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

Let love prevail over religion

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June 2014, ABC Kitchen, NYC, right before he arrived

My first date with my boyfriend was late on a sultry hot New York night. He was there for business, me for no reason whatsoever except for it’s New York and sometimes I just go and walk down the avenues lined with trees. It was a non-date, due to the fact that I was so religious and all.

I don’t know what that means, really, that I’m religious. I know that word means an organized system of worship, and I do love me some hymns. I have sat on church pews my entire life, and when it’s warm you’ll find me on my rocking chair on the front porch with coffee, letting God just wash right through me. And in the quiet after the day has closed, I talk to the one who created me, like a child to a father, who in my mind is still always creating. I have had deep moments of gratitude for the blessings I do not deserve, and feelings of great peace. Sometimes I offer random prayers for people like buckshot. Other times I just curl up tight and say nothing. Does that make me religious? I really hope not. The religious are all making us look like idiots.

When we first began to email, this man and me, I explained this. I was looking for someone with whom my faith would never be a barrier, since it was such an important part of me. He was quick to point out that we probably weren’t a relationship fit, since most religious people he knew fit in a very tight box. So this first dinner was more of an intersection of two minds rather than an intersection of lust. And yet I will tell you, dear friends, that the start of fire is a powerful thing. For even in the early days we were waiting for an email, waiting for a message, waiting for smiles to sweep across our faces at the thought of the other. We could hardly stay contained.

I look around at this world, and I am filled with disgust. The hate is growing, the stupidity looming larger. People talk like they know something I do not, as if truth is just outside my reach and if only I could try harder. Look more deeply. Adopt a child. Travel to Haiti. Buy this book. And the crazies come out with their pamphlets and their leaflets and their strangely judgmental words, words I do not recognize, and my head cocks to the side because I don’t like these people and I don’t like this message and frankly, I don’t know what the hell I’m even doing here in this religious camp.

Did I mean to take a left and I ended up taking a right? Who are my people?

His flight was late and it was a quarter past ten as I sat by the window fidgeting with my purse. I was waiting for this intriguing man with whom I had been writing, online letters back and forth like the old days. Like a candle, I melted among the sentences. I was waiting to see what he looked like outside of his photos. Waiting for roast pork with a crackle crust. Waiting for wine I wouldn’t even taste. And he appeared from a cab, rushed and hurried, his dark hair swept back and his glasses on. He was apologetic for the delay, but all I wanted to do is touch him. From the moment I met him I wanted to climb inside of him and know him. And that lovefire burst open like an atom bomb.

He didn’t see me as religious. He just saw me. And now our lives are forever intertwined, and he sits with me in church and holds my hand and I listen to his deep voice whisper The Lord’s Prayer from his early Methodist days. He doesn’t mind that I pray before dinner. He thinks God is larger and bigger and different than I do. He thinks churches are mostly strange and boxy and he maintains a healthy dose of skepticism. We talk about other worlds and other planets and how people are all on a continuum, of sorts.

That’s all fine by me.

I thank God for this man. He is kind and generous and does what is best for others before himself. And he knows I love Jesus. It is hard to explain just how much I do. I don’t care if others do, or if others don’t. I don’t care how others spend their days, with their gay lover or their grandmother. I don’t think it’s my business to pry into anyone’s heart or point my finger at people drinking gin or rip guns out from underneath people’s mattresses. All I want to do is try to live a tiny shred of a life that showcases love over hate, and let God do the rest. I don’t want to read any more books or feel any more guilt. I just want to lie there when the day is done, letting God wash me clean through.

And that’s fine by him.

On our one-year anniversary we went to Paris, and we sat in the Saint Chappelle Cathedral and listened to Vivaldi, and despite the fact that it was hot and I kept falling asleep I thought I couldn’t be any closer, to God and to love and to happy. Is this religion? To love God with all your mind, and all your heart, and all your strength? To beg God for your life itself to be a witness, to neighbors and strangers and those who keep pulling the trigger and beating their wives?

I am no one. I’m just a girl with sinus problems who happened to claw her way through law school, who scraped by cancer, who fell on bathroom floors in fits of seizures and sobbed my way through a heartbreaking divorce. All I am is bones and blood, who managed to keep picking myself back up by the sheer will of God himself. I have no grand lessons. I have no books for sale.

