Made to write?

The other day an old old friend and I were together and talking about what we should do with ourselves when our littlest kids go to school. Old old as in I met her when she was a sophomore and I was a freshman at UW. We've lived down the hall from each other and countries apart, but the blessing (and curse) of the NDCF is that it trains you how to talk about God in your life. It teaches you to ask questions and expect answers and to go there, if you will, in a way that I haven't found many people outside of my old NDCF world know how to do. Like a current NDCF staff friend of mine likes to say, NDCF grads are total snobs about conversation.

(Not sure I've mentioned the NDCF in eons, so it stands for Non Denominational Christian Fellowship (my blog name for it, not its real name) and it's basically what I majored in in college and where I met my husband and many of my closest friends.)

So anyway, even though Old Friend and I haven't lived in the same town for forever, it's been easy to catch up and we went down the rabbit hole this last time: where is God? What does he want me to do? What am I supposed to do with my LIFE?!

We actually talked about writing. Long long ago we would take creative writing classes together and read each other's work before the arrogant snots in our class (every English department has its share) got their hands on our stories and ripped them to shreds. Didn't I want to write? she asked me. Didn't I do that anymore? 

Ummmm, nope? Not in a long long time. And as I admitted this I realized AND HEY! I DON'T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT EITHER!

Because WRITING was going to be the thing that I did that made it worth having me in the world. I was only biding my time, the universe tolerating my presence, until I finally wrote the thing that yearned to be written inside me, and then I would have earned my place. I would be worthy of my parents who still talk about the writing I did in elementary school, my junior year English teacher who thought the world of me, my senior year English teacher who pushed me harder than anyone ever has, and those college professors who thought I was a wooden useless mute until I wrote my first papers and I'd see the inevitable PLEASE SPEAK UP MORE IN CLASS scrawled across the tops. When I finally WROTE something I would have then achieved the thing everyone I'd ever known had told me I should achieve. Then I'd be worthy of their love and praise and all the things they'd said about me. Then I could feel okay about however many years I spend on this planet. Wasn't I made to do this? Wasn't I BORN for this? Everyone saw this in me. *I* saw this in me. 

I just had to do it. 

This is where my old friend had left my story. And I needed to catch her up.

OH, I told her. Yeah... I don't really write anymore. I mean, sometimes? Sometimes I think about it? But... not really.

Things have happened, I told her, in the last few years. Things that have shown me, revealed to me, made me understand on entirely new planes of thought, that God doesn't love me for what I DO. That God doesn't love me less when I screw up and he certainly doesn't love me more when I do well. That I cannot earn His love. That His love is not shut away in cage with a lock inscribed OPENS AFTER PUBLICATION. That he loves me right NOW, right NOWWWW, when I haven't done ANYTHING amazing in my life! When the one thing at which I excel is eating a whole bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. I mean, that is a good God right there. 

And I told my friend: once this truth became a truth that I wholly and completely and entirely absorbed, I didn't really care about writing anymore. And I certainly did not care about getting published

For a while I've felt bad to say that out loud. Because it sounds... I don't know. Like, maybe to someone who thinks the God stuff is eye rolly it sounds lazy or dumb or like someone who gave up on a dream for a totally whack job reason. Yeah. Like someone who GAVE UP. But the thing I realized when I was telling my friend this story was: I DIDN'T FEEL BAD. 

So YEAH everyone who went to high school with me! And all my teachers! And all the people who told me I had TALENT and blah blah blah. Writing is awesome! But it's not my thing anymore. It's not the thing that makes me special or makes me ME, even. It's not the thing that I'm about or that I do or that I want to do or that I was made to do. It's not the thing that makes me worthy and it's NOT the thing that makes me lovable. 

I love Anne Lamott for saying that publication does not solve your problems. 

I love to write. I express myself best in writing. I am MUCH better on paper than I am in person. :) And I keep writing even when it's stupid, like the fact that hardly anyone writes on their dumb blogs anymore, but here I am! I would do this even if no one read. No one DID read for the first couple YEARS I did this! And now I'm learning to write prayers. It's different from straight up journaling... I'm still figuring it out, but it's good and I'm excited about it. 

But I'm probably not going to write a novel. I mean, it'd be awesome to write a novel! But I don't have to write one anymore. I can reach the end of my life and if the only writing I leave is the heaps of drivel accumulated on this website, fine by me. (I mean, hopefully someone deletes this thing, but you know what I'm talking about.) 

Am I communicating how terribly horribly VERY MUCH IMPERATIVE it was for me to be a REAL LIVE WRITER and for people to KNOW I was a REAL LIVE WRITER? 

And now how I don't give a crap? 

This is God in me. It's amazing. I never thought that would happen. I never thought I'd feel free. I didn't know I NEEDED to feel free. 


While I've been sitting here writing about how I don't want to write anymore, my children have seen fourteen television shows and the breakfast dishes are strangely still unwashed and no one has thought of what to make for dinner. CLEARLY there is still Building of Character to be done and Life Lessons to be learned. But this tiny piece, this piece is good. 



The Annual Lenten Whine

Long time blog readers are well aware that this is my absolute favorite time of year, a solemn and profound forty days of reflection, sacrifice, and personal growth. I am so looking forward to sharing my many insights and revelations with you during this season of penance and fastHA HA HA NOPE. 

