faith, life lessons, Losing Dad, politics, religion, Uncategorized

The Pastor’s Kid

When I was growing up, I thought the worst thing a person could be was a pastor’s kid. For me, being a pastor’s kid meant going to church every Sunday and being there most of the day. It meant going there on other days too. Lots of other days. It meant moving to different towns and schools and always having just enough, but having to go without some things like annual trips to Disney or having huge birthday parties or an exorbitant amount of gifts at Christmas. It meant teachers would remind me that I should be better, do better, act better, because of who my dad was. It meant always feeling like an outsider among friends. It meant denying my faith over and over in an attempt to fit in. Trying to be someone I wasn’t never won me any friends, but when I was young I thought that all of my problems stemmed from my father’s occupation. So, distancing myself from that seemed like the only way to survive. But we are all adults now and if there is anything we should know by now, it is that being who we really are is the easiest way to live and thrive.

Tonight my daughter was restless and asked me to sing to her to help her sleep. I laid beside her in the bed and sang eleven songs. ELEVEN! It was an entire concert in the dark for my only fan. It was a concert of hymns. Each time I looked over and saw she was still wide-eyed, I thought about how lucky I am that I grew up in a pastor’s home. I probably know a hundred hymns and camp songs and I can sing them nonstop for my daughter until her spirited brain finally rests.

As an adult, these moments happen often. I now realize just how lucky I am to be a pastor’s kid. I can still smell the dozens of burning candles on Christmas Eve and the wood pews that filled the sanctuary. I remember rainy days when we sang All Things Bright and Beautiful with all of the doors to the small country church wide open while the rain poured down outside adding its own harmony to the song. That smell and that song remind me that there is something greater than all of us. I can still taste the varied, and sometimes odd, flavors of the church potluck dinner. That rainbow colored plate of food made with a dash of competition and pound of love was more a part of who I am than any foodie dish I eat now.

Being a pastor’s kid means that I have seen the top of the bell tower and the back of the organ pipes. I’ve rung the church bells at improper times and I’ve paid the price for doing so. I’ve laid down under the back pew and rolled down under all the pews until I slammed into the altar rail. I’ve had the church giggles hundreds of times. You know the ones when you or your friend says something wildly inappropriate during church and in trying to hide your laughter, you actually break into an uncontrollable laughter that has to squirt out of your eyes because you can’t stop? It probably happened that time you peed your pants in church. It’s a common side effect of church giggles.

Being a pastor’s kid meant driving across the country, through Canada, and up to Alaska when I was five and making the return trip when I was nine. Our parents told us how magnificent creation was and then they showed it to us. When you see the Badlands, The Grand Tetons, Wild Horse, Glacier National Park, the Yukon, and the miraculous Denali before you even hit 4th grade, it is hard not to believe in God or some higher power. Religion or not, there is a spiritual element to seeing these places.311149_10150294264747005_289428017_n

Being my dad’s kid meant living in a small house in the woods of Alaska that ran out of water. It meant a family of five practically living on top of each other and riding to the mountain spring together to fill jugs of water so we could eat and bathe in the dead of winter. It meant our parents waking us up in the middle of the night so we could stand out in our wooded  driveway in moon boots and nightgowns to hear the crackling of the rainbow colored aurora borealis that seemed so close we could almost touch it. It meant running across snow and ice in our swimsuits to jump into the hot springs when it was 20 below zero outside.

As a young child, I remember visiting hospitals with my dad; waiting in the hallway and listening to him pray with people who were sick and lonely. I remember praying for the mean kids in school because my parents said they were the ones who needed it the most even if I didn’t like them. I remember saying thanks and saying thanks again and always being taught to be grateful for what I had. I remember visiting shut-ins with my mom when she worked with meals-on-wheels. I remember welcoming people from every race, ethnicity, and economic status into our home. I remember my parents treating everyone the same. From the suicidal teenager to the prestigious Bishop from Nigeria, our doors were open and there was always a place to stay and food on the table.

