The Shelling of Prayers

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Right this very minute, I’m inhaling the smell of garlic and bacon simmering and bobbing amidst the peas I shucked last summer, their little black eyes peering at me from the pot.  All last summer I sat and shelled them, long afternoons while the washing machine swished and my brain pulsed hard with thoughts of change and going back to work and whether I’d ever be happy.  Break off the end, pull the string, run my fingers alongside the edges so the peas tumble out with little joyful pops, and then breathe out slow.

I was about to say that I talked to God in times like these, but that sounds all idealistic and cliché, like I have these spiritual moments in the south when I’m in an apron with an armload of peas and later I go into the garden and cut zinnas and make sun tea.  I do those things, but it’s an inaccurate description of reality.

A more accurate version is that I sat there in a t-shirt while the kids were watching cartoons, tired and half-dazed, in the middle of a divorce and an outbox full of emails expressing my “absolute interest in working for your organization,” wondering why the children always threw clean towels in the laundry when they were used one stinkin time, frustrated that it took an hour to pop out damn little peas that would gather in a ziplock for three days until enough of a harvest could fill a bag for the freezer. There was an apron, but it was stained and wrinkled.

But the thing is, I did talk to God in times like these.  It was more of a guttural cry to a Father with whom I worshipped and loved and yet sometimes didn’t honor and barely understood and I just wasn’t sure how my life would possibly work out.   And yet I began talking to God anyway.  I prayed and spoke and sang and wrote and at times just scowled in a general Godly direction.  Sometimes I wanted to take a bucket of peas and throw them across the French country table toward the back door.  But the more I cried out to Him the more I knew – I knew – from deep down inside my veins that pulsed and kept beat with my living heart, that this amazing love was indeed listening.  That redemption was not just a word we hear in biblical circles, but an action.  That somewhere and somehow, beauty was lurking.  Next season, perhaps.  But in time, it was coming.  I didn’t even feel it, but I wrote it on my chalkboard nonetheless.  Trust Him to keep his promises.  It will come.

Last year was long.  It was dark.  It was filled with forgetfulness and compromise and getting buried deep in thought. Break off the end, pull the string, run your fingers through until the little peas pop. And yet here I am.  The peas smell so good bobbing in the chicken broth, hunks of bacon letting the grease flow into their little green shells.  My mother is so excited to eat them, “fresh from the garden,” she says.  “So exciting.”

My tears are now rather different, for they flow with gratitude for my amazing life, and my beautiful children who bless me.  My daughter walked in moments ago wearing my fedora and scarf, and her blue eyes poured love inside of me in a way that she may never understand.  And my son crawls up next to me and settles, breathing in deep as if we together are stronger than apart.  And I weep actual tears at the glory of my mother, who stays with us and bakes cakes and makes dinosaur caves with my son and sews dresses with ribbons for my daughter and is so unselfish and pure in all her ways.  I have friends who allow me to be stitched forever into their lives, forming a tapestry of us, and I have found a man that is so special I can barely speak of him.

Like each pea I popped out of a shell, my prayers were heard. My God.  You are so holy to love us, and powerful to protect us, and glorious to redeem our broken lives.  I am nothing but a shell left on the floor after the words are spent. But in my small role I will play it well, because in another season there will be a purpose, and there is a greater glory, and in the end it will all make sense.

To those who are struggling, hold fast. God does indeed hear every single breathy prayer you may utter.  And in time His brilliant glory will be revealed, even if it’s in a year, or five, or after this mortal life is shunned.  But like the seasons this too shall pass, and we will someday cry a different kind of tear, and I am living proof that a heart can indeed heal.

Last year I shelled a lot of damn peas.  And today, we shall eat them.  With smiles on our faces, bacon grease running down our chins, butter melting into cornbread.  And we shall laugh, and we will play board games, and water the garden, and I will probably roll my eyes at my mother.  Later I have a date, and will wear high heels, and will feel strangely full.

Redemption.  It smells a lot like bacon. And it’s beautiful.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/localmilk/12356202194/sizes/m/in/photolist-jPSLqS-jPQx7n-jPSTao-9RQRVD-jPSN5J-5J9xe2-b8TWgT-96AdCU-34Hm93-jPRnve-7CgGGT-9fmQLm-iPxc3z-3GcFnC-6JRrkB-mQoq56-6JVwBL-jPSSmj-kqE9J-3jfKvw-6CyuGS-iW4hsi-6BzpV4-8nAdpu-96Gb7j-8FTqLv-jPRpRB-7G9V6P-7dwKXu-e6jf4N-bJEdde-7CsYkZ-6YzfUC-79ndGW-7dwKWE-7CwNNG-8FWLnb-e6jfej-dsjdn-6Yzg4w-fw6jTC-2Pcaoo-9PXqDH-4LTyF-iP5DHL-9Rvbp8-nzL24-8oViNr-mNi5Wt-fgt6-9PXqoc/

Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

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(1) So this past weekend, while eating a salad at Maudies, my date and I see a child vomit at the next table over, the parents not at all outraged or disgusted and simply continue to eat while the waitress cleans up said vomit. The parents handed the kid an ipad and a glass of sprite while we sit and try to carry on a normal conversation.  In the midst of this shocking event, our waitress remembers my side of dressing, which consists of a vat of white creamy substance in a large bowl looking exactly like vomit.  I’m totally disgusted with all humanity and I am swearing off ranch dressing forever.

(2)  In other news, we went out for sushi and laughed with new friends.  It turns out eating raw meat is less gross than a vat of vomit dressing.

(3) In his elder years, my dog has managed to overcome his arthritis in the morning long enough to bark for treats and roam the neighborhood at will without a leash, a stern warning, or any time limit on peeing, apparently.  He has a bladder the size of Wisconsin.

(4) My kids were off visiting grandparents for a solid week so my house has been quiet and I missed their beautiful angelic voices and the singing and yelling and laughing and running.  One night I visited a girlfriend and she was like “OMG I AM SO TIRED OF CHILDREN LET’S LOCK THEM ALL OUTSIDE AND DRINK WINE” and I realized that sometimes a break is lovely. It’s all about perspective.

(5) The kids came back and I was so excited to see them that I made crispy broccoli and tomatoes soaked in balsamic, but then I realized they are children and what the hell was I thinking.

(6) For dessert we had Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but mostly it was just me eating it with the occasional droplet of ice cream placed upon their tongues like they had just hatched out of a nest and they needed food as basic fuel to fly. But not too much because it’s Cherry Garcia.   I missed them and all but still.

(7) Went on a fabulous dinner date to Alamo Drafthouse to see Stand By Me with a full menu that matched scenes in the movie complete with beer parings from a pub in Portland, but three beers later I was like seriously folks it’s Tuesday. There is a morning coming.

(8) My children are sleeping in my bed because I can’t stand to be away from them.  I wedge myself in between them and sing spirituals and tell them in the middle of the night they are the joy of my life. My son woke up and said he dreamed he was riding a mud-laden roller-coaster and when he got off he kicked snapping frogs off his toes.  He clarified that although there are snapping turtles in real life, this was just a dream. There are really no snapping frogs.  I thanked him for the clarification; I wasn’t aware.

(9) Basically my life is amazing.

 

photo:

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Burn up the Rubber

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Most of us live sensible lives.  We drive reliable cars. We ensure our children have green vegetables and eat organic chicken.  We rent bounce houses on birthdays and allow our daughters to be princesses and when Fridays roll around, men grill steaks in their chinos and their wives say “they’re wonderful, dear,” and at night these women take off their make-up.

And the days, they change numbers. The t-shirts turn to sweaters.  But it’s all essentially the same.  Day camp on Monday, spin class on Tuesday.  Pancakes on Saturday and church on Sunday.  And we smile and cook lasagna and say hello to Sheila-and-Bob that come over for a beer because that’s what good neighbors do. We have grown so adept at hiding all the pain that comes from living this bloated American life that we tell ourselves this is it – the life we’ve yearned for.

And then one day, when you are driving home thinking of making crunchy tacos, you hit the familiar turn toward suburbia.  The brick house on the left, third street to the right, named after birds or rivers or wildflowers.  And that stretch of curve comes a bit too fast before it’s upon you like a crosswind, and you have a choice whether to slow down or take it.

And by God, you take it.

Something strange and sinister swirls inside you like a demon. Instead of putting two hands on the wheel of your trusty Lexus and meeting up with Sheila-and-Bob and making tacos and pulling into Braeborn Court to the brick house on the left, you have a feeling akin to flying.  The tires grip the road and you narrow your eyes and you burn that rubber.  You turn that ache into fire and you realize the life you’ve been living is a shadow of the one you’ve imagined.

So you take a right instead of a left and head through the rolling hills without a plan, without a full tank of gas, without a good set of recipes or a dessert for the pot luck.  And it feels good to crank up the music loud and let it pulse with the beat of your chest.  You rip out the hair tie.  You open the sun roof.  You stick your hand out the window like an airplane dancing and you pulse in your seat to the rhythm of the street and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, shining.  You sing loud, laugh hard, and wave at passersby’s like a damn fool.

