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.

 

Bring on the Rain

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“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Yeah, yeah.  I read that over and over and just couldn’t get my hands around it. It sounds good in theory, like love your neighbor and tithe and eat your broccoli.  My therapist texted me this verse, with no comment but the underlying “read this, you idiot” and I went home and stared at the words while sucking down a re-heated breakfast taco.  Then I folded laundry, and held my kids so tight they wondered what the heck had come over me, and after they went to bed I sat rocking back and forth like it might sway away the pain and swish out the hate and I then drank wine like the tannins might draw out forgiveness and tomorrow I’d wake up with a dull sense of benevolence.

But I just lay there in silence, drawing mental pictures of hate and revenge and the unfairness of this life.  I curled up tight because all my prayers were spent and used up like tissues, all wadded up and tossed aside.  I drug myself upstairs in the wee morning hours and typed out a long prayer and just demanded that God read it directly off my computer screen, because I was too angry to speak and all I could do was write in a choppy bulleted list.  I sulked and stomped back to bed like an impetuous toddler that had just screamed at her father.  Because honestly.

I want to repay evil with evil, and I am too tired and haggard to do what is right.  Maybe I can just repay evil with a little tragic harm?  The next day, I got pulled over for going 50 in a 40 and I sobbed big fat tears.  I lay my tossled, unbrushed head of hair on the steering wheel because Enough Already.  The officer just handed me a warning and a look that was as compassionate as I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he reached over right then and hugged me through the window.  I just drove home with a tear-streaked face, going 20 miles per hour and lusting for a cheeseburger.

Sometimes, it’s easy to hate.  Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s always easier to hate.  Because this life is full of disappointment and pain and fear and when we put our trust in humanity it just bites us in the ass.

What’s hard, friends, is to love.

And I don’t mean love as in butterflies and roses and beautiful cards and elusive smiles on second dates.  I don’t mean love your children or love your mother or love your BFF’s who come over and bring you brownies. I mean loving the man who betrayed you.  Loving the stranger who raped you.  Loving that father who beat you and the mother who abandoned you and that dirty, rotten, self-absorbed, abused pitiful self that you’ve been dragging around for so many decades.

Evil is banal and hideous and frankly, doesn’t deserve your respect.  Because friends, you are above it.  You are mightier than it is.  You have the power of God crawling inside your veins and the Holy Spirit dancing in your vessels and your heart is made anew with light and life and freedom from the chains that only darkness brings.

So bring on the rain.  

Let it pour and soak and drench you with sorrow.  Lament and cry and curl and drink and scream.  But in the end, realize that it doesn’t own you.  Allow yourself to look at that man, woman, teacher, stranger, drug, depression, or self, and say: My God is more powerful than you. You can pound and beat down this house but you’ll never consume me. You are standing in this body and the walls might be falling down around you, but you aren’t dead yet, and you have power unimaginable.  Power that moved mountains and raised the dead and caused the lame to walk.

When the mask is removed, that demon is just a poor needy child, so here’s a sip of cool water for that parched tongue, my sweet darling.  I’ll sit with you and smile at your ugly and stroke your dirty, vodka-soaked hair.  You hear me, darkness?  You can’t survive with me around, because I’m all light up in here and rats flee and Satan runs and evil just bares his teeth but it’s all a mirage that disappears when I get close.  Begone, you fool.  I ain’t got time for your stupid, cunning ways.

What are you afraid of, anyway?  That the person that hurt you most will get away with it?  That they might take you for a fool? That they might get a free hall pass for all the damage they’ve caused?  Oh dear friends, they will have to live with the consequences of sin, and vengeance is not yours to take.  Make room and step aside as God enacts his own wrath.  Our job is only to love, and love when it’s hard, and love when it’s not realized, and love even when we are bruised and torn and left alone in front of that mirage we thought was water.  But we can repay evil with the pure, clear, smooth freedom of love, which washes much more clean.

And then nothing will ever chain us.  Nothing will bind us.  We can stretch out our wings and stand before God with bulleted lists of prayers fluttering to our feet, our soul smiling and our hair getting drenched with dew from heaven, and God’s redemption, and we can know that we are living, leading, learning.  Uncurl.  Unclench. Undo the chains around your hardened heart, and bring on the rain.

