1. Take toddler to nursery every Sunday so you can enjoy time alone in mass: listening to the homily, peacefully taking communion, contemplating God and life. Since daughter loves the nursery, and you love to sit peacefully in mass, it’s a win-win!

2. Try taking your child to mass when she’s about 3. Doesn’t go well. She climbs under the pew and becomes defiant. You try to pull her out from under the pew but she has the strength of Hercules. Your choices are to leave her under the pew and run the risk of having her touch the feet of the people in the pew in front of you, or to pull her out screaming and kicking. You leave her under the pew. Assure your single friend sitting next to you that “really she’s not always this squirmy in mass!” Vow to never take her to mass again.

3. When child turns 5, sadly tell the nursery coordinator that daughter has “aged out” of the nursery and will now be attending mass. Then, leap for joy when the nursery coordinator tells you “there’s no age limit!” You secretly wonder if it’s okay to put her in the nursery until she’s 18.

4. Feel guilty for not training your child to sit through mass. Think that the Christmas Eve service, which starts at 5:00 on Christmas Eve and lasts for 2 hours, is the perfect time to start the training. Imagine a peaceful, meaningful Christmas with daughter and husband. Spend 1 hour in mass trying to get your daughter to “sit down!” Then give up and let her sprawl her entire body across the aisle while she plays with her sticker book and congregants have to step over her. Sense that she’s growing bored with sticker book, and hungry, which is the Perfect Storm for a meltdown. Decide to leave early. Have husband grab coats and purse while dragging her out of church screaming bloody murder. Husband picks her up and throws her over his shoulder as she continues to scream and pounds on his back. Vow to never take her to mass again.

5. Recovered from the Christmas Eve, try once more to take her to mass. A special “adoption” mass at 5:00 p.m. You think ahead and pack many treats, books, puzzles, and sunflower seeds to help her keep occupied throughout mass. It doesn’t go too badly. She’s wiggly, but stays in the pew. You think maybe there’s hope. Then she spills all of her puzzle pieces on the floor and you watch as they tumble on the marble hitting the ankles of people all around you.

6. You go to mass alone and notice all of the 5-year-old kids who are sitting perfectly still and saintly. You decide these are probably the same children who’s parents you gave the stink-eye to a few years ago when you were judgmental toward any parent who didn’t put their kid in the nursery. Realize you made a huge mistake by waiting so long to train your daughter to sit still. You should have given up your nursery addiction long ago. Now you’re reaping what you have sown.

7. Adoption is finalized (after 2 1/2 years), and you would like to get daughter baptized. A special baptism service takes place after mass. You dress your daughter in white. She looks very pure and innocent. You invite family and friends, and realize too late that you forgot to bring anything to occupy her during the service/ homily. Daughter defiantly crawls under pew and talks loudly, and insists she has to go potty half-way through the service. You rush to the bathroom hoping you and your daughter don’t miss her own baptism. Get back to the pew just in time for the priest to invite you, your husband, daughter and the godparents up to the baptismal font. As you’re standing in front of the whole crowd, you look in horror as your daughter starts licking your hand and then reaches her foot out to drag the step-stool away from the baptismal font so she can stand on it. Silently beg the priest to hurry it up before daughter has complete defiant melt-down.

8. Priest baptizes daughter. She stays calm enough to have him pour water over her head. You remember him saying something during his homily about how baptism is God saying to us, “You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” Tear up at irony and beauty of it all.

I guess you could say I’m joy-challenged–my husband calls me a “dour Swede.” Joy is not my go-to emotion. That’s why I was excited to hear about the new book by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, on the topic of joy.

Margaret has been through a brutal fight with cancer and shares the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way in her new book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy.

It’s been inspiring to learn how Margaret has been practicing a defiant joy, and I and thought you might like to get an insider’s look, a sneak peek of the video and read an interview with Margaret.

Your newest book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, was born out of your fight with a life-threatening illness. What was your difficult diagnosis, and what has your journey to health entailed?

 For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one disease represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. Being diagnosed under the age of 40 is significant. I’ve been through a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember.

Why did you write Fight Back With Joy?

I studied joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, and torturous pain. Through the process, I’ve discovered the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before.

In Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, you really push the reader to reevaluate their definition of joy. Why do you think this is so important?

Much of the teaching I’ve heard on joy over the years is oversimplified. I remember those days in Sunday school learning that JOY is spelled Jesus, Others, Yourself. While that made perfect sense at 9 years old, I’ve seen how distorted that can become as an adult.

