Author Archives: Faith

Surprised by Love

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The weekend getaway was a surprise Christmas present from my husband.

Throughout our 18-year relationship, my husband has excelled at surprises. While we were dating, he orchestrated a “traveling surprise birthday party” for me: As we walked through lower Manhattan, we kept “accidentally” bumping into friends who joined us for dinner, coffee, cake. It was only when everyone converged at a late-night bowling alley that I realized the staggering amount of coordination my husband-to-be had put into the evening, which was anything but accidental.

Our engagement was a similarly impressive covert operation. No picking out the wedding ring together for us: Instead, my husband (then boyfriend) capitalized on my cluelessness to lure me to a Connecticut jewelry store, where my ring finger was measured on behalf of his cousin in California, who apparently had to have a ring from this particular boutique. On the evening of our engagement, the friends with whom we were supposed to have dinner cancelled at the last minute due to “illness,” so we ended up having a romantic dinner alone before strolling around New York City to view the Christmas decorations. It was only when my husband dropped to one knee under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and held out a (perfectly sized) ring, that I had any idea of what was happening.

I like surprises, which has served me well in this relationship.

Click here to continue reading the Valentine’s Day edition of my “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

New Minibury Column: Our Favorite Things

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Several months ago, a fellow mother and the founder of local family website Minibury asked if I’d be able to provide some content for the site. This opportunity rolled together many of my favorite things: supporting other moms, supporting good community-building ideas, and writing. Today, my first post in the “Our Favorite Things” series is up on the Minibury website. Click here to check it out!

The concept behind “Our Favorite Things” is simple: Each month, I’ll share with your families one of our family’s favorite things. The goal is to highlight things that are simple, inexpensive (or free!), local, and that promote creativity.

Today’s topic: Popsicle sticks!

[For those who, like me, have tired brains and heavy hearts from following recent political developments in our country (and I suspect that’s everyone), a post about popsicle sticks may seem either a welcome diversion, or akin to fiddling while the Titanic sinks. Here is what I tell myself: No matter what may be happening at the moment, we still need to parent our children. In fact, parenting our children is one of the absolute best things we can do at times like this. So, here’s to popsicle sticks!]

The Cow on the Wall

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The cow was hanging on the wall, opposite the checkout counter at the Sweet Charity resale shop in Vergennes, and I fell in love with it immediately.

That I was in Sweet Charity, without children, on a Saturday afternoon, was due to a series of anomalous events. My husband was in Chicago for work, so a generous friend had taken pity on me and invited all four of my children over to her house to play for a couple of hours.

Faced with two precious hours of free time after two days of single parenting, I did what any woman would do: I went shopping for home furnishings with my mother, of course.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Three (Very Humble) Suggestions for Behaving Ourselves

My mistake was logging on to Facebook.

It was a bit of a rough weekend, wasn’t it? This weekend that began with Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States on Friday, continued through the Women’s Marches around the world on Saturday, and whimpered to a close on Sunday. And from what I observed, it was rough regardless of whom you voted for in the November election.

I am not a Trump supporter, for reasons that transcend ideological differences (outlined here), so on Friday I was filled with a deep sadness. But by Saturday afternoon, when I logged on to Facebook and saw so many loving, empowered dispatches from friends and family who were participating peacefully in Women’s Marches across multiples states, I felt hopeful, maybe even a little joyful.

Then, the comments started up on social media. The comments came from liberal and conservative alike; those opposed to Trump, and those in favor. For a good 24 hours, Facebook was filled with discord and critique. The hundreds of thousands who took part in Women’s Marches might have been peaceful, but the couple hundred protestors who damaged property and scuffled with police in Washington, D.C. the day before were “animals.” Or maybe the Women’s Marches were too peaceful, because they were mostly attended by white women who are seldom targeted by police. While the Trump administration quibbled with the media over attendance estimates for the inauguration, my fellow citizens nitpicked the numbers on social media. Also: Some of the signs at the Women’s Marches were vulgar (mostly because they quoted our new President, but still, keep it classy ladies!) Even children weren’t immune: I saw statements ridiculing the youngest Trump child, statements raking the ridiculers over the coals (“monsters”), and all “liberals” branded incompetent parents based on one child who apparently set a fire on the sidewalk outside of a Trump hotel. All this between people who label themselves “friends.”

