Friday, December 31, 2010

Eating Crow

You know you're desperate for friends when you leave the used furniture (yes, we're still sitting in camping chairs and eating off of cardboard boxes) place wishing you would have had the nerve to get the number for your salesman's wife who is a stay-at-home mom of a four year old boy.

Although I appreciate my moments of solitude and periods of time alone in the woods, as Meyers-Briggs so pointedly stated, I am a pure 50 percenter. Not, this kind of 50 percenter, but a 50% extrovert/50% introvert kind of gal. I truly enjoy being with others, listening to stories, sharing in conversation and actually participating in relationships. Yet, I know that the only way I am able to be, or do, any of the above is through intentionally balancing those moments with others with provided quite time in our home, laying on the floor to soak in a good books, walk through the woods or sit on the back porch with a warm cup of tea.

A number of years back when my family was gathering together for the Christmas holiday in Indy my mom shared that she was reserving two rooms for us all to enjoy. I pointed out (thinking of the financial impact) that there were only 7 of us at that time and we could all easily master one room together. Mom & Dad in one bed, Sarah & Gil in another while Allison, Mary & I took residence on the floor - saving $80 some dollars in the end was completely worth it in my mind. When I shared this grand plan with my mom she promptly shared that she would be willing to pay $84 to allow me the space to have some alone time in order for me to be better with everyone together. Nothing more humbling than you're own mom telling you that your emotional and mental needs are a little high maintenance. Thanks mom.

Still, this whole staying at home with Yael and spending up to 13 hours a day with her, and only her, is waring on my mentality. Yes, I am learning. I actually feel as though I'm learning quite a bit - about my daughter, our marriage, how to continue to meet the needs of our home and family. And yet - I need more. My greatest fear is becoming too wrapped up in my home, my family, and Yael so much so that I forget the needs of the world. I have this great fear that Yael may come to embrace a sense of entitlement and selfishness when in truth, she is equal as all others in the world in regards to receiving God's love. How can I show her this though when ALL of my time is spent with her?

So, for my mental, spiritual & emotional health as well as for the hopeful health of Yael I did what I never thought I would ever do - I, Jessica R-D, joined the, a Beckley Mommies Network Community. And yes, I believe I will be attending my first play-date this coming Wednesday.

This is a big deal. This was/is a humbling move to make for a number of reasons.

I mercilessly poke & prod at Jake for his previous and current involvement with ADV. Although he has made a few really good friends from this on-line community, there is something about it that strikes me as hilarious! Call me old-fashioned (because I truly am in so many ways) but the idea that Jake has "friends" on-line that he has never met and yet they are so gracious in celebrating with him his completion of nursing school, the birth of our daughter, great and memorable motorcycle rides, etc. is so intriguing! They are indeed an on-line community that we have never met (again, with the exception of three really great guys whom we have spent great times with that would sincerely give the shirts off their backs for Jake. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure they would give the shirts off their backs for Yael & I too).

So, when I shared with Jake yesterday the leap of on-line faith I took I received a look that had been coming to me for the last 3 years. I deserved every sarcastic note it contained, every bit of laughter it accompanied and the smile he shot my way could speak no less that a hundred words of playful harassment. I ate crow and there was no going back.

This was also a big deal because "these" women are the women I giggle at. When I was working for GECRC my office was located inside the Glen Ellyn YMCA where, if you know GE, there are mommies abundant with BOB strollers (and yes, we have one), Starbucks in their hands and their hair pristinly done after a Zumba class with like individuals. I don't know why they struck me as such an intriguing group but they did! I never really longed to become part of them, in fact - who even knew, for so many years if I would/could become a mom. And yet, there they were - in masses mind you! Carting, carrying, pushing, strolling so many kids around. This was their life and I couldn't imagine myself entering into this circle. It seemed too foreign, too self-serving - not on the trajectory I would hope my life would take.

And yet here we are and here I am and one of my tasks today is to obtain a YMCA membership the day after I joined the BeckleyMommies online community.

So what now? These movements feel right, these choices to engage in the Beckley community through these avenues fit right now.

Still, there is this nagging weight in the back of my mind reminding me of our belief that we must be intentional to provide a safe foundation for Yael while at the same time continually exposing her to the world through love, service, and whatever other avenues God may provide to teach us how to love a little better.

So with that - this coming Monday I will be e-mailing and/or calling the Carpenter's Corner, the Shepherd's Center and the Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry to see if there is anything Yael & I can do there together. I will also be listening to this weekly program with hopes that it will open my mind a bit more to life here.

