Tuesday, April 28, 2015

“Hold Mommy’s Waffles.”

Let me tell you a thing or two about my daughter, Eiledon. She’s smart, funny, passionate, creative, talented, and outspoken about justice for women, people of all races and ethnicities, and people of every sexual orientation and gender identity. These things lead to fantastic YouTube videos, amazing school projects, active participation in theater, insightful social media posts, and an email from one of her teachers that read in part: “Also, honestly, she’s like the coolest person I know.”

She also deals with some serious emotional and learning challenges: ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, Anxiety, Depression, Sensory Processing Disorder, and while she is not on the Autism spectrum like her brother, she tests “High Atypical” in the areas of inability to take another person’s perspective and inability to interpret social cues. These things lead to unpredictable mood swings and volatile behavior, disorganization, underperforming in school, and a general perception by her peers and some of her teachers that she has “an attitude.”

Through years of doctors, medications, therapists (hers AND mine), school counselors, IEP meetings, teacher conferences and the abundant support of my recovery community, I am learning how best to advocate for her and, just as importantly, when to let things go. I am generally able to blow off her meltdowns. They are not personal and when she has regained some control, she is always genuinely apologetic. Things are relatively peaceful at home and I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter. For the most part, I “get” her.

But once she steps out the front door in the morning, she’s on her own. Out there, no one “gets” her and High School, a soul-sucking juggernaut for any kid, can be a special kind of hell. She stays relatively positive on the whole, but there are days. And there are people. Certain people who just actively dislike her and make no bones about it. This is where I have a much harder time letting go.

One young woman has been particularly difficult for my daughter because this girl—let’s call her “Sarah” because that’s nice and generic—is involved in theater, as is Eiledon, so the two of them cross paths a fair amount. Sarah has said things to Eiledon such as, “What are you, a f--king idiot?” So, you know, it’s not like Eiledon is reading into things this girl is saying. They’re that blatant.

Eiledon just got through doing tech for a production of Hairspray Jr. It’s a great show, but the absolute best line, bar none, happens when Velma Von Tussle insults the main character, Tracy, in front of Tracy's mother, Edna. Edna, who is played by a male actor in drag, is holding a bag of fast-food waffles, and when she hears the insult, she steps up to Velma and begins sweetly, “Tracy, be a dear,” and then drops into a full-on male voice to say threateningly, “Hold Mommy’s waffles.”

I’m telling you, every time I see that girl, Sarah, it’s all I can do not to stalk up to her and snarl to Eiledon, “Hold Mommy’s waffles.” But these are not my battles to fight. They’re not my growing pains to experience. In these moments I call on every 12-Step resource I can muster to detach with love. To be supportive without interfering. To let her live her own life. But oh, I am SO human sometimes.

Let me tell you something else about Eiledon. Something which, more than anything else about her, truly blows me away. She is capable of unbounded compassion.

I picked her up from rehearsal one evening and saw Sarah sitting at the curb waiting for her ride. Eiledon got into the car, looking a little sad, and stated for the umpteenth time, “I really don’t know why Sarah hates me so much,” and went on to share yet another run-in that evening in which Eiledon was called “a f--king idiot,” by this girl. I had sort of had it, and all my good-12-Step-mommy tools went right out the window.

“Who knows why she doesn’t like you. Probably because she’s fat, ugly and untalented.”

“MOM!” yelled Eiledon. “How can you say that?!? Maybe she’s a little overweight but she is NOT ugly! And she’s a really good actress! I can’t believe you said that!” She went on to speak highly of Sarah in several regards and berate me for my un-called-for insults. I was flabbergasted. This girl treats my daughter like absolute crap and makes it extremely difficult for her socially within the one community where she has the greatest chance of actually being accepted. But Eiledon won’t hit below the belt. Who IS this child and where did she get this maturity?!?

I would like to think she is learning it from me, but then I remember why she is berating me in the first place. Yikes.

I apologized to my daughter. “In the wild,” I said, “a mother animal will kill anything that threatens her young. Right or wrong, there is a definite instinct that kicks in when I feel like you’re being hurt.”  I sighed. “But that doesn’t make it okay for me to say things like that. And every kid has issues. Who knows what’s going on in Sarah’s life that might make her act that way toward you?”

