Tuesday, January 26, 2010


As part of a recent theme of communication, I had to say this in regards to an incident last night, "I'm sorry that I yelled at you because you couldn't give me good directions for where to find the pomelos in the fridge."

It's ridiculous. I know. I hadn't had a hard day. I was really happy to be moving around the kitchen with him. I like my life right now. And yet. "I'm sorry that I yelled at you because you couldn't give me good directions for where to find the pomelos in the fridge."

Here is where I am just about the luckiest girl on the planet. I just received this email:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Time's Orphan

I was just watching an episode of Start Trek: Deep Space Nine with Jacob and it made me blubber a little.

We find ourselves fighting about weird things:

Rebecca: So I was really excited about the way my boss corrected me the other day because that's a good sign for the future.
Jacob: Really? What happened?
Rebecca Well, we were on a conference call and I was getting frustrated with the people on the other end. It showed on my face so he signaled me to back off and then . . .
Jacob: Wait, can you hold on? I've got something in my eye.
Rebecca: waiting quietly
Jacob: OK, it's out. Can you rewind because I didn't hear much?
Rebecca: You alright? Well, we were on a conference call and I was getting frustrated with the people on the other end. It showed on my face so he signaled . . .
Jacob: Wait, who were you talking to?
Rebecca: suddenly annoyed It doesn't matter who we were talking to! The story is about my relationship with my boss!
Jacob: Well, I was just asking because I thought I missed it when I was digging in my eye!
Rebecca: You didn't miss anything! You asked me to rewind and so I rewound! Why would you think I didn't do what you asked?

We also find ourselves talking a lot about big relationship sustainability things like investments and sex and careers. These conversations are really hard. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes I pout even though a little voice inside me exhorts me to stop pouting. Sometimes we walk away angry and come back calmer. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes we feel bad.

We are taking solace in something my friend who has been married twenty years told me after I wrote this: "I think the first year of marriage was the hardest." I'm not sure why that is so comforting but it is for us.

We laugh a lot and cuddle a lot and pinch each other's butts a lot and when I read this article on bonding to him this morning, we agreed that we were already doing a lot of the actions on the list. So, sometimes it is mystifying when we stumble into these other, harder conversations. That's when my friend's words comfort us.

On DS9 today, Myles and Keiko thought they lost their daughter forever in the space-time continuum (we're dorks). Jacob and I both watched with wet eyes and afterwards, we commented that it makes us think about how awful life can be sometimes. There are going to be terrible things that we have to live through. It's goofy and corny but it felt good to say to each other that we'll face the ravages of the space-time continuum together.

So this first year of marriage where the turmoil is generated internally is just something we have to do so that when the turmoil comes at us from outside sources, we'll be tighter to each other so that we won't get torn apart. If most other couples have this same experience, then it's just something we have to do, too. I think we can be OK with that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Once again, I find myself working in an entirely evangelical Christian setting. I am not evangelical and have, in fact, spent the last several years of my life finding myself in situations where evangelicalism has been the foil to my spiritual development. The biggest difference between myself and most evangelicals is the way we view religion. I see religion as a lens that I use to view the world. When religion is right for a person, the world comes into focus. It makes sense. Because I view religion as a lens, I can believe that someone who believes differently than I do can still be right. Just like prescription optics, different people need different lenses because of genetics or life experiences. My interactions with evangelical people lead me to believe that they think Christianity is a universal lens; that is, everyone else thinks they are seeing clearly but are simply deluding themselves and once they find Jesus, they will see clearly. I believe evangelical people come to this belief as legitimately as I come to mine. Every one that I know has an experience in their life where their experience of God came in the form of Jesus and was a clarifying epiphany for them.

I've spent the last several years healing from the wounds that these folks have caused (generally well-meaning ones) and through the help of my church community and the emergent movement I have found my theological place in this world from which to engage evangelicals in safety.

But I keep being sort of gob-smacked by them.

