God Is Not Impressed with Us

2937639265_8ab19dcc1d_zThere are times I have no funny lines.

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

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

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

Maybe God will see how strong I’ve become.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo

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The Intersection of humor and faith

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I wonder if Jesus would have liked Gaffigan. In my non-preacher, simple person’s viewpoint, anything that honors others, doesn’t tear people down, helps bridge gaps, makes hard things easier, and brings joy, is worthy and life-giving. And Jesus was all about giving life.

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

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

“I said LEADERSHIP,” she said.

“Oh, right.” I said. “Yeah that’s way better. Don’t talk about that horrible other thing. Let’s not mention that other thing ever again.” And then I stared at my toes for a while.

I don’t know if I’ll be invited back.

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

I was asked to speak a few months ago at a women’s retreat on the topic of humor. I wanted to somehow express the odd dynamic I saw between humor and religion. The friends of mine that make me laugh out loud are not at all religious and seem to tolerate my faith like I have a wart or crooked teeth. The poor girl can’t help herself. One friend of mine even said “we are probably more aligned than you think about God.” We had been sitting around drinking wine, laughing about our memories of growing up at church and how the two of us had once snuck off at a church social and made out in the Bible-filled library. “You’re an atheist,” I said. “So probably not that close.” He just shrugged.

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

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

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

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

We so desperately need it to stay afloat.

photo:

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

Hindsight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo:

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Odd and Curious Thoughts about the Holidays

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  • Most people who know me recognize my neurosis about house décor. I like browns and creams and whites and I basically would live inside a restoration hardware magazine if I could squeeze myself inside of it. So imagine my sheer delight when my mother makes stockings for my children covered in snowmen and santas with more sequins than a Vegas showgirl. Now the kids want to display the wretched things. Which I allow, only because “it’s the season of giving” and “it’s all about the children.” But I’m slowly dying inside. The birth of Jesus does not translate to green sequins. It does not.
  • My daughter is hosting a History of Tea party whereby she is doing a lesson for all the guests on the influence of tea around the world and in various cultures, and when I told another mom about it she was like “my daughter’s not really into tea.” People are weird. Who isn’t into tea? I told her to just “pick a chai and come anyway” but she looked at me like folks round here in Texas don’t throw culturally-themed parties involving spices. Then I told my yoga friend and she was like “that’s awesome we’ll bring along china from my grandmother as a special surprise (and how will we choose the tea?)” and this is how I know who my friends are.
  • I bought an Advent calendar so the kids would have something to look forward to every day leading to Christmas but kept forgetting to buy little gifts for it so I ended up ripping open Halloween candy packages and stuffing M&M’s inside the little slots and my daughter was like “you have got to be kidding me.”
  • I am purchasing a handmade gift off etsy and I’ve been communicating with someone named Armen with a last name longer than my shoe size who tells me “Hi here is link for payment” when I emailed him regarding dimensions and I’m wondering if I’m actually buying a bomb and I’m on the FBI watch list now and all this time I thought it was just an engraved wooden box.
  • Somehow in a strange twist of mistakes I ended up being the chairperson of both my son and daughter’s Christmas parties and I’m put in the hard position of choosing a favorite child. Or at least that’s the way their eyes looked when I told them. Then my daughter said “no problem you can just set up a big screen and video chat with us in the classroom” which is kinda brilliant. Except she goes to a classical school where they study roman history and medieval architecture and don’t have any computers.
  • “But the burlap stockings with the little spring of holly leaf is so much prettier!” I say. No one listens. They want to know if they can put up COLORED LIGHTS . They must hate me and wish me dead. It must have been all those times I made them eat Brussels sprouts.
  • Speaking of food, I roasted acorn squash with dinner and in the middle of every squash was pooled up liquid gold with all that melting of the of butter and maple syrup and brown sugar but my kids wouldn’t touch it. Because BROWN SUGAR bleugh and SYRUP disgusting and BUTTER gross and squash that ends up tasting like HEAVEN yuck and then after dinner they wanted to know if they could have a cheap store-bought cookie for dessert. I worry about the long-term success of their future given their current poor decision-making abilities.
  • Last night I didn’t want to do dishes because I don’t have a spouse and it’s just me so I was all “stick it to the man” and “I can do whatever I want” like Miley Cyrus but then I woke up to all these nasty dirty dishes in the sink so sticking it to myself was dumb. See (7) above and now it all makes perfect sense where they get it from.
  • I may have slightly insulted the elf-on-a-shelf by calling it “an utterly stupid invention; honestly I have enough things to move around my house; whoever invented that damn thing should be given a mental exam; how did that thing catch on to begin with” just to be told by the mom I was talking to outside the school pick-up line that she was “really into it” and set her alarm at night to get up and move the elf around to the various elfish places. So that happened. I decided to smile, nod in an understanding way, and compliment her boots. That’s my default most days.
  • My boyfriend’s daughter spent the night at our house and I was like “would you like some tea?” and she was so excited that we were tea drinkers and I then crossed the line to bring out all the various teas and asked if she wanted some sugar in a British flair and “it’s awfully good with cream” and my internal radar was like TOO MUCH. YOU ARE SCARING HER. IT IS ALL TOO MUCH.
  • So we visited the boyfriend’s family for the Thanksgiving holidays in Pennsylvania, which was lovely except our hotel caught on fire and we were evacuated so all my clothes were stuck back in a suitcase by a firefighter and smelled like molten ash so my boyfriend’s mother ended up washing my unmentionables in her washing machine. Sadly, this is my life and it doesn’t sound all that weird. My girlfriend on facebook was like “well at least your house wasn’t hit by lightning like it was a few years ago.” Now you see why I don’t get rattled when my daughter’s all “Halloween candy in our advent calendar?” Yeppers bell peppers, kiddo. Deal.
  • This year I decided what the heck / give in already / let the kids put up whatever tree they want (upstairs) so they decorated it with glittered pinecones and put a peppermint Christmas tree on the top and they taped extra stockings to my work desk. I told them I thought it was beautiful. Maybe I’m growing up. I think it’s because I eat squash and get loads of sleep and don’t set my alarm to move ridiculous elves around.

