Betty Duffy

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Spending Bug

I’m always trying to out-poor people. If you think you drive a clunker, you should see my car: the big dent in the side where I ran into my own mailbox, the portions of the steering wheel that my dog ate, the steel wheel I purchased at a junkyard when the aluminum wheel developed a slow leak. That does not even touch on the air-conditioner (it doesn’t work), the windshield wipers (barely work), or the struts (they don’t work). My car has an accelerator and it has a brake. It drives, and it only has 90,000 miles on it, which is why, barring accidental death, I take pride in the thought of driving it for another ten years or so. That’s how poor I am.

Also, I shop at Goodwill. You like my jeans? They cost $1.99. My shirt? $1.99. My shoes? Yes, they, too, are second-hand. That’s just the kind of gal I am—poor. So don’t ask me for money.

That’s why this year’s Christmas feels so shameful to me. We spent a lot of money.

The week before Christmas, my husband and I borrowed my Dad’s truck to deliver some furniture to a client. There’s nothing like driving someone else’s truck to make you feel the need for your own, so when we saw a pick-up truck for sale in someone’s front yard, we pulled over and checked out the stats: Four-wheel drive, extended cab, long bed, lo miles and a 5K price-tag.

We test drove it. We settled a price. We made arrangements to pick it up the following day, because we had business to take care of that night. But my husband was anxious. He wanted to go back and drive it home before the guy changed his mind. And lo, when we drove back the following day, as agreed, we discovered that the guy really had changed his mind. Apparently, his son had spoken up and asked for his rightful inheritance.

I, for one, was relieved. It was the right deal at the wrong time. But my husband was on fire: “You’ve got to act fast on these things.” More ammunition to be impulsive in the future.

As though either of us needed ammunition. Friday night, I bid on Ebay, and won a pair of very nice boots. They’re gorgeous, the boots I’ve wanted since I was nineteen, and counting over the years the numerous imitations I’ve purchased, I might have saved money had I bought the real thing years ago. They are ‘young’ boots cut for a slender leg and a dewy face and it occurred to me that I don’t have much time left to wear such a boot, so I bid, and then I had to tell my husband, who said, “Merry Christmas, and happy birthday, too.”

But I didn’t feel too bad about it because by then, my husband was researching trucks in earnest. His “almost” purchase had whetted his appetite, and his price margin had increased from 5K to “Maybe we should just get a new truck and get rid of your mini van. If it has two bench seats it would fit you and all the kids, no problem.” And I pictured myself stepping out of a shiny F150 in my new boots, and couldn’t protest too much.

The flood gates had opened. If we had enough money to buy a truck and nice boots, we probably had enough money to get the kids more than underwear for Christmas. Each purchase provided a tacit approval of the next. Several years ago, we did the debt sno-ball, paid off our school loans and our car, but now the opposite was happening. If we continued opening our wallet, people might start confusing us for rich people.

Hans Keilson, in “Death of the Adversary” wrote about little boys watching planes during World War II, and how awe-inspiring the machines were even though they were nothing like the ocean-crossing jets of his adulthood. “A greater capacity for enthusiasm corresponded to a smaller capacity for performance” (54). If only the same had been true for us…

On the side of the road, we had found a good deal on a truck, but we thought about it too hard and missed out. Once we realized what we’d missed, we became trigger happy and impressed by everything. Convinced that every car-dealer wanted to give us a good deal, because it’s Christmas, and we have a lot of kids, and we’re such nice people, we settled on a truck that was quite a bit more, and not much younger than the first. Determined not to miss out on it this time, we paid cash, and drove it off the lot.

Surely, this is the end of the road, then. The sno-ball reaches the bottom of the hill and peters out, right?

The other day at my mom’s I pulled on my new boot and instantly felt a pinch on my leg. I’d been stung. I opened up the boot and a wrinkled wasp fell out onto the floor. I hopped around on one foot cursing, “Why does my mother let these wasps into her house? Why does she let them in my boot?” even though, rationally, I know it’s not my mother’s fault that a wasp took refuge from the cold in the warm crevices of her home. Tiny predators are always looking for a way inside, and even the smallest crack can allow passage.