I see friends who love Jesus but spend so much time pouring into their kids, grandkids and others that their joy looks something like this: jOy.

Technically, it still spells joy, but more than anything, these men and women who are so exhausted, so empty, so running on fumes from pouring into others need to pause and take time to focus on themselves. Laying hold of joy right now will require them to reevaluate for a season and discover the joy that comes with JYo.

I also noticed how most of the definitions of joy define it more by what it isn’t than by what it is. I constantly heard that happiness is based on circumstance but joy is not dependent on circumstance.

Biblical expressions of joy turn out to be far different than what I had been taught. I am now convinced the writers of the Bible would say that, the reason we have joy is because we have great circumstances. If you are a child of God, you are drenched in the grace and mercy of God.

No matter what you’re facing: Your circumstances are better than you think.

If you’re not experiencing joy, perhaps it’s because your definition of joy is too narrow.

On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it for you to write this book and Bible study?

An eleven! This journey has been the most painful experience of my life. And, to share about it requires some vulnerability. Okay, a lot of vulnerability. And, that’s really, really hard. But I feel like I’m finally ready to share what God has stirred in my heart along the way because although cancer has been the most painful journey—it has also been the most joyful. And no one is more surprised than I am.

Pick up a copy of Fight Back With Joy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

Preview the 6 session DVD Bible study here.

 

I’m sort-of a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. This time of year can be stressful and overwhelming. Before we were parents, there were some years David and I didn’t even put up a Christmas tree. This year, we DO have a tree, but it’s a “minimalist” wooden Christmas tree my friend Mike made for me a few years ago. I told Desta it was a “special” tree and no one else has one like it. However, I’m wondering if it borders on child abuse to not have a real Christmas tree. Sigh. Now that we have a kid, there’s more pressure to make the season amazing for a 5-year-old.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things I’m enjoying during this season: Creating new traditions for Desta. Small gatherings with close friends. Visiting family. But I’m trying hard to keep things small, simple, and meaningful for all of us. I’m planning on taking Desta to a “Lessons and Carols” concert next week, and we may go down to the Art Institute and take in the Holiday Thorne Rooms.

And I’m enjoying a few CDs and books — some new and some old. Typically, I find one or two Christmas albums each year that I play over and over again through November and December. And a few books I read in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Here are a few of my favorites this year:

Over the Rhine: Blood Oranges in the Snow

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I get tired of sappy sentimental Christmas songs. I need a bit of reality–not glossing over what is often a difficult time of year for many. That’s why I love this new CD from Over the Rhine. The songs on this album add a dose of reality to Christmas.

I’ve been playing this song on repeat:

Let it Fall:

Have you been trying too hard
Have you been holding too tight
Have you been worrying too much late at night
Whatever we’ve lost I think we’re gonna let it go
Let it fall, like snow.
Cause rain and leaves and snow and tears and stars
And that’s not all my friend,
They all fall like confidence and grace
So let it fall, let it fall.

 

Light Upon Light, by Sarah Arthur

This beautiful book is compiled by an author friend of mine. It includes readings from John Donne, Frederick Beuchner, Scott Cairns, and many others. It has readings for every week of Advent. I’ve been reading a bit of it every morning.

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Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas

Stevens started recording an annual Christmas album in 2001, usually in his home with a collection of friends, roommates, etc.  The result is a collection of quirky, unique, and re-imagined Christmas carols along with some original songs. I’ve had this collection for several years and it’s still one of my favorites.

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Watch for the Light

This is another oldie but goody. It includes readings from Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, and more.

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Advent at Ephesus

This CD was recorded by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a young monastic order of sisters in rural Missouri. Advent at Ephesus includes an amazing variety of traditional Latin and English hymns, polyphony, Gregorian Chant, medieval harmonies. It’s beautiful.

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What are you listening to and reading this holiday season? Any Christmas music recommendations? Book recommendations?

The first five people to leave comments will get a FREE copy of my book Rock-Bottom Blessings. Perfect for your own holiday reading or for giving away as a Christmas gift.

 

 

I had an art teacher who said that early in his career he was interested in painting abstract art, but then he started studying Rembrandt and realized that there was more going on in one square inch of a Rembrandt than in any large-scale abstract work of art.

I am living my life in one square inch these days.

I see photos of younger, childless friends jetting around the world and remember those days of seeing a vast open horizon opened before me. I remember my single days when I could easily plan a trip, and save money for vacations in Mexico. My dreams were big then. Everything was possible.

