Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So. Loyalty.

"Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life."
                                                 Napolean Hill, American Author 1883-1970

I've been thinking about what it means to be loyal.  Though simply defined as "a feeling of devotion, duty, or attachment to somebody or something," I don't think it is always particularly easy to be loyal.

When God tested Job's loyalty by letting Satan take everything and everyone from Job, Job remains loyal.  Then Ruth speaks powerfully moving words of loyalty to Naomi, "wherever you go I will go; your people will be my people, your God my God."  Think of Huck Finn's profound loyalty to the faithful Joe, Romeo and Juliet's fatal loyalty to one another, and Carrie Bradshaw's devoted loyalty to her gal pals.  I'll never forget our lab's desperate loyalty to Joe; in her weakened state in the minutes before she died, she still tried to get up and come to him when he called her. 

To the contrary, movies and literature also present the consequences of disloyalty.  Saul is disloyal to God and loses a kingdom, Othello's disloyalty to his wife leads to her death, and Robert Bruce's disloyalty to his countrymen shatters a nation.

Napolean Hill got it right, I think.  Lack of loyalty causes failure.

I inhabit a circle of warrior women.  My warriors are easily characterized:  strong, wise, and loyal.  The circle of warriors is large; I once believed no one friend could handle all the messiness in my life, so I shared only one trauma or drama with each of them until I was no longer capable of that kind of compartmentalization. 

I have been across the table from each of my warriors at times discussing the things women discuss:  husbands, children, jobs, education, politics, religion...  There was never a warrior sitting across from me who would not have welcomed my husband to the table.  There was never a warrior sitting across from me who asked me to keep a secret from my husband.  There was never a warrior sitting across the table from me that will no longer be there a decade from now.  These are Best Friends Forever kind of people.

I once made a serious mistake with a friend.  I put my relationship with her before my relationship with Joe.  She was the first person I called about the joys and despairs of my daily life and I was the first person she called.  We were so close and I was so emotionally replete during the relationship, I often forgot to share the events of my daily life with Joe.  I was more loyal to her than I was to him, and the intimacy of that relationship was not good for my marriage.  I won't make the same mistake again.

I read a short article on the Marriage Moments website about marital loyalty.  The article is intended for couples experiencing parenthood and the stresses that come with new babies, but there is a clear explanation of what loyalty means in marriage.  I particulaly like this line:  "Are you your spouse's first critic or first champion?"

Joe's always my champion.  I try really hard to always be his too.

What's been on my mind is not the marriage though; it's about loyalty to others.  Where does it begin?  Where should it end? 

I suppose I'll be thinking about the answers to those questions for awhile.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I got to thinkin' about loyalty today.

What does it mean to be loyal?

I'm still thinking.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's a Football Kinda Thing

Football season at our house is nuts.

All three males in my house love the sport - well, love ANY sport.  If they were girls, they'd always have "I <3 sports" as their profile post.

Yet they all watch the sport in their own peculiar ways.


Joe's the laundry king at my house.  He watches sports while folding clothes.  In my history I was a sport fanatic.  A Viking fan.  I couldn't do ANYTHING while the game was occurring.  Joe can.  He's calm.  He's cool.  He's folding.


Adam's a renaissance man.  He watches some sport, eats some food, pops into the kitchen to discuss literature with me, and then goes back to watching sport.  He loves talent wherever it appears, even when it's the opponent he hopes will lose the game.  "Ya gotta admit that was a good _____ (substitute pass, catch, kick, basket, goal, whatever)."  Adam loves to watch talented people do their thing.


Jakob's a fanatic.  He LOVES the Vikings, Twins, Wild AND Timberwolves because they live in the same state he does.  He can do statistics in his head (and he thinks he's bad at math).  His only longing is to play with one of the teams he loves, and if he can't, he hopes to play with a team that regularly defeats his favorite teams.  He's pragmatic like his mother. 


Friday, January 22, 2010

An Epic Conversation

Joe and I have been having an epic conversation for the last couple weeks.  It's probably one the most refreshingly honest and open discussions we've ever had.  Sometimes it takes place face to face, and other times via text messaging or phone call.  The conversation gets put on hold when one of us fades into sleep or has some task to complete, but quickly resumes. 