This morning my leg is a hot itchy welt—hard where the rest of my leg is soft--and I have to say, I sort of like having a little bit of venom in me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pa rum pa pum pum

I dropped in at our Advent Penance Service the other night and went to Confession. It was just about the last thing I did before I went home and to bed, and I woke up the next morning feeling optimistic, as I had not yet, to my knowledge committed a sin that day.

Fulton Sheen said that innocents, penitents and Priests are all to be found at the foot of the Cross, as Mary Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and St John all remained through the final hours of the Crucifixion. I want to be one of those people too, and since ‘Priest’ is out of the question, only innocent or penitent might do.

It’s always during Advent that I most want to identify with Mary Mother of God. She’s waiting quietly, preparing, pondering. I try to adopt these virtues, but I always feel the tiniest bit of envy towards Mary, being without concupiscence, bearing a baby who will never sin. Immediately after Confession, purified for the moment, of any wrongdoing, is the closest I come to that kind of innocence.

So the morning after Confession, I set out on my day trying to mimic the Mother of God. I said my prayers. I made coffee. I greeted my children with a smile, and then all hell broke loose. I’ve done a lot of complaining about my kids lately, and I could give you a play by play of the morning that would absolve me of at least a little bit of culpability for how things turned out—but to be clear, they’re kids and I’m a grown-up who can behave with as much vim and vigor as the most hellish of hellions given the right circumstances.

Maybe if I were a nicer person, my kids wouldn’t be so contradictory towards each other. Maybe it’s right after Confession that the Devil fiddles with us and most wants to make us fail. But a few minutes into our conflicts it seems laughable that I could ever respond differently to the troubles that arise in our family. My responses are as automatic as sneezing, as predictable as each new day. I am the mother that I am. They are the kids that they are. All of us are human, and hence, by 8:30 that morning, I was on my knees on the living room floor, once again asking God for resources that don’t come naturally to me.

Patience was gone. Quiet was gone. Calm waiting had dissipated into havoc, and I was, as always, the penitent. I’d say the whole process, from innocent to penitent, took about fifteen minutes from waking up.

During Advent, we remove our 12 inch statue of the Pieta and replace it with a Manger Scene. I was struck that morning by the irony of asking a child for the strength to be a grown-up. Little Baby, I’m sorry when I get upset with my babies. Little Baby, show me how to raise my babies. It’s odd.

So much has been written about how God disguises himself in the most unlikely places-- in an infant, in the Eucharist, in one another--and how he waits in these disguises for us to seek him. This year’s Advent has been a confirmation for me that I need not do the waiting for a God who is already present, but rather, that I should go to Him wherever he hides, waiting for me.

Go to Confession. Go again if necessary. Go to Mass. Go to the places where I can pray, and offer him my sinfulness, my failure, my penitence. Innocence is God’s. Penitence, however, is mine, and it’s all I can offer Him that he does not already possess.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Quick takes: snowed in

Thanks Jen for hosting this wonderful Friday Tradition .

It is Thursday as I write, and yet, I am wearing my Saturday pants. It’s bad when Saturday pants start to become your everyday pants, especially when they’re fleece and add another ten pounds to the ten pounds you are already overweight. People start to say you’ve let yourself go.

Of course…people…what are those? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen one. Except for the five short ones who are snowed in with me—six if you count their friend whom my son calls every snow day at about 7:30 in the morning (I’m sure their parents love us). Anyway, he’s here too.

And since the fun began even before 7:30—the fun of spitting in one another’s hot chocolate, and wrecking one another’s snow forts, and turning over the Monopoly board, and planning covert missions into sister’s room to wreak havoc until she shrieks—I feel like the world owes me a pair of Saturday pants.

I was going to go to a party today. It’s Irene’s birthday and I had a sitter lined up, and I know that she and Pedge were on the other side of town today clinking their champagne glasses together, while I stayed here in my Saturday pants.

I was pretty proud of myself for finding a babysitter, though. I saw her at Wal-mart, wearing a letter jacket, looking for vegetables from the freezer section, checking her list, which she held in the same hand with her car-keys. She had a nice looking face—pure—but not so innocent that she didn’t know the kind of trouble she could be getting into if she were a different kind of girl.

Truth is, I’d seen her before, a couple years ago at the Church festival, had asked her mother if she babysat—and her mother said, “Oh yes. She doesn’t drive, but now’s the time to get her before somebody else does. She’s a good girl.”

