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

—-

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

10 Ways to be More Excellent Humans

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  1. Control your Inner Troll. When I was on The Apprentice, many people commented online. “You look like a Bohemian transvestite,” one guy said. What he didn’t know is that I took that as a compliment that I was obviously good at singing and had good taste in make-up. Ha ha, troll. But it’s so easy to make fun of people. I get this. But just because people are online doesn’t make them void of feelings. Everyone has feelings.
  1. Give Things Away. A girlfriend once commented how she liked my ring that I was wearing. “This old thing? I got it on a discount table at Talbots. It’s clearly not gold.  It’s rubbing off and I think it’s made from a melted spoon.” But she liked it, and so I boxed it up and sent it to her. Which was weird, I know. But my friends know me and accept me for my various quirks and flaws. And she thought of me and how awful this rubbed-off gold was close up every time she wore it. I presume. She ended up mailing it back to me, like “thanks for your used things, but I’m good.” Things are meaningless. Stories are what matter.
  1. Treat Customer Service People Well. My boyfriend’s son, a cashier at Pei Wei, told me that a lady berated him and questioned him why there was Ahi Tuna on the salad she ordered and demanded it be removed. “But it’s called The Ahi Tuna Salad,” he said. If you can remember back to high school when you worked a menial job where you had to take orders and bus tables, it kinda sucks. And to be treated like pond scum when you forget to include chopsticks in the bag just makes you feel worse. They are just trying to afford gas money for freak sake.
  1. Read More Books. I read Atlas Shrugged in high school and felt I was the only one in the history of the universe who had read this book and had become enlightened. It was my personal story, like somehow Ayn Rand “got me.” This was ridiculous, I realize. But in books, words describe scenes you can personally imagine rather than movies, that describe them for you. Engaging your mind and entering the fantasy world of fiction makes you (1) ignore your children (2) lose sight of all other things besides the book and (3) want to talk about the book to everyone on social media when you are finished. Okay so maybe this isn’t a way to improve upon your humanness. Screw vocabulary. Let’s all go to the movies.
  1. Have Compassion for Mean People. I had a boss once that I hated. I mean this woman was so picky and gutted my writing and tried her hardest to make me do things I didn’t want to do. She bellowed her commands in a sugary way that was mean and evil. But now that I’m grown, I realize she was lonely. She was afraid of her position in the office. She didn’t have many friends and she had a weight issue that made her feel alone and sad.  I could have swallowed my own feelings and shown up with flowers, or left her a note, or smiled at her more. Because you are don’t want to spread the same type of mean they’re dishing. Resist the urge to be a troll.
  1. Own Animals. I had a dog growing up called Tiger, who allowed me mercifully to dress him in bonnets and put socks on his feet. He was at all my mud pie baking competitions and always wagged his tail. Animals are cuddly and they love you no matter what you say or whether you are wearing dingy pajama bottoms with wine stains. Don’t judge. They are really comfortable. But owning animals reminds us all that we have someone who loves us. Except they die, fair warning. That part sucks. But owning them makes us better somehow. Get animals anyway, even if you have to get different animals later. Pet them. Talk to them. But not too much because that’s just crazy.
  1. Seek Out Funny. There was a comedian on twitter I found out lived in my town so I messaged him like “let’s get coffee! Let’s talk about humor!” and he was like “I don’t know you.” I told him I wasn’t a stalker, but he said that’s what all the stalkers say. We humans are built to laugh. So much so that we stare at television and productions and seek out people who are funny just to get the rush of endorphins that laughter provides. So if you aren’t getting enough in your daily diet, seek it out. Find what makes you bubble inside and do more of that. Unless it’s due to drugs or excessive drinking. Avoid those things.
  1. Use People’s Names. My boyfriend knows all the people’s names around, like Martin at the cleaners and Erin the customer service lady at a hotel, and he always refers to them by name. Because this makes them human and real and not just robots. In texts you can say “have a good day, Stephanie” or “I’ll see you for lunch at noon, Joseph!” until people start telling you that’s weird and then you should stop. But only then.
  1. Let Someone In Front of You. This is hard for me, because I’m always in a hurry. I run late and I barely make it on time. But there ain’t nowhere that urgent I gotta be. It just takes a few more seconds, minutes, moments – to usher someone in front of you.  Open doors and let someone in. Because mercy and grace comes to the least of us, not the greatest. The last shall become first. [Enter Bible scriptures that refer to this here; there are many I’m very certain. Jesus talked about it a lot].
  1. Control Your Anger. I have to admit, when I was going through a divorce I was angry a lot. Maybe rage is the better word. Rage about things that were done and undone and all the unraveling of lives. But this type of anger burns, and can easily get out of control. It’s sometimes easy to let anger build due to injustice or unfairness or All The Things in Life. Because it’s one thing to feel anger, which is natural, but another to allow it to consume you. Eat at you. Take over your soul. Consider it a fire inside that needs to be cooled with soothing words, deep breaths, love. These things will quench the fire, and then imagine how you can make things better, in response to what makes you angry. Being filled with anger only burns your own skin.

