An Open Letter to Humanity {about humor and prayer}

2423339575_972eb918e4_o

Dear Humanity,

Have you heard the stories about how good friends or spouses can sit in silence and never say a word?  I say it’s because they are boring stiffs, but others say it’s because their peace and love for each other is so vast and their comfort with being still is so strong there is no need for words.

I’m not one of those people. 

I’m a person who fills up empty spaces.  I talk about the wild feelings of middle age and I comment on the way cars look as they whiz by on the highway.  I ask questions and I’m not one to just sit silently with my hands folded.  Being a writer means being a storyteller and one who notices little things.  And being a lawyer means you think of alternate arguments and put together thoughts in your mind in logical patterns.  My best friends may even motion to their spouse when they are on the phone with me something like “here she goes again” or write on a sticky note “it’s Amanda on the line so I’ll see you at Christmas.” There may be some eye rolling and “oh no! I’m late for the dentist!” when in fact they are just tired of hearing me talk.  I get this.  When I start, I really get going. But being creative means that I paint with words and phrases and sound. Basically, I’m not built for silence.

So it’s odd that lately, I’ve been silent.  Silent in this house, thinking. Silent about some true thoughts and silent about some opinions on things.  I’ve been drinking coffee and drinking wine and drinking in all the silence.  I use humor to mask things, to play with things, to connect with people while I’m doing the hard work of silence.  Sometimes, humor is the only thing that works to relieve the pressure, to laugh with each other, to find common ground.  It’s the only words that come out.  Please understand that it’s a lifeline for me, and an important part of who I am.

We desperately need common ground on which we can walk forward.  We are growing so polarized that I can only seem to find humor as a talking point.  It’s the light that seems to shine through the rubble, a brightness through the fog.  This is why humor, to me, is so powerful, and why I use it as a means to survive.  It’s why as the world grows dimmer the humor grows darker, but it still works.

I haven’t talked to God in a while.  I have assumed he’s cool with it, giving me space as one does with an unruly teenager.  I’ve been overwhelmed with all the tragedy and loss and sadness in our world.  Honestly, I don’t know what to say.  It feels so disingenuous to say “I’ll pray for you,” when what I really am thinking is simply “I’m sorry.”  I’m sorry you are facing this death, this fire, this flood, this loss.  I am so terribly sorry you have cancer. Sometimes I get the reference in the Bible, about how people fell to their knees and tore their clothes, a sign of being overwhelmed by all the sadness.  Although I am not going to tear at my Burberry coat, no matter how much you throw at me.  Even I have limits.  And yet despite this, I am concurrently very happy with my life.  I am married to an amazing man, I have strong and healthy children, I live in a wonderful community. It’s an odd dichotomy.

I’m in a few prayer groups.  I say the prayers that I have committed to saying, but my heart hasn’t been in it.  I care about people.  It’s just that I haven’t felt that these prayers are making any difference.   I’ve just been looking down onto my own world, doing my own thing, hiding. I think part of it is simply guilt.  Guilt that I have so much, have been blessed with abundance, guilt that I am happy while others are not. I don’t deserve this husband or these children or this home or this life.  And yet that is not what God wants for us, to throw away the blessings we have been given.  To feel guilty about happiness.

So my prayer life has also been silent.  Because I haven’t had the right words to say.  When our President says “my prayers are with you” my blood boils.  What do these words mean, from an unrighteous man? Go back to the tanning bed, 45.  Your prayers are empty and meaningless.

It’s not the words we say that make some great difference in the world. Whether it’s a set of lyrics or a Dr. Seuss poem or a Shakespeare play, they are all just letters strewn together. They can all be typed and burned with a match and tossed in the garbage. This very blog will be forgotten, lost in internet space, years from now failed to be maintained.  No one will read these words a generation from now.

Words themselves have little power. What is powerful is the interaction between us and God, the portal to God himself, whereby you can humbly submit yourself before God and boldly, bravely, confidently ask for direction, healing, hope, strength.  Using words is the means to this end, and is what we refer to as prayer. It’s really just about talking to God.  The Bible instructs us that God listens to our hearts, our words, our guttural cries.  He hears even the smallest, throatiest, dumbest sounding words.  As you hear the words of your children when they say “I love you” or “you’re the best” or “I farted.” Thanks a lot, kiddo.  At least you could have given me some advance warning.

This Weinstein story has made me abundantly sad. There are stories like this every day that should no longer surprise us. But for some reason this particular story of yet another predator against young girls broke my heart.  Because it brings up images of young women, my own daughters, injured and broken, scrubbing their skin until it’s raw in order to feel clean.  Images of girls feeling used and dirty, when they are instead wonderful and pure, filled my head.  You women are beautiful in all ways.  Can’t you see?  It’s a world of broken things, and I am standing in the rubble.  Mostly pissed off because no one seems to be cleaning it up.

But last night in the shower I allowed myself to form words to God.  To ask God to forgive me, to forgive our nation, to forgive all the terrible things.  Also, despite me being in the shower for a very long time, I didn’t shave, because I feel that being filled with the awesomeness of God is a solid excuse for the new husband so I should get a pass.