And a confession: Even I wasn’t immune. Although it’s long been my policy to refrain from making any political comments on Facebook, I broke with myself and responded to a relative who’d been spewing a steady stream of social media vitriol. While I don’t regret my comments, which I attempted to keep respectful, logical, and brief, I still felt icky after the fact: I had fed the beast.

Sunday night, I lay shaking in bed. My body had been in fight-or-flight mode, cortisol pumping through my system for the entire day. My heart and head both ached and my breathing was shallow; I felt like dark clouds were gathering over our little house. Trump’s election had shaken my faith in our country and our government; the past 24 hours of Facebook comments had shaken my faith in humanity.

So here are three small suggestions that I am making to myself for how to behave well in a politically charged climate. I write them here to keep myself honest; if they help anybody else out there, so much the better.

In the coming days, I plan to breathe deeply and:

1. Avoid passing judgement on other humans.

On inauguration morning, I woke up early to read my Bible, and my passage for the day began with Romans 2:1 (here in The Message translation): “Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.”

Uh, okay God.

Let me be absolutely clear: The verse does not mean that we should all become doormats or moral relativists. It is not saying that there’s no such thing as right or wrong. It’s not even saying that we shouldn’t speak out against injustice, corruption, oppression, or other immoral or hateful acts.

It’s just saying that we have no right to condemn other people. We are not in the judgment seat for humanity. It is not for us to assign people to heaven or hell. Because, frankly, turn the spotlight around and we are all a mess (And boy, was that apparent on Facebook this weekend, myself most absolutely included.)

This may be related to my personal religious beliefs, but I think it’s also just good human practice: The more we get wrapped up in critiquing the deeds of others, we ourselves become hardened little nuggets of bitterness and anger.

The lovely flip side of this is that there is no person who is not redeemable. No matter what foul things a person has said or done in their lifetime, as long as they are still breathing there is the opportunity for them to change for the better. In other words: We are all deserving of grace.

This was beautifully illustrated by my child’s preschool teacher on Monday morning. During circle time, she showed the 3- and 4-year-olds the preschool’s handmade “Book of Peacemakers,” which included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Bernie Sanders (this is Vermont!), and all of the preschoolers themselves.

“Donald Trump’s not in that book!” commented one little boy.

“No, he’s not,” said the teacher calmly, without missing a beat. “He’s not, because he just became President and we don’t know how he’ll be a peacemaker yet. But when you see him doing some peacemaking, you let me know and we’ll add him to the book.”

As difficult as it may be for me to swallow the fact that he will be the leader of my children’s country for the next four years, Donald Trump is my fellow human. No matter how deeply I abhor his words or actions, he is redeemable and worthy of grace. It is not up to me to condemn him.

Also: No human being should ever be referred to as an “animal” or “monster.”

Finally: Leave the children alone.

2. Take a long, honest look at what our country actually is and has been.

Many of the emotional comments on social media this weekend could have benefited from a remedial civics lesson.

For instance, I am no fan of vulgarity. Not in my home, not outside my home, and not as a means of making a point. But our country has a very special governing document called the Constitution, and according to this Constitution, we all have the right to free speech. We have the right to put whatever words we want on a sign and march with it as a means of protest. Our right to expound upon our personal religious and political views is a massive freedom that is not available to many throughout the world; whether or not we happen to approve of someone else’s choice of words seems a rather minor concern. (I do, however, draw the line at someone running for public office who brags about having acted on his offensive words.)

