More Tears.

It happened again last night. The Olympics made me cry. Thank goodness they’re nearing an end or I might need therapy.

This time, it was Women’s Figure Skating.

I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to see if Mirai Nagasu, for whom I have a special mile-wide soft spot, would land her triple axel again. I stayed to watch the Russian skaters duke it out for the gold. But for me, the can’t miss moment belonged to Gabrielle Daleman from Canada.

Sitting in my bed in the dark, I watched her fall. And fall again. And again. A few weeks ago, I wiped out while running, so I know exactly how much it hurts to fall. But she popped up and kept going. Again and again. I know, this is the Olympics and that’s just what you do. But it is not always what I do, so I am always inspired by this kind of relentless grit. She hung on like this through the longest four minutes I think I’ve ever witnessed.

In those four minutes though, something almost magical happened. This massive arena, filled with people from all over the world, somehow knew what they had to do. First they began clapping along to the beat. Then it was giving the kind of applause Gabrielle Daleman usually gets for nailing her jumps each time she got back up. In those minutes, it seemed like every person in that area silently understood their one job: LIFT HER UP. They wanted her to know she was not alone. They wanted her to know they were on her side. Their applause seemed to say “We see you working so hard. Hold on.”

I felt it too, sitting in the dark, on the other side of the globe. It was beautiful. It reminded me what we humans are capable of when we really see each other.

So this morning, as reporters discuss the skill and artistry of the skaters who made it to the medal stand, my Olympic hero is Gabrielle Daleman, the woman who, for four minutes last night showed me what grit looks like and gave me a tiny glimpse of a better world.



Note: I started writing this last week. I have spent days trying to force my words into the template of “share authentic struggle, but end on inspirational note so we’re brought to the edge of discomfort but don’t have to sit with it too long.” After more than a week of wrestling, I still can’t make it fit. This probably because the struggle isn’t over. We are still in the weeds over here. Sometimes pain just goes on for a while. So here it is, inspirational ending TBD.

Everyone in my house is kind of a mess right now.

Matt has been out of town for two weeks and as they do whenever he leaves, the girls are riding a rollercoaster of emotions. It has been almost two years since he returned from his last deployment, but his absence—be it 24 hours or two weeks—reopens old wounds every single time.

Outside of military circles, we don’t like to talk about the psychic toll long deployments have on our children. It is the unwritten code—don’t talk about how hard it really is beyond the circle of trust. So it is the poorly-hidden family secret: we quietly confess how our kids can’t sleep or worry constantly or act out, but we put a shine on the pain when talking to people on the outside. We save them from the uncomfortable truth: much of the weight of military service is borne on the narrow shoulders of those too young to have signed up for it themselves. It’s a painful problem without easy solutions and nobody likes those.

So we fill the echo chamber with promises of how this is going to make our kids resilient. “Military kids are so tough,” is the salve we use to soften the ache of watching kids struggle with yet another move or a deployment. “It makes them resilient, right?” people say. Everyone nods, relieved to have settled upon this bright side.

But really? This is bullshit.

This life is hard on our kids. We are not making them tough by teaching them to buck up under this weight. We are teaching them how to be inauthentic about their pain.

Resiliency is awesome. I want my kids to learn how to survive a challenging homework assignment or a lost game or a friend who hurts their feelings. We work on learning to bounce back from these kinds of things every day. But when it comes to being resilient in the face of the real pain of a parent missing entire seasons of life or the longing for their old school where everyone knew their name, the long-off promise of a stronger character is small comfort.

When you realize that your child doesn’t know how to make friends because she has never had the luxury of keeping one for more than a year, you might be inclined to tell resiliency to go fuck itself. The promise of being strong someday doesn’t keep the hot tears from burning behind your own eyes when she sobs that it isn’t fair her dad is traveling again because “he said when we moved here he wouldn’t be going away anymore.” Or when he does come home and she collapses in tears when he forgets to hug her before leaving for work the next day.

My husband has not been on a trip longer than two weeks in the last two years, but our family is still healing from the scars deployment left behind. We’ve got some good therapists, so I believe that my girls will be healed someday. But that day is not today.

So right now, I’m not interested in bright sides.

