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

The Day My Father Threw a Doll out the Window

 

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Kids today are spoiled.  They are lacking good solid stories as they get older about how they had to walk home from school while vomiting or had to share one large yellow phone on the wall in the kitchen. They have it a lot better than we did when we were young, our own childhoods akin to a long and tortious drive through Nebraska.  I know this, because I’ve driven through Nebraska. The cornfields, I tell ya.

Once when I was little, I defied my father and hid strawberry shortcake dolls inside my travel bag on a long-distance trip to Kansas. Yes, they did smell like fruity chemicals. But so does lotion named “sun ripened raspberry” and you don’t see anyone complaining.  My favorite was the evil Purple pie man, who stole all of the berries from the innocent girls with a mischievous grin. Needless to say I loved these little dolls, which is why I thought I needed them on the 13 hour drive to nowhere (aka Kansas).

But you don’t know my father. He hated smells.  He could tell if we painted our nails two days prior.  He aired out the house at the whiff of burned toast.  One sniff of cute little Apple Dumplin’ and he was like the Jack and the Beanstalk giant, fo-fumming that he smelled the blood of something that did not actually smell like apples.

“HAND IT TO ME,” he bellowed.  You can imagine the horror on my face, my father’s looming hand reaching into the back seat of the station wagon.  Scared, timid, and feeling small, I handed him one with flaming orange hair.

To my shock, he hand-cranked down the glass, which could only mean one thing.  He wasn’t placing a to-go order.  He wasn’t spitting.  He was about to throw, with all his might, my dolls out the window, somewhere outside of Oklahoma.  There were no apologies.  There was no “daddy lost his temper, sweetheart” moment.  Nothing akin to “we’ll buy you a new one” or “let’s talk about how this makes you feel.” It was swift, painful, and effective. All the dolls. Flump, flump, flump. In a moment, they were gone. My mother sat still and stoic, like this is just what fathers do when daughters bring along dolls that are fragranced with perfumed asbestos.

So maybe I’m overly concerned about how my children are feeling, and whether their emotions are seen as valid and real.  I worry that I’m not providing enough creative opportunity. Scared that they aren’t talking about their feelings. They are watching television instead of making birdhouses from scrap wood and metal screws.

For heaven’s sakes.

When we were kids, we’d get up as early as we could, watch as many shows as we could cram into a five-hour period, and take turns making each other breakfast.  One time my sister just walked in with plates covered in icing and we’d sit shooting sprinkles from the plastic container directly into our mouths.

So when my daughter threw a fit and I took away her allowance, I stopped for a moment and thought.  This is my right as a parent to invoke this discipline.  To enact order.  To make sure she understands that rules are rules.  And when she continued to defy me, I took a toy that she got last year for Christmas and put it in the Goodwill pile. There were no second chances.  I laid down the parameters.  She went past them.

Judging by her screaming, I was the worst mother ever. And that guilt started to creep in – was this too much? But I remembered my childhood, and how completely unaffected or scarred I am from the memories. So I braced myself for her outrage.  I allowed her to get angry. But in the end the toy was gone, and so was the discussion.  The next day was a new day, fresh and clean and happy.

As twangy as this sounds, being that I’m from Texas and all, we need to calm the hell down and firm up our resolve.  Let’s be parents, and be bold, and say that lines that are crossed have real and meaningful consequences. After all, they do in real life, where there are no time-outs or apologies.  There are only cops with little pads writing tickets and accidents that can end in death and despair.

Sometimes I think back about that little doll with orange hair, somewhere on the roadside, smashed by a truck or pecked at by birds, dead now by contaminated plastic, smelling of something other than apples.  And it makes me smile.  My father and his aversion to smells.  The large red station wagon with hand-cranked windows. And the look of my mother.