At work last week, one of my colleagues that I had just met was talking to his intern about a potential family who were willing to take a child into their home while the parents dealt with a crisis. "They're Jewish but they're actually a really nice family."

So, that's a start. But then he kept going in a tone of incredulity, "They're so warm and generous, you would think they would be Christian but they're not."

I said nothing. What would be the point? He would bluster and apologize and then keep his bigotry under wraps in the future.

However, I did start filling out my application to become a certified home and clearly wrote our Jewish affiliations on the forms. Since he does all the certification, I knew he would read it eventually.

Sure enough, he apologized on Monday morning. I acted like I didn't know what he was talking about because we still don't know each other very well so talking about it wouldn't do much good.

I told this story to friends on Tuesday night and one asked if I really believed that if I waited until we knew each other better it would make a difference. I told him a story from college.

I went to a small liberal arts college in central Illinois. Almost everyone there grew up in rural or suburban Midwest settings and, in 1995, had very little known interaction with homosexual people. This meant that most folks were just a little (a sometimes a lot) bigoted in that area.

It seemed like a third of the campus had been recruited by one admissions counselor who was revered and admired by those kids and by their friends once they got to campus and saw how cool he was. He was beautiful, athletic, came from the same background we did, had been in one of the fraternities on campus when he was a student and had been known to have a drink or two with students as if that were normal.

Then, he came out of the closet.

The entire campus had to examine how they felt like homosexuality. They had to say to themselves, "I feel this way about gays. I feel this totally opposite way about Jerry." Then, they shrugged and decided that they still liked him and if he was gay, then probably other homosexuals were OK, too. I probably lived on one the most gay-friendly campuses of the mid-90s. One year, Norm McDonald was hired to come and do stand-up for us and opened with a gay joke. No one laughed. He was visibly thrown and tried again with another. Again, we just didn't think it was funny. After that, he never really captured us as an audience and I actually got up in the middle because it was so boring.

So, I do believe that being liked by someone before you confront them with their bigotry makes a difference.

My office won't even know what hit them by the time I'm through lovingly demonstrating that even someone unequally yoked can be earnestly following the teachings of Jesus and even have a undeniable personal relationship with the man.

I just finished reading The Ladies Auxiliary and although the actual writing is only average, I found myself swept up in the consternation of a tightly-knit Orthodox community having their sense of what defined a member of the community challenged. The characters were perfectly round. No one was entirely evil or entirely righteous. I could sympathize with all of them, even the matriarch of the community who insisted that you could make your children into what you wanted them to be. If you couldn't, then her whole life of meticulous religious practice that connected her with generations past was a waste.

Still, the community had to come to terms with the fact that although their children still chose Judaism and even Orthodox Judaism, many of them were choosing to do so in different parts of the country. Judaism's gain was the mothers' loss.

I am so thankful that my parents love me first and love their desire to replicate themselves eighteenth or nineteenth in the grand scheme of things. If they had been evangelical in their theology, I don't know that we would be as close as we are.

On Sunday, Jacob and I spent the day at their house, quietly and in front of a warm fire. They have an old farmhouse so the wood-burning fireplace actually warms the room. I was able to leave him there without awkwardness while I went to an event for work. They all read and napped on their separate couches while I was gone.

A few weeks ago, we stopped by a friend's house to drop off a quiche and coo at their 2-day-old baby. It was a little chaotic as her father-in-law, husband, and newly 3-year-old son were heading out to Chucky Cheese to celebrate the toddler's birthday, leaving her and her mother-in-law alone for the afternoon. After we left, I talked with Jacob about how we have a long way to go until I would be comfortable in that scenario. Exhausted from childbirth, overwhelmed with my status as mother-of-two and also needing to be gracious by making space for my mother-in-law's insecurity - which usually leads to an intense desire to be helpful - that often results in the opposite result. He agreed that being left alone with her in that state would be difficult for me but we also discussed our hope that over time, as we love her, she might grow less insecure and it will get better.

