Category Archives: sentimental

these posts tend to reflect my more serious and contemplative side.

How I’m Feeling about My Upcoming Hysterectomy

When people find out that I—a childless woman in my early thirties—will be having a hysterectomy, the first question they inevitably ask is, “How are you feeling about that?”

 

And I will be honest with you, after attempting to be diplomatic, after trying to come up with the “short version” for acquaintances and patiently articulating the long version for those closest to me, I have this to say: STOP ASKING ME HOW I’M FEELING (please). I’m so sick of being asked this question—because the answer is not what everyone asking this question wants or expects to hear. People want me to be broken up about it. People expect me to be devastated. And I think it offends some of them that I’m not sad about it. Of course, all of these expectations are rooted, however loosely, in the ancient belief that childbearing is the only thing women exist to do in this life. And I guess if I had that perception of myself and my life’s purpose, then sure, maybe I’d be heartbroken over this development. But dealing with the realities of my pending surgery has been loads easier than trying to walk on the eggshells of people’s expectations of my devastation and their devastation on my behalf.

 

Only a few people knew this before now, but I’ve always suspected I would never be able to have my own children. I could never explain exactly why or how this was the case, but from the time I was seventeen, I just somehow knew that my womb wouldn’t grow children. I told one person back then—and it’s doubtful she remembers such a prediction because it would’ve sounded ridiculous. And yet here we are. Because of this instinct of mine, I acclimated many, many years ago to the idea of expanding my future family through adoption. And so this fork in the road isn’t some great tragedy for me. It is a newer adjustment for my husband, and he is probably and understandably a little sadder about it than I am. But overall, we are fine. And I am fine.

 

But I’ll tell you about a time when I was not fine. I won’t recount the details of 2010—2015, from the time the fibroids were discovered to the time of my first surgery to remove them while leaving my uterus intact—a period during which I was also less than fine. But I’ve recounted at least some of those details elsewhere.

 

What I want to tell you about is what happened after that first surgery. I had been married all of eight months when I had surgery in November 2015. I had broached the subject of a hysterectomy multiple times with my doctor, both while I was still single and after I was newly married. I somehow knew all along, in my gut, that it would eventually come to that, and I wanted to feel better, sooner. I wanted to get it over with, sooner. I was ready long ago to embrace the idea of potential, someday adoption.

 

I was not ready to pull the trigger on pregnancy during my first year of marriage. And yet my doctor was adamant about a hysterectomy not being solely “my” decision (even when I was single!). She was adamant about preserving my uterus and my ability to bear children, even after I got married and even after David and I, together, expressed that we would rather do a hysterectomy than risk a surgery that might not solve the problem. She was adamant that we not rush into making that decision, and even though I disagreed then and it has now come to what it has, I don’t resent her. She’s seen a lot more than I have, experienced a lot more than I have, and she’s the medical expert. I respect her expertise, and I appreciate her objective in looking out for regrets I might have later. I did, once, try to explain to her my “feeling” that I might not be able to get pregnant anyway, once I was ready to begin trying. As a practitioner of science and medicine, it is her job to dismiss anything that has no tangible, explicable basis, and she did just that: “Why would you think that? There is absolutely no reason to believe that you cannot get pregnant.” And I let the conversation end there.

 

So, fast forward to after my first surgery. I recovered, I went back to work, and six months later, I went for the follow-up ultrasound the doctor insisted I receive. The goal was to find out whether my uterus was still uninhabited. I expected the fibroids to be back, and they were—with a vengeance. At the time of surgery, the doctor removed six and left four. Six months after that, the ultrasound showed too many fibroids to count. Too many to count. A literal invasion. For those last six months, I had also been on a contraceptive that was injectable. Its aim, beyond keeping me from getting pregnant, was to shrink fibroids. It had been unsuccessful.

 

My next birth control injection appointment was scheduled sometime in July 2016, but after the less-than-desirable results of the ultrasound, David and I had a decision to make. According to the doctor, it was now or never. “If you’re going to use your uterus to have children, you’ve gotta do it now. I don’t know how long your uterus will remain a safe environment for a fetus. The fibroids that are in there now are small—but they’re numerous. And there’s no telling how fast they’ll grow. The clock is ticking. Not to mention, you’re about to be 32. You just don’t have time to lollygag about this.”

 

So here we were, now sixteen months wed, and forced to decide whether we were ready for me to be pregnant. Our original plan, upon marrying, included an adjustment period of about five years before we started talking children. So, in short, no. I was not ready to be pregnant. We both had low-paying jobs with no improvement in sight. I’m still paying on a student loan. Our house is really too small to build a family that includes more than one child, especially if they’re of different genders. We only have one bedroom besides our own. And we didn’t want to have an only child. One thing we agree on is that, if we expand our family through children, we want it to be multiple.

 

So I went off birth control. We didn’t tell a lot of people about this development because it was fraught with pressure, with anxiety, with fear, with uncertainty. The people we did tell used a term I hate: trying. I preferred to go a different linguistic direction and told people, “We’re not preventing.” But those were the months, as opposed to now, when I needed to be asked and to articulate how I was feeling.

 

Earlier in this post, I used the word invasion to describe what the fibroids have done to my uterus. In early January of this year, I went out for dessert with a close friend, just after making the decision to have a hysterectomy, and when she asked how I was feeling about it, I described to her my thoughts about needing an emotional outlet six months ago rather than now. In that conversation, I said that “my uterus was drafted into service,” partly without my consent. Near the end of January 2017, in a text conversation with a different friend who was, again, asking how I felt about it, I had this to say: “I feel great about it. I’m tired of being at war with my reproductive system. I’m a pacifist!”

 

I was half-joking, but it wasn’t until I used the word invasion in this blog post that I remembered my phrases “drafted into service” and “I’m a pacifist” and realized that, all along, I’ve been subconsciously using war-themed language to describe my difficult, emotionally wrought, and long-suffering experience with the childbearing parts of my body. And it shouldn’t have to be that way. My body is supposed to work for me, not against me. Or, if not for me, at least with me. Biologically speaking, my uterus is supposed to sit relatively quietly until I’m ready for it to serve its designed purpose. It’s not supposed to wage war, bring its own army of soldiers too numerous to count, and wreak havoc inside me.

 

And so, during the months between ultrasounds (July—December 2016), when I went off birth control and we started “trying,” I was constantly on edge. I was excited about the possibility of having a baby by that time next year (summerish 2017), but I was also terrified, which I think is pretty normal. We started to sketch out plans: Okay, suppose I get pregnant by this date, at the earliest. That would give us this many months before we really NEED to start thinking about a new living situation. We tentatively imagined how we would make an announcement. In our church parking lot, there are a couple of reserved spaces for “new and expecting parents,” and we casually joked about an announcement that included a picture of the reserved sign with accompanying text that said something like, “We are eligible to park in this space now!”

 

We told both sets of our parents that we had stopped preventing, which just added a new level of tension every time we had something to talk to them about. When we got our kitten, Zuri, we had to spit out the news immediately because we knew that if we dragged out the “we have something to tell you” part, they would all four jump to conclusions and inevitably be disappointed. Living in that constant tension was difficult for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment to either my parents or my husband’s parents. Inevitably, I feel like one anyway. Once parents get to a certain age, and once their children are married off, it seems like their only dreams are of grandchildren. And, if my parents are any indication, it only gets worse once they get their first taste of it. Grandparents always want more grandchildren. It’s difficult to be a harbinger of bad news in that respect. It is not fun to crush a loved one’s dreams in that way.

 

My doctor, for her part, talked as if she fully expected us to be nearing the end of the first trimester by the time of my next scheduled ultrasound in December 2016, and we left her office in July with instructions on what to do—call and schedule an appointment immediately—were I to find myself missing a period or showing a positive on a home pregnancy test. I knew that was unlikely. And yet, every month when I did get my period, I experienced a legitimately mixed reaction of disappointment and relief. It was exhausting having that much emotion tied to a spot of blood in my underwear.

 

The worst, most difficult emotion I worked through during those months between ultrasounds was a feeling of failure. I have never been pregnant and I’ve never been someone’s legal guardian, but nonetheless I felt like I had failed as a mother—simply because I could not guarantee that my body would be a safe place for an embryo to grow into a fetus to grow into a human being. I think it was natural for me to feel this way because, even if childbearing isn’t a woman’s only purpose in life, it is a biological purpose that is designed into a woman’s cells and DNA. And to realize that I cannot participate in that basic, natural facet of “being a woman” did make me feel like I had failed in some way. Thankfully, that place of despair isn’t where my emotions ended.

 

At the end of 2016, I had another ultrasound that showed worse results than the previous one, which I had been expecting. And I was so relieved—more than any other competing emotion—when I finally heard my doctor say, “It’s time to consider a hysterectomy.” As disappointing as it is in the minds of some people not to be able to create life on your own, disappointment was not really in the pantheon of emotions I felt that day and during the following week as David and I discussed our options and a plan for moving forward.