All I know is God. He brought me through desert upon desert, trial upon trial, to this day. To these children. To this essay. To this place of independence, and dependence too. Toward this man, on a late summer night, on a non-date in the city.

Let your heart be open to this type of love.

 

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.

The Turtle Shell

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The windshield washers swished a grey refrain on the long commute north. Back and forth, back and forth, as washers are programmed to do. Dependable, those strips of plastic, swiping away the rain. It’s like that some days, when our minds are a sky haze and the monotonous radio noise buzzes in our ears.

And in these days I am just a turtle in a shell, carrying with me all sorts of burdens. I wonder why the present state is the present state and when I will again arch my back and see the sun’s fiery center like an egg yolk bouncing and spreading light against the backdrop of sky.

And the saddest thing is that I’m used to being hunched over so, letting the rain and the work and the bills and the savings all weather me, like the copper on my back is turning to an aged and tarnished green. And yet I have no reason to complain, right? There are so many more unfortunate ones. Don’t we all tell ourselves this – that we have no right nor justification to hurt? How dare we complain about our middle-class lives, filled with malaise when there are those who are hungry, less fortunate, without. If thankfulness is the key to happiness, we should be so exceedingly joyful, for we all scratch down our “thank-you-for-toilets-and-ice-cream” praises in journals and Sundays and Tuesday Taco Nights.

And yet when no one is looking we again pick up our tortoise shell and walk heavy, letting the rains beat against us so. We wonder when we can get out of this coal mine or this desk job or this writer’s block or this toxic relationship or out from under our past. We wonder when the boss will let up or when the laundry pile will shrink. We sigh for the heavy and feel guilty for the sighing.

And yet the rich (and let’s be honest – in America in general we are very rich), still carry burdens. That’s hard to grasp, but let’s just give ourselves permission to say it. For then we can figure out how to move away from it. To tell ourselves that yes, we are in fact depressed. We have beautiful children or lovely husbands or wonderful homes with pools, and yet we are so exceedingly sad. For we do not always see God showcase his glory. Sometimes it’s just a long walk through the haze, when tears rise up like natural springs and we have to be mature enough to see the bigger picture.

I was in Los Angeles last weekend. It was a glorious southern California day. The kind of day you wish you could freeze in time and come back later in dark moments to remember. Mark and I strolled the streets and drove toward the Pacific. We marveled at the Bel Air landscape and ate stringy cheese by the Santa Monica pier. And when I got home my children sat down on the floor and wrote me a treasure trove of love notes, wrapped in envelopes with “mommy” scratched across in their beautiful child-like writing. And for a glorious moment the shell was lifted, and life was right and true and beautiful. But of course vacations and weekends and love notes always tend to roll into Mondays, and we begin to hunch over as before.

“Nothing is free,” a girl said at work. Folks in the meeting nodded, like “well that’s about right.” She wore a shell, hunched and sighing. She was tired, and tired of being tired, and was flat-out worn down.

But smiles are free. Snapshot memories taken with your mind are free. Saying a compliment to a stranger, who has their hair all tied up with pins just so? Free. And the love poured out from a body broken, hanging from an executioner’s tree, was also without cost. So sit now, my dear friends with hunched shells. In your work chair or your kitchen table or in your car strewn with water bottles and Starbucks napkins. Sit with the understanding that we all live with fear, and burdens, and the wondering-when-it-will-all-change.

But in these moments, force yourself to smile. Go ahead and get your nice boots on, and make an appointment for your therapist, and drag yourself outside for a walk. Look way into the future instead of the now, and know in your heart there is a love that is more powerful than yourself. Compliment someone, and force yourself to keep writing down those moments of thanks. Do something outstandingly unselfish, walk inside of that nursing home, and write a letter to your children. Take a basket of muffins to someone, or send an email to a colleague. Go all damn day trying to smile bigger and love harder and look ahead more.

I promise you that love is there, all around. The clouds will break, the sun will bob again in the big sky. The Lord above will reveal to you how much you are deeply and completely loved. Not because I say so, because He does. He never, ever fails us in his loving.

