An Open Letter to Humanity {about humor and prayer}

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Dear Humanity,

Have you heard the stories about how good friends or spouses can sit in silence and never say a word?  I say it’s because they are boring stiffs, but others say it’s because their peace and love for each other is so vast and their comfort with being still is so strong there is no need for words.

I’m not one of those people. 

I’m a person who fills up empty spaces.  I talk about the wild feelings of middle age and I comment on the way cars look as they whiz by on the highway.  I ask questions and I’m not one to just sit silently with my hands folded.  Being a writer means being a storyteller and one who notices little things.  And being a lawyer means you think of alternate arguments and put together thoughts in your mind in logical patterns.  My best friends may even motion to their spouse when they are on the phone with me something like “here she goes again” or write on a sticky note “it’s Amanda on the line so I’ll see you at Christmas.” There may be some eye rolling and “oh no! I’m late for the dentist!” when in fact they are just tired of hearing me talk.  I get this.  When I start, I really get going. But being creative means that I paint with words and phrases and sound. Basically, I’m not built for silence.

So it’s odd that lately, I’ve been silent.  Silent in this house, thinking. Silent about some true thoughts and silent about some opinions on things.  I’ve been drinking coffee and drinking wine and drinking in all the silence.  I use humor to mask things, to play with things, to connect with people while I’m doing the hard work of silence.  Sometimes, humor is the only thing that works to relieve the pressure, to laugh with each other, to find common ground.  It’s the only words that come out.  Please understand that it’s a lifeline for me, and an important part of who I am.

We desperately need common ground on which we can walk forward.  We are growing so polarized that I can only seem to find humor as a talking point.  It’s the light that seems to shine through the rubble, a brightness through the fog.  This is why humor, to me, is so powerful, and why I use it as a means to survive.  It’s why as the world grows dimmer the humor grows darker, but it still works.

I haven’t talked to God in a while.  I have assumed he’s cool with it, giving me space as one does with an unruly teenager.  I’ve been overwhelmed with all the tragedy and loss and sadness in our world.  Honestly, I don’t know what to say.  It feels so disingenuous to say “I’ll pray for you,” when what I really am thinking is simply “I’m sorry.”  I’m sorry you are facing this death, this fire, this flood, this loss.  I am so terribly sorry you have cancer. Sometimes I get the reference in the Bible, about how people fell to their knees and tore their clothes, a sign of being overwhelmed by all the sadness.  Although I am not going to tear at my Burberry coat, no matter how much you throw at me.  Even I have limits.  And yet despite this, I am concurrently very happy with my life.  I am married to an amazing man, I have strong and healthy children, I live in a wonderful community. It’s an odd dichotomy.

I’m in a few prayer groups.  I say the prayers that I have committed to saying, but my heart hasn’t been in it.  I care about people.  It’s just that I haven’t felt that these prayers are making any difference.   I’ve just been looking down onto my own world, doing my own thing, hiding. I think part of it is simply guilt.  Guilt that I have so much, have been blessed with abundance, guilt that I am happy while others are not. I don’t deserve this husband or these children or this home or this life.  And yet that is not what God wants for us, to throw away the blessings we have been given.  To feel guilty about happiness.

So my prayer life has also been silent.  Because I haven’t had the right words to say.  When our President says “my prayers are with you” my blood boils.  What do these words mean, from an unrighteous man? Go back to the tanning bed, 45.  Your prayers are empty and meaningless.

It’s not the words we say that make some great difference in the world. Whether it’s a set of lyrics or a Dr. Seuss poem or a Shakespeare play, they are all just letters strewn together. They can all be typed and burned with a match and tossed in the garbage. This very blog will be forgotten, lost in internet space, years from now failed to be maintained.  No one will read these words a generation from now.

Words themselves have little power. What is powerful is the interaction between us and God, the portal to God himself, whereby you can humbly submit yourself before God and boldly, bravely, confidently ask for direction, healing, hope, strength.  Using words is the means to this end, and is what we refer to as prayer. It’s really just about talking to God.  The Bible instructs us that God listens to our hearts, our words, our guttural cries.  He hears even the smallest, throatiest, dumbest sounding words.  As you hear the words of your children when they say “I love you” or “you’re the best” or “I farted.” Thanks a lot, kiddo.  At least you could have given me some advance warning.

This Weinstein story has made me abundantly sad. There are stories like this every day that should no longer surprise us. But for some reason this particular story of yet another predator against young girls broke my heart.  Because it brings up images of young women, my own daughters, injured and broken, scrubbing their skin until it’s raw in order to feel clean.  Images of girls feeling used and dirty, when they are instead wonderful and pure, filled my head.  You women are beautiful in all ways.  Can’t you see?  It’s a world of broken things, and I am standing in the rubble.  Mostly pissed off because no one seems to be cleaning it up.

But last night in the shower I allowed myself to form words to God.  To ask God to forgive me, to forgive our nation, to forgive all the terrible things.  Also, despite me being in the shower for a very long time, I didn’t shave, because I feel that being filled with the awesomeness of God is a solid excuse for the new husband so I should get a pass.

I did feel a bit strange praying for women en masse, without each of them being named, but I did it anyway.  I figured God could sort it out.  So I prayed for all the women who were violated, hurt, felt less than.  I prayed that they would rise up today and feel whole, healed, loved.  I prayed for our nation and its people.  I am just one person, talking to God about an entire group of other women.  How does this help?  And yet are these women, every single one of them, not worth fighting for? They are.  That is what I felt as I prayed.  That God holds them all in his precious hands.  As if he was saying “I hear you, girl.  I hear every word that you speak. Even the sarcastic ones.”

Humor as a connection between people is powerful.  Prayer as a means of connection to God is even more powerful.  Prayer allows us to put others ahead of ourselves and see ourselves as we are –  broken, dependent, and sinful.  People who need grace and forgiveness.  People who need to stop using social media to cut each other down, but find a way to building bridges between each other, in order to find peace.  If you need a release, find humor.  If you need a lifeline, find God.