I was raised by a pastor who put love first and didn’t focus on hell-fire or political issues. He (and my mother) taught us that our faith meant giving, caring for, loving, and thanking. It meant welcoming others and being empathetic and learning about those who were different from us. Our faith meant seeing injustice and fighting against it. Our faith meant removing hatred from our vernacular. Following Jesus wasn’t about getting into heaven or avoiding hell, it was about loving everyone. 
I will be 40 soon and I honestly have been struggling with whatever my faith is now. Religion in general has angered me and the people who claim to be doing things in God’s name seem to be missing the whole point.  I belong to a church family, but I find it hard to participate or show up because of the pain I see coming from “the church” as a whole. The complete lack of empathy and love seems to come from a dark place that I am not familiar with. Still, when I am coming to the end of my day and trying to settle my daughter, nothing works better than singing Be Thou My Vision, or His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I still cry when I sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing because I can hear my dad’s voice in the words. Those old hymns slow my breath and my blood pressure and remind me of the faith I once knew and help me believe it is still possible.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

No matter what.

YesIMG_5163terday, I arrived at pick-up for my daughter’s school and her teacher told me that she needed to speak to me. She informed me that Bella got a warning for spitting on one of her classmates. The teacher asked her why she would do such a thing and Bella told her that the student sat in her friend’s spot. As a result of her actions, Bella got a warning card. The first and only one of the year in her class. As someone who was bullied, I refuse to raise a bully. I was so embarrassed.

Once we were alone, I told her how embarrassed I was and disappointed in her behavior. I asked her for an explanation and she told me she didn’t want the other student sitting beside her because she wanted her friend there. The student wouldn’t move, so she spit on them. I explained that spitting was always unacceptable. Also, if someone she didn’t know sat beside her, a good alternative to spitting would be to say, “Hi! What is your name?” I also informed her that she would lose TV privileges every time the teacher needed to speak to me about her behavior, but she would get a sticker for all the days she did the right thing.

This morning on the way to school, I asked Bella what she would do if someone sat beside her who she didn’t know. She said, “I will say, ‘Hello. What is your name.” I screamed “Yes!!” and threw my arm over the seat to give her a high five. There were a few seconds of silence and then Bella asked, “Mommy, if I forget and mess up again, will you still love me?”  My heart dropped and I immediately looked back at her and said, “Absolutely! I will always, always love you, no matter what! You could make mistakes all day everyday and i will STILL love you. Do not forget that. Ever!”

“Ok, mommy. I’ll always love you too.”

“And you know what, Belles?”

“What?”

“We are both going to make a lot of mistakes. We will both hurt each other’s feelings and make each other mad. But, you know what?”

“What, mommy?”

“As long as we keep loving each other no matter what, we will be OK.”

Then I looked back again and she looked out the window and her whole face smiled. And that is when I realized that my primary job as a mother is to always remind my daughter that I love her exactly as she is and regardless of her behavior. I heard once that children need to hear the words “I love you” at least 4 times a day to be emotionally stable. I think I’ll up that to 6 or 10 just in case. This kid. This kid is my entire heart and I want this in writing so I never forget to live my life in a way that she will always know that. I think you start losing your child the moment they doubt that you still love them. So, love them constantly.

 

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“There are things in this life I,

Would rather not sacrifice 

You girl I cannot live without

And you know there’s no doubt that

All I mind’s losing you”

~John Butler Trio

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gardening, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Wick. 

For the past few months I have been going out to my garden in the evening, digging a hole, and filling it with food scraps. I try to go out at dusk when I still have a bit of light but am less likely to be seen by my neighbors. I am pretty certain many of them already think I am a little strange(an introvert in an extroverted neighborhood), so seeing me dig holes in my yard to bury the ends of my carrots and used coffee grinds would not help my current status. A while ago I read about the benefits of burying compost in your garden to improve the soil. I wrote an entire curriculum on composting for grad school, so I am not new to the concept, but I’ll admit I never thought of just digging holes and burying it. My soil is in bad shape, so I figured, “why not?” 

My garden, or backyard, is half the reason I bought my house. I want to live in the city, but only if I can have a piece of earth to play with. I lucked out finding a house close to center city, but not too close, with a yard that is the same square footage as my downstairs. I want this garden to be happy and healthy and full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. I want bees and birds and butterflies to make their homes there. I want my daughter to grow up with a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.

