Remembering My Baptism

I am posting this here from our private Audition Tour blog, mainly because I needed to see it and read it today, but also because I hope that it is a help to others. And this blog gets a much wider readership than the other one. I hope that this meditation brings solace and hope to whoever needs it today. 

Friday, October 18: Day Twenty-Two in Baden-Baden

R and I decided before we left New York that we would devote most of our time, attention and money to our auditions, but that if we were in a location where there is a “must-see” site or experience or some such thing, that we would take advantage of it. For all we know, we will not pass this way again, and we do not want to have any regrets because we were being stingy with money or time.

That said, we decided to take two days off from singing to enjoy southwestern Germany. And today, we went to Baden-Baden.

My mom was born in Heidelberg after World War II and lived there until she was four years old. My grandfather was a Colonel in the U.S. Army and was stationed there. I have heard all my life about “Baden-Baden Eier” which my grandmother loved and made for her children and nieces and nephews with great frequency. Our first stop in Baden-Baden was a tiny hotel restaurant across an alley from the baths, for Baden-Baden Eier. The waitress looked surprised when I ordered it (it wasn’t on the menu) but nodded and gave that low-pitched German, “Ja,” that you hear everywhere, which when pitched low seems to be “Of course,” or “Sure, ok.” She brought the scrambled eggs mixed with little pieces of bacon. These were hands-down the best eggs I have ever had. I honestly did not expect them to live up to reputation, but you have to understand that bacon on the edge of the Black Forest is not what you are used to in New York or Virginia or Texas. It is not what you buy at the H.E.B. or the A&P. These were tiny bits of smoked, dried, dripping with fat, juicy goodness, mixed into perfectly scrambled eggs. Fran – you have good taste.

After we finished our breakfast, the boys walked me over to Friedrichsbad, the 132 year old Irish-Roman bath. They went on their way. I went inside.

There are two main public spas in Baden-Baden (and I’m sure countless others), one of which is Caracalla and one is Friedrichsbad. Caracalla is apparently a fairly social spa, somewhere between a spa and a water park, and very modern. Friedrichsbad is called a “bath temple”. The building is 132 years old but is built on top of the ruins of the old Roman baths, which you can tour. (We didn’t have much time in Baden-Baden, so we didn’t take a look, and I think much the pity.) The current Friedrichsbad is heated from natural springs, which make up the steam rooms. There are seventeen stations which you proceed through in a contemplative, almost ritualistic way. There are signs everywhere requiring silence. You seldom hear speaking and there is music only in the massage room. Otherwise, all you hear is water. There are frescoed walls and mosaics and etched and painted glass and sculpture, but nothing else in the way of decoration. Oh, yes. And no clothes. That’s right – no clothing. No bathing suits, no towels, nothing. You are allowed a towel (more like a sheet) in the first station, but then you are very politely asked to relinquish it. (They advise you when purchasing your pass that clothing is not permitted, so it does not come as a shock.)

The stations are as follows:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm Air Bath (lying on a wooden chaise)
  3. Hot Air Bath (very, very hot – again on a chaise – so hot I was afraid I would burn myself – they give you sheets to put down so that you don’t)
  4. Shower
  5. Soap Scrub (you lie down and someone uses a very hard bristled brush and soap to take off any grime and the top layer of your skin – think of Danearys Targarean bath with her handmaidens)
  6. Warm Steam Bath (from the natural springs)
  7. Hot Steam Bath (from the natural springs)
  8. Warm Pool
  9. Cooler Pool
  10. Swimming Pool-temperature pool (the loveliest – a circular pool in a domed room, and the only place, miraculously, where I was entirely alone)
  11. Shower
  12. Ice Cold Pool
  13. Shower
  14. Drying Off (4 minutes sitting while wrapped in an enormous thick, heated sheet
  15. Cream Massage (full body massage using a thick but light smelling rice milk and bamboo cream)
  16. Resting (they literally tuck you in inside a thick sheet and very large and plush brown blanket like a little child in a dimly lit semi-circular brown room for 30 minutes)
  17. Reading and Tea (sip mint or orange tea while lying on a cushioned lounge chair, magazines provided, if you wish, you are wrapped in a sheet at this point)

When I went to Friedrichsbad, I was expecting to relax. I was expecting to de-stress from the strain of the audition tour and traveling with the kids. I was looking forward to some much-needed alone time. I was hoping the tense muscle on the right side of my neck would soften. I was not expecting what I got.

