Looking For the Joy

It has been a while, friends. Two months. I know this because two days after my last post, my department suffered an unspeakable tragedy. Two months. And I still can’t speak of it. Not yet. Looking at the image on Time’s website, I can barely breathe. The snake I am holding in the photo died the next day despite our best efforts. Such a stupid phrase, really.  Despite our best efforts. As if we would give an animal in our care less than our best. The snake I was training on in my last post is gone. And it’s hard.

Moving on for the moment. Because I have to. The last couple of months has been a series of tests and more tests and inspections and questions and answers we don’t even have, and if I focus on it too hard, I’ll never be able to get out of bed. So I am looking for the good. Because it’s always there if I look. When I get to feeling sorry for myself, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of despair. So I am choosing good today.

Here’s what’s good in my life, what brings me joy. The little things that make every day worthwhile. Click to enlarge and to read the captions.

There are other things, too, things that are not possible to capture in a photograph. The zoo guests who stop us in our work and tell us how sorry they are for our loss, the people who come each week as volunteers to help meet Al’s need for attention. My daughter, upon learning her cousin didn’t have an officiant for her upcoming wedding, takes it upon herself to become ordained online. She is now a card-carrying, ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s right. The Girl-child is now a Pastafarian. Our kids inherit our eyes, our hair, and our genetic garbage. It brings me great joy that mine has also inherited my off-beat sense of humor. And she’s available to perform weddings if you’re looking to get hitched. Who wouldn’t want to go to a wedding where the keepsake is a package of Ramen noodles?

What brings you joy today?

The Introverted Activist: How About Some Good News?

We’re 2 weeks into this regime, and it’s hard to even catch my breath.  Like so many others, I have spent far too many hours fuming, and furiously retweeting government shenanigans.  Seriously. I am going to have to odd, because I just. can’t. even. But there are good things in this world, too.

In my too-big-to-call-small, but too-small-to-call-big city, we have our own community of Syrian refugees. . On Tuesday night, one of our local restaurants, owned and run by a former Syrian refugee, hosted a fundraiser for Bridge Refugee Services. This non-profit gets housing ready for refugees, provides job training, and helps its clients get accustomed to their new life in their new country.

Yassin’s Falafel House has phenomenal food, and we do love falafell, so we piled in the car the second I got home from work. I had never been (husband was always the one who picked up the take out), so I told the fellas to help me find it. But it was much easier than I thought, what with the line that stretched for three city blocks and all. The event was from 6-9. At 10pm, there were still 260 people in line. The last customer was served at 12:30am. Yesterday, Yassin announced that they had raised over $8000 for Bridge! So one smallish-but-not-too-small city in a red state made a difference in the lives of some fellow human beings. How’s that for awesome?

Muslim ban

Mmmm Falafel

Have a few minutes? Scroll through the video posts on Yassin’s Facebook page. Have a few extra dollars? You can donate directly to Bridge by going here. If you’re an Amazon or Kroger shopper, you can earn money for them just by using Amazon Smile or by connecting your Kroger card.

Another tasty tidbit – the ACLU raised $24 million last weekend alone. They were instrumental in getting the Federal judge to call a temporary halt to the immigration ban. So many Americans are infuriated by the heavy hand of this regime, that they’re fighting back. Change will come.

What did I do this week?

how to get rid of Trump

Write a letter. A tiny card. I bought 8 cards for $1 at a dollar store.

My family and I wrote thank-you cards to the first five Republicans who were brave enough to speak out against the Muslim ban. It didn’t take long, it wasn’t expensive, but it made us feel like we were doing our part to encourage those who are just starting to realize they’re going to have to gather their courage and work against the party line if they are going to stop this tyrant.

I called both of my Senators to ask that they not confirm Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos on the grounds that Sessions is racist and was once denied a federal judgeship because of it and DeVos knows absolutely nothing about education. I also sent emails, but calls are better.

I went to a protest against Betsy DeVos after receiving a polite email from one of my Senators that stated that DeVos is “an excellent choice.” Even though she was ill-prepared for her hearing and didn’t know the difference between growth and proficiency. That was my second protest in as many weeks.