When I moved here, the yard was full of waist high prickly weeds and random tools and trash left over from the remodel of my house. The first time I saw it, it was pouring rain and it looked like the yard had been neglected for years. I instantly fell in love. I looked at my realtor and he immediately knew as well as I did that this was the one. I looked at that muddy weed and trash covered yard and all I could see were the birds and butterflies dancing through the lush and healthy garden. I could already smell the lavender and fennel.

My first few months with the garden, I filled 10 or more bags of trash. Broken glass, rusty tools, parts of railroads, statues, dirty diapers, and a variety of broken toys and christmas ornaments were on or sticking out of the top layer of soil. I pulled all of the weeds and pulled them again when they came back. I had days when my arms were covered in scratches from thorns and the stench of old trash filled my nose. I threw out some of my gardening clothes and wore through 4 pairs of gloves. My daughter was strictly forbidden to enter the garden I so desperately wanted for her. By month six or seven, most of the weeds stopped coming back and grass and clover started covering the yard, random morning glories popped up, and birds started coming to my feeder. Still, the yard was mostly bare and after heavy rains, more trash would come to the surface and I would fill more bags with pieces of glass, plastic, Styrofoam, and metal. Sometimes I would come in crying and feeling hopeless that I would ever have a good healthy garden.

The thing is, I grew up watching and reading The Secret Garden knowing that you should never give up on a piece of earth. In the story, Dickon shows Mary a bud in the neglected garden and says it is “wick.” That is, it still has life. It is worth reviving and it will blossom again. Much like The Secret Garden, I heard stories of my yard once being lush and covered in rose bushes by a previous owner who is now gone. I like to think that she also once dreamed of a little piece of heaven in the backyard and the life that is left here is a little piece of her.

 

Each hole I dig is 8-12 inches deep. In some areas of the garden, I dig up a bucket full of soil with little else but happy worms and bugs. However, in some parts of the garden, I have uncovered entire foil chip bags, whole water bottles, tennis balls, plastic bags, whistles, broken glass, and coins. I get a little sick to my stomach at first. This trash is so deep, the only explanation is that someone along the way was literally burying trash. It wasn’t healthy kitchen scraps they buried, it was pollution. I think of my rural gardens growing up; rich clean Central Pennsylvanian and Alaskan soil. It is beyond me why anyone would want to tarnish that which gives us life. Why would they want to fill it with, well, poison? Then I remember that redemption always comes. It may take forever, but it comes. As sad and gross as it is to pull trash from deep beneath my soil, there is great satisfaction in sifting through it and replacing it with fresh watermelon rinds, eggshells, and avocado peels knowing that doing so with gradually clean and feed the soil so worms can prosper and my little piece of earth can produce and thrive once more.

 

 

And yes, there is a lesson in all of this that has not escaped me. My garden, once again, is mirroring my life. I am pulling out the rancid, poisonous things that haunt me and making room for fresh new life to spring forth. I am finding what is still wick and nurturing and caring for it so it will bloom again.

 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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Bad Ass, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Run Momma Run, Uncategorized

back to life. back to reality

Five years ago, I would have been ashamed to post this photo. While 4 miles is no easy task, the time it took me to complete them tonight was about twice what it used to take me to run four miles. Tonight I had to run, jog, and walk to get there. Also, due  to toddler difficulties, I had to do it on a treadmill. Again. After 10pm. Five years ago, I ran at least 5 miles 4 times a week and 10 or more on weekend days and biked the 22 mile greenbelt around Harrisburg at least once a week. But this isn’t a story about a runner who is trying to win a race or be the fastest or show people how good I am at running. This is a story about someone coming back to life. It took me three years to slowly fade away and it will take time to come back.

After I had my daughter, I got back to running, lost more than all the baby weight, and felt absolutely amazing about life. Then, for reasons that made sense at the time, I decided to move to Philadelphia. In many ways, things have gone well for me here. I bought my first house, I found a job I love and fall in love with more as it grows and changes, I connected to a church community and a parenting community, and I began building a village for my daughter. But some of the reasons for moving here turned out to be empty promises and were emotionally difficult to deal with. In the last two years, I have almost completely stopped running, my diet has been completely out of whack, and I have let depression win on more days than I’d like to admit. I turned down social invitations choosing to stay home and secluded instead. My body and my overall health has suffered as a result. Some friendships have suffered as well. I focused so much on who I used to be that I forgot to become her again-in a new improved state. And worse, I forgot to enjoy who I was at the present, double chins and all.