It seems to be one of my callings in life is to get into relationships with objectionable people while having hopes of softening their well-meaning, self-defensive stone hearts a little. I'm humbled by the task because it is so difficult to do it well and not be caught in the trap of believing that my way is better. Paradoxy. Holding two truths in tension and acting on both. I'm up for the challenge.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Last Monday, I walked into my office that is only large enough to house three desks, some file cabinets and a few car seats. Inside there were two babies, a bio mom, two case coaches and our Licensing and Authorization Specialist. The writing that I was planning on doing wasn’t going to be even close to possible during the next two hours. Even if all temporary residents were totally quiet so I could concentrate, one of the case coaches needed my computer to find a placement.

So, I scrapped my plans and picked up a baby and spent some time getting to know her.

For those of you that are just getting to know me, I recently got a graduate degree in Public Policy and this is my first full week at my new job. We have a pretty fast deadline coming up to outline some pretty radical new plans for growth and I have been working to apply all of the discipline and work ethic that I developed while getting my degree to this new project that I’m working on. There was definitely a moment of panic for me when I walked into my office on Monday.

But I work hard to live a life that can be picked up and redirected by God whenever necessary. I try not to get too attached to my own goals and plans so that my life can be dedicated more easily to the needs of others. I accomplish this with varying success. But, I picked up little 3-month-old Alma and listened to her for awhile.

I had tea with the Social Justice Pastor at a large affluent church yesterday who completely believes in the mission of my organization that finds volunteer families to care for children while their parents are resolving crises like homelessness, addiction and joblessness. As a single woman, she has taken a pregnant teenager into her home for 6 months and has been completely transformed by the experience. She is spreading the movement amongst her church as a means of spiritual development and I’m trying to learn from their experiences how I can better develop a network of organizations who do as well as they have to implement the programs. She said to me, “There is something disarming about a child.”

Last week, the other of the two babies was in my office again and since she was only 2 weeks old, I held her in my lap as I typed. I talked to her often and talked a little bit to myself, as well. I looked at her at one point and remarked, “You know, Jesus was a baby once, too.” It seemed so incredible to me as I held that tiny little girl who breathed so shallowly that I had to hold my cheek near her nose to be sure that there was actually life in her that God could have been a baby. The next time you hold a tiny newborn, you think about it. This could be God?

But the pastor I had tea with was right. There is something disarming about a child. Jesus said that whenever we clothe the naked or feed the hungry or visit someone in prison, we are clothing and feeding and visiting him. But something in the way society has shaped us makes it easy to reject Jesus when he is represented by homeless people and terminally unemployed people and incarcerated people. We so often play the role of the wealthy young ruler who walks away from Jesus sadly because he cannot sell everything and follow.

But there is something disarming about a child. The relationship walls society forces us to put up come tumbling down when a toddler asks us a question. “What are you doing?” becomes an invitation rather than the intrusion it would be if a strange adult asked the same question. The best defense is a good offense and the habits of our interactions with strangers keep us protected from harm and discomfort. We avoid eye contact and stay polite but distant. We try hard to project a confident air so that no one takes advantage of our vulnerability. All of these are arms we take up to protect ourselves and those we love. But children are disarming and Jesus was a child. Jesus was also homeless and unemployed and in prison but so many of us find it easier to follow the teachings of Jesus by caring for him when Jesus is represented by a child. There is nothing wrong with this. Putting down our weapons and working towards peace, toward shalom, is good and worthwhile regardless of our motivation for disarmament.

We are better Christians when we do it. We are better people, too.

I make a lot of my decisions based on whether or not I want to live with the person I will become once I make that decision. I find that I want to live with myself more when I take care of Jesus when he represented by people in need, including children.

Jacob and I are considering whether we would be able to take in people in need (or even people who will pay rent). We both value intentional community but I’ll admit, I hesitate on starting right now. I am really nervous that if we disrupt this time of newlywed intimacy, we’ll be damaging the foundation that we build the rest of our lives upon.

