Saturday, October 25, 2014

Not Disposable: A Response to the Marysville-Pilchuck Shooting

I wanted to post pumpkin patch pictures today, but a boy intervened. A high school freshman I've never met lived his life an hour north of here, and then all of a sudden, he decided to end his life. And he wanted to take a handful of his classmates down with him.

One more cafeteria became a war zone this Friday.

Two more children are dead.

And we are left to wonder. To speculate. But the situation is pandemic, and we are beginning to worry whether we will ever find the answer. As one victim's father wisely, heartrendingly put it, "Only God knows... Only God knows."

From the moment the guns went off at Columbine, the fingers began to point. Was it video games or violent movies? Was it lack of parental involvement or lack of gun control? Was it bullying or atheism? Or was it simply access to a gun, any gun?

We ask and we ask and ask because there must be a reason. We are sure that there must be a reason. We desperately, helplessly grope for a reason, and when our questions come back, empty echoes boomeranging through the ether, we are left with yet another.

What is wrong with our society?

When did we become a society where such tragedies are not only possible but commonplace? This week's shooting in Marysville, WA marked the 75th school shooting in the US since first graders fell at Newtown, CT.

First graders.

What is wrong with this country?

A decade before Jaylen Fryberg was even born, a living saint declared that ours is a culture of death. More recently, another saintly man put it a different way. He called us the Throw-Away Culture.

Being Catholic, I'm naturally biased, but I think these popes were on to something.

What are children today meant to make of the world we have built them? This place where everything from last year's shoes to last month's marriage is disposable. We say that everything is relative, which means worth is truly in the eye of the beholder. Or not. In a world where I decide the value of something--or someone--nothing is sacred. And nothing is certain.

How can we expect our youth to navigate such endlessly shifting terrain?

How do we expect them to value each other when we contracept their siblings and abort their friends? I'm sorry, I know that sounds unfeeling, but I assure you I am not. Children are dying and we must ask ourselves: Why one child and not another?

We must look to the source.

The increased violence in our media is not causing a violent culture: It's the product of a violent culture. Bullying exists--and is allowed to exist--because one person is deemed less than another.

We blame society, but society was not created in a vacuum. We are a part of this Throw-Away Culture. We created it together. We are all culpable, and yet we are pointing fingers at symptoms and slapping Band-Aids over bullet holes.

We fight. We lobby. We bicker back and forth. Guns kill people. No, guns don't kill people; people kill people. Guns! People! Guns! People! Until we've reduced each other to sound bytes. We lose sight of each other as people, and then--already--we are part of the problem. If we step back from the war zone to gape at the big picture, we'd see.

People kill people they don't see as people--with or without a gun.

The way the Nazis killed the Jews. The way the Hutu killed the Tutsi. The way terrorists kill indiscriminately. This is how abusers damage victims and doctors persuade mothers to discard the children from their wombs.

Like fish in a barrel. Clones in the Matrix. Disposable.

This. This is how it happens. This is how the trigger gets pulled. When I fail to see the humanity staring me in the face. When I start viewing life--my own or another's--as a choice. 

When it's all relative, we are all relative.

The only way we can teach our children to value life is by valuing life. All life. Every life. A life is a life is a life. Either we are all sacred, or we are all disposable.

Are our children disposable? I think we as a society agree: They are not.

So, I propose we stop pointing fingers and start looking each other in the eye.

I suggest we stop looking for someone to blame and start seeking the humanity--the sacredness and worth--in each and every person we encounter.

I humbly request that we make the radical, desperate, and necessary choice to love. Every person. Every day. Every and any way we are able.

If there is any hope of curtailing this culture of death, then we must choose to embrace a culture of life. We must remember how to cherish each other. We must learn again how to value what we were once willing to throw away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

This is hard. I have trouble admitting I'm a control freak.

