On the Pub and the Church and Doing a New Thing

Feb 3 2016

I’m sitting at a pub in my little Oregonian home town tonight because a) it’s Whiskey Wednesday, b) my friend, Bubba, is working and can point neophyte me in the right whiskey direction (Basil Hayden Bourbon, y’all), and c) I’m trying to talk two of my favorite girlfriends — a pastor and a spiritual director — into running a spiritual formation retreat with me. It’s a good night, in other words, full of things that feel holy like water, whiskey and women who teach me how to love bigger and brighter and better and who think I’m awesome even when I fail completely at those things.

The music is loud in the pub — something with steady drums and the occasional tambourine, all ballady and wistful — and people in jeans and chunky sweaters are deep in conversation with friends, turned in toward each other and leaning forward to listen well. This place is community and it is a kind of church, too, in the Greek tradition of ekklesia, which was never about the building and always about the assembly of the people. A coming together for unity and common purpose.

My friends and I talk about the things we believe and how revolutionary and practical they seem. Like that we’re all unique and valuable, weird and wonderful, and wildly, desperately worthy of love. We perch on high stools at the rough-hewn wood bar, and we talk about calling and purpose and what it really means to love God and each other and how to invite those who have different ideas about God into our midst, to be our community, too, without the fear that we’ll try to coerce or convert them. We swirl ice in our glasses and talk about magic in the mess and finding God in the muck and mire and how we might reframe struggle as a worthy and rich place to meet Love and meet each other and meet ourselves. 

At the end of the night, I pay my bill which is clipped to a clothespin. I thank Bubba for the whiskey, and I hug my friends. I walk away with excitement about doing a new thing, and reminded that my purpose is to be the pub to people. I was told as a child with my Christian friends that we needed to learn to be the church, and that’s true in the idyllic definition of it; that Greek definition, which is a gathering of people whose goal it is to love and listen well and allow Jesus to infiltrate our hearts and minds and souls. It’s just that it’s hard these days to think the church is doing that very well. So for today, I’ll keep this pub in mind and welcome strangers and lean in toward my friends, believing we’re not separate and are, instead, a wild, weird, wonderful community, worthy of great grace.

With love,

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(Psst… more coming soon on the retreat! I’m over the moon.)

Never Trust a Fart. This Is Why.

Jan 31 2016

Frankly, I’ve had a lot of luck with farts over the course of my lifetime, and, not to brag, but I’m a pretty good farter, socially speaking. I mean, I know how to gently eke one out in public situations to see how it’ll develop, clamping down quickly if it’s too voluminous or odoriferous or loud. Or, alternatively, letting that sucker rip if my audience is my 9 year old boys. I got cocky, I guess, is what I’m saying. And my successful farting career lured me into a false sense of security.

Never trust a fart, they say. But I did. I did trust a fart, and this is my story.

I’d been feeling a little low the day it happened. A little down. A touch under the weather. But nothing terrible, you know? Nothing AWFUL. And, honestly, if we mamas stopped what we were doing and put our sweet selves to bed at the first sign of sickness, the world would stop spinning. Literally. Mamas stopping for the sniffles or a little tummy upset would cause a shift in the space/time continuum, or a rip in the fabric of reality,or California to slide into the ocean. Mamas do not stop for “a little” anything.

So even though I was a smidge sick that day, and slightly gaggy, and my insides were rumbly and tentative and uncertain, I proceeded with my day. Got the kids to school. Dressed (badly, in clothes that smelled like cheese) for work. Used dry shampoo. Spent my time wisely at the stop lights, throwing on make-up, smearing on mascara, and plucking chin hairs. And I went to work. Like a responsible person. With responsibilities. Who’s responsible.

Yes, I was gurgly.

Yes, I was nauseated.

Yes, I had a tiny case of the urps.

But not run-to-the-bathroom sick.

Not go-home sick.

Not STOP-THE-WORLD-I-WANT-TO-GET-OFF sick.

Just queasy.

Ignorably queasy.

So I kept my sushi date with Jen. Because a) Jen is good times and I love her very much, and b) SUSHI. It’s delicious. Even when I’m urpy. Delicious, I say.

