I’m Not Giving Up for Lent

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We’re smack in the middle of Lent, y’all:

That feared-but-blessed 40 days of fasting undertaken by the Faithful before we revel in the joyous, holy Feast of Feasts: Pascha [that's Orthodox Christian for Easter]. For those of us who observe Lent, the experience is varied. Some give up things they love or have dependence on: chocolate, booze, and social media come to mind. Some choose to add-in rather than take-out, and incorporate good habits- like exercise and meditation-into their daily routines. For Christians following older traditions, there are prescribed fasts (see: Orthodoxy, Catholicism).

One thing rings true about Lent no matter your tradition: it’s hard. We live in a “whatever makes you feel good” culture of consumption and instant gratification. Saying “no” is looked on with suspicion, especially when it comes to denying my own wants and impulses.

Not only is it hard for me to keep my body in-tune with Lent, my perspective is often skewed as well. If I’m being honest, I tend to interpret “how Lent is going” one of two ways:

Fail-centric: I can’t believe I ate that cheese cube! And then the other cheese cube! Why didn’t I do better?! And how many times did I forget to pray today? Probably like a thousand. Boy, am I terrible at Lent!

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Fast-centric: Looks like I made it through another week of eating nothing but chickpeas, black beans and almond milk. I would love to join you for dinner, but it’s God’s will that I eat yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, seasoned with tears. Boy, am I great at Lent!

The problem is both of those thought patterns are are self-focused, with little attention being paid to God’s help, or the actual point of the fast. Not to mention they are the opposite approach to the one Christ tells his followers to take in the Gospel [essentially: if it's to make you look better or more pitiable, you're doing it wrong, Matthew 6:16-18].  I became frustrated with the emotional pendulum swing between my two approaches, so I took it to Confession. “I just don’t like Lent,” I said. “It’s hard, I don’t enjoy it, and I’m not very good at it.” Father turned to me and said quietly, “It’s not supposed to be easy. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right.

ImageSo Lent is not about whether or not I am winning the struggle to be righteous. It is about whether or not I am struggling to be righteous at all. If it’s difficult then  I’m struggling. If I’m struggling, then I need God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. If I realize this and turn to God for that grace, I will receive it, which will bring me into closer communion with God. The point of Lent it’s not to be perfect, it’s to be in touch with imperfection. It’s not for everything to be easy and well done; it’s to continue to push through the difficulty in prayer and humility toward God and others.

If your Lent is hard, it’s real. If you’re failing, you’re doing it right. If you’re struggling, you’re receiving grace. Even the smallest step forward is one toward Pascha and the feast.  So, hang in there. If you’re “not doing great at Lent”, keep up the good work. No matter what you’re giving up for Lent, just don’t give up.

 

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i have a disability (like it’s my JOB).

Wow-wow-wow kiddos, what a year thus far. You know as well as I do that I am all flattery and empty promises when I talk of blogging regularly. And with a new job, and a wedding to my Favorite Human to plan for later this year, I have to admit: blogging for all you fine people has taken a backseat. I am up to my eyeballs in thoughts, feelings, financial obligations, and to-dos. So while my Social Network [and Skype, of course], have been a-buzz with activity, the blog has been silent. Recently, though, my friend Mary Evelyn wrote about her son [probably my second favorite human, let's be honest]. She wrote about Sim’s disability: about why it does define him, and how she’s okay with that.

Along with my usual being moved at her kind, honest self-expression and love, I thought:

Wait a second. I have a disability. Does mine define me? And if it does, am I cool with that?

I started to really think about my life, and how my Cerebral Palsy [and the brain damage and physical limitations associated with it] have affected me:

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Photo by Juliana Finley

It dictates how I carry out every single daily activity: getting in and out of bed, getting ready, commute/traveling, the layout and use of my office, meal prep and cleanup, social time and entertainment [I'd love to come along! but are you sure it's accessible?]

It has influenced my social circles: From infancy forward, having “disability” in common has helped me forge a strong, loyal subgroup within my peers.

