50

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Fifty.

The number of states.

A failing grade.

The rarely circulated cent piece I used often in my youth to pay the Ice Cream Man.

The percentage of effort when you are doing something half-assed. (Apparently 100 is assed).

Fifty is an interesting number. It can mean good things. It can mean bad things. It seems huge when you are talking about voice mails, but tiny when you are talking about credit scores.

It seems small when you are 80 years old, I presume. But it seems big when you are 49.

Today, my best friend is 50.

***

On September 4, 1967, an obstetrician in Portsmouth, Virginia headed to a local hospital to deliver a baby, whose was named Paige Lynette Hall.

Though we lived in the same town, we did not formally meet until 10th grade typing class. Her seat was next to mine and I never had any typing paper. Thus, a great friendship began.

We traversed the halls of Western Branch High School like most of our peers, with some drama and some dating nightmares and some huge laughs. Lots of huge laughs. She made nice with my high school boyfriend, (tried to) teach me to play tennis, and stuck by me even though I was seldom around on weekends due to my swimming habit. Even now, when we see a mutual high school friend and they discuss some fun/crazy/bizarre episode from those days, and I ask her why I don’t recall any of it, she says, “You were swimming.”

She was there when I had quite a rough patch after my freshman year in college, and we introduced our intendeds to each other with greater forethought that when we introduced them to our parents.

We’ve celebrated two marriages (one each–still married!), four children, and numerous vacation experiences. She’s survived cancer (all clear!) and we’ve both survived other events that remain unwritten here. She was beside me this year when I navigated the shocking revelation that my biological father was someone other than I thought. We have been there for each other, she more than I, I’d say, but then that’s how you always describe your best friend—in better terms than you would yourself.

Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, speaker and author of amazing books like The Tipping Point and Outliers, covered a fascinating friendship, in a recent episode of his podcast Revisionist History, between Winston Churchill and Frederick Lindemann. Weaved in his storytelling, Gladwell discusses the phenomenon of transactive memory. It turns out, we actually store data in the minds of people we love, not just in our own minds. When people are in a close relationship, they subconsciously learn over time which person is capable of storing which types of data. Gladwell gives an example from a spousal relationship: “I don’t need to remember my daughter’s emotional attachment to a teacher, because my wife remembers it.” As Gladwell says, “Little bits of ourselves reside in other people’s minds.”

In the case of Churchill and Lindemann, Churchill was a big-picture guy who was inconsistent and lacked the ability to bring order to his life. Lindemann was balanced, steadfast and disciplined, and served as the gatekeeper to Churchill’s mind. So very different in some ways, both men thought most highly of the other; each stated that the other was one of the two smartest men in the world (Einstein being one). Each presumed the other was appropriate company for Einstein, but not himself.

I do not believe Paige and I are comparable to these men. In the words of Jane Austen, we deserve neither such praise nor such censure: we surely aren’t as intelligent, storied or influential as they were; nor do our joint efforts, I hope, cause as much turmoil (listen to the podcast to hear how their very unique friendship wrought tragedy).  However, Churchill and Lindemann were puzzle pieces that naturally and uniquely fit together. They complemented each other in personality. If that complementarian relationship is wisely leveraged, it is a beautiful thing.

I don’t need to recall the details of high school events and relationships, because Paige will.

I don’t need to keep track of the meals we prepare every year on vacation, because Paige will (indeed, she will send me a menu and practically a shopping list).

I don’t need to learn what paint color should go on my walls, because Paige will.

I don’t need to remember to bring paper to typing class, because Paige will.

***

Great friendship is a great gift. C.S. Lewis lamented the lost art of friendship. He wrote extensively in The Four Loves about the different kinds of love, and asserted that philia, or friendship, was gravely underappreciated. It is the least organic kind of love. There is no overriding social pressure to love a friend, unlike a spouse or a child; it is possible to end a friendship more easily than a romantic or family relationship. Friendship can be easily broken without cultural norms pointing out your wrongdoing. It is freely chosen and freely maintained over time. In that respect, it is uniquely powerful; you must really want it in order to maintain it.

And so, on this 50th anniversary of Paige’s birth, I give her the gift, for once, of publicly sharing her birthday with mine.

