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Monday, October 20, 2014

Men and Women and Tires

My husband knelt on the dirt alongside a farmer's field to change our daughter's tire last night. I sat in our Jeep watching him finish the job in the glare of headlights. Under cover of darkness, I realized again how profoundly grateful I am for him.

All these years together, as I have fretted and planned, worried and analyzed, evaluated and adjusted our life together, he has simply stood calmly and quietly by. He has stepped in only when he needs to, in order to keep me from tipping the boat with my agitation. He mostly lets me wear myself out until I throw my hands up and rest.

I sometimes wish I could be like that- level, uniform, resilient. For all my building and fashioning of family, it would all collapse if he were not the bedrock on which it all rests. I can plan all the routes - and I do a lot of that - but it would be fruitless if he didn't keep me calmly reassured and step in to change the tires when they need changing.

While he was changing that tire, I watched my daughter. I could see it in her expression and posture: She was running over the incident in her mind, using "if-only" as a mantra, worrying about the expense of replacing the damaged wheel, questioning her decision to buy the wheels in the first place - churning in disquietude. She has her mother in her - poor girl. Her father, though, just kept changing the tire and then got into her car to drive it home, in case there was a problem with the spare. I love men.

I think that we, as the daughters of several waves of feminism, rarely give men their due. Yet, as bullets fly in movie theaters, men step in and risk their own safety to protect women that they do not know. For thousands of years, men have gone to war to protect women and children. Ordinary men get up each morning to go to work and then come home without complaint.  They ride out the emotional cycles of the women that they love. They kneel on dirt and asphalt to change tires for stranded women. It's a marvel really.

Still, men are curious creatures to a woman's mind. They're physical; we're emotional. They are hands-on while we live in our hearts and minds. How the twain ever meet is a mystery.

Millennia of experiences on the part of our foremothers have written on our DNA the need for caution. A man can physically harm a woman, or he can shield her from injury and abuse. He can provide protection, support, and leadership for a woman and her children; or he can abandon her and leave them in danger. He can be a partner to her, or he can demean and control her. He can be faithful, or he can emotionally destroy her.

While both are made vulnerable, I think that it's not quite such a huge risk for a man to enter into a relationship with a woman. He is relatively safe without her. She is unsafe without him, but she could be harmed by him. She must trust him to provide for her and her children. She must trust him to choose not to expose them to harm. Regardless of the advances women may have made in recent decades, I believe that these cautions are woven into our makeup and that they influence the steps that we take.

So, while physical intimacy- no matter how innocent -may be his natural means of communication and union, she must know him - really know him - first. She must fret and analyze, plan and consider. She must hear what he thinks, values, plans, and hopes for. She must know the priorities and beliefs upon which he bases his decisions, before she can submit to those decisions. She has to know where he is headed, and how he will decide changes in course, before she can follow. She must hear his words before she can be open to the vulnerability in which she receives his touch, no matter how much that touch is wanted.

It must baffle them.  We must baffle them. Yet, generation after generation, somehow, together we vanquish these obstacles and pair bonds remarkably form and endure.  Men learn to buttress women and stand by them. They learn to fill our needs, even when they don't understand them. They show kindness and patience. Then, they transform into fathers who change tires in the dirt on the edge of farmers' night-black fields, and they hug daughters who are unnerved. They send daughters to ride home with their mothers for talking. They take the keys and drive home on spare tires to shield wives and daughters from harm.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Seven Quick Takes ~ Onset of Fall 2014


--- 1 ---

It feels like a woodstove sort of weekend.  I think it might actually get cold enough to make a fire. Fingers crossed; we shall see.  I have visions of hot chocolate, popcorn, and movie viewing in front of a glowing stove.  My efforts to include young people in these plans seem not to be panning out; nonetheless, I am looking forward to it.  My anticipation of embracing a Fall evening, and the likelihood that Papa and I will be doing it alone this year, both serve as reminders that the seasons change quickly, and each ought be savored.



--- 2 ---


I am learning that it is awfully difficult to stop being a mother.  Even when one knows that her child is old enough to become a mother herself.  Now I know why my mother still asks me, even though I'm 47, if I "have to go potty" before we leave the house on a roadtrip.