This is life, kiddo, she said with her eyes.  Get over it.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/minhablythe/5158719569/in/photolist-8RRMAR-4fC1mQ-9boJmy-97x4x9-9s6PCK-bH3TSK-bu93H9-8TCvu9-o8xPXN-bu967E-7RXD6R-bH3RJ8-9KWeBn-z6b3Q-bH3U4X-bH3TXX-bH3TVt-8NFexD-8NV9L6-bzwVYQ-c8bP7E-81w25J-8AHVmS-bH3UeZ-bH3UEk-bu94d3-adu3zU-8VjvCv-bH3Uak-bu93P3-bu95FU-ieDzjy-8QeMr3-bu9387-9uwagb-bu93Z7-bu92LW-bu943A-cx9eJb-cK34U9-5gacU9-bu95tJ-8K4wqW-bssM4y-6xsqHJ-4DW1jj-z67zA-8QbPgR-bH3QHi-9a9JCE

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.

Create your own story

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This year I turn 40. I’m running away to Paris where I will surround myself with wine and crispy loaves of bread. I shall eat cheese and hike up narrow streets and bask in the overall glow of love. I’m taking Louboutin heels because there is no other occasion to wear them except for Paris. I plan on smiling more than sighing, walking more than sitting, eating more than sleeping, and looking into the eyes of the man God sent me to love. I may never leave.

But honestly, what do I really know of life?

A few things.

I sat in bed and sobbed after a week of radiation, the throbbing in my skull, wondering if this tumor in my head would finally kill me. I wondered if I’d ever be a mother or have a retirement party or if I’d have my eye ripped out like a freak with a patch.

My forehead was sweating during an eight-hour law school final, writing so furiously my hand cramped. I didn’t think I’d ever make it out and I’d forever be stuck as some government worker the rest of my life.

I remember taking shots of tequila in the big mass of New York and walking around in tottering heels with the world spinning and wondering why things were going in circles.

And oh, my babies. They were never supposed to be, but they were. And they grew inside of my abdomen for nine long months and rising out of me like little angels. My heart could barely take the happy.

And then there was moment I found out my 14-year-marriage was nothing but bones and dust and I found myself curled up in a closet, my mother begging me to eat toast since I seem to have forgotten to eat in a number of days.

And don’t get me started about the three-hour time-out battle with a four-year-old.

So I know a thing or two about life.

And if I could say anything about it to an alien, or an eighteen-year-old, which is basically the same thing, I would say that life is a collection of interesting stories. Stories you repeat to yourself when you’re old. Stories that are only interesting if they are tragic, or terrible, or unbelievably weird. No one wants to know about your boring chicken dinners.

Many of these stories you can’t control. They just blow up like a West Texas dust storm in the west, heading your way whether you want them there or not, and you have to navigate the fallout. And there are stories that you can control, where you make your life interesting and rich, and choose to take the hard road.

Go make good stories.

Sit down with a blank piece of paper and think about what your gifts really are – the things that only you have that no one else can do quite like you. The things that are innate in your soul that God has placed there to better the world. Think of how to improve these things and maximize these things and go kick some ass doing these particular things. Whether it’s taking karate or traveling to India, live out these great big stories.

At the cusp of 40, I want to shake the necks of all the 20-somethings. To not think of life as working and partying on Friday nights, but as a long journey, where you can choose to take the boring interstate or veer off on the side roads, where you get to sit at old diners and eat rabbit stew and meet folks like Earl. Take these back roads with gusto and develop an interesting history, so when you’re old you can look back and say that you lived, and earned your life, and you wouldn’t do anything differently.

Some things in life you can’t control. But other things you damn sure can.

Go live your life. You know, the one you imagined.

photo:

(threew’s):flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/11863037906/in/photolist-j5iaSj-dLtdNS-5eutgu-inwu5k-9AzoxK-byb7e5-rcsoUy-Ufdf-rcDYKM-a9kFWB-bvkwv1-rRTh2d-gZi7po-r8YDtH-dbBywi-9jKCtN-9kDNmW-dbBtJ8-jEcUh4-8HRbwV-s9soCH-95k1VZ-8qfkRJ-96cuD5-a37CLe-njBGrD-oP9M3P-dbBbao-dbBtuh-4iU33h-8Ywz6G-djHiXs-wEbcP-e3WKA3-oeReqX-dhgnqz-4iU2Sq-6fAPgC-8YtCvX-2WPkK-a37CcM-8HUgBS-8vpnnn-94n2Nq-95qjUf-25vgdG-dbBiPT-pF8KZ7-4iPXAz-9SAbDq

 

The monotony of manna

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In the days of Moses, after the Israelites were freed from slavery and were following Moses into the promised land, there was quite a bit of doubt from the crowd about their overall well-being. Like, for example, what they would eat. In Egypt, they muttered, “we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16.