But then I made choices and commitments. I bought a condo. I got married. I am in the process of adopting a foster child.

Having become a parent 2 1/2 years ago, the vast open horizon has shrunk to the short list of items I can squeeze into an hour before bedtime. My dream on most days is to have the time and energy to watch another episode of “Orange is the New Black”.

I recently read an article about how becoming a parent is a trauma. I can relate to that. And I think there’s an interesting and important discussion happening about women who don’t want kids, which I think is a valid choice for some women.

But after years of ambivalence about parenthood, my husband and I couldn’t shake the idea that we were meant to have a child in our lives. And after a years-long quest to become parents through adoption, we are content and happy with our choice to adopt our foster child. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy.

A friend and spiritual mentor once said, “May you leave many tombs behind you.” Life is a series of loss and resurrection. Parenthood is no different. In the past 2 1/2 years, I have had to grieve many losses. I have left many tombs behind. But along with that loss there has been resurrection, too. Here’s what I’ve lost and gained:

What I’ve lost:

The ability to run. I can no longer run away from my circumstances. I can’t get away by going to a coffee shop. I can no longer just pick up and travel to Mexico with girlfriends. Within 10 years, when I was in my 20s and 30s I moved a totally of 10 times. Once I even moved to Colorado. Then, nine months later, moved back.

I was frantic, confused, restless. I craved change. I kept thinking that a change of scenery would change ME, and fill some void I felt. But then, in my 30s, I moved into a large sunny 2-flat and stayed for 7 years. Then I bought a condo, and got married. We’ve lived in the same place for 10 years. Then we adopted a child. I am tethered now. Tethered to routine, and bedtime, and school drop-offs and pick-ups.

What I’ve gained:

The courage to stay and commit. I miss my freedom, but by being tethered I am also not able to run from myself. I’ve heard that marriage is like a mirror – you find out how selfish you are. And parenthood does the same thing, times 10. Motherhood has shown me my selfishness, but also how deeply I can love and how strong I am. Some days parenthood is like a marathon: We get up, get ready for work, get Desta ready for school, go to work, come home, feed Desta, get her ready for bed (an hour-long ordeal), get ourselves ready for bed, and then fall into bed exhausted. But I am doing it! I’m strong enough to survive this and Desta is thriving. It’s the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.

What I’ve lost:

Alone time/physical space. My-four-year old daughter clings to me. She’s my shadow and barnacle. She has to be in the same room, preferably on my lap. She wants only me to put her to bed, giving my husband (who doesn’t need as much alone time), the coveted extra hour granted to the parent who doesn’t have to perform bedtime duties. My therapist-husband thinks this has something to do with the attachment process. Whatever it is….IT IS DRIVING THIS INTROVERT CRAZY!

What I’ve gained:

Cuddling and connection: Getting out of my comfort zone to lean into this attachment is necessary. The more I run or push her away because I “need space”, the more she will cling to me. I need to reassure her that I will not leave her. She is mine forever. Helping her to feel secure, after all of the losses she’s experienced in her short life, is a privilege. It’s stretching me, and stretching is good. Painful, but good. And on cold fall evenings I love to hear her say, “mommy will you come and cuddle with me?” Yes…I would love to come and cuddle with you, my darling girl. Someday I will have my time and space back again, and I will long for those cuddles.

What I’ve lost:

A few friendships: When our then 2.5-year-old daughter moved into our house with her pink skirts and 127 stuffed animals, she took over like a sorority house president. She turned our lives upside down. The trauma of parenthood so overhauls your life that it takes time to recover and let life settle into a new normal. Some of my friends didn’t understand this. Suddenly, I barely had the energy to answer emails, or call a girlfriend last minute to have coffee. The first year we were parents, we hunkered down and tried to make sense of what was happening to us. We were traumatized. Some friends didn’t understand that, and have moved on. I grieve these friendships, but I get it.

What I’ve gained:

A family. And new friends: We’ve lost friends, but gained others. We are getting to know families at Desta’s school. We’ve grown closer to neighbors who have kids Desta’s age. And I feel closer to my sisters, because I now know what they were dealing with when they had several kids under 5. Friendships have shifted and changed. But we have grown closer as a family and we are content.

What I’ve lost:

Time to write. My biggest worry about becoming a parent was that I would never write anything ever again. In some ways that’s true. I have very little time to write or contemplate these days. I long for those days when I spent most of a Saturday in my favorite Starbucks writing my first book –hours and hours of putting words together and pouring out my soul onto the page.

