Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Minutiae of Fuschia, and Other Observations

If Barack Obama were my friend on Facebook, our relationship status would be, "it's complicated." I have always shied away from strict partisanship, and much to my family's dismay, I am not a single issue voter. I shudder when I hear "God's people" attempt to speak of God's political affiliation or opinions, and with the exception of my undying love for Brady Anderson, I've really never gotten it about being a celebrity's biggest fan. I don't ever foresee political signs on my lawn or bumper stickers on my car or onesies on my child. I'm just not that kind of girl.

It does not offend my sensibilities or seem contradictory to me to choose the things I believe in from whichever side, then weigh them to see who comes out on top (or least on the bottom), even if that means an R on one ballot column and a D on another. Aside from the irritation I have over not being able to vote in primaries as a voter of undeclared loyalty, this works for me. I believe there is only one man who ever could have saved us and changed everything, and he's already been here once, and he's not the president. Still, I'm not easily sucked into "the sky is falling," overwrought predictions. I think if I say God is in control, then I should act like it, not like the leader of the free world has more power than the one who created it. But still, it's complicated.

Living in proximity to D.C. probably sounds much more exciting than it usually is. In college in North Carolina, the 7-foot Australian I had driven to the grocery store boasted that his home was 30 minutes from members of the then-popular band, Savage Garden. "Really," I said casually, "Well I live about 30 minutes from the President of the United States. You might have heard of him." But everyone here knows that distance rarely has any impact on how long it takes to get somewhere, and that in many ways, Baltimore is a world away from D.C. So I brag about my friend on Capitol Hill, and friends from the south think I'm savvy, but I just pay attention; I don't really know. Even so, the week leading up to the inauguration was interesting. I took for granted the signs above the Baltimore-Washington Parkway I travel every day that said, "Inauguration Jan 20. Expect Heavy Delays." Friends and colleagues were off because they couldn't get to work. Others I knew stayed home to watch TV; others I knew were actually in the thick of it. But not me.

On Tuesday morning I stood in a dark conference room with a man I'd never met staring at the TV in the corner. "I'm glad they have it on somewhere," he said, watching the masses wait on the Mall. "Driving up 95 this morning, I felt really...lonely. During the election, no one here said anything. It's just so bizarre."

We discussed the unique environment where we work, which tends to be a bastion of Republican ideals in the middle of a very blue state. I told him, "Last week I mentioned concern about traffic on inauguration day, and a colleague said to me, 'I don't really think he's that popular around here, is he?'" Which, I guess, just proves you can always find someone to tell you what you want to hear. Later that morning we were joined by others who brought their lunch and sat mostly in silence to watch the ceremony, and it was a little less lonely.

No matter who you voted for, I think it's hard not to feel proud to be part of a country where it's possible to hold elections and execute peaceful transfers of power, to assemble millions of people in one place without a single arrest, and to elect as president a member of a race that was not so long ago in chains. And while I reject the idea that any one person could fix all that ails us, I hold a cautious hope that some change will do us good.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Running like Zacchaeus

On Christmas night at my parents' house, everyone was hungry. For the first time ever, emulating my Jewish friends from childhood, we ordered Chinese delivery. It was delicious. After we ate, The Boy asked to see my fortune. It said, "Good luck on your journey," and so did his. "Are we going somewhere?" he asked. Oh, the foreshadowing.

The next week, while at Ikea for the second time in three days, I tried to convince myself I did not need a reasonably priced six-pack of cinnamon rolls, a young man in his early twenties handed me a tiny handwritten note. "God bless you," he smiled as I read the words, "I am here to help you with anything you need. Love, Jesus." I didn't think much of it, other than that it was a much more welcome approach to proselytizing than I'd previously seen. No fire and brimstone on a tract. It was nicer.

