4.07.2016

The Holy Grail and an Infinite God

Because my book is about an Arthurian hero (who happens to be a woman, but that's not the important part of the story), I've been thinking a lot about the Holy Grail lately. Not the Monty Python version, but the real deal. I've got the sequel in my head in bits and chunks with the connections between them and the first story and the anticipated third and final hanging together in 4-D in my mind, and I'm finding the idea of the Holy Grail taking a core position in the rubric.

I didn't mean to get here, actually. I didn't start by trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Grail. Instead, I was struggling to come up with a metaphor for how religions relate to God (I'm tempted here to adopt the Jewish approach and instead write g-d, acknowledging the full impossibility of containing the true nature of g-d in a single word, "God," but although I agree with the reasoning behind writing g-d, it feels a tad too pretentious since I am not, in fact, Jewish.)

This is the metaphor that is sticking with me, and I am certain it is not an original construct of my own. Unfortunately I don't recall where I first came across it, but if any readers can point me to a source of something similar, I would be very grateful. It seems to me to work like this: Think of God as water, all the water in the universe. It is a necessary ingredient for life. It is everywhere, visible and invisible. Our own planet is awash with it, our very bodies sloppy full of it. If we are cut off from it we die. Think of every ocean, every lake, every stream, aquifer, cloud, and vapor. Every icy comet. Every molecule of these two fundamental elements, linked up to support life.

Now imagine a cup. Fill that cup with water. The cup is religion--any religion. It helps us to interact with the water, to drink the water, to hold the water. The water appears to take the shape of the cup and fill it perfectly. It does this with every single cup.

You could look at the cup of water you hold and say, "This is all there is to know about water. Look, the water perfectly fits this cup. My cup is the True Cup." And you would be completely wrong. You would be confusing the cup with the water. You would be assigning boundaries and limitations to the water that are actually only the properties of your cup. You would be denying the nature of the water, that every other living thing drinks it as well as you do, without benefit of your cup. There are many cups, all of which serve their purpose of giving people the opportunity to drink the water. But there are also those kneel beside the stream and drink with their cupped hands. The water nourishes them just as well.

And in thinking through this, it seems that the Holy Grail is that vessel that is the universal cup, it is the container of water that has no shape, no limit, no top or bottom. It is the cup that cannot be written down or stored in a jeweled box, that transcends dogma, that is the eternal, unbreakable link between God and our souls. It is the cup that cannot be fought over, because it is never the same as it was.

It is all cups at once, forever.

2.15.2016

Fired and Reinstated

I am raising myself. I have the daughter my mother always wished for me.

Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, while I was busy making waffles for breakfast, which wasn't really what I wanted to eat that morning but it would be a treat for the kids so I was making them anyway (with nutella, sliced strawberries, and fresh whipped cream, natch), my daughter screamed at me that she didn't think she needed to be parented and that she was not my "little labor worker."

Of course this didn't just come out of nowhere. Earlier she had asked me if she could watch tv, and I told her that this day was going to be a "Screen-free Sunday," after which she admonished me that this meant I couldn't go on to Facebook, after which I sent her to her room. It all went downhill from there. Although I was amused by the yelling that she didn't understand why she needed parenting, as I was making her breakfast, I was also hurt by it, so husband stepped in as the patient and calm one. We tag-team like this. Only one of us is allowed to lose his/her shit at a time. Dear husband went to her room with her to visit reasonably about why she required parenting at this stage of her life. As he told me later, she remained unconvinced. So I figured, okay then. I know when I'm not wanted. She doesn't want to be parented? Fine. I'll fulfill my legal obligation, but nothing more. At 18 she's on her own.

By the way, my daughter is 8 years old. Fortunately, husband and I had been reading articles just this week about parenting through the emotional highs and lows of tweens, hilariously thinking that we were preparing ourselves to be better parents to my almost-11 year old son. Hahahahhaha!

We were on our way to church (still hilarious!) so I explained the new rules to her in the car: I would still make her food choices for her because I paid for her food, but she was welcome to ride her bike to the grocery store and use her allowance to make some purchases of her own. She would be making all of her meals from now on. I would help her if she asked nicely, and if I happened to not be doing something else. She would do her own laundry from now on, whenever she felt that it was necessary. She could come and go as she pleased, but like an adult, I would expect her to let me know where she was going and when to expect her back. She quietly absorbed all of this, and when we got to church, she gave me a backwards hand flick and walked off to change into her accolyte outfit. I then put our priest (father of twins one year behind my daughter) into a panic by telling him what was going on. He might as well know what's in store just around the corner, right?

