Category Archives: Wisdom

The Attack of the Lying Suits!

I think I am finally beginning to understand.

You see, last week I preached for a friend so that he could take some time off. I’ve preached for him before and so his congregation is familiar with me.  Familiarity helps when you’re doing pulpit supply, and it makes the congregation feel better too, so there I was for Memorial Day weekend.

I got there early so that I could get settled and say hello to the folks as they came through the door. One parishioner, I’ll call him Dave, got there only a few moments after I did so that he could hand out the bulletins and greet folks at the door.

I talked with Dave about how he’d been since I’d last seen him and about the weather, which was hot and dry even up in the mountains. I knew there was a brush fire nearby and had seen the smoke as I drove into town. I’d also heard about the fire on the news and so I knew that locals were very concerned about what was being released into the air by the fire. The long and short of it was that this area of forest hadn’t burned in decades, not since the government had used Agent Orange to reduce the chaparral and increase water flow for the Salt River Project.**

Now that the area that had been deforested was burning, the locals were alarmed at the dioxins that might be released into the air by the fire. I asked Dave if he had heard anything from the fire service or the local government and he immediately started shaking his head. “Oh yeah, we heard from them all right. They told us we have nothing to worry about. They’re lying to us and we know it…lying right to our faces.”

I can’t blame Dave for feeling the way he does, even though I can’t be sure that the fire service or the government is actually lying. And the truth is that we won’t find out for a long time, and if we do find out, it will be because the local citizens start getting sick in record numbers…and the lies will have cost them their health and maybe even their lives.

We’ve all seen it happen: something goes terribly wrong, and the government or the giant corporation sends some official representative to assure the public that everything is going to be just fine.  They come to us dressed in finely tailored suits, armed with smiles and slick lies.

It’s the attack of the lying suits.

Erin Brockovich.  Michael Clayton. Silkwood. All The President’s Men. Syrianna…every last one of these movies tells the true story of corporate or governmental lies and coverups that cost the American people dearly.  We know the story of the lying suit so well, that stories about striking back at the lying suits have become a part of what we call entertainment.

And this…THIS is how we got Donald Trump as President.

I have been trying for months to find a way to understand Trump voters.  I have listened to them try to explain why they like Trump and it hasn’t helped at all…until Dave.

Huge numbers of Americans, many of them working poor, are sick to death of the lying suits. They have come to believe that any person who comes with a suit and a smile cannot be trusted.  They have been lied to and cheated. They’ve lost their homes to the financial crisis and the greed of multinational banks.  They’ve have had their property devalued and their health destroyed by corporate dumping and the subsequent pollution of the soil and ground water. They have been told that fracking doesn’t harm the environment even after they told the lying suits that they could turn their kitchen faucets into blowtorches simply by turning them on and then lighting a match next to the faucet.  They have been told that the city’s water infrastructure was fine even though the levels of lead in the water were off the charts.

It’s not as if lives were at stake. Okay, lives were at stake, but they weren’t important lives because no one whose life was at stake was wearing a well-tailored suit and a smile.

And then along came a rich man in a well-tailored suit, with a slick smile…

And he talked in the exact same way as the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits like to talk. And he railed against the government, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits rail against the government.  He said unkind, politically incorrect things, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits wish they could say to the lying suits.  He publicly ridiculed the lying suits and he refused to play nice with them no matter how hard the lying suits tried to get him to do what was expected of him if he was going to play politics.

He did everything that the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits want to do but can’t do because they don’t have the money or the power or the prestige to get anyone to listen or pay attention to them.

This is why we have Donald Trump as President.

And you can’t really blame the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits, can you? Because those of us who didn’t vote for Donald Trump deal with those same lying suits every day.

We work for them. They are usually our boss’s boss. And we don’t like the lying suits very much either.  They tend to screw us out of our pension, or deny us the benefits they promised us if we would only work for them for 20+ years, or lay us off along with 4,000 of our coworkers, all while taking their million dollar bonus for keeping the company profitable.

I think I finally beginning to understand.

I don’t like the man who the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits elected, but I am beginning to understand why they thought he would be a better choice than Hillary, who (let’s be honest) sometimes looks an awful lot like all the other lying suits.

I may not agree with their choice, but if I can understand why they made their choice, maybe I can find compassion for how they feel, and if I can find compassion for how they feel, maybe we can finally start a dialogue about how best to unite and move forward.

I think I am finally beginning to understand, and it’s the first ray of hope I’ve had in a while.

**  Read more about the use of Agent Orange in Arizona HERE

Watch Out For the Alligators!

Lately I have been busy.

Like, epic busy. Ridiculously busy. I have been so busy that I am on the precipice of becoming crazy busy, which means that I will be unkind, unloving, and unreasonable.

Perhaps that’s not fully the truth, because if you ask my husband I’ve already been unkind, unloving, and incredibly unreasonable, but not consistently.  Right now I am just unkind, unloving, and unreasonable in spurts, which thankfully my husband can bear for short periods of time.

Despite his patience with me, I hate when I get so busy that I’m not a nice lady anymore, especially when I am not nice to my own husband.

Back to my point. I’ve been really busy doing work for the Church. Not that I haven’t had work for my counseling practice; that’s always a thing. It’s just that I’ve been doing more work than normal for the Church.

I’d love to go into details because when I start listing all I’ve been doing, other people get that look on their face that says “Oh dear God…seriously? I’d EXPLODE if I had to do that! I’d lose my MIND if I had to do that!” and then, of course, they ask how the heck I’m doing all that.