Will you pray? For our nation, our women, our hearts?  And will you please stop saying “I’ll pray for you” as an empty platitude?  Because, like crop tops and hashtags and everything Taylor Swift, I’m kinda over it.

Most sincerely yours,

Amanda

 

photo:

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Battle of the Sexes: A movie review

You guys know that I like to write funny things.  I like to write heartfelt things about love and God and butterflies. Okay maybe butterflies are a bit dull.  I rarely get on a soapbox.  But today, I feel like delving into something that I just can’t shake.

Last night I watched “Battle of the Sexes.”  I took my 14-year-old bonus daughter.  I am all about women’s empowerment, showcasing how a woman in a man’s world broke barriers and succeeded. I am a lawyer, and have had to face my own gender barriers working my way up the ladder.  I understand the frustration of being paid less, considered less, working harder and under-appreciated.  And I love tennis.  I was prepared to watch Billy Jean kick ass and take names.

And as an aside, although I am a heterosexual woman, I do understand that people are attracted to different people than I am, and in the era of the 1970’s it was not as understood or accepted to be gay.  I can understand and have sympathy for how hard it would be to live in an era where you feel misunderstood and unaccepted, ridiculed for being who you are.

But what I saw in this movie was not just a lesson in women’s empowerment, or how hard women before us worked for equal rights.  What I saw was an attempt by screenwriters/directors/producers to show that infidelity is sometimes, under the right circumstances, when someone is “living their truth,” – okay.  If it’s following your heart and if it’s simply because society won’t accept the person you truly love, we can all just wink and say that it’s fine.  Because love wins.  Our hearts want what they want.  It’s sexy to see illicit and almost irresistible love scenes.

I refuse to accept this narrative. 

The fact is, infidelity is never okay. Despite the excuses and circumstances. Despite the fluttering of the heart. The commitment of marriage is more than just paper. It means something.  There are times marriages end, and new relationships can blossom after that first joining of the flesh has healed.  They can start on solid footing, rooted in shared experience and commitment to each other.  But when a relationship starts in secrecy and lies, usually no good will come about as a result. Why is this lesson not revealed? Are people to experience the hard truth in real life but watch how different it turns out in an imaginary screenplay?

It pained me to see Billy Jean make feeble excuses of “this feels wrong” and “what would my husband think” and then give in to her own desires.  I get that affairs happen, and people make mistakes.  We are all sinful human beings and make some terrible mistakes. But instead of using this narrative, that we are all flawed and have to live with consequences of our own actions, or even showcasing the fallout due to these actions, it was almost glorified.  In real life, kids are hurt.  Hearts are damaged.  Trust is broken.  Baggage is created.  Drinking ensues.  The fact that Billy Jean was having feelings for a woman somehow made this action justified.  It’s not an affair if it’s a woman loving another woman.  Her clothing designer, clearly gay, was basically saying “hang on – someday we will be able to love who we want” and everyone seemed to cover for her as she carried on this extra-marital love affair with the person she was not married to.  And when her lover returned in the end after a short hiatus, it was a romantic gesture.

This is not about gender for me.  It was about how a story is portraying an affair to be acceptable.  How Billy Jean repeated that “her husband was a good man.” And yet she continued to make decisions that hurt him, over and over again. I would be equally as uncomfortable if she had an affair with a man.  Betrayal on any level is simply hard for me to watch.

At one point in the movie, her husband showed up unexpectedly.  The clothing designer gives her a heads up, but her husband discovered what was happening regardless.  This blond, nice-looking, affable man was almost a heroic, angelic figure that didn’t get upset, wasn’t heartbroken, wanted her to still be successful, and at the end smiled at Billy Jean’s lover as if it was all okay.  When Billy Jean was sick, he even offered to call the lover in to make her feel better. He was like an emotionless Ken doll that just smiled through it all as if it were nothing. He continued to stand by Billy’s side, believing in her, standing by her, as if this was just a minor distraction. Not once did he raise his voice, act hurt, scream or yell, act heartbroken.  Despite one scene where he hung his head as he walked out of the room, no major problems resulted.  And at the end of the movie before the credits rolled, it showcased how Billy Jean divorced her husband, married a woman, and everyone was happy. From what it seemed, especially because the movie-goers don’t know that much about Billy Jean in real life, you just assumed she married the woman she had an affair with. It indicated her husband remarried and had a family, Billy Jean was the godmother, and all ended up well.

Billy Jean won the match!  She found true love! Everyone cheered! And the bowl of popcorn was empty.

In real life, away from the allure of Hollywood, affairs rip apart families and marriages.  They tear at people’s egos and self-confidence. They can emasculate and wound.  There is therapy and tears and a complete re-building of the spirit.  This is not an action born from love, but born from selfishness. In real life, the woman that Billy Jean King was with filed a lawsuit over what she considered lost profits, and it publicly outed King as gay, which caused King to lose a massive amount of money in endorsements.  This woman who, in the movie was supportive and “only wanted the best for Billy Jean,” sued King to try and get half her estate, argued she devoted her life to King’s career and got nothing in return.  This was not the beautiful end that the movie displayed.  And the woman that Billy Jean ended up with permanently was not the woman she had an affair with, although that’s the way it appeared in the movie.

I firmly believe that a relationship rooted in secrecy and lies never has the foundation to create a life-giving and stable relationship long term.  It matters not to me if it’s a woman or man, what matters is that the choice was made over and over to ignore vows, eviscerate trust, and continue to disrespect the man she promised to love and honor and obey until death.

Sometimes people make hard decisions, like not walking down a path they might have chosen under different circumstances.  Because making good decisions is not always easy. But it’s necessary to teach our children to stay true to commitments, not believe the lies that Hollywood is telling us about blindly following what we feel at the time to be good.

Despite this, my 14-year-old bonus daughter loved the movie, found it empowering and uplifting, and left with a bounce in her step.

