Mar 17, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Monster at the End of the Book

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When my kids were little, reading a book (or twelve) before bedtime was the delight of their days. Mostly because it delayed the whole getting into the bed part of bedtime.

Hours were spent in the rocking chair, Golden Books in hand, as my tired voice (or the equally tired one of my husband) read aloud the tales of a talking train and his pals, a talking bunny and his friends, a talking veggie crew. Sidenote here: Why did they all talk so. very. much? Where are the books about quiet  fictional characters? When my kiddos were toddling toward the bookshelf to pick out a tome, I’d sent them silent messages with my brain: Please choose Goodnight Moon. Please choose Goodnight Moon. It only has a few words. Kudos to all the children’s authors who leave out all that dialogue nonsense. Exhausted parents everywhere rise up and bless your name.

One of my kids’ favorite choices was the Sesame Street classic, The Monster at the End of the Book. I supported that choice. How could you not adore “lovable, furry, old Grover?” If it’s been a year or eight since you’ve read it, let me give you a plot summary of this classic:

Grover hears a terrible rumor that there’s a monster hiding at the end of the book. He then spends the next several pages trying to convince you, the reader, NOT to turn the page!  He ties intricate rope knots! He nails the pages together! He builds brick walls! Alas, nothing works. The mighty reader turns the pages and, spoiler alert, finds the monster at the end of the book, who turns out to be sweet, dear, cuddly Grover. Sigh. The end. Let’s all go to bed now.

I hadn’t read the tale of Grover’s plight in far too long, until recently, when a little preschooler who lives nearby began spending a few hours a week at our house and turned out to be Grover’s biggest groupie. As I walked about the kitchen each afternoon, wiping the invisible-to-everyone-but-me crumbs off counters and pondering about the great life mystery that is the plastic container drawer, I overheard my daughter reading and rereading the story to our little pal.  And I understood that I, in my Very Adult Life, function exactly like that furry friend Grover.

I walk about my life with an undercurrent of worry. Sure, everyone is healthy now. But it’s been awhile since we have had an E.R. visit. There must be something dreadful up ahead in the next few pages of our story!

Two of my kids are of driving age. What if they text when I’m not in the car with them to tell them not to? What if they don’t yield when merging onto a highway?  Maybe the new drivers don’t realize that one little mistake is not a little mistake when you’re piloting a passenger-laden vehicle. What if some idiot driver runs a red light? What monster could be waiting to hurt them?

All of my kids spend hours a day online. What if they accidentally reveal too much information to the wrong person? What if someone fools them with charm and the right words their tender teenage hearts need to hear? What monster could be waiting to harm them?

We have enough money to pay our bills and take a family vacation this year. But college looms very closely ahead. Cars are falling apart and need repairs. Medical expenses apparently grow on trees, or at least the ones in my yard. Septic tanks overflow. Wells collapse. Experts (who live in some mysterious perfect world I have never visited) tell me to have three months of income stored up. So I worry.  What monster could be waiting to bankrupt my family?

Monsters feel very real. They take the form and shape of hurting people who, in turn, hurt us. They appear as worrying medical diagnoses. They wait in the dark, cloaked as addictions ready to upend our lives. They hide under our beds as relational betrayals we think we will never recover from. They hover in the shadows as pain-shrouded issues our precious kids are struggling mightily against.

I recently read a quote, a gem buried in what I thought was a fun, escapist novel: “In the absence of facts, we tell ourselves stories.” There is so much wisdom packed in that little line of dialogue. In the absence of real data, I will spin a horror story of monsters and their encroaching dark figures.

In the absence of facts, I will believe the new path I’m choosing to walk today will have the same old, tired ending it always has.

In the absence of truth, I will believe the lies that snake around my brain and twist and root in until they begin to feel more real than what I know to be true.

In the absence of peace, I will corrupt the power of my brain and my imagination. I will take the dark shapes and make them into something they are not, giving them power over my life. I will allow that undercurrent of fear to become a tumbling, roaring white-water river that will knock away my oars and upend my raft and capsize all who ride with me.

Or I can learn a little lesson from my friend Grover and his adventures in Monsterland: In the upheaval and stress and overwhelming moments and pain of life, I don’t need to wait in worry for the monster at the end of the story. I don’t need to pull out the hammer and nails and bricks and mortar and rope and attempt construction of some sort of protective barrier around my life and my loved ones. In fact, I can’t. I can’t possibly protect the ones most dear to me. While that knowledge used to cause panic to rise like bile in my throat, I now am learning the practice of acceptance: That I am not in control. I do not have to wonder if I have prayed the exact right words of a “hedge of protection” around my family. (By the way, that much-called-down “hedge” is a description found in the ancient story of Job when the character of Satan describes Job. Before all the tragedy befalls him.)

I can stop being my own worst monster lying in wait. Instead, I can spend my days embracing the small, beautiful moments and knowing that, yes, the scary and dark times will come, but I will only exhaust my resources ahead of time if I waste them on worry. I can open my heart to the small pleasures of today:  of ducks squawking in the pond, of chocolate-studded ice cream treats, of good books and better friends. I can breathe out a prayer, knowing that it does not act like a magic spell cast around my people. Instead, it turns my heart to what is good and right and true.

