Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Saying Goodbye to 'My' Church

I'm mourning again. Not for my son this time, although that continues, but for my church.

After a lot of soul-searching (no pun intended), my husband and I have decided it's time to find a new church home.

That may not seem like a big thing to a lot of people, and there was a time when it would not have been hard for me. It wasn't hard for me to leave my childhood church and I've drifted through a number of congregations during my adult years. But over the last six years my church has become a very important part of my life. I volunteered in the nursery and watched babies grow up. I trusted my Sunday school class like best friends. The people I saw there every Sunday and sometimes at other times became as precious as family. There are people I hug and kiss and say "I love you" and mean it from the bottom of my heart.

But in the last three weeks, things have changed, as they often do.

Initially it felt like a death, like someone I cared for had been taken from me. I couldn't believe it was gone. That the music and preaching I'd looked forward to each Sunday wouldn't be happening again was hard to grasp. At odd moments, I would weep. It hurt to drive by the building (still does, in fact).

For two Sundays I went back, hoping there was enough of what I loved to help me through the transition, but instead I found faces I loved missing. Not all of them, but enough to know that there would be no going back. I found myself crying during service because it wasn't what I wanted, what my soul craved, the way I needed to connect with God.

Now it feels more like divorce. The relationship is damaged beyond repair and I'm going to leave and try to start over.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it does feel like a divorce. There's the initial estrangement, and the fact that I still love and care for people I'll be leaving, and the fact that right now it's ugly and raw. And there's also the fact that like a marriage, a good relationship with a church requires some work and occasionally forgiveness and compromise. I've stuck it out before. It's not that I'm unwilling to work out the kinks in a relationship. There was betrayal before and it hurt, but it was clear cut and so obviously wrong that the congregation didn't split although there were gradually a number of people who left.

This time I'm one of the people leaving and like all those who vacated their pews already, I'm not waiting to see how all the dust settles.

People outside of a church may look at it as a sign of what's wrong with Christianity, but the fact is that although we may be a group of people who are Christians, we are still people. We are subject to the same desires and needs as everyone else and our efforts to get through life will follow different paths. We all may be genuinely trying to follow the same guidelines for doing so, but read our instruction manual (the Bible) differently. Just as Americans in general want the best for their country, yet sometimes split along ugly lines in politics, we are not always united in the path we see as best for our churches.

When that happens, we disagree and sometimes the disagreement is severe enough to split churches. Until I went through it, I didn't really understand why a group of people with the same goal couldn't get along. Now I do. The same things that divide us in our communities still make their way into church, regardless of how we try.

I realize that sometimes we choose to stick it out, expecting the tide to shift or deciding that the things that are not affected by a change -- maybe something as solid as proximity or family tradition -- are enough to see us through. Sometimes we watch the accumulating changes like weights being piled on a scale until it tilts and we decide the things that would keep us coming are outweighed and cannot hold us.

I'm still grieving for the fact that wherever I land, a large group of people that I dearly love won't be there and for a while, at least, I'll be struggling to fit into a new place. But six years ago, I was still feeling my way at the church that until recently felt like home, so I know it's a task worth doing.

Worship is too important to me to let it slide or let it be anything less than fulfilling. My relationship with my God demands it of me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Long Hair and Little Girls

Yesterday, the middle E decided to play cosmetologist.

She was supposed to be practicing cutting with safety scissors -- one of those skills children need before starting school. Since she's a southpaw, it's particularly challenging for her because I really cannot help her. Still, it was going well. She and E1 were whacking up some magazines in a corner of the playroom while I sat nearby commenting on their shapes and entertaining E3 as needed.

Suddenly E1 proclaims that E2 is cutting her hair.

Well, of course I didn't think she could do that with safety scissors, but I look up and sure enough, she has bangs! Not only that, but before doing her own trim, she apparently cut a few random snips from her older sister's hair -- something that didn't elicit tattling. I guess it was only when it became apparent that their antics would be discovered did E1 decide to blow the whistle, but all the same it led to a lot of drama.

The first words I think I or their mom said were that they'd have to have haircuts... maybe even that they'd look like little boys.

Now that the storm has died down, I've had time to think about the whole long hair to make them "look like a little girl" and I'm angry at myself and every other adult who has ever used that and the threat of a haircut on a little girl. I'm angry that we place so much value on it, and in doing so devalue them for whatever brings a change.

I did it. My daughter hated to have her hair brushed. It was an ordeal for five years.

When she started school I told her it either got brushed like it should without the daily fight, or it got cut. It was cut and there was much less pain for everyone. Why did we suffer for five years? No one ever mistook her for a little boy, hair or no hair. Did she really want her hair long? I don't think so. I don't think she ever thought she had a choice and she probably didn't. It was just expected.

It must have been the same when I was a child, because my early school pictures also boast a short haircut.

From the time they are born, we start trying to make them into pretty little girls with long locks and hair is one of the first things they get complimented on -- not their beautiful blue eyes, their smiles, their kindness, their special skills. We never just acknowledge them as beautiful or wonderful CHILDREN. They have to be pretty little girls, not to be confused with little boys. It's our first attempt to make our children conform to some ideal, some image they may never succeed at reaching, something that can make our little girls feel like failures even before they're in school.

I've done it. Wondering how my cousin's little girl can have such long, luxurious hair when she's younger than E1, whose hair is mid shoulders -- or I should say, was mid shoulders.

And even though I've been unhappy to see it straightened with a blow out -- recognizing that as some change that could make them feel less than perfect as they are -- even I didn't recognize the false importance attached to simply having hair.

No wonder we grow up to have our whole days ruined by bad hair days.

On Sunday they'll be visiting their other grandmother, who thankfully is a master cosmetologist and will be able to salvage their hair. It will be shorter. E2's will have bangs and perhaps some creative layering. They may both benefit from the change, even while we mourn the loss of their hair. I've seen beautiful short hair styles on little girls and I'm sure no matte how short they wind up, theirs will be wonderful.

But even if their heads were shaved, even if they continued to sport the misshapen cuts that E2 administered, they would still be beautiful little girls.

I hope I can remember that when E3 gets hold of some scissors, as I'm sure she will. I did it when I was 2. I'm sure my daughter did it, although she's in possession of the baby book that might hold the evidence.

It's just hair. It doesn't make any of us better people. It isn't the fine line between the sexes and it's not the end of the world if a little girl is mistaken for a little boy, or vice versus.

Perhaps we'd all be a little better off if we decided they could grow it long when they were able to take care of it, if they wanted to do so. Because in the big scheme of things, when you're raising children, you've got more important things to do than worry about brushing their hair.

Or cutting it.