Covered Up

Please remember while reading the following post: I wrote this as a commentary on Islamic women who feel free to choose how to dress in public, not those who are subjugated into a hidden life. 

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I recently heard an interview of a Muslim woman who was verbally assaulted because of the fabric she wore on her head. Despite the discrimination she faced, she was committed to wearing her head-dress in public.

The woman didn’t say why she felt so strongly about her hijab. Maybe she wears it to honor the verses of the Quran that instruct Islamic women to embrace modesty. Or maybe it’s a way for her to stand up for her faith despite the undercurrent of distrust toward Muslims. My guess is some do it for a less profound reason. They simply don’t want to fuss with their hair, and I can certainly respect that.

I get jealous of a Muslim woman whose son attends my daughter’s preschool class. I show up every Tuesday and Thursday completely disheveled. My hair being the first sign that I can’t get my sh*& together in time to put a brush through my ratted, unwashed mane. She gets to come every day looking dignified and sleek with the same black fabric draped over her head and neck.

Not only is it slimming, but it also covers potential neck wrinkles as she ages.

I know some westerners think that the head scarf is a way to suppress women, but I wouldn’t doubt that a smart female who happens to not be a morning person thought the whole thing up.

Whatever their reason, I am impressed by the women in today’s world who walk proudly in their hijabs. They clearly do not allow the judgments of others determine how they live out their faith life.

I am a Christian, but I wasn’t always. When I first dove into my relationship with Christ, I wore a small cross sometimes. To me, it was like wearing a 25 pound, blinking florescent sign that played “Jesus Loves Me” whenever someone would come close enough. Similar to those annoying toys in stores that sing as soon as you walk by. That subtle yet bold (for an introvert) outward profession of faith hasn’t happened much since the inception of my Christianity. It made me uncomfortable because I knew how the symbol around my neck was perceived.

In college, I based my view of Christians on the extreme people I came in contact with. Those that sat next to me on the plane and insisted, after only 3 minutes and 21 seconds of talking with me, that I should accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The women on campus that wore long skirts and held signs that read “Education for Women will Send you to Hell”. And the guy who lived in my same dorm, who said he was on the path to becoming a Christian pastor, but smoked weed like a chimney, slept with anything that drunkenly walked by, and used racial slurs frequently.

I thought in blacks and whites a lot back then. I mixed together all of the extreme behaviors and ideas that I witnessed, and created one, homogeneous Christian prototype that I assumed all people of that faith fit.

It still amazes me that I eventually accepted Jesus as my Savior. It wasn’t because of some two minute spiel from a complete stranger (I have heard of cases where this worked…just not for me). My Christian conversion happened after twenty some years of searching for the thing that filled an empty space in me, then grappling with the doubts and questions that came with believing in something I couldn’t prove. I also learned to detach my personal faith from the faith of others, which in turn helped me become a less judgmental person (sorry weed smoking dorm guy…I get it…we’re not meant to be perfect).

The point of this isn’t to describe why or how I became a Christian. It’s to say that now that I am, it’s hard having been on the other side and knowing what some non-Christians think of me. Whenever I reveal to someone that I am a follower of Jesus, I picture their thought process. It’s the same one that played through my mind years ago in my B.C. life. I see them hauling out a large cardboard box with “Christian” written across the top. They hurriedly pick me up and stuff me inside, making sure none of my limbs are hanging out, then tape it tightly shut with camo duct tape.

In their mind I am living a life within these walls. I think the same as other Christians, act the same, and believe all the same things. Oh, and I really only want to hang out with other Christian boxes.

When I list all of the atrocious things that I could be associated with if I was restricted to this box and the stereotypes therein, I am riddled with guilt and embarrassment. It’s why I am often reluctant to say certain trigger words that make my faith obvious, like “blessed” or “I’ll be praying for you.”

I know I shouldn’t care.

If I was standing firm in my faith, I’d tattoo a cross on each of my eyelids and greet strangers with closed eyes and a t-shirt that reads, “I LOVE JESUS”.

He is the MAN.

Lots of Christians adorn themselves in Jesus fashion and bible verse tattoos, and just like those women wearing hijabs, I respect them for their self-assurance. Maybe I’m too worried about what people think of me (actually, I know I am). But I can’t get over the fact that somewhere along the way, Christianity got muddled in this whole mess of humanity. Instead of love, sometimes it’s associated with words like hate, exclusion, and pain. And over our history, things done in the name of the Lord have been malicious and evil. On the same level as recent acts of terrorism by people professing to be Muslim.

