Jan 112012
 

 

Repentance is a fancy word used often in Christian circles. I don’t use fancy religious words, because I don’t think they explain themselves well. Also, fancy language tends make in people feel in-er and out people feel out-er, and I don’t think that’s how words are best used. I think words are best used to describe specific feelings and ideas and hearts as clearly as possible, to make the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader, feel less alone and more hopeful.

I used to be annoyed and threatened by the word repentance, until I figured out what it really meant for me. Repentance is the magical moment when a sliver of light finds its way into a place of darkness in my heart, and I’m able to see clearly how my jerkiness is keeping me from peace and joy in a specific area of my life.

Maya Angelou recently shined a light into the dark part of my heart where I keep my relationship with my mother in law.

In her latest book, Letter to my Daughter, Angelou writes about a dinner party she attended during her first trip to Senegal at the home of a very rich and sophisticated friend. As Angelou explored the decadent home and observed the elegant guests, she noted that they were all carefully stepping around the beautiful, expensive rug in the middle of the floor to avoid dirtying it. She became appalled that her hostess would be so elitist and shallow as to value her things above her guests’ comfort and convenience. Angelou decided to act. She stepped onto the rug and walked back and forth several times. The guests, who were “bunched up on the sidelines, smiled at her weakly.” Angelou smiled back, proud that through her boldness they might also be “encouraged to admit that rugs were to be walked on.”

She then joined the guests on the sidelines, her head held high. She had done what was right.

A few minutes later, the servants came out and quietly removed the rug from the floor, replacing it with an equally expensive one. They then proceeded to place the plates, glasses, wine and bowls of rice and chicken carefully upon the new rug. Angelou’s hostess clapped her hands and announced joyfully that they were serving Senegal’s most beloved meal “for our Sister from America, Maya Angelou.” She then asked all the guests to sit. Angelou’s face burned.

She had dragged her dirty shoes all over her gracious hostess’ tablecloth.

Angelou concluded her story with this:

“In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

 

When Craig and I first got married, I experienced his family as an unfamiliar culture. They operated so differently than mine did. Communication was different, celebrations were different, meal times were different, expressions of love were different. I found this to be unacceptable. To me, different meant wrong. I became, as I always do, personally offended and perpetually suspicious. In a million subtle and not-so subtle ways, I tried to change my in-laws. I suggested new traditions, I offered advice, I found fault with their personalities and marriage and their relationships with their children and grandchildren. I insisted that Craig and I pull away from them, based on the unforgivable sin that they were different from my family.

I dragged my dirty shoes all over my mother-in-law’s tablecloth. The one she’d spent decades carefully weaving.

My mother-in-law handled all of this gracefully, in retrospect. Tragically, retrospectively is the only way I can ever see things clearly. I imagine my refusal to accept her family hurt her deeply, but she gave Craig and me time and space to work it out on our own. She never pushed us. She never meddled. She bowed out, for a long while. It must have been a hard decision, one I pray I never have to make with my own son. I pray that my future daughter-in-law will be wiser and kinder than I from the start. She probably won’t be, though. She’ll probably be just like me. She’ll want to create her own weaving pattern, which might mean that she’ll need to turn her back on mine for a while.

As a young mother and wife, establishing a pattern that suited me was difficult. Learning to weave my own tablecloth required all of my attention. I needed time and space to establish my own rhythm and style, and perhaps my rejection of the old patterns was necessary to the discovery of my own.

True repentance is messy and it takes time, but that sliver of light is worth waiting for. And when it’s real, it sticks. Thank you, Ms. Angelou, for leading me to repentance.

 

I’m sorry, Nana.

 

You know I’m not big on advice, mainly because most days I learn what an idiot I was yesterday. This is hopeful, because it means I’m generally moving in the right direction. But it also makes it risky to put anything definitive in writing today. Even so, I feel safe offering this.

Mothers-in-law, enjoy watching your daughter in law learn to weave. When she makes a mistake, when she drops a stitch, allow her to notice it on her own. Tell her often how beautiful her weaving is. Be kinder than necessary. Bring her some tea. Be simple. Be sophisticated.

And daughters-in-law, notice the beauty of the rug that your mother-in-law spent a lifetime weaving. Remember that mostly, her pattern is firmly established, no need to suggest improvements. Be kinder than necessary, being mindful that the piece of art it took her a lifetime to weave, her masterpiece, she gave to you, to keep you warm at night. One day you’ll give your masterpiece away, too. Be simple. Be sophisticated.

 

“In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

Love,

G

Jan 112012
 
So.

 

I’m at the gym yesterday. I go to the gym all the time. My Lyme doesn’t permit me to work out anymore, but I would never allow a detail like that to keep me from free child care. So I drop off the kids in the nursery and I sit in the sauna and read. It’s exactly like hot yoga, without the hard parts of hot yoga that I resent, like the moving part and the not allowed to read during part. When I come out I am smarter. And warmer. And more peaceful. Actually I think it might be the best thing in the world. And now instead of meeting on the exercise bikes and sitting still and talking, Adrianne and I meet in the sauna and sit still and talk. And when we leave we are so sweaty that we even believe we’ve worked out.

Last week, following a particularly dramatic Mommy Meltdown, I bought some new workout clothes for my sauna exercise regimen.

Let me explain.

