Sunday, May 26, 2013

A letter to my husband

"Baby, will you go with me to get a tattoo?" Him, "Can I wear my suit?"

Our first date was to a swanky steak house at a local casino. He was handsome, dressed well. But what I noticed was how proud he was to be seen with me: opened every door, held my hand, stood when I left (and returned to) the table. He told me I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

I still believe him.

Our political votes usually cancel each other's out (To his credit he has only mentioned this once. When doing our taxes.) He is more personable in 1:1 situations; I'm better on a stage. He is college baseball, and I'm professional wrestling. I'm fiction and quiet retreat; he is a study of presidents. I'm a great project starter; he is a great finisher.

My letter to him.

Dear L_____,

You told me once that you always hoped you would find a woman, marry, and have a family some day. Told me that when you moved to the Coast your were optimistic that it might begin there.

You were cute the first day we met--your suit and your spiky preacher hair. You were ambitious and smart and about to enter a work force with 150 hormonal women. God help you.

When you would stop by my office late in the day, offering to help (even though you always said you were "not a nurse") but staying to visit. I wanted to marry you that instant in the Yukon, when we were waiting for Lisa to get her oil changed and you did a perfect rendition of Steve Harvey as Sister Odell. You even sang the songs. And again on the trip to New Orleans when I heard your real voice. How it comforts me still when you sing to me some nights.

I know I have told you but I don't think you can ever understand what you did for me. I saw the woman I knew I could be reflected in your eyes. Feeling all those times like Gomer, broken, exposed, a sinner to the world. But you were faithful, a Hosea, to whom God called you to marry. You were proud of me. Everything the world viewed as questionable you saw as strength and determination.

Strong men are not afraid of strong women. Strong women can fall apart in the arms of their strong men, only to arise refreshed and stronger still. Thank you for praying over our baby, as I lay willing with all I had to keep him alive inside of me and grieving that loss in your own way beside me. For letting me be mad at you because the small north Mississippi town we moved to had nothing I wanted and for not saying a thing when I figured out it had all I needed with you and baby girl in it. For being dressed in cheer dad attire before you married me, taking pictures, being at awards day, and playing hours upon hours in the pool.

The moments I love most are lying in the bed watching stand-up on you tube (You know you thought Katt Williams was funny.) and seeing you explain things to baby girl. In those moments everything else fades away.

Someone once asked me if I was madly in love with my husband. Of course I said yes. But then he asked if you knew. And today I don't want the answer to be I hope so.

Thank you for being an hour early to our wedding, for singing Holy Ground to me softly as we stood in front of all those people, for letting me stay true to me when we joined as one. Thank you for choosing me, for putting me first before any other (save God), for making me the only Queen Bee in your world, and for going on this journey every day. It is the only way I want to travel, with you by my side.

I love you.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Before I look at my daughter and see an old woman

"The hardest thing was when I looked at my daughters, and they were old women."

My grandmother never had to look at me when we talked; I was usually buried in a book or magazine. She was old enough that she no longer crocheted or did needle-work, her version of distractions, so she would just sit.

"If they were old women, then so was I. Older even. But I never thought of myself as old until they were."

She had to be nearing eighty then, both of her daughters shy of sixty. My own baby girl, an arm baby, and me young in my twenties.

Lying beside me today, sick in this last week of school. I feel her next to me. She lacks only about 2 inches looking me in the eye. Long gone are Dora and Elmo. Even Jesse and Shake it Up are passing us by. She prefers reruns: Cosby, Fresh Prince, Full House, Everybody Hates Chris.

She can use the microwave, wash dishes, fold clothes, clean a bathroom, hold an intelligent conversation with adults, read, multiply, divide, straighten her hair, sign herself in at the doctor's office, underline the predicate, circle the preposition, post photos to Instagram, and facetime with her Pops.

As much as she knows, these are the things I hope she learns from me:

1. You are not defined by your breasts, your behind, or your beauty.

We stopped by the Dollar Store on the way home; she was on the next aisle over, looking at press-on nails. I rounded the corner saw the boys, two of them, maybe 12 or 13. One elbowed the other, motioned toward my daughter. I sailed beside them, turned, channeled my tattoos like a superman suit, hidden beneath my dress slacks and blouse, and gave them my "I will cut you and they won't find the bodies" face, and they skulked off, mission to talk to the "hot" tween girl thwarted. And I decided, @ that moment, to change careers. Tattoo shop, Mossy Oak employee, mechanic. Anything where I could wear tougher clothes and carry some type of weapon. (I relayed this story to my usually calm and level-headed husband. He is buying a gun and calling his cousin to get a pit-bull.)