I did feel a bit strange praying for women en masse, without each of them being named, but I did it anyway.  I figured God could sort it out.  So I prayed for all the women who were violated, hurt, felt less than.  I prayed that they would rise up today and feel whole, healed, loved.  I prayed for our nation and its people.  I am just one person, talking to God about an entire group of other women.  How does this help?  And yet are these women, every single one of them, not worth fighting for? They are.  That is what I felt as I prayed.  That God holds them all in his precious hands.  As if he was saying “I hear you, girl.  I hear every word that you speak. Even the sarcastic ones.”

Humor as a connection between people is powerful.  Prayer as a means of connection to God is even more powerful.  Prayer allows us to put others ahead of ourselves and see ourselves as we are –  broken, dependent, and sinful.  People who need grace and forgiveness.  People who need to stop using social media to cut each other down, but find a way to building bridges between each other, in order to find peace.  If you need a release, find humor.  If you need a lifeline, find God.

Will you pray? For our nation, our women, our hearts?  And will you please stop saying “I’ll pray for you” as an empty platitude?  Because, like crop tops and hashtags and everything Taylor Swift, I’m kinda over it.

Most sincerely yours,

Amanda

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/chicagoartdepartment/2423339575/in/photolist-4G9fqP-9w6rUA-gdixpF-4dw6of-dL6Bj7-arGwdx-eKKykY-6wKNxR-iiXyBt-9PQ7R9-jXNKDk-4t1KXQ-7KgJJQ-4PYCzW-7Yhnkp-5ngcJT-5SyRgw-4dw4y7-XRV4V1-2SNBsb-5RPdoF-pAxon-pNqpUD-9DJrNg-676xjg-f5YdFB-6e3hrT-3PeZon-6qekdy-gJMk5V-qK2KJc-dPuexG-d4uGWW-73BpjJ-72sFGJ-qsC8bb-tFEW-fLn5X8-htpEY-8iwGYA-5DLzj3-4pefpB-4dw7uC-72sFFU-5PbxTJ-jgyLQ-9TuKkg-6NXA6k-6wKcyA-qGUxLW

The Intersection of humor and faith

19118573923_634eef7320_z

 

I wonder if God laughs at Gaffigan. In my small town viewpoint, anything that honors others, doesn’t tear people down, helps bridge gaps, and makes hard things easier, is sort-of like religion, without having to choke down all those wafers.

Last night I was invited to a wonderful gathering of women – strong, powerful, change-leaders in our society. There were lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, accountants – all seeking to find out how to mesh faith into their daily lives. It was loud, because hello we are women, and there was wine, which makes life better. I was talking to the main speaker about her topic, trying to hear above all the chatter.

“Did you say that you were speaking about Jesus s**t?” I said. Because that was odd. Not what I expected her to say. You should have seen the look on her face. Incredulous. Surprised. Maybe offended? I don’t know her that well.

“I said LEADERSHIP,” she said.

“Oh, right.” I said. “That’s way better. Let’s not refer to that other thing ever again.” And then I stared at my toes for a while. I don’t know if I’ll be invited back.

Of all the parts about being alive, I find laughter to be one of the most exciting. It’s a little creepy from the outside, probably. Lions are probably like what is up with all that shaking from the humans. Our mouths fly open and strange burst-like noises come out. Sometimes there is bellowing. We might cry and say things like “Stop it!” and “Get out!” when we really mean “Go on!” and “You’re hilarious!” And in the process of laughing small little bubbles of happy are released into our bloodstream. We are drawn to humor like Kardashians to plastic surgery.

I was asked to speak a few months ago at a women’s retreat on the topic of humor. I wanted to somehow express the odd dynamic I saw between humor and faith. The friends of mine that make me laugh out loud are not at all religious and seem to tolerate my faith like I have a wart or crooked teeth. The poor girl can’t help herself.

And then there are my religious friends. Some get offended, or think humor is hurtful or that they are doing something wrong by laughing at off-color jokes. There is a point that humor can become divisive. I actually wanted to walk right out of a Dave Chappelle show because instead of joy all I heard was pain. But generally speaking we need to calm the heck down already. These wonderfully spiritual people crowded into the room in which I was giving a talk because they were thirsty for funny. Something real and not polished. Something about faith that didn’t involve the word grace or salvation and instead involved the feeling of joy.

When I was writing my first novel (I say that like I have ten others when I only just have this one), one of my main goals was to juxtapose humor with pain, because laughter is a great connector, and our aching hearts need to be filled with endorphins instead of anticoagulants. But it can also cut like a thousand knives, into deep places of shame and hurt where other weapons cannot reach. We have a duty to use it wisely, and responsibly, to bring good to the world.

I’m not saying Gaffigan is a saint. He clearly eats too many doughnuts. But I am saying that humor is a gift. It’s a part of who we are. We are literally built for it. And anything our body craves so deeply and provides so much joy is a good and holy thing. In my non-preacher, simple girl opinion.