During services I sent husband a few texts: planning on telling her she needs to be thinking about how she'll pay for college. Going to let her sort out her own bedtimes, as long as she's quiet in her room by the time we are being quiet and getting ready for bed. Husband is all for it. My son is watching these texts, and at the one about college, leans over and whispers, "I'm glad I'm still being parented."

After services there were three large Valentine's Day cakes set out, dwarfing a small plate of cut veggies and dip. I told her to help herself, and she might as well start calling me "Liz" now, since I wasn't going to be her mother anymore. Mostly I talked to the back of her head as she walked away. She got herself some food (gamely placing three snap peas on her plate beside the cake) and sat down by herself in a corner. Five minutes later I was chatting with our priest when she came over, carrying her plate.

"I have a question."
"Okay."
"I didn't mean I didn't want all parenting. Just the telling me what to do part."
"Sorry, it's a package deal, sweetie. I can't only do the parts you like."

She walks away again. Five minutes later she's back.

"You can be my mom again."

I didn't even have to get to the part about not paying for college.

Later we talked a little more. I confirmed for her that it was so hard to not be her mom for even those few hours. She seemed to like that. She also apologized for hurting my feelings. The rest of Valentine's Day proceeded as normal, sweet and touching cards were exchanged, surprise stuffed animals given, chocolate eaten and shared. This little bump was dramatic, but not too bad. I discovered that I have maybe been putting myself aside a little too much, observing how much her words had hurt. It felt a little like co-dependency: "How can you say that to me after all I do for you???" So I'll try to put a tad more attention on my own needs sometimes too. It's funny how much easier it is to lovingly give people the safe space they need to work things out without injecting your own drama into it if you'll first take responsibility for meeting your own needs.


2.07.2016

On Being a Pro-choice, Pro-marriage Equality Christian Woman


Reading the posts about the large gathering of Christian women, IF: Gathering 2016, I came across a blog post titled "Longing to Belong," describing the ways in which Christian women really do need to find and build community together as part of our spiritual practice of prayer and service. It's a lovely essay, warm and welcoming and accepting.

But I have yet to personally experience this welcome from the larger Christian community at large. I am a pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Christian woman. I worship at an Episcopalian church, and even the US Episcopalian Church has recently been dealt the censure and judgment of the global Anglican body by being banned from voting on any Anglican matters for three years, specifically due to our church's acceptance of marriage equality as part of our Christian mission in service to Jesus's love here on earth.

In 2013, when the Texas Legislature debated and passed the disastrous HB-2 law that shuttered nearly 3 out of 4 of all women's health clinics in the state where abortion had been available (among many other desperately needed women's health services), I went to the Capitol to file my opposition to the bill. There, I was confronted by Christian women who refused to talk to me, who looked upon me with contempt, or mistrust, or fear, or anger, or hatred--but never with acceptance. Never with kindness. I even brought a cooler full of water bottles, bananas, and granola bars with me to hand out to anyone I met, hoping to start conversations. The pro-HB-2 women walked a wide berth around me, although one commented that she liked what I was doing. But she kept walking away with her companions rather than stay and have a conversation.

I don't belong to this group of Christian women. They don't want me. They have judged me and found me wanting. I don't believe they could ever accept that a Christian woman could follow the teachings of Jesus and arrive at pro-choice and pro-marriage equality positions, but I have. I pray. I read the Bible. I am raising my children in the church. And I feel very fortunate to have found the community that I have found at my church--a church that is not specifically pro-choice or anti-abortion, but that welcomes everyone, truly. Both the same-sex couples and the man who sat beside me in a class and declared homosexuality "an abomination," unaware, I know, that my own family includes a same-sex family.

