10 Ways to be More Excellent Humans

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  1. Control your Inner Troll. When I was on The Apprentice, many people commented online. “You look like a Bohemian transvestite,” one guy said. What he didn’t know is that I took that as a compliment that I was obviously good at singing and had good taste in make-up. Ha ha, troll. But it’s so easy to make fun of people. I get this. But just because people are online doesn’t make them void of feelings. Everyone has feelings.
  1. Give Things Away. A girlfriend once commented how she liked my ring that I was wearing. “This old thing? I got it on a discount table at Talbots. It’s clearly not gold.  It’s rubbing off and I think it’s made from a melted spoon.” But she liked it, and so I boxed it up and sent it to her. Which was weird, I know. But my friends know me and accept me for my various quirks and flaws. And she thought of me and how awful this rubbed-off gold was close up every time she wore it. I presume. She ended up mailing it back to me, like “thanks for your used things, but I’m good.” Things are meaningless. Stories are what matter.
  1. Treat Customer Service People Well. My boyfriend’s son, a cashier at Pei Wei, told me that a lady berated him and questioned him why there was Ahi Tuna on the salad she ordered and demanded it be removed. “But it’s called The Ahi Tuna Salad,” he said. If you can remember back to high school when you worked a menial job where you had to take orders and bus tables, it kinda sucks. And to be treated like pond scum when you forget to include chopsticks in the bag just makes you feel worse. They are just trying to afford gas money for freak sake.
  1. Read More Books. I read Atlas Shrugged in high school and felt I was the only one in the history of the universe who had read this book and had become enlightened. It was my personal story, like somehow Ayn Rand “got me.” This was ridiculous, I realize. But in books, words describe scenes you can personally imagine rather than movies, that describe them for you. Engaging your mind and entering the fantasy world of fiction makes you (1) ignore your children (2) lose sight of all other things besides the book and (3) want to talk about the book to everyone on social media when you are finished. Okay so maybe this isn’t a way to improve upon your humanness. Screw vocabulary. Let’s all go to the movies.
  1. Have Compassion for Mean People. I had a boss once that I hated. I mean this woman was so picky and gutted my writing and tried her hardest to make me do things I didn’t want to do. She bellowed her commands in a sugary way that was mean and evil. But now that I’m grown, I realize she was lonely. She was afraid of her position in the office. She didn’t have many friends and she had a weight issue that made her feel alone and sad.  I could have swallowed my own feelings and shown up with flowers, or left her a note, or smiled at her more. Because you are don’t want to spread the same type of mean they’re dishing. Resist the urge to be a troll.
  1. Own Animals. I had a dog growing up called Tiger, who allowed me mercifully to dress him in bonnets and put socks on his feet. He was at all my mud pie baking competitions and always wagged his tail. Animals are cuddly and they love you no matter what you say or whether you are wearing dingy pajama bottoms with wine stains. Don’t judge. They are really comfortable. But owning animals reminds us all that we have someone who loves us. Except they die, fair warning. That part sucks. But owning them makes us better somehow. Get animals anyway, even if you have to get different animals later. Pet them. Talk to them. But not too much because that’s just crazy.
  1. Seek Out Funny. There was a comedian on twitter I found out lived in my town so I messaged him like “let’s get coffee! Let’s talk about humor!” and he was like “I don’t know you.” I told him I wasn’t a stalker, but he said that’s what all the stalkers say. We humans are built to laugh. So much so that we stare at television and productions and seek out people who are funny just to get the rush of endorphins that laughter provides. So if you aren’t getting enough in your daily diet, seek it out. Find what makes you bubble inside and do more of that. Unless it’s due to drugs or excessive drinking. Avoid those things.
  1. Use People’s Names. My boyfriend knows all the people’s names around, like Martin at the cleaners and Erin the customer service lady at a hotel, and he always refers to them by name. Because this makes them human and real and not just robots. In texts you can say “have a good day, Stephanie” or “I’ll see you for lunch at noon, Joseph!” until people start telling you that’s weird and then you should stop. But only then.
  1. Let Someone In Front of You. This is hard for me, because I’m always in a hurry. I run late and I barely make it on time. But there ain’t nowhere that urgent I gotta be. It just takes a few more seconds, minutes, moments – to usher someone in front of you.  Open doors and let someone in. Because mercy and grace comes to the least of us, not the greatest. The last shall become first. [Enter Bible scriptures that refer to this here; there are many I’m very certain. Jesus talked about it a lot].
  1. Control Your Anger. I have to admit, when I was going through a divorce I was angry a lot. Maybe rage is the better word. Rage about things that were done and undone and all the unraveling of lives. But this type of anger burns, and can easily get out of control. It’s sometimes easy to let anger build due to injustice or unfairness or All The Things in Life. Because it’s one thing to feel anger, which is natural, but another to allow it to consume you. Eat at you. Take over your soul. Consider it a fire inside that needs to be cooled with soothing words, deep breaths, love. These things will quench the fire, and then imagine how you can make things better, in response to what makes you angry. Being filled with anger only burns your own skin.