And as the sun begins to set upon your sensible life, the one you don’t seem to fit into, you head that Lexus back home to tell your children there are no more tacos. There are only ice cream sundaes, eaten at night by the pool at 10 pm sharp, and one cannot use spoons but must dive face-first into a bowl of strawberry, and everyone laughs with hot fudge dripping down their noses.  There is no longer grilling on Sundays, and spin class on Tuesdays, for you pack up your things and move to the mountains,  where you stand in your underwear on the ridge and raise your hands high – to heaven, to God, and to freedom. And your husband sips tea and kisses your mouth hard, the one he loves more deeply than before.

Sometimes a sensible life is not enough for a dreamer.  Life must be lived with wild abandon, with hands out the window and the sun searing skin and music raging in places that were once nothing and empty.  And you grit your teeth at so many turns, because that’s what wheels are for, really, to burn up the rubber. And it feels good to go fast, and live full, and go out with a flame instead of a whimper.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30781947@N08/6154656560/sizes/m/in/photolist-anSdYh-6GmH8Y-89hsBV-5sXYn8-72wTKE-9hb8fu-6s7Xn5-o51QXS-89kHcC-89kHgA-76tkFK-8d1zXA-eDmG9b-eDmuKb-8dj1z3-4aYwnm-72wSBS-5kSaJg-6E2BRp-aAguJL-7ZWdQi-9UJbpN-5rNX5p-6Ne1NB-57QCbe-8kT1Pq-6E6MF9-6E6MoA-6E6Mud-yeaR-7zuodN-88jsAp-4W6Sig-9FptMT-72wSzJ-b4cR9-72wT2N-LtNrz-7LpxZa-75k8s5-7LpyQK-ccHcuA-7LpzDM-4W6Rke-bVkSTK-8dj1uG-58cTnx-c7A4Sd-5ZLmMu-8cXi48-8uvBW1/

A Heart of Freedom

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

-Matthew 5:43-47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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

A Morning’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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

7 Things your Best Friends Lie to You About

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I love girlfriends.  Without them I’d scowl more, spend more money on therapy, laugh only at Arrested Development, and likely have a drinking problem.  My besties are all beautiful and funny and selfless and they all strangely pick up the phone when I call. But let’s be honest.  Even amongst friends there are half-truths.  Nice ways of saying things.  Lying.  For example:

(1) I so don’t care what your house looks like.  Now this is a bald-faced lie, because they do care.  They care because the more piles of dirty laundry, crumpled up receipts, and dirty frying pans the better it makes them feel about their own lives.  To which I say: you’re welcome.  At a minimum I owe them this, so I purposefully leave hairbrushes on the kitchen table as a token of my undying admiration.

(2) You’re not crazy.  Because honey, sometimes you are.  When you and a boy break up and yet you end up texting him multiple times in one night like “heeeeey” and “wanna meet up later?” and his response is that he’s watching a baseball game – no thanks -  but you push onward not to be deterred until said boy says “you need to get over it” and you sob for hours and text him one teensy little text that may or may not be 500 characters wishing him a healthy future because he’s so kind and wonderful? That’s a tiny bit crazy, I’m not gonna lie.

(3) You look amazing. Not true.  You are wearing yoga pants and you haven’t washed your hair since last Spring when your daughter was studying fractions and at this point you just don’t care about the external appearance of your body in public places which is why your friends lie to you and say you look amazing. You’ve gained five pounds and you need highlights.  Let’s think rationally.

(4) Let’s grab dinner next week.  What this really means is that I care about you more than simply offering lunch, because it’s not that fun dumping the kids and going to Subway, and you’re worth more than ham sandwiches, and yet it’s too much trouble to wait until the hubs gets home and change clothes and meet you someplace and pay thirty bucks for margaritas and then drive home to kids up past bedtime unbathed while the husband said “I thought you were going to be home at 10” and so they say this as a term of endearment which translates to “text me tomorrow, girlfriend.”  It’s okay.  Just agree and move onward.

(5) You are so funny! This is a common lie to cover up the underlying meaning, which is “your life is such a train wreck that it makes me cackle on the inside that I am, in fact, not you.”  It’s not that you’re funny, it’s just that your life is a combination of awkward and unfortunate events that makes other people uncomfortable when you talk about them out loud so they translate that to some form of humor.  But I take it as a compliment and invite them to grab dinner.

(6)  Call anytime.  This is a crowd favorite, because when your friends are trying to sit at a swim meet or navigate their way through Costco the last thing they want is for you to call and start telling them about your crazy complicated work situations or why your ex-husband is the way he is.  Their response is usually full of mumbles and agreeable verbals nods followed by “I gotta run” and you’re left feeling like you dumped a load on the side of the road.  But they answer the phone the next day to make you feel better, tell you you’re funny, and remind you that life will get better because you look amazing.  How do they know. They’re on the phone. 

