2015: A Year in Review

January 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

2015 has been a big year. A memorable year. A year that we’ll look back on decades from now and say “that’s the year Lucy was born!” But not the most fun, or easiest year.

We found out in early January that I was pregnant. And cue three months of worrying: will [she] make it? (We didn’t know it was a girl, but we had our suspicions.) I worried. I worried a lot. I didn’t feel pregnant in those first few months, in which most women said: and why are you complaining?! It’s true — I felt pretty much normal except for the occasional feeling of being seasick. I was ecstatic when I felt those first tiny kicks.

We redid our floors in March and April. Okay, I can’t really say “we” because I had nothing to do with it. Between my dad, my uncle Gary, and Ben, hardwood floors were laid in the kitchen and living room. And then the entire top floor was sanded and sealed. During this time, we had to move our entire top floor into the garage. Ben lived at my sister’s place for a few days, while I ran away to the cities. It was worth it: we love love LOVE our new floors. Although I feel much less enthusiastic about sweeping and mopping them.

In May we went to Savannah, Georgia. Ben likes taking vacation after Easter. The Easter season — Lent and Holy Week — is a long (and busy) stretch in the church year, so we’ve decided to take a vacation shortly after Easter Sunday every year from here on out (please, hold us to this). Our criteria this year included: somewhere warm, somewhere we haven’t been, and somewhere with a beach (an ocean, really). We picked Savannah. We spent the first part of the week on Tybee Island, and the second part in Savannah. It was lovely. We took long walks on the beach, kayaked to a lighthouse (sadly did not see any dolphins), and strolled through Bonaventure Cemetery made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Also it was the first time I saw Baby Durbin kick. And the first time people commented on me being pregnant. One of my favorite moments was at a B&B at which we stayed, and a woman who was staying there eyed me from head to toe, and said in the most delicious Southern drawl: “Y’all have any kids?” Best coy way to ask a girl if she’s pregnant.

June, July, August: The summer flew by as always. We moved out of, and sold the condo. I was finally ready for that (it took a full year after moving out and to Fergus before I was ready to say goodbye), and even though I miss it when we head to the cities, I figure we’ll be condo people again someday. For now, we’re fixing up our little green house on the hill. Speaking of, we remodeled our bathroom. Again, by “we” I mean, Ben and his parents demolished it, and then my dad built it up again! All I had to do was show my dad my Pinterest board, and he told me what to buy at Home Depot, and that was that. I returned the favor with bowls of hot homemade soup and good bread from the bakery in town when he’s here for lunch. (That’s fair payment, right?) Smack dab in the middle of summer, we went to a music fest — Eaux Claires in Eau Claire! — on the hottest weekend of the year. Perhaps not the wisest thing to do while nearly eight months pregnant, but I’ll never forget running from the portapotties to the Sufjan Stevens show, in the dusk, with my friend Stephanie, giggling all the way: magic. And of course, the summer is always book-ended by the garden. Ben’s parents were here for a week at the beginning of summer to help plant, and then again towards the end of the summer to help harvest. They are saints I tell you!

And then September came. The month in which our sweet baby girl was born. I’ll save another blog post for my birth story (what, you don’t really want to hear about my mucous plug?), but I love remembering those hours and days both leading up to her birth and right after. I had an emergency c-section (she came out butt first, the doc said “oh shit!”, and shoved her back in), and I woke up from surgery only asking “is it a girl?” The doctor said yes, and I fell back asleep only to ask the same question when I woke again. Ben got to spend Lucy’s first hour of life with her, which he loved. He got to change her first diaper! We were also so thankful to have a doula to help us navigate this journey. Leaving the hospital was hard for me. I felt really safe there. Plus, we had visitors galore, people brought me food whenever I wanted it, HGTV was always on, and I got to lay in bed with my baby. It was bliss! The next few weeks at home were not so blissful, but we got through it.

In October, Ben’s grandpa (his mom’s dad) passed away. It was unexpected. Death is always painful, but all the more difficult when it’s unexpected. We flew out to Saginaw for his funeral, and it was the first time I met many of Ben’s relatives and the first time we could introduce Lucy to her great-grandmothers, great-aunts and uncles, and other family members. Funerals have a special blessing, of being part-family reunion. This was no exception, and I’m so grateful we could be there in that time.

