A Note about Fixing Holes and Not Being Okay

It’s been really cool to see the responses to my testimony and tattoo. There are lots of us recovering elder-brother-types out there, I guess. =)

There was one series of comments that particularly struck me:

Facebook shame books comments

I thought this was particularly ironic — as did my co-conversationalist — because in talking about shame and shininess and how I (we) struggle with striving to measure up to legalistic standards of perfection we can’t attain, our go-to solution — and one I endorsed, too, I don’t at all mean to dump this on the other person — was to read two books that One Should Read To Better Oneself. Because what “worked” for me is totally a “rule” that will “work” for everyone else. And because this whole thing is totally “fixable” — right?

The problem with us elder-brother-ish rule-followers is that we think we can just find a 3-step process and make everything better. (Or at least make everything LOOK better.) But figuring out all of this shame and older brother stuff is not about fixing yourself. The fact is, we are broken and we can’t fix ourselves. It just isn’t possible. We cannot attain perfection. Our shiny whitewash can only hide the holes, not repair them.

What this process of dealing with legalism is really about is the continuing, ongoing, neverending struggle to realize and admit and embrace our brokenness. It’s not our job to fill in the hole. It’s our job to stop covering the hole that we can never fill. 

This is a hard thing to do when your life has been about presenting the appearance of a completely intact wall. We can even begin to be legalistic about not doing a good enough job of uncovering the whole. We just switch our legalism and shininess to the new goal of shinily uncovering our faults. And then we beat ourselves up for not being vulnerable enough or not being fixed enough or not healing fast enough.

Let me be clear: We will never “achieve” vulnerability. We will never “achieve” freedom from shame. We will never “achieve” honesty, or healing, or peace. (Short of some sort of Jesus-miracle, anyway.) These are not check-boxes; they are STRUGGLES. They are BATTLES, some days. And some days, they are mountains to be climbed, but off in the distance — later — not today.

It’s good to stop covering up the holes — that’s an important shift to make — but it’s also good to just rest sometimes. It’s good to stop striving for a new standard of “perfect brokenness”.

Or, as a really great blog post put it, “IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.”

Or, as Daniel and I tell each other when we’re struggling to be “productive” self-employed workers, “I love you even when you derp.” (aka don’t get anything productive done all day) “I would love you even if all you ever did was derp.”

The shift I keep trying to practice in my brain is that nothing I do can change my value. Just like nothing I can do can change how long it takes sunlight to reach the earth. God made it that way and it’s stuck. If I went out and murdered a bunch of people (NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, by the way), God would still love and value me the same. If I went out and cured all the world’s suffering (also not going to happen, but less terrifying), God would still love and value me the same.

So when I feel like I should be better at this vulnerability thing, or when I feel like I should have figured out how to balance marriage time and work time by now, or even when I slip back into old habits that I feel are so “elementary” I shouldn’t have to deal with them anymore, here’s what I do: (And feel free to say it with me, if you think this one blog post means I have my poop in a group!)

  1. Stop that. All lies.
  2. Have grace for yourself — don’t feel bad.
  3. Now that you feel bad for feeling bad, give yourself grace for that too.
  4. Say it with me: “It’s okay to not be okay. God loves me even when I derp.”

Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 15, Twitterpation & Trees

In the fifteenth week of Little House / Wounded Knee, Omakayas and Laura become adults, meet some nice fellows, and get twitterpated! Meanwhile, the US government plants a lotta trees. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

These Happy Golden Years

happy golden years coverWe’re almost there, folks! This, the 8th book in the Little House series, takes place from 1881-1885 and covers Laura’s brief stint as a school teacher and her courtship and marriage to Almanzo Wilder.