Oh Lent. You're here again. 

One thing that is a teeny bit different about THIS Lent as opposed to all my other Lents is that I actually DID think about it BEFORE it arrived. I wondered what to do with the kids, what I should give up, what I should add to my life, and wondered all of it BEFORE this morning. Progress!

Which isn't to say I came up with any ideas or made any decisions. Of course. I am still not sure about the kids, for example. I have read a bunch of suggestions from helpful People Who Observe Lent Properly and I hope I can put a few of those into action. As for myself, I deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone, as a way to be more present in my real life and with my kids. And I decided to give up chocolate. Real chocolate. Actual chocolate. Chunks and bars and bites and bags of bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips, aka Maggie's Lifeline When The World Is Going Kaput. 

I spent a long time trying to figure out what I would give up. Giving up food always seems so EXPECTED. Heaven forbid I give up something boring, right? Giving up social media seemed like a good idea until I thought about all the people with whom I communicate purely through social media, and how those are IMPORTANT people, not people I can ignore for 40 days. So deleting the apps from my phone makes it possible to keep in touch with those folks while curbing the actual issue, which is the incessant scrolling through Twitter whenever I have a free five seconds. But it wasn't like I felt EXCITED about my sacrifices, right? There was nothing I thought of that burned brighter in my brain, all, "YES! I am the thing you should sacrifice! Giving ME up will be the MOST meaningful!"

But when I thought about this a little more I realized that there was probably NOTHING in my life that was going to stand out as The Thing I should sacrifice because (dum de dum dum ) I DON'T WANT TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING. Duh. This is why it's called a sacrifice. I am not going to be EXCITED to give up ANYTHING. And so I decided to go with something that, while embarrassingly un-original, would definitely be the most day-to-day sacrificial, and that would be my handfuls of medicinal chocolate. It's going to be horrible. Prepare yourself for plenty of whining. 

What are you doing? I bet you're DOING something. (Let me copy?)




Dear God

I'm sorry we didn't go to church this morning. Or last Sunday. Or the Sunday before that. I feel like you would give me a pass for this morning, seeing as combing your daughter's hair for nits for three hours in the middle of the night is indeed a labor of love and worthy of a few Heaven Points. But last Sunday was the day after our party and we had a big bakery order, and honestly, I don't remember the reason for the weekend before that. 

We were lazy, we were tired, we were busy, we were PICKING NITS, but truthfully God, I didn't really want to go to church at all. [I shall now take a few moments to see if I burst into flames.] ...still here... I didn't want to go. I don't want to go. Oh, I sort of wanted to go this morning, but in a Get In The Christmas Spirit sort of way, in a Gee, We Haven't Been In A While way, in a Let's Get Mass Out Of The Way Early So We Can Go Downtown And Have Some Fun! way. I can't honestly say that I'm sorry for not wanting to go, God, although I realize I should be sorry and I think I would like to be sorry. 

I'm not sure when church became something I didn't really feel like doing. Maybe when our friends started disappearing at our old parish - for various sensible reasons. Maybe when I joined the Pastoral Council and realized I'd committed to three years of serving the parish in a way in which I am not at ALL gifted. Maybe when the new priest showed up and his demeanor made me cringe. 

Maybe when I had to start bringing KIDS. (Probably that.)

God I go back and forth and back and forth with myself. I'm supposed to GET something out of Mass. No, I'm supposed to BE at Mass. I'm there to receive the EUCHARIST. I'm not supposed to expect a brilliant homily as well. I'm certainly not supposed to expect to FEEL something at Mass. 

Even though I continue to read blog posts by, and talk to people who feel things at Mass. I wish I did! Is something wrong with me? 

God, I'm sorry for constantly entertaining the idea that I would be happy in a non-denominational church. That I would be a better Christian if I went ELSEWHERE. Not sorry because I think non-denominational churches are no good, but because I know that's not where you want me. How many times have you told me I'm supposed to be/stay Catholic? A LOT. What was it you said to me at Urbana a year ago? That the Catholic Church is definitely where you want me to be. 

It's not that I don't want to be Catholic, God. I love that I'm Catholic. You know that. I never want to not be Catholic. I just sometimes (a lot of times) want to go to Not Catholic church. 

And I'm SORRY! I'm sorry, God. I'm sorry that most of what I'm thinking about in Mass is how much longer I have to make sure my kids are behaving. How I can't understand the priest. How I'm tired. What other things I could be doing. All the things I am NOT getting out of Mass. How I STILL don't remember the "new" responses. 

I am fully aware that all of those things could and do apply to other churches too. I KNOW. But perhaps the grass is greener, etc.

We are more or less decided on That Other Church. For now. They have a great Sunday School program and THANK YOU, GOD for providing me with bunches of people to tell me about it and encourage me to go there. My oldest will prepare for his first communion next year and I'm thankful that I've at least got that covered. 

I feel committed to you in so many other ways, God, but I'm a huge disappointment in this department. It feels extra terrible since its the department you hear most about: be in the pews on Sunday! And I'm sorry, but not enough. Not really. It's so confusing. It can be so unsettling.

It's probably quite inconsiderate of me to bring up these unpleasant things right before your birthday. I'm sorry.