No, not because I like to imagine that I'm not. I know I am. Even as a kid, I was pretty high strung. I liked things "just so," and I was willing to put in a crazy amount of effort to make a vision reality. I am driven and committed and passionate, and that's a good thing...until it's not.

The reason I hate to admit that I'm a control freak is because it's vulnerable. Because, at the core of me is a fear that I am not enough. That's why I control.

As a first time mom, I really began to notice my tendency toward control. I wanted to be organized. I wanted to have it "together." I wanted to be fit and happy and showered and well-dressed and creative and energetic and exactly what I'd been before I gave birth and more. I wasn't ready to admit that life had just flipped upside down and things were never going to be the same again.

And then my dad died, and my desire for control became a need. An obsession. 

I felt alone, thousands of miles from my nearest family member, my childhood friends. I was an only child who had just lost her father. And I had two young children depending on me for everything. I was so overwhelmed by that responsibility. I felt inadequate. I was quite certain I didn't have what it took to be so completely responsible for something so important. And I had no one to help.

Yes, I have an amazing husband. Who is awesome and devoted and incredibly helpful. But for much of the day (and for a very intense 18-months at work, most nights and weekends), he wasn't there.

I wanted a friend, a sister, or my own mother so badly it was like having a constant stomachache. I needed someone to see me. Not just in the evenings or once in awhile, but on a daily basis. To tell me that what I was doing mattered.  That what I was sacrificing was worth it. That what I was losing was nothing compared to what I was gaining. To tell me if I was doing it right or how to do it better or how to let go and let good enough be good enough. 

But I didn't have that. And it scared me.

That's when I had my first bout of Postpartum Depression. That's when I started to control, well...everything. 

Meals had to be planned out months in advance, preferably frozen in large batches. Because I was quite sure something would happen and then how would we eat? Ordering in? Fast food? I didn't give myself those options. Too expensive, I told myself. Not healthy. Frosty + French Fries = Failure.

School needed to be streamlined and planned out in it's entirety. I had to have every lesson plan done, books on hold at the library, and we could not get off track. Sick days? I don't need no stinkin' sick days. If for some reason my brilliant agenda did get derailed, I was reduced to tears. I had convinced myself that if we did not make it through each day's math lesson, then the next and the next and the next would likewise go undone until we reached the point where the government was ordering me to place my children in the local public school.

I had to keep the toys, laundry, and house cleaning under control. All the time. If anything went off track or off schedule, I was certain I would never manage to get it back together. Spilled milk was a very legitimate reason to cry. Like a baby. I felt like I was waging a one-woman war against entropy. Against utter and complete chaos. And I felt like no one saw, no one understood, no one cared.

It took years--literally years of prayer, reflection, and conversations with good friends for me to realize that my attempts to control were never going to stop the chaos. 

Life with four little kids is messy. Homeschooling is messy. This big, beautiful life I live is messy and intrinsically disorganized. I think I am finally at a point in my life where I'm okay with that.

These days, I'm taking it day by day. No, scratch that. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. When the world is caving in and everything is off course, I have to stop and say to myself, "Give it twenty minutes. In twenty minutes, it will be better." And, nearly always, it is.

These days, I'm waking up later if I need to, and if school doesn't start by 9:00...or 10:00...or 11:00, I don't give myself a hard time. I just sit down in the middle of our mess and get started. And you know what? We finish the work just fine.

These days, I don't plan my meals out weeks in advance. Just a day or two. Some nights, I have to scrounge around the cabinets and see what we've got that I can toss together. It's been fun, actually. I've been less "with it," but I've been more creative. We have to go to the grocery store more often, but when I forget something, I don't beat myself up, because I know I'll be going again in a couple of days. I serve dinner later than I used to, but I do it with a smile.

These days, I'm baking more cookies, playing more games. Yeah, the windows are streaked with fingerprints and the bathrooms only get a quick once-a-week scrub, but we're hardly on the health department's hit list. The house isn't spotless. I never vacuum as often as I want. But it's good enough. And the joy that's going on under this roof? Bigger and better and noisier and more than it's ever been.