 What I’ve gained:

More material to write about. The events that led up to Desta’s adoption helped to fuel my first book. And now that we’ve been parents for 2.5 years, I have a whole treasure trove of material that I want to write about. My life seems richer and deeper. Now if I could only find the time to put it all down on paper. Someday I will.

What I’ve lost:

Opportunities: I used to be afraid of committing to anything because committing to something meant I had to give up the possibility of other opportunities. I didn’t want to narrow my options. It’s true. Once you commit, or make a choice to go down one path, other opportunities are lost. But if you never commit to anything, you’re lost in this no-mans land of nothingness. Indecision, non-commitment, is it’s own type of prison. Parenthood is the ultimate commitment, and it’s scary knowing you are responsible for a child for the rest of your life.

What I’ve gained:

A more focused view: With loss of choices, comes a more focused view. I don’t have a vast horizon of opportunities any more. But I can do what’s in front of me. Loving my daughter and my husband. Writing in bits and pieces. Finding joy in small things like watching  my daughter learn how to ride a bike, or seeing my husband become what Desta calls “my big-cheese daddy.” Commitment has narrowed my options but made my life richer. I’m painting a beautiful picture in the one-inch frame.

 

I’d love to hear from other parents about what they’ve lost and gained after becoming parents. What tombs have you left behind? Where have you found resurrection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m honored today to kick of a blog tour for a new Loyola Press book: Under the Influence of Jesus: The transforming experience of encountering Christ, by Joe Paprocki.

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A friend of mine told me a story about the time when she went to hear author Annie Dillard speak at the University of Chicago. During the Q&A time someone in the audience asked Dillard why she became a follower of Jesus. Her response was: “We met.”  Then she moved on to the next question.

It was a simple answer, but it spoke volumes to the power of a true encounter with Christ.

How do you explain such an encounter? It’s deeply personal, deeply spiritual, and difficult to put into words. And some fear that proclaiming the message of Christ will turn us into real-life Ned Flanders – the bible-thumping neighbor of Homer Simpson, writes Joe Paprocki.

But Paprocki also believes that proclaiming the life-changing encounter with Jesus is what the Catholic church is often lacking.  He begins his book, Under the Influence of Jesus, by lamenting that Catholic masses are often filled with dull music, perfunctory prayers, and boring homilies. He contrast this with the scene at Pentecost, where crowds who gathered to hear the apostles proclaim the gospel were “wowed” by the inhibition displayed by the apostles. Some in the crowd even commented that perhaps the followers of Jesus were drunk.

“The crowds saw a group of men who should have been terrified to set foot in public taking to the streets filled with uninhibited joy and enthusiasm for Jesus Christ. It was this dramatic and observable transformation in the behavior of a small group of former fishermen and tax collectors that caught the attention of thousands and led them to ‘sign on’ that very day,” he writes.

Jesus proposes an alternate reality, Paprock writes. And this alternate reality gives us hope for finding true and lasting fulfillment.

“An encounter with Jesus turns us into humble, sincere, authentic people who are no longer governed by the worldly powers of pride, fear, anger, lust, or envy, but by ‘otherworldly” virtues such as charity, joy peace, patience, kindness and goodness.”

Under the Influence is a provocative, practical and inspiriting book. Paprocki provides equal parts anecdotes, exposition, and practical lists of what the kingdom of God really is, and how an encounter with Jesus transforms us. He reminds us that “discipleship” and “church membership” are not the same.

The book is an important message during these times where people are grasping at the true meaning of life. And it offers a clarion call for the church to proclaim this hope to the world.

The life-changing kingdom of God is at hand….if we only have eyes to see.

 

 

Bumbling my way home

May 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

My birthday was last Friday, May 16. I adore having a spring birthday, because usually it’s warm and green and colorful, a day full of hope for another year and anticipation of summer. Sandals and windbreakers, rolled up jeans, and pretty flowers in vases.

But after the horrific Polar Vortex we lived through this past winter, it seems like our seasons are all off-kilter. And believe or not, it SNOWED ON MY BIRTHDAY! May 16. It snowed. On. My. Birthday.

I was driving to work watching those damned white frozen raindrops hit the windshield, and the She and Him version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” accidentally came up on my iPhone playlist. Well  that’s fitting. I thought.

