Thursday, August 14, 2008

flying a kite in a hurricane

It's the annual celebration of family in the Hill/Murphy/Ehret household. Maybe it's better titled Family Euphoria. Really we've been vacationing together my whole life, but when numbers started growing exponentially with marriages and grandbabies we made this an official holiday. We've titled this year a "Stay-Cation", what with my sister ready to give us a new nephew any day now and the whole range of weird employment issues for several of us this year, who has the time or money to go away? So far, it's been a hit. We may never vacation away again.

Sadly, I imagine someday-- years and years and years from now-- this event will become a one-day picnic event attended by a bunch of strangers eating pasta salad and gathering around lumpy old photo albums trying to remember the genetic connections, but for now this is one glorious week-long event - full of cross-generational bonding and unapologetically inside jokes and unspoken relational dynamics. It's a sociologist's dream come true, I tell you.

It was in the middle of this euphoria -- less than an hour's time from the absolute peak of familyness, a midnight rendevous on the dewy grass of my parents front lawn to lay on our backs and tell jokes and recite goofy poetry and watch the lighty bursts of the Perseids Meteor Shower -- that I clicked on David Taylor's latest blog entry. We were all waiting for the main event, trying to stay awake in whatever way each deemed right. Most of the others were huddled around the television watching men's gymnastics in Beijing (oh to be able to provide the transcript of the men's running dialogue intended to preserve even a smattering of their own healthy self-image in the light of the specimens on Dad's television -- it may be the first-ever gymnastics smack talk right there in my parents' living room). All this to say, catching up on my favorite blog sites was my personal method of self-induced insomnia.

And, cue the Hurricane Kite-Flyer.

I read Taylor's post, laughed along with him at the picture at the top of the post, clicked as directed on the Statesmen article and, obliging, clicked along through the many posted comments to the article. Swaddled in the warmth of my family euphoria I felt the string of my experiental kite slipping through my fingers, bobbing in the sky over my head. And I blurted it all out in a posted comment on Taylor's page.

There's two ways you could think about a girl flying a beautiful kite in a wicked storm -- all innocence and faith and charm or a little touched in the head.

I mean I knew the post and the article was about the serious business of sex and birth control -- biology and theology and all that. And I knew that this beautifully subversive couple, David and Phaedra Taylor, braved the jaded world of newspaper readers with their purity and faith and, well, spunk. (He says the pic is cheesy, but only in the most beautiful of ways. Really, it's their own kite-flying experiment. You might also call it a rebellion of beauty.) I knew that all this crucialy important talk of biology and theology was clicking and linking its way through the stormy horizon of the blogosphere. I guess, emboldened by the tribalness of shacking up with 19 of my family members for seven days I just let the kite string go and started skipping along into the turbulence.
But I don't think anyone got it. I have this terminal disease of being misunderstood. I am not dumb, I promise. I just don't usually need all the dots connected for me to get the bigger concept. Conceptual thinking is my playground. But, in my experience, it feels like most of the world around sees me more of an annoying or child-like or touched in the head storm-ignorant-kite-flying girl. 

Maybe it's true.

I don't fault Taylor. Here the guy put his six-month-young married sex life in chart form on the front page of the Sunday paper (right smack in the middle of hippyesque Austin, no less!) and I posted unfortunate words like adorable and giggling. It's no wonder.

But I had already made the conceptual leap from science to experience, theology to mud-in-the -eye miracles. Man can make his plans, but the end results are the Lord's.

My parents' parents didn't talk about sex. My parents began the conversation, but either they weren't speaking above a whisper or I wasn't listening. I managed to have my first son three days shy of nine months from the first time I ever had sex. When he was born I still wasn't sure I'd ever had it. I didn't care. I flew the kite of that beautiful baby boy for all the world to see.

