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Friday, July 31, 2015

Right Around the Corner

Photo by composingfun
Apologies, dear reader, that I couldn’t write a blog post this week.
Photo by Hamburger Helper
I tried on Monday, but as soon as I sat down with my computer my youngest daughter came and asked if I could help her make scrambled eggs for breakfast. She got a kids’ cookbook at her day camp and was beside herself with anticipation, as she is considering attending the Le Cordon Bleu as soon as she’s old enough. She’s seven now, but eighteen is right around the corner.
Photo by Jeremy Noble
On Tuesday I mulled over several ideas for a writing topic, but my son asked if we could have a Donut Date. We do that occasionally, when all the other members of the fam are occupied elsewhere and we find ourselves alone. We walk the mile or so down to Dunkin’, have a nosh and a chat, then hoof it back. It takes a little chunk out of the day, but he’s on the brink of twelve, and his departure for college is starting to feel like it’s right around the corner.
Photo by Jenna Carver
On Wednesday I had an idea for what I wanted to write about this week, and I got up early so I could hammer it out while the rest of the house still slept. But then my middle daughter—who usually sees no value to the day until the sun has passed its apex and is on the way down—got up early too, and wanted to discuss something that’s been bothering her. She’s showing the signs of approaching puberty, and I’m terrified for her about middle school because she’s a little too much like me, and junior high was the worst two years of my life, bar nothing. I’d rather have a limb amputated sans anesthetic than live through seventh grade again. So even though my girl’s just ten at the moment, adolescence and high school are going to pass in the blink of an eye. And they’re right around the corner.
Photo by Tetra Pak
Thursday I thought I’d get some time to write in the late morning and early afternoon. Then my husband called to say that his schedule had opened up around lunch, and he asked if I wanted to meet him for a mid-afternoon date while the kiddos were at camp. With three children in the house and all the babysitter-age teens in the neighborhood overbooked with their own hyper-scheduled activities, alone times with the old man are few and far between. So I put on some lipstick, spritzed myself with a shot of perfume, and met my beau for lunch. Because an acquaintance of mine just lost her husband in a car accident. You never know what’s right around the corner.
 I intended to block out Friday as a writing day, but then found out that a friend I hadn’t seen in fifteen years was in town with her family and had some free time she didn’t expect. I’d never met her children, so I invited them over. As a goal-oriented, time-challenged pragmatist, my natural inclination is to view other people as obstacles to my plans and challenges to the control I exert over my space and time. But I’m learning that relationships are the very heart of life’s meaning and value. As teacher John Keating asserted in Dead Poets Society, “…medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Having lost a person I fully expected to see again someday, I want to remember that I never know what’s coming around the corner for any of my friendships.
So, kind reader, I have nothing to offer today. I have failed in my ambitious attempt to write a new blog post each week for one full year. I don’t suspect that my musings are grand or profound or entertaining enough that you will be heartbroken to miss one this week. Still, I feel I have let you down.
But if you’d like to come over and make scrambled eggs, go for a donut and coffee, sit with me to talk about navigating life, have a lunch date or pop in for dinner, I’m here for you.
I can always write later. Because the stage of life is coming when I’m no longer so needed and stretched and fragmented, and the unfilled hours of the day yawn in front of me like an empty road.
It’s probably right around the corner.
Photo by Ramiro Ramirez

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Lost is a State of Being (When You're Me)

