Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Final Lesson and a Vision of 20 Welcome Homes

     If I ever had any doubts about how loved I am by my heavenly Father and why I should be nothing but a laser beam of joy during this time of year when we celebrate the sacrifice that He gave to us in the form of his son, well those doubts completed evaporated yesterday afternoon. I won't waste anymore of your time with this nonsense of slowly and painstakingly trying to figure out which blessings to count.
     I'm alive. Rife with sin, wearing jealousy and bitterness like a coat of armor. Less than innocent. But my life continues while the lives of 20 children, babies really, guilty of no more than stealing a cookie from the cookie jar, wiping a booger on the car seat or calling someone a doo-doo head went back to God yesterday for absolutely no more valid reason than pure evil.
     There is no consolation heartfelt enough to console those parents. The teachers who survived while their colleagues were gunned down, the parents who walked away with their baby in their arms, who spent the evening comforting their friends who didn't - that kind of guilt doesn't dissipate - it just migrates from heart to head. The children who survived it, torn between feeling guilty and being so relieved that they still get to have a Christmas. The investigators and first responders who opened the door to it...
    It's not going to make sense, ever. It doesn't matter what the media says and what the father tells the investigators. We can explain it, but explanation isn't healing. We can rub the explanation into the wound like its Neosporin, but it is just never going to make sense. We don't deal well with that as human beings. That's what we are left with.
    That is enough for me. The superficial "sadness" that I felt is completely overshadowed if not consumed by the darkness of this incident and I get it. I get that I am supposed to be thankful for every breath that I am given, that I am supposed to be thankful for every breath that your child is given and that my child is given. I get that I am to love no matter what and give the benefit of the doubt no matter what. I get that I am no longer allowed to manufacture my own misery because there is an abundance of it out there that I can share in... a surplus if you will. So why create my own insignificant maudlin? I get it, like Ebeneezer Scrooge got it that cold Christmas morning as he flung open his window and told that poor, unsuspecting youngster to go buy the biggest goose in town. I get it. I get it. I FINALLY, TRAGICALLY GET IT. Because of those babies who deserved nothing but to be hugged infinitely, sat in time-out occasionally, and listened to with love, I get it: service, sacrifice and gratitude for every single second of our fragile, fragile lives... Enough is enough. I get it.
     Here's the vision:
     The angel dashed through the streets of heaven, scattered and frazzled, his wings practically flattened behind him with his speed and determination. "They are coming!" he hollered. His face flushed with excitement, his feet not moving nearly as fast as he desired and his breath coming in short, excited rasps. Soon there were three more behind him, moving at the same speed, their robes swirling like glimmering cotton candy up and around their feet and knees. "Crayons!" one of them called out. "Because she loves to color and pink is her favorite!" Five more fell into the throng, their feet pounding, the very rafters of heaven beginning to shake. The cries went up: "She'll need a crown to play princess!" "He loves trucks... and digging!" "Toy dinosaurs!" "She pretends everything is a microphone!"
     The thunder of the throng as they headed toward the gate was deafening. The twenty moved like lightening toward the gate where they would welcome home their little souls. The millions of other angels lined the streets for them, wrapping themselves in their wings, covering their faces to hide their tears. The younger angels who had taken to the streets, who were heading for their young charges didn't understand. The Father would explain.
     He met them at the gate. His face said it all. "Every homecoming is joyous," he told the young ones. "But not every departure is a celebration." And then He told them the truth. And then He let them cry. And then He told them of the levity of their job; he told them that they would hold their charges and wrap them safely in their wings. He explained that they would one by one bring the little ones to the Son who would then bring them to Him. And He explained that after they had given their sweet little spirit to the Son, they were to make about the business of those left behind. Comforting them without touch, embracing them not using arms, ministering peace without words. They would not be young after this, the Father explained. It wasn't fair, He explained. But it is the way.
     And so the angels stood at the gate, hand in hand and awaited. And when the time came, they went. And they stood beside their little charges and they wept with the anger that there was nothing they could do but look at time in the exponentially fractionalized way that God looks at time and calculate the movement of the bullet and step in quickly, as if in a dance and wrap their wings around their child and embrace the light of their spirit and soul, pulling it in a heated charge just above them, leaving only the sweet-faced, chubby armed shell to meet the bullet and fall to the floor.
     They carried only light close to their bodies, wrapped in their wings as they moved through the barrier of mortality and infinity, the heat from the little souls almost too much to bear. The silence was crushing and broken only by 20 barely audible slashes of time freezing forever in the air left in the room.
     Soon there was nothing left, nothing but the human definition of life: blood and skin and tissue. Nothing but silence on earth and the deafening cry of injustice.
     But in heaven there was laughter, and there were embraces. In heaven there was the tossed-back-head booming laughter of the Son as He listened to their stories and passed His peace to them in a ginger kiss on the forehead. There were the angels who stood in line to meet these little pieces of light, to wrap them in their wings, to hold their hands and walk with them and hear their stories.
    And the Father, on His throne, cried. But whether the tears were named joy or sorrow no one dared ask...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lesson #9 - Regret and Other Things I Get For Christmas

     You have failed... Yes, you there, sucking down your soda and ignoring the television while lounging every so cozily on your sofa. YOU were supposed to keep me honest and accountable. But I supposed we both failed each other so I will not squawl too loudly...
     This week has been a flurry of change, some welcome, some not. I HAVE kept up with my challenge to myself. Acts of sacrifice and service, after awhile become harder to come by because after practicing them for awhile, you realize you don't become aware of the attitude of service and sacrifice. Not to say that I couldn't be more polite, giving, caring or aware; in fact it could be amplified for the greater good. But what I am finding as I am working my way through this mixture of depression, I suppose, and disillusionment (I am certain!) is that there truly is a cure for the ailments that we create for ourselves and then inevitably blame on others.
     One thing that has been chewing at the back of my brain all week is the one thing, however, that there is no cure for, and I am learning that even joy cannot overtake the pain that comes with this ailment; that ailment is regret. There is nothing that can be done about regret.
     It is around this time of year that I start to get lonely for people who are no longer in my life because of circumstance. This is the poultice that we use to draw regret to the surface of our hearts: circumstance. If I had only done, if I had only said, if I had only been... There is nothing more lonely, more useless and more determined than regret, especially when the regret is based on something you didn't do when you should have. And it is regret that pushes us beyond what we allow joy to heal
   I have regrets, big ones. I went through a phase not too long ago where I believed that my failure to act when I should have might actually have thwarted the will of God for my life. I believed that the lack of courage of others, that their fear, might have thwarted the will of God for my life.
