Gratuitous and intentional insult

I am not a political animal. But there are some things that happen on the political stage that just cannot be ignored. Donald Trump’s self-described “locker room” talk is one of those things.

I am a Canadian. And U.S. politics have, typically, engaged me even less than the politics of my home and native land.

But I am a woman. And I have two daughters. And if writing about my experiences can in some way contribute to a wider conversation about the need for human beings to treat one another with courtesy and respect – regardless of gender – and for our political leaders to be people of integrity who model that kind of respect, then they will be words well written.

I was 16 the first time a man “moved on” me (to use the words of the U.S. presidential candidate). The man was in his 40s, and in a position of authority. He had offered to give me a ride home and while en route, he reached over and took my hand. I didn’t like it. But I didn’t pull away. I was confused; why would he want to hold my hand? He was married. I didn’t understand. But I didn’t pull my hand away. I remember being afraid I might offend him.

At the end of the ride he leaned over and kissed me. On the mouth. I remember getting out of that car as fast as I could, and wiping my hand across my mouth as I walked away. I remember feeling like I’d been covered in slime. But I told no one. I doubted myself, wondering if I was just misinterpreting his actions. I blamed myself for not pulling my hand away. But I tried to avoid being alone with him after that.

I was 18 the next time it happened. Just walking down the street in Toronto. A busy street. A teenaged boy walking with his friends approached from the opposite direction. I remember he was obviously younger than me. Maybe 14, 15. But as he passed he reached out and grabbed my crotch. I remember hearing his laughter. We were just two people, passing each other on the street. It was all over in a heartbeat. But I felt humiliated. Embarrassed. Horrified. What made him think he had the right?

The next time I was 23. A colleague at work – another married man (also well up into his 40s), made a pass at me. Shocked and revolted, I lashed out. I pushed him off of me. But I remember feeling betrayed. I had liked the man, trusted him. I avoided him after that. I doubted my own judgement. I wondered if I was too trusting.

Three separate incidents, each of which I’ve told myself over the years, was not a big deal.

And yet each one of those incidents is stamped on my mind, because each one left me feeling just a little bit violated. Those men (and that boy) deliberately “moved on” me, taking something from me – even if it was only a little bit of innocence – that they had no right to take. Apparently, your mind doesn’t let you forget things like that.

It causes me to believe every single one of the women who are coming forward now, saying that Donald Trump once made a “move on” them.

If he did what he is alleged to have done to each of these women, he may have long since forgotten about it. But they haven’t.

*

“The human body is sacred. Most of us understand, even if we don’t think about it, or have a vocabulary to talk about it these days, that the human body is not just a piece of meat or a bunch of neurons and cells. The human body has a different moral status than a cow’s body or a piece of broccoli. … Because we have this instinctive sense, we feel elevated when we see behavior that fuses the physical and spiritual. … We feel repulsed — a little or a lot — when the body’s spiritual nature is gratuitously and intentionally insulted.” – David Brooks

 

 

 

 

31 things I’ve learned from 31 years of marriage

Wedding day photo

My husband Doug and I mark 31 years of married life today.

This, less than 24 hours after hearing about the split of one of Hollywood’s power couples. Social media has, apparently, been filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the demise of #Brangelina. So for those who might be tempted to give up on the idea of love and marriage because of that demise, I’d like to offer hope in the way of sharing some lessons I’ve learned from married life. One lesson per year.