--- 3 ---

First progress reports of the school year were due today.  For some reason, this annual milestone starts me thinking about our annual family reunion.  We're looking forward to it, as always.  I find myself musing on the way that the generations cycle through these gatherings.





--- 4 ---

Elyse has been driving eight to ten hours, and spending two nights away from home, most weeks of late. I have four hours a week of drive time on her, but, I'm more accustomed to it than she is. I see it wearing on her.  She's tired.  I have my reservations about whether she should be doing the full measure of this driving, but that is not really a topic for a blog post.  It inspires reflection on all the driving we have done in our years of family life.  We seem to be drawn to small towns and wilderness, which does not facilitate short commutes to work or church.

--- 5 ---

My author copies of  Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Complete Collection) arrived in my mailbox.  Nice to have a project finished and move on to the next!

--- 6 ---

I'm a bit surprised by Elyse's maturity level lately.  I'm not sure why I'm surprised.  She's always been sensible and wise beyond her years.  Somehow, though, I didn't anticipate the fact that I wouldn't really need to worry about her much, because it turns out that she has actually been listening all these years.  Who knew?

At any rate, she seems to be exhibiting one of her frequent resurgences of interest in producing cakes. This is always a bad omen for my waistline.  It is my ardent intention to encourage her current plans to send some of these cakes south of here.  This seems a marvelous plan to both me and my bathroom scale.






--- 7 ---

I got nothin' for number seven, which is really a fantastic phenomenon.  I guess everything is mostly okay at the moment.  


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Lucky?

My husband was having a conversation with a good friend the other day.  Something about life and home and family and the stresses that inevitably come. After some talk of his own experiences, this friend turned to my husband and said, "Well, we can't all be lucky like you."

My husband came home that evening and told me about it.  My first reaction was the same as his had been: "lucky?!". We were mildly irked, in spite of our mutual fondness for this fine person, because his comment had, I suppose, invalidated our story. Still, we both put it aside as something that, "doesn't matter."

Boutonniere-whitesuitCC BY 2.5view termsDavid Ball - Own work
For days though, it has niggled at me. Why, I have wondered, does it bother me?  What does it matter? With a day off of work and lace in my hands, my thoughts are always more clear.  I now know why it matters.  Here is why:

I hope you don't think we're lucky.

I'm sure it might look that way.  With the marital harmony and financial security of middle life, things must look smooth and easy, like a gift that we didn't have to unwrap.  But, I do hope that you don't misunderstand.

I hope you don't think that we are lucky, while you are young and are wondering, as we both did at times, whether you have made the right choice of a spouse, -because you will wonder.  I hope that when you're sitting on the ground at the top of the hill at two in the morning , as I once did, and listening to the horses scrape and wuffle in the dark with tears in your eyes because you aren't happy - that you don't think I am lucky. I hope that when the stack of bills is tall and the money is low, as it has been for us at times over the years, you don't think that we are lucky. I hope that when you wish you hadn't married this person -(because you will have those times)- you don't think that we are lucky.  Because marriage is bigger than me and you.  Marriage is about vocation and commitment and family.  Marriage is about blessing society and the Church. Marriage is about making a choice and sticking to it.  Marriage is about holding fast during the rocky times, because you will find the smooth stretches.  Marriage isn't to make you happy.  Marriage is about being married.  The really amazing gift is that in the process of being committed to marriage and family, together you sort out the living and then contentment settles in on you and engulfs you in a deeper joy than simple happiness could ever provide.

I hope you don't think we are lucky, because if you do, you may think that you are not.  You may think that and then walk away from one of the only earthly things that can truly bring you joy.  You might give up before you've had a chance to really learn to live.

Hochzeitsfotograf-Wedding-RingCC BY 3.0SebCon - Own work
We are not lucky.  We are stubborn and committed.  We believe in marriage and family.  We believe in holding fast when the waves are crashing and the ship seems unstable.  We believe in battening down the hatches and staying aboard until the ship can be righted. That's all.