   I am such a freshman when it comes to the scholarly understanding of God. Like the human beings in my life, I desperately try to put Him in a category. I try to make Him like me. I only see life as it ripples out from me; truth be told that is how we all see it. And we spend so much time concentrating on our little drop in the ocean, we don't realize that it is the ripples that are moving away from our little drop in the ocean. Nothing happens that is not under His control, ordained by His hand, orchestrated in His heart.
     My regret is hypocrisy. The sadness that I feel belongs to no one but me. It is not God's and to allow it to the be thing that I use to separate myself from Him is almost pathetic as the regret in the first place. This last week has been spent in this kind of wondrous introspection; it has not been fun, but it has been productive.
    The yearning for "what might have been" that comes around this time of year can be excruciating. It is the longing for freedoms, friends and still-unraveling possibilities that came with Christmases long ago that is diminishing the joy of the Christmas of now.
     I can't fix it because to fix it, I would have to go back in time and change my own choices and actions. Both of those things are impossible - time travel doesn't exist and even if I could go back, I would still be me and being me, I would definitely make the same choices or, more than likely, still be afflicted with the same indecisiveness. No. Cure.
     I don't know how to overcome the regret. At the time, the act that I regret now was a willful act of action or inaction - God is not in the business of condoning acts of my will or helping me recover from them. I don't know what your regrets are or how they figure in to the holidays or this time of year, but after this week, I am almost positive that acts of service and sacrifice that lead to the development of a life that is focused around service and sacrifice have to be a huge part of it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lesson #8 - A Child Shall Lead Them

   Though I will post this on Sunday it is the blog for Saturday's service and sacrifice. In all honesty, Saturday was one of the best days I have had in a long time. I spent the entire day with my husband and my son. We did nothing but laugh and giggle, talk about stuff that really didn't have any consequence and basically just enjoy each other.
   And as I panicked last night when I realized that I hadn't done anything in service or sacrifice yesterday I was comforted by the thought that I could perhaps use this as a platform to share the service and sacrifice of someone else with you; someone you wouldn't expect; a little girl. Not just any little girl, a princess.
   I met Lexie when she was four. All sparkling green eyes and smiles and all girl, Lexie lived in one of her princess costumes... She was all pink tulle and glitter tied up with a nice lavender bow. With long brown hair and a sweet little voice, she was always dressed to the nines and the quick assumption would be that she was spoiled rotten.
   But she's not. In fact, she has one of the most loving and giving hearts of any person, young or old, that I have ever met. Lexie is in third grade and has learned the power of pestering. She started pestering her mother about three weeks ago for toys. Here's the catch: the toys aren't for her. The toys are for kids who need them. Her mother was quick to brush her off. It would pass. It didn't. Lexie had an idea and she was going to see it through. When you are seven and you have an idea and you want to see it through, you have to convince someone with authority to take you seriously. Lexie knew that. SHE. DIDN'T. LET. IT. GO. For days, the only thing she would talk about was helping kids get toys for Christmas, helping kids who don't have the the things that she has, helping kids who need a smile because they are sick. She wanted to do something; it was actually more than that. She HAD to do something.
   SHE IS SEVEN! Christmas for her is supposed to me a gimme, gimme, gimme! It's supposed to be about visits to Santa and pretty dresses and helping bake cookies. It's not supposed to be about helping other people. That's just... just... well it's wise beyond her years... it's kind of wise beyond my years.
   So her mom and dad helped her organize Lexie's Loving Heart Toy Drive. They've got boxes in a couple of places in Mexico and in Columbia and in Centralia. Children at Rainbow House in Columbia and Coyote Hill Christian Children's Home will receive the bounty of Lexie's loving heart this Christmas. But really, she is blessing so many more.
   I saw Lexie today, dressed to the nines, of course. She was scrutinizing the collection box we have at our church and I could see a cloud of disappointment scooting across her sweet little face. There really aren't a whole lot of toys in there yet... to a child that must seem so foreign. The idea that when someone wants to help others that grown ups can be the obstacle in the way must just really flummox a kid's brain. Think about how we appear to children. Dogs are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt; but children know us beyond a shadow of a doubt. And though they don't understand the true meaning of hypocrisy, they are witness to more of it than anyone. And yet, there is Lexie, whose heart is open and loving and whose concern this Christmas is not what is under the tree for her, but how many gifts are going to be in the collection boxes for the kids who really need them.
   Lexie's sacrifice may not be obvious to adults. Adults will look at it and oooohhhh, and awwwwww, over her because she is giving and say what a wonderful little girl she is, but we don't get the sacrifice. The sacrifice is that Lexie is not thinking about Lexie. I have a difficult time as a 41-year-old person making the sacrifice of not thinking about myself first, about not putting myself first. Lexie is eight years old and she is already making that sacrifice. Dying to self and living to service may take a lifetime for me to learn; Lexie has got it at eight. What is strange is that as we grow older, we lose that knowledge of what a huge deal self-sacrifice is to a child. We know what sacrifice means to us as adults, but we don't realize that when you are a child, the only thing you really have to sacrifice, to give up for others, is yourself. So it's a rare thing when you find a child that will do that, that will insist on doing that.
   Lexie is that little girl. Someone who opened her eyes and her heart long before we as a society would have required that of her. And we will require that of her someday, because we as a society use sacrifice as the basis of our belief in charity. But Lexie is a gleaming example of benevolence before it is practiced for anyone else's benefit, long before it is practiced because it is expected. It is the best example of service and sacrifice: it happened because in her heart of hearts she knew that it should.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Day #7 - The World is Not Ready Yet

   I learned a very valuable lesson today. I learned it like I learn all my other lessons: the hard way. I stepped right in it then I tracked it all over the place.
   I was out amongst the civilians today, feeling pretty cheery, actually. I had a little time to myself and I intended to make use of the Christmas spirit that was slowly starting to spring up. I was going Christmas shopping.
   It wasn't long before my opportunity to perform my act of service presented itself. The first store that I went into I encountered a couple doing some of their Christmas shopping. This is what I overheard:
   "So do I get her the Austrian Crystal platter or the fondue set? Todd? Are you even paying attention?"
   "Whichever one you think..." Todd was bored.
   "I want to know what YOU think. She's YOUR mother..."
   I had stopped and was obviously listening to their exchange. The lady looked at me for a moment and then asked me what I thought.
   I didn't have to stop and think. I KNEW the answer for I had done the work. I had toiled and labored. I had suffered through this situation for years. I had been enlightened over the last six days. I had seen the light. I mean I wasn't ready to handle rattlesnakes, but a few more days and I might be ready to bite the head off of a chicken or something...
   I smiled. This is what Jesus must have felt like. I was poised and ready. I was going to perform the service of sharing what I had learned. "Neither." I said to her and smiled.
   Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head while turning it, making her resemble that Chuckie doll from those horror movies. "What?" her voice was a hissing quip.
   "Give her neither. Don't give her a gift," I smiled smugly to myself, imagining all the woodland creatures that surely must scurrying out of their little burrows and holes to run to me for I was the gentlest of gentle creatures, the wisest of the wise. I was completely full of peace and knowledge. I was definitely full of something...
   Todd bristled and looked at me like a mother tiger looks at the smallest of her young... the one that she must devour for the good of the litter: pity mixed with excitement. I was going down in a bloodbath and Todd had front row seats.
   "Don't give her a gift?" The lady was looking at me through little slits in her face where her eyes once stared at me with disdain. "What do you mean don't give her a gift? I HAVE to give her a gift. For God's sake, she gave birth to my husband." Her voice had begun to get a little shrill and people were starting to watch.
   "But that's the point, she is never going to like you. It doesn't matter what you give her," I had satisfactorily relayed the message that it had taken me years to learn, years full of tears and confusion.
   It was at this point that noticed the men's clothing department on the other side of the store. I wasn't about to let them get away until I explained myself.
   "A gift isn't about what you give, it's about why you give it," I explained... I could hear the brush of dove wings against my ear. "If you give her something because you HAVE to, then it's an obligation so you might as well not get her anything." Beautiful. I had sought a lesson, God had taught me a lesson and given me the means to share it with others. I was ecstatic. So ecstatic that I mistook the beating wings for doves when in fact they were fire spitting, acid puking pterodactyls of death and they were closing in. Todd was ready for the save...
   "She likes you; I promise she likes you. She likes you a lot more than she used to," but Todd was too late. I had shared too much, spoken too soon, overheard the wrong conversation. I was a little scared. This woman had that "look" about her. You know, the kind of look that, without a word, let's the Girl Scouts know that SHE is the one who gets her Thin Mints before the other people on the block. That look that says "Sure I'll watch your kids but you are going to sign a waiver and a settlement agreement beforehand." If she was Bunny Foo Foo, there would have been acres and acres of head-bopped field mice. ACRES!
   "Shut-up Todd!" she spat at him, dropping the platter into the cart. "And you, I don't know what you think you are, but your night school psychology classes aren't paying off," with that she pushed her cart the other way. I was left feeling confused and a little miffed at being so brutally rebuffed.
   "I know you were just trying to help," Todd rushed past me after his wife. "Have a Merry Christmas."
   I don't even have to reason it out now. I totally get it. I got it the minute she walked away from me. Everyone, every single one of us is on a journey. My path crossed hers just long enough for her to hate me. And her path crossed mine just long enough to realize that Mom was right when she said that I didn't have to "tell everything I know" and then some!
   The best part about all it is that God is just the perfect God for that point in our journey. He goes from being Father to being Encourager to being Disciplinarian. He's exactly where we left Him, prepared to be whatever we need Him to be to get us where we can be good with Him. But today's attempt, and let's face it, EPIC fail at service showed me something else about myself. No, I already knew that I had a big mouth... No, I already know that I have a tendency to think I can fix everything. What I realized today is that both of those things probably contributed to my shooing away of my Christmas spirit, either intentionally or unintentionally. The anger at my inability to "fix" whatever was wrong with me may possibly be what is at the root of the problem that I am currently trying to fix. The difference is that this time I am willing to let Him be the fixer... at least I am now after what I am referring to as the Nasty Platter Fondue Clash of 2012...
  Make tomorrow better than today... and pray for Todd!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day 5 and 6 - Reflection and the Cold Hard Truth

I didn't get to blog yesterday, so for those of you who were waiting with bated breath (Hi, Mom!) I apologize. Yesterday was a good day. I helped a man load groceries into his car at Wal-Mart and we got to talking a little bit. It really is a small world as he had lived in Mexico most of his life and he had known my great Uncle Jim Boulware who was a champion skeet shooter for the majority of his life. He seemed surprised at first, almost guarded, when I offered to help him, but I wasn't offended. I wondered what I would feel like if someone approached my Mom and offered to help her load groceries into her car. I would tell her to use her key as a weapon and yell "Fire!" As your parents age, you treat them with the same caution that you treated your child. For example, for the first four years of my son's life, everyone in the world looked like a pedophile. We took Kyser to the mall to meet Santa. He was two and of course he screamed at the top of his lungs and kicked like a mule trying out for the Rockettes. In my mind, my son had a sixth sense: that Santa must have been a seething, evil child molester and Kyser just KNEW IT! It had nothing to do with, I'm certain, the fact that he was fat and red, covered in hair and kept yelling at the top of his lungs.
   Nonetheless, it made me realize that sometimes we rob people of things that they need, with all of their hearts, because of our perception of them. I've had that lesson a couple of times this week so far. And I'm really grateful to the man in the parking lot of Wal-Mart who didn't use his key as a weapon and scream "Fire" yesterday. We should be just as willing to be helped, especially when we don't want it or think we need it, as we are to help. And I'm happy to say that Wednesday night, I took the plunge and downloaded a Christmas ringtone for my phone. That's a huge step considering I was ready to strangle Andy Williams with a string of blinking Christmas lights this time last week.
   Today, Thursday, I awoke to the news that there was a Powerball winner in Missouri. The second wake-up call came shortly thereafter when I learned it wasn't me. In reality, it's a good thing I don't have a gazillion dollars. No particular reason for that comes to mind right now, but I'm sure one will.   
   I felt led to venture into the cafeteria during lunch today. I'm there once a week for cafeteria duty on Monday and every now and the spirit moves  for Tuesday, which is nacho bar (epic! I highly recommend it if you have some time to drop in!). But today I went for another reason. I realized that maybe the rules that I had already broken on Day 3 were meant to be broken. The one about work suddenly didn't feel so restrictive... Long story short, I went to the cafeteria and asked if there was anything that I could do to help. The 5-day wait for the look of incredulity was sooooooo worth it. The cafeteria manager looked at me like I had just spit in the cheesy dip. I realized then that perhaps trying to find something for me to do to help might actually be more work than just doing everything themselves. Those ladies work hard. Consider this: those two or three teenagers that you have around the house that make things a bit messy... multiply that times about 300 and give them 20 minutes to decide what they want to eat, get it, eat it and rule the world from their cell phones... There aren't a whole lot of thank you's being thrown around in the cafeteria. But the ladies that work our cafeteria are really sweet and incredibly patient. And they work really hard. I know, because I got just a taste of it today. Even though she refused to put me on the front line serving up the cheesy dip which I could have done like a total pro, I did get the chance to help out. I unloaded about six billion boxes of really big cans of fruit. And by six billion I mean 8 and by really big I mean REALLY big. I went back into the cooler and unloaded the boxes. It was about 15 minutes worth of work but my fingers were freezing and sore from opening the boxes. Also I kept smashing them between the cans, just in case you think I'm being a baby. I thought about how little I had contributed considering what they do everyday. It wasn't any picnic being back in the cooler by myself, but I wondered how much more difficult it would have been if I had been standing on my feet since about 6 a.m. in the morning washing dishes. I admit it, I was glad when the bell was about ready to ring. I went back to my semi-warm classroom that much wiser and happier.