I do not evangelize in the sense of trying to turn the world around me into a Christian world. It already is. There is no part of creation that is separate from God's love. I accept the infinite, timeless, boundless nature of God. It is fantastically humbling. To suppose that the manner in which I name and worship God is the only way to be in a walk with God seems the ultimate in spiritual arrogance, and a deep insult to the true nature and power of God and God's love. It would be more a reflection of my own fears and limitations than anything to do with God. There is a hymn that is a favorite of mine that resounds often in my thoughts: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

So when I see the signs for IF:Gathering 2016, it has an invisible asterisk for me. I don't believe that I would be welcome there. Not really. Not with the beliefs that I have. I still can see the disdainful eyes of the women who came to the Capitol in 2013, who sang and prayed in the Capitol rotunda by themselves, inviting only those women who wore the correct color shirts to join them and worship with them. Christianity was reduced to a version of Dr. Seuss's tale, "The Sneeches." It was heart-breaking. And it continues today, when I try to speak up as a Christian for pro-choice views on women's health in online discussions. If this post gains much traction on the interwebs, I feel confident I'll be able to measure on my kitchen clock the hours until a Christian comments to me that I'm going to Hell for my beliefs, or that I'm not really a Christian, or that I'm some other sort of failure as a child of God. All because I have arrived at different conclusions and had the temerity to say so while claiming a place in the cool shadow of the Cross.

12.07.2015

Develop Your Conscience First



We learned some basic things as children:

--it's not okay to lie
--it's not okay to hurt people with insults and shame
--it's not okay to take or destroy what isn't yours
--if you can help someone who is hurting, do so
--share what you have with those who don't
--when you mess up, own it: apologize and make amends
--use your words
--don't yell or attack
--mind your own business; respect others' right to make their own personal choices
--be polite to strangers; you can never know what they've been dealing with

There is nothing in any of that that is a political agenda. Not a thing. It's just solid, proven guidelines for living a peaceful life and not spreading misery among the people who are forced by circumstance to share the world with you. You can pretty much assume whenever you break one of these, you're going to hurt someone, maybe several someones. Is that the legacy you want to leave for your presence in the world that day? Is that who you are?

I've seen firsthand the cruelty people are capable of when they believe they are "right." Being "right" is a poison to the mind and soul. It's the fool's prize, and the trophy is a golden ass on a pedestal. When we feel so "right" that we decide we can go outside the guidelines, we are that fool's golden ass on a pedestal. When I go online lately, I'm saddened by the things people will say to each other, complete strangers, just to be "right." Driving around town, I'm dodging people zipping past me in the right lane, running stop signs and red lights, riding on my bumper, and I'm sure they feel so "right" in their aggression and dangerous driving. People are letting fear make them feel "right" to arm themselves far beyond their training and competence, and to be irresponsible with lethal forces.

We who live in the US are fortunate enough to live in one of the oldest and most stable democracies. If we want to keep it that way, we have to follow those solid guidelines we learned as kids--whatever our political leanings. If we elect leaders who do not follow the guidelines, we are in big, big trouble. But more importantly, we rely on each other, our neighbors and fellow citizens, to form and reform the government and laws that we will live under from Congress to Congress, election to election, generation to generation. We must--must--be able to carry on conversations with one another without doing so in a way that burns bridges, that attacks, that seeks only to appear "right" and make the other look "wrong."

This is not a tall order. Kids in elementary school can do it. Grown-ups can do it too. Must do it. The future of our country depends on it.

11.14.2015

Gluten-Free Vegan Lunch: Quinoa Mushroom Soup

This is a gluten-free riff on the more common mushroom barley soup. Today it's finally a little cooler, and a warm but not over-filling soup like this seems like it's going to hit the spot. Bread is in the toaster while the family plays Halo, and I'm trying to get this posted fast while the soup cools. I'll leave the fact that my 10 year-old son is already much better (after playing it twice) at Halo than I am for another post.

Here are your ingredients (this made enough for 4 and took about 35 minutes):

Olive oil
1 white onion
1 package mushrooms (any variety, but baby bellas will give a slightly richer flavor)
Worcestershire sauce (vegan gluten-free variety)
Balsamic vinegar
Yellow miso paste
Quinoa (regular white)
Salt
Pepper
Potato starch (optional)
A little fresh chopped rosemary would be nice--a little will go a long way.

I made this soup in a large, cast-iron, enameled pot. Cast iron is my favorite material to cook in, hands down. It's heavy, too, so I don't feel bad about skipping the gym when I cook with it. Bonus! Also, an immersion blender comes in very handy for this recipe. If you haven't got one already, consider investing in one. A relative gave one to me years ago, which I thought was a bit eccentric at the time, but now it's one of my favorite kitchen tools.

Pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and give the onions a slick bed to lie in. Don't be stingy. Olive oil is good for you, and it won't make your soup taste funny. Dump in your chopped onions with the heat on low-ish and throw a little salt on them. The salt will help them to release their liquid and soften. You want them to cook, but not so fast that they get brown and crispy bits when you have to run away from the stove to help your kid logon to Halo. Those brown and crispy bits will be bitter. Having said that, when the onions get away from me I carry on anyway and it turns out well enough.

While the onions cook, prep your mushrooms. Do not wash the mushrooms. I know, they have little gritty bits on them. Just get a cloth or a dry paper towel and brush it off. Mushrooms are like sponges and if you wash them they'll soak up all that water, which they will then release into the pot when you cook them, and instead of concentrating their lovely flavors you'll stew them prematurely. Once you've brushed off the dirt, slice them up, not too thick, so that they'll cook well.

After the onions have become limp and somewhat shrunken, turn the heat up to medium and throw in the mushrooms. Add a little more salt, and splash in enough Worcestershire and balsamic vinegar to have some liquid sizzling in there. You should be able to hear the cooking happening now, and there should be a little steam coming up from the pot. Here's how my pot looked as the mushrooms cooked:


In around 5-10 minutes it all should have reduced to this:


Now it's time to add in the liquid--good ol' water. I put in about 4 cups for starters and then got out the immersion blender and went after it. If you need to use a blender instead, just work in batches. The cool water should have cooled things down enough that splatters won't hurt you, but be careful anyway. It's better not to blend it to a puree. I like my soups a tad toothy. Here's how mine looked when I was done with it:


Put in some more water for your quinoa and then sprinkle in a couple handfuls. Stir, see what you think, maybe a little more would be better? Up to you. Put the lid on for a gentle simmer. If you want to add a bit of rosemary, now's the time. Also a spoonful of the miso for a little extra umph in the flavor. You know the quinoa is cooked when you see the pale little grain tendril in a circle with the expanded grain. You can see them floating there like tiny o's in the bowl at the top of this post. That soup is done.

You could garnish this with some chopped flat parsley if you have any (or fried parsley or sage--yum). Pretty much any herb will work with this soup. We had it plain with crusty gluten-free toast and butter spread. My husband was cutting up some arugula for a salad while I was cooking this, and that would probably make a nice garnish too. Or a dollop of the cashew-based NeChevre (should be PasChevre, but I won't quibble) would work well, too. Or some tofutti sour cream. I'll stop now.


11.13.2015

Gluten-Free Vegan Breakfast--Pumpkin Rice Pudding



Okay, my food picture-taking skills are not what they should be. I'll work on that.

This is one of those warming, comfort-food breakfasts that lets you sneak squash into your kids' tummies without them realizing it. I made it in a rush this morning, but I could have made it the night before and chilled it in the fridge overnight. Ditto for any leftovers. This would probably also serve well as a welcoming after-school snack. If you have leftover acorn or butternut squash you need to use up (as long as you didn't cook it with garlic or cumin...:-p ), puree those bad boys up and use that instead.

*Ingredients:

Leftover Rice (white works best since it releases its starches readily while cooking, for a creamy pudding)
Non-Dairy Milk (I used Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk)
A little pumpkin puree (a little goes a long way here; if you open a can, save the rest to whip up some pumpkin-choc chip muffins, or pumpkin "pie" smoothies for breakfast tomorrow or after-school snack today)
Ground cinnamon
Ground ginger
Ground cloves
Ground nutmeg
Maple syrup
Handful of raisins

Add the rice into a saucepan with enough of the milk to be able to stir the rice and milk mixture easily with a spoon. Add in a few spoonfuls of the pumpkin puree and stir in. Add everything else to taste. Heat through, stirring frequently. If you overdid the milk, heat until some of the milk cooks off and you get the right consistency. Alternatively, if your leftover rice is still a bit toothy, add in a bit more milk and keep cooking. Serve warm or chilled.