  1. No one really knows what goes on in a marriage except the two people involved.
  2. In marriage, character counts. Honesty, integrity, humility, loyalty, faithfulness, respect, good humour, the ability to forgive, and to persevere all matter. A lot.
  3. Character matters in both partners.
  4. No one is perfect. No one. But together, two imperfect – but committed people – can build something perfectly wonderful and deeply satisfying.
  5. Physical attraction never goes away. If the sound of his voice, or the look in his eyes, or the feel of his hand in yours makes your heart beat faster in your 20s, there’s a good chance it always will. (Providing that all of those other qualities I mentioned in point #2 above are also there.)
  6. Sacred vows are important: but only if you’re a person who believes in the inviolability of a sacred vow. Otherwise, I suppose they’re not worth much at all. (See point #2.)
  7. There are times in marriage when the ONLY thing that keeps you committed is your commitment to your vows. When you get through those times, you’ll be so very glad you stuck it out. (See point #5.)
  8. Prayer – alone and together – can be a lifeline. When you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and don’t know where else to turn, getting on your knees can bring help, hope and healing in a way that nothing else can. Getting on your knees together can bring about a level of intimacy that nothing else does.
  9. If you make each other laugh – and if you love each other’s company when you’re dating, chances are good that you always will. But it’s important to build in opportunities for fun and togetherness, to intentionally nurture the laughter. Otherwise, life can become dreary.
  10. If dancing together brings you joy, then dance! Dance in the kitchen or in the living room or the bedroom. Dance to music, or make your own.
  11. Love is a feeling, an emotion. But it is also an act of the will. When the intensity of the feeling diminishes – as it does – choosing to continue to love, and to act with love, ensures the feelings transform into something deeper, more resilient and satisfying.
  12. Trifling habits can make you make each other crazy. (He brushes his teeth in the shower. I perpetually use his hairbrush.) Some things just have to be forgiven – again and again …
  13. At a certain point you realize that some of the things that once seemed so important to do battle over, really aren’t that important after all. You learn to overlook those things, and find you’re both happier for it.
  14. There were times – in the early years of marriage – when I know we both wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.  What got us through those times? See points #2, #5, #6, and #8 above.
  15. When children come along, marriage can take on a whole new depth and purpose. Suddenly there are wonderful, incredible, amazing human beings on the planet, born as a result of the love you share. It’s astonishing, and you realize you would do anything for these little people, which is good because the extent to which they need you is almost overwhelming. Having a partner who is truly a partner in the midst of all that neediness can be the difference between deep satisfaction and despair.
  16. Seeing your partner love your children well can make you prouder and more in love than you ever thought possible.
  17. There are years of sheer exhaustion when the demands of work and family life can take a tremendous toll. But things get better. And when you get through those years, it’s a gift to be able to look at each other and say, “We did it together.”
  18. Children grow. And leave. They make their own choices and build their own lives. The leaving can be excruciating. But if you and your partner are there for each other, it can make all the difference.
  19. Having a friend who’s been at your side – through thick and thin – for 31 years, who loves you in spite of all your failings and weaknesses is like winning the lottery. Only better.
  20. It’s important to have each other’s back. If you don’t, who will?
  21. It’s important to be each other’s greatest fan, loudest cheer-leader and strongest supporter. If you don’t, who will?
  22. While character is important going into marriage (see point #2), marriage is also one of the best character-builders around.
  23. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of loving, willing self-sacrifice in marriage. On both sides. (See point #22).
  24. Marriage brings more than just two people together; it brings two families together, which also yields challenges and joys. How to get through the challenges? See points #20, #22 and #23.
  25. At times, marriage can be harder than you ever thought possible. At other times, it can be pure bliss. If you’re lucky – if you’ve chosen a partner of good character, who shares your values and goals – then you’ll find that most of the time it’s better than you could have imagined.
  26. If you’re both completely committed to your marriage – even during times when you might not feel completely committed to each other – you’ll find there is no such thing as “irreconcilable differences.”
  27. I truly believe that in my marriage to Doug, I got the better end of the deal. The thing that astonishes me, is that he says he feels the same way. I’m not sure what lesson to take from that – but I know there’s one in there somewhere.
  28. If I had it to do all over again, I would.
  29. Becoming “Patti Paddey” – a name I’ve had to explain and justify, again and again since the day I said “I do,” has been worth it.
  30. Bodies change. Hair grows grey. Parts sag. Passion matures. And it’s all good.
  31. Over the course of 31 years, you build a lot of shared memories. Some are wonderful, some are painful. But the fact that you’ve shared them has a way of making you grateful for each one – and of intensifying your gratitude for each other.