I took the Padawan to see “Hidden Figures.” It was an excellent movie. It’s important for kids to understand how far we have come but also how far we have yet to go. If you haven’t seen it, DO IT! Octavia Spencer is incredible, as always.

I studied and thought and pondered on how to run for office. There’s a website where you can take free online courses to learn what it takes. Visit it here. Remember, some of these clowns go home in a year. Maybe we want to run against them.

Face-palm of the week: Gosh, so many to choose from. Was it press secretary Sean Spicer tweeting his password… twice? Was it Trumpertantrum thinking Fredrick Douglass is still alive? The Douglass link is satire, but it is delicious. Was it the Black History Month speech that mentioned the three Black people our current president actually knows of? Or that the whole speech was posted on McSweeney’s, one of the best satire sites out there? And didn’t have to change a word. Maybe it was the president using the annual prayer breakfast to send up fleeces for his TV show and for Arnold Schwarzenegger (And holy cow, I spelled Schwarzenegger correctly the first time without looking. I am rocking it today!). It’s hard to pick just one.

What have you been up to this week? Want to get more familiar with the ins and outs of calling your representatives? Check out Emily Ellsworth has a downloadable e-book that is FREE! You can find it here. You can follow her on Twitter here. We can make a difference together. Resist, friends, and remember to take care of yourselves.

Need a laugh to get you through the week? Check out The Bloggess’s post from a year ago.

Hallmark Really Dropped the Ball Here.

Why doesn’t Hallmark have a “Dear Son, I’m Sorry For Peeing In The Gene Pool” card? They’ve missed the boat here. I owe the Padawan a greeting card at the very least.

So I got up last Friday to discover that the Padawan was already up. I should have seen a red flag waving right then. This is the kid who hasn’t willingly seen a sunrise since he became aware the earth actually revolves around the sun. But he was up.

When he asked his dad for “mutton chops supreme,” we made an appointment with the doctor. When he began hallucinating that his dad was light saber dueling with Squish, we went on the the Emergency Room. When he told us that Iron Man was abandoned by his parents at the age of one because they were billionaires and couldn’t be bothered to put him up for adoption, we were certain he was going to die. Kid knows his super heroes. Usually.

A billionaire says "Huh?" My parents didn't give me up for adoption, dude.

A billionaire says “Huh My parents didn’t give me up for adoption, dude. And also, where did your mother learn to draw?”

They ran a few tests. The first was an EEG. We sat in on it, eyes glued to the screen, pretending we knew exactly what we were looking at as the computer scribbled out patterns like the world’s most expensive etch-a-sketch. The computer drew graceful lines here, a few frantic scribbles there, every once in a while the cursor backing up the screen and marking places of interest. Sometimes the parallel lines intersected. Was that bad? Sometimes they were slow and sleepy, sometimes they bounced around like an itch his brain was trying to scratch.

I tried not to look at the socks on his feet, the ones I had had to put on for him that morning because he was unable to follow simple directions well enough to dress himself. They were his brother’s socks,the only ones I could find in a hurry, too small for him, grey heel and toe not quite lining up, rather like the child whose brainwaves we studied with such intensity.

The boy in the bed was a stranger to me, like someone had been called on to impersonate our son but didn’t have the act down pat yet, words a little too sharp, expression guarded, as if he didn’t quite know who we were, either.v The lights were on, but no one was home. And at that moment, my biggest concern wasn’t whether he would survive, but whether or not I would ever get back the son that I knew.

God is good. All the stars were in alignment that day. Not only did they have openings for MRI and EEG (usually it takes a week or more to schedule each because they only have one machine), the neurologist himself just happened to be present for the whole test. He was the one responsible for the screen backing up at seemingly random points, and he saw what he needed to see. He came and got us in the middle of the test.

A seizure, he said, judging by the irritability of the brainwaves. Really? How is he different? Aren’t all teenagers irritable? Now we had an answer that begged another question. A seizure, but why?