   I was grateful for several reasons. First, I was grateful for the ladies in the cafeteria; the things they do everyday that matter so much to so many. They receive very little thanks for what they do and they deserve a huge amount of respect. We see 1/10 of the population of the school for 7 hours a day. They get 100 percent of the population for one hour a day. I'm not sure I would want to trade places with them.
  Second, I was grateful for the jobs that I had in the past that made me so appreciative of the one that I have now. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, despite all of my grumbling and complaining and I love what I get to do everyday. I have met some of the most amazing people who have inspired me, taught me and changed the way I perceive the world around me and myself. But I also know that it was the jobs that I disliked the most that built the most character: working at McDonald's, working at a collection agency, being a dishwasher, cleaning up after other people: everything prepared me for teaching in some small way.
   Finally, I got some time to think in that cooler. It was nice to do something like that for a little bit. Not to diminish what I get to do as a teacher, but there's something about real work, the kind that involves a little bit of muscle and the sound of no one else's voice, that provides clarity. I realized that I wasn't as far gone with this whole Christmas thing as I thought I was. God is usually right where we leave Him; I had left Him somewhere between my "thank you" and my "are you kidding me?" I had done and was continuing to do what I was so good at and that is over thinking everything.
   And so that's where I'm stopping today... with my Christmas ringtone and my one step closer to being where I ought to be in my heart. That's enough for right now and I'm going to (uncharacteristically) enjoy what I have at this moment...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lesson 4: The Art of the Solder

    Today was easy. Today's sacrifice and service came via one of my favorite people in the entire history of the world; she has a heart for service and sacrifice and does it with seamless ease and humility. She leads a women's group and asked me to come and speak to them tonight. Service for the day: check!
   I wish I could end it there. I went and I shared a little bit about this blog and the "quest." I was so worried that I would seem upperhanded or uppity. I prepared something to speak about but ended up leaving it in my purse and letting the Lord lead. It was strange and intimidating to be in a roomful of women who were there because they were hurting. I didn't feel upperhanded or uppity. I felt exposed. I looked around the room into those brown eyes, blue eyes and green eyes and I saw my eyes.
  I saw the same fear, the same pain, the same brokenness, the same confusion, the same exhaustion and the same questioning on those faces that I wear on mine most of the time. We think we are doing such a great job at hiding it. This just in: we aren't. And one of the most painful things is that when we are truly stuck in the muck and mire, when we are truly hurting and in need, when we crave the company of a supportive soul, that is when we isolate ourselves the most because we are fearful.
   We fear the reactions of the people who are supposed to love us no matter what. What on earth do we really know of love? Is it that cheap to us? Is it something that can be bought and sold with an action, because, and I go back to this again, the brutal reality of love is that it endures, despite the shattering of everything that we are.
   I have been shattered. Maybe you haven't yet, but don't go patting yourself on the back. It will happen because it always does. I'm kind of a pro when it comes to the whole shattering thing and I'm not going to lie, sometimes that shattering has just been the way of fate but sometimes that shattering has been all me. Selfish choices, self-indulgent mistakes, fear of being alone, refusal to accept myself for what I am - all have at some point in time been the boulder crashing into the weight-bearing wall of my glass house. The quiet pain, the kind that you live with in silence, the kind you don't tell anyone about, even when it is over, that is the pain that shatters a woman.
   I am not certain, but I am pretty sure that I was in the presence of women who have experienced that kind of shattering tonight. Beautiful... and here is why. The solder. I learned about soldering about four years ago when I went through my jewelry making phase. When you want to put two metals together and you want them to be strong and hold together through wear and tear, you use solder which is a material that melts between the two and holds them together. You can see the solder after you use it, and you definitely can tell that the parts weren't originally meant to be together, but it will hold together forever, and it won't ever break the same way again.
    That's the art of the solder. That's what we are supposed to be to each other, for each other and I have done a very poor job of being the solder for the people around me that are shattering. In fact, I've spent more time being the boulder. I was humbled by the women I spoke with tonight, humbled by the way they loved each other, the way they were seeking healing, the way that they were not afraid to be the solder, the non-judgmental, loving without condition solder. So I want to say thank you for the invite and thank you for the realization that my act of service for today reminded me that I should be grateful for my imperfections because they are nothing but the opportunity to allow someone wonderful, compassionate and understanding to practice the art of the solder.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lesson 3: Broken Home

Day 3 and a new element is introduced into my quest for Christmas: work. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and I love the kids and I love the people that I get to work with. But the past couple of weeks haven't been the smoothest journey and it's coming up on crunch time with midterms and all that business. So I spent my day on the edge of my seat, looking for an opportunity. Alas, either the opportunity didn't present itself or I didn't see it. I'm going to go with my "Jesus-ism" and say that God has something else in mind.
   I got home with a pile of work that would require my immediate attention. This would have been much easier had it not been for the tragic, painful, pre-teen angst that awaited me at home. I had, unwittingly, erased the most-favored, most-loved app from the iPad when I updated it last night before going to bed.
   Well, it had to be fixed immediately and there was nothing that was more important than having that app, re-installed NOW! That didn't happen. Turns out, the update killed the app and in order to reinstall the app I had to rollback the operating system. Translation - the pain train was on the mom track for about 3 hours before finding the completely hidden post that tells you it can't be done no matter what you do.
   By this time, what I was serving up was not the unconditional love of God. Kyser and I had already traded words a couple of times over the process and he was losing patience almost as fast as I was losing the reign I had on my tongue.
   Finally we both snapped. I let loose on him with a well-practiced diatribe about how he was so spoiled and so impatient and how world revolved around him. He let loose with a piece of truth that I thought I was pretty good at veiling. "It doesn't matter to you. You think it's stupid. You think everything I do is stupid. You wish I was a baby or in high school," his face was almost as red as his hair. "You pretend to listen to me but you don't very much at all."
   The hottest tears I am certain that have ever been formed in the eyes of any mother began to burn my lower lashes. The lump was completely beyond being swallowed. I'd been caught. He's 10. And evidently he's pretty perceptive because I do that all the time, and don't shake your head and click your tongue at what a terrible person I am because you do it too. It may not be with your kids, but you do it.
