17 February 2017


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04 February 2017

My Name Is Love

Have you ever thought what you would be like if you had a different name? Would your personality be different? Your life experiences? Your taste in clothes or music? Names are powerful, one way or another - not necessarily life defining, but still powerful. Growing up, I hated my name. "It's a boys' name!" I would rail at my mother. And then, as various and assorted forms of "Jamie" turned out to be in the top 10 names of my era, "It's everyone's name!" I wished mightily that my middle name were my first name. I have always loved it: Elisabeth. Loved the "s" instead of the "z", loved the myriad nicknames and variations it offers. A name for each mood, says L.M. Montgomery's "Little Elizabeth" in Anne of the Island. But instead, the common could-be-boys name. It is interesting how self-loathing can be tied up with one's name, one's identity.
It got worse in college, when mass immigration became a thing, and colleges were sending letters to "Mr. Jaime Berger." In fact, at my first attempt at college, the orientation weekend had me actually listed in the boys dorms.
not spanish. not a man.
"ARGH!" sez I to my poor mother. "It isn't just a boys' name," she would tell me, "and it wasn't common when we chose it."
My dad would try to explain further: "It's French. Your mother liked it because "j'aime" is French for 'I love'."

And his words would spark further interior conflict, because especially as a teenager - hot damn, y'all, I was so consumed with the accursed 90s angst, the tail end of GenX and largely raised with the unenthusiastically-named "Generation Why". I dimly saw that we, as people, could be called to something more and greater, something beyond the burning absorption in self, beyond the anxiety and anger and tremendous confusingly painful ways of this broken world. Still, it eluded me. In darker moments, I resented being identified as "I love." What if I didn't want to? What if, like dear Michael Rosenberg, sometimes all I wanted to do is hate? And, perhaps most of all, how could I, my pathetic self, possibly live up to such a name? Still, I got to a point where I tolerated it, tolerated being called it because it was my name, that my mother gave to me.
Like most of my life, it was at college in Virginia that I began to get a glimmering of what it could mean, to have a name like that. I began to see it as a challenge, a calling beyond what I would have set for myself. I am an introvert in every sense and definition of the word - what if this name I bore, I thought, was the impetus to go beyond who I naturally am? To crawl past my weakest spots to find a new way? Where I am weak, He is strong, my Lord has promised. Maybe this place where love begins, where I have carried so much rejection bitterness disappointment disillusionment and pain - what if maybe, just possibly maybe, He wants to be strong there?
Holy moly, y'all. I can't even begin to tell you all the craziness of these last few months - but I don't need to because you have seen and experienced it all yourself. What has struck me most about it are two things: First, obviously, the INSANE fear-mongering that the media has been guilty of. All of it. Liberal, Conservative, Leftist, Traditional: very few voices of sanity are ringing in all of the hatred, scare tactics, slander, accusations that most of the media has been slinging about. (God bless the courage and determination of you few voices of reason.) All think they have firm grounds for their fear and hatred and accusations and poison-spewing. Which - Secondly, how we the people are taking this media-fed craziness - and I do mean Bedlam madness! - and going at it hammer and tongs. 
PEOPLE. Get a hold of yourselves! Just because you are typing your words onto a screen does not mean that they are not felt by the people on the other screens! Damn social media! It is so dehumanizing, in a world where we already are so torn apart. "Stupid car!" we say, shaking our fists and forgetting that the car has a driver, one who may be exhausted or sad or angry or really late or even more stressed out than we. They at least cannot hear our words, but when we spread these accusations - "Oh, where are you pro-life people now, on this immigration thing?" and "You're wrong if you think immigration is okay!" and "We'll all be killed and raped if we don't vet the immigrants!" and all these horrible wounding verbal knives we are using.

