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:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/11594921303/sizes/m/in/photolist-iEB19g-5Vtv2T-4QMUfW-aeYy1C-HRAc-4HA4bo-bygN4M-7qKf2M-7qPax7-kZBJo-5YM8hY-5J3dVg-7W9ggD-7hrrUa-89YWxK-4N2vPg-j9eZNw-ebsUi8-mpcG9a-Jc2z-gqDYd-fgpmS9-8dtNMZ-8HnBqb-8Tsy2T-2Rd2uP-dzAiP4-8kQjNr-5yM6NC-oiBgg7-7zyig3-bqQzcf-GM7z4-5gG6gs-9Z2btD-7d44cG-8bQeFx-bk8aYd-9zbPmZ-71Aupm-818vFy-7Wget9-8fgFNg-4CybAc-8Ds238-3438Wc-5TTG9P-5YnPUD-nTbr9o-6hkavQ-bMQXzx/

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 Heart of Freedom

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

-Matthew 5:43-47

It’s hard to define love.  It ranges from simple affection to intense pleasure – it indicates human attachment, can highlight spiritual virtues, serves to facilitate art and war and even the continuation of our very species.  People identify with the concept of “falling in love” because we are all mammals with a basic hunger to mate, not be eaten by predators, and garner safety in companionship and numbers.

But love can take on other forms that require more effort. Sometimes I have conversations with God on my work commute or lying in bed about this form of love, this “decision to love” even when it’s hard and when it hurts and when the other person isn’t the subject of one tiny ounce of desire.

Like Ross, who sues you for negligence when you’re just a small-town physician trying to make it until Friday and it’s not your fault the guy had untreated diabetes.  Or Justine, who is strung out on heroin and watches her son scream and cry with starvation and wallow around in a diaper full of crusty brown remains. It’s Roy, who sits down in his basement with sweaty palms emailing children pretending to be Mackenzie.  And it’s the person who drove home drunk and plowed over the car of your beloved wife, leaving a trail of tears and dust.  There are often no valid explanations, and no reprieves, and when your mother dies a wretched death from stomach cancer and your best friend’s child is killed and bombs are strapped to back of Mohammad and people’s bodies are blown across a railway station like chunks of meat, it is so very hard to love.

For in truth, we do not love these people.  They are impossible to love.  And if we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we want them all to just rot in hell.  I beg all my religious friends to at least acknowledge this basic emotion before preaching against it.  It’s normal to feel outrage.  It’s okay to hurt.  It does no one any good to lack authenticity about the feelings that swirl around inside of our cavernous minds.

But when the dust settles and we scream loud enough for our throats to turn raw, we turn to the teachings of the One Who Created Us. And we learn, like students.  We grow, like children.  And we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we live and feel and act. And we realize that to “love” doesn’t have to be an emotion we give away to those who have earned it.  It’s not just a gift for our friends and neighbors, those who we feel add value to society, or the one to whom we are betrothed.   We have a duty to love the most despicable and foul.  Because the more broken a soul the more lost they are, and what pity to live a life full of addiction and fear.  What a horrible existence with an utter and complete lack of joy.

My dear friends, who I think of and pray for.  You have been given a great gift of life and a freedom to fail and be loved irrespective of your failings.  Every step and sip of coffee and walk around the block and word you speak to the Starbucks guy is an opportunity to love.  This day is yours, and the decisions you make can change someone’s life.  You get to make a choice: love or hate, apathy or empathy.

To Ross, who is hurting and confused.  To Justine, who is buried in her addiction and needs someone to lift her out of the well.  To Roy, whose mind is not his own and is lost inside a spiraling mass of voices.  To cancer and Mohammad and to that bastard who ran over the mother of your children. Yes, to them all. We can, and will, say with confidence “Come.  Sit beside me.  I release this hate in my heart to you because to love is to fully live, and to forgive is the highest form of freedom, and I will let vengeance be the Lord’s and hold hope that this life is not the end.”

This is to love your enemies.  To have a heart of freedom.  Then, when you rise and fall each day, you will smile. The days will be more good than bad, more bright than grey.  And love will finally “melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” ~Khalil Gibran

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/laracores/14448484494/sizes/m/in/photolist-o1Lg4C-6BDvbg-dAz3RP-e1Ev9e-759W1o-6w8WjN-nRsCgm-6Ke1MY-8yCDgQ-76t6sw-mN74S5-35j18V-7k9E4C-earD9x-kdHSZU-HGdT8-h152YN-kHeGE8-9qbjJz-aahDwv-6LMX4n-fk3463-87EJbL-89rNcu-64eXrU-5uBwzt-7vStdT-5iGDPh-6DCvwY-8xVGN5-4rtpxx-hkAegp-adAWsD-7BzykE-fHYCHy-8GaNxT-dU3WHD-2cDKu3-6JdGiV-cvD8-eZT6jm-7j5BWG-5yvryE-QuCHq-6FH1jX-4mrYiH-dAK6B4-dAK6Bc-6tJb9W-g2qx8-8sdBHV/