Laughing is effervescent. It fizzes and tickles, and when your life might be otherwise flat, wit makes it sparkle. Invest in friendships that encircle, and uplift, and fill you with happy. Seek out comedy. Don’t be afraid to cross these two worlds – faith and humor.

We so desperately need it to stay afloat.

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/abukij/19118573923/in/photolist-v8rFWT-hdsK62-a14QY8-JbDdR-8g53Pi-brhJ7W-5r9cR4-st9iAk-7YFSxb-pov6cD-pjVErG-5YHsAw-7mBjHU-59hNjK-rpNHt5-aFQ64k-bTmdbe-85an7k-k5hdz6-ebr3Ec-5vmmek-3q5Rss-8HUe3m-vzCqC-zEwzNF-9GtVd3-wvJFMn-7RCH9-n6dRz-8HZ8hZ-ae5qoH-aUuKDK-5SKnNG-5xdPjR-5GFxXz-E8Y4i-7iNNFo-zAebqJ-hkHLFn-9htucp-9XHZPK-9vmm6-eKHX9i-myNz9q-qmyaM4-76JYWD-5bQsDp-dzdia1-fiRvwU-3qzemW

Hindsight

2434031231_e11977262b_z

It’s hard to go back and read essays I wrote years ago. Before the divorce. Back when I was making dinner and singing songs and baking bread. I shake my head at how naive I was. How sheltered I was. How ridiculous of me to make that much bread. The world as I knew it fell beneath me like a molten floor, and I simply crumpled in the melting.

It’s hard to dig even deeper, to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. When they told me they’d probably take out my eye, and it would ruin a perfectly fine legal career. I’d be filled with radioactivity and wonder every six months whether that melanoma would permeate my liver with death and have to look like a pirate with a patch on a Tuesday. I had needles shoved in my eye to relieve the pressure and later it was filled with oil just to hold up my stupid retina. Imagine, I told my mother. An eyeball filled with oil.

You know what else is hard? To have been strapped down to a table before surgery, because your baby is seven months along and you feel his heart beating strong. To feel his kicks and his little hands and to know you are his sole and undivided protector. And they tell you they have to operate and remove the cataract or your eye will explode but you refuse anesthesia because of him, inside of you, living. So you sweat and you can hardly breathe but for the tube and you are covered in plastic and iodine. “Whatever you do,” the surgeon said, “you cannot move.” “Oh God,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

And oh, my first born. She exploded out of me as a brilliant fire. And yet the staph infection set in, and my gut raged, and I was in and out of being present, and the pain hurt so much I didn’t even feel it anymore. They cracked me open and took out all my organs, and then put them back again, freshly flushed with a saline rinse and Vancomycin. For a month I lay there, turning and searing and begging God to someday let me see my baby. I put my lipstick on despite the raging fevers. I tried to pretend I didn’t feel the stabbing pain of pumping with a ripped-up gut in a delirious drug-induced belief that I’d go home and breastfeed my child. I cracked bad jokes to the nurses, thinking it would earn me freedom.

It’s hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life. I have not just waded, but tore my boots off and plunged head-first into some very troubled waters. And each time, I asked. “God? Are you there?” All those Bible stories I learned just seemed to fade away. All the times I sat with my gloves on in church on Sunday just seemed like fools gold. Oh, God. I am too young to die like this.

There was no still, small voice. There was no Charlton Heston voice either. There were no words at all. But God spoke straight into me. I was fully loved. He was present. I did not have to handle this. And although I didn’t hear this last part, he was probably also like “take deep breaths” and “so when we are done here let’s not have any more children, K?” and “girl, that bread just goes straight to your hips so for the love of heaven eat more kale.”

Sometimes it’s okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that’s taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way in which it’s formed you. You recognize the power of vision – in hindsight – even with one eye.

You see for the first time how far you’ve really come.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/mind_scratch/2434031231/in/photolist-4H63FH-9HmR8k-r3TnFb-4Tp2di-iWrphM-qeGoqt-ri7PkJ-6f2FxK-rhNm52-8UoM6P-vSxh7V-omYNZ-r3ZD2Z-5wSNM4-cuEJzf-4XUFCv-7ibUj9-5W5zEW-4R2jHH-4gzf2p-53sKUX-byzF4r-hMoJcN-36wjrG-accrur-9Hs5Ki-6NL6bf-xVeWa-AKpJxG-gaJ6hP-6tjjRP-AS1q-gaHyhA-9G9yBa-92DtyB-92cKEW-7xLSK-gaHoQi-b7snfx-6TALYJ-7f7etw-CGFz6-b8LCmk-oANj62-4n6mBG-axhGdL-bQKvVr-xTFgSz-xTFe9i-dPfVV

On being happy

6175811463_349f1157de_z

Happy.

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

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

Oh, please.