I grew up when cute, petite, tiny girls were it. Tiffany, Alyssa Milano, Debbie Gibson, Whitney Houston. How I would have loved a Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Adele...anyone at all with breasts and a butt. All the 80s and 90s taught me was that thin girls become famous and date Corey Haim, us early-developers get a life of faking sick to avoid jogging in PE and having the boy behind you in Mississippi history try to feel you up all year when you pass papers back.

But now I see it differently. In an age of twerking videos, Kim Kardashian thick bodies and curves, when my baby girl's baby chubbiness is transforming and boys look at her, I worry what her curse will be.

I want her to know she is more than that beautiful face that has stopped strangers for nearly 11 years. She is more than junk in the trunk (her friend's phrase) and dance moves. And though these components that make-up her appearance will be with her, and likely be others' first impressions, they are not her at all. They are, rather, how she looks. And those are not the same.

I also want her to know that it is so, so good to know she is pretty, to feel pretty, and to be confident. She is not conceited if she likes her hair or her complexion. When someone says she is beautiful, I want her to say, "thank you" and mean it. To never be afraid to accept a compliment or deflect it with some inane counterargument, "You think so? I thought my hair looked bad."

2. You are also more than your brains and talent.

I was smart; it was my thing. I wasn't particularly athletic beyond middle school; I wasn't the outgoing fun type. I was good grades and know-it-alls. And I believed my hype. (Again, please let me take this opportunity to apologize to those who knew me before I was thirty-five.)

How I am proud of her As and awards. I am proud of her cheer ability, reading level, and critical thinking. But I hope she learns she is more than smart, quick-witted, and athletic.
And just like beauty, it is great to be proud of these talents, Better to know they do not define the whole of you.

3. That I will always tell her the truth, even when it is hard.

I was one of those parents who didn't want to do the whole Santa Claus thing.  It felt like I would be lying to my child for years, and I absolutely wasn't going to do it. Until I caved. (We will call it peer pressure, but that is only because I would hate to call out my parents online.) So we Santa'd it for a few years, until we just didn't anymore. I don't think baby girl considers me dishonest, but may that be my only lie.

When you are an unmarried mom of a different raced child, you answer hard questions early.

"Why was I the only one in my class who didn't get invited?"

"Are you bad because you're not married and have a baby?"

It is the older questions that have truly been harder because she has formed opinions and has seen discrepancies and doesn't just believe everything I say because I'm her momma.

"If L___ (stepdad) ever told you to leave me, would you?"

"A man blew up the race in Boston? Why do you think he did that?"

"Who will take care of me if you die?"

And on the way home from our hair appointment Friday night, "Are Eric and Dave married? Like you and L______  are married? And who had their kids?"

And so I do what I've always done, take a breath, and start slowly. It has been my goal to answer honestly, trying hard to give facts and information without going overboard into detail or making everything political, right or wrong. "I think they love each other like L_____ and me. They have been together and lived in the same house together for a long time. But the law in this state says that they can't be married, legally, like L____ and me because they are both men. (I resist here. Oh, do I resist! There is an impassioned speech about interracial marriage being illegal within the last 40 years. But she didn't ask.) Dave was married to a woman before he met Eric. Dave and that woman had two girls, but they got divorced. Now she and Eric and Dave all help take care of them together."  Her response, "Cool. What are we having for supper?"

4. That women are just as good as men and can do anything they set their mind too.

I was a pre-school feminist. It is a true story around my home that my mother was called into the Temple Baptist Pre-School office because I was making a fuss over the Letter People. Though I was only 5, I knew there weren't nearly as many girl Letter People as there were boys. And that was not fair. (As an adult I remember the girls [the 5 vowels] were also kind of miserable: Ms. A-choo, Ms. Obstinate....)

This story is second-only to the one of me arguing my mother to exhaustion about whether I could tee-tee standing up. She tried and tried to tell me that girls could not do this. And finally, one day relented, and I soaked my legs and the tiny NFL stool I was standing on.

So began my love affair with Gloria Steinem, Gertrude Stein....any woman who I thought gave it to the MAN. (Yes, I wore t-shirts that read, "People call me a feminist when I do anything that distinguishes me from a doormat.") I protested National Honor Society when they barred a pregnant high-school female from joining but not her baby's daddy!!, was a card-carrying NOW member, and lived at home and went to college paid for by my parents. It is much easier to be a radical when someone else is paying the bills!

And though my parents were conservative and traditional (& suffered through my zealousness over women's lib), they never once told me that I couldn't do something because I was a girl. Play football with the neighborhood boys: check; wear Chuck Taylor's: check; be a lawyer/doctor/astronaut: check.

And I hope that is what baby girl feels. The world is hers, all of it. And any part she wants is OK for a woman.