Never mind the fact that they witnessed Moses part an entire sea with a staff, or that they saw God’s manifestation in the form of a moving cloud or pillar of fire, or countless other miracles in their midst. Now they are all grumbling about the good ‘ole days of slavery back in Egypt before the revolution. Because at least then they had food. Also? They were slaves in a foreign land in captivity not free to worship or live their own lives as they wished and sometimes their children were murdered. But details details. . .

So God introduced manna, which was like wafers with honey, that appeared like dew and melted off with the sun, that people could eat or grind into powder and make cakes. They couldn’t save it until the next day because then it would rot, and they had to just trust that God would provide from day to day. And I suppose that worked for a while.

Until they were like “GOOD GRACIOUS WE ARE TIRED OF THIS FREAKING WAFER-BREAD.” Sadly, I kinda get this. Three days of leftover lasagna and I feel like I’ve been punished. How can I be expected to eat it any more? So “the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Now ya’ll know I’m a Texas girl, and I fully understand the need for a good healthy dose of barbeque. And I am starting to feel like there’s a lesson in this passage that I am not quite sure I want to hear.

God heard their grumbling, and quail descended upon them. But God was getting tired of the overall disobedience. “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down.” Numbers 11.

All I can say here is thank God for Moses, who always acted as a mediator on behalf of the people. But it’s easy for us to look at the Israelites and think “why how utterly foolish of them. Could they not see God’s hand providing for them? Why did they doubt after the miracles and the provisions, and why were they always grumbling?”

But just for grins and giggles, let’s fast forward a few thousand years. To a home in Austin where a young woman lives with her two young children. Where, by God’s provision, she has managed to secure a job, maintain a network of friends, keep a beautiful home, enjoy vibrant and funny offspring, have access to Pinterest and books and pictures and chocolate, and share the joy with healthy parents and a newfound love. This person is of course me, and yet this is what goes through my head many days:

I’m cold. I’ve gained a few pounds. The commute is long. Damn, my head hurts. And then I scowl, because I don’t have time to write, or play with the kids as much as I’d like, or cook long home-cooked meals or bake honey-wheat bread like I used to before the divorce. And I pray selfish prayers and find myself quick-tempered and want easy fixes to what I view as problems.

And it hits me: I’m no different from the Israelites. The constant complaining despite the knowledge of God’s provisions, of milk and honey on the other side of the ridge, of how God is working and planning and preparing. I often hope it’s not too late for me. I throw myself down prostrate in shame at my general lack of trust, disobedience in the waiting times, and damned impatience, which is my own human failing. Maybe Moses still watches out for us foolish ones, up in the clouds. I hope so: I need it.

But I hear it all the time. The pay is not enough. The work is too hard. The kids are too loud. We are the only ones who do the laundry round here. It rattles around in my brain when I’m at work or out at night or talking with friends. We all sit around and generally complain about what we perceive as the degenerate situation of our [middle class healthy beautiful] lives.

I’ve had a strong feeling lately these words are drops of blood as we speak them, and with enough negative words they turn into to a trickle, and a slow bleed, and soon enough our life is pouring out from us, and we are dry. And the word manna keeps ringing in my ears like a repetitive refrain.

Provisions. Daily. Without fail.

Let us not spew warm vinegar into ears and hearts. Let us look around with gratitude and satisfaction in the abundance we’ve been so freely given. And when it’s hard work it’s just hard work, and when it hurts it still freaking hurts, and sometimes your dog still poops in the neighbor’s yard. My four-year-old wanted me to say that part as I was reading this to him aloud. But let our words instead be sweet as roses to those who hear it, true and honest and real. For we are not just asked to be patient and diligent while waiting on God’s promises as a sort-of-generally-nice-thing-to-do. If we are truly God’s children and trust in his control over our lives, it’s an expectation.