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

Be happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of happy that matters.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/59632563@N04/6175811463/in/photolist-e2hJGK-abM9JU-9ofGDy-6KPPWD-bBvtnv-bp9m9-apJDzZ-rMYu7-5P4viu-8XSJbv-7v2Jn8-j4AGwg-5yeaxh-akM4Jk-4xgtq3-72fAgB-9XRadb-7ZZR5f-o4ZJ4i-dMRL9y-5SC2UQ-jNSMHB-r3rRNU-6N72iH-frBWxy-nRrSqr-bjBVUm-agWQrT-eMBZmh-5w317J-sdr8ZE-embEE7-rEHogF-rTdTJs-8uHcQX-iZTMkx-qsWQRU-rZjEBn-efhMWd-5AxMSw-6BBZ5S-dAcQw8-9Aei5q-9VDMAY-fzai2S-k6raUS-9VDMBu-9VDMAC-9VDMBo-9pqy9D

 

Flying High

8859386304_02357e9e2c

We were sitting in Jean-Georges in New York City, just a bunch of youngsters in suits and expensive hair products, lifting water glasses to our lips like this wasn’t the nicest place we’d ever been.  Like talking with Donald Trump wasn’t the coolest thing we’d ever done.  Like spooning chocolate mousse as billowy as clouds into our uneducated palates was something we were accustomed to doing.  We raised champagne glasses and said Mazel tov through our grinning, sparkling faces. I’m not Jewish and yet I could feel the prickling sensation that we were indeed filled with good luck, and that this night would forever be marked in our collective memories.  This, I told myself, was New York as my mind would forever enslave it.  Buzzing with energy and richness so deep I could barely keep afloat in the pool of it, and sitting there with Trump it all seemed so bubbly and delicious.

But the most memorable thing about my time in New York was the feeling that nothing was an impediment to success.  The world was just one huge shell and all we had to do is pry it open to receive our valued pearl. We were young and fearless.  We would run and dash and climb up stairs in five inch heels whilst whistling and looking over our shoulders at the poor saps beneath us.  And there at Jean-Georges amidst the sparkling lights, Trump gave us some essential wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.  The man’s politics aside, think of his bravado, which is in part ridiculous and narcissistic but in part brilliant and glorious.

“You have got to think bigger.”  He said it many times and in many ways, as if he were imparting wisdom to his children as they ran off into this big, big world.

We were a room of young big thinkers, so we thought, all nodding and soaking it all in, like we were the enlightened few that had made it.  Won it.  Persevered through it.  Earned it.  In reality we earned nothing, and our lives had amounted to very little, and we were just the recipients of good luck and pretty faces, who talent scouts found favorable.  We’ve now gone on to do great things, and we’ve lived a lifetime since that night.  But it was so clear and fresh then like a raspberry dropped into our champagne flutes, the bubbles rising with fury to the top.

The world, my friends, is yours.

I am reminded from time to time of this night, and this phrase, and this challenge.  Am I thinking big enough? Am I reaching high enough? Did I do enough, ask enough, make enough happen? As I sit and wait for publishing houses to decide the fate of my novel, when I re-negotiate legal deals, when I sit at home cutting out construction-paper banners for my child’s birthday party, or when sit through boring dates listening to men drone on about their dull IT career, am I living up to this charge? Did I let the burdens of this world drag me down to the point of no return?

As I slog through traffic on my way to work, I pray that God will open my eyes to a brighter future.  A bigger future. One so vast it seems currently impossible. I pray that He will lead me toward large lofty goals and that I will have the faith to seize them by the horns and ride them. To not allow me the security I so desire but instead throw me off the cliff so that I may fully rely on Him to sustain me.  For then we really start to live, and breathe new air, and really succeed. We all have the ability to put fear in a box and set in the attic for a while, despite our financial situation or our domestic hindrances.  We have the amazing ability to do whatever we want to with our lives, and that reality is both liberating and stifling all at the same time, like we get to pick out any toy in the shop and all we can do is stand there staring. So I prayed for courage and wisdom, and to land on a dream.

Let’s encourage each other instead of tearing each other down to go big.  Go all out.  Grow wings and soar together. For this world has enough negativity.  Enough people telling us we can’t.  That we aren’t pretty enough or talented enough or educated enough.  There are people whose egos can’t handle us, or ladders that don’t have room for us.  There are too many people clinking glasses and saying they are the winners and we are just the remaining lot.

But this world has enough opportunities.  Enough new ideas like pieces of sand on a shore to spread for miles.  There is nothing you can’t imagine. Nothing you can’t grab.  Nothing you can’t find a home for, and a place for, and a dream big enough to hold. Do it.  Be it.  Live it.

March forward boldly in the direction of your dreams.  