 

Let me tell you, since so many of you have asked so many times, what I was feeling: Relief, that my reproductive nightmare was finally going to end. Hope, that David and I could decide to expand our family when we truly wanted to and were ready, rather than being pushed into it too soon. Joy, at the idea that if we do someday decide to adopt, we will have the opportunity to offer love to a child in need. Excitement, wondering what God has planned for us and where our adventure will take us next.

 

I fully recognize that I may feel differently about all this later, after it’s all over. Hopefully how I feel post-surgery won’t change a lot from how I feel now, though. They’re leaving all my hormone producers in, so I shouldn’t experience anything too drastically different. But I’m prepared to feel a sense of loss that I can’t quite imagine at this time. I hope, in that event, that I will grieve appropriately and move on, just as we do with any other loss we experience in life.

 

Some people have said to me that, when they try to imagine putting themselves in my situation, losing the ability to choose is the worst part of it. To an extent, yes, that is difficult. I will never be able to choose to be pregnant and carry a child to term in my womb. But on the other hand, I am choosing to go forward with a hysterectomy. That is my choice. Certainly it’s a choice that is a result of other factors, but it’s still a choice, and it is one I feel good about.

 

So if you’ve asked me recently how I’m feeling, this pretty much sums it up. Please don’t feel sorry for me—because then I feel obligated to feel sad just so that your sorrow feels appropriate. But I’m not sad. And your sorrow for me, in this situation, is not appropriate. I will, however, gladly accept your prayers and well wishes for a successful surgery and a smooth recovery!

 

The journey is ever changing, and I’m just grateful to be on it.

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Goodbye, Sweet Soren

Today I said goodbye to Soren, certified Good Dog. It was a hard day. It’s been a hard month.

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Soren was just six weeks old the day I got him. Even though we were just supposed to be going to “look,” I made my decision within about five seconds of meeting him. Of course, I’d been dreaming about him for years—ever since I left home to go to college, I’d been dreaming of the day when I’d be finished with dorm living and could get my very own dog. I named my future dog while sitting in Intro to Philosophy one day during my sophomore year of college. We briefly studied a pretty well-known existentialist philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard, and the first time I read that name in my textbook, I thought, Soren would make a great name for a dog. And then for the next two years I talked to everyone I knew about the future dog (breed as yet undetermined) that I would get after I finished school and got my own place, and whom I would name Soren—without a line through the o.

As soon as I found the apartment I would live in, I went dog-searching. At that time I was still living in the campus dorms, but I was spending a lot of time with a family who lived close to campus. I was dating their son, and I convinced him that the purchase of my dog should be his financial responsibility. I did this by pointing out that December of that year (2006) was going to be a loaded one for him. After all, we would be celebrating our second dating anniversary that December, and I would be graduating college. And then of course there would be Christmas. All three of those events were major gift-giving holidays, I warned him. And then I dropped the deal: “I would accept just one present to cover all three of those events—if it’s the right present.” I eventually persuaded him that getting me a puppy for our anniversary, my graduation, and Christmas was the best thing to do. Somewhere in there I also made it clear that the dog would be mine and only mine and that if things went south between us, the dog would continue to be mine and only mine. There were to be absolutely no custody disputes. Amazingly, he agreed to my proposition.

Once we got the terms worked out, I was free to hunt through the newspaper listings. I had in mind that I wanted a dachshund because I’d had a dachshund (mix) as a small child, and I had very fond memories of that dog. I found a dachshund litter in the paper, but it was a couple hours away, and they weren’t available to be seen that day. The next listing down was a litter of cocker spaniels, much closer to town and available to be seen that day. I had my heart set on seeing a puppy that day even if I didn’t come home with one, so I said, “Let’s just go see this puppy; I won’t decide for sure until I see the dachshunds tomorrow.”

We arranged to meet this lady and her dog and her dog’s puppy—the very last of the litter—in a grocery store parking lot. When the lady got out of her car, she reached in and grabbed the tiniest bundle—three pounds!—of black furry puppy and placed him in my hand. My heart melted instantly, and I couldn’t bring myself to give him back. The lady said he was purebred, but without papers. I didn’t care about papers, but I thought I was getting a pretty good deal for the price I was getting this purebred dog. The lady said he came from a long line of pure cockers. Knowing nothing about breeding or puppy mills or anything, that sounded good enough to me. Little did I know it was a huge red flag (more on that later).

Soren and I had plenty of adventures together—mainly, ushering each other into adulthood. I was twenty-one when I got Soren. He moved into my first apartment with me (and then my second). He moved with me from Oklahoma City to Kansas City. He moved with me from the first house I rented into the first house I bought. He was there when I graduated college and through the many years I was miserable at my jobs. He was there when I was losing my job to company closure and when I was rehired because they changed their minds. He was there when I got married. Every time I left town, he was there when I got back. (And I left him to go out of town a lot.)

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Soren never needed a leash because the only thing he ever wanted out of life was to be by my side. He had one love that surpassed everything in this world except for me, and that was balls. It didn’t matter what kind, and we’ve had all of them over the years. Once, deeming it not chaseable, he even tore the cover off a baseball. As long as it was round and it rolled, Soren wanted it. Fetch was his absolute favorite game, and I often used to regret teaching it to him because he never got tired of chasing the ball. A friend of mine taught him how to catch the ball in the air, and sometimes he was a pretty impressive catcher, but over and above all he preferred to have the ball thrown a decent distance so he could run after it.

I once taught him the difference between two kinds of balls, a tennis ball and a racquetball. The racquetball was simply “the ball,” and the tennis ball was “the tennis.” I’d make Soren sit and wait while I threw both balls, sometimes in the same direction and sometimes in opposite directions. Sometimes his sit was more like a dance-in-place as he waited eagerly to get the command to fetch. Then I’d tell him which ball to go get—the ball, or the tennis. And he brought back the right one almost every time. This was our most impressive parlor trick for guests.

Soren enjoyed the dog park, especially the one we went to in Oklahoma. We never found its equal in Kansas City, in fact. The dog park we frequented in Oklahoma had a little pond, and it was Soren’s favorite activity to go swimming. He’d find a stick and bring it to me to throw. I’d throw it into the water, and he’d swim out and get it. Sometimes his retrieval determination scared me—like the time he found a root underwater and tried to pull it up, not realizing it was firmly attached. He dunked under water over and over trying to pull up this root, coming up coughing and spluttering every time but no worse for the wear. One time he stayed under so long I was sure my heart stopped. But then he came back up, coughing and disappointed in his failure.

Or the time we tried the swim-and-fetch game after moving to Kansas City. Except the only dog park with a place to swim was actually part of a larger people park, and the doggie swimming area was just a little part of a much larger lake (Shawnee Mission Lake, for those who know the area). There was no boundary between the dog lake and the big lake. One time Soren swam past the stick I threw, never seeing it, and he just kept on going right into the big expanse of the open water. He went out so far and got so turned around he couldn’t figure out where my voice calling him back to shore was coming from. A couple of guys in a little metal fishing boat saw him go paddling by and got the funniest, most bewildered looks on their faces. If Soren hadn’t finally turned in the right direction right about then and started coming back, I do believe I either would’ve enlisted the help of those boat guys or just jumped right in myself.

Then there was Soren’s tendency to mark. Not by peeing, though. Soren was well trained when it came to peeing inside. He never lifted his leg (got neutered too soon for that, I guess), but he still liked to mark places he went in the world, so instead of peeing on them he pooped instead. This was his most embarrassing tendency, and it was the reason I stopped taking him places with me—even the dog-friendly places like the pet store. I don’t think, to this day, he’s ever visited a PetSmart without pooping inside. It happened at friends’ houses too, and I’d be all, “I SWEAR he’s housebroken . . .” The most embarrassing instance of Soren’s pooping proclivity was in the middle of a marathon course in Kansas City once. He stopped to squat as we were crossing the street to find a place to spectate, and I said, “NO, Soren!” I had to drag him across the street to the curb, and he pooped the entire way, so there were plops of poop I had to go back and pick up. We crossed during a lull (obviously), but I wasn’t able to get all the poops picked up before the next wave of runners came. One of them hurtled over me, and my friend Joy, who was with me, stood on the curb holding Soren’s leash and hollering to the runners going by, “WATCH OUT FOR THE POOP!” Definitely one of the most embarrassing dog-mama moments of my life.