Photo by Lori Greig

I once used my phone’s GPS to find my way out of a building. I’m not kidding.
A sense of direction is not a gift with which I was born. The problem, I think, isn’t even that I have a bad sense of direction. I actually have no sense of direction. At all. I think the angel providing the software for my sense-of-direction programming got lost on his way to the people factory.
As I travel through the world, I suspect there may be gnomes running around behind me, moving buildings and signs and landmarks. When I glance over my shoulder or turn around to retrace my steps, nothing ever looks the way I think it should.
I can decode the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) exactly twice a day: at sunrise and sunset. If the sky is overcast, forget it. There’s a better chance of Jesus coming back today than of me accurately determining whether a right turn will convey me toward New York or California. Or Ecuador.
When consulting a map, I must stand with the map oriented in tandem with the physical world. Even then my right-or-left decision-making ability follows the 50-50-90 law: I have a 50/50 chance of getting it right and 90 percent of the time I get it wrong.
Hawaii was the most congenial place I ever lived, because there’s only so lost you can get on an island. If you run into water, just turn around and keep trying.
My directionally masterful husband once endeavored to teach me how to geolocate myself in physical space. “Picture yourself as a bug on a map,” he said. “When you turn left, the bug turns left. When you turn right, the bug turns right.”
I squinched my eyes closed and attempted to do this.
“I can’t make the bug move,” I explained. “When I turn right the map turns left.”
His eyes popped like Wile E. Coyote’s when an anvil drops on his foot. “That is a much more complicated problem,” he admitted.
For me, navigating the world feels like stumbling alone through a corn maze, drunk, on a foggy night. (I've heard.)
So the Global Positioning System may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
When Hubby wanted to purchase a GPS unit back when they were first on the market, I rolled my eyes. I figured my adorably geeky engineer was yet again jonesing for the latest Popular Science tech gadget, which would eventually end up in our storage room’s Sack Full of Electronics We Never Use.
How wrong I was.
My GPS occupies a position in my life just a smidge below God’s. And the parallels between the two are remarkable and vast:
"I once was lost but now am found" (from “Amazing Grace” by John Newton).
“Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:4).
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice… saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).
My GPS knows which streets are one-way, where roads are unfinished, and if there is an accident blocking the path ahead. And I’m convinced that it knows that I know nothing, and it coddles me accordingly. When I make a wrong turn—and how does a sentient person with a high school diploma actually do that when she’s been provided a visual map, with an interactive arrow, and a voice narrating what to do and when to do it?—my GPS gently responds, “Recalculating,” and finds me a way back to my destination.
The constant, silent presence of the “GO HOME” button brings me a feeling of safety and well-being the likes of which I have not known since I was a babe asleep in my mother’s arms.
Last week I stumbled across an article about a recently discovered brain dysfunction that prevents people from creating maps inside their heads, to the degree that some even get lost inside their own homes. One woman said when her baby cried she had to follow the sound of the child’s voice in order to find her way back to his bedroom.
Yes! I thought. Here is proof that my struggles are real!
Because having no sense of physical direction feels something like living with three-dimensional dyslexia, or wandering through the Twilight Zone, or existing in that state of drunkenness where you know you’re impaired, but you’re not enjoying it yet. (Not that I’ve ever done that, either.)
But I’m learning a couple of things via my disability. One is humility, which is arguably one of the most under-valued and under-practiced of the Christian virtues. A great many people have strived throughout my life of disorientation to assist the breaking of my pride:
“But you’ve been there before, right? Why do you need to use the GPS?”
“It’s down the street and two blocks north of the Safeway. What do you mean, you can’t find it?”
“Here’s a paper bag. Try not to get lost in it.”
And I’m learning the even more valuable lesson that when I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there, God does. I only need to make sure I’m listening to his voice and not “leaning on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Because leaning my own understanding gets me stuck, driving in endless circles over the same four one-way roads. Why? Because I know that if I exit my narrow sphere of geographic comprehension I may end up in an alternate universe where I can’t even read the street signs.
That’s happened to me, by the way. (The endless circle of four one-way roads. Not the alternate universe.)
So as I meander my way through life and try to get where I need to be when I need to be there, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the woman holding my smartphone parallel to the earth and lining it up with the intersection beside which I’m standing. And I’ll be reasoning out loud with Google Maps as I do so.
Please ask me where I’m going, then take my elbow and kindly lead me there.
And then thank God that the angel responsible for delivering your sense of direction had one of his own.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The 10 Commandments: You've Missed the Point

