Friday, I’m in Love

I have a friend who faithfully posts on Facebook: “It’s da weekend, baby!” When I see it, I “like” it, but it goes beyond that—it’s seeped into my subconscious. Often I wake up Friday morning, and, in the bleary-eyed process of trying to figure out what day it is, suddenly think to myself: “It’s da weekend, baby!”

For as long as I’ve known the days of the week, I’ve loved Friday the best. When I was a kid, Friday night often meant eating at Dandy’s Deli or Pizza Hut, maybe getting a quarter to play Ms. Pacman with my sister. Then, when I got old enough to be dropped off, Friday night meant roller skating the night away to “Mony Mony” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

In junior high I had a pair of Guess jeans, which I wore to school every Friday—special occasion attire in my book. My sister and I shared a Guess logo sweatshirt, which I wore pretty much every other Friday. If my special jeans were in the dirty laundry, I would not know which way to turn. Because Friday was a weekly holiday.

My mom had different feelings toward Friday. No need to dress up, no need to do emergency laundry—Friday is for getting by, eking out the last day of the school week with minimal effort. Bad hair day? Wear a ponytail—it’s Friday. Can’t find your homework? Ask the teacher for an extension—it’s Friday. It’s like she misunderstood everything that was sacred about Friday.

Imagine my excitement as a kid when I learned there was a restaurant called TGI Fridays! My friend brought me a pair of giveaway sunglasses, red and white striped, with the TGI Fridays logo on each side. I wish I still had them.

Back then my family never ate at Fridays, despite its awesome name. Friday nights were all about Casa Gallardo, where I’d pretend we were eating al fresco on a quaint plaza in a Mexican resort town. To this day, I feel a pang of sadness when I hear mariachi music, knowing I will never again enjoy Casa Gallardo chips and salsa on a Friday night, or any night.

I feel a special kinship to my “It’s da weekend, baby!” friend because I, too, think Friday is a day for celebration. I used to feed our dog Sparky a special Friday evening meal of Cesar Savory Delights Filet Mignon dog food. He grew fat. And he grew to love Friday.

My daughter continues the Friday night festivities tradition. She calls it “Rookie Night,” which is fine, although I’m not sure what it means. A few Fridays ago as I picked her up from school, her teacher waved and said, “Have a great Rookie Night!” I wondered if I should tell her Rookie Night is just our name for dinner at Five Guys or Chick-Fil-A, then watching a movie together, usually Barbie-related. (I read Entertainment Weekly during the movie. Can’t tolerate Barbie animation.) Never mind—“Rookie Night” has more than enough charm.

Like the name “Rookie Night,” my attachment to Friday is not rational. It’s entirely emotional. Friday, to me, suggests a world of possibility.

Don’t get me wrong: Saturday’s great, and Sunday always comes too late. But Friday never hesitates . . . to holler, “It’s da weekend, baby!”

selfies

Rookie Night selfies at Dunkin Donuts. Phil, unaware.

 

Summer, Bird by Bird

Summer, Bird by Bird

Fleeting. That’s the best word for summer.

“Where’d it go?” I ask, staring at the calendar.

Summer was a migratory bird, fleeting.

Summer was thirteen birds, fleeting.

Bird #1: Browsing Savers, I search for a book I owned nine summers ago: Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. My eyes catch the spine, and I can’t believe my book is here, a bird on a shelf.

Bird #2: At Bellevue Park. We laugh at the brazen geese, then squeal at their babies. The cuteness is too much: fuzzy goslings, four, five, trailed by one fierce mama.geese

Bird #3: Playing with my phone we stumble across the flight call of the American goldfinch, apparently a sound like “potato chip!” For days after, we surprise each other with random, high-pitched calls of “potato chip!”

chee cheeBird #4: I spin the card stand in the souvenir shop. A notecard catches my eye, three Canadian geese painted by Benjamin Chee Chee. Its title is “Friends,” but it looks like my family.

Bird #5: From the whale watching boat, high in the treetops: a huge bald eagle.

Bird #6: A cab ride to Granville Island. When the rain slowed, we met the biggest, baddest pigeon. His body was gray as the dull sky, but his neck was a striking iridescent lavender and pale green. He hoped for food.189.jpg

Bird #7: I searched the beach and found some chunks of coral, shells, and a sun-bleached bone. This bird—what was left of it—became my souvenir.

