Mar 222011
 

This post is dedicated to John, Sister’s fiancée. Good Luck, Brother.

 

Let’s head back to the morning of March 20th, 2003 for a moment, shall we?

Craig and I have been married for six months. Chase, our firstborn is five months old. Just skip the math and stay with me here. I’m home on maternity leave and spending my days alternating between the ecstasy and despair that accompany caring for an infant. I’m a little worn out.

But on March 20th, 2003, I wake up renewed and refreshed and tingling with excitement. Because as soon as I open my eyes, I remember: It’s my birthday. MY BIRTHDAY. I lie in bed and wait for the surprises and festivities and celebration of me to begin.

I wait. Then I wait a little longer. I look at Craig sleeping soundly and think, Ooooh- this is gonna be good. He’s still asleep! He must’ve been up all night preparing for my big day. Can’t wait.

Still waiting. Staring at Craig.

Craig opens his eyes, turns to me and smiles. Happy birthday, honey. I bat my eyes and smile back.

Craig gets up and stumbles to the shower.

I stay in bed. Still waiting. Waiting patiently.

He comes back in twenty minutes later and says, “Can I make you some coffee?”

I say, “Um. Sure.”

I climb out of bed. I put my hair up and throw on a little make-up so I’ll look nice in the pictures Craig’s sure to snap of me when I emerge from the bedroom and see all my balloons and flowers and perhaps the string quartet he’s hired to play while I eat the fancy breakfast he’s prepared.

I take a deep breath and fling open the bedroom door with much birthday gusto. I prepare my most surprised face.

Turns out there was no need to prepare. I am surprised. Because there are no balloons. No quartet. No nothing. Just Craig. Smiling, hugging me. Happy Birthday, Honey. Gotta go. See you for dinner tonight?

Craig leaves. I sit on the kitchen floor of our teeny apartment wondering if perhaps this is a practical joke. I open the front door to see if he’s hiding there with all of my friends whom he’s flown in from the ends of the earth to yell SURPRISE! at me. No friends. Nothing.

I sit on the couch, shocked. I am misunderstood, I am unappreciated.

Please understand. Growing up with Bubba and Tisha, birthdays were a big deal. They made the world stop on my birthday. You never knew what would happen, but you knew it was gonna be good. Tisha would bring us breakfast in bed with flowers and gifts and prizes and out-of-the-ordinary things would happen all day. One time in high school Bubba and Tisha sent roses to my fourth period history class with a card that said “from your secret admirer.” Nobody was allowed to get flowers delivered to class. But Bubba knew people. He also knew that those flowers would make me the most popular girl in school for the day. And they did. I walked around shrugging my shoulders when people asked me who they were from- glancing nonchalantly in the direction of the captain of the football team. Who didn’t know my name. But still, anything was possible on my birthday.

Let’s just say that the morning of March 20th, 2003, I did not feel like the most popular girl in school. I did not feel like anything could happen. I kinda felt like nothing was going to happen. Defeated, I sat down on the couch with my crying baby and turned on the TV.

The news anchor announced that America had officially declared some sort of war.

WHAT??? I yelled at the TV. ON MY BIRTHDAY?????

And that was IT.

I called Craig at work. He didn’t answer, so I hung up and called back immediately, which is our bat signal for it’s an emergency. He answered on the first ring, “Hi, What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Another fire???”

Whatever. So, I had set the apartment on fire the week before. Twice. Firefighters had come both times. Blaring their sirens and holding their big hoses and wearing their big masks and costumes and everything, which I thought was a little dramatic of them. I mean the fires weren’t that big. So Craig was still a little jumpy. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. Please, Monkees, for the love of God, try to focus on MY BIRTHDAY.

Me: “No, husband. There is no fire. It is much worse than that. You should know that I have cancelled my birthday. Today is no longer my birthday.”

Craig: “What? Why?”

Me: “Because it is already 11 am and nothing extraordinary has happened to me yet. Except, apparently, some sort of war. I hate this day. And so it is not my birthday. Cancel it in your brain. Tomorrow is my birthday.”

Craig: “Okay. Ooooookay. Should I cancel our reservations and the sitter for tonight?”

Me: “No. No you shouldn’t, Husband. We will still go out to dinner tonight. But it will be a working dinner. Bring a pencil and paper, husband. Because tonight I will be holding a seminar for you about my birthday expectations.They are many and they are specific, so you will want to wear your thinking cap. Also, find a sitter and reservation for tomorrow night, too. Tomorrow night will be my birthday dinner. My birthday is tomorrow. Consider it a second chance. You are welcome. See you tonight, Husband. For the seminar. “

And we went to dinner that night. And I explained to Craig how growing up, my parents showed their love by making a big deal out of special days. And by paying attention to what people really wanted and cared about and then offering thoughtful gifts. And by creating special traditions. And so that’s how I learned to accept love. And how when Craig didn’t do that, it made me feel panicked and unloved somewhere down really deep.