And, mid-convo, I trusted the fart.

Just a little one, I thought.

A poof.

A puff.

And so, with a little subtle squeeze, I tested the farting waters.

And I got… farting waters.

Not a poof.

Not a puff.

That little push I thought was air, was not. And the clamping at which I was previously so accomplished? DID NOT WORK.

I looked at Jen, and to her I said, “Please pardon me. I must use the rest room. To potty. For a minute. Or two,” and I scooted off my stool, (my stool — no pun intended), while eyeing it surreptitiously to make sure I’d left nothing behind, because inspecting one’s stool before leaving for the bathroom isn’t suspicious at all. And I simultaneously prayed to Jesus.

“Dear Jesus,” I said, “I just pooped my pants,” because if I didn’t tell him, how would he know? And if he didn’t know, how would he keep it from soaking through my jeans? “And, DEAR GOD, if I’ve ever done anything useful in my entire life, please, please, please, please, please do not let it soak through my jeans.”

Thus I waddled to the potty with excellent and rigid posture and hind end out ever-so-slightly so as to not exacerbate the issue with unnecessary rubbing, and I arrived at the toilet to discover the mystery that awaited.

Here’s what I need you to know, friends: I have CLEARLY lived an extremely righteous and worthy life, and Jesus loves me to the moon. Or at least he loves me to the potty with poop-free pants, because when I arrived, I discovered the damage was to panties alone. TO PANTIES ALONE, friends, so TAKE THAT, Atheist, Godless Friends. (Ryan, hear me now…) GOD IS ALIVE AND ACTIVE IN THIS WORLD! I rest my case.

In conclusion, I suggest you avoid that sushi restaurant off the freeway by the big, new, fancy shopping mall. I hear patrons of that establishment discard their panties in the trash and have terrible theology.

Sincerely,

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P.S. I’ve been reluctant to tell you this story, lest you think I frequently poop myself. I told you about the time I pooped my closet. And now I’m telling you about the time I pooped the sushi restaurant. I swear, I don’t often poop myself. SWEAR.

P.P.S. Please do not send me religious hate mail for this post. If Mr. Trump can receive the endorsement and support of prominent Christian leaders, then my Poop Theology Proof of God is totes legit in current faith culture. Amen, friends? A-effing-men.

Wish You Were Here

Jan 29 2016

I’m away at the Oregon coast this weekend for the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat, one of my favorite times of year because I get to talk writing and messes and serendipitous magic — three of my passions — with my friends. 

 

Sometimes, people feel like they need to remind me people are not my friends if we haven’t met yet, or they’re not friends if we’ve only met online, but they’re wrong because we’ve shared our hearts and our stories and some of the truest truths we know, sometimes for years IMG_8542and years, and I know no better definition of friendship than that.

We gather at the coast for too few days to shore up those friendships and to pour ourselves out onto paper and screens, and the waves crash relentlessly in the background. Jen, who’s seeing the west coast for the first time, talked about how much more wild the ocean is here. It matches us, I think, unrestrained, powerful and uncivilized, and the weather, too, with lashing rain and driving hail and sun breaks, bringing its mess and magic to play.

We’ve been here 18 hours now, and so far, I’ve accidentally told the story about the time I pooped my pants at a sushi restaurant. I also confessed to buying new leggings for this retreat so people would like me better, which I’m thinking was a wise move at this point, because leggings are sure to make the difference when I’m busy telling stories about crapping myself.

In conclusion, you can pray for these people. And pray my magical leggings work. :/

Wishing you were here,

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THIS Is Why We Shouldn’t Teach Kids to Be Themselves

Jan 27 2016

My friend, IMG_8513Valerie, and I carpool to get her sweet girls, age 6 and 9, and my twin, 9-year-old boys from school.

And these 4 kids are friends. I mean, real friends who can’t wait to hang out with each other and play and don’t think the other gender has cooties.

HOW CUTE IS THAT, you guys? AND HOW GOOD ARE WE AT PARENTING, right?? SO GOOD. We are SO GOOD at parenting to make this happen! We deserve awards and gold stars, and someone should put us in charge of global parenting programs.