Bird #8: In Maui I came across a book about the early settlers of the Hawaiian Islands, led there by a bird, the Pacific golden plover.

Bird #9: Walking along the Kapalua Coastal Trail, we saw the nests of wedge-tailed shearwaters hidden in clumps of grass.

Bird #10: At home, my daughter saw a baby blue jay in the street in front of our house. I grabbed a dustpan to scoop it out of danger, but it hobbled to the neighbor’s yard on its own.

Bird #11: Caroline and I went to an animal show at the library and saw a fierce-looking Lanner Hawk perched atop a leather-gloved hand.

075Bird #12: Spotted: a duvet cover at Ikea with a trippy pattern of bees and flowers and honey and birds. I ripped open the seams and made it into curtains. When I turn toward the window thirty identical sparrows stare back.

Bird #13: In Chicago we stood on the platform waiting for the train. A pigeon sat on the wooden planks, oddly still. I snapped a pic and wondered why.pigeon

I still wonder why birds were the recurring motif of our summer. They seemed like messengers, but I’m not sure of their message.

Or maybe it’s this: birds are as at ease on earth as they are in heaven—there is no stark line of division between one realm and another.

Maybe their message is to bring that sense of easy trust into our daily lives, making earth more and more like heaven.

“His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” –Civilla D. Martin

-Em

The Problem with Loving Thy Neighbors

Years back, a new friend and I made lunch plans. She’d told me to go ahead and order food if I got there first, so I ordered soup and salad, and she arrived soon after.  But instead of ordering lunch, she pulled out a snack bag and counted out six pistachios. While I chowed down on a big ol’ salad (with dressing!) and soup (with vegetables!), she made her nut ration last through my meal, and washed it down with some kind of fancy water.

She’s a super—and super-fit—woman, and although we had stuff in common, I sensed we would not become close friends. The austerity of her lifestyle was just so different from my “food is fun” mentality.

(If you ever see me having a lunch of six nuts and some fruit water, take it as a cry for help.)

I had been sure we’d become great pals, but then it’s never been love at first sight for me when it comes to friendship. The people to whom I grow the closest tend to be the ones I don’t expect. It still surprises me, but first impressions don’t mean that much when it comes to long-term friendships.

And so, when a family moved into the rental house across the street, I walked over to introduce myself with no expectations. It’s not that we’ve had bad neighbors—not at all—but I said hello expecting little beyond a friendly wave across the driveway now and then.

Suburban cordiality rests on firm boundaries, as Robert Frost said (sorta).

To my surprise these neighbors, a couple with two young daughters, became very dear to us, which makes it hard to see them move away. The Air Force is sending them to Hawaii, which is awesome for them but bad for us—and especially hard for my daughter who loves the girls like sisters.

Over the past four years, we’ve become more than wave-across-the-driveway neighbors. We’ve become good friends.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said. But my wave-across-the-driveway approach to neighbors hardly qualifies as love. Sad to say, I had no expectation of loving these neighbors as much as I do.

Their home now sits empty, window-blinds shut, with a “For Lease” sign standing crooked in the front yard. It will be hard to break the habit of glancing over there when I go the mailbox or water the plants. Every time I pull into the driveway, I look for them, but of course they’re not there.

Very soon they’ll be someone else’s neighbors. I hope their new home treats them well, with more than just the aloha-across-the-driveway kind of thing.

I hope they find a home where neighbors exchange magazines and pet-sitting favors and Key Lime cupcakes just as much as small talk about the weather.

I hope for surpassed expectations and happy surprises—as we all await new neighbors.

liney and viv

Toad at the Crossroads

A toad sat in the middle of the sidewalk, just a few steps from the store entrance. There was nothing remarkable about the little fella—brown and bumpy and a smidge smaller than my fist—except that he was casually hanging out in front of TJ Maxx.

My daughter and I squatted down to get a better look. Yep, he was breathing. But he didn’t move, even when I tapped him on the rear.

A woman walking into the store stopped to check him out. She was much braver than I, stretching out each of his legs to see if they were broken.

“See this front one,” she said. “It’s a little smashed. Somebody must have stepped on the little guy.” She advised me to carry him over to the pond about a hundred yards away. I wasn’t eager to pick up a partially squished toad.

TJ Maxx is in an old shopping center—Crossroads Centre—and has been there for as long as I can remember, the early to mid-‘80s. This probably wasn’t the first time a toad found his way there.

