The Intersection of humor and faith

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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

Let love prevail over religion

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June 2014, ABC Kitchen, NYC, right before he arrived

My first date with my boyfriend was late on a sultry hot New York night. He was there for business, me for no reason whatsoever except for it’s New York and sometimes I just go and walk down the avenues lined with trees. It was a non-date, due to the fact that I was so religious and all.

I don’t know what that means, really, that I’m religious. I know that word means an organized system of worship, and I do love me some hymns. I have sat on church pews my entire life, and when it’s warm you’ll find me on my rocking chair on the front porch with coffee, letting God just wash right through me. And in the quiet after the day has closed, I talk to the one who created me, like a child to a father, who in my mind is still always creating. I have had deep moments of gratitude for the blessings I do not deserve, and feelings of great peace. Sometimes I offer random prayers for people like buckshot. Other times I just curl up tight and say nothing. Does that make me religious? I really hope not. The religious are all making us look like idiots.

When we first began to email, this man and me, I explained this. I was looking for someone with whom my faith would never be a barrier, since it was such an important part of me. He was quick to point out that we probably weren’t a relationship fit, since most religious people he knew fit in a very tight box. So this first dinner was more of an intersection of two minds rather than an intersection of lust. And yet I will tell you, dear friends, that the start of fire is a powerful thing. For even in the early days we were waiting for an email, waiting for a message, waiting for smiles to sweep across our faces at the thought of the other. We could hardly stay contained.

I look around at this world, and I am filled with disgust. The hate is growing, the stupidity looming larger. People talk like they know something I do not, as if truth is just outside my reach and if only I could try harder. Look more deeply. Adopt a child. Travel to Haiti. Buy this book. And the crazies come out with their pamphlets and their leaflets and their strangely judgmental words, words I do not recognize, and my head cocks to the side because I don’t like these people and I don’t like this message and frankly, I don’t know what the hell I’m even doing here in this religious camp.

Did I mean to take a left and I ended up taking a right? Who are my people?

His flight was late and it was a quarter past ten as I sat by the window fidgeting with my purse. I was waiting for this intriguing man with whom I had been writing, online letters back and forth like the old days. Like a candle, I melted among the sentences. I was waiting to see what he looked like outside of his photos. Waiting for roast pork with a crackle crust. Waiting for wine I wouldn’t even taste. And he appeared from a cab, rushed and hurried, his dark hair swept back and his glasses on. He was apologetic for the delay, but all I wanted to do is touch him. From the moment I met him I wanted to climb inside of him and know him. And that lovefire burst open like an atom bomb.

He didn’t see me as religious. He just saw me. And now our lives are forever intertwined, and he sits with me in church and holds my hand and I listen to his deep voice whisper The Lord’s Prayer from his early Methodist days. He doesn’t mind that I pray before dinner. He thinks God is larger and bigger and different than I do. He thinks churches are mostly strange and boxy and he maintains a healthy dose of skepticism. We talk about other worlds and other planets and how people are all on a continuum, of sorts.

That’s all fine by me.

I thank God for this man. He is kind and generous and does what is best for others before himself. And he knows I love Jesus. It is hard to explain just how much I do. I don’t care if others do, or if others don’t. I don’t care how others spend their days, with their gay lover or their grandmother. I don’t think it’s my business to pry into anyone’s heart or point my finger at people drinking gin or rip guns out from underneath people’s mattresses. All I want to do is try to live a tiny shred of a life that showcases love over hate, and let God do the rest. I don’t want to read any more books or feel any more guilt. I just want to lie there when the day is done, letting God wash me clean through.

And that’s fine by him.

On our one-year anniversary we went to Paris, and we sat in the Saint Chappelle Cathedral and listened to Vivaldi, and despite the fact that it was hot and I kept falling asleep I thought I couldn’t be any closer, to God and to love and to happy. Is this religion? To love God with all your mind, and all your heart, and all your strength? To beg God for your life itself to be a witness, to neighbors and strangers and those who keep pulling the trigger and beating their wives?

I am no one. I’m just a girl with sinus problems who happened to claw her way through law school, who scraped by cancer, who fell on bathroom floors in fits of seizures and sobbed my way through a heartbreaking divorce. All I am is bones and blood, who managed to keep picking myself back up by the sheer will of God himself. I have no grand lessons. I have no books for sale.

