Monday, December 19, 2016

Life After Facebook

Last Friday night, I deactivated my Facebook account.

I joined Facebook when I was eighteen. The original Social Network was quite different nine years ago– and curiously enough, in my memories it seems to have been far more social than it is now. Recall when there was no such thing as a "news feed" and Facebook was just a lot of individual profiles, and if you wanted to know what a friend's status was you had to actually go to their profile? People actually used Facebook invitations for more than just online product parties. Remember a time before "likes"? (Gasp.) Recall when "poking" was actually a thing? (I actually never got into poking. But I did use the app "Afternoon Tea", which mainly seemed to be virtually sending different tea-related pictures to other friends. I don't really remember what the point was, except that the pictures of teacups and teapots and teacake and crumpets were all so pretty.)

I've found Facebook more annoying than enjoyable ever since my news feed morphed into a long list of things that people had "liked". If there had been some option where I could limit what I saw to "written status updates only", excluding all links and photos, I might have reconsidered. If Facebook would take my (brilliant!) idea and give all users a limited number of "likes" per week (we'd have a much better idea of what people actually like if they can't "like" everything!) then I definitely would have reconsidered. But the Facebook Powers haven't done those things, and I've continued to use Facebook while vaguely wondering why, using the excuse that being a military wife, with so many friends in so many different parts of the world, it would be impossible to know what was going on without Facebook.

Then my feelings were hurt because of Facebook, and I knew it was time to leave– not at some future date, but now. No, it wasn't a political argument (I steer well away from those!) or even a direct interaction– in fact it wasn't even something that was said, but something that wasn't said. I told myself how silly it was to feel that way, but the sting was still there, in my brain, taking up mental space. And that's when my hazy intention of someday moving out of the virtual neighborhood changed into action. It was time to clean house and hang up the "for sale" sign.

Even leaving Facebook wasn't a simple matter of clicking "deactivate"– that felt too much like slinking out of a club I'd been part of for nine years without a word of goodbye. What if people thought that something dreadful had happened in my personal life and that was the reason for my leaving? I had to make an exit speech– and that just reinforced to me that leaving was necessary. As Facebook users go I had far fewer friends than average– around 200, and I interact on a regular basis with about 20 of them. Why the heck should I care what the other 180 might possibly think if they even noticed my absence? Yet I have to confess that there was a part of me that did care, so I wrote my exit speech.

I finally faced up to the facts. For me, Facebook wasn't about real community. To be brutally honest, it had evolved into three things: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), ego stroking, and laziness. I wasn't scrolling through the news feed because I was finding community there, but because, well, what if I missed a great article (or let's face it– I clicked on lame articles too, because it has been scientifically proven that clicking to a new page is stimulating to the brain's pleasure center.) When I posted a status or a link or one of my blog posts and it got a lot of "likes" or comments, I felt better about myself– as if there was a tiny Like-Counting Gnome in my brain, quantifying my worth for the day based on how many people hit the thumbs up button beneath my post.  I was scrolling through the news feed because "liking" a photo of someone's cute kid is a lot easier than calling or sending an email or even just a text to ask how they are doing. Facebook gave me the illusion of being connected, when in reality community takes intention, time, and work. I realized that I couldn't use the excuse of being a military wife, because the truth is, the connection I have with the military friends who are real friends (not just Facebook friends) exists because of the phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, and personal messages to each other, not because we click "like" on each other's photos. Real friendship, real community, takes time– whether that's hanging out in person, or using tools like phone calls and emails and texts. I know that my relationships with the people most important to me are not going to be diminished by the absence of Facebook.

It is true that my general knowledge of my acquaintances will diminish. There are quite a number of people whose peripheral presence on my radar will vanish without Facebook. But I've realized that's perfectly all right. I sometimes wonder whether human beings were really designed to have our brains so full of random information about people whom we barely know, with whom we have no real relationship. At any rate, I know that I don't function best that way. I said in my Facebook exit speech that Facebook was taking up too much of my mental space, and I have to remember that I don't have infinite mental space. I want to be a good steward of my mental resources as well as my physical resources. I'm already starting to feel a tiny change in my mental landscape– as though some large, unsightly structure  has been removed, and a lot of fertile soil has been uncovered. What fresh, fragrant plants can I cultivate in that soil?