It has ended up setting my path for my career, and my education. My work has been entirely disability-community focused for the whole of my adult life, and it is precisely because of my interest in those not-for-profits that I pursued a Master’s, I wanted to be able to work more effectively for the disability community.

It affects the way I view the body in general: no illusions about a perfect one here

It has attuned me to social issues. Many people with disabilities are living at low income and are marginalized/discriminated against, made to feel distant from their otherwise peers because of an arbitrary characteristic. Because of experiencing this first, second, and third-hand, I can’t stand to see any subgroup marginalized or mistreated, no matter how different from me they are.

It has affected my spirituality and worldview: I have flatly turned down a barrage of faith-healers, insisting that there is more to faith and healing than they are offering. And it has made me think deeply about how I see myself in my subconscious [helping me grapple with the uncertainties of self-perception and strange dreams]

"Autorretrato con el Retrato Dr Farill" (Self-Portrait with the Portrait of Dr Farill)

Frida Kahlo

It’s true: my disability has determined and dictated almost all of my life decisions: what I do and how I do it, who I know, and even the apartment where I live [ground floor, baby!] Yet, that doesn’t satisfy me. My disability might have  a lot to do with how someone would describe me, but to define me, you need to take into account much more. What about Orthodoxy? Or Beatle-fandom? What about social and political beliefs? What about my interests outside of disability advocacy?

I was still stumped: does my disability define me or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, what does? What am I going to tell Mary Evelyn?! WHO AM I??

Then I thought about how having a disability often turns you into a spokesperson. Like it or not, to survive and thrive as a person with a disability or a loved one of that person, you become an advocate. You learn to speak up for your rights, your needs, and your wants in a world that is sometimes unsure how to communicate or interact with you. For me, having a disability is an [almost] 24-hour-a-day job. I represent disability to some, I speak for it to others, and I am expected to be an expert at it. Living with a disability and making the best of it is part of my purpose; it is literally my life’s work.

While discussing this with John the other night, I smiled and said: if my disability is my job, you must be my time off. You may be an advocate: for yourself, for your child, for a cause, for the civil rights of yourself or a friend. That’s great. Keep living your life passionately and with dedication. But keep balance, breathe deeply. Take your advocate hat off every now and then, just long enough to recharge. And remember to have people near you who can be your advocate, your cheerleader; with whom you can be fully yourself.

Yes, I have a disability. Sometimes it feels like my vocation, mostly like my occupation. Disability describes me; how I choose to face it, and any other challenge or victory in my life, defines me.

What are some of the things that define you [and how do you feel about being defined by them]?

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5 Things It’s Okay to Say (to a Person who uses a Wheelchair)

Recently, there have been a lot of posts on my newsfeed about what not to say: to single people, to married people, to parents, to kids, and-most recently- to people who use wheelchairs/have disabilities. And all that awareness is good.

Person-first language is important and necessary. It’s generally good to be sensitive and tactful with what we say, because language reveals where our emphasis and values fall in the scheme of things. However, I am sure it can be challenging to know exactly what to say, if all you’re ever confronted with is a list of “noes”.

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Photo by M. E. Smith

So, for my part, I’d like to help. Because it’s good to know what to do. And because I don’t feel like being negative today:

5 Things It’s Okay to Say to a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair [This Person, at least]:

1. It’s okay to say, “Can I [or may I] help you?”

This is a perfectly natural and normal question to ask anyone if you think they could use a hand. So there’s nothing wrong with offering to help a person who uses a wheelchair. In fact, offering is infinitely preferred to assuming that help is needed, thereby pushing my wheelchair or otherwise assisting me without asking. If I say no,  I may need the exercise, the quiet time, or the opportunity to try to complete a task independently. But there are many times I accept help gratefully when offered.