All I know is God. He brought me through desert upon desert, trial upon trial, to this day. To these children. To this essay. To this place of independence, and dependence too. Toward this man, on a late summer night, on a non-date in the city.

Let your heart be open to this type of love.

 

Walk on water

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It was just a boat ride.

Out on the Pacific, we sat on little padded humps and held on to rails like makeshift cowboys on broncos. When the water swelled we’d coast atop it and crash down hard, the little captain laughing at all us city kids riding waves like roller coasters. But the farther we went from the shoreline it became eerily spacious, the waves being whipped up like a mixer by Spring winds forming little tiny peaks. If you squinted your eyes it didn’t look like water at all, but instead a hard ground, full of rocks that would poke the bottoms of your feet. I imagined Jesus walking on it, seeing his eyes pierce right through me. I wondered how frightened I’d be if the waves grew as tall as skyscrapers. I’d likely scream like a child because my faith is still at times childlike. Will you forgive me, maker of this regal sea, for not comprehending how vast and majestic you are?

My trance was interrupted by the captain telling us to look to the right, because there were sea lions. I thought of how I talked to God in times like these, for no matter how far I ran I could not escape the feeling that he was an intimate friend and also an unreachable entity. This dichotomy of close and far is just the way it is. After all these years I have accepted it.

We watched the sea lions sunning and the bald eagles nesting and the dolphins turning and spinning and leaping in their own backyard playground. The translucent seas could not hold back this life from our eyes. We were just visitors here and I felt so extremely small.

I gathered up my hair that was thrashing in the salty air and tied it into a knot on my head. I turned to look at him. The man who was touching my leg who I am slowly becoming a part of. Like coral growing on a rock, our lives are sticking together like one beautiful mass. It is becoming harder to see where one ends and the other begins.

And there was that familiar tingling feeling, the one that rises in my nose, the one that triggers my eyes to well and tears to fall. The precursor to my own expelling of salt water. For there was this great love and this short-lived life and this sea of mystery to dwell upon. But I pushed it all back. I would refrain from sobbing out the happy because this time was for smiling and not for weeping. For sunning and not for feeling guilty about the warmth.

Four days prior, before the bumpy boat ride and the whipping of waves and the pelicans, everything changed. I was working and dying inside for the working and sitting in zig-zag lines of traffic void of hope. I was stripped naked of joy and missing out on my very own life. So I didn’t sleep and instead drafted a letter that announced my formal resignation. I prayed until my eyelids drooped that God would provide, that work would come, that I could finally stop running.

On that day I did what my heart told me to do, which is to let it go. Without a safety net. Without a permanent job lined up. Without a fancy law office to march into in my high black heels. I let the nets down knowing God would send the fish, and I did what I needed to do. And for the first time in my life I felt completely free.

I thought of this day as I watched birds skim the water in the vastness of the ocean so close that their wings skimmed the edges. What an impression it made that they were all in tandem and flew so close that they broke the surface and never fell in. And here I was, falling so unexplainably hard into the depths of love so deep there was no exit in sight. Falling into the arms of God’s provision. In a sense I was trusting, and walking upon those choppy meringue waves. Maybe my faith isn’t so childlike after all. Maybe it’s just fun to bump along the water like a bronco, dolphins flipping and leaping in the wake.

It was about this time the captain told us we had to head back toward Catalina, so we turned the boat around and headed back home, back over the blue water and past the sea lions, this time with an intent to dock and unload. Our viewing moments were gone.

But no one can strip this from me. They cannot remove the salt from my tears or the memory of him laughing with his hat turned backward in the sun. They cannot undo the hands of time or the letter I penned or the new world I’m venturing into. And the viewing isn’t over of my children’s lives, because we have just begun. Every moment is a memory to be fully and completely lived.

We all need a journey out to the sea, where we feel small, to see things in their correct perspective. Tears and the waves and my heart, swelling.

The Dark of Thursday

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I trudged upstairs after putting my children to bed to write because I know what this night means and somehow I needed to address it.  This morning on the way to work I cried, not for Jesus but for my own weaknesses and insecurities, because at times I feel so fallible and small.