   And suddenly here was my sacrifice and my service for the day. It seemed odd to me, especially since I had made my own "rules" and on Day 3 was already breaking them, that I would be called upon to humble myself to my child. But don't think that the whole "theme" of this quest was getting past me. My problem was and is that I have stopped serving and putting others first. And putting the face of my child on the walking, talking thorn was just brutal. Sometimes God is brutal.
   Every child is a miracle; but mine is an actual documented medical miracle. His conception, his birth, his survival wasn't supposed to happen. For the first few years of his life, it was terrifying and awesome to be his parent, terrifying because I knew that what I had been entrusted with was a blessing and a miracle; awesome because I had been trusted enough to be entrusted. Then I got used to having him around... he started talking, having ideas, being a person. And I did with him what I did with every other person: devalued him by putting him where I thought he belonged. Sure he was talking, but was he really SAYING anything? Sure, he wanted to go, but did I make it a PRIORITY to take him.
   I have devalued my child to the point of not taking him to church. This is a touchy subject in our house. My husband doesn't feel the need to go. For me, I was raised to believe that church is where you go for fellowship and for the refueling of the heart and spirit for the week ahead. I got sick of fighting the battle with him and with his father. I don't make him go. We don't read the Bible as a family. In fact, there is no spirituality in our home whatsoever. We don't pray before we eat. I have given up trying to minister to my husband and at the same time, I am not ministering to my son or exposing him to any instruction.
   I know how to fix it. And there is no good excuse for not fixing it. In fact, there is no excuse at all. There is either teaching my child about God or not. Right now, I am not. A part of me wants to blame my husband; he is the spiritual leader of the home. He is the head of the household. But we both know that his heart is not in a right spirit when it comes to God and my heart is not in a right spirit when it comes to him. As a family, we love each other, but as people, we are strangers. We cannot even be bound together by faith. That is terrifying to me.
   So what is my service and sacrifice tonight? God broke the rules for me; He opened my eyes to the reality of our home which to Him must appear confusing and disjointed from His heavenly throne. I love my son and my husband. And so I pulled Kyser aside and I apologized to him. Not just for yelling at him, but for not paying attention to him. I apologized to him for not taking him to church, which he didn't know was a lack of service on my part and informed him that from now on, he would be attending with me. We also agreed that each night, we would read the Bible together. Where is the sacrifice, you ask? The sacrifice is in my sharing that despite being given the one thing I wanted more than anything, a child, I am still prideful and selfish enough to believe that that child belongs to me; he belongs to God and so I will give him back.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 2: Regardless

   Day 2: I was hoping beyond hope that yesterday had worked. Hope is a funny thing - it's kind of like a younger sibling that wants you to play with them but they don't want to play what you are playing and you have no idea how to play what they want you to play. Sometimes, hope is a welcome distraction. Sometimes it's just painful and annoying. Today it was painful and annoying... But I was still holding on to the lesson that I learned yesterday... and a little bit of hope.
   Today I did something as part of my challenge that I have tried to do for more than 15 years. There are people that come into our lives for a specific reason, but for the last 15 years I have had no idea why this particular person came along, other than to make me feel inadequate in every single way. And it's not accidental. It is the kind of meanness that is purposeful and designed to hurt.
   If you are someone like me, someone who has a tendency to feel that if someone doesn't like you it is your fault and you must fix it immediately, then you know how this hurts. There is absolutely nothing, however, that I can do to make it work. It is never going to change. I tell myself over and over again that I have gotten past it; that it will be okay. I haven't gotten past it and it isn't okay.
   So today, my act of service and sacrifice was to clean up after a meal that we had eaten at this person's house. It doesn't sound like a lot. But it is. You see, I have asked to help, if I can help, if there's anything I can do to help, for the last 15 years. And while the answer has always been no to me, the request is immediately directed to someone else.
   This is dysfunction at its best.
   In all honesty it was out of desperation that I did it. It was late in the day, I wasn't feeling well and I couldn't cop out. So I went in the kitchen, because I always hide out in the living room, and just did it. I scraped the dishes, I put them in the dishwasher, I washed the skillet. And she said not a word at all.
   But I wasn't doing it for her. In all honesty, I wasn't doing it for me. I was doing it for that person in the past that used to love Christmas and everything about it. I was doing it for someone I used to be and someone I was hoping to be again. I was doing it to be better, not for myself, but for my Father and for the people that I love, for my husband and my son.
   And then another piece of the puzzle slid into place. THAT should be my motivation for everything that I do. There should be no other catalyst. It should be for others and for Him. It should never be for me. I should have been clearing that table for 15 years whether it was wanted or not because that might have ministered or showed love with more conviction than any pointless gift I have given over the last 15 years.
   But I do not show love to this person because I do not know how to show love to someone who does not want my love. I do not know how to sacrifice for someone who doesn't KNOW what they want me to sacrifice. I don't know the true nature of love, at 41 years of age, I have only picked up a stone from the continent that is love in brutal reality.
  Love in brutal reality does not care what others perceive of it, because the very base of its function is completely unconcerned with the self. Love in brutal reality moves forward without the concern for offending, without the concern for judgment because people never judge what is at the base of love in brutal reality and love in brutal reality moves because of motive. But not the motive of the person, the motive of the Father through the person.
   And I closed my heart long ago to love in brutal reality, or even the possibility of it. As human beings, we cannot bear the responsibility of that kind of love. I cannot bear the responsibility of that kind of love. I don't want to. But I can allow it to come from me, allow it to come through me. And that is what I should have been doing all of these 15 years. I've been shutting it off, shutting it down and ignoring it because I don't want to be hurt. Never mind that I would be serving as the appendage of the Great Healer... Never mind that it might have been necessary long ago to bring this person whatever joy they had remaining, before life completely drained it and misery became this person's ministry.
   I lost the Christmas spirit because of my refusal to love, ALL. I refused to LOVE ALL, regardless. I thought I had the right to pick and choose. I don't. That is the lesson for today. REGARDLESS.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lesson #1 - No Judgment

Today was the Christmas parade and I had to be in it. The high school band had to march, the colorguard had to twirl, I am the colorguard coach, I had to be there. Bummer. It's like being diabetic and having a best friend who owns a pastry shop. I didn't even want a taste... But I was going to have a heaping helping.
   It just so happened that the parade line-up was two doors down from my house.
   I love my little house. It was where we came after we lost everything, and I mean everything. The floor sags, it's too small for us now and there is always, ALWAYS something wrong with the bathroom. We've done some work on it, but it's over 100 years old and we can't afford to do the kind of work that needs to be done. I can't keep up with Kyser's randomness and I have randomness of my own, so it's always kind of messy. In short, the little house that I claim to love, I am actually embarrassed to invite people to. When I have people sit for Kyser I always find a reason to have Kyser go to their house, because I am embarrassed. It is very seldom that we have friends over for Kyser to play with, because I am embarrassed. We are messy, we don't have room for all of the crap we have accumulated and I can't keep up.
