Sunday, January 27, 2013

What My Portable Potty Says to the World

My car says a lot about me. 

* I care more about my kids being able to eat in the car than I do about my upholstery. 

* I am somewhat environmentally conscious (four-cylinder vs. V6, mid-size versus super-size SUV, reusable grocery bags in trunk), but not overly so (still an SUV, and not a hybrid).

* I have allergies (box of tissues in the center consul, used tissues in the door pocket). 

* I drink a lot of coffee (stains, old cups in the consul).  

* I'm either a little distracted, or have bad depth perception (scratches on three of four bumper corners). 

* I am a MOPS mom (MOPS sticker partially obscures deepest bumper scratch). 

These are all things I can't and don't particularly care to hide about myself, but on the other hand, none of them are there on purpose to communicate my personality to other drivers. Even the MOPS sticker;  I just put it there to hide the scratch. 

You may note that I don't have a Jesus fish on my car or a cross hanging from my rear view mirror. I feel that, as a driver, I might be pad P.R. for Jesus. I don't want to cut someone off accidentally and give them an excuse not to like Christians, organized religion, or God. 

But there is one thing my car is currently communicating that is really bothering me. In my trunk, there is a sign that screams: DRIVER HAS POOR BLADDER CONTROL! And I don't know how to cover it up.

Back story: Over the Christmas break, Jeff and I took our girls to sled in the snow, outside of Big Bear at a trail head on the side of the road. There are no public facilities there, and the nearest restaurant (The Oaks) is always filled with other day-tripping families. So my Boy Scout of a husband (always be prepared!) decided that we needed to buy a portable folding toilet. 

Way back story: The last time we visited the snow (two years ago), we ate lunch in The Oaks, but I spent 30 minutes waiting in line for the bathroom, since all the customers and every other person in a 20-mile radius had come in, dripping snow, to use the one (one!) toilet. Finally, frustrated beyond belief by a full bladder, the fact that my tuna melt was sitting cold on the table, and my husband was in the parking lot trying to get our already potty trained daughter to go pee in an old diaper he found in the trunk, I delivered a vehement lecture to the manager that they should have a restroom key and give priority to customers. Then the woman in front of me in line said, "That's not the manager. That's my husband." Then I saw that yes, he was wearing boots and snow bib overalls. Then I went and apologized to him as he ate his cold tuna melt. Then I nearly died of shame.

So. We bought a portable toilet. And we did indeed use it on the side of the road with our posteriors freezing and a quilt draped around the car door as a makeshift bathroom stall. (At this point, Jeff and I both wished we had had boys. The world is their urinal!) 

Now, the toilet lives permanently in our trunk. And it's not a cute little toddler potty like my friends have. It's a full-on man-sized toilet that you'd take camping or hunting, as it says on the box. Said box is construction sign yellow, and marked on all sides by the bold black letters "PORTABLE TOILET" or even, on it's most subtle side "portable TOILET." No matter which way I turn the box, it rats me out to every one in the parking lot. "THIS WOMAN CAN'T WAIT TO GET TO A BATHROOM! SHE CARRIES A TOILET WITH HER EVERYWHERE SHE GOES." This is not the statement I wish to make to the world.

Now, I can't conceive of any place in suburban Orange County, where I spend 96% of my time, that I would prefer to squat on an aluminum toilet in my trunk (my windows are not tinted drug-dealer opaque) rather than hold it till I get to the next Target in half a mile. Perhaps if I'm trapped under an overpass after a major earthquake it would come in handy, and I could lend it to other trapped motorists in exchange for food, water and bandages, since the only thing left in my car's emergency kit is a dead flashlight, an empty band-aid box and a couple of latex gloves. But how likely is that? 

Still, Hubby will not let me bring it into the storage closet. It is for potty emergencies in the car, so in the car it must stay. It's so embarrassing to me that I've considered wrapping the box in gift paper to make it prettier. But what if someone asked me what was in it. Do I want to communicate that to the world: I am the kind of person who decorates her emergency potty box? I'll think about it, and I'll let you know.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Year of Joy

On January 1, 2013, my husband tripped in the attic while putting away our Christmas decorations and put his foot through our upstairs bathroom ceiling.

I was standing in the hallway and saw his foot and calf come down in a hail of dust and insulation. I swore. My husband did not. Happy New Year!

This all happened about one hour before my parents were expected for dinner and five minutes after I had got a call from a neighbor. Neighbor asked if she could come over for a cup of tea and refuge from her chaotic house, where she was half-way through a kitchen rennovation. I opened the door for her just moments after the ceiling puncture and told her perhaps she had come to the wrong place.