Let us all be better humans, one day at a time.

 

photo: “Stranger #7” by d26b73 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Roots Down

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zinnias from the garden that I pluck by the handful and stick in random jars

I live on a stretch of land between country and town, a tiny little Ranch, Jr. that allows me to carry out my farm-like fantasies but still be close to a Whole Foods and organic strawberries. Without having to grow the strawberries.

And on this tiny patch of earth there is wildness, which I crave. I sit on the front porch and read my books and wish my coffee stayed hot longer. There is a bunny that we call Charlie that lives under the blue plumbago and there are now little tiny bunnies that hop around underfoot. We call them all Charlie, the little ones Charlie’s babies. This Fall we will have chickens.

When I come up the walk I often spook a deer or a lizard or another one of Charlie’s babies, and they all go scattering off like I am some monster that might hurt them. I want to say to them that I’m safe, that I am not going to step on their heads, that I come in peace. Unless they are cockroaches and then they should fear me.

And it made me think of humans, how fragile we are, how we scatter. It made me see humanity as one long sinewy collection of muscles, drawn taught with the impulse to run at the sound of footsteps, spooked by the haunting of guns and the constant fear of something.

Drugs make people jumpy. The body is dependent on something that their brain is telling them they need. People who are in love or desperate make irrational decisions. Even rather harmless things like sugar or the happy rush of being on stage or the feeling of lightness when we are winning at something can cause that feeling of loneliness when it retreats. Jumpiness when that something is not around. The good and the bad are all jumbled up together and we just want to run and hide, covering ourselves with blankets or bullets to the temple or pills. We almost crave hollowed-out lives so we don’t feel anymore and can quit running.

I went walking down the street where I live, where few cars drive. I watched all the wild around me, flying and hiding, soaring and slinking. A deer ran into the bushes. A gecko slid by. Birds fought each other like knights in the trees, oblivious to me.

I say I like the wild. And yet I walk through spider’s webs, their sticky lace atop my face, in my mouth, attaching to my arms. I prick my fingers when I pluck the agarita berries from the bushes. I’m always avoiding bugs on the tomato plants. When one flies at my face or there’s a red wasp I let out a little shriek because it surprises me and I am scared. Imagine, scared of a little wasp.

We are all like this, wanting the wild but running away. So afraid of things. Running out of money. Being mediocre. Not being loved enough. Losing at something. Failing at our marriage. Letting down our kids. Worried of what people might think of us. Feeling trapped in the mainstream. Wanting to be different.

And I am reminded that Jesus is the great calmer of the waters.

So many people think I’m crazy with my Jesus stories, this God of mine who lets bad things happen. This religion of mine who casts judgment and hurts people. And I am sorry that the world has offered this screwed up opinion of some rage-filled maniac. That is not the God I know. Like anything, religion is cooked up from a batter of jumpy anxious people and can be just as toxic if eaten.

It’s God that I love. The God that loves all, comes down to Earth for all, weeps for all, simply does not care what you look like or how dark your skin is or who you love or even what awful sin you’ve done that you are trying to escape from. We run from God because of our own inner shame, but it’s futile. It’s all seen, there’s no need to run. We will grow weary soon enough. True love is what holds us when we are searching for something we cannot find. We don’t have to use fancy words. We don’t have to be eating scoops upon scoops of religion. We simply recognize love where we find it, and in God there is love. And then we can stop and breathe deeply for the first time and quit hiding behind bushes.

At my wedding I handed out little brown packets of zinnia seeds, years and years ago, because of how hearty they are in the Texas heat and how I wanted to represent how strong marriage was. How fruitful we’d be, how beautiful when planted. Like I could guarantee security in a party favor. That was before Pinterest even, so go ahead and vomit at how nerdy that was. The marriage crumbled. I still plant zinnias. Go figure.

We are always wired to run. But don’t. Stand somewhere and listen to the wind around you, feel the sun on your face, the voice of truth in your heart. Stop being afraid. It’s just the drugs of earth and media and confused religious people telling you that you are not enough, when you are. You are God’s beloved, a wild and wonderful poem woven inside of a soul. A beautiful unique person with stories only you can tell. Don’t let this world make you hide who you are.

I live on Ranch Jr. and dodge the red wasps and wave to Charlie’s babies. I get in my car toward Whole Foods to buy strawberries. I still want to hide sometimes, from blended families and future teenagers and the thought of debt or moving or some other thing, but I’m working on it. Every day is another chance to breathe deeper, go slower, plant my roots down.  I’m learning to be grateful for the awareness of love.

Sun-stripped {a post on love and anger}

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Today I was particularly struck by the harshness of our modern world’s landscape. It is a desert, a sea of sandy dry dunes, with no quenching water. We are bombarded with articles and advertisements that guilt us and tell us how to make our lives better. We envy those on facebook who cook well and dress well and have better family vacations. Our children are filled with the notion that their belly fat defines them, their likes control them, their popularity and fame create them into something. Watch their eyes light up at the number of instagram likes, tweets re-posted, snapchat battles, sexy teen videos. Watch how they play games for hours to receive the online glory they don’t get in real life.