   I'm not sure what I think that I deserve. Isn't that what embarrassment comes from? A lack of humility? I can remember being "embarrassed" by Kyser's fit throwing in stores a couple of times because I was afraid people would think I am a bad parent. Funny that, because last night, Kyser stayed up until almost midnight and ate squeezey cheese with me. In some books, that makes me a terrible parent... I'm not sure why I think I deserve any more than I have. For someone who should be so humble, I have a very high opinion of myself. I take care of what I have, I work hard, I'm a good person, right? Shouldn't I have a home that reflects that? Exactly what kind of house that would be, I can't tell you. I can only tell you that it is more than this...
   When a co-worker of mine who was at the parade as well asked if he could use the bathroom at my house, I immediately began apologizing for my house. It's small, it's old, it's messy, I don't know if the bathroom is clean... I almost asked him if he wouldn't rather just go in the yard. I brought him over, apologizing the whole way, showed him to the bathroom, apologized for each room we went through, for the bathroom and apologized when he was done and we were walking out.
    The parade started and ended. I came back to my house, relieved to be done. Suddenly the mess seemed homey, the smallness seemed cozy. And the word I was looking for was "hypocrite." I was judging myself with a lenience that I didn't deserve. Who am I to tell God what I deserve? God, I'm a good person. God, I work hard. God, I am so embarrassed of what You have already blessed me with that I don't let people come over to my house...
   I only realized all of this after I went on my Finding Christmas quest today. It was after the parade and I needed a Diet Mt. Dew like nobody's business, so I went down to Casey's and I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone as I was already regretting my nighttime revelation/declaration. I went up to the counter and asked the lady if any of the people at the gas pump were paying cash. She looked at me like I was crazy. So then I explained. And as I started explaining the whole thing to her, I started crying... without even realizing it. She nodded her head and said if I would just wait a minute there would be an opportunity. I had just turned to go sit at the table when she said "Hey, pump one." I turned and looked out door. Nice car, nice coat, very "fixey" older lady on pump one. I was immediately disappointed. I wanted to help someone who NEEDED it. This woman looked like she lived in a nicer house than I did.
   But then, didn't EVERYONE live in a nicer house than I did?
   I nodded at the lady behind the counter, payed the $10.01 gas bill for the lady and left just as she was walking through the door.
   Part of losing the Christmas spirit, it became obvious to me, was my tendency to judge others harshly and judge myself with lenience. Perhaps I have been so convinced that I deserve more, that I deserve better than what I have been blessed with, that I have adopted the belief that nothing I have is good enough for anyone. But I don't want that to be taken as a request for pity. This is an attitude of haughtiness and upper-handedness that I am talking about, that I possess. It is faux-inferiority. It is a lie.
   I do this all of the time, and if you are reading this I have probably done it to you. Truth is, I don't deserve even a fraction of what I have. If I could replace all of my faux-inferiority with humility, I could humble myself and embrace the belief that every single thing that I have is a blessing that I should be grateful for instead of being embarrassed by the fact that it's not as roomy, as new, or as luxurious as what others may have.
   And the service that I provided today, well, it may not have been what I expected it to be, but that's what you get when you live your life by a set of quantifiers, when you replace humility with an attitude of entitlement. Day one is done.
   WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF: I have an incredibly high opinion of myself in that I believe that I deserve better than what I am able to afford. That has become part of the problem in that I don't think what I have is good enough for me, so why would I feel like what I have to give is good enough for anyone else, but this is not done out of a spirit of humility or self pity. It is my faux-inferiority that I use to cover up my selfishness.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT GOD TODAY: He still cares enough about me to put me under some serious conviction.


Finding Christmas

It's 11:58 p.m. on Black Friday. I just found out about the farty noise that squeezy cheese makes when it has run out and you are still desperately craving more squeezy cheese. I completely understand that sound. That is how I feel right now, at 11:59 p.m. on Black Friday with the wheat thins, the can of squeezy cheese that petered out, watching Fishhooks on Disney XD because I have forgotten to change the channel.
  I have no Christmas spirit. I haven't had it for years, to be quite honest. I've been faking it. And I bet a lot of other people have been faking it for a long time, too.
   It's gone. Completely gone. I realized it today when the one thing that is usually my saving grace, putting up the tree, didn't even stir my interest. I mean at the very LEAST it's putting sparkly, glittery, shiny things up for everyone to see... it's gravy... it's a no-brainer... it's not abnormal for me to be salivating by now. Nothing. Nada. Numb.
   I said it today, too. I told my mom that I had lost my Christmas spirit. "Well," she replied, "you better find it because this might be the last time you get to have Christmas if the Mayans were right."
  So I went shopping. Everything was the wrong color, too expensive, just like one I already had...
  I left the mall empty-handed. I left Marshall's empty-handed. I left Ulta empty-handed.
  It was when I got in the car and turned the key that the tears came. Now at this point, I know what you are thinking... that I am equating the Christmas spirit with shopping and getting and giving gifts. And you're right. The sad thing is, so are you, so are we all... and I think that it has finally sunk in.
  I know what REAL celebration is. I know what REAL joy feels like. And so do you... I have had that... and so have you... I remember the laughter that started on Christmas eve and served as the soundtrack to the background of our Christmas holiday when I was a kid. I remember that chest-bursting joy that was the catalyst for celebration on the first birthday of my miracle boy... how it had felt like I held my breath for a year and I was finally, finally allowed to believe that he was real and he was mine and he was going to stay. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the surgeon's office and literally jumping up and down and screaming and crying when they told us that they had gotten all of my brother's cancer and he was clean. I remember 3:17 p.m. on the first day that I taught high school, that overwhelming feeling of belonging and relief, of the good kind of fear and the deep exhale that comes with finally finding your spot in the world.
  I sat in the parking lot of the mall and just bawled. People walked by and looked at me and gave me that impatient frown or the furrowed brow. They kept walking. I was glad. I didn't want to tell a stranger that I was okay, I didn't want to lie anymore.
  Then I heard it, as audible as if someone was sitting right beside me. It wasn't the still small voice. It was the voice of a frustrated, annoyed parent. It was the voice of impatience tinged with mercy. It was the "why don't you get it yet?" voice. It said this: "It didn't get lost; you let it go. You did this." I actually jumped at the audibility and at the brutality of the truth.
