A Southern State of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time to love our neighbor has come.

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

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

photo:

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

Let the happy burn

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Being happy is weird.  It makes your stomach tense up and your heart beat fast and you wonder if you might possibly have indigestion. Sometimes you’ve lived so many lifetimes bearing burdens that when happiness comes it’s a bubble caught in your throat or a light that’s so bright it’s blinding.  But you have a choice to cough or to laugh, to run or to stand. Your arms outstretched so heartbeats can collect like raindrops upon the tip of your nose and drip down slow.

It’s the moment you forget to take pictures or write it all down because you can barely focus on the swirling mass around you. It’s the way your mouth can’t stop curling.  You try to stop it, that dumb grin, but there it goes again, escaping.  And your eyes twinkle and shine like a million stars. It is then you know you’re really living and not just chronicling the living.  You’re loving and not just dreaming about love.  You’re viewing the redemption story, woven so perfectly you want to rip it into shreds to make sure it’s real.

So you laugh.  Big hearty laughs that hurt your side and make your tears run and you sit in church with your head down repeating small phrases that come to mind in no particular order because of all that delirious confusion.

It does not come without a price, the happy. It follows years of trenches and warfare.  Plodding and aching and yearning and dark.  But here you are, laying atop patch of clover and rabbits, of milk and honey, honeysuckle in the springtime that overtakes your senses and makes you breathe in slow and deep. “Don’t hate me,” you whisper into the ear of the sirrus, the high clouds atop the wind, for even they cannot see the sun shine as brightly or the sky so vividly as you.

It’s rare, these moments. Like firefly lights or jewels in the sand.  They are sprinkled ever so sporadically in the course of a life.  A child is born.  A perfect morning.  The kiss of a child.  New love begins. And in these very short flashes you stand with a queasy stomach and wonder if it will end.  Because you know the darkness and the demons, they are coming.  You know the dawn is followed by a midday that’s hot and piercing.  There is a heavy afternoon to every new morn. It is the tragic world we live, and we cannot escape it forever.

But for today, relish it.  Taste it on your tongue. Let the brightness overtake you for a while, not to chronicle it or to tattoo it but just to live inside of it, for when the hard times come you’ll open up the bottle to smell the honey, pour out a little of it onto your finger, and put a drop on your tongue to sustain you.

Sometimes it’s hard to be happy.  You pick up a diamond between your toes and wonder if it’s just a rock, or whether it will lose its shine, or whether this brilliant season will cease.  But let yourself feel again.  Open your arms, your heart, your eyes, your hands.  Catch this emotion you’re so unaccustomed to – and just hold onto it for a little while.

Let it flash like a firefly, grinning. Let the happy burn.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/47932340@N06/5900455185/sizes/m/in/photolist-9ZpnKX-72cN87-h5BoH-8kdTNH-6hTVcd-kmMoua-Va2iB-7vTbGh-4jJkWH-h7ibz2-jSXr6H-8PhSJz-dZuABv-6GHPMD-85y4fC-8ik4vs-8Si9Am-9eEJ7B-5HJwjv-9DyA5j-nm8rCR-8tFVZC-5WR6TC-4F3dCQ-bFefcU-bgAGw4-k8ZTi6-kcPtgK-5WFMty-86ajvj-7fmaVy-dy64jW-5Ae4R9-c1jRtu-baQRzK-o4M9qN-4Vbz8L-fPUtzL-6DiBpX-oaXdZr-djRWSs-5VWNf4-epZLjM-bhk7Ya-fbf8An-6nFBXd-7QWhu8-jcdLXL-5Wkbxr-iHeurN-87P3Ze/

A Heart of Freedom

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

-Matthew 5:43-47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo:

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

The Sin Bastard

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Sin.  It’s a sort-of silly word, like watching movies with too many boobs or some amorphous thing men do when they run off with secretaries. But in religious circles we love to throw it around casually while transmitting waves of forgiveness.  Because that friend is a jerk and our parents didn’t love us enough and we should always and forever forgive amen because it’s a bright new day and people are people and we’re all human and I’m yawning right now at the sentiment.

