Thursday, February 17, 2011

Birth and re-birth

On Sunday morning, I looked at myself in the mirror of a public restroom and thought, "This must be the time of life when women start wearing too much make-up.  Anything is better than nothing."

Many women glow during their pregnancy.  Others, regress to adolescence because the new hormones cause them to produce a lot of oil and they break out in acne.

Guess which camp I'm in.

I do not wear make-up except when I'm dressed all fancy so a fancy face matches or when I'm interviewing for a job.  Even then, there is no foundation or eye-liner involved.  Lipstick, mascara, maybe some eye shadow.  Just enough to enhance the contrasts of my pale skin, dark lips, blue eyes and dark hair.  You know, the Snow White look.  I never have worn much make-up probably because my mother didn't so I never had that kind of time commitment modeled for me.  I am grateful to her for that.

But Sunday morning, I wished for a little something to give a boost to my sales pitch.

I was at a satellite campus of one of the mega-churches that flourishes here in Chicagoland, recruiting volunteers for my organization.

Mega-churches are always so surreal for me.  As I drive around Chicagoland, I am beginning to notice that they are often across the highway from each other since they came into popularity (or, at least, had raised enough money in their capital campaigns) around the same time and so were able to purchase large swaths of farmland as it went on sale at the same time.  It's kind of a neat parallel to the historic downtowns of many midwestern towns where there are mainline Protestant churches and Catholic churches across the street from one another.

However, I tend to like the satellite campuses much better than the main campuses.  The people on stage are less manicured, more like real people, even if the camera-person doesn't ever give the Big Girl on the music team her close-up.  The people milling around the narthex (can you call it a narthex if it's a converted warehouse?) mostly look like people I would actually be friends with, rather than being a homogeneous group of make-up-wearing, skinny suburban moms and their un-intimidating and soft husbands.  Don Miller describes churches like that as going to church at The Gap.  The reference is becoming outdated but I think you get the point.  I'm never quite comfortable at the main campuses, which are generally located in wealthy suburbs, even though I have come to know and love some really good and interesting people from those communities.

(Yesterday, in response to a snarky comment I made similar to the one above describing the members of main campuses, my father wrote back, "Maybe this is a reminder to you and I that we worship a God that NEVER gives up on us no matter how bad we screw up."  I love that my father knows that I make those statements with a tone of self-deprecation because AS I AM SAYING THEM, I know that it's mean and that I am a little bit a bad person for thinking it's funny.  He knows I won't take offense for pointing out that I am "screwing up" in that moment.  I consider the friendships I have with folks who fit that description as the grace God offers me by reminding me that every person is unique and most are quite lovely, regardless of their appearance.)

For whatever problems I have with the evangelical culture, though, I have to admit that they do adult baptisms really well.  Full immersion in hot tubs on stage.  These baptisms, like the revolution, are definitely televised.  You get to witness the emotional experience of the candidates as the jumbo-tron displays their faces in close-up as they tell their story to the pastor who is standing in the tub with them.  During the year that I spent at the evangelical church here in the city, I was really moved by being able to be a part of the worship team for the baptisms that took place in the lagoon down the street.  The physicality of full immersion allows people to access their spirits and let them come to the surface and you can really see just how excited and grateful they are that their life has been changed because of their new-found relationship with God and that transformation has been made public through this ritual.

Jacob and I lay in bed at night and talk about the birth rituals for our baby, including baptism.  In my tradition, we baptize infants as a way of welcoming them into the community and exacting a promise from that community to teach the child what they know about God.  I know that some traditions include a belief that eternal salvation as part of the equation but that doesn't come into for me or for my denomination, as far as I know.

When we first began discussing baptism when the first babies in our church were being baptized, we toyed with the idea of doing the bris or the simchat bat on the same day as the baptism for the convenience of gathering our large community together only once.  Also, I wanted to insist that my in-laws commit to loving and accepting the both-ness of our child by being present for the Christian baptism.

Over time (what a difference a year makes!), I have less need to control my in-laws.  They are good people on their own journey and I'm becoming much more willing to let them take their own lead (and accept their own consequences) in how they interact with me and my children.  For one, I probably don't know how to make sure that everything between us is hunky-dory and for two, I couldn't pull it off anyway.  So, we'll baptize the baby when s/he's a little older and do the traditional Jewish welcome straight.  Last night, we fantasized about the menu of bagels, lox, egg salad and kugel for the celebration.

