An Open Letter to Humanity {about humor and prayer}

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Dear Humanity,

Have you heard the stories about how good friends or spouses can sit in silence and never say a word?  I say it’s because they are boring stiffs, but others say it’s because their peace and love for each other is so vast and their comfort with being still is so strong there is no need for words.

I’m not one of those people. 

I’m a person who fills up empty spaces.  I talk about the wild feelings of middle age and I comment on the way cars look as they whiz by on the highway.  I ask questions and I’m not one to just sit silently with my hands folded.  Being a writer means being a storyteller and one who notices little things.  And being a lawyer means you think of alternate arguments and put together thoughts in your mind in logical patterns.  My best friends may even motion to their spouse when they are on the phone with me something like “here she goes again” or write on a sticky note “it’s Amanda on the line so I’ll see you at Christmas.” There may be some eye rolling and “oh no! I’m late for the dentist!” when in fact they are just tired of hearing me talk.  I get this.  When I start, I really get going. But being creative means that I paint with words and phrases and sound. Basically, I’m not built for silence.

So it’s odd that lately, I’ve been silent.  Silent in this house, thinking. Silent about some true thoughts and silent about some opinions on things.  I’ve been drinking coffee and drinking wine and drinking in all the silence.  I use humor to mask things, to play with things, to connect with people while I’m doing the hard work of silence.  Sometimes, humor is the only thing that works to relieve the pressure, to laugh with each other, to find common ground.  It’s the only words that come out.  Please understand that it’s a lifeline for me, and an important part of who I am.

We desperately need common ground on which we can walk forward.  We are growing so polarized that I can only seem to find humor as a talking point.  It’s the light that seems to shine through the rubble, a brightness through the fog.  This is why humor, to me, is so powerful, and why I use it as a means to survive.  It’s why as the world grows dimmer the humor grows darker, but it still works.

I haven’t talked to God in a while.  I have assumed he’s cool with it, giving me space as one does with an unruly teenager.  I’ve been overwhelmed with all the tragedy and loss and sadness in our world.  Honestly, I don’t know what to say.  It feels so disingenuous to say “I’ll pray for you,” when what I really am thinking is simply “I’m sorry.”  I’m sorry you are facing this death, this fire, this flood, this loss.  I am so terribly sorry you have cancer. Sometimes I get the reference in the Bible, about how people fell to their knees and tore their clothes, a sign of being overwhelmed by all the sadness.  Although I am not going to tear at my Burberry coat, no matter how much you throw at me.  Even I have limits.  And yet despite this, I am concurrently very happy with my life.  I am married to an amazing man, I have strong and healthy children, I live in a wonderful community. It’s an odd dichotomy.

I’m in a few prayer groups.  I say the prayers that I have committed to saying, but my heart hasn’t been in it.  I care about people.  It’s just that I haven’t felt that these prayers are making any difference.   I’ve just been looking down onto my own world, doing my own thing, hiding. I think part of it is simply guilt.  Guilt that I have so much, have been blessed with abundance, guilt that I am happy while others are not. I don’t deserve this husband or these children or this home or this life.  And yet that is not what God wants for us, to throw away the blessings we have been given.  To feel guilty about happiness.

So my prayer life has also been silent.  Because I haven’t had the right words to say.  When our President says “my prayers are with you” my blood boils.  What do these words mean, from an unrighteous man? Go back to the tanning bed, 45.  Your prayers are empty and meaningless.

It’s not the words we say that make some great difference in the world. Whether it’s a set of lyrics or a Dr. Seuss poem or a Shakespeare play, they are all just letters strewn together. They can all be typed and burned with a match and tossed in the garbage. This very blog will be forgotten, lost in internet space, years from now failed to be maintained.  No one will read these words a generation from now.

Words themselves have little power. What is powerful is the interaction between us and God, the portal to God himself, whereby you can humbly submit yourself before God and boldly, bravely, confidently ask for direction, healing, hope, strength.  Using words is the means to this end, and is what we refer to as prayer. It’s really just about talking to God.  The Bible instructs us that God listens to our hearts, our words, our guttural cries.  He hears even the smallest, throatiest, dumbest sounding words.  As you hear the words of your children when they say “I love you” or “you’re the best” or “I farted.” Thanks a lot, kiddo.  At least you could have given me some advance warning.