Watch yourself, doing it too.

There are so many wars raging. Wars between countries. Wars between husbands and wives in closed rooms with clenched fists. And wars between women, who feel one way or another about children, vaccines, political issues, maternity leave, high fructose corn syrup, school lunches. Everyone is on edge that they are being accused of nor working hard enough, that they aren’t strong enough, that they are not enough.   Everyone wants to be better than someone else. And Lord knows if you make fun of something, there will be hell to pay. Relax already. A little corn syrup in your pecan pie at Thanksgiving ain’t hurtin nobody. This bathroom nonsense at Target, with all the things going on in the world? Mercy.

This anger does not serve us well. It undermines the very confidence that we struggle to instill in our children. It also prohibits us from creating a village, where we can laugh together about the hard things and stretch a canvas across the sand to collect rain when we are all parched with thirst. We have to turn these struggles into paper, that we can then crumple up with our fingers and crush into a ball. Then we can bounce it around on our heads so that we downplay life’s grasp over us. Plus, it’s fun to bounce things off your head. There can be a prizes involved for high numbers. I’m just saying be creative when overcoming your own personal crap-storms, people.

But for the love don’t try to make yourself feel better by comparing yourself to someone else. At least I don’t dress like that. Feed my kids that. Say stupid shit like that. Were you raised in a proverbial barn, where people are instead cattle, weighed and measured? Our hearts are what matter. Our thoughts matter. Also? Ice cream and jazz music and the smell of roast on Sunday. These things matter.

Let us encourage each other to be strong and not weak. To say “I’m doing my best. I apologize when I’m wrong. I seek to do good, and I will move forward with purpose.” Let us forgive those around us, to honestly love those who hurt us, to seek mercy for those who have been handed more burdens than ourselves. And when someone is going off the deep end, we can say “simmer down there, sista. I know you’re madder than a wet hen but don’t send that email because we love you and you’ll regret it.” Regarding drunk texts, you’re on your own. Throw your phone down a toilet or something.

These are the women and men and children I want to be with on the high desert, when the winds blow. When the ground cracks. When the lips are parched and dirty. This is the nourishment we need. When Jesus left the earth, John 17 records a solemn prayer that he prayed to God, begging to not take people from the earth but to protect them during their tenure here, to show them unity of heart and mind, to be more like God in spirit. I’d like to laugh and hold each other in the hard times instead of pointing spears. Although making fun of any Kardashian is permissible. There have to be loopholes.

But seriously. We cannot be naive enough to think we don’t need a good washing out on the inside. We are all such flawed and injured birds, curled up on the sand, our power springing from distant mirages. I am not just speaking to the faithful. I am speaking to anyone who thinks that the words of revenge will soothe. That the proper retort will ease the pain. That the appropriate come-back or tweet or blog post will create in them the power that they are lacking.

We could blast to dust our enemies and put our guns back in our holsters with pride. But it does not heal. It does not soothe. It does not help. To quote Glennan: only love wins. God pours down from heaven and covers us. Love fills up our hearts and satisfies us. It creates in us a clean place to start walking again, with shoes strapped tight and low, with a cloud to shield us from the sun. Then we start smiling again, with a village, a people, a purpose. Yes, you with a different color skin. You who belittled stay-at home moms. You who is always nice and yet everyone thinks is stupid. You who didn’t get the promotion. You who consumes nothing but healthy green smoothies, and you who hides in the closet with little Debbie snack cakes.

All of you. We are arm in arm, in the desert, surviving. Sun-stripped to the essentials. This makes our world worth living in, for a while.

 

photo

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/peptravassos/12346727913/in/photolist-bkL9Zb-dmk5nD-x9idS-6NBe5j-oqAqGz-7y21ki-7QxCgm-2vVkpu-cyrvwG-c9Uv8o-d36amE-4KsRLu-acozZa-71enAx-jP3d4c-mLJGDF-7nNVon-7cKBPn-66u9cr-48KTmt-ebsuwB-dPkaon-4S9v3f-bGriq4-mPqCMc-dmk5oR-qfm8EZ-4YJxQh-dQer2o-ctvpWC-4PFpb9-Pv2XC-7xLgMu-5HR4pm-5F3qy8-feTC3E-5HDGbg-FM5EN-feDsKD-6y8Ug1-iF32D2-dKzDK3-qiZr-e8NBzX-4Y6Yo7-sr5ALW-5HJ1Mu-5qBpV2-96rrqm-ctvp7u

God Is Not Impressed with Us

2937639265_8ab19dcc1d_zThere are times I have no funny lines.

Because in real life, decisions are hard. Paths are confusing. My future seems like a mountain looming before me. Who I am to move mountains? In front of me is a hiking trail canvassed with trees and I haven’t worked out in seventeen years. There is no way I can climb. So I pray for answers, but none come. I want the path to be made straight and not so damn high. Basically I want things to come to me, easy and consistent, like water out of a tap when you turn the handle.

