The house on the hill

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

Matthew 7:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odd and curious thoughts (about moving)

 

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

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

Life, no filter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s be that kind of beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meaning of motherhood

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You are a mother, and that means something.

But it’s best, child, not to know all the gory details.  So you hide in the closet and pull at your own hair. Because it hurts and sometimes pain is the only thing that reaches deep down inside. You cry so much your eyes are encased with dark circles.  My god look at you.  You lost ten pounds but not the good kind where you look toned and tanned but the droopy, caved out hollow look. You put on makeup because you want to paint some color back into these worn-out cheeks.  You best take a shower and get up from that fetal position because time waits for no one. Is anyone feeling sorry for you? There is no one here to listen.

Because you are a mother, and that means something.

And there’s dinner, always dinner.  All the time these kids want to eat and there’s dishes and clothes on the floor and they hate asparagus.  Why do you kids need to eat so damn much? When we were little, you’d say, asparagus was a delicacy at Christmas.  Grandmother would pull it out of a can and serve it like gold yet here you are complaining about it when it’s freshly steamed with sea salt.  You have no idea how good you have it.  But they have no frame of reference so they look at you like you are speaking Italian and you let them eat macaroni because whatever.  You will not submit to the Zanax prescription hanging on your refrigerator door or drink too much wine.  You are better than this.  Pull your shit together, woman. If anything, do it for them.  They are becoming your singular focus these days, the reason you get up and keep on drinking coffee.

Because you are a mother, and that means something.

So you walk in and you get that job because you gotta work to pay for that school they are used to and clothes and legal bills and this mortgage that you need to refinance along with the lawn that needs to be mowed every two weeks.  Stupid weeds.  They cost $100 to handle. And when you get the job you cry in your car and ask God if you really have the strength to do all of these things.  He says yes and you just nod and haul your tear-streaked face back home through the traffic and through the recycled NPR stories and through the sinus headache. And then you see your kids and you just can’t wait to smell their hair and touch their faces and put them in your massive and empty bed to cuddle together because if you hold them really tight they won’t disappear.

You are their mother.  That’s what you tell yourself at night as the tears well up.

And it turns out all this pain permeates like clouds in the air so your kids grow sad and you think to yourself I’ve ruined them so you work so hard to create a happy home and do all the amazing things that mothers do to make children happy like ice cream nights and sand castles and building forts out of blankets.  You begin to wear makeup and start to puff your cheeks like a fish and make up stories about women in New Jersey who yell at imaginary taxi drivers. And they start to crack a smile so you breathe a little like Mary Tyler Moore thank you Jesus we’re going to make it after all.  And instead of macaroni you start to cook pork roast because you want to eat whatever the hell you want who cares that it’s only Tuesday you run this home.

You are a mother.  And by God that means something.

You start to move on and find a place again in life.  A wonderful unique place that you didn’t know was even there, that fits like a little glove over your fingers.   And this new place has new people and you end up with a partner who thinks you don’t even need under eye concealer because your eyes are more beautiful than diamonds and your heart is what he’s after and you ride this happy little train with your hair blowing out of the side window.

But you turn around and your kids are not having it because what is this life you are contemplating. There is a NOT APPROVED stamp. Not having any part in it. Sorry, return this life thanks but no thanks.  We want the old one, the one we thought was normal until it wasn’t, where they were the center of the universe and Daddy sometimes came home for dinner after work.  Because in the memory of a child things are always beautiful and sweet, as they should be. But oh my loves, there is no going back.  The old life is over can’t you see? Can’t you see how it’s fading away?

I am your mother, the one who loves you.  Doesn’t that mean something?

So you put a jacket on that strong back of yours and let them pounce upon it, attack it, claw at it.  You turn around and let them.  You watch in horror as they rip up the love notes and sabotage all you’ve build up inside this neat-fitted glove. But it’s a phase and it will pass and soon enough they will see you had to move on, because of your sanity and because of your dignity and because of that Zanax prescription you managed to fight off out of sheer will. Well you may deserve another chance at love but what you actually get is another fight about bedtime and getting out the door in the morning and there’s a spider in the bath and suddenly we’re back in pull-ups again. They cling and cry and cling and cry and you are a ping pong ball just being bounced around between emotions. They physically insert themselves in between you and the new life thinking they can be a human shield warding off the new. Yes I know you hate me but you have to take a shower and wash your hair and brush your teeth.