Stay the course.  As long as you are not in danger or dealing with someone so psychologically unhealthy that things cannot possibly be made right, stay the course.  You will find peace and harmony and contentment.  You will find your way together, and throughout the journey, you will look beside you and see the same person that you began it with.  Holding steady.  Being true.  Toward the end, youth will have faded and children will move on, but that person will still be there, breathing in the dark while you sit on the bed at two in the morning, listening with tears in your eyes, because you are happy and because you are not alone and because you cannot imagine anyone else lying beside you.  Stay the course, because you're not going to be lucky, but, friends, luck has nothing to do with it.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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How to Know if He is The One

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When Kids Do What You Say

When I was my daughter's age, I was applying to a master's degree program. I was a child of the 80s, impacted by feminism, yet aware, of a feminine backlash against it on the horizon. I thought I was quite crafty, having chosen a field that would allow me to collect an admirable salary in context of a flexible career field. My children (we had though there would be many) would never step foot in daycare, yet I would do my empowered duty by contributing to family finances if needed. I thought it was a splendid plan.  Twenty-seven years later, I'm not so sure. Our goal was for me to be home full time, but it just never seemed to fully happen. I am absolutely certain that had we put my husband through grad school before we put me through, and I had stayed home full time as a wife and mother, all three of our lives would have been better. I suppose this may not be true of every family, but it is certainly true of ours.


In our defense, one of us was always home with Elyse.  We essentially both worked part time and cared for her the rest of the time. For a while, my husband packed her up with his tools and home schooled her while working.  She essentially had the life of a child with a stay-at-home parent, but neither of her parents had the life of a stay-at-home parent or of the spouse of one. In retrospect, we could have done better, for all three of us.  Someone needs to mind the home fires, and it is difficult to do that part time.

True to our values, and partly in response to our experiences, she's been raised with a strong focus on home and family.  She's been taught that being a wife and mother is a high calling, and that the lives of every member of a family are blessed when mom is dedicated to honoring, respecting, and caring for her husband, and dedicates all of her time and efforts to attending to his needs and to the rearing of their children.  This seems a marvelous plan when a daughter is young.  One ought instill in a child one's sincere beliefs, yes? The problem is, then she may become an adult and actually want to do it.


This is when the parental panic starts. My bright and capable child who had been carefully groomed for University of California admission doesn't want to finish an undergraduate degree? Wait, she's doing what I taught her to do. Is there even a man out there who wants this anymore? Will she be safe?  Will she be valued?  Is there a complimentary piece to this two piece puzzle?  What was I thinking?


I suppose I was thinking that I don't want her to have the stresses I had, by trying to fill both roles.  I imagine I was concerned about shielding her children from growing up as she did, with a mother who couldn't dedicate all of her efforts to home and family without being emotionally strangled by work pressures.  The picture changes, though, when a daughter reaches an age when you can no longer view her as one person, but now as one half of a yet-unidentified union. Someone has to have raised the other half.  A half that fits.  A half that wants to fit. A half that will not view her as failing to "pull her own weight." What was I thinking?

I suppose that I was blinding trusting.
I suppose that there isn't any reason to withdraw that trust.


She doesn't have any doubts.  But she is twenty.  She is young and naive and trusting.
Maybe she has it right, or maybe she's too young to know any better?  Only time will tell.


She sits at a sewing table each day and diligently pursues home industry. Lace runs through her fingers as I craft clinical reports.  She does the shop's bookkeeping to the ticking of a wooden cuckoo clock while I watch the cold, black schoolroom clock in my office. She kneads bread on the kitchen table while I hone phonological systems at a laminate therapy table. Our home is blessed with her daily presence there, while it is taxed by my absence, I'm sure.  She has chosen the better part. I just hope that there is a man out there who will choose to embrace her in the role she has chosen.


I suppose that he is out there.  I suppose that there are families preparing the other half of this puzzle. Of course there are.  We can't be the only crazy ones.  I suppose one ought to stay the course.  And trust.

Pax Christi,
~Michelle

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Trucks than Cars and Finding Home

Elyse invited someone to a country music concert the other day.  It gave me pause and a smile.  I'm guessing that someone who grew up in posh southern California does not expect to spend an evening in "Nashville-West" central California with the redneck descendant of a Wyoming cattle ranching family. This should be interesting.