Let us all be better humans, one day at a time.

 

photo: “Stranger #7” by d26b73 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Roots Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun-stripped {a post on love and anger}

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

Watch yourself, doing it too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Texas Childhood

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Texas highways are bursting with the signs of Spring. There are fields awash with bluebonnets, poking their brilliant blue heads among the leaves as if a grand welcome to a big a country fair. There are daisies and Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers that only old people know the names of. And I’m okay with that. I like to say instead “why look at those pretty yellow flowers” even though I know they are only dandelions.

I’m proud to be raised here, in this land of freedom and independence. We carry both handguns and chewing gum in our purses, and use a lot of hairspray and double negatives. I was in particular thinking about how my family would all head to the Kerrville Arts and Crafts Fair when I was young, to listen to bluegrass music and look at all the handmade rolling pins and water pitchers painted with sunflowers. We’d gnaw on ears of buttered corn and wander around the booths, saying “what a pretty gemstone necklace” or “well isn’t this a cool picture of a cow.”

I had a great childhood, apparently filled with lots of rolling pins.

I wonder sometimes what my children will look back upon and remember. Am I the only one who wonders what legacy is set forth? Why just yesterday, we went to the garden to pick out some carrots and potatoes for our dinner, which we lovingly picked and cleaned and chopped and added to the pan. However, since I planted too late in the year, the carrots are only about the size of a pencil, the potatoes big enough for a large family of field mice. But I pretended we had enough and supplemented with vegetables I purchased at Whole Foods, hoping no one noticed. Will they remember nights of roasted chicken and vegetables, fresh from our garden? Dear God I hope so. Why else do I go to the trouble?

I think as parents we work so hard to create a world for our children that’s safe and happy, filled with trips to theme parks and birthday parties and nature walks through the woods. But what they want most of all are not memories of their mother listening to Lyle Lovett or singing loud or cooking sweet potato biscuits, but a place where they can be fully themselves. A place where they don’t have to look nice, be someone special, or meet some high threshold the digital world places upon them.

Kids want a warm place to rest their soul when it’s weary, so they can actually grow. That can be in the city, or in the mountains, here on our little stretch of Texas soil. And whether you plant your vegetables or buy them, kids don’t care. As long as they can curl up in your arms, and you tell them about how they were born and loved, about how wonderful they are to you, and how you’ll never ever leave, even when it’s hard. That’s home, regardless of what flowers are blooming in the fields or how large the vegetables. Because these kind of seeds are internal, rooted deep.  This kind of childhood provides a strong future for our children, evidenced by branches of love for others, gratitude for the earth, and thanks to God.

This is the childhood I want mine to remember. One where they eat loads of roasted carrots from Whole Foods and think I grew them.

