Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Real Story

Sunday is the one day each week that my kids have to wear collared shirts and shiny dress shoes. I don't know why it's so important to me that we pull off looking nice together as a family on "Church Day." 

I wonder if we're part of the reason that our faith is inaccessible to many. 

When curious guests walk into our churches, hoping to encounter the One, they're welcomed instead by an overwhelming facade of families who have it all together (ours included). And no doubt our hypocrisy seeps onto the pews, and confuses those who come for Truth and Beauty, encountering instead another magazine cover of perceived perfection.

We need to tell a different story. Not of perfection, an easy life, rule-following, or perpetual family bliss, narratives that fill the empty context behind "Good!" when asked how we're doing. I've been sharing that account for awhile now, so here's a true story about our first son, Joseph.

We were supposed to wait until at least one of us had a full-time job that offered health insurance. But this was 2008, and jobs like that just weren't being offered to idealistic student teachers in dying fields and RTVF majors in one of the largest U.S. markets.

We were so disillusioned, after following the advice of Those Who Have Their Lives All Together, going to college and proudly graduating with our Bachelor's degrees. Hundreds of job applications later, meticulous resumes transformed into ill-formatted lists in the early stages of "Apply Online" technology, and we're two depressed newlyweds realizing life doesn't pass out cash, even if you make all the right stops around the board and pass Go.

The housing market crashed, property tax revenues kamikazed out, and panicked school districts everywhere gutted fine arts curricula and cozied up classrooms with 30 kids. I filed my crisp, fresh-inked teacher's certificate behind my diploma at the back of a closet at my parents' house.

When people talk about how lame it is that unemployed people fall out of the job market, the vigilante blood of my Mafia ancestors wants to break their knees. Genuine hard work is pretty disheartening without cash dividends or some sign of future income. And the roller coaster of second interview highs followed by rejection letter lows is hard to stomach. Especially when combined with first trimester nausea.

Yes, into our hopelessness entered our Little Joe.

As newlyweds without health insurance or predictable income, we had the audacity to feel a little excited. This wasn't how we'd planned to have kids, but in our disenchantment with a seemingly unattainable world, this surprise new life was terrifying and fascinating.

Following the well-intentioned advice of not telling anyone about the pregnancy until we were through the first trimester, we said it was because if anything happened in the early weeks, and we lost our baby, we wouldn't have to share it with everyone. (Hello, slap in the face to community love and support, anyone?!) 

In truth, we just weren't ready for the questioning, are-you-stupid stares of friends, and especially family, awkwardly searching their minds for something-anything positive to say. (Not that we weren't giving ourselves this look every day!)

A year earlier, a woman shared her family's story with me, that they had gone through years of joblessness and depression, all experienced through several pregnancies. You never would have guessed it looking at her welcoming home and loving family. To me, she always seems to project extra light, and her kids -- oh my gosh, her kids -- are off the charts in their joy and creativity and craziness. Her willingness to share the reality of their struggle brought me hope in our early, secret months of pregnancy, when most days, I was fighting despair and fear of judgment.

Our young family has made it, because of our government's low-income healthcare program, and then an opened door to stable employment and health insurance, and now, a new healthcare co-op (Samaritan Ministries), which let us exchange opposite full-time shifts with crappy employee health insurance for calmer lives and more time together.

My strong suspicion is that we're not the only ones who didn't follow the "safe" and sanctioned route to family life. At one of our lowest points, God gave us Joseph John Bader II. Our smiles for him brought more smiles for each other, and his calm acceptance of our clueless parenting gave us faith in ourselves and one another.

The Savior we worship had a conception and birth marked by poverty and inconvenience, yet even more, by joy and wonder. 

The God we belong to doesn't have one suburban, middle-class plan for each person, culminating over millennia in the United States' gold standard of 40-hour-a-week jobs and employee-sponsored health insurance. 

I'm not sure why I've been trying to cram our life circumstances into this ideal.

Let's be the diverse Church that we are, not pretending perfection or posing each Sunday for a family portrait in the pew or idolizing a lifestyle that just isn't us. Let's share our crazy, unpredictable, wonderful, heart-breaking, hopeful life stories, and in so doing, share our ultimate Story that Jesus Christ is our Source and our Summit, and every life has purpose and hope by His life, death, and Resurrection!

These words took over our chalkboard when we found out we were pregnant with Joseph. They're still there.