Now, let me get one thing straight before I continue here: Love, the true deepest Gospel Christian meaning of love, does not mean letting you do whatever you want. Love, like happiness, does not exist in indulging passions, following our vices, or otherwise overturning all of the natural order. The greatest Love means desiring the best for the other. Which is why Our Lord suffered and died, because He desires our greatest good, which is Himself. So: our greatest good is God, and it requires sacrifice. 

And I'll be honest: I'm still pretty shitty at loving. I lose my temper so very much more than I would like. I so often am ruled, still, by shyness and fear of others and the paralyzing tongue-tying anxiety. But dammit, I'm going to continue to try to do my best to love, which begins with respect. It means respecting the full humanity of my children, the full humanity of the women marching on Washington, the full humanity of the family next to me in Church, of the clerk at the sales counter, of the moms who don't talk to me and the friends who have appeared to abandon me. Because, dear people, most of us are so dreadfully wounded. So much of what appears to us as "hell in a handbasket" is done by people who are carrying so much pain and confusion and fear, and you will never ever EVER reach one of them unless you reach out to them with the love of Christ. Because that's what each one of us is called to do, even if you are not lucky enough to have my name. ;)  And we cannot do that unless we first determine to respect all people, even the ones calling us names. Turn the other cheek, pick up your cross, and offer love.

(If you don't believe me, read this. It's so awesome. Respect works. Fancy that.)

11 September 2016

Lover of My Soul

"You've got some kinda attitude, son," sez I to my oldest.
"Yeah, that's because I'm stupid," he said back to me.
"You are not. Don't ever say that."
"Why not?" (always)
"Because God doesn't make stupid people."

pregnant elderberry, reaching for the sky and weighted down with ripeness
But in the corner of my mind? There's the automatic "except me." Which is why I was not terribly surprised to hear his words, because he's so, so much like me: so terribly sensitive, so easily overwhelmed, so easily discouraged. And, just like his mama, he feels like everything is "my fault."

Which grieves the very inmost parts of me. Did he absorb my constant interior self-trashing through osmosis? How often has he heard those self-disparaging remarks that escape my lips without my even noticing I'm doing it? How often have the thoughtlessly cruel things about him blurted out, me hardly thinking about it and him cut, scarred? He doesn't hold it as a grudge against me, I know - though I've no idea why! - but how much have I contributed to him sharing in my daily, momently struggle of self-loathing?

volunteer watermelon
Chesterton it was who said that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. In my head, even in my soul, I know Christ died for me out of love, that I alone truly am worth every drop of blood that came from His Body. There are times when receiving His Body and Blood overwhelm my whole self, when I feel Him in the very depths of my being and I don't notice that my toddler is taking off her dress in the cry room. My "revert" to the faith was hard one, and my commitment to Christ has undergone trials of fire. He is mine, I know beyond all doubt. Lord, where else would I go?

Yet, even so, my interior dialogue remains firmly entrenched: You're no good. See how stupid you are. What an idiot. How could you think you would deserve anything else? There are whole books, I know, about reprogramming our self-talk and self-imaging. Books, though, can't change our hearts. They can't take those beliefs and experiences into our every-day struggles and make it real in the way you need it, friend, because the way you need it is different even from what I need. (Not that I'm decrying self-help books. If they have helped you - huzzah!) But the problem, I have come to think, is learning to find Christ NOW.

Right now.

This moment.


As I have said for the last couple of years, there is no particular reason that you, or I, are alive right now. And today of all days, we ought to bear that in mind. Some people that we assumed would be with us are not. Which means only that God has work left to do both in and through you. Do you believe that? Do *I*? In theory, of course! In reality? Well, I am beginning to suspect it is a cop-out. If I am a worthless failure, then I don't have to step up and play ball. If I "know" that I am no good, that people talk about me with condescending sneers, that I am not worth your notice or God's . . . then I don't have to try. I have already failed, so I already have an out for not getting the laundry done, not cleaning my house, not taking that walk . . .