God, help us give thanks at all times, always, without fail. For the manna that falls. The love that endures. The life we walk through every day. For we are so exceedingly blessed. Deliver us from evil, even when that evil is simply ourselves, complaining.

 

photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunshinecity/2497397791/in/photolist-4NFPmB-cPjoZy-e2JCWP-9eYoSq-aG2pD6-ddonJC-apuwzt-akh5fF-9drcnA-amKhQq-eKJuJg-8ZEEjX-97RJYC-9kztem-7KqfW9-4o4HU1-akh5xB-9GYcpJ-apN8JC-9G8rEb-Kxn5c-an3TWC-9b7SHj-dT7YvE-aUxMFn-9kwoFx-agCbLW-aNXFn8-aF2Hi5-8pBjrS-aBD9XJ-898xZY-dNUnM7-9wef8c-dLYVVm-bZhVQj-9WQtTr-dNwQZ8-eapqiL-e8Vghi-dUFaus-fvtyWW-dPyaHK-63Ftn6-hTiGjz-9m3jAL-dWtsXr-akh4Rp-8gKe8N-53oswC

Odd and Curious Thoughts [about Thanksgiving]

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(1) It occurred to me that Thanksgiving is an apt description of this important holiday, which is refreshing.  So I’m going to rename the holidays Christaninfantborn and Greenbeerdrinking and CandyHeartsTasteLikePeptoBismolI’lltakechocolate.

(2)  My children took the booster seats out of the car to make “chairs in their boat” which translated to “Hey mom we’re just going to take this wagon and ruin these booster seats real quick by dumping it all into this large puddle after the storm whereby everything will be muddy and ruined, K?” but they were so cute with their little shovels being used like paddles and laughing that I could say nothing.  I watched them ruin things and said nothing.  I’d do it again. So cute with the paddles.

(3) My daughter is making little sticky notes that read “1989” and putting them all over her room, because naturally it’s Taylor Swift’s new album and when the pop singer was born so my daughter thinks that’s super cool.  It makes me realize someday around the Thanksgiving table she’ll remember these days and will someday say 2006 with the same vintage ring to it and I catch myself eating bran cereal.  #lordhelpmeiamgettingold

(4) Speaking of this pop album, it has some objectionable lyrics for 8-year-olds so instead of “handsome as hell” (which makes no sense anyway) we sing “handsome as zell,” a made-up  and very handsome creature, and I make them all say oh-my-gosh and being clean and sober is “that fresh wonderful feeling when you get out of the shower.” 

(5) We were playing the Game of Life and my daughter instructs my son that you will get farther if you skip the fork in the road that reads “college” and there’s a mandatory stop to get married and have kids without a choice involved and “the goal is to win with the most money.” Exactly the lessons we are trying to teach in real life.  What the hell/zell.

(6) I am painting pumpkins a natural cream color to go with my natural décor theme for Thanksgiving.  I don’t want any color aside from natural tones so I’m putting burlap covers over the chairs and hanging a tree limb from the ceiling and using my brown-and-white antique plates. I’m starting to get a little cray-cray with the decorating and when I asked my neighbor for fishing line, wire, and a stud finder he asked me if I needed a drink.

(7) Fall weather is so lovely.  For example, today in Texas we all wore flip flops.  Take that, Wisconsin.

(8) Our Netflix wasn’t working this morning so I found the kids watching “This Old House” and I decided if that’s what they will watch without Netflix we are DONE WITH NETFLIX FOREVER. Let’s go, Norm.  Tear down that wall. These New England homes are handsome as zell.

(9) Regarding said booster seats they are so totally going back in the car.  #thatswhatthehoseisfor #mommahastobuymoreburlapandboostersareexpensive #priorities

(10)               I was talking about my boyfriend the other day and our Fall Foliage Tour of New England and thought the word “boyfriend” sounds so juvenile but “lover” sounds risqué and “friend” sounds like someone I go drink beer with and burp and “main squeeze” sounds like an orange and “significant other” sounds like a person who does my taxes.  I’m remiss for a title. Who is this person that drove me to Lenox, Massachusetts?