After a nice day of friends wishing me a happy birthday, and Desta writing me a sweet card, and a movie and pie with David, I woke up in the middle of the night with knots in my stomach. Is this where I imagined I would be at this point in my life? I panicked. Not just the weather feels off-kilter. My LIFE feels off-kilter.

While those around me seem to have a trajectory that’s clear and strong….moving from Point A to Point B without much effort, I am bumbling along. I meander and get stuck and then unstuck and then stuck again, wondering if I’m going in the right direction and more often than not thinking I’m spinning my wheels or wandering off into the woods. And then I finally reach a destination I have in mind, only to feel that I’m unprepared …..and the destination seems so different than what I imagined.

I’m bumbling. That’s the only word I can think of to describe this journey. On paper it looks like I’m accomplishing many good things. But it has taken a long time to get there, and I just thought it would feel different. Publishing a book did not make me rich and famous. Instead, it turned me into a knot of anxiety and insecurity as I obsessively watched my Amazon sales rank nosedive. Motherhood is not what I imagined….much harder and messier and 100 times more beautiful. Then, there’s marriage. I have a good one, but we all know that it doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

I wake up in the middle of the night on my birthday and I feel a concrete brick in my stomach and stumble into the kitchen and feel around in the dark to find my Lorazepam to quiet the pesky demons in my head.

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I walked a labyrinth a few months ago. It was in the middle of the desert and beautiful and quiet and still. I had never walked a labyrinth. The sign at the entrance of the rock-lined path explained what I was to do: I could run or walk or dance. There was no one way to do it. I could pray, or think, or just listen.

I felt a bit silly. I checked a few times to see if there was anyone around that would see me walking around in a circle being all contemplative. But I only saw Gambel’s Quail running from cactus to cactus and the desert jackrabbits hopping around the labyrinth, their tall ears perked for sounds of danger.

So, I took the first step on the desert sand, feeling the warm sun on my head. I slowly walked the circular path. I put one foot in front of the other, and noticed the smooth stones that marked my progress. You cannot get lost on the labyrinth. It looks like a maze, but it’s really not. It’s one long meandering path and if you stay between the rocks, it eventually leads you to the center.

So, another year passes. I get a hand-written card from Desta that says, “Mommy” and “I love you.” I feel the warmth of David’s arm as we sit together in the cold movie theater. I get texts and messages from dear friends, and a call from my dad. I read an email from someone telling me how much my book meant to them.

These are the stones that line my path, and I know if I just keep bumbling along they will eventually lead me home.

We shall overcome

March 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

I comb D’s hair in the morning, and I wonder what the hell I’m doing raising an African American child.

When David and I got licensed to become foster parents, we took many classes on being an interracial family, and we didn’t go into this lightly. But still, I ask myself: Can I help her to know her community, her heritage, and protect her from the American caste system that is, in part, based on the color of one’s skin? Can I instill in her that her kinky hair is beautiful, despite messages all around that tell her long flowing blonde hair is the ideal? Can I help her believe that she can be a ballerina if she wants to, despite the fact that all of the other little girls in her class are white?

Growing up in Iowa, I knew one African America. One. His name was Curtis and he went to my high school. I didn’t know him well, but he was popular, a very good wrestler. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with him.

My dad made a living selling real estate, and he told me of a time, in the 60s or 70s, when he sold a home to a black family. The neighbors were upset. So my dad arranged a pot-luck dinner for the whole neighborhood so they could get to know the family. It worked, apparently, because the black family moved in and there were no problems between the neighbors. I am proud of my dad for that.

I remember riding in the car with my grandmother, and she saw a sign for Martin Luther King Drive in Des Moines. A product of her generation, she said, “Why do they demand so much?” “They” being African Americans who lobbied to have the street name changed. “Our family never owned slaves…” she said, absolving herself of the collective guilt of her white privilege. My grandmother was a loving person, and she and my grandfather sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family. She helped the poor and needy. She was a good woman who I admired. Yet, she could not understand the depth of the wounds suffered by the black race. I’m not sure I understand those wounds, either. But now, for D’s sake, I have to try to understand. And I want to.

We are taking small steps. I take D to an African American hairdresser — a gorgeous woman who braids D’s hair. Last time we were there, she took pictures of D’s braids after she was finished, because they looked so cute. D was so proud of those braids.