But all I hear is the buzzing of flies. The path is still high and crooked, and I’m left sitting cross-legged, in a large wrinkled heap of me. Where is God in times like these? Why doesn’t he answer me at church when I call?

And then I think, “woman, get yourself together.” Think of something funny, something to overcome, something that will boost up your own sagging ego. Write, so you’ll have readers. Sing, so you’ll have listeners. Say something funny, so you’ll be the one who is invited to things. I’m always wanting, like an insatiable thirst. I pick myself up, eat less carbs, wear smaller pants, get more sleep, clean my house, and tell the world that I can knock this hill. I can climb this mountain. Maybe with these efforts, my desire to be heard, to be loved, to be accepted, to be strong, to be married, to be needed – such longing will be quenched. Or maybe if I wait it out, the mountain will even itself out and I’ll be able to climb.

Maybe God will see how strong I’ve become.

The irony is that longing apart from God has no boundaries. There are always more pictures, deeper and richer. There are funnier jokes, less wordy and shrill. There are more friends to love and more wine to drink. More lessons to teach and more decisions to make. Our children try our patience and challenge our stamina. In turn, we take more pictures, write more books, eat less carbs, do more laundry.  We may even disguise our desires as having a higher purpose, a noble goal, a gift we are born to share. We run and run without a finish line. And we are emotionally exhausted.

In the end we are sitting on the floor with a toothbrush, scrubbing until the dirt is gone. And yet we still feel filthy. We walk outside and see that same tall, crooked path. The mountain still looms, despite our best efforts to ignore it. We shut the door and scream, for who likes hiking anyway. Clothes from REI are dumpy and it’s allergy season. Let’s make brownies instead. Maybe we can satiate this never-ending, never fading, always consuming, need of ours to be fully loved.

Self-absorption is tricky. We have to get our head away from the mirror to see it. And all my own efforts – to stand tall and look thin and be funny and be wise –they are all foolish children’s games, round and round and round with no end and no beginning.

God never moved. He never needed me to show off. He didn’t need my service. He was never impressed with my frivolity or my ability to do things. How small and insignificant did I think God was? He only wanted my heart, and my aching desire to be directed at him for comfort. All God wanted is for me to make a choice – to throw myself at his feet and ask. Will you help me, Lord? Will you direct my path? Will you give me the strength in this day to walk this one step up this looming hill? But please don’t make me wear REI, because it’s not that feminine and all the sweaters are drab shades of green.

One step. It doesn’t matter what I look like, what I say, how many people are watching. It doesn’t matter that I’ve treated God in the past like a vending machine, wanting good things to pop out.

I am here now, in comfortable shoes. I am standing outside my kitchen and staring at this mountain I have avoided all my life. I am asking God to please give me the strength to take a step. One foot at a time, as fast or slow as He directs. I ask forgiveness for my arrogance, for my need for acceptance, for my vanity. All I want is to exist inside of the love that only God can provide.

He said yes. He always says yes to this question. So I take a step in faith, small as a mustard seed. I trust God will lead. He always does. And then the funny comes, because happiness comes, and love comes flowing out everywhere. It is sun shining through clouds, butter sliding over potatoes, syrup over pancakes. It covers and penetrates and fills me up.

Today is the day you can tackle that mountain. One step at a time. One prayer at a time. One small breath at a time. Even wearing REI. Even in ugly comfortable shoes. Because honestly, green is a good color on you.

 

photo

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/junctions/2937639265/in/photolist-vsUMWP-vgNK7f-vw7qtM-48oNPs-gU7ZdD-uCdBDK-vCpYBo-cotjZu-zaeRZL-zyFmTG-hxYbix-hxYeu2-hxXdWw-4ocng8-9GYDfW-9GYCMh-fnvhnq-ouCd1s-9GVKW6-vyNXKh-CQppV-o6Fwae-qjaGvh-cMrdvb-hxXdiN-9QeFvv-owz7t7-ouf3DL-fzJ6x-5yagrx-gpafqb-dFanD1-pM5xyR-vyocNB-df3TKd-z36iiq-wStfH4-wSsS3p-g4kJAQ-u2YnTR-5tAaNR-48jKer-pcLE4d-q1xK26-deVr8f-toa5Z4-fHu6bM-uxFb93-48oLVm-48jMc8

The Intersection of humor and faith

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I wonder if God laughs at Gaffigan. In my small town viewpoint, anything that honors others, doesn’t tear people down, helps bridge gaps, and makes hard things easier, is sort-of like religion, without having to choke down all those wafers.

Last night I was invited to a wonderful gathering of women – strong, powerful, change-leaders in our society. There were lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, accountants – all seeking to find out how to mesh faith into their daily lives. It was loud, because hello we are women, and there was wine, which makes life better. I was talking to the main speaker about her topic, trying to hear above all the chatter.

