The Turtle Shell

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The windshield washers swished a grey refrain on the long commute north. Back and forth, back and forth, as washers are programmed to do. Dependable, those strips of plastic, swiping away the rain. It’s like that some days, when our minds are a sky haze and the monotonous radio noise buzzes in our ears.

And in these days I am just a turtle in a shell, carrying with me all sorts of burdens. I wonder why the present state is the present state and when I will again arch my back and see the sun’s fiery center like an egg yolk bouncing and spreading light against the backdrop of sky.

And the saddest thing is that I’m used to being hunched over so, letting the rain and the work and the bills and the savings all weather me, like the copper on my back is turning to an aged and tarnished green. And yet I have no reason to complain, right? There are so many more unfortunate ones. Don’t we all tell ourselves this – that we have no right nor justification to hurt? How dare we complain about our middle-class lives, filled with malaise when there are those who are hungry, less fortunate, without. If thankfulness is the key to happiness, we should be so exceedingly joyful, for we all scratch down our “thank-you-for-toilets-and-ice-cream” praises in journals and Sundays and Tuesday Taco Nights.

And yet when no one is looking we again pick up our tortoise shell and walk heavy, letting the rains beat against us so. We wonder when we can get out of this coal mine or this desk job or this writer’s block or this toxic relationship or out from under our past. We wonder when the boss will let up or when the laundry pile will shrink. We sigh for the heavy and feel guilty for the sighing.

And yet the rich (and let’s be honest – in America in general we are very rich), still carry burdens. That’s hard to grasp, but let’s just give ourselves permission to say it. For then we can figure out how to move away from it. To tell ourselves that yes, we are in fact depressed. We have beautiful children or lovely husbands or wonderful homes with pools, and yet we are so exceedingly sad. For we do not always see God showcase his glory. Sometimes it’s just a long walk through the haze, when tears rise up like natural springs and we have to be mature enough to see the bigger picture.

I was in Los Angeles last weekend. It was a glorious southern California day. The kind of day you wish you could freeze in time and come back later in dark moments to remember. Mark and I strolled the streets and drove toward the Pacific. We marveled at the Bel Air landscape and ate stringy cheese by the Santa Monica pier. And when I got home my children sat down on the floor and wrote me a treasure trove of love notes, wrapped in envelopes with “mommy” scratched across in their beautiful child-like writing. And for a glorious moment the shell was lifted, and life was right and true and beautiful. But of course vacations and weekends and love notes always tend to roll into Mondays, and we begin to hunch over as before.

“Nothing is free,” a girl said at work. Folks in the meeting nodded, like “well that’s about right.” She wore a shell, hunched and sighing. She was tired, and tired of being tired, and was flat-out worn down.

But smiles are free. Snapshot memories taken with your mind are free. Saying a compliment to a stranger, who has their hair all tied up with pins just so? Free. And the love poured out from a body broken, hanging from an executioner’s tree, was also without cost. So sit now, my dear friends with hunched shells. In your work chair or your kitchen table or in your car strewn with water bottles and Starbucks napkins. Sit with the understanding that we all live with fear, and burdens, and the wondering-when-it-will-all-change.

But in these moments, force yourself to smile. Go ahead and get your nice boots on, and make an appointment for your therapist, and drag yourself outside for a walk. Look way into the future instead of the now, and know in your heart there is a love that is more powerful than yourself. Compliment someone, and force yourself to keep writing down those moments of thanks. Do something outstandingly unselfish, walk inside of that nursing home, and write a letter to your children. Take a basket of muffins to someone, or send an email to a colleague. Go all damn day trying to smile bigger and love harder and look ahead more.

I promise you that love is there, all around. The clouds will break, the sun will bob again in the big sky. The Lord above will reveal to you how much you are deeply and completely loved. Not because I say so, because He does. He never, ever fails us in his loving.

Rise up from the shell. It’s sunny out.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/audreyjm529/401093432/in/photolist-6d5LWR-nqPBP-q2axiX-nqRYy-29RPeK-3JDUnC-5uzbKU-BrLz3-9jVk7m-edPxDM-a8Ehny-6ryjxB-6acAkq-ec1hJq-9y6bRc-drX1Eh-6D1H9-eXBti7-64fkXf-9hei7D-6f1t1V-nqMFo-c6DMXE-ehDPeT-BrH71-4G27kn-dpD9CD-3fyBQc-6Y9w2W-7ssyac-6qR2eb-eagZJQ-o2rAA-6kKCoo-6qR2Lq-9Uv1mR-7bFHC5-BrHSv-6Y5tM2-eeAKH-78grTt-25QcM5-7RXNLe-8gQQ9g-pu7ZMK-CNhCJ-qiXayf-5h1Bc-pESBGr-p1sjfq

Odd and Curious Thoughts [about the New Year]

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  • So the fudge consumption has ended. Also the spiced pecans and pie. My parents brought over a tub of animal crackers big enough to feed the state of Rhode Island, and those dagblasted little animals are the last remaining sugared items in my home. I have half a mind to throw them all out, despite starving people in the world. I can’t in good conscience wear my sweaters in public because they are clinging to my sides. So these little white floured elephants are going to the day care Monday, so I can push more sugar onto the little people.

