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:

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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

 

Letting go

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As I get older, I’m becoming keenly aware of what letting go really means.

Admittedly, I have control over small things. I choose what to cook for dinner. I choose what clothing to wear. Menial choices through the day I dictate. Sometimes, just to shake things up, I brush my teeth last or shampoo before scrubbing. I can choose to be forgiving or harsh, yell or speak. I can choose to take a stand or be quiet, be involved or in the background. I can even choose to spend three hours watching Julia Child videos.

We have the luxury to live in a country where food is plentiful, choices can be made. We have freedom to roam and explore, think and create. And worship without being killed for it.

There are always things we can control. Each decision forms us, creates something of an imprint upon the world. Our interactions with other humans creates a ripple around us, and eventually those ripples become waves, and can change the tide of history. We can teach our children to abhor hate, quell violence, love the unlovable, forgive. It is hard, but doing hard things is what makes us valuable.

And yet there are times my sense of stability comes from the mirage of control, that somehow I singlehandedly can keep my children safe, keep my world safe, build protections around my heart so I am not easily injured. I like to build passageways in front of me, paved and clean. I think I know what’s best. How to raise children. How to discipline. How to create a healthy home. How to teach about God.

But maybe I don’t. What the hell do I know.

After the birth of my daughter, I had a life-threatening infection. I had no choice to let go. Because my body was literally too weak to go on. When I was going through a divorce that cut my heart out and shredded it into pieces, I collapsed and let it all go. Not because of my own strength, but because I had no more to give.

And here I am now, facing other life pressures. A future that’s uncertain, a life that’s so full of burdens. Questions that are seemingly unanswered, despite my pleading and begging and fasting and quiet. And it’s not through my perseverance that I trust and obey, but because of my weakness that I submit. I can choose tuna over ham, Mexican over burgers. I can put my high heels on or my sandals. But those decisions have no lasting consequences.

When it comes to life’s big turning points – Things That Need To Be Answered, all I have the strength to do is let it go. As if to the wind, carrying my prayers off on the waves that I’ve seen throughout my life, the spirit that flows in and out of me. Sometimes this current is strong and other times it recedes. I do not understand God, nor am I enlightened enough to see his divine handiwork. And yet I feel God at work in my life and in the lives around me. I feel it ebb and flow, in and out, always.

So I lay down at the very feet of God, curled up like my son does at night when I read him stories. My son buries his head in my chest as I read about turtles and aircraft carriers, dogs and bears. I, too, lay down at the feet of a father, soft and yet unyielding, not needing to be defined but only fully loved.

I need to know that I’m not wasting time. That all my life choices were not in vain, but have purpose. Trusting God is the only way through, and somehow I’ll make it through. This is the security that I seek. Not in my own control but in letting go. Always and forever safe in these arms.

 

photo:

(three w’s)flickr.com/photos/nicholereneephotography/5600375066/in/photolist-9wTooN-PVLFS-5aMX1v-qtNvY3-qohC5x-6gK62X-b3WUJK-4y8BVs-cAnzKh-ecjoKq-2paFRR-eH9d9R-bqPQmc-edSWfj-6tkHxe-6vxcJ8-eDHUF1-KDc8T-oWTTGc-raPaGE-8LXDho-5TCeF2-dvTvWa-hMohhy-4Cqtqm-rSJnu-63bXww-pstGnD-kP8RFP-cynsuS-6a7HxR-8RY7W5-ozuQzx-8vGnwi-mnjaKd-65D4v6-agpd8P-6d8Uii-s5q5S6-t1QSe-ecxhTT-bCAVsy-aSznAR-edDaA-so7oiB-cEQdcG-8UoEdC-e53dnM-pp47H6-pWrfiJ

Roots Down

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zinnias from the garden that I pluck by the handful and stick in random jars

I live on a stretch of land between country and town, a tiny little Ranch, Jr. that allows me to carry out my farm-like fantasies but still be close to a Whole Foods and organic strawberries. Without having to grow the strawberries.

And on this tiny patch of earth there is wildness, which I crave. I sit on the front porch and read my books and wish my coffee stayed hot longer. There is a bunny that we call Charlie that lives under the blue plumbago and there are now little tiny bunnies that hop around underfoot. We call them all Charlie, the little ones Charlie’s babies. This Fall we will have chickens.