I told my girlfriend that my work for the Church has me up to my a** in alligators. After listening to my frustration, she corrected me and told me that at this point, the alligators have taken up residence in my a** and I should start charging rent.

I like the way that lady thinks and have to admit that having alligators in my a** might explain why I have been unkind, unloving, and unreasonable.

Seriously, though, how did I get into this predicament?

I have had a number of people tell me that I need to learn to say NO when it comes to requests for assistance.

There is some wisdom in that, because being able to set boundaries is a huge part of healthy living.

The thing is that you don’t always get the opportunity to say no. What do you do when the cost of saying NO can be the integrity of the project that everyone is working to complete?  What do you do when no one asks if you would be willing to do something…and instead just tells you that they need you to do this?

What do you do when you feel like NO isn’t an option?

There is no easy answer to this question, but I am learning where the line is that demands that I say NO.

You see, I am one of those people who is really pleased with my own efficiency, my ability to get things done when things are on the line. I like to be the person that everyone relies on, the one that people turn to when the going gets tough.

There is nothing wrong with knowing what you are good at and making sure that others know what you are good at…on the other hand, it gives me a huge sense of pride to be doing all that I am doing, and a huge sense of martyrdom to be working as hard as I am working, and neither of those things is good for my ego.

It makes me an idiot to think I am more committed, more dedicated than everyone else in my position. It makes me haughty to believe that I am sacrificing myself for the sake of the group.  It makes me…unhealthy.

What the heck am I supposed to do?

I guess that I should break this into pieces and look at each piece.  Let’s start with “It makes me haughty to believe that I am sacrificing myself for the sake of the group.”

There is never a time when haughtiness, or extreme pride, is good.

Pride in itself is not bad. Pride is that thing that allows you to feel good about the things you do, what you are able to achieve and what your abilities allow you to contribute to the mix.  I like to be good at what I do, and being good at what I do allows me to be proud of myself.

Hello, self-esteem!

There is nothing wrong with self-esteem. Self-esteem, however, is based in the idea that I give the best that I can to any given task so that I can succeed as much as I am able.  It isn’t based in anything other than my own ability and my awareness that sometimes I am exactly what is needed to get things done.

On the other hand, extreme pride, or haughtiness, causes me to think that I am better than others.

What does that mean, to be “better than others”?

Is that a permanent thing, or am I only better than others at this particular moment?

When I’m better than others, does that mean something concrete or is it only relative to the people I’m working with at this moment, and the project I’m working on at this particular moment, and the needs of the group at this particular moment?

Are you seeing where I’m going here?  Being better than others is always relative to the project at hand, the people doing the work, and this particular moment.  In other words, I can be better than others at what we are doing right now but I cannot be better than others, period. I cannot excel past my brothers and sisters once I step outside this particular project and this particular moment.

Being ‘better than others’ is so limited to a specific place and time as to be meaningless.

Self-esteem, the awareness that I have done well when people were relying on me…self-esteem is just as time bound as haughtiness, but self-esteem’s location in time cannot erase the reality that I did the right thing at the right time for the people who relied on me.  The good thing about self-esteem is that it doesn’t rely on what others are doing, just on whether or not I fulfilled my task and helped the people that God set before me.

But what does that have to do with saying NO to too much work?

Well, if I need to be better than others, if I need to fulfill my haughty need for perfection and being ‘better-than’, there is no such thing as saying NO.  I can’t say NO, because I have to better-than-others and people who are better-than-others do not say NO. Only mere mortals say NO.

Self-esteem on the other hand lets me say NO when NO is the most reasonable answer. Self-esteem lets me say NO when I am not able to fulfill the task in a way that will be satisfying to everyone involved. You see, self-esteem doesn’t like to fail any more than haughtiness does, but self-esteem will admit when the job is too big or too difficult or beyond our abilities right now…because self-esteem can say “I can do a lot but there is no way that I can do this thing you are asking” and not feel like it has lost anything. Haughtiness and extreme pride need to be the best every time, all the time, and there is no space for NO there.

The last three months has been a lesson for me. I can do way more than I thought I could, so much more than I thought I could. I can be busier than is good for me for extended periods of time and not fail. On the other hand, it has also taught me that my self-esteem is much stronger than I thought it was and my self-esteem is ready to say Enough!!! and slow things down.  It’s nice to be efficient and it’s nice to be relied upon, but I have no interest in letting myself buy into the bull poop that haughtiness would like to sell me.

I guess what I want to tell you is that there is a fine line between self-esteem and haughtiness and that only YOU can determine where that line is. Only YOU can figure out where the line is between being healthy and being pride-filled, and that means that no one else can tell you when to say NO.

It is only January 13 and I have run into my limits.  Admitting those limits, as much as it will chap my behind, can only be a good thing.

This year my resolution is to stay with self-esteem and kick haughtiness to the curb.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing with this NO thing in the coming weeks. I pray that my ego gets out of the way and lets my self-esteem have a breather.

Here’s to health in the New Year!!

Sprinkles Make Everything Better

Even though we just finished a season of ‘too much to do’, I am personally in another season of ‘way too much to do’.

You’d think that the end of December would be the end of stress, but that’s not the way it works for me.

It’s a long story, but let’s just say that serving the Church can keep you so busy that it’s hard to tell the difference between the Christmas season and any other month of the year.

Enough said.

