Travels with Lily

Given the length of time that’s passed since my last post, you’d be right to wonder what the heck we’ve beenOur home on wheels up to. Well, we’re five weeks into a three-month production/research trip for our next documentary project, a project we feel is an important social justice topic, traveling over 10,000 miles all around the country, stopping for interviews and scenic sights (and Lilybird play times) along the way.  

There’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Ron has finally had a taste of the sort of heroic adventure that Harry has been having for years. When Harry recounts all that Ron has done--saved his life, retrieved the sword of Griffindor, and destroyed a horcrux (for non-Potter readers, a very evil and dangerous object)--Ron says, “You make it sound a lot cooler than it really was.” Harry tells him that stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was.

That’s sort of how I feel about the past five weeks. I’m not trying to paint our particular quest in heroic terms, but there is a sort of epic quality to a 10,000 mile production road trip with a 10-month-old. Time flies--she wasn’t quite nine-months-old when we started this trip. Here’s the scoop: We’re pulling a little travel trailer around the country for an initial shoot for our next documentary project, a film about the complex intersection of faith, identify, and sexuality with a focus on the stories of LGBT Adventists.  Our working title is Seventh-gay Adventists: A film about love, sex, and eternal life. Oh yeah, and trying to plan all of this around the nap/meal/sleep/play schedule of a 10-month old.

Enjoying the view in IdahoIt’s been a bit comical as Stephen and I work on our elevator pitch about this film. You know, sex and religion, easy dinner-table (or in our case, camp-fire side) conversation. We’ve gotten some very interesting reactions when say the camp host at a KOA in Missoula, Montana asks why we’re on a road trip in the middle of the earliest snow storm they’ve had in years.

First, why this project? Both Stephen and I were raised in the Adventist church, attended Adventist schools, and ate our share of Haystacks (for the uninitiated, that’s a vegetarian version of taco salad). If you’ve read about why I started this blog, you know that we wrestle mightily with how we’re going to raise Lily and her theoretical siblings. There is much that we love(d) about growing up in a sheltered community. It’s a small world, but there’s a joy and comfort in belonging to that world. I can go almost anywhere in the world and show up at an Adventist church on Sabbath morning to a sincere welcome and likely an invitation to lunch. Within five minutes of playing the “Who do we know in common/two degrees of separation” game, I can likely establish a connection to most any Adventist anywhere. 

While Stephen and I have spent years trying to figure out how we relate to Adventism as adults, we do realizeSelf-portrait under that big Montana sky that the Adventist church is a part of our story. We are who we are and where we are in no small part because of Adventism, sometimes if even just in reaction to it. Three days out of five I tell myself that I’m an Adventist until “they” decide to kick me out. 

And while I’m around, I may as well try to effect some change. I love how Rachel Naomi Remen talks about the concept of embracing our stories, our pasts, even our disabilities because that is the small corner of the world where our lives and our experiences might bring some healing.

With that hope, we’ve started this documentary because we want to bring a measure of empathy and compassion to a conversation that is often abstract and purely theological. Living in San Francisco has changed us because we go to an open and inclusive church. It’s also a small church, so we’ve had an opportunity to really get to know people (and be known in return) by people who might not have ever felt welcome in a traditional church. Some of these individuals are gay. And last election season, when the full ugliness of the fight over Prop 8 (the constitutional amendment that denied same-sex couples the right to marry) was unleashed, I saw the fear-filled ads and read the hate-filled emails through different eyes. 

A lot of the fear drew on religious foundations, and Stephen and I felt, as people of faith, like there was much injustice done in our name. It seemed clear to us that the conversation (which at times could hardly be called a conversation) needed a dose of what only stories can bring. When you’ve looked deeply into someone’s eyes and listened to their pain, you can never think about a situation in quite the same way again.

So, that’s the why of the project. The how involves this crazy, epic trip. The film officially got the green-light from the San Francisco Film Society last spring, and we did some shooting in the late spring/early summer, butFun at a campground in Iowa this is our first round of major production. We’re visiting major Adventist areas around the country, both to get a feel for what the conversation is around this topic outside of California (um, yeah, it’s very different), and to interview LGBT Adventists who want to share their stories as well as scholars, pastors, and other thought-leaders who are willing to talk with us. 

We’ve met some incredible people already, and half of the time I feel deeply inadequate when it comes to the task of telling their stories well. We’ve also met some resistance from the power structures within the denomination, and while this doesn’t surprise me, it disappoints me because despite my angst over my Adventist heritage, I really want the church to do the right thing and have this conversation out in the open, without fear. As a good friend (who does not have an Adventist background even though she’s had her share of haystacks by now) said, “Running into obstacles just shows that you’re doing the right project. There would be no point in doing a documentary if everyone agreed.” I hope so. 

I keep thinking that it’s insane to be attempting production with a baby--one who is still breastfeeding, no less. Most days I feel like Pig-Pen in a Peanuts strip; there is a cloud of chaos that is just part of our life right now. However, the timing felt right both within the church and the country to start this project. I couldn’t imagine dragging Lily through airports, hotels, and rental cars, but I could envision taking things a bit slower and driving around the country. So, we found ourselves the proud owners of a used 19-foot travel trailer. I finally feel justified in driving an SUV! 