The baptism on Sunday had me in tears.  However, I can never fully immerse in evangelical worship and sat in the tension of being so happy for these people putting themselves forward for this extremely vulnerable ritual and so moved to "remember" my own baptism but at the same time being completely disgusted that the song the worship team was singing had the recurring back-up vocals of "we crown you, we crown you" while the melody sang, "Kings of kings and Lord of lords."

Ack!  I cannot relax into a theology that puts me, ME, in a position to crown God, to give God the authority to rule, to decree that from here on out, God gets to make all the decisions.

Our covenant with God is not a democracy.  We do not get to elect her out of office if we get tired of her.  The beauty of it is that we will never need to.  God is good and it always turns out to be us who are wrong when we take it into our heads to break the laws that God sets forth.

How could I be the one to make God the King of kings and Lord of lords?  I would have to be pretty powerful myself, wouldn't I? 

And I'm not.  I can only witness the spectacle and report back to others what I've seen.

Now, I do resonate with a theology that puts forth that I have to bow my head and accept God's authority, that I have to acknowledge what has always been true: that God is in charge.

I find this to be terribly liberating.  Because the concurrent realization is that I am not God, which means I don't have to know all the answers and that I'm not responsible for making sure everything turns out OK.  What a weight off my shoulders!  This is a spirituality of imperfection that I practice and that makes claiming the ability to actually confer sovereignty on God as repugnant.

Still, despite the soundtrack, there is no denying that the members of this church were experiencing real transformation.  Given my disgust at looking in the mirror earlier that morning, I was struck by the two women who climbed into the tub, completely devoid of make-up and exposed.  I felt a kinship with them, our physical appearances altered by the expectation of birth and, for them, re-birth.

Aren't we lucky that that we worship a God that NEVER gives up on us no matter how bad we screw up?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The sun and the rain and the appleseed

I have been thinking about what I will sing to my little one.

Both of my parents are kind of tone-deaf when it comes to singing so I did not grow up with what I consider to be a classic childhood of lullabies and folk melodies.  A friend once told me about how special it was to him to get to sing "too ra loo ra loo ra" to his granddaughter like his Irish mother sang to him.  As often happens, my suburban, totally ethnic-less upbringing made me completely jealous for that kind of generational continuity.  I am also often struck by a quote used in Oh Coward, a review of Noel Coward songs that I grew up listening to: "I was born into a generation that took light music seriously. The lyrics and melodies of [the Edwardian Era] were hummed and strummed into my consciousness at an early age. My mother played them, my father sang them, my nurse, Emma, breathed them through her teeth while she was washing me and putting me to bed.  My aunts and uncles, who were legion, sang them singly and in unison at the slightest provocation...."

This was not my experience.

However, I had a childhood full of music.  Both parents loved showtunes and we listened to cassettes that my father brought home from work where they had the amazing technology of transferring his LPs to cassettes.  They were adorned with manually typed labels that look like parchment paper.  I wonder now which old-school secretary he talked into putting such care into the tapes that we listened to in the big red van.  Before I understood recorded music, I remember marveling out loud that my favorite song was always on the radio when we got into the car.  I think I just lumped the entire soundtrack of They're Playing Our Song together as my favorite song.  A different memory of that musical revolves around being gently pulled aside into the adjoining dining room from the kitchen and being told that there were some songs we don't sing when my Great-Aunt Delores was visiting.  To my eternal gratitude, my parents were big fans of differential response to behavior that was appropriate in some settings but not in others.  I guess they thought we were smart enough to figure it out if they were instructive.  Or, they were wary of being hypocritical by punishing us whenever they realized that there was no possible way we could have predicted a social rule.

I had been singing the line, "To him 'broken heart' is a phrase I should write for his God-damn middle part."

So, there was a lot of singing in my house.  It just wasn't usually generated from the inside and sung as a serenade by the adults.  It was sung along with recorded media.  Of course I'm jealous at others' stories of family sing-alongs.

It's not really fair.  We often sang the Johnny Appleseed song before dinner and another pre-dinner song when with my grandma.  At Christmas, we celebrated Advent every four Sundays before Advent and would sing carols as part of the ritual, often to the accompaniment of the piano from the other room that my brother and I were painfully learning to play.  There was a lot of stopping and starting since neither of us actually liked practicing.

All four of us kids are actually above-average musical.  We all studied under Dick Whitecotton and all played instruments in the band to varying degrees of commitment.  I am also the dork that played in the varsity handbell choir in junior high.  Occasionally, we sing together in church or around the dinner table in nostalgia.  It sounds pretty good.