And you can bet that I will most likely report back on my experience at the Beckley Mommies play-date. Here goes nothing, or maybe just something...
Winter Wonders

One of the most significant influences that lead us to move into the hills of West Virginia was the simple desire to grow some roots in a place where we can run in the woods, climb trees and play in rivers & ponds. We wanted to be in a place where Yael can come to know and appreciate the simple joys which only Mother Nature can provide. This past week we have experienced a significant rise in snowfall which has all but melted away after a 48 degree afternoon yesterday.

Our front yard under the large oak tree.

Shoveling with Dad

An afternoon at the park

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goldilocks & The Good Fit

Three bowls of porridge.
Three wooden chairs.
Three beds.

Of all options available, only one bowl of porridge, one wooden chair, one bed was the good fit that made Goldilocks feel welcome, feel at home, comfortable. I've been thinking a lot about Goldilocks lately as I nurse Yael in the middle of the evenings, go about our day with anticipation for what new relationships or adventures may come our way. Most recently, as we have sought out a new spiritual home in Beckley.

When Jake & I returned to the US after our year over seas we were not quite sure if we wanted to return to the tradition of attending church. It was a difficult spiritual time for the both of us and what we believed we needed most at that time was to rest and seek out spiritual support from outside the church, as we had come to know it.

This resolution lasted a total of 3 weeks until we decided to give it a go and seek out a spiritual home. Soon we found ourselves attending a Presbyterian congregation downtown Chicago. With engaging music and an upper loft to call our own (with the others who were trying to hide away) Grace Chicago was a good fit for the five(ish) months we attended. We could sneak in, receive, let go, and sneak out. No one was the wiser. We were greeted and welcomed a total of two times and although we made efforts to build a few relationships, with the exception of one - they just weren't good fits. We were too raw and they (the church and those we met) were too adapted. We were a mess and knew we needed more. More accountability, more welcoming, more spiritual connectedness, more of Jesus through others.

Enter Wicker Park Grace (WPG). If you are a frequent visitor here you know the impact that Wicker Park Grace has made in our lives. From the first Sunday evening we came to worship we have been welcomed consistently, even when we weren't welcoming ourselves, were at our worst emotionally and/or spiritually or before they began to know how truly messed up Jake & I are.

See, this is why we fell in love with our spiritual community at WPG - they represented Jesus to us. From the parishioners to the services - each element of our relationship with WPG offered us grace, accountability, love and friendship. So much so that it was only contagious to want to pass it on by loving others who entered in, welcoming the strangers, supporting the elderly, feeding the hungry. It became a part of who we have become (both singular & plural).

We fell so deeply in love with WPG that we decided we wanted nothing more than to have Yael baptized through this congregation - accepted forever into this community.

Welcome Goldilocks. When we moved to Beckley we knew it was going to be an exciting (read: difficult) challenge to enter into a congregation as we had experienced and come to love in WPG. Yet, I was up to the challenge. With a knowledge that not attending a church would only hurt us we began to seek out a new spiritual home that fit.

First bowl of porridge: Our first Sunday afternoon in Beckley we attended a "Christmas Around the World" festival at the local Catholic church. What a great time we had! Receiving tastes (both figuratively and tangibly) of Christmas from over 10 different countries - we had a great time meeting the self professed "only Bolivian" woman, the only Syrian family and Philippiano families in Beckley. At first I was sold at going back (and still may) but when I thought of attending a Sunday Catholic mass by myself (which may happen now & again due to Jake's schedule) I felt strangely uncomfortable - not an unwelcoming uncomfortable - simply a personal sense of uncomfortably. This bowl of porridge was too hot.

The week following our move to Beckley we just happen to get lucky with religious services abundant due to the Christmas Holiday. What a delight for a church seeker like me to be able to hit up four, yes - four, religious services in ONE week!

Second bowl of porridge: Wesleyan Chapel - who promptly shared with us upon entering in the front doors, that they were indeed independent and not Wesleyan (?). Okay. This bowl of porridge was too cold the moment it was set down on the table.

First chair: Episcopal Church - on Christmas Eve we participated in a service full of grace and liturgy that filled our hearts with great anticipation for the celebration of the birth of our Love, Jesus. Yet, this chair just felt too small for us to fit comfortably into.

It was at this time that Jake & I had an honest conversation and time of reflection about what we were specifically looking for in a spiritual home & community. We came to find that in our lives and in the space we're bent toward, the single most important factor we were looking forward to was becoming part of a welcoming congregation where we felt comfortable to bring anyone and everyone to church with us, knowing full well that they would be welcomed in the fullest sense.