Rise up from the shell. It’s sunny out.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/audreyjm529/401093432/in/photolist-6d5LWR-nqPBP-q2axiX-nqRYy-29RPeK-3JDUnC-5uzbKU-BrLz3-9jVk7m-edPxDM-a8Ehny-6ryjxB-6acAkq-ec1hJq-9y6bRc-drX1Eh-6D1H9-eXBti7-64fkXf-9hei7D-6f1t1V-nqMFo-c6DMXE-ehDPeT-BrH71-4G27kn-dpD9CD-3fyBQc-6Y9w2W-7ssyac-6qR2eb-eagZJQ-o2rAA-6kKCoo-6qR2Lq-9Uv1mR-7bFHC5-BrHSv-6Y5tM2-eeAKH-78grTt-25QcM5-7RXNLe-8gQQ9g-pu7ZMK-CNhCJ-qiXayf-5h1Bc-pESBGr-p1sjfq

The Shelling of Prayers

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Right this very minute, I’m inhaling the smell of garlic and bacon simmering and bobbing amidst the peas I shucked last summer, their little black eyes peering at me from the pot.  All last summer I sat and shelled them, long afternoons while the washing machine swished and my brain pulsed hard with thoughts of change and going back to work and whether I’d ever be happy.  Break off the end, pull the string, run my fingers alongside the edges so the peas tumble out with little joyful pops, and then breathe out slow.

I was about to say that I talked to God in times like these, but that sounds all idealistic and cliché, like I have these spiritual moments in the south when I’m in an apron with an armload of peas and later I go into the garden and cut zinnas and make sun tea.  I do those things, but it’s an inaccurate description of reality.

A more accurate version is that I sat there in a t-shirt while the kids were watching cartoons, tired and half-dazed, in the middle of a divorce and an outbox full of emails expressing my “absolute interest in working for your organization,” wondering why the children always threw clean towels in the laundry when they were used one stinkin time, frustrated that it took an hour to pop out damn little peas that would gather in a ziplock for three days until enough of a harvest could fill a bag for the freezer. There was an apron, but it was stained and wrinkled.

But the thing is, I did talk to God in times like these.  It was more of a guttural cry to a Father with whom I worshipped and loved and yet sometimes didn’t honor and barely understood and I just wasn’t sure how my life would possibly work out.   And yet I began talking to God anyway.  I prayed and spoke and sang and wrote and at times just scowled in a general Godly direction.  Sometimes I wanted to take a bucket of peas and throw them across the French country table toward the back door.  But the more I cried out to Him the more I knew – I knew – from deep down inside my veins that pulsed and kept beat with my living heart, that this amazing love was indeed listening.  That redemption was not just a word we hear in biblical circles, but an action.  That somewhere and somehow, beauty was lurking.  Next season, perhaps.  But in time, it was coming.  I didn’t even feel it, but I wrote it on my chalkboard nonetheless.  Trust Him to keep his promises.  It will come.

Last year was long.  It was dark.  It was filled with forgetfulness and compromise and getting buried deep in thought. Break off the end, pull the string, run your fingers through until the little peas pop. And yet here I am.  The peas smell so good bobbing in the chicken broth, hunks of bacon letting the grease flow into their little green shells.  My mother is so excited to eat them, “fresh from the garden,” she says.  “So exciting.”

My tears are now rather different, for they flow with gratitude for my amazing life, and my beautiful children who bless me.  My daughter walked in moments ago wearing my fedora and scarf, and her blue eyes poured love inside of me in a way that she may never understand.  And my son crawls up next to me and settles, breathing in deep as if we together are stronger than apart.  And I weep actual tears at the glory of my mother, who stays with us and bakes cakes and makes dinosaur caves with my son and sews dresses with ribbons for my daughter and is so unselfish and pure in all her ways.  I have friends who allow me to be stitched forever into their lives, forming a tapestry of us, and I have found a man that is so special I can barely speak of him.

Like each pea I popped out of a shell, my prayers were heard. My God.  You are so holy to love us, and powerful to protect us, and glorious to redeem our broken lives.  I am nothing but a shell left on the floor after the words are spent. But in my small role I will play it well, because in another season there will be a purpose, and there is a greater glory, and in the end it will all make sense.

To those who are struggling, hold fast. God does indeed hear every single breathy prayer you may utter.  And in time His brilliant glory will be revealed, even if it’s in a year, or five, or after this mortal life is shunned.  But like the seasons this too shall pass, and we will someday cry a different kind of tear, and I am living proof that a heart can indeed heal.