Thank you, Grover. Who knew you’d turn out to be such a wise teacher to us all. And by the way, forget that usurper Elmo. You’ve always been my favorite.

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(The Monster at the End of the Book, John Stone, Michael Stollin, 1971, Golden Books)

(Quote from Before the Fall, Noah Hawley, 2016, Grand Central Publishing)

Mar 10, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

To All The Girls With Glasses

Dear Girl With Glasses,

I know you cried when the eye doctor told your mom you’d need them. You thought you’d hidden the strain from everyone so well. You thought you’d been so very surreptitious when you “just needed to get a little closer to the board” to evaluate the math equation chalked there.

I know your breath caught in a gasp when you put those plastic, round, oh-so-eighties lenses on your face for the first time and saw the actual lines of leaves upon trees instead of green impressionistic blurs. I know you read aloud every single billboard sign on the way home. Just because you could.

I know you were shocked when a schoolmate called you “Four Eyes” for the first time. What was the big deal? Why couldn’t mean girls leave you alone to read? Until you quickly switched from deciphering the newly-visible multiplication problems on the overhead to figuring out that glasses equaled nerd. And nerd equaled unwanted.

I know you accepted your role in the Movie Plot of Life as the best friend, the encourager, the one who sits alone at home, ice cream bowl in hand, ready to cheer up the pretty girlfriend who just experienced a terrible date night. You played the role of the one who never gets the boy. Because everybody knows the love interest of the movie doesn’t wear glasses. That prop is designated for the smart, invisible-to-men sidekick. It is meant for the librarian before she becomes beautiful, the princess-in-hiding, the frizzy-haired gal-pal before the transformation. The glasses are always meant for the girl who is waiting to become.

I know, in high school, you stopped wearing the glasses you so desperately needed, in the off chance that you might be allowed to shift out of your role for awhile. You would rather put up with headaches from straining to see. You would rather walk about the school in a hazy cloud of missed moments than be stuck in your predetermined place as a glasses-wearing geek.

I know, a few weeks ago, you, a grown-up adulting woman, wore your new fun lenses out and about. I know that, in the first five minutes of their debut,  a man you are friendly with asked you if you were “trying to look smart.”

I know there are many, many girls just like you: The ones who are told, on their wedding days, not to wear the glasses so as to look “prettier.” Because prettier is more important than being able to clearly view one of the most beautiful events of your life. The ones who are asked, over and over, by helpful strangers and friends who are in the makeover business, why they don’t just try those newfangled inventions called contact lenses? Perhaps the glasses-wearers have never heard of them.

Here’s to all the girls with glasses. May you wear them because you want to.

May you wear them because you understand that a device intended to help you see the world more perfectly tells us exactly nothing about the capacity of your brain, of your heart, of your potential to rock this planet.

May you find people who look into your eyes and not at what frames them, who see the soul that is you, not the shape of the plastic pieces that surround them.

Here’s to all the girls with glasses. May others start seeing the truth about you….who you are and who you are not.

May you no longer wait to become. Because, dear girl, you already are. The rest of the world is just a bit behind you. But maybe that’s where we should be, because your clear-eyed focus sounds just like what we need to follow.

Rock those glasses today, and the next time someone tries to decide who you are, remember that they probably, like all of us over scheduled humans, skipped their annual eye exam this year. That’s ok. You can lend them your view for a minute, and maybe, just for that moment, they’ll see clearly, too.

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Mar 6, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

That Time I Gave Up Running Water for Lent

 

I grew up a Good Little Baptist Girl. We didn’t know what Lent was. But we certainly celebrated Easter with a bang. I mean, it was a biggie. It was in the Top Tier of spiritual holidays. We embraced the festivities: The new, poofy, springtime-exploded-all-over-my-body dresses, the plasticky woven baskets overflowing with pastel-foiled chocolate candy (or carob when my mom was on a health food kick. Blech. Bless her well-intentioned heart.) We had the 12 Easter services: Sunrise, late-rise, accomodate-the-once-a-year-church-rise. We gorged ourselves on the glazed ham and the cholesterol-laden macaroni and cheese for Easter dinner.  But we avoided Lent. Because Lent was one of those Catholic things.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I baby-stepped into what Lent was, how it was a moment, a pause, a reflection, a stop and a breath and a reminder of our own mortality before the tiptoe began into the season of hope and spring and new life.

So I embraced it. I gave up the wine, the sugar, the unnecessary spending. I was going to do this Lent thing right. I would be an A-Plus Lent Overachiever. But this year, it was suddenly Ash Wednesday, and I realized I hadn’t put any thought into what I should give up, what thing I was leaning on a little too heavily. I’d think about it at some point. When I’d had coffee. Which, obviously, was NOT the thing I’d be giving up. Let’s not get radical here, people.

One morning, post-coffee, I reached out to turn on my faucet, the little thing that brought water into my house without me even once considering how it did such a task, how marvelously convenient it was to have water at my fingertips, on demand. But this time, water did not come out. Now, I lived in Guatemala for four years. Water not coming out happened with regular irregularity. “Hey, the water’s out. Again,” was a constant refrain in our house there. I’ve lived in a rural area for the past three years. When the power goes out, so goes the water. So this did not make me overly concerned. What DID cause me to maybe let out a very……censored shriek was the fact that huge, thick globs of muddy rivers were plopping out at quite the impressive rate. From every sink. Every tub. Every place. The toilets looked like something a toilet should never look like unless your entire house has been struck with The Dysentery of Death.