2. It’s okay to say words like walk, run, stand, and so on:

You may invite me to go for a walk with you, to run to the store, to stand around and wait for something or someone with you. None of those phrases are offensive, none of them make me sad. It is precisely because I have a wheelchair that I can participate in the same activities you do. I don’t want to roll to the store with you, because a) that sounds deeply weird and b) it is no longer an activity we’re doing together. But a walk in the park with you? That sounds lovely.

3.  It’s okay to say, “My child has a question for you.”:

Children are inquisitive, and some of the most fascinating conversations I have had about disability have been with children [like the school kids who told me that everyone should be able to play on the playground, or the little girl who thought I was a Transformer]. I welcome questions and interaction from children, even if they seem perplexed or intimidated by my wheelchair at first. Something as simple as “Why do you use that?” is an opportunity for me to help a child be more aware of disability and how it affects people.  Not to mention it encourages a natural dialogue and helps to counter the Fear of Difference that kids sometimes struggle with.

[I would also encourage parents to think of age-appropriate ways to discuss disabilities with your children on your own time, in case you are in a setting where your child sees a person with a disability and is curious, but immediate conversation with a new person is impractical.]

4.  It’s okay to say, “Excuse Me”:

Too often, I have unknowingly been in someone’s path, and that person has attempted to squeeze by, inadvertently bumping my chair [or worse: moving my chair without my permission: gross].  Beyond that, I have been apologized to for being in someone else’s way more times than I can count. It is perfectly fine to say, “Excuse me” if the need arises. In fact, it’s downright polite. Your mom will be proud.

5. It’s okay to say, “Hi.”:

Sometimes, when we see people different from us, we look right at them. It’s okay, it happens to the best of us. I’ve gotten caught staring myself a time or two, I’m sure. When I notice someone staring at me, I say, “Hi!” to break the ice. It [hopefully] snaps the person staring out of it, in a kind way.

So next time you see a person in a wheelchair, if you don’t know what to say, just try hi. It eases the tension, and you might brighten someone’s day.

 

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Go Sox: In Defense of the Playoff Beard

Earlier this afternoon, I read this blog, in which Amanda Hess of Slate takes a turn berating each Boston Red Sox player for his Playoff Beard. Calling them “dumb”, “gross”, “lazy”,”without self-control”, she compares one man to a Troglodyte, and saying that the beard of another resembled pubic hair. She also spent a whole paragraph implying that the wives and girlfriends of the players probably are [or should be] disgusted with the beards of their men. She agreed with another author who implied that waking up to a man with a formidable beard would be like waking up next to a dog.

Whoa, now.

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While I fully comprehend her piece is meant to be comical, something about it bothered me all day. And I figured out what. So, I decided to write her a note here:

Amanda,

I read your post today after a friend shared it on Facebook. Of course, I get that your goal is humor. However, I was bothered by the tone of your piece. It came across as shaming, emasculating, and belittling to the men you wrote about, and to other men who look like them. By now, you’ve guessed it. I love someone with a beard. And never have I confused him with a Pomeranian, a sheepdog, or a caveman, even when his attitude toward his facial hair was more fancy free. I felt awkward even talking about your blog with him, imagining how he would feel reading it, knowing that he and many of his friends have worn looks like you are describing.  Contrary to the studies you’ve read, I find his facial hair manly and attractive no matter what its style, and I’m fairly certain it has magic powers. It is a built in pillow during snuggle time, and allows him to resemble a mid-to-late-Beatles George Harrison. Point is, we live in a society with far too much shaming: and it hurts me to see more, even when it is supposed to be in jest. There is already too much humor on the Internet and elsewhere aimed at making someone else feel small. As women, I’m sure you and I both can remember times when we’ve felt ugly or unattractive because of someone else’s words about how we should or shouldn’t look, no matter how funny they intended to be. It is no different for men.  One more thing: I’m not a baseball fan, but I love the Red Sox beards: yes, they’re wild and crazy, but so is WINNING the World Series.   And you and I both know why they won: there are a million tiny reasons, growing all over their chins right now. Enjoy your weekend, and your No Shave November.