We visit with D’s paternal grandma every month. We call her “Grandma G.” She brings what I call her “entourage,” which includes her husband, and D’s cousins and half sister. Helping D keep a connection to her biological relatives, and her African American community is important to her and to us. Grandma G was suspicious of us at first. And angry. So angry. It was as if her anger at the entire white race was directed at the “system” and at us, who “took her baby.” But slowly, we have formed a bond. Before Christmas we all met — me and David and D, and Grandma G, her husband, and other grandchildren at McDonald’s Playland. We all exchanged gifts and hugged, and wished each other a Merry Christmas. We have come to love them, and I think they are fond of us.

I showed Grandma G and her husband videos of D dancing at her ballet class. They were thrilled. D’s grandpa looked at me, and said, “You are all doing such a good job with her. We are so glad she has you. You know, everything happens for a reason.”

I almost cried. For the past year and a half I have been so worried that I wasn’t doing it right. That I wasn’t doing her hair right, or dressing her right, or raising her right. That I was being looked at by the African American community as an ignorant white woman.

So those words from her grandma’s husband were powerful. “You are doing a good job with her.”

These are small steps. I don’t know much, but I do know that building this bridge with her birth family is a small step. Or maybe a huge step. But it’s a step.

We are not only adopting D, but also, in some ways, her grandma, cousins, aunts and uncles, and half-sister. We are all becoming a part of this large community, black, white, young, old, that are coming together to make D know that she is loved. And in the meantime, we are growing to love and understand each other. Sitting in McDonald’s eating french fries and watching the child we all love squealing with joy as she sliding down the Playland slide — we shall overcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As new parents, David and I are Disney movie virgins. We don’t know all of the different princesses — they’re all a blur. Sure, Cinderella, Snow White, and Pocahontas we could pick out of a lineup. But Ariel? Belle? Merida? Jasmine? I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if you paid me in tiaras.

I’m not keen on immersing D in pop culture. For a while I was proud of the fact that she couldn’t tell all of the princesses apart, either. But in my desperate attempt to entertain D during this interminable winter where we can’t go outside to play because it’s a million degrees below zero, in moments of weakness I have taken her to see the movie “Frozen” twice. Yes, twice.

Each time, D was engrossed in the movie the whole time and refused to leave the movie theater when it was finished. She started crying and said, “Mommy I don’t want it to be over!” I think she thought that if she just stayed in the movie theater, she would become an official resident of Arendale and be able to live in the castle with Anna and Elsa forever and ever. I finally was able to bribe her out of the theater with the promise of a milkshake.

In another moment of weakness about a week ago, I bought her a CD of the “Frozen” soundtrack. Despite the fact that she didn’t understand the concept of a soundtrack at first (“Mommy, I can’t see the movie!”), this CD is now played several times a day, and D almost knows all of the words to all of the songs.

Unlike D, I have a few “issues” with the movie. While I liked it, I didin’t agree that it was “the best Disney movie since the Lion King!’ as one reviewer claimed. It was okay, but I was left a bit underwhelmed. Keep in mind I’m partly Danish and Swedish (the movie is supposedly set in a mythical Nordic country sometime in the past…like maybe a few hundred years ago?), and for several years I sang in a Nordic Choir. So I know Nordic music, and have some sense of the culture.

Here’s what I had problems with:

Arendale: What kind of Nordic town (or is it a country?) name is that? There’s nothing Nordic-sounding about it. In David’s words: “It sounds like the name of a Philiadelpia suburb.” I feel they could have done more throughout the movie to carry out the “Nordic” feel. The town/country name and the music didn’t fit (see below).

The generic pop songs: I had high hopes for the music at the beginning of the movie. There were a few beautiful choral numbers in the movie that suggested “Nordic” to me, but then these generic, modern pop songs are interjected throughout and they just don’t fit. The don’t fit the era, the place, or the feel of the rest of the movie. If you’re going to have a story set in a Nordic culture in some past era, don’t interrupt the movie with modern pop songs. Another Disney movie, “The Lion King” did a much better job of using African rhythms and sounds in their pop songs that at least made them fit the story.

Princesses with waists the size of a Lifesaver: Okay, these are supposed to be Nordic beauties and I like the fact that Anna is a spunky tom-boy, but did they have to make their waists so small? Their proportions were totally unrealistic and harken back to the unrealistic proportions of Barbie. No wonder our little girls are growing up with eating disorders.