About a week ago, I realized that my daughter would be four in a month. Four. She is starting to recognize my behaviors and even imitates them sometimes. She recognizes when I am sad and she asks me about it. I want her to see the best me that I can be(hokey I know, but it’s true). I don’t want her to start imitating the me who sits in front of another episode of Scandal while eating a block of cheese and drinking a bottle of wine. She deserves to know the me I was 5 years ago when I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran a half-marathon in Nashville. The excited, giggly me who did not give a fuck what anyone thought of me. The me who did my thing, painted horrible paintings, but loved them, the me who laughed obnoxiously out loud multiple times a day, and the me who ran everyday because it was the one thing that made me feel my dad’s presence. I want her to see the me who at 35 found out I was pregnant and was going to become a solo parent and just said to myself, “OK Bek, let’s do this!”

On Mother’s Day I was still up at 11pm taking care of a messy kitchen and a sink full of dishes. I caught myself smiling. I realized just how wonderful things really were. I was standing there in MY kitchen, in MY house, washing dishes from my incredible daughter. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for everything in my life. When I was running that half-marathon 5 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be standing in a kitchen I owned washing dishes from a kid I had. The excuses I have used to avoid life have only clouded my view of the wonderful life I have been gifted.

That’s all it took to make me decide to get back to it. I promised myself that I would run, jog, or walk at least 2 miles a day for two weeks. At the end of that two weeks, I will make a new promise. On Sunday morning, I will be running my first race since that one in Nashville in September 2012. It is a 5K and I am already a little scared. The thing is, I am also excited. Bella will be with me in the jogging stroller the whole time. And soon, she will be running beside me. And even if I am the last one across the finish line, I will still celebrate and be grateful that I am able to complete 3 miles and do so with my daughter right in front of me cheering me on.

I leave you with an excerpt from Jen Sincero(an incredible author who I highly recommend) that I have been focusing on this week.

“You can’t see the silver lining through victim goggles.”

“Have faith that you and the Universe have created everything for your growth and be grateful for it. No matter what. Get practiced at making gratitude your go-to. Notice the 8 trillion things around you at all times that you can be grateful for, and feel into the grateful expectation for all the things coming your way. The good, the bad, the ugly, The salsa stain you just got on your new white shirt, become a gratitude machine for all of it.”

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Uncategorized

shame.

In the last week, I have been filling out registration forms for preschools. My daughter’s school unexpectedly closed and I have been scrambling to find her a new school. Doing this requires filling out parent information and sending in copies of her birth certificate; the birth certificate that reads, “Father: Information not recorded.” This is what a birth certificate says when a baby is born in a hospital and the father is not present and later does not claim the child when the state sends him paperwork to do so. It took six months for me to receive my daughter’s birth certificate while we waited for this process to happen. I feel shame seeing this again. A birth certificate should be a happy thing, but somehow this one makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong.

Typically, I feel like I am like any other parent for the most part. Like any parent, I work hard, try to do the best for my daughter, and have good days and bad. In school or play groups, I am usually the only solo parent, but I only think about it if I see a list of parents and students and my daughter is the only one with one parent on the list.  Aside from these tiny moments, I feel like the joys and hardships I feel and experience are the same for most parents.  But when a school application is in front of me and the whole page titled “secondary parent” is blank, I tend to be overcome with shame. It is not sadness or loss or a desire for pity. It is this deep seated belief that I have somehow wronged the world and wronged my daughter. It is a belief that there is something wrong with me and that has always been wrong with me to make me so irregular. I am somehow unable to have a normal relationship or a normal job or simply live a normal life. And, now I have brought an innocent child into this strange abnormality.