I don't know how to re-create that for my own kids given their likely urban setting with its fluid nature that will lack a stalwart influence like Dr. Whitecotton and his wife.

Also, since I still have a lovely voice (not to my own credit, at this point, since I continue to not actually like practicing), it seems like I should be somewhat intentional about singing to and with my kids.

There are lots of Jewish prayers we'll probably introduce into our routines including the Shema at bedtime and the Modah Ani in the morning.  But what will I bring to them from my own traditions?

Johnny Appleseed, definitely. 

But what else?  Lullabies?  I don't know any of the words past the chorus.  Are there any good recommendations for particular versions I could listen to in the car and learn the words?  I suppose there are songs like the itsy bitsy spider and such.  Any good resources for that?  Who wants to make me a mix CD?  Anyone?

I'm actually looking forward to figuring this out.  I know without some deliberate learning, I'll default to just turning on my iTunes.  But I think it will be more fun to actually sing as I go about my days, getting to know this child of mine.  What do you think?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Virtual Quilting Bee

I'm nesting pretty hard.  The day after our roommates moved out I found I was urgently scrounging up the two baby magazines I've unwittingly acculumlated because alluvasudden, I needed to see pictures of people who had successfully used a peachy orange color on their nursery walls.

As part of that, I've been drawn to something called a Virtual Quilting Bee.  There is a great explanation here.  Basically, 12 people gather via the internet and every month they make just one quilt square for someone else in the group.  So, when it's your month, you send out  11 packets of fabric and you get 11 quilt squares in the mail.  Add your own and you've got a sizable quilt.

I know that I've got a lot on my plate right now but I'm really being tugged by this idea of creating small pieces of art on a schedule for other people.  I've learned to pay attention to these artistic tugs.

I know there are some quilters out there.  Would any of you like to join in this project with me?  Let me know by sending me an email or commenting on this post.

Yay for art in the midst of chaos!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Just to get back in the swing of things . . .

 . . . let me tell you the two favorite things anyone has ever said about me that were both said in the last couple of months.

From a guy that I spent every day with for five months (we were on tour together) but who I haven't seen in a decade:  "Someone would have to work pretty hard to be as naive as you were in your early twenties."

I don't know why this makes me laugh as hard as it does every time I think about it but it does.  Maybe I'm just so delighted to come as far as I have and to have that affirmed by someone who didn't necessarily watch the entire process. 

From one of my closest friends, "It's OK to be not OK when I'm talking to you because you don't think you're OK either."

This is the best compliment I could ever ask for from anyone.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Baby Brigade

One of the main reasons that I keep a blog is because I have a strong sense that it helps to mend the world a little when I write about my experiences (both external and internal) so that other people who read them might sometimes be struck with a sense of not being alone because someone else out there had a similar reaction to a similar situation. 

I have not been writing much lately because I have felt underwater.  My job is very emotionally difficult right now and that sucks all of my energy because I continue to care about doing good work there.  Any leftover energy goes to basking in the love my husband and I share, getting as much time with my family as I can, and working through some of the issues that bubble up inside of me and that come out of Jacob because I'M HAVING A BABY IN FOUR MONTHS!

I often think, "I should write about that on the blog because I bet I'm not the only one who feels like that."  And then I think about how soothing it would be to run the sewing machine for awhile while my fingers play with color and I consistent eat the candy instead of the broccoli.

We have had a relaxing weekend and, with the encouragement of one of my closest friends, I think it's time to get some of this out of my head and set it loose into the world.  Also, one of my new favorite bloggers recently wrote on the same topic and this kind of online dialogue really intrigues me.

High school was really hard for me in terms of making friends.  I did not have a group of friends that consistently included me and my best friend was a relationship that existed independently of other relationships so I felt consistently like I was not successful socially.  I was constantly reaching out to kids and asking to be included.  Sometimes I was but often I felt like everything fun and meaningful happened on nights when I didn't want to risk being rejected or being viewed as pathetic and therefore unworthy of future inclusion so I didn't try to tag along.

I am sure it wasn't that bad.  I was active in choirs and theater and speech and spent lots of time with other people in those venues.  I remember a lot of laughter and moments of being deliberately included as someone who had earned a place within some of those circles through my talent and tenure.  I had friends like Tricia and Janstee who would come by and pick me up and just drive around with me talking and talking and talking.  Still, my lack of a designated role within a delineated group made me feel inadequate.  I always felt jealous when Tricia or Janstee or my best friend talked about experiences they had where I had not been invited.  I wanted to be essential to someone else's experience or the group activity.