With that knowledge we decided to attend the free Christmas dinner being hosted by the Methodist Temple on Christmas afternoon. Upon entering Yael was delighted upon (sometimes in a wonderful way, other times in the most annoying manner), we received a gracious (and very tasty!) dinner and we sat, alone, for quite sometime. That was until we resolved to take it upon ourselves and welcome others, in true WPG style. By the end of suppertime we had made great friends with a former Unitarian Minister, Geo, and his partner, Thomas. We also had a wonderful time welcoming Rose into our lives, a woman who has been volunteering at the Christmas supper for over 10 years but does not hold any religious beliefs.

Still, this chair felt too big. And yes, we did exchange numbers with Geo & Thomas.

The following morning Jake needed to work so in a true West Virginia blizzard Yael & I made our way to the PC USA church located in downtown Beckley. I was smitten with them at first site of webpage - they are quite involved in the community by hosting regular gatherings for the elderly, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, amongst other actions centered around welcoming others.

Upon entering Rita came to introduce herself, followed by a line of others within the congregation welcoming both Yael & I. The service was beautiful and message pertinent. What really sold me was the sensation that I could bring the homeless man who walks Hwy. 3 to this church and he would indeed feel welcome.

This porridge tasted just right. This chair fit. I felt as though Jesus could come here and feel truly welcomed.

So this coming Sunday we will attend as a family and see if the bed fits right as well. Because, like Goldilocks, we all need a place to rest. Whether it's spiritually, emotionallyor physically we need a place to rest where we feel welcomed - a important factor for a good fit.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

O sing to the Beloved a new song,
for Love has done marvelous things!
By the strength of your
Indwelling Presence,
we, too, are called to do great things;
we are set free through
Love's forgiveness and truth.
Yes, your steadfast Love
and faithfulness
are ever-present gifts in our lives.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the glory of Love's Eternal Flame.

Make a joyful noise to the Beloved
all the earth;
break forth into grateful song
and sing praises!
Yes, sing songs of praise extolling
Love's way;
lift up your hearts with gratitude
and joy!
Let the voices of all people
blend in harmony,
in unison let the people
magnify the Beloved!

Let the sea laugh, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the waters clap their hands;
let the hills ring out with joy
Before the Beloved, who radiates Love to all the earth.
For Love reigns over the world with truth and justice
bringing order and balance to all of Creation.

Psalm 98, rendered by Nan Merrill in Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness

Friday, December 24, 2010


I have a confession, which shouldn't be too difficult to guess as evidenced by the title of this post. I have officially shopped at Wal-Mart.

Against every cell in my body in our first weeks in Beckley, I made the leap and have made two successful shopping trips to Wal-Mart where, not much to my surprise, I found everything I needed (except leeks in the produce section) at a convenient and low price - just as promised.

  • Canisters for sugar & flour - ah, that's what wedding gifts are for!
  • Heavy duty curtain to hang at the back door to catch some of the cold draft
  • Rugs to soak up the snow and mask the cigarette burns on the carpet
  • Shower curtain
  • Trash can for the kitchen - still looking for one to fit the bathroom
  • Silverware - another wedding gift "Ah Ha!" moment
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
It was, in all honesty, a GREAT shopping experience. With Yael in tow we didn't have to shift from store to store, in and out of the car seat, unzip and zip her amazingly cute snowsuit, or even have to engage in the parking challenge over and over and over again. I see how Wal-Mart gets people.

When I was in high school my girlfriend Alissa shared one afternoon, after a trip to Meijer, how great it would be if Meijer would be able to provide and sell everything you need PLUS have a number of flights of condos stacked above it so, if needed, you would never have to leave comfort to get everything you needed. We were in high school then - before we could dissect all that is inherently wrong with this plan. For two naive 10 graders from Eaton Rapids, MI it sounded like a sure-fire money-maker. A way to continue to ease into convenience and comfort. Aside from the condos, Wal-Mart pretty much does this. Wal-Mart provides almost everything one individual born and raised in Beckley may want as well as provide a way to avoid the daily challenges of life and streamline the daily hassles.

I get this. Life is hard here - and I mostly know this through my visits to Wal-Mart, a social hub of Beckley. Jake & I have joked many times already that I get my social needs fixed from going to Wal-Mart. It's true. People fawn over Yael. Men and women, with great frequency, share stories about their kids and grand-kids and how they have all grown up and in some cases moved away. One elderly woman shared, "Aren't they so precious at this age. Enjoy it cause when they grow up they will leave you and never come back." An elderly man admitted, "If I had an opportunity to have kids again there is no way I would - too much in this world to take their joy away." Another man confessed, "I wouldn't have kids in these ages, there's no way they are going to have a good life." All sharing these intimate stories as they touch Yael's hands, grabbing her toes, sharing how beautiful she is and how lucky my husband and I have become.