I had such a long day in heels, crafting language that passed muster under federal regulations and dictating to my paralegal the content of an agenda for a meeting in an hour. I ran around like a hamster on a wheel preparing and meeting and writing and drafting. I nibbled on salad and tapped messages into my bright shiny phone and answered emails as fast as they fired.

I sighed as my children refused to eat the dinner I set before them. And tonight when my daughter failed to listen when I told her to get out of the tub I yelled, my sharp knife-words cut as I scolded her to be respectful and pay attention.  Her heart was hurt and she sulked away.  But it felt good to yell, to demand respect. To show that I have some authority in this home.

I am also so painfully aware of how I started many of the previous sentences with I.  Because that’s the world we live in, self-focused and ego-driven.

Yet it’s the night before the dawn. When Jesus begged his closest friends to stay awake while he prayed a prayer so earnest blood likely drained from his tired eyes. The type of tired that is beyond exhausted, where you can barely move and yet you can’t stop praying because life is ripped out from underneath you and it’s all so damn hard. The thought of a slow agonizing death is simply too much for one to bear.

And yet these friends of Jesus, they walked so far. It was dark and it was late and it was Passover. The glasses of wine made them all tired. “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” he said to Peter as he sat sleeping – probably slumped over – because what-are-ya-gonna-do with all that wine. I can see it, Jesus shaking his head, like “I try to teach you fellas and every time I turn around you’re all missing it.” I’m sure my pastor feels that way most of the time with his flock, just a bunch of rich middle-class slackers.

“Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation,” Jesus said to Peter. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jesus said this to the man who swore to never leave, or abandon, or betray.

But he did, three times before the dawn.

I mean to be kind and patient. I really honestly do. I want to get down on the level of my children’s eyes and talk peacefully about respect and consequences. I have chore charts that go unattended and morning routines that are half-followed. But what the hell with this guy who thinks he owns the road in rush hour and why is the dog barking again when I already fed him and DON’T THE KIDS SEE HOW HARD I’M WORKING AND IT IS ALL FOR THEM.

The spirit, it’s all charged up. On Sundays I hold palm branches and sing hymns and fist-bump online about pretty things. On facebook I put my best family pictures forward. On Easter I shall wear blue and sing Messiah. But oh, the flesh. It is ripped and torn by Thursday, when things grow dark and our pasts tickle our hearts and we are filled with passive aggressive rage. So we yell and sulk and it feels pretty damn good. For now we’ll just close our eyes for a bit and rest.

Tonight after I thought the kids were asleep, I heard my daughter’s voice. Small and beautiful, it called my name like a song as she lay there under her purple coverlet. The one with flowers and little lacy stripes. She couldn’t sleep, and I curled up next to her and encircled my legs in hers. I put my face next to her damp hair that I had braided into two delicate braids. And I cried, my tears so close to the body that came from me, out of me, a part of me. I said I was so sorry that I yelled, that I am so far from perfect. Sometimes we don’t act the way we tell others to act. And I asked her forgiveness. “No one is perfect,” she said in that elegant little eight-year-old way.

I am filled with such sorrow, Jesus, for falling asleep. How can you ever possibly forgive me when I’m so selfish and unworthy? For thinking you can wait until tomorrow, because of the wine and the meal and the business of life that sort-of interferes?

So I trudge upstairs, even though it’s been a long day and I yelled at my daughter in the bathtub and my childrens’ plates of ham and potatoes are half-eaten on the table. But I needed to document this succession of days filled with grief when the veil was torn. When heaven wept. When our Lord was tortured, and bled, and cried out to a father who surely hadn’t forsaken him.

Easter is coming. I know this because I’ve read the book jacket. Because my daughter has already forgiven me for the yelling. Because if my love for her is a tiny indication of the love our Father feels, I am protected beyond measure.   But this is a hard night.  It is a dark Thursday. A night of our own failures. A night when we betray even the one who loves us, because it’s human nature.  Because no one is perfect.  Because we need Christ more than we need the virtues of this world.