By Alexandre Buisse (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
As I pondered this on my way home from work today, I turned north onto the back road. My surroundings progressively shifted to windmills, ranch land, and more trucks than cars-- and my stress fell away. I'm most comfortable in the familiar. I spend my work days surrounded by poverty and gang affiliations. I've stopped wearing my wedding and anniversary rings to work. I've stopped going out to lunch there too; an experience that Elyse had, while picking up lunch for us, has scared us straight.  We pack lunches now.

I struggle to see the face of God in the parents of the children that I serve. Their lives are different from mine. Their values and guiding tenets come from a different place.  None of them grew up on stories of cattle ranching in winter and damming the Snake River with the family oxen so that Jackson's Hole, Wyoming, could be born. (Yes, we still call it that.)

We share a human story though. We share a God.  And so I struggle.  I struggle to temper with good sense my efforts to put away fear.  I grapple with finding common ground and serving without resentment. I wrestle with my biases to see the face of God in faces that have confronted experiences that I have been shielded from. I do not know the end of this story, but I suspect that I have been placed here to find my way through it.

Nevertheless, as farmland gradually surrounds me, and an old man waves to me from a green tractor, I allow myself to sigh deeply and settle into gratitude to be home.  Perhaps I will learn to find home and family fully in the faces of all of God's children, -but not entirely just yet.  Perhaps that is the coveted outcome of a lifelong journey.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Can't We Just Call it Dating? ~ Because the World Keeps Turning upon the Hand of God, in Spite of Us

A couple of years ago, largely in response to inquiries from readers, and partly as a means of working through  my own thoughts, I began a series on courtship.   Over the past years, that series has evinced the evolution of my thoughts on the matter.  I have continually reminded you that I haven't a clue what I'm talking about; I am only thinking my pitiable tissue-paper thoughts out loud.  Here's what I think now:  Josh Harris should be slapped. Okay, maybe not literally slapped - and not Josh Harris specifically, but the concepts he, in part, gave birth to.  I think we have meant well, but we have created some obstacles for at least some members of a generation of Christian kids in the process.

Cistothorus palustris CTCC BY-SA 3.0Cephas - Own work

There's a lot of talk, at present, about the fact that Christian kids of marriageable age are not dating much.  That's partly a manifestation of the state of singles in the general society, I'm sure.  But I think it's also because we scared our Christian kids half to death by putting the idea in their heads that relationship failure is not a godly option. I'm sure we didn't mean it. It's certainly not what we said, but that may be what many of them heard. We set out to avoid throwing them to the wolves without guidance and support, but we ended up putting a wolf at the door that makes them terribly afraid to open it.

Life is not a safe proposition.  It's full of hurt and error, false starts and corrections, mishaps and blunders. We were never told that nothing would go wrong; we were merely told that we wouldn't be given anything we could not handle, and that we would have Divine companionship on the journey. And, isn't that really the best set of promises to have? Formulaic approaches to life may seem safe; but they are terribly restricting, are not generally conducive to real growth, and they steal the glory, don't they?

I'm not quite sure how this happened, this tendency of my generation to wrap our children in emotional bubble wrap. Perhaps it is a vestige of the World War II generation that saw true horror, and wanted to make certain that their children would be shielded from knowing of its presence behind the curtain? At any rate, our good intentions may have pulled a curtain over their potential joys as well - because if one is afraid to lift the curtain, one can see neither, I suppose.

Puffin Latrabjarg IcelandCC BY 3.0Boaworm - Own work

I still believe that dating should not be a merely recreational activity. It should not be undertaken lightly.  It is not for children.  It is meaningless for those below marriageable age. Ultimately, it is about discernment of vocation, singly and as couples- eventually.  But, it may also be about learning to live. It may be about learning to navigate intimacy. It may even be about --gasp-- learning to fall down and pick oneself back up. We really need to lighten up folks, and give them a little room to breathe and learn and grow.  We need to give them permission to experience joy, even when some pain, for one party or another, might result.

I continue to believe that dating / courtship-  whatever we are calling it this week- ought involve family. Parents have a little wisdom to share, and life happens within the family embrace.  Separating oneself from family to experience life may likely not be wise, and it is certainly not a means of clear discernment of ones own heart and soul, or those of another. Fathers have a role in the protection and headship of their daughters.  The notion that another man should walk into that daughter's life absent of the discerning and protective gaze of her father continues to seem both absurd and disrespectful to me. (This has never meant to us that couples should not spend time alone, by the way.  Only that some time should be spent with families, as well.)