(7) I am praying for you.  This one is sweet, and I always say thank you, but in reality this means your friend throws three kids in a bath, reads The Tawny Scrawny Lion (again), hangs out with her hubs, watches two television shows, falls asleep without brushing her teeth, wakes up in a daze at 11:30, stumbles towards her bedroom, and on the way toward her toothbrush she thinks “Lord, help that poor girl because she can’t seem to catch a break” before falling into her mattress.  But it counts.  Cut them some slack.  They pick up the phone for you at Costco for goodness sakes.

Then every once in a while, one of your really good friends will say “Snap out of it. You’re worth more than this (guy/job/heartache/stress) and you need to head to the gym and I don’t want to hear any more of your bellyaching and a woman shows stress through her stomach but what the frack ever and you need to be grateful for your life or I’m gonna drive over and slap you and you are really deeply loved by so many” and the universe is righted on it axis because truth reins supreme.  So you invite her to dinner next week, say thanks for all those heartfelt prayers, and drive to her house to drop off a bottle of wine and a card.  And if she’s home, even better, so you can sit at her bar and laugh like silly children. Because honestly, you really don’t care what her house looks like.

Liar.     

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpeterke/2062879689/sizes/m/in/photolist-49hNgc-bNdUhk-imwzDx-a7AYP2-hghyaz-75JYPh-Cg9Y1-7niFB3-4mg9WM-gKz5wA-8jJhpp-a6kjAf-2Eyxp9-bukbrC-arjX9t-8hqeLT-9DHqZr-gxBpPw-4fpbsV-aF2Jd6-bpHwiF-d5gWfj-9nduRf-ed1cm8-uXKET-afMnhx-8dcJsP-8gxu6s-8gmL75-8gxuk1-dbfPg9-jgRTWE-3zUH7T-dxgARz-8gnbhL-bv3qDi-bv3sdv-9h7S6N-8giX8t-6UxxZu-8eyYmT-bv3uJi-bCEcwr-9h4LgP-fnaRw-5DtBkS-69RYpT-8teeZ-btvRxm-7EKsGC-9XGyZd/

Biting the Big Apple

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I have a wonderful life.  My two children are smart and loving, beautiful and inquisitive.  My home is a rock fortress atop acres of cedar and oak and native grasses, with a garden and pathways and a porch with large rocking chairs. I sit alone so many nights and marvel at the screeching of cicadas and how they interplay from tree to tree, rubbing their wings together.  I drink strong coffee with cream on Saturday mornings while watching the cardinals hop and flit and turn their little red pointed heads towards the west.  And when the sun peaks I set out the tea pitcher steeped with handfuls of mint to warm.

And yet in the midst of this very good life I grow weary.  There is so much to shoulder.  So many burdens.  I desire the freedom of my youth, when I grabbed the last cherry popsicle from the box and jumped through sprinklers.  I laughed at jokes and washed my hair for dates and celebrated a new year with cheese dip and sparkling apple juice with my parents.  Life is more complicated now.  More heartbreaks and bills.   More decisions that matter. More life behind you than ahead. And the stifling Texas heat? It can flat-out drain you.

When you live in a place that fuels your soul but your heart is empty, where do you turn? Only one place works to recalibrate my nerves and it beats like a drum like a chorus like a lover like a friend like a sweet bite of cake and a jeweled ring. Don’t look back.  Don’t stop to think about it.  Fly to the place where you can breathe.

New York City.

So I planted myself on an airplane seat and lifted through the air to a different kind of freedom.  Through tunnels and between steel that rises and when I cobbled along the streets I inhaled urine mixed with exhaust and rotten garbage and the whiff of 5th avenue perfume and Wall Street hair grease and overdrunk hydrangeas in Battery Park.   And when I unpacked and unloaded, I laced up my practical shoes and I walked.  I walked and walked and walked until my calves ached.  And slowly the burdens lightened, and the emptiness filled in, and a smile of a different sort flowed inside the empty spaces.

There is a magnificent heart to this city.  It’s full of promise and buzzing with life where you eat at 10 pm and meet beautiful strangers and walk alone in bars and wander into antique bookstores and land in French bistros at 9 am on Fridays.  People are struggling to find their voice, and yet there is so much talent pouring over the various facets of this town that it mixes like chocolate into milk, swirling.

I went a few days early for a legal conference with no plans except to eat puff pastry at Balthazar and sip on espresso.  I sat on the second row at the Ambassador theatre, watching beautiful people sing and kick their legs and do remarkable things with their bodies.  I clapped loud and got all teary at the energy they spent on practice and everyone was probably laughing at this poor sap from out of town wearing heels.  In intermission I stood at the back alone and smiled a crooked smile, for this is a place I have lived and loved before in another life.

I returned home strangely full.  Full of life and tall handsome dinner dates.  Of strangers and dancing.  Of crispy pork and snap peas and current scones with raspberry jam. And back in the land of reality I faced four-year-old tantrums and a daughter who rolled her eyes and loads of laundry and dishes with cemented oatmeal residing in bowls.  And yet it wasn’t burdensome. I took in waves of breaths and dug in.  I sat on my front porch sipping my coffee with cream, thinking about sun tea steeped with mint.  I think I’ll have a cherry popsicle and dance in sprinklers and toast a new year with my parents eating cheese dip. Maybe I’ll wash my hair for dates and start again.

Oh the city, how I love you. And my home, how I treasure you.  The juice runs down my cheeks, cool and sweet.  I pluck you fresh from the tree, your red skin shining, and put you in a basket.  And in my sundress I carry you back lovingly toward home.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/willvision/6504440557/sizes/m/in/photolist-aULXyR-nzKKkx-nJ7qCY-dB98wX-ckrBp-nzKbDy-nV4JvG-5LyyN1-5RQG8F-4ZdeN6-djS26t-doShWN-eywR12-6AWCSu-7ckF1L-9sxhSe-nJgp1o-9fU77p-9gbdd9-dBSGdb-5JKjBT-nU1WrD-d66EfY-ffVQii-9sW8dA-9hwYCv-fi5can-nqeNjn-8dJXQX-dnFkgb-9QU2Es-dsprTX-9SmDmV-gxcw1i-7euQD4-dq9zTY-keg6ky-fBGYjA-9hrSuF-83Lwi-6HCVKX-doHLZT-3XxpkD-dDhJD7-6FEsHS-4TQZoA-5YZPdJ-9hv14o-4YPfti-9hA4Ku-816P1/

Reasons You Should Really Consider Dating

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(1)    You eat hummus, salami, and triskets more than three nights in a row

(2)    You are thinking of shaving your legs, the razor is starting to rust, and your reaction is “Meh.  It’ll wait.”

(3)    Your consideration of a fun night out is off to Target armed with returns, a Starbucks run, and a girly movie from Red Box

(4)    You call your dog “pookie” and ask him if he likes your shoes

(5)    The last time you wore your little black dress was at your cousin Jerry’s wedding

(6)    You go to bed early on Saturday night. Period.  Like for any reason whatsoever

(7)    You call all your random girlfriends to see if they want a candlelit dinner.  You’re making roast! There will be wine! Possible dancing!

(8)    You spend $150 getting highlights and the only person to see your hair is your retired neighbor

(9)    You start writing poetry about the weather. The wind, it’s gusty.  The rain, it pelts.

(10)You stay up at night imagining conversations with co-workers in the break room

(11)People tell you about their night on 6th street and you’re wondering if that street is in a neighborhood with a culda-sac

(12)The last movie you saw involved Tom Hanks in any fashion

(13) Your glory days were in acid-washed jeans

(14) The only person that texts you is your mother.  Mostly about what television shows you guys are scheduled to watch together.

(15)Because you’re a human being in need of love.

 

Let’s go, hermits of the world.  Dust off the razor, stop talking to your dog, and get back out there.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lac-bac/4679197416/sizes/m/in/photolist-88u7nw-7Gofdj-8ZzkuH-boEyj3-8d8bdX-bkCMSy-a5wb8e-f7aSvq-ej3zdF-8JJYeR-8JP66K-cVkNDL-c8YRk9-jaFhjk-cwVVes-cVkP4C-8ZQrZa-7SUjCh-8K1EPH-8NbcmF-hFL2uN-8awJ3Q-n3tnVy-eaJ4aU-cVkPk5-hHrkBr-bkciy1-aycSBW-cVkNXj-8ki7cY-ms1GZV-8JS8rC-7P1jda-bhr4cx-bub9vY-gLEjYr-etG13y-8Rffc2-dNFgcE-9CBarF-8DcbrZ-aW5D2c-jzo1R7-f3skzG-9Xkxkx-cVkNLA-dNZyBE-nsWtU1-nWp1rD-csJoHy-noDC2v/

A REVOLUTION [of kindness]

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

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

I say we need a REVOLUTION.  

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

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

A sample facebook post, for illustrative purposes only:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo:

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

A Lunch Hour Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:

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