“Did you say that you were speaking about Jesus s**t?” I said. Because that was odd. Not what I expected her to say. You should have seen the look on her face. Incredulous. Surprised. Maybe offended? I don’t know her that well.

“I said LEADERSHIP,” she said.

“Oh, right.” I said. “That’s way better. Let’s not refer to that other thing ever again.” And then I stared at my toes for a while. I don’t know if I’ll be invited back.

Of all the parts about being alive, I find laughter to be one of the most exciting. It’s a little creepy from the outside, probably. Lions are probably like what is up with all that shaking from the humans. Our mouths fly open and strange burst-like noises come out. Sometimes there is bellowing. We might cry and say things like “Stop it!” and “Get out!” when we really mean “Go on!” and “You’re hilarious!” And in the process of laughing small little bubbles of happy are released into our bloodstream. We are drawn to humor like Kardashians to plastic surgery.

I was asked to speak a few months ago at a women’s retreat on the topic of humor. I wanted to somehow express the odd dynamic I saw between humor and faith. The friends of mine that make me laugh out loud are not at all religious and seem to tolerate my faith like I have a wart or crooked teeth. The poor girl can’t help herself.

And then there are my religious friends. Some get offended, or think humor is hurtful or that they are doing something wrong by laughing at off-color jokes. There is a point that humor can become divisive. I actually wanted to walk right out of a Dave Chappelle show because instead of joy all I heard was pain. But generally speaking we need to calm the heck down already. These wonderfully spiritual people crowded into the room in which I was giving a talk because they were thirsty for funny. Something real and not polished. Something about faith that didn’t involve the word grace or salvation and instead involved the feeling of joy.

When I was writing my first novel (I say that like I have ten others when I only just have this one), one of my main goals was to juxtapose humor with pain, because laughter is a great connector, and our aching hearts need to be filled with endorphins instead of anticoagulants. But it can also cut like a thousand knives, into deep places of shame and hurt where other weapons cannot reach. We have a duty to use it wisely, and responsibly, to bring good to the world.

I’m not saying Gaffigan is a saint. He clearly eats too many doughnuts. But I am saying that humor is a gift. It’s a part of who we are. We are literally built for it. And anything our body craves so deeply and provides so much joy is a good and holy thing. In my non-preacher, simple girl opinion.

Laughing is effervescent. It fizzes and tickles, and when your life might be otherwise flat, wit makes it sparkle. Invest in friendships that encircle, and uplift, and fill you with happy. Seek out comedy. Don’t be afraid to cross these two worlds – faith and humor.

We so desperately need it to stay afloat.

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/abukij/19118573923/in/photolist-v8rFWT-hdsK62-a14QY8-JbDdR-8g53Pi-brhJ7W-5r9cR4-st9iAk-7YFSxb-pov6cD-pjVErG-5YHsAw-7mBjHU-59hNjK-rpNHt5-aFQ64k-bTmdbe-85an7k-k5hdz6-ebr3Ec-5vmmek-3q5Rss-8HUe3m-vzCqC-zEwzNF-9GtVd3-wvJFMn-7RCH9-n6dRz-8HZ8hZ-ae5qoH-aUuKDK-5SKnNG-5xdPjR-5GFxXz-E8Y4i-7iNNFo-zAebqJ-hkHLFn-9htucp-9XHZPK-9vmm6-eKHX9i-myNz9q-qmyaM4-76JYWD-5bQsDp-dzdia1-fiRvwU-3qzemW

Hindsight

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It’s hard to go back and read essays I wrote years ago. Before the divorce. Back when I was making dinner and singing songs and baking bread. I shake my head at how naive I was. How sheltered I was. How ridiculous of me to make that much bread. The world as I knew it fell beneath me like a molten floor, and I simply crumpled in the melting.

It’s hard to dig even deeper, to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. When they told me they’d probably take out my eye, and it would ruin a perfectly fine legal career. I’d be filled with radioactivity and wonder every six months whether that melanoma would permeate my liver with death and have to look like a pirate with a patch on a Tuesday. I had needles shoved in my eye to relieve the pressure and later it was filled with oil just to hold up my stupid retina. Imagine, I told my mother. An eyeball filled with oil.

You know what else is hard? To have been strapped down to a table before surgery, because your baby is seven months along and you feel his heart beating strong. To feel his kicks and his little hands and to know you are his sole and undivided protector. And they tell you they have to operate and remove the cataract or your eye will explode but you refuse anesthesia because of him, inside of you, living. So you sweat and you can hardly breathe but for the tube and you are covered in plastic and iodine. “Whatever you do,” the surgeon said, “you cannot move.” “Oh God,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

And oh, my first born. She exploded out of me as a brilliant fire. And yet the staph infection set in, and my gut raged, and I was in and out of being present, and the pain hurt so much I didn’t even feel it anymore. They cracked me open and took out all my organs, and then put them back again, freshly flushed with a saline rinse and Vancomycin. For a month I lay there, turning and searing and begging God to someday let me see my baby. I put my lipstick on despite the raging fevers. I tried to pretend I didn’t feel the stabbing pain of pumping with a ripped-up gut in a delirious drug-induced belief that I’d go home and breastfeed my child. I cracked bad jokes to the nurses, thinking it would earn me freedom.