Texts and phone calls began to fly back and forth and, by the end of the day, we had secured a little cottage down the road that we could borrow, just for a few days.

Except that the few days turned into weeks. The highlights of those weeks involved toting supplies back and forth to the house so that some school could be accomplished there while others of us spent our days at the cottage. I may be a homeschooler, but a literal, actual one-room schoolhouse is completely outside of my skill set. Kudos to Laura Ingalls. Dirty dishes came one way so clean ones could go back. Five people learned how to schedule around one bathroom. When days turned into more than just a few days, bags and baskets of clothes and food went here and there more times than I even attempted to count.

The coldest weather in years and power outages and heavy snowfall and wells needing to be dug and redug and pipes freezing and being flushed clean of their muddy refuse meant we were three weeks in the little home away from home.

There were many moments that nerves were stretched as thin as guitar strings ready to pop, while the three kiddos all piled onto air mattresses in one room, and while the mom continually shushed her people so that the office sharing the cottage building could function in relative quiet all day long.

And then the big day came: The water was working! The mud from now-thawing pipes went spraying all over bathroom walls and floors. But it was working! The only small, minor, tiiiny little detail left to do was to make sure the water was drinkable. Until the lab results told us that, absolutely, certainly it was not. No. Not at all. No way.

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Back and forth went water jugs, filled from the clean faucets of our friends and family. Until the driveway, one day, became a giant slip and slide of mud and there would be no driving down it to retrieve water. Let me pause here to mention that our driveway is a quarter mile long. Well. That wouldn’t deter us. We had seen enough movies to know how to arrange clandestine drug…er…water deals. Our action sequence looked something like this: Me, shuffling down the driveway being simulaneously stabbed by ice pellets and jumped on from behind by our neighbor’s very energetic puppy, bag full of empty jugs slung over my shoulder to be left at the base of the oak tree at the end of our driveway. DID I MENTION THAT OUR DRIVEWAY IS A QUARTER MILE LONG? My sister, upon receiving the bat signal, retrieving the package and returning it full of fresh water, so back down the driveway  I could go to get it, this time accompanied by my own personal sherpa…also known as my eldest child. He might have been less excited than if I’d asked him to actually sherpa me up Everest.

Sometime during this slippery, icy, muddy trek (and just to be clear…the length of my driveway? Yes? Ok.) the thought flew into my growing-more-negative-by-the-step brain that I couldn’t believe my life had come to THIS! Toting potable water to my house. In the slush and muck and goo. This was not acceptable.

Except…and really, this was incredibly inconvenient timing…I couldn’t stop thinking about the particular river that ran near my house in Guatemala. My friends and I had nicknamed it “The River of Life.” You smelled it well before you actually glimpsed it…a river that stank with human and animal feces and was filled with the flotsam and jetsam of trash. A river which people used for their water. To drink. DRINK.

 

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I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend Audrey and her description of the weeks she had spent in a poverty-ridden community with tiny kids who walked miles back and forth for water. And that was every single day of their little lives. That was their normal.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the people living down the road and around the corner from me who didn’t have the luxury of testing the water coming into their houses. If it was unhealthy for them, they’d never know it. They just drank it.

Most of the time, when my brain won’t let me stop thinking about these things, I avoid talking to people about my time in Guatemala. I’ve seen their eyes glaze over. I get it. That was then. This is now. I should move on.

And trust me, I’d really LIKE to move on. Except I can’t. And actually, I won’t. I won’t forget the man lying outside of my gate one morning, a bottle of rubbing alcohol clutched in his hand. I won’t forget our little friend Benito, brought to the malnutrition center just a bit too late for his broken body to recover from the fact that he hadn’t had a real meal in far too long. I won’t forget my students who worked long, grueling, physical days and gave up their evenings to learn English, all for the hope of better lives for their families.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I had to live in another country to know how very lucky and ridiculously rich I was in the States. Apparently, I am just that hard-headed. But I got it. I get it now. And what I am learning to reconcile in my heart, what I was reminded of by a sweet friend the other day was an important truth: that I don’t have to feel guilty about my good fortune, the good gifts in my life. Not at all. But in the midst of my own abundance, I can be both grateful and giving.

Grateful that there is provision for those I call my own. And Giving to assure that there is provision for those I call my own in the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity.

Grateful for running water, for spring peepers beginning their songs all around, for a front porch to sit on and watch birds gather up seeds and kids gather up sticks to battle with in the fantasy lands of their imaginative games.

Giving to the needs that come across my sometimes-muddy path….and if it’s been too long since I have seen any in my little world, then making sure I enlarge my world in order to find them.

I’m sure there will be muddy, tricky, pipe-exploding days ahead. It’s a little thing called Life. In the meantime, the way I see it,  I’m pretty sure I’ve got the Lent thing covered this year. I just did it a little early. So bring on that wine and chocolate. I’ll enjoy it with a heart full of thanks that someone invented such magical stuff and a heart ready to share when there is lack nearby. It might be with my neighbor down the mud road. It might be with my neighbor in another country.