To go through the 17 stations takes about 2-3 hours (you are permitted three hours before being asked to pay for extra time). I did it in about 2 ½. Two and a half hours with nothing to do but bathe. Absolutely nothing in the way of busyness or distraction. No one asking anything of me. No paper to write on. No web to surf. No smart phone on which to check email or Facebook or listen to music or convert currency or volume or distance. No books to read. Not even a stitch of clothing to fiddle with. No one to have a conversation with. No news to listen to. Absolutely nothing. Nothing but steam, water, time and my thoughts.

Have you played that game online where you are supposed to just look at your screen for something like a minute without pulling up another window or taking a call or writing anything down or multi-tasking in any way? I can’t do it. Try as I will, I can never get through the whole minute. Right. Well. Two and a half hours.

Like any good Protestant, Southern, American girl from a religious and proper family, I was extremely modest almost to the point of prudishness. I knew what I was in for with the no clothes rule, and that in Europe this is not considered prurient at all, but when the moment came, I clung to that towel a little longer than was seemly. The staff gently required the towel of me, and on I went. Because I was uncomfortable with the nudity, I found the most out-of-the-way corner of each room and pool and closed my eyes a lot. Not that anyone is parading themselves or looking at you in any way. People walk around quite naturally and no one seems to be interested in anyone else. I think the silence helps with this. Everyone seems to be having a fairly solitary experience, even in pairs or groups. Eyes are downcast, for the most part, and I don’t think out of modesty particularly. I think it is because this is an internal experience.

Alone, quiet, in silence, my body gradually heating with the air, steam and water and cooling again, getting clean and relaxed through very little effort of my own, and with nothing to do, my mind turned without even conscious effort, to prayer.

At first, I prayed for the success of our trip. Then I poured out my heart about the strain and stress and anxiety that both I and Ross have been feeling, with everything on the line. And then somewhere along the way, and I’m not sure when, the one-way supplication turned into a conversation, and then I was just listening to the Holy Spirit and feeling my Seele (soul) ministered to every bit as much as my Körper (body).

It was a very mystical experience, and I realized when trying to recount it to R that I can’t. But what I can say and do remember is this – that everything is ok. Not that it will be ok, but that it is. God made everything, and what he made is good. That includes me. I don’t have to be anything else other than exactly who I am to receive God’s approval and love. And I don’t have to impress anyone, either, or work extra super hard for their approval. And I will make mistakes because I’m human, and that is ok, too, because I’m not God and only God doesn’t make mistakes. If someone doesn’t like me, that is ok because I have God’s love. Which means that if my parents disapprove of me, or my friends, or my bosses, or my husband, or my children or my siblings or my neighbors or the strangers on the street or agents or conductors or directors or anyone at all, it is still ok. I can be surrounded by anger, disapproval… even hatred, and it is ok because I am at the same time surrounded by God’s love which is the love that matters and makes all of the others possible.

And as to my singing career… Singing is my vocation and one of the truest things about me, at the very core of who I am. Which means that no matter what happens in the next couple of months or years or in my life, it cannot be lost. It cannot be denied or taken away. My nature will be fulfilled, in its entirety, in fullness, just as the nature of every living and non-living thing will be fulfilled. I will one day sing at the throne of God because that is my destiny. So if I sing for the applause of kings or only to the sleeping breathing of my children, I will one day sing before the throne of thrones for the king of kings because it pleases him because he made me and takes joy in my singing. And yes, naturally, I think right now that the best thing for me and my family is for either R or I or both of us to get contracts in Germany and to build a life here for ourselves and our children, but if we don’t it is because it is not the best thing. And the best thing will always be given. What is best for me and for R and for E and N and for everyone around us and for all involved and for the household of God and for the entire world because everything is taken into account and nothing is forgotten in God’s mind and plans.