*

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

                                                             — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

*

Preparing for more surprises

A shelf of textbooks

I’ve long believed “All truth is God’s truth.” The statement may have become a cliché but it accurately summarizes my thoughts. I believe truth resides in God and originates with God. Jesus claimed to be truth personified and said that truth would set people free.

Holding this conviction has been freeing. At times, when I’ve sensed others feeling defensive – particularly in situations where long-held beliefs, admired leaders or cherished institutions were challenged, I’ve felt emboldened by the certainty that we need not be afraid of questioning “sacred cows” because it’s better to know any truth, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult, than to believe, live with, or perpetuate a lie.

But as a seminary student, I’ve been in for a few surprises. I’ve learned that questioning my own entrenched beliefs can be difficult; even more so when those beliefs are so deeply rooted that they have simply become a subconscious part of who I am. Learning something that challenges heartfelt convictions can be shocking, uncomfortable, even painful. First, is the awareness that I may have put my faith in something as being true, which may not be, and then there is the realization that an alternative – which I might have once dismissed or even never considered – could be closer to the truth.

As a person who likes boundaries, rules and definite answers, it can be discomfiting to confront the reality that my search for definite answers seems often to yield only further questions.

What we believe matters, for the content of our beliefs shapes and determines how we live. The Christian way presents itself as being both the right way of being human and as being revealed truth. I’ve built my life on my understanding of that truth as it’s been revealed to me. Having my understandings challenged and corrected can feel like the very foundations of my life are being shaken.

For almost five years, I’ve been studying part-time at seminary. As I prepare to begin another academic year I am reminded that I must approach Scripture and my studies in a spirit of humility and open-mindedness, being careful to put my faith not in my interpretation, nor even in anyone else’s interpretation – but in God alone.

And I must prepare for more surprises.

*

“All great spirituality is about letting go. I say this as an absolute statement. … Spiritual wisdom reveals that less is more. Jesus taught this, and the holy ones live it.”

– Richard Rohr

*

 

Of pickles, procrastination and promises

jars of pickles

I loved her from the moment I met her. Lois is at once kind, humble and sweet, yet also tough, strong and wise. At 84 and recently widowed, she is grieving. Her eyes will redden and rim with tears at inexplicable moments; you can’t live and love for more than 60 years with a good man and not have every aspect of life upended when he is gone. And yet, at a time when some people would succumb to self-pity, give up or give in, shy away from others or shrivel up in bitterness, Lois actively engages in life and in her work, seeking out opportunities to enrich the lives of others.

I know, because she has enriched my life.

The first time I met Lois, I came home and told my husband, “When I grow up, I want to be just like her.” She made me lunch that day. Everything was homemade: from sweet grape juice, to savoury casseroles, to buttermilk pie that melted in my mouth. And the pickles! I had never tasted such delicious pickles, and said so. When I left, she gifted me a jar of them. My family devoured them in one sitting. So the next time I saw Lois, I asked for her pickle recipe, and vowed to try my hand at pickle-making when the season came around.

Cucumber season came around a couple of weeks ago, and as I harvested a few tasty ones from my small garden I thought about pickles. I told myself I should get out and purchase the supplies I would need. I should visit a farmer’s market and buy the pickling cucumbers and the dill. But I can be a world-class procrastinator when I’m afraid or intimidated, and with only limited canning experience, the prospect of making pickles felt like an enormous hurdle.

Hearing of my stalling tactics, Lois took pity and said she would gladly mentor me through the process. And so it was that early yesterday I found myself touring her impressive flower and vegetable gardens as she wielded a spade, digging up the fresh garlic we would need.

Standing in her kitchen, sterilizing jars, scrubbing and trimming cucumbers, she told me stories from her life, and of lessons she’s learned. When at one point I commented on her impressive gardening, culinary and home-making skills she reminded me, with a story from her childhood, how she’d learned that we’re all given gifts, and it’s our duty to steward those gifts to the best of our ability.