Last year I shelled a lot of damn peas.  And today, we shall eat them.  With smiles on our faces, bacon grease running down our chins, butter melting into cornbread.  And we shall laugh, and we will play board games, and water the garden, and I will probably roll my eyes at my mother.  Later I have a date, and will wear high heels, and will feel strangely full.

Redemption.  It smells a lot like bacon. And it’s beautiful.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/localmilk/12356202194/sizes/m/in/photolist-jPSLqS-jPQx7n-jPSTao-9RQRVD-jPSN5J-5J9xe2-b8TWgT-96AdCU-34Hm93-jPRnve-7CgGGT-9fmQLm-iPxc3z-3GcFnC-6JRrkB-mQoq56-6JVwBL-jPSSmj-kqE9J-3jfKvw-6CyuGS-iW4hsi-6BzpV4-8nAdpu-96Gb7j-8FTqLv-jPRpRB-7G9V6P-7dwKXu-e6jf4N-bJEdde-7CsYkZ-6YzfUC-79ndGW-7dwKWE-7CwNNG-8FWLnb-e6jfej-dsjdn-6Yzg4w-fw6jTC-2Pcaoo-9PXqDH-4LTyF-iP5DHL-9Rvbp8-nzL24-8oViNr-mNi5Wt-fgt6-9PXqoc/

Let the happy burn

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Being happy is weird.  It makes your stomach tense up and your heart beat fast and you wonder if you might possibly have indigestion. Sometimes you’ve lived so many lifetimes bearing burdens that when happiness comes it’s a bubble caught in your throat or a light that’s so bright it’s blinding.  But you have a choice to cough or to laugh, to run or to stand. Your arms outstretched so heartbeats can collect like raindrops upon the tip of your nose and drip down slow.

It’s the moment you forget to take pictures or write it all down because you can barely focus on the swirling mass around you. It’s the way your mouth can’t stop curling.  You try to stop it, that dumb grin, but there it goes again, escaping.  And your eyes twinkle and shine like a million stars. It is then you know you’re really living and not just chronicling the living.  You’re loving and not just dreaming about love.  You’re viewing the redemption story, woven so perfectly you want to rip it into shreds to make sure it’s real.

So you laugh.  Big hearty laughs that hurt your side and make your tears run and you sit in church with your head down repeating small phrases that come to mind in no particular order because of all that delirious confusion.

It does not come without a price, the happy. It follows years of trenches and warfare.  Plodding and aching and yearning and dark.  But here you are, laying atop patch of clover and rabbits, of milk and honey, honeysuckle in the springtime that overtakes your senses and makes you breathe in slow and deep. “Don’t hate me,” you whisper into the ear of the sirrus, the high clouds atop the wind, for even they cannot see the sun shine as brightly or the sky so vividly as you.

It’s rare, these moments. Like firefly lights or jewels in the sand.  They are sprinkled ever so sporadically in the course of a life.  A child is born.  A perfect morning.  The kiss of a child.  New love begins. And in these very short flashes you stand with a queasy stomach and wonder if it will end.  Because you know the darkness and the demons, they are coming.  You know the dawn is followed by a midday that’s hot and piercing.  There is a heavy afternoon to every new morn. It is the tragic world we live, and we cannot escape it forever.

But for today, relish it.  Taste it on your tongue. Let the brightness overtake you for a while, not to chronicle it or to tattoo it but just to live inside of it, for when the hard times come you’ll open up the bottle to smell the honey, pour out a little of it onto your finger, and put a drop on your tongue to sustain you.

Sometimes it’s hard to be happy.  You pick up a diamond between your toes and wonder if it’s just a rock, or whether it will lose its shine, or whether this brilliant season will cease.  But let yourself feel again.  Open your arms, your heart, your eyes, your hands.  Catch this emotion you’re so unaccustomed to – and just hold onto it for a little while.