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jjmontero/8859386304/sizes/m/in/photolist-euSETJ-7E1hc9-abgFSw-b9KyQZ-b9KBCr-e8E89z-cXapNw-ddo5NG-ddo6am-ddo4HB-ddo6sG-ddo4yD-dodNtV-bKV4uX-9FpHDg-acezDq-9bn7fo-8fNxVk-jgxEoF-9tJrC4-7QMQVh-aEs6tb-adv3B4-8f3mkA-dXCgFr-jGiDDU-jEg8cQ-ddJSmr-b3pmQP-c4jPCq-bA2mns-8fRHQQ-bA3r85-dzMYcU-bH5j7R-bA2me7-cb5kCL-dVwTC5-ebHPGh-jsQcTt-kRjiUk-kRjjbc-7Ns4DC-kRjjpi-kRjjSn-kRmgnG-kRk6f8-kRjjKP-kRk5RH-9EL6by-eyNY5q/

 

Saddle Bags

8666735287_5399f78f89

I would imagine if I were starving and placed at the forefront of a great feast, I’d be filled with angst.  How would I carry it all away and save it for when there was none? I couldn’t possibly enjoy a corn soufflé knowing it wouldn’t last and the pheasant would turn to bile and the next day it would all be empty and dry again.  Just bones in the dust.  Hungry.  So I’d sit at the head of the table smiling whilst stuffing dinner rolls in my saddle bags.  We just can’t help but to carry around the angst of our past, wondering if the good times might fade away.

I think of the last few years as a trench that I’ve been living in, just hunkered down with my provisions, escaping for food and coming back to the hole with a heavy sigh.  It’s natural when you’ve been beat down to want to protect yourself from attack and make sure you stride more watchfully into the dark night.

When my foot touched down upon a different future, naturally I was still burdened with the memories.  Nights in the hole.  Bombs dropping and shells exploding and haunting faces in my dreams, hollowed out and empty.  But when you leave a warzone, there is no identifying tattoo speed across your chest.  Separated by enough continents and time zones you just seem to have appeared from somewhere, like you went on vacation with a svelte new frame and more coy responses.

So here I am.  I look down to see jewels on my fingers.  I sit at the fancy table with shimmering lights and roses, where men ask to call and tell me I’m pretty.  And in the middle of the room as I cross it in heels toward the door my insides just rage with fire and bristle.  I remember the hole.  The ache of starvation.  The pit of my stomach is just as far to the ground as it was in the worst nights, and I find my hands clasping around a hard dinner roll. I slip it in my pocket.  Just in case.  The funny thing is that the fear of death and the fear of living have the same effect on me.  Both are filled with the unknown, and that causes my stomach pit to flare.

At 3 am this morning I woke, filled with that familiar dread.  The pain that all this bounty will come crashing down.  The high will subside.  The peace broken. Pheasant always turns to bile in the end.  And yet as I lay there with my two children, huddled to my left and to my right, I heard the strangest thing.  My daughter, who appeared to be giggling.  In her sleep she was laughing, and I heard the manifestation of dreams. I held my children tight and let tears well and realized that God is to my left and to my right.  He stretches beyond me and is far behind.  What, and whom, shall I fear?

I dress for dinner in a house bathed in peace. I have a night ahead filled with laughter, with new heels just for the occasion.  In my slumber I see new life sprouting.  I take the saddle bags, the ones filled with old crusty rolls, and I leave them sitting by the garage door, leaning over just so.  A smile spreads from the ether of my former self, the one who remembered.  The one filled with fear.

I have no need for these any more, it seems.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/puuikibeach/8666735287/sizes/m/in/photolist-ecRhst/

The Breaking of Bread

5602245847_2ea71f52ac

I’m not Catholic.  And yet in church when all heads are bowed I make the sign of the cross on my chest because somehow it feels holy and special like I am a part of a secret club.  My Catholic friend Dawna invited me to attend her church once, and I gleefully knelt up and down and was practically giddy as I listened to the archaic priest-who-never-married repeat things in Latin. I proudly stand like a soldier when we repeat en masse the Doxology and the Lord’s prayer and I once sang in a baroque acapella group. So if you think this girl lives in a modern world you are SADLY MISTAKEN.  My soul is trapped somewhere in the 1800s and really only get out to drink lattes and watch Netflix and buy fun little apps on my iphone.  I love tradition, and things that are deeply rooted, and for this reason change is my adversary and I struggle breaking things apart that are long-lasting.

So when I see churches with names involving rocks and stones and new life and cafes in which people-drink-coffee-with-Jesus I get confused. Not because these are bad things.  There is no bad as far as I’m concerned when it comes to worship and love and being in community with people who are trying to row the same direction.  But I wonder how these churches will be able to build the type of roots that stretch deep through generations.  How one who is impoverished and hungry and living in a broken-down shack in Ireland where everyone shares the pisshole and living on the dole get excited about coffee with Jesus like they do about First Communion. Because there’s something holy and sacred about traditions, and relics, and stories that have been handed down from King James and wafers on tongues and the body of Jesus, broken.

Last Sunday, I thought about bolting after the last hymn.  After all, I had laundry to fold and errands to run and friends to text. The whole concept of communion is slow and old and antiquated.  It’s times like these I wish I were drinking coffee with Jesus and singing praise songs on a Jumbotron. I sat there and wondered what this must look like to the outside world.  Just a bunch of silly chaps eating bites of bread and taking grape juice shots in little plastic cups before noon.  But I waited, because it’s rude to leave and I had nowhere really important to be.  I waited while the choir sang and the little trays were passed around.  I wondered if I had a missed text or if I’d eat leftovers for dinner, and I looked at the ushers going from row to row to row like they did every first Sunday of the month.