When I come up the walk I often spook a deer or a lizard or another one of Charlie’s babies, and they all go scattering off like I am some monster that might hurt them. I want to say to them that I’m safe, that I am not going to step on their heads, that I come in peace. Unless they are cockroaches and then they should fear me.

And it made me think of humans, how fragile we are, how we scatter. It made me see humanity as one long sinewy collection of muscles, drawn taught with the impulse to run at the sound of footsteps, spooked by the haunting of guns and the constant fear of something.

Drugs make people jumpy. The body is dependent on something that their brain is telling them they need. People who are in love or desperate make irrational decisions. Even rather harmless things like sugar or the happy rush of being on stage or the feeling of lightness when we are winning at something can cause that feeling of loneliness when it retreats. Jumpiness when that something is not around. The good and the bad are all jumbled up together and we just want to run and hide, covering ourselves with blankets or bullets to the temple or pills. We almost crave hollowed-out lives so we don’t feel anymore and can quit running.

I went walking down the street where I live, where few cars drive. I watched all the wild around me, flying and hiding, soaring and slinking. A deer ran into the bushes. A gecko slid by. Birds fought each other like knights in the trees, oblivious to me.

I say I like the wild. And yet I walk through spider’s webs, their sticky lace atop my face, in my mouth, attaching to my arms. I prick my fingers when I pluck the agarita berries from the bushes. I’m always avoiding bugs on the tomato plants. When one flies at my face or there’s a red wasp I let out a little shriek because it surprises me and I am scared. Imagine, scared of a little wasp.

We are all like this, wanting the wild but running away. So afraid of things. Running out of money. Being mediocre. Not being loved enough. Losing at something. Failing at our marriage. Letting down our kids. Worried of what people might think of us. Feeling trapped in the mainstream. Wanting to be different.

And I am reminded that Jesus is the great calmer of the waters.

So many people think I’m crazy with my Jesus stories, this God of mine who lets bad things happen. This religion of mine who casts judgment and hurts people. And I am sorry that the world has offered this screwed up opinion of some rage-filled maniac. That is not the God I know. Like anything, religion is cooked up from a batter of jumpy anxious people and can be just as toxic if eaten.

It’s God that I love. The God that loves all, comes down to Earth for all, weeps for all, simply does not care what you look like or how dark your skin is or who you love or even what awful sin you’ve done that you are trying to escape from. We run from God because of our own inner shame, but it’s futile. It’s all seen, there’s no need to run. We will grow weary soon enough. True love is what holds us when we are searching for something we cannot find. We don’t have to use fancy words. We don’t have to be eating scoops upon scoops of religion. We simply recognize love where we find it, and in God there is love. And then we can stop and breathe deeply for the first time and quit hiding behind bushes.

At my wedding I handed out little brown packets of zinnia seeds, years and years ago, because of how hearty they are in the Texas heat and how I wanted to represent how strong marriage was. How fruitful we’d be, how beautiful when planted. Like I could guarantee security in a party favor. That was before Pinterest even, so go ahead and vomit at how nerdy that was. The marriage crumbled. I still plant zinnias. Go figure.

We are always wired to run. But don’t. Stand somewhere and listen to the wind around you, feel the sun on your face, the voice of truth in your heart. Stop being afraid. It’s just the drugs of earth and media and confused religious people telling you that you are not enough, when you are. You are God’s beloved, a wild and wonderful poem woven inside of a soul. A beautiful unique person with stories only you can tell. Don’t let this world make you hide who you are.

I live on Ranch Jr. and dodge the red wasps and wave to Charlie’s babies. I get in my car toward Whole Foods to buy strawberries. I still want to hide sometimes, from blended families and future teenagers and the thought of debt or moving or some other thing, but I’m working on it. Every day is another chance to breathe deeper, go slower, plant my roots down.  I’m learning to be grateful for the awareness of love.