Then, because it seems she will not receive a compliment without giving one in return, she said, “I couldn’t ever go to Africa and write a book.

Jars of relish and sweet pickles

Relish and sweet pickles in Lois’ kitchen.

We worked from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. You can see some of the fruits of our efforts above. (The photo at the top of the page shows dill and bread-and-butter pickles, the one immediately above – sweet pickles and relish).

At the end of our day, I thanked Lois for her generosity and labour. I told her she’d given me a gift that would last throughout the year – and maybe even for generations to come.

“A labour of love,” she clarified with a hug, and a smile.

At lunch time today, my 20-year-old daughter sampled some of the relish.

“Mmmmm …” she murmured, licking the spoon. “How do you make relish, mom?”

“I’ll show you next year,” I promised. “We’ll make it together.”

*

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” 

– Henry Van Dyke

 *

Reality … augmenting not required

Geese

It was Saturday, and a beautiful day for a drive and a picnic, so we packed some sandwiches, loaded Percy (our border collie) into the car, and found a small town park located on the bank of a meandering river.

Scoring a table under the canopy of a large maple tree, we settled in to visit and nibble our lunch. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves. We had to hush Percy repeatedly for not-so-gently barking his excitement at the passing dogs, geese and people strolling by. The geese and the people seemed to be out in droves, but were, for the most part, ignoring one another.

Nearby, 15 or 20 young men and women stood clustered under an ancient oak. To a person, they stared intently at cell phones. Throughout our visit, others approached them – walking alone or in small groups of twos and threes – but each in a similar posture: cell phone raised, head tilted down, eyes focussed intently on the tiny screen.

It didn’t take us long to realize we were witnessing the Pokemon Go game in action, and like amateur anthropologists, amused ourselves watching those who’d come to the same park that day seeking to capture mythical creatures rather than a picnic spot.

Soon a young mother approached, arms outstretched pushing not a cell phone’s buttons but a stroller. Her baby wore a white bonnet and sunsuit, tied at the shoulders, the colour of the sky. The baby kicked her legs in that happy way that babies do when they’re anticipating something lovely, then leaned forward, straining, yearning to escape the confines of her seat.

The mother parked the stroller not far from us, spread a blanket on the grass, then set her little one down on it with a sippy cup. Later, the mother carried her daughter in arms over to see the river, pointing out the ducks, geese and seagulls. They stayed there as long as we did.

When it was time to leave, I walked over to admire the baby and say “hello.” The little girl looked up at me as I greeted her and responded instantly with a broad smile. My heart melted.

She was a beautiful baby, 9 months old, her mother said. Pudgy and soft looking, with chubby thigh rolls, long eye-lashes framing big blue eyes, and white fuzz from now absent socks clinging to the underside of her toes, she positively sparkled with delight at my hello. Her mother seemed equally happy to engage, and told me her little girl loved being out-of-doors; that was clear, for she had seemed entirely happy and content the entire time.

I felt captivated: by the baby’s delight at my cooing, and by her innocence.

Packing up our picnic and walking past all of those people staring at all of those tiny screens, it occurred to me that maybe I had found the most precious of all the treasures hiding in the park that day.

*

“Our unwillingness to silence our phones often amounts to an effective silencing of our own insight as we edge out of our imaginations the time required to actually experience it.”

– David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

 

A much-needed thing

Cave Quest VBS Logo

 

I admit I had mixed, somewhat ambivalent feelings going into this week. Feelings that combined thoughts of:

I know I need to do this,

with

but it will be hard, 

with

but it will also be fun,

with

but I’m getting too old for this.

It was Kidz Kamp at our wee little church – that five-day period that rolls around each summer during which scores of community kids descend on our church property for a fun-filled, day-camp-in-the-suburbs-in-their-own-neighbourhood kind of experience.

Our church has been staging Kidz Kamp for years. Known to an earlier generation as “VBS” (or Vacation Bible School) the week always includes songs (led by an energetic youth band) with lots of dancing in the aisles, games, crafts, videos, enough cheering and hollering to give even the most devoted leader a headache, and Bible stories told in thoroughly dramatic fashion. The planning, work and preparation required to pull it all off are enormous.