What else am I sorry for? Oh man, so many things. I'm sorry I completely ignored that letter home about lice because 1) I'm lazy and 2) I didn't have time for lice and therefore it wouldn't happen to us and so 3) my daughter suffers. I'm sorry I made an Advent wreath and then never lit it. I'm sorry I've been SO short with my family. I'm sorry for all the evenings I want to hide in my bedroom and shut the door. I'm sorry we can't find Joseph from the nativity set. I'm sorry I keep eating cookies when I'm stressed instead of being with you. I'm sorry that an overpriced eyeshadow kit I don't need was the thing that most floated my boat this week. (Although, God, if you wore eyeshadow, you would totally shun the drugstore stuff once you tried my fancy palette. Thank you for fun things like eyeshadow.)

I'm not a very knowledgeable or devout or intense or enthusiastic Catholic. But God I do feel that I am a very earnest Catholic, with good intentions and genuine desire to be better. I am super serious about my faith, even if it can be a very flighty twinkly bipolar sort of faith. Oh I pray you have mercy on me and forgive my self-indulgent thinking. I know you love me, I know you're totally down with sharing a bottle of wine in my living room, and thank you for your patience and grace while I strive to become better company.

(happy birthday) 

Let's just say this is my Christmas card this year

I am running on fumes, guys. GOOD fumes, cookie-scented and decorated with twinkly lights, but still. Fumes. You too, I bet. Let us all gaze at my favorite picture for a bit and we'll feel better. 


(credits: ummmm, a nun at a monastery in Dubuque, IA painted this for a Christmas card. I believe. And I break some sort of law every year by posting it on my blawg, I'm sure.)

Deciding to be FINE with how I look

Yesterday? I think it was yesterday. Monday I woke up and thought: Today is the day I decide to be FINE with how I look. (I wanted to write "happy" there instead of "FINE" but I also wanted to be truthful and maybe the all caps will make up for the lack of fervor.) 

And I'm serious. I'm as serious as I am totally baffled by how I will accomplish this. 

Here are the facts:

I have almost always been several sizes larger than most of my friends (and most definitely my sisters) my entire life. But I did not have an eating disorder or develop any worrisome thoughts or habits in regard to my size. I would guess I was no more and no less unhappy with my body as the average teenage girl and young woman. 

I lost weight for the first time right before I had Jack. I dropped about 20 pounds. I was DELIGHTED. I started wearing the size that I am currently wearing. This is to say: I am not at my heaviest. 

I lost the Jack weight just in time to get pregnant with Molly. 

And after Molly I did Hot By Thirty. I am wondering if this was just a particularly charmed moment in my life. I dropped all the baby weight plus ten more pounds. I was smaller than I was in high school. I was fitter than I'd ever been in my life. I had ARM MUSCLES. Everyone was proud of me, everyone complimented me, it was basically a Three's dream come true. I was STILL bigger than my sisters and I knew a size 8 wasn't going to get me a modeling contract, but DAMN I felt great about myself. I was also more obsessed with my body and my looks and how other people looked than I had ever been in my entire life. Which was not so great. 

I maintained that size until I had Emma. After Emma I dropped most of the weight, though I was never able to fit into my old pants. Even though I was only a few pounds over my goal weight I was light years away from fitting into those pants and felt muffin toppy and dumpy and frumpy and BAD. I felt very very BAD. I won't go into the length and breadth and miserable depth of my disappointment with myself, but it was very bad and THEN I gained most of the baby weight back. 

I am not entirely sure how this happened. (Oh wait, yes I do. Cookies.) But even with the cookies I did all the things I normally do to undo the effects of too many cookies and... it didn't work. I tried other things. They didn't work. I never found the right combination of diet and exercise that would equal weight loss and at some point this summer I think I gave up. I know I've gained weight since the spring. 

I am not at my heaviest. But now I know what it's like to be much smaller than I am, and my inability to get back to that place (and, at this point, my lack of motivation to even try) feels like an exquisite failure. Every morning I get dressed I remind myself that these pants are bigger than my old fat pants. I can't wear that sweater anymore. What won't show the rolls around my middle? Remember when I could wear a tight-fitting shirt and my pants didn't slide down over my love handles? 

But I am not UNHAPPY. My marriage is great. My kids are awesome. I just got back from a fantabulous weekend with amazing, lovely, hilarious ladies. I have wonderful friends. My family is supportive. I JUST STARTED A BUSINESS. 

Why am I constantly telling myself I'm a failure? 

Here are my excuses: 

  • Maybe my SSRI has the dreaded weight gain (or makes-it-hard-to-lose) side effect. 
  • I'm older. 
  • I actually FEEL older. 
  • I don't sleep well. 
  • My metabolism must be different. My body is TOTALLY WACKED OUT after Emma, in all different ways. Why wouldn't that be one of them?

But I've been thinking - seriously thinking - about what it would mean to Accept Myself The Way I Am. For the most part I'm not sure what that means. My entire motivation for Hot By Thirty was an unacceptance of the way I am. I don't know how to even TRY to exercise or eat healthy without a measure of dislike for my current status. A measure of disgust with myself. 

I can sort of imagine what it would look like. I would just get rid of those size 8 skinny jeans and buy clothes my current body looks good in. BECAUSE THOSE EXIST. I can see how I might emphasize the positives instead of constantly harping on the negatives. 

