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.

 

Biting the Big Apple

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I have a wonderful life.  My two children are smart and loving, beautiful and inquisitive.  My home is a rock fortress atop acres of cedar and oak and native grasses, with a garden and pathways and a porch with large rocking chairs. I sit alone so many nights and marvel at the screeching of cicadas and how they interplay from tree to tree, rubbing their wings together.  I drink strong coffee with cream on Saturday mornings while watching the cardinals hop and flit and turn their little red pointed heads towards the west.  And when the sun peaks I set out the tea pitcher steeped with handfuls of mint to warm.

And yet in the midst of this very good life I grow weary.  There is so much to shoulder.  So many burdens.  I desire the freedom of my youth, when I grabbed the last cherry popsicle from the box and jumped through sprinklers.  I laughed at jokes and washed my hair for dates and celebrated a new year with cheese dip and sparkling apple juice with my parents.  Life is more complicated now.  More heartbreaks and bills.   More decisions that matter. More life behind you than ahead. And the stifling Texas heat? It can flat-out drain you.

When you live in a place that fuels your soul but your heart is empty, where do you turn? Only one place works to recalibrate my nerves and it beats like a drum like a chorus like a lover like a friend like a sweet bite of cake and a jeweled ring. Don’t look back.  Don’t stop to think about it.  Fly to the place where you can breathe.

New York City.

So I planted myself on an airplane seat and lifted through the air to a different kind of freedom.  Through tunnels and between steel that rises and when I cobbled along the streets I inhaled urine mixed with exhaust and rotten garbage and the whiff of 5th avenue perfume and Wall Street hair grease and overdrunk hydrangeas in Battery Park.   And when I unpacked and unloaded, I laced up my practical shoes and I walked.  I walked and walked and walked until my calves ached.  And slowly the burdens lightened, and the emptiness filled in, and a smile of a different sort flowed inside the empty spaces.

There is a magnificent heart to this city.  It’s full of promise and buzzing with life where you eat at 10 pm and meet beautiful strangers and walk alone in bars and wander into antique bookstores and land in French bistros at 9 am on Fridays.  People are struggling to find their voice, and yet there is so much talent pouring over the various facets of this town that it mixes like chocolate into milk, swirling.

I went a few days early for a legal conference with no plans except to eat puff pastry at Balthazar and sip on espresso.  I sat on the second row at the Ambassador theatre, watching beautiful people sing and kick their legs and do remarkable things with their bodies.  I clapped loud and got all teary at the energy they spent on practice and everyone was probably laughing at this poor sap from out of town wearing heels.  In intermission I stood at the back alone and smiled a crooked smile, for this is a place I have lived and loved before in another life.

I returned home strangely full.  Full of life and tall handsome dinner dates.  Of strangers and dancing.  Of crispy pork and snap peas and current scones with raspberry jam. And back in the land of reality I faced four-year-old tantrums and a daughter who rolled her eyes and loads of laundry and dishes with cemented oatmeal residing in bowls.  And yet it wasn’t burdensome. I took in waves of breaths and dug in.  I sat on my front porch sipping my coffee with cream, thinking about sun tea steeped with mint.  I think I’ll have a cherry popsicle and dance in sprinklers and toast a new year with my parents eating cheese dip. Maybe I’ll wash my hair for dates and start again.

Oh the city, how I love you. And my home, how I treasure you.  The juice runs down my cheeks, cool and sweet.  I pluck you fresh from the tree, your red skin shining, and put you in a basket.  And in my sundress I carry you back lovingly toward home.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/willvision/6504440557/sizes/m/in/photolist-aULXyR-nzKKkx-nJ7qCY-dB98wX-ckrBp-nzKbDy-nV4JvG-5LyyN1-5RQG8F-4ZdeN6-djS26t-doShWN-eywR12-6AWCSu-7ckF1L-9sxhSe-nJgp1o-9fU77p-9gbdd9-dBSGdb-5JKjBT-nU1WrD-d66EfY-ffVQii-9sW8dA-9hwYCv-fi5can-nqeNjn-8dJXQX-dnFkgb-9QU2Es-dsprTX-9SmDmV-gxcw1i-7euQD4-dq9zTY-keg6ky-fBGYjA-9hrSuF-83Lwi-6HCVKX-doHLZT-3XxpkD-dDhJD7-6FEsHS-4TQZoA-5YZPdJ-9hv14o-4YPfti-9hA4Ku-816P1/

Flying High

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

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

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

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

The world, my friends, is yours.

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

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

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

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

March forward boldly in the direction of your dreams.  

Photo:

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

 

big apple of ambition

Recently, I friended an old high school acquaintance on facebook who turns out to be a creative director in an amazing ad agency in New York City.  Like Don Draper status with Emmy-winning commercials and fancy ties.  I looked down at myself, sloppy and tired, brushing the cookie crumbs off my pants.

Is this really where I wanted to end up?  Is this the woman I thought I’d be?

My mind was consumed with thoughts of the past as I unloaded the dishwasher.  Memories of television and fake eyelashes and In Touch magazine photo shoots.  People doing my make-up and eating at fancy places I could never afford. I thought of poor Martha Stewart, who didn’t like us much, but had such fabulous collections of things and a bubbly, youthful laugh.  I thought of the endless cabs and the fleeting second of fame and what it was like to feel special in this world.

