Young’s super fascinating imagining of God the trinity. God as black woman, even if only as a representation, among other anti-institutional and/or anti-dogmatic sentiments, has this book frequently labeled as heresy, which I love so much because it says so much about the people who label fiction (a la the Dan Brown books) as such, don’t you think? But besides that, it’s just such an interesting read. I especially loved the way God, the black woman, greets the main character when he first shows up:
Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name — “Mackenzie Allen Phillips”– with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply loved relative. She finally set him back on Earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face-to-face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again…
… He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting.
…and I lose it. I highlighted that passage when I gave this book to my dad for Christmas (even though he’d already read it) because I wanted to make sure that he knows that that’s what it feels like to be his daughter. I just loved the things this book made me think and feel and consider. If you’re at all interested in spirituality sans dogma, in spite of dogma, or to make you think about dogma, this is a really good read. Also, spiritually speaking, I super loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I started reading it right after my friend Aimee‘s mom (I love all Rathbuns so much — like, they’re basically my sports team and I should get myself a jersey to wear) pinned it and shortly thereafter, my mom bought me a copy that she then kept for herself because she loved it so much too. Brene Brown is a shame researcher, a true academician and expert in psychology, and also one of the greatest spiritual thinkers/writers I’ve ever encountered. Imperfection is all about being who you really are, warts and all, why that’s hard, and why it’s so necessary. There was so much good packed into the book that I feel like I need to have it with me at all times as a reference manual — things to constantly think about until completely internalized. Similarly, Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily devotional, or perhaps more accurately a book of daily reflections, chock full of this kind of thing — ideas about giving yourself grace, being present in the moment, etc, that are totally worth thinking about. Beautiful things, every day. And something I think I could read over and over again every day in perpetuity.
At present, I’m reading Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler as quickly as I can and tiny bits of Praying with Celtic Holy Women by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver on a daily basis. The Moon is a really interesting historical narrative on polytheistic practices in this country over the past century, as well as where they may have come from in the more distant past. I got interested in the topic after reading about some of these Celtic Holy Women who were really fascinating early adopters of Christianity. I wish I had more time to spend deep diving into all the millions of areas I get interested in because both of these books make me ask more and more questions and want to read more and more books. I suppose that’s what my little library and all this spare time are for.
I approach 2016 knowing that we’re in for another tough year. My 32nd birthday is nearly here, which means my ovaries are rapidly approaching what the fertility specialist appears to believe is the end for me in my fertility journey. We’re doing IVF again in the spring and I know full well what that means now. In addition, I also know that even in the unlikely event of pregnancy, miscarriage is not only a very real possibly, but a pretty likely outcome. I know what that feels like too. But I’m not ready to give up on this path quite yet, so we head into the new year with our eyes wide open and our scars still red and fresh. My mental library has a whole new annex and my physical library will be a place of refuge when I need it. So back to my dear Hagrid, one more time — what’s coming will come and we’ll greet it when it does. Fortunately, for me, I can greet it like my beloved Hermione, frizzy haired and nose in a book.
Au revior, 2015! Any recommendations for stocking my shelves in 2016???
Nothing like the first page of a brand new planner. I’ll always be a pen and paper girl and for me, that first week in January when you crack open the pages for the first time– heaven!
I love blank slates… fresh starts, do-overs, and second chances.* I also love dinosaurs. But that’s not the point.
The point is, a new year offers a fresh start. But so does a new month. A new week, a new day. Each new minute is another chance to start.
I told you like a million years ago (poetic license) that I was reading a book by Joan Chittister called Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and I mentioned that I was both excited and nervous to get to the chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with Me: Why Can’t I Change?” Excited because I thought maybe she’d have the answer for me. Nervous because maybe it would be something that I couldn’t do, couldn’t handle, whatever.
What Joan Chittister told me was incredibly simple, yet remarkably profound:
“If the question is, What is wrong with me: what can’t I change? the answer may be that I have to decide to begin. When the struggle will finally end, what the end will look like, we cannot know. We can only know that beginning to begin is the secret.”
While we aren’t given unlimited time, we always have a moment in which we can decide to begin. It’s that grace thing again. Maybe you did burn all your bridges… but you could learn to swim. You could build a boat. You could purchase water wings. You could tame a dolphin and ride him. Or you could just build another bridge, I suppose. Lots of ways to get to the other side.
Resolutions early on in the new year are truly a dime a dozen. For that reason, you’ll hear lots and lots of naysayers– “80% of all resolutions are given up by February” and “bandwagons are bad” and all that. But a dime a dozen?! Sound like a pretty good deal to me! And bandwagons can be a lot of fun. (I imagine it to be like a hay ride– with a drum line. Sweet. Work those quads, LQ!)