As a pet owner, like with having kids, you sign on at the beginning to take the good with the bad because you hope and assume the good will outweigh the bad. With Soren, the good outweighed the bad overall, but in the end, the reverse started to become true, which was what finally led to the decision to have him put down. Although, thanks to his purebred (more like inbred) status, he struggled with his health from the very beginning. He had chronic allergies that our beloved vet in Oklahoma couldn’t find an adequate treatment for. He also suffered from what’s called cherry eye, which is when the third eyelid (the red part) gets swollen and sticks out. He had surgery for this condition twice. He had chronic ear infections and couldn’t stand to have his ears touched by anyone. Because of his allergies, his feet and ears itched constantly; therefore, he scratched his ears and chewed on his feet constantly. Sometimes he scratched so hard he hurt himself and yelped. When he was still just a puppy (and still allowed to go everywhere with me), he once got so excited to stick his head out the window that he lunged and fell out of my car, which was going about 40mph down a four-lane road in Oklahoma City. I didn’t see him fall out, but I sure heard his yelp when he hit the pavement. It’s a wonder I didn’t cause an accident pulling over to go back and get him.

When he was five years old, he developed a herniated disc, and I almost lost him then. He lost his ability to control his back legs, and eventually they became paralyzed. He had surgery for this condition and made a full recovery, though at least twice we had to go back to the vet to get muscle relaxers because the discs swelled up again. (At least I think they were muscle relaxers, but who really knows. That dog probably had more prescriptions over the course of his 10 years than I have in 32. Muscle relaxers, sedatives, painkillers, antibiotics, topical treatments, steroids, etc.) His most recent medical issue was to develop little cysts all over his poor, battered body—mostly on his legs and feet but some on his back and belly as well. His long hair hid them well from the naked eye, but he knew they were there, and they bothered him, and he chewed them. We had the first one removed, but it was costly, so we opted not to do that with future ones that appeared. First we dealt with his desire to chew on them by getting little boots for him to wear, which helped a lot, but eventually he just had too many and in places the boots didn’t cover, so he had to transition to wearing the cone collar full time. Also in the last couple of years he started having nightmares while he slept, during which he woke us up in the middle of the night howling and crying bloody murder. Unfortunately, the howling and crying didn’t wake him up, and we had to shake him awake, which was sometimes difficult, and then of course I had to cuddle him until he whimpered away his fear and was able to fall back asleep. This probably happened at least three times a week.

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The ability to decide when your pet will go is both a gift and a curse. It’s very, very difficult to pull that trigger (not literally, thankfully; this isn’t Old Yeller!). But, I made the decision to put my little buddy to sleep about three weeks ago, which means that we had plenty of time to cherish and spoil him leading up to today. We became lax on table scraps (only with him, though; not with the other two dogs); he got extra treats and extra privileges and car rides. On his very last day we went to the dog park and played fetch one final time, and he got a piece of three-week-old, moldy chocolate cake that I had been saving for him.

I had a really good day today, all the way up to the very end, and I hope Soren did too. I’d never before taken a pet to be euthanized, so that process was new and a little disturbing to me. The sedative they gave Soren made him drool excessively. He was in my lap, so my pant leg got pretty soaked. It was the first time in living memory that I didn’t care about having someone’s slobber all over me. I held him and stroked him and kissed him and told him how much I loved him and what a good dog he was right up to the very end. I felt him take his last breath, and his tongue slipped out of his mouth to lie flat on the table. The doctor left us alone and I stroked his head a while longer. Then I kissed him goodbye, shut his eyes, and went home with his leash.

Soren was a newspaper dog, not a rescue dog, but maybe I rescued him anyway. Maybe I loved him better than someone else would have, I don’t know. I just hope he was happy. We had a great decade together, and I miss him terribly already, but I’m comforted knowing that he’s finally at peace. No more pain, no more itching, no more nightmares. He was a Good Dog.

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The Blood of Christ

Communion has always been a favorite element of Christian tradition for me. I grew up in a church that only served communion on a quarterly basis, so it was a special, occasional treat in that context. And the church I grew up in had an extra-special version of the Communion cracker that I’ve never encountered anywhere else since moving on from that congregation. I don’t know how to describe it, and I don’t know where they got it or how it was made, but it was a really tiny square, and it was extremely crispy. It had this dry crunchiness to it that was very satisfying to a little girl who already loved bread and was usually hungry in Sunday service. One Sunday, I remember my mother chastising me for actually saying, “YUM!” out loud after partaking of the Communion cracker.

Over the years, I’ve experienced different methods of serving Communion–courtesy of my sampling of various faith traditions. I have come to really enjoy the method that allows pastors to serve it from the front of the sanctuary while parishioners walk up and physically receive it. There’s something to be said for the interaction, however slight, of the pastor blessing the parishioner who receives the elements.

The words are not complicated. “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you.” And yet this simple script accompanies a very intimate act, and I often wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do in response. Obviously consuming the elements is the main response. But there is always something in me that wants to make eye contact with the person offering the elements, something in me that wants to express gratitude for this person’s role in bringing Jesus directly to me. But the interaction is so short, so quick, and “thanks” seems so inadequate, that I never manage anything. I simply hope that they read the appreciation in my eyes.

This morning, I served Communion to my fellow church members for the first time in my life. Recently, on Easter, my husband and I became official members of Keystone United Methodist Church, where we have been attending since August of 2015. We are involved enough to feel a true part of the church. We attend weekly service, we have a Sunday school class, and we even have a small group. We tithe, and we participate in the extra events when we can. We feel very much connected to this church. Last month, however, we became connected in a new way in that we were asked to assume “hosting” responsibilities. At Keystone, a host not only hands out the bulletins and greets servicegoers, but a host also facilitates the offering and assists in serving Communion, things my husband and I have never done–until this morning.

It’s not complicated. Our lead and associate pastors always serve the bread, and the hosts serve the cup. We weren’t really given any instructions either, although we were told that we didn’t have to say anything if we didn’t want to, and not everyone who serves in the hosting role does say something to those who partake. However, for me, being told that I’m partaking of the body of Christ, broken for me, and the blood of Christ, shed for me, is (as my husband put it) a very sacred part of churchgoing and church participation. So I decided that I would say, “The blood of Christ, poured out for you” to those who came through my line as I held out the cup.

I was entirely unprepared, however, for the deep way in which I would be blessed by this simple action of holding out a cup of grape juice and saying a few words over and over again. A few times I had tears welling in my eyes as I repeated this phrase I’ve heard for years and years and years, having grown up in the church–and yet which I’ve never said to anyone.

It is customary for those assisting with Communion to receive the elements beforehand, from the pastor, in a quick little ritual that takes place before we get in position to serve. But my reception of Communion today occurred not in having the elements offered to me but in offering the blood of Christ to others. I was so deeply moved by the idea of how humbling and yet how powerful it felt to offer the salvation, the forgiveness, the grace, the very blood of our Savior, to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Who am I? I am no one. I’m not ordained, I’m not called to pastoral ministry, I’m not equipped to explain everything I believe and why I believe it. But I was allowed to participate in extending the grace of God today. I got to experience the beautiful and sacrosanct gift of offering the hope of Jesus Christ our Lord to those who need him. And I was simply in awe.

And I received something else as I stood there and held out the cup to my friends and fellow churchgoers. Almost everyone, after being told, “this is the body of Christ, broken for you” by the pastor and, “this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you” by me, said in response, “Amen.”

What a small word, and yet what other, more genuine, more true response is there for that moment? And now I understand what I can say when I am back in the line, receiving the elements once again with everyone else.

The body of Christ, broken for you. AMEN.
The blood of Christ, poured out for you. AMEN.

Amen, indeed.

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The 2015 Kansas City Royals: Destroying the Narrative

I hate journalism. Most especially, I hate sports journalism.

You know what? Let me start over.

THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE THE 2015 WORLD CHAMPIONS.

Apologies for burying the lede.

My team, the team that has played in this city since 1969, the team I’ve been geographically connected to since birth, the team that has not won a World Series title since I was 14 months old, is the best baseball team in the best baseball league in the world. Several hours after it became reality, I’m still struggling with so many aspects of comprehension. I’ve fired off many half-thought-out tweets partially dissecting my attempts to grapple with this new and strange reality. I’ve written and deleted many more.

The 2013 Royals were good. They missed the postseason by inches. The 2014 Royals were good. They made the postseason by the skin of their teeth then inexplicably barreled through to the World Series, steamrolling the two other (also very good) teams that cowered in their path. Then they took the World Series to Game 7 against a team that, just two years prior, had swept a very good Detroit Tigers team in the Fall Classic. The Royals were not out of the 2014 World Series until that final out.

The 2015 Royals, though. They weren’t just good. They weren’t just great. They were special. They had no trouble at all clinching the AL Central division title and cruising into a legitimate postseason appearance rather than a one-game, last-chance, scrapper-takes-all spot. They met two very difficult teams on the way to the World Series. The Royals struggled during the regular season with both the Astros and the Blue Jays. Many, many fans preferred the Royals to face the Yankees and the Rangers instead of the Astros and the Blue Jays, although they struggled against the Yankees this year too.