Elsa turns into a sex-pot? I was a bit shocked when Elsa, in her new ice-castle singing “Let it go,” (the song that is now played over and over in our home and that I can’t get out of my head) is suddenly transformed from an appropriately dressed teen princess into a full-busted, scantily-clad Amazon woman. Seriously — her dress has a slit up to her hip! Really, Disney? “Let it go” is supposed to be an empowering, freeing song, and yet the sexpot look doesn’t exactly say, “empowering” to me.

The snowman sidekick. Again — I didn’t feel ilke this character fit the movie. Sure, he’s cute and funny, but he felt a bit extraneous and “kitchy” to me. I think “Sven” the reindeer was enough of a side-kick and we didn’t need a cartoonish goofy snowman.

The animation “too” realistic? I didn’t notice this until David pointed it out, but there’s such a thing as animation being too realistic. At times, the characters almost felt creepy because their features were too realistic and it moved from feeling like a cartoon to a movie with computer generated actors….or something.

What I did like:

The animation: While some of the animation seemed “too” realistic, I did think parts of the animation was beautiful. The ice images, especially when Elsa is “building” her castle were gorgeous.

The “Nordic” songs: My favorite songs on the Frozen soundtrack are the choral numbers, Eatnemen Vuelie by Frode Fjelheim (and the Vuelie Reprise) sung by Cantus, a female choir based in Trondheim, Norway. Beautiful. I just wish the songwriters had incorporated more of this type of music throughout the rest of the movie, or at least used elements of it in the other songs.

The message: I was just “meh” when it came to the storyline, but I did like the message of how the two sisters loved and cared for one another, and I liked how Anna in the end falls for Christoph….who is far from perfect and a “fixer-upper.” I also like how Elsa has “power” — which she is afraid of at first, but then learns to use for good.

 

So, there you have it. D and I both rated the movie. Our “princess scores” are below. Hopefully we will bring you more reviews in the future!

()n a scale from 1 – 5 princesses)

Mommy’s score: 2 princesses!

D’s score: 5+ princesses! 

 

Give me a quiet place

March 3, 2014 — 2 Comments

A few weeks ago D and I ventured out to the suburbs to watch a friend in junior high stage version of Aladdin. Walking back to the car in the dark, after the play, D said, “Mommy, it’s so quiet!”

She was right. It was quiet and we could see the stars in the dark night sky. We walked slowly to the car, taking it all in.

It made me realize how much we take the quiet for granted. There’s so much noise pollution around us. We live in the middle of a large city. We are never free from the din of it — the cars rumbling down our street, sirens rushing toward the nearby hospital, the noise of our upstairs neighbor as she gets ready for work in the morning, the other neighbor’s dog barking. And then there’s the buzzing of cell phones, the noise from the TV….how often do we ever experience perfect silence?

I long for it.

I’m an introvert. I need space and quiet and time to think, read, write, regroup and recharge, and these days I’m not getting much of it. I think I’m going crazy.

Recently, I told David I needed a reprieve. Time alone. He agreed and I found cheap tickets to visit a friend in Arizona. There, not only I could spend quality one-on-one time with my friend, but also have some time at a nearby Franciscan retreat center where I could read, write, and think.

The moment I stepped foot into the retreat center, my soul heaved a sign of relief. Finally. Peace! Quiet! Calm!

I walked the stone-lined labyrinth, sat outside and felt the sun on my face, wandered through the retreat grounds where I found many  icons, as well dessert rabbits, birds, and dessert hens.

All of the thoughts that had been jumbled in my head came to the surface, and started sorting through them….getting ideas for new books, contemplating my career, better understanding my role in my marriage and friendships.

Quiet_place

As I walked I stumbled upon a small meditation chapel. As I entered, I saw this sign above the door: “Give me a quiet place.”

Ah, yes! A quiet place. I walked into the cool, dim stucco structure and as I entered, it was so quiet. So calm and peaceful. THIS is what I had been longing for. QUIET. Perfect silence. No car noises, no sirens, not even the sound of wind in the trees. Just perfect silence.

I felt peaceful, calm…like my soul, mind and body could finally rest. I almost laid down on the benches and took a nap.

I don’t think we realize how much noise is in the background of our lives. Maybe sometimes we like having it there, to help us avoid thinking or feeling. But in the meantime we’re not really living.

I recently read an article that was a response to Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” The author of the article argued that we don’t need to “lean in,” we need to “recline.” We need time and space and quiet. She writes, “In 1929, Virginia Woolf issued a cri de coeur: How can women become poets and writers, she asked in her now-classic essay, A Room of One’s Own, when they have no money, no independence, no privacy and no space?” A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” declared Woolf.