The longer I stood with the injured toad, the less I wanted to carry him across the parking lot to the retention pond. Still, I didn’t want the creature to get completely squished.

I sent my daughter to wait in the car with her dad and shivered as I picked up the poor toad. As I crossed the asphalt into the grass I felt his cold belly against my palm. Which of us was more nervous?

I peeked between my hands and met his hard stare. As he eyed me I said, “Don’t worry, Toad. I’m taking you to the pond where you’ll be safe.” His cold belly fluttered against my palm, but he didn’t argue.

Gently, I placed the toad in the grass a little ways from the water and watched him for a second or two. He sat there, just as still as he’d been in front of TJ Maxx. I wished him luck and told him to get well. Suddenly, I hated to leave him.

Phil and Caroline were waiting for me in the car. I hopped in, pleased at my good deed, when Phil joked, “What if the toad had been trying his whole life to get to TJ Maxx, and you just set him back to square one?” We laughed at this speculation, but I felt it in the pit of my stomach—the pang of futility.

What’s sadder than a toad with a crushed leg? A toad with a crushed dream. But here’s a lesson from the toad: when you find yourself in the wrong place with a cold belly and stepped-on toes, remember it’s not just a setback but a crossroads as well—a crossroads with heretofore unseen possibilities and opportunities to choose what is good.

At least that’s what I heard.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

On Becoming Real

I truly love the crayon-drawn cards, decorative coasters, macaroni jewelry, and other gifts my daughter has given me on Mother’s Day. I had not anticipated such joy from these sweet gestures.

Still, Mother’s Day is fraught with grief for some, dashed expectations for others, and complicated emotions for many. Each of us comes from a woman who was very good or, in some way, less than good to us.

But for moms themselves, the day can be just as thorny.

In the early years of our marriage, I remember feeling like a misfit for not having children, especially in church. One Mother’s Day Sunday as I walked toward the sanctuary, a greeter held out a pink carnation to me, then took it back with a panicked Oops! Sorry, moms only. It was awkward. Even stranger, though, I didn’t want a flower until I was told I couldn’t have one.

Same idea, a few years later: I didn’t know how badly I wanted a baby until I couldn’t have one. In the meantime, I decided if I ever did have a child, I would be the best mom I could possibly be. I mean, like, Mother of the Year every single year. And when I finally had our daughter, I did my best with what I knew. There were no medals or trophies, but I did my best.

Infertile women, I think, harbor a particular kind of inferiority complex when it comes to mothering. At least I do. Those voices in your head that say you don’t deserve to have children do not necessarily shut up the moment you give birth or adopt or move on. They just keep on chattering their barely plausible lies.

The voices told me I wasn’t a real mom, having wrestled my child out of God’s fist rather than receiving her from his open hand. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I was drawn into the comparison game and found myself “very insignificant and commonplace” compared to other, more effortless mothers.

But even if I wasn’t a real mother, as the voices said, I had a very real baby whom I loved and taught to love. And, like the Velveteen Rabbit’s little boy, she loved me into realness. Little by little, I became real.

While I’m the real mom of one precious child, I’ve come to hold loosely that identity of mom. When I had my daughter and set out to make mothering my lifestyle, the mom identity fit. Well, maybe not perfectly, but I was sure I’d grow into it, or have it hemmed, or something. Darn it, I’d make it fit—by having more children! But this wasn’t possible.

Even if it were possible, human biology does not permit such maternal cottage industries to go on indefinitely. Like the Velveteen Rabbit toward the story’s end, I’m rather on my way to growing “old and shabby.”

As I look ahead a couple decades, Mother’s Day will no longer be fraught with disparaging inner voices but filled with the voices (perhaps) of grandchildren—not begged from God’s table (perhaps) but given freely—if that’s (perhaps) what she wants in life.

Whether my daughter someday becomes a mother or not, I hope her Mother’s Days and other days are uncomplicated, free from questions of realness, and spent with me. For I love her, for real.

(Macaroni necklaces optional.)

mothers day card

Surface Tension (A Baptism Story)

Phil and I stood beside our daughter as she was baptized last weekend. With grandparents and aunts and one beloved uncle in the pews, it was a momentous occasion.

Once a year the week after Easter, our church offers the option of full immersion baptism. They spread out a large plastic tarp and borrow horse troughs from a farm supply store to serve as baptisteries. Part of me thinks “Horse Trough Sunday” isn’t the most dignified name, but I suppose Baby Jesus’ manger was from the farm supply store. If it was good enough for him, . . .