Stay awake, friends. As hard as you can, pry your eyes open wide. The Easter son will soon rise. 

photo:

(three w’s).flickr.com/photos/14960156@N02/2243258820/in/photolist-fYGk5-4Zotm-5XFvSM-oEdGLh-9xZKW1-7c52JL-8wZJj2-4qehGd-MxDkD-Hnbq6-4vt1Ww-2v7jtD-b541ia-2D99R7-6KXzB1-MNQwg-9BfCbM-noCWzA-nqoZbi-nss8JV-nqoYsz-noCVk1-noCV6y-noCUQo-nqHLsC-nqoWZz-nqp6Ry-nqp6v3-nqFnWa-7bZgc5-3VxkP-6H5np-o7iymw-8cNS9H-eokSrB-3gpMgo-naziww-eokKfz-qBfaau-4TmufX-7q4uD5-eqXGi-a1vKNX-8pddWZ-9rZshd-5734oN-5qmwAg-8Hnxca-RCVZ-8dpmCX

A REVOLUTION [of kindness]

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I’m a Texas girl.  I grew up swimming in bluebonnets and sipping sun tea and trying to whistle a tune on a piece of Saint Augustine grass.  I’d sit on the porch and watch the ants race in neat little lines, and life was a string of hot summer days and sweltering nights. We’d go tubing down the Guadalupe and listen to the cicadas screech and rise each morning with the thought that life was good and holy.  Now that I’m all grown up I eat buttered biscuits with blueberry jam and I dig beef that’s charred around the edges. I somehow know words to George Strait songs.  And I still arise every morning with a renewed hope that life is beautiful. And yet I live in a strange world, where people can’t take people anymore.

It is becoming clear to me that this natural optimism is the result of my own rose-colored brain and not really how the world works.  After all – I don’t have cable and I generally avoid all that nasty division.  But there’s an undercurrent sweeping across our great nation like a flood that’s too great to ignore, and it’s making me uncomfortable.  And scared for the generations below us and for the world we live in.  And downright fed up.  We let ourselves get to this point.  We let ourselves be so ugly to each other.  Simply put, we have lost the ability to be kind.

I say we need a REVOLUTION.  

We don’t need a preacher or talk-show host yelling.  We need a true reforming of our human consciousness so that we can actually communicate with each other about gun deaths or homelessness.  Community health, foreign policy, war, and sexual violence. We need to be able to say “I dislike the President because of his position on certain issues” or “I really do like the President because I believe in his position on certain issues” and then we all meet for coffee at Jo’s and think it’s okay that you wear red / I wear blue because we are not all robots for crying out loud.  Jesus said that of all things giddy and awesome, mostly it was about faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

And love, my friends, is wrapped up in kindness.  But how are we to be kind to each other if it’s not taught? If it is not a value that is held in high regard in our society? How can we expect our children to know how to do it, for crying out loud, when we all act like raging idiots? Because it’s simply not natural to reach out when it’s hard, and love when it’s not easy, and show consideration in all things.  It throws our instincts upon their head. And yet it’s the charge Jesus laid down.  Hence, a revolution.

A sample facebook post, for illustrative purposes only:

We need to arm teachers and get our damn kids out of these broken homes run by ragged moms and gay couples and it’s only by reforming our society and getting Hitler out of office that we can truly see a change in our schools and I say every teacher in America needs a concealed weapon.

Now you have several choices, depending on your beliefs.  You can: (1) Say “Bravo! You should run for Congress!”; (2) unfriend this person immediately; (2) comment on their post with hateful words you’d not say around your own grandmother; (3) or respond with love.  “But why?” you ask.  “Why would I dignify their comment with something loving and kind when I felt it was offensive and hateful?” This is what I’m talking about.  It’s not just saying you’re going to be kind.  It’s not just about reading this blog and moving on about your merry life. It’s actually doing it that matters.  And to join a revolution means taking drastic measures.  That never mean agreeing or capitulating regarding what you believe is wrong.  It just means being warmhearted and considerate and humane.  Always.  Regardless.  Period.

It’s a revolutionary concept to look into the eyes of someone and say simply, “I don’t agree with you.  But I love you. And I respect you as a human being on this earth.” You can’t change people’s minds.  You can’t carry on an intelligent debate with good solid points because most people have grown too divisive to look at both sides.  But you can say to this person, some random bloke from high school that lives in your hometown, that he’s clearly passionate (as we all should be) about protecting our beautiful, troubled, and innocent children.  And as a country we’ve got to figure this thing out.  That’s what we are all after, isn’t it?  And you don’t agree with his position at all, and think his comments about single mothers and a couple’s sexual orientation and the president were confusing to the issue at hand, and you also don’t believe arming teachers is the answer.  But you know what? Despite the vast differences in opinion, you appreciate him sharing his thoughts, and challenge him to think just a little outside his own box to try and find a solution.  We are going to disagree, but maybe we can all find common ground.  We are Americans.  We all want to keep our children safe.