   Materialistic as any person with my income can be; a liar; a hypocrite and a hell of an actress. I had never been more ashamed and shame hates company; I had never felt more alone.  The entire year, up until that point, had been nothing but loss in strange and obsequious ways. I had let it go. Not on purpose, but in the ways that people slowly become unaware of the obvious, I had not only let it go, I had sent it running. The panicked last minute shopping trips on Christmas eve because that's when payday fell and I felt obligated. The dread and fear as people opened the presents I had gotten them. A gift is not a requirement. A gift is not an obligation. And a gift is not something that YOU want, but something that someone wants you to HAVE. As a child Christmas wish lists are fun; as an adult they are selfish and sad. I haven't taught my child that yet... I need to because I can see the signs that he may be becoming as selfish as I am.
  I had also neglected to keep in touch with the people who knew me before this thing happened and it occurs to me that those touchstones might have been the saving grace that I needed. But yet, there they lay, the piles of Christmas cards that lay half-filled out because I felt obligated to send cards. Literally hundreds of people in the continental United States are STILL waiting on Christmas cards from me... it was a sobering thought... and it reminded me of what a failure I was when it came to Christmas... Because I had not lost the Christmas spirit, I had banished the Christmas spirit. And it wasn't going to come back. I was going to have to find it.
  And as I thought about how to find it, I realized that it was going to be like looking for anything else that I had lost: it was going to be work. And it wasn't going to be simple because as I drove home, past homes decorated with lights and nativity scenes it occurred to me that to get back to that love, to get back to that joy it was going to take two things that I am personally not very good at: it was going to take sacrifice and service.
   So here is what I'm going to do: I'm going on a quest to find Christmas for myself. But there are rules, because I'm going to follow the best example I can think of: I'm going to follow the example of sacrifice and service of my higher power: God. Here they are:
  • I can't just write a check or give money. 
  • I can't perform the service in a place where I am "usually" found like home or the work place. It has to be effort to GO somewhere and DO something.
  • It has to be a service and a sacrifice on MY part. But it can't affect anyone else's happiness or well-being. 
  • I have to share what I have done each day to keep myself accountable. You are invited to come along on this journey with me by checking in or posting suggestions.  Or maybe even trying it out with me. But there is no obligation.
So starting now and everyday until Christmas, I am going on a great quest to retrieve the Christmas spirit that I have shooed away. I know that it is out there. I know that it can't be found on a store shelf. I know that it is buried somewhere deep under layers and layers of false happiness. And I know that it's going to hurt to find it again, but I need it back, and I'm going after it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Explanation

     Last night I spent an hour creating a video that will play at the funeral of a wonderful, funny, sweet 16-year-old student who took his own life. To piece together that three-minute video, I must have looked at his face at least 100 times. I realized after about 20 minutes that I wasn't trying to find the perfect clip. I was trying to find the explanation.
     I watched him over and over. I watched him throw his head back, pull up his shoulders and laugh. I watched how he would fidget just a little when he was nervous and I listened to his laugh over and over and over. And didn't see a thing that would allow me to come to the conclusion that I had found the explanation.
     After the video was done and the house was silent, after I sat for what seemed like an eternity and just let the tears come, after I glanced over at my sweet, mischievous boy, just six years shy of 16, his eyes closed with his long, ginger lashes resting on his chubby cheeks, his mouth curling into a subconscious smile every now and then, I still didn't have the explanation.
    I didn't have the explanation because there isn't one. But human beings are not designed to believe that. We are the generation of Steve Jobs, we want the solution and even more than that we want the resolution. We have to know and somewhere along the timeline of humanity we have replaced the condition of not knowing with the action of placing the blame. Because we believe in the power of the explanation, so much so that when there isn't one, we create one by placing the blame.
    I laid in bed last night and cried for him. I knew him and I thought he was a terrific kid. He had a great laugh, the kind of laugh that made other people laugh. He had this gleam in his eyes that he would get when he was teasing about something. He loved to talk. He expected so much out of himself and was so frustrated when he couldn't get what he expected. He didn't know the explanation either; he placed the blame on himself. I cried for his mother and sister and father. I cried for his sweet friends who don't have the explanation either, and who I fear will blame themselves.
   On this bright, crisp Saturday morning I woke up and went into my son's bedroom where he lay sleeping, the only 10-year-old in the world who can take up every bit of space in a queen-sized bed. I looked again at those eyes closed in sleep and I reached over and brushed his forehead with a mom kiss, the kind you don't get to give boys when they are over the age of five and awake. He roused and popped open his eyes and smiled that satisfied, happy smile that means somewhere along the line I might be doing something right. And at that moment I was terrified because I didn't have the explanation and not having the explanation means that it can't be understood. And if it can't be understood, it can't be controlled. He asked me why I was crying. He asked me if it was about the boy. I nodded.
    He leaned over and wrapped his chubby little arms around me. And I became terrified. Because he is chubby. I became terrified because he is red-headed... Because he is not particularly good at sports... Because he has trouble with math... Because, because, because and I suddenly became paralyzed with fear that those things might have been the explanation. Because the explanation is a tricky thing.
     When we can't see one, we create one; when we create one we explain it away because sometimes that explanation isn't good enough and so we create an explanation for the reason that the first explanation didn't explain anything. And then people get hurt and feel like they have to explain why the explanation is invalid simply so that they can validate themselves, soothe themselves or make it through this unacceptably unexplainable event.
    There is one human being who has the explanation and that person is gone. Maybe he inadvertently explained it over and over and we just missed it. Maybe he couldn't explain it all. But not one of us left here to mourn him for a moment and then honor him for lifetime that he will now have only through our memories of him, not one of us have that explanation.
   The explanation for this loss, the explanation for the pain, the explanation for the void that this beautiful young man left when he removed himself from the equation is actually quite simple:  there is none.
   And so because of that, we are left with an amazing challenge, one that human beings rally against with everything that is their essence. We are left to accept and honor this young man and his family who, like us, will never have what they need more than anything: the explanation.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Daily Keepsake

Friday night when you are 41 is the equivalent of Tuesday night when you are 21. The excitement quota tops out about 9 p.m. with the second load of laundry in the dryer which, unbeknownst to me, contains a liberated lego and proceeds to emanate a maniacal, albeit catchy beat that Kyser and I can do the toothpaste rap to. Sometimes things get really outta hand and I end a sentence with a prepostion. I know. It's the stuff that dreams are made of. (I did it again, oops...)
     Tonight is one such Friday night. Lazy, quiet, filled with the kind of mundane monotony that marks the normalcy I never thought I would enjoy. I was finally getting around to those things that get lost in the shuffle: going through my makeup only to find that I have purchased the same lipstick shade three times and have not opened any of them; sorting the junkmail from the junkier mail; watching reruns of "Friends" and wondering why they ever took it off the air... I had forgotten about a box that I acquired from my mother earlier this summer, so I set about going through it.