But I wasn’t going anywhere back then, and I’m only almost going places now, so when I saw her in the aisle at Wal-mart, I asked her if she still babysat, and she said that as a matter of fact, she had just quit her job, and was looking to pick up some sitting hours. I took her number down on the backside of my Cheerios coupon, and asked her what she liked to be paid. “Oh, whatever you want is fine with me. I don’t really do it for the money. I like kids.”

“But do you like FIVE kids?”

“Yeah. I babysit for my nieces and nephews all the time, and there’s six of them.”

Really, if God had created a template for the perfect babysitter—it was this girl—and here she was on a platter in the frozen foods section of Wal-mart the very day before I was about to cancel my presence at a party due to lack of a babysitter.

Nevertheless, I had to cancel my presence due to snow.

So anyway, it’s a tough life. I think about that sometimes, especially when I’m watching my kids and the way they treat each other. My four-year-old, I can tell, longs for a kinder and gentler world, where people share toys and refrain from name calling and sing songs together like he does with his classmates at preschool.

The other day he came home after his preschool picture day with a little satchel that said “I’m special at blah blah preschool” and there was his smiling face airbrushed on the satchel, looking very special. And then he comes home, showing off his satchel, and immediately one of his brothers calls him turd-face, and I just think, “It’s good he’s special at school.”

“Deficit-smefishit” I’m pretty sure that’s what Barney Frank just said on C-Span.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To Be Transformed

Reruns! All week long!

My friend, Pedge, is gorgeous. Tall, slender, brunette with perfect porcelain skin, she’s shaped like a capital letter S because she slouches, in that hip-jutting fashion peculiar to certain models. And she is, indeed, a model. She’s filmed commercials. This, after having had five children, and being, if I may say so, an entire year older than me.

The other day, I was sitting at the counter in Pedge’s kitchen when she revealed that she’d removed her portfolio from her agency.

“Why did you do that?” I asked, stunned.

She stood at the sink rinsing suds off a sippy cup while she told me that it had been on her mind to do for awhile, that the whole business was causing her stress and internal division. She had trouble getting the words out.

Modeling is something she has talked about pursuing since she was very young. And if I haven’t made it clear, unlike many modeling aspirants, Pedge actually has the attributes necessary to be a model. The first time you meet her she can make one very nervous. What is all this beauty doing here in a church basement prayer meeting?

“It keeps coming back to me,” she said, “What you said about how God could sum up Mary’s life in just a few sentences.”

As often is the case, my moments of enlightenment have a habit of fleeing from my consciousness after I’ve broadcast them. “When did I say that?”

It had been during one of our Thursday morning Gospel reflections, meditating on the Annunciation, how God said that Mary shall conceive a child, call him Jesus, and he shall be set for the rise and fall of many. And then I remembered, “That’s it. That’s Mary’s life in a nutshell. Her purpose on Earth was to give birth to the Son of God. It was not to write a tome about the highs and lows and drudgery of Biblical womanhood. Not to be famous”—though, ironically, her fame is universal due to her unquestioning obedience to God and her humility in bearing her great task.

I had been trying to chastise myself for spending too much time thinking about achieving “greater” things than my marriage and family. Be like Mary, satisfied that God has carved my little here and now out of eternity, and that he can sum it up in just a few words: marriage, children, this quiet life where grace is plentiful but witnesses are few.

I never meant to imply that Pedge should quit modeling, or that I should quit writing. We’re finally doing things we enjoy, finally able to leave the house for more than a couple hours without fearing the baby will suffer and die in the absence of our breasts. Where once, all I needed was to get out of the house, and have a little break for my mental health, now I feel free to come and go, and perhaps, just perhaps, I need to look homeward a little bit more.

“Maybe it is only this motherhood,” she said, “Affecting these five little souls in my family, and not me on a pulpit affecting the multitudes. What do you think it means to really be moved by the Holy Spirit, to be transformed, in our state in life?”

The last time I felt moved to dramatic change of life was when I reverted from a life of sin to a life of grace—nearly twelve years ago. The Holy Spirit in my life now, I’m ashamed to admit, more frequently feels like a subconscious nuisance.

