Never Settle for the Easy Answer

Sometimes I really hate church. I hate the stupid songs. I hate the forced greeting time (introvert nightmare). And I hate going when I’m not sure what I believe in. The best thing aging has done for me is being able to CHOOSE whether to go to church. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church…I was every stereotype imaginable. My family was at church every Sunday (for BOTH AM/PM services) and Wednesday. My dad managed the audio/visual systems, my mom cleaned the building, and both parents occasionally taught Sunday School classes. All of the church holiday celebrations were held at my house. The pastor drove me to school for first through fourth grade. In the summer, I sat in the wooden chairs, memorized Bible verses, put on cheesy musicals…I did it all. Even the lame-ass, punitive purity retreats (none of those purity balls though…that’s a special level of fucked up). I also have a BS in Christian Studies that I haven’t used since I graduated in 2007.

When you’re young, you don’t know much about theology beyond the salvation mantra and the debate of right/wrong. You learn about sin and forgiveness. But there’s so much more to Christianity and the Bible that no one tells you…and what’s worse, you’re not encouraged to question anything. You’re just supposed to accept it as absolute truth. To question is to doubt and doubt is almost always viewed as a sin…and therefore wrong. 

When I went through my divorce, I sort of cast myself out of everything related to church… After all, it was CHRISTIANS who told me I was being disobedient by wanting to divorce my ex-husband…and then told me to go back to him after he committed adultery…which is A SIN. Seriously, does the Bible exist for you to pick and choose who to screw over? The message of love has been replaced by a message of manipulation. There’s actually a song that says, “they will know we are Christians by our love…” and when I hear it now, I laugh. The media portrays Christians as these hate-spewing, assholes and some are, but not all. I have tons and tons of friends who are pastors, church leaders, church attenders, and all out (non-asshole) Jesus freaks. Sometimes I feel lonely or left out because I’ve moved on and now focus my time on other things. I skip over articles or Facebook posts related to church or God, especially those chain letter types that say “Share if you love Jesus” (cause if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell with bottles of whiskey and all the members of Pantera). I literally flee from church talk, or anything related to Christian spirituality. It’s like I have an aversion that runs deep into my soul. I don’t know if I’ll always feel like this but the separation from church and all things (bullshit) Christianity have given me a renewed perspective. I don’t feel guilty about my lack of participation. In fact, it’s a divorce I support, knowing I’ve come out stronger on the other side.

I digress.

I have spent the last four years doubting and questioning everything. I can choose church or religion without fear of the wrath of God. I can think for myself and decide what’s worth believing in, investing in, or dismissing. Rest assured, I never, ever settle for the easy answer. For me, the freedom from church is an opportunity to seek new avenues of worship, love, and hope…something I feel I’ve lost in the ruckus of mainstream religion. Sometimes you just need to walk away to find out where you belong. 

 

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The Alternative Mom

Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many people. I share in the discomfort of those who live on the edge of parenthood. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve read my rants about not wanting children, apart from my seven year old step-daughter who lives 2,000 miles away; but that wasn’t always my perspective. A decade ago, I was newly married (to someone else) and daydreaming about becoming a mother. I spent pretty much my entire early adolescence babysitting and helping parents with their children, so much so that even my friends in middle school told me I’d be a good mom. My dad called me “mother hen”…because mothering was an instinctual behavior. But when the time came to actually try to conceive, it took me four years, only to miscarry in the first ten weeks. It was disappointing to say the least.

But in the years since my divorce and remarriage, parenting has taken on a new meaning. I’m more keenly aware that it’s a lifelong commitment…which I don’t think everyone realizes. Some people approach procreation like it’s as trivial and temporary as purchasing a new car. But now I realize how much work goes into raising children. No breaks, no vacations, no fucking sleep, even less money. Until either you or the child passes to the next life. Parenting=investment.