Lots of people asked me, before ALDS Game 1, how excited I was about the Royals returning to the postseason for a second consecutive year, and I was modest, even stingy, with my response. “It’s hard to see how they can make it more exciting than last year. They set the bar so high last year, not only with making it all the way to the World Series, not only with taking it all the way to Game 7, all the way to the last out in the 9th inning, but with sweeping their way there. The only way they can possibly top the drama of last year is to go all the way back this year and win this time—and we all know the odds of that. So it’s hard to be over the moon right now.”

I’m not ashamed of my reserved excitement. Any fan who has claimed the Royals at any point between the years of 1986 and 2014 will tell you that going all in on this team emotionally is difficult. It has, historically, led to disappointment and heartbreak. The reservations are understandable.

At the same time, though, there was a small, quiet—but insistently faithful—part of me that felt like this year was the year. Last year felt magical, to be sure, but this year felt like something more solid and less fickle than magic. Last year seemed to depend on superstitions and narratives and a certain South Korean’s juju.

This year seemed to depend more on the sheer talent of the Royals themselves. Yeah, they got some calls from umpires that went their way. Yeah, they got lucky with BABIP, at times. But they also displayed some extreme skill that just hasn’t been part of this team—at least not all at one time, from every single player—for the last thirty years. The defensive plays from Zobrist, Escobar, Cain, etc., made us gasp. The clutch hits from Perez, Hosmer, and Gordon made us scream.

Chris Young, Mike Moustakas, and Edinson Volquez all lost parents this year. All three, despite these deep heartaches, put up impressive years nobody expected from them and came through for their team in huge ways (regular season and beyond) while wrestling with the deepest anguish any of them has probably ever known. Alex Gordon and Greg Holland both left the team at critical periods. Both players were considered backbone players before injuries took them out. The team won without them anyway.

Guys who are lucky don’t do that. Teams riding so-called devil magic to success don’t do that. Fluke teams don’t do that.

Last year the narratives abounded with the mystical. This year, the Royals themselves stripped away the veil of mysticism and showed us how talented, how deep, they actually are—from position 1 all the way to 9.

Except… That is not the story reflected in the media outside of Kansas City, by non-local writers. The story being told nationally is about the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all choking. The story being told is about those three teams falling short. Why? If the victors write history, then why haven’t the Royals been able to change the national narrative? Why are people so reluctant to admit that the reason the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all failed is not because they messed up but because the Royals are actually unbeatable?

Matt Harvey, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, and Jeurys Familia did not screw up. They gave everything they had. They pitched incredibly well, and they pitched well enough to beat every team in MLB. Except one. That doesn’t make them the failures. It makes the Royals the unstoppable winners. Those teams were all fantastic. They didn’t drop the ball (no pun intended) when it counted most. The Royals never gave them the ball to begin with.

Sure, it looked like these teams had a chance. The Astros looked to have it locked up. The Blue Jays looked scrappy enough to force a Game 6 and advance. The Mets had enough aces in their pocket to go all in and take everything. These teams did not screw up. These teams gave everything they had and played their hearts out. And it wasn’t enough.

Not because they gave up. Not because they made errors. Not because they have historically bad postseason numbers.

But because the Royals are good. Because, when it counts, the Royals can’t be beat. Because, when their backs are against the wall, the Royals will destroy that wall and stand on top of it and pummel those who try to follow.

Because the Royals wanted it more.

The national narrative underestimated the Royals at every turn, going all the way back to spring training. Did their postseason opponents make the same mistake? Did the scouts and coaches all underestimate the ability of the Royals to win the whole thing? Maybe. But the moral of this story is not about how the Astros, the Blue Jays, and the Mets couldn’t get it together, couldn’t measure up, couldn’t perform when it mattered.

The moral of this story is that the 2015 Kansas City Royals are the very best team that Major League Baseball has to offer. The end.

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#married

Well, I’m married. So that’s weird. And awesome.

Our wedding was the day I hoped it would be. It was fun, and unique, and nontraditional, and different. And we got a lot of compliments from our guests about how we structured the ceremony and the things we chose to include. One person said it was “the coolest wedding she’d ever attended” (and she’s in her fifties, so I think it’s reasonable to assume she’s been to quite a few). Another person said that so many brides and grooms forget to have fun on their wedding day because there’s so much to worry about, and he said he could tell that the only thing we were doing was having fun. Two people asked for copies of the vows we said to each other. And my brother commented at one point, “The only thing traditional about your wedding is that you’re having it in a church.”

These were all very high compliments, and I am grateful people took the time to say them to us. We did have a lot of fun on our wedding day. Nothing was stressful or rushed, and nothing went wrong. (Of course, if you talk to my mom and dad, they might say something different about the stressful part, considering how much work they did.) But overall, it was a hitch-free, smooth, awesome wedding. And I’m really glad people appreciated the nontraditional parts because those were the most fun to dream up.

The two nontraditional decisions we made that we expected to get the weirdest looks for are the two that probably went over the best – the no-gifts request and our name change announcement.

You might remember the post I wrote in September discussing the reasoning behind our request for no gifts, and my fears that people would ignore our desires, and my struggle with whether it was disrespectful of me, and of us, to go against the grain. But my fears turned out to be unfounded because we got three physical presents in total (two were from my grandpa, one from my office), and everyone else gave us money (including that same grandpa who gave us two gifts). So we raised enough to take the full honeymoon we want, and go to every city and baseball stadium we hoped to, and be gone as long as we dreamed. And I’m sure I’ll blog about that (with pictures) after we get back. Stay tuned in July.

And, three other people gave us gift cards, which allowed us to buy an espresso machine (yes, I married a coffee snob) and a rolling kitchen cart I’ve been dreaming about for years that will afford both more storage and more counter space in the kitchen. And finally, one extremely generous guest is paying for one of our honeymoon nights in a hotel out in San Francisco, and it is a very nice hotel. So, despite my fears, the whole no-gift thing turned out far better than I ever expected, and we are very grateful for the generosity and indulgence of our friends and family who have showed their love for us many times over in respecting our nontraditional desires and in helping us have the best honeymoon we could conceive of.

Now, about the name. Since I shut down my Facebook account several months ago, there may be some who read this blog who aren’t aware of what we are doing with our name. Previously I was Marvin and he was Spencer. Now, as a married couple, we are Spiven, a hybrid of both names. The reasoning behind the whole thing would be another blog post entirely, so I’ll just summarize the points for you:

1) Giving up Marvin entirely was harder than I thought it would be.
2) We like to have fun, and this is fun!
3) Patriarchal tradition is boring.
4) There’s an element of creative fun involved.
5) Carving out your own path is a huge part of the joy of getting and staying married.
6) We think it’s FUN!
7) Sexism is stupid.
8) Have I mentioned how much fun we had cooking up the name?
9) Spiven is a great name.
10) F-U-N.

The best part about our name change is how well the news has been received by the people who mean the most to us. Even David’s grandfather, the patriarch of the Spencer family, told us he thought it was “great” and that he thinks every new couple has the right to do whatever they want to do to ensure their life is their own, and he told us we chose a creative, unique, and fun way to start. That was a relief because we both love Grandpa Spencer dearly, and we were afraid he might be hurt by our decision, or not understand it. But you’ve got to give an octogenarian credit where credit is due. Honestly, he may not understand the decision, but he has made it very clear that he respects our right to make it. He seems to understand that loving us and making sure we know he loves us is more important than understanding the decision. And that’s a rare and valuable quality in an elderly person. I feel very loved, and grateful to be part of and welcomed into this wonderful patriarch’s family.

Married life has not been total and complete bliss, though. We stayed in a really nice (read: expensive) hotel on the plaza for two days after the wedding, and they gave us a gift to bring home with us afterward: bed bugs! So tomorrow we’ll have our second visit from the exterminator in a week. Luckily this is a check-up visit and much more low-key than the first one, before which we had to prepare the house for treatment by removing all our outlet and light switch covers and bagging up all our clothes, bed linens, towels, and curtains for quarantine. We sealed up 56 plastic bags with our cloth and fabric belongings. The only things that didn’t get bagged up were the clothes on our backs that we wore out of the house while treatment took place. We had to be out (animals included) for two and a half hours, and then when we were allowed to come home, we had to run everything that was in the bags through the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes. Some of that stuff had to be washed first, so we have spent the entirety of the past week running the washer and dryer perpetually. I counted a few minutes ago, and there are only 18 bags left for drying, so we are almost home free. The first couple days were the worst. We had no clothes and no curtains. We apologize to any of our neighbors who may have glimpsed us in indecent states. We even had to skip church last Sunday because we didn’t have a shower curtain. So it’s been a busy week, to say the least.