I do not like to publicize my birthday. Why? In short, I’m grumpy. I don’t want to respond to “Happy Birthday!” over and over again. I’d prefer it not be recognized, much in the same way I dislike Mothers’ Day. But today, I make an exception.

Fifty years ago, I was born on September 4, 1967, a few hours before my best friend in the same town. For her part, she graciously does not wish me a happy birthday on social media every year because she knows I hate responding to it. So each year, I wish her happy birthday on Facebook, and laugh knowing that I get the present of not responding in kind to well-wishers. I even attended her 40th birthday party without ever having to reveal it was my birthday too. What a great gift. I now return it. You don’t have to weather this birthday alone.

I am eternally grateful to my biological father, whose identity I learned about a year ago, for bringing my best friend into this world. Fifty years ago today, Dr. Jose Vidarte delivered Paige at Portsmouth General Hospital a few hours after I was born at Maryview Hospital.

I do not think 50 years is such a big number now. In writing this, I realize there are so many more years that I want to spend with her.

How about it, Paige–another 50?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Tired. Cry, Even. Then Carry on.

20841938_10213679808205028_2531010127649119146_nToday I cried in church. It’s been a long time since that’s happened.

It’s been a terribly difficult time in our country, in our city, in our pews, and in our organizations. Divisions are everywhere.

And I’m tired.

I am tired of political divisions. I am tired of ugly speech that now is a part of our daily lives–fighting, in person, on TV, on the radio, on social media.

I’m sure everyone’s tired, and certainly many more so than me. I sit in an office at World Relief [the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals], offering advice, suggestions, and support, but I’m not in the trenches anymore. I don’t speak to people directly who have been berated on the street or online, or who have had their property destroyed. Or worse.

There are a few smaller, less intense things that I am tired of, though.

I’m tired of keeping plastic gloves in my desk so I reduce contamination of evidence when I handle hate mail.

I’m tired of trying, often unsuccessfully, to contact the FBI about these events, which I can only imagine is rather overwhelmed with an explosion of hate crimes that are cropping up like weeds.

I’m tired of giving less than fully adequate advice when I hear from those colleagues in the field who have questions and concerns about how to keep staff and clients safe.

I’m tired when I learn, yet again, that my more public-facing colleagues receive social media lashings (to put it mildly) because they have the gall to “love one another” day in, day out, in their jobs and in their personal lives.

I’m tired when I witness congregations, ever-growing more racially and culturally diverse across our country, which are un-served and un-led, who hear nothing from the pulpit about the violence and hate directed towards them as a group, and increasingly, personally as well.

We do one of two things, we American Christians, on the whole. We lash out or we walk on eggshells. And both are time-honored, cowardly responses.

Lashing out needs little introduction, and frankly what I am most tired of. It might be tolerable if there was real, useful, Christlike action behind it. But almost never is that the case. Just open your Facebook page and take a look. You don’t need an explainer on that one.

But walking on eggshells is increasingly more problematic, as I see it. We as a Church don’t engage on topics that seem scary, or divisive, or (perhaps most of all) costly. It might cost us our reputation or our image (both of which have little actual import here on Earth, and zero import beyond).  It may cost us dollars in giving to our organizations or churches–which are important but not the be-all, end-all. In fact, they are merely a means to an end, an end we will never fully arrive at if we fail to engage with and support one another when those among us are hurting, having been injured by hate.

And so I say, shame on us. Shame on me, for when I have been a part of egg-shell-walking. Shame on our Church when it does the same.

Today I find myself heartbroken.

But not defeated.

For tomorrow, I will rise. I will continue my work, as mundane as it is–lawyer work, operational work, behind the scenes work. Because I serve true servants of God. My colleagues at World Relief are the finest there are, and I am honored to serve them, and serve with them, every day. These folks don’t go into Christian development work for the big fat paycheck (😂). They do it because they have a purpose, a calling. They empower the Church to serve the most vulnerable, and they do it with great devotion and excellence.

They do it because they take the Great Command very seriously, and they will not be deterred.

And therefore, neither will I.

 

 

 

I Hate Mothers’ Day

article-1276906-09849BAB000005DC-341_233x263There. I said it.