Because you remain a mother, and that means something.

And there are expectations, for special breakfasts and funny faces and singing random instructions and chess games, proving to them you’re still you, you’ve still got it, you’re not abandoning them, you’re rock of all things in this shifting sand.  Even when they glare and yell and cling and cry.  You just bounce back up. But who are we kidding you’re not God so you drag around sometimes and yell and feel guilty about the yelling. There’s school projects and homework and dinner and trying to get them to school on time and movie nights.  And then you get sick but mom can’t get sick so you push through and still do all the things but sometimes they eat Granola bars instead. And you get better but they don’t notice because they are children, just glad to have you back making French toast because granola bars get old, everyone knows this.

Sometimes you sit on a girlfriend’s couch and drink wine until all the words fall out until you apologize for always talking about your life and never theirs and you are filled with guilt for being so selfish.  They tell you it’s fine and they love you but you never quite believe them. Why or how is that possible after so much of your bitching. Your kid then says they don’t want a therapist because they’re fine and it’s you that’s the problem.

It’s hard being a mother.

You sit down one day and realize that you are a hair’s breath from giving up because your back is getting bruised and bloody from taking it all the time. But you don’t have the luxury of giving up so you stand up and shuffle down the hallway like an old lady with arthritis.  But seriously your muscles hurt. You listen to some jazz because that seems to loosen things up and you drink hot tea with lemon. And when your kid forgets their school project you drive it back up to the school.  They know this about you, because you’re YOU and this is what you are around for.

And at the end of every day you still look at them and your heart melts, the smell of their hair and the way it feels when they curl up to you at night when you read to them.  They are you, from you, born on earth a part of you.  Someday they will look back and think my mom made a decent dish of mashed potatoes and sometimes laughed and gave us gifts on Wednesdays.  And they will have odd memories of all this mixed together in a blender, some good and some sad and some flat-out weird. And they will know you’re always there and never left and sometimes had a droopy eye.  But if they wanted to talk you did and if they wanted to sing you did and if they wanted to take a long walk that was just fine too.

Because you were their mother, and that meant everything.

 

photo:

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10 Ways to Infuse your Life with Humor

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Me and Beyonce in Vegas. Remember that, B? SUPER FUN.

(1) Watch comedians live. It’s endearing to see someone be bold and share personal information about their toenails and ex-boyfriends in a way that makes you laugh.  I am always and exceedingly proud of people for getting up there.  I’m a wonderful audience member because I’ll always smile and laugh and I never give haughty looks unless the comedy turns ugly and hateful.  Because I’m forgiving of bad jokes and nervous energy and uncomfortable silence and forgotten bits. I’m like the mother at a basketball game who’s cheering and pumping her fist and saying “WRONG WAY, DEE DEE!” and after we all go out to celebrate with ice cream.  I’m the queen of supportive. Unless it gets flat-out mean.   I am not forgiving of hate speech disguised as comedy.

(2) Look at everyday things in a different way.  Today, I told myself I had to find something humorous on a road sign.  Because road signs are so naturally interesting.  Well LO AND BEHOLD there was a sign posted about not texting and driving, and the picture of the phone was an old blackberry with an antenna.  And I thought how funny that we are supposed to take the state seriously if they still believe we are talking on phones with antennas. I remember when people would slam that antenna down after a frustrating call, like “TAKE THAT, AOL CUSTOMER SERVICE.”  Those phones didn’t even have texting capabilities.  There were only three cell towers in America and women were still wearing shoulder pads.  Look around you.  Is there something about your house, your car, your hair, the way your dog pees?  Surely there is something routine that you can look at differently and find the humor in.

(3) Imagine pain itself, or a painful experience, as something you can put in a box. Then create funny or ironic or sarcastic things to say about this painful thing.  Name it.  Maybe your pain is Myrtle or Hairy.  Then say all the funny or sarcastic things to its face and realize that suddenly, you have power over it. This thing doesn’t rule you.  It’s in a box for heaven’s sakes.  It has an unfortunate name that rhymes with turtle.  Who can take that seriously?