Or put Valerie in charge.

Me? Maybe not so much.

 

Valerie started posting Adventures in Carpooling to my Facebook wall this fall.

ADVENTURES IN CARPOOLING #1

So on our way to your house today your kid was telling me about the souvenirs you brought him from Italy. He got candy, cheese and PENIS shaped pasta. And I quote, “I got PENIS pasta. In the shape of PENISES! And there are BLACK ones. Black PENIS noodles. They are black from squid ink. I am so happy to have gotten PENIS pasta!” Super happy about the pasta. Now to explain to my girls what a penis is….

ADVENTURES IN CARPOOLING #2

Your Kid: “Can I say swear words in your car like CRAP and SHIT?”

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ADVENTURES IN CARPOOLING #3 AND #4

After my kid found play doh in the back seat of the van and distributed it to your boys…
Your Kid: “I am going to make a PENIS out of mine. Wait…this is too big to be my PENIS, this looks like your PENIS, Bro. Yours is bigger but my BALLS are bigger…”
His Twin Brother: “Yes, my BALLS
are really small, yours are much bigger.”
Your Kid: “Valerie do you drink?”
Me: “No.”
Your Kid: “You should. My mom says its really good for Moms to drink.”
(I am considering it after that ride.)

THIS, friends.

THIS is why we shouldn’t teach children to be themselves.

We blithely walk around saying, “Be yourself!” and “Be the most you you can be!” But we do not consider the FULL IMPLICATIONS of our encouragement.

We do not consider the fact that the most true to himself a nine-year-old boy child can be is one who compares his ball sac with his twin brother’s. And then talks about it in PUBLIC.

This is what is wrong with modern parenting.

And THIS is why our elders who suppressed expression and championed crippling inhibitions were so much wiser than us.

In conclusion, I’m reconsidering all my life choices.

Sincerely,

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P.S.

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4 Reasons I’ve Embraced My Mental Illness

Jan 23 2016

The space under my covers is dark and a little humid and smells like the first rain after a dry spell, all musty and muddy and heavy air, except with a hint of smooshed Cheez-its and old dryer sheets, which I know because sometimes I put my head underneath and pull the covers tight around it and wonder how long it’s OK to stay there before I run out of oxygen.

I wonder how long it’s OK to stay there before I run out of oxygen, which is a strange thing to wonder since I’m only there when I already have. The space under my covers is my cave for retreating when I feel like I can’t catch a breath, and I need to escape, and I’m jittery and on edge and want to sleep for ever and ever. I wish I had a better sanctuary, but those are hard to find when what I’m really trying to escape is myself.

I’ve started to look at weighted blankets online because I hear they’re good for kids with autism and anxiety, so I suspect they’d be good for me, too, when life becomes too scritchy and uncertain, and I crave something that will hold me down before I float away.

This is what it’s like for me, sometimes, with depression and anxiety which take the helm every now and then. I never know quite where they’ll steer me — to rage or emptiness, worry or despair. I don’t know what the conditions will be of the sea or the storm or how long it will last or whether, this time, the ship will finally sink under the pressure of too much water against a hull that’s mostly strong except where it’s very, very weak. The best I can do these days is to try to recognize when I’ve left safe waters and fight the beasts for the slippery helm, pray for sun and hang on ’til daylight.

I’m easing back right now to calmer seas, and I’m peeking out from underneath my covers, sipping air that’s less stale and looking around to assess the damage, and I’ve found something I didn’t expect this time in the rubble.

I’ve found something I didn’t expect, blown here on the wind, I guess, or maybe it stowed away a while ago and is just now showing its face, and it’s this: I’m grateful for my mental illness.

Grateful for depression.

Grateful for anxiety.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t want depression and anxiety to go fuck themselves. They are, after all, fuckers. It’s just… they’ve brought me some gifts, too, and I’m glad to have those gifts, though the delivery mechanism bites. Kind of like having carrot sticks to scoop Nutella; I’d prefer graham crackers or Ritz, but if carrots are what I’ve got, I’m still going to scoop up all the Nutella I can get.