And then the tray was passed.  The body of Jesus.  I smiled and took it, which I knew was just a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger and wasn’t the literal body of Christ, but as I tore off a hunk and put it in my mouth something happened.  It just cemented itself like a glob of peanut butter and I couldn’t choke it down.  Try as I might it wouldn’t move, and tears welled up in my eyeballs as I sat there in my new hat wondering if I had any missed texts and whether I should have bolted after the last hymn.

I could feel thousands of years crash into one. Tradition came up deep like drawing water from a well, and I remembered the times as a child I waddled up to the communion rail and sat next to my father in a suit and the nights I cried and sobbed over the fact that the son of God had to suffer on our behalf and how deeply metaphorical and beautiful and special this last supper was so many years ago.  And then the cup was before me and I drank the sweet juice and I felt small and humbled and so full of gratitude my hat couldn’t hold it all in so I held it down as I walked to my car and felt inextricably full.

I swallowed. Greedily my body devoured it.  Hungrily my heart absorbed it.  I accepted that love without feeling paralyzed by guilt or haunted by pain because it was freely given, and despite just being a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger it was the body of Christ after all, broken and torn and laid out for the redemption of sins.

 

—-

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5602245847/sizes/m/in/photolist-9x3YvD-9x3Ys8-9x6Yh7-9x3YtH-9x3YuH-9x6Ygw-9x6YfW-9x3Yu6-9x6YgL-9x6Yi1-9x3Ywn-9x6YgU-9x6Ygh-9x3YrH-9x3YvT-9x3Yun-9x3YrZ-9x3Ytz-9x3Yrx-9x6Ygs-9x3YtM-9x3Ywa-aWPv6e-dNiTEN-xfVBS-aa31Jj-7hob2i-asScmW-asSbDY-9qErJQ-azh1qr-3bN9e9-9rYS9M-9s2QiN-9rYRQP-6C3WyY-eUPpA9-FUyaf-9DTPeX-9qXbWg-4RbXLV-A5bAr-8sUosT-9x6YgA-9x3Yuz-9S1QCW-3rEUnT-QSCo4-dGyARJ-7BMWmN-7LZZav/

Use it or lose it

 

2923173128_c37f3198f8

There are times I want to write but the words freeze like cold air and what was once winsome turns rigid, just cracked brittle words falling down like chunks of ice instead of snowflakes.  Fear enters my fingers because it’s not good enough or not worthy enough so I fill my time sulking and texting girlfriends who would rather watch Modern Family but humor me out of obligation. I rattle on during the dinner hour about online dating or my love of roasted kale or the fact that some store clerk told me that my new boots weren’t going to last more than two years and I might as well just buy the six-hundred-dollar ones but I looked her straight in the face and said “I ain’t ropin cattle in these fancy things so I’m sure it will all work out.” 

My brain crescendos into a fury with words, and they must escape somehow, even at the most inopportune times.  Singers sing and trial attorneys litigate and engineers create and painters color and we all just have to do what we are built to do.  So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all my best friends’ husbands who have to tolerate my incessant and time-consuming word dumps because they alone allow me to live a relatively normal life without the need of asylum.

But there are times when they jumble, my thoughts, like scattered stamps on the floor. I must gather them and press them into ink and secure them in some form of order on the page with no one around so that I can turn out the lights with a sigh that matters.  Because falling in bed at the end of the day without worthwhile word order is cheap and thin and I like my days to be thick like French bread, rich and ripping apart with a jagged edge.

But there are days I feel like a failure.  Failure at work, mothering, writing, home.  Failure to be thin and keep my perspective and to be the perfect image of who I want myself to be.  You know what I tell my kids? We are all failures. If not for that, what’s God’s love for anyway? 

In the depths of our fear, when we slam the phone down and there is no centering stone and we feel lost and trapped and frozen – when we feel like peeling off our very own skin and we can’t move or breathe and just want to invert into ourselves and be invisible and we are so weary of throwing down dirty cold ice– that’s where we pray.  We cry out from our deep places and ask God to take it, bear it, and hold it.  Because Jesus, we are not enough. We are never good enough.

That, my friends, is truth.  Words stick in my throat like peanut butter and I fear what might come out, and there are times I can’t move forward because I’m afraid of where I might land. I don’t want to face a future alone and I don’t want to cry any more tears and there are times I want to fall down and rip my clothes and never write another word.  But then I hear the words of Isaiah pulse through my veins: “Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  And I lesson the grip of fear, and the words come out easier, and I can feel a lifting. And the gift that God gave me resonates, and penetrates deeply, and I thank Him for this ability to speak when others cannot. So I trudge upstairs and write, because what the Lord gives  is right and true and it feels good to be following the yearning of your heart.

