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Learning through Death, Again

Cristi’s Grave

“What’s wrong?” I ask my friend who has a very intense look on her face.

“Oh, just deep in thought,” she answered.

I must have asked again, although so much conversation has happened since, I can’t recall the beginning, because she tells me that her friend’s mom is in a controlling relationship.

I found it a sad, ironic reminder, that on this day, this four year anniversary, I am reminded of Domestic Violence‘s far-reaching hand. In making sense of the senseless, the main thing I have to learn from Cristi’s death is that Domestic Violence reaches across all social strati we create. I have a duty to educate people on this fact. I have a duty to help mitigate others from going through this pain that has shaken my family. This is preventable death through intimate relationships. That is, the more we share honestly, the less Domestic Violence has to affect us. The more empathy we trade, the more honest conversations we have about our real feelings, the less we have to be controlled by others. The less others will have the opportunity to control us because through these empathic relationships, we will realize our own self worth.

It was too much of a coincidence to remain silent. I am convinced the thing I have learned from my sister dying was that I have a responsibility to tell her story. The more my friend explained the situation with things like her mom being forbidden to attend her daughter’s wedding, my gut said, “Tell her.” So, I did.

Cristi was an amazing individual. She was an honors student, an accomplished athlete, a compassionate teacher, and a dedicated coach. Graduating college, she had an award gifted, in its initiation, in her honor. She was a super star in her own right, yet she didn’t value herself this way. She repeated relationships where her male partner belittled her and made her feel less of the wonderful person she was. Including that award night in 2000 where she was made to feel guilty for getting this high honor and her then partner couldn’t find a meal for himself while we waited.

I see the connection through the relationships she participated in where the man was often controlling and belittling to her. It ended by the hand of a man with a Masters in Education. Someone, who by other lenses is considered good and valuable by society’s standards. What does this mean? It emphasizes the point that Domestic Violence happens to the educated as well as the less educated. Domestic Violence makes victims of rich, poor, black and white alike. It crosses all these varied stratifications we create in more or less equal numbers. Domestic Violence isn’t racist or classist. It is.

I believe we have a duty to create a world where young and old can feel safe and reach for their own self actualization. That means we need a world where people can live without fear. I believe one of the worst places to live in fear is in the home. We cherish the home as the place where the heart is. Where can we turn, then, if the place where our heart is is black with rage?

I shared Cristi’s story. I explained what I didn’t do and how my spiritual beliefs lead me to his space of comfort. I know what I didn’t do, whether or not it would have been helpful is not for me to know. I can share her story. I hope the story speaks for itself.

If you know someone who is possibly in a relationship with Domestic Violence, simply tell them how you feel. Tell them you are scared for them. Do research in your area about local shelters and services offered. Have a one page “go-to” sheet on hand in case its needed. Remember, please, don’t tell this person what to do even if you know you’re right. This person needs a compassionate ear to listen, to hear. They need a safe place since home is no longer. They need a safe place so they can tell their story with their words and their mouth.

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Four Years Ago

Getting drawn on.
Getting drawn on.

Here is the obligatory annual Cristi reflection.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think of my late sister. Not a day goes by where I don’t stop to wonder what life would be like to grow older with the sister who was closest to my twin. Not a day goes by where I don’t stop to ponder where she mustered the patience to do all that she could do. Not a day goes by where I don’t yearn for another conversation with her. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish that she could see the neat things I’ve done and how amazing my son is. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish she could know my husband, growing to know him in similar ways that I am, watching our relationship mature, since she was the first where I shared my initial crush.

Not a day goes by where I don’t just simply miss her.

Domestic violence kills. Domestic violence is silent. Domestic violence crosses all class, race, ethnic lines. Learn the red flags. Learn about warning signs. Donate to a shelter in your town.

This is preventable death. Don’t let this happen to you.

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Naked Counts

A ROARING Monster!
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I often think there is a lot to learn from our kiddos. They approach the world with innocence and awe, and are often uncomplicated by “adult ideas”. Ants are fascinating instead of pests. Slugs are cool. Grass still tickles your feet in a new way. Berries on a blueberry bush are fascinating to the point of dancing. Animals, like chickens, are fun to chase with no known consequences And, similarly, being naked is nice. Rather, being naked just is.