 

  • My resolution this year is to be more positive. I’m already a fairly rose-colored-glasses girl, but I’m throwing it into hyper-drive and soon I’ll sound like Candide giggling despite my life’s circumstances. If I get cancer or have a horrific accident I plan on just putting on lipstick and bearing through with a grin. Because my life is very, very good, and I’m not planning on sweating any smallish stuff. Which means I probably will get cancer because I’m not great at wearing organic, all-natural deodorant.

 

  • I am starting off more organized. I cleaned out my closets and lined up all my boots, layers upon layers of them. My daughter stayed up late and helped me stuff plastic cleaner’s bags in the tall riding boots so they stood up high and proud on the shelves. I am not certain what prompted me to start this odd habit. “So this is what you do after I go to bed at night,” she says. To an 8-year-old this is truly fascinating stuff. To adults it just sounds weird and neurotic.

 

  • I also organized my shirts by color and texture (silks, knits, starched) and I highly anticipate this will last me at least three weeks before I’m yet again stepping over things and poking myself with hangers. However, this year’s a new start. Miracles can happen. Maybe there’s an organic deodorant that doesn’t actually make you smell like reheated broccoli. Only time will tell.

 

  • I got my septic system pumped out, which was its own adventure. A man with a long pony-tail, teeth that nary a dentist have seen, and tough work boots drove up with a big truck, looked into my various tanks, and said “Oh dear. We don’t usually see sludge in this one.” Whereby I kicked in my newly found optimism and said “Yippee! Good for me that I called you! Can I get you some coffee as you inhale sewage smell on this cold and rainy day and suck the sludge from my tanks? Nopers? Alrighty then. Let me know when you’re done so I can go inside and grieve for you that you have to do this every single day of your life.” Makes my little problems easier to endure. On a high note, there was no need for that man to wear deodorant. Who would notice.

 

  • Speaking of things that smell, our entire family walked around the house wondering what smelled like burned plastic the other day. Was a light so hot it was melting some sort of outer casing? Did a plastic spoon get caught in the bottom of the dishwater and melt to a puddle of carcinogens? It was a mystery that remained unsolved until later when I was putting away the rest of the ham and found a piece of the plastic the ham was wrapped in seared to the side of the meat. We are all so going to die. However, since we didn’t die, and it’s HAM for pete’s sake, I cut up the rest of it and cooked it inside a pot of black-eyed-peas the following day. SO POSITIVE! WINNING!

 

  • I was home for over a week with my children, and it was lovely to spend so much time with them without the distractions and burdens of work. We played legos, had the cousins over whereby there were lots of giggles and dress up, had hot chocolate nights, ate dessert first, prepared nice meals and some not so nice, and spent days in our pajamas. At one point I think I said “why bother getting new clothes on / we didn’t do anything but play board games today / take a bath and put these back on.” It was luxurious. I did so much laundry that I even matched socks and washed sheets.   My children went into my closets like they were a new addition to the home they had never seen. Woooooo. Ahhhhhh. It has a floooooooor. There is no need to be this dramatic. I swear it’s like you’ve never seen color-coordinated silk shirts before.  Geez.

 

  • I read Nancy Drew books to my daughter until 10 pm and when I was too sleepy she read to me, and we did this for hours during the days and evenings. Then she’d fade away in corners of her room reading some more. School books and mysteries and books on friends and princess diaries. She created Barbie playgrounds and put random things in envelopes and at one point said “I CAN’T POSSIBLY TAKE A BATH I AM WRITING.” So I simply shut her door and nodded my head like “well honey how can you possibly be expected to, naturally not. How silly of me to ask.” And she stared at me like how awesome: I didn’t know that line would get me any traction.

 

  • I am not sure I can survive without these little animal crackers. Have you tried them with spiced tea? Have you tried them with peanut butter? I have nothing in this house, people. GIVE ME THIS.

 

  • I am starting my second novel. This statement itself is totally nonsensical because I have a full time job as an executive and a boyfriend I like to spend time with and two smallish people living inside of my home. But here I went outlining the plot to my sister over the holidays and we are brainstorming about what awful condition one of my characters has and how it wrecks her life and her husband has to hide it to protect her and the family never knew exactly why she died until now. So let’s recap. Over the holidays I organized my shirts by color, ate excessive amounts of sugar, barely got out of pajamas, and made up a world of imaginary people. You can see why I have to be positive because I’m half-mad and if I get locked up at least I’ll have people in my mind to talk to.

 

  • It was a lucky year for me. I met a brilliant, kind, and loving man. We sat at the top of Mount Greylock this Fall and sipped hot cider. We held hands down 5th Avenue heading in the rain toward the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We drank beer at Rumpy’s Tavern in Massachusetts. We strolled down the streets of Boston. We stayed up late in Dallas.  We sat in church and he reached for my hand. And we have talked more hours that I can remember. For Christmas, he made me a wall-sized word search of all the places we’ve been together and it made big fat tears roll down my cheeks. He’s a keeper, this one. For I am indeed the lucky one.

 

I hope ya’ll have a lovely new year, whether it’s eating clean or staying organized or being more positive. We all need each other. I’ll be around, smiling and grinning, traveling somewhere, wearing cancer-laden deodorant, thanking God for my wonderful life, and stuffing my face with sugared giraffes while wearing ill-fitted sweaters.

A Writer’s Mind

 

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“It was raining, but not the kind of rain where people say it’s really coming down hard or it’s raining cats and dogs. It was just a drizzle, where the sun hid its bright round face and the softness of drops clung to the window before collecting more momentum and rolling down in little ziz-zag lines. We were curled up like cats underneath blankets four layers deep, because we are from the south and it’s cold up here. And there I was, like someone I didn’t recognize, next to the man I so deeply loved. I wish I was a poetic sort, but naturally I couldn’t seem to find any sweet words. While he was asleep I’d tuck my head down and grip my eyes shut tighter than clams so I could sear it in my mind like a steak on a griddle, this memory of rain and warmth and the way his body felt against mine. And when I ran to the restroom I was so very cold, my feet jumping across blue tiles and my body wanting to return to the cocoon of us, wrapped up skintight and happy.

The night before we had gone to a show in the city, full of dancing and fishnet stockings. I was worn out by the poor dears, prancing around in barely more than black lingerie, singing their little hearts out about revenge and heartbreak. And after the show we bundled up and drank coffee, steamy hot and black, at a diner by the theatre. We split a piece of cherry pie because that is his favorite. “Don’t eat all the crust,” he would say, especially cherry because it was encrusted with sugar, browned and clinging to the dough like little diamonds.   Truth be told, I don’t much like pie, but what fun is that when he loves it so. So I’d giggle and try to eat the last bite and people must have just thought we had lost our ever-lovin minds, giggling so much over nothing.

I never knew having a husband could be like this, as if the world were as clouded as the glass on this early morning and all that mattered was the way he touched me, slow and light, curling to my right and surrounding my body with his. Sometimes my stomach ached because I feared it would all end. I imagined the building falling down or a car crash and then all this would be over. He lay sleeping as I turned and clutched my arms around him as if it were for dear life, just so I could hear his heart beating and remind me that happiness isn’t for the rich or lucky but for us all to feel. Although I sure feel lucky.

We didn’t get out of bed until half-past-eleven, but still managed to find a place serving bagels at such a late hour of the morning. I listened to him talk, his deep voice flowing like molasses through the air toward my face. It was something important about the price of crops and the affects of the war, but all I could see were green eyes and dark hair, and I bit into a bagel that was boiled and now toasted, with huge plump raisins baked right in.

It’s a shame that everyone’s not married, if this is the feeling one gets when having a husband, sleeping late and eating toasted bagels. Yes, I was a lucky girl, even here in the dank wetness of Brooklyn.”

This is part of the journal of Victoria Robbins, during the first year of her marriage to Charles “Chuck” Robbins III. Before the move to Texas. Before the ranch. Before the car crash and the sadness and the old oak tree that contained such secrets. It will be left, worn and battered, for the children to read in an intricate web of a love story and struggle for inheritance after their own deaths.

Welcome to the interworking of my mind when a novel is born. These damn stories come up out of nowhere and characters start beating like drums in my head, daily and hourly, like they are throwing temper tantrums. What can I say, really? I’ve never been one who’s good with patience. So I begin writing down their lines, and the yearnings of their hearts, and in a few years maybe it will be edited, and pared down, and chopped up and perhaps stretched out. And Novel Number Two will be written.  Oh, the aching glory of a cattle rancher in grief, and the children who failed to understand what he endured.

It’s hard to find the time. But who will tell their story if I refuse? This bit might not even make it into the book. So many words are thrown and few are caught up in the net. But the characters are forming, and talking, and feeling. I can hear the voices beginning to grow, and their little personalities form. It’s fun to be the creator of characters, even ones who have passed. For their children need to know the truth about the real value of a life. Don’t I owe them that?

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/2204997072/sizes/m/in/photolist-4mRbNU-m5vZao-oXJVZb-jELLUU-9EvqDn-95Pt4J-7oFRLz-8TDTAH-5V12No-eK1jsM-8Q1aMT-6aHENb-o3cdW3-6jECWt-bUQFqJ-52sZCu-oXJgvP-y5d9f-j8WrTV-7dPz43-a135dT-5se8Xu-52oJPk-7vw15L-6JbpTg-BBiUB-7h9rFn-6AaCHP-aNVepV-8bewQJ-d8L4wy-aaYaW8-baKyE-o1TnA-nSbLqF-74dQEq-67ujfA-67ujyJ-pa2sji-7YTHQn-5pEBof-9h5tJg-oSxfSL-p7Zr7f-p9ZwX7-oSwJ7j-p7ZqX7-oSwHV7-p7Zrgy-oSxdig-pa2sn4/

Boilerplate

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn

I am a lawyer.  This means that I think about future contingencies and the probability of bad things happening and how to protect against bad things happening that have not yet happened. It’s a dance, this protection of bad things.  I run around carefully laying down arrows before people’s feet, like “don’t go this way!” or “HEAVENS SWEET MARY DO NOT TAKE A LEFT.”

I write a lot of contracts.  Sometimes I scowl and shake my head at innovation or even compassion because of the inadvertent layering of future bad things atop the good.  I sit in meetings and scratch my head and answer text messages from ladies named Sharon.  Think of me as some muttering old professor, always trying to create walkways over water.  Bridges over bombs.  Pathways around trouble.  I talk to myself while walking toward the bathroom.  Maybe that’s why no one takes me to lunch.

But here I go referring to bad things and good things like I’m some hand-wringing evil avoider.  It’s just merging companies or buying widgets and no one is dying.  And let’s not kid ourselves. I’m in Target at lunch buying socks for my kids who always manage to lose their socks.  I am no superhero, and my job isn’t that important. Except when people are fired and laid off and punished for the color of their skin.  Or when someone works so very hard to build something from nothing, only to have that something vanish because of a deal gone wrong.  Every penny they worked for is just ripped out from underneath them.  It’s all just boilerplate on a page that no one reads but the lawyers.

I do.  I read those words. I’m in a profession people turn to when there are problems, real or in the future. In some small way lawyers are a tool to avoid these atrocities, and are paid to fight against such wrongs when they surge. So it’s only natural that when I see something, I rush on past it to the next thing, and imagine how that thing will be avoided by some reworking of this thing.  It’s no wonder I imagine my children in college and believe they’ll never pass Chemistry. How could they, really, when we spent two hours with dolls and imaginary tea parties and I let them skip bath and now we are all just lying in one bed with unbrushed teeth atop each other snoring.

I often can’t just let life be. To lie in bed and look at leaves fluttering to the earth, or live inside of love without the fear of it being crushed.  I try to write out my current station in life so clear that it cannot be ambiguous, or terminated without cause, and will withstand the scrutiny of any judge.  And yet life is not a contract.  Even contracts we make between two people and God, as any family lawyer knows, can be broken. And we are left only with today – shreds of us, really – floating along.  And when we collect all those pieces to form a life again, we begin wringing our hands at what it all means, and what future is to come, and whether we will again be ripped open like a deal gone south in a smoky back room.

I didn’t read the boilerplate.  The love will someday vanish.

And yet God tells us to not worry, us goofy little humans.  For if he cares for the ravens, he cares for us.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light. The same language is repeated throughout the scripture that we are and will forever be taken care of. The edges will be made smooth.  The pathways straight.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

There are times that I fear the future, when flakes of me fall like snow and I panic at the thought of losing myself again in the weather.  And yet I cannot write a life that suits me.  I cannot create an air-tight pathway that my legal brain craves.  What I can do is trust, and pray harder than I expected, and smooth out the rushed and harried edges of my heart.

The other day I walked along the long pathways of Prospect Park on the edge of a rain, holding the hand of the One Whom I Love, and for once didn’t worry about the future.  I felt solid and calm. I knew this is all I care to be, and all I care to live, and all I care to do.  And in the echoed and narrow aisles of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral with scaffolding covering the stained glass like an apron, I grasped his hand and whispered to God that I am thankful this torn and beautiful life, just a drop amidst a congregation dripping.  For outside these holy walls where two-dollars-will-light-you-a-candle is a Burberry store with four-hundred-dollar scarves, and people drenched with greed, and yet I am on the inside of love.

I am a lawyer.  I worry about how current things affect future things.  Yet at the same time I am learning to not worry.  For I am a daughter cherished. His hand has written the most perfect contract that cannot, no matter how much I scrunch up my nose, be terminated.  And this allows me to rest in the knowledge that the good can outweigh the bad, and love wins.

My friends.  Those intellectual and hollowed.  Those working and labored.  Stop worrying about the protection of your current status.  God is the arbitrator and the judge.  The prosecutor and the defender. We have but to lift up praises to the heavens, and offer ourselves as consideration for such a lofty gift. And in return we receive peace, amidst our toiled human instincts and flawed minds.  We can finally come to Him, the forever and the infinite; the never and always.  Despite our drenched hearts that fear love. Despite our minds that tear at things.  Despite our very selves.  We can finally rest.

Odd and Curious Thoughts [about Thanksgiving]

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(1) It occurred to me that Thanksgiving is an apt description of this important holiday, which is refreshing.  So I’m going to rename the holidays Christaninfantborn and Greenbeerdrinking and CandyHeartsTasteLikePeptoBismolI’lltakechocolate.

(2)  My children took the booster seats out of the car to make “chairs in their boat” which translated to “Hey mom we’re just going to take this wagon and ruin these booster seats real quick by dumping it all into this large puddle after the storm whereby everything will be muddy and ruined, K?” but they were so cute with their little shovels being used like paddles and laughing that I could say nothing.  I watched them ruin things and said nothing.  I’d do it again. So cute with the paddles.

(3) My daughter is making little sticky notes that read “1989” and putting them all over her room, because naturally it’s Taylor Swift’s new album and when the pop singer was born so my daughter thinks that’s super cool.  It makes me realize someday around the Thanksgiving table she’ll remember these days and will someday say 2006 with the same vintage ring to it and I catch myself eating bran cereal.  #lordhelpmeiamgettingold

(4) Speaking of this pop album, it has some objectionable lyrics for 8-year-olds so instead of “handsome as hell” (which makes no sense anyway) we sing “handsome as zell,” a made-up  and very handsome creature, and I make them all say oh-my-gosh and being clean and sober is “that fresh wonderful feeling when you get out of the shower.” 

(5) We were playing the Game of Life and my daughter instructs my son that you will get farther if you skip the fork in the road that reads “college” and there’s a mandatory stop to get married and have kids without a choice involved and “the goal is to win with the most money.” Exactly the lessons we are trying to teach in real life.  What the hell/zell.

(6) I am painting pumpkins a natural cream color to go with my natural décor theme for Thanksgiving.  I don’t want any color aside from natural tones so I’m putting burlap covers over the chairs and hanging a tree limb from the ceiling and using my brown-and-white antique plates. I’m starting to get a little cray-cray with the decorating and when I asked my neighbor for fishing line, wire, and a stud finder he asked me if I needed a drink.

(7) Fall weather is so lovely.  For example, today in Texas we all wore flip flops.  Take that, Wisconsin.

(8) Our Netflix wasn’t working this morning so I found the kids watching “This Old House” and I decided if that’s what they will watch without Netflix we are DONE WITH NETFLIX FOREVER. Let’s go, Norm.  Tear down that wall. These New England homes are handsome as zell.

(9) Regarding said booster seats they are so totally going back in the car.  #thatswhatthehoseisfor #mommahastobuymoreburlapandboostersareexpensive #priorities

(10)               I was talking about my boyfriend the other day and our Fall Foliage Tour of New England and thought the word “boyfriend” sounds so juvenile but “lover” sounds risqué and “friend” sounds like someone I go drink beer with and burp and “main squeeze” sounds like an orange and “significant other” sounds like a person who does my taxes.  I’m remiss for a title. Who is this person that drove me to Lenox, Massachusetts?

(11)                  I told the lover/main squeeze/boyfriend about wanting to hang the tree limb from the ceiling for Thanksgiving and perhaps in a few weeks we could wire it later to the kitchen ceiling covered in lights? I mean I cut it down with an ax and how hard could it be to wire it to the ceiling?? I wondered if I would ever hear from him again or if he might get in his car and move to Miami. But at least he knows what he’s getting into.

(12)               I’m so grateful for my life.  This year more than ever, I am just so thankful for all I have been given without earning it or deserving it. If today was my very last on earth, I would die happy. So we shall toast with wine and make fun of my neurotic decorating and I’ll cry and say long prayers and hug everyone and we’ll listen to Taylor Swift and dance.  This, my friends, is my amazing life, during a holiday worth celebrating, and if leaves fall from the dead tree limb I cut down and into someone’s pie they shall just pluck it out.  Because that’s how we roll round here, flip flops and all.   Happy Turkey Day to everyone. I hope you’re all clean and sober.

Spines and Stories

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The Brattle, Boston

I picked up “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion in the Brattle Book Shop in Boston.  We were the last ones in the store, my love and me, with no plans but to walk atop the bricks until our feet ached and our hands grew chilled.  I tend to gravitate to bookstores, so many spines holding up bodies I want to know, lines of old friends with yellowed paper and curled edges, beckoning me to know them.  The smell always settles me somehow, mildewed paper and brewed coffee, the soft hum of words printed and set.

I opened it up on the plane from Hartford to Atlanta, and finished it while my son slept curled up on airplane sheets in Austin, Texas.   And after I closed the last page I thought to myself, “why just yesterday I pulled you from a shelf, and now I have woven you into my soul.”

The book was about grief. Joan journeyed through it as she lost her husband, just months before her only daughter’s treacherous stint in multiple hospitals that nearly cost her life.  It was not a lofty attribute to the dead, nor a heavy rendition of loss. It was not spirit-rich and syrupy with comforting words.  It was real.  And friends, that’s something we fail to write about well: the authenticity of pain.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Those were her words, after her husband of forty years had a heart attack and the traveling of the mind set in.  It made me realize we can’t escape it, hiding in tight boxes as if they will hold us.  For the walls are cardboard and melt with the pummeling of so many tears. There is no preparing for death.  One thinks that a golden path can be laid so that the entry into the beyond is smooth, but that is fiction like so many pages I flip past at night.

I’ve come to realize how much I appreciate honesty, the way someone says something crazy and knows it.  Whether it be through a taco or boarded-up window or the sickening sweet of wisteria, memories burst through our boxes and start stabbing at our heart.  You can numb it or avoid it or push against it or scream at it, but despair from grief or divorce or a tangential loss comes at us at times like a black hole that sucks and does not give back.  It pulls at our inner parts no one is supposed to see.  And in the end we find comfort in strange things.  Not sappy songs about Jesus.  Not cards from Hallmark.  But the way a neighbor drops off Chinese soup every day for three weeks, since that’s the only thing one’s stomach can handle.

As I reflect upon life and death, about joy and pain, about the fragility of our stint on this earth and the tenacity of the human spirit, it makes me appreciate how people write.  The opening of the mind to share with our fellow cohorts, so we don’t feel alone.  Isn’t that the purpose of our communities, our families, and our deep-seeded friendships? To feel less alone? To have someone to hold at night and say “I’m here, with you, right now and forever?”

I continue to duck into bookstores whenever possible.  I get lost in the walls of stories, of beauty and suffering, of how one processes things.  Sometimes I sit on dirty floors and dive in, while others I just touch like friends I will someday meet.  Often I take books off shelves and run my fingers across the various covers, because someone spent many hours and months of their life pouring over this particular collection of words.  How glorious.  I like new books and old books, funny and poignant.  I read words of Saints and sinners, the ancient creed of apostles or quirky wit from mommas. Words provide an opportunity to see things I cannot see.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

This may be.  Your heart might be broken, or empty, or in my case full of new love and promise to the extent that my eyes well up at the happy.  But in all cases, words provide clarity and community, reinforcing that we are all in this together.

Don’t hold back.  Share your words with the world.

 

 

 

21 Things I will Teach my Children

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(1) If something makes you laugh, it just does.  You don’t have to know why.  Just stick with what truly makes your gut seize and you’ll be okay.

(2) Please floss.  It’s boring and awful but so are cavities in-between teeth and then you have to endure awful drilling sounds from the dentist chair like nails on chalkboards so PLEASE FOR THE LOVE JUST FLOSS.

(3) P.S. Your mother does not often floss because she wants to pop out her dentures for her grandkids.  See (1) above. Forgive her.

(4) Sometimes your body has a desire to move to the beat of the music.  Feet are notorious culprits. Please do not resist this urge.  It’s a natural and beautiful thing to allow the beat of song to match the beating of your heart.

(5) Cursing can be fun.  Don’t tell anyone I said this.

(6) I know that right now you hate onions and mushrooms and olives.  But someday try them again.

(7) Travel to New York alone.  Pack walking shoes and drink coffee and explore all the nooks and crannies.  It’s okay if you want to take pictures of signs or storefronts or subways. Sit on the second row of a Musical.

(8) Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.  For example, I just tonight looked at your diary and you wrote “sometimes I’m bad at spelling.”  I think this is odd that you can write down anything in the world – made-up worlds about unicorns or glitter hair gel and yet you choose to write down this – but hey.  It’s your diary, kid.

(9) Don’t accept the premise that “it’s just food.” It’s not.  It’s what we put into our precious bodies.  It’s what creates memories.  It’s what makes our eyes roll back and our tongues drip with drool.  Food is energy on all fronts.  Learn to appreciate it.

(10)               Friends are more valuable than jewels.  If I could say it in multiple languages and hang it from banners in the sky, I would.  Because I want you to cherish them.  Love them.  Learn from them.  And keep them.

(11)               True love is elusive.  It’s scarce.  It’s the stuff novels are made of.  But it’s real.  Please don’t give up trying to find it.

(12)               I think by now you should be flossing.

(13)               If you get a poor grade, consider it an opportunity to improve, not a reason to call yourself a failure. I love you regardless of your status in fractions. Someday you’ll be sitting in a boardroom and you will lean to the person to your left, asking “what’s eight times seven again?” I mean hypothetically this might happen. Focus on flossing.

(14)               When you have the opportunity to travel, be on television, or bicycle across America, you should absolutely take it.  Be bold and wild when you are young without doing any drugs of any kind. Do I need to repeat myself.

(15)               Pray this often: “Please Lord, help me maintain a soft heart.  Full of warmth and forgiveness and compassion.”  This helps from building up stones inside that cannot be broken.  Because a hardened heart is a life of misery.

(16)               Don’t waste time on television when there are books.

(17)               Stinky cheese is better with wine.

(18)               If you don’t believe in God, Jesus, the resurrection, or the Holy Spirit, I don’t hate you.  If you don’t want to read Genesis or go to church and want to walk around scowling wearing nothing but black t-shirts, I will still lovingly claim you as my own.   That being said, I’m going to expose you to love as I see it. And I will sit with you in the hard nights when you need me.

(19)               I am your mother.  This means you can always come home.  You can always call.  You can count on me when everyone else fails you.  I am delighted in the mere existence of you.

(20)              Prayer works, even when you can’t see it.  I will sit tonight and pray hard for you.  Because you, my dear and beautiful children, are my fortune.

(21)               Floss.  In case I failed to mention it.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robboudon/422350861/sizes/m/in/photolist-DjEcp-ANdgH-dYycQ5-9WDCNU-6PAXic-87s9nX-6fsmxJ-5ZXaNH-8gGrhR-8vXGMG-5eXwEr-6aaP9Y-2RZnQZ-e9NiXg-7kRBmJ-71vwmH-5A8r9w-64WiHX-5mXdMw-71ii5e-e9NhKK-8myhAn-6LrPfT-7fDMvk-6YEqFb/

Layer upon layer

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Some days are comfortable.  You have the luxury of sipping coffee with two creams and your kids put on their shoes without argument and you’re listening to folk music in your car with fancy leather seats.  And you think to yourself that you are Quite Blessed Indeed as you sip and hum and smile.  A layer of peace and soft sheets at night to rest your head.

Some days are sad.  Old demons pull your hair and whisper things in your ear about how things used to be and aren’t.  You forgot to shave and you left the kid’s lunch on the counter and you are almost out of gas. And you sigh deep because Wendy’s forgot to put the salad dressing in the bag and you sent that text you shouldn’t have sent and lost your temper and work just piles up high on your desk like steel buildings scratching the sun.  The expectations are too big a mountain to scale.  And this layer is dank and stained, thrown in the wash for another time.

Some days are powerful.  Because you own this suit and you own these heels and you walk tall down this hallway plodding each foot down hard like a runway model.  Nobody gets to tell you how to negotiate this deal or write this contract or win this case or run this house because you got this.  And a smile creeps up from some inner place not from joy but from lust for it because there is a greedy rapture that comes from being The One Who Leads.  An alluring devil whispers,  there you go, kid. Own it.  This layer is a silk ribbon tied over fool’s gold.

Some days are bombs that explode upon your heart.  You were once just standing there stirring the pasta pot on a Tuesday and now you are curled up on the bathroom floor hugging your knees.  Because this couldn’t happen and she couldn’t die and he couldn’t cheat and you refuse to believe it.  Your life that was all planned out is now different and broken and will never again be the same.  You cry out with a deep moan like a wounded animal and beg for God to save you.   For that powerful you is gone now like a vapor, and a child remains. This layer is nothing but putrid and rotten, like a limp banana in the trash heap.

Some days are red hot.  Ah, yes. These days you can’t breathe for the passion, because you didn’t think it would feel this way and your heart races at the thought of him.  People walk up from behind and it frightens you because you were daydreaming of boats in Venice and long walks aside the river and park benches. And when you touch it’s electric and you are scared it might end for the fury of love is deep and unquenching. This layer is a long handwritten love letter, inscrolled with words meant for one.

But these are only days.  They do not make up a life. It’s the character that forms as a result of these days that matters. Layers upon layers of emotions and reactions, heartbreak and redemption.  A butter biscuit that can be pulled apart, warm and rich, the smell permeating and filling the kitchen with a promise that they will be eaten soon enough.

I thank the Son for being an intimate part of my days.  And I thank the Father for being a trusted anchor when I could not stand.  I thank the Quiet Spirit that resides in me on bathroom floors and in the midst of passionate kisses, on park benches and in fancy leather seats.  For our bodies and our lives are a temple on good days and in bad, in the dark and in the light.

We know our days are numbered. And in the end, there is nothing but dust on the earth.  Comfort is fleeting, power an illusion. Heartbreak temporary and passion fading.  These days, they will someday come to an end.  But the honey that drips so deliciously down, into our souls and into our hearts and makes our mouths water – this love that binds the days and hours and years – this pure blinding love of God that soaks into us and becomes us and radiates from us?

This remains. 

Thank you, God, for this beautiful life. For the good days and bad.  For all the delicious layers.

 

photo:

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

A Southern State of Mind

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It’s easy to glorify our heritage.  For us southerners, it’s a right of passage.

I get it. Texas flows through my blood and I am damn proud of it.  I was raised in a small town, buried deep in the Hill Country, close enough to eat Mexican food in San Antonio but far away from those city slickers in Dallas.  And yeah, we skipped rocks and jumped into the Guadalupe and climbed atop the Cypress.  But it all wasn’t sundresses and barbeque either.  Well that’s a lie.  It was always about barbeque.

But nobody had fancy stitched boots back then, and we only listened to George Strait because it was the only thing on the radio. There were long days in the summer when the cicadas wouldn’t freaking die and they never shut up.  The droughts went long and the days wore on like an old piece of leather.  You could sit and change the dial in your car while driving down country roads but all you heard coming out of the speakers was steel guitar, whether you liked it or not.

But there was a dark side to all this rug cutting and beer drinking.  It made some people feel inside the circle and others out.  Cast aside like God didn’t have room for them, mostly because they wore black or held up a different color flag or happened to have serious doubts about the holy triune of their father’s father.  There was a leaning in my upbringing for everyone to blend together in perfect harmony. Trucks could either be black or red or have a lift kit or no, but let’s not get started about them Volkswagens.  You could ask anyone in church on Sunday hard questions about why they believed in God or how all the details worked and they’d just shrug, because it’s a box that gets checked, is all.  After church is fried chicken and football, so let’s not get all dramatic.  If you really want to be different and weird you just might as well pack your things and move to Austin where the hippies live.

Being from the south could be suffocating.   Women were often unfairly marginalized.  People who didn’t fit in were avoided. If you didn’t want to raise two kids and join the Rotary Club, it might be uncomfortable for you here in this place, where the world revolved. There were times you sat on the front porch and wondered if you’d ever break free and fly.  Out of this town where sin happened just the same as any other, but folks were too busy buying deer corn and cheap beer to notice.

And yet there are some people growing up that opened their doors like Jesus did.  To the rich and the poor.  The hungry and the full.  The sinners and believers alike, all hunkered down eating macaroni salad.  My grandfather was one.  He owned a sand-and-gravel business, and whenever one of his workers couldn’t make it until payday, he’d hand them a loan without asking for repayment.  My friend Lynda Ables would just cluck her way around singing and gathered up anyone who walked into her path without judgment.  Kids would gather around Macky Pitt’s dining table drinking tea and talking about things that scared them.  These are the memories that bind to my heart.  These are the things I hold most dear.

It is my prayer that my own home will also become a haven for the doubters.  A place of rest for the weary. Where all are welcome to put their boots or flags or labels by the door and simply come-on-in.  For a warm hug and a firm handshake.  A good hearty meal and real, true, forever-type love.

Please, Lord, don’t insulate me behind picket fences.  Allow me to welcome all, and appreciate Different Things.  Use me as a spokesperson for the skeptics, who see this religion thing as a country club for the few instead of a hitching post for all. For the sun, it is rising.  It’s climbing out of its resting place and poking its head above the oaks, spraying the world with God and light and tipping the clouds with gold.  The coffee is brewing. The birds and singing.

The time to love our neighbor has come.

Ya’ll grab a plate, now.  Grab a sweet potato biscuit with honey, a piece of that brown sugar bacon, and some of those cheese grits. Don’t be shy: eat your fill. Sit a spell and let’s talk about life. I want to look into your eyes, and I want to know you.  I’ll tell you about the beautiful love of Jesus if you wanna.  If not, that’s okay too.  We’ll just sit here, looking at the sun in that big ol Texas sky, rocking on the porch drinking coffee.  Because that’s what we do here in the south.

Come on over and visit.  The front door’s open.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonjalovas/4038233322/sizes/m/in/photostream/

The Shelling of Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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