And I won’t forget that spring is coming. Fresh new life. Fresh new hope. Fresh new water.

 

Mar 1, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Broken Places

It looked like a simple, sturdy brown box. Its unremarkable brown color just added to the everydayness of it.

It really was no one’s fault. No one could have guessed the treasures that little box contained.

No one could have known that a mother had painstakingly wrapped thirty years’ worth of memories, thirty years’ worth of collected Christmas ornaments, thirty years’ worth of moments: impossibly tiny ceramic Baby’s First Christmas shoes. Ballet slipper remnants of childhood dreams. Wedding photos held in delicately carved rose frames. Piece by priceless piece the mother wrapped them all.

No one could have known that she had cradled the brown canvas box in her hands through two plane rides, through security checkpoints, through customs check-ins, all to deliver it to her daughter living in Guatemala. All to watch her daughter’s eyes overflow with the tears only sentiment and thirty years’ worth of Christmas-collecting moments could bring.

No one could have known that, in the flurry and chaos and unsupervised stacking and packing that only a move to a new home could bring, a kind teenager who was simply following directions would grab the brown box and toss it to his friend waiting on the pickup truck. Or that his friend would miss. That the box would fall with a sickening crunch to the ground.

The box would be shoved away in the house, stashed in the To Be Needed At Some Point But I Cannot Deal With It Now pile. Until the December evening arrived. Until the little open-air market-purchased tree was ready to be transformed, to be layered with the memories that made it beautiful. Until the box was opened and the shattering was discovered.

There were more tears that night, but not for reasons of Christmas Joy. Instead, amidst the tears, there were plain plastic balls hooked on the tree in place of the babies’ framed photos. And the box was put aside.

Every year, when that December evening rolls back around again, and the tree is waiting to receive its sparkle and shine, we unpack those broken pieces. I hold the delicate, crack-etched porcelain memories in my hand, and my heart squeezes with a new kind of emotion. I see the lines where my husband used every kind of gorilla glue and adhesive he could find to attempt repairs. I run my finger down the faces put back together, the eyes not quite matching up and the holiday words a bit off-center, and my eyes well up at the new kind of beauty I see.

I recently read an essay on the Japanese art form known as kintsugi. According to the story, when a gorgeous piece of pottery, a bowl, a plate, something meant to be lovely, is shattered; when it breaks through the hands that hold it to become shards at one’s feet, an entirely new beauty emerges. Those pieces, instead of being thrown into a bin, being discarded, becoming useless, begin their metamorphosis. The cracks, the very places of brokenness, are filled with gold: precious, glowing, illuminating gold. And a new piece is born, a piece in which the very places of breaking become, instead of something to be hidden or covered up or filled in, the most beautiful parts of the whole.

There is gold in the broken places. There is value in the shattering. There is beauty in the broken.

We have all been broken. We all have lines carved upon our hearts. Yet when we begin to tiptoe into the wide-open space of knowing this: That the very places of our greatest pain become shimmering, shining redemption, become gold. Then there is healing.

When we hold our broken pieces up to the sun and see the precious lines of gold running through our brokenness: There is healing that offers wholeness.

There is healing when we hold in our hands new pieces of pottery, new gold-streaked bowls and platters, no longer useless, but open to be piled high with bounty, enough for us to share.

There is healing when the brokenness is no longer hidden, but shines with the glory of redemption.

There is healing when the lights of the tree shine through the cracks in the ornaments, reminding us that life is not only pieced-together perfect moments, that the most valuable parts of ourselves often are a result of our shattering.

Whether your cracks are new and fresh or old and brittle, they can be filled with gold. They can become places where your pain, instead of being pushed to the corners, swept into the dark places, turns into the very lines where light and love and a new kind of wholeness shines through….enough for others, enough for ourselves.

(“Kintsugi” concept as described in “Chasing Slow,” Erin Loechner, 2017)

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Photo credit: Psychology Today, 10/3/15)

Feb 27, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Out of the Box

It was just a little chat between friends: Kids, new slow cooker recipes, books we were plowing through, and the omnipresent Florida heat were the usual topics of conversation. Oh. And the little detail that I was garage-selling most of my household items, packing up the leftovers with husband and aforementioned kids, and moving to a third world country to do some missions work.

That’s about the point where the awkward silences occurred, or the suddenly-remembered appointment popped up. That was the dividing line: Either my friends thought I was slightly across the border into Crazyville or they immediately set me up upon the dreaded Missionary Pedestal. Which of course could not be carved out of marble. Please. What a waste of funding. Let’s use some leftover VBS cardboard props.

This particular conversation had a new twist, however. My friend’s eyes skeptically roamed down the length of my long, expensively-highlighted blonde hair and she remarked, “Well. I know something you’ll have to change. Missionaries don’t care about their hair.”

I probably gave the fakest of polite laughs and threw out a supporting Scripture or two about the lack of hair love. I mean, surely there are some. I know I must have steered a wide path around that hair-loving sinner, Samson, but we all know he didn’t really love Jesus. So vain.