Because of these things, I can’t walk outside with “crossed-eyes”, and I honestly wonder how women brave the world in their hijabs. I want to stop the women in fabric and ask, “why?” It doesn’t seem fair that they should feel obligated to wear a clear indicator as to their faith, while men hide behind a clean shave.

If I were them, I’d make a custom fabric for my head-scarf with the words “No, I am NOT a terrorist. Thank you for wondering” in large print.

It’s the same way I wish I could place an asterisk on any “Christian” remark I make or cross I wear. I want to hand people a tri-fold brochure explaining the following: No, I don’t believe that doctors should be murdered for performing certain surgeries. I don’t believe that LGBT people should be restricted from being the person they are and loving the person they love. I don’t believe women should be banned from leading a church. I don’t hate non-whites…Etc. etc. etc. 

Yet as I think of that brochure, I realize I don’t want to be known for all the things I don’t believe in. That’s exactly the attitude that gets people stuck in boxes. It’s pointless to define what or who I do or don’t associate with.

Because to everyone outside of those that I consider close, I am 100% of the time, someone or something I am not.

This is how I think it might feel to be an Islamic woman. In the morning she looks at her hair, deciding whether she should cover it or disguise herself as someone she is not. A non-conformist in a conformist’s costume. She tries one day to go without. Feeling naked and exposed. The wind a constant reminder of how she is diminishing her faith and a tradition passed down.

She senses what it would be to live without her faith. To lose the very thing that feeds her soul and gives purpose to her daily routine. To forget the five tenets that weave a thread between her and other believers. Those that aspire toward peace, self-discipline, and charity.

By the end of the day, the colors of the world are less vibrant. The music isn’t as powerful. Her interactions with family members leave a bitter aftertaste.

By losing her scarf, she loses some of what she stands for. She decides she would rather be in a box.

She braves the world covered up.

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More or Less

_J6A0589I am a mess. Or, in other words, I’m a wife, a mother of two children under two, and I’m trying to make a small business work. Most of the time I feel like all I do is react to things. I get up when my kids get up. I shower when my husband and kids are sick of taking the blame for my funk. I clean when guests come over or when the ring around the toilet starts glowing a neon pink like a Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign for bacteria to descend upon.

Outside of our small apartment, I can put on a good show. I feel like I’ve mastered the ability to appear laid-back and calm while simultaneously being a head case. My problem isn’t so much the lack of hygiene in my life (as you might insist). It’s more the pressure that comes with being a mom in our world. I’ve read so many blogs and magazine articles instructing me to relax. Enjoy this time in my life because my babies will grow up fast.

I get that. And I really do believe I am enjoying them as much as I can. I make every attempt to keep the phone at bay when I’m at home with my children. And any work that I do is scheduled during naps, after they’ve gone to sleep, or when they’re in the loving care of grandparents.

The pressure I’m feeling is self-inflicted and more perceived than a reality. It creeps in on days when I feel like the sun doesn’t shine on my life. When warm rays are only for the blessed ones with followers and likes and pretty selfie pictures adorning their social media walls. On those days I look around our 1080 square foot apartment and the walls suffocate me, the tiny pieces of brown leaves in the carpet are suddenly prehistoric in size, and the dearth of my social network for my business feels abysmal.

Suddenly the joy of raising my kids in the messy, germ-ridden way I do, isn’t good enough. And everything I do outside of my kids is not up to par either.

My husband, the kindest and most loving man in the world, sometimes pokes fun at me on these days and that’s exactly what I need him to do. When I’ve escalated a situation into the apocalypse, he brings it down to size. He says my motto in life is “Do More”. It bugs me that he has pin-pointed my problem so pointedly. In fact, until he said it, I never knew the words to ascribe to the constant hum going through my brain from the moment I wake up.

DO MORE MICK.

So you made a meal for that mom who just had a baby? Why didn’t you include dessert?  Or a salad? Or a baguette? 

So you made Evy lunch for preschool? Why didn’t you make little animal figurines out of the food like that giraffe made out of figs that a mom posted on Instagram?

So you posted an image on your Facebook business page for marketing? Why didn’t you write an entire blog post?

So you spent time marketing your business? Why weren’t you writing thank you notes? Or calling family? Or doing something thoughtful? 

So you wore (clean) yoga pants and a stain free shirt to the grocery store? Why didn’t you wear something hipsterish like a”photographer” should wear? 

This inner dialogue goes on and on and on. I was so thankful for a phone call from Evy’s preschool teacher yesterday. She laid out a list of wonderful things about my daughter, assuring me that Evy is developing perfectly and she is a joy to have in class.