By this point in the series, the focus has transitioned from “chronicle of pioneer life” to “personal Romeo-and-Juliet chronicle”. Although there are a few references to current events of the time, and we do learn about courtship and fashion through Character-Laura’s actions, the bulk of the book focuses on the process of Laura and Almanzo spending time together and eventually getting married and moving into their first house on Almanzo’s homestead. A few notes on their relationship:

  • A large part of Laura and Almanzo’s initial interest in each other is due to their mutual love of horses. As we saw in Farmer Boy, Almanzo is all about horses, and the first time Laura ever notices him in De Smet is because of his beautiful team, Prince and Lady. As they court, they go on countless sleigh rides and buggy rides, including many behind a flighty team of half-broken horses that the townsfolk literally bet Laura will refuse to ride behind. (Of course, she goes!) One of the subtle ways we see Almanzo and Laura begin to understand each other is that Almanzo allows Laura (who was probably 16 or 17 at the time!) to drive one of the half-broken horses — and she does it! That is some serious horse-cred right there.
  • Laura is SO SLOW to become interested in Almanzo! Part of it is that he is ten years her senior — they began courting at 15/25 and married at 18/28. But I think another reason it feels so slow to me is that Author Laura is very guarded in what she shares about her emotions, even in her retelling of her childhood and courtship. Even when Laura and Almanzo finally get engaged, Laura is unable to directly express even to her family (or the reader!) how she feels. When they ask her if she loves Almanzo or just his horses, she reponds “shakily” with “I couldn’t have one without the other,” noting that “Ma smiled at her, Pa cleared his throat gruffly, and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say” (p.217). This is simultaneously adorable (because by this point we’ve been waiting for the inevitable Twue Wuv for 200 pages!) and frustrating, because she never says the words, so there isn’t really much catharsis. It’s just a different level of “propriety” than we’re used to today.
  • Laura actually refuses (with Almanzo’s support) to say “obey” in her wedding vows. I totally didn’t remember this, so it surprised me a little! But then, once Character-Laura explained it and I thought about Laura’s personality, it makes total sense: “I do not want to vote [unlike Almanzo’s sister, who is “for women’s rights”]. But I can not make a promise that I will not keep” (p.269). Laura is totally a stubborn free-spirit, which is part of what makes readers (and Almanzo) love her. So it makes total sense that (a) she could not in good conscience promise to obey without question, and (b) she would marry someone who appreciated and supported her in that. (Though I still don’t know why she doesn’t want to vote.)

So Almanzo drives Laura around, and eventually they sorta like each other, and then they get married — THE END! …Except that there’s one more (short) book in the series about their first four years of marriage. Next week! =)

Government-Sponsored Forestation

Honestly, what was more intriguing to me than the courtship was a quick side-mention about “tree claims” and the planned forestation of the prairie. Here’s the excerpt:

There was a small claim shanty on Almanzo’s homestead. On his tree claim there were no buildings at all, but the young trees were growing well. He had set them out carefully, and must cultivate and care for them for five years; then he could prove up on the claim and own the land. The trees were thriving much better than he had expected at first, for he said that if trees would grow on those prairies, he thought they would have grown there naturally before now.

“These government experts have got it all planned,” he explained to Laura. “They are going to cover these prairies with trees, all the way from Canada to Indian Territory. It’s all mapped out in the land offices, where the trees ought to be, and you can’t get that land except on tree claims. They’re certainly right about one thing; if half these trees live, they’ll seed the whole land and turn it into forest land, like the woods back East.” (p.170-1)

This struck me as strange, because it’s clear THAT the government wants trees… but I didn’t understand WHY they would want to make the prairie look like the forests back east!

I did a little research. The law behind this is an addition to the Homestead Act of 1863, under which the land that had been taken from Indigenous peoples was given in 160-acre sections to settlers provided that they would farm and “improve on” the land for 5 years, after which they owned the land. In 1873, an additional Timber Culture Act was passed, allowing homestead claimants to file for additional land and, as Almanzo says, keep it if they planted and successfully raised trees on it.

Analysis of said Timber Culture Act was scarce, but I did find a quote from premier homestead historian Paul Gates about the rationale behind this initiative: “to get groves of trees growing in the hope that they would affect the weather and bring more rainfall, to provide a source of fencing, fuel wood, and building materials in the future, and to provide another method by which land could be acquired in areas where larger units than the usual 160 acres seemed necessary.” 

Based on this and some reflection, here’s my conclusion: Within a settler-centric framework these reasons make sense — to perpetuate their way of life the settlers need rain for crops and wood from trees — but that still assumes that the settlers’ way is superior and takes precedence over the indigenous way, INCLUDING the indigenous plants! To me, this is just another layer of the white supremacy that takes as gospel that white ways are higher than all other ways and justifies environmental destruction and even human genocide all to fuel its self-propagation.