That’s hard. Because it’s not often met with open arms. It’s often met with some snide response or more of the same.  Or you’re labeled something and called something and all that kindness for nothing. And you want to say “what a putz, man.  I was being so nice.”

Do it anyway. Keep doing it when your face is slapped. Keep doing it when it’s not met with welcomed smiles.  Because it’s not about getting positive feedback. It’s about challenging the established norms that we should yell at each other.  And hide behind an internet screen so we can be nasty.  It’s about putting kindness front and center, as in “I will not respond with hate because I love you as a brother or sister and I will be here, regardless.  I’m not going to unfriend you. You are worthy of respect and although we have vast differences I’ll continue to treat you as I would want to be treated.”

Are you with me? Can we just make small changes in our immediate world, and try to react to hate with love? We cannot put combination locks on every gun in this country.  We cannot ban television or transform people’s minds overnight. But we can be KIND.  It starts here.  Now.  With you, and me, and your Aunt Gracie in Wisconsin.

Soon it will catch on like wildfire, and we will all learn to be respectful, and we’ll try and teach our kids to do the same, and maybe – just maybe – there will be hope for our future generations. And they won’t kill each other in schools anymore but will go back to playing in the sandbox.  There will be less bullying and more kindness shown to the aching. And our beautiful children will sit around on boring summer days watching ants crawl in straight little lines and hum country songs. This is our goal – that we go back to a simpler and more loving place.

We simply don’t have the luxury to ignore Jesus anymore.   

 

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gypsydawg/14082144970/sizes/m/in/photolist-nsoF5W-gkyY8-4RaUZX-9XPWfA-7ygm9J-7ycGh4-fArKBp-88bb2r-bZaxNu-arQSus-6UjmQ9-anYDcU-5CVmoy-bA4X6s-bZCcuE-ehof5d-NRTYA-dtZi75-9NZDG3-7yguLs-7ycyEF-7ygzEh-7ygpJy-7ycAxt-7ycB8a-7yfCpS-6U4eRj-cuXBJm-6TTD46-cr25YW-6ERGDD-angBQP-5UBGQi-csPMmm-cv1kby-4xeJep-n3ngdM-jjsQ3c-7ycw1t-7ycvgx-cKDCs1-nwAmY8-euu8DT-5udFwy-5PD5Qz-axh3Mu-9NdC3y-76f3b4-dpNqBQ-asEkJJ-aFQYBX/

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/

The grey coat

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Some nights I curl into a ball tight under mountains of down with the anxiety of good, because I’ve grown so familiar with the weary.  Like an old peacoat I wore so many years that I reach for it’s tattered sleeves when they are long since gone. A prisoner who wishes he was back in the solidarity of grey.  It’ll be different this time around, I swear. And yet dinner will again grow cold.

So I take this fabric and rip it.  I sew round buttons upon it, and a ruffled lapel, and buy tall black heels with a hint of red underneath, because there is no price more worthy than to rise above the grey of ashes.

And in this coat I travel miles and heartaches to reach him. He is supposed to ride into this town upon a donkey, this man who changed things and built things and sees things, and yet I have no more living to do.  So I flap the wool before me like a parachute as I let it float softly down.  Down to a puddle on the ground, mixed with sand and leaves.  Sticks and ants.  It’s all just dirt and death to me. And below lay an old refashioned pile of rags, rain soaking in its fibers like the earth and the rain and the stones and the coat were all working in stride with one another.

I suppose we were all preparing for a great love that marks you.  For a kiss that surprises you.  For a fire that refines you.  And I curl up in that familiar tight as he draws near, wanting to scrape the earth feverishly with my fingernails to let me in like a brother.  Oh please, hide me from this crushing sense of gratitude that I have not earned, and a grace I have not paid for, and a fear that I will not be enough for the lives I’m responsible for.  So much of my life has been altered, and my vision limited, and so many years pushed and crammed into this very old soul.