Haematopus longirostris - Austins FerryCC BY-SA 3.0JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) - Own work
I think we ought be very careful though, how we apply these principles. I think that we may be starting, in our thought process, from the place where we found ourselves at their age.  We may want to avoid the extremely recreational approach to relationships that we confronted, and believe that by sharing courtship principles with them, we are bringing them a step away from that emotionally dangerous place.  They have no backdrop, though, against which to temper our suggestions.  They are hearing them, perhaps, with no prior experiences to use as a starting place for applying those principles to their lives. We are telling them that we want them to live well, but they may be hearing that we don't want them to live at all, unless they are certain they can do it perfectly.  We didn't mean that did we? Of course we didn't, but perhaps a course correction is called for.


As Darcy has shared:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
~C. S. Lewis

Wondering where we started from?
This is part 6 of a series.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Know if He is The One

My generation didn't do a good job teaching your generation about marriage. In fact, we nearly obliterated it.  We dosed it with birth control and bludgeoned it with a focus on self satisfaction. We offended it with infidelity and called it freedom, when real freedom is the experience of unconditional loyalty. We made a mess of things.


It's no wonder you're confused. You're struggling to learn how to determine who "the one" is.  I'm not sure how to answer that question. I'm pretty sure it's not even the right question.  You're probably better off asking how to choose a companion for your journey toward salvation, rather than asking how to find the one who will be some semblance of psuedo-salvation.  You're likely better off asking how to find someone who will hold your hand on the journey and not let go.

I've just celebrated 25 years of marriage with my love. Twenty-five years is a long time I suppose, but it's really been so full of forward motion that I've hardly noticed the time passing.  As I look back over my shoulder to try to analyze what has passed, I realize that I can't see without my glasses on anymore.  There are wrinkles and stretch marks where there weren't before, and the 21 year old body that fit in my wedding dress is a distant memory. (You think it won't happen to you, but tomorrow afternoon it will.) He's still here though. He's beside me holding my hand and laughing with me in the middle of the night and we're still worried that we'll wake the baby in the house who is now twenty. How did that happen?  I cannot fathom the speedy passage of time.


As I strain to see those first months and years, they are a tad blurry.  They rest in a fog of memory.  I'm sure they were a heady time, a mix of chemistry and giggles.  They must have been right? That's how we all expect that they would be.  Honestly, I can't remember though.

I do remember a man who drove two and a half hours to work on the 405 freeway in the summer in a laughable little Datsun pickup with no air conditioning, because there were bills to be paid. I remember nights crying over religious conversion that tore his world asunder from the clear cut path he had been taught to follow. I remember the late night laughing when we were too tired to sleep and silliness seemed overwhelmingly funny. I remember his baffled patience when I was worried about attractive women around him and wasn't yet ready to understand that seeing the obvious is different from loving the secret hidden things.  (You'll get there; understanding will come.) I remember a man who drove five hours round trip to pick up what I needed to nurse a sweet newborn girl who would ask adult questions about life choices one day.  I remember last week waking before he did and staring into the now-lined face of a 49 year old man, (who, just days earlier, had been a skinny boy who had held open doors for me,) and pondering the profound intimacy that I had never understood I would have.

There must have been heady excitement and chemistry.  There must have been? Now there is just an intense mysterious bond that reaches deeper than I knew there were places to experience. Now there is the same hand in mine.  It's an old hand now, world worn and rough.  It's pounded countless nails into drywall and taken out the trash a thousand times and then again. It's held mine in the delivery room and in quiet moments while I drift to sleep.  It has stroked newborn skin and the hair of a young adult daughter with love. I know his hand will be there in mine as long as there is life in it, no matter what comes.


That is what I would wish for you.  Loyalty and unconditional companionship.  Patience in error, and service in the face of fatigue. Love that transcends fleeting youth and the dissipation of initial chemical attraction.  A father for your children who will place them above his own needs and wants. A man who will go shopping for dresses with you if you want him to.  A man who will hold you at night when your waist is thicker and the wrinkles come. A man who will hold your hand and never let it go.

Pax Christi dear ones,
~Michelle