We were quiet as we walked to the car. But I couldn’t sit there and say nothing.  I expressed my pain for the infidelity, the secrets, the allure of what in the movie seems good but in real life can be horrific. I also expressed how being a feminist does not mean men are evil, or that all men are like the men in this movie, and how her father is an amazing feminist and supporter of equal rights and that’s one of many reasons I love him.  And there are times when in fact I defer to him as the head of the family, and this isn’t always wrong in a healthy supportive relationship.  She said nothing in return.  I don’t know if my words had any effect.  I felt like I was just babbling.

There were some good moments in the movie about women being brave and standing up for equality.  Stick it to the man who think’s you’re a pig.  I’m a woman, after all.  But, the infidelity, in my mind, overshadowed this. And for this I was sad.  As a woman, as a professional, as a human being who has seen the pain of this issue.  We have to live in this world, but we don’t have to be hoodwinked by it.  We have an obligation to set the record straight when we see something as clearly off-based and off-kilter as this.

I’m glad women like Billy Jean King fought for equal rights for all of us.  And I think people love who they love, and can have very healthy and strong relationships with anyone they choose if they start off in truth and dignity.  But I’m not glad when films glorify relationships based upon secrecy.  What is in the dark will always at some point find the light, and when it does it can rip apart and ruin lives, souls, and relationships.  This is truth, not a movie script.  In real life, it doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Right now I am on a plane

Right now I am on a plane, headed to the rich crust of scenery that is Northern California, seated next to a handsome middle-aged man who is reading the paper. There is nothing abnormal about a nice-looking man reading the paper on an airplane. But I’m struck by the ring on his left hand, just wrapped around his finger like it’s nothing. He is nonchalantly reading an article about Britain’s gambling problem and there is a large photograph of a woman wearing a leather sport blazer from Saks Fifth Avenue. It is an odd blazer because it looks like it’s a letter jacket from our high school days, but it’s covered in fur and the woman looks like this is all perfectly natural. Like she needs to eat something and if she just casually models this jacket by a famous designer she’ll get thrown a crust of bread, so she does this one last thing to survive.

And now you think I’m just staring at the paper and this man’s ring and the advertisements from Saks Fifth Avenue, which may seem strange because that is what I’m doing, but not all at one time but instead in short little bursts. Because I am stealth like a spy or federal agent or a woman in love.

I am also watching a little girl, no more than 3 years old, a few rows ahead. She’s sitting on her father’s lap facing backward with little round puffy cheeks that make you want to squeeze them or nip at them or plant little wet kisses on them. There is something about children and puppies that makes us want to do this. She’s eating pretzels and looking around the cabin, because children have the unique ability to enjoy the moment, and right then she was likely tasting the salt in her mouth and watching things just for the sheer joy of doing it. She wasn’t at all worried about landing or what is for dinner or whether she needs to wash her hair. I love children for this sense of presence about them.

Sitting in a plane is an exercise in patience for me, since I don’t like to sit for long periods and I always wonder what people are thinking.   All these brains wrapped up in all these bodies with thoughts firing off in all directions. If I could only see the thoughts like lasers shooting from their minds, it would be like a spy novel where the hero navigates the maze of it all while descending down toward the coveted diamond. I could dodge the red lines all the way to the bathroom in front of the aircraft, maybe even doing a flip or turn in the process.  And yet it’s all trapped and locked up inside of people so they just sit and read and watch football games on their laptops like they are empty.

But people are not empty. It’s just that they must sit and wait until the ride is over.   They can’t exactly jump out the window or nuisance everyone by dying so we all just sit and wait, noshing on pretzels and sipping on sparkling water with lime.

I steal glances at this man beside me, casually wearing a band on his finger, and I am still caught up in a haze. The type of haze after surgery when they give you pain medication and it just washes through you and you think life is good again and you have a strong urge for chocolate pudding. Except I’ve not just had surgery which makes all things better because I can walk around and buy books in the airport and stretch my legs without searing pain. I still want chocolate pudding sometimes, even though that’s juvenile.

I may someday grow weary and my mind may drift and I will be demented, confused about lifting a spoon to my mouth. So I try and sear certain things into my mind so I will not forget them. Like the moment my daughter looked at me when she was six months old, in her pink pajamas with rabbits on them, and I thought “my God she’s talking to me without using any words.” I cried and cried and thought I could never be more happy. I sewed that fabric into a quilt and I touch it sometimes, because of the power it holds. And there’s the moment when my son chewed up a little book and his face was beaming with pride, his hair thick and blond and curly. And the day I first met Mark and we ate at ABC Kitchen in New York City, amidst the sparkling candles and love bubbles that form in one’s stomach upon meeting the person they will someday marry.

All of these scenes will likely pass by someday before I die in a montage of life moments, the pink pajamas and the chewed-up book and Mark’s face, lost in space and time, trapped in a brain full of lasers, boucing around.

Today is one of those moments, looking at this man on a plane reading the paper with a wedding ring on, the ring I slid onto his finger less than two days ago, clutching my mother’s antique lace handkerchief covered in snot.  And it is commonplace to see now, as if it were always meant to be there. And maybe it is, this love, this life, this everyday moment. It was meant to be like this, as I will remember it, one of many things sewn upon my heart.

Right now I am on a plane, off to my honeymoon, off to new adventures, off to anywhere, really.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m with him, the man reading the paper with a ring on his finger.  The life I joined.  The life that sits beside me and within me.  I am just sitting here with laser beams bouncing around in my brain, noshing on pretzels and sipping on sparkling water with lime.

Bumper Sticker Brilliance

 

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Yesterday I saw a truck emblazoned with the marker “1794 edition.” Since cars were a twinkle in Mr. Benz’ eyes up until the 1880s, this seemed strange to me. In 1794, Frenchmen were being executed in a large-scale revolution.  There was a whiskey tax revolt in America.  Eli Whitney got a patent on the cotton gin.  What does this have to do with a truck that uses 15 miles per gallon? I read something about the manufacturing plant being on land that dated back a long time. But that’s dumb.  I instead imagine this truck comes with a cotton t-shirt, a glove-box full of Jack Daniels, and maybe the navigation screams at you in French.

And then just today I saw a bumper sticker that read “God, Guns, and Guts” followed by “Make America Free!” and “Let’s fight to preserve all three!”