But later, in the quietness of my minivan (and by quietness, I mean the blank brain space where all 90s moms went when VeggieTales was on a loop), I confronted the vanity of my heart:

The thing was, I didn’t think I would stop caring about my hair. I liked a fresh blowout, which gave me the option of not washing for days. I loved the feeling of newly-shorn locks and the way the blonde streaks in my ever-darkening strands matched my hair to that of the little towhead I used to be. I cherished the only quiet moments I could find: Reading a new book while floating in a sudsy bathtub, some sort of Amazon-ordered unicorn oil combed through my hair, and emerging with new fortitude for what the day required of me.

But if I wanted those things, did that mean I was shallow, less cerebral, less spiritual, less-missionary-able than my friends who just didn’t care so much about clothes and hair? Did my happiness about a new mascara take away brain space I should have been putting toward the Big Things?

Why did my choosing to swipe a peachy color on my cheekbones mean, as someone recently told me, that I gave the appearance of someone who did not know what it was like to feel alone or in pain? That I couldn’t relate. A swath of sparkly color on my skin has never provided armor for the shattering my own heart has experienced.

Why did my shopping at Sephora mean that a friend’s husband could point a barbed jest my direction, his jokes revealing a preconceived notion about me, implying that my shopping there meant that I might give my friend shallow advice on a completely unrelated situation?

Caring how my hair or eyelids look does not make me less than. Not giving a fig about your hair doesn’t make you less than either. It makes us different. And in the name of all things peroxide, we need some differences. We need some creativity, because it doesn’t just bring us art and beauty, it brings us beautifully useful ways of problem-solving when we offer our differences to each other. It brings us together instead of apart.

Opening our eyes to the palette before us and wielding a makeup brush as an artist would her tools does not mean we can’t use those same eyes to understand deeply the innocent victims around us, the children whose legs are blown off their bodies as bombs scream around them, their cries for their daddies lost in the dust and blood and booms around them.

Taking a quiet moment to enjoy newly-lacquered nails in the brightest colors we can find does not mean we cannot use those same hands to write an email to our Congressperson, to type out a text to a brokenhearted mom, to hand out some cash to a stranger in need.

Choosing to place hair color upon the strands atop our heads does not mean we don’t use those same heads to worry about our devastated friend, to create new and effective ways of helping our neighbors, to educate ourselves on the most effective way to help the refugees.

Painting green or purple or whatever shade we desire upon our eyelids does not mean we don’t keep those eyes open to the pain, keep looking for the vulnerable among us, the ones who might need a kind word, a sweet note, a moment to sit quietly together in the loud inner agony of their pain.

Let’s stop putting each other in boxes and set each other free to embrace whatever woman we choose to be: One who walks into the world fresh-faced and lovely and one who walks into the world with the shades and scents upon her that make her path its own journey, no less lovely, no less aware of the planet around her.

Let’s stop making assumptions and start applauding for art in whatever form we find it expressed: On a gorgeously-painted face, on a computer, on a page. Your canvas won’t be the same as mine. Your art is the beauty of your soul shared with the world, and we need that brave sharing now more than ever.

”I love makeup, and its wonderful possibilities for temporary transformation. And I also love my face after I wash it all off….There is something exquisitely enjoyable about seeing yourself with a self-made new look. And for me that look is deeply personal.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, feminist, makeup-wearer

My daughter’s canvas:

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My mother’s canvas:

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Feb 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

If Women Over 40 Wrote Love Song Lyrics

There are no sweeter high school memories than driving down the road in a car full of girlfriends, spiral-permed hair not moving in the wind, and squealing at high-decibel levels when That Song came on the radio. We would even risk being late to homeroom, because we could not exit the car until the last synthesized note faded into silence under the annoying voice of the DJ who had to talk over it.

But here’s the thing. Most love songs have lyrics that are perfect for teenage angst and just beg for an eye-roll emoji in real life.  So I’ve come up with an alternate translation of the typical lines you’d find in most love songs. I like to call it: If Women Over 40 Wrote Love Songs.

“I want to hold you in my arms all night and kiss you all night long.”

Um, no. Please don’t. First of all, I’m getting sweaty thinking about that. Not a sexy, glistening kind of sweaty either. Also, we both have jobs and kids to wake up to. Let’s be practical: We need sleep here.

“I’ll never let you down.”

You already will before this song is finished. Mostly by the way you’re driving while singing it. But hey, good news: I’ll let you down, too, so we’re even.

“I’m nothing without you.”

That’s going to be very inconvenient if I ever need to travel. See aforementioned kids. And dogs and dishes. Also, I can’t be going to your job with you, so let’s work on that whole codependency thing, K?

“I’d die for you.”

Huh. I’d kill for someone to wipe the kitchen counters instead.

“You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Well, that one’s pure genius. Moving on….

“You make my heart skip a beat.”

It sounds like an EKG should be top of your to-do list. Another reason why we should skip that staying up all night long stuff. Probably not good for the old ticker.

“I’d do anything for you/go to the ends of the Earth for you.”

Since you brought it up, there IS this little thing called a grocery list right here…

“I don’t need anything but you.”

Thing is, you might want to consider oxygen. Or nutrients. Seriously. I don’t mind coming in third in this particular case.

“I’ll always be by your side.”

Could you consider a hobby maybe?

“I’d be lost without you.”