Eiledon’s disabilities and personality don’t earn her many friends. I know it can be pretty painful for her a lot of the time. And as a mom, I want nothing more than to protect my kids from pain. But as a friend shared with me, the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh said something like, “I would never shield my children from suffering, for it is only through suffering that we learn compassion.” And as hard as it is for her, she has shown me that in the midst of her struggles, she is developing compassion even for those who hate her.

I think maybe I need to learn to hold my own waffles.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Read the Fine Print

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.”    --Judges 6: 36-40

I’ve always looked a little askance at the audacity of Gideon. Here he’s just asked God to perform a miracle to give him an unequivocal sign and God has done just that. But then Gideon says, “Well. Um. That’s great and all, but, like, could you maybe—and don’t smite me for asking or anything—could you do it again? But slightly differently this time. So, you know, I can be really sure I’m not going to get it handed to me by the Midianites and their allies?”

Seriously? You’re looking at an absolutely clear sign and that’s not enough for you?!?

So yeah, um, I’m feeling a bit like Gideon right now. Because, you see, I had just made the monumental decision not to go back to school at Luther Seminary because the money didn’t come through and anyway, I had no business doing school full time with the demands of my family and my life in general. I was just waiting for the confirmation letter for the lesser (but very generous) scholarship I had already been awarded before I called the seminary to let them know I wouldn’t be coming. That it just wasn’t time.

The confirmation letter came yesterday and I opened it this morning. I don’t know what possessed me to read it thoroughly. I already knew that the scholarship was contingent upon me being a full time student at the seminary, which would simply not work. But I read it anyway. And saw the words “There is no minimum course per term requirement.”

I’m sorry, what?

“There is no minimum course per term requirement.”

I took a deep breath. I put the letter down. I took care of a couple of tasks in the house. I sat back down by the computer and picked up the letter.

“There is no minimum course per term requirement.”

I called the seminary and talked to my admissions counselor. “So I got the confirmation letter, and it says I don’t have to be a full time student.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Are you kidding me? This whole time I’ve been laboring under the delusion that the only way I would get scholarship money was to go full time. I was planning to call you as soon as I got this letter to let you know I wouldn’t be coming.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I hope I didn’t give you that impression. The only scholarship that requires full-time attendance is the Presidential Scholarship. In fact, by not receiving that, you’ve been given a whole lot more flexibility.”

Well that’s a horse of a different color. I thanked her and told her I had a few more conversations to have, but I would get back to her early next week with my final decision.

Yeah, God? You know that drenched fleece you gave me? Well, you sure did make it absolutely clear that being a full-time seminarian was just not for me. Oh, and about not getting the full ride scholarship? Um, yeah, thanks for that, okay?

Just like I hadn’t consciously set out that first fleece on scholarship weekend, I hadn’t consciously set out a second one in deciding to wait for the confirmation letter before terminating my enrollment. I really hadn’t. I had fully accepted that seminary was just not going to be possible. So, you know, it wasn’t quite the audacity of Gideon: the whole, “Are you sure, God?” The analogy isn’t perfect. But I’m sure as heck happy to have been wrong. Because with a little effort—and some divine help, seminary just might happen after all!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Drenched Fleece

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew."                                                        --Judges 6: 36-40

When I was in high school, I remember Pastor Larson talking about “putting a fleece before the Lord,” sharing a story about a decision he had to make and the way he asked God to give him a clear sign. I thought that was a load of horse poo. It was the spiritual equivalent of consulting the Magic 8 Ball I had gotten for my 9th birthday. Even at fourteen, I knew God didn’t work that way. (I knew everything when I was fourteen.)

I see it differently now. It’s more about having the humility to set aside what I think should happen, and being open to see and hear what’s really going on around me.

Last June, I applied to Luther Seminary almost on a whim. I had been doing some serious vision work and the results were clear. I was passionate about creativity—writing, drama, art, music—and my faith tradition. I started a children’s drama ministry. I continued to volunteer in the education department at my church. I realized that far from being a chore, this kind of work fed me, filled me, inspired and excited me. It was my outlet from the much more demanding work of parenting high needs children, which is my primary vocation.  In support of this, I thought it would be fantastic to take some seminary classes, so I investigated. It was possible to apply online, so I applied, thinking it would be months before I would have to make any sort of commitment.