Deep down we still feel pretty darn good about ourselves.  It’s not the end of the world and nothing that bad happened. It’s more of a nice thing to do in order to rearrange our middle-class life, like gravy we pour over our crassness.  We walk a touch lighter afterwards and head off whistling towards Starbucks like we donated money to the animal shelter and feel good about ourselves.  We are righteous people.  We put ourselves last and forgave that jerk who wronged us.  Go us.

But there is a thin veil between what we see and what lies beneath.  I see it in church, people hanging their heads in shame.  Shifting in their seats.  I feel it radiate through their failed attempt at a nuclear family and all those smiles and children with smocked dresses.  Something is burning, and it is not to be extinguished with flat empty words. It is raging at a pace they cannot control.

Maybe it’s you, who felt strangely sexual after looking at a child.  Or you, who drove two hours to have kinky sex with a woman named Alice in a hotel when your wife and child are sleeping soundly at home.  The sick high you get in the dark corners.  That money you blew on gambling that was so close you could taste it. Or it’s you, who swore you’d get it all under control and not hurt him any more and you just don’t want to be like this but it’s just one drink and one hit and one more day and you swear to yourself tomorrow you’ll get your shit together.

For you, forgiveness simply doesn’t work.  Because you did something so dark and disgusting you want to rip your tongue out and tear your arm off and gauge your own eyes out of their sockets.  You are nothing if not vermin and if your family only knew what you were thinking they would spit on you with disgust. And you watch television in a numb haze as your children go swimming and eat their vegetables. You will never be in the beautiful place of the living.  You will never deserve the forgiveness of a Lord with expectations. You are already dead.

It is you to whom I’m speaking.  You who my heart has burned for all morning to the extent I had to force myself to not write over my lunch hour and scribble a note to you on a napkin.  Because it’s not a random you that I’m talking to.  It’s a you who is running.  Clawing and scraping so hard to get to the top of that mountain to outrun the pain. And until you can harm yourself enough and sear your own back with lashes and pay back very unpaid debt, you won’t ever get there.  I see you.  I know you.  I feel the heat burn.  But honey, hear me.  You’ll never, ever get there.

There is only one way out.  This is not a choose-your-own adventure.  There are not multiple ways to skin this cat.

There is only this one: Name it. Call that bastard by name.

I hurt her.  I snorted that. I slept with him.  I thought such things I never thought possible.  Because when you name it, you can deal with it.  Start pulling it up to the surface so it can’t hide in dark places. And when I mean pull, I mean you grip it by the scruff of the neck and don’t stop until you pull it out of you and lay it on the table. The Lord’s table.  The table someone told you as a child had power.  So you put that sin there, that nasty beast that made you want to hide.  That you’ve allowed to accompany the empty spaces in your heart all these years.  You throw it down there, screaming and biting and wanting back in.  But you control your own life, and it’s time to clean this house.

Then you tell the Lord to take it.

Take it, Lord.  It’s disgusting and it’s ruined your marriage and the relationship with your kids and you are so, so tired. And then you collapse, because this is all ridiculous and what are you doing praying at a time like this and God has other things to worry about besides your stupid insignificant life and you finally named this horrible thing and now you’re a sniffling idiot on the floor with a need to lose twenty pounds and a headache.

And then you stop sobbing and just sort-of sit for a while.  And out of nowhere you feel it.  Like a soft peace settle upon your heart like a feather.  Some kind of sensation like love or joy or warmth or God but bigger and warmer and you never had emotions like this before that rose up like a summer wind. And it’s clear to you that it’s gone.  That beast that tore at your soul and lied to you that he would never leave is simply gone. Just like that God filled that deep and empty void with love. And now tears come quick and your breath is haste, because He who says he will remove the stain will in fact make all things white as snow.  And you cover your face not in shame but in reverence.  It is gone.  IT HAS BEEN TAKEN. The thing that ruined you and destroyed you and tried to kill you has vanished.

Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for forgiving me for all the wrongs I’ve done.  Thank you for blowing the spirit in my soul when I’ve done nothing to deserve it.  And for taking this burden from me and letting me finally live.