Thirty minutes later, as I swept up toxic insulation dust garbed in my husband's face mask and safety goggles (see mess at right), I felt a wave a gratitude come over me. Gratitude because (1) Jeff was not hurt and didn't fall all the way through (a la Tom Hanks in The Money Pit); (2) Neither had he come through the ceiling in our bedroom, just a few feet away, which would have necessitated many loads of laundry, but rather in our easily contained bathroom; (3) It was Jeff and not I that had made such a critical slip, so I didn't have to feel guilty about it; and (4) we had the money to fix the ceiling so this wouldn't constitute financial hardship. (Not that this is the way we would like to spend the money but still...). Then, remembering the sight of the foot through the ceiling, I began to laugh.

We had had a beautiful, healthy, peaceful Christmas break. Throughout December, I felt God had been speaking something to me about the coming year: "This will be a year of joy." Now, that is a good message to get from God. Funny way to start off though, with at attic accident at the absolute end of a 10-day vacation. 

I don't actually have trouble, typically, finding joy and gratitude -- or at least humor -- in the trials of life. For some reason, I struggle more to experience joy when all is well. The externals of my life have been marked by blessing (Thank you, God!): physical health, healthy children, marriage to a good man, financial stability, a safe home, a wonderful community, a sense of mission and purpose in the world. And I am grateful.

But I have lived in seasons where I can see all that I have is good, and yet am unable to rejoice over my blessings. I have had a sense that under all the present goodness was something sinister, a dark truth about the universe and the nature of God that made joy impossible. It felt like a chain around my ankle, just like they show in those animated depression medication commercials on TV.

The reasons for this inability to enjoy a life that should produce joy are complex: a combination of brain chemistry, learned behavior, and a spiritual stronghold. The first I do what I can to manage. The second likewise. The third, I needed God to do the work.

What I needed was a dose of truth, and the ability to hear it. My daughters just memorized the statement Jesus made in John 8:32: "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Over the last few months, I've been asking God to speak truth to me, because books, teachers, friends, my spouse and psycholgists have, but I needed to hear it straight from Him. I believe He answered me. And I believe I am free.

Over the last three months, I've been having a running dialogue with God, and what He spoke was startling, never the response I expected.

 Dialogue Part First:
me: What more can I do, Jesus? I know my faith has so many holes in it.
God: I am pleased with you. Your faith is pleasing me.
I was expecting a review, Jesus with a clipboard, casting a critical eye over my life; like a spiritual life coach here to help me achieve higher potential. His answer shocked me into tears. I know it came from something (Someone) external, because it was the last thing I would have thought.  And this He followed with, "Your new name is Joyful One."

Dialogue Part Second:
me: God, show me what you are like. I'm still afraid you are not good.
God: You are precious to me.
me: Thank you. I think I know that, but that's not what I asked you. What are you like?
God: You are very precious to me. 
me: Really, is that what you want to say? That's not what I asked you!

Dialogue Part Third (this one God initiated, at 5 in the morning in December)
God: I chose to love you.
me: I don't like that word "chosen." I don't understand what that means.
God: I have the right to choose you. Be chosen. If I want you for mine, you'll be mine. Be mine!
me: I don't understand what that means.
God: I'm not going to explain it to you, sweetie. But if I did, I promise, you would approve.

After part third, I went peacefully to sleep, until my husband roused me almost two hours later. And I can't explain it, but something about the way God spoke to me, the tone and tenderness in His voice, took the fear out of me. I've been wrestling for years with big questions about the universe, believing I knew that God loved me, but wanting to know that He loved the whole world as well.

As it turns out, I didn't know He loved me. Not like I do now. And as it turns out, if He loves me (Me! Me?) enough to speak to me in the voice that I heard, then He loves the world. What is He like? He's the kind of God that loves me. And if he loves me, well, I trust him to love anybody. I don't understand God. But He's nice enough -- sweet, actually, gentlemanly, gracious -- to tell me that if I were able to see Him fully, I would like what I saw.

So joy. I've got it. And I keep testing to make sure, poking around thought pockets that used to be rubbed raw with fear and sadness, like you might poke a sore muscle to see if it's healed. And I think there's some scar tissue there, but it doesn't hurt anymore.

Meanwhile, blessings continue to abound in my life, and small, ridiculous trials are abundant as well. In the 24 hours since I began writing this, in the same bathroom in which my husband broke the ceiling 23 days ago,  I destroyed the floor. I dropped a shoebox full of nail polish from a high shelf.  One bottle -- hot pink, of course -- exploded. The rest fell in the toilet. I couldn't make this stuff up. I spent the afternoon scrubbing grout with acetone and sanitizing my nail polish collection in a kitchen colander (which then went through the dishwasher on hot). And I laughed.

The Bible says we will experience joy through trials. So the year of joy shall likely be an adventure. I'm expecting it. And expecting also to be surprised. Bring it on. And happy new year.