But, honestly, when I think about last Saturday, I think less about all the work we did and more about the long walk we took around the neighborhood while we waited for it to be safe to get back in our house again. The weather was nice, and we walked 10 blocks north and about 5 east. In the middle of it, we stumbled on college softball and baseball games and stopped to watch a couple innings of each. Strangely enough, it was the kind of scene I always used to imagine when I pictured married life: walking hand in hand together through our neighborhood, with no agenda, enjoying each other’s company and conversation and simply reveling in the presence of my soul mate. It was perfect. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the bed bugs, so I’m not even mad at the hotel anymore.

Okay fine I’m still a little mad. We had to sign over our firstborn child to the exterminator to be able to afford the treatment. That’s not a cheap deal.

But seriously. We are happy. And when things don’t go our way, we do our best to make lemonade out of sour grapes. I think our future together is bright.

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An Existential Treatise on the Futility of Rationale

I’ve noticed myself becoming marginally less argumentative and aggressive as I age in this life.

Ha. If you asked for my fiancé’s side of the story, he would probably recount to you the three biggest fights (so far) of our relationship and say adamantly, “Less aggressive? No way.”

But it’s true. The older I get, the less energy I have for arguments (especially on Facebook) that occur between privileged, middle-to-upper-class, white college graduates (and yes, all of those descriptors apply to me).

It’s odd because my belief system is as “figured out” as it’s ever been. I know where I stand on the issues that plague general society and, often more significantly in my circles, the issues that plague the church.

But I have less energy and enthusiasm for an argument with a gun-rights advocate whose platform is so flawed and vague and just…absurdly selfish, I guess, that I get lost when trying to decide how to approach it to pick it apart. But aside from that, even if I knew exactly where to start, I don’t have the motivation.

I have less energy for an argument with a woman who thinks that sexism is a myth, one who is so buried and embroiled and surrounded by the latent sexism in our society that she thinks feminism is a four-letter word instead of what it actually is – a movement that recognizes a severe imbalance in this world and desires to take the steps to equalize it.

I have less energy for an argument with fire-and-brimstone Christians who care more about hatefully espousing their opinions about the eternal souls of those with whom they disagree than they do about getting to know a person who is different from them.

I’ve become disillusioned in this life I’m leading, and I’m past the point where arguments on Facebook, either with strangers or with people I respected until I found out what their politics or morals are, are satisfying to me. I’m past the point in my life where sitting around and debating issues that MATTER is the only thing we do. I live in a privileged world where I get to go to an office every day and earn a yearly salary, complete with healthcare benefits (although sometimes the high deductible feels more like a burden than a benefit). In my position as an editor, I’m constantly engaging and reworking and immersing myself in content that discusses helping, ministering, loving, being Christlike, putting our words into actions (or “feet on our faith,” as one of our monthly periodicals puts it), and I’m tired of these things being words to me and nothing more.

When I was a teenager, then a college student, then a young twenty-something, I dreamed of moving to another country and changing the world. Not in a big way. I don’t have the tools or skills to change the world in a big way. But in my small, linguist-centered way, I was going to make a difference. But now I’m not a twenty-something anymore, and I haven’t done any of the things I thought I would, and my passion has waned.

I don’t know if it’s because I am tired of arguing without doing, or because my arguments get me nowhere, or for some other reason I haven’t yet thought of. But my passion, my energy, my characteristic aggression has diminished.

And what in the world do I do about that? Maybe it’s a good thing, I reason with myself. I wasn’t really argued into any of the beliefs I currently hold. I came to embrace pacifism (and gun legislation), feminism, anti-homophobia, and all of the other issues I am passionate about by observing, studying, reasoning, practicing, and praying. Therefore, what’s the use of arguing my views to someone who doesn’t share them, or holds the opposing viewpoint? If I wasn’t argued in, how can I expect someone else to be? On the other hand, if nobody ever engaged in arguments, would social progress and change ever occur, or would we still be slave owners, who don’t allow women to work or vote?

But did those changes come about because Person A argued with Person B and Person B eventually saw the light and gave in? I don’t think so. I think they came about because Persons A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, and N argued with Persons O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z until some kind of conflict occurred and an obvious winner emerged. Whether the “conflict” be a war or a riot or a vote/election, usually the losing party isn’t suddenly converted to the other side. It’s just that they’ve become a subordinate somehow.

I guess I feel saddened and discouraged that conflict of some kind must occur before things can be made right. I guess it makes me feel powerless. Tweeting about sexism isn’t going to cause employers to raise all their female employees’ pay to match what the male employees make. Arguing with a middle-aged (or older) Christian, who’s claimed Christianity all his or her life, about whether gay people should be afforded the basic rights that everyone else gets isn’t going to legalize gay marriage in the last remaining states. Trying to reason with the overzealous second amendment defenders on Facebook isn’t going to get Congress to pass the gun legislation that this country sorely needs. And writing a blog post about the futility of it all isn’t going to change a damn thing either.

So, don’t mind me. I’m just over here having an existential crisis. I can afford such a luxury since all my other basic needs (except for equality as a woman) have been met. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.

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No Gifts, Please

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in the midst of wedding planning, is how the very idea of the wedding itself (at least, in American culture) is contradictory to a lot of the values I’ve claimed I want to foster and maintain in my life. Right at the start of our planning, I knew I didn’t want an expensive wedding, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m 30, and covering some of the cost myself. Setting money aside for a minute, I thought I would hate every second, every detail, of wedding planning. I have always thought that. I’ve always, my entire life, dreaded the idea of planning a wedding.

And, to be perfectly honest with you, I have hated some of it. We haven’t been treated well by all the vendors we’ve contacted, and I can’t help but see dollar signs looming over every decision we are asked to make. I’ve worked hard over the last five years or so to try to embody a personal philosophy of living simply. I haven’t been as successful as some friends of mine who attempt to do the same thing, but I’ve done my best. I do own a house, which I will have owned for five years by the time our wedding rolls around. Funny thing about having more space than you need is that you tend to fill it up with things you think you need that you really don’t need. In truth, yes, my house is larger than Soren and I – by ourselves – needed. My reasons for buying it would encompass another post entirely. (Luckily, it’s going to be a perfect size for myself, a husband, and three dogs.)

But the point is, because I’m 30, and because I’ve lived in my house for five years already, I have accumulated everything I need to have a home that is decorated the way I want, enough furniture to entertain, proper kitchenware for cooking and eating, and appropriate bedding. Add to that the fact that I’m marrying a man who is in essentially the same position (minus maybe a few things here and there, given that he doesn’t own a house), and you get a weird combination in the end that adds up to a lot of duplicate stuff, a lot of stuff you don’t need, and, just in general, a lot of stuff.

To put it simply, “stuff” stresses me out. I see it as clutter. After moving in and out of a dorm room for four years, I then spent the next four years moving in and out of two apartments and two houses (the second house being the one I’m in now). I’ve moved a fair amount. It’s stressful and tedious, and it’s a good way to get rid of things you realize you don’t need. It’s also been the main conduit for my finding out that I don’t like “stuff.”

So, keeping all these factors in mind, I was ecstatic when I spoke to David about gifts and a registry and found that he thought along the same lines I do, which is: We don’t want gifts. We just don’t need anything, and the idea of asking for things we don’t need makes me feel a little sick to my stomach, not to mention greedy. I had a friend get married a few years ago, and she had all her own stuff already as well but still did a full registry, even asking for things she already had. When I asked why she was replacing items she already had that were still in excellent condition, she said, “Because. It’s fun to get new stuff. You’ll understand when it’s your turn.”

As condescending as that felt, I conceded that, yes, maybe I would understand when it was my turn. It’s been almost four years since that happened, though, and I still don’t understand. And I don’t have to understand. She can do what she wants. But I don’t have to do what she wants. The beauty of planning our own wedding, everyone has told us, is that we get to do what we want. And what we want happens to be very different from what other people want (which is, again, fine).

One of the things we do want, however, is help paying for our honeymoon. We have this epic, two-week, baseball-centered, west-coast trip planned, but baseball games and the west coast ain’t cheap. So, since we don’t need anything for our home, we decided to set up a honeymoon fund, where people can either give us general gifts, or contribute in specific ways to different portions of our trip (we’re also planning to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain!).

The thing about this is, some people think that it’s tacky for us to ask for money/vacation help, or they just think it’s tacky to give money in general, or something. I’m not sure, but there has been some resistance to our simple request for no gifts. I’ve been advised that plenty of people will ignore the request entirely, so we might as well create a registry because, if we’re going to get something, might as well get something we want. So I followed this advice, and we created a registry, and guess how many items it has on it? Nine. And they’re not really low-cost items either. They are all items we would have plans to purchase within the first two years of our marriage, probably, but we certainly can’t afford them now, or soon, given wedding costs.

Other voices have told me, “Screw what other people say. It’s your wedding. If you don’t want gifts, don’t be afraid to say that. If people ignore you, they’re being rude.”