I also worry that the habit of perpetual bright-siding our way out of pain sets up terrible emotional habits for our kids. I do not want to teach my daughters to cover over their own hurt to keep other people from feeling uncomfortable. It is emotionally isolating to pretend we’re ok when we’re not. My children don’t want to hear how tough they are when they are hurting or why they should be proud of their dad. Their pain is raw and deep. They feel alone. We need to give them permission to say out loud “this is hard” and “this hurts” and “I don’t know how to navigate this grief.”

Before I had kids, I was determined to not be a whiny navy wife. I put on a happy face through delayed homecomings and missed holidays and that time Matt got to spend our anniversary at our favorite restaurant in DC with his boss, who dragged him there on a last minute trip. It could always be worse, right?

We’re fine. I’m fine. It’s all fine.

Only it wasn’t. I wasn’t being honest with myself or anyone else about the toll it was taking to keep up the pretense. When my first daughter came along, I finally gave myself permission to tell the truth. This life? It’s hard. We adults have learned to adapt and take the long view, but our sweet tender children just cannot. It is beyond their developmental capabilities. So it changes them and the ache of watching that process will send you to your knees.

This latest trip has been the hardest one for quite a while. A few nights ago, my older daughter came to me sobbing. “I’m having a volcano moment” is our code for when she has been stuffing her emotions until they all come exploding out. Dad was gone. A favorite friend is moving. It’s not fair. “I just miss him,” she whispered between choking sobs.

I asked her if when her dad is gone, it felt like all the hard feelings of deployment come bubbling to the surface and she nodded. I said, “it’s like something that you thought was healed starts to hurt again?” She said, “It’s like Harry Potter’s scar.” When Voldemort tried to kill Harry, the attack left a lightning bolt-shaped scar on Harry’s head. The initial wound had healed, but whenever Voldemort was near, the scar would ache and sometimes, it sent him reeling in agony. “And when Dad leaves, it is like Voldemort is near?” I asked.

For my child, what she is experiencing is the hardest thing she can imagine. It IS her worst case scenario. I can tell her about other people who are suffering. I can teach her to count her blessings. But she is also still a child. It is unfair of me to expect her to put on a perspective that is beyond her developmental abilities. I also don’t want to teach her that our job as women is to mask our pain. This is her scar aching, reminding her of old wounds and warning her of more pain to come. I want her to learn to listen to her own voice, not to silence it.

So tonight, we won’t talk about how her dad is serving his country, or about freedom or about honor or about sacrifice. Tonight, we will hold each other. We will weep together and say out loud that this is so hard. We will give voice to the pain. We won’t pretend we are ok. We won’t worry about how this looks.

When we are done, we will take a deep breath. And then? I guess we will learn how to live with the scars.

Choose Your Own Advent(ure)

(Note: I meant to post this last night, but in the spirit of what you’ll see below, that didn’t quite happen.)
Tonight is the tenth night of Advent. Ready or not, Christmas is two weeks away—a reality that feels like a lifetime away to my children, but like the headlights of a rapidly closing eighteen wheeler to me. The first casualty of the Advent season in our house this year has been the Jesse Tree. For the uninitiated, a Jesse Tree is like an advent calendar of readings and ornaments that tell the story of Jesus. I believe it was created for families who have an annual panic attack that they are failing at spiritually educating their children because they pulled out the nativity set and their toddler seems to have forgotten the baby’s name.
Every year, I unpack the book and ornaments feeling a small sense of doom. Many days the only Jesus the Jesse Tree brings to my life is the thought, “Jesus, this damn tree!”
Last week, when we clocked in at a solid six days behind on the countdown to Christmas, we moved into crunch mode. The first night, we zipped through the creation and the fall of man. Midweek, we consolidated the flood with Abraham in the desert, then whipped up an Issac and Jocob’s Ladder combo platter the next night. If we continue to plow through our crunch time schedule, we should be caught up by tonight.
I can’t be sure, of course, but I suspect that we just might be missing the whole intent of this exercise.
December always manages to take me by surprise. Somewhere in the midst of outfitting everyone with winter coats and appropriate footwear and finding a school photo package that doesn’t cost as much as a month of ballet lessons, I lose track of the date. This year, the first days of December coincided with a sick kid, a lice scare, and Matt’s annual weekend with friends in Vegas. So it is no surprise that the Advent flame is off to a sputtering start.
As a child, I savored Advent. I couldn’t wait for my dad to install those 80s era plastic candles in all the bedroom windows. I would keep mine plugged in all night long, despite my parents’ objections. I loved the expectant waiting—not just for presents, but for that one night a year when went to church in the dark. We would crunch across the icy parking lot in our slippery church shoes toward the glowing windows. Inside, it was warm and twinkly. The organ would shiver through my favorite minor chords and pealed forth the notes of sounding joy. And then came the hush as the sanctuary was transformed from darkness to light, one candle at a time.
Maybe this is why I bother to drag out this little tree out every year, even though it sometimes feels like one more thing. One more thing we have to cram into busy nights. One more thing that my children will fight over. One more thing to make me feel like I’m failing to do.
As much as it is one more thing, though, it is also the kind of more that I want—unfolding, expectant, still.
When my girls remember this time, I want them to remember the magical glow of a candlelit sanctuary. I want them to remember the ritual of dragging a dead tree into the living room, dressing it up, and willing it to not die altogether before New Year’s Eve because it smells better than plastic and that is enough of a reason. I want them to know the stillness of a snowy night. I want them to slow down and sit in wonder of this beautiful, weird story of a God who taught us love by giving us his son, born of flesh in a stinky barn. I want them to know they can be a mess and fail and still be invited to the party at the manger.
So tonight over leftovers, we will pick a third grade science fair topic and hopefully get to the promised land and Ruth before the fighting starts. If not? Well, there’s always tomorrow.



