Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten meditations

As usual, I am floored by something I read shortly after ranting on my blog. This site from my church home in LA will be updated throughout Lent with meditations from parishioners. Here is how today's meditation ended:

"That is why we set some small portion of ourselves aside this Lenten season, so that we might follow God's Lamb and become one of His sheep. What will you put away? A grudge? Self-doubt? Perhaps disbelief in the gifts God has given you?"

Now there's some stuff I could stand to give up for Lent.

My own thoughts

OK, baby is down, that only took like an hour. And her dad had to do it in the end. He pretty much always has to put her down for's not until he takes her that she knows it's business time. (of course, not in the Flight of the Conchords way)

So I realized that what I'm really missing is having my own thoughts and the time to think them. My brain is usually consumed with staying one step ahead of Maggie so that she isn't hungry, bored, poopy, or overtired, and if I get her actually happily playing alone (which is really rare because she bores easily and she wants someone to play with her all the time, little social creature), then it's time to do chores while thinking about what to make for dinner. I'm actually starting to somewhat enjoy cooking (good thing for a foodie, huh), though I wish my knife skills were sharper (ha ha). I have learned that I'm way better at improvising than at following recipes, pretty much the opposite of J, so that makes for some interesting debates in the kitchen (plus his OCD tendencies make him really crazed when I'm not following something to the letter and substituting this and that).

But happily, I got an offer today to start doing book reviews for theooze, which is a site I respect and I'd enjoy the writing, I think. I also just signed my contract for the Jesus Girls book, and I'm trying to figure out if there's a parenting magazine that might like my story about choosing the baby over the PhD (for now). All this to say that I have outlets for my thoughts, if I could only find the time to think them.

Life is a strange rollercoaster (mine is way too crazy to be something so prosaic as a "journey"). I should probably be grateful that I don't have time to think. When I catch myself with a moment, I'm usually discovering there is nothing but bad news to ponder. J probably isn't getting a job this cycle, which means it's almost another year before he can look again (and he wouldn't be starting anything until Fall 2010...ay). We have the dreadful decision ahead of us of where to live while we're putzing around waiting for work...both sets of in-laws have the veto from the respective child, and it seems dumb to move back to LA for merely sentimental reasons when that would cost a small fortune and we could probably never find a place like we have here for comparable rent. So I face the prospect of living someplace I'm not very happy with no reason to be here. And yes, I am making the best of it - I love working at the food pantry, I have a few friends, and I try to see my family as much as possible. But it is strange to be stuck here.

You know how you're supposed to live your life so as not to have any regrets? Well I try to, I really do. But when you live that way, you're almost destined to have regrets! Why? Because you're going to take big risks! Or you'll take none, but then it seems that you'd regret never trying anything. No, I think when people say that they mean that you're supposed to get out there and live. But what they don't tell you is that sometimes that means you're going to make a giant leap and fall flat on your face.

Like when I completely screwed up my ordination process, twice. Dumb dumb dumb.

And when I moved my family up here for something I already sensed my heart wasn't in. Idiocy.

I have three friends from seminary who weren't even Episcopalian when I met them (all less than four years ago). I was already ostensibly in the ordination track when I met them. I did my degree and my internships first. I had been Episcopalian for longer. I'd had three freaking committees. Oh, and did I mention that none of them had ever really considered the priesthood as a vocation?

And these three friends are all in the final stages of their parish discernment and about to become postulants. I mean, how does that happen?? Yes, partly it is that they magically chose the right churches to be at and I did not. And partly it is that I did stupid things that messed up my process.

But there's a little part of me that feels like they must somehow be far worthier than me, far more priestly, far more deserving. And they probably don't feel that way, which just confirms their superiority - they're humble servants, and I'm just a whiney baby who is pissed that I haven't gotten my way and that nobody's recognizing the gifts I so obviously possess. Geezu. I'm such a freak.

One day this will all be an anecdote, right?