Levi doesn’t care if he has clothes on or not, really. He is comfortable with his image. I want to instill a level of modesty, but I’m not sure how to go about doing this. My husband and I had similar benefits of a fairly religious background that enforced strict modesty. Although my husband and I identify with Christian beliefs and are regular “church goers”, we are not raising Levi in the same vein as our parents. We think critically about our upbringing and are trying to make conscience choices about how that really affected us and what the desired outcome is for Levi.

We struggle with this when it comes to things like picking up toys. We want to instill in him a desire, habit, or need to keep his place in this world tidy. However, his parental example is less than perfect. Our house is cluttered and we don’t have a place for everything. Ironically, compare that to our respective work places where our spaces are neat as a pin. So, is it fair to expect Levi to keep his space neat as a pin when his parents fail to do so, daily?

Similarly, I want Levi to have a decent image of the human body, form, and respect it in all its varied sizes and shapes. Like many women, I grew up with a very poor self image that inhibits me to this day. I understand that men go through life with a very different self image, and are often perplexed that woman can be so wrapped up in image. Regardless, it’s refreshing to see him just be … naked. He isn’t encumbered by the politics, the religion, the advertising, the pandering. He just is.

“Levi, go get dressed,” I commanded. I handed him his clothes, and he disappeared into his room. I sat reading, “How to Start Your Oregon Non-profit” while he giggled and fumbled or danced in his room. I resisted the urge to tell him to get dressed, and continued to read and drink my coffee.

A few minutes later, Levi emerged from his room with his hand-me-down training pants. Yes, that’s all he had.

Levi came out, skipping, and naked. He was unconcerned with his unclothed body. It just was. His penis was as much his arm as anything, just another part of his body that sometimes itches but mostly just hangs about. He doesn’t focus on one thing or another, and doesn’t mind getting dressed with me or his father. We are more or less all the same in his eyes. He recognizes differences in our body types, much like I have long hair and his father has a long beard.

It just is.

I think about this in relation to the biblical Adam & Eve. We read and retell this story, but let’s think about what this must have been like. Not being aware you are naked. Because, really, that’s what Levi is — he’s unaware of the difference between being naked and being clothed, either position is fine and one over the other makes no difference unless maybe he’s cold.

Adam and Eve lived their lives fairly blissfully, peacefully, and unaware. Then, that fateful day, the fruit (poetically dubbed as an apple though how do we really know what it looks like?) was eaten and suddenly Adam and Eve became wise to their existence and with that wisdom shame.

That’s what Levi doesn’t have right now, the shame of his body. He doesn’t have the desire to cover himself up. He just doesn’t care, and not in apathetic sense. He doesn’t know he should care.

I think that’s great. We worry about our self image so much we put ourselves in this hard place between being told to treat our bodies as temples and respect them but hide them from shame too. In their perfect innocence, we should learn from our children who don’t know that odd dichotomy submerged inside these adult ideas. We could, maybe, learn to just be and in the process be less ashamed and more appreciative of what is in all their glorious shapes and sizes.

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Balancing Voluntarism

Last Wine Night
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Volunteering has been an important tenet my entire life. Since before high school, in part due to my religion and the people with whom I associated (by choice or otherwise), being a part of something bigger than myself was key.

I helped, intensely with my church youth group and did various things throughout high school to be involved outside the “normal” range of activities. Then, I got to college. College, such a big big place, I wasn’t sure where to volunteer. I ended up spending some of my time in my dorm’s recycling group and I was appointed as my floor’s senator for the hall’s senate. (That’s another conversation about the triteness of politics and how to win elections.)

But, then, I got a little lost and couldn’t really see where I was or where I was going. I ended up taking a break from school and with that volunteering. In the years in-between, I’ve continued to fluctuate between work, school, volunteering, and now added friends and family commitments. The bottom line, for me, is that I cannot not volunteer.