Finally, something I agree with.  I, for one, love guts.  I think our guts are not as celebrated as they should be.  Did you know the length of the small intestine is about twenty feet long? What breathtaking biology!

I mean, I’m no fool.  I get it that they are trying to find a short word that start with a G. Because duh, God and Guns. What adorable alliteration.  But what about Goats? I like me a good cabrito kabob. Or Grapes? A double whammy because they are used to make wine AND chocolate-covered raisins. And let’s not forget Goop.  Without Gwyneth, how would we even know to flush our vaginas with lavender? WE WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW.

But guts is better.  It really is.

Did you know the GI system is the only organ system that can act independently of the brain? Your gut has its own nervous system. And there is the Vagus Nerve located in your gut that carries information straight to your brain, meaning gut symbols can be taken as emotions, so maybe trusting your gut is a thing? The other day our pediatrician told my kids at their back-to-school checks that while the small intestine gets your food all chopped up and stripped of nutrients, the large intestine steals all the last remaining water, squeezes it tight, and turns your food into poop. Ha ha! Poop! My seven-year old laughed.

So when you think of things that we need to preserve and keep free, GUTS does come to mind.  We don’t want any restrictions, limitations, or laws negatively affecting this vital part of us.  Keep it free! Let’s fight to preserve it at all costs! When I think of things important to me, naturally my guns are first. And God.  But then? FOR SURE IT’S GUTS.  [I mean maaaaaybe I’d have chosen grapes, depending on the day?]

I think in 1794, they would probably have said the exact same thing.

photo:

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Antique Apathy

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I sat in church and was agitated.  I fiddled with my skirt.  I twirled my ring around in circles.  I looked out the window to the outside world, brimming with birds, the slow wave of oak tree branches, cars parked in the Texas sun.  I longed to be there instead of here.  I waited for the next time we stood up as a congregation, and I whispered to Mark, seated next to me.  Let’s get outta here. It was something about the choir robes, the way the scripture was read, the way everyone seemed so homogenous.  It seemed sterile, as if the very grit of life and reality of our very selves was missing, and I was sinking in a whitewashed hole.

Get me outta here, where I can feel the heat prickle my skin and know that I’m fully alive.

And yet in a sudden departure from routine, we were encouraged to sit instead of stand as we sang that week, much to my disappointment.  It was as if God was giving me the stink eye, which my mother used to do when we were kids and made too much racket during the service.  There was never a prime opportunity to leave, so we stayed.

I was bored.  That’s the simple truth.  I’ve heard these hymns.  I know these prayers, these verses, these sermons.  Even the very parables of Jesus are so familiar I’m like “Yes yes let’s grow seeds in the fertile soil. Excellent reminder.  Also, let’s stop by the grocery store and have roast pork for dinner and I wonder if I can find an antique door for our bathroom at a garage sale.” Perhaps I’m the very epitome of the lesson – the one who lets the worries of this world overtake her, and fails to relish in the delights of being fully loved.  I get it.  But I’m still so seriously bored. And an antique door would be nice. Maybe I’ll paint it white and rub it off to look weathered. And if you haven’t made a pork marinade with strong coffee and molasses, we need to talk.

So one thing about my past you may not know is that I’ve been raised on a steady diet of music.  I’ve taken it seriously.  I trained and practiced.  I went to an excellent college with a music department to be rivaled.  We toured and we sang, we hit overtones with our straight tone and kicked ass with our bellowing vibrato.  Every day at noon for four solid years we’d gather, and work hard, and kick ourselves if we made mistakes. It’s been a passion of mine my entire life. I don’t sing much anymore, but I happen to have one of those voices that sounds, well, choral.  It’s large and operatic, and sometimes even bluesy in the right settings.  So oftentimes in church, people turn around and tell me I have a lovely voice.  I’m always appreciative of these comments.

But that day, I felt terribly guilty.  For after my hardened heart made it an entire hour – which is something I can so naturally flit away at home watching mindless television but then seemed like an entire day’s rationing of time, a woman did just this.  She turned, and told me how beautiful my voice was, and I was racked with guilt.

All I wanted to do was leave this place – this house of God, this place of worship.  I wanted to run free from its oppressive air and seemingly stuffy people.  Did they know the hurt of life? Did this crowd live out a daily walk of love, with their own neighbors, or do they come here to say the right things and check off all the boxes? Is anyone here below the poverty line, or know the sting of being the outcast, with a different skin or language or heritage? I’m clearly very sanctimonious and can appropriately make these judgment calls about other people. I got my priest pin the other day in the mail (Amazon Prime! It’s real gold!).

So after my stinging judgment about my church compatriots, who did nothing to deserve my inner lecture, and my derailing thoughts of antique doors, a woman turned around to say something complimentary about my voice.  It made my heart fall.  Not because I thought her comments were necessarily true – she was like 90 and my voice was undoubtedly flat – but it brought to the forefront the darkness of my own heart.

My, how we as a people still resemble the Israelites, who after leaving the horrific slavery of Egypt wandered about in the desert, not knowing when Moses would return from the mountain, and begged Aaron to give them gods.  Something they could touch and feel and see.  Something that would give them hope again, and inspire something inside them.  Something interesting they could carve out of gold. They were bored, for heavens sakes, and tired of the old familiar lessons.

And yet Moses interceded.  God forgave.  The love between a God and his people was not forever interrupted by their lack of appreciation or hardened hearts.  There is always mercy. There is a constant supply of grace for our restless spirits.  There is an awakening, sometimes in the oddest of ways, to remind us of such.

So today, in the silence of my bedroom, I sang.  An old hymn that I love, that I’ve sung so many times before.  But it brought about new life.  My voice was in no way beautiful.  It squeaked out the tune and my voice cracked, because the tears streamed down.  Because I am not worthy of such benevolent and overwhelming forgiveness. And yet it’s offered, every day, the bread and the wine forever ours for the taking.

I am grateful for this type of love. It is ancient as the hills, and yet as new as the morning.