An End-of-School Letter

Dear Teacher,

Well, it’s almost here. Thursday is the last day of school for our little munchkins. Can you believe it? The last day you’ll see my daughter’s hair half-brushed with nests of tangles curled up underneath like nobody would notice. The last day a jumper is thrown in the dryer with fabric softener so that it will smell clean. The last day I stuff lunch boxes with cheese [because we are out of bread and ham] “just like the French.” And the very last day you’ll have to listen to the rumblings of my daughter, who says things like “Ann of Green Gables has too much dialogue and not enough action. At least in Clone Wars there is fighting.” She’s strong with the Force, that one.

I know this time of the year can be challenging. But we are all tired. For example, my daughter’s birthday is in the summer. When this happens with other children, mothers lovingly celebrate it mid-year, called The Half Birthday. They bring doughnuts and dress in skinny jeans and they do these great things mothers do to celebrate their little one. I think this is slightly ridiculous. Not the skinny jeans part, which I wholeheartedly support. Nor celebrating their little one. I told you I make fancy French lunches, so you can see that I care. But we don’t have half-weddings or half-promotions in life and we certainly don’t celebrate half-done projects. So let’s make them PUSH ON THROUGH until the actual day, when three people will actually be in town. Not everyone will make your retirement party either, kiddo, and you’ll only end up with a desk clock. Hard life lessons.

But my daughter begged for me to bring treats the last week of school. Because KIDS and SUGAR and EVERYONE ELSE DID. Why not, I said. There’s not much else going on. Except for a million emails from the school about summer reading and all the dryer sheets being consumed.

Let’s be honest. I’m much too tired to bake cupcakes, which is of course standard birthday fare. But we did have a brownie mix (SCORE!) so my sweet girl whipped up a batch that we will cut into teeny weeny pieces to make enough for her entire class. Because we are resourceful. Unfortunately, when I tried to slice them they crumbled and broke and we ended up with a platter of gooey crumbles.

So we improvised. That’s how we roll. So rolled we did, crumbly gooey baked brownies into tiny balls. We call them “brownie bites.” It was my daughter’s idea, which is brilliant. I know you want her to be creative and unique, so we made a treat tray with our chocolate bites and leftover Christmas cookies from the freezer and seven tiny cupcakes from Target we had left over. The reason for this creative display is not because we necessarily feel 4th graders need choice, but because we simply do not have enough of each separate confection and we are lazy.

Soon it will be over. You won’t get emails from me bailing on field trips (well I had a meeting, alright already?) and you won’t get papers back from my daughter challenging why the math quizzes always involve the eating (and taking away) of so many waffles. She won’t write any more essays on why barbarians “really aren’t that bad” and you won’t see all my pride swell up all these miles away.

Because I’m so damn proud of her. I just want her to think and create, to challenge and to be different. I want her to roll up crumbled brownies and sing silly songs and not care so much about the rest. I want her to love with her entire heart, even if it hurts.

Thank you for putting up with her, with me, with us. Thank you for letting her be a Jedi at recess, and for using Jolly Ranchers as currency with the other students in order to buy their pencils. Thank you for letting her somehow shine through the private school regime and be herself.

I hope you enjoyed the smashed brownie balls. After all, it’s not her real birthday so who cares. Choose a Christmas cookie instead.

Yours truly,

Amanda

Sun-stripped {a post on love and anger}

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Today I was particularly struck by the harshness of our modern world’s landscape. It is a desert, a sea of sandy dry dunes, with no quenching water. We are bombarded with articles and advertisements that guilt us and tell us how to make our lives better. We envy those on facebook who cook well and dress well and have better family vacations. Our children are filled with the notion that their belly fat defines them, their likes control them, their popularity and fame create them into something. Watch their eyes light up at the number of instagram likes, tweets re-posted, snapchat battles, sexy teen videos. Watch how they play games for hours to receive the online glory they don’t get in real life.

Watch yourself, doing it too.

There are so many wars raging. Wars between countries. Wars between husbands and wives in closed rooms with clenched fists. And wars between women, who feel one way or another about children, vaccines, political issues, maternity leave, high fructose corn syrup, school lunches. Everyone is on edge that they are being accused of nor working hard enough, that they aren’t strong enough, that they are not enough.   Everyone wants to be better than someone else. And Lord knows if you make fun of something, there will be hell to pay. Relax already. A little corn syrup in your pecan pie at Thanksgiving ain’t hurtin nobody. This bathroom nonsense at Target, with all the things going on in the world? Mercy.