This morning my son was playing with a couple of empty laundry baskets, stacking them up, letting them topple, connecting two together and dragging them on the floor like a train. He, himself was quiet, but the sound of plastic rubbing on plastic nestled into my subconscious, largely ignored, at the same time I realized that I was growing inexplicably more and more irritated. I couldn’t isolate what was causing my shoulders to tense up, the infernal growl beginning to stir in my lower stomach. And then I snapped to—it is that god-forsaken noise over there, that water torture plastic sound my son is making. “STOP it!” I said.

Maybe it’s not an exact metaphor, but my response to the more gentle irritation of the Holy Spirit is the same. I have a feeling that what I’m doing is not good for me or my family, a sense of division when for instance, I mindlessly check my stats on this blog: “Show me Denmark! Show me California! Come on Stat counter, Feed me.” The thrill of watching my audience show up in real time is the validation that every writer seeks, and that the internet uniquely makes possible. But it interferes with what I initially set out to do here, which is write because it is what I love and feel called to do. I have knowledge that I have lost my bearings, but I silence it, “Be quiet and let me have my fun.”

And thus my continued transformation into the person Christ wants me to be is postponed, for another day, because I’m having my time. There are so many ways in which I do not want to be transformed, so many ways in which I’d like to continue garumphing along this path of mediocrity.

Pedge continued, “I’m not saying that I’m going to just sit at home and do nothing. I just know that for here and now, taking my name off that list is something I had to do, and whatever God wants to do with me from here on is fine with me. And already, I feel so much more peace about it.”


I was recently chastised in a friend's blog combox. Commenter, Soundtime, said, “Be an active agent, or don't, but don't blame something else for one's own lack of agency.”

The internet is not responsible for my vanity or loss of concentration. Hiding in my house won’t make me a more humble mother. A global cataclysm might cure my addiction to stats, but it will not transform my soul.

To be transformed I need to fight the battle at hand. Turn off the damn statcounter. It’s not that hard. And then listen to that voice I don't want to hear--the one that only wants my peace.


Monday, December 13, 2010

An Advent-y Re-run

My friend Pedge never yells at her children. I’ve been watching for many years, hoping to catch her in a weak moment. So many mothers yell, if for no other reason, to let witnesses know that they care about their child’s misbehavior. Not Pedge.

I’ve asked her husband, “So what really happens when we’re not here? Doesn’t she ever just go crazy?” No. Her husband attests, she does not raise her voice.

Irene and I asked her the other day, how she does it. What kind of superhuman power is required to rear five children and never raise your voice?

“I just tell them, you can get dressed, or not get dressed. I’m leaving in ten minutes, and you’ll be in the car in your clothes, or your pajamas. But you will not steal my joy. You want to throw a tantrum about something? That’s fine. I’m going to continue what I’m working on and I’ll get back to you when you’re done. But you’re not going to steal my joy. It’s mine, and you can’t take it.”

Genius. Why should I let the misbehavior of my children blindside me into getting angry? I didn’t ask to be an angry person. In my bones, I am not an angry person. If I spend too much of my life being angry, it’s probably because I give away my joy too easily. I’m not going to do it anymore.

Last night, one of my boys attempted to kick me when I took his book away to turn out the light. He knew better. It was uncalled for. My husband’s out of town this week. We’re all tired, and on any other day of my life, I might have unleashed on him a mouthful of spittle words and flying spank hands.

But as much as I didn’t deserve to be kicked, I really didn’t deserve to have my day end in anger and regret.“You may never kick your mother,” I said, firmly, but not yelling. I took him by the shoulder and marched him downstairs. “You’ve got five laps.” They run laps to our fence and back, which gives us both time to calm down.

“But it’s cold!” he whined.

“That is why I have purchased for you a hat and coat.”

“But I’m tired!” he whined again. If anything steals my joy, it is unrelenting whining. I can be calm through the first few times, but after awhile I pop.

“That’s six laps. And I’ll give you another lap for every word you say. You can run all night if you want. But….You Are Not Going To Steal My Joy.” He didn’t know what to make of that. I think it was the first time he had heard his behavior framed in such a way, that it had potential to steal something from another person. He went out to run. And then he came in and went to bed. I didn’t hear another word from him all night, except for an apology.