I see a lot of articles these days about erasing the stigma of mental illness, and folks bravely coming out of the closet to admit they have it, and what it means to talk frankly about being mental ill. I’m all for talking about All the Things, and for erasing stigmas, but, for me, disclosing my illness was never about bravery. It was about being free to be unapologetically me. I don’t know; maybe it’s easier for me to be mentally ill than it is for others. I grew up, after all, with scars on my face, and I’ve never known what it is to have a perfect facade to show the world. Either way, I find myself in a strange place of gratitude today.

The truth is, I’m grateful for my mental illness because it’s taught me these things:

  1. We’re not stuck under the covers. Or in the dark. Or on the ship floundering at sea. I’m under the covers sometimes, yes. And the dark comes as regularly as the dawn. And the storms brew and hit us every now and then with the full force of their fury. But while we live in these places for a little while, we’re not stuck there forever. There’s air. There’s light. There’s calm. And they’re coming soon.
  2. We don’t have to go it alone. We don’t. Which is such a relief. We don’t have to go it alone, and, in fact, we’re not supposed to. We’re not built for that, no matter what lies the Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps philosophies try to tell us. We are community creatures — “come, unity” creatures — which means we needn’t be strong all the time. We can take turns. Being strong and weak. And magical and messy. And wise and weird. And all of those things at once. Which brings me to…
  3. There are people with us in the dark. And they will wait with us for the dawn. And hold our hands in the mud. And lay down with us on life’s path when we can’t go on, watching the clouds make pictures in the sky while we lie on our backs, too tired to move.
  4. We will fall apart again. God, I am SUCH an All or Nothing person, friends. I want to be healthy; not living with a chronic illness. I want to be CURED; not treated. So I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a fix for this — a SOLUTION — rather than recognizing that life is an endless puzzle full of tiny pieces we assemble to make a beautiful picture with infinite cracks. But I’m learning that a life of something is a pretty darn good way to live, and that All or Nothing isn’t better. I’m no longer looking for the time I’ll have this all figured out, or for the time I’ll have it all together. It turns out I’ll be a mess FOREVER. So now I rejoice in each puzzle piece I find, but I recognize it for what it is — just a piece of a whole, and a step on a journey. I’ll fall apart again, and when I do, it won’t be a failure; it’ll just be a recognition of the cracks between the pieces. The texture of the puzzle. And I’ll be on the lookout for the next piece that fits.

With love on the journey,

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Other Things I’ve Written About Depression:

When Depression Comes in Disguise

A Determined Walk Toward Slow Hope

White Lights Lead to Red Lights, Red Lights Indicate the Exit: How to Find Forgiveness in the Dark

May the Fourth Be With You

 

UPDATED: My Boobs Broke My Washer

Jan 20 2016

Look; it’s been a rough season for appliances in our house. I don’t know if we’re doing appliances wrong, or if appliances aren’t built for 47HundredMillion people to use them ALL DAY LONG, or if I’m modeling Breakdown / I Quit / I HONEST TO GOD CANNOT DO ONE MORE THING behavior, or what; I just know this is the house where appliances come to die terrible, terrible deaths, and we can pray for them.

Here’s an example with a beginning, a middle, a middle, a middle, a middle, and an end. Ready? OK.

We bought a microwave. It died. We bought a new microwave. It died. Greg’s grandma gave us her old microwave. It died. We bought a used microwave. The children lit it on fire. (REMOVE THE PLASTIC WRAPPER FROM THE POPCORN PACKAGE, GUYS. Just saying.) It died. Friends gave us their microwave. Died. Won a $100 BestBuy gift certificate! WOOT! Bought a new microwave. The week after the one-year warranty ended, it coughed, spluttered and died. DIED. Bought a new microwave. Died, but inside of the warranty period this time, so HA! Called the company! Demanded restitution! (With a please, ’cause there’s no need to be rude.) They sent a repairman. … A repairman. For a $75 microwave? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Okeedokee, company. Whatever floats your boat. … The repairman came. He ordered a $50 part, and, I assume, charged the company $3B in labor. Three weeks later, the part arrived, and the repairman raised the microwave from the dead. IT LIVES. We call it Lazarus. The End.