The Sin Bastard

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Sin.  It’s a sort-of silly word, like watching movies with too many boobs or some amorphous thing men do when they run off with secretaries. But in religious circles we love to throw it around casually while transmitting waves of forgiveness.  Because that friend is a jerk and our parents didn’t love us enough and we should always and forever forgive amen because it’s a bright new day and people are people and we’re all human and I’m yawning right now at the sentiment.

Deep down we still feel pretty darn good about ourselves.  It’s not the end of the world and nothing that bad happened. It’s more of a nice thing to do in order to rearrange our middle-class life, like gravy we pour over our crassness.  We walk a touch lighter afterwards and head off whistling towards Starbucks like we donated money to the animal shelter and feel good about ourselves.  We are righteous people.  We put ourselves last and forgave that jerk who wronged us.  Go us.

But there is a thin veil between what we see and what lies beneath.  I see it in church, people hanging their heads in shame.  Shifting in their seats.  I feel it radiate through their failed attempt at a nuclear family and all those smiles and children with smocked dresses.  Something is burning, and it is not to be extinguished with flat empty words. It is raging at a pace they cannot control.

Maybe it’s you, who felt strangely sexual after looking at a child.  Or you, who drove two hours to have kinky sex with a woman named Alice in a hotel when your wife and child are sleeping soundly at home.  The sick high you get in the dark corners.  That money you blew on gambling that was so close you could taste it. Or it’s you, who swore you’d get it all under control and not hurt him any more and you just don’t want to be like this but it’s just one drink and one hit and one more day and you swear to yourself tomorrow you’ll get your shit together.

For you, forgiveness simply doesn’t work.  Because you did something so dark and disgusting you want to rip your tongue out and tear your arm off and gauge your own eyes out of their sockets.  You are nothing if not vermin and if your family only knew what you were thinking they would spit on you with disgust. And you watch television in a numb haze as your children go swimming and eat their vegetables. You will never be in the beautiful place of the living.  You will never deserve the forgiveness of a Lord with expectations. You are already dead.

It is you to whom I’m speaking.  You who my heart has burned for all morning to the extent I had to force myself to not write over my lunch hour and scribble a note to you on a napkin.  Because it’s not a random you that I’m talking to.  It’s a you who is running.  Clawing and scraping so hard to get to the top of that mountain to outrun the pain. And until you can harm yourself enough and sear your own back with lashes and pay back very unpaid debt, you won’t ever get there.  I see you.  I know you.  I feel the heat burn.  But honey, hear me.  You’ll never, ever get there.

There is only one way out.  This is not a choose-your-own adventure.  There are not multiple ways to skin this cat.

There is only this one: Name it. Call that bastard by name.

I hurt her.  I snorted that. I slept with him.  I thought such things I never thought possible.  Because when you name it, you can deal with it.  Start pulling it up to the surface so it can’t hide in dark places. And when I mean pull, I mean you grip it by the scruff of the neck and don’t stop until you pull it out of you and lay it on the table. The Lord’s table.  The table someone told you as a child had power.  So you put that sin there, that nasty beast that made you want to hide.  That you’ve allowed to accompany the empty spaces in your heart all these years.  You throw it down there, screaming and biting and wanting back in.  But you control your own life, and it’s time to clean this house.

Then you tell the Lord to take it.

Take it, Lord.  It’s disgusting and it’s ruined your marriage and the relationship with your kids and you are so, so tired. And then you collapse, because this is all ridiculous and what are you doing praying at a time like this and God has other things to worry about besides your stupid insignificant life and you finally named this horrible thing and now you’re a sniffling idiot on the floor with a need to lose twenty pounds and a headache.

And then you stop sobbing and just sort-of sit for a while.  And out of nowhere you feel it.  Like a soft peace settle upon your heart like a feather.  Some kind of sensation like love or joy or warmth or God but bigger and warmer and you never had emotions like this before that rose up like a summer wind. And it’s clear to you that it’s gone.  That beast that tore at your soul and lied to you that he would never leave is simply gone. Just like that God filled that deep and empty void with love. And now tears come quick and your breath is haste, because He who says he will remove the stain will in fact make all things white as snow.  And you cover your face not in shame but in reverence.  It is gone.  IT HAS BEEN TAKEN. The thing that ruined you and destroyed you and tried to kill you has vanished.

Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for forgiving me for all the wrongs I’ve done.  Thank you for blowing the spirit in my soul when I’ve done nothing to deserve it.  And for taking this burden from me and letting me finally live.

This, my friends, is forgiveness. It starts inside, where the dark places are. He’ll take it.  He’ll heal it.  God will hurl whatever nasty beast you have too far to hurt you anymore. Throw whatever it is down on the table and ask for God’s forgiveness.  This is when miracles are made.  In the lonely hours, when no one is watching.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alotor/2994857947/sizes/m/in/photolist-5yDqVR-iCx4D4-dAH5T1-iCx4K6-iCxgww-5yHJw7-5yHJKA-5yHJEA-5yHJAo-dJHzb9-7HykGS-68Dk5o-7uJfau-5FmptF-a8Lskm-bqeNiJ-4Vhj9t-KJSwB-c1VYm5-8EvvKD-yHS7Y-4q5z9E-6pSnzB-9iwzze-6pSnzx-etyJR-dG3FXU-64sP8H-etyNt-etyLh-cvxN43-cD2UR3-eiR1EM-2S4U61-k2wajP-4UQxA7-7AGNCa-k2wc9F-kSa4Qk-5vgppe-5LvLPB-4sF54W-6kc7ib-bb8uQp-nDaREQ-5CuNR1-4qM9aK-czbk7E-cvxPcj-59dtp-dbEdN1/

A REVOLUTION [of kindness]

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I’m a Texas girl.  I grew up swimming in bluebonnets and sipping sun tea and trying to whistle a tune on a piece of Saint Augustine grass.  I’d sit on the porch and watch the ants race in neat little lines, and life was a string of hot summer days and sweltering nights. We’d go tubing down the Guadalupe and listen to the cicadas screech and rise each morning with the thought that life was good and holy.  Now that I’m all grown up I eat buttered biscuits with blueberry jam and I dig beef that’s charred around the edges. I somehow know words to George Strait songs.  And I still arise every morning with a renewed hope that life is beautiful. And yet I live in a strange world, where people can’t take people anymore.

It is becoming clear to me that this natural optimism is the result of my own rose-colored brain and not really how the world works.  After all – I don’t have cable and I generally avoid all that nasty division.  But there’s an undercurrent sweeping across our great nation like a flood that’s too great to ignore, and it’s making me uncomfortable.  And scared for the generations below us and for the world we live in.  And downright fed up.  We let ourselves get to this point.  We let ourselves be so ugly to each other.  Simply put, we have lost the ability to be kind.

I say we need a REVOLUTION.  

We don’t need a preacher or talk-show host yelling.  We need a true reforming of our human consciousness so that we can actually communicate with each other about gun deaths or homelessness.  Community health, foreign policy, war, and sexual violence. We need to be able to say “I dislike the President because of his position on certain issues” or “I really do like the President because I believe in his position on certain issues” and then we all meet for coffee at Jo’s and think it’s okay that you wear red / I wear blue because we are not all robots for crying out loud.  Jesus said that of all things giddy and awesome, mostly it was about faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

And love, my friends, is wrapped up in kindness.  But how are we to be kind to each other if it’s not taught? If it is not a value that is held in high regard in our society? How can we expect our children to know how to do it, for crying out loud, when we all act like raging idiots? Because it’s simply not natural to reach out when it’s hard, and love when it’s not easy, and show consideration in all things.  It throws our instincts upon their head. And yet it’s the charge Jesus laid down.  Hence, a revolution.

A sample facebook post, for illustrative purposes only:

We need to arm teachers and get our damn kids out of these broken homes run by ragged moms and gay couples and it’s only by reforming our society and getting Hitler out of office that we can truly see a change in our schools and I say every teacher in America needs a concealed weapon.

Now you have several choices, depending on your beliefs.  You can: (1) Say “Bravo! You should run for Congress!”; (2) unfriend this person immediately; (2) comment on their post with hateful words you’d not say around your own grandmother; (3) or respond with love.  “But why?” you ask.  “Why would I dignify their comment with something loving and kind when I felt it was offensive and hateful?” This is what I’m talking about.  It’s not just saying you’re going to be kind.  It’s not just about reading this blog and moving on about your merry life. It’s actually doing it that matters.  And to join a revolution means taking drastic measures.  That never mean agreeing or capitulating regarding what you believe is wrong.  It just means being warmhearted and considerate and humane.  Always.  Regardless.  Period.