Overcome evil with good. 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/megyarsh/2501775595/sizes/m/in/photostream/

The Trouble I’ve Seen

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Eleven years ago today, a ruddy-faced doctor in a white coat took off his glasses and informed me that there was a raging tumor living inside my eyeball.  News so strange I had to ask for it to be repeated, the words cancer and melanoma all jumbling up inside my head with other strange words like success rate and surgery and I found myself sitting with my hands folded calmly asking for a tissue.

From there, I headed straight into a CT scan full of beeping red dots and IVs pumping toxins.  My wrap-around shirt landed with a soft thud on the floor while I bore my gown of misery like a soldier, trudging forward to get a mammogram before my thirties had even dawned.  My lungs and my liver and my brain and my breasts were all needled and raped, but it was all in the name of progress because melanoma’s a devil’s son.

A week later, my husband and I headed to the world-renowned expert in Philadelphia, eating cheese steak while hearing bullets zinging around in the distance.  We huddled together waiting to for what seemed like hours to see the doctor, in a room filled with foreign languages and travel-weary patients.  We earned ten precious minutes where I rapid-fired questions to the doctor that I had saved in a three-ring notebook.  Year after year we trekked back through sleet and blizzards and pouring rain, cobbling over stones and bricks toward the end of Walnut Street, crossing our fingers for the joyous refrain that life’s tentacles were still strong, holding us together in times such as these.

But radiation is a sniper that shoots to kill, taking down tissue and muscles and solid respectable youth.  I sat in the waiting room with the grey-haired diabetics waiting for lasers and four-inch needles and news that my retina was simply too weak to stand. It just needed a wheelchair like an old war hero with a slug in the shoulder, so they filled my eyeball up with oil like a slab of wood puddy in an empty, hollowed-out hole.  When I was pregnant with my son, I got a cataract so thick my eye almost exploded with pressure and I endured three hours of surgery without anesthesia, which I would never ever recommend to anyone in a million years of Sundays.  What we do for our children, and concurrently to save our own lives.  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sang to the old people, and they nodded like honey child, I hear you.

I carry stress in my eye, drooping like Friday before lunch, weary of being held together with ribbons. I go back every year praying that a rogue cell won’t burst like a terrorist out of hiding, since it’s fatal and the success rates are hopeless and my oncologist tells me it’s useless for me to come see him anymore since a metastasis only buys me a year, maybe two.  He reminded me of that again today as I asked for another appointment.  What do they know, these doctors. No one wants to stare mortality down like a cobra wondering if it will strike or just slither off into the ether, and the difference between one year and two is hundreds of more days.  It matters, you doctors who count years like pebbles.

Those years, they are diamonds to me.

I think about all the happy times since then – babies and birthdays and laughter like bubbles floating large and fat over the driveway.  It’s been a lovely ride, hollowed-out and plugged, with one eye that’s crippled and propped up like the old man in Weekend at Bernie’s.  But despite it all, beauty abounds. Every day I stumble into God’s masterpiece with a depth perception so poor I can’t even thread a needle, and yet somehow I survive, and see, and have vision beyond my own present darkness.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sing to our babies, rocking and shushing and rubbing their backs until their eyes droop.  But you see, Father.  God and son and spirit and healer, master of this worn-out veteran life.  You plug up this eye and this hollowed-out heart and you never have failed me.  All these years.  All this sorrow.  Nobody but you, Jesus.

Glory Halleluiah.   

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If you want to hear this song sung the way I like it sung, you need to hear it by Mahalia Jackson:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdavA_2QA0c

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Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/supersonicphotos/4312101907/sizes/m/in/photostream/

The Perfume Basket

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A few months back, my son dropped my bottle of perfume on the bathroom floor, and rose-scented shards littered the tile.  So off I went to Nordstrom to replace it.  I stood there for hours smelling and wafting and scrunching up my nose. Finally I chose one, and as I was paying, the saleslady said she would put my name in a drawing for a gift basket.  Yes, yes.  Something with an $800 value.  Lots of designer fragrances.  I never win anything, lady, so have fun with that.