Be Thou my Vision

(an old Irish hymn from the 6th century, translated to English in 1912)

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

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photo credit:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/119983612@N04/13126453234/in/photolist-kZWved-NYAKpQ-QMHYeC-7cZsx1-qZ5RUe-9t6NmX-S9robQ-b3Z3g8-rfGUTX-2r7jHi-dm2VYJ-4aoLLq-nomqZN-63haRn-W2pSdx-7XMsiK-eFNA67-RpBoyC-7cZsu7-Syeqbj-4t67No-cpk7E-7AR3hi-cpk8L-5to9cB-c7gGZ7-9FYb8Q-cRbky1-6w67TW-MabNF-5sRpK3-67hybS-dypuo8-djxLqk-bqoFX7-5tswvL-8xXH74-qmqs9h-aEMJkz-3eV1gM-cpk7o-B1s2c-QrtLw-7uEUYq-ohStm7-7uB2kK-e7y7Vv-dm2Wtm-au7e8E-8bMeqL

Summer Camps for Today’s Youth

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Ah, summer.  The time of year when our kids, depleted from an arduous school term, are ready for some relaxation.  After all, school is hard, with all those crust-less sandwiches, pressed smocks, French horn practices, and engaging philosophical discussions.  I get it how students just need a break from it all.

But summer can lead to boredom and melancholy.  Yes, yes, the Museum of Natural History has a mummy exhibit. There are a variety of summer concert series. But where are the camps that teach real-life skills the youth of today need to survive in this world?  After all, I worry.  There’s the numbness of the screen, unknown genders, the man-bun.  So I’ve scoured the interwebs to find more practical options.

  • All American Sports Camp. This camp is located in the heart of Texas.  The kids can drink as much soda as they can handle and just leave the cans sitting around (because who really believes in recycling, or self control for that matter). They also learn how to cuss out a referee quietly enough so that later they can deny it.  It’s operated by a fellow named Billy, who was a very solid baseball player inside the Dallas Department of Corrections intermural team. Although girls and boys are both welcome, the ladies get all emotional and weird about the robust evening discussions on how to dump a girl after homecoming. But they will learn to spit, so that’s something.
  • The Dawson Drama Camp for Youth. This camp teaches the essence of vocal projection.  Your teenagers will stand on the side of the street and scream at (1) cars driving slowly, (2) old people who waddle; and (3) small children who make screeching sounds just because they want a stupid toy.  There is also a break-out session on how to respond to cat-calling using Elizabethan English, and this year there’s a special course on combat, perfect for football players that attend that rotten sports camp in Texas. There is an add-on class on fake crying, late-night texting, and properly singing to the radio.  The last night everyone is just left to their own devices around the fire, dancing in the moonlight and howling.
  • The Camp for Future Culinary Stars. This camp is located somewhere in Nebraska nobody bothered to name.  It serves hot dogs that sit lukewarm for three days and roll around on little metal bars.  Attendees are tasked with finding and preparing recipes solely with ingredients found in a Mini-mart. There’s a midnight food run whereby all the food must be purchased with wadded-up dollar bills and loose change. Whatever dish is prepared must be void of any fruits or vegetables, which is cool since Mini-mart only has mandarin oranges in a can.  Campers must hold down the food without vomiting for a minimum of 47 minutes and have to store all the leftovers in a dorm fridge. If your child is gluten free no one gives a rat’s ass because that’s just how things work in Nebraska.
  • Nature Camp. This gem of a camp is in the heart of California.  Amidst the beautiful backdrop of orange trees, your youngster will participate in a ropes course, whereby they will probably fall and no one will catch them because that’s how life is.  Also there are long walks in the afternoon through rigorous terrain so your kid can learn how to properly do the walk of shame at 2 am while stumbling over trash cans.  That takes training.  The food is all organic, although the granola is really just crushed up Ritz crackers and raisins that were in the bottom of someone’s purse but are still completely edible and delicious so quit your whining.  There is also archery for the true adventurers, but instead of arrows campers are just encouraged to hurl insults at each other.
  • The Sunshine/Millie Art Camp. Is your little one interested in art? This camp is not located in one place, really, but loosely meets in downtown Los Angeles and is run by a woman named Sunshine, although sometimes she goes by Millie. You can recognize her by her stunning body art, especially the peacock with a bloody dagger.  Your kid will come home looking like she fell into a tackle box with all those new shiny piercings, causing endless fun at airport metal detectors.  Sometimes Sunshine/Millie doesn’t show up at all due to her meth habit so the kids have a “rock your own art day” completely unsupervised. It’s good to encourage a strong sense of independence.

So this summer, resist the urge to have your youngsters sit around and watch dull television re-runs, or complain that “Lauren got to go to Europe.”  Enroll them in a camp that will really expand their hearts and minds. After all, they already know how to play the French horn.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/rotia/2669964145/in/photolist-54Wgjz-rbV9ik-9PcTXd-2HMQZ-o6Bi1M-oQKCbE-4djKY-MUboR-2TtDXw-h7bSH-vQZkD-VmGuhR-8mxtXR-7wrfMS-cuTLN5-W2AMQw-2HeAMJ-2FDMjK-73dnvb-2HV32b-9Yv68z-cwtrqj-4FerPK-8E5GUE-hZwhg3-qh4Zg5-AXVM7v-VTgVFH-VdrFrc-wPStKX-onZYuF-5iythf-jwWAV-6NdtEE-jwS13-oD9Kny-iyKPjk-TXrukH-FL4BPu-VXdp3b-5zVpCc-TMh1s6-8VTwhp-6R6wgZ-ii64MC-aEefJM-p7HJav-on9yzA-5benUk-6Bmm6i

Martha Stewart’s Guide to Unclogging a Toilet in Six Easy Steps

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(1) Invest in the Proper Infrastructure: The key to success is a properly-designed toilet. I recommend those made by craftsmen in Portugal, where the ceramic is air-dried in the sun and there is a hand-carved seal of approval for quality. They may be more expensive, but my general rule of thumb is to pay five times more for all things.