Drink some tea. Get some sleep. Glitter it up for the holidays.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/aoifecitywomanchile/4198461986/in/photolist-aU5teR-7p1dtC-8dZqS

Noel

 

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Do you ever think of how small you are? How infinitesimally tiny one human is on this earth, much less on the galaxy and universe and expanse of space, matter thrown and smashed into each other and spinning like plates in the void? In the midst of chaos life is scrambled like eggs and thrown upon the earth. It’s quite possible time might not flow in an even pattern. Dimensions might be fractured or stretched beyond our current comprehension. Dust might not settle.

There is an image of God woven clear through this space, from here to nowhere to everywhere. This God answers prayers for some, perhaps all, maybe just not the way we want to hear or we receive answers we think are stupid. Does he live here? This great unknown? Was there a son of God and son of man? And did he die to be a sacrifice, to be risen from the dry parched earth? How, indeed, can we understand the Almighty? My head hurts and I’m making tacos. I do not know the answers to all these hard questions. Perhaps evidence of my inept servanthood. But who has time for such ethereal nonsense?

But sometimes as I sip my coffee I can’t help but see life as so paper thin. There is a small space between life and death, between pain and contentment, between heaven and hell. A very tiny little space between driving to lunch and being hit by a sixteen-wheeler. That is where we live, in this narrow space. Where we walk our dogs and boil our potatoes and sing nursery rhymes to toddlers.

And in this crack we teeter. The soles of our shoes walk on all the intersections of roads, where weeds pop up and try to choke us. And in the quiet of night we wonder if there is any purpose, if our gifts are fleeting, for two generations ahead we become irrelevant and all our fighting is all one massive battle for our own vanity. In times like this I crave solitude. Sometimes I just want to crumple up my own talents, whatever those even are, and piss all over them.

But far in the distance I see a tiny light, like a star, twinkling. It’s probably an airplane and I need stronger glasses.

It is Christmas again. The season of shiny distractions. And amidst the busy there is a small light that again I see. Even though I look in the mirror and see sags and lines and scars. Despite the feeling of smallness and an abundant crippling fear of not having enough money or time or love. And yet somehow I grow hopeful, like this light is instead a stash of golden ribbons. It makes me smile, and yet I have laundry to do. Tomorrow, I’ll see if it’s faded into the clouds.