(that's what my cousin told me about the sleep training we're trying...which I also failed at miserably, btw)

Nobody warned me that if you live life to the fullest you have the chance of falling flat. The party line is that you'll be happy no matter what because you'll be living so well. Yeah, well, I'm in the moment constantly now - and don't get me wrong, it's nice not to think about how crappy, for instance, my financial situation is - but it is tiring. Because there's something in me that always looks ahead to the next thing (it's why I never held jobs or apartments for long); and there's something in me that's always evaluating the past to see how it's led to where I am, and how I can improve. I've always been so driven (my elementary school teachers used to scold my parents not to push me so hard, and they would have to tell them it was all me - they tried to hold back my relentless pursuit of perfection). It's weird to put on the brakes and suddenly not be pushing for a goal - except the goal of raising a human being, forming her perceptions of the world and her language and creativity and empathy. Yeah, that stuff.

I did have a great moment today. I was trying to get her to nap and was frustrated at the endless rocking I was doing (because I would have rather been reading blogs about American Idol, if you must know). And I suddenly realized that my only job in that moment was to love this child, and to make sure she knew that she was absolutely loved and safe and that her mommy would rather be doing nothing else than hold her. And I looked in her eyes and I could see her shift - like she realized she suddenly had my full attention, and she gave it back. It only lasted a few moments, and it didn't help with getting her down for her nap. But it was a helpful momentary reprieve from my racing thoughts and my yearning to be doing something else all the time.

Anyway I'm sure I haven't destroyed my life or anything, that's not what I mean. I just kind of feel like I'm swimming in a sea of, I don't know, peanut butter or something. Life's gotten all sticky and viscous. And sloooooow. And opaque.

And...ha ha...nutty.
Hi, it's me, resurfacing after a couple weeks of this SAHM experiment. Well damned if it isn't about the hardest thing I've ever tried. These women were not kidding when they said it was all-consuming! Quite honestly, it's not so much the baby care that wears me down - it's the damn housework. I haaaaate housework. I've been thinking I need to go to work just so I can afford a maid. But what would happen then is that all the money I made would probably go to childcare, and I'd be working and still have to clean house. Blech. At least then J would have to pitch in.

Right now I'm a dissertation widow. It's very lonely. You know, last semester, when I was the one supposedly working full-time in school, I still somehow managed to take off 50% of every day to spend with Maggie. I didn't really help around the house, it's true, but I watched the baby so that he could do that. And right now, just someone to play with her so I could clean would be huge.

How is it that women instinctively feel this obligation to be everything, and men actually don't seem to feel any guilt at all about devoting themselves just to their work (or their project or whatever it is that they are engrossed in at the moment)? I bet it has something to do with multi-tasking ability, which supposedly men don't have. If it doesn't occur to you to do two things at once - or even be aware of something outside your current project - then how could you feel guilty for not keeping your mind on multiple tasks?

Speaking of, I need to go get my crying baby. I had a whole great speech about my vocation - how I still want and feel called to ministry, blah blah - but my primary vocation is calling. Toodles.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A recipe, a memory

I got this email from my foodie list serv about an already accepted book proposal that is seeking submissions! I don't have anything to contribute, but I thought someone I know might, so I'm passing it along. Incidentally, I just got my contract in the mail today for Jesus Girls, and I'll post more info as I learn about its publication (this is the collection of essays by women who grew up evangelical to which I contributed my story about the "exorcism" I experienced in college).

Anyway, here's the message:
I am absolutely ecstatic to announce that my book proposal has found a home at Praeger Publishing! It will be titled: Storied Dishes: What Our Family Favorites Tell Us About Who We Are and Where We've Been.

In the meantime, I am looking for about another 15 more essays of 1100-1200 words each, accompanied by a recipe to round out the collection. These should be compelling memories about a woman friend or family member who has provided a significant recipe. I want to include women with a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, especially right now Mexican, African-American and American Indian, but not limited in any way. If you are interested in details or want to submit a query, please contact me offlist at

Thank you.