Photo by Walt Jabsco

My Dear Children on the Earth,
I hear complaints about my character. You ask questions like, “How could a good God allow the kinds of things that happen in the world today?” Many have concluded that I don’t exist at all, because they cannot reconcile their experience of life with any sort of virtuous supernatural participation in it, or because they find it unjustifiable that they should bear any responsibility to a deity with whom they disagree so tenaciously.
Suffering was never my intention for you.
Choosing in which parent’s house to live, and with which siblings, and from which to separate, wasn’t ever part of my design for any family.
I never wanted anyone to sit alone in the lobby of a free clinic, waiting with trembling hands to hear the results of an HIV or Hep C test.
Rape was not my invention.
I don’t want any woman submitted to the agony of choosing whether to become a single mother, or to give away the infant to whom she is physically and emotionally and spiritually bonded, or to abort that infant.
Children sold into slavery so their parents can feed the others; racism and vengeance and genocide; physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse—I would have none of these for any of you.
Why are these things this part of the world, part of your life? Because my laws are misinterpreted as cruel and capricious injunctions against your freedoms and the right to live in whatever way you choose.
You’ve misunderstood the difference between freedom to and freedom from.
Have no other gods before me.
Not because I’m a despot or a tyrant or an egomaniac, but because I love you and I want only the very best for you, and I know that nothing else and no one else knows you and loves you and will provide for you as well and as thoroughly as I. I am, and there’s nothing that compares with me. It’s not conceit; it’s truth. I want you to be free from the chains that other gods put on you.
Don’t make idols for yourself.
Because they’re mute and blind and deaf and impotent and do nothing but distract you from being who I made you to be and from doing what I created you to do. You look ridiculous bowing to other people who were made in exactly the same manner you were; worshiping at big box stores and lottery ticket windows; praying to the dead, to plants, to animals, to rocks. I have so much more for you in my storehouses than anything or anyone else can offer. Don’t trade your birthright so cheaply.
Don’t take my name in vain.
You disrespect me when you toss my name around flippantly or use it for a curse. “Oh my God” is not a throwaway catch-phrase, and it actually does mean something, and I hear it every time it’s said. “God damn it” is a grave and intentional command. Words have power. Yours and mine. I created everything you see and everything you don’t see through the power of words. So take them seriously. Use your words the same way I use mine: to create, to edify, to make the world wiser and more beautiful.
Keep the Sabbath day holy.
You need rest. Often and regularly. I know this because I made you and I know how your mind and heart and body work. If you won’t believe me, consider the law of diminishing returns, or the cyclical processes of production and stagnation in nature, or scientific research on the restorative powers of sleep. All work and no play makes Jack an unhealthy, distressed, and imbalanced boy. So keep my day holy—consecrated for a right purpose—and observe it without fail. I want you to live a joyful and useful life, free from illness and greed and anxiety.
Honor your parents so it may go well with you and you may have a long life.
This means showing your mother and father respect and fulfilling your obligations to them. Why? So your life is better and lasts longer. Did you notice that this is the only command to which I’ve appended a result? I know that your parents aren’t perfect. In fact, some of them are utterly criminal. But I brought you into being through them. So show them respect and regard to the extent that you can do so without dishonoring me. For their sakes? No. For yours. Because I want you to be in right relationship with all the generations of your family.
Don’t murder.
You’re not the arbiter of who lives and who doesn’t. That’s my domain, and mine alone. Keep out of it. Cain killed his brother and took on the penalty of endless wandering on an earth that would no longer yield him its fruit. Did I pull an arbitrary curse out of the air and lay it on him for spite? No. That’s simply how the natural world works, the way I designed it. I made all of life to be fruitful and abundant: your food springs from the ground and your drink falls from the sky. But when you bring violence against life, life returns violence to you. I would have you live free from every curse and penalty and poverty.
Don’t commit adultery.
Sex is a transaction of not only the body but also the soul, every time you experience it, with every person with whom you engage in it. You were designed to seek love and to give it in return. I am jealous for you, not out of egoism that demands, “You are mine,” but with the purest of passion that cries, “I am yours.” Every time you change partners you tell your last lover, “You’re not good enough for me,” and righteous jealousy transforms into a selfish perversion of what was meant to reflect my own nature. Too confusing? Then consider only this: if each man had his own wife and each woman her own husband, sexually transmitted diseases could find no vector to develop or spread. I want you to love freely and safely and wholly, with no wounds or heartbreaks or illness.
Don’t steal.
Stealing is appropriating for yourself that which belongs to someone else. It maligns your reputation and your character and your integrity. It makes you untrustworthy, corrupt, and dishonorable. It colors everything you do and everything you say, so even the good you undertake becomes suspect. “A good name is better than great riches.” I would have you live free from suspicion, disrespect, and animosity.
Don’t lie.
Lies rob from the truth. They steal intimacy from your relationships. They poach all value from your word. They impugn your character and slaughter your honor even more than theft does. It takes more energy, attention, and concentration to tell and maintain a lie than to keep to the truth. Why steal from your own strength and storehouse? Everything comes out eventually, and true natures are always revealed in time. I want you to live free from fear of discovery, from intrigue fatigue and fruitless machinations, from the destruction of your life’s work when the lie you tried to bury is unearthed.
Don’t covet things that other people have.
I have treasures meant just for you. Some of them you already possess; many are waiting for the right time to be delivered. If you could only see what I have to give, how I ache to shower you with my gifts. But so many of them slip through your fingers because your eyes are focused into your neighbors’ windows instead of toward me and what I’m doing for you right now. My treasures are limitless; when I bestow a gift on someone else, it in no way diminishes what I have left to give you. Be pleased that I’m a generous God, and rejoice in your friend’s blessings, and keep your eyes upon my hands for what I want to give you. Be free of jealousy, resentment, bitterness, and offense.
My children, I made you with ears to hear and eyes to see and minds that can think, and rationalize, and find truth and wisdom. If you seek me, you will find me, and I will teach you things you didn’t know before.
Keep my commands. They are life for you. Abundant life. The life I planned for you to have. They are your freedom.