Did I have any questions for her?

“So what more should I be doing for Evy on days she’s not in preschool? I mean, I try to teach her the alphabet and numbers, but what MORE could I be doing?”

Evy’s teacher doesn’t mince words. She says it like it is and earns the respect from both parents and two-year old children alike. She told me to “chill out Mick. She’ll be fine.”

I  know she’s 100% right. It’s just those days when all perspective is lost. When my ability to live as God intended, in the present moment, with a quiet mind, seems unfathomable. It’s those DO MORE days that fill my bucket with a list of inadequacies that becomes more lengthy every time I look on a Pinterest board. Especially those boards by uber moms who make the lists of “100 Super Toddler Craft Ideas that Will Ensure Your Child a 1500 or Higher on their S.A.T.”.

When I try to pray about my “do more” motto, the hum always interrupts. I get through about half a sentence and something pops into my brain about how I should have said that one thing to that one person today. Oh no, they’re going to get the wrong impression about what I meant. Should I text her about it? Maybe I should write an email explaining the nordic slang that might have confused her. We Minnesotans can come across reservedly rude without intending so. Yes, it’s 2:30 in the morning, but I know an explanatory text is necessary. 

Push send button….

Oh wait, did I start praying?

It’s not a good way to live. This hum thing. It’s not good at all.

When I think of its origin, I’m pretty sure it all stems from comparison. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like without social media. What would it feel like to live on the prairie where you only had a few neighbors to measure your achievements against and they lived miles away? In my DO MORE moments, I think it would be blissful to live in that Laura Ingalls Wilder sort of setting.

You know what would happen though? I’d end up marrying some dude who, years into our marriage, started to feel “convicted” about the righteousness of polygamy. It would be me and my sister-wives competing for the attention of our collective children and husband. Each of us having a “pin board” with kernels of corn showing us who made the best meal, knit the best sweater, offered the best sexual favors….

Scratch that whole prairie idea.

Even though we don’t share the same husband (thankfully), I know I have DO MORE sisters out there. Women who stay up late in search of an accomplishment on which to hang their hat. Then struggle to sleep because they are thinking of the next day’s accomplishments, then the next and the next. Before we know it, our hat stands are chalk full of meaningless busywork that keeps demanding more branches for more hats.

More clutter.

MORE.

In an effort to change this unhealthy pattern in my life, I’m searching for a new motto. Here are some possibilities…

“DO LESS.” (Inspired by this)

“NEVER PROMISE AND UNDER DELIVER.”

“DON’T MORE THAT MEANS LESS.”

It’s a work in progress but that last one is the idea I’m aiming for. I want to do things that bring me and others joy and I want to do those things with a clear mind. One that is not measuring whatever I did against someone else.

I think I’ll go stew over that motto while I scrub the toilet…

And if anyone has advice for how to balance life in these early child years, please share!

 

A Freckle

I’ve been in a sort of crazy love trance that started 16-months ago on my daughter’s birth date.

This parent type love that I’m talking about is different. It’s set apart. People always said it before I had Evy, but I didn’t really believe it. They’d assure me, “Oh it’s different when it’s your own kid. Just wait.”

They couldn’t have been more right. It is different.

The love that we are programmed to have for the little creatures that we receive is impossible to explain, but I think my experience with a freckle gives a small glimpse into its magnitude.

One day I saw a freckle on Evy’s arm. I didn’t see it the day before, and because I didn’t see it the day before, I know it did not exist the day before. This freckle was a new development. It was microscopic and unnoticeable to the normal human eye, but to my mommy eye it was like a mass of land had suddenly emerged from an ocean of skin. I was bearing witness to God painting one of his masterpieces. With one tiny speck, the entire landscape of His creation changed. A beautiful deviation arranged perfectly on the canvass that is my daughter.

For a couple of days, I became freckle-obsessed. I had to see it whenever I picked her up. I’d roll up her sleeve and say “Look Evy, you have a freckle! I love your freckle.” Then I’d give it a kiss.

Obviously this is strange. Often times I’d wonder why I was so intrigued by the tiny dot adorning my daughter’s arm. I’d sing in my head “a sprinkle, a spreckle, my Evy has a freckle!”

Eventually she caught on that she had a freckle. So, I’d ask her to show it to me and she would look down at her little arm, locate the spot, and tap at it with her other hand. Then she would make me pull up my sleeves so she could point out all of my freckles. And no matter how many times we practiced this exchange, my heart would melt with love and adoration every. single. time.

