Perspectives of a Creek

I went for a jog the other morning. The air was thick in my lungs and the breeze created a barrier between me and forward motion. Needless to say, I am not in shape. But exercise is exercise. So, hurrah for me for pulling myself out of bed and taking the first step of going outside . . . and then that second step and the third and the fourth and the one that made me want to turn around and just go home. But, I did it. I did it!

I thought I was just getting some physical activity in for the day, but I passed by the creek that I used to play in when I was a kid. My brothers and I would hike down there looking for crayfish and cattails, bugs and critters. It was our Bridge to Terabithia. Our Narnia. It was our childhood.

We would walk along the shallow bank and cross over like we were Israelites fleeing Egypt. We were explorers and pioneers. We were children. To us, it wasn’t just any creek it was The Creek. It was ours.

In my memory, The Creek was teeming with life and mystery. There was a giant willow tree who dipped its branches into the clear, bubbling water. We would grab onto those vines and swing like wild monkeys. Shrieking with laughter. Battles were imagined, blood was lost, wars were won. We would trundle home sundrenched and warm with sweat and happiness.

But as I jogged by the other day, The Creek was unimpressive. Shallow. Dried up, almost. Weeds overran the place. There were no children. There were no wildflowers. There was no willow tree. There was dirt, and there was quiet. There was the reflection of broken sunlight scattered across the still surface.

What happened to the lush oasis of my youth? Why were there no children keeping it alive? I guess that’s just life. We grow up and we give up some things. I feel as though I’ve sacrificed my romance with the world to buy into the adult reality of full-time jobs, health insurance, benefits, 401k’s . . . you name it. (Not that I have those things, but being surrounded by other adults makes me feel like I need those things, which is partially true).

Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic. Maybe I’m just hopeless. But I need to believe that words matter, that art matters, that beauty can and should be treasured. That monetary gain and gainful employment are not the end all be all. That there is no end all be all. Because I don’t believe there is.

In youth, we’re told the world is our oyster. We don’t know what this means, but we hear that it’s ours. Without understanding what we possess, we enjoy being infinite. Lately, all I feel is trapped and hedged in by the world and “the norm.” I miss having the power to shape my own reality.

When I was a child, The Creek was a place of infinite possibility–I created possibility. The other day, it looked . . . without. Perspective can be a powerful tool.

L.

My Mother Is Human Too

I had a closing shift tonight. We somehow managed to get out a little after 10pm. That’s pretty badass since our store is closed to the public at 9pm.

I was tempted to ask one of the girls if she wanted to go out since the night was young, but, since we are old maids, I went to my car and called it a night instead.

I’m so glad I did.

I parked in the driveway surrounded by foggy darkness. My parents’ murmurs crept through the heavy door. And I was greeted warmly by lamplight and a concerned father letting me know there was curry fried rice in the fridge if I was hungry.

Their planning for car situations tomorrow was suspended by my arrival.

Our car needs to go to the shop because something is shaking when it hits 60 mph or more. I haven’t noticed because I haven’t driven that fast yet since we got our new clutch. My mom and I decided to drop the car off at the shop tonight so my dad could sleep.

But we talked for an hour before we left.

She told me about work, and how hard it is. She’s in her fifties and working more than she ever has in her life. My mother has been fortunate enough to never have to work a full time job. She has always been a part time nurse by choice. She chose to work late nights so that she could spend her mornings waking early and making breakfast for three needy children. She chose to walk her needy children to their elementary school. She chose to make the most of the sunlight and do household chores before her night shift. She chose to sacrifice.

And she’s choosing it again. But this time the decision seems more uncertain and the sacrifice to reward ratio is a little murky. It makes me sad to see my mom so stressed.

We talked about family and how I have no patience. I have no patience–if I have patience, it’s very minute. She says she’ll end up in a nursing home.

It makes me sad to see myself from my mother’s eyes–that she thinks I don’t love her enough to want to take care of her. But maybe the wanting isn’t enough. Because, realistically, my future husband and I may not have the finances to take care of my parents. Or two sets of parents. But that’s another day’s worries.

We talked about marriage. We talked about expectations. We talked about in-laws. We talked about life. And I’m so glad I was able to tell her that she set a good example for me. Because of her and my dad’s marriage, I’ve seen how beautiful two people can be. I’ve seen that love begets love.

She’s shown me that a wife who loves her husband will sacrifice her pride to build his confidence. She’s shown me that by trusting her husband, he gains strength to shoulder tough decisions. A good wife will encourage the man she loves because she knows that she’s been trusted with his tender heart that is so vulnerable and easy to breakage otherwise. She’s shown me that a wife should offer comfort and companionship, not criticism. If she is to criticize, it should be constructive and never tear down his character, only fortify it.