On a Roll

Yesterday there was an awards assembly at my daughter’s elementary school. She did not receive an award. It should not have been a particularly memorable day.
But she did remember it. She remembered her friends’ entire class made the honor roll. She also remembered that in her class, only two kids didn’t make it: that one kid who gets sent to the principal’s office a lot who has been calling her Mustache Girl all year—and her.
She was embarrassed and felt like the entire third, fourth, and fifth grade were witnesses to her shame. As I looked over her report card yesterday afternoon, she apologized for not doing better.
She is eight years old.
Feeling this defeated by school so early into her formal education is soul-crushing for both of us.
We talked about the other things her report card told us. That she is working hard. That she is reading at a fifth grade level. That she is imaginative and articulate. But they don’t hand out certificates for any of those things at the awards assembly.
I told her that the only thing that ever matters to me is whether she is trying hard, and that I missed the honor roll because of my math grade many times too. I know how she feels.
People always assumed I was smart in high school. My friends were all the smart kids. I worked hard, but routinely bombed my math tests. All of my friends were on the honor roll. I would study their names printed in the local paper: the registry of official smart kids. When my name was not among them, I felt like an imposter. Everyone thought I was one of them, but the official registry was there in the Observer Tribune and I was not on it.
I know my child. She is always going to have to work hard at school. None of what they measure there is going to come easily to her. Her gifts are not on the curriculum. This is in part why I’m telling her at eight that I do not give a flying fig about the honor roll. But I cannot take away the hot humiliation of watching everyone else be recognized when she is not.
Next time the awards assembly rolls around, I think we might have our own assembly at home. We will honor how hard she has been working to make her sweet lefty letters tidy and uniform. We will recognize her months spent going to Occupational Therapy, sacrificing precious playground time with her friends on Monday afternoons and being dragged out of her warm bed for 7 am appointments on Tuesdays. We will recognize greatness in adjusting to new schools and new houses and prolonged family separations. On our honor roll, you get a certificate for attending therapy sessions to help you overcome anxiety and for learning the lifelong skill of talking about your problems instead of burying them. We will issue certificates for overcoming a vomit phobia and entering the lunchroom without the crippling fear that plagued you for your whole second grade year. Our honor roll will notice kids who run for student council and try new, scary things. Our honor roll will celebrate constant sketching and learning to play the piano and being faster than almost all of the boys on the playground. We will be the honor roll of “you could have just hit your sister but you didn’t” and “that assignment took three times as long as it was supposed to but you didn’t give up.” We will honor kindness and perseverance and effort and all the things we hope will turn young people into healthy, functioning adults one day.
Let me know if you have an extraordinary, outside the lines kid who wants to join us.
Refreshments and playground time to follow.

Greetings from Fail City!

I had such plans for this summer. Plans for daily workbooks to keep school skills sharp and trips to interesting places and art projects and very little tv. I would exercise and maybe read something that didn’t have a URL.

Then we bought a house and much like my herb garden, it all went to seed.