And I spent time this weekend with women of all shapes and sizes and colors and every single one of them was one of those Amazing Women of God. (I was at an NDCF alumni event.) And I was sitting there thinking: if that woman were thinner/smaller/taller/younger/wore different clothes/wore makeup/had shinier hair/looked any different - would I respect or admire or want to emulate her any more? 

The answer was no. Every single time. An honest no. Kind of a shocked why-would-you-even-think-that no. 

So I started thinking: maybe people think that about me. 

MAYBE my weight gain this year, my FAILURE, has absolutely nothing to do with how people feel about me, whether they love me, if they want to spend time with me. 

I think I've been in this place where I can believe those things as long as I'm TRYING to lose weight. Because everyone respects TRYING, right? 

But now I am seriously wondering: can I be okay with myself in this season of NOT trying? Of eating yogurt and granola for breakfast instead of eggs? Of walking on the treadmill instead of running? Of taking a nap instead of walking? Of making cookies with my kids, even though I know I will eat at least half the batter because that's JUST HOW GOD MADE ME? 

I don't think I can. I can do those things, but I will berate myself the whole time. Even though I have no intention of doing anything differently any time soon, I make sure to berate myself because then I know I haven't settled. I haven't become THIS person. I can still be the person with arm muscles. I haven't Become Okay With This. 

So... I was thinking about this last night and realizing that in other places in my life, where change seems impossible, or where I can't figure out the right way, I turn to God. Not all the time, and not well, but I mean to and try to and wouldn't you know, many times it works out. 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

I think this is one of those things that I do not understand and maybe I don't HAVE to understand. God provides a way when there is no way. God parted the freaking Red SEA. 

I cannot part the Red Sea of disappointment with myself on my own. I can't. It's not going to work. In a few days I'll just go back to feeling bad every morning and worrying about what it means that I'd rather nap than run. I don't want to keep doing that. I don't want to see everything through these fat pants-tinted glasses. 

The answer, I know, is to pursue God with my whole mind, body, and spirit, and he will make me more like him, and I'll just stop caring about my pants size!

What's more likely? That as I turn to God every time I want to mentally whale on myself for gaining weight this year, every time I hate what I see in the mirror, he will gently turn me towards whatever it is that he would much rather I be thinking about. That the more times I can say, "God, I know this is not from you" he would respond with, "THIS is for you" and it will be something relevant and real and about who I AM and not what I LOOK like. 



Big fat complainy having your kids at church post, I'M SORRY

This is the day that broke me. This is the day that sees me giving up on any sweet soft-focus ideals I had or have about being a Nice Catholic Family. This is the day where I am blinking back tears during the consecration and deciding that IF and WHEN I decide to come back to Mass I am going alone. And this day wasn't especially or significantly terrible, it was just the latest in a Long Series of Sunday Mornings where I emerge from the church feeling the need to hide, crawl under the covers, drink myself into a nice cheery stupor. 

Oh God I even feel too broken down to write this post. I'll come back later. GAH.

All right. It is much much later in the day. I have exercised, I have eaten an entire chocolate bunny (hey, at least I exercised), I have Mad Men to look forward to after the kids are in bed. Everything is better. But I'm still going to write a Woe Is Me blog post. 

SO YES. Church. I cannot do it. 

Here is what I told Phillip last Sunday: "We are not doing that again. We are either going to the early Mass or we are going separately so someone can stay home with Emma." And he said, "Okay," because really, even if he would have liked to say something else, he knew that moment was not the right time to say it. 

And again, my kids are not SO horrible. We don't ALWAYS have to take Emma out (just most of the time). My kids aren't ALWAYS fighting with each other or noisily rummaging through their bag of un-church-like goodies or asking me how many songs are left. And no one has ever EVER said anything negative about my kids in church. Not even when I am fully expecting and braced for it. Even this morning when we happened to sit in front of what seemed to me to be a Particularly Holy family and I thought FOR SURE the dad was BEYOND ANNOYED with my 18-month-old who needed snacks and pacifiers and books and shrieked about not getting all the pencils and enevelopes and CLAPPED WHEN PHILLIP ASKED HER IF SHE WANTED TO GO HOME, the dad grinned at Phillip and said, "Oh no, no, not a bother at all, not at all." GOD BLESS THOSE PEOPLE. 

But for me? For me it is EX. HAUSTING. I am frustrated, embarrassed, angry at my kids for not being perfect little angels and mad at myself because my parenting has not developed perfect little angels. I can't hear. I have no idea what the readings are. I haven't the slightest idea what the homily was about. That entire hour is taken up with Managing Movement, Noise, & Making Sure The Baby Doesn't Draw On Everything In Sight. 

This morning I suggested we go to one of the churches I'm interested in, not least because we could go to a 9am Mass. The 10 at our church seems to be too late for Emma (she usually goes down for her nap between 10:30 and 11) and the 8 at our church is asking too much of my Just Wants To Relax on the weekends husband. So off we went to the 9 and I was excited because I am excited about a new church and we even found an old friend and everything seemed great except NO, Emma was STILL AWFUL, the kids were STILL arguing over a book about dragons (and you guys, who brings a book about pagan legend dragons to CHURCH? I mean, I probably got my first Bad Parent label right there.) (The book is cool though. I'm just saying.)

