Saturday, June 26, 2010

When old friends change teams

I've already mentioned here how you're likely to run into people you know in this city. It happens all the time, especially at events in the downtown area. Throngs of people are milling, milling, and the chances are always good that a familiar face will surface. I saw an old friend recently, one with whom I'd lost contact for several years. Last time I saw her, she was married with children. A dedicated mom and wife. Settled. Committed.

Well, I ran into her downtown, and this time, she was arm-in-arm with someone other than her husband. A woman, in fact.

I did a double-take, because surely, this person only looked like the person I had known. But no: closer inspection revealed that it was, indeed, my old friend. And there was no doubt that she was "with" the woman by her side. I could distinctly sense their partnership.

Now, I've worked at creative firms before. I've known some folks who made no effort to hide the fact that they preferred someone of the same sex. Some of those folks I've liked and respected, and some I've avoided... So, I've responded to them pretty much the same way I've responded to heterosexual people. Twenty years ago? This scene might have made me more uncomfortable. Now? I've seen it. It doesn't freak me out as much as it used to.

BUT. This person was married with a family. Was I to assume that she was meeting a gal-pal on the sly? That this downtown foray was covert? That she lived a double life? That I was the only one to know her secret? I pondered it as I watched the couple from behind the safety of my sunglasses. I used to know this person pretty well; she's not a secretive sort. That's why we got along well; we were both rather obtuse; straight shooters, if you will. Would I have the ability to lead a double life, let alone a lesbian double life? Hell, no. So, it was pretty unlikely that she was doing that.

Then I started to wonder whether not saying anything would bite me in the bum. Would she see me, recognize me, and wonder whether I avoided her because she was with a woman? I honestly liked her when I knew her, and I would feel bad if she thought I'd give her the cold shoulder even if I did feel a tad weird about her date.

In the end, I approached her and said hello. And she knew me in an instant, and was happy to see me. I met her girlfriend. We caught up on the past decade or two, on the events of our lives—both of us had much to share, although my story couldn't begin to compare with hers for sheer surprise factor... I was glad I'd spoken, but it was a bit awkward; she's divorced now. Her kids are pretty much grown. I wondered how they had reacted to all this change... but it's no use wondering, really. It is what it is.

Still. I just keep thinking about that brief interlude. People change, yes. People pursue different careers. People marry, and break up, and have children and lose children. But to change teams: that's big. It's a whole new level of change; it's sort of like meeting an old colleague who's found religion, or become a fanatic about a cure for some illness or a weight-loss plan, or emerged after a sad period to a whole new existence of possibilities. The person is fundamentally the same person you knew before, and yet. And yet. There's been such a serious shift in the person's priorities and interests that he or she is almost like a new person.

I'm truly not certain where I stand on the whole same-sex thing. Do I think people of the same sex can marry? No, I don't. The Bible states pretty clearly that marriage occurs between and man and woman. That said, I used to know two men who were better at being an "old married couple" than most heterosexual couples. Can people of the same sex love each other? I'm sure they can. Is being a couple always about the sex part? No, of course not; I'm certain almost any married couple who's been together for many years would agree that sex isn't the ultimate glue that holds the pair together.

To me, union with another person is about commitment, about sticking to that person even when you don't feel like it, about companionship when no one else will come near, about helping to lift heavy objects both literal and figurative. Union is sometimes as boring as going to the store for the other one who's sick, or being the voice of encouragement and affirmation during hurtful family occasions. It's sharing coffee and meals, or unloading on the other after a bad day and knowing that the someone will listen. And I feel pretty certain that same-sex couples can do all those things for each other just like married people can.

Yes, it's not biblical. I know that. It's not the way a union between two people was intended. I hate thinking about same-sex lifestyles being presented as a normal option, I do; however, I also balk at most of what's considered normal these days. There are plenty of really messy "normal" couples out there who are lousing up their kids and cheating on each other and making awful, destructive, and selfish decisions. I detest the idea of young, homosexual singles out looking for some fun; I also hate the idea of any young heterosexual person selling him- or herself short by participating in tawdry, meaningless flings. None of it is right; it's all sin, it all cheapens the human soul. I've seen it and was even part of it in my younger years, and none of it is pretty; it's all shameful. We all sin and fall short. Whose sin is worse doesn't seem worthy of argument.