And that is where I struggle. The idea that it’s rude for someone to go expressly against our wishes and give us a wedding gift has reigned supreme in my mind over the last several weeks. I understand the arguments of sentimentality, of contributing something that will last, of wanting a gift to mean something. I would argue that contributing to our honeymoon is sentimental to both David and myself, that our memories of it will last our entire lives (whereas a coffee pot will eventually break, or a quesadilla maker may never even get used), and that the knowledge that our friends and family want to help us have the best honeymoon we can dream up means a very great deal to us, even if they do not realize it or think so.

So it’s easy for me to get defensive about the gifts thing. I truly don’t want them. It’s not a pretense of humility. I cringe every time I imagine having to find space for something kitchen gadget-y, or having to write an insincere thank-you note for something I plan to give to Goodwill within a month. And I tell myself it’s okay to stand my ground on this because, as others have told me so many times, “It’s our wedding, not their wedding, and we can do what we want.”

But there’s a nudge. There’s a tickle. In the back of my mind, in the damp, dimly lit, cobwebby space where my conscience (or the Holy Spirit, based on your belief system) resides, there is a check that says, Is it?

Is it okay for me to be indignant about someone wanting to follow tradition, despite what I’ve specifically requested? Or is it my responsibility to accept whatever is given, which is given in love, graciously and thankfully, despite what I’ve specifically requested?

Though it’s okay for me to buck tradition, and I feel comfortable doing so, is it okay for me to expect others, who may be uncomfortable doing so, to follow suit, just because I’ve asked them to? Or should I allow our friends, family, and wedding guests to show their support for our union in whatever way they feel most comfortable, even if it goes against our express wishes?

Maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe we’ll get more contributions to our honeymoon fund than I’m anticipating, and maybe we’ll only get one gravy boat in the mail from one great-great-great aunt neither of us has ever met (in which case we’ll just attend an ugly sweater white elephant Christmas party next year to take care of it!). Or, maybe we’ll get something we never thought of but that we desperately appreciate. I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know how the “no gifts” request is going to go over once the invitations get sent out (they’ve gone to the printer, though, so there’s no turning back now!).

What I do know is that David and I will smile on our wedding day, and we will be grateful for the many and varied ways that people have chosen to show their support and love for us.

(But I’m not going to feel guilty for re-gifting that gravy boat! I don’t even know how to make gravy! Doesn’t it have to do with the gross parts of a bird? No thank you.)

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30 x 30 (with the Usual Audra Twist)

So many people write these posts or make these lists a few years in advance of milestone birthdays then make themselves feel like crap trying to accomplish un-acommplishable things by the time they reach that age. I think getting down on ourselves for being “ordinary” is destructive and unproductive. I have no interest in making myself feel bad next Tuesday for all the things I have not accomplished in 30 years on this earth, nor am I going to set forth to make myself feel bad about things I won’t accomplish between now and 40.

I’m extraordinary simply because I’m Audra, but I’ve done some cool stuff in my life too, so instead of enumerate a list of things I want to do by 30 or goals I have for the years between now and 40, I’d like to list 30 things I’m proud of having accomplished by the time I reached the age of 30. Please note that none of these things was undertaken with the goal of doing it before this particular age because that’s arbitrary anyway. Please also note that, while some will seem totally ordinary to you, each one was and is significant and extraordinary to me. These are also not in chronological order.

1. Staying alive immediately after being born. (Yes, there was a slight fear/danger that I wouldn’t. It’s nice that I did.)

2. Getting scuba-certified and then diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

3. Traveling. Traveling, traveling, traveling. To date, I’ve been to more than half of the states, and 7 countries outside the States.

4. Raising a dog to at least 8 years of age. Soren and I became adults together. It’s a wonder either of us is still alive.

5. Learning the French language (though not fluent).

6. Falling in love with baseball (this was a close one; almost made it to 30 without finding out how wonderful this game is).

7. Graduating from a liberal arts university with a bachelor’s degree.

8. Accepting Jesus Christ as my savior.

9. Serving on a church board and learning what the innerworkings of church actually are.

10. Achieving a job as an editor, which actually happens to be within the scope of what my degree is in.

11. Winning multiple spelling bees in elementary school, and failing miserably in the first round of one in college (habiliments will haunt me to my grave).

12. Writing 2/3 of a novel during NaNoWriMo; no, I didn’t finish, but neither would I have ever started if not for that exercise.

13. Owning my first home.

14. Owning (and paying off) my first car.

15. Running my first (second, third, and fourth) half marathons.

16. Running my first full marathon.

17. Working to become the type of editor others can respect and rely on for good and accurate work.

18. Breaking a couple of bones (luckily, I got this over with early in life and haven’t broken a single one since I turned 2).

19. Riding a motorcycle (it was okay; not that great).

20. Attending 42 MLB games over the course of only one season.

21. Managing to see 7 MLB stadiums in only three years of fandom (okay, fine; I saw the White Sox in Chicago long before I was a baseball fan – but it still counts, and 7 out of 30 ain’t bad!).

22. Reading Gone with the Wind in its entirety no fewer than four times.

23. Learning that beauty comes in many forms, and believing those who tell me I’m beautiful when they say it.

24. Riding the best roller coasters at Cedar Point.

25. Figuring out that I’ll never be the kindest, wisest, funniest, or most generous person there is yet not letting that discourage me from trying to be the best Audra there is.

26. Becoming a person who fights for equality, both for myself and for others.

27. Co-hosting a Royals podcast.

28. Becoming a pretty decentish writer, on the good days.

29. Accepting my changing and aging body for what it is, and not begrudging it for succumbing to gravity.

30. Falling in love with and promising to marry the kindest, generousest, thoughtfulest, consideratest, ambitiousest, bravest, strongest, funniest, beardedest, handsomest, committedest, optimistickest, fun-havingest person I’ve ever known.

I’m proud of myself and the life I’ve lived and the person I’ve become in these last thirty years. I haven’t been happy for the full thirty years, but I’m currently the best and most joyful and most-at-peace Audra I’ve ever been, and I hope there is an even better Audra on the horizon because I’ve certainly got plenty of flaws left to work on (and I’m sure my marriage will help me find them more quickly than I otherwise might!).

Here’s to the next thirty years. I won’t be able to do them alone. I haven’t done the first thirty alone. Many of you who read this blog (and many more who don’t) have been faithful friends and mentors and confidantes, both near and far, both IRL and cyber, and I hope some of you will join me for the adventures that lie ahead.

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Forgiving the Dead

My paternal grandmother died in 2009, and I struggled less with the fact of her death than I did with the way her death was treated in my family. I loved my grandma, had a good relationship with her, and was certainly sad over her passing. However, she had been hospitalized for six months before her death, so it had been rather a long time since I’d really had my grandma anyway. For me, her death provided relief. I was relieved to be free of the emotionally difficult and physically tiresome nights of hospital duty we all shared (though, admittedly, I’d been doing it for only one month of the last six because, before that, I had lived in Oklahoma, five hours away from the entire situation). But, more than that, I was relieved that she could no longer feel the pain she had been plagued by for the last half a year. One of the more difficult things I’ve ever done in my life is stand helpless in a hospital room while my grandmother cries out for someone to stop the pain, or for more meds, or for the nurse to be called for the fifteenth time in an hour; and then to watch her become completely crestfallen as the nurse tells her for the thirteenth time in an hour that, legally, she is not allowed to administer any more medication just yet. So yes. Her death, her release from her pain and suffering, was a relief to us all.

I knew – I think we all knew, in fact – that my grandmother was not a perfect, flawless angel. But her death elevated her to a level of sainthood in my family that no one else has ever attained. I wanted to remember my grandmother fondly, and I wanted to miss her, but the way some others in my family spoke about her as if she had been the most unerring, completely sinless human being they’d ever known was a difficult untruth for me to swallow.

I know reverence for and special pedestal placement of the dead is not uncommon. I know it’s the norm, in fact. Long has it been tradition not to “speak ill of the dead,” a precept likely based on the idea that people who cannot defend themselves should not be badmouthed. But my grandma is the closest person to me whose death I’ve experienced, and rather than mourn her with happy memories the way the rest of my family seemed to be doing, I chose to focus on her flaws, the things she got wrong in life, the ways she failed. I think this was a psychological attempt on my behalf to bring balance to what I viewed as sentimental, inauthentic blathering from my family members about what a wonderful person my grandma had been. I have never thought my grandma was not a good person, but it bothered me endlessly that many flaws we all knew about were suddenly brushed under the rug upon her death. I was angry and irritated by actions I perceived to be dishonest and fake. “DEATH DOES NOT A PERFECT PERSON MAKE,” I would write angrily in my journal, or shout to my empty house.