After we got home, The Boy offered to take me out for…well, just to get OUT. We had enjoyed company in the form of his mother and sister for the last week, but the lack of personal space coupled with my crowded mind was starting to make me lose it. I sat on a bar stool nervously shaking my leg and enumerated the list of things that had me frantic.

"I love your mom, it's not your mom. It's just…work was stressful before I left, then there was the trip to Florida, then there was Christmas and company and the birthday party and now these work changes that may or may not happen and the questions of what's next for us and it's all really good, but it's all back to back to back and I just need time and space to process and I'm never alone and I'm so tired and I can't. I've loved this time at home with Mirabella and she's getting to a different stage where I feel like I'm missing more and it makes me wish I could think about being at home, but I know I can't, so what is the point? But at the same time, I have these ambitions to do more at work, and I'm not sure how to reconcile the two. We talk about growing our family and I want to have faith that God will provide what we need, but I'm not sure where the line is between faith and stupidity. I feel I might be on the verge of a crisis or something."

"Oh, baby," he said, "I'd say you're there. You've given me a lot just now. There's a lot going on in that head of yours, and you can't fix it all, not at once." He reminded me of all the things I already know. But mostly he listened. And this is the way I tell it in retrospect, which is different than the way I accepted it then.

I started to accept that things are harder than they have to be because I've been fighting where I am right now. The roles, responsibilities, challenges, geographical location-- all of it. As if accepting it and learning to be content would relegate me here forever, I rage against it all.

Sunday morning at church a guest speaker, once a missionary in the Philippines, told a story about her beloved dachshund, Zacchaeus, and how he was so anxious to see the whole neighborhood that he pulled at his leash, thereby walking restrained and wheezing for the entirety of his walks. She had a personal epiphany when she told him, "Zacchaeus, if you would just stop running and obey, it would be so much easier!" The words stung me too. Pastor Danny followed, admonishing not to "rue this day or your current position." And I guess that's what I'm doing when I complain about hating where we live because I can never find a parking space and we never have enough room or wanting to be home more or wanting to be in a better financial predicament. There is so much that is good, and there is even more that I just don't know. Sitting, waiting, wishing never got even Jack Johnson anywhere.

As we were leaving church, Nikki asked how I was doing and I wonder if my eyes said it all. "You need to borrow this book," she said, producing a well-read paperback copy of The Shack from her coat pocket. "Take four hours and read it today," she said.

When we got in the car, The Boy said, "Well, was all that loud enough for you?" My head swam with conviction and change. At home, though I didn't have four hours, I did make it about halfway through the book. I stopped at a page where Jesus talks with the protagonist about how humans were made to live in the present, and that when we live in the future, through worrying and speculation, God is not with us there. It painted it so clearly for me, and I saw myself in it.

I have been living in fear about the state of the world, the state of our finances, the possibilities of my job, the fact that my life may never look like I thought it would, that I might never be able to be the mommy I had hoped, at least not in the way I had hoped, that I might never reconcile work with life and dreams, that I might not have another child, or that the walls might crumble if I do, that balance might not actually be something that can ever be achieved. The list goes on. And I say that my favorite Bible verse is Exodus 14:14, "the Lord will fight for you, and you shall keep your peace," and I probably say that because I wish I felt its truth in my heart. What's always felt truer to me, though, is Mark 9:24: "Lord I believe; help my unbelief!"

After this low point and apparent epiphany, things feel different, but not much has changed. I have been without house guests, which helped a little, but we will be welcoming The Boy's father and stepmother tonight for a belated celebration we are looking forward to. I got some news at work that had potential, and I could have let it consume me, but I didn't, which was fortunate because it turned out to be nothing anyway. I have worked hard for four days not to live in fear and to let go. And I guess four days is a start.

(And no, all of this did not overshadow a fantastic time with my girls in Florida or a joyful Christmas with my family and overly-gifted daughter, but I'm trying to live in the present, remember?)

So I don't know how long it's going to take to get to wherever it is we're going, but I know where I am and I'm working on fully living here.

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