(11)                  I told the lover/main squeeze/boyfriend about wanting to hang the tree limb from the ceiling for Thanksgiving and perhaps in a few weeks we could wire it later to the kitchen ceiling covered in lights? I mean I cut it down with an ax and how hard could it be to wire it to the ceiling?? I wondered if I would ever hear from him again or if he might get in his car and move to Miami. But at least he knows what he’s getting into.

(12)               I’m so grateful for my life.  This year more than ever, I am just so thankful for all I have been given without earning it or deserving it. If today was my very last on earth, I would die happy. So we shall toast with wine and make fun of my neurotic decorating and I’ll cry and say long prayers and hug everyone and we’ll listen to Taylor Swift and dance.  This, my friends, is my amazing life, during a holiday worth celebrating, and if leaves fall from the dead tree limb I cut down and into someone’s pie they shall just pluck it out.  Because that’s how we roll round here, flip flops and all.   Happy Turkey Day to everyone. I hope you’re all clean and sober.

Layer upon layer

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Some days are comfortable.  You have the luxury of sipping coffee with two creams and your kids put on their shoes without argument and you’re listening to folk music in your car with fancy leather seats.  And you think to yourself that you are Quite Blessed Indeed as you sip and hum and smile.  A layer of peace and soft sheets at night to rest your head.

Some days are sad.  Old demons pull your hair and whisper things in your ear about how things used to be and aren’t.  You forgot to shave and you left the kid’s lunch on the counter and you are almost out of gas. And you sigh deep because Wendy’s forgot to put the salad dressing in the bag and you sent that text you shouldn’t have sent and lost your temper and work just piles up high on your desk like steel buildings scratching the sun.  The expectations are too big a mountain to scale.  And this layer is dank and stained, thrown in the wash for another time.

Some days are powerful.  Because you own this suit and you own these heels and you walk tall down this hallway plodding each foot down hard like a runway model.  Nobody gets to tell you how to negotiate this deal or write this contract or win this case or run this house because you got this.  And a smile creeps up from some inner place not from joy but from lust for it because there is a greedy rapture that comes from being The One Who Leads.  An alluring devil whispers,  there you go, kid. Own it.  This layer is a silk ribbon tied over fool’s gold.

Some days are bombs that explode upon your heart.  You were once just standing there stirring the pasta pot on a Tuesday and now you are curled up on the bathroom floor hugging your knees.  Because this couldn’t happen and she couldn’t die and he couldn’t cheat and you refuse to believe it.  Your life that was all planned out is now different and broken and will never again be the same.  You cry out with a deep moan like a wounded animal and beg for God to save you.   For that powerful you is gone now like a vapor, and a child remains. This layer is nothing but putrid and rotten, like a limp banana in the trash heap.

Some days are red hot.  Ah, yes. These days you can’t breathe for the passion, because you didn’t think it would feel this way and your heart races at the thought of him.  People walk up from behind and it frightens you because you were daydreaming of boats in Venice and long walks aside the river and park benches. And when you touch it’s electric and you are scared it might end for the fury of love is deep and unquenching. This layer is a long handwritten love letter, inscrolled with words meant for one.

But these are only days.  They do not make up a life. It’s the character that forms as a result of these days that matters. Layers upon layers of emotions and reactions, heartbreak and redemption.  A butter biscuit that can be pulled apart, warm and rich, the smell permeating and filling the kitchen with a promise that they will be eaten soon enough.

I thank the Son for being an intimate part of my days.  And I thank the Father for being a trusted anchor when I could not stand.  I thank the Quiet Spirit that resides in me on bathroom floors and in the midst of passionate kisses, on park benches and in fancy leather seats.  For our bodies and our lives are a temple on good days and in bad, in the dark and in the light.

We know our days are numbered. And in the end, there is nothing but dust on the earth.  Comfort is fleeting, power an illusion. Heartbreak temporary and passion fading.  These days, they will someday come to an end.  But the honey that drips so deliciously down, into our souls and into our hearts and makes our mouths water – this love that binds the days and hours and years – this pure blinding love of God that soaks into us and becomes us and radiates from us?

This remains. 

Thank you, God, for this beautiful life. For the good days and bad.  For all the delicious layers.