That’s what Google Maps is for. Although I’m happy to backseat drive any time.

“You don’t know you’re beautiful.”

Or you could just tell me I am. Which you just did. So the rest of that song is superfluous now.

“I want to stay here, like this, forever.”

Again with the lack of productivity. Do these lyricists not have actual jobs? Does anyone ever need to, I don’t know, take a shower occasionally?

“I just want to lie here and watch you breathing.”

Some people call that stalking. Also, if I wake up and see you staring at me, there may be some physical harm involved.

“I’d walk a thousand miles/swim a thousand oceans/climb a thousand mountains to be with you.”

That’s called a triathlon. So, go you! Also you might want to consider, I don’t know, an airplane ticket?  Because there’s really no need to put yourself through that kind of exertion.

“You’re the one that I want.”

Well. Ok. You know what? Me, too. Me, too. Just you. And a trip to Paris. But mostly you. And that’s a sentiment I can get behind, not just one cupid-covered day of the year, but in the every-days and the long days and the happy days and the hard days.

That’s a love song I’d sing, sappy lyrics or not.

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Feb 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Girl in the Backseat

I wasn’t sure I would make it home safely that night. I sat in the backseat of the car, my fingers grasping the small, shaking hand of my friend.

We thought it was a joke.

We thought they were playing around.

We thought all guys were good, Christian boys like the ones we had known.

We were wrong.

We made ourselves tiny, quiet, and still as the two boys in the front seats determined our fate. At first they were angry. After all, we wouldn’t “put out,” I believe were the words they used to describe our shortcomings. Their anger began its climb to simmer and, fueled by the Circle K slushies they mixed with the contents of a large, clear glass bottle stowed under the front seat, began to boil and burn.

There were taunts. There were words we had never heard before. There were brakes squealing as the laughing boys pulled off the road to relieve themselves in the ditch, in full view of our innocent eyes.

There were prayers sent up from the back seat. There were spines of steel which began to forge. No. No. We were going home. And they were going to take us there.

Of course, we had no recourse, no control, no cell phone with which to summon help. Only a prayer, whispered again and again. And a sense of guilt: Had we brought this on ourselves? How did we land here?

We did make it home safely that night, leaping out at our doorstep as they slowed down in the vicinity of my driveway, and we clung to each other with tears and vows to never, ever tell our parents what had happened.

They found out, as parents are mysteriously able to do. And the anger they felt was not, as we’d feared, toward us, but toward the truly guilty party: The boys who’d endangered us that night before they squealed tires into the darkness, threats and expletives tossed out as a parting gift.

There are other girls, mere babies, around the block, across the street, just a train or plane ride away who don’t have any protection tonight. The threat of violence against them is not just the bludgeon of nasty words and the control tactic of fear: It is enacted upon them in the searing sun of day and the dark anonymity of night. Their bodies are pummeled again and again by those who will never recall their faces, those who never care to know their names.

Their souls are shattered by the actions of fathers and mothers who, feeling their own entrapment, sell the bodies of their daughters and sisters and sons and cousins in order to repay the crushing boulder of debt that sits upon them, squeezing out their family’s life breath. The young become slaves, their bodies available to the highest bidder, their value increasing in proportion to their lack of sexual experience.

I used to think of brothels as brash, bosomy, whiskey-laden places in western movies, where the cowboy’s sex with the heart-of-gold prostitute led to love or at least some kind of romance in the days after the camera faded to black.  Now I know more. I know real, personal facts: That there are girls who are trapped, stuck, used. There are girls who aren’t even women yet. There are girls and boys who are used by men and women who have no thought of romance, no thought of the partner at all, except for a means to scratch an itch, an attempt to fulfill a Hollywood-derived fantasy which will never live up to the hype.

Those who have been branded, emotionally and quite literally, from sexual abuse and slavery are not the mysterious, shadow-hidden strangers of our imagination. They live close by. They walk, not just on street corners, but on Your Street. They shop next to us in the self checkout line. They are daughters. They are sisters. They are brothers. They are us, without the luxury of a safety net.

The problem is overwhelming but, as so often is true, there are little things, tiny steps we can take to start helping. We can buy, whenever possible,  from stores who support ethical practices. We can not shut up when we see something that just doesn’t seem right. We can be communities where families will thrive, where young boys and girls know they have trusted adults to talk to, where there are options other than running away and becoming vulnerable to those who prey on those who are alone; where they have a chance to escape becoming another sex trafficking statistic.

Some of us have been our own type of statistic. Some of us have darker parts of our past we would rather pretend never happened. While we cannot erase the smudges or smooth out the creases, we can turn our eyes toward redemption: Not that the pain and the wrongs didn’t matter, but that they mattered enough…enough that we will battle for the girls and the women and boys all around, that we will stand as a wall between them and the evil waves battering against us. That we won’t stop standing until the girls in the backseat come home safely: Because any girl in the backseat is you, is me, is one of us. She just needs us to be her safe ride home.

(“Human trafficking makes more money than Google, Starbucks, Nike, and the NFL combined.” Stat from fairtradewinds.net, an excellent resource. If you search for “fair trade shopping,” you’ll see a growing list of companies who fit this definition. It costs more, definitely. But even trading out a few purchases a year in this direction is a good beginning. Front-line organizations to check out include Exodus Road and Branded Collective).