Life after Facebook– it does exist. And yes, it's a bit of a detox process, and I don't know how long it will be before I cease to miss it or even think about it. I've learned my lesson about saying "never", so I won't even say that I'm never going back. But for 2017, at least, I will practice life without Facebook. I'm ready to plant some new seeds in all that newly-freed mental soil. I'm excited to see what blooms.

And now, instead of posting this blog on Facebook and monitoring the number of "likes" it gets, I am going to wrap Christmas presents and read books and play with Sean instead. :-)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Sonnets and Long-Distance Marriage

If marriage is made of poetry then long-distance marriage is a sonnet.

You’ve had your limericks, your haikus, your ballads– perhaps your whole marriage is an epic in the making– but now you’re six thousand miles apart, and your marriage is a sonnet.

A sonnet is “one of the oldest, strictest, and most enduring poetic forms.”*

Rule 1 of long-distance marriage: realize that you are not the first to go through it.

As long as there has been war– which is as long as there has been evil in the human heart– which is however long it has been since the betrayal in Eden– there have been men leaving and women bidding them farewell. The tears you shed at parting are the offspring of generations of weeping wives, mothers, daughters, sweethearts. In your loneliness you stand one in a multitude, a whole world’s history of women who have watched their men out of sight and wrestled with the silent, screaming fear, “Will he come back?” The sonnet is old and and has endured. Millenia of marriages have been tested by parting, and they have endured. And so will yours.

A sonnet’s structure is strict: fourteen lines, either three quatrains and a couplet (the English sonnet) or an octave and a sestet (the Italian sonnet.)

Rule 2 of long-distance marriage: understand the limitations.

Your marriage has been many things up to this point. The daily tasks. All the times your husband has come home in the evening and taken charge of the baby while you finish making dinner. A sunset walk. An argument. The joys of making love. A theological discussion. Your favorite movie together. Hearing him play his guitar while you write in the living room. Your marriage is these moments and thousands more, each its own distinct part, a jewel in the mosaic of the whole. But now you must realize that things have changed, and for this time of distance, your togetherness is defined by one thing alone: conversation. It is all you have. Conversation is literally everything. You can resist this limit, of course; you can buck and squirm, you can passionately resent it, and you probably will, for a time. When you have worn yourself out, wishing for all things you used to do together that are now impossible, then you may embrace the structure and begin to learn how to make your marriage good during this time… how to write a good sonnet.

A sonnet is not a ballad. It does not tell a story: it is a poem that expresses a single idea, or else in the Italian sonnet, an “argument” with the sestet bringing a “resolution.”

Rule 3 of long-distance marriage: your theme is simply “I miss you.”

Once you have submitted to the fact that the single marital activity open to you and your absent husband is conversation, you will be tempted to try to extract all the intimacy inherent in all those mosaic moments from before he left, and try to infuse that intimacy into every one of your conversations together. You will feel that every conversation ought to be deep and intimate and soul-baring. This may be natural, but you are doomed to disappointment. Conversation can be deep and intimate and soul-baring, of course, but in fact most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time it’s quite ordinary, as ordinary as doing the dishes or going for a walk. To expect otherwise is to put unbearable pressure on both of you– it’s trying to tell a story in a sonnet. The form just isn’t suited to that. Consider this instead: it’s all right for most of your conversations to be ordinary. It’s quite all right that most of them are simple variations on the theme of “I miss you.” Let your words be ordinary, and the soul-baring conversations will happen when they may, unforced, and be all the more intimate for it.

A good sonnet is a beautiful poem. A well crafted sonnet is a work of art, and this is not in spite of the required structure but because of it.

Rule 4 for long-distance marriage: you can choose to believe that the Author of your marriage will craft something beautiful out of this time apart.

You can choose to believe that the distance is a mistake, a clerical error. Or you can choose to believe that in all the loneliness of separation, the creeping by of the days that you tick off on the calendar, the tears you cry into your pillow at night because you miss the man who ought to be in bed next to you, Something Bigger is going on. There is Somebody at work, though you might not see Him. You feel the struggle with words that don’t seem to fit together and a meter that seems jerky and unnatural and rhymes that don’t fall into place. You can choose to believe that this is all part of the creative struggle, that the end result will be a poem in your marriage that will be beautiful. A work of art never comes easily, and neither will the art of this long-distance marriage.