This, my friends, is forgiveness. It starts inside, where the dark places are. He’ll take it.  He’ll heal it.  God will hurl whatever nasty beast you have too far to hurt you anymore. Throw whatever it is down on the table and ask for God’s forgiveness.  This is when miracles are made.  In the lonely hours, when no one is watching.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alotor/2994857947/sizes/m/in/photolist-5yDqVR-iCx4D4-dAH5T1-iCx4K6-iCxgww-5yHJw7-5yHJKA-5yHJEA-5yHJAo-dJHzb9-7HykGS-68Dk5o-7uJfau-5FmptF-a8Lskm-bqeNiJ-4Vhj9t-KJSwB-c1VYm5-8EvvKD-yHS7Y-4q5z9E-6pSnzB-9iwzze-6pSnzx-etyJR-dG3FXU-64sP8H-etyNt-etyLh-cvxN43-cD2UR3-eiR1EM-2S4U61-k2wajP-4UQxA7-7AGNCa-k2wc9F-kSa4Qk-5vgppe-5LvLPB-4sF54W-6kc7ib-bb8uQp-nDaREQ-5CuNR1-4qM9aK-czbk7E-cvxPcj-59dtp-dbEdN1/

A Lunch Hour Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo:

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

Flying High

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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/

 

Finger Pointing

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“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

James 4:12

I read an article where a young girl in a very conservative college was chastised for wearing a low-cut shirt because she was allowing temptation in the minds of the young men to flourish.  And we all judged because of course women shouldn’t be shamed for wearing v-neck sweaters while men stare with drool coming out of their mouths, and how ridiculous are these religious people.  And yet when hardworking nurses tend to the poor and the homeless at community health centers, some consider it charity undeserved, and handouts undesirable, and critics sit in their easy chairs and scream at the television, judging how America’s gone to hell with regard to its own moral fiber.  We all at some point have sat in meetings where people use double negatives and we laugh at people’s ugly blazers and cackle when the mighty fall.  And when marriages split up?  The cheerleader gets fat? Men cheat on their wives? Celebrities die of overdoses? For heaven’s sakes a woman makes a choice involving her body? Give me a scenario and I’ll let you know how we as humans handle it – we find a way to cast a firm and harsh judgment upon it.  If I can think of one sin that continues to flourish in our society without reservation, it’s our continual and sickening judgment.  You can tell I don’t listen to talk radio.  For the love.

Because in reality, God’s the only judge in the room that matters.  Live your own life to glorify the one you serve, and let God work out the rest.

I have a friend who belongs to another denomination.  There’s a different word on his church building.  It’s on a different road and in another town and there are songs I’ve not heard and worship I’ve not experienced in my stable and slow-moving Presbyterian fashion.  It delighted me like a shiny penny, and we had long talks over wine and gruyere cheese while laying strewn comfortably about on the couch regarding our differences in faith, family, worship, and traditions.  It made me realize how grateful I am that in this country we have the right to choose our ice cream flavor, and can walk out of this temple and into this other, and how we can love each other when they don’t check the boxes in the same order. And he was a lovely man that I cherished, despite our differences, and his heart was huge and he loved to serve and there was no one he considered beneath him.

Because who are we, exactly, to be elitist about how people answer to their own God, or which road they decided to tread upon, or choices that they determine to make? I think in the end we’ll all be shocked about how understanding our Heavenly Father is about the struggles that we manage to muddle through, and choices that we make that might not always have beautiful endings.  Because he knows our hearts, dear friends, and at the core isn’t that what’s it’s all about?

Instead of judging about how people live their lives, or how they worship their God, or whether they wear long skirts or v-necks or whether they have ten kids or none, let’s just let our hair down in a very 1970’s flashback and allow each other to breathe.  To be.  To feel comfortable in who they are.  I wish for a day we could all just allow people to make mistakes, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, and consider our only job on earth to pray for the lost in silent, and encourage our own children to be strong men and women of character, and love fiercely the God we serve.  It’s not our role to place judgment on the choices of others, but to simply love with a pouring out of our Father like morning rays to a spooky and eerie night, allowing it to permeate those around us, filling up hearts and shining like brilliance and to say always and forever thank you.  For allowing us to co-exist.  For reminding us to complement each other’s unique gifts.  To encourage us to think and look at things differently.