God Is Not Impressed with Us

2937639265_8ab19dcc1d_zThere are times I have no funny lines.

Because in real life, decisions are hard. Paths are confusing. My future seems like a mountain looming before me. Who I am to move mountains? In front of me is a hiking trail canvassed with trees and I haven’t worked out in seventeen years. There is no way I can climb. So I pray for answers, but none come. I want the path to be made straight and not so damn high. Basically I want things to come to me, easy and consistent, like water out of a tap when you turn the handle.

But all I hear is the buzzing of flies. The path is still high and crooked, and I’m left sitting cross-legged, in a large wrinkled heap of me. Where is God in times like these? Why doesn’t he answer me at church when I call?

And then I think, “woman, get yourself together.” Think of something funny, something to overcome, something that will boost up your own sagging ego. Write, so you’ll have readers. Sing, so you’ll have listeners. Say something funny, so you’ll be the one who is invited to things. I’m always wanting, like an insatiable thirst. I pick myself up, eat less carbs, wear smaller pants, get more sleep, clean my house, and tell the world that I can knock this hill. I can climb this mountain. Maybe with these efforts, my desire to be heard, to be loved, to be accepted, to be strong, to be married, to be needed – such longing will be quenched. Or maybe if I wait it out, the mountain will even itself out and I’ll be able to climb.

Maybe God will see how strong I’ve become.

The irony is that longing apart from God has no boundaries. There are always more pictures, deeper and richer. There are funnier jokes, less wordy and shrill. There are more friends to love and more wine to drink. More lessons to teach and more decisions to make. Our children try our patience and challenge our stamina. In turn, we take more pictures, write more books, eat less carbs, do more laundry.  We may even disguise our desires as having a higher purpose, a noble goal, a gift we are born to share. We run and run without a finish line. And we are emotionally exhausted.

In the end we are sitting on the floor with a toothbrush, scrubbing until the dirt is gone. And yet we still feel filthy. We walk outside and see that same tall, crooked path. The mountain still looms, despite our best efforts to ignore it. We shut the door and scream, for who likes hiking anyway. Clothes from REI are dumpy and it’s allergy season. Let’s make brownies instead. Maybe we can satiate this never-ending, never fading, always consuming, need of ours to be fully loved.

Self-absorption is tricky. We have to get our head away from the mirror to see it. And all my own efforts – to stand tall and look thin and be funny and be wise –they are all foolish children’s games, round and round and round with no end and no beginning.

God never moved. He never needed me to show off. He didn’t need my service. He was never impressed with my frivolity or my ability to do things. How small and insignificant did I think God was? He only wanted my heart, and my aching desire to be directed at him for comfort. All God wanted is for me to make a choice – to throw myself at his feet and ask. Will you help me, Lord? Will you direct my path? Will you give me the strength in this day to walk this one step up this looming hill? But please don’t make me wear REI, because it’s not that feminine and all the sweaters are drab shades of green.

One step. It doesn’t matter what I look like, what I say, how many people are watching. It doesn’t matter that I’ve treated God in the past like a vending machine, wanting good things to pop out.

I am here now, in comfortable shoes. I am standing outside my kitchen and staring at this mountain I have avoided all my life. I am asking God to please give me the strength to take a step. One foot at a time, as fast or slow as He directs. I ask forgiveness for my arrogance, for my need for acceptance, for my vanity. All I want is to exist inside of the love that only God can provide.

He said yes. He always says yes to this question. So I take a step in faith, small as a mustard seed. I trust God will lead. He always does. And then the funny comes, because happiness comes, and love comes flowing out everywhere. It is sun shining through clouds, butter sliding over potatoes, syrup over pancakes. It covers and penetrates and fills me up.

Today is the day you can tackle that mountain. One step at a time. One prayer at a time. One small breath at a time. Even wearing REI. Even in ugly comfortable shoes. Because honestly, green is a good color on you.