Afterwards our old friend, who is single and childless and (I thought) for SURE reminding herself to never sit next to us again, was SO NICE and encouraging and said exactly the right things. But I still had to stop myself from crying in the car. It just feels so POINTLESS. 

I mean, I don't feel like a very awesome Catholic to begin with, and now I can't even get through Mass without wanting to send my kids to Siberia? 

Anyway, I've been thinking. I'm thinking it is (about!) time for me to let go of thinking my kids should be in church with me every single Sunday, on excellent behavior, learning by osmosis. It's not realistic. Not my kids, anyway. They LOVE Sunday School. They are BOOOOOORED at Mass. And you know, I was bored at Mass until I was a grown up, and shoot, sometimes I still am. They aren't old enough to go to the Children's Liturgy of the Word (the chunk of time where the grade school kids get to have a kid-appropriate lesson during Mass) and they're too old for childcare. But this is just an in between time and I need to drop my Children Who Sit And Stand And Pay Attention expectations. Does that sound horrible? It does to me, in a way, but right now I am feeling like If At First You Don't Succeed, Lower Your Expectations. My Protestant friends would never expect their similarly-aged kids to sit through a long talky liturgy. They go do kid stuff! And plenty of my Catholic friends are the same. I don't have bad kids and every little annoying thing they do in Mass makes me think I have Bad Kids and GAH. 

Like, it would be TOTALLY FINE WITH GOD AND EVERYONE ELSE if I started going to church by myself on Sunday nights. You know? I don't have to model this Nice Family. I don't have to look like I'm doing a good job. I don't have to make sure my kids look cute. THAT IS NOT WHAT CHURCH IS FOR. Or if we didn't all go together. Or if we didn't go to the same place or if I put the kids in childcare ANYWAY or we alternated staying home with Emma. I am not a good enough Catholic to be thankful I am there to receive the Eucharist. I am mostly sitting there thinking THIS IS POINTLESS WHY AM I HERE.

So! Room for personal growth, etc. Not denying that. 

But honestly I think my Other Not So Positive Church Feelings have been playing into this. I feel disengaged from my current parish for a dozen different reasons. I already know that we will be going somewhere different this summer (after my committee term is up). I feel disillusioned about certain things, annoyed with others, frustrated and tired and unwilling to invest. I am a terrible terrible parishioner right now. So I feel bad about that, but also NOT bad because DUDE, I have been a GREAT parishioner for a LONG TIME and I have good reasons for moving on. I just can't move quite yet. And I have to manage all those thoughts while parenting three small people who would REALLY like to be eating their doughnuts and running around the church parking lot. 


Also! Those of you who feel compelled to tell me I have the wrong perspective on church and it's not about what I can get out of it and Jesus said let the little children come and all that, I know. I KNOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW. Please let me have my immature, terrible Catholic, pissy mood please. SEND CHOCOLATE BUNNIES.



Soliciting opinions on a Church Dilemma

All right, Internet. I'm very interested to know what you think about this Church Dilemma. 

Okay, so when we moved to the Absolute Outer Reaches of Far North Seattle we didn't necessarily ASSUME, but we kind of sort of teeny tiny bit did, that we would switch churches, if only because of the distance. It's not that it's a long drive or anything (15 minutes), but there are something like ninety bajillion churches in between our house and our parish. Including one we can WALK TO. And when we moved here, as you may recall, I was all: OH! This is where we'll go to church and this is where our kids'll go to school! EASY PEASY!

You know it didn't work out that way. And despite some sincere effort on my part, the church next door has yet to grow on me (Phillip has never liked it.) We go there when we need to go at a different time or we're feeling lazy or something, but so far (two years in) it doesn't feel like Our New Church. 

So it sort of delayed the whole Switch Churches thing. For me it wasn't so much as WANTING to go to a new church but feeling like we were starting a new life? And that included a new church? There wasn't anything compelling me to LEAVE my church, but many of the things that made us stay for so long (namely people) had left/were leaving/were no longer happening. We had kids now, our lives were different, the connections we made at church didn't really NEED attending-the-same-church to keep them going. Does that make sense? I felt like I COULD leave it and it would be fine. (I mean, *we* would be fine. I'm sure the church would get along juuuuust fine without the noisy Cheungs.)

I also wondered if this was part of moving a few times when I was a kid, and living on military bases where a priest only stays for 18 months, then a new one cycles in. I started to feel itchy for a change? I kind of wanted to see what else was out there? I wrote about this a few times on the churchy blog. ANYWAY. 

Phillip, I should note, has never been inclined to find a new church. This is partly because he abhors Change and partly because he really really reeeeeally didn't like the church next to our house. 

Also, I'm on a Committee and I had a three-year commitment and finally I was like FINE. Maybe when that commitment is up, we'll think about going somewhere closer to home. 

Well, Internet. My commitment is up this summer. And I now have a Reason I don't want to go to my church anymore: it doesn't have Sunday School. 

When I was growing up it was called CCD. Do they still have CCD? It seems like the churches I've looked at all call it Sunday School. I mean, it's the same thing, so whatever. But it was an hour OUTSIDE of Mass where we had a little churchy lesson and did churchy projects and got roped into the Christmas pageant and I don't know MUCH about Catholicism, but what little I do know comes from CCD. I have naturally assumed my kids would go when they were school-age. And now they are school-age. And there is no CCD. 