It’s a revolutionary concept to look into the eyes of someone and say simply, “I don’t agree with you.  But I love you. And I respect you as a human being on this earth.” You can’t change people’s minds.  You can’t carry on an intelligent debate with good solid points because most people have grown too divisive to look at both sides.  But you can say to this person, some random bloke from high school that lives in your hometown, that he’s clearly passionate (as we all should be) about protecting our beautiful, troubled, and innocent children.  And as a country we’ve got to figure this thing out.  That’s what we are all after, isn’t it?  And you don’t agree with his position at all, and think his comments about single mothers and a couple’s sexual orientation and the president were confusing to the issue at hand, and you also don’t believe arming teachers is the answer.  But you know what? Despite the vast differences in opinion, you appreciate him sharing his thoughts, and challenge him to think just a little outside his own box to try and find a solution.  We are going to disagree, but maybe we can all find common ground.  We are Americans.  We all want to keep our children safe.

That’s hard. Because it’s not often met with open arms. It’s often met with some snide response or more of the same.  Or you’re labeled something and called something and all that kindness for nothing. And you want to say “what a putz, man.  I was being so nice.”

Do it anyway. Keep doing it when your face is slapped. Keep doing it when it’s not met with welcomed smiles.  Because it’s not about getting positive feedback. It’s about challenging the established norms that we should yell at each other.  And hide behind an internet screen so we can be nasty.  It’s about putting kindness front and center, as in “I will not respond with hate because I love you as a brother or sister and I will be here, regardless.  I’m not going to unfriend you. You are worthy of respect and although we have vast differences I’ll continue to treat you as I would want to be treated.”

Are you with me? Can we just make small changes in our immediate world, and try to react to hate with love? We cannot put combination locks on every gun in this country.  We cannot ban television or transform people’s minds overnight. But we can be KIND.  It starts here.  Now.  With you, and me, and your Aunt Gracie in Wisconsin.

Soon it will catch on like wildfire, and we will all learn to be respectful, and we’ll try and teach our kids to do the same, and maybe – just maybe – there will be hope for our future generations. And they won’t kill each other in schools anymore but will go back to playing in the sandbox.  There will be less bullying and more kindness shown to the aching. And our beautiful children will sit around on boring summer days watching ants crawl in straight little lines and hum country songs. This is our goal – that we go back to a simpler and more loving place.

We simply don’t have the luxury to ignore Jesus anymore.   

 

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gypsydawg/14082144970/sizes/m/in/photolist-nsoF5W-gkyY8-4RaUZX-9XPWfA-7ygm9J-7ycGh4-fArKBp-88bb2r-bZaxNu-arQSus-6UjmQ9-anYDcU-5CVmoy-bA4X6s-bZCcuE-ehof5d-NRTYA-dtZi75-9NZDG3-7yguLs-7ycyEF-7ygzEh-7ygpJy-7ycAxt-7ycB8a-7yfCpS-6U4eRj-cuXBJm-6TTD46-cr25YW-6ERGDD-angBQP-5UBGQi-csPMmm-cv1kby-4xeJep-n3ngdM-jjsQ3c-7ycw1t-7ycvgx-cKDCs1-nwAmY8-euu8DT-5udFwy-5PD5Qz-axh3Mu-9NdC3y-76f3b4-dpNqBQ-asEkJJ-aFQYBX/

A Lunch Hour Prayer

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I’m writing this on my lunch hour, the phone timer set so my imaginary demons won’t report to the world that I’m spending work time on personal business.  Because I feel such guilt over walking out the door at 4 or when I spend too long in the break room and my heart is always forever pushing back shards of shame.  It’s my former government employee and youth director mentality I’ve never been able to get over, punctual and ethical in all things. Do more, exceed expectations, never lie and always proofread. But guilt is a wrecking ball, and after so many years it chips away at an otherwise stalwart heart.

God has given me an amazing gift of perseverance.  I’ve faced near-death and cancer and divorce and heartbreak and turmoil and yet somehow my internal clock still beats incredibly strong, and my default sensors are always half-full, and I tend to always get back up and start whistling.  But the devil’s found this loophole, you see. An enormous guilt that sweeps over me like a sulfur wind. Because God expects me to do certain things in His image and I’ve gone off and failed him.  And Jesus died for my sins and I can’t manage to carry out the stupid trash or concentrate on a managed care contract.  Seriously, what good am I.

So here goes the rampage of emptiness that fills my heart – a guilt that starts like a small fire I can so totally control.  But let’s be honest: we all know fire jumps protective lines and travels where it should not and thus I allow guilt to creep into my smile and my laugh and my brain and all the various crevices of me. And what remains is a hollowed-out version.