[for JPT]

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Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down

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A few weeks ago, I found out that myself and 11 other coworkers will be losing our jobs after December 31 [Happy New Year!] The agency that we subcontract with is backing out of the contract 3 months early for their “convenience” and as a direct result of our constant advocacy for systems change in a program hampered by bureaucracy and disconnect. The way our organization has been treated makes it harder and harder to get up to go to work as the end of the year draws near. It was, and is, an infuriating example of callousness. 

Around the same time, there were people very dear to me [including my Someone] whose friends weren’t acting like friends. Multiple stories of unkindness, judgmental attitudes, and impatience were in the air. With all that, a busy schedule of work and teaching, and the constant ache of Transatlantic lovesickness, morale on Team Beth has been at an all-time low lately.

But through it all, I have found solace in some advice my stepdad gave me several years ago, during my 3-year-long struggle to find a job, after yet another rejection letter had left me angry and in tears at the kitchen table.

Illegitimi non carborundum,” he said cryptically.

“Huh?”

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

People can, in fact, be mean just for the sake of it. People hurt each other, even when given the benefit of the doubt. People are unkind, even when they have been shown kindness. It is normal to let it frustrate me. But I can’t let it get me down. Because when I stop at anger and begin to carry only anger around, no one wins. When I let it get me down and believe the things their words or actions are saying about who I am, they win. 

When I choose to be kind: I win.

Before you call me a Pollyanna: I can tell you right now that I am not always kind as I should be [or kind at all] in the moment of offense, and it is not always possible to go back and be kind to the same person who was unkind to me.  I also can’t [and shouldn't] pretend like nothing is wrong when I’ve been hurt or mistreated.

So, when confronted with outright meanness, what’s a girl to do? Here are three things I will try my hardest to do going forward to help get myself through the end of the year [or at least through tomorrow]:

 

  • Shut my mouth. It is entirely possible I won’t have anything nice to say, and shouldn’t say it at all.
  • Pray for that person [or more accurately my lava-hot anger towards that person], and for something or someone else to focus my attention and energy on. After all the Good Book tells me that “Love Your Neighbor” does, in fact, include my enemy.
  • Be kind to someone else, the next chance I get. 

The truth is, no matter how mean someone is to me, no matter how small that the behavior of a Jerky-Jerkface makes me feel, being mean back does nothing but mirror their behavior and make me angrier.

And as soon as I let unkindness keep me from being kind, the Bad Guys win.

So don’t let them win.

Be kind, as best you can.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Let them make you kind of person the world needs: a better one.

 

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Pop)

I didn’t mean to become a hipster [I know, I know, that's just what a hipster would say]. But it’s true. It happened so gradually, I hardly noticed. Part of it is being a Nashville Native. When every third friend of yours is in a Band You’ve Probably Never Heard of, but Omigod, They’re Seriously Amazing, then that’s the kind of music you listen to most. When you don’t have cable because it’s too expensive, you don’t watch cable. When your friends work at the local radio station, you listen to the locals. Never mind the fact that there really are scarves made to be worn when it’s not cold out, and that skinny jeans actually flatter your [chicken-y] legs. It’s too late: your friends already think you smoke locally grown tobacco out of a corn cob pipe and drink only from Mason Jars.

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being seen as out-of-touch-in-the-cool-and-mysterious-way most of the time, but there was one time that being hip was a big mistake.

Several years ago, Justin Timberlake, the Dapper Dan of Pop, came to our fair city to promote his astronomically popular Futuresex/Lovesound album [Sorry, Mom. That's just what it's called. I can't help that]. And I didn’t go. Not because I was busy. Not because I didn’t love the album [I both owned it and knew all the words to the Three-Six Mafia guest track]. I didn’t go because I decided JT was pop. And since I listened to NPR, ate granola, owned a record player, and shopped at thrift stores, pop wasn’t my thing.

Though I felt a pang of guilt every time I listened to “Sexyback” after that, it has taken me years to realize why: not going to a pop concert didn’t mean I was cool. It meant I was insecure. It meant I was a stick in the mud. It meant I didn’t get to see Justin Timberlake [worst part. I mean, hello?!]. And it meant I was being a giant doofus.