We went back to the ER to wait for the MRI to tell us whether the Padawan’s rare blood disorder could have caused an intercranial tumor. I had to stop him from messing with the IV in his arm. He rolled his eyes and complained that I was fussing over him. For the first time in hours, he sounded like himself.

I smiled, the terrifying episode over.

“Awww,” he cooed suddenly. “Look at the leopard geckos on that guy’s shoulders!”

Okay, so not QUITE over. But mostly. The MRI was clear. No tumor. The ER doctor was patient and encouraging as he gave us our parting instructions.

Fast forward to today and our follow-up appointment. Epilepsy. Genetic. What? No one in this family has crappy genes. Oh, wait…

This smile is supposed to be ingratiating, not supremely creepy. Looks like I missed the mark here, too.

This smile is supposed to be ingratiating, not supremely creepy. Looks like I missed the mark here, too.

Will the real genetic train wreck please stand up?

The Padawan (in orange) is my not-so-mini-me.

The Padawan (in orange) is my not-so-mini-me.

Ummm. Let’s see. Things known to be inherited…

Who has asthma?

That’s me.

Poor vision? Worn glasses since kindergarten AND had an eye patch?

Right-o!

Depression?

Here.

What about severe allergies?

Yep, me, too.

Liver disorder with 50% rate of inheritability most people have never heard of that could cause… what is the word I’m looking for…seizures?

Me again. Can we stop now?

Thinning hair?

That’s – hey, wait. That might be his dad.

Looks like the Padawan got cursed with more than just my stunning good looks. ***

We ran a few errands today after the doctor’s appointment, then we got treats at McDonalds. I gave him my Happy Meal, though. If he’s going to get something deadly from me, it might as well be a cheeseburger.

 

***true story. He saw a photo of me as a little girl and said “Aww, a picture of little me! Wait. Why I am wearing a dress?” That’s how much he looks like me. Even he can see it.

Maybe Marriage Isn’t So Great After All

So the husband and I have joined a marriage class at our church. It’s a biblically-based Francis Chan study, and there’s a free PDF for anyone who is interested.**  Let me know if the link doesn’t work, and I will see if I can find it for you.

The first chapter is called “Marriage Isn’t That Great,” and I’ve been chewing on that title for the last two weeks. And you know what? They’re kind of right.

Marriage changes everything. Husband and I dated for three years before tying the knot. We knew each other well, or at least we thought we did. We were starry-eyed idiots. “I do” turns into “What have I DONE?” and moonlit walks become mortgage payments with the speed of Seabiscuit on crack.

When we were dating, a professor told us that he and his wife knew each other well. “I know my wife will eat the last piece of chocolate cake without telling me,” he said in class one day. “And she knows that I will, too.”

How horrible, I thought. Not only would I leave my beloved the last piece of cake, I would set it out on a plate with his name on it and draw a bunch of hearts around it so that he will know how loved he is. Fast-forward 21 years, and not only do I hide all the good treats in an empty tampon box so he won’t touch it, I don’t even want to share the FIRST piece of a cake. I got a chocolate ganache cake at a cake walk. When husband asked what ganache is, I may have told him it means “antelope testicle.” And he didn’t believe me because 1/4 of the cake was gone the following morning.

Sad antelope. He's sad because of the whole ganace thing.

Sad antelope. He’s sad because of the whole ganace thing.

Marriage is HARD. There’s a reason the expression “The honeymoon is over” exists. When we were dating, the toughest thing we had to agree on was where we were going to eat. Now it’s “Whose turn is it to do dishes/laundry/lunches/grocery shopping?” ***

Dating is a time we put our best foot forward, even while we were planning that trip down the aisle. We used to whisper sweet nothings like “You’re so beautiful!” “I could hold you forever.” “I love you so much, my heart hurts.” Now our whispers are more like “I haven’t pooped in two weeks.””What is that smell? Was that you? Dear God in heaven! See a doctor!” And “I would give you the MOON!” becomes “Another cat? Are you serious? The MOON, woman! I offered you THE MOON! The moon doesn’t use a litter box!”