Anyway…

As I mentioned in a previous post, my daughters both moved away during the holiday season. My oldest moved away to Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving, only one scant week after her sister’s wedding. And my youngest left for Portland, Oregon on January 2nd. Ugh. I’d barely finished putting my oldest back on the plane to CO and celebrating the New Year when I had to get my baby packed into her car, a UHaul trailer, and a huge dually pickup truck. Thank God that my daughter’s in-laws are wonderful helpers, or I think my head would have exploded!

Back to my scheduled programming, which focuses on too much to do and too many emotions.

You would think that the last thing I’d want to do after baking for 36 people and feeding 17 for Christmas is MORE work, but that’s exactly what I turned to once my daughter and her husband had pulled away from the condo they were living in to head for Oregon.

My heart was breaking and all I could think about was socks.

Sprinkle Socks.

You may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about.

Let me share the joy of Sprinkle Socks.

Sprinkle Socks are socks that have a fringe of beads crocheted onto them. They make noise when you walk, and they are vibrantly colored.  You can make Sprinkle Socks to match every single outfit you own…but then again you probably would refuse to wear them if you were over the age of 11.

Sprinkle Socks are something I made for my little girls back in the day.

I crocheted on the plane to CA as I traveled to seminary.  My daughters were 2 and 5 years old when I started seminary, and I made them Sprinkle Socks in every color imaginable while I sat in the airport or on the plane.  By the time I finished seminary, my daughters were seven and ten years old and I had made them many more pairs of Sprinkle Socks because they kept growing out of the old ones.  It was the perfect craft project: once they fell in love with Sprinkle Socks, it wasn’t like they could live without them, so I had to keep making larger and larger pairs.

As I watched my adult daughters pack their lives into boxes and moving trucks, all I could think about was all the things I had done to take care of them and bring them joy…and how they wouldn’t need that from me anymore.

I guess I could have just invested in sadness and spent my next few months crying and pouting.  Instead I invested in tri-beads, crochet needles, crochet twine, and crew socks from Target. (I have to admit that I did have a few tearful meltdowns, but each one lasted only a few minutes and I’ve only had three or four meltdowns since October 2016.)

On the day my youngest was leaving for Oregon, my husband and I arrived with coffee for all four of us. We spent our entire morning at the condo helping them helping them find anything critical that wasn’t already packed and load the few remaining items of big furniture. Katie and her husband were frantic, trying to do and remember everything. It seemed like it took a long time, but suddenly it was over and Katie and her new husband left in her overstuffed car, headed for their new life in Portland, OR.

All I could think about was getting to Target to buy a package of socks so that I could get started.

You would think that with all the baking, cooking, cleaning, wrapping and packing that I had to do during the holidays that the LAST thing I would want is another project to complete.

NOPE…it’s exactly what I want.

Sure it’s a distraction from the sadness that I’m feeling, except that it’s more than a distraction.

I become genuinely happy thinking about the Sprinkle Socks.

They remind me of all the things I did to make my daughters happy. They remind me of the dozens of pairs I crocheted for other little girls, knowing that their Sprinkle Socks would be their favorite socks.

They remind me of the myriad of ways that I can use my skills to create joy and pleasure for others.

They let me do the thing that gives me the most meaning in my life—serving others—with the added bonus that I get to be creative.

Do you ever think that God created humans to be creative just so that we could discover that joy that God felt when God created US???

I do.

I can make you Sprinkle Socks in every color in the rainbow and even a few colors that aren’t found in nature. I can make Sprinkle Socks for babies only a few months old, and I can make Sprinkle Socks for girls that are already in Middle School.  I can crochet Sprinkle Socks that have glitter beads! You cannot believe what I can do with a few beads and a pair of crew socks.

I think that the overwhelming joy that I feel as I crochet each bead onto the Sprinkle Socks is the exact same joy that God felt as He created trees and flowers, as He created grass and mountains, as He created every human being with all the different skin and hair and eye colors, as He created the world with infinite variation in trees, mountains, plants, animals, and people.

God created so that we might have everything in abundance and find joy in all of it.

I create so that some little girl might have socks in abundance and find joy in that.

It isn’t near as impressive or massive as God’s work, but it is an echo of God’s creativity, and I’ll take anything that will allow me to glimpse into the mind of God.

If crocheting Sprinkle Socks is any indication of what God’s mind is like, God is very calm and extremely happy.

In light of all that’s gone on in the last month, I’ll take all the calm and happy I can get. If you are looking for me you will find me on the couch, crocheting Sprinkle Socks.

The Morning After the Mourning After

This morning I went to a yoga class.  I was exhausted and anxious and needed to let go of some stress. My daughter is getting married this evening and all that anxiety has built to a peak of anticipation.  I figured a little stretching and sweating would do my soul some good.

The instructor, Jeff Martens, is a great teacher. He speaks softly during class, reminding us of proper posture and breathing techniques.  He also speaks words of wisdom, meant to guide us into greater relaxation and greater submission to the spiritual process of yoga.

Today he reminded us that every posture is a prayer that we pray with our body and our soul. He reminded us that prayers are not requests; prayer is more than asking for things. The prayers we make with our body are affirmations of all that is already ours: health, peace, communion, joy…or conversely, they can be affirmations that we believe we exist in a state of struggle, discontent, and FEAR.

There has been a lot of fear this week.

I told you in my last post that the days after the election were particularly difficult for LGBTQ persons, minorities, and women.  Many were consumed with fear that they would lose their civil rights, their safety, their nation and their home.  This week wasn’t much different, and I had plenty of people who cried their way through their session, worried about the future and wondering what they should do next.