God has given each of you a unique gift.  Use it.  Nurture it.  Support it and pray about it.  Realize that your gifts are like an oiled slide that allows you to fly sometimes, and even in the midst of winter tragedy you land like a sunny afternoon at the bottom, and for just a little while here on earth, you were free.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/2923173128/sizes/m/in/photolist-5sj2wG-d32a5b-aN1GpT-catm93-aoxyFG-9MLCso-sLt62-9bojCy-9bojxf-7jK2dp-eFjCYL-5oiRLb-LPn9H-62Yv2h-gJ5aHT-gJ5E3X-gJ5BiZ-gJ4HJu-gJ6zyK-gJ5xu6-gJ4Rc3-gJ5i9c-gJ5Kgx-gJ4QyS-gJ5jmf-gJ5Mmz-gJ53Q5-gJ5a9N-gJ5bZQ-gJ592Y-gJ5YJz-gJ5GcB-gJ5mQ2-gJ4BBs-gJ55ty-gJ5piZ-gJ4fvu-gJ5Mvz-gJ5iJc-gJ4UBu-gJ4sXA-gJ4yft-66s5Ly-c6e1Rf-cihsbN-x2XfK-dTav48-5PWc59-83KUrK-3AawJw-5tXr65/

How to Raise Children of Integrity

7292801514_23e9c673e0

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.

-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Today, my son told me he was going to put me in jail, he ate a brownie behind my back, disobeyed me twice before breakfast, and my daughter likes to yell at him for being in her general vicinity.  I believe twice in the last week I’ve gripped my son’s arms a little too hard, raised my voice too many times, used the the phrases “spoiled brat” and “deal with it,” and drank wine in their presence followed by the phrase “FINE.  Don’t take a nap. Run around like a crazy maniac and see if I care.”

None of us are perfect.  If that was the standard, we’d quit wasting time trying.  But we all want our boys to someday be men of great worth, growing up tall and strong, kind to strangers and old women, perhaps playing a fiddle under the stars.  And we desire our girls to be leaders in the world, not useless bleating goats, always truthful and fiercely passionate about the talents they have been entrusted.  I lie in my son’s bed and cup my hand to his little cheek, the grime scoured off in a hot bath, and wonder how to help shape him into the man he is destined to be.  And I catch myself staring at my daughter while she is curled up reading a book wondering how in the world I’ll help her understand that mean girls are just insecure little souls, starving for attention.

And a single word popped up over and over again in my mind.  Like a smooth stone I turned it over in my mouth, rolling it around on my tongue. Integrity.

It comes from the Latin adjective “integar,” which means whole or complete. It’s a combination of honesty and consistency of character.  To act in a way that is in accordance with the values and principles a person claims to hold.  It’s the opposite of a hypocrite, who says one thing and does another.  So what does it mean to really have it?  To act it out? To model it to our children?

I don’t think you can teach it from afar. You can’t pray your kids open it up for Christmas.  They are smart little devils. They figure it out if you’ve got a forked tongue. You have to live it.  You don’t have an option to compromise if you want to raise children of integrity.  It is you that they look to for an example of how to live in this fallen world.  There are times I want to slack off and think my kids are too young to notice. But they are more valuable to me than diamonds, and I don’t have the luxury of time.  And trust me – they always notice.

Here are 5 ways I’m trying strengthen my own integrity:

(1) Maintaining a tight inner circle.  I’ve learned that while having a large group of friends is great for dinner parties, it’s the very small group of honest friends who make all the difference.  The love they have for you is established and they want you to grow as a person. Is there anything I need to work on that I don’t see?  Can I open up to this circle about my fears and insecurities? These people love me enough to be honest, whether it’s telling me I need to forgive or affirming me that I actually did something right for a change. And in return I do the same for them. Every single time, without fail.

(2) Honoring God, not People. You can’t possibly still be friends with him or hang out with her or do this or eat that after what’s happened, can you?  How can you deal with the gossip? What about your own pride? What would people say?  That’s crap, all that pride and shame talking.  Tune it out.  Ask yourself if you are honoring God, and whether you are respecting yourself, and how whatever “it” is furthers your own journey.  Open up to your inner circle and pray often.  Then follow your heart and let people say what they will

(3) Admitting when I’m wrong, and making amends.  Whether this is apologizing to my three-year-old when I lose it completely or returning that errant pack of gum I didn’t notice slipped into my grocery cart until I’m at my car– these moments matter.  My kids are watching how I handle the small stuff.  If I’ve developed a pattern of bad choices, I can always clear the deck and begin again. As scary as it is to walk into someone’s office and say “Hey – I was wrong.  I snapped at you and it was uncalled for,” it’s worth it.

(4) Refueling my Soul.  It’s not selfish to need time alone to recharge, or to go off alone to pray.  It’s not self-seeking to get away from your family in order to study the Bible, go for a walk, write, see a therapist, or cultivate friendships.  You can give only as much as you have to give, and the more whole you are, the better you can serve and give to others.  The only question is whether these activities are really supporting your family or whether they are a way for you to run from your problems.  If they are the latter, it’s not refueling but depleting.