And I’ve seen that a husband who is lucky enough to have this type of wife is able to sacrifice his pride for her joy. This husband is willing to forego an hour of sleep to buy her medicine because the only 24/7 store is fifteen minutes away. This husband is patient with her even when she yells. This husband will put away the dishes even though he’s worked a full nine hour day. This husband will drive to her work to pick her up and wait an hour for her to finish only to realize she drove herself that morning and he waited for nothing. This husband will sacrifice his life to ensure hers.

Love begets love.

At this point we decided it was probably time we high tailed it outta there and dropped the car off. When we got home we were ready for bed.

But we sat around gathering baby things that were forgotten from this weekend so that my dad would have an easy time packing the car tomorrow. And while we sat, we talked some more. We mostly talked about church. Our church has gone through a lot in the years, but it has survived and even grown since that time. We talked about how God has a plan for our humble church, regardless of its strengths and weaknesses. And then we talked about weight gain and clothes and just girly things.

And I realize just how much I love my mom. I love her because she’s my mother, but I also love her as a person. If I were some other stranger, with no blood connection to this woman, I would love her. For her beauty, for her kindness, for her wisdom, for her grace.

I saw my mother, not as the superhero who cleans cuts and kisses away tears, not as my meal provider, not as the slave driver who demands a dustless house on weekends, but as a woman who is tired and aching. She has been loving me for the past twenty-five years. She has been trusting me with that love.

Love begets love. Love should be followed with love.

I don’t think I’ve done a good job of this.

 

L.

To The Man Who Asked Where In France That Table Was Made And Then Racistly Suggested It Must Have Been Crafted In My Homeland, Beijing

First of all: No.

Not OK to say in public. Not politically correct. Asking me, NAY, telling me that it must have been made in my homeland, Beijing? Um, squeeze me???

Not that it’s any of your business, but I was born in the good ol’ Midwestern state of Illinois. Not even the Eastern end of it, you jack . . . o’lantern.

I’m kind of upset. I didn’t grow up being racially profiled, or racially harassed–I wasn’t even picked on (maybe I was and I didn’t know it. It’s quite possible that I didn’t know it. Sweet, simple Lisa). So to hear comments like this in my mid-twenties, it’s a little baffling.

When that man made the comment, my initial thought was you’re an idiot, do you mean Belgium? Beijing isn’t in France, dumb-dumb. 

My coworker, though, asked me if the group of jocular, middle-aged white men had insulted me, which had me all puzzled and confused. Yes, I heard Beijing mentioned, but there were just so many other people waiting in line that the comment didn’t register. Not until we discussed what occurred.

There was this red hot embarrassment that broiled in my face and my ears. But why was embarrassed? That made no sense.

Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail unknowingly emails Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) about how she’s never able to say what she wants when she wants to say it. Even after the incident, she’ll replay it in her mind and think of things she could have said.

That is what I’m doing right now.

And all I’ve come up with is nothing. The red hot embarrassment is more of a fury and indignation now. (Though I don’t necessarily care–I just wish those men would feel ashamed of themselves for being so incredibly ignorant). Seriously, is this real life? How can you think it’s OK to make that sort of comment? May I assume that you were a slave owner then? Should I assess, based on the color of your skin, that you have raped and slaughtered people who don’t look like you? Might I be correct in stating that you are some backwater hill billy living in a trailer park, getting drunk and beating your wife and kids at night?

No. Because that’s such a backwards way of thought that doesn’t belong in the 2000′s.

Really? Beijing? Did I stutter? Could you not understand me through my thick Chicago accent?

Rude.

L.

What’s Between The Pews?

[A/N: I began writing this post a while ago . . . seven months ago . . . that's a little over half a year. I've been afraid of making this public because it started from a place of hurt--like a half rant, half vent thing--and I hate writing controversial posts that may be offensive. Just as a warning: I'm not a scholar in religious studies or anything. This is just me, releasing some insight and some personal thoughts/opinions. In these 700-1000 words, I probably haven't captured the entire gospel, but I do hope somewhere inserted into this post is not just a Debbie Downer, but Hope.]

I’ve grown up in “The Church.” “The Church.” What does that even mean?

Some people will read the title of this blog post, then read that first sentence, and then smash their computers against a brick wall because they hate me so much now. I probably just turned 6.9 billion readers away, which would be totally impressive because I hardly think 6.0 people even read this blog. Just kidding . . . I hope.