 

photo

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/junctions/2937639265/in/photolist-vsUMWP-vgNK7f-vw7qtM-48oNPs-gU7ZdD-uCdBDK-vCpYBo-cotjZu-zaeRZL-zyFmTG-hxYbix-hxYeu2-hxXdWw-4ocng8-9GYDfW-9GYCMh-fnvhnq-ouCd1s-9GVKW6-vyNXKh-CQppV-o6Fwae-qjaGvh-cMrdvb-hxXdiN-9QeFvv-owz7t7-ouf3DL-fzJ6x-5yagrx-gpafqb-dFanD1-pM5xyR-vyocNB-df3TKd-z36iiq-wStfH4-wSsS3p-g4kJAQ-u2YnTR-5tAaNR-48jKer-pcLE4d-q1xK26-deVr8f-toa5Z4-fHu6bM-uxFb93-48oLVm-48jMc8

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.

 

My Top Ten Pieces of Parenting Advice

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  • I know all this free-range business is giving you new parents something to stress about, because your instinct is to hold up your precious William’s little bottom on the playscape so he doesn’t fall and free-rangers are all “let-him rip! Skin up those knees! You’re a nerdball-helicopter-control-freak if you watch your child run across the field!” Whatever, ladies. Chill the heck out and watch him as long as it feels comfortable.
  • Over the weekend our neighbors had a party and my children felt like swimming at 7 pm. They begged to return home for swimsuits. Naturally, I said no because I am a responsible parent. Thus, I continued to visit with grown-ups and ate more barbeque tacos. I then saw my children giggling and gathering up more children like they were ring leaders of a pre-school prison gang and they all decided to enter the hot tub in mass in their FULL ON CLOTHING. I stood looking at them like “Well, I could intervene, but I’m sitting here eating tacos.” So strike that on free range. It’s really quite lovely. Embrace disobedience in the name of creative exploration.
  • The other day my son had his 5th birthday party and another mom was like “this is the very first time my son has ever had soda in a can.” I sat there stunned, like “Seriously? The very first time? And this monumental event occurred at my house?” She spent five long years pushing watered-down fruit juice and all of a sudden here’s soda. I didn’t know if I should be proud of her or humiliated that I was letting kids slurp on Country Time Lite. It even had fake sugar, which means all these kids will get cancer and it’s on my head. OMG what have I done. But then I told myself to relax. We hardly ever drink these things. Curb the comparisons. Remember this if you want to have a Dora-the-Exploror party and Pinterest would scoff at your lack of creativity or absence of milk bottles with paper straws or you serve oreo’s instead of peppers with hummus. It’s fine. Little Mackenzie doesn’t even like peppers.
  • It’s raining and flooding here like the days of Noah so my children have had a ball with the cardboard house I let them make in the living room. Which is cool for a day but then the requests are like “can we eat our fried eggs in the little house?” and “can we sleep in the little house?” and “can we make furniture for this stupid little house and haul in all the leftover cans and milk cartons to the complete exhaustion of your sanity?” Kids, unless this little house comes with a housekeeper it’s being torn down on Sunday afternoon.   Then they cry and say you’re a horrible mother and how can they possibly live without this house/fort stuck together with duct tape filled with egg cartons. I’m not sure what advice I have for you on matters like this except that tomorrow they’ll move on to something else, so bake brownies.
  • There’s loads of guilt for not volunteering at school. Stop it with the guilt. I’m working full time so I usually volunteer for things like “napkins” and “games at the holiday party” and leave the lunch helpers to other mothers who really want to sit there with 20 or so loud children. And when I forget to bring snacks I’m that mom that shows up with a bag of carrots and a bottle of dressing, which shows my obvious effort, and when I forget my son’s blanket or pillow I’m like “somehow figure this out, people/surely you guys have a beach towel around this place that will work.” Now this might seem cruel to you, but from one mother to another I’m telling you your kid doesn’t mind eating carrots on a napkin or covering up for one stinking day with a towel. And if he or she minds, you have bigger problems. Come to my house and I’ll give them a soda.
  • Eating vegetables is an age-old battle. They have magical stomachs that can’t possibly stuff down one more green bean and yet there’s a reservoir for ice cream that never overflows. My suggestion is to simply tell them they have to eat their vegetables or no dessert, no matter the fact that sautéed spinach makes them gag or roasted beets taste like the bottom of a shoe or they’d rather starve until September than eat one more asparagus. You simply must never give in or show any emotion and treat dessert like an ex-boyfriend you don’t even give any second of thought to anymore. Then when they get smart and say “well I don’t want that stupid strawberry ice cream anyhow” you can bribe them with leftover Halloween candy. I’ve also heard statements like “EAT THAT STUPID KALE OR I’M TAKING AWAY TV TOMORROW FOR THE LOVE YOU ARE DRIVING ME MAD” may work on a pinch if you’re on your way to basketball practice in ten minutes.
  • Let’s discuss making beds. I think it’s stupid because we just get back into them in a day’s time so I’m the worst person to give advice in this area. My house always looks like it’s been broken into and the burglars took long naps.
  • I will point out, because I’m feeling like a bad mother making my kid eat vegetables and cover up with towels, that one particular year I didn’t bring carrots for snacks but instead followed a very detailed pinterest design. It involved making pencils for the beginning of the year out of cheese sticks, pieces of pepperoni, and bugle chips. I jubilantly hauled them to school to showcase my amazing mothering and my daughter was like “really mom? Do you have to walk these in?” So the lesson here is Pinterest is stupid and your kids care more about a love note written on a day-old napkin and stuffed in their lunch next to a cheese sandwich.
  • Get them all off devices. It robs them of all creativity and imagination. But then again, your house is a wreck, you have forts and books and roly poly collections and worm farms, so maybe limited device time is better than you becoming an alcoholic. So PBS and Little House on the Prairie only. Maybe a few others. Only once a day, maybe twice. Oh what do I know I’m such a pushover.
  • Honestly I don’t know what advice to give, except that reading to your children is never a waste of time, even when you’re bone tired, and never, ever, ever, withhold love. Love until your arms are sore. Love when they throw things and say they hate you. Love when they leave and say they will never come home. Love until your last dying breath. Love like nothing else has any hope of working, and when you feel all worn out just love some more.