One of my clients yesterday was particularly upset, and nothing seemed to comfort her. We talked about the allies that are all around her; people who love her, people who are not willing let her be re-victimized or denied safety.  I reminded her that I will always be an ally.  And then I told her that my greatest hope is that there are many good people in powerful places, people who are not willing to silently stand by as millions are denied their civil rights and human dignity. I said that I believe those people will slowly reveal themselves as Trump’s plan unfolds; I believe that one by one they will stand up and say “Not in my America!” and they will be our allies as we fight against a rising tide of bigotry, sexism, and homophobia.

It won’t be as simple as the split between Democrats and Republicans. I told her that we will probably all be disgusted to discover bigots, misogynists, and homophobes among people we thought were our allies.  I’m betting we will also be stunned at the number of staunch Republicans who stand up for civil rights, equality, and justice.  Neither side has a monopoly on righteousness; in the long run, I believe that this will be a great blessing that will work to our advantage.

She smiled at me and said it was a lovely idea, but she wasn’t sure it was realistic.

I told her that I am counting on it.

I never thought it would happen so soon!

Today Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton made an announcement in response to President Elect Trump’s decision to begin deporting undocumented immigrants.  The mayor stated:

“Phoenix is an incredibly diverse and welcoming city where we endeavor every day to protect our community while treating residents with dignity and respect, no matter who you are, who you love or where you come from.

Our diversity is our greatest strength as a community, and our strongest selling point as an economy. It says much about who we are as a people that Phoenix is considered one of the safest and most welcoming cities in the United States for those seeking refuge from the violence of war-torn countries.

That will not change, regardless of who is president.

Residents and visitors can be assured we will professionally and steadfastly uphold the laws of our city. But that does not mean that Phoenix will fall victim to discourse that is openly antagonistic and hostile to members of our community.

The Phoenix Police Department will never turn into a mass deportation force, even if the new government in Washington, D.C., threatens to revoke federal dollars. This is something worth fighting for, and we will not be bullied into taking backward steps on civil rights.

I cried when I heard it on the news, and I cried when I read the article online, and I am still crying as I write this right now.  There are things worth fighting for: our deepest values and dearest morals, but most important is human lives.  These things are worth standing up for, no matter what the cost.

Today the Phoenix mayor (along with mayors in Boston, New York, and Chicago, as well as the police chief of Los Angeles) took a stand against bigotry, hatred, and fear.

This morning I heard that every posture is a prayer, an affirmation of what we have.

Today powerful people in a number of major cities struck a posture of resistance to injustice. They still have some stretching to do before their posture can be firm and true, and we need to join them. We are only beginning to understand just how deeply our privilege (white, straight, male, educated, etc.) has stepped on the necks of our brothers and sisters. As a nation, we need to change our posture to a prayer that affirms freedom for all, justice for all, and welcome to all who would live in peace.

Today I stand in a posture that breathes a prayer of willingness to stand for others, and gratitude for allies in the struggle.

And I am going to stay in posture for as long as I possibly can.

For more information, use the following links:

ktar.com/story/1362041/phoenix-mayor-greg-stanton-vows-city-police-will-stay-deportation-process/

www.azfamily.com/story/33729670/mayor-stanton-phx-pd-will-never-be-a-mass-deportation-force

For more information on yoga or on Jeff Martens http://www.innervisionyoga.com/

Finally, congratulations to Katie and Phil!  I could not be happier for the two of you, and wish you a long life of joy together.  Phil, Michelle, Dan, Jason, and Arianna…welcome to my family!!

Tradition!

** Please forgive me if the title makes you want to sing show tunes from Fiddler On The Roof.

My daughter is getting married two weeks from today.   Getting ready for the wedding has been an exercise in remembering exactly why weddings are stressful and expensive.  It has also been an exercise in tradition, because weddings are full of traditions.

As I sit and write this, I realize that no one threw a bridal shower for my daughter…but then again, what would we give her for her bridal shower? She hasn’t lived at home for three years.  She has plenty of kitchen utensils and cookware. Her household is already established.  When it came to her wedding registry, she and her fiancé registered at places like REI so that friends and family could get them the things they’d like to have, especially when it comes to camping gear.  So what’s left? Lingerie and marital aids? Can we be honest and admit that she already has plenty of those, too? She’s been living with her fiancé for almost a year now!

So there goes that tradition out the window, at least for this wedding, not that it matters. Some traditions just aren’t that important to me.

That’s a strange thing for me to say, because my family has a huge value for tradition.

In my family, tradition is the way that we remember who we are and what really matters. I couldn’t have explained that to you when I was younger. It wasn’t until I needed tradition to anchor my family during a difficult time that I came to understand what purpose tradition served.  Since then, I have come to value our family’s traditions more and more, not just for the act of repeating the tradition but for what the tradition represents.

My mother’s family is full-blooded Sicilian; they immigrated to this country sometime in the late 1910’s.  My grandparents were both 1st generation Americans, but they were born to families so entrenched in Sicily’s culture that I could swear that my mom and her brother are the 1st generation Americans in their family instead of their parents. Every Christmas, my mom and I (and now my youngest daughter and I) make Cuccidata, a traditional Italian fig cookie.  Cuccidata make Fig Newtons look sad and paltry by comparison, and they are best cookies I’ve ever had.  And cuccidatas aren’t the only thing we make for the holidays, because when it comes to holidays, Sicilians love to cook. Actually, Sicilians just love to cook in general.  The food at our house during the holidays is plentiful, rich, delicious, and did I say plentiful? This is another way we celebrate our Sicilian heritage and part of the reason that most of the women in my family have childbearing hips (what a lovely way of saying ‘Baby got back’) and the men have the tummy that comes with a wife who cooks good food frequently. Our holiday dinners may raise our cholesterol counts a few points during the first few months of every new year, but it’s worth it.