This Weinstein story has made me abundantly sad. There are stories like this every day that should no longer surprise us. But for some reason this particular story of yet another predator against young girls broke my heart.  Because it brings up images of young women, my own daughters, injured and broken, scrubbing their skin until it’s raw in order to feel clean.  Images of girls feeling used and dirty, when they are instead wonderful and pure, filled my head.  You women are beautiful in all ways.  Can’t you see?  It’s a world of broken things, and I am standing in the rubble.  Mostly pissed off because no one seems to be cleaning it up.

But last night in the shower I allowed myself to form words to God.  To ask God to forgive me, to forgive our nation, to forgive all the terrible things.  Also, despite me being in the shower for a very long time, I didn’t shave, because I feel that being filled with the awesomeness of God is a solid excuse for the new husband so I should get a pass.

I did feel a bit strange praying for women en masse, without each of them being named, but I did it anyway.  I figured God could sort it out.  So I prayed for all the women who were violated, hurt, felt less than.  I prayed that they would rise up today and feel whole, healed, loved.  I prayed for our nation and its people.  I am just one person, talking to God about an entire group of other women.  How does this help?  And yet are these women, every single one of them, not worth fighting for? They are.  That is what I felt as I prayed.  That God holds them all in his precious hands.  As if he was saying “I hear you, girl.  I hear every word that you speak. Even the sarcastic ones.”

Humor as a connection between people is powerful.  Prayer as a means of connection to God is even more powerful.  Prayer allows us to put others ahead of ourselves and see ourselves as we are –  broken, dependent, and sinful.  People who need grace and forgiveness.  People who need to stop using social media to cut each other down, but find a way to building bridges between each other, in order to find peace.  If you need a release, find humor.  If you need a lifeline, find God.

Will you pray? For our nation, our women, our hearts?  And will you please stop saying “I’ll pray for you” as an empty platitude?  Because, like crop tops and hashtags and everything Taylor Swift, I’m kinda over it.

Most sincerely yours,

Amanda

 

photo:

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The Sin Bastard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you tell the Lord to take it.

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

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

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

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

 

photo:

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

Small graces

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It’s been a long year.  A year I didn’t expect.  Emotions I certainly never thought I’d face.  I know I’m not alone in the pain of Things Coming Out of Nowhere, like a beast in the night.  Whether it’s cancer or the death of a mother or divorce or the loss of a child: you can’t build up reserves in advance to “handle it.”  You are just thrown right in that cold lake without quite knowing how to swim, and you have to just keep gasping for air and thrashing around until you can find a way out.

I’ve yelled at God a lot lately.  Maybe not literally, but inside of me there’s a hot place in the middle of my chest that burns, and grows large, and I think things like “you must be on vacation” and “seriously? I’ve been saying the exact same prayer for a year now and I’m getting sick of listening to my own internal dialogue.”  And then I feel guilty, because God’s God and I’m trying to squeeze into his chair and tell him how to run things, which makes me sad again, and it’s a vicious cycle.  But I say the same prayer anyway, because there’s that old story of a relentless widow. I hope God doesn’t get sick of reruns.

Today, a friend told me that every day provides us with small graces.  Look for them, she said. I nodded, because that’s what you do when people say that things will look up or God will redeem all or time heals.  You just smile and nod, but they don’t really know my life.  The vending machine is all out of small graces, because butterflies floating on my lantanas don’t make my heart heal, or pay my bills, or make my soul at peace.  I glare at the monarch in an angry, pity-fueled darkness, and I just want to release my grasp on the log that keeps me afloat and just sink underneath in slow motion. I grit my teeth and say the same prayer that I say every freaking day, over and over again, and hope God will listen. I might not be in his chair, but I’m going to sit at his feet and just keep tapping on a toe until somebody hears me.

I don’t think we would be human if we didn’t go through times like this.  Just psalmists crying out in lamentation about the unfair, cruel, and often confusing place we find ourselves in. I know I should be thankful for a thousand gifts, and see all these small graces fluttering on my nose, but I’ve clenched my eyes shut.  Because as it turns out I don’t run the world, and I can’t see into my future, and I don’t always know what’s best for me.  Like the time I cut bangs and wore acid-washed jeans.  We can’t trust ourselves, people.