But seriously, when someone says they grew up in “The Church,” apparently all of us Christians know that’s code for my parents are Christians and took me to church while I was in the womb. I basically grew out of Bible verses, worship music, communion wafers, and grape juice. (The second half is my own loose translation). And to non-Christians it’s code for goody-two-shoe freak.

For me, it meant that my parents took me to church on Sunday ever since I was a baby. There was a nursery that I’m sure I played in while my parents sat in service. There was Sunday School, which is exactly what it sounds like–school with one subject (hint: it’s the Bible/Jesus/God) that you only go to on (you guessed it!) Sunday. There was Children’s Church, which is the toddler’s version of Church but watered down to “Jesus loves you.” And so on, and so forth until I moved my way up to claim my space on a pew.

Every Sunday was full of singing songs and learning about how God loves me and wants me to love him and everybody.

Those are the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love his people.

Simplified, obviously.

It was easy when I was a kid. Love God. Love everybody else. There were no hard rules to follow or any instructions on how to love, just as long as you were being nice and trying to be loving. You know, like not throwing beans in Sarah’s hair, letting even your little brother David use some of the sequins for arts and crafts and sharing crayons with your arch nemesis Scotty Hamburger Head, remember him? Simple things like that.

Are you still following, or have you already thrown up in your mouth because religious talk upsets your stomach so much?

Anyway, even though I grew up “churched,” it doesn’t mean I’m perfect. It also doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about God or the Bible (though I’m sure there are some Christians who would stone me and shame me by telling me good Christian should know it all, just to imply that I’m not a good Christian–whatever that even means to them. And I’m sure there are non-Christians who would pass the exact same judgment on me. See, not so different after all). 

But even though I’ve spent my entire life in a church, I’m beginning to see why people aren’t smashing through chapels to grab a seat.

Church isn’t this super holy place full of super holy people that are all nice and happy and perfect together. No. Church is like any other school, company, establishment, what have you. There are politics. There are clicks. There are flawed people who interact with other flawed people. Christians aren’t this sub-species of human that are above reproach or sin or hurt or malice or spite . . .

Sometimes that’s the image people think of though. And sometimes churches buy into that image too, I think. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s very likely that I may be wrong–I’m not a doctor or a scientist or anything.

I think it’s so easy to sit in our little spaces on the pew and act like everything is fine because everybody else around looks as if they’ve got it all together. But the reality of the situation may just be that you’re not fine and neither is the brainy looking girl with glasses who’s meticulously taking notes–hanging on the pastor’s every breath.

The reality may be that there is a lot of hurt and worry and weariness shuttered inside that shell of a person. She may be diligent in her notes because she’s desperate for some answer, some insight to whatever hell she’s living through right now.

We [Christians] go to church to embed ourselves in a community where we can find support, encouragement. But so few of us are readily vulnerable–willing to take off the shields that we’ve built for ourselves over the years and expose the tattered flesh and gaping wounds we’re desperately trying to hide for fear of being too ugly. We fear rejection. We fear how these people, who are supposedly dependable, will hurt us with their judgments and their misunderstanding and their apathy toward us.

And we forget–oh, we always forget–we are, all of us, flawed. We have all been tempted; we have all been lonely; we have all been trapped in shadows; we have all hidden bits and pieces of ourselves because we only want to let the best be seen; we have lain in the devil’s bed, caught in his sheets.

We forget that we’ve been given such grace that makes our pasts null and void. We forget those things don’t control us any more. We forget that it’s ok to fall, and that the amount of times we fall will never surpass the grace we’ve been given.

Maybe if we remembered that this word “Christian” doesn’t equate “perfect”–that these people who call themselves Christians are really just awful people who’ve been changed by some saving grace and are now striving to be like Christ even though they’ll never reach that level, but they strive because life isn’t about them and their own–and we view them through a filter of empathy . . . maybe then we would be able let down our guards, our fake Sunday voices, our prejudices.

Maybe then we can remember that, yeah, I may not agree with them–I may not even like their personality–but God already forgave them, God already loves this person, so I should too.

And for non-Christians, you may not understand that. You may think this is all baloney–it’s dumb, it’s a farce, Christians are crazies. But here’s a secret: Christians are just normal people. That’s it. We are not God. We are not aliens. We will make mistakes and we will end up apologizing for these mistakes. You will probably look at us and want to hold us to a higher standard, so will we. But I hope–I really hope–that both of us are able to realize the power in humility and sincerity and grace and forgiveness.