I’m sure this is an offensive statement to many. But it’s true. I don’t like this day.

I could say I hate it because it’s commercialized, which is true, or because it excludes a huge group of women who aren’t moms in a rather painful way, which is absolutely true.

But that’s not it. What is it?

I love my kids and I love being a mom. It’s the one job I want to have until I die. And yet, to me, that doesn’t mean that we need to make such a grand production out of one day to the exclusion of all others.

Mothers are so important, and I loved mine. Grandmothers are so important, and I loved mine. But a day that forces us (once a year, as if that is enough) to recognize this role out loud is manipulative. And hypocritical. And forced.

Do not buy me flowers. Do not visit me because it is “the day.” You can take me out to eat, but, please, not on “the day!”

I know, I know, I’m insane, negative and obviously flawed! All the more reason not to recognize me for mere existence as a mother. I must be a terrible one anyway, right?!

Seriously, I know this reveals my inner dysfunction, one that is not new. I’ve always disliked this day.

Truth is, I hate certain kinds of recognition. I don’t reveal my birthday for the same reason. Because I don’t want you to know how old I am? Nope. I’m 49 and I don’t color my hair, so everyone knows I’m not passing for 32. I simply don’t want to have people recognize me all day for existing. There is something possibly unchristian about that stance, I fear; because I exist, I am loved as a child of God. And yet, it doesn’t feel right or good to me to make a production out of this day, or to demand that others do so.

And in Christian-land, it’s even more intense. You will be wished “Happy Mothers’ Day” at least 250 times on Sunday morning at church. You might get a flower or a candy or some other token of no one’s affection. Indeed, Mothers’ Day holds churches hostage in a special kind of way. Pastors, do not fail to highlight mothers (at least) as much as Jesus on Mothers’ Day. If you fail to do this, arrive at work a few hours early on Monday to triage your email and develop a crisis management plan.

I’m not kidding. It’s a day of Christian hostage-holding.

To be fair, when kids are little, Mothers’ Day is bearable because of the awesome gifts. One year, my daughter Katy gave me a rock. From the front porch. She wrote “paperweight” on it. I still have it. My youngest Devon always made spectacular cards, mostly to show up her sister, who never traveled further than the front porch to shop. But with time, this day (let’s admit it, folks) feels so obligatory–especially perhaps for those moms who have moms. It’s a crazy, American trap of guilt, overpriced food, uncomfortable church attire, and stress.

Love your mom everyday, not just on a particular Sunday in May. Go to church with her, but not just on a particular Sunday in May.

Even as I write this, I’m not convinced. It feels wrong to dislike this day so much. In that sense, perhaps it has a special place in my own growth; perhaps I have to learn to be OK with this day.

But please, this Sunday, just wave to me.

Women of Valor

FullSizeRender-1Today is International Women’s Day. I learned that while this is not a big deal in the U.S. at this time, it is a huge deal elsewhere in the world. People bake cakes for women and celebrate them. Perhaps like our Mother’s Day, without the overpriced brunch and flowers.

This is a fractious time. For many, it hardly seems celebratory. But stopping to recognize that women are made imago dei is important, perhaps supremely so, in times such as these.

World Relief created an unbelievably moving piece, a modern-day look at Proverbs 31. No, it’s not all flowers, pink and pastel (bleech). It’s a real look at real women in the real world, today. It’s about you. It’s about me.

Few things make me cry. This did. It’s such a beautiful piece of work, so moving, and so needed today. Share it with the women in your life. It will impact them so. I wish my grandmother could see it; she is physically with us but not much more than that.

I offer to this to my dear sisters, some of whom I know and some, I do not.

Remember, you are worth far more than rubies.

Please take a look. I’m so thankful for and proud of my gifted and hardworking colleagues whose talents so far exceed mine. I am blessed.

The Problem

I am.

GK Chesterton famously gave this two-word answer to a British newspaper that asked many famous writers this age-old question: What is wrong with the world?

Me.

You.

Us.

I haven’t written much lately, at least not formally on my blog. It’s been a busy time and my recreation has been restricted mostly to catatonia and Netflix, with the occasional Little House on the Prairie re-run. Yes, life is busy for everyone, and my life has been quite busy. Sick siblings, new siblings, new diseases, and an excruciatingly limiting new diet that ironically take up loads of my time.