I think sometimes it’s easier to rot in our own self-pity than force ourselves to prop open our eyelids and see the protection around us.  The fact that our legs are strong, and the log came floating by, and there’s a stranger fishing for carp that heard our cries.  The fact that the rains stopped, and the boat came, and you looked up to see sunlight streaming like laser beams through the parting clouds.  Maybe God’s the one who’s yelling, and we’re so busy wallowing that we don’t even notice.

So now, my legs are still shaking but steady, and I’m heading slowly to shore in a beat-up old fishing boat.  My arms still clutch an imaginary log in the water, and I’m hoarse from screaming, but I’m humbled.  And quiet for a change.  And slowly, as tears of gratitude well, I croak out the same prayer.  The one I’ve yelled and screamed and whispered and sobbed. The same one I said yesterday and the same one I’ll say tomorrow.  Once, months ago, I said this same prayer and sat there in my bedroom for a solid four hours waiting to hear a reply, like a staring contest with God.  I heard birds, and an airplane, and a squirrel’s chatter, which hardly counted.  And yet now with a blanket around my shoulders it feels suddenly new again, and I know that every single heartfelt prayer has been heard and felt and inhaled like incense to a loving Father. I don’t know the answers, or my future, but I smile at the benevolence I do not deserve.

A butterfly rests on my arm – wings like lace so delicately displayed.  It’s high noon, and the sun that has provided me with such little warmth fuels it’s very flight, all the way to Mexico over fields and river and stale grey condominiums.  It breaks apart from his brothers to land here, just for a moment on my arm, like he’s been waiting for me to come.  It fills that burning hole in my chest with love.

She’s right, my friend. Every day does indeed provide small graces.  Look for them.

 

Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunasinestrellas/6837600442/sizes/m/in/photolist-bqduoN-bqduoC-bqduoh-bqduo5-bqduo9-967Big-6ztEK-6ztEQ-6ztEN-98d3Gw-98d3wL-5XNCMz-bnTDMq-9i7PuY-9i7PJ3-5BXznK-5C2TtW-5qM4SP-8h1NXX-8h55hj-9TMBRR-9i7HiL-uAEFU-7NQDoi-7ytQYj-7t2sBb-kVoGs-az4Xif-7hZY3A-7hZXVC-7hW3zv-9i7Gxd-f3oCg-f3ozF-f3oyk-f3oD2-f3oyG-f3oDp-f3ozu-djfj6c-f3oz2-8tNLVo-f3owh-8Bdm47-8yK4xo-8Dy3vu-8Dy3Ew-8DuTo8-8DuWCB-3imQ1i-f3oA5/

 

Here’s to no-good, boring birthdays

 

Some Mondays aren’t the best.  This particular one was teeth-grindingly bad.  It just so happened that this Monday was also my birthday, which added to my abounding self-pity.  Birthdays really shouldn’t matter so much to grown-ups.   Just because you wake up on your official DOB doesn’t mean you carry a special florescent glow that mandates people give you free coffee and stickers.  I will say, however, that at least in the working world someone buys you a Starbucks, or there’s a cake in the break room.  When you’re a stay-at-home type, who happened to buy yourself a new camera for her own present, it’s just any other day and your main goal is for the kids to eat their carrots.

I felt bad about whining about my no-good, boring birthday to a girlfriend, until she reminded me that she knew.  She knew my life was blessed and full and rich and wonderful, and that it’s okay to have bad days.  I told her this day was ridiculously awful, aside from my family being healthy and us having a comfortable living with clothing and food and love and homemade bread and leftovers and an amazing life. Shoes on our feet and a belly full of organic turkey breast?  Blessings schmessings.

So here was my day. No one was diagnosed with a brain tumor or broke an arm, but still.