This anger does not serve us well. It undermines the very confidence that we struggle to instill in our children. It also prohibits us from creating a village, where we can laugh together about the hard things and stretch a canvas across the sand to collect rain when we are all parched with thirst. We have to turn these struggles into paper, that we can then crumple up with our fingers and crush into a ball. Then we can bounce it around on our heads so that we downplay life’s grasp over us. Plus, it’s fun to bounce things off your head. There can be a prizes involved for high numbers. I’m just saying be creative when overcoming your own personal crap-storms, people.

But for the love don’t try to make yourself feel better by comparing yourself to someone else. At least I don’t dress like that. Feed my kids that. Say stupid shit like that. Were you raised in a proverbial barn, where people are instead cattle, weighed and measured? Our hearts are what matter. Our thoughts matter. Also? Ice cream and jazz music and the smell of roast on Sunday. These things matter.

Let us encourage each other to be strong and not weak. To say “I’m doing my best. I apologize when I’m wrong. I seek to do good, and I will move forward with purpose.” Let us forgive those around us, to honestly love those who hurt us, to seek mercy for those who have been handed more burdens than ourselves. And when someone is going off the deep end, we can say “simmer down there, sista. I know you’re madder than a wet hen but don’t send that email because we love you and you’ll regret it.” Regarding drunk texts, you’re on your own. Throw your phone down a toilet or something.

These are the women and men and children I want to be with on the high desert, when the winds blow. When the ground cracks. When the lips are parched and dirty. This is the nourishment we need. When Jesus left the earth, John 17 records a solemn prayer that he prayed to God, begging to not take people from the earth but to protect them during their tenure here, to show them unity of heart and mind, to be more like God in spirit. I’d like to laugh and hold each other in the hard times instead of pointing spears. Although making fun of any Kardashian is permissible. There have to be loopholes.

But seriously. We cannot be naive enough to think we don’t need a good washing out on the inside. We are all such flawed and injured birds, curled up on the sand, our power springing from distant mirages. I am not just speaking to the faithful. I am speaking to anyone who thinks that the words of revenge will soothe. That the proper retort will ease the pain. That the appropriate come-back or tweet or blog post will create in them the power that they are lacking.

We could blast to dust our enemies and put our guns back in our holsters with pride. But it does not heal. It does not soothe. It does not help. To quote Glennan: only love wins. God pours down from heaven and covers us. Love fills up our hearts and satisfies us. It creates in us a clean place to start walking again, with shoes strapped tight and low, with a cloud to shield us from the sun. Then we start smiling again, with a village, a people, a purpose. Yes, you with a different color skin. You who belittled stay-at home moms. You who is always nice and yet everyone thinks is stupid. You who didn’t get the promotion. You who consumes nothing but healthy green smoothies, and you who hides in the closet with little Debbie snack cakes.

All of you. We are arm in arm, in the desert, surviving. Sun-stripped to the essentials. This makes our world worth living in, for a while.

 

photo

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/peptravassos/12346727913/in/photolist-bkL9Zb-dmk5nD-x9idS-6NBe5j-oqAqGz-7y21ki-7QxCgm-2vVkpu-cyrvwG-c9Uv8o-d36amE-4KsRLu-acozZa-71enAx-jP3d4c-mLJGDF-7nNVon-7cKBPn-66u9cr-48KTmt-ebsuwB-dPkaon-4S9v3f-bGriq4-mPqCMc-dmk5oR-qfm8EZ-4YJxQh-dQer2o-ctvpWC-4PFpb9-Pv2XC-7xLgMu-5HR4pm-5F3qy8-feTC3E-5HDGbg-FM5EN-feDsKD-6y8Ug1-iF32D2-dKzDK3-qiZr-e8NBzX-4Y6Yo7-sr5ALW-5HJ1Mu-5qBpV2-96rrqm-ctvp7u

Sewn Together Strong

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If I could go back, what would I change? Would I go back to the time when the nurse stuck her hand inside of me, feeling my cervix, with full knowledge that infection would spread and my gut would nearly rot and I’d turn my head to the left toward that little green plastic chair?