My success caused me to look at some other areas in my life that are robbing me of my joy. I’ve felt lately, a little man-handled by “Christmas Spirit.” The pressure to spend money, to prove that I have a benevolent heart, that I can help the economy, that I love my children, that I’m game for a gift exchange comes from every corner.

My kids are old enough to be aware that the Santa who comes to their house is not the same Santa who visits their friends. I’m not getting them much this year because they have more than they need, and can comfortably store. And I’m not going to beat myself up about it. My joy will not be less on Christmas morning because there are fewer presents under the tree. Not sure what to do with their disappointment yet, but I know it’s not going to steal my joy.

I’ve noticed a creeping sense of grinchery on my part, as I go to Church and one of the petitions is, “And in this busy month of Advent, let us not forget to pause, and remember the real reason we celebrate the Season.” The school principal offered a similar platitude after the school play Tuesday night. Our kids had just spent two months learning songs about Santa and how they don’t want slippers for Christmas, but simply by “pausing” to offer Jesus a quick thought, everything is put into perspective?

Well, I’m Not Going to Let it Steal my Joy. This experiment has helped me to realize something about the nature of joy. First of all, it’s a practice. I’m not saying that as soon as I decided I wouldn’t let anyone steal my joy, I never yelled again. Matter of fact, I yelled five minutes ago, while I was writing this. But it caused me to examine, “Where is this impulse coming from? And what can I do to prevent it?”

Where platitudes are concerned, I dislike them because Jesus is not just the reason we celebrate the season, he’s the reason for my entire life. I don’t like the idea that I have to cue up warm fuzzy Advent and Christmas feelings simply because I’ve pressed the pause button on my crazy life. It so rarely works and then I feel disappointed.

My anti-commercialism cannot remain satisfied in its anti-ism. It has to find its purpose in an embrace of finer things. Hence, for my joy to be authentic, for it to work in suppressing my anger, my faith must be something that I am always doing rather than something I am always seeking to feel. I want my children to receive that joy for Christmas, the joy of an active, practicing faith. And I want them to keep it through their entire lives.

I don’t suppose my kids would grow in their love for Christ if my actions are to smack them when I’m angry, tell them I thought their play stunk, said that my Church lector wrote the petitions badly, and then followed it all up with: “But Jesus is the reason for everything I do.”

As long as my joy is my Christ, no one can take it from me. But I can squander it, as easily as I stop “doing” my faith. If I am not practicing my faith and my joy every day, then it’s no wonder I feel nothing when I pause to remember the reason I celebrate anything.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quick Takes!

Thanks Jen for hosting.

We live across the street from a park--sort of a ball diamonds and soccer field park with a woods and a creek and a couple walking trails. Truly, it has increased the value of our real estate, and I feel very safe, for the most part, going walking there any time of the day or night (with my dog).

Yesterday, we ran into a coyote, a hungry one, who was scouring the corn fields for remaining cobs, and digging in the frozen ground for rodents. We met him on our return, and there was no way around him, and my dog wanted to play, and I thought he might get killed. But I had on a BIG coat, and I did what you're supposed to do in the woods if you meet a bear or a cougar, and I put my arms up holding a stick and made deep noises that sounded pretty threatening. And the thing ran off--totally scared of me. I need to try that move on my kids.

My home schooler wants to learn the guitar, so I called about lessons and they're so cheap, I signed myself up too. First lesson tomorrow. Somehow I missed that phase in college where people sit around strumming on guitars, learning chords, so now I'm going to pay for it. I do happen to have a guitar that someone left in the sorority house after graduation long long ago. I probably should have tried harder to find the owner.

Not long ago I wrote about giving up sugar, and that hasn't been going well for me. My kids have all become interested in cooking--as in they want to come home from school and mix up some cookie dough and eat it. In the planning stages, I'm all for it--as three o'clock is my witching hour, when nothing satisfies but raw sweetness, and I'll eat ten things in search of that one truly satisfying sugary thing. Also, I remember my pre-adolescence, coming home from school and clandestinely eating a bowl of sugar and butter. It was terrible and wonderful at once.

I'm all too happy to relive my lost youth these days, what with guitar lessons and sugar-butter combos. I'm not all that happy that I've gained back ten of the forty pounds I lost two years ago after most recent baby. I'm just so bored with counting calories, tired of it, tired of salad and yogurt and lo fat bread, and not drinking milk, and I can't seem to get back in the "zone."