I’ve got a couple ideas about what I’d like to do in 2014… not necessarily hard and fast resolutions, per se. Just some ideas:
Be funnier. I’ve been a little bit serious on Under the Tapestry as of late. More jokes, more jokes!!
Grow more food and/or eat more food that other people grow. This year, I’ve got to get a garden up and running so I can can some of my own stuff. (Love when two or more cans happen in a row! Can can can you do the can can?!) Also, I got a pressure canner for Christmas (oh snap, I am getting SO brave!) so that I can can stuff that’s not super acidic. Pretty pumped about that! Beans? Pumpkin puree? And I’m sure Seth wouldn’t mind more homemade ketchup (although that was a lot of work).
Sew more. I was warned it would happen– fabric, half-finished projects, materials for grand ideas that never get used. I didn’t believe it would happen to me, but it did. By the end of 2014, however, I will finish my duvet cover. (omg! you guys, it’s so awesome– and more than halfway done, I can’t wait to show you!) In addition to a couple other projects I’d love to turn out sometime in the near future (I found some tweed with a touch of sparkle– it’s been begging me to make it into a super cute skirt)!
Improve my home. My husband is awesome at his part of this. He’s ridiculously handy and loves learning to do even more stuff from his dad, who is even more ridiculously handy than my husband. Seth has installed new wiring, gas lines, insulation, a satellite mount, in-wall/in-ceiling surround sound speakers, and a new water softener among a million other projects both small and large. The nuts/bolts and inner workings of the house are very well taken care. The aesthetics are more my domain… I painted a couple rooms, hung some new curtains, halfway finished a duvet cover (see above), purchased the paint for another room… and then… got tired? Gave up? I don’t know what. But I need to get back on that. And stat. For that reason, I’ve joined the Apartment Therapy January Cure for some motivation, and I’m pretty excited about that! Today, I made a list of 3 – 5 things per room in my house I’d like to change. Project list– check! It’s a start, anyway!
Read! For book club, of course, and anything else that sounds interesting. But I’d also like to embark on some sort of awesome book challenge. My friend Nicole pointed me to this woman’s challenge of reading a book from every country in the world. Dang. I’m amazed– she must have learned so much! I’m thinking something smaller, perhaps a little more domestic. But what? My initial thought was to read at least one book set in every state (plus one more for the UP, because I think we all know God’s country warrants at least one book of it’s own)… but I’m certainly open to any other suggestions? Also, I super want Nicole to do the challenge with me! And to blog about it! Thoughts? Anyone?
You’ve probably noticed that all of these things are things I’ve started before. I’ve told a joke (or two), canned some tomatoes, sewed most of a duvet cover, painted a couple rooms, and read many, many books. But there’s no reason I can’t begin again and I’m desperate for a ride on that 2014 bandwagon (can’t you hear the cadence?! I need to groove along with it!) so I’m deciding to begin in these 5 areas again. Because I’m allowed to do that– and so are you!
As Joan Chittister suggests, the only way to change is to decide to begin. Any day, any time.
*Unfortunately, sometimes my anal retentiveness goes a little too far and I love these fresh starts a little too much. One time (ok, several times) in high school (and yeah, maybe in college… and grad school…) (ugh, and my real life current job…) I’ve gotten so annoyed with my handwriting or a stain on something that I’ve copied it again, neater or on a fresh sheet of paper, and tossed the old one so that I could admire the new one. Pathetic? Maybe. But it just looks so nice! Plus, copying your own notes is actually a decent way to study something… it can’t really have hurt, anyway.
It’s December 31st, 2013. I just got home from Appleton. We picked up my pup from her third surgery on the same knee. Here’s hoping that this won’t be the third failed surgery.
And that’s pretty much how 2013 has been. Except… EXCEPT! I started Under the Tapestry. And that has made all the difference! Because each time we chat, I’m reminded that for every dark cloud, there is a silver lining, and that each and every tangled thread I see is part of a much bigger and more lovely picture.
In 2013, I crapped my pants. Twice. We’ve been over this. My stomach was a MESS. A terrible, horrible mess. And I went through a lot of scoping and the like to be diagnosed as cra-a-a-a-zy lactose intolerant. But in the process, I was saved from a pretty much certain fate of colon cancer. So boom– turns out that was pretty awesome!
If that’s not enough to make me believe in silver linings and blessings in disguise, what could?!
For that reason, and many others, I am truly grateful for all the good, and especially the bad, that has happened in 2013. Of course, I wouldn’t mind a lesson or two less in 2014, but I’ll take it as it comes. After all, the bad often comes with a funny story to share and knowing it’s good blog material makes it much more bearable!
Best wishes to you and yours in the coming year, friends!
PS: Tonight, Seth and I are wearing comfies, snuggling our pup, watching tv, eating chips, and struggling to stay up until midnight. Perfection.