Not all traditions come from generations past.  Every year in December my husband and I take our kids to Flagstaff to re-enact the year that our oldest daughter was in drug treatment. We couldn’t bring her home for Christmas and so we chose to celebrate Christmas in a hotel in Flagstaff during her two day, off-campus visit in December. You might think that remembering such a difficult time in our lives would be depressing, but it isn’t…in fact it’s incredibly joyful.  That first year we sat in the hotel and went through as many family traditions as we could: decorating the tree (albeit a smaller, sparser, fake tree); opening the stockings on ‘Christmas Eve’; going to worship on ‘Christmas Eve’ (an AA meeting sufficed); opening the few presents we brought on ‘Christmas Day’; and spending as much time together as possible before we had to take our daughter back to her treatment facility.  Each year we repeat the exact same things we did the first year, bringing the same fake tree and decorating it; then we declare our first evening in Flagstaff as ‘Christmas Eve’ and go through all our Christmas Eve traditions.  Every year we return to the same hotel, the same restaurants and coffee shops and local stores…and every year we revel in spending time together as a family and remembering that our family is stronger than almost anything that would try to destroy us, including drugs and alcohol.

My family has tons of traditions: opening the stockings on Christmas Eve because Santa always manages to come to our house while we are at Christmas Eve worship; dedicating Memorial Day and Labor Day to spending time with our children, a practice my husband and I started when we were both in graduate school; Friday night ‘date night’ at our favorite restaurant; and a big homemade dinner for the family on Sunday evening.

In a million little ways, traditions remind us of who we are and what really matters.

Sadly, some traditions remind us of who we were and they highlight beliefs that are damaging and need to stop right now.

I’ll give you an example.

Before my wedding, my husband’s groomsmen let me in on a prank they were going to pull on my husband during our reception. They gave me all the details and told me my part in the prank. While it sounded a little silly and kind of sexist, I wanted to be a good sport and it was going to be funny, so I just went along with it. About 60 minutes into the reception, before the dancing was going to start, my husband’s groomsmen grabbed him and lifted him off the floor and attached a ball and chain to his ankle. I had the key stashed in my bra, and I coyly pulled the key from my cleavage, giggling and teasing my husband.  I figured that was the entire joke.  I cannot tell you how disappointed my husband’s friends were when I immediately freed him from the shackle around his ankle and set the joke aside.  They wanted me to leave it on him and make him roam around our wedding with a ball and chain attached to his ankle. And that’s when I realized that I had misunderstood the seriousness of their joke. I thought it was just supposed to be some temporary fun with an old symbol of marriage. The reality made me sick to my stomach. To my husband’s friends, I was a ball and chain.  Did they really mean that?  Probably not…but then why was it important to make him wear a 15 pound ball chained to his ankle for more than a minute or two?  What exactly is funny about making someone actually wear a ball and chain while they are trying to enjoy their wedding and dance with their bride? Nothing…unless you are in it to make a point.  And that’s what made me sick to my stomach.

If anyone pulls that stunt at my daughter’s wedding I will not be so gracious.

The thing about any tradition is that it only has meaning in as much as it represents what we truly believe in, what we deeply value, and what gives us life.

The thing about weddings is that they are filled with traditions that often speak loudly to the idea that our culture thinks marriage is an institution that benefits the bride, shackles the husband, and still represents the transfer of a woman who is property from one man to another.  All we are missing is the bride price and the dowry, and we could easily be back in the old country.

What the heck, people?!

I’m not going all feminist on you here.  Because it’s not just marriage traditions that are filled with not-so-subtle reminders of much less egalitarian times.  You don’t have to look hard to see the evidence of racism and sexism in our society.  Size-ism and body shaming are all over social media and television. Ageism is a major problem both in Hollywood and in corporate America. We have all sorts of behaviors that give testimony to our unwillingness to truly root out the ugly undercurrents of hatred in our society. Even our most hallowed traditions—our marriage traditions—are rife with symbolism that when closely examined, fail to match up to what we say are our dominant cultural values.

So which is it? Are we still sexist and racist and hateful…or are we just slow to challenge old behaviors?

I want the traditions that my daughters participate in as they live their adult life to be much like the ones that they have already experienced in their family: traditions that hold up what is most precious and worthy of respect and honor. Traditions, that when examined, are filled with deep meaning and connect us to the things we value most.  You might be thinking that a cuccidata is just a cookie, but in my family it is the thing we do to remember where we came from and who we are. It connects us to all the generations that came before us. Cuccidata are delicious…and they are living history.

As we head into the holidays, I encourage you to pay close attention to the meaning and the hidden messages in your family’s traditions.  Ask yourself if what you are re-enacting in these traditions is something you actually want to teach the children in your family.  Does it represent your highest values? Does it represent your faith?  If it represents your heritage, does it represent the part of your heritage that doesn’t participate in the oppression of other people?

Don’t just blithely stumble along, doing the things you’ve always done just because you’ve always done them.  A part of moving our culture forward is knowing what part of that culture should be abandoned so that the culture can be refined.

And this isn’t just about ‘culture’ and American society as a whole.