And to live the life he means me to live, even if he wants me to do great things, I do not myself have to be great. He brought down the mighty walls of Jericho with music. He chose a man with a stutter to speak before the King of Egypt. He gave Sarah the promised son and made her the mother of a nation when she didn’t even believe and laughed at the promise as though it was a joke. He made a slave and a prisoner and a foreigner the Viceroy of Egypt. He made the bastard son of incest and murder the greatest human king the world has known. He made a persecutor of the church the greatest evangelist in history. He made fishermen and a thief his principal disciples and leaders of his church. He made a little girl in a backwater town the mother of his son and raised that son in the household of a poor craftsman. God constantly says and shows that he does great things through weakness. If God choses to take me up to use me as an instrument in his hand, it will be to his glory and because of his work, not because I myself am great. And he can do it just fine, even if I’m not. And if he chooses not to, that’s ok, too, because my nature will still be fulfilled and all in blessing. I can even put down my to-do list.

That does not mean that I don’t have to do anything. I will do my best. I will show up and do my work to the hilt. But when I have done that, I can rest. I can lay down the angst and anxiety over whether it was good enough or whether people like me or what the future holds. I can eat my bread and take my rest, knowing that I have done my part and do not have to do more than that. And that God is right this very minute pouring blessings down on my head. And on everyone else’s, too.

I can finally, finally, finally stop trying to justify my existence. I can stop seeking my own worth in the value of others, in the “quotation of the day”.

Shalom. It is finished. The good news is that you are loved, you are forgiven, every promised goodness is yours and more to come. The happiness of God is here. Here.

Does this mean that I was instantly changed and all is perfect now? Well, no. I wish I could say that’s so, but that wouldn’t make logical sense, and certainly not for me. But it means that I had such a profound experience that for the first time in my life, I am able to repeat the lessons of those two and a half hours to my own heart and mind on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. I still feel the twist in my stomach when someone is hateful to me, or the anxiety when I think maybe someone doesn’t like my singing, or when I make an innocent mistake and get that look of disapproval from some stranger who happens to be watching. Or when I feel my own censure when I lose my temper and yell at the kids. Or when R does that guy thing when he’s in a bad mood and disappears inside himself, distant to me and the kids until he feels better, and I sit there wondering what I did or if he’s mad at me, even though I know he’s not. But I can tell myself the truth – that everything is ok. And for the first time in my life, I believe it. I believe that everything is ok. And will be ok, no matter what circumstance I find myself in. If I forget, all I have to do is to keep my eyes on Jesus. I cannot sink in the stormy water if my eyes are on him – I will walk on it.

I feel myself softening, and at the same time getting braver. Because when the King of Kings has your back, what can you possibly fear?

Not a thing, my friends, not a thing.

I can say with 100% certainty that no matter which way this audition tour goes, life for the RC Family is going to be absolutely wonderful.

And thank God for Friedrichsbad.

Friedrichsbad

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Unplugging.

RHR left this morning. He’ll be gone for a week to attend to some family matters back home. That leaves me with the kids – single parent duty, which I have never done before – not with two. I feel both fearful and overwhelmed at the amount of sheer work I’m facing, and overly optimistic. I have made schedules, lowered expectations and enlisted help. I’ve made easy-cook meal plans and have purchased paper plates and plastic cutlery. We have booked FaceTime with Daddy every night. We have prepared the kids for being separated from him. I think I’ve got a handle on this. And yet, I know that I don’t. I know that life with two young children is totally predictable, and it soooo isn’t. I know enough to know that I’ll be ok, and also that I am totally screwed. And I have a Netflix line-up for after their bedtime and a few bottles of wine in the fridge, to keep me sane. I know that there will be laughter galore and battling allergies, and there will undoubtedly at some point be some shouting and some tears – from at least one of the three of us. I know I won’t get much done. That’s ok. I’ve booked us for Mother’s Day Brunch at a restaurant that knows us – walking distance from our place. And I am emotionally and mentally prepared to hear the call from my sweetie that he’s not coming home at the expected time. We’re gonna get through this, one way or another.

