Let love prevail over religion


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


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.



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The closet years



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


  • 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.




A summer poem


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.

On being happy



. . .showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment, favored by luck or fortune (“happy coincidence); notably fitting, effective, or well adapted (“happy choice”); enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment (“happy childhood”); expressing, reflecting, or suggestive of happiness (“happy ending”); glad/pleased (“happy to meet you”); or having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship.

As far as I can tell, life’s not designed to make us happy. There is no promise that if we hold all the right cards and marry the right fellow and have the right number of babies and eat enough kale, happiness will follow. Is anyone actually happy eating kale? We should instead all eat dark chocolate salted caramels, except those make our blood sugar spike and food can be our comfort which leads to weight gain and depression. Maybe Gwyneth is right and kale is better.

Oh, please.

But somehow there is this myth floating around – it starts about high school – that one should do whatever it is that makes one happy. Like if theatre gives us wings we should move to California and live on stale pita bread, slumping around drinking bad coffee with wispy hair in audition lines. Or if writing is our passion we should quit our long, boring, corporate day jobs (so we can pay our mortgages) and write. Life bold. Live free. Love who you want and do what you want and smoke what you want.

Be happy.

But that lesson doesn’t always pan out. We turn around one random Monday when we are 40 wearing ill-fitting jeans trying to find the teacher who said it to us years ago, like “Wait! That’s not what you promised!” But there’s no one there: just a trail of smoke in the distance behind. We have lingering pain that we can’t seem to numb with narcotics. We have jobs with bosses. We have toilets that break over Thanksgiving and enchiladas that taste like cardboard and spouses with drinking problems and tumors that sprout up out of nowhere and end up lodged in our cortex. What once gave us great joy is now a burden. What was once a dream is now crushed, and we all feel like failures with raging sinus infections.

Because sometimes, life is not at all happy. Our fairy godmother has a case of rheumatoid arthritis.

So we roll up our sleeves and seek answers where we can – our pastors and friends, leaders and teachers – and compare the reality of our situation to some ethereal and unrealistic fairness standard the world sets. After all – THEY are happy. You know, those people. Celebrities with waistlines. Mothers in carpool. Men wearing suits. Oprah. They live a full life and have a Range Rover with tan leather interior.  They have spotless kitchens and blond grandkids with smocked dresses. Why can’t I? How can I get what they’ve got? Why do they get that life and I get this one?

How the hell should I know. For dinner tonight my kids ate macaroni and canned peaches.

What I DO know is that the most interesting and fascinating people are those who have been through many trials. Who have learned that struggle is not just a necessary part of life, but a valuable part. They see deeper, beyond the current reality.  And these fighters roll up their sleeves, look at their tattered lives full of holes and damage and failed relationships and past mistakes and 1980’s coca-cola t-shirts, and think “Well, hell.  I can teach yoga.  I can start a school. I can instill in these kids a sense of wonder. I can bake cakes. I CAN GIVE WHAT I CAN IN THIS TINY SMALL SPACE WHERE I’M PLANTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”

They aren’t actually shouting, despite the all caps. But in essence they are. Shouting to the teachers that they were all bald-faced liars. Shouting to God that sometimes life hurts. Shouting to their student loans and their dislocated marriages.  The most interesting and blessed people have very little to give, and it’s not fair that whats-his-nuts got a promotion when they did all the work.  But they are hell-bent to keep on keeping on, pressing on, marching on, regardless.

Amen to you brave warriors. Applaud your own courage, and strength, and will. Your bold, bad-ass spirit is not unrecognized.

So on one leg or one eye or one bruised heart, rebound. Go teach yoga and start schools and raise kids and bake. Raise up those kids and march toward that job and smile when it’s hard. Then vow to give up Diet Coke or start running or keep your closet neater. And small things build to bigger things, and before long you’ll be volunteering at the animal shelter or finding a dollar a week for someone else and laughing, of all the nutty things. And out of nowhere like a wellspring rising there is an amazing amount of joy to be found in the surviving. In the community of people who walk alongside. In a God who teaches us to serve, and dig down deep.  After all, we are more than our circumstances.

We are standing inside of a brilliant, amazing life that we have weathered.

Be that. The person who survives. Who laughs. Who is grateful for the hard. Ask God to help you find the brightness even in the failures, so that you can look back and weave it into your patchwork. And in the end, I hope you say with a shocked expression that you actually found happiness. The true kind that survives and doesn’t wilt. That perseveres through the drought. The one that rises up strong and bears fruit.

The kind of happy that matters.