Linda Murray Berzok, MA

Thursday, February 12, 2009

So about school...

A funny thing happened on the way to my PhD.

I fell in love.

I didn't mean to - the people who have known me the longest couldn't have predicted it. I had always said I didn't really want children, then later, didn't care whether I had them or not. When I met my husband, I said I thought I could see having kids with him, since he was pretty cool and all. But then we were married for nearly ten years and I got caught up in career and graduate work and I just didn't really think I had the time or energy to devote to another human being.

But then I met Maggie.

And wouldn't you know it, I fell hard. Even though her first weeks were a mess of screaming and tears and feeding frustrations and complete feelings of inadequacy on my part, I was hooked. No one had ever needed me like this little person did. No matter how unprepared or ignorant or overwhelmed I was, she still needed me above all others.

That kind of trust - that throws itself onto you with complete abandon and just believes that you'll live up to what it needs - rarely if ever happens between adults. But it is required between a mother and her child. It is, in fact, the way that it's supposed to be done, the way things are meant to be - the whole reason, I suppose, that mommies are given all these extra hormones and other physical helps to induce feelings of euphoria, strength, and even love.

I don't know if it was the hormones or the lack of sleep or prescience, but I had a thought a couple weeks after she was born: do I really want to go through with moving us far from home, away from our friends and support systems, to do more school at a place I don't know with people I've never met? I even blogged about it back then. And some of you wrote back to say yes, don't give up, if you don't at least try school you'll always regret it; and at least one person wrote to say listen to the doubt and give in to the oh-so-un-pc desire to halt your academic career.

I took in all the advice, and I prayed, and I talked with my husband the most, and we agreed that I would probably feel differently in a few months, when the whole motherhood thing wasn't so fresh, and besides, we'd already made all the arrangements and given our landlord notice and, well, the train had pretty much left the station, so off we went.

The summer was a beautiful time, and a difficult and crazy time, us getting to know our child and redefining ourselves as a three-person family. Our poor cats became sorely neglected. We painted the living room of the first real house we've lived in. We had to take on housemates, which turned out to be a disaster (but that's another story). Maggie's paternal grandparents met her, and all her Northern California family met her, and a couple dear friends from LA visited. And we found a church.

At some point near the beginning of school, J and I were walking and I admitted that I was terrified of starting the program; I didn't think I was smart enough or committed enough and I didn't want to leave my daughter so soon. He could reassure me about the first, encouraged me about the second, and reminded me, in reference to the third, that he was taking care of her, and really, it was good for her to have that time with her daddy. And so, once again, I relented.

But the first week of class came, and I found myself fighting back tears through the whole miserable three hours I was sitting there. I couldn't concentrate on our discussion, I could only think about my baby. And when I got home, all I wanted to do was play with her and feed her and cuddle her, I didn't care about reading. The things I was studying suddenly seemed hopelessly irrelevant. My brain had switched over to a different sort of intelligence - something more primal and creative and instinctive and, well, right-brained - and it was hard to make the switch back to taking in facts and making arguments and memorizing history and thinking critically.

I was not able to see the big picture anymore - I was living in the moment, because that's how babies live. I was looking as far as the next diaper change, the next feeding, and that was it. That was all we needed. It was incredibly freeing.

So I would take as much time as I dared with her every week, and then endure the grueling hours of reading (when she had to be taken away for I was too distracted with her around) and going to class. It was just the wrong timing. I shouldn't have gone back so soon; I shouldn't have tried to do it all with only a three-month-old. Had I not tried to jump in the deep end, I might have found myself more willing to continue. But I was drowning. I literally felt like I couldn't breathe.

After my nice long nearly two-month break between semesters, I was refreshed and ready to try one (easy) class to get through the spring. I figured if I took something really interesting, and got through the first year of motherhood still in the degree program, I could at least see if I actually wanted to pursue it the rest of the way. And nobody could say I hadn't given it a good long shot.