We’ll see if it works out in the end, unmade beds and all.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/7698062@N04/4077647468/in/photolist-7dk1wG-61AfRy-97TGEf-oHxSZc-6iZzjq-aFhbna-aFkZnE-aFhbzc-aFkZpj-aFhbFB-aFhbsP-aFkZD5-aFkZuj-aFhbui-aFhbKc-aFhbPM-aFkZfL-aFkZcu-aFhbHk-aFhbqx-aFkZB3-aFhbAR-9uUjg8-e6yzFf-4pTBV6-4pH7Ma-9aPAv5-8QQhcr-jkKx1g-7oB56E-7RhbNG-9RYtR4-9RYtXt-aM5Xf6-aM5WV4-btSRsf-9TSUfe-5xnkDh-5xhWcR-5xhVhr-5xhWU4-5xnkwq-5xnjBm-5xnjFQ-5xhXeD-5xhVvD-5xnjU7-5xhVor-aM5ZbF-gDPVrB

Boilerplate

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn

I am a lawyer.  This means that I think about future contingencies and the probability of bad things happening and how to protect against bad things happening that have not yet happened. It’s a dance, this protection of bad things.  I run around carefully laying down arrows before people’s feet, like “don’t go this way!” or “HEAVENS SWEET MARY DO NOT TAKE A LEFT.”