In remembrance



Fourteen years ago. It seems like yesterday. I remember the moment the doctor said for me to call my husband to help brace the fall of the news. News that didn’t seem real. News that seemed like a cartoon anvil on a coyote. My husband was just a law student at the time with his hat on low wearing those wrinkly khaki shorts I was always ribbing him about to throw away. “He’s in class,” I pressed. I sat in a haze wondering when he would arrive. But in this moment time was just a clock spinning and it meant nothing as I sat staring at the beard of the doctor talking. I couldn’t hear the words. I couldn’t process the thought of melanoma spreading, crushing, drowning out my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of a life barren, without fruit, without children or a legacy or a career, and I thought of my eye ripped out with a hole left instead, dangling. I asked for a tissue, but when it hit my fingers I let it fall.

Falling was familiar. I watched this shirt fall like a feather to the ground as the x-rays and the CTs and the machines purred like kittens to be petted. “It’s gonna be okay honey,” those nurses said. But they get to go home to their casseroles and their television shows and their veins that don’t carry poison. What do they know of life. I could barely pick it up and thrust my arms through the holes.

I remember the falling of tears, the high of the medicine falling away, and the pain that surged like knives. I remember always falling back into things – pity, depression, doubt, fear. And then I remember falling into the arms of my people, who delivered pasta and held me at night, and falling so hard into prayer that we formed a communion, God and I, just sitting there in some form of space talking.

So I wear this shirt now to remember.  A shirt my grandmother cast out of the closet because it was too small.  I threw it on one morning in April 2001 not realizing that I’d be wearing it on this day for the next 14 years. I didn’t realize the rest of my life would be a cocktail of unknowing, but also blessings and tender mercies.  There have been a litany of falls. It seems as if I’m always documenting the going down and the rising. I wrote this years ago, and it still applies:

“God doesn’t do surplus. He won’t accept lukewarm, or dependence when it’s easy, or prayers only on Sundays.  He doesn’t believe all religions are created equal or we can just slide by unnoticed or half-ass our way to salvation by putting ourselves first. We have to let it all go.  Not because our palms are sweaty and we just can’t hold on any longer, but because we want to.  And friends, there is joy in submission.  Joy that envelops fear, and pain, and deep, dark wounds.  Joy that frees us from the beating and torture and darkness that penetrates.  It’s in these moments where you have nothing else to hold onto but God himself. A smile starts to crack, and then it widens, and joy enters in.”

Today after pancakes, I told my children the story of my many surgeries, and they listened perched on the couch like an active audience. They especially like the cataract removal one that I did without anesthesia. I have lots of stories, for life is a collection of picking up again, of gathering and releasing, of falling and surrendering. During these past 14 years I have truly lived a full life. Life full of grace and purpose, laughter and joy, new beginnings. So I wear this shirt again and smile, since it’s a reminder of how far one can go in the midst of a decade. It reminds me of my grandmother, who has now passed.  Of my children, who were birthed into this imperfect world. Today I’m taking them to Cabela’s to look at the animals, and we might take a detour for milkshakes. I’m wearing shorts since it’s warm out, and the sun is casting a glow on the rain-soaked leaves. Surely He says to us that our hearts can be rendered pure, and I believe it. Things change, and hope can begin to sprout again.

Despite what you are falling into, there is always the getting up again. Today I’m standing tall and bearing it, because I know nothing will cause us to fall forever.  It’s always just a wave of down before the up. A maturity in knowing that the sun will rise.  That years will peel away and yet life will begin anew.  But it’s always wise to remember the past, and be forever and eternally grateful for the scars that mold us.

I close my eyes for a moment in remembrance, even the eye that is battered and radiation-damaged and weak, propped up with stilts.  And then I open them.  Because there’s always the opening, and the surviving, and rising again.





Create your own story


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

But honestly, what do I really know of life?

A few things. I sat in bed and sobbed at the throbbing ache of my head after a week of radiation, wondering if this melanoma tumor would kill me. Wondering if I’d ever be a mother or have a retirement party or if I’d have my eye ripped out like a freak with a patch. My forehead was sweating during an eight-hour law school final at the University of Texas library, writing so furiously my hand cramped as I thought how I’d possibly pass and if I’d ever make it out and whether I’d be stuck as some government lawyer for the rest of my life. And I remember taking shots of tequila in the big mass of New York and walking around in tottering heels with the world spinning and wondering why things were going in circles. And I saw a baby that was never supposed to be that grew inside of my abdomen for nine long months rising out of me like an angel and the cries were so intense I couldn’t even cry them on the outside. My heart could barely take the happy.

And then there was moment I found out my 14-year-marriage was nothing but bones and dust and I found myself curled up in a closet, my mother begging me to eat toast since I seem to have forgotten to eat in a number of days. And then there’s the moment I saw my own face on national television, with a professional headshot and a production team that sucked in millions and I thought “how did I get to this strange place of temporary fame?” And of course, the moment I was face-to-face with a CEO telling him a certain thing couldn’t be done and withstanding the yelling and drafting that complicated legal opinion, thinking all I ever wanted was to just stay home and garden. And don’t get me started about the three-hour time-out battle with a four-year-old.