5. That letting a man love and help you doesn't make you weak.

I owned my own house, my own car, had a career, a 401k, and had successfully replaced the plastic flange thing in the toilet tank. I didn't need the bearded man in the suit with the spiky preacher hair. It didn't matter that he was funny or smart or could do Steve Harvey as Sister Odell without missing a beat. I didn't need him.

But I did. I knew it always, from the first moment he shook my hand across a crowded table at lunch. I needed him in my life.

May she see that I am still me, still strong and capable, even though he opens my car door or send me flowers. That sharing a house with the people you love is more important than whose name is on the title. That he is still a man sitting outside the dressing room holding my purse and neither of us is smarter or better than the other. We are just smarter and better because we are together.

And with this may she see the importance of the right man. No, I would never leave her for anyone. But he would never ask me to.

It is tempting at times to hold her close, too tight so that I can control the world she knows. But at what risk? Would she be better off afraid rather than cautious? Naive rather than educated? Sheltered rather than realistic?

I hope that she learns all she can from all of us that came before. These lessons and the most important ones I learned from my parents: that I will always be here, even if she falls. Hard. And that a praying parent is the best kind to have.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From post-abortive women: How the pro-life movement can really help

“Because it is cold, they told me to leave my socks on. I wore flip-flops, so a nurse brought me an extra pair she had. Clean. She was going to the gym later, she told me. I handed her my panties when I slid them off. She told me she keeps them in her pocket, so she can help me slide them back on as soon as it is over, that I’ll need them. Quick. I started to cry when I put my feet in the stirrups. That nurse stood beside me and rubbed my head. ‘Take a deep breath and let medicine help you.’”
Over 1.2 million females in the United States have abortions each year. (,  Both the pro-life and pro-choice sites give close to he same numbers.) Gosnell has brought to light a very real and very ugly corner of the truths behind the abortion debate. Do I think his acts I've read about are tragic? Yes. Horrible? Yes. Do I think the church should line the sidewalks outside the clinics? No, not at all.
I have probably talked to over a 100, informally, usually, hundreds more behind the security of blogs and Facebook. In the Deep South when people find out you’re pro-choice, they’ll tell you their stories. Some are friends; some are family. Sometimes I get a number from a mutual friend. Most never ask why I’m pro-choice (My belief is that a government that bans abortion is dangerously close to one that can mandate them. Also, making abortions illegal won’t stop them, at all.); most never know that I am pro-choice, not necessarily pro-abortion. And I no longer tell the ones I’ve just met that I am a Christian, up front. They wouldn’t tell me, then, or else they would always say, “I know it is a sin,” and lock their stories up tighter.
Their stories, usually tear-streaked and deep inside.  It is a weight, even if they remain confident in their decision, because they can’t ever just talk about it.  They aren’t seeking absolution, just to say it out loud, to have it validated, that it happened and they are here, for better or worse, on the other side.  
Each is different.
I know a quiet, Godly woman. She teaches pre-schoolers each Sunday morning, brings casseroles to those who have just had surgery, homeschools her three, and loves Jesus with all of her heart. “I would rather stand up from the pulpit and admit to having an affair before I ever let anyone at church know I had an abortion.”
There is the lady and her three kids, living with her aunt. The aunt told her if she brought home another baby she couldn’t live there anymore.
My friend who laid her head on my lap and cried because she was flying her 13 year-old out for a late-term abortion. “How come I didn’t know? She’s only 13. She can still be something.”
The one, with the eye swelled shut and thumbprints on her neck brought to the door by a man.  A man who stood outside and waited the entire four and a half hours.  
None of these women wanted an abortion; they each felt that it was either their best or only option at the time.
I never really had to ask. It would always come out in pieces, usually prefaced with “Those Christians don’t really want to help me…” or “If they cared as much about my born baby as this unborn one…” "Someone should tell them how they could really help..." And so they have
From post-abortive women, how the pro-life movement can really help:
1.       Invite people into your life and into your church family. AND THEN be pleasant to everyone when they come to church. Encourage them to be active and involved; invite them to Sunday school or small groups, or out for a picnic lunch. If they are poor, dirty, racially/ethnically/culturally different, a single mother/father, pierced, tattooed, new in town, or just “not like you,” embrace them with open arms. “Sh@t. She doesn’t even speak to me at the school or in my line at Winn Dixie. Didn’t even recognize me. Just yelling “Baby killer.” Why would I want to go to church with her?”