 

photo:

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A Southern State of Mind

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It’s easy to glorify our heritage.  For us southerners, it’s a right of passage.

I get it. Texas flows through my blood and I am damn proud of it.  I was raised in a small town, buried deep in the Hill Country, close enough to eat Mexican food in San Antonio but far away from those city slickers in Dallas.  And yeah, we skipped rocks and jumped into the Guadalupe and climbed atop the Cypress.  But it all wasn’t sundresses and barbeque either.  Well that’s a lie.  It was always about barbeque.

But nobody had fancy stitched boots back then, and we only listened to George Strait because it was the only thing on the radio. There were long days in the summer when the cicadas wouldn’t freaking die and they never shut up.  The droughts went long and the days wore on like an old piece of leather.  You could sit and change the dial in your car while driving down country roads but all you heard coming out of the speakers was steel guitar, whether you liked it or not.

But there was a dark side to all this rug cutting and beer drinking.  It made some people feel inside the circle and others out.  Cast aside like God didn’t have room for them, mostly because they wore black or held up a different color flag or happened to have serious doubts about the holy triune of their father’s father.  There was a leaning in my upbringing for everyone to blend together in perfect harmony. Trucks could either be black or red or have a lift kit or no, but let’s not get started about them Volkswagens.  You could ask anyone in church on Sunday hard questions about why they believed in God or how all the details worked and they’d just shrug, because it’s a box that gets checked, is all.  After church is fried chicken and football, so let’s not get all dramatic.  If you really want to be different and weird you just might as well pack your things and move to Austin where the hippies live.

Being from the south could be suffocating.   Women were often unfairly marginalized.  People who didn’t fit in were avoided. If you didn’t want to raise two kids and join the Rotary Club, it might be uncomfortable for you here in this place, where the world revolved. There were times you sat on the front porch and wondered if you’d ever break free and fly.  Out of this town where sin happened just the same as any other, but folks were too busy buying deer corn and cheap beer to notice.

And yet there are some people growing up that opened their doors like Jesus did.  To the rich and the poor.  The hungry and the full.  The sinners and believers alike, all hunkered down eating macaroni salad.  My grandfather was one.  He owned a sand-and-gravel business, and whenever one of his workers couldn’t make it until payday, he’d hand them a loan without asking for repayment.  My friend Lynda Ables would just cluck her way around singing and gathered up anyone who walked into her path without judgment.  Kids would gather around Macky Pitt’s dining table drinking tea and talking about things that scared them.  These are the memories that bind to my heart.  These are the things I hold most dear.

It is my prayer that my own home will also become a haven for the doubters.  A place of rest for the weary. Where all are welcome to put their boots or flags or labels by the door and simply come-on-in.  For a warm hug and a firm handshake.  A good hearty meal and real, true, forever-type love.

Please, Lord, don’t insulate me behind picket fences.  Allow me to welcome all, and appreciate Different Things.  Use me as a spokesperson for the skeptics, who see this religion thing as a country club for the few instead of a hitching post for all. For the sun, it is rising.  It’s climbing out of its resting place and poking its head above the oaks, spraying the world with God and light and tipping the clouds with gold.  The coffee is brewing. The birds and singing.

The time to love our neighbor has come.

Ya’ll grab a plate, now.  Grab a sweet potato biscuit with honey, a piece of that brown sugar bacon, and some of those cheese grits. Don’t be shy: eat your fill. Sit a spell and let’s talk about life. I want to look into your eyes, and I want to know you.  I’ll tell you about the beautiful love of Jesus if you wanna.  If not, that’s okay too.  We’ll just sit here, looking at the sun in that big ol Texas sky, rocking on the porch drinking coffee.  Because that’s what we do here in the south.

Come on over and visit.  The front door’s open.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonjalovas/4038233322/sizes/m/in/photostream/

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/

A Morning’s Tale

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This morning, I rose.  Groggy and heavy, I drug myself to the bathroom and tried to convince myself that it was a brilliant day. That I would find something elegant to wear.  That cereal piled high in bowls would suffice. I watched my son curled up next to the indention where my body formally lay.  He had snuck in sometime during the night when I didn’t notice and was soaking up my warmth, his face bearing a similar expression to the moment he was first born.  My heart pulled at the reminder of him rising from my body, shining and screaming.  I was and am ensconced with happiness.