So I know a thing or two about life. And if I could say anything about it to an alien, or an eighteen-year-old, which is basically the same thing, I would say that life is a collection of interesting stories. Stories you repeat to yourself when you’re old. Many of these stories you can’t control. They just blow up like a West Texas dust storm in the west, heading your way whether you want them there or not, and you have to navigate the fallout. And since there is so much you can’t control, you have to make a concentrated effort to balance them with stories you can.

Go make good stories. I don’t mean save up your money and head to Disney Land. I don’t mean swoop up the kids and take them to the Olive Garden for dinner. I mean sit down with a blank piece of paper and think about what your gifts really are – the things that only you have that no one else can do quite like you. The things that are innate in your soul that God has placed there to better the world. Think of how to improve these things and maximize these things and go kick some ass doing these particular things. Whether it’s taking karate or traveling to India, live out these great big stories.

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

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

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





The Dark of Thursday


I trudged upstairs after putting my children to bed to write because I know what this night means and somehow I needed to address it.  This morning on the way to work I cried, not for Jesus but for my own weaknesses and insecurities, because at times I feel so fallible and small.

I had such a long day in heels, crafting language that passed muster under federal regulations and dictating to my paralegal the content of an agenda for a meeting in an hour. I ran around like a hamster on a wheel preparing and meeting and writing and drafting. I nibbled on salad and tapped messages into my bright shiny phone and answered emails as fast as they fired.

I sighed as my children refused to eat the dinner I set before them. And tonight when my daughter failed to listen when I told her to get out of the tub I yelled, my sharp knife-words cut as I scolded her to be respectful and pay attention.  Her heart was hurt and she sulked away.  But it felt good to yell, to demand respect. To show that I have some authority in this home.

I am also so painfully aware of how I started many of the previous sentences with I.  Because that’s the world we live in, self-focused and ego-driven.

Yet it’s the night before the dawn. When Jesus begged his closest friends to stay awake while he prayed a prayer so earnest blood likely drained from his tired eyes. The type of tired that is beyond exhausted, where you can barely move and yet you can’t stop praying because life is ripped out from underneath you and it’s all so damn hard. The thought of a slow agonizing death is simply too much for one to bear.

And yet these friends of Jesus, they walked so far. It was dark and it was late and it was Passover. The glasses of wine made them all tired. “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” he said to Peter as he sat sleeping – probably slumped over – because what-are-ya-gonna-do with all that wine. I can see it, Jesus shaking his head, like “I try to teach you fellas and every time I turn around you’re all missing it.” I’m sure my pastor feels that way most of the time with his flock, just a bunch of rich middle-class slackers.

“Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation,” Jesus said to Peter. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jesus said this to the man who swore to never leave, or abandon, or betray.

But he did, three times before the dawn.

I mean to be kind and patient. I really honestly do. I want to get down on the level of my children’s eyes and talk peacefully about respect and consequences. I have chore charts that go unattended and morning routines that are half-followed. But what the hell with this guy who thinks he owns the road in rush hour and why is the dog barking again when I already fed him and DON’T THE KIDS SEE HOW HARD I’M WORKING AND IT IS ALL FOR THEM.

The spirit, it’s all charged up. On Sundays I hold palm branches and sing hymns and fist-bump online about pretty things. On facebook I put my best family pictures forward. On Easter I shall wear blue and sing Messiah. But oh, the flesh. It is ripped and torn by Thursday, when things grow dark and our pasts tickle our hearts and we are filled with passive aggressive rage. So we yell and sulk and it feels pretty damn good. For now we’ll just close our eyes for a bit and rest.

Tonight after I thought the kids were asleep, I heard my daughter’s voice. Small and beautiful, it called my name like a song as she lay there under her purple coverlet. The one with flowers and little lacy stripes. She couldn’t sleep, and I curled up next to her and encircled my legs in hers. I put my face next to her damp hair that I had braided into two delicate braids. And I cried, my tears so close to the body that came from me, out of me, a part of me. I said I was so sorry that I yelled, that I am so far from perfect. Sometimes we don’t act the way we tell others to act. And I asked her forgiveness. “No one is perfect,” she said in that elegant little eight-year-old way.

I am filled with such sorrow, Jesus, for falling asleep. How can you ever possibly forgive me when I’m so selfish and unworthy? For thinking you can wait until tomorrow, because of the wine and the meal and the business of life that sort-of interferes?