(4) Read funny things. I can’t highlight this enough.  Don’t try to imitate these people, or wish you were like these people, or try to copycat these people.  That’s creepy and covetous and is a trail to nowhere.  Just enjoy reading their funny words.  Applaud their talent, and encourage them.  Buy their stuff and go to their shows or readings and seek out words that make you laugh.  David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, and Dave Barry got me through many hard days. Put these words in your life because it reminds you how to take life less seriously.

(5) Encourage and solicit friendships that truly make you laugh. I know this sounds obvious, or mean, like you need to weed out Stacey because all she does is talk about her work drama and she’s a drag. I mean who cares about the fact that she got scolded by her mid-level manager in the accounting firm. But it’s true. Funny friends are important. (And don’t actually unfriend Stacey, poor thing.  Just take her out drinking. She’s under a lot of stress).  If you have friends who make you laugh, you should schedule time with them.  It’s like a kale smoothie – being with friends who uplift you and make you smile is good for your body and doesn’t make you want to vomit.

(6) Turn anger into humor. This world is filled with a lot of things that make me angry. For example: Trump’s limited vocabulary, bad drivers, our lack of compassion as a nation for those unlike us, pushy girl scouts, crappy coffee, people who misrepresent faith as being an elite club only for the good people, Trump’s lips, when neighbors drive fast down my little country road, and when my car smells like rotten milk.  Okay maybe I’m overreacting about the Girl Scouts.  However, we must turn these things that infuriate us into something that makes us laugh. Why? Not because we are minimizing them, but because we have to find a way to cope with them. Humor is the only way I’ve found to deal with anger in a way that doesn’t lead to alcoholism or jail time.  Let’s hear it.  What makes you angry, and how can you make that funny?

(7) Only watch good-quality television. I realize this may sound like an oxymoron, but there is so much smart television out there right now.  Don’t let yourself fall for some cheap laugh-track crap that just fills your mind with junk.  Search out shows that play on words, use physical humor, have underlying themes that resonate, and fill your mind with joy.  That being said, if some stupid show makes you exceedingly happy, resulting in you humming all afternoon and baking scones, FINE.  Ignore this advice completely and keep watching.  Because what the hell do I know.

(8) Don’t attack people personally for their belief systems. Make fun of things, general issues, yourself (always fair game), Vanilla Ice, long catholic weddings, and any of the Kardashians. But don’t make it personal. We need to see humor as a connector amongst us.  It’s a great unifier between the redneck cowboy with the elitist city dweller. Let’s use it for good, not evil.

(9) Allow yourself to be serious. People who try to be funny all the time are annoying at worst, creepy at best.  You have to learn the ying and the yang, become familiar with the serious and the frivolous, so allow yourself to feel all the emotions of life.  The funniest people I know aren’t always wise-cracking.  They are introspective, creative, ambitious, invested in their communities, and wise.  There is a scene in Steel Magnolias where Sally Fields is crying after the death of her daughter, and when I say crying I mean sobbing because HELLO SALLY FIELDS I LOVE YOU and she says “I just want to hit someone! Something! Anything!” And then her dear friend Olympia Dukakis throws Shirley MacLaine in her face and says “HIT HER!”  And in the midst of great sadness and seriousness and tears streaming down Sally’s face, what do you see? Humor. And it’s brilliant.

(10) Spent time around children. They are truly wonderful little people without all the cynicism and baggage of adults.  If you don’t have children, you should borrow some.  Pay close attention to how they look at life, the questions they ask, and write down the funny things they say.  They will always put you in a better mood, unless they are three or ten or going through puberty.  Then you should avoid them at all costs, run quickly the other way, pretend you don’t know them, say you are just the pizza delivery person, and revert back to some other advice above.

Most of all, allow yourself to laugh.  Find joy in all things.  Proverbs says that a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. 17:22 So go forth and make it a priority to infuse laughter and humor into your routines.  You owe it to yourself.  You owe it to humanity.  You owe your friend money and your mother a return telephone call too, but who’s counting.

Inside vs. Outside Voice

(1) Kid: Guess what! I woke up at 5 am all by myself and got dressed!

Outside Voice: You did! Oh my goodness I’m so proud of you! Look how you picked out that shirt I didn’t know you still had! And that belt? Come here and give me a big hug.  What a big boy you are.