Seriously, the arrogance of trying to change the weather so that you don’t have to adapt your way of life to a different climate and ecosystem? Please! (Not that I can say that from a high horse as I write in my climate-controlled house, comfortably cool in mid-June… I’m working on it!)

Anyway. This topic is something I’d never considered before, and definitely one I want to learn more about. (Anyone have a connection with an ethno-environmentalist historian??? Is that even a thing???)

(**Edited to Note: I investigate this question more deeply in my Imperial Geography project.)

The Porcupine Year

Quill & porcupine
Quill & Porcupine — How adorable is that??

The third Birchbark House book begins with a scene where Omakayas and little brother Pinch are swept away by a swift river current while out canoeing. To me, this opening scene sums up a lot of the themes in this book:

  • The Anishinabe are still exiled to a foreign place. Even the way the river and the forest are described at the very start gave me a feeling of dark, eerie claustrophobia — totally different than the light, magical open feeling when the Anishinabe are on their home island in Lake Superior.
  • Pinch and Omakayas are nearly adults! Just the fact that they are canoeing far from camp by themselves sets this up already. But they are also hunting (taking responsibility to provide for the family) and they talk and relate to each other in a much more adult and sophisticated manner — even though they are still goofy siblings, too.
  • Names are a flexible and important part of Anishinabe life. While on this excursion, Pinch finds a porcupine friend (hence the book’s title) and adopts him, allowing the little guy to ride on his head. Not only does this pet make for some ADORABLE illustrations (see above), but the sight of Pinch with a porcupine on his head gives rise to his new name: Quill! Late in the book, Omakayas is also given a new name in a significant ceremony after she shows bravery and maturity.
  • Omakayas has both a sense of humor and a conscience — which makes for really believable relationships. [SPOILER ALERT!!] When Omakayas and Quill return from getting washed down the river, they discover their funeral in progress, as their families have found evidence that they drowned. Quill decides that they will dress as ghosts and have a little fun. Omakayas goes along, despite her misgivings — but what I love most is how Erdrich allows her to experience BOTH emotions simultaneously: “Omakayas knew that this was a very bad idea, and yet, something in her was thrilled. It was the chance of the situation.” (p.27)

Needless to say, this opening scene and the relationship we see developing between Omakayas and her brother is a perfect encapsulation of why I love these books!

Another thing I particularly love — as I’ve mentioned previously — is how realistically messy the relationships are. A great example of that in Porcupine Year is a confrontation between Auntie Muskrat and her sister (Yellow Kettle / Omakayas’s mom) and mother (Nokomis). Two Strike, Omakayas’s cousin, has grown increasingly arrogant about her hunting skills and demeaning of women’s work and the women in her family, even her mother and Nokomis. After Two Strike orders Yellow Kettle around (I was like YOU DID NOT!!!), Nokomis firmly but kindly rebukes Auntie Muskrat about the way she is allowing her daughter to grow up selfish: “It is not good for her to think that her skills are her own. They were given by the Creator, and the Creator can take them away” (p.152). What’s even cooler is that after some initial frustration, Auntie Muskrat takes this criticism in stride, acknowledges that she has been struggling since she is without her husband, and apologizes to her mother and sister. (After which they hilariously set Auntie Muskrat up with a very eligible bachelor!)  This open and healthy conflict resolution is especially refreshing after reading a whole book of Laura not even willing to write “I love you” about her husband!

There were two things I wanted more of in this book:

  1. Although there is some discussion about the “talk of making one big home for all of us” (p.45), there is relatively little movement on the US-Anishinabe-relations front. Selfishly, since my project is looking at the period of Indian relocation, I wanted to read about how Omakayas dealt with that. But in a way, I can appreciate how nice it is to conclude the main trilogy here when Omakayas’s life still has relatively few limits (other than initial relocation to Bwaaneg territory). (**Note — there is actually a fourth book, Chickadee, which tells about Omakayas’s children — I assume that will take place more into the reservation era? I’m reading it for next week…)
  2. I wanted more about Omakayas’s romance!!! In this book, Omakayas sort of has a crush on this guy… and then at the end of the book they start courting a bit… and they remind Nokomis and Yellow Kettle and Deydey of when Yellow Kettle and Deydey were courting… and then THE BOOK JUST ENDS!!! After reading the archetypal “happily ever after” story in Happy Golden Years I totally wanted more of that in this book too! But, I guess I’ll have to make do with open-ended adorableness and the knowledge that there is one more book….