Fast forward to the following week.  I get a phone call from Nordstrom that says I won.  I stood there in the kitchen, in the middle of loading the dishwasher with a dumb look on my face, speechless.  “Come by and get it any time,” she prattled on.

That afternoon, with two kids in tow, I trudged to Nordstrom to pick it up.  For some reason, I was afraid they would think I was lying about winning, or that it wasn’t really mine.  The minute they placed that shrink-wrapped basket in my greedy little hands, I told my kids to jump into hyper speed and we bolted back to the car.  I wouldn’t even stop at the grocery store on the way home.  I’m sitting on real value here, people, and it needed to be safe on my bathroom counter.

When I got home, I took my time in unwrapping it.  Bottle after bottle was arranged inside a Jimmy Choo shoebox.  Tall and short and heavy and lacy.  Fruity and musky and spicy and soft.  Every perfume had their own emotion, and their own set of colors and meaning.  I felt so guilty, like there was no way I deserved all this value.  I’d save them for gifts, send them to friends, and select one I really loved.

But I didn’t.  I kept them all. 

At first I just sprayed some in the air, or squirted a dab on my arm before church.  But they go bad in two years, and I have all these bottles, and why not use them to their fullest?  What’s the good of saving them and not enjoying them?  So I began my perfume campaign. When friends came over, I’d march them to the bathroom and encourage them to shower themselves in Flowerbomb.  When I feel particularly down, I spray Prada on the pillows.  After my bath, Versace is liberally applied.  I use Chanel as my interior car fragrance, and when the bathroom smells particularly stale, there is always Gucci to make things right again.  You’ll never see such liberal application of Burberry in all your born days.

It’s been magical.

Perfume will never again have the same meaning that it does in this season in my life.  I totally get why Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with rich oils, and why the wise men brought the child of God frankincense and myrrh, both prized for their alluring fragrance.  They were all gifts fit for a King.

I’m no queen, but I have felt so rich. I’m keeping the bottles for my daughter as a testament to His glory, and to the power of our senses, and to explain that in the darkest of days, when the sun hasn’t yet risen, there is power in unexplained gifts, and reminders of beauty.  There is indeed a story woven into all things. But most importantly, the wisdom of the ages:

There ain’t nothin a little Chanel won’t fix. 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lilivanili/8097442306/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Fan Mail

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So the big important news this week was that Taylor Swift’s fan mail was found unopened in a dumpster.  All those glittery heart raspberry letters wasted, dumped by the used syringes and old saggy diapers.  Someone found them, and THANK HEAVENS alerted the appropriate authorities.  It just really makes me teary-eyed that we Americans [that haven’t a clue about starvation or submission or selflessness or hunger or political issues] stand up for what’s right. Because these letters were found, ya’ll. It’s a miracle. 

So it made me think about what it would be like to get a bunch of fan mail from 14-year-old girls that include pictures of their grandmothers and boyfriends and are sprayed eerily with Bath & Body Works perfume.   I mean, who really likes the smell of sun-ripened raspberry? I say no one.  In an imaginary world, letters to me would go something like this:

Yeah so Amanda:

I like it when you write about your kids throwing up, so if you could tone it down with the Jesus references that’d be cool.  K?

My Dearest Amanda,

Get over yourself.  My kids were killed in a horrific accident and here you go rambling about how you can’t find concealer to cover up your dark under-eye circles and how whiny-bad your cute little life is.  Are your children alive?  Okay then. Find some priorities.  Included with this letter is a bottle of Raspberry room spray to remind you to be freaking happy about your life.

Manda Panda,

I’m 13 years old and live in Nebraska and I just don’t understand all these references to macaroni and cheese, peas, baking bread, and Neimans.  One minute you’re all fun and bubbly and then you’re all “let’s rise from the ashes” and “oh, the suffering.”  And OMG did you really include a recipe for bran muffins? How old are you? Can you have a theme or something? Because I’m getting confused.  #hillpenblog #randomnthoughtsareboring #macaronirocks #ilovehashtags #callme #sunripenedraspberry #Gohuskies!