Oh, precious children whom I love.  There are moments I want to hold you so tight you might suffocate and I sit cross-legged in your rooms and watch how you contort your lips like a fish and my whole body is full of you.  I draw little hearts alongside of you on crisp white paper and make up silly songs and for fifteen glorious minutes I build castles out of magnatiles with the pointy ceilings that click together just so. And I hold your hands on our long family walks so we can discuss wildflowers and beetles but then like a flash I simply want to get off the floor and tell you to find your own peace and quit fighting and watch a show because can’t you see I need a minute? Can’t you see I need to sit alone on this front porch and see if he’s texted or if updates have arrived because I have to awkwardly navigate the real world with a broken heart?  I need to be free of you for a little while.

And these beautiful ones say so softly “Put the phone down momma. Why don’t you ever play with us anymore?” Because one moment I’m hot and another I’m cold. And my entire life’s fortune is in front of me blinking and the guilt of knowing this ravages a hole into my heart.

Oh, God whom I gave my life years ago.  My weak, sagging life has always been unequivocally yours, from the moment I gave it to you in that small chapel with dirty stone floors.  My servant-hood has never varied, and you know this.  And yet I do not seize you. I do not throw myself in worship and I am not an example as I wish to be.  You know me. I so love the piercing shrill of a curse word and I like to sip on sparkling champagne on a summer night too often and I’d rather read fiction than Colossians and I don’t want to give up things and not do things and the Bible is sometimes just a wee bit more boring than I’d like.  You know I want to eat broccoli and yet sometimes I have a hangover and I sulk on the garden floor half-heartedly pulling weeds and visit with you behind clenched teeth.  I need to be free of my suffocating expectations. Can’t you just let me feel happiness for once and not rip it out from underneath me?

Oh, relationships that end.  Come on, now. I have blue eyes and I’m funny and bubbly and supportive and smart. I wear a slinky dress one day and cowboy boots the next. Isn’t this something that’s desirable to the hearts of man? And yet when things don’t work out for good solid reasons that are mature and understandable I sulk and stomp because why wouldn’t men want me despite the crushing odds? Can’t we all just walk through life in a blissful state of romance and turn the truck around and you show up on doorsteps with bundles of flowers? Is this really too much to ask? I am so excellent with being alone, but lonely is another issue entirely.  I recoil and spin in all directions and have no willpower.  And because I’m dramatic I then tear up and cast side glances to God and wander around my home and my town and the aisles of Whole Foods and I feel all random and tied up in knots.  Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I should have done more.  Maybe it’s me that is the reason for the leaving. The guilt in reaching out too much and playing my hand and being too open with my emotions fills me with dread.  Damn guilt, it crept in again through an open portal.

There are times I am not a writer and not a lawyer and not a mother and not a lover and I’m just a flat-out mess as real life walks over me like a homeless bum, desperate and lacking.  There are days I want to lay flat on my back and just stare at the ceiling for hours upon end and hope the day passes to another sun and another moon and another season and another everything.  And yet we are to use the time given to us and delight in the toil and trust that God will forever be faithful, so guilt creeps upon my eyeglasses and taps though the glass into my one working eyeball.  “Hello in there? You realize how lucky you’ve got it, woman?” And I rise again, crawling to sit and half-rising off the bed to sore feet and a bruised heart and I half-ass my way through another day, another life, another dinner, another weekend.

But slowly a hint of a smile returns.  And quietly a voice starts to hum from inside, where the spirit lives.  It’s barely audible, the prayer that forms. But it’s there, like an imprint God has sewn into the fabric:

Enough. I have done enough and loved hard enough and God is enough and therefore I release you, stupid ugly guilt that has crawled through my veins and is tearing at my spirit.  I will walk down the hallway after eating this protein bar for lunch toward the restroom, since the timer is about to go off.  I will go to a meeting.  I will respond to emails with thoughtfulness and I will refrain from making bad decisions and will not reach back to the past. I will take deep breaths and drink more water. I will hug my children today when I see them.  But if I don’t? If I sulk for a few more days and still do stupid things and drink a soda and tell my children to watch another show and text the dude? That does not define me. That does not make my life less worthy.  And it certainly has nothing to do with how much God delights in me, and desires me, and loves me.  Oh, God, let me refocus my life not for me, but to delight again in you.  To find peace in a love that is calm and replenishing. That is enough.  My dear Father, that has always been enough.

Now, it’s back to work. There are contracts a-waitin, and they ain’t gonna write themselves.