  • My husband left for work early.  My son fell out of his crib and I awoke to the sound of his sobbing face, covered in snot, screaming next to my pillow.
  • I tried to wake my daughter, who “needed some time” and didn’t want to be disturbed. Okay, royal highness.
  • I had three hours of child care for the 2-year-old, so I rushed to get a pedicure with my daughter at an upscale boutique.  She didn’t understand why she couldn’t stand around for a million hours looking at nail polish colors and couldn’t have a certain oversized ring that looks like a rose.
  • We headed to the bank. “Oh my gosh, it’s your birthday!” the teller gushed. “Here’s a lollipop!”  I guess the glare in the drive-in-window disguised my birthday glow as that of an anxious three-year old, because it’s been a long time since a lollipop was that thrilling.  But I’ll take it.  Things are looking up.
  • I picked up my son.  He ate said lollipop and his entire mouth turned blue.  What is this stuff – trick candy?
  • We headed to a friend’s house so my daughter could apologize to my friend’s child for saying hurtful words during a play date over the weekend.  We finally get that fun chore out of the way.  Sorry is said/hugs to be had.  Victory!
  • We head home, whereby my mother has called to sing me Happy Birthday.  Only she and my Dad are in Kansas and the phone keeps cutting out.
  • I try for a solid hour to get my son to take a nap.  He giggles and cries and wrangles and twists and I almost use brut force to tie him to the bed. Finally, I gave up and looked forward to a fun afternoon with an exhausted toddler.  What a great birthday present!  Better than dirty diapers!
  • I went to buy a real mattress for my son, who clearly needs something besides the crib since he’s looking like a future linebacker.  It costs more than I planned.  There goes all my spending money.
  • The mattress was being delivered that afternoon, and during the seven minute interval by which I was vacuuming his room in prep for the mattress, my son discovered a truck-load of permanent markers somewhere in his sister’s room (who put those in there?) and colored his entire hand, arm, and part of the carpet green.
  • I was so mad when I saw the green carpet I threw the markers across the room and might have yelled.  I’m fairly certain I yelled.  Oh yeah.  I yelled.
  • I gave myself a time-out on the front porch to calm down.  I sucked down a sparkling water.  Should have made it beer, the more I think about it.
  • I headed back in and decided I need to embrace the craziness.  If you can’t beat em, join em.  Want a popcicle?  Sure!  Want fruit smoothies for dinner?  Why not?  We all sang a rousing version of “Do, Re, Me” while I folded socks and towels.
  • Things are really looking up when I sneak spinach and flax seed in the smoothies when the kids aren’t looking.  Does spinach equal out the marker throwing?  Does the singing void out all the yelling?
  • My daughter spilled the entire smoothie on her white t-shirt.  Panic ensues that the stain will never come out, since this is a tried-and-true favorite tee. My son follows suit with the spillage.  Blueberry pomegranate sludge covers my front porch. Both kids are hosed off.  The porch is hosed off.  I wish I could hose off my bad mood.
  • I decide baths are in order, whereby my expensive organic bath gel somehow ends up in the tub and is half-full of water.  Why do I leave these things at arms-reach?
  • I put my son to bed.  He’s wiped.
  • I read a thousand chapters of Nancy Drew to my daughter, who keeps begging for more.  She finally pleads for a back scratch in the whiniest voice I’ve ever heard.  I tell her it’s my freaking birthday and I’m done with all her incessant demands. She throws a crazy fit by standing up, saying “hmph” really loudly, stomping, and crossing her arms.
  • My daughter loses television privileges as a natural consequence of her bad choice.  I told her one more outburst and the Polly Pocket dolls were headed to Goodwill.
  • I fold more laundry.  I eat a peanut butter sandwich.  I’m no longer singing show tunes, and I haven’t had one single piece of cake.
  • My husband calls and says he’s getting home really late due to a pending work deadline. Super double awesome.
  • I call my mother-in-law and remind her it was my birthday, since she had clearly forgotten.
  • Time for bed!  Here’s to Tuesday!

I recently gave a speech whereby I told a group of ladies that when horrible things happen, take a step back and find the funny.  There is always, for certain, without a doubt, funny things that bubble up from tragedies.  I was thinking of real tragedies, like death or cancer or car accidents.  But bad birthdays count.  The more I think about it, they so count.

So here’s to funny.  To the yelling and spilling.  The singing and cleaning up.  Regretful and glorious moments of motherhood are all wrapped up in a shiny birthday package, with a ribbon that reads “There’s always tomorrow!  Thank God for tomorrow!”

Tonight, I prayed out loud with my daughter.  I asked God to grant me more patience and to still my anger.  For my daughter to be more selfless, and to develop a heart of gratitude.  Mostly I just thanked God for our beautiful life.  For so many rich blessings. They don’t come in packages, tied up with string.  We don’t deserve them.  And yet we are surrounded by so many. As I write this, my two kids are sleeping and my laundry is done. My fingers fly over the keys like an old friend.  I have so many people in my life that I love and cherish.  I have the privilege of being a servant.

Next year on my birthday, I’m making pineapple smoothies.  At least they don’t stain.  That’s my new goal for birthday success. Let’s shoot for small victories. . .