I am also no fan of violent protests or property damage; I’ll pick Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful protests every time. But the curious thing about our country is that it was actually birthed out of violent protests and property damage. The early colonists rioted and burned paper products that were being taxed under the British Stamp Act in bonfires in the middle of the street. They dumped tons of tea into Boston Harbor, which probably would’ve gotten some scathing comments if the Brits had Facebook back then. They targeted Tory sympathizers and rode them on rails through town. And then they fought a war, featuring actual weapons and death. (I bet they used some choice language, too.)

We gloss over these facts, although they’re in every American history book; we teach them to our children like they’re quaint historical points of pride. We Americans just wouldn’t stand for the tyranny! And then we call people who use similar forms fo protest today “animals.”

I am not advocating violence; I am simply reminding us that there have been times in our country’s past when we felt that violence and property destruction were legitimate ways to be heard. If people are protesting similarly today, perhaps we need to listen more closely.

Finally, a wise friend reminded me yesterday afternoon that the very things that make the character of Donald Trump so repugnant to many — his greed, his unfettered speech, his objectification of women, his self-aggrandizement — are, in fact, the very things that American culture has come to represent. As a country in general, we consume like gluttons, we worship sex and beauty, we post unfettered comments on social media, we think only about our own comfort. Perhaps, my friend suggested, we have elected exactly the President we deserve. Perhaps Donald Trump is our mirror, our Picture of Dorian Gray.

3. Take a rest from social media.

When I go fiery, my husband goes calm. So, after my weekend in the social media maelstrom, he kindly reminded me that Facebook is a company, interested in making money. In order to do this, the Facebook folks want people to stay on Facebook as much as possible. In order to do this, they’ve developed a clever little system of likes an dislikes.

Here’s how it works: We post a little nugget of our identity on Facebook. People like it! So we feel great, and we keep coming back for more. Or people don’t like it. So we feel angry and inflamed, and we keep coming back for more. We’re like those rats in neuroscience experiments who keep pushing buttons for food until they die — except that instead of buttons, we post comments.

Facebook is great for posting photos, personal updates, and for sharing information. Got a good recipe or a thought-provoking article? I’d love to see it!

But Facebook is a terrible place to air political opinions. Our “friendships” on Facebook are pale substitutes for actual, in-person relationships. The Facebook “community” is an anemic substitute for real community. Engaging in heated political debate in this forum changes nobody’s mind, and it only encourages more emotion and division. True understanding and change happen best when we sit with people in the flesh and look them in the eyes; when we listen to each other, not when we post comments at each other.

I put a 30-minute-per-day limit on my Facebook access after this weekend, and I may go further. It felt like social media was draining my time and energy, which are needed for far better things these days.

The Revolution will not happen on Facebook.

 

 

 

The Day After

I am not marching today, the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States. I feel far more conflicted about this than I expected. Today, my fellow women in all 50 states and on all 7 continents (yes, even Antarctica!) are marching in opposition to Trump’s stances on various issues. Among these women are dozens whom I’m privileged to call friends. My hearts are with them.

Marching — an action I’m not naturally quick to jump on — proved to be too logistically complicated on this particular weekend. Instead, I am protesting by writing. My two oldest daughters are protesting by going to see Hidden Figures (a film about three female African-American mathematicians who worked behind the scenes of NASA’s early space missions) with our Victoria. My two youngest daughters are protesting by assembling furniture with my husband. This morning, we all protested by driving up the mountain for some cross-country skiing.

Barack Obama began his first term in office when my firstborn was one year old. She rode on her father’s shoulders as we joined a jubilant crowd to watch the inauguration on a big screen in U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. We felt so fortunate that our children would be born into this historic era of hope and promise.

The hope and promise of that day eight years ago didn’t last, of course. And here we are.

I have now lived through 11 Presidential inaugurations. But never in my life have I felt the type of crushing sadness that I felt yesterday.