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. Marriage is laundry on the floor, reading when your partner would rather be talking, talking when your partner would rather be reading, paying utilities and mowing the lawn. It’s responsibility. It’s constantly fighting our natural selfish instincts to keep from killing one another in “The Great Covers War.” It’s learning the real meaning of “In sickness and in health,” when you watch your partner develop a potentially debilitating illness. It’s the storm, but it’s also the calm after.

It’s reaching in your lunch bag and finding a surprise package of animal crackers. It’s knowing that he ate some testicle-free ganache cake, but discovering that he also bought a bag of Sweet Tango apples because he ate the last one and he knows they’re your favorite. It’s my heart skipping a beat when he walks in the room, not because he scared me, but because he still looks good to me after all these years. It’s the coming home and finding the kitten you’ve wished for sitting on your pillow after work.

Marriage itself isn’t the easy road. But I’m so glad I’m here, and I know I’ll be okay as long as he and I are on this road together.

It looks like he's up to something, doesn't it?

It looks like he’s up to something, doesn’t it?

** for the record, it loads onto an e-reader as a PDF file, but it reads just fine. My Kobo isn’t very PDF-friendly, but it reads like any other book. Don’t let “PDF” scare you.

*** the answer to this question is usually “mine/mine/mine/probably mine.” What can I say? I’m a slacker.

On Stillness

So I last wrote about my church’s study titled “Unhurried,” and specifically Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Being still and letting someone else be in charge are almost antithetical to my being, but I committed to try. And so of course the next day there was an ice-fest that resulted in yours truly being over two hours late for work.

Guess who doesn’t handle work delays with grace? If you guessed me, you’re RIGHT! I paced. I checked the roads about every ten minutes in the hopes that a warm front had melted all the ice. In the end, I had to wait for a salt truck. I don’t like not being able to go to work, but there was nothing I could do about it. Not one little thing.

This was me. For two hours.

This was me. For two hours.

When I had a desk job,  a snow day wasn’t a big deal. It was a rare project that couldn’t be put off a day or two. But zoos are different. The work has to be done. Animals need to be cleaned and fed, and if I can’t do it, it means… asking for help. I… might have a problem with that, too. I’ll work on that some other time. So today I was late. And I had to let it go.  I had to let go of not being able to drive on the roads, but also I had to let go of the worry about what my co-workers thought about me not being there. That kills me. My neighborhood is curvy, hilly, and gets more snow than the homes a half-mile away. Would people think I was slacking? And I had to accept that I couldn’t control that. And I feel like I need to go lie down after typing that sentence. I could not control it. Not my ship. Not my ship.

What do you MEAN I'm not in charge?

What do you MEAN I’m not in charge?

I let go of some other things, too. Today was good practice. When I was in a place that made me want to weep with frustration (which happened more often that I want to admit. I’m still raw from Sunday, ya’ll!), I dusted off the Serenity Prayer, reminding myself that some things don’t change. The siphon hose that refuses cooperate did the same thing last week and the week before. Why am I disappointed that it isn’t suddenly and magically different? And the siphon for the giant aquatic exhibit is going to inexplicably lose suction as I’m working.  (Siphons. I see a pattern here. Was the theme that sometimes things suck? Or things that are supposed to suck, but don’t actually suck, really suck?) So I let the water pour all over the floor rather than expecting the tube would stay in the drain. And I climbed down from the giant exhibit six times to restart the siphon. And I didn’t die from it. I didn’t exactly accept it, either. I whined and moaned a little, but I thought about it. And thinking is good. I can’t change how I see things without being constantly conscious of it.

Thank you to everyone who read, liked, and commented on yesterday’s post. Each one is a treasure. I was afraid I would be rather alone with my thoughts on this Lenten journey. Not everyone is interested in longreads on religion, so I appreciate everyone who took the time to spend any time here at all. It’s good not to be alone. And tomorrow? You get baby tortoises. See? Good trade, right?

 

The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.