But then my advisor, ever the wise woman, said to me, ever so simply, "You are consumed by being a mother. And you have to honor that. Someday, maybe, you'll be ready to be mother and..., but for now, you are just mother. So be that. And when you sense that you want to be mother plus something else, then listen to that voice too. Honor both of those callings, because that is who you are."

Ah yes. She was right. I couldn't deny it.

So I am not taking classes this semester. I wasn't ready to completely drop out, because that's just so final, and I keep having inklings that I might feel differently. So I'm holding on just a little longer - don't have anywhere else to be anyway! - just in case. One thing I've learned is that I can never predict where my life will take me.

Plus I have the recent PPD diagnosis, and I know it is not wise to make giant life-altering decisions under the pressure of depression. So I am resting, getting well, indulging myself completely in motherhood, and then I will see: I may be invigorated and in love with life, or I may find myself bored to tears. I cannot say now, I plan to wait and see. It's rather exciting, actually.

As for the PhD, I know that at one time I was a person who wanted to do it. I know I am still a person who could do it. I had every intention of doing it, and my motives were pure in coming here. I could not have predicted the way I wound up feeling about it. But I have to listen.

It is interesting: as I spent time with the other geeks of my field, I saw just how, for once in my life, un-geeky I was. I really didn't care that much about the trivia of our study, and the major figures sort of blurred together, and the history and factoids seemed rather obtuse. I found myself longing for - of all things - the practicality of the MDiv, the on-the-ground action of pastoral work. I kept bringing every discussion back to the here-and-now, to the churches that are the mainstream (instead of those that are the ideal or are at least pursuing that), to the worship lives of everyday persons, not scholars, not priests. And I know that real life is the true passion of every liturgist, but I found myself more impatient than most to get back to it. And I think that is largely because of my baby, of the urgency that life has taken on now that there is this person who is experiencing everything for the first time, and how I see the time passing so quickly, and realize that we have only so much impact on this world. What am I doing with my life?

Many things I would love to do: parish ministry, consultation with churches (diocesan food guru?), creating liturgies, writing, campus ministry - none of these require a PhD. It could help, but it's not all that necessary. And GTU is a great school, and the PhD there is a lot of work. So I have to consider whether I'm up for that - for seven years or so of waiting to put my theory into action. After my experience last week at the food pantry, I'm not sure I can. It's just way too much fun to actually be out doing ministry!

So we will see. I might consider another field, since the liturgy box feels a bit tight at the moment. Maybe spirituality or interdisciplinary studies. Or I might find that I just want to raise my kid, and some more kidlets, for a while. Or I might fall into some sort of ministry, and find myself back on the ordination track by the grace of God. There are so many ways life could go. What a crazy journey it's been already; and there are surely more twists and turns ahead.

This is what I've been waiting to talk about, and bursting to say, for months now. I couldn't, for fear of who might read it, let my hand show. But now it's pretty much all out there, so I can reveal why I've been a bit tight-lipped and anxious for so long. I do feel like I can breathe a bit, and that this reprieve will be an excellent time of soul-searching and path-discerning.

And I hope that my story can help other women to honor the voice inside, whatever it might be telling them, no matter how unpopular it may be, how un-feminist, or how far off the road they thought they were traveling. So life throws a curve ball. So what? That's so often how we find the next great thing, or the part of ourselves that needs to open up and see the light, or the blessing God is preparing us to receive and to give.

Louis Weil said this to me: "We can only know when a new turn must be taken by walking along another path first. In my life, these unexpected turns have been very fruitful..."

I'm excited to see what will happen next. And I'm glad you're along for the ride.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

God Feeds Us All

That's what Sara Miles told me the other day. She also told me that if she'd known, when her child was small, what she knows now, she'd have asked for a lot more help.

We have gotten to the point where we have to ask for help to feed ourselves and our baby. And it has actually been a blessing! I'm really surprised - rather than feel humiliated and/or guilty, the people we've worked with have made us feel welcome and deserving. Nobody, it turns out, seems to mind feeding an infant and a breastfeeding mum. Kudos. [plus it turns out we spent years paying into the system, so, our social worker says, we shouldn't feel bad at all about taking out what we put in! true enough!]