And so, I’ve decided to unplug for the week. The kids only get one parent right now, and they are gonna get all of me. I won’t be checking Facebook or email or googling anything (not even allergy stuff). I won’t be reading my WordPress Reader. I won’t be checking in on my stats. All I will allow myself is my German practice while I’m in the shower, and the pollen count forecast. And, obviously, FaceTime with Daddy. For a week. Holy cow. Seems impossible.

I remember a time when this was all there was. Just the moment you were in, remembering the past, dreaming about the future. Sure, we had radio and TV and books and newspapers and magazines – but that’s all. We wrote letters. We called people. We had – wait for it – conversations. Pretty much, wherever you were, you were present.

That’s what I’m going to be this week – I’m going to be: here.

So, say a prayer for me. And I’ll see you in a week (or so) with a full report. Wish me luck!

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Not everything is lost.

A moment of compassion and understanding is sometimes all it takes to let the beauty and love break through.

On a sleepy Thursday, a beautiful reminder that we’re all in it together.

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I… 

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Father Meeting Son

I just read this and it is now one of my favorite birth stories ever. The birth of my best friend’s third child, Berend, beautifully told by his father  from his own perspective. So touching, you can see his beaming pride, his tender smile as he watches over his wife and new child. I wept at the end.

Soren, I’m so glad you married into the family. Berend, I’m glad you made your way into it, too.

Dappled Things | Mary, Queen of Angels 2007 | Essays.

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Carissa K: What It’s Like to Be an Allergy-Mom

This. Much more reasoned than my angry rant yesterday. The other thing about managing chronic illness in children: sometimes you just get mad.

Most of us never grew up with a friend or sibling with food allergies. Unfamiliarity leads to a misunderstanding and a missed tone about food allergies. So while our kids seem to get it just fine, there’s a great deal of mental reconditioning and a real shift in mindset that needs to happen for us adults.

via Carissa K: What It’s Like to Be an Allergy-Mom.

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So Angry

I am so angry right now there are not words in me to express it.

I had a long conversation last night with a mother whose son has autism. What they are going through is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking in ways that it is difficult to imagine. She said she doesn’t know what to do anymore. And I didn’t know what to say. All I could do is listen. Listen and pray. And theirs is one story among thousands and thousands.

My own son was gasping for breath just two nights ago, doing that pacing thing that I recognize from my own asthma attacks, when your body moves to try to find the oxygen because you don’t instinctively know what else to do. Yeah, imagine that. And now picture that he only recently learned to walk and is still covered head to toe in baby fat. We avoided the hospital this time and were able to get his breathing back to normal, but my God it was scary.

My older son is getting new allergies every day, it seems. He is miserable and frustrated. We all are.

They will most definitely need special accommodation in their schools for their allergies and asthma. And I’ve already heard it from other parents of “normal” kids: why should we have to change what we do just because your kid has a problem? Why should I not be able to send nut-covered cupcakes to the classroom just because your son has allergies – it’s not fair! Yeah – talk to me about fair after living for one month in my house! You can take your nut cupcakes and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine.

And then I read this:

We just went and visited our local township community preschool. Out of 400 kids, 100 had a delay of some sort. The classroom they were going to put my son in had 20 kids, 12 autistic – with 1 teacher and 1 aide.

The kicker is they get to call these classrooms “mainstream” and “general education,” even though we all know they are anything but. If the ratio is 300 NT to 100 ASD, why are rooms over 50% autistic? Funny.

The point is – even if we are to shove off all these kids into their own special segregated rooms (“developmental preschool”) to spare the neurotypical 4 year olds not having as much attention bestowed upon them – it’s the same freaking thing. There’s TOO many of them. EVERYWHERE.

So my son is going to church-based K with an ABA-trained aide, paid for by ME. My school district told me these were my choices. Put my son in a room with 12 other ASD kids with no structure and no expectations, or pay for something else myself, all while my tax dollars go towards educating everyone else’s kids – just not mine.