(5) Not Hardening My Heart: This one’s been the toughest. When tragedy strikes, people disappoint me so vastly, and when life’s so amazingly unfair, it’s easy to try and build a shell around myself and not let the pain in.  One can lose faith, and stop trusting, and begin to be hardened to joy.  Let your prayer be that your heart remains soft and open at all times:  open to forgive, open to love, open to hear, and open to change.  This openness is where real beauty happens.

Living a life of integrity is hard work.  And yet we are responsible for raising up lives.  Are we not the soil and sun and water in which these little people see what a moral fiber looks like?  Do they see us on our knees, in humility and obedience to God?  You can’t change the world – only the way your children live within it.

Let’s be the medium for which our children can flourish.  Worry less about plucking the weeds from their midst and let them bloom in all their radiance right where they are planted, rising above and choking out hate with their consistent approach to love.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/prayitnophotography/7292801514/sizes/m/in/photolist-c7rvP9-gRsT8-eeQ151-78jhsf-65QKp1-dzh3KR-5TRsiU-aUfx7P-6hxdDZ-6hxcyp-82JB9g-7SKu74-82Dxws-eRxczn-eRxeED-53Dcs8-aeG2uo-aqW1Ht-6bTnVA-6bToKu-6bTorU-6bTnCA-6bPdc2-d3rRQ5-6bTobm-6kHRuH-dmiZnu-5e8FXc-5TRU7W-5TM6eM-5TRq7Y-9UkP1k-jm6Yx-dZXKMi-9JqZWt-ckHGP-7ZfCN2-7G6BtQ-2zBAAP-7JWXzq-eTjcx4-e3ZoMK-4V9Rze-9aEhUF-7EynMZ-6mNRNa-8BYxqD-6N8r1t-4FYAiw-dugAvS-cT9A2q/

Circles

7053859629_401ae0a32b

We were born into this world seeking relationships.  We are members of teams and classes and towns and clubs.  We were created for community, resting safely in the notion that we are never, ever alone. Adam needed Eve and mothers need daughters and we are drawn to fellow artists, Christians, comedians, football fans, runners, and scholars, because it makes us feel part of something.  We shower and praise and ooze so much sweetness it’s saccharine.

But what happens when the cake gets moldly? When the excess, excessive?  We grow spoiled and lazy and bored and tired.  What was once a community of friends becomes too much good and too much praise and the banana turns black, sticky sweet with flies.

The circles we keep, they are suffocating. 

If we aren’t careful, what was once pretty becomes ugly.  What was encouraging  becomes fake. We navigate toward the same cereal, and the same sentences, and the same color skin.  We begin to say phrases in the same awkward manner and the Once. So. Different becomes just another yawning repeated period.  If we aren’t careful, we draw the circle too tight, and choke on all the beauty.

I’m trying these days to appreciate what’s right in front of me and not let hate creep in like a fly through a screen door.  And in order to do that, I have to abandon my post for a while, only to return later like a thirsty dog who needs soul-filling water. Because that’s what your inner circle is designed for – to be a resting place for your tired feet, and to speak truth that is never taken for granted.  It’s the deep well you can draw from when your throat is so parched you can’t speak.  And then you can cry real tears, and squeeze hands with true joy, and your thanks resonate to the high heavens.  We need the upper room because the world is a dry, dusty place.

But when our hearts refuel, it’s time to step out toward unknown territory.  And it’s frightening. You are stark naked without trust of your friends, and your family, and those who know your humor and your insight and your perspective.  You can be targeted and criticized and sometimes attacked beyond measure.  But there are also times your faith is tested, and it miraculously survives, and your witness is larger than a hundred Sundays.  It’s a gamble, and a true test of character to live in different worlds, among various tribes, and try to stay true to your Creator.

I’ve seen people content in their own bubble, happily navigating their upper-class life with ease, befriending those who are guaranteed to reciprocate (out of obligation if nothing else), and then discovering a void they cannot fill.  Or wishing for deeper, more meaningful relationships.  Or just living a life of vanilla.  I desire so much more than vanilla.

So draw different circles.

If you sing, join a group on the edge of town.  If you write, explore magazines that don’t always see things like you do.  If you pray, kneel down in a different place. And if you worship, try holding hands with people who are not like you, who don’t always talk to God like you do, or who might not know God at all.  You have the ability to shine with truth, with strength only the Father provides, and you’ll be amazed at how well those toddler legs will walk.  We are not designed to stay within the lines, growing bored and lazy and dumb.  We are charged to keep drawing different circles and charging forth into the world – a place full of scatter and loud noise and ugly, ragged edges.

Go anyway.  Bring your best self.  Your true self.  Be a better person than you think you can be in a place you are not naturally comfortable. Only then are you the person God designed you to be. Take a deep breath. Push yourself.

Get out the chalk and start drawing new lines. 

Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/7053859629/sizes/m/in/photostream/