My husband was baptized by sprinkling as an infant, and I was immersed just after I turned seven years old, so we weren’t too picky about how Caroline would be baptized, only that it would be her decision. Last year, she wanted to be baptized but later chickened out. This year, she overcame her apprehension and took the leap, an outward sign of an inward grace.

Caroline wore butterfly-print capri pants and a t-shirt with a cat wearing glasses. The cat and butterflies corresponded whimsically to Jesus, Lamb of God, and the dove that descended at his baptism in the Jordan. (Truth be told, I’d fallen behind on laundry. There weren’t many clean outfits to choose from.)

She shivered as she stepped over the side into the water, brave and nervous in equal parts. Our pastor kneeled and told her how happy he was to baptize her—that he remembered when she came into the world and was thrilled to know that Jesus lives in her heart.

As instructed, she held her nose as Rev. Shane invoked the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, with her dad on one side and me at her head, she took the modified Nestea Plunge. I heard my sister’s loud whoop! from the congregation and smiled.

In a split second, water closed over her face, pale gray light reflecting off its smooth surface. Then, as quickly as she’d gone under, she emerged from the water as I clumsily lifted her by the shoulder.

It struck me, this nearly palpable surface tension of the water—temporary, breaking, parting, making way for a little girl’s face. For a moment she stood dripping at the foot of the trough, shocked by the cold water, shocked by the translation.

I held her hand as she stepped out onto dry tarp and wrapped herself in a towel. That’s what it is, I half-realized, this sacrament of baptism: an act of translation.

From what language to what? I’m still not sure.

To translate—derived from a Latin word meaning to carry across—is to bear something from one place to another.

Answered prayers and high-tech medicine had borne this child to life, and I had borne her to the point of birth and lung-breathing. Now this baptism bore her across an invisible chasm into the country of God’s native languages: Spirit and Truth. Perhaps just for a moment, a glance, a glimpse.

It may seem silly—and it’s surely inconvenient—to get soaking wet in front of the church. But signs and symbols are the best we can do when it comes to expressing things beyond words.

I’m not saying the water is salvific. It’s not that there’s something in the water. But there was something on the water’s surface, a mystery I can’t quite make out—like seeing through a glass, darkly.

baptism page

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The Ending That’s Not the End

As a writer, I feel a great deal of sympathy toward my pastor at Easter. Imagine the pressure of writing a sermon for the biggest day of the Christian year—one that will make an impact on regulars and C&E visitors alike.

I write essays, not sermons, but this Lent season I wrote a short essay for each of Jesus’ seven last words. Now that Easter’s here, I really wanted to write something remarkable about Jesus’ words to reflect the astonishing miracle of Resurrection Day. Didn’t happen.

In contrast to Jesus’ seven last words from the cross, Jesus said a lot of things after the resurrection but before his ascension. He spoke to Mary Magdalene, “doubting” Thomas, Cleopas, Peter, and many others.

Essay-wise, I was coming up empty, so I resorted to poetry, with deference and apologies to George Herbert (1593-1633). Unlike Herbert, I’m not a lyric poet—I’m more an arranger of words. Finding it hard to wrangle Jesus’ post-resurrection words into a short essay, I pieced them into this collage. (Click on the links to read the source text.)

Easter Wings (Red-Letter Remix)

Who is it you are looking for?

Do not hold on to me.

Why are you crying?

I am ascending

to my Father

your Father

Mary.

As the Father

sent me I am sending

you. Peace be with you!

Receive the Holy Spirit. Reach

out your hand. Stop doubting and believe.

Because you have seen me you have believed.

Blessed are those who’ve not seen and yet believe.

Throw your net on the right side of the boat.

Friends, haven’t you any fish?

Do you love me more?

Feed my lambs.

Peter.

Feed my sheep.

Do you love me?

Peter, do you love me?

Follow me. You must follow me.

When you are old you will stretch out your hands.

A ghost does not have flesh and bones.

Look at my hands and my feet.

Do you have anything to eat?

Peace be with you.

Stay in the city

stay until

Peace.

Therefore

go and make

disciples, baptizing them

in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And to obey everything I’ve commanded.

Surely I am with you always, even to the end.

ending-that-is-not-the-end.jpg