I yearned to live there, then.  The Big. Ol. City. where the lights were always burning and air thickened in the summer – a mixture of urine and exhaust and pure, uncut talent. “What’s a working girl to do?” I’d say to myself as I rounded 24th Ave, my future yet untold.  Maybe I’d meet my husband for drinks, or coffee, or try that new vegan place uptown. My hair would be blond and my legs lean.  It’s not like everyone can run off to the Hamptons when the temperature rises.  I’d gut it out.  Because I’m a southern girl, and I can handle it.  I’d find my place in that rat race, settling down in a nice hole somewhere, munching on crumbs.

I remember being on an interview, sitting down with a bunch of marketing executives on 6th Avenue, my first child belly-flipping around in my abdomen and making me nauseous.  She was just the size of a bean then.  I think she was trying to tell me something.

My son suddenly awoke from his nap crying, ruining my perfectly good daydream about Dean & Deluca chocolates.  His pacifier had fallen to the floor and tears were streaming from his red, tired face.  The moment I picked him up, his arms curled around my neck like I might leave him forever and this was our one last embrace.  His head of thick, blond hair buried into my chest, and he let out the most peaceful coo.  I stopped what I was doing, carried him to my bedroom, and let him lay on my chest for a solid hour and a half.  He turned his head and sighed and flipped a few times.  I think he was as happy as he ever was in his whole two years of life.  As I lay there, rubbing his back, I let my mind rest on what might have been.  Or what I might have missed.

I chose this life.  You can hear the katydids screeching their evening refrain in the oaks and wonder if the tomatoes are getting enough water.  I eat farm eggs and bake bread on Mondays and hang clothes on the line.  Instead of going to court or summarizing deposition transcripts, I ask my husband about his day.  I make sure the toilet bowls are clean.  I find time to write. It’s the life I wanted, and one I fiercely fought to have.  But it’s not cosmopolitan.  No one cares if you wear designer jeans or have red underbellies to your high-heeled shoes.  No one in Austin even wears high-heeled shoes.  Why would you, when flip flops are much more comfortable, and you’re just headed out for Migas anyway?

My son woke up and we played the tickle game.  I did laundry.  I made macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping.  My son wore one of my old hats and tried to dig ice from a Whataburger cup, which made me laugh.  My daughter and I stayed up late eating warm banana pudding.  My husband was out of town, so I let my daughter cuddle up in our down comforter with me, turning over sometimes in the middle of the night just to touch her arm.  Just to make sure she was still there.

Somehow I don’t think I’d get these memories living in the land of great hopes and expectations.  I’m not sure my soul would be rested enough.  I’m not sure my children would find their way.   It’s not home.  It’s not warm and inviting with room to breathe.

This is the place I want to live.   This is the life I choose.   Thank you, God, for leading me here.  For letting me float inside this quiet peace, amidst the wildflowers and artists and fields of expired ambition, gently blowing away with the wind.  Past the inland sea oats, whispering by the Indian blankets.  Far off into the hot, Texas sky.

A decade of milestones

Yesterday was my ten-year cancer anniversary.  Those who have been in my shoes understand that it’s a day of reflection.  A day where you review all the milestones that have occurred in the last decade and wonder what will happen next.

A few to mention:

(1) I was on national television.

(2) I got to live in New York for a while.  I survived the subway and tag sales and bad Mexican food.

(3) I have been to many cancer screens, visits, and appointments, but my cancer has not metastasized.  Survival is just as good as the next test.  So far I’m hanging in there.

(4) I had many interactions with Martha Stewart.

(5) Got to eat at a fancy NYC restaurant with Donald Trump

(6) I wrote a children’s book on contract for a company in California

(7) We had a baby girl, who is so precious

(8) I had a life-threatening infection after the birth of our little girl.  I was in the hospital for a month.  I survived.

(9) I wrote a novel about the extraordinary friendship between two women.  One woman undergoes a battle with cancer, which was cathartic and memorable to write about.  Part of it’s very funny, and I like funny.   After tears and late nights and edits and hundreds of pages thrown out, I did it.  I survived the novel-writing process.

(10)                I got on facebook and connected with old friends I hadn’t heard from in years

(11)               We had a baby boy. So love that little guy.

(12)               My heart stopped right before the c-section when my son was born, as I was lying on the table. They had to do resuscitation measures.  Miraculously, I survived.

(13)               My husband and I went to Maine, and as we were on a yacht off the coastline, I was so glad he married me so many years ago

(14)               I worked as General Counsel to a large medical group, a job I never thought I’d attain and was so thrilled to have.  Being a lawyer is quite fun.

(15)               I quit said wonderful job as described above to stay home

(16)               We moved into a wonderful limestone house.  We have a garden and land to roam.  Next up is chickens.

(17)               I started a blog

(18)               Our house was struck by lightening.  We survived.

(20)               My novel is not yet published, but I’m still trying

By His mercy and grace, I keep surviving.  Here’s to the next decade.   Let it be as rich and wonderful as this one.  Let me live every day with compassion and curiosity.  After all, I want to do more than survive.  I want to sing.  I want to write.  I want to thrive.