Needless to say, it shocked a lot of people when I wasn’t jumping the gun to get pregnant after I remarried. Even the conversations my husband and I have had about adding to our family have been more to please others’ expectations, because isn’t it written somewhere that as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to have tons of fat children (even more so if you’re over 30, which we basically are)? Thanks, but I think I’d like to have tons of uninterrupted sex first.

When I met my husband, he wasn’t connected to his daughter due to the substantial distance and the fact that she was being parented by her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather. Her paternal needs were being met. Last year, his daughter’s needs changed and it became vital that we step in to help build a permanent relationship with her, despite the distance and difficulties. Since then, we’ve visited her and she’s visited us, and we’re planning for her to stay with us for a month this summer. I went from wife to parent in one phone call. There’s a bedroom full of Little Mermaid toys and a closet full of tiny human clothes in our apartment. I’ve been organizing day camps and social outings and making schedules. It’s surreal. If you saw her face, you’d know why it’s all worth it.

Some people don’t understand though. They wonder why my husband and I have chosen to be airport parents, why we’ve given up passports and husband/wife-only dreams and even the idea of bearing more children. I have an easy answer—because each one of those activities takes away from the possibility of affording airfare for her visits or doing fun things while she’s here. It cuts in on her provisions and I’ve been told kids like to eat, at least twice a day…or maybe I’m getting them confused with pets. 

I do a lot of work for a child that isn’t even mine. (That’s another long story.) She’ll never be mine. Even her mom thanks me for “mothering her baby.” It’s sort of an awkward place to be…in that limbo between not wanting more children but also wanting the ONE child that will never truly be mine. On Mother’s Day, I feel trapped in the space in between. Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for moms parenting children they bore from their bodies or children they adopted. But what about the step-moms…the alternative moms who only see their kids for a few days every three months? Those for whom the “mother” label feels like a misnomer? If my husband and I never have children together, he’ll still always be a father, but I’ll always be on the edge of motherhood. I’ll still be parenting someone else’s baby, mothering someone else’s daughter. I’ll still be the alternative mom.

 

Sometimes We Squander, Sometimes We Cherish

I’m in the last three weeks of my 20’s. Where did the time go? Each week, I attend a Buddhist meditation group where I sit in a circle and try to maintain focus on anything but cheeseburgers, season 2 of Arrow, and paying my bills on time. It’s supposed to be an hour of concentration and attention on the breath or a mantra, but it usually ends up being an hour of reflection. Thinking for the sake of thinking…and remembering. 

I’m truly apprehensive about turning 30, as I’m sure many people are when they reach a specific age milestone. I wonder what this new decade will hold. I hope to god it includes a stable income, a job I don’t hate, and a passion that makes all the struggle and effort worth it. I’m thankful to have another age bracket to experience, even if it does come with more grey hair and wrinkles around my eyes.

In my pondering of the last ten years, I wonder if I’ve wasted most of it. I spent 8 years of my 20’s married, 5 of them to the wrong person. My 20’s were full of mistakes…bad theology, terrible ideology, broken hearts, judgment, ignorance, and lies. At the same time, it brought forth a new understanding of what it means to love others despite my worry or fear that I wouldn’t be good at it. It also gave me the purest of friendships and a love of a man who brings ultimate joy and peace to my life.

Sometimes I think maybe I should have been more brave, traveled the world, learned a new language, or at least followed through on my plan to learn the violin by age 25. Would I still be the same person had I done all of those things in my 20’s or would it have changed my outcome? 

And who knows, perhaps the reason it didn’t happen then is because it’s supposed to happen now, or I’m supposed to make peace with it never happening at all.

At the end of my meditation class, the facilitator always gives us a Buddhist blessing. The last line is, “take heed not to squander your lives.” I know it means we should take every moment and seize it…but sometimes I think the greatest lessons are learned by squandering opportunities. In those moments, we recognize that we missed out on something beautiful or beneficial and we make a conscious effort to not do it again. It motivates us to do better or be better. To reconcile what we have lost and make plans for things to discover. To cherish the moments in between.