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Jan 29, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

When Helping Doesn’t Help

The words “storage room” were much too generous a term. It was a dust-piled, dirt-shrouded mass of shelves and rodent-attacked cardboard boxes and bins.

Our job was to sort the hundreds of bottles in those boxes…to cull the pills and liquids and organize them into manageable stacks that the workers in this small Guatemalan building could use.

There were pills for dogs. Tinctures from veterinary offices. Large, chalky tablets that would choke a full-grown adult.

But this was a malnutrition center for babies.

To add insult to the already-overflowing pile of useless items, the great majority of the medicines were completely expired, vastly outdated. Something a U.S. parent would never, ever risk giving to her infant or young, sick child.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t actually help.

In another village nearby, teams of generous volunteers donated water filters in places where children’s bodies were so wracked by waterborne illnesses that they were vomiting and defecating worms from their tiny frames. These filters would, quite literally, save lives. Yet in the rush to disperse the gifts, no instructions were given on how to use those filters and so, months later, when other teams visited the village, life-saving filtration systems had been turned into upside-down storage vessels to hold dry goods.Or planters to grow some herbs.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t actually help.

In the closets and classrooms of a local Guatemalan church building, volunteers spent hours hand-sorting tangled masses of clothing, pieces donated to the poor of our town. Nearly two-thirds of these stained, unwashed, often-disintegrating items were ones you or I would never consider wearing. They would have been cast aside or cut into rags to wipe down our toilets. They should have been. Sending them was, instead of useful, another burden. Now precious volunteer time and building space were wasted on what was no better than trash.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t help.

There were gifts of livestock to families who had no means of feeding and caring for such animals. There were stacks of children’s DVDs. In English. To children who spoke two other languages fluently. And while the intent was love, the receivers felt only burdened with a new problem.

As citizens of a generous nation, we can often skew toward a particular mindset: Across our nation’s history, we have a tradition of being the fixers, the doers, the pioneers who fearlessly blast through geographical boundaries, who are among the first lining up to give our time and our aid to the least of these.

But sometimes our helping does not help. In recent days, as immigrants and refugees have faced shattering blow upon blow, we have rushed to help. And we should. It is not a time to sit. It is not a time for inaction. Yet as we move forward, let us ask ourselves these questions: What do our refugee  neighbors really need? Have we bothered to ask them? Have we decided we know best for them? Have we looked for the organizations within their own communities? Have we, instead of choosing what we in our great United States ingenuity decide is best, asked the frightened ones what they really need?

Recently, many are pointing our eyes back in history, reminding us of the ways we can learn from past horrors. In our little efforts in the villages in Guatemala, during our short years there, we slowly and often awkwardly, and with the great patience of our local friends and citizens, had to learn as well. We had to learn to be humble, to be listeners more than Master Plan Writers, to slow down and hear our needy friends instead of blasting down their fragile doors with our oh-so-privileged ideas of what they needed. And as we listened, the children began to receive the life-saving medicines crafted just for their sizes. The water filtration teams learned to spend hours with the communities, to teach each person exactly how to use the system that could bring a family back to health. The volunteers learned what kind of clothing was needed or, better yet, took the mother of the family shopping in the local markets for what her family required. Because the mamas always know best. Start with the mamas.

Let’s be unafraid in these days of fear: Unafraid to admit what we don’t know. Unafraid to be learners. Unafraid to be listeners. Unafraid to fall into step behind those already leading their marginalized, hurting communities so well. Because we don’t know. But we can learn and, in that learning, truly, beautifully help.

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Jan 26, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Before It’s Too Late

Are you shaking your head at us? You should be.

How far away we are, how very little our shouted and written and typed words reflect anything you said or did.

You were silent when insulted; we demand to be heard and understood. And we won’t stop until we are.

You refused to be dragged into debates and arguments with the fools around you. Instead, you spoke one word, one phrase, one thing. And then left to act on behalf of those who needed you.

You weren’t a pushover or a peace-keeper. Oh no. You were a peace-MAKER, not wasting your limited time here on trying to be the loudest and the Winner of the Fight. You did fight, but with a different kind of weapon: a few well-chosen words and then action. You went and did things. You weren’t found sharing a meal with the political power-wielders or the churchgoers of your day. No, you hung out with the broken and destroyed and needy people. The people we all try to avoid at Christmas parties.

And then? After you had listened and loved and spoken? You went away to be by yourself. Not to hide. Not to feel sorry for yourself. But to be more yourself again for those who always needed more of you.

You said some hard things when they needed to be said. But I picture you as the party guest who sat quietly during the raging, loud, growing-ruder-by-the-second political debate and then when somebody, almost as an afterthought, asked, “Hey, what do YOU think?” you paused, and you opened your mouth and spoke one or two simple, true things that dropped hard into the room. BUT THEN YOU STOPPED. You knew it was useless to argue with people who really didn’t want to hear your words.

Are you shaking your head at us? If you were anything like us, you would be. You’d sigh in disgust and walk away. But since you are not like us,  you will sit down next to us, hand us a glass of wine or a hunk of bread and stick it out. The first to listen and the last to shout.

If only we were willing to hush, we might hear.