When I got to college, I began to really explore social dynamics and my place within them.  I read books with titles like Making Friends.  The sitcom Friends was in its heyday and when my mother pointed out that real life wasn't like what was depicted there, I clung tenaciously to that truth as an "unthought known," even though the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity continued as I won and lost temporary places in a variety of groups and most of my four years without a best friend on campus.  Again, I made good friends (many of whom I remain close to) but was never crucial to anyone's experience.

My ex-husband did have a group of friends and, after some initial friction, I fit in well with them.  In fact, when they turned their backs on me during the divorce without ever asking to hear my side of the story, I felt more betrayed by some of them than I was by my husband.  It was a welcome relief to be valued by a group but they were mostly guys and and most did not yet have female counterparts (we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons) so I knew I needed to continue seeking out my one-on-one female friendships. 

Thus began my adult pattern of practicing the adage: "To get friends, be a friend."  Recently, through my church involvement and my fabulous pastor, I have begun to see this as a spiritual practice of hospitality.  I know now that most people feel as insecure as I do and want to be invited as desperately as I do.  So, now I see it as extending grace that has been extended to me.  In the beginning, though, it was pure survival.  I became socially disciplined under the impression that people would not be interested in me unless I took risks and sought them out.  Based on those early experiences, I consistently make lists of people I haven't seen in awhile and reach out to them to set up coffee or dinner.  My ex-husband used to joke, "Rebecca sees all of her friends twice a year, whether she needs to or not."  I throw parties with themes and mailed invitations and fancy fonts to make them seem like events not to miss  (lately, I've let evite take over this task).  As my friends began to have children, I made sure to be flexible to accommodate their new schedules and to make it as easy as possible to get together by driving to their houses for dinner so they wouldn't have to get babysitters.

The pursuit of these friendships has been worth every minute of planning time I have dedicated to it.  I have countless hours of meaningful connection with good people that has shaped me into the person that I am.  There has been laughter and joy and great excuses to make gifts for them.  I learned that I am a person of value to some pretty neat people.  When I was planning my second wedding, I realized that it would look ridiculous to put all 15 of my girlfriends into matching dresses and parade them down the aisle and instead formed them into a Bridal Brigade and gave them matching brooches.  Who has 15 girlfriends close enough to be bridesmaids? 

I do. 

None form a Sex in the City-style group but individually all love me as much as I love them.  It's hard to be more blessed than that.  I have also gratefully noticed when these folks have reached back to me, deliberately including me or seeking me out.  When I get an email with dates included for potential dinners or a request that I be a bridesmaid or that I assist with a birth, I just about lose it because it utterly refutes my unshakable belief that I will always be on the outskirts of others' existence.

Now, the pursuit of these friendships has not been without its bumps.  I have had to figure out when folks were making me feel worse about myself because they demanded more than I was already giving or because they weren't putting even a little energy into maintaining the relationship.  That was usually painful to resolve in my heart.  Sometimes, I could let a person slide from my life knowing that friendships are made of equal parts effort and circumstance.  So, when circumstances change, I learned not to take it personally when my emails and phone calls weren't being returned. 

I know that I have not been a perfect friend.  There are times when I couldn't reach out as much as I'd like or when I couldn't give what someone needed and so avoided them just a little.  Not blatantly shunning them but not going out of my way to connect, either. 

Which brings me to one of my fears about having a baby.  I am afraid that my friends are so used to me being the one to organize get-togethers and used to me being the one going over to their houses for dinner that when I am no longer able to be as proactive with scheduling or as flexible with location, we will fall away from one another.  Maybe I am having "delusions of grandeur" about my role but I am afraid that when I am no longer pursuing friendships with practices developed by a desperate twenty-something, the circumstances will be so different that my friends will let me slip away rather than stepping in and shouldering some of the responsibilities that I have been willing and eager to own in the past. 

Intellectually, I'm pretty sure that this worry is totally needless.  Emotionally, it makes my gut twist to think about being isolated like that as a new mom.

It makes me want to brainstorm what practical things I can do not only to alert my friends to this vulnerability but also to empower, encourage and affirm them in changing the way they interact with me regarding the logistics of our friendships. 

Are there other responses to this worry that I should be considering?  Is there some other angle from which I can look at the situation?

At the practical level, are there any suggestions for how I can deputize my friends into a Baby Brigade?  I trust that they will want to help me out (this is a huge step for me) but, like anything, I know that folks often feel more able to help if they have concrete suggestions.  What types of support could I ask them for?