Work has been my most constant companion. I like work. I was made to work. It’s my love language. But this has been a hard time in particular.

It’s a challenge not to wallow in hard circumstances, for anyone. If you lose your job, it’s hard not to wallow. If you get sick or have a significant medical event, it’s hard not to wallow. If you feel underappreciated, it’s hard not to wallow.

Some of my recent circumstances have made me contemplate on the human tendency to wallow, to play the victim. If you suddenly find yourself curating hate mail for a living, it’s hard not to wallow. If you are forced to lay off 100+ employees, it’s hard not to wallow (and even harder if you are one of the laid off employees). If you’ve had to divert your personal funds for emergency needs of others, it’s hard not to wallow.

I think if we all returned to the question posed to Chesterton and his equally important answer, we might turn a corner on all this “wallowing.”

I am the problem.

You are the problem.

If I don’t stand up for those who are marginalized but rather sit in the comfort of my suburban middle-class-ness, I am the problem.

If I don’t look inside my own heart for sin, but rather fixate on finding the sin in the hearts of those I know and don’t know, I am the problem.

If I like your Facebook post of a picture of your yummy latte or fancy plate of food, but not your expression of frustration about the uptick of hate in the world, I am the problem.

I’d venture one step further. I am not only the problem, I am a coward. You are not only the problem. You are a coward.

The problem with the world? In the words of the most underappreciated Christian band of all time, Downhere:

I will look no further than the mirror.

That’s where the offender hides.

Age 73, Lung Cancer

Today I filled out a medical form for an upcoming doctor’s appointment. At my last annual checkup, I had a different life.

That life resembles the one I have now. But it was different.

From a medical standpoint, I definitely had a different history. I had a living father with a family history of heart disease but no history of cancer on either side. Because of the heart disease link, I’ve had regular EKGs for years. They shake their heads and say, “Well, you still have the heart of a swimmer!” The big coronary issue is that my (supposed) paternal grandfather had a heart attack at a very young age despite otherwise good health. But of course, that’s not my true gene pool.

Today I wrote down, next to Father’s Medical History, “Deceased, Age 73, Lung Cancer.” It felt like a lie. I thought, “My dad’s alive!” And he is, but he’s not my biological father. My paternal grandparents? I wrote “unknown.” There was a space for 6 siblings’ medical information. I have ten half-siblings and zero full siblings. I only know the health history of some of them. This first appointment with my new doctor will be interesting.

This journey has been up and down. I’ve written about it before, four times (in order: here, here, here and here). I actually thought about a Christmas card this year that essentially said, “Well, it’s been a year . . .” But the letter that would have to accompany that would be too long, and frankly too exhausting.

Always a fish, I love the water. Yes, the pool is great therapy for me, but more than that, I love large bodies of water intensely. I love being in them, but I also love being near them. The ocean is life-giving to me. This summer was a tough one and I didn’t manage any open water swims as I have in past years, but I missed it.

Today my best friend drove past the lake where my father, a trendsetter when it came to open water swimming in the 60s and 70s, enjoyed his regular lake swims. It hit me. What if I had known him and had the ability to share that love of water with him? What if? If only. I’ve never been to that lake, and I doubt I will go. What if? If only.

So many choices made by others got me to this point. Yes, growth (especially spiritual growth) is a gift from this experience, as is the gift of new sibling relationships. It is a great gift to Skype with my sister Linda and see my expressions looking right back at me. Or my brother Brian’s picture on Facebook, and I think, wow, he looks like a male Kathleen. It is hilarious to see my writing in the writings of my sister Margaret (not to mention the astounding photos; we look the most alike of any of my sisters). It is a joy to see the smile of my oldest daughter on the face of my sister Josephine. I laugh out loud when my sister Mary Pat cracks a joke that sounds just like me.

But is also shocking and spooky and sometimes sad. It has been a helpful time to meditate on the two goals of my life, truth and grace. They often bump up and are in tension with one another, and this is no exception.