The trick that I think I am learning, though, is how to balance it. The last few months have been involvement overload. I have been doing many things, not well, and that is no mark of success. I have varied interests, so I like to keep my interests varied. It helps me feel fresh and involved. However, when a 40 hour work week is tacked onto it all, with an 8 hour weekly commute — there just isn’t time. I end up feeling pulled in to many directions with a paralyzed inability to decide true priorities.

Out of Balance. Unable to manage the stress. Difficulty with the time management.

So, I’ve been paring down. I’ve decided I cannot do so much with my church. I will continue to read (every other month pending schedule rotations) but helping to teach religious education will have to wait until Levi is ready to join. I’ve been paring down my involvement with the Community Alliance of Tenants as I simply don’t have the energy to devote in the capacity that is needed. I’ve been giving up some of my tasks with the food club, slowly over the last few months, holding out on a few until proper replacements are made. The priorities, I have realized though are: family, food, and work. Housing and Church while in the top five, cannot have the same amount of time dedication.

Realizing the priorities, as is often the case, is liberating. It empowers me to say no without guilt. Realizing boundaries forces me to define the roles I want to focus on, knowing I cannot do everything because I do need sleep and a little boy deserves attention. So, along with everything else, lately, I’ve been learning how to balance my voluntarism.

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No Luck Here

Racing through the house.
Racing through the house.

“If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” so goes the pessimistic saying. I’ve written the last few days how I don’t believe in luck, so I thought I’d expand on that since I often wish people good luck on their endeavors.

A few not-so-lucky poignant events shaped my growing up years. Then, a few unlucky relationships graced my high school years and my early 20s. Sometime after that, I decided not to really believe in luck. Not as a guiding principle.

Sure, I’m superstitious. It’s kind of like, why not knock on wood? If it doesn’t work, you’re just knocking on a piece of wood. If it works, at least you know you’ve done your due diligence. Wishing someone good luck is so ingrained in my psyche that I will do that too, but I’m loathe to wish someone to “break a leg” as that seems to work against what we’re trying to do.

Regarding days, weeks, months, years though… I don’t attribute days or weeks or years as being good or bad, they just are. There are high points and low points. People die, keys get lost, things break, jobs go away. But all those things make room for lessons learned, new starts, reorganizing, and new opportunities.

“This too shall pass,” I believe is a much more appropriate daily adage. This little piece of wisdom reminds us that good, bad, ill, indifferent, it all passes into the past. What was here today is gone tomorrow, and most everything that comes with it. So, why not enjoy the moments as they come?

There is no luck. Life just is. A series of moments captured by our minds eye, hopefully embedded someplace for easy recollection so that when the time comes we can pass those memories on and learn from them. Hopefully, we can create lovely stories to share with our offspring and our children’s offspring, helping this human race to evolve into something … more.

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Routines & Roles

Photo of Christ in Hagia Sofia.
Image via Wikipedia

“The Blood of Christ.”


“The Blood of Christ.” Inch up cloth.

“Amen.” Grab cup, turn an inch or two counterclockwise. Next person approaches.

“The Blood of Christ.” Hand off cup. Inch up cloth.

“Amen.” The cup is returned. Turn an inch or two counterclockwise as the next person approaches.

“The Blood of Christ.”Hand off cup, flip cloth over.

“Amen.” The cup is returned. Wait.

The slight of hand involved in this role is amusing to me. Most people don’t notice me turning the cup to offer a clean place to drink. Most people never notice how I inch up the cloth in order to clean off the place where their mouth, the person before and after, sipped. It’s a delicate, quiet role. With one line. Two. I have one, they have the other. Various forms of respect are offered for this Sacred Catholic Rite.

At our church, at the mass we attend, there are three Eucharistic Ministers to accompany the priest. One who is responsible for the host, the bread, the body. And there are two who are responsible for the wine, the blood. There are certain things that need to be done, some assigned, some not. The assigned roles are who will be the one to take the host from the Tabernacle and the two ministers who will administer the wine. The unassigned roles are who will offer the bread or wine to the other lay people around the alter and the elderly folks in the front role.