It’s hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life. I have not just waded, but tore my boots off and plunged head-first into some very troubled waters. And each time, I asked. “God? Are you there?” All those Bible stories I learned just seemed to fade away. All the times I sat with my gloves on in church on Sunday just seemed like fools gold. Oh, God. I am too young to die like this.

There was no still, small voice. There was no Charlton Heston voice either. There were no words at all. But God spoke straight into me. I was fully loved. He was present. I did not have to handle this. And although I didn’t hear this last part, he was probably also like “take deep breaths” and “so when we are done here let’s not have any more children, K?” and “girl, that bread just goes straight to your hips so for the love of heaven eat more kale.”

Sometimes it’s okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that’s taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way in which it’s formed you. You recognize the power of vision – in hindsight – even with one eye.

You see for the first time how far you’ve really come.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/mind_scratch/2434031231/in/photolist-4H63FH-9HmR8k-r3TnFb-4Tp2di-iWrphM-qeGoqt-ri7PkJ-6f2FxK-rhNm52-8UoM6P-vSxh7V-omYNZ-r3ZD2Z-5wSNM4-cuEJzf-4XUFCv-7ibUj9-5W5zEW-4R2jHH-4gzf2p-53sKUX-byzF4r-hMoJcN-36wjrG-accrur-9Hs5Ki-6NL6bf-xVeWa-AKpJxG-gaJ6hP-6tjjRP-AS1q-gaHyhA-9G9yBa-92DtyB-92cKEW-7xLSK-gaHoQi-b7snfx-6TALYJ-7f7etw-CGFz6-b8LCmk-oANj62-4n6mBG-axhGdL-bQKvVr-xTFgSz-xTFe9i-dPfVV

Ribbons

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Sometimes writing is delivered to me in small packages, when the kids are watching cartoons and I’m drinking a beer because it’s Friday and I have exactly 47 minutes to myself. But I have this idea, see? It is a spark that needs to be lit, an itch to be vigorously scratched, so I run upstairs to my crowded desk, with loads of contracts and various mugs filled with stale old coffee, and furiously write. And when I open that box I feel full, because it’s a gift to have this desire.

It is okay, that writing happens in this way, little boxes tied up with red grosgrain ribbons. It is okay that my career has twisted more than rivers, bound up at times, flowing at others. And it is okay that sometimes I feel like moving my feet forward and other times I feel like curling up and hiding like a possum in the light.

There are so many areas to fail. I don’t write everyday, as I should. I don’t wash clothes every week. I don’t write thank you notes like my mother taught me, and I sometimes yell at my children. I don’t have a book deal. I don’t floss. I don’t work eight hours a day. I basically don’t know what the hell I’m doing most of the time.

But we must whisper to ourselves like a mantra: It is okay. Life is still worth it. Beautiful things will come.

Because there are packages that appear, in your bedroom and between your nose. In your mind and amidst the Starbucks napkins in the front seat of your car. Look around! They are in abundance around you. Even when you are tired, or worn down, or broken up with guilt. They arrive, through the miles and skies and years and headaches. There are always little packages.

The way a woman smiles at you. The way your child makes you laugh. The urge to bake chocolate brownies. The ability to say the right thing. Today, somewhere, a gift is laid out before you, and you get to unwrap it. It is a delight that God surprises us in such unique ways.

I like to keep my heart open. This is at times a curse, since I am easily bruised. But I am not calloused, and my wounds always turn to scars that fade. And although I remain soft, I grow in wisdom, and I can see the magnitude of such gifts.

Life is not sometimes hard, it’s always hard. Let’s not parse words about that. It is so stupid hard. You feel like you’re on the wrong track. Everyone around you seems to have it all together and you’re sitting on the couch with a sinus infection. But it’s a funny thing, because soon enough there will be a gift. The way your daughter dances in front of the mirror. A text message that makes you laugh. A short line at the grocery store. It explodes into piles and piles of gifts, and soon enough it’s Christmas morning and you are surrounded with ribbons. The good grosgrain kind and not the curly ones that twist and break around the scissors.

Collect all these gifts in your heart. Be grateful for the beauty of these small things. This is life. It’s not always an epic, sweeping film, but a collection of very small, good things. It’s okay that life is hard. That you aren’t perfect. That sometimes bad things happen. You might be a hot mess. Because soon enough, gifts will come. Delight in them, unwrap them, and be grateful for these provisions.

Today, I ran upstairs to write, whereas tomorrow I might feel bone dry. And that is okay, because tomorrow there might be pumpkin bread or a letter or the way I notice my coffee, hot and perfect, going down.  Funny that I did not notice that yesterday. Because it is a gift for another day.