Truth and grace. It is true that I was never told of this family I had. Grace leads me to forgive (and forgive, and then forgive again–it’s never a one and done). It is true that I grieve over the lost time, the lost relationships, and the pain that those who parented me carried. It is grace that gets me past that grief towards the next step into tomorrow.

It is true that my father died at age 73 from lung cancer. It is grace that gives me the gift of a dad still on earth here with me.

 

 

 

No Faking It

Often at Thanksgiving, I write about the obvious. The obvious is happy and sometimes sad, depending on what has happened in the past year, who is no longer at your table, and any new additions to the family.

This year, a friend from church won’t have her sister at the table, a sister who became a mom for the first time just days before she died this week.

This year, a work friend has a beautiful 2 month old new baby girl to grace their Thanksgiving.

This year, a high school friend will unexpectedly be without his wife after a tragic medical event just a week before Thanksgiving.

This year, some of us have friends who are celebratory and some of us have friends who are scared and sad.

It’s been a year, folks. It’s been quite the year for me, both amazing highs and some pretty hefty lows.

Wish you had more family around you these days? Well, I have seven new siblings. What a beautiful thing. I’ve been able to get to know some of them really well, which is a cause for great joy, and others not at all, which is simply a future wish at this point.

Wish you had a better relationship with a parent? Me too. I feel sad for my mom and stepfather carrying around a secret about my parentage that they didn’t need to and now can’t address with me. I feel grateful for a dad here on earth still with me who loves me and whom I love. I feel grief over a father I never knew and who may or may not have known much about me, or even cared; there is no way to know.

Wish you had a job you love? I do have a job I love, and I’m so thankful. Wish your job was easier? Girl, me too. It’s been quite a time for non-profits serving diverse populations.

Wish you were not vilified for your politics? I haven’t been vilified (that I know of), but I feel forever misunderstood. Ask some, and I’m a flaming liberal (to which I chuckle heartily). Ask others, and I’m a big conservative (to which I chuckle heartily).

Wish you were more connected to God? I always wish that.

Wish you understood when you were supposed to oppose leadership and when you should submit? My biggest struggle right now.

Wish you knew what was coming? Yeah. We all do. Those who voted red, those who voted blue, and those who third-partied the whole thing. We all do.

Tomorrow, I get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family–my brothers Michael and Jeff, my nieces and nephews, my great-niece and great-nephew, and extended family by marriage.

As we all prepare for our own Thanksgivings, I imagine some are excited, but my guess is many are probably just hoping to fake their way through the holiday.

But if life has taught me anything, it is that faking it is a band-aid. It works temporarily, but not in the long-term. And, folks, it’s late November of 2016. And it’s been a year.

So be real. That doesn’t mean you have to take down Aunt Jean for her blue button or Uncle Joe for his red hat. But it means being real, looking in people’s eyes, and understanding that they don’t feel any more certain about what happens tomorrow than you do. It means letting your guard down and being who you are. If you are grieving the loss of family member, grieve and let others comfort. If you are happy about life events, be happy and spread that around. If you are scared, let that show through some.

Tomorrow, thank God for that tomorrow. Because nothing is promised about how long you’ll have your annoying Aunt Jean or your bombastic Uncle Joe. See in their eyes what everyone is desiring right now–love, acceptance and a few chuckles in the warm embrace of that crazy, dysfunctional but lovable thing we call family.

 

 

 

Twisting the Phone Cord

phone-cordThis American Life aired a podcast this week entitled One Last Thing Before I Go. I won’t ruin it for you; it is a devastatingly sad yet poignant telling of two raw stories, stories of families separated by choice or by disaster–or by both. In each of the stories,  the presence of the telephone plays prominently.

I hate the telephone. If you know me, you that about me. It is not a recent aversion, but I do think it is somewhat linked to the ever-present ability in this era for anyone to speak to this confirmed introvert. I like to text and to email and to see people in person and even to Skype. But the phone is not my thing.