I write a lot of contracts.  Sometimes I scowl and shake my head at innovation or even compassion because of the inadvertent layering of future bad things atop the good.  I sit in meetings and scratch my head and answer text messages from ladies named Sharon.  Think of me as some muttering old professor, always trying to create walkways over water.  Bridges over bombs.  Pathways around trouble.  I talk to myself while walking toward the bathroom.  Maybe that’s why no one takes me to lunch.

But here I go referring to bad things and good things like I’m some hand-wringing evil avoider.  It’s just merging companies or buying widgets and no one is dying.  And let’s not kid ourselves. I’m in Target at lunch buying socks for my kids who always manage to lose their socks.  I am no superhero, and my job isn’t that important. Except when people are fired and laid off and punished for the color of their skin.  Or when someone works so very hard to build something from nothing, only to have that something vanish because of a deal gone wrong.  Every penny they worked for is just ripped out from underneath them.  It’s all just boilerplate on a page that no one reads but the lawyers.

I do.  I read those words. I’m in a profession people turn to when there are problems, real or in the future. In some small way lawyers are a tool to avoid these atrocities, and are paid to fight against such wrongs when they surge. So it’s only natural that when I see something, I rush on past it to the next thing, and imagine how that thing will be avoided by some reworking of this thing.  It’s no wonder I imagine my children in college and believe they’ll never pass Chemistry. How could they, really, when we spent two hours with dolls and imaginary tea parties and I let them skip bath and now we are all just lying in one bed with unbrushed teeth atop each other snoring.

I often can’t just let life be. To lie in bed and look at leaves fluttering to the earth, or live inside of love without the fear of it being crushed.  I try to write out my current station in life so clear that it cannot be ambiguous, or terminated without cause, and will withstand the scrutiny of any judge.  And yet life is not a contract.  Even contracts we make between two people and God, as any family lawyer knows, can be broken. And we are left only with today – shreds of us, really – floating along.  And when we collect all those pieces to form a life again, we begin wringing our hands at what it all means, and what future is to come, and whether we will again be ripped open like a deal gone south in a smoky back room.

I didn’t read the boilerplate.  The love will someday vanish.

And yet God tells us to not worry, us goofy little humans.  For if he cares for the ravens, he cares for us.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light. The same language is repeated throughout the scripture that we are and will forever be taken care of. The edges will be made smooth.  The pathways straight.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

There are times that I fear the future, when flakes of me fall like snow and I panic at the thought of losing myself again in the weather.  And yet I cannot write a life that suits me.  I cannot create an air-tight pathway that my legal brain craves.  What I can do is trust, and pray harder than I expected, and smooth out the rushed and harried edges of my heart.

The other day I walked along the long pathways of Prospect Park on the edge of a rain, holding the hand of the One Whom I Love, and for once didn’t worry about the future.  I felt solid and calm. I knew this is all I care to be, and all I care to live, and all I care to do.  And in the echoed and narrow aisles of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral with scaffolding covering the stained glass like an apron, I grasped his hand and whispered to God that I am thankful this torn and beautiful life, just a drop amidst a congregation dripping.  For outside these holy walls where two-dollars-will-light-you-a-candle is a Burberry store with four-hundred-dollar scarves, and people drenched with greed, and yet I am on the inside of love.

I am a lawyer.  I worry about how current things affect future things.  Yet at the same time I am learning to not worry.  For I am a daughter cherished. His hand has written the most perfect contract that cannot, no matter how much I scrunch up my nose, be terminated.  And this allows me to rest in the knowledge that the good can outweigh the bad, and love wins.

My friends.  Those intellectual and hollowed.  Those working and labored.  Stop worrying about the protection of your current status.  God is the arbitrator and the judge.  The prosecutor and the defender. We have but to lift up praises to the heavens, and offer ourselves as consideration for such a lofty gift. And in return we receive peace, amidst our toiled human instincts and flawed minds.  We can finally come to Him, the forever and the infinite; the never and always.  Despite our drenched hearts that fear love. Despite our minds that tear at things.  Despite our very selves.  We can finally rest.