If only we were willing to act, we might change things.

If only we were willing to do the hard, humbling work it takes to live in peace with each other.

Have mercy on us. Because it turns out that WE are the broken and destroyed and needy at the party. And the way to healing is not the way of rancor and hate all around us, being done in the name of you and of other gods. None of it.

Maybe the way of healing might begin with the upside-down way you lived your life: giving when it made no sense, loving when the love isn’t returned, kindness in exchange for cruelty. It all sounds impossible. But we are desperate people in desperate times, and we desperately need a new way. Not an inside-our-ivory-towers of churches way, handing out judgment like gospel tracts but maybe handing out cups of cold water, food, hugs, comfort, turned cheeks.

Help us be brave. Help us tread the way of peace before it’s too late.

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Jan 25, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Red Pencil

We all know the red pencils. Those dreaded Wrong-Answer-Marking instruments, their arrow-sharp points making bright tracks across the white expanse of our grade-school tests or our high-school expository essays which would catapult us to honor roll stardom. We recall the moments when our math teacher paced in between desk rows, licking her finger in what seemed like undisguised delight as she unstuck each page, handing the work back into our waiting hands, and we nervous-tapped our own plain number 2 pencils in trepidation, wondering how many red strokes would be slashed across our offering.

Recently, I watched a real-life red pencil moment. It happened like this:

She was an older woman who stood a little below the height of the much younger acquaintance of hers, looking up a bit as she shared what she had viewed, how it had moved her. It was just one of those click-bait YouTube videos, the kind that you half-watch and then inexplicably find yourself wiping your eyes while peering about the Starbucks to make sure no one witnessed your emotion. But in this moment, the younger woman listening to the elder wasn’t actually listening. Her first reaction was not to absorb, not to understand how the words had encouraged and lifted. Her initial instinct was to correct the woman’s facts, to make sure she understood that there were errors in the video! There were mistakes! They must be righted! I watched the one-sided exchange, my face growing warm and my glance lowering to shield myself from the confusion and hurt I’d seen creeping into the older woman’s eyes like water-filled clouds. The factual errors being pointed out with the red pencil of the younger woman’s words? They did exist. They were real. Yet they didn’t change the message of the video. The meaning and the heart of it were still exactly the same. Those errors could never have been mentioned at all and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The focus could have been on the moment instead of on the mistakes.

Over and over again in my own daily actions and reactions….and more and more littered across social media, this is the norm. People MUST prove their points. They MUST correct any post, monitor any conversation they see, sharp red pencils ready to circle any real fault or, more frequently, even a perceived one.

But what would happen if we paused first? What would happen if we asked ourselves, “Would anything really change if I left this alone? If I put down my pencil?” If the answer is no, we can step back. If the answer is yes, we can speak up. If the answer is unclear, we can engage in the practice of waiting: Waiting for a situation to finish its course and for a person to come to a conclusion all on his or her own. Here’s the beautiful truth of human nature: What happens when we wrestle with facts and data and yes, emotion, and change our minds about something? Without anyone trying to convince us of it? Without someone else’s agenda steering our direction? The end result of that wrestling, our decision? It sticks. It stays. It becomes part of our very selves, knit into the fibers of our muscle and the firings of our brain.

What would happen if we all stopped defending our turf?

What would happen if we all set down our phones and looked into eyes?

What would happen if we stopped virtually arguing and started talking as neighbors, as friends, as humans who respect each other?

What would happen if we thought our words through and remembered that, in a world where nothing is private, where every Monday night meal and possibly broken toe and screen-shot text message is posted online, that there are talks and moments and words that are meant to be between two people? That we have lost the sweet, sacred intimacy of those moments when we throw them out for all to see.

We are fighting the same fight. We are just using different weapons. But let’s stop using those weapons on each other. Let’s use them FOR each other’s good, for the good of our beat-up and bloodied world. In our fight to show love to the neglected and hurting parts of our population, let’s not hurt and neglect each other in the process.

Let’s love each other well today. Let’s love each other in the quiet spaces where no one else sees. Let’s love each other in the loud spaces where everyone is watching. Let’s dust off that old-fashioned word “neighbor” and put it back on the table…the round, wobbly coffee-shop table, the fork-scarred dining room table, the TV tray, the plastic patio set, the wine-topped communion table. Wherever we gather, let us do it in real life and in love and in goodwill to all who circle our table today.

Let’s engage in the practice of Not Always Having To Be Right. Let’s learn again the ancient and powerful and often painful process of waiting: Allowing others the space and air to come to their own decisions. Allowing the truth to come to the light. It will. It doesn’t mean we never, ever speak out. It means we teach ourselves to weigh, to think, to sit with the outcome, to count the cost to our relationships. Sometimes it will be worth that cost to say those words. And sometimes we can shut our lips tightly on the words we so badly want to spill out.

What if we smiled with our kids and chuckled with our friends at the not-entirely-accurate YouTube videos instead?

What if we put down the red pencil, just for a moment? As a mother and a teacher, that red pencil is often gripped like glue into my hand. But who knows what my putting it down might let me pick up instead, what love and laughter and lightness might enter into my open hands today.

“Because we fail to listen to each other’s stories, we are becoming a fragmented human race.” Madeleine L’Engle

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