It hasn’t always been that way. I loved my grandmother’s rotary phone and I still remember the phone numbers of both my grandmother and my aunt Isabel. It was the only way to communicate quickly, back in the day, you know, during the Nixon Administration. I remember wrapping the curled phone cord around my free index finger, cutting off the blood supply, until my puffy reddened finger tip begged for liquid oxygen. I would wrap it, set it free, and repeat throughout the conversation with my Ma or my aunt Isabel (the latter of whom loved the phone, mind you, so that was a lot of pretend tourniquet). My Ma and my mother were, and my oldest daughter are,  with me on this–the phone should be a quick deposit of who what when why where, and maybe light on the why, because that takes awhile.

In high school, we had a kitchen wall phone that had a tired old golden cord, so stretched with use and finger twirling that you could walk to the next room with it. I remember the cords best.

One of the stories from This American Life detailed a fascinating use of an old phone booth where people went to talk to those who had gone before them. It seemed so strange. Some had never spoken of the pain of this loss, but in the silliness and oddity of speaking into an old receiver with no human on the other end, they felt free simply to speak. To say how the loved one was missed. To ask questions. To say sorry.

I wonder now what I would ask my mother, my stepfather, my biological father, all now gone. Would I be nervous? Excited? Would I get angry? Would I ask why (this conversation would be so remarkable I would break my rule of the “no why” on a telephone conversation)? Would I wonder what they knew and when they knew it and how that made them feel? I imagine I would be happy to speak to them. It is hard to imagine a phone conversation with my mom where I didn’t take a smart tone of voice or where my stepfather did not try to pass the phone to my mom (he was not much for the phone either). Of course, my biological father, I don’t know how that would go.

I don’t need a phone, though. I don’t need an avocado green 1980 princess, or an old black rotary making that mesmerizing two-toned hum with each digit dialed, or a wall unit with a tired, old, stretched-out cord. I could make a thumb-and-pinkie pretend phone, or I could just talk.

I imagine over the next year or 10 or 20, I’ll be twisting the proverbial phone cord, pretending to cut off my index finger’s blood supply while I ask who what when why where. Asking questions to which no audible voice will respond. I might start with a call to my aunt Isabel. She will do most of the talking, so I can get the hang of it.

As silly as it sounds, it’s not silly at all. I won’t get hard answers to details, but I will get the experience of continuing to grapple with and grow through and, yes, grieve over, time and events long past.

And yet.

Grief will not be long-lived, I don’t think. There are reasons why events unfold when they do, and when they don’t. That truth doesn’t preclude my questions or make my lack of answers less of a point of frustration for me. But there is a messy beauty to the sequence of events, always.

Tomorrow I will call my dad Jim. He will comment on the election (I don’t want him to do that, by the way, but he will, and I might just miss it if he doesn’t). He will ask about my family. He will ask what else I have learned from my genealogy search. I will tell him that I know what is going on my with my brothers–that I recently spoke with his son Jeffrey and texted with his son Michael. I will tell my dad that I Skyped with my sister Linda, and I talked to my sister Mary Pat on the phone, and I met my sisters Josephine and Margaret in person, and I’ve talked on Facebook with my oldest brother who is undergoing DNA testing.

I will tell him that I’ve been twisting the phone cord. And it is well.

 

 

 

The Messy Beautiful

14258348_10154500323587630_3493061807252919555_oToday, this ordinary day that follows a day so fraught with painful memories for so many, is a reminder of the Messy Beautiful.

The Messy Beautiful is just a bizarre phrase that has been stuck in my mind lately. I don’t know if I made it up or someone else did. I only know that it describes life perfectly for me today.

I’m exhausted this morning. I stay exhausted these days, and I hope that will pass. But, it won’t, not entirely. It won’t entirely pass. Because life is Messy Beautiful.

This weekend was fun. I saw my great-niece and great-nephew, and their parents, and I don’t get to see them often. The Beautiful part. They are moving closer to me, and my gain is someone else’s loss. The Messy part.

It was my church’s fall kick off weekend. The place was buzzing with life, which is Beautiful. The outside of the campus is ripped up for construction. Messy. There was a cool, messy-looking tribute to 9-11 victims near the construction site on campus. Messy and Beautiful.

I’ve spent the last few months finding out a few new things about myself: 1) I’m South American (and in fact a full one-quarter indigenous South American), not Scottish; 2) I don’t have just two brothers, as I’ve believed for lo, these 49 years, but instead I have a total of ten siblings (five brothers and five sisters); 3) my biological dad is not who I believed he was. Messy. Messy. Messy. And slowly, Beautiful.