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

-John Keats

* From "Learning the Sonnet" by Rachel Richardson 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Two years

This morning Sean crawled over to the bookshelf in our room and pulled our scrapbook of Livia and Lucy’s pictures off the shelf. He helped me turn the pages and smiled and made squeaking sounds as I explained to him that they are pictures of his big sisters who live in Heaven with Jesus.
Tomorrow is the girls’ second birthday. Two years later, but the memories are seared into our hearts and our minds. Holding your twin daughters, knowing you have only hours before you have to say goodbye to them for as long as this life on earth lasts and leave the hospital empty-armed, that's not a memory that is ever going to fade.

One thing about being the mother of babies in Heaven is that you get to know more and more mothers who also have arms aching for their children. Some of them are moms like me who had stillborn babies. Some have babies that died soon after birth. Some are moms whose babies were too tiny to hold, or even to see, yet those precious children are just as real and important and loved and missed as all the others. In the past two years, I have been encouraged by listening to the other moms who are finding their voices, in person, on blogs, on websites, in articles, to declare the value of their babies who never took a breath, and to have the courage to give voice to a grief that so many people still want to ignore. There are people in Nate’s and my lives who have never acknowledged Livia and Lucy, never acknowledged that they are our daughters, that they lived in my womb and died before they were born, that they are real and important and that we love them and miss them so much. And I know that so many other parents who have lost children have those same people in their lives, people who just find it more comfortable never to acknowledge the children whom the parents ache for. And that’s why it gives me joy to see the fierce mother love of friends and even strangers who say, It doesn’t matter what the world says, this is my baby, and I love him (or her, or maybe I don’t know, and that doesn’t matter either) and he is real and he matters, and I will say his name and I will not be ashamed of my grief, nor will I hide my tears for him.
We are so thankful for our rainbow baby, our delightful Sean Peregrine. Rainbow babies are the babies born after the loss of a child, because a rainbow is a symbol of hope, of renewal, of redemption. And it is true that God has used Sean to redeem much of our pain. But it is also true that Sean will never, ever replace our Lucy and Livia. His birth did not end our grief for his sisters, and daily life with him doesn’t make us cease to miss them. Sean is not our only or oldest child, even though from the outside it looks that way. Questions like, “How many kids do you have?” or “Is he your only child?” still tear at my heartstrings. I hate those questions. Does a stranger have the right to know about my daughters? Do I have the right to keep them hidden, when I believe so passionately that their lives matter? There’s no easy way to deal with it. And I feel ashamed of too many times muttering, “Yes,” and leaving as quickly as possible. Should I feel ashamed? It’s so hard to be vulnerable with strangers, especially when there’s no way of knowing how they will react. And yet I want to do what I can towards living in a world where a mother doesn’t have to feel afraid of showing her grief or her love for the babies that she misses.

Tomorrow will be a quiet day. I am thankful to be living in Colorado this year, so that Sean and I and my mother and sisters can go and visit the girls’ grave together. There is so little that we know for certain about Heaven, but I do know that in Jesus’ presence, our little girls are full of pure joy. I also know that they have so many playmates– the babies of my friends and family. I wish they didn’t, because I wish that losing a baby was not such a common thing, but I do find comfort in all our children playing together.

On the girls’ gravestone we had engraved this chorus of a song by Mumford and Sons:

There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
 And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears.
 Get over your hill and see what you find there.
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

Tomorrow I will cry and Nate and I will Skype and cry together and we will miss our little girls. And we will long for the day when Jesus will wipe away our tears, when He, who is Love, will heal our broken hearts and cast away our fears forever. And we will dream of two little girls, whose live in the presence of grace, wandering hand in hand through the fields of Heaven with flowers in their curly hair.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bless This House

How do you say goodbye 
to the first house that you and your husband bought? 

The third residence in your life together,
but the first place that truly became a home. 
You painted rooms together. 
You put down roots– and roses. 
You hung pictures.
Your husband built a screened-in porch 
and you both sat on summer nights, listening to the electric hum of the cicadas, drinking wine or eating ice cream and talking of this-and-that. 
You hosted friends– 
hunkered down during storms 
dripped the faucets on cold winter nights,
opened the windows in springtime (and then closed them again once hot humid summer arrived!)
Your husband played guitar
You played piano
You spread your crafts on the kitchen island
You cuddled together in the living room with the lights low
because your husband installed a dimmer switch.