I was accepted within two weeks and offered an extremely generous scholarship that would require me to be a full-time student. I figured this was clearly meant to be and started trying to figure out a way to make it work, with the understanding that student loans were not an option. The other possibilities I investigated did not pan out. The last resort was to defer enrollment for a year and apply for a Presidential Scholarship, which would cover the full tuition. I knew that without that scholarship, seminary would not be an option for me right now. But in my mind, I had sort of decided it would all work out somehow and I’d be starting in the fall of 2015 for sure. After all, they awarded twenty-five of those scholarships. I figured my odds were pretty good.

Last Sunday and Monday, I went over to the seminary for “Scholarship Weekend,” the culmination of the application process, which included an interview as well as several events and opportunities to experience the campus and meet fellow incoming students. I went with no expectations. In a way, without consciously realizing it, I “laid my fleece before the Lord.” If I was meant to be at seminary in the fall, it would be clear. The threshing floor would be covered with dew and the fleece would be bone dry.

I did not "connect" with Luther Seminary. I wanted to. So badly. The Sunday evening was enjoyable enough. A somewhat awkward un-facilitated “mingle,” which, for an introvert, was not entirely pleasant, but mercifully brief. A moving worship service, marred only by the use of a couple praise songs (strike one) including one song which included a passionate plea that God would “reclaim this nation,” (a strike so egregious I wanted to go and quietly throw up in a corner.) A lovely dinner at which I sat with another prospective student, a current distance learner, my husband, and the academic dean (who was truly a wonderful person!) Dan and I went home having had a nice time and liking the atmosphere and the staff and faculty with whom we had interacted. But there hadn’t been that instant connection I was hoping for. An excitement or anticipation of being part of that place. Was that a little bit of moisture on the fleece? It was hard to say.

The second day I had my interview followed by a student panel, chapel, lunch, a campus tour, and a sample class. It was all great, actually, and there were some particular highlights. But I went home absolutely exhausted and not at all convinced that as a non-traditional commuting student I would have any success integrating into the campus community they work so hard to build.  That evening, as I was extraordinarily crabby, biting everyone’s head off and yelling at the dog, I wondered, “Am I even capable of going back to school full time? Do I have the physical stamina to do this?” I didn’t want to spend the next two years being a raging b-word to my family.

Maybe that should have been enough. The fleece was certainly damp.  But my own desires and expectations reasserted themselves and I explained it all away. No, I just hadn’t slept well. It was pretty intensive all day and classes wouldn’t be like that. I would find my niche in the community. I could make it work.

Except that when I had gotten home from the seminary that afternoon, I found out that Gavin had forgotten the passcode to the garage and didn’t have his phone, so he’d had to sit outside in the freezing cold for an hour and a half until Eiledon got home to let him in, since I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. Unavailable. Wasn’t it more important at this point in my kids’ lives that I be around? Was the fleece just damp? Or maybe a little soggy?

Well, no, it was just a reminder of all the things that would have to be put into place in order to make this work for the family. Making sure of phones. Hiding a key somewhere outside. Stuff like that. We could figure it out. Surely the kids are old enough now not to need me so much. They need to learn to be more independent after all.

It took me until Wednesday to really recover my energy, and a sort of resignation was setting in. I started to accept that if I didn’t get a Presidential Scholarship, seminary was just not going to happen. The signs continued to support this.

On Thursday I wrote a children’s sermon on the themes: God keeps God’s promises, and God’s ways are not human ways. Um. That night I read the daily reading for a group I’m a part of and it stated unequivocally that we don’t incur debt to get a college degree. Okay. Friday morning I went to a meeting about transitioning my autistic 8th grader to high school next fall. Transition. Autistic. High School. My potential unavailability suddenly seemed utterly foolish.

By the time I got the call at eleven that I had not been awarded a Presidential Scholarship, the point was moot. The fleece was already drenched, right along with the ground.

I still cried. I’m an overachiever, after all, and I don’t like to fail. I’d been talking about seminary for months and wasn’t relishing the idea of telling people it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want the people around me to feel bad or insist there must be a way to make it happen for me.

It’s not time.

Does that mean it will never be time? Not necessarily. But just for today, my life is incredibly full. I can go back to my original idea of taking a seminary class here and there as a distance learner when I have the resources to do it, rather than feeling all this pressure to barrel through it as a full time student.

In the end, there was nothing all Magic 8 Ball about the decision. It was just about laying out the fleece and being open to seeing the reality of its condition in the morning. I know a lot less than I did when I was fourteen, for which I’m extremely grateful, and it turns out Pastor Larson wasn’t completely crazy after all.