They do have Children's Liturgy of the Word, which is when first graders on up leave in the middle of Mass for a kid-level gospel and homily and usually a project or something, and then they come back in time for communion. Does this fulfill the Sunday School need? I DON'T KNOW. I am inclined to say NO. For one thing, I want my kids to be in CHURCH. I mean, I'm totally fine for them to go to CLOW, but I don't want that to be The Only Thing? I have the fingernail marks on my wrist from learning how to behave in church and goshdarnit my kids are going to have those too! You know what I mean, right? I don't expect them to APPRECIATE IT or GET ANYTHING out of it right now, but it IS what we do on Sunday mornings and we do it together and one day we'll stop bringing crayons and it will be CHURCH. I look forward to arguing with my teenagers over their attendance! (I will give in. I think. That's another post.)

My church also has special programs for First Communion kids (Wednesday afternoons or something horrible like that), but no regular ongoing religious education program. I suppose we do have the school. But my kids aren't going to go to that school. 

And SOOOOOO... I've been looking around. There is a church with (what I hear is) a great Sunday School program. It's basically the same distance from my house as my current parish, which I feel silly about, but we like going there, even Phillip. There may be others, but that's my first choice right now. 

But today we went to Mass and I was just thinking about how I recognize all the faces there. I don't know everyone, by far, but I'm comfortable there, I know what's going on, I know all the people who sit near us totally don't mind my MONSTER CHILD OMG SHE WAS HORRIBLE TODAY. I chatted with another parent in the vestibule while we monitored our monster children. We have a new priest and there are things we're struggling with, but honestly, this transition is CAKE compared to the last. We almost left the church BECAUSE of the new priest during the last transition (we were fresh out of college and engaged) but then we grew to ADORE him. I don't feel like we're bailing because the church is no longer... I don't know. Sigh.

I think I, personally, no longer feel (and haven't felt for a while) a strong call to be THERE as opposed to SOMEWHERE ELSE. I am very very curious about Somewhere Else. I've never been able to articulate this well and I don't think Phillip feels it's a good or important reason to do something different. But this Sunday School thing? It bugs. I want my kids to do that extra hour. It feels like a good reason, even if I didn't have all the other stuff going on in my head.

What do you think? I mean, does that seem like a silly reason to you? My mom doesn't think so, the lady I talked to at coffee hour doesn't think so (I told her after she said, "I'm SO GLAD you guys have stuck around!" and I was all, "wellll...") I wonder if I should feel like *I* should be Religious Educating them or something. Or I should START some sort of group with other parents because it's better to AFFECT CHANGE (effect?) than just GIVE UP. (OMG PLEASE DON'T SAY I SHOULD DO THAT.) 


When I grow up

Just so you know, I am still "looking into" this bakery cafe playroom thing and I continue to tell more real life people that I am "looking into" it and that's how you know I am still not in posession of my right mind. FYI. 

One thing I realized at Urbana was that if I'd gone as a student I would have FUH-REAKED OUT. I didn't have a husband or kids or a mortgage, no responsibilities, just a totally blank (VERY BLANK) future infinitely before me, like a Personal Antarctica or something. I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up (still don't, actually) and the myriad possibilities at Urbana, plus the constant invitation to devote a year or two or ten to missions, plus the pressure I would put on my own self to be what Urbana thought I should be (THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!) I would have self-combusted. I had an excellent time, but I'm glad I experienced it as an adult with a husband and three kids and a mortgage and, therefore, way fewer options. This is a GOOD thing. 

But still, you wonder what you want to be when you grow up. 

The last several years I have tried very very hard to think of myself as a Mother. I mean, I AM a mother and I am very happy with my SAHM status, but "just being a mom" has never EVER felt like The Only Thing I'm Supposed To Do. It's one reason why I stopped reading a lot of blogs where the author was a religious SAH homeschooling mom-of-many, because there was a way I felt like that was the RIGHT way to do the mom thing, and clearly THAT was not going to happen at Chez Cheung. Like that was the way to make the most of your vocation, you know? And I hope you know I am not disparaging those mothers. I stand in awe of them, I bow down, I salute them. The gifts they have are not my gifts.

(Can you even IMAGINE if I tried homeschooling Jack? We would need two padded cells within a week.)

Then again, I've never been the mom who is itching to get back to work or the career, I've never aimed for anything, I am very much an Introspective Slacker, which is obvs how I got into this blogging thing. So it's kind of a weird place to be in, to feel like There Is More To Me Than Being Mom and But Nothing Else Sounds Good/Seems Right. 

Honestly, a Bakery/Cafe/Playspace does not at ALL sound like The Thing I Am Supposed To Do. I know absolutely NOOOOOOTHING about running a business. Pretty much the only thing I know I'd be good at is 1) cleaning and 2) making sure our business has a social media presence. FPC informs me that that's important, but it doesn't feel like quite the right skillset, you know? 

I thought I was supposed to be a writer. 

I thought I was supposed to teach English overseas. 

I thought maybe I should "just be a Mom". 

I thought I was maybe supposed to create a lovely home and support my husband's career. 