The girls fought endlessly. There was more TV than I want to confess to in a public space. The news cycle was a relentless stream of misery that I felt compelled to stay engaged in, so the pile of books on my bedside table is good and dusty now. MC lost interest in her Star Wars math and reading workbooks in mid-July and I didn’t have the energy to try and re-engage her in them.

In the new house, where the chaos of moving has just barely begun to abate, my independent sleepers became fearful ones again and have been finding their way into my bed more nights than not.

The Y remains my Brigadoon–the amount of cajoling and bribery it took to get my kids into the door of the childcare rooms meant we just never got there.

And in the last week of summer, I found myself flat on my back with a fever which was then replaced by a hacking cough.

This was not the summer I had planned.

My dad spent this whole summer recovering from a hospitalization this spring that left him so weak he could not walk for a while. This was not the summer he had planned, either. But as the old cliche goes, we have to play the hand we’re dealt. And a lot of us would never get in the game of adulthood/parenthood/marriage/work/aging if we had any idea of what was ahead for us. I think most of us would just lay down and give up. It’s hard stuff that you just have figure out once you’re eyeball deep in it.

The thing I’m spending this particular season of my adulthood trying to learn is how to give myself some grace. I could look at all the ways I failed this summer–an easy target, as they are plentiful–or I could try to look at myself the way I would a friend.

A friend would say: you did your best. You really tried–I saw it. Moving is exhausting, even when it is just around the corner. Your kids have always been tricky sleepers, so it’s not surprising a move has them all jumbled. You’ll get them back to their beds soon.

A friend would say: It’s ok your kids watched all that TV. Remember when we did that as kids? Glitter Force is surely no less edifying that the Dukes of Hazzard and the A Team and Voltron. I know it isn’t what you wanted to do, but this alone does not make you a bad parent. They will not be permanently scarred from a summer of too much TV.

A friend would say: The workbooks didn’t work out. So what? You know what did? Weekly therapy to help address her anxiety and OT to help her with her handwriting.

There was no vacation. But there was that one perfect morning when we woke up and went to the beach so early and the girls chased crabs as they skittered across the sand. We wrung every last dollar out of that August pool membership. We made it to be with my dad for Father’s Day and his 80th birthday, and as I sat around with my family a few weeks ago, I had the thought “I really LIKE these people.”

I did not let summer slip by without eating plenty of basil and watermelon and tomatoes and corn and Jersey peaches. I unlocked the key to making zucchini into something delicious. My kids chased fireflies and ate s’mores and had days where their skin was coated in alternating layers of sunscreen and chlorine and sand and dirt and ice cream.

This was not the summer I planned, but as far as summers go, it did not suck.

A friend would say: You did your best and your best is enough.

So that is what I am telling myself too. Math workbooks and missed workouts be damned.

Who is my neighbor?

I have spent the last week vacillating between rage and deep sadness over the president’s executive order concerning refugees. 

The days since the order brought a cascade of stories of people whose lives have been upended, each more frustrating or heartbreaking than the next. I have felt compelled to read these stories to understand exactly who this order was affecting: doctors who are now banned from their medical research, babies prevented from traveling to receive life-saving surgeries, families who sold everything to come here now with nowhere to go, a 2 year old burn victim now in the States without his family, and thousands of people who have spent years assembling the paperwork they needed to make this journey who are now without hope or answers. 

I understand we cannot take in all those who suffer, but I also believe one of our responsibilities as a global superpower is to shoulder our fair share of the burden. As the wealthy neighbor, we should provide sanctuary to the downtrodden. Closing this door to some because of how they worship is unconscionable.

A friend from the DRC recently noted in an online post that the United States doesn’t always have the best track record when it comes to caring for the afflicted. When it is happening far away or to people who look different from us, we tend to lose interest and return to our lives unaffected. The movie Hotel Rwanda captured this tendency in a devastating exchange between the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) and an American cameraman. As a brutal genocide was ripping his country apart, he asks why nobody was coming. The cameraman responds that Americans watch it on the news and say “how awful,” then go back to eating their dinners.

He is not wrong.

The current calls for more extreme vetting of refugees from Muslim majority countries are a sham. It is plenty hard to get here legally already. People now being turned away from our country have spent years gathering documents and jumping through legal hoops. Might one of these people some day become radicalized and perform some atrocity in the US? Certainly it is possible. But so could that kid next door who spends all his time reading internet conspiracy websites. So far, the people who have committed acts of terror here since 9/11 have not been citizens of the countries from which immigration has been suspended, nor have they come as refugees. This is racism and xenophobia, plain and simple. 