This isn’t normal, right? I mean, I love my husband in an inexplicable way, but I don’t go around pointing out his freckles and singing songs about them.

It was just such a singular experience to realize I was the first person to ever see this freckle. She will have it all her life. It is unique to her. She is a human being with freckles and I, yes I, am her parent. The person responsible for her well-being. The one that waited anxiously for her arrival. The one that will always hope the very best for her.

The one that will love her, down to each and every individual freckle, for all time.

It is different.

And crazy.

I simply can’t imagine life without that freckle.

 

Writer Writer

I want to be a writer.

Not just a blog writer. A legitimate “writer writer”.

About a year ago, I decided if this is my goal, I have to commit to larger projects than blog posts.

So, I wrote a screenplay.

I wrote a full-length, 92 page, animated feature film, coming soon to a theater near you! (Insert skeptically raised eyebrow here). In reality, this piece of literature will most likely sit in the repository of my “My Documents” folder until my ten-year-old, hand-me-down laptop decides to cash in its microchips.

Ugh.

This is the kind of turmoil wanna-be writers face. You create something. Maybe it’s a short-story, an essay, a blog post, or a tweet. Perhaps it’s a novel. A screenplay even. You read through the end-product countless times. Half of you thinks it’s incredible. A true original. Something the human world needs to experience.

But the other half knows it’s complete crap.

There’s really no in-between for dreamers like me. It’s black or white. Utterly astonishing or shards of poo on the bottom of a shoe.

For a fleeting moment, I thought my screenplay was in that astonishing category. I had visions of red carpets in my mind and I imagined the star-studded cast that would sign on to do the voices for my characters. I even entered a popular screenplay contest and made the top 10%.

This is precisely when hot air started to rapidly inflate my head. What?! Top 10%? I didn’t even have the right formatting for a screenplay and I made the cut?! Hollywood was within my grasp!

Then reality sunk in, or perhaps the Lord knew I needed some deflating. After including the edits from a few screenplay writers and actors, I submitted my work to Amazon Studios where they are known for helping first time screenwriters break into the business. I was sure they would call me with urgency, begging to buy my script.

Nothing.

All I received was a terse email stating that the “45-day evaluation period had ended and they were not choosing to exercise or extend the option” on my project.

Ugh.

What I once thought astonishing was now the worst piece of writing I’d produced since my second grade report on the family life of Maxi Barbie.

I was on the rollercoaster that is creative work. Because of the effort and time I invested in my screenplay, it had become almost like a physical extension of me. Sadly transforming from a beauty mark brightly shining on the left cheek of my face, to an ugly wart hidden beneath band-aids, clothing, makeup, whatever I could find.

That email from Amazon Studios left me searching for ways to reverse time, or at least erase my memory of all the hours I committed to developing characters and sorting out the drama of Act 2.

I sulked for a few days.

But then I saw a TED talk and everything changed. The lady who was speaking did studies on the most successful people in the U.S. and found one thing in common among all of them. It wasn’t talent, money, attractiveness, or personality.

It was grit.

The people that never give up, despite negative feedback and emotional downturns, end up doing what they want in life.

Thanks to this motivational speech, I’m considering my screenplay a victory. I finished it. 92 pages of a complete story. It may be crap, but maybe it’s crap that leads to less crap. And eventually, somebody somewhere might think it’s not crappy at all.

Then I can officially say I’m a “writer writer”.

Trader O’s

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Evy’s favorite food is the cereal, Trader O’s. I don’t understand it. The circular shapes are tasteless. Like little crumbs of cardboard. I continue to fill her food tray with flavorful morsels of raspberries, chicken sausage, and cheesy eggs, but she always looks longingly up at the bright yellow box.

Even when she has a handful of O’s in front of her, she still wants more. Evy twists her body and points up at the O’s, which are placed among our other cereals in the kitchen pantry. She excitedly grunts, “mmm, mmm, mmm” as she waits for me to follow her orders. When I don’t comply, she gets frustrated and purses her lips. Her eyebrows come together and she starts to breathe loudly through her tiny nostrils.

I try to reason with her. “Look Evy! You already have some O’s on your tray. Enjoy what you have before you beg for more.”

She gives me her signature scowl and continues to point. “This isn’t enough mom. I want more!” (I imagine her saying).

Recently I’ve realized just how much of a hypocrite I am when I say those words “enjoy what you have before you beg for more.” So many times, instead of savoring the abundance of blessings in my life, I’m pointing at them and asking God for an overflow.