In November, my grandma (my dad’s mom) passed away. We were able to introduce her to Lucy about a month after Lucy was born. By this time, my grandma had nearly lost her ability to speak. She could get two or three words out at a time and would say “tiny feet”, “beautiful”, “so sweet.” She died on my grandpa’s birthday, while we stood around her bed singing. It was a beautiful moment with family — a moment I’ll never forget. Her death was not unexpected, nor sudden. While I was helping write the obituary, I read (in an article on obit etiquette) that one is never to use the word “sudden” since all deaths are sudden. I disagree. Death did not sneak up on my grandma. It was there, hanging around for weeks, making no attempts at being surreptitious. And so, when it came, we rejoiced as much as we grieved.

And now December. I went back to work part-time (still working from home), so that I can still stay at home with Lucy. I feel as though I have the best of both worlds (for now, anyway). But December felt like a blur, full of holiday activity. And then my aunt died the day after Christmas. She had been sick for so long, that it wasn’t a surprise, and there was part relief in her passing. There are many things I will miss about her, but I grieve mostly for my uncle who lost his wife, and my cousin who lost his mom. Life is forever changed without her.

And then the world. This year has felt heavy. With all of the mass shootings, the racial injustices, and the crises abroad — especially in Syria. So much death and loss all around. And I have this survivor’s guilt sometimes, like: why have I gotten to live this great life? I still haven’t come up with an answer, except that this Bible verse springs to mind: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Maybe the answer to “why” is not a philosophical one. Maybe it’s a practical one. Don’t bother with asking why. If you’re given much, give much. Give to your family in need, give to your friends in need. Give to your community, give to the world. Give your time, your money, give your self. At least, that’s what I’m preaching to myself these days.

Lest I end on a total Debbie Downer note, I sit here in the glow of the lights on our Christmas tree. The girl just went down for the night (well, at least for a few hours anyway). And I think — last year I was pregnant, but I didn’t know it. I had no idea what was around the bend — the love I’d feel for this tiny, squishy human. How, when I hold her, I never want to let her go. She is my light, my Lucy. And now, with just a few hours left of the year, Ben and I shall make our way to the basement, enjoy a glass of wine (for me) and beer (for Ben), and put on a movie. Netflix and chill. Ha.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

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On Being Pregnant, Or I am Doubting Thomas

May 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

A couple weeks ago, Ben preached a sermon on the text of Doubting Thomas — the infamous apostle who goes down in history for something so human and mundane: for refusing to believe in Jesus until he felt and saw the wounds in his hands. To me, that sounds pretty logical most days. In the sermon, Ben tells a story about his time on internship in North Dakota. The story goes like this:

The Spring of Ben’s first year on internship, the farmers were able to get their seeds into the ground nearly a month earlier than usual. Ben commented that it must be a sign it’s going to be a good year! But the farmers said: we don’t know if we’ll get enough rain during the summer. It’s looking like it might be kind of dry this year. But by July 4th, the corn was shoulder-high, and Ben said again to the farmers: this has got to be a sign that it’s a great year for crops. And the farmers replied: that all depends on harvest. At harvest time, farmers were out in the fields gleaning every cob, every kernel they could and it was, indeed, one of the best harvests they’d ever seen. Finally, Ben said, so it was a great year after all! But the farmers said: we don’t know until we sell — we don’t know corn prices yet. Anyway, in the end, the prices were good, and the farmers were finally able to celebrate their banner year.

During the telling of this story, I couldn’t help but think of my pregnancy. How similar it felt. How at each supposed “milestone”, friends and family were asking me if we’d picked out names or decorated the nursery, and I could barely keep myself from saying: well, that’s if we get a baby in the end! It felt as though I should be jumping up and down with excitement, but instead I was measured in my replies: we’ll see how our next appointment goes.

***

I was ten days late. I’d been late before, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. On the way home from a family celebration — on or around that 10th day of waiting for that monthly sign as regular as the new moon — Ben and I stopped in Sauk Center to buy a pregnancy test. I didn’t want to stop in Alex or Fergus for fear of running into an acquaintance. We got home, and I sat on the couch and read for a while. It was almost midnight and Ben asked, “Well, aren’t you going to take the test?” My reluctance was born out of fear. Fear that I wasn’t pregnant. Fear that I was pregnant! I peed. The stick instantly declared our impending parenthood. And I was really, truly happy.

We had our first appointment at eight weeks. Too early to do any kind of ultrasound or fetal Doppler, but my pee still said I was pregnant, and up until then, I had been feeling as though I’d been on a boat for too long: a little queasy. Literally the day after our appointment I felt fine. The nausea went away. I didn’t seem to crave any foods like I had in the previous weeks — no mad dashes to get chocolate milk or pounds of strawberries. The Internet was full of stories that sounded just like mine that had ended tragically. Friends told me to be grateful, but I literally prayed for nausea — at least that would prove I was still pregnant. We wouldn’t have our next appointment for four weeks, and time dragged on. We decided to tell our families during this period, but I could not jump for joy. I didn’t want to do any planning. I just didn’t feel pregnant anymore.