Let it flash like a firefly, grinning. Let the happy burn.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/47932340@N06/5900455185/sizes/m/in/photolist-9ZpnKX-72cN87-h5BoH-8kdTNH-6hTVcd-kmMoua-Va2iB-7vTbGh-4jJkWH-h7ibz2-jSXr6H-8PhSJz-dZuABv-6GHPMD-85y4fC-8ik4vs-8Si9Am-9eEJ7B-5HJwjv-9DyA5j-nm8rCR-8tFVZC-5WR6TC-4F3dCQ-bFefcU-bgAGw4-k8ZTi6-kcPtgK-5WFMty-86ajvj-7fmaVy-dy64jW-5Ae4R9-c1jRtu-baQRzK-o4M9qN-4Vbz8L-fPUtzL-6DiBpX-oaXdZr-djRWSs-5VWNf4-epZLjM-bhk7Ya-fbf8An-6nFBXd-7QWhu8-jcdLXL-5Wkbxr-iHeurN-87P3Ze/

Burn up the Rubber

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Most of us live sensible lives.  We drive reliable cars. We ensure our children have green vegetables and eat organic chicken.  We rent bounce houses on birthdays and allow our daughters to be princesses and when Fridays roll around, men grill steaks in their chinos and their wives say “they’re wonderful, dear,” and at night these women take off their make-up.

And the days, they change numbers. The t-shirts turn to sweaters.  But it’s all essentially the same.  Day camp on Monday, spin class on Tuesday.  Pancakes on Saturday and church on Sunday.  And we smile and cook lasagna and say hello to Sheila-and-Bob that come over for a beer because that’s what good neighbors do. We have grown so adept at hiding all the pain that comes from living this bloated American life that we tell ourselves this is it – the life we’ve yearned for.

And then one day, when you are driving home thinking of making crunchy tacos, you hit the familiar turn toward suburbia.  The brick house on the left, third street to the right, named after birds or rivers or wildflowers.  And that stretch of curve comes a bit too fast before it’s upon you like a crosswind, and you have a choice whether to slow down or take it.

And by God, you take it.

Something strange and sinister swirls inside you like a demon. Instead of putting two hands on the wheel of your trusty Lexus and meeting up with Sheila-and-Bob and making tacos and pulling into Braeborn Court to the brick house on the left, you have a feeling akin to flying.  The tires grip the road and you narrow your eyes and you burn that rubber.  You turn that ache into fire and you realize the life you’ve been living is a shadow of the one you’ve imagined.

So you take a right instead of a left and head through the rolling hills without a plan, without a full tank of gas, without a good set of recipes or a dessert for the pot luck.  And it feels good to crank up the music loud and let it pulse with the beat of your chest.  You rip out the hair tie.  You open the sun roof.  You stick your hand out the window like an airplane dancing and you pulse in your seat to the rhythm of the street and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, shining.  You sing loud, laugh hard, and wave at passersby’s like a damn fool.

And as the sun begins to set upon your sensible life, the one you don’t seem to fit into, you head that Lexus back home to tell your children there are no more tacos. There are only ice cream sundaes, eaten at night by the pool at 10 pm sharp, and one cannot use spoons but must dive face-first into a bowl of strawberry, and everyone laughs with hot fudge dripping down their noses.  There is no longer grilling on Sundays, and spin class on Tuesdays, for you pack up your things and move to the mountains,  where you stand in your underwear on the ridge and raise your hands high – to heaven, to God, and to freedom. And your husband sips tea and kisses your mouth hard, the one he loves more deeply than before.

Sometimes a sensible life is not enough for a dreamer.  Life must be lived with wild abandon, with hands out the window and the sun searing skin and music raging in places that were once nothing and empty.  And you grit your teeth at so many turns, because that’s what wheels are for, really, to burn up the rubber. And it feels good to go fast, and live full, and go out with a flame instead of a whimper.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30781947@N08/6154656560/sizes/m/in/photolist-anSdYh-6GmH8Y-89hsBV-5sXYn8-72wTKE-9hb8fu-6s7Xn5-o51QXS-89kHcC-89kHgA-76tkFK-8d1zXA-eDmG9b-eDmuKb-8dj1z3-4aYwnm-72wSBS-5kSaJg-6E2BRp-aAguJL-7ZWdQi-9UJbpN-5rNX5p-6Ne1NB-57QCbe-8kT1Pq-6E6MF9-6E6MoA-6E6Mud-yeaR-7zuodN-88jsAp-4W6Sig-9FptMT-72wSzJ-b4cR9-72wT2N-LtNrz-7LpxZa-75k8s5-7LpyQK-ccHcuA-7LpzDM-4W6Rke-bVkSTK-8dj1uG-58cTnx-c7A4Sd-5ZLmMu-8cXi48-8uvBW1/