(2) Buy Better Cleaning Products: A toilet should be cleaned every 6.2 hours, by the hired help of your choice. I only use Martha Stewart Toilet Bowl Cleaner, which is all natural and non-toxic. I know this because my grandson drank some, which made my daughter Alexis freak out and call Poison Control. Their response was, “Haha! That stuff is nothing but distilled water and a few drops of peppermint oil! That kid could drink the whole bottle and be fine!” They sure are a jolly bunch.

(3) Eat More Greens: A clogged a toilet is often diet-related. One’s body cavity residue should be a nice, smooth, sorbet-like consistency. To obtain this result, simply consume six to seven servings of organic kale prepared in a coconut flax backwash mixed with ginger. My hired help often comments on how bright and cheerful my excrement is. They love working for me, and cleaning my ceramic toilet is their favorite job. That’s what they say right before I pay them.

(4) Eliminate all Plungers: If you are using one of those terrible rubber toilet plungers, you should discard it immediately. They are harbingers of bacteria. You should instead purchase a wooden toilet stick made from light Walnut with an attachment that crawls through the pipes, thoroughly cleansing the porcelain. It has little web-like hands made from groupings of crushed diamonds that rotate using small gears. You can special order these from my favorite clock-maker Bernard in Connecticut.

(5) Stay at One of Your Other Properties: If all else fails and the above steps don’t work, which is surprising if you’re eating that much kale, it’s time to call your driver and take a trip to another one of your various properties. There is no use living in a house if you have sub-par toilets. You might also reconsider the very purpose of your life.

(6) Last Resort: Call a licensed, professional, organic, all-natural plumber. I’ve heard they are named Bob. At least that’s what is printed upon their shirts. Perhaps you can locate Bob through your various media connections. You shouldn’t be there for this – I recommend leaving town so that you don’t have to know what’s happening inside your home. Perhaps you should do some traveling. I recommend Portugal. They make excellent toilets.

 

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*this is not a real photo of Martha Stewart’s bathroom.  She did not actually write this. It’s satire. If you think she did, you need to move to Portugal.

photo:

(threew’s)..flickr.com/photos/133418222@N05/17783481078/in/photolist-GXMTy-pripqq-t6sZmJ-t6AB4H-dxjy5C-t6sZwo-JHzg8-dDcb2o-to8giK-tnMCqf-G1LGuT-dxjy5N

The house on the hill

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The rain came down, the stream rose, the winds blew, and beat against that house.  Yet it did not fall, for it was founded upon the rock.

Matthew 7:25

I recently moved. It’s closer to my fiancé, his children’s schools, a new life. I wanted a place similar to my old one.  I longed for land and privacy, gardening and chickens.  I’m here right now, writing to you upstairs from my new office.  I’m seeing the trees beat against the wind that rages atop this hill.

“You have an amazing view,” people say.  I nod.  But the breezes blow the deck chairs practically into the pool, and the wind doesn’t match my fire–based personality. “Have patience,” I tell myself.  We will ground this place.  So I drink warm things and cuddle underneath my blankets. I am searching for the perfect picture of a tree and I’m finding cozy small spaces.  But inside it all, I am unsettled.

The first time I saw this house, I was generally disgusted.  It was buried in the middle of overgrown weeds, on the top of a hill, a great divide between two valleys.  It was just an old stone house with an open-air atrium in the middle.  Too much work, too little interest, too much wind. The nice lady who lived here walked me around to show it off, but I thought “no thanks, honey.  I’ll pass.”  I especially loved the carpeted walls, which added that “if lieu of an insane asylum, just head to your living room” touch that we all so desperately need. I showed the real estate agent photos from my phone and we both laughed and laughed.

But here I am looking out from the upstairs window, nonetheless.  Because with a bit of time and reflection, and a healthy respect for the bathroom tub which fits seventeen people (go ahead and shovel me some shit in this life because I’ll just lolly-gag around in this ginormous tub and then bounce against this walled carpet, yo), it seemed to have great potential. It sits on several acres with an amazing view and is in a neighborhood with no homeowner’s association.  This appealed to my anti-seeing-people-all-the-damn-time sentiment. And it was close to Whole Foods. So no fights with folks about the height of fences, turkey chili at the ready.  SOLD. Perhaps it would hold great promise, with the right contractor, designer, and sweat equity.  I’m sure in time I’d come to love it.

Who are we kidding.  I am only one person.  Why do I need such a large tub? But mostly, I’m not a lover of change. Most the time I cling to the old like shoes, despite a busted heel or broken sole.  Because of what they used to be.  Because of the memories they hold.  I cherish the past even when it’s terribly broken. Maybe it’s my own soul that needs repair. What I’m certain of is that this house needs some tenderness.  And I wasn’t sure I was prepared to give it.

In theory, I was on board with this house-buying decision.  I signed all the paperwork and nodded my head and put a for-sale sign in my yard.  I told the children it was for the best and it was good to put the past behind us and got a new mortgage.  It was symbolic – a new future, a new life, a new start.  A marriage and new family loomed ahead, so let’s just go ahead and dive on in. But I was terrified. Also slightly amused at the cartoonish nature of this place.

The day I closed on my (now former) home, I sobbed. I cried out in pain for the ripping again, the tearing of things.  I brought my son home to that house.  I walked around it over and over, circling it in prayer.  I touched every wall for blessing and I baked grease into the kitchen stones and worn down the wood with my pacing.  I woke up in the morning and saw birds dancing and making love. I saw the changing seasons and the dew and the tiny buds of flowers.  This was not just a home, but a part of me that I needed to feel complete, to feel loved, to feel surrounded.  Oak trees in the back yard were bent by the wind just so to form a canopy, and when I walked underneath them I felt held.  And for that time in my life, I needed to be cherished by something. That house held me, and I loved it so.

And then it hit me. Who was I without that place? I began to feel my identity was lost.  When people come to visit me in my new house, I practically grab them the moment they pass through the entrance.  “This isn’t me,” I want to explain.  “I don’t like that wall or that set-up or those cabinets.  I promise this will all be changed. This isn’t my vision. This isn’t my home. I don’t do paneling.”  Hello, insecurity crisis.  Like my worth is placed inside the walls of a white kitchen. No one cares.  It’s me who has placed so much emphasis on a house like an idol.   It’s me who placed all my worth in something that could literally burn to the ground. I put my priorities in the wrong place.