* For the most part I won't be using measurements in my recipes. This is partly because I'm lazy and in a hurry and this is how I cook. But I also think recipes with measurements are part of the reason we have so much food waste. Use what you have, make it work. It takes a certain level of confidence to cook like this, but your food budget will thank you as you make use of every little bit in one way or another. Sometimes you'll have a lot of something, sometimes just a little. Learn to improvise. It's all good.


11.11.2015

Last Night's Gluten-Free Vegan Dinner

This is sort of a housekeeping post, for my own interest. I'm keeping track of how I'm starting to put meals together, in a visual way that I can start to see patterns and opportunities for improvement in taste, variety, efficiency, nutrition, ease (not necessarily in that order). I'm posting it on the off-chance that there's someone else out there in the same boat I'm in.

Last night's dinner was highly economical, easy, tasty, and nutritious. It might have been a bit boring for the kids, but they seemed happy enough with it.

The most expensive part was the "meatballs", which I bought frozen at Whole Foods. They were from a new company, they had a distinctive mushroom-y flavor that was appealing to the kids, and they were non-gmo, soy-free, and gluten-free. These browned in the skillet in some olive oil. Along with this, I had some leftover wild rice and some leftover black beans and some leftover black bean cooking liquid that I had intended to use as a soup base, but instead all three went together into small casserole dish. I added raw chopped kale from the garden for a little color and interest, put a foil lid on it and put it in the oven at 375 until it was all steamy hot and good. Served it all with a side of sliced carrots and avocados and pepitas and hot sauce on the side. I should have taken a picture, but I wasn't thinking at the time that the dinner was enough of an "accomplishment" to warrant  a photo. But it was everything a gluten-free vegan dinner should be, so--success.

11.09.2015

Going Vegan, Again, This Time Gluten-Free

Well, it's been about a year since I've posted on this blog, and I'm thinking of starting up again to head in a new direction here. I've posted about food before. It's a thing for me. I do all of the family cooking, and after seventeen years of cooking every single meal for myself and the others in my life, miraculously I still enjoy cooking. I must like to cook *a lot*.

Last spring my son was confirmed celiac, and my husband is gluten-intolerant, meaning that if he eats something with gluten in it, he has horrific intestinal pains for the next 24-36 hours. Happily, his gut seems to make an exception for beer.

We watched "Forks Over Knives" a couple of years ago and nearly went vegan then. Nearly. The problem, you see, is that meat tastes so damn good. Then last weekend husband watched "Cowspiracy." Some tipping point was reached. We are exploring vegan.

I am sure there are purists who are offended by anything but absolute veganism. We may get there. But we may not. We raise chickens, and we get a lot of pleasure watching them happily roam our half-acre. We also get a lot of pleasure from the eggs that they produced. These are the most beautiful, delicious, nourishing eggs available on the planet. The yolks are huge and as deep orange as a pumpkin. There is so much goodness in there. And I have read Nourishing Traditions and I believe in bone broth, particularly given the gut issues we have here. Lastly, we are also fortunate to have access to a local farm that raises a heritage breed of hog in the pasture. I still have about a third of our last hog we bought in my freezer. We are on the fence about whether or not we will continue to buy from our local farmers, who we like very much and want to see continuing to succeed. We are considering a rule of only eating animal products that we raised ourselves, killed ourselves, or that someone we knew killed for us. There is a lot of venison around in Texas, too. Hunted meats seem to be an exception to consider. We're still working this out.

Having said all of this, there is also a lot to recommend a primarily plant-based diet. Substantial evidence connects consumption of animal protein and incidence of cancer. Diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure--all of these things are improved with plant-based eating. In general, the carbon footprint and water consumption necessary to produce plant food is considerably less than to produce meat. My husband flew over a portion of the Amazon Basin five years ago and never forgot the view of a horizon filled with waves of billowing smoke from the continuous burning--to clear the jungle so there would be more room for cows to graze to feed America's beef addiction. Is my desire for braised short-ribs worth the destruction of the planet's lungs? There is also a social justice implication in choosing to eat a plant-based diet. So much of the grain we produce goes to feeding animals for consumption by people who can afford it instead of to hungry people elsewhere in the world. By eating meat, I'm supporting an economy that perpetuates scarcity of food for the rest of the world. That stops me in my tracks. It's unfathomable. It's the food equivalent to the shortage in affordable housing in urban centers where the jobs and opportunities and services are, when developers naturally develop properties to achieve the highest return on their investment possible, by building to the highest price the market will support.