Inside Voice: 5 am?  Tonight I’ll be paying for that.  And you look oddly like a lobster.

(2) Kid: Mom? Can you sit with us and watch this television show with us?

Outside Voice: Of course.  Let me finish this round of dishes and I’ll be there.  I love spending time with you.

Inside Voice: God-forsaken Disney shows.  I hate them.  I’d rather gouge out my eyeballs with a butter knife. Maybe if I take a really long time with the dishes they will forget all about my existence.

(3) Kid: The noodles in this soup are big. It has too much pepper. I don’t like how big the chicken chunks are.

Outside voice: I know, honey.  But do the best you can.  Be sure to pick out some carrots and eat those.  They are good for your eyes!

Inside Voice: What the hell, kid.  When I was your age my mom warmed up Campbell’s soup from a can and this is made from bone broth and roasted chicken.  There are kids in Haiti that eat dirt and here you are complaining of the SIZE OF THE FREAKING NOODLES.

(4) Kid: I have a test today. I know we are on the way to school but can I borrow your phone so I can look up this thing I’m supposed to know?

Outside Voice: You are just now telling me this? You should have studied last night! Here, let me look it up on Google.  Read it and repeat it to me out loud.  We’ll discuss it on the way.

Inside Voice: I’m too old for this.

(5) Kid: I love you, mommy. You’re the best mommy in the world.

Outside voice: That’s so sweet.  But you can’t have any more oreos.

Inside Voice: I never, ever get tired of hearing this.  Please don’t ever stop saying it. I love you more than anything, ever.  More than anything else in the whole world.  Please don’t grow up and just stay this way forever. You melt my heart so.

(6)Kid: But he hit me and walked in and grabbed my lip gloss without asking and I told him to get out and –

Other Kid: Nu-uh! That’s not what happened! I simply was walking in to say it was time for breakfast and she threw something at me and —

Outside Voice: Enough! You both are whiny babies!  Grow up! What if the other sibling died a tragic death and you were forever filled with guilt and this was your last conversation? When will you understand how privileged you are to have a sibling who loves you and this home and this life and this house and all the things? HUH? WHEN? TO YOUR ROOMS IMMEDIATELY!

Inside Voice:  Oh crap.  I said all that out loud.

Sometimes the lines are blurred. One day at a time, folks.  One day at a time.

Clouded Visions

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Our evening with Donald (credit NBC Universal)

I met Trump and his wife Melania in New York City in 2005.  I thought it was fun, like “here we are with this Reality Star Donald Trump who owns lots of buildings!” He was shorter than I expected. His hair and skin were weird. I wanted to touch him, like we were at a wax museum and I wasn’t sure he was real.  We rode to Jean Georges in a limousine and ate some sort of really sweet cheesecake. I felt very fancy. I was just some little country girl from Texas. I was nervous and kept saying “Y’ALL THIS IS SO CRAZY” and smiled a lot.

Truth be told, he was nice. He told a crowd of us Type A people to reach for the stars, dream big, and not to meet with anyone less than the CEO.  But what else would he do, when we were all in his boat, his franchise, his empire, his world? Isn’t it easy to tell a room full of well-dressed, well-educated, privileged middle class youngsters wearing suits to “dream big?” The truth is that we already were dreamers and do-ers. We had the education and the family support and the means to do what we set out to do.  The privilege that so many Americans don’t enjoy.

As I get older, I see how variant life is between those with a natural advantages and those born with crippling weaknesses.  The fact is, I was born into a family who happened to be white.  A family who supported education, where food was plentiful. I didn’t have to worry about a parent in jail or whether my mom would leave us at night in search of a fix.  I wasn’t glared at because of my name or head covering or deformity. I was, however, laughed at by my northern friends because I grew up shooting guns, killing deer, and listening to Willie Nelson.  I tell them they obviously haven’t listened much to Willie or they would change their mind. And killing deer is just what people do.

But as hard as I did have to work to arrive at where I am, it is in the context of starting from this place.  So naturally it was easier for me than some.  I acknowledge this.  It doesn’t diminish what I’ve been through, or the struggles that I have seen.  This is important to acknowledge also.  Because cancer and death and loss and heartbreak happen to all of us at one time or another, despite our station in life or skin color.  And even those who have a head start still at times have to run like hell. We all have had great humbling moments where color and age and station in life disappear, and we are all just humans floating around in this soup together.  Some of us are more fully cooked, others saturated. Life is hard for everyone at times. Especially if you’re the bay leaf.  That pour sucker just gets plucked out later and tossed.