Remember that your life is a story that you tell to the world.  No one else can tell this story, and it should express what you’re worth and what you believe truly matters.

Tell the best story you can, and when the story you are telling doesn’t represent who you are or what you believe, change the storyline until it does.

Here’s to the traditions that color your story bright and beautiful!

I’m Gonna Build Me A Wall

I am one of those people who loves metaphors.

God knows, I am plenty verbal.  (Ask anyone who knows me: I will talk your ear off!) Nonetheless, when I need to learn something or teach something to someone else, I look for images or metaphors that will help explain the concept.  Visual images that represent a concept are great because they can gather meaning as time goes along, representing multiple things as you learn more about the concept/subject.  Images that can do this are “multivalient.”   It’s a bizarre made-up word that I learned in seminary that means “more than one meaning” and it only reinforced my desire to use images to represent concepts.

On to our subject for today: WALLS.

I’m a counselor, and when counselors talk about walls, we are usually talking about emotional blockades that people use to keep others at a distance emotionally.  We talk about refusal to be vulnerable and to “let people in” so that they can know the “real you”.

That’s not what I’m talking about today.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about walls, mostly with the focus of keeping undesirable people OUT; walls as a means of keeping the ‘good people’ safe from the ‘bad people’ who want into our country and our economic system.

That’s not what I’m talking about either.

I like to talk about walls when I talk about relationships, especially romantic relationships, and most specifically marital relationships.  The reason that I do that is that so many people have misconceptions about what it takes to make a marriage last, to truly succeed as a couple.  I tell the couples that I am working with that a good love connection is going to be a lot like a really good brick wall.

Here in Arizona, most of our fences are concrete block walls or brick walls, so you see freestanding brick walls in almost every neighborhood.  Every now and then you find a block wall that has collapsed, scattering bricks or concrete blocks as well as chunks of mortar all over the sidewalk and the yard.  On a rare occasion you will find bent rebar (the metal bars used to reinforce block walls) still sticking up out of the ground with a few blocks still intact at the bottom, held in place only because of the rebar.  That’s a rare occurrence, mostly because walls reinforced with rebar don’t ‘collapse’ per-se…usually something happens to bring them down, like an uprooted tree falling on the wall.

What does that have to do with relationships?

Well…block walls are usually built of bricks and mortar, and occasionally rebar. Each of those things represents something crucial to a successful marriage. Let’s start with the bricks.

When it comes to relationships, the bricks represent the common morals, values, and priorities of the couple.

It is very important to have shared morals because it means that behavior that is forbidden for one of you is forbidden for the other, and behavior that is considered laudable for one of you is considered laudable by and for the other.  For instance, the animal rights activist is never going to want a fur coat as a gift from their spouse, no matter how cold the climate they live in, or how much of an expression of love their partner might think that would be.  You might think that shared morals is a given, especially when your partner seems like such a good person, but it takes exploration to suss out the finer points of morals.  Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you take office supplies from work?  Do you lie…to anyone? When is that acceptable and why? Do you support abortion rights? Would you ever opt for an abortion in your own life? What do you do if your child is profoundly intellectually disabled? Would you ever put a child in an institution?  What if you become really rich?  Do you give a bunch of money to charitable organizations? Do you ever give money to family members?  What do you think about helping out adult children with financial issues?

See what I mean? Morals aren’t as easily determined by daily behaviors as we think they are.  Of course, your partner’s daily behaviors say an awful lot about who they are and what their morals are, but you have to ask the hard questions…and answer them yourself as well.  I am consistently shocked by the things my clients reveal that they didn’t discuss before they married…and that topic always comes up because of the problems they are having in their marriage now.

Commonly held values and priorities are also important and act as the bricks in your marital wall.  Let’s use work as an example. Work should hold the same value and your careers the same level of priority for both members of the couple.  This doesn’t mean that one of you can’t stay home to take care of the children, because that is another thing entirely and has to do with your beliefs and values (and priorities) around raising children.  However, a lack of common values and priorities around work can lead to one partner frustrating the other by working long hours for an extended period of time, or by repeatedly changing jobs or careers.  The first illustrates a difference in the how work is valued as a priority, and the second a difference in the value of stability and commitment to career.  Money is another area where common values and priorities are really important, because money is frequently a subject of conflict for couples. One partner usually wants to save and invest and the other partner is more prone to spend and the truth is that there needs to be a balance of both saving and spending as well as financial responsibility focused on a saving for retirement and aged years. This kind of stuff can create major rifts for couples and long term resentment, and these are two things you never want developing in your marriage. In the end, having similar values and priorities allows you to act in concert and support each other as decisions are made and changes occur.   Both of you will feel equally respected and equally committed to each others goals, since after all, those goals will be driven by common values and priorities.

So…you’ve got the bricks to build your wall because you share morals, values, and priorities.  Now you need mortar, and sex and intimacy are the mortar in a relationship.  What separates a partnership/ marriage from a regular friendship is the level of intimacy.  Friendships might have a great deal of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy and the more there is of those three things, the closer and longer lasting the friendship will be.  I frequently tell couples that the best thing they can do is become really good friends as well as lovers, because their friendship will get the relationship through difficult times when they don’t feel as ‘in love’ as they used to be.  The ‘in love’ thing is what brings the flush of sexual intimacy to the fore.  Sexual intimacy takes the other three levels of intimacy and deepens them significantly, and then it ices the cake, so to speak.  Sexual intimacy creates an incredibly strong bond because it’s hard to hide from your partner when you are naked and being sexually expressive. It is the deepest and most private form of intimacy, and I truly believe that it is sacred. Maybe I’ll blog more about that another day, but for now I just want to say that sexual intimacy becomes the mortar that holds all the bricks in place, that brings the wall to a level of cohesion and stability that other relationships cannot reach.