And Craig explained that he loved me very much. And because he loved me, he wanted me to feel loved. But he said that sometimes it’s hard to know what makes a person feel loved best. So he thought it was kind and wise that I figured out what made me feel loved and shared it with him. He said he was grateful. It made him feel safe, like I would help him through this marriage thing instead of being secretly resentful.

The Love Seminar worked for us. It lasted four hours. There was some crying and lots of laughing and talking about how hard it is to come from two different families and try to make a new one. And how impossible it was to read minds and hearts. How wonderful it was to just hear what the person you love needs and learn how to do it.To set each other up for success rather than failure.

The next morning, on March 21, 2003, my temporary birthday, Craig walked into our bedroom with hot coffee and bagels covered with pink candles. He sang to me and asked me to make a wish.

When I peeked out of the bedroom I saw posters covering the walls of our apartment. They said, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HONEY! I LOVE MY AMAZING WIFE! The posters and balloons and hearts drawn all over them. Boys can’t really draw balloons and hearts, by the way. Ridiculously cute.

I squealed and Craig beamed. I kissed him goodbye and he said he’d call soon. Every hour, in fact.

I peeked into Chase’s room and saw that his crib was decorated with blue streamers.

I went pee, unrolled some toilet paper and little sticky notes fell out of the roll, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY!”


Teamwork. Love takes teamwork, I think.


These days, Craig is known for his skill at celebrating special family days. He takes pride in it. He is a master. Legendary. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said to me, “You are so lucky. He is amazing.”

And part of me wants to say, “Lucky? Whadyathink he fell out of the sky like that?”

But instead I say, “I know. He is. He’s amazing.”

He is.



Mar 182011
 


Last week, Annara left this question in the comment section:


How can we give our children the confidence they need to survive on Earth and still encourage the humility that I believe is pleasing to God?


For the past week, my little brain’s been flipping this question over and over like a pancake that won’t quite cook through. I think it’s one of the most important questions anyone’s ever asked me. I haven’t been thinking about it in terms of parenting, though. Usually, when someone asks me a parenting question, I switch it into a grown-up question. How do I encourage my child to be kinder to others? becomes…How do I become kinder to others? A few years ago, after reading the sixteenth parenting book that contradicted the first fifteen, I quit trying to become a better parent and decided to just become a better person.

We usually think of confidence and humility as character traits, right? She’s so confident…he’s so humble. But here’s my problem . . . these character traits are easy to fake. Sometimes it seems like people who are quite insecure hide it by boasting, and others call them confident. And other people hide their pride behind false humility. It’s like the more insecure a person is, the more likely she is to behave confidently. And vice versa. Tricky.

And some people, like me, just get the two constantly mixed up. Like when I write an essay about humility and then spend the rest of the day wondering whether it might actually be the best humility essay ever written by anyone in the history of the world. I will tell you right now that the character trait I am most proud of is my humility. It’s true. I am so humble, it’s not even funny. Seriously, just don’t try to out-humble me, okay? I will wreck your teeny little humility with my HUGE HUMILITY.

So – yeah.

Even though I feel like a lost cause sometimes in regard to this confidence/humility issue, I do think it’s an important thing to figure out. Maybe the most important thing to figure out. Because if we are humble without confidence, we miss the opportunity to become what we want to be when we grow up. And if we are confident without being humble, we miss out on becoming who we want to be when we grow up.

I think about it all the time as a writer. Spilling myself like this…is it an act of humility or confidence? I share my faults and flaws with you, which seems humble . . .but isn’t the fact that I assume you will care enough to read and maybe even find my flaws charming betray the confidence behind my humility? So writing in itself . . . living out loud . . . is it an act of humility or confidence?

Yes. It’s both. That’s what I’ve decided. To me, confidence and humility are two sides of the same coin. They are character traits that stem from the two beliefs I hold most dear. I think most of our character traits are simply manifestations of what we believe to be true.


I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is, too.


They go Hand in Hand. They’ve got to.


If I am humble but lack confidence, it is because I haven’t accepted that there is a divine spark inside of me. If I am humble but not confident, it’s because I don’t believe in the miracle that I was made by God for a purpose all my own, and so I am worthy of the space that I occupy on this Earth. And that as a Child of God, no one deserves more respect, joy, or peace than I. As a child of God, I have the right to speak, to feel, to think, and to believe what I believe. Those dreams in my heart, those ideas in my head, they are real and they have a divine origin and so they are worth exploring. Just because I am a child of God. And thankfully, there is nothing I can add to that title to make it more impressive. There is also nothing I can do to lose that title. I am confident not because I am pretty or smart or athletic or talented or kind. Those things change and can be given and taken. I am confident simply because I am a child of God.