Week 12 came: our first ultrasound. I was so, so nervous. I get nervous for things like running marathons, or public speaking. This felt like a strange thing to get nervous about — something out of my control. When I saw on the monitor arms and legs moving — kicking! — I exhaled, which felt like the first time in a long time. And yeah, that cliche scene you see so often in movies where the parents-to-be hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time — the one where they look at each other, eyes welled up with tears? It’s pretty much true. It feels like you’re hearing a miracle.

Over the weeks, my belly started to round out a bit more. Finally, I thought! A physical sign of my pregnancy. But our 20 week ultrasound was coming up — the hour long ultrasound where the tech makes sure baby is developing properly. So, we held our breath again, looking at that baby on the monitor — looking more Gollum-like than baby — but, the doctor had only good things to say: everything’s looking normal.

We have five months to go. We are excited. We have names picked out (Ben’s requirement: something Biblical; my requirement: it can’t sound home-schooled), the nursery is starting to house hand-me-down infant onesies, and my nights are often filled with stroller or car seat research. But now I wait for kicks, and fear sets in if it’s been too many hours since I’ve last felt them (how many hours is too many?). I feel the need to announce it out-loud every time I feel it. “Baby’s kicking!” I shout to Ben, or to no one. And so most days, I feel like Thomas: needing proof that she or he is alive, waiting and hoping to hold that miracle in my arms.

Saying Goodbye

December 31, 2014 § 3 Comments

It’s fitting that I’m packing up (most of) the condo on the last day of the year — a year in which was very good in many ways, and a year in which I grieved leaving St. Paul, and my single-girl-in-the-city life. Think: Carrie Bradshaw.

J/k.

I still have the plant from my aunt Karen (it’s still living and has multiplied again and again!), the red candlesticks from Meg, the old cigar box from Heather, the vase from Emi and Jon, the cookbook from Alex. I’m sure more of you gave me housewarming gifts, but I’m sorry I can’t remember them now. And as I wrap them in paper and bubble wrap, I feel so grateful for having friends who wanted to help warm my home. Which makes me think: I should do that more often for other people.

This condo was so much more than just the place I lived. I bought it by myself. It was the place I learned to be single again. And the place where I nursed more heartaches. I loved waking up in this place, in the full sun. Sitting on the couch with coffee and books well past noon, watching the teenage boys do skate tricks in the parking lot, dancing to Rihanna in my undies (if you don’t dance when you listen to Pon de Replay, there’s something wrong with you).

I remember in college walking with my friend Emilie on the cobblestone streets of Saint Anthony Main, and I said aloud that I dreamt of one day having a condo in the city. With a piano. And fancy cocktail parties. I think I had probably just read The Awakening, and wanted a Southern 19th century lifestyle, but still. I did it.

And now we’re selling it. (Wanna buy it?) When we moved to Fergus, Ben and I planned to keep the condo. Maybe rent it out. Let our future kids use it during college, and then move back to the cities in retirement. I fiercely did not want to give it up. But I started to fall in love with a new home — our little green house on the hill. And when I was here for work, I missed Ben and the animals. And paying two mortgages isn’t super fun.

Ben said, “let’s do what you want to do.” Which is one of the many reasons why I’m so glad I married him. And it took me nearly a year, but I’m ready to say goodbye to this place. So, sayonora good friend. I hope the next owners fall in love with you as much as I did.

Try and Understand

December 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m sure like me, your Facebook or Twitter feed is filled with news articles, but mostly opinions, about Ferguson and similar events. And, people are generally taking one of two sides: 1) what happened to Michael Brown is a crime and Officer Darren Wilson should be (should have been) arrested or 2) Officer Darren Wilson was only doing his job.

This is such a polarizing topic, that I bet as you’re reading this, you’re wondering which side I’m on and if I’m not siding with you, that you might just unfriend me on Facebook. I’m saying this because I have this sick fascination of watching or listening to or reading things I know I’ll disagree with just to get riled up and feel self-righteous. (If we’re honest, I think most of us do this.) But just to get distractions out of the way, I think Darren Wilson should have been arrested and made accountable for his actions. But if you disagree with me, please stay with me. At least for a few more minutes.