Once every week or so I have a breakdown during which I wail to Craig that for various reasons that I am too overwhelmed and despondent and incoherent to discuss in detail, my life is completely unmanageable.  We call it a Mommy Meltdown in our home. My friend, Erin, calls it a Caretaker Fatigue Attack. Either way, mine include lots of tears and dramatic phrases thrown around, my favorite of which is: I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.Craig once made the mistake of asking me what specifically the IT is that I am unable to TAKE, and let us just say that he will not make that mistake again.

IT IS LIFE! IT IS LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, whatever. The point is, that as my meltdowns begin to wind down, I usually decide that the only thing that will improve my life is to leave the house ALONE - immediately - and buy lots of crap I cannot afford. I do not know why this is my solution, but when I arrive at whatever crap store my van drives to, there are always many other maniacal looking women also wandering the aisles aimlessly. So I’m convinced I’m not the only one who considers crap buying a viable solution to I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!

Anyway, last week on my crap trip I bought some new workout (sauna) clothes. One piece was a cute yoga top with major pads in the bra. PADS IN THE BRA. The irony of practicing yoga in order to connect with the universe and one’s inner self and find acceptance and self love in a padded bra is not lost on me. As a matter of fact, it is SO ME. So I bought two.

I wore my new boob-y top to the gym yesterday.

I did my time in the sauna, but I wasn’t ready to leave yet, so I went out to walk on the treadmill. I smiled at the lady next to me and noticed that she was sort of staring at me. I assumed what I always assume - that she recognized me from the blog. OR that maybe she was impressed by my huge boobs. I smiled humbly. The lady locked eyes with me and said, “Excuse me, your tag is still on.”

Please understand that for me, this is like someone saying, “Excuse me, do you have the time?” No biggie. I always leave my tags on. Taking them off is just one of those things with which I cannot be bothered. And since I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE quite often, I have a lot of tags.

I thanked the nice woman and then continued walking. Didn’t even look for the tag, didn’t even pretend to. I got 99 problems, lady, and a tag ain’t one.

Half hour later I’m back in the locker room preparing to get in the shower. Yes, I shower at the gym, too. I refuse to pick my children back up until we have reached the FULL TWO HOUR NURSERY MAXIMUM. If I arrive three minutes early, I wait outside the door and stare into space for three minutes.

So I walk past the locker room mirror and do a double take. Here’s the tag. Here’s the tag I was wearing, just like this, for my entire two hours at the very crowded gym.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there you have it.

 

 

You have a brutiful  day, Monkees- Old and New. Survive the chronos and carpe kairos.

 

 

Love,

G

Jan 092012
 


 

There was a couple who’d been married for twelve years. The first two years were good, happy even . . . but then the kids came and work got hard and money got tight and the shine wore off of each of them. She used to see strong and silent but now she saw cold and distant. He used to see passionate and loving, but now he saw dramatic and meddling. They allowed themselves to become annoyed with each other. And so they stopped being careful. They stopped taking care of each other because they each decided they needed to look out for themselves.

And the distances between them grew longer and deeper until it felt impossible to touch even when they were in the same room. And one day she said to her girlfriend. . . I just don’t love him anymore. And it felt terrifying and exciting to say. And he said to his buddy . . . I don’t know if I ever loved her. And their friends said what about counseling but it all seemed tangled up too tight to try to unwind.

She got home from work one evening and fed the kids and put them to bed and she was tired to the bone. And he was late again. Late again. And even though he was late and the house was a mess, she knew that he would walk in the door, pour his glass of wine, and sit down at the kitchen table and relax. He’d sit and relax. She couldn’t even remember what relaxing felt like. She was always either going like hell or sleeping. Somebody had to keep the family running.

She stared at his bottle of wine on the counter. Then her eyes wandered over to their wedding photo on the wall. Clueless, she thought. We were cluelessBut happy. Look at us. We were happy. We were hopeful.

 

God, please help us, she said silently.

 

Then she walked over to the counter and poured a glass of wine for him. She put it next to his book on the kitchen table, the place he loved to sit and relax, and she went upstairs to sleep.

He tiptoed into the house fifteen minutes later. He knew he’d missed the kids’ bedtime again, he knew his wife would be angry againand he prepared himself for her steely silence. He hung up his coat andwalked into the kitchen. He saw his glass of wine, and his book, and his chair pulled out for him. He stood and stared for a moment, trying to understand.

It felt like she was speaking directly to him for the first time in a long, long while.

He sat down and drank his wine. But instead of reading, he thought about her. He thought about how hard she worked, how early she woke to get the kids to school and herself to the office. He felt grateful. He finished his wine and then walked over to the coffee maker. He filled it up and set the automatic timer. 5:30 am. It would be ready when she came downstairs. He placed her favorite mug on the counter. And then he walked upstairs and quietly slipped into bed next to her.

The next morning she woke up and stumbled downstairs, exhausted, to the kitchen. She stopped when she heard the coffee maker brewing and stared at it for a few moments, trying to understand.

It felt like he was speaking directly to her for the first time in a very, very long while.

She felt grateful.

That evening, she stayed up until he got home. And she allowed her arm to brush his as they prepared dinner together. And after the kids went to bed and they assumed their TV viewing positions on the couch . . . he reached out for her hand. It was hard, but he did it.

And things started to unwind. A little teeny bit.

 

 

Look. I know it’s hard. It’s all so damn hard and confusing and complicated and things get wound up so tight you can’t even find the ends sometimes.

 

 

All I’m saying is that somebody’s got to pour that first glass of wine.

 

 

Because love is not something for which to search or wait or hope or dream. It’s simply something to do.