I expect it from our current president. The people I am most disappointed in are the Christians who agree with him.

I am not entirely sure how you can read the gospel and also support policies that traffic in fear, take resources from the poor, and shut out orphans, widows, and “the least of these.” I’m wondering if maybe years of prosperity gospel bullshit has led too many of us to mistake Jesus’s teaching about plenty as a message to us as individuals, not a body of believers. Have we become so greedy and entitled that we are afraid we won’t get our fair share?

I come away from the gospel with the impression that Jesus expects to see us at the gates of heaven with empty pockets, unless we’ve already shed our pockets because someone asked for our cloak and we remembered to give away our tunic also. (In that case, I think He hopes to see us naked and empty-handed.)

Time and again, Jesus warns against the pitfalls of greed. He warns us that it is an impediment–a camel has better odds fitting through the eye of a needle than a wealthy man into heaven. He reassures us that we needn’t worry about what we will eat or what we will drink or what we will wear. He tells us He will care for us. Consider the lillies and the birds of the air. Don’t store up treasures on earth, He says.

If we believe any of this, why are we so worried that there won’t be enough to go around?

In the last few months, I’ve seen a variety of text images making the rounds on Facebook. One today talked about how we need to feed our homeless vets instead of refugees. (I am willing to wager that none of the people so eager to share it then went and signed up for a shift at the soup kitchen.) Another begins with the header, “Doesn’t make much sense does it?” and goes on to suggest that somehow it is impossible or illogical for us to care for refugees and immigrants while people within our own country (the elderly, veterans, homeless) struggle. It’s true–it doesn’t make sense–but not in the way the author intended.

Following such logic, I should never help anyone less fortunate than me because my own problems are consuming enough. I read these posts and the song from the Veggie Tales Good Samaritan lesson ping pongs through my head, “Busy, busy, shockingly busy! Much, much too busy for you!”

Whether you believe in the teachings of Jesus or just the Enlightenment, social contracts–where we surrender a little bit of ourselves and our autonomy to help our fellow man (in exchange for a life that is not so nasty, brutish, poor, and short) are what makes our world work. (And pssssst, if you believe you and your neighbor shouldn’t kill each other just because you feel like it, or you drive on a mutually agreed upon side of the road, or pay someone for services rendered rather than just stealing it, or elect officials to govern you, you’re in a social contract, baby.)

Now, the really bad news is that believing in the teachings of Christ makes the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours of the social contract look like child’s play.

In Luke 10: 25-37, a lawyer asks Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the question back to him: “What does the law say?” He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer asks a clarifying question, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells him a story.

The neighbors in this story? One is a Levite bleeding in the ditch by the side of the road. The other is a Samaritan–half-bloods so reviled by the Levites that even touching one violates their belief system–who stops to help.

To inherit the kingdom of heaven, you need to love your neighbor, even if they don’t look like you or worship like you do. Loving them means getting your hands dirty. It means picking up your neighbor and putting him on your own donkey (which means you’re going to have to suffer a little and walk), cleaning and bandaging his wounds, spending two days’ wages on his care, and then love means coming back later to make sure he is healing ok. It is not sanitary. It is not without sacrifice.

Now, it is possible that love could sometimes mean hitting a donate button on a website too, but love as Jesus described it is mostly inconvenient and dirty work, and often with people you wouldn’t ever choose.

This is how Christ tells we will inherit his kingdom: by loving people from nations or people groups with histories so fraught that we might be afraid even to touch them.

If you buy into the fear that there isn’t enough for everyone and that we have to take care of our own before caring for others, we are not following Christ. He told us when someone asks for our cloak, we should give them our tunic too. He offered no caveats about “unless you’re short of cloaks at your house, then maybe give him a gift card for a sandwich at the Jerusalem Chik-Fil-A-Fel.

I guess this is why the current crackdown on refugees had me thinking about the feeding of the 5000 last weekend. It is clearly an important story, since it appears in all four gospels. I suspect the reason we are supposed to hear this story four times is because Jesus wanted us to be really clear on this: there is always room at the table.

In the story, Jesus had been teaching all day. The crowd is kind of in the middle of nowhere, it is getting late, and the disciples are getting antsy. They ask Jesus if maybe it would be a good idea to send the people away so they can all get themselves some food in town. Jesus says, “No, we need to feed them.”