I stepped over the dog and toward my daughter’s room. “Raise your arms, honey,” I whispered. “I’ll help you with your t-shirt.”  I hated to wake her.  This beautiful girl who is growing loves to lounge around on summer mornings reading and staring aimlessly out the window at rabbits and cardinals, poetry in her brain. But it was camp day, and she had just begun the evening before settling into this new experience, singing with wild abandon all the camp songs she’d been taught by happy college kids.  She slumped over and let me dress her, arms dangling with a mass of blond hair in her face.

There are layers of obligations before my day even begins.  Feed the dog, let him out.  Apply make-up, find childrens’ shoes.  I make lunch, look professional, curl hair, take vitamins.  Sometimes I just like to shake it up.  Shampoo last.  Kids eat on the couch.  My hair in a bun. The routine of daily life can drain a soul. But soon things are bagged and packed and the kids are out the door toward the car and I think to myself that I’ve got this. That somehow in the crack of morning I have balanced this precarious rhythm.

But the garage door sticks.  Some stupid light flashes and the button jams so I have to close it from the inside and go through the front.  My children begin bickering in the car so we have a car-time-out despite the fact that my daughter is old enough to know better.  And when I arrive at my son’s day care I remember that it’s water day, and his lunch box is sitting on the kitchen table, and he’s going to be the weird kid wearing a drippy t-shirt in the slip-and-slide.  I bite my lip.  Can’t everyone see that I have already remembered so much since yesterday?  Last night I dreamed of a business deal and contract revisions and woke up afraid I had agreed to a venue clause in Delaware.  We cannot escape our realities.

So I calmly kissed the boy and headed back to the car.  I aimed it back home for a lunch box and bathing suit.  Ten minutes later I loaded up again, but when I turned to talk to my daughter in the car the mug of coffee spilled, drenching my ice-blue pants in medium roast brown.  I had just gotten them out of the cleaner’s bag this morning. I bit my lip again.  I took deep breaths.  And I began the process of negotiating the garage door opener yet again.  Later on the way to work after dropping off my daughter wearing new pants I’m navigating child care for the next week.  Pick-ups and drop offs and swapping weekends and arrangements.  I am wondering what we’ll eat for dinner and breakfast and whether I will have the stamina to make more sandwiches.

I think of how horrible I’ve been as a friend and daughter myself, always taking, never giving. I think somehow this is my selfish season.  There are days I call my mom and just rattle off what’s happening in my life without even stopping to say hello, or wondering what’s happening in her own. And when I call my friends it’s often to just vent about something without reciprocation.  And I’m filled with shame for lacking an even greater capacity to love, until the dings of email remind me that I have more pressing obligations.

It rained on the way to work today, fat pelting drops that gave trucks permission to slow to a turtle crawl.  And I progressed forward in tiny lurches forward toward an office, and a meeting, and executives with agendas.  And when I arrived I made a comment about the traffic, rolled my eyes, and I sat down with a heavy sigh.

Today has finally begun.  It’s a hair past 8:30.  No one really knows the backdrop of a life.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/burningimage/2363258975/sizes/m/in/photolist-4AQjyp-4JjXce-4Krva2-4KF9Dj-4STFMz-4Tbgjc-59S5ba-59ZWf8-5akZxM-5fqg2i-5hK1oz-5r3DoA-5tdngD-5tYQkD-5vJGbr-5JMg5o-5RZqd6-676xCX-683poN-6bMwku-6i14P9-6pybJg-6r99Ud-6rVwNA-6vogim-6yLKJH-6VFTEM-789Mm4-78MLKv-7fzA14-mdXYRC-8aiTpA-9w8eWL-nyTdxB-ajL7uF-hFGSyC-8ey5Wr-mfPuYg-87SwfE-7CfbZ4-agYDbQ-bnBkXw-9Brckz-9rPxcR-9qdw4t-9d2zXu-c4Ttfy-cca2eq-7PAweF-fbY3MF-bMZ5LK/