Do I think people choose to be homosexual? I have no idea. I can honestly see how sometimes, consequences might lead a person down that path; abuse by someone of the opposite sex, encouragement in that direction by an influential adult, the confused hope that embracing something less standard will make the person feel more important and unique. But I honestly believe that most people who gravitate to that lifestyle and stay there are drawn to it because it's just part of their makeup. Perhaps it's genetic, perhaps it's determined by the brain, perhaps it's none of those things—but I can't imagine most people would choose to practice any lifestyle that pretty much ensures a tougher road for nearly everyone who takes it. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. I've never had any inclination in that direction. But it doesn't seem like an easy choice, and I don't think I would choose it.

Still, people do sometimes prefer someone of the same sex. Some animals, too, or so I've read. Occasionally, the person who prefers it is a person you know. I'm not sure what to make of the whole thing, except now I'm a bit more certain about one aspect: it's a whole lot easier to have opinions on things when you don't have any friends who practice those things.

P.S. It doesn't matter who. Please don't try to guess who—at least not here. Thanks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Was it only last Monday?

A week ago today, I stood in sand,

My feet all buried in the gritty stuff.

I gazed upon horizon, flat and straight,

And listened to the ceaseless, surging surf.

(The sea has no desire to converse—
She's happy only when she has the floor.)
I took a therapeutic, salty breath,
Then filled lungs to capacity once more.

Last week, the days lay open and unplanned;
My schedule was determined by the sun.
Today? I'm driving to the dentist's chair.
My foremost thought? "Could I have dreamed such fun?"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Trust leads to spontaneity, release—and travel

So, here we sit, over a year since my husband was initially laid off from his full-time position as a tech graphics guy.

It's been a crazy ride. The past 15 months have sent us into a tailspin more than once. Yet through it all, we've been okay.

I finished my job this week. Finished it. Yup, resigned. Much as I liked many aspects of it, the sheer number of hours and the odd dayparts those hours consumed were taking a toll on my family. So, I am stepping away, thus freeing my husband to fully take the reins whilst I consume bon-bons on the couch. (And try to stretch each dollar so I can continue to pay bills as I enjoy those bon-bons. I might just end up eating some less-than-gourmet bon-bons; donations will be accepted should this unfortunate event occur.)

How are we reacting to this precarious situation, you ask? Why, with a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment family vacation!

Yup, we will return this week to that lovely NJ beach town that treated us so well last year, when we kept the pre-layoff reservation so as not to panic our little cherub. What's the point? we thought back then. Who knows when the next trip might be? we thought. Keep the plans, don't pay the cancellation fees, and then move on into official poverty.

But we're still here, still afloat. In fact, I just checked our records and, oddly enough, we have more money in savings now than we did 15 months ago. More, even, than after we'd plunked the generous severance package into our account. Huh? How did that happen?

Well, dear reader, I am happy to report to you that God is faithful and He takes cares of His people just like He says He will. We've been making our way day by day for this past year, and it hasn't always been pretty...but it has forced us, over and over, to trust God and pray and move forward without knowing exactly what will happen. Each time we have stepped on what appeared to be less-than-sturdy soil, it has held us and propelled us to the next safe spot.

I'm not such a freak about money anymore. I can't be. There hasn't been time for me to obsess over such things. I have a general idea of where we stand, which I am thankful to report is quite enough information. The finances, just like the house, needn't be trifled with every 15 minutes. Life goes on when I don't know the exact amount of today's expenses, just as life goes on when I don't pick up every stray Lego or Matchbox car.

If I have learned nothing else in the last year, I have learned this: I was never in control of diddly squat in the first place.

The sooner you learn this, and admit it, the better off you'll be emotionally.

Do we still have financial plans and retirement accounts? Yes (although they are diminished thanks to the stupid economy). Do I still obsess over dollars? Yes, sometimes. But now I see, repeatedly, how the less I cling to money, the more it comes back to me. The less I try to squirrel it away, the more I can spread it around among people I know to be truly needy. I'll be okay. I know from where my help comes, and it doesn't come from the bank, although that may be the channel. It comes from my Provider. And all my needs are met.