I thought I might work for a politician. 

I definitely thought I would travel. 

I suppose the right answer is that we do a lot of things in our lives, that everything has a season, that I can't be everything I'm supposed to be in one year, that I'm not even really SUPPOSED to DO anything. I can do all of that, I can do some or none of it. Though that's the stumbling block for a Three: if she isn't DOING anything (and doing it well), she's pointless, a waste of space, not valued, unloved.

I have an Urbana/prayer/Three/value post in the works. It's hard going, but I'll get it out eventually. What is the thing that I DO? What is the thing that I AM? The end of that post will tell you that right now I'm somehow - miraculously, even - okay with the absence of an answer. 

Or, rather, I am just beginning to comprehend the actual truthful answer. 

Jesus Camp 101

It's actually called Urbana, but ever since Elizabeth referred to it as Jesus Camp I have a hard time thinking of it differently. Besides, it was TOTALLY Jesus Camp. If Jesus Camp is not your thing you will not be interested in this post. If it IS your thing, I will write about specific parts of it, in more detail, on the churchy blog. If you're not SURE if it's your thing, like maybe you have no idea what I'm even talking about, but maybe you find it mildly intriguing, this post is for you. And Elizabeth. By which I mean, I plan to answer the questions she posed via gChat: 

  • like, what you do
  • why
  • what it was like
  • if it was what you thought it would be like
  • if people were cool or weird
  • what other people were doing
  • what the point of it is
  • what you got out of it


Oh wait. I'm going to start with a question she didn't ask and then go in an entirely different order. But you guys are smart, you'll play along. NOW are we ready? 


Urbana is a ginormous national conference for students (17,000 this year) possibly interested in becoming missionaries when they grow up. It features big time speakers, seminars on all different topics and issues, morning bible studies, an exhibit hall full of missionary organizations, and myriad opportunities and ways to help you discover what God may be calling you to do with your life. It's sponsored by the group that sponsored my Faux Protestant years, the NDCF, and is mainly for college students involved in NDCF chapters, though anyone can attend. 


The theme of the conference this year was "The Great Invitation". Chances are, if you are a Christian, there's a particular someone in your life who prodded you - invited you - into greater relationship with God. This conference is about why/when/how to become the person who prods. 


Yes, only better: not as scary/intimidating, more inspiring, WAY more restful. 


I was part of the Intercession Team. So. Every single NDCF employee is required to GO to Urbana and work a job there in order to pull it off. These jobs could be playing guitar on the worship team, organizing registration, showing people where to park, slapping wristbands on attendees, personal assistant to speakers, selling books at the bookstore, managing the exhibit hall, or handing out the daily Urbana newspaper etc. I mean, in addition to important and stressful jobs, there are a CRAPLOAD of CRAPPY JOBS at Urbana. It is COLD in St. Louis and I befriended someone whose job it was to stand outside on the corners of downtown St. Louis from 10pm to 1am, just to make sure there was a PRESENCE on the streets and students felt safe walking back to their hotels. THAT IS A CRAPPY JOB. I, on the other hand, had the best job at Urbana. My job was to spend three hours at a time in a little hotel suite with 6 other people praying for whatever it seemed that God wanted us to pray about. People were praying in that room 24/7 and sometimes our schedule had us praying in the middle of the night, sometimes first thing in the morning. Sometimes our team was "deployed" to a session or seminar or bible study, to pray in the background. Otherwise we explored the conference offerings, took naps, hung out with friends, ate junk food, ran to the Arch, took more naps, read books, and scoured the staff lounge for chocolate. 

Sometimes, when people asked Pancakes and me what our job was, they'd make a Big Face and shudder and go, "UGH, there is NO. WAY. I could be an INTERCESSOR" but honestly, it was the best job at Urbana. Period. We can fight a duel on this if you like. 


So I was super worried about how long I was going to be away from my kids and if Pancakes and I would still be friends after spending 6 days and nights constantly together and exactly how churchy these churchy people were going to be and how tired I would be... Turns out it was one of the most restful peaceful weeks I've had. I didn't miss my kids too much, probably because I was in an environment where I couldn't imagine them. It'd be one thing if I went to Disneyland without them, another to go to a huge grown ups-only conference in a hotel and convention center. I also had a LOT of free time. Hours and hours of free time. If I wasn't scheduled to pray I could do pretty much anything I wanted. Sometimes I attended a seminar, sometimes I went to one of the plenaries in the giant football stadium dome, sometimes I took a nap. I never take naps! But I took lots of naps at Urbana. I slept GREAT. Lots of people got sick, but Pancakes and I steered clear of germs. I had a great time hanging out with a few people there from my own NDCF days. And because Pancakes is Fancy and Important I got to hang out with lots of other Fancy and Important people and get a lot of backstage info, which, you agree, is always fun. 

And when you're praying for three hours straight with other people who are made to pray, it's an amazing time and goes really quick. Really. You think praying is just sitting there in a circle sitting quietly for three hours trying not to fall asleep. No. NOOOOO. (More on that on the churchy blog. One day.)

Because I had the best job and also roomed with someone Fancy and Important, I got to stay at the Best and Closest Hotel, right across the street from the convention center and the dome. I did do my share of trekking around downtown St. Louis to various other locales and it was an odd sensation in that 99% of everyone you saw on the street was there because of Urbana. The convention center employees wore pins that said STL [HEART] URBANA. Awwww.