Anyone have tips for revamping a boring diet?

Reading has been going well. Reading lots and lots of books, while eating sugar-butter combos. Most recently, "Comedy in a Minor Key" by Hans Keilson, "Beg, Borrow, Steal" by Michael Greenberg, "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi" by Geoff Dyer, "Parched" by Heather King. Now taking up "Quo Vadis," and short stories by Saul Bellow.

Last night my husband said I was going about my reading all wrong, that I should not have three or four books going at once, that I could not possibly keep all of those story lines straight, that there's no way that once finished, I could remember them or have appreciated them to their fullest extent. This from the man who reads one half of a book every two years. There's a man who knows how to read.

He also hates sugar. Prefers hot sauce. Weird.

We have finally almost finished our bathroom project. My husband had tiled the floor, and was ready to install toilet, but discovered as the grout dried that our boxes of tile were from two different lots, and that there was a distinct line in the middle of the floor demarcated by a slight variation in hue. This would not do, because my husband is a perfectionist, and he had the tile company from which we purchased this inferior product come out and rip up the tile and redo it.

There was, however, a lag time between the first register of my husband's complaint at the tile store, and their arrival at our house to correct the problem. During this lag, I had difficulty submitting my will to my husband and tried numerous times to talk him out of his perfectionism--because we live in a pretty messy house, and the bathroom is one of the most highly used rooms, and as soon as it's functional again, we're not even going to see that floor anymore. But he remained determined, made repeated calls to the tile store, and on Monday of this week, the tile store finally delivered their best tile guy at our door, who demolished and replaced our bathroom tile in a period of about five hours. I'm sure he did a very thorough job.

I'm done. I need to get dressed. I need to start my day. This blog has been annoying me lately, and I fear it may be on its last legs.

oh yeah...Just to end on a positive note...I believe I have finally and for all given up recreational smoking. Had a cig in Chicago, just one, and my husband was like, "I'm surprised you're not smoking more since the kids aren't here."--but I didn't want it for some reason. Put unused pack in vice cabinet for future visitors, I suppose. They're here if you want them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Discussing Heather King's Memoir, "Parched"

At Reading for Believers

Feel free to stop in and join the discussion.

Our friend Dylan starts the conversation with this promising endorsement:

"I just finished Parched, of especial interest as it mentions sites familiar to any Bostonian, and let me say that it is quite the read. Compelling is a mild word to describe the inexorable magnetism that this memoir exerted on this reader. And I have just begun reading her second book, Redeemed.

I begin to think that if Ms King's books were in wider circulation, she could be a more effective evangel to this generation than Thomas Merton was to his. It sounds like overpraise, but I mean it sincerely. Only someone who has been to hell and back can convincingly point the way to heaven. "

Monday, December 6, 2010

Submission Poetry

Bearing writes:

"When I try to write about specific ways I "submit" in marriage, I feel unacceptably laid-bare -- I am not writing about sex, but it feels as if I am trying to write about something equally interior and private. I don't have the right to explain how it is between us."

I could not agree more. The first post I wrote on the subject, I had to delete, and the second one feels so strident--it's obviously protecting the "how it is between us" that I don't have the right to share. I actually wrote a poem once that's sort of about wifely submission, but even that I don't want to share--maybe because it's mostly about the speaker not submitting. It's also a dumb poem.

So I'm going to share someone else's submission poetry, even though it's not directly related to this particular subject--you may interpret it however you like.

Go forth and read Meredith

Ephesians 5, According to a wife in need of submissiveness remediation

Darwin, of Darwin Catholic, has asked the question, “What does ‘Wives, be submissive’ mean?”

I’m probably not the best person to answer this question, as my gut instinct from my earliest memory has been to rebel completely at the mere thought of being pressured into doing something. I might have loved practicing piano until my mom told me to do it—then I wouldn’t have practiced if my life depended on it. To get me to do something, one has to trick me into believing I’ve chosen to do it myself.

So if my husband suggests that I need to be home more, or keep the house cleaner, he has ordered up an absent wife and a pigsty. Fortunately, I think he knows this about me. And actually, the same is true of him—probably also true of humanity, because we have free will, and we like to use it…freely.