There are several other significant events in this book — but I really don’t want to ruin them for you, so you’ll just have to read and find out yourself!

Conclusion

As was somewhat my intention when I scheduled the side-by-side reading of LHotP and BBH, the juxtaposition of these two stories makes it clear that whether you’re a young American settler or a young Anishinabe exile, you grow up, you fall in love (probably), and your life with your family goes on. What’s broken about this — and what was my even bigger intention when I scheduled the side-by-side reading of LHotP and BBH — is that the reason this particular young American settler was able to have her story in the location she had it is because of the displacement of this particular young Anishinabe exile and many others. The reason I’m growing up, married, and living my life in the location I’m doing it is because of that same displacement of equally valuable, equally valid, equally important Native lives. This creates a huge cognitive dissonance — it feels icky. It feels wrong. It is. And there’s not an easy solution — I can’t just cry or make a donation or forget about it and make it better. But that’s what happened. And right now I’m just sitting in it.

Hopefully the more I sit in it, the more I will be able to acknowledge that it’s a part of me, that it’s a part of us, and maybe a way forward will emerge, if only because I can’t go backward.

Tune in next week for THE CONCLUSION (!!) of this project — Chickadee (BBH #4), The First Four Years (LH #9), and Wounded Knee Ch. 18 & 19. (I may need multiple posts for this….)

The problem with feminism

The problem with feminism
is that we are no longer
separate-but-equal rulers of our
separate-but-unequal spheres;
you are no longer the
undisputed Master of Monies,
but neither am I the
undisputed Queen of the Kitchen.

The problem with feminism
is that while I can be
totally self-righteous and justified
in asserting my right to have input into our
work life, financial life, sex life, spiritual life,
I also find it incredibly difficult
to relax my desperate iron grip
on my distaff domain
when you assert your right
to have input into our
Christmas card template.

The problem with feminism
is that it requires me to change, too.

Finally, Married Grace Granola

Daniel & Rebekah married in the snowWhen Daniel and I got married (getting toward 3 years ago — holy cow!), we decided to make granola as a little wedding favor/snack for our guests. It was a lot of work. We made GALLONS of granola to have enough for our 250+ guests, and sometimes it emerged a little burnt-er and crispier than we would have liked. But we got to practice working together as a team and having a little “burnt granola grace” for each other when things didn’t quite turn out how we wanted.  In the end, we made enough non-charred granola to go around, and we loved being able to give something so “us” to our guests.

WELL, we’ve had a ton of requests for the recipe for that granola… and I’m FINALLY getting around to sharing it! (Good thing we wrote our thank you notes faster…) So, without further ado, here it is:

Recipe for “Married Grace Granola” (from the SJ Kitchen!)

1. Combine the following dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl (you might need two):

8 c rolled oats (not quick)
1 1/2 c oat bran
1/3 c wheat germ
3/4 c sunflower seeds
3/4 c cashews, chopped
3/4 c slivered almonds
3/4 c walnuts, chopped
3/4 c flax seed
3/4 c sweet coconut

2. Then, in a separate container, mix the following until smoothish:

1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/4 c maple syrup
3/4 c honey
1/3 c sesame oil
1/3 c vegetable oil
1/3 c olive oil
1 T cinnamon
1 T vanilla extract

3. Mix the liquids into the dry granola bits. Stir and try to coat evenly.

4. Once the granola bits are coated, spread granola out onto cookie sheets. Do not pack it tightly — it needs a little wiggle room to cook evenly.

granola

5. Bake granola sheets at 350 degrees for 25-30 mins, pulling it out every 10 mins or so to stir the granola around and/or turn the cookie sheets. (Granola can burn easily, so keep an eye on it!)

6. Once the granola is baked, dump it out onto a dry surface (e.g. other cookie sheets, paper towels, parchment paper, drying rack, etc.) to cool. Spread it out a bit so it doesn’t all stick together in clumps.