One day, I put down my books. I lay down my hairbrush. I simply get up from my chair, the comfortable leather one, and follow this light that still shines for no other reason than sheer curiosity. I wander for months amidst cars crashing into each other and co-workers dying and men who shout Allah and pull strings to blow up their own vests, and I walk over IVs that drip medicine and around boulders that topple upon houses and polluted rivers where dead fish float. And yet there is this star that keeps goading me, leading me, pushing me onward despite my own confusion.

One day I reach it. Despite me walking over all those cracks. Despite the booze and blood and bulging mistakes. Despite the bags under my eyes. Despite being so deeply tired. After a lifetime of walking I stand under this bright burn with my hands to my sides and my hair so light I can’t even feel it. I suppose I might be floating, because all I see is another space, where the heavens have shattered into diamonds and through time and a dozen lifetimes there is only this very small thing, lying in a cave in the sweltering mid-east shadows. My hands reach out, because those eyes are saying I am saved from the wreckage, I am free from slavery, I am fully loved. It’s just a baby. I’m not sure how one life holds so much power.

I lay down flat upon the ground, dust in my face, tears dripping to form mud, because my body just naturally worships that which it is made to worship. How did I live all these lifetimes. How did I not know. How did I doubt God was in the heavens and in this cave, simultaneously.

Come, see what God has done. It’s just me, a shepherd girl. It is me God sees. It is my failures he has come to acknowledge, failures he will very soon die to save. What a gift. What a child, born in the quiet of night.

What a glorious and magnificent noel.

photo:

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Let love prevail over religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all fine by me.

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

And that’s fine by him.

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

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

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

Let your heart be open to this type of love.

 

Waves of wisdom

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I was driving today. Onward toward a job I’m close to ending.  Sighing about the traffic, rubbing my temples, and letting my eyes blur the brake lights. I was thinking how life can be monotonous one moment and then gone the next, like the woman in Virginia with fresh blond roots and a future. As I inched forward on the highway I wondered how I could better cherish these days.

The car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read “WHY CAN’T YOU USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL.” And I thought how insanely helpful this was to point out.  Perhaps we needed more such chastising signs in various places to help us as a society. Grocery stores could post signs that read “Why can’t you eat more (bleeping) spinach” and the hotels could say “Why can’t you use the towel more than one time” and bars could say “Why can’t you see that this guy you’re about to go home with has an overbite, an abundance of back hair, and smells like three-day-old cigs? IT IS A BAD DECISION: CHOOSE NETFLIX INSTEAD.” I feel like we should all be open to such wisdom. Then I passed him without using my turn signal.

I was creating today. Covering a folder with duct-tape flowers and watching my daughter write a heart-shaped note with butterfly words that fluttered atop the page. It feels good after a long day to let your brain make flowers and draft words that sing and have arrows pointing toward polka-dots. Because our lives are created in His image. They are so intricate and elegant.

This morning, some sort of bug the size of a hummingbird flew right at me like a bug demon. It buzzed and screeched like it wanted to nest in my nose hairs. I screamed and jumped, dropping toast jelly-down on the front porch. And I batted at the air for a good five minutes, like “Come back you little coward. I WILL FINISH YOU.” But we all know that’s a lie because if he buzzed around me again I’d just scream and run. I headed inside to get more coffee, because maybe if I was just a bit more jittery it wouldn’t have been such a drastic shock to face such a brisk morning bout of anxiety. And during the duct-tape creation project my son decided the best use of the stuff was to rip it off and cover parts of my body with it, like my mouth and my legs and finally I stopped him so he wouldn’t bind and gag me and then who would make dinner? Who would have to help with bath? Who would. . . wait. Why was this a problem?

I was eating today. Laughing and folding lettuce leaves with my fork. Hoping I wouldn’t be the last one. Picking up the check. Feeling the smooth blue cheese in my mouth.

I was complaining about how folks these days don’t work as hard as they used to, our new generation’s annoying entitlement attitude. I mean, I had to work really hard growing up. The guy I was eating with was like “I know what you mean. When I was in Afghanistan on my second tour the men kept complaining of how f*#king hot it was, like we all weren’t in the same f*#king tank missing our families and watching for terrorists” and I was all “Okay I was going to talk about how I had to decorate all those cakes in high school for the Fall church festival but you win.”

I was praying today. More like hanging my head, since the shame of my foul mouth and my disobedience and my lack of trust hung like skunk stench through the windows. I always reach out to God in the aching times, the times when life pounds down like a hammer. But in the everyday I grow lukewarm, like I don’t need help and don’t need grace and don’t need one single thing but morning coffee. And I feel like God must be shaking his head at me, like a child who never learns.