I know the counter-arguments: lots of successful couples (including my parents) start their married lives in community with other people, in fact, it might be healthy not to get in the habit of coddling our relationship. But we all know there is a fine line between giving something space to grow and helping it grow by exposing it to adversity. Metaphors abound and I won’t repeat most of them here but, you know, birds need time to fledge so that their wings become strong enough to support them.

I do think the counter-arguments are valid arguments but the reality is that in my gut, I’m nervous about moving out of this stage and into another too quickly. It’s hard to ignore that kind of visceral communication. You know, when my soul speaks to my brain through my guts? I know that often that feeling is just cowardice but sometimes that gut instinct is absolutely right.

I don’t know how we’ll resolve this. There is definitely need out there for our spare room. I don’t mind the inconvenience of sharing a shower. I do fear the opportunity cost of the time Jacob and I use right now to examine - through self-reflection and conversation - our interactions with one another. I am not a very good partner sometimes: I make selfish choices that support my own comfort level rather than making space for Jacob to feel comfortable on a daily basis. I fear that if we bring new people into our home, these choices will become habit because I will be distracted from looking too hard at them.

I’m going to try to trust that our commitment and love for one another will push us to do good things for a relationship whatever context we find ourselves in. I wish I felt as good as that sounds. It feels a little bit better to say that I will trust that if I like myself better for following the teachings of Jesus, then I will be a better partner. It's no dis to my relationship with Jacob; I've just had more practice with things turning out well when I trust Jesus. 30some years is a whole lot more than 1.5 years. I'll get there, though. Jacob is definitely worth it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Motivations and aspirations

This picture is so awesomely bad that I needed to share it with you.We are at the home of Jacob's extended family for a 90th birthday party on the day after Thanksgiving. It was actually a very lovely party because it was pretty much just a laid-back day for everyone to hang out in this giant house and at some point there was a cake and singing. I dig that vibe.

However, I was still pretty sick and I was on the emotional defensive because these were all pretty much strangers and Thanksgiving the day before had been a little prickly (I admit that my expectation that Thanksgiving would be hard probably contributed to the weirdness.)

I am glad that Jacob also looks tired and maybe a little angry. Then, the picture is not a reflection of my conflicted insides but of the fact that we were listening to a story and so our faces are just slack.

Aren't pictures like these just so interesting? I am amazed when the face I see in the mirror is not the face I see in pictures. My face is so pale and my nose is so long. My hair is much longer than I remember it being. The big crease under my eyes makes me look so much older than I think I look.

Pictures like this remind me of the giant gap between how I think the world sees me and the way the world actually does see me much of the time. I have 32 years of experience knowing my most intimate motivations and aspirations to color my self-image. The world only has light and shapes and observed actions and possibly a history of talking about my motivations and aspirations with words. Words are such paltry replacements for the complexity of how motivations and aspirations feel on the inside. So ephemeral and powerful at the same time. So apparent and so hidden. Words. Not enough.

But how else do we get to know each other? Yesterday, I spent the day with several people who actually implement the programs that I am replicating by designing a framework for other organizations to implement. Up to this point, I have spent most of my time listening to the founder, who is a really effective vision-caster. I am inspired daily by him. By the reality of every social service organization is that on-the-ground service delivery is often chaotic and messy both because people are involved and people never fit into a organizational model perfectly AND there is frequently a gap between the vision of the founder that requires constant fund-raising to maintain and the amount of time and effort the founder can spend on setting up infrastructure. This is very normal and I was expecting that my high-flying delight at being given the opportunity to change the world would be brought down eventually by the reality of how hard it will be to scale up when I have no control over how stable the foundation is. This is good thing. Remember what happened to Icarus when he flew too high?

So, I spent the day being very deliberate about the words that I chose to communicate my motivations and aspirations. I spent the day listening very carefully to the motivations and aspirations that my co-workers were expressing through the words they did and didn't say. I want to know the complexity of the institutional and interpersonal dynamics of my program before I go out and tell other people they should take it on as a means to better help the under-resourced folks that they love.