Someone turned one!
This is getting far longer than I wanted, so: We are accountable for every moment. If we have experienced the love of Christ, then we have no reason - NO REASON - to shirk our duties, to accept failure, to settle for mediocrity in marriage or motherhood or whatever your vocation is. He calls us out of love, and asks only that we answer with joy and trust. So often, I do not. What about you?


07 June 2016

In which I Voluntarily Risk Making a Fool of Myself and That's Okay

it's been a really long time since i wrote. most of you know i had to put my horse down; i felt i should write about it and when i kept procrastinating, realized i really don't want to. i first started riding her nearly 25 years ago, and i have not the words nor the desire to say more. so here is what i want to say instead:

i used to be more musical than i am now. by which i mean: i used to devote more of my time to playing music. in college i had a passable (though not great) voice, and decent (although not exceptionable) guitar skills. most of all, though, i loved it, and i gave a lot of time to it. i wrote songs that i liked to play and other people often enjoyed to hear. one of my favorite things to do was to set poems to music. i still love it! i often putter around with melodies and rhymes in my head. i even still like many of the melodies i wrote all those many many years ago ...

so the other day i am driving back home from the "northern DC area" and into my head pops Yeats's achingly wistfully beautiful poem "When You Are Old", and i think how it is perfect for a song. having but two of the kids with me and both of them sleeping, i started messing around with the lines and rhythms and things, and i loved it. i loved it, and i realized anew how lazy i am with my music, and it's because i'm afraid.

here is something, though: life is too damn short.

too short to care much about "fitting in" or winning other people's approval. i cringe when i recall how much time and energy and tears i have wasted - WASTED - in the course of my life trying to earn or win approval and acceptance from people who just don't care so much about me. for whom i will never be enough. or for whom a single misstep is enough to elicit a stream of verbal vitriol and derail the whole friendship. or who "just don't have time" to squeeze in a visit. we all find time for the things that are important to us, for the people who matter to us. (listen, obviously we all go through seasons where we don't have time even to shower. i get it. believe me. i'm talking big picture here, not those hard hard moments of overwhelm and isolation we all endure.)

I'm done with that.

it is coming up on two years since Sarah died. one of the absolute greatest gifts she gave me was the belief that i had something to offer that was of value, that was good and unique and important. so much of my life i have allowed those experiences of rejection (and they've been real, and strong) to rule my general approach to people. i have allowed their rejection to define my view of myself.
here's another thing: there will always be someone smarter. thinner. sexier. funnier. wittier. livelier. richer. holier. calmer. more stylish. more together. more competent. more je ne sais quoi. there will always be that "inner circle", that enticing group, that really cool clique that attracts you so much.

Let It Go.

spend your time and efforts and talents with and on and for the people who want and value and need and appreciate you. let go of the social vision you're clinging to so hard, and find the people who love you for who you are. who won't take your likes and dislikes personally. who forgive and forget and embrace you with open arms when you mess up. who aren't "too busy" to let you into their lives.
those people do exist. stop chasing rainbows and let them in.

all of which is to say that i took a crappy video on my phone of this little melody i found for this little poem i really like, and i'm going to post it here. in honor of being who i am, of not needing to have all the skillz or all the whatever, i give you my little bird song. because not quite perfect, my friend, still can be good enough.

so, without further ado, my knee singing "when you are old":

02 March 2016

Growing Up

"Mama," announced my oldest son last week or so, "I think I'm old enough to go visit our neighbor."

We don't have many neighbors living in the country, and we've not made awesome headway meeting the ones we have. (Much to my frustration. I wish so much I were better at such things.) But our "next-door" neighbor across the field came and introduced himself right when we moved in, and he's awesome. He's 80 now, and still lives in the ~1100 sq ft house where he and his wife, who passed away almost ten years ago now, raised their nine children. Although in the winter we will go weeks without seeing him, he's the closest thing we have here to a grandparent, and the boys love him. He used to have an auto-repair shop, and he still tinkers on cars for friends, as well as his two vintage 40's-era autos.
"That's fine with me, but we'll have to check with him," I said. When we stopped to visit the other day, I asked him. "Oh sure, sure," he said, "That'd be fahn."