It’s a silent play often choreographed without gestures. Only rarely does the parish need prompting that someone forgot their role, like last week when Fr. John had to request another Cup Minister. Otherwise, you silently watch while others take or don’t take the lead and you fill into get the job done. It’s a simple understanding of what needs to happen and who is supposed to execute the plan. More often than not, it is executed so quietly, so well, that nary a soul in the church realizes what is involved, the training, the separation of duties, to get that job done.

The parishioners have their role. Theirs is to approach, wait, say “Amen” and return the cup. Quietly, waiting in the efficient queue created from years of refinement. Yet, each person individualized their role. Each person has their own manner in which they accept the cup, say or mutter “Amen”, and return the cup.

The most entertaining is one parishioner who has this carefree way about him. Recently, our parish switched to these lovely pewter cups from the glass wine glasses. A relief for this lackadaisical manner in which he takes, drinks, and hands back. Usually one handed where I worry, “Is it going to drop or spill?” But, it never does, so I want to giggle when I should be effaced stoically.

Although I often feel a little anxiety over this role, as it is yet another responsibility that I have agreed to accomplish, I find its routine comforting. I like to know. I like to realize how things work. I like to see the inner-workings of a production. I like to participate, to learn. So, this small, quiet, important role satisfies these other needs and desires I have. I can study the mannerisms, and giggle (stoically) at the quirks we each exhibit.

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May 13th Reflection

Cristi Christmas.jpg
Cristi, Christmas, circa 1987.

When I consider the date, I often think of her. It was her birthday. Now guilt too surrounds missing my nieces birthday which falls the day before. It’s poetic that our modem died on this day. I asked her on a few occasions: don’t you feel unlucky that your birthday could land on Friday the 13th? She simply answered, “Why would it be unlucky? It’s my birthday!”

So, I hadn’t thought of that question for years, until this week, when the unlucky day reared its head.

Is it really unlucky?

Like my diminishing belief in soul mates, I rarely believe in luck. So, I don’t think I even had bad luck yesterday when my keys went missing and Levi’s squeezy bottle was temporarily mislaid. Still no word on the keys, but the squeezy bottle was found, in the car.

I believe life is what you make of it. We have to work at our relationships. They don’t just come handed to us. We argue, we fight, we disagree, and we have to make a choice on whether or not we want that to define us or the solution to those disagreements to define us.

I choose the solution. I choose, more specifically, the positive solution and I try to think consciously about my choices, daily. Even when I’m digging my heels in and being stubborn, I am aware of that choice.

So, thank you, world, for the poetic silence on Friday, May 13th, 2011 in my daily-blog posting. Thank you for reminding me that Friday the 13th is lucky because it is somebody’s birthday, somewhere – and how can a birthday be bad when it’s framed on celebration?

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My assessment of the themes: I need solitude to ponder, think, make sense of things to formulate solid opinions and plans that are directed by my values. Doing this thinking and prep satisfies my thirst for knowledge and deep intellectual connections.

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I am not responsible for your feelings.

Levi's Cleanup
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Rosenberg would say this is my obnoxious phase. I would have to agree. Sometimes, I feel no empathy, only want of boundary enforcement. This is written for one of those times.

I’m not. Sorry, I, but I’m not. You are an adult. I am an adult. As adults, we have many responsibilities, one of which is our own feelings. That means, I am responsible for owning my feelings and you are responsible for yours.

That question I asked? Remember? Yea, it was just a question.

I know, I know, I am very sensitive and can take things too personally – but I own that too. I know it. I own it. I am working on it. All I ask is that you do the same.

I’m sorry about the stresses life has given you. I’ve got my own stress to deal with, daily. It’s called life. Own that too, please.

I will do my best to anticipate your feelings, remember to ask questions instead of demand things, change my lingo to “could you, would you, and please”, and again, the golden rule thing – I ask you to do the same.

See, I do believe we are all equal, at least given equal footing to deal with the crap life throws our way, and again, I just ask that you do the same.