We’ve all had friends who were really good at the sex thing but who lacked commitment to the other person in the relationship. You can call this commitment issues; you can call it “friends with benefits.”  I call this an example of someone trying to build a wall out of mortar alone.  You can do it…you can mound up your mortar and try to build a wall, but it won’t last through any serious storm.  The difficulties that life brings will inevitably cause the wall to slowly disintegrate and crumble.  This is why marriages based in chemistry alone don’t work for very long.  The sex is great and for a while the couple can use the sex to cover up the growing divide between them, but eventually no amount of sex is enough to cover for what isn’t there: real friendship, along with common morals, values, and priorities.

So what’s the rebar for? Well…rebar is there so that the wall can’t be toppled easily.  Like I said, my neighborhood is full of block wall fences, and occasionally they collapse…usually due to harsh weather.  Walls with rebar in them, however, tend to remain standing until something specific happens—something like a car crashing through the wall, or a tree falling in a monsoon, or someone purposely trying to tear the wall down. This is because the rebar is driven into the ground below the wall to anchor the wall and the rebar acts as an internal support for the bricks and mortar.  In a relationship, rebar is made from a common spirituality that often establishes many of the common morals and values.  In my marriage, the rebar is our Christian faith.  When life gets rough, my husband and I turn to God for support and we openly discuss the evidence we see of God’s action in our lives.  We encourage each other in our faith, and when we are struggling, we pray together.  I’m not saying that a couple without a common faith will fail; that simply isn’t true, since those couples have shared values, morals, and priorities and hopefully deep levels of emotional and intellectual intimacy, as well as a robust sex life that builds their wall tall and strong.  However, having gone through quite a few “storms” that tried to tear down the wall of my marriage (a child addicted to cocaine and opiates, the death of both of my husband’s parents, a severely ill child, etc.) I can tell you that a common faith will strengthen the union in ways the common morals, values, and priorities as well as sexual intimacy simply cannot achieve.

Having said all that, my mind wanders to a certain politician that thinks that building a wall will solve some of our problems with Mexico and its citizens. Perhaps he’s right, but only in the sense that focusing on our commonly held values, morals, and priorities might bring us to a much closer relationship that could change everything.  It would be a wall built of bricks alone, as many friendships are…and honestly, it could change everything.   Maybe he’s right. Maybe we should build a wall, one that no one would have to ‘pay for’…but wouldn’t it be worth everything?

All The Things I’d Tell My Daughter

My daughter is getting married in November, and there are so many things I want to tell her about marriage that I don’t know where to begin.  It’s not that she hasn’t been witness to her parents’ marriage for her entire life, but so much of marriage takes place behind closed doors or simply away from the children’s eyes that I’m sure there is plenty that she hasn’t gotten a chance to witness.  I have been trying to write it down in some meaningful narrative, but it isn’t working.  I have tried several times to parse the many things I’ve learned in 28 years into a concise story but I haven’t managed to write anything really meaningful. This morning I thought it might work better if I separated the information into the early years, once we had children, etc.  And so here we have:

The First Year

Everybody tells you that this year will be the most difficult, and they are right, but if you’re lucky it won’t seem that way until you look back after 5 or 10 years of marriage.  The first year is quite a lot of fun but there are a lot of things to work through before you can settle down into the long-term work of marriage, which is staying married. More on that later. For now, it is important to pay attention to a few things that you may not have discussed prior to marriage…things like gender roles.

You moved in together before you got married and you’ve probably fallen into one of the more common expressions of gender roles in dating: she does the dishes and the cleaning and laundry and thinks nothing of it, and he does an occasional load of wash or dishes and thinks he’s Mr. Wonderful because he’s helping.  It can stay this way for years if you let it, but I encourage you not to do that because one day you will have kids and if you think you are busy now…you have no idea.  Spend some time discussing how the work should be divided, and don’t be afraid to be bold when telling him that no, he is actually NOT doing an equal share of the chores.  Men, especially men who didn’t live on their own before moving into a committed relationship, often have no idea what it takes to run a household.  They have no idea what it costs financially and what it costs in time and effort.  He had his chance to live like a bachelor (read this: in filth, eating crap food) prior to his marriage and if he didn’t take that chance, too bad for him.  He’s going to be a married man now and it is time for him to learn how to pick up a rag and clean; how to fire up the vacuum cleaner and sweep; how to run a dishwasher and how to run a washing machine without ruining the contents of either machine. You will be a much sweeter wife if you don’t feel like his maid, and never underestimate how good he will feel when you listen to your girlfriends complain about their lazy live-in boyfriends and then state that you “don’t put up with any crap like that” because your husband is a good man. To quote my mother, “Get ‘em young and bring ‘em up right!”