These are all of the things we have thought about and discussed in arriving at our decision to go vegan. The kids, 8 and 10 years old, are reluctantly along for the ride. I'm a pretty good cook, and I do magical things with chicken thighs and pork belly and lamb chops. It's hard to contemplate passing these things up for largely ethical reasons--reasons that require a long-view to see the benefit, while the sense of deprivation is immediate and present. But here we go.

In the last couple of years I have become a bit of a boss at gluten-free cooking and baking. There are others who are better at it than I am. For instance, I don't have the patience to let my batters and doughs stand in the fridge for hours at a time so they lose some of their gritty texture from the rice flour. Instead, I amp up the toothiness of my doughs and mixes by adding ground millet, ground almonds, psyllium, ground gluten-free oats, and gluten-free hot cereal blends. I've got biscuits down. Cakes, quickbreads, pancakes, waffles, gravies, soups, sauces. Working on pizza crust. Sandwich bread, the bastard, has eluded me repeatedly. I am optimistic that I will succeed with pie crust and pastry crust.

I haven't found a gluten-free vegan resource yet who cooks like I cook--sort of southern, sort of Italian, sort of French, sort of Mexican. Also, I'm cooking for a family, which is a different way of cooking. Ingredients have to serve multiple purposes; last night's dinner has to be good as a base for today's breakfast. Recipes that stand alone, whose ingredients don't relate to a week's worth of healthy eating, aren't really useful. Very few people can afford to buy groceries for 21 separate meals a week whose ingredients don't flow one meal to the next. Economy is important, but so is simplicity. Excuse my french, but I fucking hate fussy food. So I'm going to post my successes, and probably some of my failures, here, in case there is someone else out there who has a palate like mine and has traveled down the same road to vegan and gluten-free. And yes, I know that I can't personally claim the label "vegan", but the dishes and recipes that I post here will be.

12.05.2014

9 Alternative Gifts for the Kid Who Has Everything

A friend of mine posted a great question on Facebook: what could she get her kids this winter other than toys? In her case, she felt that her three kids had enough "stuff" and didn't need more of the same. The crowd-sourced answers were so inventive and wonderful that she suggested "someone" should write a blog post about them. I volunteered, and here it is. I hope you find some of these ideas useful.

1) Make a donation in the child's name, in a way that the child can appreciate who was helped and why.

This is something my dad does for my kids every Christmas, and I always look forward to it. He puts together a nice package with pictures and explanations of why he chose the particular non-profit that he chose, and how the donation is going to help people. Through his donation, the kids get to participate directly in the joys of philanthropy, they learn about other people and places in the world that are having challenges the kids might never have imagined otherwise, and they get the reassuring knowledge that there are organizations and people who are committed to solving these problems and helping the people (and other kids just like them) who have been affected.

2) Give the gift of your time.

Commit to a schedule of one-on-one time where your child gets to pick out the activity. Even if it's just fifteen minutes every day, that time is precious. Play hide and seek, card games, make experimental "snacks," color and draw together, sit down and read a favorite book together. Another option is setting aside an entire day that your child gets to design all of the activities. Take lots of pictures!

3) Give entertainment.

Theater passes, passes for Jumpoline/Pump it Up/indoor obstacle courses a la American Ninja Warrior, tickets to a favorite sporting event or musical concert or other arts performance, museum or zoo memberships, magazine subscriptions.

4) Give outdoor fun.

Skiing/snow-tubing passes, horseback riding lessons or trail rides, commit to a visit to a favorite museum or water park or putt putt course, drive out to a great skateboard park or bike course.

5) Give lessons.

Piano or guitar, horseback riding, skateboarding, ice skating, lessons in an obscure language your child has expressed an interest in (you might be able to find a tutor on craigslist), rock-climbing lessons, survival camp classes, cooking classes, sewing classes. Maybe you join your child in the lessons...? And you may have friends or family members that you can employ to provide a few lessons. Maybe you make great breads and your brother's daughter wants to learn, and meanwhile your brother started playing guitar when he was 12 and your son wants to learn. It's a great way to get a little more one-on-one time with extended family and build bonds that will last a lifetime.

6) Make a kid "date".