A few years back, I lived in Costa Rica for a couple months. I like walking, and would often walk into town — which was about a mile away from our apartment. Every time I walked alone, men in trucks would whistle or catcall or both. I hated it, but didn’t acknowledge it. One night, I was walking along the road from the beach to a restaurant. I was with two men (whom I knew), but was walking ahead of them a bit. A truck drove by and men in the truck whistled and catcalled, and I had had enough. I yelled at the guys in the truck and flailed my arms. I was furious. The two guys I was with said I was overreacting. That I should have taken it as a compliment.

I think — I hope — we are making strides in our culture that catcalling is not a compliment, but a threat. Now, that was a pretty minor event, but I wanted to share it as an example of an event that multiple people observed and came up with two completely different responses. At it’s root, I think that’s what is happening with events like Ferguson. By no means am I suggesting that being black is like being a woman. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that I think it’s hard to know what it’s like to be “other”. I mean, truly, white people don’t know what it is like to be black, unless you’re John Howard Griffin. Men don’t know what it’s like to be women (for the most part). I’m not a behavioral scientist, but when I say “know”, I mean something more on the lines of “experience” rather than “conscious of”. Whites may have an idea of what it’s like to be black from books, or movies, or black friends, but we don’t really know.

But, here’s the other thing. I guarantee that everyone has had a moment in their lives that they were judged because of some outward appearance. Maybe it was racial, or ethnic, or gender related. Maybe it was because of your hair or your clothes or your piercings or tattoos. Maybe it was because of your height or weight. If this has happened to you, you know what it’s like to be judged. Because you know, you can have empathy. You can begin to understand what it might be like for someone else. I believe that blacks have been treated unfairly as a race. I believe there have been a lot of injustices done against them. But nothing will change if we don’t try and understand. That’s the least we can do: try and understand.

Also, when you unfriend people you don’t agree with, you’re just preaching to the choir. To reach those you disagree with, first: understand where they are coming from. Empathize. Then speak your mind.

The Second Time Around

December 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

I get asked this question every now and again. From married friends. Divorced friends. Single friends. “Is being married different the second time around?” I think most people — including myself — expect a resounding yes. Of course one hopes that whatever mistakes you make the first time around, you’ve wizened up enough not to make them the second time around. But I think it’s more like whatever mistakes you made the first time around are just that more obvious the second time around, as in, “Wow! I can’t believe I didn’t learn that from my first marriage! Good one, Ruth!”

Like, did you know that when you’re married — no matter who you’re married to or whatever number of spouse you’re on — you do things differently? It’s true. For example: I save plastic grocery bags. I’m sure you do too. I think this is a value born out of the Great Depression and hasn’t left our system yet. I simply stash all of my plastic grocery bags in a larger bag under the sink. That seems completely acceptable and normal. Ben, however, ties them in a knot. I remember the day I learned this tidbit. He said, “Hey Ruthie, I like to tie knots in the bag before putting them away because they take up less space that way!” I nodded, “That’s neat, dear husband of mine.” I mean, how did he not know I’ve been doing it my way for so long?

Also, no matter who you’re married to, you probably make decisions differently. I actually learned a lot about how Ben makes decision just after one date. Our first date was Halloween (on a Saturday night), and I flew out to Birmingham the following day for work. We talked on the phone for hours — me on my fluffy hotel comforter and he in his dorm room. If my life were a movie, I’d make sure in this scene that the director include a rotary phone so that my (Scarlett Johansson’s?) fingers could curl around the cord, like you do when you’re talking to a boy. Anyway. I learned that he had been interested in me for about two months, but gave it a lot of thoughtful consideration before officially asking me out on a date. Me? Let’s just say that, in college, when an acquaintance asked me if I wanted to live in North Carolina for a summer, I said yes, and quit my job the next day. In a word, I’m rash. For better or for worse.

But also: it is different. Sam wasn’t the guy for me — or at least not the life-long partner guy for me. I had a college professor say to me (to our class, really) that there are friends you’ll have your whole life long. And then there are friends — even really good friends — who will be in your life for a chapter or two. He said this to our class of 36 students, living in Ecuador, who had become pretty much a family during that time. And I think he said it to us because a) it’s true, and b) so that we wouldn’t fall apart if we all didn’t stay friends forever. I think that’s some of the best wisdom or advice I’ve ever received. And when I reflect on being married twice, I don’t regret saying yes to Sam. He helped make me the person I am today. Sam was my post-college-I’m-23-and-an-adult-now-and-hey-let’s-get-married guy. And Ben is my I-love-you-and-hey-I-could-actually-live-with-you-life-long partner guy.

In some ways, I think marriage is marriage is marriage. It’s good, and it’s hard. No matter who you are.