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This? I could have seen this? Yeah. I’m an idiot.

This year, Justin has released two albums with the help of his band, The Tennessee Kids. They are ubiquitous, unapologetic, dance-y, pop masterpieces. They have each been in my CD player since I bought them, and I all but sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when they play.

So, when Mr. T [can I call him that?] announced his triumphant return to the Music City, I was among the elated throng who immediately bought a ticket. Yes, it cost about as much as my whole life, but it will be oh-so worth it.

It’ll be worth it because it will be more fun than I or anyone else can shake a stick at, because I know JT will be happy to see me [obviously], and because I like the music. I listen to a lot of music that makes me feel and think. But sometimes, you just need to dance now, think later.

I’ve realized that for me, pop music is dessert. It’s candy. It’s a day off. Too much dessert without anything substantial does tend to make one a little woozy. But sometimes, at the end of a long, terrible week, you inhale a chocolate bar thinking it will make things better. And in some small way, it does.

I still buy organic sugar for my locally roasted coffee, and I’m still planning my Halloween costume around my favorite Wes Anderson movie. I’m just happier now.  I’m not worried if some American-Spirit-smoker at the 5 Spot will think I’m cool anymore. I’m only hip when I want to be, and that’s the way I like it.

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i am a terrible blogger.

I have a confession to make, you guys. Well, two.

The first is that I cannot stop listening to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album [the Heist], and I don’t care who knows it. Seriously. I listen to it once a day right now. Not only is Sir Macklemore  excellent at the hip-hoppery, he is smart. And I love a smarty.

The only better pop album to come out recently is Justin Timberlake’s opus of smooth, the 20/20 Experience [obviously, i mean, who are we kidding?]. Do yourself a favor and get both of those albums right now and listen to them. Yes, they’re commercially popular, but so is food, and everybody’s gotta eat. 

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My other confession is. . . I am a terrible blogger. I started off the year like the over-achieving boyfriend in an 80s teen romantic comedy. I had grand plans: wooing you all with flowers, rides in my convertible, and promises of weekly posts. But I’ve only managed to let you down over and over again with [maybe] monthly offerings [if you're lucky].  

I love writing, and I think there is something beautiful about the ease with which I can share my writing in this format. I also want you all to know what’s going on, and I want to share the love through my writing whenever I can.

I like giving pause, making people think, and reminding them they are loved. I know that when I’m not writing, it is harder for me to help others in those ways. That’s really why I’m a blogger in the first place. But without blogging, I can’t accomplish any of that- at least not in a way I can see easily.

So, I’m sorry I’m a terrible blogger. 

ImageI’m sorry. But I’m not.

With working, teaching ESL twice a week, and taking an ESL certification class 3 weekends in a row, I have been slammed this month. I have spent the better part of the last 4 weeks exhausted, cranky, and probably one step above hallucinating a hot dog riding a unicorn across a rainbow bridge on the Delirium Scale.

On top of the physical and emotional demands of that schedule, I was forced to miss Church for most of July due to the fact that the Sunday classes were all-day, so I did not have my normal solace of receiving Communion and praying with my friends on Sundays.

It has not been easy. And I haven’t been writing a word.

But I have been learning. I’ve been learning how to be a human: how to be tired, how to lean on others for support, how to ask for help and prayers, how to make mistakes and learn from them; how to bite off more than I can chew, and what to do when that happens. I’ve been so focused on being a living, breathing, surviving, regular, normal human being. I just haven’t had time to be a proper blogger.

It’s been fantastic. Not because I didn’t write, or because it was fun and carefree. It’s been fantastic because- through God’s mercy and the love of my Someone and the people in my life- I’ve made it. 

Now that I know I can be an employee, a friend, a girlfriend, a student, a teacher, and a human all at the same time, maybe I can get back to being a blogger, too.

Maybe.

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