What is important to me to recognize now is seeing people where they are.  Where they started from. What they had to overcome to get somewhere.  Their background and history and heritage form an amazing frame around their life, which provides a rich backdrop to the success they can become.  I never ate sushi until I was 30 years old.  I was so inexperienced I took an edamame and put the whole thing in my mouth and chewed, thinking it was just a very fat green bean.  I was so embarrassed I swallowed the entire thing right in front of Martha Stewart so as to not give away my error.  Knowing me I probably still just smiled and said “Y’ALL THIS IS CRAZY.” And yet I know exactly how beautiful the sound of a fiddle can be.  I have seen the power of southern hospitality, and I was practically raised on a church pew, singing those old hymns of glory. I sing them now to my children, in a low drawn-out vibrato, that old rugged cross that frees us.

God is very clear, in the voice of his son, that the kingdom of heaven shall not be known to those of privilege, who seem to expect it, or who build up piles of wealth and status.  It will be seen by children, and people who understand that those things are meaningless, to be given up altogether for the King’s glory. It is the poor and meek who will indeed inherit the earth. It is to those who have nothing, or have everything but realize it is not, and will never be, enough.

What struck me as I listened to Donald deliver his inaugural address was (a) the fact that he should have cut his hair– it seemed oddly fluffy; and (2) the arrogance upon which he makes his claims.  He really does act as if he and God are interchangeable.   That things shall just naturally come to pass because he declares it.  There is a cloud over his eyes. The way he spoke of “all people” but does not understand what “all people” even means. He argues that there are Washington elites and then the rest of us, like the rest of us are one homogenous mass. And yet he hasn’t treated people the same around him.  The poor and disenfranchised. Those people he refuses to deal with out of his own need to settle scores. The women that he has attempted to grab.

Some people have to climb out of deeper holes, not because they are dumb or lazy but because they were thrown unwillingly into it.  They were born into the cotton fields, where the opera was song born from suffering, where voices were instruments good and pleasing to the Lord. This doesn’t mean that one is better than another.  Those born into middle class families today do not owe anyone else or have to account for some invisible sin of simply existing.  There are no justifications that need to be made for this.

What it means, however, is that we need to be compassionate, and kind-hearted, and place our complete trust only in a leader that is not of this world.  We need to strap on our sandals and walk to where others are, and see life through their eyes.  We need to look, as President Lincoln did, to the left and the right.  The North and the South. To America, and ask that God resolve the unrest and bloodshed.  Pray unceasingly that we pay the dues that we need to pay for our past injustice, and then bind up our wounds.

Also for the love let’s hope our President stops wearing so much make-up.  Orange is not the new black.

I did dream big.  I saw beyond where I was and where I could be.  But not because I believed myself to be better, or more worthy, but because life kept knocking me down and I refused to stay beaten.  Because I was a fighter.  Because I knew that even with my advantages it would take hard work and trusting in God to build the walkway as I was walking.  And now that I’ve fought through many battles, I’m more grateful than ever, more humble than before, more willing to sit and listen to someone else’s story.  I do not see the grain bins overflowing as some sort of reward for something I’ve done, but only blessings that I did nothing to deserve.

My prayer this next four years is simply for God to be with us, despite the flaws.  Despite the President.  Despite our own inherent sin.  Allow us all to open our eyes, see others as God sees them, to love as God loves, to forgive as he has taught us to forgive.  Let God not turn away from this great nation despite our many flaws.  There are good men and women here.

We might not end up being first in all things. We might end up with egg on our face.  That’s okay.  Sometimes the folks in the back have the best view.  We are the fighters, the opera singers, the beaten who have risen up. We are the nation, holding hands, standing up together.  We are the future.  Let’s be humble and kind and yet powerful and strong, just as the creator designed us.

God bless our nation, in spite of ourselves.  In spite of Trump.  In spite of our own clouded visions.