Save the multitude of ribbons that you gather. Hold them to your face and remember how beautiful they are, tied up in bows, holding together all that love.

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/calliope/104660728/in/photolist-afpZj-j75bj-bUjJeE-5vZfs5-a62AJ8-5pRVX1-aAVy2m-7YgDrr-kmWQCp-fDbe7L-8WW46-4cZMz4-mZP848-dbqjHZ-8w4qni-5pMD1r-6UjuSW-5vUSp4-9irqiH-e1DA92-mZPdAZ-aoPZDd-kmYjg9-ixBGx6-8Zyz8Q-ciBTjh-79KzXR-qP5JH4-87GxRw-nZpN86-o9SkPp-aNneu8-aepUCe-6mzSRh-byQKdm-5vZ8z9-aQWyzT-gVodpy-nxKjb7-hhNvdM-aepV4P-aoQ1SU-ayxG1e-8Y7sfe-diB2br-Dz3pS-eonSNG-86QKs-kmYhHE-bC7aAv

Walk on water

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It was just a boat ride.

Out on the Pacific, we sat on little padded humps and held on to rails like makeshift cowboys on broncos. When the water swelled we’d coast atop it and crash down hard, the little captain laughing at all us city kids riding waves like roller coasters. But the farther we went from the shoreline it became eerily spacious, the waves being whipped up like a mixer by Spring winds forming little tiny peaks. If you squinted your eyes it didn’t look like water at all, but instead a hard ground, full of rocks that would poke the bottoms of your feet. I imagined Jesus walking on it, seeing his eyes pierce right through me. I wondered how frightened I’d be if the waves grew as tall as skyscrapers. I’d likely scream like a child because my faith is still at times childlike. Will you forgive me, maker of this regal sea, for not comprehending how vast and majestic you are?

My trance was interrupted by the captain telling us to look to the right, because there were sea lions. I thought of how I talked to God in times like these, for no matter how far I ran I could not escape the feeling that he was an intimate friend and also an unreachable entity. This dichotomy of close and far is just the way it is. After all these years I have accepted it.

We watched the sea lions sunning and the bald eagles nesting and the dolphins turning and spinning and leaping in their own backyard playground. The translucent seas could not hold back this life from our eyes. We were just visitors here and I felt so extremely small.

I gathered up my hair that was thrashing in the salty air and tied it into a knot on my head. I turned to look at him. The man who was touching my leg who I am slowly becoming a part of. Like coral growing on a rock, our lives are sticking together like one beautiful mass. It is becoming harder to see where one ends and the other begins.

And there was that familiar tingling feeling, the one that rises in my nose, the one that triggers my eyes to well and tears to fall. The precursor to my own expelling of salt water. For there was this great love and this short-lived life and this sea of mystery to dwell upon. But I pushed it all back. I would refrain from sobbing out the happy because this time was for smiling and not for weeping. For sunning and not for feeling guilty about the warmth.

Four days prior, before the bumpy boat ride and the whipping of waves and the pelicans, everything changed. I was working and dying inside for the working and sitting in zig-zag lines of traffic void of hope. I was stripped naked of joy and missing out on my very own life. So I didn’t sleep and instead drafted a letter that announced my formal resignation. I prayed until my eyelids drooped that God would provide, that work would come, that I could finally stop running.

On that day I did what my heart told me to do, which is to let it go. Without a safety net. Without a permanent job lined up. Without a fancy law office to march into in my high black heels. I let the nets down knowing God would send the fish, and I did what I needed to do. And for the first time in my life I felt completely free.

I thought of this day as I watched birds skim the water in the vastness of the ocean so close that their wings skimmed the edges. What an impression it made that they were all in tandem and flew so close that they broke the surface and never fell in. And here I was, falling so unexplainably hard into the depths of love so deep there was no exit in sight. Falling into the arms of God’s provision. In a sense I was trusting, and walking upon those choppy meringue waves. Maybe my faith isn’t so childlike after all. Maybe it’s just fun to bump along the water like a bronco, dolphins flipping and leaping in the wake.

It was about this time the captain told us we had to head back toward Catalina, so we turned the boat around and headed back home, back over the blue water and past the sea lions, this time with an intent to dock and unload. Our viewing moments were gone.

But no one can strip this from me. They cannot remove the salt from my tears or the memory of him laughing with his hat turned backward in the sun. They cannot undo the hands of time or the letter I penned or the new world I’m venturing into. And the viewing isn’t over of my children’s lives, because we have just begun. Every moment is a memory to be fully and completely lived.

We all need a journey out to the sea, where we feel small, to see things in their correct perspective. Tears and the waves and my heart, swelling.

On being happy

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Happy.

. . .showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment, favored by luck or fortune (“happy coincidence); notably fitting, effective, or well adapted (“happy choice”); enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment (“happy childhood”); expressing, reflecting, or suggestive of happiness (“happy ending”); glad/pleased (“happy to meet you”); or having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship.