This is, of course, but one small example of Appliance Death around here.

We’re currently on Fridge #5 for this house, where we’ve lived 14 years.

We use toothpicks and sometimes an ice pick to start our stove (long story), but the burners light all the way, like, 73% of the time.

The dishwasher died last Spring after the heating element bent and melted a hole in the tub, causing gallons and gallons (and gallons) of dirty dishwater to pour into our subfloor over weeks and weeks before it finally bubbled up from underneath the cheap laminate floor and clued us in. Which, wheeeeeeeee! New floors!

And then, on Tuesday, when the repairman was here repairing the NEW dishwasher which tried to burn our house down — melted electric connector, because it wants to be cool like the microwave, and God knows, if the microwave jumped off a bridge, the dishwasher would, too (dishwashers these days!) — the clothes washer gave up the ghost.

Kerklunk. Kerklunk. Kerklunk. Vvvvvzzzzzzz. KERKLUNK. Aaaannnddd… DEAD.

Yep.

The clothes washer is lying dead upstairs as I type.

And, guys. Guys. Guys. My boobs killed it.

I know that’s true because Greg performed the autopsy, and he found my underwire wrapped around the shaft.

I don’t even know what to say about this, except I assume my boobs, with great compassion, decided the washer had had enough and took action to end its suffering.

In conclusion, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And bless my boobs’ heart. And don’t ever let my boobs see you suffer, because they clearly mean well, but they have very, VERY poor self-control.

The End.

P.S. You can pray for Greg.

P.P.S. And the shaft.

P.P.P.S. And for Greg as he coaxes the shaft back to life.

 

***UPDATE FROM GREG***

For those of you who’ve been waiting with bated breath for the washer outcome (all of you, I’m sure), Greg has compiled the following update:

I can report the washer is whole again, resting quietly after a vigorous workout.

I removed the outer coverings, including the rubber barrier because sometimes it’s hard to get a good feel for what’s going on with a rubber barrier in the way.

I realized after exposing it that the best way in was from the rear.

Although it was a tight fit, and required a firm grasp, I pulled, pushed, yanked and twisted until the job was done.

With great relief following my efforts, I confirmed the shaft is undamaged.

My job wasn’t done, however, until the washer was satisfied with its performance, so I ran the cycle labeled “Quick Wash,” because this model knows about five kids, and came prepared for quickies when we’ve only got RIGHT NOW and we must GET IT DONE.

After the final spin, I can confirm we are back to near complete appliance compliance, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons:

  1. I’m OK with a random underwire issue once every 21 years as a cost of needing them in the first place.
  2. It might be in my best interest to encourage more regular bra replacement. I should probably offer to help Beth shop for them.
  3. Even when an appliance problem is a common one (per the guys at the local sales and repair shop I visited), in our house it has to go bigger and more spectacular than they’ve ever heard.  “Around the shaft? Really? How did it do that?”

 

On Being Married 21 Years

Jan 14 2016

Today, Greg and I have been married 21 years.

TWENTY ONE YEARS, friends, which, as we say around here, is a lot of years not to smother someone with a pillow.

Twenty one years, which means our marriage is old enough to drink and doesn’t have to keep having its older friends buy it booze.

TWENTY ONE YEARS, which is ALL GROWN UP by, like, EVERY measure, you know? Our marriage can drink and it’s been able to vote and die for its country for years. I mean, our marriage can’t rent a car yet, but still, it can make questionable choices in evening wear and pick guys up at the local bar. It’s mostly grown up, is what I’m saying.

I’ve written eloquently about marriage in years past. Or eloquently-ish which is the best I can do most days.

I’ve been married long enough, I think, that I’ve lost the trite answers to the “how do you do it” questions. I’ve stopped giving the magic bullet responses like “marriage takes hard work” or “we’re still together by the grace of God” or “marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100.”