In trying to figure out exactly why I felt the way I did — why this inauguration felt so different from all others to me and many of my friends — here is what I came up with:

For me, this is not, first and foremost, about political parties, or even policies. I’ve seen Presidents from both parties come and go. Some have espoused views and policies that I agreed with, and some have not. There have been times in the past when I’ve been disappointed — distressed, even — over the person taking office. But I’ve always had faith in democracy and the political process. I’ve been able to take the view that “You win some, you lose some.” And while we’ve had some very flawed leaders on both sides of the aisle, for the most part I’ve had confidence that our government was trying to be on the right side of history, to do what would best promote freedom and justice in the United States and the world, even when those efforts proved sloppy or misguided.

No, my sorrow yesterday was not sour grapes; it was not whining because my side lost.

Nor were my feelings, at root, targeted anger towards Trump’s policies. Yes, he made campaign promises that, if he’s able to deliver on them, are incredibly alarming; policies that, if implemented, I believe will harm people I love, their children, and our nation as a whole. If some of these things come to pass, then you likely will see me marching. But the fact is that, as of yesterday, Trump hadn’t been in office. He’d made some troubling promises and nominated some troubling people, but he hadn’t really done anything yet. So I cling to a small strand of hope that what’s said on the campaign trail and what’s actually possible to accomplish are two very different things. I’m willing to wait and see what unfolds, instead of wasting my energy on “what-ifs.”

When I questioned my own sadness, I remembered a discussion that I’d had with my eldest daughter right after the November election.

She’d started saying, repeatedly, that she was “scared about the wall.” She meant, of course, Trump’s promise that he would build a wall along our country’s southern border with Mexico — and make Mexico pay for it.

Just where my daughter heard about “the wall,” I’m not sure. Certainly not from my husband or me: My daughters are so prone to fear and drama that I try to shield them from the darker facts of life, for better or worse. And honestly, for much of the election cycle my husband and I (foolishly) thought that a Trump Presidency was a logical impossibility, so we didn’t bother discussing anything he said in front of the children.

But wherever she heard about it, the fact remained that my daughter was scared about this idea of a wall. Finally, I asked her why: Just what was it that she was afraid of?

“I guess because it means that we’re just not that nice,” she said.

And that right there — my daughter giving voice to her realization that this election revealed that “we’re just not that nice” — that is why my heart broke a little yesterday.

We have just installed as the highest leader in our land a man whose entire career has been built unabashedly upon greed, self-promotion, and the objectification of women. A man who tweets out knee-jerk, angry, demeaning, juvenile insults at anybody who questions him. A man who has used the most offensive language possible to talk about women — and bragged about acting on that language. A man who, throughout his campaign and even in his inaugural address, has fed off of anger and fear — which, as any young Star Wars fan can tell you, basically means that you’re going over to the Dark Side.

There is a darkness around our new President. I cannot trust him to be responsible with his words or his actions, and thus I would not trust him — our country’s leader — in a room with my children. (And note that I’ve not even touched upon the possible dark deals with Russia and issues of business ethics.)

Have we had morally questionable leaders in the past? Absolutely. But in the past, they’ve always tried to hide their misdeeds behind polite rhetoric. And, when discovered, they usually apologized and paid the price in terms of loss of public confidence and votes. What’s different about this situation is that we knew all of these things about Trump before the election, and we elected him anyway.

I recognize that there may be value in ripping the band-aid off of the polite rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from our politicians. I recognize that the anger and fear that Trump tapped into have been simmering for a long time among certain citizens of this country, and that the needs of these citizens deserve to be heard and addressed. And yet, it feels as if we’ve sold our souls in a misguided attempt to save our country.

“We’re just not that nice,” my daughter said. “Nice” can be an insipid term, difficult to define. But when I think of my country, I think of a place that’s always tried (in halting, imperfect fashion) to enfranchise as many people as possible, to welcome refugees, and to fight for justice worldwide. “America First” may appeal to our patriotism, but it’s essentially a defensive posture, a circling of the wagons that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

This is probably idealistic; the reality may well be that the United States isn’t “nice,” and hasn’t been for a long time. What breaks my heart, though, is that now my daughters know it.