What will happen tomorrow? I have no idea. Something will likely break down; it always does. Taxes will go up. More jobs will disappear. Is it easier for me to say all this about trust and getting by because I have only one child? Because we all enjoy generally good health? Because we live on the cheap to begin with? Yes, I'm sure all those factors play a part.

But I stand firm: even in uncertainty, especially in uncertainty, all my needs are met, and then some. I may not know what's going to happen, but honestly? I never did. I do believe that we'll be okay. That I can lean on my Savior, take up His yoke, and get through whatever I'm facing. I believe that even as I shoulder that yoke, I can be the "channel" of help for some other person. I urge you to try it for yourself.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:2

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The fickle love of children—and disappointment of adults

My heart got broken earlier this evening.

For months now, I've tried to make the best of a situation gone ugly. My being away from home a lot of the time, during crucial family hours, has taken a toll—mostly on me. I've tried to make the best of the fact that I miss plenty of afternoon activities, four days per week, every week. I've tried to put on a happy face and drive the boy to and from preschool three mornings per week, tried to make sure the shopping list is either taken care of or clearly written in aisle order. I've cooked dinner in the morning about 3 mornings per week, trying to ensure healthy eating choices for both my family and for me (as I am unable to leave work to seek dinner food, let alone healthy pre-diabetic-friendly food). I've managed to keep up with cleaning, not to my usual standards but reasonably well. I've still changed the sheets somewhat frequently, maybe not weekly but not monthly either. I've remembered to shop for the soccer snacks, the preschool snacks, the gifts for Sunday school and other teachers, the special giveaway purchases for birthday parties, the birthday gifts for other kids' parties.

In other words, I have done all I could to make certain that life continued, relatively smoothly, for the boys in my house.

And I, in typical fashion, have been rewarded with apathy, disinterest, and lack of appreciation.

I got together with a friend tonight. A gal pal I used to work with, someone whom I honestly haven't seen in almost 4 years. She was in town. She wanted to meet for a cup of tea. I was excited. Oooh! A friend! I still had them! Yeah, I haven't painted a picture in months, I have no hobbies, I haven't read a book since Christmas, I haven't met any buddies for as long as I can remember, no dates with my husband since last year (because guess who plans those? yep, me)... but ooh! I get to have tea with a friend after work! I made my plans. I made certain it wouldn't be a problem. I was told it wouldn't be. I went. I visited. I had a lovely time for 2 hours, and then I hurried home so I could see my sweet boy before he went to bed.

He gave me the cold shoulder.

My darling son did not act happy to see me. He did not give me a hug. He wanted Daddy to help him brush his teeth. He wanted Daddy to read him a story. He did not want me. I rushed home so I could be slighted by my five-year-old.

Of course, he doesn't realize that the past year has been torturous for me. He doesn't realize that I don't enjoy being the "tidiness nazi" every day but that if I didn't, we would live in filth and ruin. My small child doesn't realize I am the one planning our lives, making the shopping lists, paying bills and budgeting for vacations, remembering his end-of-year program at school. I'm the one who washes his soccer shirt and socks. I'm the one who makes his bed, who marks on the calendar upcoming playdates and birthday parties. I'm the one who vacuums the floors of dirt tracked in, who saves snowballs in the freezer so we can gain free admittance into the science on the first day of summer.

None of that matters. I can't compete with the other parent who is more fun. Who has no chores. Who comes to soccer practice weekly. The person who offers only fun without boundaries, who doesn't have to cook or clean or bank or make boring shopping lists. How can I possibly stand alongside that person in popularity? How can I even begin to measure up when I dare to do laundry, ask for help folding towels and picking up the mess, and then have the audacity to meet one of my own friends for tea? Gosh, if I have a social occasion every four years, I'm doomed to be the least favorite parent for life.

This really sucks. I just said to my friend earlier this evening, "This has been such a hard year because I don't feel like I am doing anything really well." Tonight's lack of support from my own offspring pretty much underlines that whole point. Welcome to motherhood in modern America. Do the job, all your jobs, for less recognition and less respect. Expect nothing. Do more, and get even less.

And oh, by the way: you should also expect to be the less-loved one. Because if you have expectations and an agenda for your family? To quote Yoda: "You will be [the less loved one]. Oh, you will be."