I mean, on one hand, we’re constantly negotiating for power cords, travel mugs, and whether we should watch Parks & Rec or The Office.

On the other hand, when I asked the other day: “So, how are you?” He said, “In love with you.”

On Church

April 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have a friend who goes to church every Sunday but doesn’t believe in God. He goes because it’s his community.

The weird thing? I have a hunch that this is not uncommon. I wonder how many suburban dads go to church because they have Fantasy Baseball friends there, or how many old ladies go to church because it’s their only social outing for the week.

I’ve heard so many times that people can’t get behind church because they don’t believe in all that. (And sometimes the “that” is God, and sometimes it’s “Jesus” and sometimes it’s “judgement”.) And it’s hard to tell people that it can be so much more than dogma, mostly because you start to sound like an Amway salesperson.

In college I attended House of Mercy, and I loved it. But I didn’t know why, so I sat down and wrote the reasons why I was going to church. Guess what? None of them had to do with my beliefs. The first one was because I really liked the people. And because there was a certain group of friends who would get together for pizza, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and indie movies every Sunday. Also, I really loved the music.

And at one point in my surly college years when I knew everything (and I mean everything) and I’d go home to my parents’ church and get so upset by the sermon or something, I’d ask my dad how he could still be going there. He responded, “because it’s my family.” And he knew if anything happened, they would take care of him. I believe it.

At the time, I thought how nice. How nice for my dad. But the longer I went to a church, I felt it to be true (and saw it to be true more than once in church goers who experienced crisis and trauma). And oddly, my beliefs have been formed out of experience. I believe in forgiveness and redemption. I believe in generosity. I believe in grace. I believe in faith. I believe all of this because I’ve seen it. Church means having a community. It means we have a bunch of people who love us, who will care for us, and will even let us sob uncontrollably.

That’s church to me. Not rules. Not dogma. Not doctrine. It’s community. It’s a place where you know you’re loved more than you can possibly imagine. That you’re loved no matter what.

 

 

 

My Love Letter to Mercy Seat

February 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

Tonight was Ben’s ordination service. It had been planned for weeks, and I had joked with Ben that I would need to wear waterproof mascara. I did cry, but nothing like the Sunday of December 29th when I bawled through the whole service. That night — why the 29th I’m not sure — but that night it hit me that it was coming to an end. Mercy Seat would no longer be my community. Sure, I’d keep track of them on Facebook, and certainly stay friends with many of them, but this unique, weird, close relationship I had with them was ending. I felt myself slipping out of the finance committee and the committee of the future. I decidedly stopped serving communion as often knowing that someone else should take my place. The past couple of months have been a painful tearing away of.

Tonight I heard a lot of two things: 1) Are you exited about moving to Fergus Falls? and 2) It just hit me that this is your last Sunday. To address those who asked that first question: I am excited. But if you sense some hesitation in my response, it’s because I’m overwhelmed with sadness. Because I cannot talk about moving to this new place without also recognizing the cost of what I’m leaving behind. And to address those who said the latter to me: Yeah, that feeling hit me a month and a half ago when I could not look at Mark and Kae without weeping. I couldn’t sing without weeping. I couldn’t pass the peace without weeping. Everything hit me like a gut punch that Sunday. But tonight? I sat next to Laura Brown, Jennie, and the Mennings. And while I deeply love those people, I felt far away. Not to them, but to the church. I felt like I had already left. (Which felt really really weird.) Maybe because we had already left in a way. Ben has accepted the call. We accepted an offer on a house today. (WHAT?! Yeah, more on that later.) We are moving on. Tonight just felt like the formalization of all of that.

I feel exhausted. I feel so emotionally exhausted that I don’t even want to cry or acknowledge that I’m leaving (because, honestly, having a last Sunday at Mercy Seat is kind of unfathomable). But I want to make sure that I don’t leave without telling you how much Mercy Seat has meant to me.

So, Mercy Seat. You have been a good home to me. You welcomed me in when I was going through the hardest time of my life. You made me laugh. You sat by me. You offered to beat up people who hurt me. (Yeah, that’s not very Christian-like, but the sentiment was very much appreciated.) You encouraged me to write (and to share what I wrote), and valued my words. You showed up at my writing class reading in your sweaty gym clothes (I’m looking at you, Kae). You walked around Lake Como with me. You gave me the love of my life. (Hey, Ben!) And you have even encouraged me to keep writing. (Yes, you Erick!) You showed up all over the place. Which means, you have been the best kind of home someone could hope for.

I’ll come back and visit. I’ll stay in touch. And I hope and pray that more people fall in love with that church like I did.