I often read blogs of idealistic life. Country & markets. Homemade & handmade. Fabrics & crafts. Homeschooling & unschooling. I have batted around with how to even make our blog more up-lifting in this manner - give it a little bit more spirit, lighten it up a bit. But I have come to accept that this is not how I'm bent. I'm bent to listen to the stories of the men & women who shop at Wal-Mart. I'm bent to truly hear their stories and carry them with me. I'm bent with the need to share them, their hurts and joys if only to raise my awareness of the many more who share this same trajectory of life.

Born into a rural community, married and/or divorced with kids, blue-collar employment, loss through the trails of poverty, often experiencing life the best they know how with the limited education available. And yet, one thing bring them together - shopping at Wal-Mart. Because this one thing in life, shopping, can be easy. Although it may not be the most ethical choice nor the most educated option - it is easy. And when your kids have left you, regrets run amuck in our memory and your worldview is limited and full or sorrow, such deep sorrow that you're willing to share it, pass it along to a complete stranger - an easy visit to Wal-Mart may possibly ease life's pains a bit more, just for today.

A memorial decal adorns a truck sitting in a parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Beckley, W. Va.
Thank you Washington Post

So although my conscious just won't allow me to become a frequent patron of Wal-Mart, I believe I have much to learn, simply from my two visits there.

And no, I still haven't found a trashcan that will fit into our bathroom.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Southern West Virginia & Us

It's hard to imagine that it's been over two months since we have touched this blog. This is not to say that we have not entertained the idea of posting an up-date every now and again. Yet, the time never seemed right, the internet connection never consistent nor the space of time ever provided. Too many good things to make ourselves sit down and write.

In addition, I have had a tumultuous relationship with this format of communication (meaning this blog). Still, many have asked us when we are going to up-date our blog. I have shared with them my struggle to begin writing again within a public format but did not feel a sense of resolution in letting it go completely.

So I have been thinking - what do I want this blog to become? Do I want it to become a format which I communicate the daily happenings of my life with Jake & Yael? Should I begin to write more about the causes of the world which both Jake & I feel so deeply about? Is this a space that I should just keep to myself and use it as a means to write about my personal journey in this new stretch of life? Or, as I have decided to do, should I use this space as a means to share with our many friends and family about our new life in the Appalachian mountains of Southern West Virginia.

Having recently found myself with a couple of days to reflect of our move to Beckley, WV I have found myself feeling more free. I have come to find that our life in Chicago, although full of wonderful and life-giving friends, was too big, and yet too confining for me. Our circles of friends was too big and I felt stretched too far to keep up. And yet, the community - in it's natural(?) state was too confining. So much concrete and so little grass. I remember many weekends when I would naturally want to send our care packages, return calls, visit friends or engage my creativity - I simply didn't have the energy to do so. I simply needed to rest.

So with that current reflection in the forefront of my mind - I want to keep the following goals for my new life as a stay-at-home mom, a nurturer to my husband and a participate in the Beckley community:
a) I want my circle to remain small(ish). I want to know deeply and learn from a small group of people - be them my neighbors, friends, spiritual community, YMCA members, people I engage with in the grocery store. I need for my circle to remain small.

b) The median income for the Beckley community is a smidge over $29,000. This is not a wealthy community - it's a coal mining community in the hills of a community experiencing generational poverty. I want to learn more about our community, the lives of those who live here. What are their personal stories which they care for?

c) There are also generations of crafty people, comfort food and great music (thanks Rachel!) here. I want to spend time learning how to engage the folk art presence in the lives of those who practice here and learn how to make some good ole' Appalachian food. There are cookbooks upon cookbooks of traditional dishes and yet - a community based, privately owned restaurant is hard to come by/doesn't exist in Beckley. Why is such a socially rich community taken over with chains and big business?

d) Lastly, I want to know more about the Beckley community as a whole through the local news, current events and people. There is a lot going on here politically and socially and yet - I haven't noticed any socially orientated groups who advocate or provide for social needs one way or another. Where is social activism taking place?

So, in the midst of trying to find a space to hold myself accountable for becoming part of this community and trying to find a way to bring new life to this blog - this is what it will look like in the coming weeks/months. We hope you'll stick around, learn a bit about our new life in Beckley, the community who lives here and the social issues surrounding each of us in the Appalachian mountains of Southern West Virginia.