Amanda:

I think your photo is manufactured and you’re really a robot. Can you meet me Friday in person so we can pick berries together and I can see if you have real teeth?  I’ll borrow a car and we can eat at ihop after.

For the record, I’d be so happy to get these letters to I could personally respond.  After wading through the glitter, I’d write this:

My dear friend:

I hate raspberries.  I don’t like the way they taste or the way they feel in my mouth and if I’m forced to smell one more sun-ripened raspberry I’m going postal on you and writing about squirrels for the rest of eternity.  You’ll have to go through some sort of unsubscribing process, which would take you like 2-3 long minutes.  You want that?  Huh?

And about Jesus.  Well, he’s a dear friend and rules my life and carries me on days I can’t stand, or bake bread, or cover up the circles.  So it’s hard not to talk about Jesus, or God the Father, or how the holy spirit fills up my empty spaces.

But now all I feel is bad because I went crazy on you about raspberries.  And you were so nice to send me the scratch-and-sniff stickers.  Just for being so hateful I’m eating a handful of them right now as my penance, and spraying my 7-year-old’s room with some sort of [insanely awful] spray sent to me from a grief-stricken woman, and hoping that the smell of cinnamon buns comes back into favor. #cinnamonbun2014

So go huskies.  And grief counseling.  And perspective.  Go Jesus and letters and kids throwing up and even raspberries.  It makes up the big basket of life, and that’s good no matter what it smells like.

Love and kisses,

Me.

P.S.  I’m not a robot.  Hence the dark circles.

P.P.S.  I only ate one raspberry, because I accidentally spilled the carton on the floor and I couldn’t stand to pick up their hairy, spiny, squishy little bodies.  So I swept them up and smeared red all over the travertine like blood and now I’m angry again.  But I ate one, so let’s just stick with that.

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/7162961683/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Was Jesus Beautiful?

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One of Chris Bohjalian’s characters in Midwives dressed two-clicks above.  You can wear wrinkled slacks and smell like used cigarettes if you want, but I’m showing up in heels, my blond highlights blowing past you in the dust. Being beautiful is the closest thing we know to power.  And in this world, power is life.  So yeah, I get it.  I understood the urge to hide what’s inside and cover it all up with a jacket.  Our insides are dark and insecure, and the meek don’t live long in this bitter place.  You can say all day that beauty is skin deep and only comes from the inside, but when you want a job on 11th Avenue, you shed that fallacy and get with the program.  Bust out the Bergdorf suit.  The black one that makes you look slim and intimidates the competition.  Because you only have one shot and one first impression. Wear quelques fleurs.  Buy Burberry. Make it count.

So it makes total sense that Jim Caviezel got the part of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.  He’s stunning, really.   Just peer into those brown eyes and neatly-trimmed beard and tell me you wouldn’t want to listen to that man talk just to see his mouth move.  Who wouldn’t want to see Jesus with straight teeth and soft skin and strong biceps?  It makes us cry quicker and weep more deeply and feel more connected with a man who is attractive. It’s more tragic to see Marilyn Monroe die than some prostitute from the Fifth Ward. Because Marilyn was beautiful, which to us means she was more worthy.

And yet Jesus was not beautiful.   “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces,
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Isaiah 53:2

I thought of the Sermon on the Mount, where the poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of Heaven and the meek prevail.  Where we should be less attuned to beauty and its false sense of security. Jesus turned the whole world on its head, and suddenly all we ever saw as value just fades like blood from a cut that bleeds in a bathtub with a champagne glass and a handful of pills.  What a waste of a beautiful life. 

And I stop in my tracks, with my expensive blond hair and a diamond burning a hole in my finger.  I rip the pearls from my neck and they spray around the living room like popcorn in a movie theatre, dirty and scattered.  I stand with my head thrown back and scream at darkness, this dying and rotting skin holding up my broken heart.  Beauty can’t be trusted.  We gravitate like animals to what we believe will breed more cleanly, and will produce a more perfect fruit.  Yet as we click toward this devil, who lures us so strongly in the name of self-preservation, Jesus stands.