That is why I am confident enough to write so honestly to you. Not because I am a good writer. There will always be somebody better. So instead of relying on my writing abilities, I rely on the belief that I am a child of God, and as such, I have right to speak my mind with love. This writing thing, it’s one of my dreams. And I act upon my dreams because I believe that God is not just with me, but in me. I believe that He is the creator of my dreams. So it follows that when I act on them, magical things will happen. How could they not? Being a child of God is a free pass to be brave and bold and take great risks and spin around in circles with joy. If and when I fall, who cares? He will always be there to pick me back up. That’s his job. He’s my Father. So if I seem non-competitive, if I seem like I don’t care if I’m the “best” parent or housekeeper or dresser or whathaveyou . . . it’s not because I don’t care about being important. It’s because I believe I am the most important thing on Earth. Why would I care about competing in any other category when I am already a child of God? Why would I argue over a penny when I have already won the lottery?


And.


If I am confident but not humble, it is because I have not fully accepted that everyone has won the lottery. Because everyone has the same amount of God in her that I do. If I am in the habit of turning my back on others, it is because I haven’t learned that God approaches us in the disguise of other people. If I am confident but not humble, my mind is closed. If my mind if closed, my heart is closed. A closed heart is so sad. It is the end. A heart cannot grow any larger if it decides to let no more God in. There is always room for more. A heart expands exactly as much as we allow it to.

Humility is how I survive praise and criticism of my writing, ideas, and beliefs. Because I remember that neither praise nor criticism is really about me. We are all just trying to find the truth. And so I try to remember that I am on no one’s side. Not even on my own. I am just on Love’s side. And so I try to see different points of view not as reasons to step back further into my corner, but as reasons to take baby steps toward the middle of the ring – if for no other reason than to see my opponent a little closer. That perspective change is usually all it takes to remember that I have no opponents, other than my pride. I am child of God, and so is everyone else. Which means we are all on the same side. And so in each new person I see an invitation to know a new side of God. There are as many sides of Him as there are people walking the Earth. I think that’s why He keeps making people. He’s not done telling us about Himself yet. And so I remember that each person I meet or hear from, even if she’s not yet treating me the way I’d like to be treated, is the most important thing on Earth. There is no hierarchy of importance, of brilliance. We are each infinity important. Brilliant the last number. Because each of us is A Child of God. So we better recognize.

Those are the two sides of the Golden Coin I’d like each of my children to keep in her pocket forever.


Be confident because you are A Child of God. Be humble because everyone else is, too.




Love, G





Mar 122011
 

I feel exhausted after posts like these. Not bad exhausted – more like just-finished-a-marathon exhausted. I feel grateful and inspired, but also worn out, poured out, and a little shaky. Not so much from the writing of the essay, but from the responses – which challenge me and require me to rethink and practice accepting criticism and praise without internalizing either one. That’s tough for me, but good tough. Growing tough.

Here was one of my favorite responses to the last post:

Dear G: Why are you so obsessed with gay people?

This one cracked me up because for a whole day I couldn’t stop picturing myself as Jerry McGuire in this scene – except that in my daydream I was screaming: I LOVE GAY PEOPLE! I LOOOOVE GAY PEOPLLLLLEEEEEEE!

Anyway, I guess my answer is, as usual: I don’t know. I think it might have something to do with this picture, though.

This is a picture of a sit-in in 1963. Just fifty years ago. In America.

I love this picture. I might actually have it framed for my family room wall. I think it just shows the Truth of Things. It shows how complicated people are – how our courage and weakness and blindness and anger and love are all wrapped up together. It shows that often – the louder people are, the wrong-er people are.It shows that there is no safety in numbers. It proves that you can stand alone with the whole world jeering at you and God can still be right there beside you, holding your hand, encouraging you to resist, encouraging you to keep the faith, begging you to BELIEVE.

Quiet, believing, together. That jeering crowd…. each one jeers alone. They just look alone – together. There is no real unity in a mob. Fear incites – never unites. But look at the people at the counter. They are suffering together. They are united by Love. I bet inside they were shaking, though. I bet they thought they were LOSING. They thought they were losing, I bet.

I think that’s why I love this picture so much. It is proof that things are not always what they appear to be. It is proof of quiet, courageous, determined, Hope. It is proof that even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment…Love Does Win. It’s a done deal. Always. The first will be last and the last will be first, eventually.

My minister showed our congregation this picture several years ago. He asked us to look carefully at the faces. Some are giddy with mob fever and hate, some are distressed but fearful to take a stand, some are looking away. Which face would I have been? Or would I have been absent from the picture altogether? Would I have been home, preaching to my kids about equality from the safety of my living room? Would I have even recognized the opportunity to join my brothers and sisters in insisting that We Belong To Each Other?

So anyway, Lovie – I guess that’s why I’m obsessed with gay people. Because it seems to me that gay rights are civil rights. And when I look back at the snapshot of this time in my life- I want to see myself sitting at that counter, covered in mustard, alongside others who believe that in the end, Love Wins.

“Civil and political rights are a class of rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted action by government and private organizations and individuals and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.”