And as the dew forms we see vast and glorious differences in the field, strewn about with color and shapes that makes for a patchwork of glory.  Paintbrushes and bluebonnets and wild sea oats floating in the breezes. This is life.  This is His kingdom.

This, my dear friends, is freedom.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnloo/4876114194/sizes/m/in/photolist-8qTmSo-97hcz9-agdpUF-ecv9cN-hbsAuY-e35QYP-b6RYY6-aTB3Fn-8gL9DB-8XVtzi-8vbKtv-8veNqU-cw4HZY-8veMym-8vbKtX-eGiLyC-98eHM1-8veM2J-8xEX7V-8veMJd-8veLSo-8veNgQ-8veMbY-8vbJyx-aqYYE6-dGmsXr-bx1pKv-9tHFVK-cVxGh5-aeHSQF-g5HnXC-gKRgvP-dKfbZq-9SAg62-a8BvWf-anvH5K-9NnoYa-dq1ecN-d7Bc2J-aqZ1La-bnVsHt-gtomUU-9WiPed-8Mkfzq-hGVfmq-fHvoMF-aBnzL4-93HbEA-dNZxht-kg4mqM-dq1dNQ/

Our Wrinkled Lives

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I’ve been busy. 

That’s what I tell myself when I want to write, poetic words about how Jesus rose or balancing a career or the absurdity of car names like Trail Blazer and Expedition but then a Yaris drives by with a missing window and no hubcaps and I’m like “sure those other dudes are jerks and ain’t nobody roaming the range in an eighty-thousand-dollar car but honesty, Yaris.  Have some self respect and get a paint job.”  Then I think about how Yaris sounds like a tropical disease and I flip through the radio but my speaker’s blown so I balance the iphone in my console and blow my nose on an old Starbucks napkin and think TONIGHT FOR SURE I will clean out my car but I’m caught swooning over the sappy love mix on spotify the Dude created amplified only by the walls of the cup holder and I think about how kind and wonderful he is until I suddenly I remember I have three loads of laundry waiting on the bed that I’ve already pushed over into a wad on the non-sleeping side so they’re in piles of “re-dry for critical wrinkle relief” and “who the heck cares/you just sleep in this ratty t-shirt, girl” because I was so tired last night I could barely stumble from my son’s bedtime stories to my own and I’m out of dog food and my car needs gas and I got a warning from the teacher to not pack peanut butter again because the fumes may waft into the air and destroy some kid’s life and I just don’t see how airborne peanuts can kill someone so I pack a cheese sandwich that no kid on planet earth likes and I think about my 7:30 am meeting and how that contract never got sent so I set my alarm extra early to sound like raging bullhorns and I drag out of bed and look at my face that somehow resembles a wrinkled sock and text at a red light and eat a chipotle burrito in my car when suddenly a black bean rolls in between the seats and I’m curled up all contorted in a three-hundred dollar suit searching for a rogue black bean so I laugh at myself and apply lipstick and get home to remember the freaking dog food so I feed the poor thing half a cup and seventeen treats and realize I didn’t clean my car and that laundry will have to wait again and I really, really hope that my poor dog’s extra fat sustains him until morning.

Where were we. Oh yes. Jesus. I wanted to write about Jesus.

There are times I get so busy I can’t even stop long enough to feel. I washed a pair of kid’s underwear in the sink and dried it with a hair dryer at 5:30 am for goodness sakes, and last week I purchased a hamburger at the gas station grill because I was there, and so tired it seemed rational.