God, please forgive me when my dependence wanes. When my concentration falls to empty laughter. In the hard times I’m a model citizen, prayerful and obedient. But in the happier times I feel kinda bad for all the Amy Schumer I’m watching.

But I swear I’m grateful.

Grateful for the way leather smells against my nose. Grateful when my son giggles and throws back his beautiful head. Grateful for my girl who said she wanted a clump of hair to fall down because that’s the way she likes it. The cool smooth of ice cream on my tongue. The moment the kids run to me as I see them. Mornings on the front porch before they both rise.

I am so thankful for my life that it chokes me up sometimes, sitting there in traffic or on my daughter’s floor or at a business lunch. Sometimes I think that might be all I can do, just being thankful. Life goes up and down, up and down, crashing and building up again.  In the building up we are again preparing for the falling down. The glorious and guttural, screaming and laughing.

Thank you, Lord, for the strange and beautiful waves.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2797812368/in/photolist-5gew9h-dqEfi5-oLqrq1-annN68-prUxkt-85YSK-9p7UgZ-9pnGzJ-bmSa2R-ptimwV-xpjxHU-hniRn2-73vNGR-5Yiy99-xqPCBg-5CxmQg-bia714-8QfRNb-bLtBTr-akfTKx-94jTF2-oLCXbe-9rwouW-e5cnRy-cSaLoq-7HjfgN-6U7CXH-aoeSB6-N7Ewp-9pbfqf-p2Jgo4-pZhcWA-9po4JG-9pbnbj-8mE5ag-79Ashi-gk3w6-6cvZrk-C7zwb-qCSkeP-6afpWn-n7x7H-mfLvU-qpLRZs-5B83cp-bnrfFW-gKAyYK-9pjJA8-413jL-9Ndj98

The closet years

 

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I got a text today from a girlfriend who is going through a divorce. That always sounds so casual. Unfortunate. Like a urinary tract infection or a flat tire.

Who I really heard from was a woman who’s heart aches so deeply that it itches deep within. And yet it’s something she can’t scratch – something she can’t quite get to, and she wants to claw her arms off. How could she not have seen this coming? How could she been so foolish? She screams into a pillow, sitting alone in the closet so that her children won’t hear. She sobs out all the empty, and all the fucking ugly, and yells at God for doing this to her after all the years of being faithful. And the poor fragile thing takes wedding photos – the natural ones by the tree and not the staged one by the lame prom photographer – and tucks them inside of her arms like an aborted life. Over and over she stares until they become damp from the tears dripping down, and she finally tears them, ever so slightly, until she begins to furiously rip the tiny pieces until they are confetti, letting the pieces fall down like snowflakes by the flip flops and fancy silver heels. Like rapids she allows herself to ride over the last two decades, all the rocks and the twists, the babies and hospital rooms and beach vacations. And she doesn’t rise until her tears stain up her face and her head is aching and her child is calling from the next room. “I’m coming, baby. Momma’s coming.”

Or maybe that was just me, then.

“Tell me it gets better,” she said, reaching her hands out for a steady place. For a railing to hold. For a way to scratch that damn itch. No one understands the pain of a life ripping apart, like flesh tearing into two jagged halves, unless you’ve been there. Unless you’ve stared at the face of your three-year-old child and realized that from then on it’s brokenness and every-other-Christmas and Daddy and Mommy just can’t be married any longer, for reasons you’re too young to understand. Regardless of who’s at fault, you both feel like failures.

So I told her that yes, it will get better. It will be better in ways you never imagined. Better in the sense that you own your own future, and you can run your house however you damn well please. You can let your children stay up and eat peach pie at 10 pm and tape pinterest quotes all over the bathroom mirror. You have two closets and can buy impractical shoes and have the luxury to go out and earn a living for your family that no one can take away from you. And then out of nowhere you’re eating buttered bread in Paris and driving across the Northeast toward the yellow gold sky and kissing an eagle-scout-turned-nuclear-engineer who peddled four thousand miles across the country on his bicycle just for fun. And in this man you’ll find a partnership that is better than anything you knew before, and when hard times come he listens, and wants to work through it. You’ll find yourself all tingly and excited, wearing sky-high heels in a comedy club in Los Angeles, lucky as hell.