So far the trailer has been a great idea. We definitely drive slowly, but it’s forcing us to avoid major interstatesGood eating in the trailer and really experience more of the country. It’s been great to be able to cook our own food (kale quiche and chocolate cookies anyone?), and I don’t feel nearly as guilty about all of the miles Lily sits in a car seat when we can stop every couple of hours and let her play in the trailer while I cook. Not only are we eating much healthier, but we aren’t having to deal with the stress of eating in restaurants with Lily--she is a world-class champion food flinger now! God bless linoleum, I say. 

When we don’t stay with friends, we camp in KOAs or state parks (and every now and then in a Wal-Mart parking lot--there’s a whole other documentary topic there). Tonight we’re the only campers in a lovely campground on a lake outside of Battle Creek, Michigan. Stephen can’t get enough of the brilliant Fall colors, and Lily is loving the sounds of the migrating geese, not to mention the resident swan family.

This is already quite the epistle, so let me summarize how Lilybird is doing:

  • She crawls at high speeds now and is close to walking. I keep hoping this trip will delay her rapidly advancing mobility skills, but so far she seems to have far different ambitions.Lily enjoys her makeshift bathtub
  • She has proven to be amazingly adaptable. I wish I could know if our attachment parenting style, which claims to help babies be secure and resilient had a hand in this, or if we just hit the personality jackpot (probably the latter), but she continues to be incredibly happy, social, and eager to meet new people. We haven’t had any episodes of stranger anxiety yet, although she is still a little suspicious of men with facial hair at first.
  • She really doesn't nap well unless I'm around to nurse her to sleep or Stephen can "walk her" to sleep. This means that she doesn't nap well with sitters. Luckily she still stays cheerful, but I feel mighty guilty about this! 
  • She looks so much older to me. I’m not sure when they officially start being “toddlers,” but she is looking less like a baby by the day. 
  • While I miss the baby phase, there are perks to this new phase--I think I got my first official hug yesterday. She put her arms around me, put her head down on my chest, and just lay there for several minutes. I thought my heart would burst open.

This trip has been hard on me--I don’t do well without sleep, and I’m going on many moons of inadequate rest right now. Part of the problem is that Lily slept with us for the most of October because it was too cold to put her in the pack-n-play (lucky us, we’ve been hitting early winter in most spots--snow all through Montana and South Dakota). It’s only a double bed, and even Lily seems to want more room these days. 

One night we stayed in a hotel with the idea that I would really be able to sleep (had my own bed, etc.), but after Lily got up to nurse at 1 a.m., I was unable to go back to sleep. There’s nothing like lying in bed at 4 a.m., exhausted, telling yourself, “Come on, go to sleep. You’re paying for this!”

This afternoon Stephen took Lily on a daddy date and I got a long nap. Note to self: When feeling incrediblyGorgeous colors depressed and as if life will never be happy again, do whatever is necessary to take a nap! Immediately. I think Stephen was duly impressed with my improved spirits when he returned, so this may become a weekly tradition.

Every time I get too mopey, I think of Sacajawea. Early on, we spent several days through Idaho and Montana essentially following the Lewis and Clark Trail. I’ve been interested in Sacajawea’s story ever since I read a book about her as a kid, and I still find her intriguing. What must it have been like to be the only woman on that trip? Talk about epic. And she did it all with a baby on her back (hurrah for baby wearing). I think I’m having a hard time, but I’m literally hauling around a 3,000 pound suitcase, kitchen sink included.

And, lest I forget amidst my grumbles, we are seeing truly spectacular parts of the country. I haven’t been onLily imagines her place in history a major road trip since grade school when my parents would pack Deeanne and me up for a big trip back east to see our grandparents. Of course, whether we stop to truly take in a sight (e.g. The Badlands or Lake Michigan) depends on whether or not Lily is asleep! I am trying not to be tormented by how irregular Lily’s naps are right now--when I get home we’re going to have to go nowhere for a month so she can remember what a routine feels like again! When she is sleeping, we do to great lengths to keep her asleep (this has involved almost running out of gas in Anita, Iowa because we were loath to stop the parents out there will definitely get this).

Chris Blake, a long-time English professor at Union College, an Adventist college in Lincoln, NE and an author and thought-leader within the Adventist church, told me something that I keep trying to hold on to in the midst of the busyness and stress of this trip. When I wrote him about a possible interview for the film, I mentioned that only time would tell if we were nuts to be taking on this project, especially with a baby. 

He wrote back with this line that I can only hope is prophetic, “BTW, you are nuts to be doing this (especially with a nine-month old)--but it’s the cracked ones that let the light through.”


P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few sites:

1) Here's an article that the Journal-Star in Lincoln, NE did on the project. It includes pictures of us actually working! (Someone else had a camera this time ;  ) The reporter did a great job of capturing the heart of the project.

2) Here's our Facebook page for the film. We try to post regular updates about our progress.

3) Here's the film website (more coming soon). And, yes, you can make a much-needed, tax-deductible donation to the project here.

4) Here's an interview with us about the film.