I think that perhaps the gift of new life is even for times like these, when we get caught up and distracted. It’s not always a perfect season where we let dough rise and children play in flocked dresses and plumes of dandelion seeds flutter off onto the dewy grass below.  There are seasons for which we simply must hunker down and do our best.  We pray in traffic and forgive a co-worker and bring our positive best to the task in front of us that God has asked us to shoulder.  And we manage between the heated up green beans and leftover macaroni to ask for our children’s hands to be folded long enough to roll through a long and beautiful list of blessings.  We feel our breath again.  We stop and bow and mutter our own set of thanks.

So to you hard-working women out there, I say this – you not only CAN do this, but you WILL. You must.  So throw that hair back in a hair tie and do the dishes.  Fold the laundry.  Get to work early.  Pack a cheese sandwich (he’ll live – seriously he’s only 4).  You smile at adversity and co-workers that derail you and YOU ROCK THIS WRINKLED LIFE.  Not by your own strength, but His. Because you only have a short time, and you don’t have the luxury to half-ass your way through it.

Sometimes life just sucks. But also it doesn’t, because God has asked you to bear it. And to shoulder it for a time. Wait for the calm, and do your best to find it.  Center your own soul, even in the swirling mass of laundry.  Laugh, hire a housekeeper, have ice cream for dinner, let the kids stay up late, make forts, roll on the clean laundry pile, re-wash them, drink wine, eat on paper plates, and be grateful.  Forever and always grateful.  Even in this season. It’s all testing ground for your soul.   Maybe you’ll meet someone amazing, who smiles at your jokes and makes you feel crazy loved and you’ll suddenly begin to see sunrises and opportunities and chances to shine.  Maybe you’ll start to realize how strong you really are.  Maybe your face will still look like a wrinkled sock, but Estee Lauder has a cream for that.

“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Wait for better times.  But also live abundantly and gloriously in the one you’re in. 

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pearlmatic/5660713161/sizes/m/in/photolist-9CdCNM-cPxMYq-9FL25a-4RYvK2-enikVz-bD96Lc-9dWMph-biy8Le-9jXmAt-71U5AJ-6ea8Av-KQR69-a7hxpk-9QvNRf-dJqU9o-8F2e8d-5ifqXj-61JYN-85MCzD-5ZtZ25-hZfbmj-7MHzTa-6mR4AQ-5aqc-a7kvnN-8Vt7oY-6yZwtH-79JKby-7kWjVd-8tU1Gb-a75pPp-79xH8U-8s34wJ-91zUsq-7yP1hW-LqY3-dUQ9Ni-c6KNY9-9GDfg7-8CPRdi-e1Tykw-8V7Rpa-7i4RXR-8PNX7P-9j3cC1-79xHCG-8EGA5n-muMbmN-6nsY17-7CjSKL-de9aCe/

Use it or lose it

 

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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/

A Fresh Start

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Today is a new beginning for me.  For those who have also had to start new journeys, I’ll offer this poem from Veronica Shoffstall that speaks for me so well.  I am confident that God does not half-way restore, but restores completely.  We don’t lose in life and are left clutching consolation prizes.  Sometimes when our prayers are seemingly unanswered, we just have to look above in faith. Right around this dark corner might reveal a world we are so much better suited for, and I welcome what God has in store.  Hello, bright new dawn.  Your shine sparkles to me like diamonds.

“Comes The Dawn”

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_yes_man/5051757749/sizes/m/in/photolist-8Gpzzx-cTx7M-7hTMU6-5u1F7x-7SC3Te-7xfGQV-6i4k2g-4kha57-3yUu2R-9Htn8J-62a1jQ-9KHNcN-dqbCKA-dq6jfk-8eJ7U3-ExYiG-7hb6nj-6KuWTt-9YoS37-5tyi9F-6Mu3xm-6Mu2Xm-3Z6wx-u8LH8-9t13xP-72z89D-6AnkKJ-66JBnq-fmbimA-fmbmm9-fkW8Jx-fkWafp-fkW7JD-fmbhQE-fkW9rx-fmbmaC-fkWbFk-fkW6RV-fkW74F-fkW9Uc-fmbktq-fkW95P-fkW8yT-fkWaNV-fmbhuL-fkW6zK-fkWc5x-fmbk6G-fmbmWb-fmbjF7-fkW85F/