The author went on to say, “If we want to do more than just go through the motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can flourish. Today, most women can make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own — but they still get too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured, creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.”

Give me a quiet place.

I’m committed to finding those quiet places in this city. Not sure where they are….but my sanity and soul depend on it.

Redeeming Christmas

December 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

I had very little energy for Christmas this year. I didn’t even make it down to our storage room to get out our Christmas decorations. Every time I thought about making the trek down two flights of stairs to a cold, damp storage room to dig through boxes to find the fake Christmas wreath and plastic Jewel bags filled with little white lights, I felt a knot of dread right below my ribcage.

So instead, we bought a 3-foot tree at Home Depot for Desta’s room. I happened to have some pink lights stashed in a cupboard. I pulled those out and wrapped them around the tree, and then let Desta decorate it with whatever she could hang on it – an old necklace, a pink sock, and a few old ornaments in drawers that never made it down to the storage room. She was thrilled. It was a small, but charming tree. We plugged in the lights at night while we read her books, and it gave her room a purplish pink glow.

I don’t know why I can’t muster up any energy or excitement for the holidays. It has been a problem for years, ever since my mom died, I suppose. She was a perfectionist, and she went to great lengths to make Christmas a big deal. She loved buying gifts, wrapping them just right, and decorating a huge tree.

When my mom died unexpectedly on December 23, 2000, and we had her funeral the day after Christmas, any illusions of a perfect Christmas went out the window. The year after my mom died, my family went to Ohio to my sister’s house. We couldn’t bear being in my parent’s house for the holidays. For a few years, after I got married, David and I didn’t even visit family. We spent it quietly by ourselves and went to midnight Mass and went skating on Christmas Day. We didn’t make it a big deal. We were minimalists, often not buying a tree.

But this year, we wanted Desta to be around family for Christmas, so we drove to Iowa to see my dad and siblings. We stayed with my sister and her family, who were wonderful hosts. But I had a migraine and couldn’t shake my apathy. I forced myself to get out to the mall to buy gifts, where I witnessed a harried shopper screaming at another stressed shopper, apparently because one of them had bumped into the other. I ate crappy food-court food, my head pounding and my soul dragging.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, I ran on my sister’s treadmill and kept praying “Redeem this, Redeem this. Redeem this.” I was expecting God to show up, and I kept praying later that day as I made vegetables for our Christmas Eve dinner and stuffed the peels down the garbage disposal.

That evening we had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with extended family members. But as I was wrapping gifts that night I heard a gurgling sound in the kitchen sink. I looked over, and saw a waterfall flowing over the sink and onto the counter and the floor. All of those vegetable peels had clogged the pipes, causing a backup from the running dishwasher.

My sister and her family were at midnight Mass. I shrieked for David, and he came running down to the kitchen. We stopped the dishwasher, and then ran to get towels and buckets to mop up the water. Desta, just out of her bath, joined us in the kitchen and danced naked in the dirty dishwasher water on the floor.

We yelled at each other and we yelled at Desta to stop dancing. She started crying.

Well this is fitting for this lackluster holiday, I thought.

My sister came home from mass and was understandably upset. I just wanted to get into the car and drive home and call it a loss. But we had a 4-year old who would wake up on Christmas morning and expect gifts. So I finished wrapping the presents, and kept praying.

The sun peeked out on Christmas morning. My headache was gone, and Desta squealed when she opened her gifts. We drank strong coffee and ate cinnamon rolls. I could feel the fog of my depression lifting a bit. We savored our time with my sister and her family, and then later we went to my brother’s house. I sat on the couch with my dad, and Desta crawled in between us. We sat together for a long time. We said our goodbyes, and hugged each other tightly. Then we headed back to Chicago. I woke up the next day and went to work.

I think a lot these days of how to hold the good and the bad together. Like my mom, I want a perfect Christmas. A perfect life. She thought perfection could be achieved. I know that it can’t be, so I don’t even try.

Even when there are beautifully decorated Christmas trees and presents wrapped just so and meals that look like they are from the pages of Martha Stewart magazine, it doesn’t protect us from overflowing sinks, or strangers yelling at each other in the mall, or even people dying. But I am learning to balance it all, and look for the pink lights that will glow brightly enough to keep the darkness at bay.

It’s into both the bad and beautiful that Jesus comes. I think of Desta dancing naked in the dirty dishwater, dancing despite the mess or maybe even because of it. This is where God is found.