They protest. They mention the budgetary constraints of feeding such a huge crowd. There is no way they can afford to buy that much food. But he insists and tells them to gather what they can. He blesses it, they pass it around, and in the end they have 12 baskets full left over.

I think, xenophobia and fear aside, some of what is driving the fear of refugees is a basic fear that the rest of us will be left fighting for scraps. We distrust the gospel promises that we will be cared for. We distrust that there will be enough to go around, even if we pool our resources. We work hard for what we have and don’t think it is fair that others might get it for free. So we say that there’s no room. That it isn’t safe or practical. That money is already tight and we have our own people to take care of. That the troubles of our country–our crumbling infrastructure, our dwindling social security accounts, our veterans in need of better care, our homeless populations–require our attention first, and when we fix all that, if we have anything left, then maybe we can help.

But if we wait until then, it will never happen. All of our problems will never be solved. And more importantly, this isn’t what Christ taught us to do. We are called to love. To love with abandon, and to be unafraid while we’re doing it.

Loving the people who are just like us is easy. Giving to people who give us something in return is easy too. But this is not the love of the New Testament. Just in case we might be tempted to misinterpret Him, Jesus very specifically defined our neighbors as the people who are NOT like us. And just to be clear on how much this matters, He staked our very entry into His everlasting kingdom on this point.

I get that it is hard and scary. I am also scared that I won’t know how to answer this call. But if I call myself a follower of Christ, what He requires of me could not be more clear.

Hope. Despair. Hope.

Act I: Hope.
For the last month or so, songs from the musical Annie have been a constant companion in our house. Someone is always humming or belting out “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow,” saying “I love you, Miss Hannigan,” or hollering “get to work!” Like a lot of songs you learn as a child, I hadn’t thought much about the words to “Tomorrow” since I first heard them. It is such a plucky song that back then, I didn’t notice the undercurrent of lament in it. With adult ears I hear the hope, but also the mourning: “you’re always a day away.” Most of us grew up mistakenly singing “you’re only a day away.” When I heard it the right way, its message suddenly became much more complex. With that one word–always–they songwriters moved the goal line from just hours away to a place that remains forever out of reach. It transforms the song from merely hopeful to defiantly so, but tinged with knowing. 

It makes sense we’d get it wrong as kids. We knew all about laying in our beds, counting the hours until Christmas morning. We just had to wait. So naturally we’d hear these words and imagine Annie was almost there–she only had to hang on for another day and her luck would change. Of course we’d throw our arms out and sing that kind of news: only one day! But if the goal is one we’re never going to reach because there’s always another tomorrow? And you still want us to belt this out with all of our hearts? That’s just crazy.

At this moment in my life, though, it makes total sense to me. I can simultaneously believe all is lost while fighting with all my might to prove myself wrong. I am comforted to know there is a precedent for this in the Christian faith, too: the Psalms are full of lament and praise all mingled together. In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster says the psalmists experience “dogged hope and mounting despair.” I understand that dynamic tension deep in my bones. I can feel the cloud of doom–there’s always another tomorrow–and yet exult in how close I am to the end of my suffering.

Choosing to hope is a crazy, radical act. There is so much in this world that is a mess. Humanity is one hot dumpster fire on our best days. Hope is not turning a blind eye to any of that. It is seeing it all, but also seeing the flower pushing up through the cracks in the pavement and celebrating that beautiful defiance. Through the lens of hope, we can see glimmers of the divine peeking through the wreckage. One tiny glimmer–maybe I’d write a song about that too.

Act II: Despair
In the isolating days of early parenthood, social media saved me from soul-crushing loneliness. Both of the times I was at home with a tiny baby, I was brand new in town and I had no community. There was not a friend nearby whose doorstep I could drag myself to and ask for help. I did not have anyone who would drop by with a pot of soup and hold my baby while I showered. I felt very alone in those days. Having a tool to connect with far-flung friends while stuck beneath a sleeping infant helped me to feel less isolated. On some days, connecting with a friend online was the only adult conversation I had. It also carried me through the first months of seven moves, when I wasn’t ready to go out and make new friends but wanted to feel a part of a community. And for a few hours last Tuesday night, as I watched friends react online to the election results rolling in, it comforted me to see that I was not alone in my disbelief.