I’ve never really worried much about idols.  The Bible mentions them like they were some threat – a mistake of the Israelites when Moses was gone for a while. But whether it’s golden calves or Baal or other strange looking statues, I’d never for the life of me consider bowing down to any of them. It’s one of those old fashioned notions that’s not practical to today’s lifestyle. “Have no other God before me.”  Check.  Duh.  Obviously.

And yet here I was feeling lost and alone without that old shoe. Like it was what had saved me, those stones my only protection.

This weekend, there was a horrible storm. It woke me up with a vision of demons, and I prayed for hours upon hours.  I begged God to bless this home, and to place upon this hilltop a beacon of light to others, a place where people can come home to instead of fall back upon.   This home may be on a solid rock, and the wind may blow, but it will not falter.  Because it’s not the home that creates blessings, it’s the Father who blesses.  Let this home be a haven and a light, based on a firm foundation. I wrestled with God about this for a while as the wind howled.  And then ceased.  I got up and went about my day, drinking coffee and sitting wedged inside my small front porch, looking at the rising sun.  I sang at church with all my heart.  I practically attacked my pastor and blubbered something about my house having a good spirit.  He was like “okay crazy lady.  Go on now and eat some more donuts.” Luckily, if his predictions are true about the crazy, I have padded walls so I’m totally covered.

And then I came home to this house on a hill. God bless this home, founded on a rock, wild and windy.  We named it “Hilltop,” because for some reason it needed to be named. Soon I’ll put a little iron sign in the yard stating such. Of course I will, because that’s the crap that I do. God also bless Mark, since he’ll be putting up with me.

What is founded upon rock will stand.  We will stand, and will keep on standing. For it’s in God we place our trust, not a pile of stones.  So let the wind rage.  This light will still forever burn.

Odd and curious thoughts (about moving)

 

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  • We are moving into a new house. This should be an opportunity to purge and go through things and start anew. One in this situation might say lovely things like “ah what nice closets!” or “my, this place is spacious!”  My new house, however, has shag carpet, a sunken living room, and smells slightly like cat urine.  There is no talking.  Only quiet weeping and the unpacking of books.
  • I’ve decided the cedar wall paneling in the bedroom is really just ship-lap that Joanna Gaines uses in her hit show “Fixer Upper.” It’s just that the boards are angled and facing the wrong direction and not painted white and gross. Basically the same thing.
  • The best thing about moving is getting to eat pizza and eat on paper plates. But you do that for two days, which leads to a solid week, and you start to feel bloated.  Then you don’t fit into your jeans and you haven’t unpacked the loose ones yet.  But don’t worry, because if you are depressed it matches the living room that’s two feet lower than all the other rooms so you are really never alone.  We are all sad here.
  • I will say that the new dishwasher works. My last dishwasher thought washing dishes was optional, maybe it would happen on Tuesday and if the spray head wasn’t tired.  I’d give it little inspirational talks, like “You can do it this time! I pre-rinsed the muffin tins!”  She’d groan at me and a random mug would still have coffee stains just for spite.  I felt that was highly disrespectful and this time around I’m not being such a pansy to the dishwasher and showing it who’s boss from the get-go.  You have one job, appliance.  I’m not even going to name you.
  • I’m getting advice from a decorator, since we are doing a large-scale home remodel. She ends up drawing me pictures and floor plans which I change and say things like “well I don’t much like this.”  Then I went and bought a chandelier that was so large it didn’t even fit in my SUV and her comment was “Oh dear” followed by some really nasty language that frankly, I don’t appreciate.  What does she know.  Except for design and style and interior expertise and color and whatnot.  WHO ASKED HER.  I did.  It was me. This is complicated.
  •  I hired a really good moving company who looked at the contents of my previous house and said it would easily fit within two trucks.  What they did not realize is that the contents of my closets were just like Mary Poppins purse where things just kept coming out one after another. Pole lamp with tassels.  Cupcake travel holders.  Party napkins.  Silver chargers. The pole lamp was from Mary Poppins.  The rest was mine, Tetris style, packed in tight.  It didn’t fit in two trucks.  They worked until 10 pm.  They almost broke their backs.  I gave them all fat tips and scolded each one of them, telling them to get nice-paying air conditioned desk jobs.  The one with all the tattoos just glared at me but said thank you and yes ma’am.  Do they not have mothers? Should I be like a foster mom for mover employees?
  • The previous owners tried to remodel the kitchen before they moved but we were like “no seriously please stop.” Like for real put down the tiles and lay down the hammer, because you’re making things worse.  The vent hood hangs directly over the stove-top on the island at eye level, so every time I cook anything I give myself forehead lacerations when I bang my head on it.  Every time.  Because I’m not four feet ten inches, as it turns out.  Also you can’t open any of the kitchen drawers because they ordered the wrong fronts so you have to sort-of pry them open with your fingernails.  Unless you have talons, you aren’t getting any silverware my friend.
  •    The first weekend in the new house, we let my future stepson invite some friends over.  One girl whom shall never be allowed to marry anyone in my family or friends of family and basically needs to move let the chickens out and our chickens ran all over our 2.5 acres in a state of panic.  One ran into the neighbor’s yard so the introduction to the neighbors was “hey there you don’t know me but I have this box in my hand and is it cool if I just catch this rogue fowl in your back yard and slam it down into this cardboard box super quick? If it helps it’s free range and organic! Sorry I’m in sweat pants!” Remind me to join the neighborhood email. They are going to LOVE ME.
  •   One room, which I shall assume they used as a dining room, is raised six inches off the ground and is covered in parquet flooring.  Why?  Did they need to peer down upon others at dinner? It looks like a stage instead of a room.  I may put spotlights on it and leave it alone. Why in heavens name they needed so many levels in this house is beyond me.  It’s like they are intentionally sticking it to the handicapped.  Don’t get me started on the staircase.  It has three landings.  Need I say more.
  • The home was built in the early 80’s encircling an old oak tree. So naturally it made sense to create an open-air atrium to show off the tree. The tree died.  The atrium remained.  You literally have to walk all the way around the donut hole in the middle of our house that is open to nothing if you want to get water in the middle of the night. I now refuse to eat donuts in protest. If I hear anyone else say “you should leave it! It’s cute!” you can eat my construction dust. Who I am kidding I still eat donuts.