If I could go back, what would I change? Would I memorize his password, scrolling through his phone to see text messages and sordid details? Would I walk gingerly through the reasons that splintered my past relationship? All I see there is trust, cracking like an eggshell. Going back means watching my past life break on the floor like a wine glass, shards piercing my hands as I reach down. Blood poured out, and I felt another kind of ache.

But sometimes, just for a moment, I want to go back and feel my baby’s skin. To touch my hand to her cheek, which was round and soft like the underbelly of a duck. I want to go back to that night she wore the pajamas with little white bunnies, when her eyes looked through me and made my head well up with tears. I missed the first four weeks of her tiny little life, the hospital machines beeping an incessant refrain. “I’m so sorry I was gone,” I whispered. She looked past my face and pressed into my womb, the home that she came from. It’s alright, momma. You’re home.

Maybe I would march right back in time and wag my finger in my own damn face, telling myself to travel more, live more, free myself more from my rigid upbringing. Get my ass out into the world. But if I was in Paris before, how would I experience it for the first time last year, like a flower opening its buds in the Spring? How would I be able to replace that feeling of wonder?

I think the past is more like a thread, woven in and out. Going back down, up again and through.   All of those memories appear at random times as I turn over the quilt in my hands and feel the stitching. Remember that time, Suzanne, that we watched the Cosby show for hours while our friends were papering houses? They got in trouble and we were like serves you right, suckahs. Remember that time that I tried to be the perfect housewife, baking bread on Mondays? Remember how good the bread tasted, slathered with that English butter that I always felt bad buying because it was so expensive? Remember all those prayers I said in silence with a clenched fist?

How could I forget. What flat-out nonsense was all that anyway, trying so hard to be the good girl.

I’m in the phase of life now that doesn’t require looking back as often. Perhaps it’s because there’s less in front of me and I want to enjoy the view. Maybe it’s because I enjoy so much the man sitting next to me on the journey. I am trying to soak in whatever phase my children are in right now, regardless of whether they are sweaty and caked with mud. And when I travel, I see it all in a different lens. The shutter is open, the angle is wide, and I allow more light to enter. I want to use time more wisely. Sip coffee more slowly. Talk to one person at a dinner party instead of twenty. Build back trust in a friendship that I’ve broken. A beautiful thing that time gives to humanity is wisdom. I don’t need to reach back in time to get it. I have it now, like a treasure in my hands. God has used all my past to form an intricate and beautiful design, one in which I didn’t see at the time. Back then, all I saw was a room littered with torn fabric.

Looking back shows us how far we’ve come, but it doesn’t control us. The quilt is still being stitched together. Choose the colorful pinks and the richest blues. The darkest browns and the most brilliant purples. Watch the edges being formed and the corners spun. And allow the peace of God to settle upon you, warmed by what is already sewn.

There is nothing I would change if I could go back in time. Except to tell myself that it will all be okay. That God has a pattern that involves all these jagged and ripped pieces. Things can be re-born, wonder can emerge. It’s never too late to keep adding on squares. To be bold and elegant and silly and brave.

Go toward your patched-together future. The kind you can rest your head on. The kind that’s passed down and loved. The kind of life that’s well earned, and well worn, and later spreads out atop the earth, for lovers to picnic upon and frolic, eating cheese sandwiches and little cups of wine.

This is the future that awaits you. It’s sewn together strong.

 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/scientificquilter/13989901923/in/photolist-njeUrz-kCSUGi-j68W1x-gTqtpt-nsUwbw-bjpo9a-wT1e-8bXgZ2-9t6QbG-6oxhMi-aBr1TQ-pCzbLZ-kXhN8n-naB5dY-dgLtAS-aBqYQf-91vfj6-ebxED4-am17LX-5mNoCD-pCxeqh-gu9tHh-brtBU1-nFMmEY-gu9ghq-gYANEq-b946oZ-pbNXHW-bcVUYP-evtcEh-4S8J7Q-cN9ZiU-gYB8mx-bDpoSf-9cv9ZP-aNV6TZ-eRJnTA-nFFvzT-26iJPG-dUzNuW-bHVhAP-e32DUx-buahcV-7PCxCf-grd8ky-7PyyNe-2UwSUo-aBr15h-eXifHF-78C59j