I haven't had time to read or write or putz, but that's okay.  I've discovered something really important.

I like Joe a whole lot.  I like how he thinks and the genuine interest he has in helping people.  I like what he dreams for our future and what he hopes for our sons.  I like what he thinks is funny and the stories he likes to tell.  I like that we have such different strengths and we balance each other.  I like that we exist with one another in this moment, leaving the past and future where they belong.

I recognize my need for lots of friends - women who will listen to my woman things.  I've had so much drama and trauma in the last two years and refused to burden any one girlfriend with all of it.  It was overwhelming for me; why would any one person want to hear all I had to say over and over again until I healed? 

I don't need to talk about those dramas and traumas anymore.  In fact, the thought of having to retell any of those stories is fairly repugnant. 

With Joe I don't have to retell.  He was there with me during the entire journey.  I find it terrifically beautiful that he knows me so intimately and has witnessed my best and worst moments, and professes a greater love for me every day.

In the days before our wedding, I found myself afraid that I would run out of words with Joe.  I once asked my mother-in-law-to-be what her and my father-in-law could possibly have to discuss with each other after all their years together.   "Hmmm," she responded, "when you share so many life events and children and family, there's always business at hand.  And then, as the years pass, there's more than just words; there's a silent connection that fills in all the quiet moments.  You don't always need to have words."

Of course, I've never been at a loss for words.  Still, thank God for Joe and for this epic conversation that might last the rest of our lives if we're careful.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Bones That Aren't So Lovely

There is such a thing, I think as an inauthentic story.

To be authentic a story must meet specific criteria.  Storytelling Power describes a good story as meeting the following criterion:

1.  A good story touches people in some way; it "resonates with some basic universal aspects of being human."

2.  A good story has substance.  "Even young listeners want to hear a story with direction and purpose."

3.  A good story needs conflict and resolution, but the resolution cannot be too neat or easy, or people cannot trust the story.

4.  A good story creates visual images.

5.  A good story is one that is perfect for your audience.

6.  A good story is one the teller loves AND loves to tell.
Storytellers that craft inauthentic stories are often writing for self-serving purposes.  Their stories are lacking in one or more of the listed criterion.  They may have told the story for the shock value or for other personal motives.  Upon the completion of their stories, people leave feeling bothered or uncomfortable.

Last night we saw the movie The Lovely Bones.  It is a terrible story.  A young girl has been murdered by a serial pedophile.  She is suspended in some sort of personal heaven and cannot seem to move into heaven until she resolves her connection with earth.  As the movie progresses, the victim's sister catches the killer's eye and her family unravels. 

Most moviegoers enter into the theater willing to suspend their disbelief and sacrifice their own world for one of the producer/director's creation.  I'm usually very good at that.  I've enjoyed many a Disney-created production and we all know how marvelously the Disney world differs from the real world.  I was even willing to suspend my disbelief enough to believe that old and weary-appearing Mel Gibson actually captured the love of his young ladyin Braveheart.  Best example of my willingness to believe?  When I saw The Passion of the Christ I leaned over to my mother-in-law and sobbed, "Why won't someone save Him?"  We all know how that story ends.

I could not enter into Susie's world because a beautiful vivacious real girl was on the screen as the pretend victim of a heinous crime, one I would have tried to shield my own thirteen-year-old child from as long as I could.  Don't get me wrong; I've had conversations with my children about the potential for people to do bad things and cautioned them to keep a safe distance from strangers.  But that someone allowed their daughter to be a "victim" for the several months of filming...  I couldn't stop wondering what the girl, the real girl, thought about the story and what she would think in years to come.  I thought the same thing when I saw Lolita

Next I was bothered by the "personal heaven" Susie enters.  What is a personal heaven?  Does it come from some religious doctrine I haven't studied?  Is it biblical?  Is the tree Susie sometimes visits the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  Is it symbolic of some sort of manufactured Garden of Eden?  Where is God or guardian angel or spiritual leadership?  Has this child been abandoned to find her way alone?  Why is it another young teen is the only one to help Susie?  I couldn't find traces of typical Christian orthodoxy, which in itself doesn't make a bad story.  But I couldn't understand what I was seeing either, and that does make for a bad story.