Revenge is Sweet

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There’s scientific evidence that in our brain, we find enjoyment when punishment is invoked on people who do bad things. And when you think about it, it’s how society works.  On any other level of the animal kingdom, the choice is comprised of being eaten or defending oneself, and doing whatever you can do to protect your herd or yourself from attack. Being the winner isn’t about ego, it’s making sure you survive.

But humans, unlike lions, possess a range of emotions and rational thought, with a detailed division of labor that depends on cooperation and blending.  I know you wouldn’t think this if you were an alien, landed on earth, and happened upon Real Housewives of Orange County or were at a Trump rally.

So there is no surprise that when someone upsets this natural balance and does something to hurt us, we want to equalize things. The thought of revenge permeates us, fills us with pleasure, makes us laugh, satisfies us. It’s like craving an Oreo. And how good does that tastes when it hits your tongue?

But if you eat an entire case of them, you will get sick. And your puke will be a pile of regurgitated sandwich cookies, which is gross.

Modern culture is filled with the concept of revenge. He had it coming. She needed to pay for the sins she committed.  There’s Dirty Harry.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  And who doesn’t love the scene where the woman burns the car of her husband who had an affair? The flames! The beautiful heels and walking away in a dress with her hair blowing in the wind!

That’s what I’m talking about, you cheat-ass punk. HAND ME AN OREO.

The movies that don’t end this way are flat, unnerving, foreign. Because getting away with bad things is not fair.  It’s disordering the very nature of our society.

Lord knows I’ve been there. Someone very close to me hurt me terribly. I wanted to hurt them back.  I wanted to make them pay for the wrongs they did.  Most of all I thought it was unfair how they got away with it.

But then there’s our inner conscience, a holy spirit who delivers messages to us through our souls.  “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Well what’s the fun in that.

This goes against the very essence of us as humans. The independent side of us, the core of who we are as rational beings.  We don’t want to turn over these things over to God when this person is still around, doing the same things, causing such pain, not even being sorry. So we cling to the hurt like an Albatross.  We fantasize about revenge.  We lambast them on social media. We dream that someday, we’ll have the opportunity to make it right. Maybe also we are a little bit focused on the blow-out and sepia lighting as we walk away from their burning mass of a BMW.

But it doesn’t work.  We are left hungry for more, never full, needing to go farther and finding ourselves angry and stressed. It may work in the movies, but actors are playing a role, a fantasy where revenge equates to justice, where getting even brings deep and abiding satisfaction.  When the director yells cut, they all scatter to their trailers, back to their cell phones and agents, unhappy with reviews and wondering if they will get the next gig.

This is not the training for our life. This is not what we should look at to bring us everlasting peace.  

Look around you.  Is there someone or some group you abhor? There has to be.  This is a world full of hateful horrible things.  Every time I turn around there’s a troll saying despicable things when people are just trying to express themselves.  A white supremacy group.  Someone who burns down religious centers. Maybe even your mother-in-law. I’m kidding.  How bad could her casseroles be?

But think about these groups or people who hurt you.  Put them squarely in front of your mind.

Now think of this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] 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? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:43-47

Take that despicable piece of crap of a person (unless it really is your mother-in-law and then I think we should HAVE COFFEE AND DISCUSS because you are having some concerning issues over this tuna noodle situation), and pray.  Ask the Lord to take this anger and need for justice away from you and put this squarely on God’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry, but they raped me.  They ruined my life. They killed my son.  This I cannot do,” you might say.

I hear you. But I’m not asking for you to have lunch with them.  I’m not asking for you to allow yourself to be hurt any more. It’s not that they deserve any of your mercy.  You don’t have to show any. What I think God is asking of us is to trust that God can handle this.  To trust that his vengeance will be more than we could ever do.  What you are praying for is to release the bonds this person holds over you, to allow the anger to pass on, and to somehow find a way to forgive.  And what God does with them? Have mercy on their souls. But if they just so happen to lose their job or get mauled by a bear or their beautiful new wife divorces them or their own bad deeds come back around to haunt them, I’m not saying you can’t smile JUST A LITTLE.

But you move forward and you can set that burden down. For the first time in your life you finally feel peace.  Because obsessing about revenge only hurts you. The craving for an Oreo can turn into an obsession, and then you eat the entire box, which leads to an eating disorder and a feeling of never being enough, and when you turn around you are hospitalized because you realize you’ve been starving yourself from nourishment all these years.