At the same time, if I happen to know that my husband likes clean spaces and a present wife, I'll probably give him the gift of each to the extent and frequency of my ability, which waxes and wanes. And when it's offered, I'll call this freely given gift, "Submission" to his desires.

When Ephesians 5 is read at a Sunday Mass, you always see a lot of nudging in the pews among husbands and wives:

"See, you’re supposed to do what I tell you,” he says.

“And perhaps I will when you love me better,” she replies.

We want to interpret this reading as an injunction to our significant other rather than to ourselves. We assume, “wives be submissive to your husbands” means that the man is going to start commanding her life in authoritative tones, and she is going to be a docile creature with down-turned eyes, at the ready for her husband’s every whim.

We think the injunction is a deletion of her free will, whereas, I see it more as an opportunity to exercise her free will. She is offered throughout her day numerous opportunities to submit to her husband, to her vocation, to the will of God, and sometimes she’ll do it well, and sometimes, she probably won’t. But just having the words in the Bible, “Wives be submissive” gets her thinking that maybe it’s something she should be doing as opposed to what comes naturally to her (In my case, micromanaging everyone else’s lives).

If I had to take a stab at why Paul wrote this passage, I would say that it’s because submission comes as a greater challenge to most women. Just as laying down one’s life for others is a greater challenge for most men. There are always exceptions, but we practice what challenges us in order to grow in holiness, which is why we can't wait for the other to do their part before we start to do ours (assuming we're talking about a relatively functional marriage, free of co-dependency behaviors and abuse). Any kind of wifely submission--from the decision to take on a more traditional familial role to letting her husband do the budget—has to, and ultimately does, come only from her--not from his heavy hand.

Bearing has mentioned that work and education are red herrings in the debate, because we assume always that women want more education and work opportunities. If I wanted to work, I'm sure my husband would allow me to do so--we've discussed it before. I think more women suffer these days in feeling pressured by their husbands or by economic demands to continue working when they’d rather stay home and raise their children. To me, this is the new women’s oppression. Also, women who would like to have more children, but who are forced to contracept or abort. And yet I’m always surprised by how willingly modern secular women submit to their husbands or significant others in these areas.

Unless we were in true material need, I would see my husband's pressuring me to contracept or to leave my children in someone else's care in order to work as incompatible with my human dignity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I might… not …submit. But I don’t know, maybe I could somehow come to see working outside the home as God’s will for me, via my husband’s headship.

The bottom line is that I don’t have control over how my husband loves me. And he doesn’t have control over whether or not I submit (use of force, in my book, constituting automatic disqualification from Christian Marriage). So the only way to interpret this passage, just like all of Scripture, is as a call to personal conversion. Not my will, but thine. It’s Christianity 101.

Other Responses to this question from:
Mrs. Darwin
Dorian Speed

Friday, December 3, 2010

No more waiting around

Most everyone I know spent Thanksgiving weekend cooking. I myself, not even hosting a meal, spent two days cooking, one for each dinner we attended. I made yeast rolls and sweet potatoes for the in-law dinner, and pies for the out-law dinner.

While I cooked, I listened to music and cleaned my house—not because company was coming, but because if I sat down when there was a lull in the cooking, I would not have stood back up again. And my house was really dirty, because normally, I don’t like to cook so much, nor to clean, so I combine activities on the rarest of feasts.

I might have hoped to end the weekend with a clean house, stuffed to the gills with delicious edibles, but that didn’t happen. It always surprises me how all of that food preparation reaches its zenith and is consumed within about fifteen minutes. And then there is the long denouement of groaning with satiety and the dishwashing and sorting of leftovers and everyone’s pans.

At home, in the dark, we drop our coats and shoes and bags on an endless chain throughout the house as we each make our way to bed. So by morning, I blink at the kitchen wondering what happened to it all, both my clean house, and my cooking. They are gone.

The good thing is that I sort of enjoyed myself while cooking and cleaning and listening to music. I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift From the Sea” a couple weeks ago for a book club, which is all about how women need to find ways to fulfill their creative urges throughout the different stages of their lives, and she notes that making biscuits can be as creatively fulfilling as writing a poem.