We are all so excited about moving.  I’m sure you can tell. My daughter says “moving’s not so bad except that our house is ugly. When can we move back into our old one.”  It’s going really well indeed.

Life, no filter

I bought face serum the other day.  It was expensive, but isn’t it worth looking radiant and beautiful? Those actual thoughts ran through me.  A woman who clearly knows her worth is not in material beauty.  A woman who has almost died and who has come back from darkness and who has been held up by the strong merciful hand of God.  I was like Hells Bells this is on sale I’m stocking up, baby.  I’m 41 with a gimp eye and a midsection that has just given up and has settled for elastic.  Who am I kidding?

Nothing is evil about beauty products.  What is evil is the allure of beauty as the solution to insecurity and fear.  Of thinking Chanel earrings will make your life better or your wedding day more special.  It’s misaligning beauty with power.  Replacing God with photographs of peonies and perfect family portraits.  SIDE NOTE I JUST BOUGHT VINTAGE CHANEL EARRINGS.  I’m no poster child. Also I said hells bells, in case you thought I wouldn’t be embarrassing if you talked to me at a dinner party.

But I am concerned about the image of beauty as being the standard to which we all strive to achieve.  Not in prisons, or school yards, or with our teenagers.  With us.  With me.  Christian circles seem to have it all figured out, with our collective blond hair and blue eyes and jewelry that benefits African villages.  Look at us! Look how hard we are trying and how God loves us!  Let’s all drive around in our large luxury cars and buy overpriced coffee! Always justifications, always reasons.  Always some excuse to cut in front, show more, be more, pray out loud, use volunteering and good works as a measure of our own worth.

We are failing.  We are not showing the sacrificial love of Christ.  We are just showcasing our edited selves in an effort to prove something against our raging insecurities.  And what we are doing by that is white-washing the Gospel with filters to make sure our own wrinkles don’t show.  We are building walls around faith so that others don’t want to come in. That’s the devil’s work.

Let’s take off the filters. We can only start with ourselves.

I am currently re-reading the Old Testament.  I don’t enjoy it, truth be told. I skim and I groan like a petulant child reading about Levitical law and rules and sacrifices and descriptions. WHO CARES WHAT COLOR THE TASSLES ARE ON THE STUPID GARMETS LET’S MOVE ON ALREADY.  It’s like reading someone’s grocery list. Salt, blue soap, little carrots, beef, that pork Susan likes.  I don’t even know Susan.  I like to write out psalms on the blackboard in our kitchen.  David is a creative type that I can really rally around. But ask me to read Numbers and I feel like a kid who has to scrub the bathroom floor.

Why is it so hard?  Because it’s not pretty.  It’s not interesting.  It’s not as powerful as sermons and parables that Jesus so lovingly unpacks for the seemingly dim-witted disciples like an after-school special.  You don’t see this stuff written on barn wood and put up in living rooms.  What it does instead is create more questions and raises up what seems like unmerciful and unjust punishments and creates some sort of foreign world where various rams are slaughtered and blood is sprinkled.  Every time I read the Old Testament I keep thinking of dead animals and people just gleefully flinging them around in order to spill blood.

But it forces me to think, and attempt to understand, and read interpretations and commentaries and try to put my head around a different era and the lessons God is trying to teach within it.  It shows me how important Jesus is as the ultimate sacrifice, and how the blood shed for us is so powerful. Wisdom is truly beautiful, and something to be desired. The more I seek it the more I realize how elegant it is to be in communion with God.  To try and listen to knowledge in these seemingly arcane lessons.  Often times I’m thinking of what to cook for dinner and how much laundry is left. I skim and skim.  But I pray that I can focus.  I attempt to see the symbolism and foreshadowing.  Lord knows I’m not perfect but he knows how words hit me where it hurts.

I run in a great many circles.  Many are religious. I see wonderful women writing so many pretty books.  But they are also getting head shots and having their makeup done and worrying a bit too much about the size of their jeans and less about the state of their heart. And as their audience grows, they grow more worried about numbers and followers.  This is a slippery slope to pride.  I know this intimately well because I am one of these women.  I am one who filters and purifies and puts on a new face.  I cover up the imperfections and broadcast to the world that I am STRONG and CONFIDENT and MAKING IT.  I give speeches about God and yet I can’t seem to get out of the house without under-eye concealer.

But as Adam and Eve could not hide, neither can we.  No matter what our Instagram feed looks like.  No matter how much Estee Lauder creams we buy.  We cannot hide because our skin is only a flimsy film covering up our raging, beating heart.

Do you know that moment when your child throws a huge fit, the kind that results in name calling and throwing and rage-filled eyes? You do not see them and wonder how their hair got so greasy or why they are getting plump around the middle.  You don’t worry about their acne or think they need to buy better shoes.  You don’t notice any of this.  You look directly inside of them and cry out: My daughter.  My son.  My love, come back to me.  And then you easily forgive and hold and shush and understand, because your love for them is so vast.  If we can see a glimpse of this, how much more does God love?

Let us strip the filters for once. Let’s just sit in the back of the room listening.  Praise the good we see in others without raising ourselves up.  Let’s try to focus more on the inside of our hearts than the state of our skin.

Face cream isn’t evil.  But it’s not what makes us.  It’s not what defines us.  We aren’t receiving God’s blessing just because we have money or things. What we look like and what we own is so temporary and fragile.  The kind of love that seeps from the spirit is the kind that lasts.  It’s the beauty that radiates.  It’s the joy that endures. Hells bells.

Let’s be that kind of beautiful.