Resist the urge to give in.  Don’t allow yourself to slip into the waters of revenge and surround yourself with its desires. It’s the devil’s voice, telling you that it’s worth it.

It’s never worth it.  Let God take vengeance on the wicked.  It’s your job to show kindness to strangers, let your heart remain open, forgive and dust off that dirt from your shoes, and walk on into to the next town.

Eat the fruit of the tree that satisfies. Jesus talks of a natural sweetness that lingers, of a peace that endures, of fruit that is born from a tree rooted.  Cleanse yourself of the toxins this new year that are preventing you from really moving forward.  Eat a few Oreos and close the bag, realizing that you need nutrition that does not come from this. And for the love of all that’s made with bacon just smile on Sundays, push it around on your plate, and simply DO NOT EAT THE NASTY CASSEROLE.

Let it go this year.  God can handle it.  That being said, if there is any way for us girls to get together and just blow stuff up with no real agenda other than it’s fun and an excuse to get a full blow-out, I’m not ruling it out as a possibility.

photo:

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Stripped Cotton (and the bloom of a new year)

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Earlier this holiday Mark came with me to Lubbock, Texas.  I went to school there.  In a past life I had family there, up the dusty roads north of town.  My son’s middle name he shares with a West Texas cotton farmer, who used to stare outside for hours looking at rain clouds, wondering if hail would ruin a year’s crop.  I used to sit beside him, next to his old bony shoulders, looking at his aged and wrinkled hands, listening to his stories.

There is nothing like cotton blooms, fields neatly groomed and filled with the bursts of white flowers for miles.  And when the cotton forms the bolls burst open like they are aching for escape.  You want to run down the rows and squeeze them and pluck them like candy because they are, in their own way, beautiful.

We were there in December, which means the strippers ripped off the cotton and there were simply sticks poking up from the dirt, just rows and rows of toothpicks and miles of brown. It was devastatingly ugly – I had forgotten how much so.  Dry and barren with rows of houses in neat little rows.  There was brick as far as the eye could see.  Dull beige brick storefronts with signs like “mountain hideaway” and “50th street caboose.” There are no mountains but there are an abundance of railway trains, chugging and puffing their way past these dusty fields, the miles of land, the grid work of towns amidst a backdrop of sky.   And strangely it was also lovely, in my mind’s nostalgic eye, this place I lived for so long.

Part of me wanted to ignore all of this as part of my past.  After all, I have forged a new trail with new stories.  I have a lover and life partner and future husband whom is both affirming and life-giving.  I love that he is from Pennsylvania, that he has stories of his own filled with snow and fall leaves and beautiful schools like movie sets – stories that I’ll never be a part of. We have forged a trail together that is both together and separate, families that will slowly blend but maintain their own individual identities.

But we went back for a day.  We ate fried cheese at Spanky’s and drove past all the stores and places I used to frequent.  An old bar was torn down, others added.  We wove around the campus with its large Spanish-style architecture and I showed him the steps where our choir sang carols during holidays and where I trudged to history class.  “Look! There’s the library that looks like a radiator.  Here is the dormitory where I spent so many nights.”

He was so patient. He nodded at all the things. He asked what I did on Saturday nights and what it was like to live in this place. We drove and drove, ziz-zagging across the town.  It felt strange to be back there, to re-visit the memories and my past.  But in a way it was wonderful, to expose this part of me to him.

This New Years, I’m putting cotton bolls in my table decorations, as a tribute to the past that forms us, that creates texture in us, and yet doesn’t define us.  It’s good to take time to focus on the past in a meaningful way, not a waste of emotional energy but a targeted reflection of what you’ve been through, and what helps bake you into the person you are.

We returned to Austin, where our life is now.  Where our love now blooms.  I’m cooking filet and we are gathering around the table tonight, as my love language goes.  I’ve decorated it in all white, for a winter that hasn’t quite reached us since it’s hovering around 60 degrees.  But we shall dine and drink and laugh, with the cotton buried in the breaths of babies and in the living and this life that we are building together.

There is so much blooming around us, bursting and then stripping, gathering and harvesting.  But alas the beauty of a new season, a new year, an opportunity to repeat the cycle.  Let this year be a beautiful one, blossoming with love.