Growing up I was the third child. Somehow I was raised in the same house as my siblings, but always did things and lived my life differently. I didn’t have a relationship in high school, I went to three very different colleges to finish my undergrad degree, I moved around and traveled and basically could not sit still in life. I always admired my siblings. They seemed to have traditional college experiences and lives and got married and had children and stayed at jobs for normal amounts of time. If our lives were puzzles, theirs always seemed to be complete and mine always felt like it was forever missing pieces. There was always some messiness about my life. This carried out of my home into my friend circles as well. I always felt like my life was somehow different and weird and not “normal.” When I found out I was going to raise a child alone, I remember thinking, “God, can’t I even do parenthood normally?!” Instead of just accepting this as being who I am, or even celebrating it, I have always felt shame about it.

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, became pregnant when she was 35 with the child of an old friend, who upon discovering she was pregnant, became angry,  walked away, and made it very clear he would not be in the child’s life. Her story is so parallel to my own, that literally dozens of people have suggested I read her book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. The book is beautiful for any parent to read. I laughed and cried and was overjoyed to hear an experience so much like my own. In it, she addresses shame in the most perfect way,

“I have these secret pangs of shame about being single, like I wasn’t good enough to get a husband. Rita reminded me of something I’d told her once, about the five rules of the world as arrived at by this Catholic priest named Tom Weston. The first rule, he says, is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second one is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can’t get over it, you must pretend that you have. The fourth rule is that if you can’t even pretend that you have, you shouldn’t show up. You should stay home, because it’s hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should at least have the decency to feel ashamed.
So Rita and I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”

Shame is not something others can make you feel. Your friends and family can possibly cause you to feel guilty about something you have done, but I believe shame is self-inflicted. It is something we believe about ourselves. It is not the feeling that we have done something wrong but that we ARE something wrong. It is debilitating and, quite frankly, a lie. If we truly believe that we are made in the Creator’s image, then shame should never even come into play. Each one of us has this piece of the higher being within us and that should be greater than any inadequacies we feel.
My struggle with shame is my own. It is one of the biggest ways I have wronged myself and those around me. Being a solo parent or having a gypsy spirit or not being able to function in a relationship may be a little different, but it is not wrong. IMG_3491As a parent, I don’t want my daughter to ever feel this shame. As weird as she is, or unconventional, or totally “normal,” I want her to just love herself and be proud of the amazing little being that she is. This desire for her makes me more aware of the fact that I need to “get over it, show up for my life, and not be ashamed.” I truly believe when any of us can be ourselves, embrace our quirks and differences, and celebrate those things that make each one of us unique, we will be able to free ourselves of shame and genuinely live our lives.

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Goodness.

Tonight when I told Bella it was time for bed, she grabbed her blankie, marched upstairs, brushed her teeth, and went to the potty. She did this all on her own.

She then asked if she could play quietly for a little while and if I would sit in her room with her and read while she played. I agreed.

She got out several sets of toys: her Montessori sorting bears, her Big Hero 6 figures, her construction truck, and her safari animals. I watched her and was stressing about the mess that would need to be cleaned up.

She played quietly for about 30 min. I told her it was getting late and she needed sleep. Without help, she carefully cleaned up each set of toys and put it back in the shelf. She then gave me a hug and kiss and climbed into bed.

Everyday I thank God for letting me be this child’s mother. Everyday as a parent has been a lesson. Many days have been extremely hard. Many have made me think that I am not made to be a parent and I am convinced that, like many things in my life, I am failing horribly at this. I didn’t always want kids. I was happy working with them and I was happy being an aunt, but I thought the responsibility of actually having my own was probably more than I could handle.

I often wish there was an instruction manual that would tell me how to do this right. I screw up. A lot. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a parent. For some of the bigger decisions I’ve had to make, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t doubt whether I made the right choice.

This kid though, this beautiful vibrant miracle, she proves me wrong over and over. She defies the odds. She does the right thing. She loves and laughs and forgives constantly. She is brilliant and witty. She is creative and independent. She is so strong and brave and confident. She is growing up so quickly and does something everyday that amazes me.

Though I often doubt myself as a parent and quite frankly as a human, she is a constant reminder that I did and am doing something inherently good and right in this world. That, for me, right now, is all I need.

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