But honey, it’s not about finding another man. It’s about finding YOU. The amazing and beautiful you that got lost somewhere amidst all the babies and Thanksgiving turkeys and years of cooking cheese pizza. It’s about trusting that God hasn’t abandoned you in a dark place. It’s just a hard time that you’ll get through (with enough girlfriends, wine, and Xanax prescriptions).

It doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come fast. It takes sobbing in the closets and lots of horrible lonely nights and unfortunate drunk texting. Because ripping is a slow and painful process, and admitting your own failures takes maturity, and it takes a hell of a long time for the scabs to turn to scars until eventually someone casually asks “what happened there?” at a cocktail party. And even years later, memories are triggered and you get angry, for so many hurts can’t be easily undone.

I sent her a picture of me in Paris.  I was feeling like my heart might explode. Feeling like I couldn’t get any happier. Actually feeling, after so long of being numb. And I reminded her that Joseph sat in prison for years without any causation behind it, so God could create a space for him to soar.

To you in the closet, take comfort. God’s creating that place. Where you can breathe again. Where you can feel again. There’s a future out there that is full of promise, where you can sleep late and fly eight hours to anywhere and say to your children someday with confidence that you did your very best and made it out alive.

My therapist once told me I wasn’t going to get a consolation prize. Someone else’s leftovers. A used-up life. It will be a life that is brilliant. Hopeful. Fully restored like a 1950’s Thunderbird. He was right. God was right. I turn right to leave my home every day, with two beautiful and healthy children, off to school and off to the library and off to work. Off toward the future that was waiting for me, despite those long closet years.