Like any mother, I try to shield my daughters from the darkness. I attempt to preserve their innocence for as long as possible. I teach them that love wins, and that bullies and cheaters lose in the end: I teach them to be “nice.” So yesterday I mourned that, in order to continue to instill these ideals in my daughters, I now have to shield them from their President.

For the past two days, my eldest daughter has worn her Star Wars “Resistance” pin, which she promises she’ll wear daily for the next four years. We discussed what “resistance” really means, for our family. The answer, of course, is that to resist the slide into being “not that nice,” we will have to be nice.

So we resist by hugging loved ones, by having friends over to play, by going to church, by playing “Ode to Joy” on the piano, by finally getting our compost bin built. We resist by sharing meals, volunteering, donating what we have, reading March and listening to Hamilton. By promoting what is loving and beautiful and true. Until grander actions become clear, this is how we resist: Small things with great love.

Teaching Our Children About History

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One afternoon earlier this month, my daughters and I gathered around our kitchen island for a snack. I began asking my eldest daughter about a book she was reading. After a few one-syllable responses, she was tired of my questioning. Looking me right in the eyes, she said:

“’Every man his own priest,’ Mommy.”

She was quoting the followers of Martin Luther (“The original, not King, Jr.,” as my daughters are fond of saying.) During the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, Martin Luther started a movement that changed many of the practices of the Catholic Church and put the Christian faith more firmly in the hands of the people. “Every man his own priest,” was the rallying cry of those who advocated translating the Bible and making copies more widely available, so that people could read and interpret it for themselves.

In other words, my daughter was using a cheeky historical reference to tell me: “If you’re so interested in what I’m reading, read it yourself!”

One year ago I started homeschooling my two oldest daughters, who are now in 2nd and 3rd grades. As much as I’ve taught them over this year, they’ve taught me more. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is just how much children love history.

Click here to continue reading this week’s latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

The Stars At Night

by Campbell Gong

Drawing by Campbell Gong

The other night, I took the dog for a walk down our driveway.

The job of walking our dog after dinner usually falls to my husband; on these frigid winter nights, he dons hat and gloves, ski goggles and earmuffs, snow pants and winter parka, before disappearing into the snowy, blow-y dark. “Hope you make it to base camp!” I’ve been known to holler (unhelpfully) into the mudroom after him, while our daughters collapse in a pile of giggles.

Those daughters are the primary reason why my husband is the designated evening dog-walker: I’m usually occupied by dinner dishes, bedtime stories, and tuck-ins.

But on this particular night, a few days before Christmas, I needed the fresh air and the quiet. My vision was getting fuzzy from all the gift-wrapping, baking, and holiday logistics. Besides, I had a few last-minute Christmas cards to put in the mailbox.

So, after donning my warmest gear (minus the ski goggles and earmuffs), I set out down the driveway with Gracie, our clinically anxious labradoodle.

Let me set the scene, for those who have a more suburban vision of the word “driveway:” Our driveway is a ¼ mile-long, dirt-and-gravel road. We share its initial length with a neighboring house; about halfway down, the driveway branches in two, with one section leading left towards our neighbors’ house, and the other section winding to its conclusion at our front door. The driveway is unlit, as is the main road where it ends. At night, the only light comes from the single bulb outside our front door, and a handful of lights from neighboring houses – the neighbors with whom we share our driveway, the farm beyond the trees, and one or two homes across the main road.

All this to say: At night, the walk down our driveway is dark – very dark. The journey may take upwards of ten minutes round-trip, because ice and snow on the gravel drive make it necessary to step carefully. Ten minutes in single-digit temperatures can feel like a long time.

The night I walked our dog was cold and dark. It was also a clear night, so when I looked up about halfway through my walk, I gasped aloud.

We don’t see the stars much these days, do we?

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.