We have a history of honeymoon babies in this family. It's pretty much legendary now. Possibly all this hushing up about sex has something to do with it. So I called my mother-in-law, the medical professional, from my honeymoon hotel room. Possibly we should know something about birth control, we thought. Of course, it was most likely too late by this point. Brian and I had spent about a half hour discussing it once during our engagement. He'd heard somewhere that the Pill could be dangerous so I blundered my way through my first ob/gyn visit and left holding some oddly-shaped doo dad that I was too embarrassed to let the family doctor know I hadn't understood the first thing about. (that thing is supposed to go where?)

During my growing-up years, the oldest child of six, my parents continued silently in their quest to limit the number of mouths they brought into existence. My dad's pastor/pauper paycheck and my mother's exhausted bouts with clinical depression probably had something to do with this. As far as I know now the only people offering advice were radical feminists and post-war baby boomer pious surbabanites. Not a lot of help. God kept sending them new kites of their own to fly. There probably comes a point when kite flying in stormy weather scares the hell out of you, but sometimes you know you're not the one controlling the string.

This week I'm laughing and playing and getting my feelings hurt and being an obnoxious big sister with two or three of these stubborn siblings - who broke all the rules of science and insisted on being born anyway. You can see why I skipped a few steps in the conversation, can't you?
On the verge of being a mother myself, I had my first experience with mixing theology and sexuality. Experience is probably a gentle word. More like got bashed over the head by it. It was the era of the Pro-Life Stance and the Homeschooling Revolution and Operation Rescue and all that. The Church had taught me that sex could be shameful, but I'd never yet heard that choosing to limit offspring was the unpardonable sin. By then, I'd figured out enough to "plan" baby number two, all without the aid of chemicals (or weird-looking doo dads), thank you very much.

Now I had self-righteous rhetoric on my side and I felt like I'd stumbled into the right "camp". Sometimes, you just get lucky and the storm's blowing the other way, you know? But idealism about family planning doesn't mean a speck when you've spent the day laying aside your every need as a human being to meet the needs of the arrows in your quiver and the nights sleep-walking from marriage bed to crib to toddler bed, only to end up slumped over a nursing infant and waking up thankful you didn't smother it to death. Idealism did not last through the storms of reality for me. And then I had baby number four. I'd been married six years. I was 26 years old. We'd been making a real salary for less than a year. I was tired.

So we, Brian and me, got interested in science real quick-like. The information was easy to come by, even before Google. Of course, we covered Theology, too. It consisted of getting sage advice wrapped in euphemisms from my grandmother and mother. The same women who didn't talk about sex were full of wisdom when they saw me teetering on the edge of the looney-bin. I am grateful to them to this day. You trust God to keep you safe at night, but you still lock the doors. I was more than relieved to agree that this must be true, even if it wasn't terribly deep. When you're teetering on the edge, sometimes a quip will do.

So we blundered and bumbled and stumbled our way through these ideas and truths about what it means to enjoy sex and to create children and to avoid creating new children and in the middle of all that uncertainty and shame and hushed and unspoken questions, I was schooled in the deepest theology of all. What it means that God is sovereign and full of grace and forgiveness. That it is not my wisdom or understanding that brings out the best in God. His expectations for me are surpassed by his delights. I do not deserve these four divinely created images of the one true God -- Andrew, Alexander, Kendra and Natalie. I do not deserve to be living in joy and harmony with these amazing siblings and their burgeoning families.

But I will hold the end of the string - flying the beauty and hilarity of this gift of family that came down as lights from Heaven. I will hope that my children will know and be known at a deeper level because of the wide-open fields the Church is walking in now -- led, in part, by the child-like and sagacious likes of Taylor and his wife. I would stand side by side with them in that field and point my children's attention toward them. Run beside them, children. There is truth and freedom and beauty flying overhead. Go on ahead of us, offspring. We will watch from here. And love the watching.

And, even in the middle of the blustering hurricanes, I will laugh as Abraham and Sarah at the holy absurdity of it all.
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