My Top Ten Pieces of Parenting Advice

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  • I know all this free-range business is giving you new parents something to stress about, because your instinct is to hold up your precious William’s little bottom on the playscape so he doesn’t fall and free-rangers are all “let-him rip! Skin up those knees! You’re a nerdball-helicopter-control-freak if you watch your child run across the field!” Whatever, ladies. Chill the heck out and watch him as long as it feels comfortable.
  • Over the weekend our neighbors had a party and my children felt like swimming at 7 pm. They begged to return home for swimsuits. Naturally, I said no because I am a responsible parent. Thus, I continued to visit with grown-ups and ate more barbeque tacos. I then saw my children giggling and gathering up more children like they were ring leaders of a pre-school prison gang and they all decided to enter the hot tub in mass in their FULL ON CLOTHING. I stood looking at them like “Well, I could intervene, but I’m sitting here eating tacos.” So strike that on free range. It’s really quite lovely. Embrace disobedience in the name of creative exploration.
  • The other day my son had his 5th birthday party and another mom was like “this is the very first time my son has ever had soda in a can.” I sat there stunned, like “Seriously? The very first time? And this monumental event occurred at my house?” She spent five long years pushing watered-down fruit juice and all of a sudden here’s soda. I didn’t know if I should be proud of her or humiliated that I was letting kids slurp on Country Time Lite. It even had fake sugar, which means all these kids will get cancer and it’s on my head. OMG what have I done. But then I told myself to relax. We hardly ever drink these things. Curb the comparisons. Remember this if you want to have a Dora-the-Exploror party and Pinterest would scoff at your lack of creativity or absence of milk bottles with paper straws or you serve oreo’s instead of peppers with hummus. It’s fine. Little Mackenzie doesn’t even like peppers.
  • It’s raining and flooding here like the days of Noah so my children have had a ball with the cardboard house I let them make in the living room. Which is cool for a day but then the requests are like “can we eat our fried eggs in the little house?” and “can we sleep in the little house?” and “can we make furniture for this stupid little house and haul in all the leftover cans and milk cartons to the complete exhaustion of your sanity?” Kids, unless this little house comes with a housekeeper it’s being torn down on Sunday afternoon.   Then they cry and say you’re a horrible mother and how can they possibly live without this house/fort stuck together with duct tape filled with egg cartons. I’m not sure what advice I have for you on matters like this except that tomorrow they’ll move on to something else, so bake brownies.
  • There’s loads of guilt for not volunteering at school. Stop it with the guilt. I’m working full time so I usually volunteer for things like “napkins” and “games at the holiday party” and leave the lunch helpers to other mothers who really want to sit there with 20 or so loud children. And when I forget to bring snacks I’m that mom that shows up with a bag of carrots and a bottle of dressing, which shows my obvious effort, and when I forget my son’s blanket or pillow I’m like “somehow figure this out, people/surely you guys have a beach towel around this place that will work.” Now this might seem cruel to you, but from one mother to another I’m telling you your kid doesn’t mind eating carrots on a napkin or covering up for one stinking day with a towel. And if he or she minds, you have bigger problems. Come to my house and I’ll give them a soda.
  • Eating vegetables is an age-old battle. They have magical stomachs that can’t possibly stuff down one more green bean and yet there’s a reservoir for ice cream that never overflows. My suggestion is to simply tell them they have to eat their vegetables or no dessert, no matter the fact that sautéed spinach makes them gag or roasted beets taste like the bottom of a shoe or they’d rather starve until September than eat one more asparagus. You simply must never give in or show any emotion and treat dessert like an ex-boyfriend you don’t even give any second of thought to anymore. Then when they get smart and say “well I don’t want that stupid strawberry ice cream anyhow” you can bribe them with leftover Halloween candy. I’ve also heard statements like “EAT THAT STUPID KALE OR I’M TAKING AWAY TV TOMORROW FOR THE LOVE YOU ARE DRIVING ME MAD” may work on a pinch if you’re on your way to basketball practice in ten minutes.
  • Let’s discuss making beds. I think it’s stupid because we just get back into them in a day’s time so I’m the worst person to give advice in this area. My house always looks like it’s been broken into and the burglars took long naps.
  • I will point out, because I’m feeling like a bad mother making my kid eat vegetables and cover up with towels, that one particular year I didn’t bring carrots for snacks but instead followed a very detailed pinterest design. It involved making pencils for the beginning of the year out of cheese sticks, pieces of pepperoni, and bugle chips. I jubilantly hauled them to school to showcase my amazing mothering and my daughter was like “really mom? Do you have to walk these in?” So the lesson here is Pinterest is stupid and your kids care more about a love note written on a day-old napkin and stuffed in their lunch next to a cheese sandwich.
  • Get them all off devices. It robs them of all creativity and imagination. But then again, your house is a wreck, you have forts and books and roly poly collections and worm farms, so maybe limited device time is better than you becoming an alcoholic. So PBS and Little House on the Prairie only. Maybe a few others. Only once a day, maybe twice. Oh what do I know I’m such a pushover.
  • Honestly I don’t know what advice to give, except that reading to your children is never a waste of time, even when you’re bone tired, and never, ever, ever, withhold love. Love until your arms are sore. Love when they throw things and say they hate you. Love when they leave and say they will never come home. Love until your last dying breath. Love like nothing else has any hope of working, and when you feel all worn out just love some more.

We’ll see if it works out in the end, unmade beds and all.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/7698062@N04/4077647468/in/photolist-7dk1wG-61AfRy-97TGEf-oHxSZc-6iZzjq-aFhbna-aFkZnE-aFhbzc-aFkZpj-aFhbFB-aFhbsP-aFkZD5-aFkZuj-aFhbui-aFhbKc-aFhbPM-aFkZfL-aFkZcu-aFhbHk-aFhbqx-aFkZB3-aFhbAR-9uUjg8-e6yzFf-4pTBV6-4pH7Ma-9aPAv5-8QQhcr-jkKx1g-7oB56E-7RhbNG-9RYtR4-9RYtXt-aM5Xf6-aM5WV4-btSRsf-9TSUfe-5xnkDh-5xhWcR-5xhVhr-5xhWU4-5xnkwq-5xnjBm-5xnjFQ-5xhXeD-5xhVvD-5xnjU7-5xhVor-aM5ZbF-gDPVrB

A summer poem

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I know summer by the zinnias

Good stock like royalty

They rise and spread and showcase

Hearty practical fingers reaching

 

I know summer by red hornets

Hovering like spycraft above the weedy grass

Dark winged superheroes

 

I know summer by girls who read

in living room forts or strewn across couches

Making cookies and singing songs

With words that rhyme

 

I know summer by the way the light hits

The way he saunters by

The way the dog sleeps

The way I lie in bed for hours in the afternoon

basking in the decadence of cardinals.

 

But mostly I know summer by the zinnias

Cut in vases and spread across rooms

When the short term mind fades

they will still be planted

Forever summer, rising tall toward the sky.