I love to write and blog, but my new job means that I can’t write about it much, as attorney work is confidential (though not in a sensational way at all, so you aren’t missing anything juicy) and my new family structure is not fully known by all who need to know, so that is a topic I have to tread at a high level without too many details right now. I have to be more thoughtful about what I write, which is probably best for the product and the producer. That means my writing schedule is erratic. Messy. Beautiful.

It’s the season of back to school, for me, with a senior in high school and a senior in college. It’s the season of college visits, job offers for college grads, budgeting, and planning. Next year, empty nest. Messy. Beautiful? Yes, probably, though the jury is still out on that one.

My dear grandmother, 91, is alive though not too cognizant of her surroundings. She doesn’t know she has lost a child, which is Messy, but also Beautiful that she is spared that knowledge on this side of life. She also doesn’t know she has lost a great-great grandchild. Same. She doesn’t know my paternity saga and she doesn’t know of the deep division in the world today around race and culture and faith. That, my friends, is Beautiful.

And today I begin a week of waiting for final DNA results to see if the testing is even clear enough to show I am half siblings with four of my half sisters (ruling out a father is easy; ruling one in when the father is not available for testing, the siblings have a different mother than I, and none of the mothers are available for testing, is VERY MESSY). And when we get those results back? Maybe I’ll have solid proof of what I already know to be true (Beautiful), maybe I won’t (Messy), but either way, we will still be waiting on results for an older brother I have just recently contacted (Messy and Beautiful).

Oh, and finding a sibling on Facebook at age 49 and staring at a profile picture, realizing you are staring in a mirror? So Messy. So Beautiful.

One of my favorite heroes in Scripture is Joseph of the Old Testament. There was a Messy, Beautiful life, with crazy family twists, intrigue, political power, righteousness, and even temptation thrown in. I keep reminding myself, if Joseph can do it, you can weather this messiness as well.

Joseph, however, didn’t have to keep a blog post to 500 words. Failed again on that one.

My favorite Bible verse begins “Count it all joy!” I say that, often snarkily, when stuff happens that is, frankly, super annoying to me. But it is a reminder for me that life is not coincidental. Life is not a hodge-podge of acts or failures to act randomly occurring like dive-bombs of mosquitoes on a hot summer night. No, it’s intentional encounters with messy events that produce something, either hopelessness and cynicism or hopefulness and optimism.

You pick. You pick how you will react to the encounters of life.

Really, you get to pick.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

My Best Friends, Control and Chaos

It’s back to school time! Yay! Or Boo! It depends on your vocation, I guess. Parents are happy; teachers surely have mixed feelings. I always like the start of the school year. I only have one child at home, a senior in high school, and things are more ordered in August with the advent of school.

I love order. Love it. I also love chaos, but usually only so I can tame it into order. Then I get bored, find more chaos, and on the cycle goes.

Chaos reigns right now. It has been a crazy summer: the summer of learning there is a part of your life you never knew about, and people you never knew about. It has been emotional, mostly in a good way.

I’m still in the midst of that chaos, and it’s humbling, because my love for taming chaos is a reflection on both a good and a challenging quality in me–I can bring order to matters and that makes me generally useful, but when I cannot, that makes me frustrated, and reminds me that I am not the General Manager of the Universe.

So, on days when I wish I had all the answers outstanding about my families of origin, but I don’t, I have two choices: force answers or force myself to recognize I don’t, and will never, have all the answers. I prefer A; I need to do B.

So B it is. I’m relaxed as I update my Trello list of Things to Get Done for Work (my “Done” list is in good shape and my “This Week” list is ready to be filled in for next week), but I learn to sit with, live with, deal with, the uncertainty in life.

And it is everywhere. It is a good thing, to dwell with uncertainty, even though I loathe it.

So as I wait for DNA test results, something I absolutely cannot control, I can balance that with an awesome To Do List. Is there anything more lovely in this world than a well-ordered To Do List? No, no there isn’t.

Here’s to a relaxing weekend and living with uncertainty. Cheers!