And if we are going to get honest – *really* honest – I think that’s a load of shit. Why do I have to pay to educate your NT kids, and then pay out of pocket for my own just to get him an approprate education? Total crap.

It’s a giant, giant mess – and getting worse every single second.

And it makes me want to SCREAM. “There’s too many of them.” Them.

Why do you have to pay to educate our kids (at public school)? WHY? Because this is what it means to live in a community!! And do you think these kids or parents caused their problems? Do you want to hear my theory on what is causing epidemic levels of ASD and allergies in our children? I think we did this. I don’t know how, but my money is on toxins in our environment (GMOs, pesticides, etc.) or the use of technology we haven’t fully tested for long-term side effects (sonograms, medicines).  We have bought wholesale and willy-nilly into whatever any damned swindler is selling us.

The least we can do is show a little fucking compassion. Let’s stop with all the “us” and “them” shit and get to work on finding a cause and a solution and do the best we can by all of our kids. Your “normal” kid and mine. All of our kids.

And guess what? In this generation of children, if your child is neurotypical and immunotypical, you are not more virtuous – you won the fucking lottery.

And yes, I said fuck and shit and damn.

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Begging a Favor

I’m asking for a favor. Really. You. If you are reading these words, then I’m talking to you.

This has been a raw week. A raw week for my family. A raw week for this country. A raw week for this world. I need a break. I am begging you, if you are reading this – be part of what is good, do not participate in what is hateful. If you hear yourself start to use blame or shame or rage or stereotyping against someone – even yourself – please, stop. If you hear someone around you doing it, stop it. No, “Those Muslims” or “that Obama administration  or “those Republicans” or gun-toters or granolas. No “lazy” or “stupid” or putting someone down in front of other people. No gossiping or bad-mouthing. No bending tender necks in shame under the heat of your wrath. Stop. I need a break. We all need a break.

If you find yourself irritated by some older person walking too slowly in front of you, imagine what it must feel like when each step is painful.  When your toddler yanks off his shoes for the umpteenth time when you are running late, imagine what it must feel like to have zero control over your world.  When you get impatient with a student who hasn’t done his homework, reach down and say, “Let’s do it together, now. I’ll help you.” When you see the face of someone who has committed an atrocity, remember that he (or she) was a baby once, and probably has at least one person in his life who is also devastated. When you feel justified in your lecturing or preaching down to people you feel superior to, remember what it felt like the last time someone made you feel small.  When you feel numb from all of the violence, be the one to reach out in peace rather than hatred and blame. When you start to forget because the news cycle has moved on, remember that there are still families for whom the grieving is new, who haven’t moved on. When you think you have it the worst, remember that the people in the house next to yours probably have a very hard story you haven’t heard yet because we’re all trying to look perfect. When you know someone is going through something tragic and frightening and isolating, be the one to take over a plate of dinner and a hug. Reach out. Give the benefit of the doubt. Help.

I’m begging this of you, because this week I cannot stop crying. I’m begging you this not because I expect to change the world – the readership of this blog is hardly influential in size. I’m begging you this because we have to start somewhere. We have to stop it all somewhere. It’s you. It’s me. That’s all there is.

One more favor, and this one is from you, God. Without you, it all flies apart. We need you, and we know that. But from the rest of it, we need a breath.

Heaven and Earth 

“And there was silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour”

-Revelation

GOD, who with thunders and great voices kept
Beneath Thy throne, and stars most silver-paced
Along the inferior gyres, and open-faced
Melodious angels round,—canst intercept
Music with music,—yet, at will, has swept
All back, all back, (said he in Patmos placed)
To fill the heavens with silence of the waste
Which lasted half-an-hour! Lo I, who have wept
All day and night, beseech Thee by my tears,
And by that dread response of curse and groan
Men alternate across these hemispheres,
Vouchsafe us such a half-hour’s hush alone,
In compensation for our stormy years!
As heaven has paused from song, let earth from moan.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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