     There were picture albums full of memories that I didn't remember. There were pages and papers, letters and cards and at the bottom of the box was a collection of spiral notebooks. They were dated and they were titled "The Daily Keepsake." My grandmother's smooth, angular cursive writing marked the pages and I leafed through. The last five years of her life were in those notebooks. Every single day, she had written something.
     There was one day where all she wrote was "Jami called; her voice was a lie." I wondered what her perception of the truth in my voice would have prompted her to write. I wondered even more what had happened that day. She had not missed one single day. Everything from homemade veggie soup to Grandpa changing his shave lotion and smelling more like soap than medicine made her book. Several days she had written a short rhyme or had dissected a passage of scripture and brought out some nugget of wisdom I would have never sorted. But it wasn't the "stuff" that she found to keep each day; it was the fact that she had found SOMETHING to keep every single day. That kind of optimism doesn't show up very often in my life.
     But it was certainly going to from now on. I sat with the notebooks on my lap, ran my hands over the determined script and smiled and laughed. It had been 13 years since I had heard my grandmother's voice, but she couldn't have spoken any clearer to me if she had been sitting beside me screaming. This was Grandma's idea of an intervention. Gentle, prodding and followed by a swift kick in the butt if ignored. That was how Grandma did business.
     I don't know if there is a portal that allows the ones we lose before we are ready to follow along with our lives on earth. I don't know that I want there to be one. But if anything could ever persuade me of its existence, it would be Grandma's daily keepsakes.
     I had been, for about three months now, sinking into a sadness that I couldn't define. Days were melting together and becoming something to get through. Joy was a far-off light that I couldn't seem to warm myself under. I was going through the motions, but without emotions. Something told me Grandma had gotten to that point as well and that was when she started the daily keepsake. She was going to do the only thing that she knew how to do: she was going to find the best in all of it.
     Grandma was in her 70's when we lost her. I was only 41. How did she last 39 years before she began to have to fight the sadness? But it was then that I realized something very important about myself. As much as I would like to be just like her, I wouldn't ever be what she was. The daily keepsakes kept by my Grandma were her last resort. She was giving them to me as a first resort. She was giving them to me so that I didn't have to have a last resort.
     I sat in the middle of our game room with the notebooks surrounding me, going through them as quickly as I could, looking for my name. I was sprinkled throughout the pages, here and there, but not so much that I would get the big head, mind you. Mom was in there, John was in there, her sons were in there, too. Birds, snow, brownies and even a wooly worm made her list of daily keepsakes.
     But because it was Grandma, I considered it the opportunity to share a coveted place of honor with others fortunate enough to be one of Grandma's daily keepsakes.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Skin Deep and all that Crap...

     It was in third grade that I realized that I was "ugly." Dark-headed, chubby, eternally either pale or sunburnt to a crisp, I was nothing like the long-haired wispy girls who were the starts of the books I read; who were the girls I sat behind or beside in class.  I remember asking my mother if I was what I had been told that I was. "You are not ugly!" she exclaimed in horror, as if I had offended her personally by the very suggestion. "You are just different..."
     In third grade, different is worse than ugly. That doesn't change in fourth, fifth or sixth grade. It doesn't change in college. It doesn't change in "the real world."
     I have spent my entire life trying to remedy my ugly. Long hair, short hair, new clothes, old clothes made new, make up, perfume, more make up, lotion, another layer of make up until it looked like I had been mugged by Crayola, pants to make me suck it in, shirts to make me stick them out, dresses instead of pants, jeans instead of shorts, turtlenecks instead of button ups... decision after decision made with the hope that this was going to be the God molecule... the one that was going to transform me into a pretty girl.
     When the outside stuff didn't work, I went to work on the stuff that really counted: perfecting my act. Playing dumb, cool and aloof, detached, distant, mysterious, silly, unattainable, pouty, angry, seething, searching and seeking... I became a social chameleon. I could fit in with anyone. It was miraculous actually, the morph that was me. I could make anyone like me because I could be anything they wanted or needed. I was a pod person and I was exhausted.
     I don't remember when it all stopped. I don't remember when I got so sick of myself that I realized that there's no such thing as trying to be beautiful. Beauty just is. We don't get that much in today's society. We slap make up on people and fawn over that improved version. We plump our lips, paint our nails, transplant our hair, work out at our gyms, turn sideways in mirror after mirror, pull our necks up and tight to fool the camera, pop the hip and tilt the chin, pout the lips and furrow the eyebrows and end up looking like a Modigliani painting in the 72 pictures we take of ourselves with our cell phones in bathroom mirrors hoping to get one, just one that shows what we know must be in there somewhere: the pretty.
     We are a world of makeover moguls. We love the "potential." But the potential is never enough. We are not satisfied with anything until we make it into everything we want it to be. Beauty just is.
That's when I stopped looking for the pretty. I realized that I didn't need the pretty because no one could tell me, with any type of certainty, what exactly "pretty" was/is. Pretty changes with the seasons. Pretty is long wavy hair today, long straight hair tomorrow. Pretty is green eyes and brown hair, brown eyes and red hair... so subjective. I was never going to be pretty because I didn't know what pretty was/is and truth is, nobody else does either and if they say they do they are either lying or regurgitating what they have seen in magazines or on television.
     See, pretty is contrived. Pretty is figuring out how to make your eyes look bigger and your nose look smaller. Pretty is dropping a few pounds and being able to wear a little black dress. Pretty is walking into a room and turning heads.
     Beauty just IS. You can't fake beauty. Beauty is figuring out to make your heart bigger and using your eyes to see those is need. Beauty is dropping a few of your pre-conceived notions and being able and willing to wear your heart on your sleeve so that you never miss an opportunity to feel something new, good or bad. Beauty is walking into a room and turning hearts, changing minds, creating smiles.
     We're all mixed up as a society because we say that beauty is only skin deep. But in reality, pretty is skin deep. Beauty is in the muscles, the bones, the nerves and the blood. Pretty is in the packaging. Pretty is marketing. Pretty is one dimensional.
     I spent the better part of one morning this week trying to find the perfect shade of lipstick. I found it - in a mall in Chesterfield, about 100 miles from my house. I had grabbed my purse and was ready to drive the 100 miles for a $34 tube of lipstick (YSL Nude Beige) when I realized something very important: that would be completely idiotic. Because, quite frankly, pretty just isn't a priority anymore. The truth has set me free.
     Different is beautiful. Determined is beautiful. Funny is beautiful. Rowdy is beautiful. Smart is beautiful. Caring is beautiful. Faithful is beautiful. Spiritual is beautiful. Strong is beautiful. Brave is beautiful. So much is beautiful... why waste your time being pretty?