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/henry_hemming/13973928195/sizes/m/in/photolist-nhQ31t-asqkJW-gHgTvK-gFJFoz-dQXhXi-8B8NQN-aFBzLR-ciRhGE-dMe84B-adDGg4-bGSkRF-btXzbA-btXxRG-bGSn9i-bGSm9e-btXxK9-btXyz1-bGSkEZ-btXyXf-bGSm3g-bGSmNp-bGSms8-bGSmhR-bxsLJE-asi3Fr-myQQ92-8LwW6j-7KhDa4-dTkTu7-9a4jan-bcpdAP-amPDzV-ajykMp-7AV4qv-8ergxe-eWXpy7-88bgji-8AMeYi-8vGnwi-eyQByk-f8Cf5z-f8QQYE-fUDnNh-dgq518-eWXAcs-eWLbhF-ajzVfZ-asFLxn-f6CkiR-eWXpgw-8UcZjv/

Flying High

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We were sitting in Jean-Georges in New York City, just a bunch of youngsters in suits and expensive hair products, lifting water glasses to our lips like this wasn’t the nicest place we’d ever been.  Like talking with Donald Trump wasn’t the coolest thing we’d ever done.  Like spooning chocolate mousse as billowy as clouds into our uneducated palates was something we were accustomed to doing.  We raised champagne glasses and said Mazel tov through our grinning, sparkling faces. I’m not Jewish and yet I could feel the prickling sensation that we were indeed filled with good luck, and that this night would forever be marked in our collective memories.  This, I told myself, was New York as my mind would forever enslave it.  Buzzing with energy and richness so deep I could barely keep afloat in the pool of it, and sitting there with Trump it all seemed so bubbly and delicious.

But the most memorable thing about my time in New York was the feeling that nothing was an impediment to success.  The world was just one huge shell and all we had to do is pry it open to receive our valued pearl. We were young and fearless.  We would run and dash and climb up stairs in five inch heels whilst whistling and looking over our shoulders at the poor saps beneath us.  And there at Jean-Georges amidst the sparkling lights, Trump gave us some essential wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.  The man’s politics aside, think of his bravado, which is in part ridiculous and narcissistic but in part brilliant and glorious.

“You have got to think bigger.”  He said it many times and in many ways, as if he were imparting wisdom to his children as they ran off into this big, big world.

We were a room of young big thinkers, so we thought, all nodding and soaking it all in, like we were the enlightened few that had made it.  Won it.  Persevered through it.  Earned it.  In reality we earned nothing, and our lives had amounted to very little, and we were just the recipients of good luck and pretty faces, who talent scouts found favorable.  We’ve now gone on to do great things, and we’ve lived a lifetime since that night.  But it was so clear and fresh then like a raspberry dropped into our champagne flutes, the bubbles rising with fury to the top.

The world, my friends, is yours.

I am reminded from time to time of this night, and this phrase, and this challenge.  Am I thinking big enough? Am I reaching high enough? Did I do enough, ask enough, make enough happen? As I sit and wait for publishing houses to decide the fate of my novel, when I re-negotiate legal deals, when I sit at home cutting out construction-paper banners for my child’s birthday party, or when sit through boring dates listening to men drone on about their dull IT career, am I living up to this charge? Did I let the burdens of this world drag me down to the point of no return?

As I slog through traffic on my way to work, I pray that God will open my eyes to a brighter future.  A bigger future. One so vast it seems currently impossible. I pray that He will lead me toward large lofty goals and that I will have the faith to seize them by the horns and ride them. To not allow me the security I so desire but instead throw me off the cliff so that I may fully rely on Him to sustain me.  For then we really start to live, and breathe new air, and really succeed. We all have the ability to put fear in a box and set in the attic for a while, despite our financial situation or our domestic hindrances.  We have the amazing ability to do whatever we want to with our lives, and that reality is both liberating and stifling all at the same time, like we get to pick out any toy in the shop and all we can do is stand there staring. So I prayed for courage and wisdom, and to land on a dream.

Let’s encourage each other instead of tearing each other down to go big.  Go all out.  Grow wings and soar together. For this world has enough negativity.  Enough people telling us we can’t.  That we aren’t pretty enough or talented enough or educated enough.  There are people whose egos can’t handle us, or ladders that don’t have room for us.  There are too many people clinking glasses and saying they are the winners and we are just the remaining lot.

But this world has enough opportunities.  Enough new ideas like pieces of sand on a shore to spread for miles.  There is nothing you can’t imagine. Nothing you can’t grab.  Nothing you can’t find a home for, and a place for, and a dream big enough to hold. Do it.  Be it.  Live it.

March forward boldly in the direction of your dreams.  