7. When the granola has cooled to your liking (or when you eat it, if you can’t wait), mix in 1 c raisins or dried cranberries (or both!) and 1 c Ghirardelli 70% dark chocolate chips. Store or serve when ready!

[This recipe makes around 22 cups, or 1.25 gallons, of granola. YUM!]

*Edited 9/19 to correct “maple sugar” to “maple syrup”. Whoopsie! 

Why I’m Glad I Married a ‘Weirdo’

When one goes to college, one often branches out from one’s upbringing. This has been the case with me. During the course of college, I finally “blossomed” out of my rather quiet, oblivious little shell. I left home, left my church denomination, and even left the country!

This was, at times, a confusing and difficult journey — and one that’s still continuing, as I’ve recently left the teaching profession in favor of I’m not sure what yet. But in all of this, my college-and-beyond exploration into my own purpose and weird-ness, I was always accompanied by my just-as-weird, ever-more-explorational partner.

Now, for those of you who may not know my husband well, let me sketch him out for you. The first thing you notice is his shockingly blue eyes. The second is his crinkly-warm smile. And the third is the fact that he sort of hums with frenetic energy. It is often a point of pride in our house that he received the highest score ever seen at his testing center — for the ADHD diagnostic he took in college. His fashion sense has come a long way, he delights in asking deep questions rather out of the blue, and he has lovingly been described as a fifty-fifty combination of Francis Chan and Buddy the Elf.

In other words, he’s pretty “unique”!

But that gets me to thinking — what would have happened if I had dated (and married) someone more “normal” — someone “safe” and “socially acceptable” and more predictable? I think it would have held me back.

Daniel’s freedom of expression and his love for validating people’s uniqueness allows me to do things I never would have done without him. I feel safe. I feel loved without strings. I feel like I can be who I want to be and not have to keep being the person I always was before.

And really, that’s what finding a life partner is about: finding the person who helps you become the “you” you’ve always wanted to be, the “you” God created you to be.

So yes, sometimes I just shake my head and smile, or wonder what other folks might think if they heard or saw some of the things that happen around our house. But even the moments that make my social spidey senses tingle remind me that allowing people to be who they are is WAY more important than forcing them into a box for my own comfort.

And that’s why I’m glad I married my weirdo.

Daniel and me at a funny Christmas sweater party.
Christmas 2011

We suck.

There are a lot of ways in which we suck, and we’re feeling it today/this year:

Time management is hard for us. The marriage of an exhausted schoolteacher introvert with an isolated-at-home web-developer extrovert is bound to have some issues. He feels lonely and dejected; she feels exhausted and overextended. Compromise and perseverance is a daily struggle.

Sex is hard for us. We’ve seen a few lists of the top stressors in a marriage, and “money” and “sex” were in the top 3 factors every time. Our different personalities/wirings, family cultures, and circumstances give us plenty to work through in this area of life.

Conflict is hard for us. Marriages of firstborns are said to be especially divorce-prone, because strong-willed people don’t often share space with each other graciously. We’re working on sharing space graciously, and we fail frequently.

In the face of all this, things we need to remember:

Keep hope.

The Creator holds the universe and all things in sovereignty and goodness. No matter what happens in our lives, the universe is won. Christ is Victor. And to top it off, God’s good plans and victory can extend into our lives, even if we know not the form or how pleasant it will be.

Have realistic expectations.

We are not the spouses of each others’ dreams. Our dreams are human, sinful, and selfish, making them impossible to mutually fulfill. We are the spouses of each others’ reality. Spouses who can wake up every day in broken but beautiful world, flesh, and spirit, and say “yes” to each other once again, and then work to live that “yes”. Which leads me to…

Fight like the dickens for your marriage every day.

“Know thine enemy.” We know that divorce is a real and present danger; we have seen marriages young and old crumble around us where we never would have suspected. We have learned to attack our small withdrawals from intimacy early, because they’re what mount up to destroy a marriage.

Sitting in church this morning, Daniel got an image of us “fighting for our marriage” in the flavor of the video games of his youth — with armor and giant swords. Rebekah drew a picture of it. Here it is: