Revenge is Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well what’s the fun in that.

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

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

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

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

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

Now think of this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:43-47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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Stripped Cotton (and the bloom of a new year)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo:

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Joy for the Saturated Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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The Promise Land

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It’s been on my mind lately, this notion of The Promise Land. No matter how ugly your marriage or drug addiction, your future can be washed clean.  You, too, can be happy.  You, too, can be beautiful. You, too, can live inside of a Pottery Barn catalog. It’s all waiting, right around that street, around the bend, someday shining in the land of promise.

If you believe this, you obviously haven’t seen the prices of Pottery Barn couches.

When I went through a divorce, it wasn’t just a difficult time in a charmed life.  It was a family that had forged together after years of comradery, years of fighting cancer and birthing babies and in some ways growing up together. And when it ended, it was as if lightening ripped through my home and lit everything on fire. It was so unexpected and painful. My gut ached from a deep inner place.  This, my friends, was not at all what I expected.  Where was the storybook ending I longed for? Where was the milk and honey that flowed from a life lived with purpose?

And yet I survived.  I picked myself up and made lots of pumpkin bread and managed to get a job, get dates, get a paycheck, get over it. I was beaten, but not broken. But things were never the same. There was an ex and a schedule and a loss.  There were times away from my children and alienation from a family.  There were good memories I didn’t know what to do with and bad ones I didn’t know how to forget. And my dream of an intact nuclear unit was forever shattered. That’s a loss I had to truly grieve. Maybe I was lactose intolerant.  Maybe honey had too many points on Weight Watchers. Maybe this was just my new normal.

But what happened was the most unexpected.  Instead of trying to replace what was lost, I was given a new path to follow.  So with one working eye and cavity-laden teeth and a body soft from bearing children and breastfeeding, I started walking. I formed my own law firm, and took control of my finances, and I started my second book. I began to see myself as strong and desirable instead of someone cast aside.  I bought locally-sourced organic honey from bees who ate wild clover.  I am a grown woman and I can handle myself, thank-you-very-much.

But there was God, still.  He just told me to keep walking. And while I’m in no way comparing myself to the Biblical figure of Abraham, the themes are evident.  God instructed Abraham in the Bible to leave the land and family he knew and travel to a land he would reveal.  So Abraham did as instructed, and traveled to the faraway land near Canaan. But lo-and-behold there was a famine in this very land God told him to go. Did Abraham doubt? Was he like “I ain’t staying in this craphole full of pestulent flies?”

Yeah.  Kinda.  He headed to Egypt, and lied about his wife Sarah, and ended up having sex with his maid.  That didn’t sound very biblical.  He made a lot of mistakes on his journey. But he did end up in the Promise Land.  Because the funny thing about God’s covenants is that it’s not dependent on us to be good, or always do the right thing, or smile in the perfect dress.  Thank heavens because this past weekend I ate an entire bowl of greasy popcorn and three glasses of wine and used up all my weight watchers points for the week in one stint. We are not perfect people.

And yet God remains clearly unaffected by my popcorn eating or food shame.

The day I met Mark, something shifted in life’s balance.  It was a flicker, like the television station needed adjusting, and life changed in an instant.  This man was nothing like I expected.  He was from Pennsylvania.  He went to boarding school. He didn’t own a pair of boots or a truck and didn’t know any Meryl Haggard songs. But I was so intrigued and fascinated by him, and very soon I felt I was dying of thirst and only he could quench it.  I thought of him, adored him, argued with him, wrote to him, debated with him, shared my heart with him.  And year upon year he soaked into the very fabric of me until I was completely saturated in love. This was an unexpected blessing. One I didn’t plan for or predict.  And so I prayed very hard about this union, this pathway, this new direction.  And it was revealed to me in a unique way that while I did not understand the specific end, the direction was clear.

Keep walking. This guy will be joining you.  

We now are now facing a blended family. Sometimes I clash with this new world of teenagers and devices. Nobody wakes up and thinks “Oh yay! Let’s throw two families together with completely different backgrounds and traditions and see how that works out!” This new stepfamily has its own language and a soul that I was not previously acquainted with. And sometimes I wonder why this particular life was set before me when I expected a different, more quiet, certainly more predictable one.  And yet the desires of our hearts are met in ways we don’t always expect. And we live inside the life we’ve been given, the journey set before us, the job we’ve been given. Sometimes it just feels like I’m outstretching my arms and all I see around me are wild animals I cannot catch.

And yet I love.  I cook.  I will continue to endure what is set before me, because I do not live for my current circumstances.  I am walking toward a higher calling, and following a voice that is more deeply entrenched. I look up, and realize. God’s grace is sufficient, and in my weakness I must rely on a strength greater than myself. 

I have to continue to work at this new journey, to lean into my weaknesses instead of pretend they are not there. I’ll be honest: it’s hard.  It’s also at times brilliant and awe-inspiring and beautiful.  I don’t know how it will all work when we are under one roof, when I’m the step mother to some and mother to others. I cannot control this.  And it terrifies me.  I have to learn to let go, pray for wisdom, and sometimes accept that which I cannot change.

Most of the time I am not good at this.  I get edgy and preachy and think I have all the answers. I want to roll up my sleeves and handle things.   WHY CAN’T I JUST HANDLE ALL THE THINGS? And yet to love well is to  surrender, not to control. To be a servant, not a master. I have to learn patience, which I hate, and be open minded to other opinions, which is like asking me to burn my own toast. I just realized today that I might not have complete control over my elegant, non-colored, burlap-laced, minimalist Christmas decor.  The kids will revolt and will want to put up tacky things.  I wanted to cry. Because the birth of a Savior really is all about a good stylish mantle.  SHUT UP IT IS.

I believe this is why I’m in this place.  To allow God to take over, to guide my heart, steady my hand.  I will keep walking, slow and steady, toward the path set out for me.  I will continue to cook too many side dishes, try and hug wild animals, and sing loudly.  I will endure eye rolling and screaming and many nights of being told by various family members that I ruined their life. And I will hold hands with the one I love, the man I will covenant with God to be married to, and we will take this journey together.

God help me, since I alone am not able.

“Fear not,” the Lord said to Abraham when he doubted.  “I am your shield.” And I see it now, as I walk toward this land of milk and honey, flowing with spiritual gifts, fruits that will only build a greater heart in me and for my children, and a union stronger as a result.

This land is indeed promised. And I’m heading straight for it, one small step at a time. Which means exercise points (whoop!), which translates to popcorn.  Which is better than milk.  So yeah.  WINNING.

 

Living the American Dream

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If you come from nothing, work hard, and manage to support yourself, maybe you are Living the American Dream. We’ve heard of this illusive dream.  This America. But somewhere between belching out our light beer and clicking on pop-up ads, we’ve forgotten it.

People have almost died to get here.  They’ve puked and starved their way across the high seas or piled in the back of trucks where they couldn’t breathe – because this is the land of opportunity, fortune, and safety. A beacon of hope to all.

But what is this dream, exactly?

Maybe someone makes a living creating adult films, because they sell and a man can support his family and lo-and-behold his kids get into a nice school and his wife doesn’t have to clean houses anymore.

But wait.  Adult film? That’s not valuable to society.  That’s spreading filth and trash to an already overly-sexed culture.

Or they grow up in a well-known family. They love fashion and beauty and a girl starts to think of herself as a brand.  She surrounds herself with wealthy friends and gets photographed in exclusive places.  She earns enough money to buy a NYC apartment and fancy shoes.

But wait.  What did you actually do to earn that money? You’re famous but have no skill.  That’s not fair, and you’re basically manipulating everyone.

So what is the American Dream, really? Is it making something of yourself? Supporting yourself from nothing? Providing for your family? Because suddenly THIS doesn’t actually count and THAT doesn’t count.  You not only have to support yourself, but you also must do something unique and valuable (according to who?) and in a way that’s not offensive to anyone (according to who?) and not make too much money or earn too much fame or show off too much so other people won’t get jealous and throw stones at you.

This is an IMPOSSIBLE dream. A ridiculous pursuit of what is based upon the whims of society, who change their mind with the wind. This is in, that’s out.  A one-hit wonder in the Fall, then a pariah by Spring.

We cannot base our dreams on this. This, my friends, is shifting sand.

One of the beautiful things about humans is our need to be inquisitive.  To create, and wonder, and dream of something that does not currently exist.  In a place like America, rich in natural resources and wealth so it’s possible to meet your basic needs, curiosity can be explored and even rewarded.  Just imagine, sitting in your garage creating a machine that would change the world.  Coming up with the idea for an information superhighway.  A lab that can cure diseases.  In this land, people forged new trails, hunkered down through harsh winters.  Adapted. It’s also a place where inventions are encouraged, changes are supported, independence reigns.

We are a wildly creative, vibrant, and curious culture.  We cannot lose this sense of wonder.  We cannot sit idly by or take this freedom for granted.  America allows people not only the freedom to express themselves, but in a way that’s unique and different.

We all reap the benefit of this culture of invention – lowered crime, reduced disease, air conditioned homes.  And yet it’s a double-edged sword.  We have to guard against the stifled cloud of judgment that can suffocate us.  The idea that some dreams are not worthy because they are not approved by some overarching morality code.

So a man’s making adult films. A woman’s making money posting on Instagram.  What do you fear? Are you worried about the degradation of our culture? The lowered moral code?

Don’t do this.  Don’t trash the very society that allows us all opportunities and freedoms to be who we are.   

I’m a Christian. I feel the presence of God in my daily life.  He is a warm and merciful God, and also a God to be feared. But I also believe very strongly in freedom, to allow us all to explore our lives, and form our own pathways.

Jesus did not enter this world to force everyone to think the way he did.  He worked on his craft as a carpenter, entering society from a very humble beginning. He gathered a small group of close friends, shared the love he knew, and walked for miles and miles and miles. He posed questions, used parables, and created a since of curiosity. Should they cast the first stone? Were they really blameless? How would the multitudes be fed? Was God really God? And lastly, did Jewish law sometimes stand in the way of God’s grace?

People gathered around him, this Jesus.  Not out of obligation or guilt, but out of a sense of awe and wonder. Because he was a living, breathing, extension of the inner peace we all seek.

Do not chastise each other for living different dreams.  Live your own life, and do your own great work, and walk in your own sandals for miles and miles and miles.  We don’t need more box-checkers, or an army of morality police, chastising each other like religious zealots.  We need more people to truly say “I don’t understand your life. Will you teach me?” Or even harder, “you’ve desecrated my ancestors or enslaved my people.  Is there any way we start anew?”  This is the way to freedom, to sit with each other.  You, inside your dream and me, inside mine.  To laugh with each other.  To encourage each other in times of great trouble. We have to be a strong nation of encouragers, believers, dreamers.  And in order to do so, we have to kill that sense of judgment.  Strike it through its very heart and simply walk away with its carcass on the highway.

What is the American Dream? It’s living a full, rich life, doing the best you can, to the best of your ability, in a land that affords you freedoms to do so. Let’s celebrate it, and encourage it, and not push against it.

It’s a place worth living. It’s a country worth cherishing.  It’s a type of love that is worthy of a dream.

 

photo:

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Charred ends

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There is an unassuming little joint right off Highway 71 near Bastrop, Texas, in the middle of what used to be called the Piney Woods. The sign reads “Billy’s BBQ,” because the owner is Billy and that just made good damn sense.  We used to go there when we were passing through, a two-meat platter with potato salad, nothing fancy or famous but just staples of Texas that one grows used to.  Now barbeque has become such an ordeal, with restaurants like Franklins where lines last for hour simply for the pleasure of licking the charred end of a brisket. Presidents, celebrities, everyone’s cousin, and friends from California all want to know what’s the best, what’s the greatest, and who on this great earth makes the best sausage stuffed with jalapenos and cheese.  It’s all a big show these days, one restaurant claiming that “it’s had the same pit fire burning for over twenty years.”  For heavens sakes.

I was born and raised in a small town in Texas, where barbeque was consumed at almost all events without much thought put to it, like picking up a sandwich. You never had to worry about hipsters, wanting peached iced tea and pulled pork with cilantro.  I order the same thing every time at Billy’s, the burned ends with sausage, cole slaw, salad.  It’s hearty and filling, and it makes me feel like home.

The last time I stopped in I was wearing something sharp and black, coming back from a meeting in Houston, and although I ordered it to go I just didn’t feel like leaving.  Billy’s daughter, a heavy-set blond woman, had taken my order.  She seemed worn and tired from the monotony of things, but she offered a beleaguered smile as she handed me the Styrofoam box and bread.

I sat in the back, inhaling all that was familiar.  Billy was there with his wife, who kept meddling and interfering in things until their daughter told her momma to shush, that she had work to do.  But as mothers do, she stood up and shuffled to the cash register, her knee acting up again. Or so I assumed.

I went up to Billy and shook his hand, told him how I often came here, how it made me feel warm and comforted, like I was back in my grandfather’s sand and gravel shop in Kerrville. There was a Tom’s vending machine on the back wall, twenty-years past working with the cord hanging to one side, overseen by the deer heads with their proud antlers, mounted to the walls.  “Thankya,” he said in all one word, the same word he used for 31 years of being in business, cooking meat and scooping up beans, walking around in starched wranglers with a pearl button flannel shirt regardless of the season.

An old black man came in, a little toddler bounding in behind him.  Billy called out his name, said what a cute granddaughter he had, and the man beamed with pride.  Later another man, wearing wranglers and a fishing shirt and a straw cowboy hat, came in and started talking without even placing an order.  Billy’s wife was tired, it seemed to me, but she dished him up the usual and asked him about the bulldozer business.

There was an ease about the place, a familiarity with the smallness of it all, comfort taken that the food is always the same, the coleslaw sweet, the soda cold.  It is as if nothing ever changes here but the weather, which is the topic of much conversation.

I try to stop in every time I pass through.  I just rush in and order, eat until my belly’s full.  No one really knows me there, and it’s nothing to write home about.  Except that it is home, with the linoleum and antlers and salt shakers half filled. This is the Texas I know: a friendly and warm and welcoming place, where brothers shake hands and talk about land west of town for sale at a decent price.  These are people who love hard and don’t change and wear wranglers not out of fashion but practicality.

I’m so damn proud of you, Billy.  All these years you’ve made it.  You must be nearing 90 by now, the way your skin sags and you have to catch yourself as you stand.  You remind me of Papa, the quiet way you talk, the blurring together of words, the way your gait is uneven and your hair thin. I see the dark spots on your forehead, the ones you get checked every year to make sure the sun didn’t burn you with cancer.  You’ve likely braved the storms and heartbreak that are bound up in marriage, business, the pit fires that burn.

I’m going to keep coming back to see you when I’m heading to Houston.  I’ll get the two-meat platter, the cole slaw and salad, and smile at the non-working Tom’s vending machine.  I’ll sit for a while and listen to the random, idle conversation.  Because this is my living room and my heart and my history.  My personal nostalgia, all wrapped up in the charred ends of a cow.

The Election and Talking Dogs

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This is my one and only political post.  It’s more about talking dogs, really.

I read the Mike Rowe story focusing on voters, and not encouraging blind voting based upon flippant celebrity endorsements. I’ve read that and a hundred other stories on how we got ourselves into this hot mess to begin with.  #nevertrump and #neverhillary.  Who is left? A 40-year old write-in candidate? Gary freaking Johnson?

I dunno. I kinda like celebrities pretending they know something about NATO and China’s economy.  After all, they are actors. They can pretend.  But aren’t they also Americans, who actually might care?

So maybe voters (or voter fraud, who knows) put us into this mess to begin with regarding two very unpopular presidential candidates.  And while I understand Rowe’s point, that we should all be educated and take our role as voting citizens seriously, do we dare take it to its logical conclusion, that the uneducated populous should refrain from voting because it’s somehow irresponsible?  After all, it’s a right not a duty, and who wants to be irresponsible when exercising a right? Would we want mental health patients firing weapons? Do we want people who believe their dog can speak voting for president? If voters don’t read books on economic theory, are they even qualified to vote?

I think the answer is simple.  Yes.  A resounding yes.  Even people who believe the world is flat and believe the moon landing was a contrived government conspiracy.  Even they should vote.  Because it’s part of who we all are as American citizens.  We are privileged to have this right.  Even people who eat nothing but cheese and pickles have a voice in who leads us, even if the majority of us think they are misguided.

The rights we are endowed with to assemble, protest, vote, and speak our own voice are not just an assurance that the best ideas and best candidates come forward – it’s a hope that we as a nation of citizens should have a voice in leadership, and that we can all participate in the marketplace of ideas.  I would hope we value every unique person and every heart and every opinion, even if it differs from our own. Although the Constitution does not, at the present time, allow talking dogs to vote. There is always hope in the future.  Amendments happen.

Rowe’s theory, while understandable, can be a slippery slope toward an age where wealthy white men of privilege, the “educated ones,” the people who are “responsible voters,” get to make decisions while the undereducated masses (minorities? the poor?) simply trust the “smarter” few to make decisions for all. Who decides who’s smarter and more responsible? What if dogs really can talk? How the heck do we really know.

In my opinion, voters have brought forth a candidate like Trump because they are living in a state of fear.  Fear of terrorism, fear that they have become unheard, fear in the wealthy, fear that all the diversity and social change have somehow gone too far, and something snapped in our collective consciousness.  Many people grew so angry that no one “believed in anything anymore” that they needed to take a hard-line position.  They needed someone to tell them what to do.  To make promises, even if they were only half-believable.  To say “political correctness” is just a heaping pile of shit, which is what folks were thinking anyway.  And this boldness in speech was so refreshing voters lined up to subscribe to this ideology, this anti-establishment.  An authoritative populism emerged that was similar, in fact, to Hitler’s own rise to power.  After all, Adolf was attacking the monopolies, wanting to make Germany great again, stressing the importance of country and loyalty, and showcasing his power of media and influence.

So yes, maybe we as a country did it to ourselves, but we need to ask why it got to this point.  Why the masses felt it was so important to shift the tide. Are Trump voters all dumb sheep with no coherent thoughts? I don’t think so.  I think it’s growing anger and fear that drives this train.

Sadly, addressing fear with brute force, isolation of certain groups, and marginalization will not be the fix our country. If there was only a way to put a salve on the wounds of the hearts of our citizens.  To have someone who will protect, shoulder, act as a parent who does not hurt but heals.  Someone who may actually listen to the heartbeat of a country who feels disenfranchised, and yet help them rise above it, love each other, and re-focus the hate into mercy, grace, and self-sacrifice.

We hunker down, and we shall live with the election results that come. We may believe this world is not our forever home, that the struggles of this life are not eternal.  But the impact we have upon our fellow man on earth does linger.  It creates a rip-tide of calm, like antacid in the stomach. People are bubbling over. And it’s up to us to speak for ourselves, our children, or families, our communities. We can peacefully stand up as our great brother Martin Luther King, Jr. once did, fighting for equality without rage or malice toward our fellow man.  We have to remain strong and vigilant in love, fighting for what’s right and providing an outlet to so many who seek a leader.

What this means is that we refrain from harsh words.  We don’t always one-up our neighbor. We get low, and serve others before ourselves.  We don’t always unfriend someone for an unpopular opinion.  As hard as it might be, we guide our path toward greatness as a nation with gentleness, self-control, goodness, patience, and all other fruits that are produced by good and strong trees.  So invite a Trump supporter to coffee, even though the Donald makes your blood boil.  Try to understand why women have such a positive reaction to Hillary being the first woman president, even though you don’t trust Clinton as far as you can throw her.  Try to open your mind, be understanding, and with every single person you come in contact.  Work to eliminate fear.  Muzzle the harsh speech.  Touch their arm, smile in their eyes.  Connect, and be human, and bring them into the light of love.

One nation, under God, indivisible.  That’s the only way we’ll survive this. At least that’s what the talking dogs tell me. And I, for one, believe them.

 

Photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/rpavich/10697725456/in/photolist-hijD5m-cdb2Rj-dTktDd-dJUXXW-8Tnqd-oPCXUK-6My24E-kYHQW-hGAvw-98BdEd-kQhjiK-8vphbz-p6kPJ-7fpPzT-9AdFDR-8QruoV-o556qA-9F1sSL-cdb2E1-8ywVRg-dGFWUs-qihiL7-5YupXs-utyuH-5RBnQs-6n79S-9hYeN-5CUqxn-cLZeNw-98xNVZ-9y1XfG-gbuGCc-cjXZ1E-7jyAM3-6HjQNX-7Z9sN6-ds1cra-2oXsEL-5ZTH3c-o3gzKp-5TZSAD-cvMVLU-9PpgnB-6s5Kh8-6VvDof-9aycXi-5NLDgn-8xHLbN-52iLiP-zwCrf6

Kale is evil

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Forever a culprit of modern society’s overbearing influence to be thin, I’ve been on some form of low-carb diet since college.  I eat normally for a while, then end up loading up on sugar, regret how that makes me look and feel, and end up eating nothing but protein shakes and salami until my pants fit.  I’m not saying this is a responsible way to live.  It’s just the pattern that has emerged. One day my son was like “why do you like salads so much” and my response was “it’s complicated.”  I don’t want to give my children body image issues by saying “I eat greens not for my health but so I can fit into that tight Michael Kors dress.”

But today, I had enough.  I’m so tired of eating grilled vegetables (no carrots or corn! Low glycemic index!) that I just craved things.  Strawberries, blueberries, YOGURT.  So I dusted off my Vitamix and determined that my body would, in fact, survive the sugar impact of a fruit smoothie with honey.  Also, I remembered that I had a bunch of almost-rotten kale in the refrigerator.

I buy kale from time to time when I go the grocery store in the morning, fueled with coffee and optimism, when I think “I’ll make kale chips! My children will love it! I’ll whip up some creamed kale with hatch chilies sprinkled with cheese!”  It sounds legitimate at the time, but you must realize I’m drugged on morning happiness and espresso. When the caffeine high recedes I’m like Oh crap. What do I do with all this kale. No one in my family eats it. No one likes it.  I get blank stares from my kids followed by “why aren’t we having broccoli” and “what are we having for dessert.”

So I dig this wilted kale from my crisper and decide it will be barely recognizable in my smoothie, the one I’m having with no protein powder, filled with things like DAIRY and FRUIT and ALL THE FORBIDDEN THINGS.  I stuff a big wad of this lettuce-like substance in the blender with wild abandon. Because I have this imaginary world that exists, promoted in part by Whole Foods, that says my body is very unhappy with cheese and hummus, and yet fresh salads and things like beets and heirloom tomatoes cause my inner organs to moan with joy. The blood will flow better!  The heart will beat longer!  The brain cells will fire faster! And when you eat cheeseburgers all your inner organs are depressed as hell and want to just die.

I know this is dumb.  I blame Jessica Alba.

So I drink this smoothie filled with three-day old kale, and realize that something keeps sticking in my teeth similar to the texture of homemade paper.  I’m concurrently picking out seeds with one hand and bits of green paperkale in the other.  I am not sure if my body is all jazzed up about this.  My mouth actually whispered “what happened to you eating eggs. I liked the eggs you cook with butter.”

“Whatever, mouth,” I say. “Butter is for losers. It was my brain’s turn, and it choose this strangely viscous papery smoothed-together fruit concoction made with Greek yogurt, because the yogurt from Israel was taken.”

But who are we kidding. Yes the honey and strawberries are nice, but at what cost?  I think the moral of this story is to not eat kale.  Just walk past it in the grocery store.  Do not believe your fake energetic morning voice that says you will roast it with oil and seasoning. Do not think if you put it in your blender it will mesh into the almond milk and become unnoticeable.

Let my story be a lesson to you.  Walk away from kale.

 

photo

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/tinfoilraccoon/5910366614/in/photolist-a1hb5E-815uNr-dAXyw1-aeUsDw-aeRDy8-6cc627-7EufLq-98rcKd-dRGQCU-64CMzp-9TqBuL-9TnMQa-HDbXiW-abtfiS-abqpFK-9TqByA-t91BZ-bobDuF-9kq5SQ-dY35wb-qRijsM-dBPSQ2-4nJToB-4socRe-6c7XmD-64CMtR-4TYPzS-pq53Z9-5he8LA-94D5kj-7dgW6j-bwQS2z-HDbXAQ-pT8AQF-5s93dr-bXmiHX-jwxxUw-divNzL-caH13m-oRehK5-4V31Wo-oTSSgx-bP3jQ-8YjgNR-hAJcDa-8YnjKw-8YnjtJ-9BiswQ-bwNPT6-7RDaFD

Weeds among us

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I was struck today as I sat on my front porch about the number of weeds that proliferated my front yard, mixed in and amongst the grass, swaying in the humid air. I was also thinking of the number of people I know on social media, outspoken and outraged, furious at our country’s politics and certain social issues.

And it reminded me of a story in the Bible about weeds, a parable that Jesus painstakingly explained to the rather dense and bumbling disciples. I am like the twelve in the fact that I’m always wondering, questioning, failing, not understanding. I also drink wine and like a good footbath, so I’m just exactly like these people except I bathe more. But when God is with me, sitting next to me, whispering in my ear that he is never far, I still tremble at times about things I cannot control. I turn and ask, dimwitted and weak, for answers.

But the parable is simple. A man sowed good seed in his field, but an evil one scattered seeds of weeds in among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds appeared. The owner’s servants were appalled, first questioning the owner. “Did you not sow good seed in your field?” they asked. I like how their first instinct was to blame the master. Are you a stupid idiot, planting weeds in your field? Were you on facebook when you planted the damn seeds and weren’t paying any attention? The bible didn’t say that part. That’s my own addition.

When the owner indicated it was done unto him, the servants offered to pull them up. But the owner was insistent against it. “No,” he answered. “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters; First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30

I find this parable interesting, especially with so many people expressing righteous indignation about so many things, discussing their version of family values or the Christian way, dabbing their napkins at their own dirty faces and tisk-tisking everyone. There is so much opinion about what is right and wrong, to the extent that we not only believe our own positions, but we are personally offended if our views are not shared, re-tweeted, applauded, and encouraged. Everyone needs a stage these days, clucking and trumping themselves up. You saw what I did right there, didn’t you? Anywho.

The list is long. Attend church, pray at night, do the right thing, rebuke evil, refrain from cussing, don’t do drugs, brush your teeth, move your ass, show up on time, say thank you, eat your vegetables, support women’s rights, love everyone, hate those who do not, be funny and forgiving, unless the people are morons and then be sarcastic and disparaging, love puppies. The list changes, bullets deleted and others added, and this list is highly dependent upon your background, race, income limits, and location. I’m sure if I think about it long enough I have a list, although it’s on recycled paper embossed in neutral tones, which would be very pinterest-worthy. Because that kind of thing is important to our eternal souls. #bestlistever

This checklist we have made defines what is good and acceptable, good seeds that we are taught by our leaders or parents or upbringing. But people all have their own boxes, and it’s hard to keep track what’s on the list.  Although I’m fairly certain most lists involve the virtues of coffee. Ours in particular, however, we have deemed good after much thought and supplication, and thus we feel very powerful about sharing it, encouraging others to follow it, and pointing out how wrong people are if they disagree.

Is this not what we want to do with voters we don’t agree with, people who do evil things, terrorists, racists, small-minded people, and weeds? We want to root them out, pluck them up, unfriend them, clean out the flowerbeds. If only people could just be reasonable. If only they could just do all the things on the list like we do.

But my dear friends. The friends who are so loving and supportive, reading my words and being so kind to me in all sorts of trials, friends who call me and put up with me and tell me it’s okay that I’m controlling and like linen so much and host extravagant dinner parties and have poor hearing. Hear me on this.

It’s not our job.

What Jesus is saying is that there will always be evil, weeds, distractions, sin, people who will not agree, lives that somehow proliferate but bear no fruit, Kardashians (I’m sorry Kim darling you’re so fun). And yet we are to live amongst all the noise, the hard, the negative. We must rise up our heads higher, and keep putting our roots down deeper, and realize that someday the weeds and the wheat will be separated by hands more powerful and more discerning than we can ever be. We are not to play God, for we are not equipped for this task. We trust the angels to know our hearts, and to protect us from harm. That is our comfort. Truly, in God we trust.

So let us all grow together, being kind to one another. Even our enemies amongst us. We are provided a sun above to light our face, a field of moist earth upon which our feet rest and allows us to flourish. Let’s not look around and cast judgment or try to make circles around our hearts so that we are safe. We are never safe. Living in a world of temptations means we have to find the inner strength to survive.

And survive we will. Tall and strong and hearty, like wheat stalks rustling in the harvest breeze. Yes, there are racists and haters amongst us. Protect yourself, but it’s not your job to round them up and eliminate them. It’s your job to grow tall, produce fruit, trust God, and thrive.

Also it’s your job to bathe. Because hello. I am standing right here next to you and we all share the same air.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/mackenzieblack/4828730498/in/photolist-8mGvm7-icBVx-59oUSv-9JC57C-8jaWxL-59oaHG-fcYhum-6CmVzM-8mGvEY-uTzoMR-8iwFFd-6nTtpP-59t9tW-ozy5tu-8mDoWK-6d1eyL-5U3VUi-afJj72-6BRkpA-5j1Rr6-6BRnm7-8mGuFj-8mDoHP-8mDoBV-ozyPQi-oRLFYk-ozy22Q-oS1sJN-fuvnt4-oRLufv-fuv2LH-ozyBCJ-fuvjEM-axHQBb-fuKhab-fuvivP-fuKnEE-fuKvPY-bgGgeM-8mGv33-fuKDiU-bgGhsD-4txQnS-oS3cWR-6mXPdA-2ZLbUb-4sbxiD-8mDooH-GVmSWp-4StEZ

10 Ways to be More Excellent Humans

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  1. Control your Inner Troll. When I was on The Apprentice, many people commented online. “You look like a Bohemian transvestite,” one guy said. What he didn’t know is that I took that as a compliment that I was obviously good at singing and had good taste in make-up. Ha ha, troll. But it’s so easy to make fun of people. I get this. But just because people are online doesn’t make them void of feelings. Everyone has feelings.
  1. Give Things Away. A girlfriend once commented how she liked my ring that I was wearing. “This old thing? I got it on a discount table at Talbots. It’s clearly not gold.  It’s rubbing off and I think it’s made from a melted spoon.” But she liked it, and so I boxed it up and sent it to her. Which was weird, I know. But my friends know me and accept me for my various quirks and flaws. And she thought of me and how awful this rubbed-off gold was close up every time she wore it. I presume. She ended up mailing it back to me, like “thanks for your used things, but I’m good.” Things are meaningless. Stories are what matter.
  1. Treat Customer Service People Well. My boyfriend’s son, a cashier at Pei Wei, told me that a lady berated him and questioned him why there was Ahi Tuna on the salad she ordered and demanded it be removed. “But it’s called The Ahi Tuna Salad,” he said. If you can remember back to high school when you worked a menial job where you had to take orders and bus tables, it kinda sucks. And to be treated like pond scum when you forget to include chopsticks in the bag just makes you feel worse. They are just trying to afford gas money for freak sake.
  1. Read More Books. I read Atlas Shrugged in high school and felt I was the only one in the history of the universe who had read this book and had become enlightened. It was my personal story, like somehow Ayn Rand “got me.” This was ridiculous, I realize. But in books, words describe scenes you can personally imagine rather than movies, that describe them for you. Engaging your mind and entering the fantasy world of fiction makes you (1) ignore your children (2) lose sight of all other things besides the book and (3) want to talk about the book to everyone on social media when you are finished. Okay so maybe this isn’t a way to improve upon your humanness. Screw vocabulary. Let’s all go to the movies.
  1. Have Compassion for Mean People. I had a boss once that I hated. I mean this woman was so picky and gutted my writing and tried her hardest to make me do things I didn’t want to do. She bellowed her commands in a sugary way that was mean and evil. But now that I’m grown, I realize she was lonely. She was afraid of her position in the office. She didn’t have many friends and she had a weight issue that made her feel alone and sad.  I could have swallowed my own feelings and shown up with flowers, or left her a note, or smiled at her more. Because you are don’t want to spread the same type of mean they’re dishing. Resist the urge to be a troll.
  1. Own Animals. I had a dog growing up called Tiger, who allowed me mercifully to dress him in bonnets and put socks on his feet. He was at all my mud pie baking competitions and always wagged his tail. Animals are cuddly and they love you no matter what you say or whether you are wearing dingy pajama bottoms with wine stains. Don’t judge. They are really comfortable. But owning animals reminds us all that we have someone who loves us. Except they die, fair warning. That part sucks. But owning them makes us better somehow. Get animals anyway, even if you have to get different animals later. Pet them. Talk to them. But not too much because that’s just crazy.
  1. Seek Out Funny. There was a comedian on twitter I found out lived in my town so I messaged him like “let’s get coffee! Let’s talk about humor!” and he was like “I don’t know you.” I told him I wasn’t a stalker, but he said that’s what all the stalkers say. We humans are built to laugh. So much so that we stare at television and productions and seek out people who are funny just to get the rush of endorphins that laughter provides. So if you aren’t getting enough in your daily diet, seek it out. Find what makes you bubble inside and do more of that. Unless it’s due to drugs or excessive drinking. Avoid those things.
  1. Use People’s Names. My boyfriend knows all the people’s names around, like Martin at the cleaners and Erin the customer service lady at a hotel, and he always refers to them by name. Because this makes them human and real and not just robots. In texts you can say “have a good day, Stephanie” or “I’ll see you for lunch at noon, Joseph!” until people start telling you that’s weird and then you should stop. But only then.
  1. Let Someone In Front of You. This is hard for me, because I’m always in a hurry. I run late and I barely make it on time. But there ain’t nowhere that urgent I gotta be. It just takes a few more seconds, minutes, moments – to usher someone in front of you.  Open doors and let someone in. Because mercy and grace comes to the least of us, not the greatest. The last shall become first. [Enter Bible scriptures that refer to this here; there are many I’m very certain. Jesus talked about it a lot].
  1. Control Your Anger. I have to admit, when I was going through a divorce I was angry a lot. Maybe rage is the better word. Rage about things that were done and undone and all the unraveling of lives. But this type of anger burns, and can easily get out of control. It’s sometimes easy to let anger build due to injustice or unfairness or All The Things in Life. Because it’s one thing to feel anger, which is natural, but another to allow it to consume you. Eat at you. Take over your soul. Consider it a fire inside that needs to be cooled with soothing words, deep breaths, love. These things will quench the fire, and then imagine how you can make things better, in response to what makes you angry. Being filled with anger only burns your own skin.

Let us all be better humans, one day at a time.

 

photo: “Stranger #7” by d26b73 is licensed under CC BY 2.0