2.       Have real solutions. People do not have an abortion because they don’t want/can’t take care of a baby for one day, week, or month. An afternoon of protesting doesn’t help these women in the long-run, nor does telling them “someone will adopt the baby.” Develop a community network with other churches and organizations that will offer free formula and diapers for at least one full-year. Partner with day-cares; offer free or reduced costs for these moms. Provide the moms jobs, job-training, housing. No one group can do it all, but a network with real options would go a long way. Will some people take advantage of it? Yes. Just like some people take advantage of food banks, Welfare, and smoke breaks at work.

3.       Please, please stop holding up signs that read, “Abortion is murder,” with larger-than-life-sized pictures of aborted babies/fetuses. Every woman, without fail, that I know that had an abortion felt like she was killing a living thing. You are not going to surprise her with this knowledge. Or even guilt her into not going through with it. Many states require an ultrasound before an abortive procedure, where the technician, by law, must tell you the specifications of what he/she finds. Length, width, approximate weight, age. These women hear this beforehand. They know.  One woman once told me, “Put down the damn signs. I know you think I’m going to Hell. Right then, so did I. I wish they had just had a big grand-daddy rocking chair and let me crawl in their lap, and cry. The nurse who watched while I killed my baby looked like she loved me more than those Christians,”

4.       Make the church a safe, place for women who have had abortions. Every True Love Waits rally I ever sat through (5 years at 3 different churches) had the same don’t-have-sex-you-might-get-pregnant-and-make-a-bad-choice-abortion speaker. The same young woman. In a city of greater than 70,000 only one young lady would admit to an abortion. Close your eyes. Think of your church family. If you can name two women who have had abortions and share that information publically, you are probably in the minority. There are some very vocal post-abortive women who have made it a ministry, but very few church members readily admit to it. Love these women; allow them to grieve, to be comforted, to not be shamed. In your church, at the very least there is likely one woman who has had an abortion. Love her. That is all you are commanded to do.

5.       Teach sex education and pregnancy prevention to youth (yes, even churched youth). Christian youth, churched youth are having sex every day. Yes, even the ones in your youth group. Not to be vulgar, but probably at some church-sanctioned function or retreat. Promote abstinence, but be honest. “The Bible teaches us sex inside marriage is the best, but if you insist on having sex before you are married, use condoms. Here are some.”

6.       Stop believing these women don’t love their unborn children or grieve their loss. Most women I know named their babies, remember each year what would have been the due date, and many wish they had another choice at the time. They grieve and hurt and second-guess, even the tough-as-nails broad who sneers at you when she comes out of the clinic will find this day in heart and mind for many years to come.  Can you find women who use abortion as birth control? Yes. Can you find women who say it is just a fetus? Yes. Can you find women who say that life doesn’t begin until birth? Yes. But not every Baptist is a Westboro Baptist, either.

7.       Stop believing that abortion is more of a sin than lying, cheating on taxes, lust in your heart, adultery. Many pro-lifers frequently act like they are attempting to save those would-be abortion choosers from the jaws of Hell.

Every time you pray for a woman who is considering abortion, ask God to bring your most recent sin to mind and ask him to reveal which sin He considers to be worse.
Sobering, isn’t it.

I believe that Jesus calls us to different things. Many active, staunch pro-lifers I know are God-fearing and feel led to lead pro-life ministries. Do it. But ask Jesus why he didn’t hold a sign at the well that read, “Adultery is evil.”
He just talked to the lady, loved her, and changed her life.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

God and Flashing Neon Signs

Lying there, my head on his chest, I am reminded of Anne Lamott's Rosie. How the mom's feet were alone at the foot of the bed, though her bed was not empty.

This is my favorite place to be, when it is dark. Quiet.

Though indecision cloaks the air.

We both have reached the same conclusion-about where it is God is leading. Just we are never there together. He is solid one day, and I am resistant. The next we reverse.

"How I wished God had a flashing neon sign."

A common utterance since my adolescent days. Then. Then I would know for sure just what it was He wanted from us. From me.

"I think I know, but then something new happens, and I can't be sure. I wish I had some concrete sign."

"The Israelites had one. They still screwed it up." My husband’s voice, the delicate pragmatism, cautious because though he is right, I am a better arguer.

I remember from Bible School days, Moses leading by fire at night and a cloud during the day. A flashing sign, looming before him.

Still the people doubted, made a golden calf to worship-a tangible God. Ignored the majesty that was smoke and fire.

I wonder if Moses did too, his heart tentative, asking the Lord if He was really, really sure this was the way to go. Did he question the burning bush; explain away his white hair after coming down the mountain?

And what if my flashing neon signs are all around? Explained away as coincidence, luck, misfortune?

Maybe the voice-the nudging, nagging thought is His flashing sign. It is just us, me, who wonders if He is really, really sure of the direction. If it were there in print and lights, would I still wonder if it was what He wanted?

Wondering if it not the flashing neon signs I am missing, but the faith to believe them.