So a shout-out to the WIC program, which is providing me & Maggie with dairy, cereal, and some protein. Unfortunately, we can't get any organics, which is really sad - seems the government should support the healthier options (both for our bodies and for the earth), since in the long run that saves money on healthcare, environmental cleanup, etc. (but of course the long run is rarely considered - just look at the national debt).

One thing that was super cool was when we were in the WIC office we noted that they don't offer any vouchers for basically anything fresh (except dairy) - no fruits or veggies, or even whole grains. Basically, nothing especially healthy. One month a year (one month!) you can get a voucher to take to the farmer's market (at least we have found a local market that accepts WIC, instead of a chain store, thankfully). BUT the woman told us that in October this year, a lot of that is going to change - they are going to phase out the vouchers for processed cereal and start including more whole grains, and probably start including some produce as well.

And I realized - that's the Farm Bill in action! How exciting to see something that I worked on and lobbied for actually going into effect (and I didn't even realize it would be affecting my life!). I was really psyched when I figured that one out. Yay to all of us who wrote to congress - I can vouch for the difference it will make.

It is funny - if you go through our current shopping guide, there are all these photos of GM and Gerber products. It's pretty obvious that this program has been paid for by some corporations. Wow - thank goodness that is changing!

The other thing I did was go work at the food pantry at my church yesterday, and what a thrill that was! I had SO much fun! I think partly it was just really great to get out of myself (you turn in on yourself so much when you are depressed) and focus on others, but also there is this amazing family atmosphere amongst the volunteers. And many of the volunteers are homeless or down-on-their-luck - it's a totally different vibe from the "rich man's burden" approach to helping the destitute. (and I'm among those who needed the groceries, so I was grateful not to feel like a schlub) All the people I encountered were really thankful and happy - it was so collegial and respectful. It felt so good.

I took Maggie along, both to teach her early about volunteering (plan to take her as she grows), but also because I know that babies bring joy. And boy did she! We got smiles, cheek-pinches, "cute" in so many languages! It was such fun. She actually sat on my table and got out the boullion we were in charge of, handed it to me, and I handed it to the people. It was seriously adorable. So many people thanked me for bringing her. She really lit up the room. I consider it such a privilege to have this little hospitality minister to offer to the world!

Plus we came home with SO much food! Way more than I could have imagined - it's such a generous pantry. I wanted to call up my friends and throw a party! Maybe I will - Friday nights at my house, people - we'll cook up whatever we've gotten! Last night we had salmon w/tapenade, caprese salad, and a baguette - all courtesy of Trader Joe's, all just past its date. Wow. Plus I have produce for a week - between the pantry, our CSA box, and WIC, we may never had to grocery shop again. [And the CSA will be the last to go - not only is it a great deal at around $50/month, but I believe in supporting a family farm more than a corporate store]

I'm not sure if I felt so in my element because I was serving, or because I was being a proud mama, or because it was food-related, or because it was joining a new community...probably a combo of all these and more. J and I were trying to analyze it, since I came home on such a high. There was something there that touched my passion and vocation, obviously - I just have to figure out what it was, then find a job/ministry that matches it, right?

Anyway it was a joy and definitely something I plan to do every week. You can't buy that kind of fulfillment!

All this to say, I'm so glad I've asked for help, because it is blessing me a hundredfold, way beyond the actual food. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

God, women and stealing

A really fine essay by Joan Chittister, OSB. It starts:

"Stealing is a sin," we teach to our children and preach to our converts and enshrine on the tablets of Ten Commandments we display in our public institutions. But don't worry, we don't really mean it. We don't believe it. We don't practice it; we don't argue for it and we don't protect it. In fact, use enough legislation and enough god-talk and, in certain well defined arenas, it can be absolutely virtuous to steal. Ask any woman.