Most everyone else was a college student and college students run the gamut from cool to weird. There were the normal people, then there were the ones wearing hot pink pants and neon orange running shoes standing in the middle of the convention center with signs around their necks that read FREE HUGS. Every ethnicity, many different languages. 

The people I spent the most time with were NDCF staff. They were on the intercession team like me, or they were leading 500-person bible studies in hotel ballrooms, or orchestrating the production of 32,000 World Vision caregiver packages to ship to Swaziland, or giving the Thursday morning talk, or coordinating logistics. When they weren't doing that they were sitting around talking shop and office politics. I LOVE office politics!

One thing about hanging out with people who are in campus ministry (or, really, ANY ministry): it's sort of their JOB to be deep and engage you in Meaningful Conversation. It doesn't mean that everyone is a bore or intimidating or annoying, but it DOES mean that everyone knows what everyone else's Meyers Briggs or enneagram number is, and thinks a lot about how different people interact and when they ask you how you're doing it's not small talk. So, obvs, my kind of people. (Although campus ministry is not for me. NO SIRREE.)


For about a year now I've been volunteering at NDCF events (local ones) as an intercessor. When I introduced myself to people at Urbana I told them I was Pancakes's groupie, but for me, this was just a bigger opportunity to do what I think God calls ME to do, which is pray. I wasn't called to a mission field, but I have been called to intercede. It's a certain way of praying, where you "stand in the gap" between God and the thing or person you're praying for. I've known that I'm supposed to do this for YEEEEEARS, but it's only in the last year that I feel like I've had real opportunities to practice. I learned a ton this week and I hope to write more about THAT, later, on the other blog. 

Any other questions? (Don't all raise your hands at once!)

P.S. I missed you!

The only consolation

Normally I'm the woman quietly weeping in front of her television for days on end. I sometimes think that soaking up as much information as possible is my way of grieving or processing what happened; feeling all the feelings, trying to imagine myself in the tragedy is my way of somehow serving or honoring or respecting the victims. 

With this latest evil I am weirdly, almost guiltily, detached. I can think of three reasons. The first is that the crazy pills kicked in for reals about a month and a half ago and even when I've TRIED to imagine my own child not coming home from school, my brain just doesn't go there. Like that option is no longer available, that switch is flicked. 

The second is that this one is so far beyond my ability to comprehend that my own body is protecting me from attempting it. Like if I actually succeeded in empathizing I would never leave my house again. I've thought: "what good am I to my own children if I let myself descend into that pit?" So I haven't. I suppose this is also called Denial.

The third is that maybe it's GOD protecting me. Knowing the sort of person I am, knowing my responsibilities to the three kids who live here with me. Like he's saying, "it's okay, you don't have to feel all the feelings this time, I know what's inside you."

But this morning, I don't know. I wondered if I was maybe ready to feel the feelings. Which isn't to say I've totally absolutely avoided everything. Friday I went around in a nauseous daze, Saturday a glimpse of a 6-year-old's face on the news sent me into the bathroom to sob. 

But this morning, I turned on the TV. I turned on The View, knowing that I would either love what they were saying or hate it. Like I felt maybe a good five minutes of gun control disagreement might be engaging, or at least give me something to focus on.

Except then Joy Behar said something like, and I am SO paraphrasing: "I guess 'they're in a better place' is consolation for some people" and I thought, "JOY. That is the ONLY consolation anyone could possibly HAVE."

Because I believe in God and heaven, and the promise of heaven is how I've clawed my way through many a World War II book. Of course those children should be here with their parents, but you know what? Heaven is better. It HAS to be better. It has to be a million trillion frillion times better than anything we can possibly dream up. That if any of us actually knew the truth of heaven and had to choose between it and "growing up, getting married, having our own kids, living a long peaceful happy life" we'd be all YEAH, NO CONTEST.

And I believe that one day those parents will be with their children again and none of this misery will exist. Otherwise we might as well go fling ourselves off the nearest cliff, you know? 

I have some ideas as to how Joy Behar might respond to that, but whatever. She can deal her way and I'll deal my way. It involves a lot of wordless prayer, a quick supportive email to the kindergarten teacher, a preservation of delightful expectant Christmastime for my kids. 

A few other things help:

All the teachers and former teachers I know, every single one of them would have locked the classroom door, huddled with the kids in a closet or a bathroom or the corner, and calmly read book after book until it was time to come out. Without a doubt. Teachers love their students. The teachers I know, especially the ones in my family, are amazing people. I can't picture them in a scenario where they don't think of their students first. 

Checking in with friends. Most of us have small children. Just a few quick texts this morning to see how drop off went. That we are so unanimously and equally horror struck gives one a little faith in humanity. 

Donating. Besides prayer I couldn't think of another way to turn my grief into something that might actually help.

...that's all, I think. Add this post to the heaps of others that had no need to be published, but are out here because I needed to write something down. 


*ETA: after reading Sarah's comment I just wanted to say that I didn't mean this to be a platitude I would offer to grieving families, only something I say to myself to reconcile my own despair over horrific things happening to innocent people. What she said about Jesus weeping with us - yes. This.