My breaking point came on Wednesday. Even though I have almost become numb to them after 17 years of living around sailors, am am still a believer in the sparing use of expletives. There is one in particular seems to the the only adjective, noun, and general modifier some shipmates know. But when it comes out of my mouth, it still has some rhetorical punch. So I said it: “America. What the fuck did you just do?” A few minutes later, I asked a follow up question because I could not figure out how I was going to explain to my very dogmatic kid (whom I have been teaching about consent and her body) how someone who has boasted about sexual assault gets to run the country instead of being punished for his behavior. 

What came next was a total surprise: a direct message lecture about faith and how I should be parenting from someone who has never met my kid.

Maybe she was shocked by my language and reacted without thinking it through. Perhaps, since it has been nearly two decades since we’ve actually talked, she was worried that I was losing my faith and thought needed exhortation. Whatever the case, it came like a sucker punch. I didn’t realize just how much it stung until I tried to describe it to Matt the next day and was crying so hard that my voice came out as a high-pitched squeak. (The dog, however, may have understood me.)

Connection can come at a cost. This is, I suspect, why most of us do not go around sharing our private thoughts with just anyone. In varying degrees, we each build a safe place and then invite people in. Being vulnerable with the wrong person carries the inherent risk of being deeply wounded if that vulnerability is exploited. This makes being authentic on social media a tricky game. You want to talk about more than the weather, but might also stop short of saying anything meaningful at all.

I have a lot of friends with diverse views, so during this election cycle I tried to keep my online opinions as benign as I could muster. I did not want to get into fights. I have come to realize that most people are just not that interested in seeing things from another perspective so it isn’t worth my energy. Until Wednesday morning, I only let the veil slip a few times.

But my shock and disbelief bubbled over and I didn’t filter it. I won’t say I regret my words, because in that moment, they gave shelter to many friends who were feeling the same thing. We huddled together and felt a little less alone. When I later posted a piece of text about prayer, a Muslim friend and I discussed how our respective faiths handle lamenting. Moments like that are what I love about social media. I know opportunities for life-giving connections are still out there, but right now, it is hard to hear over the noise of anger and contempt and “well, actually.”

The thing that gave me the most comfort on Wednesday was walking down the street and sitting with a friend while she finished her morning coffee. We asked ourselves “what do we do now?” and wondered aloud what putting our money where our mouths are might look like in our community. I stood on the sidewalk with the neighbor who was in shock and sorrow. I spent the days since then in long text exchanges with friends in ministry who were trying to figure out how to preach to their divided congregations on Sunday. On Saturday I rowed with a friend who is retiring this year and wonders if she will see a woman in the White House during her lifetime. 

I have community once again. I have doorsteps nearby where I can limp to in my brokenness and find respite and fellowship. My babies are out of diapers now, but I have friends here who could and would show up with soup if I needed it.

So last week I removed Facebook and Twitter from my devices. I can’t remember the passwords for either account, which means returning will require a few steps. When Odysseus was trying to get home and worried that the sirens’ song would be too tempting to follow, he tied himself to the mast and had his crew stick beeswax in their ears. I’m fresh out of beeswax, but I needed to hush the siren call of fruitless arguments with people I don’t really know anymore.  I am still restless and wrestling to make sense of things, but for now, I’m going to work it out quietly without an audience. After so many years of bathing in chatter, the silence is a little peculiar, but I am settling into it.

Act III: Hope
Today I was struggling to get myself to church. I wasn’t really ready for the inevitable message encouraging reconciliation. I know that prayer is the right response of my faith, but at present, prayer while punching things would be a better match for my mood. The girls were also squabbling so ferociously that the thought of shushing them for an hour in the pew sounded like less fun than a dental appointment. 

In between bouts with her sister, Lou asked to draw in one of my notebooks. When she picked it up, a cascade of loose papers that had been shoved into the back came fluttering out. As I picked up the pages, one lay by itself, face up, at my feet. 

It was the bulletin from my friend Sharon’s funeral. I had clearly put it into the back of this notebook the last time this happened–and this has happened enough times in the last three years to be officially deemed weird. This bulletin (which has survived three moves without getting lost) has an uncanny habit of appearing when I most need to be reminded of the words on the front. And of the woman I knew who lived by them. More than once, it has quite literally fallen into my lap, or like today, at my feet. Set against a backdrop of blue hydrangeas are the words “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”

We made it to church.