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjmontero/8859386304/sizes/m/in/photolist-euSETJ-7E1hc9-abgFSw-b9KyQZ-b9KBCr-e8E89z-cXapNw-ddo5NG-ddo6am-ddo4HB-ddo6sG-ddo4yD-dodNtV-bKV4uX-9FpHDg-acezDq-9bn7fo-8fNxVk-jgxEoF-9tJrC4-7QMQVh-aEs6tb-adv3B4-8f3mkA-dXCgFr-jGiDDU-jEg8cQ-ddJSmr-b3pmQP-c4jPCq-bA2mns-8fRHQQ-bA3r85-dzMYcU-bH5j7R-bA2me7-cb5kCL-dVwTC5-ebHPGh-jsQcTt-kRjiUk-kRjjbc-7Ns4DC-kRjjpi-kRjjSn-kRmgnG-kRk6f8-kRjjKP-kRk5RH-9EL6by-eyNY5q/

 

Finger Pointing

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“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

James 4:12

I read an article where a young girl in a very conservative college was chastised for wearing a low-cut shirt because she was allowing temptation in the minds of the young men to flourish.  And we all judged because of course women shouldn’t be shamed for wearing v-neck sweaters while men stare with drool coming out of their mouths, and how ridiculous are these religious people.  And yet when hardworking nurses tend to the poor and the homeless at community health centers, some consider it charity undeserved, and handouts undesirable, and critics sit in their easy chairs and scream at the television, judging how America’s gone to hell with regard to its own moral fiber.  We all at some point have sat in meetings where people use double negatives and we laugh at people’s ugly blazers and cackle when the mighty fall.  And when marriages split up?  The cheerleader gets fat? Men cheat on their wives? Celebrities die of overdoses? For heaven’s sakes a woman makes a choice involving her body? Give me a scenario and I’ll let you know how we as humans handle it – we find a way to cast a firm and harsh judgment upon it.  If I can think of one sin that continues to flourish in our society without reservation, it’s our continual and sickening judgment.  You can tell I don’t listen to talk radio.  For the love.

Because in reality, God’s the only judge in the room that matters.  Live your own life to glorify the one you serve, and let God work out the rest.

I have a friend who belongs to another denomination.  There’s a different word on his church building.  It’s on a different road and in another town and there are songs I’ve not heard and worship I’ve not experienced in my stable and slow-moving Presbyterian fashion.  It delighted me like a shiny penny, and we had long talks over wine and gruyere cheese while laying strewn comfortably about on the couch regarding our differences in faith, family, worship, and traditions.  It made me realize how grateful I am that in this country we have the right to choose our ice cream flavor, and can walk out of this temple and into this other, and how we can love each other when they don’t check the boxes in the same order. And he was a lovely man that I cherished, despite our differences, and his heart was huge and he loved to serve and there was no one he considered beneath him.

Because who are we, exactly, to be elitist about how people answer to their own God, or which road they decided to tread upon, or choices that they determine to make? I think in the end we’ll all be shocked about how understanding our Heavenly Father is about the struggles that we manage to muddle through, and choices that we make that might not always have beautiful endings.  Because he knows our hearts, dear friends, and at the core isn’t that what’s it’s all about?

Instead of judging about how people live their lives, or how they worship their God, or whether they wear long skirts or v-necks or whether they have ten kids or none, let’s just let our hair down in a very 1970’s flashback and allow each other to breathe.  To be.  To feel comfortable in who they are.  I wish for a day we could all just allow people to make mistakes, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, and consider our only job on earth to pray for the lost in silent, and encourage our own children to be strong men and women of character, and love fiercely the God we serve.  It’s not our role to place judgment on the choices of others, but to simply love with a pouring out of our Father like morning rays to a spooky and eerie night, allowing it to permeate those around us, filling up hearts and shining like brilliance and to say always and forever thank you.  For allowing us to co-exist.  For reminding us to complement each other’s unique gifts.  To encourage us to think and look at things differently.

And as the dew forms we see vast and glorious differences in the field, strewn about with color and shapes that makes for a patchwork of glory.  Paintbrushes and bluebonnets and wild sea oats floating in the breezes. This is life.  This is His kingdom.

This, my dear friends, is freedom.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnloo/4876114194/sizes/m/in/photolist-8qTmSo-97hcz9-agdpUF-ecv9cN-hbsAuY-e35QYP-b6RYY6-aTB3Fn-8gL9DB-8XVtzi-8vbKtv-8veNqU-cw4HZY-8veMym-8vbKtX-eGiLyC-98eHM1-8veM2J-8xEX7V-8veMJd-8veLSo-8veNgQ-8veMbY-8vbJyx-aqYYE6-dGmsXr-bx1pKv-9tHFVK-cVxGh5-aeHSQF-g5HnXC-gKRgvP-dKfbZq-9SAg62-a8BvWf-anvH5K-9NnoYa-dq1ecN-d7Bc2J-aqZ1La-bnVsHt-gtomUU-9WiPed-8Mkfzq-hGVfmq-fHvoMF-aBnzL4-93HbEA-dNZxht-kg4mqM-dq1dNQ/

Headwinds

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In church this morning, our pastor spoke of the bio-dome experiment in the 1980’s where the aim was to create the perfect atmosphere for human and plant life. All was controlled, from the temperature to the water to the light to the air.  And yet the funny thing was that trees just toppled over after they grew to a certain height – they just couldn’t support their own weight.  Why?