It was a hard day. I was exhausted by the end. But like almost every experience that I've had at work up to this point, I feel like I have the life experience that enables me to live up to the challenge. How often does that happen in life? How often do we feel like we are in exactly the right place at exactly the right time because all of our life experiences to date are useful in some way to the experience at hand?

I feel pretty lucky to be here. Lucky. And tired.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Quote of the day

Seriously? Seriously? This rocks.
In raising the status of wife to one of presumed equality, lesbian marriages have the potential to improve the status of women in straight union as well. Freed from being a term inextricably linked to “husband,” “wife” can take on new meanings. Once we accept the possibility of “wife an wife,” the whole system of opposite-and-unequal terms gets thrown out of whack. Instead of falling into preordained roles of husband as king of his castle and wife as “trouble and strife,” individuals can explore innovative ways to express relatedness.

- Audrey Bilger, “Wife Support,” Bitch Magazine, Winter 2009

If this is what gay marriage does for my marriage than I want it even more. On the flip side, when conservative groups claim that gay marriage will destroy marriage as we know it, is this what they mean? Is this what they are afraid of?

Friday, January 01, 2010

A new year sounds like the unlocking of a door.

On the radio a couple of days ago, an NPR commentator summed up the last decade and it was the first time that I actually paid attention to any of the decade-in-review-stuff because I finally made the connection that this decade that we just finished up exactly parallels my first decade as an adult grown-up person. In 1999, I graduated from college, got married and got my first job. Since then, I've been on tour with a theatrical production, become a fairly decent high school teacher, gotten a divorce, got fired from a job I loved, lived on an island, broke my addiction to shopping, built myself a supportive community, developed my storytelling skills by dating some really different men, gotten a Master's Degree, built a fairly gigantic craft supply collection and become a little bit of an artist in the process, gotten married to a man who will help me become everything God wants me to be, and have taken a job that may very well be my niche in the world for years to come.

When I look back on all of that, there are two fairly powerful things that I have experienced that can't be summed up in perky little phrases that pass the parallel structure test in grammar class.

The first is that my relationship with my family has become something that's pretty amazing. We have gotten to a point where we can say to one another, "That thing hurt me," and, most of the time we can get the response, "I'm sorry." Generally, the conversations put us through the wringer emotionally because both of us have to examine ourselves and look at what is ugly in there out loud and using words. But the ultimate apologies (since once we pull apart the situation, it's pretty clear that both of us need to apologize) are not as important as how much better we understand one another. And this repetition of positive conflict resolution just makes home safer and safer as the years go by. How many people can say that? I feel astoundingly lucky. When I say that Jacob has become family, it is this dynamic that I am referring to and I am lucky to have found him, as well.

The second powerful thing is this new person I have become in the last decade. I look back at the woman I was in 1999 and she was sparky and intelligent and passionate and so very, very innocent. She felt like the oldest woman alive but was completely uncomprehending of how the world actually worked and the affect she had on other people. She hurt a lot and was hurt a lot. But she had the space to discover and think and sit down with caring people over tea or dinner and tell them stories and listen to their stories. And so she emerged from the tunnel of her own experience.

I can only imagine that when I look back on 2009, the wide open space around me that I experience now will be a relative tunnel to the place I am when I'm 42. It is a beautiful prospect.

I have recorded only a few New Years on this blog (2006, 2007, and 2009) but I am struck by how tumultuous the first two feel and how much hope is contained in last year's. I am grateful for the progression and, although I know that life is cyclical and I will go back to the tumult, it will be different and there will be hope again also. This decade, it was about finding my place in the world. What will next decade's be? I'm ready to put down roots and stretch out my branches and learn what the weather is like by experiencing it rather than just speculating about it.

Welcome 2010. Let's hold hands and push the door open together, shall we?