He looks at all that caged-in ugly, and we are suddenly free.  And I am filled with awe.  Because I have never before been faced with such raw power.  Something that grips my insides and holds still my heart and quiets my rage. A power to raise the dead and clean wounds and move mountains.  I’m not worthy, as all this darkness pours out at his feet, from my blond roots to my trembling fingers to the buttons on my Bergdorf suit, and there surrounded in pearls on the floor I lay all my shit bare.

I just lay it all out bare at his feet and weep.

We should all strive for “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”  1 Peter 3:3-4.  Past the skin and the suit and the jacket of insecurity, there is great peace.  I want that peace to penetrate through these blue damaged eyes, two-clicks above this world, walking tall.  As it turns out, beauty is not power.  But God’s power is so exceedingly beautiful.

—-

Photo Credit:

The Passion of The Christ: Philippe Antonello

The man who saved the world

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News flash: some people smell.  They are dirty and have bad yellow rotten teeth and are downright creepy.  There is mental illness and instability and greed and lust and all kinds of nasty in the world.  People hurt.  People harm.  People leave damage in their wake.  Others cover up their scent by brushing their teeth and shopping at Nordstrom.  But on some level and in different ways, we all have dark sins raging.  We fail to trust and wait and submit. We are told to give up all our wealth and follow Jesus, and yet we balk and twitch.  No Superbowl Sunday?  Nuh-uh.  Crazy fool.

Even way back in Jesus’ day, there were men lying in fields who didn’t choose to lay with their wives and bounce children on their knees like respectable people.  They smelled the same as sheep because they lived with them.  They never cleaned behind their ears or washed out their mouths with soap and chose a dirty profession like animal wrangling over jail to escape the reality of doom that befell them in the real world.  There are always broken people that don’t fit well in the real world.

These people.  These shepherds.  These men without hope and women who sold their bodies and slaves who bore deep red marks of shame?

Jesus came for them.  On a dark night thousands of years ago, he came.  Jesus came for the f*#k-ups. 

Don’t be fooled that you have some sort of special place in line.  That by churching it up and having monogrammed napkins you earned a place.  You are just one of these dirty huddled masses.  God looks at the soul not the skin, so you can skip brushing your hair for Christmas Eve Service because it doesn’t much matter in the long run. Jesus wasn’t born in Upper-Middle-Class Suburbia, in a garden tub surrounded by the glow of an Orange-Vanilla Yankee candle.  I think it’s harder for us middle-class, brushing-teeth types to fall on our knees.  To drop it all and follow.  To hear the heavenly chorus.  We have surround sound, and microwaves, and our hearts are too plugged up to ache.  We have pills for that these days.

Shepherds didn’t ask for Jesus.  They didn’t pay for tickets.  They certainly didn’t earn the right to see him face-to-face.  And yet as they were lying by a smoking fire in the middle of nowhere, angels appeared.  Legions of them shrouded in golden light.  And these dirty travelers?  These jail dodgers and broken hearts? They dropped everything and ran to the child.  They followed the brilliant light to feel peace in the mere shadow of the prince.

Jesus came for the blind and deaf and weak.  The man who hates himself and loathes what he has done and feels inadequate with his life.  The screwed-up mess of a woman who is ripped and addicted and empty.  Jesus came in the night, piercing through clothes and expensive perfume and black mascara straight to broken, aching hearts.  He came for you.  And all at once, it all falls away.  A calm beyond words.  A peace beyond understanding.  The wings of angels cover, and you know.  Sweet Jesus.  There in the street and in the wallpapered hospital room and in the bathroom stall.  He comes to you where you are, smelly or not.

We don’t deserve such love.  And yet God reaches to the farthest corners of the world for us.  There is no field dark enough or prison wall thick enough.  He peers into the very essence of death and pulls out life.  All we have to do is leave the old and follow.  The light is blinding.  The angels are calling.  Jesus is whispering in the night, in dreams and visions and is saying our name right there in front of our bloody faces.  He is born!  Come, and follow.

Merry Christmas.  From one f*#k-up to another.  

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/khrawlings/3805370725/sizes/m/in/photostream/