I did not understand why we couldn’t mourn her as she was – a loving wife who often kept her husband’s erratic behavior in sharp check; a meticulous keeper of house whose home was always clean but sometimes felt like a museum for all the breakables you weren’t supposed to touch; a fun grandmother who loved to laugh but also a stern disciplinarian of any of her grandchildren who behaved in ways she didn’t deem decorous; a devoted member of a pastor’s family who never gave up on her loved ones but sometimes did lose her temper with them; a woman who could appreciate a good practical joke but not an irreverent one; someone who loved to play games but stuck to a rigid and legalistic understanding of what the “sin of gambling” was (no playing cards allowed, but all dice games were, for some reason, allowed).

My intent here is not to paint an unbecoming picture of my grandmother. My intent is to depict a human being who was complex and flawed. Basically good? Yes, I believe so. But imperfect? Yes, certainly, if only by default of her species label.

But, after her death, my family appeared to have a tacit agreement that her shortcomings and flaws not be discussed. We must all pretend they didn’t exist, and that was not something that came easily to me. Yes, I loved my grandmother. Yes, I missed her. Yes, I would have her back on this earth and alive and healthy today were such a thing possible. But she had faults, and in the wake of nobody else acknowledging this truth anymore, I began to over-acknowledge it whenever I thought of my grandmother. Any time someone spoke of her in an overly sentimental way, I felt the need to combat the inauthentic-feeling emotion by remembering (to myself, not out loud) one of her mistakes. Over time, this unhealthy practice began to have the unsurprising effect of building resentment and bitterness in my heart toward my dead grandmother, mostly over tensions that lay between us while she lived but that I either never addressed with her or never forgave her for.

One such incident occurred when I was only nine years old. At that time I was the youngest of three grandchildren in the family, and the only girl. My family often joked that I was “the favorite granddaughter,” and even though I knew this was only by technicality of me being the only granddaughter (age-old joke that it is), I still took pride in being the favorite something, even if we all knew it was a jest.

The year that I turned ten, though, a new grandchild was born. Nobody knew the sex of this grandchild until the delivery day, on which my family received a phone call to let us know the news. My grandma was the one calling, and she asked whoever answered the phone (one of my parents, I presume), if she could speak to me. I, excited at the prospect of a new baby in the family, eagerly took the phone and said, “What is it?!”

My grandma’s voice came clearly over the phone, “Audra? Guess what?”

“What!” I could hardly contain my excitement.

“You’re not our favorite granddaughter anymore.”

I don’t remember what happened after that; I only remember the pervading emotion I felt.

What my grandma should’ve said, and what she meant, was, “We can no longer claim that we have a favorite granddaughter anymore because now we have two we love equally.”

But what an emotionally underdeveloped, nine-year-old, favorite-by-default granddaughter heard was, “You’ve been usurped. The new baby is now our favorite granddaughter, and you aren’t.”

Now, as I approach the age of thirty, I know that my grandmother meant no ill by her statement. I know she didn’t mean for me to be hurt, to take it the wrong way, to cry privately about it and build resentment toward both her and my poor, innocent baby cousin over the fact that I had been – as I felt, anyway – replaced. I also know that in her excitement over the birth of a new baby, and her desire to share with me the celebration of gaining another girl in a male-majority family, she did not take adequate time to ponder exactly how to word what she meant to communicate. Or maybe she did, and got too flustered to remember it correctly, who knows.

But I was nine, and I didn’t know any of that (at least, not for sure for sure) back then. And so the hurt festered, and the resentment and bitterness toward both my grandma and my only female cousin grew. My instinct now is to feel ashamed that it happened that way, but again, I was nine. I had no tools by which to process my hurt, or to articulate it. And thus was planted what may have been my first experience of my grandmother as imperfect.

There were other experiences along the way, and I wasn’t the only one to notice them. It’s not like there was a long list, and we certainly didn’t have grandma-bashing sessions; I’m just saying, I’m not the only person in my family who had tension or conflict with her over the course of our lives. My grandmother was a matriarch in every sense of the word. We all at intervals adored, respected, and sometimes feared her.

When I was between the ages of twelve and fourteen I had another experience that later cast my grandmother in a negative light. She was a pastor’s wife for almost the entirety of her life with my grandpa. And she was a very good one for her generation. She kept an immaculate house, she played the piano during services, she stood around greeting parish members after church until the sanctuary had all but emptied out, she was friendly and kind and remembered small details about the lives of the parishioners, her clothes were always pressed and clean, and she regularly entertained guests of all kinds in her home. She was truly the picture of a perfect pastor’s wife, adroitly executing her half of the “Pastor and Mrs. Marvin” career package.

But she didn’t always do it without complaining. Once, during a summer visit I was making to their home, I was following her around like a puppy after a Sunday morning service. I was ready to go back to the parsonage to sit around and do nothing (and get out of Sunday church clothes, of course), and I wanted to be sure I was by Grandma’s side when she decided we could go. I remember she ushered me out of the church building more quickly than usual that particular Sunday, not sticking around until every last person had been greeted, not running around cleaning up abandoned Sunday school rooms or dumping half-full pots of coffee in the kitchen sink, not bustling around and turning off lights as she exited each room.

I don’t remember if I asked for an explanation of her hurried behavior or if she offered it unprompted, but I remember what the whispered explanation was: “Let’s get out of here, quickly. If [church parish member’s name] sees me, she’ll want to talk, and then we’ll never get out of here, and I’ll have to invite her to dinner, and I don’t want to do that today.”

At the time, I remember feeling I had been given a reprieve. For the first (and last) time I could remember, I didn’t have to idle around the church building, waiting for one or both of my grandparents to wrap things up. We were going straight home, like normal people did after church! I had won a small but important victory, for I was on summer vacation as a young teenager. Wandering around church buildings waiting for my elders was not on my summer vacation agenda. Sitting around watching TV or movies at their house, though, was.

But I’ve never forgotten my grandma’s words or attitude from that day. They were distinctly inhospitable, and I’ve thought of that moment often over the years, most usually when internally searching for those negative ways to balance out the excessive sentimentality that followed her death, which I mentioned before. Never, I’m ashamed to say, did I also consider the fact that her behavior that day, inhospitable though it may have been, was also supremely uncharacteristic. Never have I considered why she might not want to get drawn into a conversation with a particular parish member, but as an adult who has been drawn into numerous conversations that I did not wish to be part of with fellow churchgoers, Twitter users, or coworkers, I can certainly understand the involuntary cringe that occurs when a person who is long-winded, or difficult to be patient with, or particularly rude, or socially awkward, initiates a conversation.

As a pastor’s wife, my grandma probably had few to zero outlets for her tiredness or inability to handle certain situations on a given day. Perhaps that Sunday she was extra weary. Perhaps she was thinking of the fact that her teenage granddaughter, whom she only saw a couple times a year, was in town, without parents or brother, and that she wanted to maximize the quality time we could have instead of spending it entertaining someone she knew would probably drive me to another part of the house in boredom. Who knows. As I admitted, I’ve never until recently considered what might have been her motivation. I’ve only taken what was most likely a weak, uncharacteristic moment on her part, and have mentally used it against her in the days and weeks and years following her death.

All of my built-up, unresolved resentment toward and frustration with my grandma reached a climax a few weeks ago when a few of us were cleaning out some of her things one Saturday at the house she shared with my grandpa. (We’ve cleaned her things out slowly over the years, it being both too painful and too much volume to do it all at once.) One of the things we found this time was an article she had written for and gotten published in a now-defunct publication called Nazarene Preacher. None of us in the party (made up of my parents, my grandpa, and myself) even knew she’d had anything printed in that publication. We’d never seen these articles before. My grandma was known by everyone in the family as an excellent writer, but it occurred to me when we found these articles that I’d never really read anything she’d written.

I sat down on the bed my grandparents used to share, opened the publication to the page where my grandma’s name was printed, and began to read. To be perfectly honest with you, the publication being called what it was, and my grandma being featured in a column specifically for pastors’ wives, I did not have high hopes for the article. But I was quickly captured by a voice that felt familiar, intrigued by a personal life story I’d never heard. This article, published in 1970, related the personal struggles of a young pastor’s wife, who worked outside the home to supplement the family income, and was also raising four boys, the eldest two of whom were teenagers in 1970. The article, in a very short space, contained a raw and honest account of my grandma’s assessment of her own shortcomings, her misgivings about her duties as a pastor’s wife, her self-doubt about her ability to meet the expectations of that particular and demanding life role. The farther I read, the more familiar the article felt. Even though I’ve never raised children and have never been a pastor’s wife (or even a regular wife, for that matter), I recognized the genuine reflection and introspection I saw unfolding before my eyes. It was the kind of honesty I usually only see…where?

…In my own writing, I realized.

The article ended on a hopeful note; one of encouragement to herself that also served as encouragement to any other wife or mother who might find herself in the same predicament of doubt on a given day.