So I trudge upstairs, even though it’s been a long day and I yelled at my daughter in the bathtub and my childrens’ plates of ham and potatoes are half-eaten on the table. But I needed to document this succession of days filled with grief when the veil was torn. When heaven wept. When our Lord was tortured, and bled, and cried out to a father who surely hadn’t forsaken him.

Easter is coming. I know this because I’ve read the book jacket. Because my daughter has already forgiven me for the yelling. Because if my love for her is a tiny indication of the love our Father feels, I am protected beyond measure.   But this is a hard night.  It is a dark Thursday. A night of our own failures. A night when we betray even the one who loves us, because it’s human nature.  Because no one is perfect.  Because we need Christ more than we need the virtues of this world.

Stay awake, friends. As hard as you can, pry your eyes open wide. The Easter son will soon rise. 


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Odd and Curious Thoughts [about working mothers]


  • Let’s hear it for Thursday mornings when you look in the refrigerator and realize that you don’t have anything for the kids’ lunches so you pack them a half a quart of almost-turned strawberries and leftover pasta in oversized Tupperware. While you awesome mommas are out there pinteresting and lovingly hand-packing turkey roll-ups with love notes, I’m like sweet! We have frozen burritos! That will get them through Friday!
  • Some people say sitting in rush-hour traffic is a time to pray, or listen to music, or talk to friends. Those people are wrong. It’s a daily exercise in patience as I white-knuckle it for an hour in a sea of taillights.
  • Working full time means sometimes your kids are almost late to school, or you forget things, or you push them in front of television shows in order to jump on conference calls, or say things like “mommy’s really stressed out today because of an acquisition that almost tanked and millions were at stake and HOW ABOUT WE NOT WHINE ABOUT THE FACT THAT WE ONLY HAVE PEANUT FLAVORED GRANOLA BARS. I mean something similar to this. Not really THIS, naturally. The nerve.
  • CPS can’t be called for yelling about putting on shoes, right? I mean hypothetically if there’s a chronic not-putting-on-shoes problem and said yelling can be heard in the general neighborhood? Asking for a friend.
  • My daughter’s like “no one else has to eat cheese sandwiches for lunch.” Suck it up, kid. Later in life there’s traffic and leaking oil filters and navigating complex relationships. This is minor.
  • Dinner used to be a fun time where we all gathered around a protein and two vegetables. Now it’s a mad rush to put noodles and carrots on a plate before 7 pm and I’m still in heels and we pray and eat and clean up and bathe. When I actually cook a real meal, where I actually marinate and braise and roast and serve things, the kids frown. “What? No carrots?”
  • Yesterday one kid got leftover pork roast, biscuits with jelly, and grapes for lunch. I fail to see the problem.
  • Every morning, I stare at a woman in the mirror with dark circles and hair that looks like it was shocked with electrical outlets. One voice inside of me says “Give in, hon. Just throw on a baggy dress and ponytail it.” But another voice, much more faint, says “Girl, you know you’ll regret that decision by 2 pm. So go ahead and bust out the concealer, make more coffee, wear those black strappy heels, and curl through the tangles. I taught you better than this. You go rock this thing called morning.” I rather hate that voice. I snarl at it as I dab on concealer and buckle my shoes.
  • Sometimes I have dreams of taking my kids to school in pajamas, driving to Starbucks at 10 am, or making brownies for no reason in the afternoons. My non-working mom friends tell me it’s not that glamorous, and if you’re home all day there’s laundry to accomplish, and they dream of going out to fancy lunches at restaurants and having adults to talk to and problems to resolve that don’t smell like poo. So I guess we all just want what we don’t have. In that case I’ll settle for where I’m at, and occasionally take vacation days whereby I can make brownies. Maybe they’ll land in lunches and I’ll be a hero.
  • But no matter how bad or hectic my work day is, the moment I see my children’s glorious faces it all fades away into dust, and I am back to just being a mother again, not a lawyer or problem solver or manager or angry traffic-sitter. I’m just filled with the awe of how much I love them, and this life, and the beauty found within it. Puffy eyes, cheese sandwiches, tangled hair, and carrots. It’s all wrapped up into this one tiny breath of life, and I’m so very grateful for it.




“Please stop bothering me while I take half an hour to write this blog post of how much I love you guys,” I snap. “Seriously. It’s like I never have one single moment to myself. What? Why are you yelling? You want to eat a dried packet of oatmeal and some frozen grapes? You are angry because your brother tore off a Barbie head? You can’t find your yellow folder? You took a bath yesterday and don’t see why you need to take one again tonight? I don’t want to listen to your whiny voice. No, you cannot have a another bar because you’re starving to death. Just give me FIVE MINUTES.”

Yes, yes.  Even this. Someday we’ll look back and wish we could do it all over again.