I've wondered vaguely on occasion when they, especially my son Finn, would want to spread his wings past our little fenced-in domain. I shouldn't be surprised it's "so soon"--well before I was his age, I was flitting around to neighbors, to the little gas station on the corner where the owner brought his dog to work, even walking to school--a good half mile, maybe more. I relished the freedom of those days, the freedom to explore and the security waiting for me at home. I'm sure some days we were gone longer than we were home, and I bless my mother for her "hands-free parenting" style because those memories remain bursts of sunshine, as fresh and daring and delightful now, almost, as the experiences themselves.

I called to check on them a bit ago, and they were happily pounding scrap nails into scrap wood. My brave adventurers are home now, and I confess: They are ready, I know, but I didn't realize how much it would stretch this mama heart. Help me have open hands, Lord, to let them be.

19 February 2016

Not about me

When my first child was born, he screamed. All the time. Unless I was holding him, he screamed. I couldn't put him down, couldn't give him to anyone else. I called my mums in tears, and she said, "Parenting isn't for the faint of heart!" I hear those words over and over, as this life continues to make me more than I thought I could be, to demand things I never thought I could give, to sacrifice things I have been determined to cling to. On a day-to-day basis, I feel like I haven't changed, haven't evolved at all, but when I look back to who I was six years ago, I am astonished to find I hardly recognize that person.
Perhaps the single thing I strive most to achieve: respect. More than anything else, I strive to respect my children as people. If they have the right to life--or rather, since they have the same right to life as an adult, they also have the RIGHT to the same respect as any other person. My mums, again, relating what she heard in a talk: Scripture says to "train up a child in the way HE should go," not, "the way we think he should go."
My latest discovery is Charlotte Mason. I'm just dabbling my toes in so far, but in this very amazing book For the Sake of the Children I came upon this passage:

How colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the little child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don't stop there. We don't respect the children's thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! [emphasis added] We ply them with endless questions, the ones we've thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child's questions bubble up with interest.

She continues to talk about simply reading a group of children the creation story from Scripture, with no preface, no follow-up sermonette, no tricks or gimmicks, no tiresome quizzing and leading questions, but simply reading the story and letting them hear it for themselves and wonder at it. Doing so allows it to become theirs. How many times have we seen it, or been guilty of it--of forcing our interpretations, our vocabulary on a child, of asking them a question expecting them to give us OUR answer? You know what happens when we do this? Education becomes, not "the mysterious, exciting growth of a person", but about pleasing me. It becomes all about me.
It comes down to that again and again: It is not about me. It is not about me being able to display perfectly behaved children standing primly in a line; it is not about me making them into mini-mes, into little reflections of myself who echo my opinions and spout my preferred ideas; not about me guiding them to think the way I think or see the world the same way I do. It is not about me at all! It is about my children, and who they are. Do I know my children, or am I trying to turn them into myself? Do I know what they think, or am I more interested in shoving my own thoughts into them?
It's not about me. I want to know who they are, who God made them to be, because they cannot do His work in the world if I my main focus is to make them into myself, in order to boost my own ego and calm my own self-doubts. I need to love them as who they are created to be, and in order to do so, I need to know and love myself, so they in turn can be secure in who they are.

26 January 2016

Before the thaw

we're sort of behind the times, playing catch-up.

 i have frostbite (michigan barn brat legacy), so staying out when it's "feels like 19" isn't so much of an option for me.

The Amazing Ryan has been working on digging us out, and our awesome neighbor Mr Charlie. 

The boys and I were so crazy excited about all of this snow though.

It beatifies everything.

We just got around to building our snowman today, when all the snow is melting.

Coupla tough thugs here.

She totally posed for this photo: she cracks me up. I love her wonky ponytails. At least they're both in.
(Isn't she beautiful? I look at her and still can't believe I have a daughter!)