When I reached the end, tears having welled up in my eyes, I was struck by the overwhelming realization of how alike my grandma and I are, both as writers and as people. Her familiar, inviting voice was my writer’s voice. Her honest, informal, good-naturedly self-deprecating, lay-everything-bare style was my style. And yet, I’ve not been externally influenced by her as a writer because that was the first time I’d ever read anything of hers. I’ve developed those traits naturally over the years. They’ve always been in me. I didn’t know until that day that they were in her too.

I took that article home with me, and I tear up every time I think about it or look at it. I forgave my grandma that day, for all her shortcomings, flaws, and general stains of character. And I gained a new understanding of why we don’t discuss them anymore. It’s not that we’re ignoring them. Nobody thinks my grandma was perfect. But she was part of us, and pieces of her are in all of us, and maybe the best and most faithful way to honor her memory is to cultivate those best parts of her that we find in ourselves.

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On Being Labeled a Bitch

Last week I read an article about gaslighting, which – if you don’t know – is a term that refers to a form of mental or psychological abuse. It involves manipulation on the part of the abuser, to the point that the recipient begins to believe things about himself or herself that aren’t true. There have been several articles written on this, all of them good. But now it’s my turn.

In that first link, the writer mentions what he labels “five deadly words” that men (and, sadly, sometimes other women) use to describe women in hurtful ways. The five words are slutbitchuglyfat, and crazy. Believe it or not, I have been called all of these words at one time or another except for fat. I suppose that’s simply a logic problem, though. Because of fast metabolism, luck, and a little fitness, fat has not been an accurate descriptor of me since I was about two years old. And even then, I like to say I was “delightfully chubby.”

In any case, I’ve been the victim of gaslighting. One of the examples that most hits home for me is the one that says a man calls a woman “crazy” or says she’s being oversensitive simply because she doesn’t like something that was said. This happened to me less than a week ago on Twitter. I took issue with something a guy said, and once I brought the offensive comment to his attention, rather than apologize, or think through why his comment might have offended me, he simply insulted me, starting with calling me oversensitive.

If only someone accusing me of being “oversensitive” was the rudest thing anyone had ever said to me over the years, or even the worst of the gaslighting. That first article I linked to focuses on the word crazy, but I want to talk about the word bitch.

This is the word I’ve been called the most in my life, at least, of the “five deadly words.” The worst part is that this isn’t a misogyny problem. Men have called me a bitch a lot, sure. But so have a lot of women. Some of my best friends (both male and female) have called me a bitch. None of my friends mean it as a bad thing, of course. I’ve often heard them make that disclaimer, in fact. “Oh no, I am not insulting her. I like Audra because she’s a bitch.”

When people use the word bitch as a compliment, what they are trying to say is that I’m candid, honest, blunt, unafraid to speak my mind, assertive. Sometimes they use it as a synonym for confident. Sometimes they use it to mean passionate (though, more often, when they mean passionate, I get another of the “five deadly words” attached to me: crazy). Other times, surprisingly, bitch is not a compliment, such as the times it’s used as a synonym for insensitive, uncaring, rude, impolite, speaks without thinking, tactless, unnervingly aggressive.

What’s interesting to me is a trend I’ve noticed in my friendships and interactions with people. The more someone gets to know me, the less bitchy I seem to that person. Do I change, as a person? Not really. It’s simply that they’ve gotten past the exterior shell that we all have. It’s that they’ve had more than a thirty-second conversation with me, and they’ve stuck around to hear what I have to say after I say the one or two things that might initially cause someone to label me bitchy. They hear me at 45 seconds, and 60 seconds, and 90 seconds; they hear me articulate more clearly what I meant by what I first said, and they see that there is more to me than anyone could possibly know in the first thirty seconds (as is true for all of us).

In fact, one such friend – after getting to know me quite well, and learning that I have a tendency to tear up when I’m speaking about an issue that is close to my heart, or a person I care deeply about, or even just a flaw I’ve identified in myself – told me, “Audra, I know why people are afraid of you to begin with. You can be intimidating. But all those people who turn away before they get to know you are missing out on the real you.” After he said a few more nice things about how sensitive I am capable of being, he concluded with, “I think I’d still call you a bitch. But… I dunno, it’s like that’s an incomplete description. I think it would be more accurate to say you’re a bitch with a heart of gold.” And then he laughed nervously and looked away.

So, is that the best we can do? A friend who got to know me on an intimate, authentic level still thought the best way to describe me was to use the word bitch, as long as he tacked some nice stuff onto the end? This trend of qualification, along with the tactic of using the b-word in place of nicer, more positive, more constructive – and, likely, at times, more accurate – words to describe me became commonplace to me. It got to a point where I didn’t flinch if I heard that word used to describe me. Most of the time I didn’t even bother examining the user’s motives in labeling me as such. I didn’t bother to wonder whether it was meant as a compliment or insult. I’ve been called bitch so often in my life that, somewhere along the way, I became immune to it, and then, somewhere a little further down the road, I was convinced it was actually a good thing, a positive trait about myself, a strength, and I even began to call myself that in introductions.

“Hi, I’m Audra. I’m a bitch.” (Sometimes, if I knew the person being introduced to me was someone who had heard about me previously through mutual friends, I would switch out the article a for the.)
“Hi, I’m Audra. I like to speak my mind. What can I say? I’m a bitch.”
“Hi, I’m Audra. Historically, women haven’t liked me very much. I’m just too bitchy.”

These variations and more are all methods I have employed in trying to explain myself to new people, in a nutshell. I suppose I saw it as a warning, a preemptive strike, so to speak. A classic defense mechanism, an attempt to absolve myself of future guilt or an obligation to apologize. My subconscious probably operated under the idea that if we got the [un]pleasantries out of the way at the beginning, then maybe nobody would get hurt. After all, whose fault would it be if they were warned from the get-go and then got their feelings hurt later on by something I said? Certainly not mine. Right? I was just living into who I was. I was a bitch, and they’d been warned.

And yes, I have amassed a small contingent of loyal friends (and some family) who have managed to get past my exterior walls – my bitchiness, so to speak – and know that I have feelings, and that I care. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen me cry over stupid things (like a Hallmark commercial). Maybe it’s because they’ve seen me cry over something that is very significant, grave, and important. It might be that they’ve heard me talk about an aspiration I have, or something I love and am passionate about. Or perhaps they’ve seen me pick up a crying baby and whisper some tears away. Or invite a child into my lap to read a book. Maybe it’s been an instance of me asking a friend how she’s doing, and listening quietly and willingly while she told me. Or maybe I’ve simply been caught unawares in a purely silly and honest moment with my dog.

I’ve never been lucky enough – or astute enough – to recognize or pinpoint a specific moment in time when someone went from thinking I’m cold and insensitive to understanding that I am human and that I have a heart. But numerous times I’ve been the recipient of some explanation of perspective transformation, and it’s always some version of: “Well, at first I thought you were _______; but now that I know you better I see that you’re actually ____________.”

Of course, there are a few lucky ducks who – for whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe they caught me on an extra happy day, or three weeks from my next period – have never thought I was intimidating or scary or rude or bitchy. And these people are always totally baffled when I tell them that their experience is unusual. It’s certainly not the norm, but it’s always fun when I get to have the benefit of shocking someone by telling them that I’m actually quite used to being called the b-word.

It was not until recently that I suddenly epiphanized (yes, I made that up) and came to the conclusion that it’s time to stop letting the b-word define me. Allowing people to call me that, and accepting that as an accurate label for myself, has only caused me to have thicker walls, stronger defenses, and harsher views of my own personality. It has caused damage to my perception of my self-worth, and it has weakened my ability to love myself and allow others to love me and truly know me.

Yes, I can own that people’s first impression of me is not always positive. I can even own that sometimes that’s because I say things I haven’t thought through, and that come off as impolite or tactless or insensitive. And heck, since we’ve gone this far, I’ll even be this vulnerable with you: There are absolutely times when I feel too tired, too uninterested, too busy/preoccupied, or too hurt to make the effort to be friendly and congenial and sensitive with someone else’s feelings, whether brand-new acquaintance or very old friend. I make mistakes, both from lack of awareness and from lack of intentionality.

But that’s exactly what they are: They are mistakes. And they do not, contrary to what this world has persuaded me to believe, roll down a hill like a giant snowball, building upon one another, coming to a frozen stop at the bottom and forming into Bitch Mountain, inside which one might find the essence of Audra. They just don’t. That isn’t how it works, at least not in a world where there is forgiveness, grace, and redemption. And I know that I still live in a world where there is forgiveness, grace, and redemption.

So today, I’m going to borrow a little bit of that grace for myself, and I am going to pledge to stop using the b-word to describe myself, whether in jest or sincerity. And I humbly ask you, too, to please – pretty please, with a cherry on top – stop telling me I’m a bitch.

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