Cooking, at least, moves always towards a moment of consumption—the biscuit moment, the pie moment, the turkey moment—it is now, which is why I keep hacking away at the pie. Tomorrow there will be none.

When I think about the times of preparation, and the rush of consumption that follows, I become sort of confused about Advent and Christmas. I’ve had it in my head that Advent is a time of waiting for the big moment when Jesus is born—that moment that I am also conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to think arrives with chocolate, pine-scented candles and an inordinate longing for diamonds.

And when I think about preparing for Jesus’s birth, making room in my heart for the little baby, I assume it means sacrificing until I feel bereft of God’s presence in my life—trying to make an empty hole that will be filled on the 25th. And yet somehow that filling up always happens by way of my gluttony rather than by my faith.

So I’m trying something different this year: not waiting. I’m not going to dig that little hole in my heart that somehow always gets filled with material things; I’m going to concentrate, instead, on the presence of God that is already there.

Pope Benedict writes:

“God is there. He has not withdrawn from the world. He has not left us alone. Even though we cannot see him or touch him as we can the things that surround us, he is still there and, what is more, he comes to us in many different ways.” (Benedictus p 365)

“Advent reminds us…that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that he is present though in a hidden manner; second, that his presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing towards its full form.” (Benedictus, p 364)

It is embarrassing how much of my life I spend waiting: waiting for my next meal, for my husband to come home, for my kids to go to sleep, for time.... Waiting for time? How ridiculous is that? Waiting for something that I already have if I’m willing to make better use of it, or even to appreciate the ways in which it is filled, often not to my liking. The only thing more ridiculous than waiting for time would be to wait for a God who is already present to me in superfluity.

So how am I going to mark Advent? I’m going to keep doing what I should always do to maintain God’s presence in my life: pray, attend the liturgy, talk to my kids about the Season, listen to music appropriate to the time, enjoy the process of creation by baking, preparing the house, writing, and I’m going to spend a lot of time with my kids.

I want to use this time for nourishment, be the baby in the womb, so that the Christmas Season that follows Advent is not a time when I gobble everything up and then wallow in self-loathing, but rather, that this little life that I’ve been nourishing reaches a new stage of development.

Doesn’t sound very penitential, does it? And yet, I can’t tell you how difficult these simple things are for me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Human Experience

I just received an email from my cousin, whose judgment I trust absolutely, about a documentary called, "The Human Experience."

"This film is well worth your time and attention this Christmas, if you are looking for presents for people, especially for teenagers/young adults. I watched the film a few nights ago and I was so captivated by the humanity and beauty of the story that I watched it again the next day. I then took some time to read about the place at which the boys who are part of the story live, called St. Francis House in Brooklyn. The link to this place is here:

This house was founded in part by Fr. Benedict Groeschel and, to me, is an example of a completely successful charity, since this home provides shelter and protection to boys in desperate situations and gives them a place of safety, prayer, and stability. Grassroots Films is actually an independent film company that has grown out of St. Francis House, so it seems that any purchase of "The Human Experience" goes directly to help keep the boys at St. Francis House fed and housed. Aside from that great mission, this is a life-giving film to see! I hope many can see it!"

Grassroots Films is pleased to announce the long-awaited DVD release of its award-winning film THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE! This is a LIMITED EDITION RELEASE available exclusively It's the perfect gift for Christmas or Hanukkah. See the film that has transformed hearts and minds across the globe. Order yours today! Only $19.99.

In a world fraught with hostility and violence, an altruistic group of young men endeavor to understand the true essence of the human spirit by visiting forgotten souls such as homeless New Yorkers, Peruvian orphans and isolated Ghanaian lepers. By spotlighting heartwarming stories from around the world, this uplifting documentary shows viewers that every single person, no matter his or her lot in life, is beautiful.

Grassroots Films
119 Eagle Street
Brooklyn, New York 11222

The Perfect Gift to Give!
$19.99 +S&H
DVD INCLUDES: Commentary with the FilmmakersPhotography from the FilmTheatrical Trailer5.1 Digital SurroundSUBTITLES IN:Spanish · Polish · GermanFrench · Portuguese

What the critics are saying...
"Visually Stunning"-Patrick Schweiss, Sedona InternationalFilm Festival
"Hauntingly Beautiful"-First Things
"A doc with so much heart in the right place"-indieWIRE