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Saturday, July 4, 2015

ON THE AIRPLANE: A Conversation with God

Photo by John Sullivan
In honor of all the people traveling with small children this summer...

My one-year-old son and I were flying home after a visit to the grandparents.  Ecstatic about an airplane ride, he bounced up and down on my lap for the first ten minutes of our trip.  Then he stopped laughing and froze.  His face turned beet-red.  One emphatic grunt later and Eau de Poopie wafted from Seat 3C.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:11)
I had to act fast.  The diaper bulged with toxic, chunky goo.  The infant car seat took up half our space.  Could I change him on the tray tables?  What if the oxygen masks dropped?
“What shall I do, Lord?” I asked. “Get up,” the Lord said… (Acts 22:10)
I grabbed a diaper and the box of wipes and whisked my child to the lavatory.  When I sat him on the toilet lid the lighted flush button caught his attention.  He pushed it.  Whoosh!  He cackled maniacally.
Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you… (Genesis 27:8)
“Stop that!”  I pulled his hand away as he giggled.  I dropped the wipes and diaper on the miniature tray below the mirror and they tumbled into the sink.  He flushed the toilet again.  Whoosh!
My child kicked with glee.  I stood him up to pull down his pants.  Then he spied the garbage spilling out of the waste slot and grabbed a fistful.  I snatched his hand away and pushed the trash further down.  “Why is he behaving like this?” I cried.
Man born of woman is of few days, and is full of trouble. (Job 14:1)
The boy hadn’t yet finished with the trash.  Poke and grab.  Giggle and snort.  I immobilized his hand.
Listen, my son … and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Proverbs 1:8)
“Quit it!”
I pulled off his pants, tossed them aside and plopped him back onto the toilet lid.  I’d have to change him sitting up.  Whoosh!  The flush button captivated him.
I tore open the diaper tabs, then wrapped one arm around him to hoist him up while I pulled off the vile, saturated diaper.  As I rolled up the oozing mass and stuck it through the waste slot, he thrust his hand inside again.  I yanked him up and twisted him away.  “I can’t control him, Lord!”
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle... (Psalm 32:9)
“Knock it off or I’m going to hog-tie you,” I hissed.  Clutching my firstborn against my chest, I fumbled with the box of diaper wipes.  He reached for the soap pump.
My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. (Proverbs 4:20)
“Stop it!  I mean it!”
They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. (2 Kings 17:40)
I wiped his hands, then tried to mop up his behind.  He laughed and wiggled.  The clean diaper refused to open.  The boy kicked and stomped like a Russian dancer with fire ants in his underwear.  I couldn’t manipulate the diaper into position.
…Why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. (Acts 26:14)
I needed both hands, so I put my foot up on the edge of the toilet and dropped the boy down to straddle my thigh.
Then I realized what I’d done.
Her filthiness clung to her skirts…
He was buck-naked from the waist down.
…she did not consider her future…
He just had a dirty diaper.
…Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her…
I was wearing white pants.
…Look, O LORD, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed. (Lamentations 1:9)
I spread open the new diaper and maneuvered him onto it.  Whoosh!  I pulled up on the back of the diaper with my right hand, on the front with my left.  Whoosh!  Whoosh!  Whoosh!
“Stop pushing that button!” I hissed.
But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. (Zechariah 7:11)
I cinched the diaper closed and retrieved his pants from the floor.  He grasped two hunks of hair on either side of my head and swung from them while I dressed him.
We exited the lavatory.  People stared with expressions of concern, irritation, and alarm.  My son laughed and waved.
I strapped my child into his car seat and thrust my finger toward his impish little face.  “Enjoy the rest of this flight, because you will not see the inside of an aircraft again until you are old enough to pilot one.”

The above is excerpted from Year-in-Review: the Entirely True Histories of a Perfectly Wretched Family, available at Amazon and most major online retailers.