Schedule a mani-pedi with your daughters; give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant and let them pick their friends to invite and order dessert; or let your child pick the activity--making her favorite food together from scratch, or working on a craft project together that your child picks out.

7) Give travel.

Commit to a trip to a nearby town, park, historical sight, nature sight, dude ranch, wilderness, big city.

8) Consider some non-toy "stuff".

Tinkering/arts and crafts supplies; a watch; a calendar; sports equipment; a fishing pole; a camera; a flashlight or headlamp; camping gear; puzzles.

9) Get kids BOOKS.

We love books. Kids love books. Even kids who say they don't like books, if you get them one, will spend days going through it. Don't know which books they like? Get them a gift card to a bookstore.

11.18.2014

Forgiveness in Absentia

Many of us encounter people in our lives who will hurt us in immeasurable ways. Siblings, parents, friends, spouses, teachers, doctors, priests. People we relied on, because we had to or because we had chosen them. People who were in a position of trust with us, and who thus had greater access to our tender and vulnerable places.

Like everyone else, forgiveness is something I've been working on all my life. I don't work on forgiveness because I'm some spiritual ninja who puts healthy practices first in my life. I can promise you I'm not that good or disciplined. I work on forgiveness because it's essential for my own survival. Forgiveness, for me, is the process of spitting out the poison that others have fed me.

There are biblical and other faith teachings that say that forgiveness requires reconciliation. That's a nice idea. What if all of our woundedness could be healed and packaged and pretty and sewn up with a hug and a smile. As I get older, I'm learning that this is not always possible. The practice of forgiveness transforms me, but it does not transform the person I am forgiving into a person who would no longer offer me poison and call it love.

If you forgive a wolf for attacking you, would you believe that real forgiveness requires you to welcome the wolf into your home? Of course not. If you have finally clearly seen a wolf for who he or she is, forgiveness means forgiving them for being a wolf, not pretending that they are something else.

We never see "forgiveness" hanging out there on its own. It's always "forgive and forget," or forgiveness and closure, forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes there is only forgiveness, and this is okay. For the wolves we have encountered in our lives, for the ones who hurt us and are gone, forgiveness can be especially challenging because that sense of closure is more difficult to achieve without the other person's participation. But sometimes, not having the other person's participation is either unavoidable or is necessary, because he or she is a wolf and not safe to be around. This is what I am calling "forgiveness in absentia," and here is what I have learned about it.

It's hard.

But it is possible. It is possible to be in a state of forgiveness of a person and simultaneously want nothing to do with them. It is possible to sincerely wish someone every comfort and peace and healing, and to wish them to enjoy those things far, far away from you. The difficult step necessary to make this happen, I'm learning, is letting go of your feelings of woundedness and hurt. Being the one who was hurt, the one who was wounded, brings a certain power with it in our sick and wounded culture. It assumes a sort of moral superiority over the one who did the wounding. Letting go of that is hard, because if you're really honest with yourself, you'll admit that it feels good to feel superior to the person who hurt you. It feels good to get sympathy from others for how shitty another person was to you. But watch out, because this is you becoming attached to the poison, making it a part of you that you hold out for others to see and tell them the terrible story of how it was given to you. No one will stop to ask you, but why are you still carrying it around? But they should. And you should ask yourself this. You may not like the answers, but again, you're carrying poison given to you by someone else. Let it go.

Forgiveness in absentia has another challenge: in realizing and accepting that the one who wounded you is not someone you are safe around, there is grief for the loss of that relationship. Even relationships that ended horribly, painfully, cruelly, had some grains of good in them, some moments of connection that are worth holding onto and remembering. But mostly, when you are willing to release your feelings of woundedness and your identity as the victim of cruelty and attacks, you free yourself, finally, from the poison that was fed to you. You have spit it out. It is not who you are; it was who they were.

It is tempting at this point to tie the package up with a nice bow and say, "And then, you'll see the other person in a new light and there is space now to see them as a whole human and not just as the person who attacked you, and the two of you can start anew with a deeper and stronger connection than you had before." But no. The first part of that sentence, about seeing them as a whole human, yes, that's true. But not the second part. Unless they have also undergone their own transformation, you are still dealing with a wolf. And when, by now, there are so many happy mutts in your life occupying your heart, it's okay to leave that wolf alone.