For example, when I was pregnant with Evy, I was fortunate enough to get a couple gift certificates for prenatal massages. Instead of appreciating the moment and allowing my mind to rest, most of the time I was thinking something like “oh sad, she’s already done with my shoulders.”  Or, “this is going by too fast, I should really spring for the longer session next time.”

If I was outside of myself, listening to my thoughts, I’m sure I would give a disapproving glare and say “Look Mick! You’re already getting something you want. Enjoy what you have before you beg for more!”

It’s embarrassing to admit how I can be discontent when getting something as frivolous as a massage. I mean really, close to 2,000 people are dead and thousands have been displaced because a typhoon ravaged through their country. If people in the Philippines heard me complaining about the amount of minutes in my massage, they’d probably slap me across the face.

How can I be discontent when I have shelter, food, family, life, and so much more? Beyond that, how can I be discontent when I don’t deserve any of the things I have? They are all gifts from God.

If I had a tray full of Trader O’s in front of me and each one represented a blessing in my life, the scenario would probably play out similarly to Evy’s snack sessions. I’d pack them all in my mouth to the point where I couldn’t fit another crumb inside, and with my cheeks bulging, I’d point at the box and grunt, “MORE!”

In those moments we forget that many people’s trays are empty. Their cheeks are sunken in and they are opening up their hands and asking for SOMETHING instead of MORE.

I pray that as I teach Evy the value of a contented heart, I can learn to have one too.

I also pray that we can all learn to help those that do, in fact, need more.

Here’s one way to do just that.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Before I forget, I want to pay homage to the neighborhood we lived in this past summer.

I’m one of those people that wants to live everywhere, on every continent. I can see myself enjoying a condo in the heart of a city and a rustic farm in the middle of nowhere. Since we were subletting for only three months, the summer in Minnesota was a perfect opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in a true city neighborhood. The home we lived in was on Thomas Avenue in the Hamline/Midway area of St. Paul.

It was everything I dreamed it would be. A trendy coffee shop down the street. Beautiful old church buildings around every corner. Neighborly folks cruising along the city sidewalks. The Como Zoo just a stone’s throw away. A basketball court for Mark to play with the neighborhood guys. And Blooma, my favorite yoga studio, accessible by bike. Perfect.

Evy and I took advantage of the weekdays to explore our temporary home. I think both of us saw many benefits to the city lifestyle. Not only does a city neighborhood offer diversity in its people and surroundings, there’s also a deep sense of community that I never expected. Our fellow house tenants that lived in the downstairs portion of the rental property became true “neighbors” instantly. They let us use their Internet, loaned us Ranch dressing in an emergency, and were always eager to have a “chit-chat”.

I know these kinds of neighbors can be anywhere, but the city forces people to be in close proximity to each other. We could almost touch the house next to us simply by reaching out the window (okay, maybe with a really long stick). Some might shudder at the thought of this. An invasion of their personal bubble.

Truth be told, it can be a real effort for me to be neighborly most days. When I have to walk out to the car in my pajamas right after waking up because I forgot to bring the diaper bag inside, probably the last thing I need is a “chit chat”. My first instinct is to briskly walk by, my head down, with blinders on my periphery. However, because the neighbors were so close this summer, and most of them were wearing their pajamas too, I went against my grain.

Looking back, it felt good to live in a location with people eager to know the person next door. The city life taught me about community. Growing relationships in the place God plants you.

Thanks for making us part of your vibrant neighborhood Hamline/Midway. We hope to see you again someday!

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Home

We arrived in our North Carolina home a week and a half ago. I can hardly believe the summer in Minnesota is over. I knew it would fly by, as do most things nowadays, but I still can’t believe we were there. It’s like a favorite movie or TV series that you decide to watch all in a row, marathon style. You build up to the momentous viewing event for a long time, and when it finally arrives, you’re captivated. The show has beloved characters, a riveting plot, familiar scenery, and wonderful little quirks along the way that you didn’t remember.

When the series ends, you feel a mix of emotions. In one sense happy that you can get off the couch and back to normal life, but in another sense sad that you can’t stay in that world for longer.

Even though Mark and I can’t begin to describe the joy that comes with sleeping in our own bed, we are so very grateful for the summer in Minnesota. I know Evy is too. Minnesota and all its characters will hold a special place in her heart all her life.

So, you know how at the end of every television series they play a montage of all the show’s highlights? Well, even though this montage does not include even half of the faces and places that made our trip special, it gives a taste of Evy’s first summer in this world.

Enjoy the highlight reel.