As far as I can tell, life’s not designed to make us happy. There is no promise that if we hold all the right cards and marry the right fellow and have the right number of babies and eat enough kale, happiness will follow. Is anyone actually happy eating kale? We should instead all eat dark chocolate salted caramels, except those make our blood sugar spike and food can be our comfort which leads to weight gain and depression. Maybe Gwyneth is right and kale is better.

Oh, please.

But somehow there is this myth floating around – it starts about high school – that one should do whatever it is that makes one happy. Like if theatre gives us wings we should move to California and live on stale pita bread, slumping around drinking bad coffee with wispy hair in audition lines. Or if writing is our passion we should quit our long, boring, corporate day jobs (so we can pay our mortgages) and write. Life bold. Live free. Love who you want and do what you want and smoke what you want.

Be happy.

But that lesson doesn’t always pan out. We turn around one random Monday when we are 40 wearing ill-fitting jeans trying to find the teacher who said it to us years ago, like “Wait! That’s not what you promised!” But there’s no one there: just a trail of smoke in the distance behind. We have lingering pain that we can’t seem to numb with narcotics. We have jobs with bosses. We have toilets that break over Thanksgiving and enchiladas that taste like cardboard and spouses with drinking problems and tumors that sprout up out of nowhere and end up lodged in our cortex. What once gave us great joy is now a burden. What was once a dream is now crushed, and we all feel like failures with raging sinus infections.

Because sometimes, life is not at all happy. Our fairy godmother has a case of rheumatoid arthritis.

So we roll up our sleeves and seek answers where we can – our pastors and friends, leaders and teachers – and compare the reality of our situation to some ethereal and unrealistic fairness standard the world sets. After all – THEY are happy. You know, those people. Celebrities with waistlines. Mothers in carpool. Men wearing suits. Oprah. They live a full life and have a Range Rover with tan leather interior.  They have spotless kitchens and blond grandkids with smocked dresses. Why can’t I? How can I get what they’ve got? Why do they get that life and I get this one?

How the hell should I know. For dinner tonight my kids ate macaroni and canned peaches.

What I DO know is that the most interesting and fascinating people are those who have been through many trials. Who have learned that struggle is not just a necessary part of life, but a valuable part. They see deeper, beyond the current reality.  And these fighters roll up their sleeves, look at their tattered lives full of holes and damage and failed relationships and past mistakes and 1980’s coca-cola t-shirts, and think “Well, hell.  I can teach yoga.  I can start a school. I can instill in these kids a sense of wonder. I can bake cakes. I CAN GIVE WHAT I CAN IN THIS TINY SMALL SPACE WHERE I’M PLANTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”

They aren’t actually shouting, despite the all caps. But in essence they are. Shouting to the teachers that they were all bald-faced liars. Shouting to God that sometimes life hurts. Shouting to their student loans and their dislocated marriages.  The most interesting and blessed people have very little to give, and it’s not fair that whats-his-nuts got a promotion when they did all the work.  But they are hell-bent to keep on keeping on, pressing on, marching on, regardless.

Amen to you brave warriors. Applaud your own courage, and strength, and will. Your bold, bad-ass spirit is not unrecognized.

So on one leg or one eye or one bruised heart, rebound. Go teach yoga and start schools and raise kids and bake. Raise up those kids and march toward that job and smile when it’s hard. Then vow to give up Diet Coke or start running or keep your closet neater. And small things build to bigger things, and before long you’ll be volunteering at the animal shelter or finding a dollar a week for someone else and laughing, of all the nutty things. And out of nowhere like a wellspring rising there is an amazing amount of joy to be found in the surviving. In the community of people who walk alongside. In a God who teaches us to serve, and dig down deep.  After all, we are more than our circumstances.

We are standing inside of a brilliant, amazing life that we have weathered.

Be that. The person who survives. Who laughs. Who is grateful for the hard. Ask God to help you find the brightness even in the failures, so that you can look back and weave it into your patchwork. And in the end, I hope you say with a shocked expression that you actually found happiness. The true kind that survives and doesn’t wilt. That perseveres through the drought. The one that rises up strong and bears fruit.

The kind of happy that matters.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6175811463/in/photolist-e2hJGK-abM9JU-9ofGDy-6KPPWD-bBvtnv-bp9m9-apJDzZ-rMYu7-5P4viu-8XSJbv-7v2Jn8-j4AGwg-5yeaxh-akM4Jk-4xgtq3-72fAgB-9XRadb-7ZZR5f-o4ZJ4i-dMRL9y-5SC2UQ-jNSMHB-r3rRNU-6N72iH-frBWxy-nRrSqr-bjBVUm-agWQrT-eMBZmh-5w317J-sdr8ZE-embEE7-rEHogF-rTdTJs-8uHcQX-iZTMkx-qsWQRU-rZjEBn-efhMWd-5AxMSw-6BBZ5S-dAcQw8-9Aei5q-9VDMAY-fzai2S-k6raUS-9VDMBu-9VDMAC-9VDMBo-9pqy9D