Finally, the movie was brutal not only visually, but mentally.  We catch glimpses of Suzie's terror, and it's chilling.  (I assume the young actress, Saoirse Ronan, will be recognized eventually for her brilliance.)  We see her murderer sitting in front of a safe containing her bones and imagine her parents' aching longing to put her to rest; then we watch the same murderer handling the safe violently as he moves it to a location where it will never be discovered and wonder if Susie will ever have rest.  We see Susie's father beaten by a scared teen he's followed into a corn field.  We see Susie running through her personal heaven encountering the other victims of her murderer in the places he left their bodies.  And yet it's the things we don't see that are the most brutal.  What happened to Susie between the moment fear first strikes and the moment she realizes she's dead?  What happened to the other eight girls murdered by Susie's killer?

The Lovely Bones didn't touch me; it horrified me.

If the story had any message, it was that there is no moving to a better place while consumed with the need for revenge or constantly living in the past.  It may be a good message, but I think there are other ways to send it.  I don't think this story has substance.

The Lovely Bones has conflict, but lacks clear resolution.  Susie's killer flees and is never brought to earthly justice.  His justice, if it is that, comes to easily and practically painlessly.

Though there are visual images, both real and imagine.  They are too brutally bloody for me to consider them part of an authentic story.  They were shocking and dragged me too far from where the story wanted to end to be valuable.

I cannot imagine a perfect audience for this story.  Parents of young children will hide their children away from neighbors to keep them safe.  Parents who've experienced the loss of a child will be grief stricken, able to imagine their own child's trusting participation in their own disappearance followed by their final pain and terror.  Parent's who've never experienced it will hate it too.

Who on earth can love this story except someone who profits from it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Waterfall of Words

Words are pouring through me, but sometimes there's more to be said than there are words to use.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

And On the 7th Day

Lightness and darkness.


Dry land and oceans.  Vegetation.

Sun, moon, and stars.

Water creatures and birds.

Animals.  Man.  Woman.

And then, rest.

I searched the interent to find out what the actual translation of the word means and how it would have been interpreted by the humans who set the words in writing.  Of course none of the words were written until long after the oral tradition had been estalished, so societal mores would have had an impact on word choice.

What it actually says in the story of creation is that God stopped creating.  He ceased.  His work was complete.

So how do we enter into God's rest in a world that hums with activity?  How do I cease working when it never feels like my work is complete?  And if my work is incomplete, do I deserve rest?

I'm grappling. 

I read Matthew 24:40 last week.  Jesus went to pray in the garden the night before he died.  He left the disciples to stand watch.  When he comes to them, He finds them sleeping and asks, "Could you not watch one hour with me?" 


I'm watching one hour with Jesus each week.  The only word I have to describe that holy hour is... well, rest.  My work, my world, my sense of my self ceases, and I rest. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Greatest Gift

While accompanying Kids' Choir tonight, I saw the siblings whose mother gave me a special gift during the holidays.

The wrapped gift was beautiful, an angel I'll keep for years to come and a gift card for a local coffee shop.  It was the attached card that moved me.

The kids' mother wrote:

For many years now you've played the piano for the teens' choir and the children's choir.  You've led faith formation classes.  You've taught gifted and talented programs at the school.  You've had an impact you cannot image on five of our children.  Yes, we all know that it takes a village to raise a child.  Let us just say how thankful we are that you're part of our village.

In the coming years when I unwrap that beautiful angel, I will think of those words and how even the smallest things we do impact those around us.  We might never know what our legacy is without glimpses of it from the people around us.

I'm resolved to do my best to give others the greatest gift, the gift of sharing with them their positive impact in my family's life.


Two other thoughts to end the day:

A lie has speed, but truth has endurance. (Edgar J. Mohn)
The truth is more important than the facts.  (Frank Lloyd Wright)

Every Day

Scott brought a new song to our group, "Every Day."

I heard the song on the radio and liked it, but then I heard my friends sing it and it blew me away.  They turned a simple, fun song into an opportunity to make a joyful noise.  Their harmony, the perfect blend of their voices makes me happy every time they sing the song.