Let the happy burn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

photo:

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

Burn up the Rubber

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Most of us live sensible lives.  We drive reliable cars. We ensure our children have green vegetables and eat organic chicken.  We rent bounce houses on birthdays and allow our daughters to be princesses and when Fridays roll around, men grill steaks in their chinos and their wives say “they’re wonderful, dear,” and at night these women take off their make-up.

And the days, they change numbers. The t-shirts turn to sweaters.  But it’s all essentially the same.  Day camp on Monday, spin class on Tuesday.  Pancakes on Saturday and church on Sunday.  And we smile and cook lasagna and say hello to Sheila-and-Bob that come over for a beer because that’s what good neighbors do. We have grown so adept at hiding all the pain that comes from living this bloated American life that we tell ourselves this is it – the life we’ve yearned for.

And then one day, when you are driving home thinking of making crunchy tacos, you hit the familiar turn toward suburbia.  The brick house on the left, third street to the right, named after birds or rivers or wildflowers.  And that stretch of curve comes a bit too fast before it’s upon you like a crosswind, and you have a choice whether to slow down or take it.

And by God, you take it.

Something strange and sinister swirls inside you like a demon. Instead of putting two hands on the wheel of your trusty Lexus and meeting up with Sheila-and-Bob and making tacos and pulling into Braeborn Court to the brick house on the left, you have a feeling akin to flying.  The tires grip the road and you narrow your eyes and you burn that rubber.  You turn that ache into fire and you realize the life you’ve been living is a shadow of the one you’ve imagined.

So you take a right instead of a left and head through the rolling hills without a plan, without a full tank of gas, without a good set of recipes or a dessert for the pot luck.  And it feels good to crank up the music loud and let it pulse with the beat of your chest.  You rip out the hair tie.  You open the sun roof.  You stick your hand out the window like an airplane dancing and you pulse in your seat to the rhythm of the street and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, shining.  You sing loud, laugh hard, and wave at passersby’s like a damn fool.

And as the sun begins to set upon your sensible life, the one you don’t seem to fit into, you head that Lexus back home to tell your children there are no more tacos. There are only ice cream sundaes, eaten at night by the pool at 10 pm sharp, and one cannot use spoons but must dive face-first into a bowl of strawberry, and everyone laughs with hot fudge dripping down their noses.  There is no longer grilling on Sundays, and spin class on Tuesdays, for you pack up your things and move to the mountains,  where you stand in your underwear on the ridge and raise your hands high – to heaven, to God, and to freedom. And your husband sips tea and kisses your mouth hard, the one he loves more deeply than before.

Sometimes a sensible life is not enough for a dreamer.  Life must be lived with wild abandon, with hands out the window and the sun searing skin and music raging in places that were once nothing and empty.  And you grit your teeth at so many turns, because that’s what wheels are for, really, to burn up the rubber. And it feels good to go fast, and live full, and go out with a flame instead of a whimper.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/30781947@N08/6154656560/sizes/m/in/photolist-anSdYh-6GmH8Y-89hsBV-5sXYn8-72wTKE-9hb8fu-6s7Xn5-o51QXS-89kHcC-89kHgA-76tkFK-8d1zXA-eDmG9b-eDmuKb-8dj1z3-4aYwnm-72wSBS-5kSaJg-6E2BRp-aAguJL-7ZWdQi-9UJbpN-5rNX5p-6Ne1NB-57QCbe-8kT1Pq-6E6MF9-6E6MoA-6E6Mud-yeaR-7zuodN-88jsAp-4W6Sig-9FptMT-72wSzJ-b4cR9-72wT2N-LtNrz-7LpxZa-75k8s5-7LpyQK-ccHcuA-7LpzDM-4W6Rke-bVkSTK-8dj1uG-58cTnx-c7A4Sd-5ZLmMu-8cXi48-8uvBW1/