How do you say goodbye 
to the house where you conceived your three babies?
The house that sheltered your storm of grief
when you returned, empty-armed,
from your twin daughters' funeral
The house that sheltered your nervous joy
as you waited the nine long months–
the house that saw, within its walls,
as your son came from your body
and you and your husband heard his cries 
and smiled as he settled into your arms.

It is just a house– perhaps not.
Perhaps more than that– for it has been home. 
And life has been full and rich within, and perhaps–
we'll leave the echo of the tears and laughter, 
the life
the love.

We have a little picture on the wall
"God Bless This House and All Who Enter"
We've taken it down now
But let the blessing remain.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Attempt at Processing

I'm trying not to think about three weeks from now because that's when Nate gets on the plane in Denver and flies off to Korea. 

It's funny because usually I'm such an introspective person, in tune with my emotions, constantly processing and analyzing what's going on in my inward self– all that for better or for worse, there's certainly good things and bad things about being that way. But now I've got emotional brain-freeze, and I can't (or won't) process. I suppose part of it is trying to get ready to move, which is always stressful, and even more so when you've got a seven-month-old who doesn't make crossing things off your to-do list any easier. But I think more of the freeze is owing to me just wanting to deny what all these tasks and boxes and packing tape and bubble wrap is going to culminate in– which is separation from my husband.

I've talked to other military wives who have said that in anticipating the separation, you usually reach the point when you just want it over with. Just leave, so I don't have to dread the moment of parting any longer. Just go, so that I can start counting down the days till you return instead of panicking over the days ticking by till you leave.

I've become annoyed with myself for how upbeat I try to appear when talking about it to other people. And I am annoyed with them for playing along. It's so much better he goes now, while Sean is too little to remember, I say. Thank goodness for Skype and email and texting– it's really easy to stay connected these days. People nod and murmur agreement. This way he can focus on getting his upgrade courses done and doing all the hard work that's expected of him without worrying about me being lonely and homesick in Korea. My face is bright, my tone light. Because that's how we're supposed to be, we military wives, isn't it? We're "strong" (whatever that means.) It's what we signed up for (it isn't. No girl in the world knows what she's signing up for when she marries military. She only thinks she knows.)

So I'm going to get this off my chest:

Dear everyone-I've-talked-to-about-this-upcoming-Korea-tour, 
Being apart from Nate is going to stink. I'm not happy about it. I'm not upbeat. I feel like there's no good option in this kind of situation, and for our circumstances we've merely chosen the lesser of two evils. It sucks. The only reason I may have tried to seem "que sera sera" about it in conversation with you is because I feel helpless and tired and scared and angry, none of which are emotions which anyone can express in casual conversation without making the other person extremely uncomfortable, and we all know we're not supposed to make people uncomfortable.  
If you have any good advice for me, I will be happy to hear it, as long as you don't tell me about how strong you were when you went through your situation, because the last thing I need is a standard to try to measure up to. On the other hand, if you tell me about how you had stupid fights with your spouse when you should have been focusing on the little time you had left together, and how you just wanted to stay in bed every morning because maybe somehow that would keep what you were dreading from happening, then we should be friends. Also, I already know that this is God's plan, and that doesn't make me feel better right now. I would rather you remind me that it's okay to be weary and confused and scared and angry, because He can handle it. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Let's Be Submarines

We went out on a Monday night– because it was a bank holiday and three out of four of the husbands had the day off, so we left the children with them (seven children among the four of us). We curled our hair and put on necklaces and high heels and wore outfits that didn't have to be breastfeeding-friendly and we got in one car and drove to a Lebanese restaurant an hour away. We ordered a bottle of wine and we munched on Damascus bread and baba ghanoush and we told stories and shared secrets and reveled in the evening out and in each other's company. We sipped the wine, but the headier vintage that night was the wine of friendship, our delight in being together, the four of us, and the love and sisterhood we have with one another. When the night ended, and our husbands had sent us texts wondering when we would be home, we embraced each other with kisses and hugs and laughter,  but behind the laughter was a catch in the throat, because two of us are moving far away.