It is the same image I had years ago at a conference when the speaker asked where we might have fit in the loaves and fishes story. I was hands and face down, just swaying in the dust, eyes clinched shut.  I couldn’t get low enough.

And yet as tears fell into the puddle beneath me I am caught with the flash of a golden sun ricocheting from the dirty water, and I look up to see an animal’s hooves treading and stopping, and for a moment my weary eyes rise to see what peace looks like passing.  All I have is this one useless thing, and it’s all spread out and soaked up, but I don’t say those words because they’ve already been spoken.

My back, the one that was curved from all the hiding, straightens.  And the grey, it starts to shine like silver. I had no idea I was so broken because now I’m standing tall and I didn’t realize how short I had grown from the stooping.  The black hole of my eye is gone as I reached forward and I felt a brilliant light pass through me. He clicked the back of the donkey as it moved on, down the way, down the road, down around the branches and off beneath the setting sun.

I leave the jacket.  It’s warm out. I feel the earth between my toes and narcissus around my nose and my heart is a white-hot coal that radiates.  I step over the fabric as the dust settles – down the way, down the road, down around the honeysuckle branches and off toward the summer nights to come.

 

photo:

http://www.modcloth.com/shop/coats/midnight-in-michigan-coat

The Breaking of Bread

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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.

 

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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/

Busting Rocks

 

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In Christian circles, we hear people saying with gleaming eyes that their work is their calling: their daily chores are acts of worship. And yet to all those other people, the ones sitting in mortgage companies and DMV offices and drive-through bank windows, I dare say it’s not always beautiful.

You may feel like it’s just busting rocks, and the best part of the day is five o’clock when the whistle sounds.

We all have times like this, wondering if our lives make a difference.  Thinking we might have made a horrible wrong turn and wishing we could just jump off the hamster wheel and go live in Colorado.  Midlife pushes us down like a class bully and makes us believe the lies that our jobs don’t matter and our lives are forgettable. Work can be monotonous.  The piles of paper never end.  Thursdays make you sigh and plod along to the break room and wish Kathy from accounting would just retire already.

But then I think of Jesus.  He spent twenty-nine years in a hot carpenter shop.  And not the New Yankee Workshop variety. We all glamorize it in our minds, like handsome Hollywood Jesus was sitting in a halo-filled glow smoothing out the edges of a maple sideboard. I’m sure it was really a more mundane job involving tables and benches, having to hear one guy complain about the size or some sweaty schmuck double an order but keep the deadline the same.  I’ll bet Joseph was just constantly snickering to himself, like “Dude. You don’t know who you’re talking to.”

And I realized that there is so much to be gained by the act of work itself, regardless of what we do.  Whether we usher people toward tables or settle financial books or answer phones all day – it’s a time to grow our patience, and treat others the way we would want to be treated.  We can practice our faith by cleaning out the refrigerator and helping someone with a project that was not assigned to us.  And when someone else gets credit for our work, we just smile at pat them on the back, because we aren’t made for this world anyway.  And who freaking cares if people think Bill did it all, when Bill can’t spell his own first name and people will find out in time. Give it to him.  He’s single and hairy.  He needs this.

Work is where we can really practice our faith – not by reading about it or praying on Sunday, but by respecting our elders, and apologizing when we’re wrong. When we get angry, we own it.  When we get impatient, we fix it.  And when you see someone sitting at their desk every day for lunch because no one wants to talk to them, you can stop, and listen, and truly hear their story.

Look around your office.  There are tired, unhappy, overworked people in need of YOU.  They need joy and laughter and someone to come surprise them with a Starbucks card on a Wednesday.  And when you hollah at em at the copy machine – Hey there, Maria! – do it with a smile.  You are lucky enough to be placed in the middle of a worship field.  One ripe with opportunities to display your faith.

There was once a carpenter, years ago, who put his head down and did his job, day after day, table after table, sore backs and all.  He was likely thinking, and creating stories in his mind, and talking to God on a regular basis.  And one day he stepped away from that role and into another, and changed the world.  He needed the years to grow, and mature, and so do we.

So tomorrow, as you get up for work, act in a way you’ve been trained.  Live out what you’ve been preaching to your children.  Rise early, hug your kids, plan dinner in advance, and treasure those two hours at night you have with your family.  It’s all okay, don’t you see?  You are doing well.  When in doubt, friends, hear me loud:

God has you right where you need to be.