Sure, you have a right to feel angry about the question I asked. Just like I had the right to ask that question. But, own that feeling, find out what it really is, figure out the need there. Please. You don’t really have to “blow up” at the next person who looks at you sideways. Mature a little, please, for all of us.

Remember, please, I didn’t make your bad day – your attitude and interpretation of events did that all on your own. I just wanted some info, or even just smiled at you to wish you a good day.

I know you don’t trust, and you have misguided ideas of what trust and respect are. But, please, let me assure you I only care about doing my job, whatever it may be in this moment, to the best of my abilities: whether it parenting, playing the role of wife-sister-daughter, working as a secretary, or a president of a club.

Oh, by the way, there’s this concept, you may have heard of it: it’s called non-violent communication. You should check it out. It gives people like you (and me) tools to express our feelings so we can move past this grumpiness and get on with life.

Take responsibility for yourself, you have to lie in the bed you made.

Thank you.

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Teaching Religion & Spirituality

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Image via Wikipedia

For me, one of the more nebulous bits of being a parent is how do we teach religion and spirituality? How do we our beliefs and break them down in a truthful, succinct way for our children? How do we, as parents, work through our differences to have some coherent pattern to show Levi? In short: how do we teach religion?

We do it every day, in our actions, at minimum. No matter what those actions are, we are modeling some sort of behavior. So, with these religious undertones we pray daily, I try to be thankful for things, and if not aware of changing at least aware when I do things like swear at “bad drivers.” Daily prayer and conversations introduced, despite the parental example.

A few times, Levi woke up scared, maybe from a bad dream. I gave him a hug, asked him if he was still scared or if he could describe the scary thing. He was still scared but wasn’t able to describe the scary thing. “So, this is where I introduce God,” thought my brain. I told him that we believe in God, who is everyone’s father, and when we’re scared that God will take care of us and help us to not be scared anymore. I remember, well, that comfort growing up. If my mom couldn’t make the thunderstorm go away, or if I was afraid to go to school the next day, it was nice to believe I could turn to this thing much bigger than me to help with my problems. God the protector is one way I’ve introduced spirituality to Levi.

We attend church regularly. If not weekly, 2-3 times a month. We attend a local Catholic Church. I want to remain practicing Catholocism since I’ve chosen this Christian Path. My husband is true to his Protestant upbringing, but hasn’t found a Protestant Church that not only he likes but that we can both agree on. This Catholic Church we attend is low key, it has a school, and serves as a good neighborhood church. It doesn’t ruffle any feathers, it focuses on the community, and it’s modest. This suits our personalities very well.

Catholicism is laden with rituals. I know it’s not fair to expect Levi to be quiet in church, so we’ve made concessions I never thought I would: we let him play with toys in church! Right now, from age 0 to about 6, I’ve conceded that this is “practice” time. This is the time where we teach Levi church is different, special, and we must be calm, quiet, and respectful in church. Again, we use bribery: if everyone is good, we get a half dozen doughnuts. We introduce ritual with these patterns even the bribes.

Now, Levi has been paying attention to the smaller rituals. He’s been Genuflecting at church after mass! This caught me off guard, but my husband says he’s been doing it for some time. I usually exit the pew last and follow them out, meeting them on the sidewalk after any genuflecting has been done along with the collection of the weekly bulletin. He’s learning, first, these steps without knowledge of what purpose they serve. I find it interesting that this is one of the things where Levi has not asked Why?

Every day and night, Levi asks what we’re doing. We’re teaching him the days of the weeks, as is more relevant with our impending vacation. We’ve been introducing the concept of the weekday and weekend since he’s been in preschool. Every Sunday, Levi understand, we should be going to Church. After Church is doughnuts, and after that – maybe lunch, bread, naps. I like Sunday to be a quiet, reflective day, no matter the pattern.

Through these habits of church and grace before meals and using God when we’re unhappy, sad, or scared – I am introducing this concept of Religion. I don’t really remember how my mother layered in these beliefs, as my personal reflections show they were always there. I am very curious to see what Levi’s expectations and understanding of religion grows to be as we layer on the heavier, conflicting topics of religion with his age. It, if anything, will prove to be an interesting ride.

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