I am going back to my old friends, my old community, and my feelings are bittersweet. Because what about the friends and community I leave behind?

I am but a reluctant military wife, and those who know me best know all that I struggle with this topsy-turvy lifestyle. But there is one facet of military life that sparkles, a diamond in the (in-all-senses-of-the-word) rough, and that is the friendships that I have had– and in some cases still have– with so many women whom I would never otherwise have met.

When I married my husband and moved away from the only home I'd ever known, the friends and community that had been all I'd ever had, I thought that I was leaving the only true and deep and real friendships I would ever have. Oh of course, I would make new friends, but new friendships couldn't possibly be as deep or as meaningful as the old ones. It was as if I thought that the friendships in my life were a zero-sum game, that making a new good friend might somehow lessen the value of the old good friend. Fortunately I was dead, dead wrong. For friendships are like spices and herbs, adding the zest and flavor to life, and while cumin and cinnamon and coriander and garlic and cilantro all have each their own distinctive, pleasing flavors, and can be taken alone, it is in combinations that you really have the full experience of each. Just because cinnamon and cloves are delightful in some dishes does not mean I will dislike chili powder and cumin in something else. My love for my closest friends back in Colorado will not lessen by meeting and growing to love new friends elsewhere– for the lovely thing about love is that the more people one grows to love, the more one's ability to love grows.

Friendship leaves a stain: each relationship with each friend has marked both people in a permanent way. I do not mean to say that every friendship I have had in the past four years has continued after I or the other person has moved away (inevitable in this military life)– for there are seasons and cycles to life, and some relationships are just for a season. That is part of our limitations as human beings who do not have an infinite amount of time. What I mean is that we humans are such a glorious and complex mess of emotions, motivations, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions–  and contrary to what we might think about our individualism, we are so fragile that when our lives bump up against each other we cannot help but change shape in some slight, subtle way– and the harder the bump, the more significant the effect. For all these women I have met in the past four years, whether I see them again or not, whether we keep in touch with each other for the rest of our lives or not at all, I know that I am a different person because of our friendship, however short or long it might be.

And then there are the Kindred Spirits. These are the friendships that are not just bumps– they are more like head-on collisions. It's possible to be friends with just about anyone, but a Kindred Spirit is a pure gift– you can't force someone into the roll, or even really look for one. It simply happens– one moment you're talking with someone in an ordinary, small-talk kind of way, and then you begin to realize that here is someone who really Understands. And you find you would enjoy talking to that person for hours, not necessarily because you agree with her (or him) about everything, but because (as C.S. Lewis says) you both agree that certain things matter, that certain questions are important, even if you disagree about the answers.

In my life, the sweetest friendships are always those that are the most real– in which we say, subconsciously, to each other: If friendship is an ocean, then let's be submarines. Let's dive down deep– you can see what lives in the depths of me, and I'll explore the depths of you too, and we'll learn each other's unexpected beauties and have grace for the secret ugliness and weakness that we hide from the rest of the world. Let's go deep.

I've had that with the three friends I'm leaving behind, the three friends with whom I sat in a Lebanese restaurant and drank wine and laughed. We've gone deep. We have laughed and cried and vented. We've shown our secret ugliness and affirmed each other's inner strengths. We've prayed and we've cussed and we've held each other through brokenness. We have been real.

And here's the remarkable thing– we've done all that in a remarkably short time. We haven't known each other all our lives. One of them only moved here a year ago. We haven't been meeting together regularly for more than a few months. But it doesn't matter. Deep friendship doesn't have to take years and years to build. (Sometimes it does, but it doesn't always have to.) With vulnerability and grace and courage and intentionality, it can happen quickly. As a military wife, I don't have years and years to build new friendships. Each time we move,  I can't lose the limited time we have with women who think that small talk for the first year and a half of acquaintance (the emotional equivalent to holding each other at arm's length) is the first step of friendship. I look for the women who are eager to do life, to be real, to drop the masks (because who are we fooling anyway? Who really has it all together?) and to dive in.

Life is short. We have nothing to lose but our pride and lame attempts to be self-sufficient, and what a wonderful freeing thing to have those be lost! We must just dive in, and dive deep.

Photo credit: Curly Girl Design