These days, I'm happier than I've been in years. Don't get me wrong, things aren't any easier. I'm just more accepting of the fact that, no matter what I do, this life wasn't meant to be easy. And hard can still be good. Hard is full and challenging and, yes, messy, and that's not a bad thing. More important? Hard is the path to holy.

I still have to fight the fear, the compulsion to control, but I am getting there. Because the fact is, I don't need to be in control. I just need to stay close to the One who is. I can't possibly plan around what He will send each day, but I can choose to accept it, humble, broken, and open-handed. Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, I can choose to seek him in gratitude--in joy--in the midst of my mess. Fearless and free and smiling.

P.S. I wish I had some cute kid pics to go with this post, but frankly, my hands have been too full for a camera the last couple weeks. Rather than wait until I have the photos to make this post "perfect," I've decided to go with "good enough." But, more pictures coming soon! I promise.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blackberry Buckle

Round about these parts, blackberries aren't a fruit so much as a weed. They grow wild in every ditch, along every highway, and if they're not in your backyard, there's a bush in your neighbor's threatening to invade by next year. Blackberries are nothing if not pernicious.

They're also delicious. Who can resist those plump purple orbs, bursting with wine-y juice? Tempting and troublesome - a combination that may have contributed to legend.

An old story relays that when St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven, the ousted angel-turned-devil landed in a blackberry patch. To this day, it is tradition to pick the last of the blackberries (and gobble them down) on Michaelmas in honor of this notorious if unceremonious Fall.

I've always loved this tradition, and I've been serving blackberry desserts on Michaelmas Day (now the Feast of the Archangels) since I was married. I've tried a few different recipes: sorbet, cobbler, pie. My favorite has always been a scrumptious slump invented by Bainbridge Island baker Geraldine Ferraro. I may be biased, but in my opinion, nobody knows blackberries like the cooks of the Pacific Northwest.

According to tradition, you're supposed to finish off the last of the blackberries on the night of Michaelmas. Take my advice and see if this tasty, slightly tipsy cake doesn't help you do just that.

Blackberry Buckle
adapted slightly from Geraldine Ferraro via Epicurious

The original for this dish was entitled Blackberry Slump, but for a couple of reasons, I decided to rechristen it. First, slump just doesn't sound tasty. Second, blackberry buckle is cute and alliterative and blackberry slump is just, well, not. Third, according to my research, a slump (also called a grunt - really, people? The names...) is actually more of a cobbler, with a biscuit dough rolled out over fruit filling. A buckle, however, is exactly what this recipe calls for: fruit either mixed into or sprinkled on top of a cake batter then covered with a sugary crumb topping. 

For several years, I made this recipe as written to get a good feel for it, but I always sensed that a little tweaking (a very little, mind you) would improve it. As it turns out, adjusting the ratio of cake to topping to berries was what helped this dish to finally sing.

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
6 T butter, cut into 12 pieces

1 stick (1/2 c.) melted butter
1/3 c. dry white wine
1 large egg
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
4 c. previously frozen blackberries, thawed and drained.
  1. Combine 3/4 c. sugar, 3/4 c. flour, and 6 T chilled butter pieces in a food processor. Pulse until crumbly. Chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 9x9'' baking dish.
  3. In a large bowl in  microwave, melt the butter (you can also do this in a pan on the stove top if your microwave isn't good at melting butter without splattering it everywhere, then transfer the melted butter to the mixing bowl). Whisk in the wine to cool the butter slightly before adding the egg and whisking well. Add 1/2 c. sugar and whisk to combine. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and combine thoroughly. Stir in vanilla extract.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Spread thawed blackberries evenly over the top of the batter. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the blackberries.
  5. Bake until cake is set and golden and tester inserted in the center comes clean, about 40 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without ice cream. We like it all ways.