 

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/trondheim_byarkiv/4811256503/sizes/m/in/photolist-8k9WWk-aFybGF-aFyb8H-aFybmZ-aFycbe-aFxYMR-4iXnz1-aFxYAF-aFy9Wk-aFxYGV-aFxZaD-aFxZ1g-aFycYv-aFyaTB-aFy43F-aFy8rc-aFycxt-aFy8gZ-aFy4v8-aFy8RZ-aFy73n-4KPznk-6wTH5s-f6q5eW-aFy7KB-aFydcB-aFy6yH-aFyas8-aFy8Ye-aFy5sZ-aFy122-aFy3J4-aFy98r-aFy7gH-aFxZv6-aFycN8-aFy8zp-aFy65p-aFy4SF-aFy1vF-aFy1kP-aFxZNv-aFy2qt-aFy2Pk-aFy3za-6o6fhp-9p6S2e-9yAPTJ-9YNQWK-4h13xy-ge9HA/

Art without Ego


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If an author is passionate about sharing words to motivate or inspire, he writes.  He hides in an upstairs guest room converted to an office with computer cords and plastic cups of water and a few used Kleenex wadded up and thrown down by his feet. And he writes – when his kids are asleep and his wife is asleep and the whole world seems to be asleep but his own overactive mind – accelerating past words like a stallion.  Because it’s not about being sexy, it’s about the story that is escaping him soon enough.

And if a singer wants pull at heartstrings, she starts to strum on her guitar and raises an arm and pours our her soul into the microphone like she’s praying out loud.  Nobody knows she wrote that song after her mom died and that was the only way she could stop drinking and pick herself up off the pavement.  And she didn’t care if she looked too religious or not religious or just plain silly perched on a stool with her eyes closed singing about a man named Jesus, but through her mascara she drug it out anyway, weeping and exhausted from the energy it took to retrieve.

I’ve seen artists sit by water and in damp dark studios wishing for a better place to paint, but there’s no luxury for more than the canvas they re-purposed from Goodwill.  Their hands are moving to the imaginary sound of wings that are beating from doves that are landing on a fence that has yet to be formed in oil.  And as they draw the brush they think of money they don’t have and laundry they need to fold and a life that was only half-lived, but this fence and these birds, they are liberating.

And God is sewn through these artists, a tapestry woven and stitched.  It’s the outpouring of love, blanketed around the world like a slow burn.

But then the author gets a book deal, and a media page, and begins to focus on the reality of publishing.  There are hits and strategies and followers and clubs. They are campaigns and tours and the advance for another manuscript.  And all of a sudden the writer is not creating, but churning, and expecting, and beginning to think of himself as One Who Writes that needs to be on a podium with a microphone.

And the singer gets discovered. After the tears of joy, she gets a label and an agent and a manager and a road crew.  And she starts to care what her hair looks like and what her friends look like and feels the naked skin of the roadie.  She can’t make it for Christmas or Mother’s Day either because she’s got a gig in Nashville and what’s more important, really?

Ego ruins art.  It’s the quickest way for our ministry to become our biggest liability.  We start to falsely believe we’ve earned the right, and earned the fame, and begin to tell others how to do things instead of praying that we are doing them well.  When the urge to create is overshadowed with the urge to be successful, we’ve lost it.  It’s the moment when the spirit leaves and we’re left focusing on ourselves, and a void grows in our heart where love used to live.

Let’s not become Martha Stewart, who runs an entire empire based on hospitality and craft but might lose sight of being hospitable.  Let us instead find our inner-Julia Child, captivated by the wonder and joy of it all.  Let’s undo the shackles and focus less on publishing, recording, speaking, and signing.  Let’s create for the sheer pleasure of worship, and using our talents for a higher purpose, for when we write well and we sing well and we paint a masterpiece on paper, we are lifting up and pushing out and sending beauty into the world.  That’s an honor, and a privilege, and one to be taken seriously.

Go out and create, artists of the world.  With messy hair and messy hearts and shaking fingers.  It’s not for your glory, because you didn’t create it to begin with.  It just so happened to be found within you, and you are simply releasing it back into the kingdom from which it came.