Sunday, May 13, 2012

For my mama, on Mother's Day

My mom is 10,000 pounds of strength, opinions, and ferocity packed into a tiny little 90-pound body. She is the most intimidating person I've ever met, even though a strong wind would flatten her. She buried both her parents when she was seven months pregnant with me and still managed to carry on and take care of her seven children. She has subsequently buried two sons and her husband and gets up every morning with a smile on her face, bakes cookies for her grandchildren and the little children of the drug dealers next door, who call to her, "Hi, Ms. Swan!" when she walks out her back door. She is the strongest person I've ever met.

When I was a little girl, I was often embarrased by her unabashed expression of her beliefs. She took me to pro-life marches when I was barely big enough to walk. Though I was pretty freaked out at the time and more than a little traumatized by the graphic depictions of aborted fetuses on other marchers' signs, I now am proud that she stood up for her beliefs.

Also, when I was a little girl, after Vatican II revamped the church she loved so dearly, I hid my face in shame as we arrived at church every week. Why? Because my mother insisted on dressing all in black and sporting a sign on her back that said, "God save the church." When they offered the peace sign, and most other Catholics shook hands and said, "Peace be with you," she offered, "God save the church." I think I had an ulcer by the time I was five. At the time, I didn't understand what a radical was, but now I'm proud of my radical little mom.

She always told me, "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil," and she practiced that theory religiously. She got herself elected to the school board and went to battle against textbooks that she felt were unfit for children. She won. And I spent my public school years with people whispering, "That's Catherine Swan's daughter." It even followed me into college, when one of my professors happened to be a journalist from the local newspaper my mom detested and had done battle repeatedly. Great, I thought. I got an A, but he never made eye contact with me the whole semester.

Once, after getting hauled into the principal's office for drunk and disorderly conduct at a choir concert, my mom went to battle on my behalf with the high school administration. She had done so on many occasions with my brothers to the point that teachers really didn't mess with the Swan kids. Mostly, we were good kids, and on the occasions that we weren't, the hell that rained down on us at home was far worse than any the school could dish out. I never had the heart to tell her that I was 100% guilty on the occasion she took on the administration. She would kill me. Even today, though I tower over her and outweigh her significantly, she still scares the crap out of me.

My mom is not a warm, fuzzy, compassionate person. I've only seen her cry a handful of times. And out of that handful, once was over my sister's goat and once was over our orange cat, Dante. Seems as if animal deaths bring out her soft side though she often can't distinguish a dog from a horse. My kids found that hilarious over the years: "How does Nanny not know what a goat is?" But speaking of my kids, they brought out a side of her that made me love her on a whole new dimension. The way she loves them, encourages them, gets right on their level and plays silly games with them. The way she brags about them to anyone who will listen. I never had grandparents, but she, in my opinion, is exactly what a grandma should be.

When Peyton went through a Spiderman phase at 3, he would only wear his Spiderman costume and we could only refer to him as Spiderman--or Peter Parker. Despite my threats and protests, she would let him wear his Spiderman costume everywhere. "Don't tell Mommy; she will yell at me," she'd warn him. But of course as soon as I picked him up he'd mockingly tell me, "Nanny let me wear my Spiderman suit to the library." She'd roll her eyes, and say, "Pay-Pay...that was supposed to be a secret." I wasn't ever really mad. If anything, I admonished myself for being so insecure.

So as my little mama gets littler (osteoporosis sucks) and older, I think of her with kinder and kinder regard. Losing my brothers and my dad showed me that once they're gone, they're gone: Don't leave anything unsaid. So, I try, in little ways here and there to tell her all the things I've never said. It's not easy. And I hope she sticks around for awhile because I've got a lot left to say. I said some of it in her mother's day card. You know what she said, "You almost made me cry." Almost :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Books, Books and The Book

One of the problems with reading multiple books simultaneously is that when something strikes me, I've forgotten where I read it by the time I actually have a minute (or a pen, paper, something) to process it. I think it was Love Dare, but I apologize, Francis Chan, it could have been you. Anyway, here's what struck me: If you want to know the condition of your heart, think about how you feel when good things or bad things happen to other people. Be perfectly honest with yourself. Do you truly rejoice with them? Do you feel kind of happy for them but wonder, "How come nothing like that ever happens to me?" Do you silently feel vindication through another's misfortune: Karma is a b*$%h? Wow, that hit me right square in my own flawed heart.

Over the past month and with increasing fervor before our baptism, I have prayed for God to bring my own overlooked flaws to light, to help me to deal with them, and to fill me with His Holy Spirit to guide my life. I am learning now that this falls into the be-careful-what-you-pray-for category. Because what He has shown me is ugly. He showed me that like my other nemesis weight loss (you know how hours of working out is ruined by a chocolate chip cookie, or three if we're being totally honest here) following Him can be a one-step-forward-two-step-back proposition.

I can go days without swearing, saying negative things, losing my temper, and so forth. Days might be a stretch. Hours, perhaps, would be more accurate. Then, a girl at Chloe's school tweets something nasty about her, or Lily goes on a whining spree or asks me the same question for the seventh time in an hour, or somebody says something mean to Peyton, or Brad forgets AGAIN to read the daily page in Love Dare, which takes less than one minute. Well, the flood gates open. My church family would surely disown me if they got a glimpse of this crazy person. The venom, the anger, the meanness that comes out of me is frightening.'d been overlooking all of that? Okay, God, duly noted.

So now that all this nastiness is brought to light, what am I supposed to do, I ask God? Aren't you going to help me? I spent some time on Amazon. I googled "raving lunatic mad woman trying to follow jesus." Funny, paste that in the google search bar and click I'm feeling lucky. Guess what comes up? The Bible. I made that up; don't really try it. Anyway, I've read lots of passages in the Bible, but I've never actually set out to read the whole thing.

A few weeks ago, our pastor challenged us to read seven minutes a day for seven days. I did that and usually even read more. Not enough. So, I decided to read it in order starting with the Old Testament. Well, the Great Sabateur wasn't going for that. Day after day, I literally either fall asleep or sit here like Eve questioning everything I read. Okay, that's not literal, I don't even know if Eve read, but that devil creeps into my head raising my hackles: Why is okay for a "godly" man to pay a prostitute for sex? It's in there. Noah? Passed out drunk? The Bible can get dicey.

Additionally, I am not one for uncovering hidden meanings and interpretation and so forth. I have never liked poetry--except my childhood friend's, which is beautiful, rhyming, understandable poetry. It's all the metaphors and allusion and so forth. I usually say what I mean and prefer others do the same. I don't know if that's a flaw, but it's definitely an area for potential growth, so here I am jumping in with both feet.

A few weeks ago, my brother in law prophetically said to me, "I know you have a lot of questions, and I want you to know that you can ask me." John Ramsey, I hope you're ready for me.