 

photo:

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Joy for the Saturated Soul

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I love making French toast.  I crack the eggs into a bowl, where the yolks stand up bright orange and tall. I whisk in the cream, slow and steady.  I use Saigon cinnamon because it has a stronger flavor.  I grate orange zest and watch it fall.  Then I push the bread into the mixture and force it to soak.  I don’t want the outer layer to be coated.  I want full absorption.

I sat this morning in my front room by the window.  I was drinking hot coffee and trying to erase all the bad dreams of chaos and realized this is exactly how life can sometimes be – saturating.

First there’s the guilt.  The guilt that you spent too much money and spoil your kids and obsess over the number of gifts between them being even.  You rush around making chicken, fussing at your kids for eating candy, making sure they have little token gifts for all their friends.  How dare you spend time focusing on such trivial things when the families of Sandy Hook are still grieving, the victims of Aleppo suffering, and America is still forever bleeding from the political rancor? Have you no heart?

But your mind is full.  Your body is tired.  You feel terrible for injustice but you also have to make three dozen cookies by tomorrow that look like reindeer.

So we pile on more.  Maybe you sign up for a petition or join an activist group.  You pay for the car behind you in the fast food line.  You volunteer at the food bank and help at school and care for the elderly and read to kids in an underperforming school.  GIVE GIVE GIVE and PUSH PUSH PUSH until you are nothing but a sad sopping mess. Mostly drinking wine with lots of hair tangles.

This is the devil’s work, this feeling of never being good enough.

The guilt and shame for not doing more is simply covering us.  These feelings are soaking into our character and increasing our insecurities.  We run harder and sleep less and try to earn our worth. How dare you, you petulant privileged white woman with your blond hair and your healthy children.  How dare you act as if you have problems when the world around you is crumbling.

I hear it.  Can you? The neighbors of guilt and shame are at your white picket fence with signs.  The words on their signs parade through your dreams. You spoiled little fool.

So I sat in my front room by the window.  I was thinking about all the stress points, the areas that cause me to cry out.  And the pain began to drip from my water-soaked days.  The concept of blending a family and the rough and tumble world of not always being liked.  Disagreeing on parenting decisions but realizing that they aren’t always mine to discipline. Moving from a home I have always loved. Not seeing my children for Christmas. Pressures at work. The need to have traditions as if my children’s lives depended on them. The forever untidy house I can’t seem to manage as a single mother trying to do it all.

The Prophet Elijah heard God call to him to go before King Ahab and bring a message of warning and repentance. And yet God did not reveal himself to Elijah in splendor.  “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 King 19:11.  It was then Elijah heard the Lord’s voice – in a whisper, not a storm.

We all have mismatched days.  When you wake up ten minutes late and run out of coffee and forget the dishwashing soap when you were just at the store. My therapist used to say we have margins for times like this, like the space between profits and losses, small absorptions of annoyances that disrupt our usual life balance.  And yet we have absorbed so much that we are like sponges full.  We keep sweeping around the same dirty mess because we have no more to give.  We cannot listen to the small still voices around us.  We cannot cry out for the victims of great tragedy in times when our own head is spinning.

I do not believe God wants all this terror and evil to happen on earth.  I firmly believe that God is a refuge from us, to save us from this place where do we do not fully belong and where evil has taken over.  And yet we also cannot let the weeds grow around us and choke out truth, love, and peace.

This holiday season, try to find a moment to listen.  To be quiet and know that through all the busy, there is something greater than you at work.  And pray to be vigilant to that call, whatever it might be, however you need to eliminate the noise and weeds around you to accomplish it.  Despite the messy house and the odd number of Christmas gifts and the fact that your kids ate seven oreos, put your children or cats or books in your lap.  Squeeze out the water.  Let the sun evaporate the guilt. Let the Father’s unfailing love shine upon you like a great star.  Take comfort that you are deeply, truly loved.

You are a beautiful person.  Take a moment to simply be thankful for the life you have. The freedoms you have been given, the very ability to sit in a warm place, the fact that your ears and eyes and heart works.

The best French toast is crispy around the edges and soft in the middle because heat is applied.  My lovely people, I know you feel the heat in this life.  Let it enrich you, not ruin you.

Stop, listen, and feel the joy come back through.

photo:

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