This year, 115 campers attended the camp which followed the Cave Quest curriculum. Offering oversight were some 60 leaders – including adults (“Senior Leaders”), teens (“Junior Leaders”) and pre-teens (“Leaders-In-Training” or LITs). An army of other volunteers (featuring many of our church’s most senior citizens) worked behind-the-scenes to provide everything from security to first aid, drinks and snacks.

Kidz Kamp today is a well-oiled machine; it is a wonder to behold and to participate in. The sheer organizational efficiency required to pull it all off in a way that keeps everyone happy and safe is breath-taking. From pre-planned traffic routes – moving the various groups of kids from station-to-station and activity-to-activity inside and outside the church at 25 minute intervals (from 9 a.m. to noon each day) – to the creative crafts that were pre-planned, pre-cut and sorted into bins.

Our group was the “Rubies” – six lovely girls ages 8 to 11 plus a Junior Leader, an LIT and me.

I realized on Day One that I was not the only adult who went into Kidz Kamp feeling tired, a bit overwhelmed, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, praying for the mental capacity to be able to remember all my campers’ names, and for the energy, good cheer and patience to get through it all.

And I realized today on Day Five – as I felt a surge of genuine affection for each of my young campers and co-leaders, along with a teensy bit of regret that the week’s end had come – that God had answered our prayers.

Ours is a challenging world, and these are trying times. Growing up cannot be easy.

Teaching kids that God loves them, and that He will be there for them through good times and bad is not just a good thing; it is a much-needed thing.

At the start of the day today, my LIT presented me with a hand-made card, thanking me for being her senior leader and saying she hoped we would work together again next year.

Hand made note card

Hand made note card to me!

I have to say: I hope we do too.

Here’s a link to one of my favourite songs of the week, “My Hope Is In the Lord.”

 

 

 

Looking elsewhere

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

— Fred Rogers

We’ve been experiencing a hot, dry summer here in southern Ontario. The kind of summer that entices cicadas to celebrate with concerts while the day is still young, but compels most everyone else – who can’t flee to a lake or poolside – to choose instead the artificial hum of air conditioning. It’s been the kind of summer that turns grass golden and brittle, until it crunches like crackers beneath your feet.

For those who follow the news (and who can avoid it?) it’s also been a summer of shock and sadness. Too many innocents – indeed too much innocence – lost in the midst of too much violence. It’s almost enough to make a person lose sight of all the goodness and beauty we trust is still here. But maybe it’s precisely at times like these that we have to train our eyes to focus elsewhere for the beauty that surely still exists.

Take the grass for instance: it’s a shame about the grass. But the same conditions that persuade lawns to go dormant at times like this permit other plants to thrive. Captivating plants like chicory with its delicate sky-tinted petals, and exquisite Queen Anne’s Lace. Such subversives appear to wait in secret anticipation of the moment when, presented with just the right opportunity, they shoot upwards to reveal their hitherto forgotten existence; and seemingly overnight send long stems reaching, reaching.

I’m thinking about these wily weeds today; they’ve been in evidence everywhere recently as Percy (our family’s border collie) and I have taken our walks. Strong and resilient, they prosper in spite of the drought that makes the grass all around them appear to die. And I’m thinking their example has something to teach us.

The secret of these plants’ success against the odds is their roots; tough, swollen and deeply penetrating, they tap into sources of nourishment and sustenance far beyond the limits to which the threadlike roots of the little grass plants can reach. The loveliness of such weeds and wildflowers is there for anyone with eyes to see: frothy blooms in shades that nourish the soul surrounded by feathery green foliage, made all the more obvious, even, by their now brown and brittle surroundings. The fact that no one cuts the grass while dormant, ensures invasive neighbours thrive.

It is the oppressive heat and wretched drought that not only encourage weeds and wildflowers to flourish in fields and along roadsides, but enable them to do so.

I think Mrs. Rogers had it right.