Honestly, those answers suck. Hard. 

Now, of course marriage takes hard work.

And I do believe in a gracious God.

And it’s important to go beyond our fair share in any partnership.

But to say that our marriage is intact by virtue of our work or God’s grace feels too close to implying others have failed for lack of hard work or that God has somehow withheld a measure of grace, and, well, I just don’t buy either implication. Some of the toughest divorces I’ve witnessed have come on the heels of a whole lot of hard work. And God, I believe, gives grace extravagantly, especially when it’s all falling apart.

The truth is, Greg and I work hard on our marriage. That’s a fact. Except when we’re apathetic and worn out and don’t work on our marriage at all.

And Greg and I are consistently tenacious and determined to make our marriage better. Except when we’re exhausted and just kind of done.

And Greg and I are committed to always being available for each other. Except when we’re myopic and selfish and can’t move past our own needs.

Honestly, Greg and I aren’t in a 50/50 marriage very often. Oh, we strive for equality. And we try to bear one another’s burdens. Sometimes we even hold up our ends of the marriage bargain. Sometimes, we rise above the difficulties and each give 100%, which is when the toilets get cleaned and the children are bathed and we don’t forget parent/teacher conferences. But sometimes we fall down on the job, friends. Sometimes, I give 5%, and Greg gives 5%, and we’re grumpy and petty, and we both wonder where the hell the other 90% went.

The real problem with marriage is the fact that we let humans do it. It’s the same problem with parenting, really. And with the church. And with schools. And with government. And with family. As humans, we’re fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy creatures who create fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy systems and relationships.

Yep. I wrote those things when we were married 18 years, and it’s all still true 3 years later; it’s just that, this year, I don’t have any eloquence — or partial-eloquence — available, so I won’t be waxing poetic on marriage today.

Instead, I’ll just share a few snippets of life around these parts, and what a 21st Anniversary looks like from this perspective.

a) I texted Greg this morning a heartfelt “Happy Anniversary!” sandwiched between our chat about our broken dishwasher that tried to burn the house down last night and an even more awesome conversation about our son with special needs who’s been telling female peer helpers at school that he can’t get his school work done unless he keeps his hand on their arms or foot on their foot. By comparison? That Happy Anniversary text was VERY romantic.

b) I confessed to one of my besties last night that I still fantasize some days about running away to Mexico, only to have Greg pipe up and say, “That’s OK; sometimes we fantasize about you doing that, too.” I think a Normal Woman would’ve been offended, but I was kind of relieved, and I LOL’ed, guys. I LOL’ed for reals, and I still CUMB (Chuckle Under My Breath) every time I think about it.

c) I found my undies on the floor in our entry way. I’m pretty sure they’ve been decorating the entry way for days now, while our neighbors and friends come and go. I’d like to tell you I’ve fixed that particularly hospitable gesture, but I think they’re still there.

The View of the Front Door:

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The View From the Front Door:

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In conclusion, later tonight Greg and I will high-five each other on 21 years. We didn’t buy cards. We didn’t buy flowers. We didn’t go out to eat. There are panties in the entry way that no one’s going to pick up anytime soon, and sometimes we all fantasize about Mommy skipping town. But you know what? We dream about abandoning each other TOGETHER. Our hearts and minds ARE ONE.

And even later tonight, 4 minutes after we fall asleep, which will be 6 minutes after we didn’t manage to stay awake for sex again, a 9 year old will have a nightmare and will crawl into bed with us. We’ll grunt and moan, roll over and reluctantly make room, and when that kid whispers, “I’m scared,” we’ll say, “I know you are — the dark is HARD — but you’re safe here. Snuggle up, baby,” and it’ll be enough. We’ll be content, and it’ll be enough.

Happy Anniversary, Greg! We’re another year older and another year wiser, minus the part about being wiser, because we have no freaking idea how we’re still pulling this off. We’re scared some of the time; a lot of the time, if we’re honest. But we’re safe here because we made it safe. Good job, us. And snuggle up, baby.

Here’s to not smothering each other with a pillow for 21 more! (After that, all bets are off.)

With love,

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