On the other side of that coin is this: if he is genuinely trying to help you, give guidance but don’t criticize unless he is only giving a half-ass effort.  Many men want to help their wives but find themselves victims of the “can’t do anything right” syndrome that overtakes women when they get used to running a household.  If he loads the dishwasher wrong, so what? If he folds the clothes wrong, re-fold them.  If he folds the clothes wrong and you have to iron the entire load because of that, coach him…repeatedly.  And remind him: if his ‘work’ around the house creates more work for you, that isn’t sharing the load. That’s punishing you for making him do work around the house.  Only the occasional man will be that rude and ignorant, and if yours turns out to be that variety (which I sincerely doubt) you need to kick that lazy bum to the curb.  Otherwise, coach, gently, and thank him for every single thing he does for you, even if it isn’t done the way you would do it.  Be grateful for each and every single thing he does because each and every thing that he does is something that you don’t have to do.  This is how you keep yourself in the gratitude zone.  It’s easy to take your partner for granted, and you will have to work on that the most after the first year, so start early and be grateful consistently, even when he is simply doing the jobs he agreed to do.

Take time to discuss needs for privacy and private time.  No matter how much you love him, you will need time alone.  And I mean, TIME ALONE, not time to be out with your girlfriends. You need time for that kind of stuff too, but time with friends does not substitute for time alone.  The thing is that you and your wonderful husband won’t have the same needs for time alone.  He might not need much and you might need an hour every day.  If you don’t discuss your needs for time alone, he might think that you are being rejecting, or that he’s angered you.  Discussing what you need and how you need it is a great way of putting yourself in context for your partner.  When your father and I traveled to China we were in a tour group and I would get overwhelmed by all the noise and lack of time alone, and so I would put in my earbuds while we were on the bus and zone out while staring out the window. It wasn’t until later that I found out that your poor father thought I was angry with him every single time I put in my earbuds and ignored everyone including him.  No context means no way to understand your partner. You would think that after 20 years of marriage that your father would automatically understand me, but NO…that’s unrealistic. Your father still needs some context to understand me, just like I need context to understand him. Tell your husband what you need and make sure you take time to listen to his needs for time with friends, time alone, and time with YOU.  By the way, no one should have to explain WHY they have a need.  Needs are needs and who cares why?  No one should have to justify themselves unless they are opting for illegal actions…and that’s a whole other topic.

Sadly, it won’t take long for the two of you to get past the initial flush of love and marriage and settle down into the daily humdrum.  Life is boring and mundane; at times life is hectic, chaotic, and painfully difficult.  Those wonderful and intense feelings that you have right now when you are around him will pass, and when they do, you will find yourself wondering if that means something is wrong with the marriage.  The answer is: probably not.  Love, much like life, gets boring and mundane.  Love is NOT a sentiment felt in the heart…at least not for long.  Love starts as a sentiment in the heart, and then love becomes a set of choices you make based on a commitment you made before God and your family. Love is a choice you will have to make again and again, multiple times a day.  Choosing to act in loving ways and choosing to take time to work on the relationship will yield years of joy with each other.   If you don’t put work into the relationship, it eventually will die like an un-watered plant.  The thing about plants is that even when they are well-cared for and watered consistently, most of the time they aren’t in bloom.  There’s nothing showy or eye-catching about them.  The ‘plant’ of your marriage will be much like that, in the sense that you will need to give your marriage daily attention and most of the time it will still feel kind of mundane and somewhat boring…and then there will be seasons where it blooms and your marriage will feel like the most amazing thing ever and all the emotions you had in the beginning will be there and you will feel them as surely as you feel your beating heart. And there’s another great metaphor: your marriage and your heart are much alike.  Your heart beats in your chest all day long and most of the time you don’t really notice it—but fail to take care of it and you will notice it right away!  You will have to devote time and effort to the health of your marriage just like you need to devote time and effort to your own health.  What I’m trying to say is: DON’T JUST BE MARRIED. Actively work to be a couple growing together and you will find that your marriage is one of the most satisfying things in your life.

Shortly before your father and I married, a friend told him that marriage is either the best thing that ever happens to you or it is hell on earth.  On a related note, many of your father’s friends told him that he better be prepared to give up his sports car, his hobbies, and sailing catamarans on Sundays.  Thank God those two messages came at the same time, because your father shared both of those messages with me and I decided two things simultaneously: 1) I was going to have a ‘best thing that ever happens to you’ marriage and 2) that I absolutely refused to make your father give up all the things he loved just because he married me.  That turned out to be a great decision, because many years later your father told me that one of the things that made him happiest in our marriage is that I encouraged him to do the things that he wanted to do: learn to fly a sail-plane; make stained glass windows; go back to get a second master’s degree; learn to blow and fuse glass.  Part of being ‘the best thing that ever happens’ to your spouse is encouraging them to constantly grow and learn; encouraging them to challenge themselves; being their biggest cheerleader; and not holding it against them when they fail.  This doesn’t mean that you give your husband a pass to do whatever he wants no matter what it does to you financially, or that you don’t ever hold him accountable.  That is unreasonable and foolish.  On the other hand, criticizing him for failing doesn’t really change the failure and doesn’t help him figure out how to move on and succeed in the future. Letting your husband explore his interests keeps him interesting to you and encourages him to stay young and keep expanding his life and his mind.  Treat yourself in the same way (and ask him to treat you the same way) and you will have endless numbers of reasons to talk to each other and listen to each other and share your separate experiences with each other.  It doesn’t hurt that your marriage becomes the reason that you do interesting things…because for many people their marriage becomes the reason they stop doing anything interesting at all.

And that’s a bunch of what I learned the first year I was married. Obviously I wrote this for my daughter, but if it helps you or anyone you love navigate the early stages of marriage, that’s great!  I probably left at least 20 things I learned that first year off of this list…mostly because I couldn’t remember them all when I sat down to write this.  You can count on a few more installments on this in the future, although I promise not to post one blog entry for every year that I have been married.  No one needs to read 28 posts on marriage, not even me.