There was no wind to force the trees to grow deep roots.

And that got me thinking.  About the forces that blow against us. About the trials we are burdened to bear.  We put our heads down as the wind whips and bites. We flip up our collars on Michigan Avenue and hunker down.  We don’t have the luxury of hiding, or giving in, and so we trudge forward in the headwinds and just mutter curses under our breaths at the enduring.

And sometimes we feel like breaking, when death blows like a hurricane into our lives when we least expect it.  My mother’s father died the moment he retired.  A slip off the scaffolding trying to repair a water leak on the building he had just managed to close.  They were going to travel, my grandfather and his bride, after years of toil in the sand and gravel pits, dirty and drained.  He worked his whole life for the sweet smell of victory. Retirement.  Money in the hole.  And yet a hole swept through my mother’s young tender heart.  The winds, they howled.

And often times when it rages you simply hide curled up in a bathtub covered in mattresses, because love isn’t supposed to end and covenants are too powerful to break and cells are too precious to be eaten up by tumors.  When you lift up the coils and look around, all you see is soggy destruction, and you fall to the ground weeping at the broken china and the tables overturned and the photo albums lost. Because roots, they are shallow.  A hurricane blown through a soul that believed.

Sometimes I meet people who live a charmed life. They move from job to job and relationships come and go until they settle upon a good solid choice with two cars in suburbia. They prance their way through medical school and waltz their kids into private school whilst drinking lattes in a sharp Tuesday blazer. I shudder at the thought.  That they will grow to a certain height and then topple over. Because the winds, my dear friends – they are coming.  When we least expect it as we stare into televisions and walk blindly into offices toward afternoon meetings or feel isolated inside our own marriages and are pretending to live a life.  We find ourselves suddenly and desperately alone.  Despite our wild successes.  Despite those around us who love, or beg for us to return. And like a duster on the south plains the wind kicks at our ankles like a tickle. Until it rages, and we find ourselves beneath the mattress in the bathtub, where all is lost.

It is times like these I hear James pounding in my ears that blessed is the man who perseveres under trials.  But not because of our own strength but the one who strengthens.  Don’t you see, my neighbors? You, who is standing in what was a living room but is now just wet dripping boards or you, trapped inside the walls of an operating room wanting to tear off your own skin? We can’t escape the winds, even when we try.

But it’s not our roots that are deep, for our own roots are so very shallow.  It’s who we’re linked to that matters. “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you are nothing.” James 15:5.  It is the ability to graft onto Him, and trust He will sustain, and believe in all things and in all ways God is always, forever faithful.  This is what allows us to stand.  To weather.  To be thankful for winds that tear and rip and destroy. We know that without Him we are a toppling bunch of cards.

My friends, how elegant this truth.  How grateful is my weary heart for trials.  For when the rainbow bursts forth it is a Technicolor morning, colors so bright they are blinding.  Love springs forth new and houses are rebuilt and new covenants are formed.  We raise up what was lost, not in consolation but in new brilliant glory.  And we know that the next time around nothing can destroy us.

The winds will come.  Get on your bike and head straight into them, with teeth clenched and a mind determined, for nothing can stop or destroy the love God has for you.  What is the worst the bitter winds can do? For even in death, we are not defeated. That, my friends, is perseverance. So I say to the winds: howl.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcsamsom/5416124611/sizes/m/in/photolist-9fB49P-2grToa-dcXnE2-8GW1Bp-a7fNSW-9s1Cpt-4zDjov-6pfWMv-9Kcgb5-a1Tf6M-jcUZ9k-krm4LR-bVhKBX-wN4Pj-9EFsZG-9ECzfD-9ECuaF-9EFtvY-9ECzU2-9EFqg7-9ECyNc-9EFr6S-9EFnZC-9ECtqX-9s1ELe-8HUTSo-5RpRkv-9s4zEd-4VHr3e-86umcC-4rmUg7-775pC8-xYTxz-7PwW5T-c867jw-8AGAki-kmXZRe-kmXYEX-kmY1VP-cz7M45-kmY2Vp-jnrFW-kmYXFP-8yZwg9-8yWonv-8yZvXJ-8yWp9e-8yZvwu-8yWo7t-8yZuu5-8yWp62/