When we first started creating music together, we wanted to do something different than any of us had done in the past.  We wanted to master music.  Master it.  Recharge it.  Make it our own.  Mastered music, especially Christian music, is music that moves people. 

Our first efforts were painstaking.  We learned six songs and we played those six songs for five months before our first performance.  Then we used the same six songs for our second performance.  In a liturgical setting, musicians cannot hope to be successful with a repertoire of six songs. 

Over the ensuing five years, we've learned hundreds of pieces.  100s.  In the mastering of those first six songs, we learned how to play together and what kind of sound we wanted to make.  We learned to trust and depend on each other.  We learned to sacrifice personal wishes for the benefit of the group.  We created, in other words, a sort of musical marriage.

It is simply the most profoundly wonderful joy to be able to do something you love with people you love. 

We're blessed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Knights

I once participated in a Feminist Philosophy course.  The premise was that women are amazing and don't need men to achieve.

I disagree.

I have the most amazing men in my life.

My dad, the first man I knew and the man who has informed every other male relationship in my life, was not perfect.  He is fun, though.  And generous.  Loving and kind.  Smart. 

Scott was second.  I loved my baby brother beyond reason.  He was beautiful, the perfect baby.  My sister and I spoiled him and loved him and teased him and laughed at him.  I suppose we bear conspicuity for what he became, but I'm not sorry.  We loved him the best way we could.  We still do.  We're sad when we think he doesn't have a place to rest his head at night or a dresser drawer to call his own.  He made choices and we all live with those choices.

I had more guy friends than girl friends throughout the teen years. 

Yeah.  Think about it.  Easier!

Joe came next.  I loved him first because he loved me.  I loved him second because his family lived values I wanted in my life.  I love him third because he is worthy of love.  I wouldn't trade him for any other man on earth and I know he wouldn't trade me. 

My boys came next.  I never expected to bear boys.  Didn't.  I just assumed I would have girls.  My mom did. 

Ha. God knew what He was doing.

Now I have a select group of male friends. Good friends.  Best friends.  Friends I wouldn't compromise and who wouldn't compromise me.  They are good husbands or fathers or businessmen or supporters.  They are not separate from my husband; they love him too.

I haven't ever and probably won't ever talk about them again.

I just love them. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I woke up this morning and felt content.

That's a surprise.  Yesterday we got bad news.  I thought I wouldn't sleep and I thought I'd wake up angry or bitter or disappointed or something bad.

I didn't.

I'm content.

I have a husband who loves me.  He wants to make me happy.

I have two amazing sons who have somehow bypassed the normal teenage angst and are becoming great men. 

I have friends.  Words cannot describe my friends.  Women who are warriors.  Men who are strong.  People who love me.

What else matters?

Monday, January 4, 2010

On the Eve of the Dawn of Our Twentieth Year

Nineteen years ago I crawled between the sheets of my girlhood bed for the last time just shy of midnight.

I woke to a winter wonderland, the sun glaring off the soft dusting of snow.  The world was shiny and white on my wedding morn.  It was cold too - the end of the coldest week of that year. 

My sister and I got ready together for the last time in mom's bathroom.  We giggled and snorted over the placement of the stick-on bra I was wearing.  We left the house for the church at the appointed hour, carrying our dresses.

The things that mattered to me nineteen years ago are different than what matters to me now. 

It mattered then that everything I did was perfect.

It mattered then that everything happened according to my planned shedule.

It mattered then that everyone followed my rules.

Today what matters is different.  What matters is that I love and am loved.  It's that simple.  Would that I had known that then.

Tomorrow morning I plan to mail our annual holiday letter in honor of nineteenth year of marriage.  I didn't have the time or inclination to write the letter yet.  Writing only happens for me when the time is right.  It will be right in the early hours of the morning.  I can feel it.  The words are spinning in my head, waiting to land in the proper places.  I can't wait to read the story of 2009.

And HURRAY for Joe and I.  I'm so glad we've had nineteen years, even though I can't believe it's been nineteen years.  I have to keep saying it to make it feel real. 

I still feel my heart lighten when I see him. 

I still feel wonder that we belong to each other. 

I still marvel that God made him for me.