You Are To Be Celebrated

ICYMI: The United Methodist Church has been busy imploding lately.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently wrestling with the very real hurt and trauma this conversation the UMC has on the regular about the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks brings up. I felt like I should say something profound and moving about the whole hot mess. But I couldn’t find the right words. In fact, I couldn’t even find a place to start.

Fortunately, there are folks who are brilliant and loving (like Nadia Bolz-Weber & Glennon Doyle) who not only found words but put them out into the world in the spirit of love & healing & GOODNESS:


It took me a long time to stop conflating God and the church–and to ask for my God to-go, please. But on this side of things, there is healing and freedom. Not everyone has the same path. But I do know definitively that you don’t need church to have God. In fact, I’ve begun to see God everywhere. In the little interactions I have with other flawed, miraculous humans. In the (rare instances of) sunshine in Atlanta. In the quiet moments of peace (no matter how fleeting) when I feel deeply the love of the divine.

One of my best pieces of advice in times like this: find your people. It doesn’t have to be the church (but it can be! There are plenty of churches that will celebrate you for who you are. Never accept less than that). Find a community who will stand by you in the daily struggles and the existential ones. And if you can’t find a group of people like that (a running group, a book club, a knitting circle, a writers group), create an ad hoc group of folks you’ve gathered along your life journey who love you to your core (even when you’re annoying, or cranky, or a tad irrational). Lean on those people. And be there for them. Create community. That’s the best and hardest part of being human. Dive into it.

Know that the Universe has only love for you. And it will keep nudging you along your path. I think God is constantly rejoicing over the beautiful, messy creation that I am–all while being just a smidge exasperated at how complicated I try to make everything.

Because the truth is simp]e: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying AF neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.

God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.

**Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I pulled this novel out of a stack being cleaned, sorted, and packaged for the bookstore. I try not to do that very often. If I did, we’d be inundated with books  (we already are, truthfully). But I’ve heard about this book since high school, and somehow managed not to have read it yet. So, out it came.

I guess I expected fireworks. The book is pretty famous, after all. But it took me a minute (or a few chapters) to get into it. And then, I was in.

It’s not a page-turning, wait with baited-breath kind of story. It is honest. And uncomfortable. It’s sweet and rough, gut-punching and tender. It’s human. Painfully and beautifully so.

What makes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so brilliant–and powerful–is the unflinching deconstruction of deeply held notions about poverty, simply by describing daily life for the working poor. Smith constructs a compassionate (but still relatively neutral) narrator to traverse class customs and behaviors, breaking down stereotypes and offering the reader insight.

Francie, the child of an alcoholic father and a work weary mother, feels injustices deeply. She can also get “drunk” on a flower or a perfect night sky. My favorite line in the book is Francie’s: “The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself.”

Yes! I’ve felt this my whole life, but I’ve never known anyone else to give voice to that feeling. Until now. And that might be one of the best gifts of a good book.

Vacationing in The Land of the Mouse

Life lessons abound… even in the the most magical place on Earth.

I’ve got a confession: sometimes vacation, as welcome & lovely as it is, throws me off a bit. I am a creature of habit, for sure. So vacation adventures can chip away at my emotional reserves a smidge. Especially when the vacation involves 3 days at Disney World. That’s a lot of hustle & bustle & MAGIC packed into 3 days. And the walking… GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY. We walked 10 miles each day. TEN. MILES.

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We’re lucky because we’ve Disneyed a lot. We lived in Florida for a long time (where they offer some pretty great discounts to visit The Mouse). The Magic Kingdom is one of the most familiar places in the world to me. No, I’m not kidding. And, yes, it’s still magical. There’s something very special about being with Simon and Jane at the Magic Kingdom that I can’t quite quantify. I guess it feels like, for that moment, everything is right and perfect in the world. It’s an escape. And, for us, it really is The Happiest Place on Earth.

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This year, in addition to the Magic Kingdom, we did the 3 other parks, too: EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. And it was at those parks that I learned the most about being human… for better or worse.

I’ve written before about how expectations (especially at Disney) are the death of joy. I still stand by that little nugget of wisdom. But I also discovered a new truth on this trip: passive aggressiveness is the fastest route to NOWHERE. Look, I’ll go ahead and own up to the fact that I spent the first 40+ years of my life being passive aggressive AF. But kind of had to reassess that strategy when my passive aggressive response to some very real pain almost imploded my marriage. So, you know, I’m trying different life strategies now. Like being straightforward. Speaking my truth. And SAYING what it is I want.

What does any of that have to do with Disney? Just be patient. I’m drawing things together here. In the meantime, here’s a cute pic to tide you over:

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Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes…

SOARIN’. I was in line for SOARIN’ at EPCOT. Here’s the deal, in case you don’t know: EPCOT is a nerd’s paradise.

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“An amusement park for nerds,” Jane calls it. Which I think is pretty accurate. And SOARIN’ is the very best part of this nerd delight. It’s like hang-gliding over the WORLD. It’s a popular ride, and you kind of get herded into the cue for it like cattle. Mooooo.

While we were being herded, I guess my family inadvertently passed another family in line. Truly, I was paying no attention to who was in front of or behind me. Because it’s a huge ride that loads dozens at a time. So, it doesn’t really matter. I did notice a young woman edging up on me to try to pass me. But I just found that hella annoying. I couldn’t figure out why she was lurking like that. And why she didn’t just say “excuse me.” I’d have been happy to let her pass, but not if she was going to invade my personal space. (I am way protective of my personal space, which often works against me in an amusement park setting. I try to let it roll off my back like a duck. Quack.)

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It wasn’t until we all paused at the entrance to the loading zone that I understood what had happened. And even then, I only understood because I “overheard” a conversation I was clearly meant to hear. Apparently, the girl edging up on me was part of the family who had been in front of us. I discovered this because I heard the girl ask why “those people” had gotten in front of them. Huh. I didn’t respond–which I realize may have been petty. But no one was talking to me. So I just stood there. Then the mother went on to make some WILD assumptions about what kind of people we are and how we move thorough the world. Well, now I was just PISSED. Which was so dumb. Because if she’d just said. “Hey, we were in front,” I certainly would have let her pass. But her passive aggressiveness made me want to dig my heels in. So I did.

I’m not saying I was in the right. In fact, it doesn’t interest me in the least who was right & who was wrong. Jane and I raced in and out of a crowd at Hollywood studios trying to get to the Slinky Dog Dash (we didn’t get to ride. The wait was 2 hours right after the park opened) and really burned some folks up. We weren’t technically wrong, with our zigging and zagging. But we made people’s day less magical by annoying them, and I felt bad about it later.

And that’s the crux of the thing for me: how do I feel?

Passive aggressiveness makes me feel both angry and impotent. Because there’s nothing to directly respond to. I don’t want the onus of having to parse out someone else’s feelings. I have a tough enough time parsing out my own damn feelings. But the whole experience was a good lesson in speaking my mind and addressing issues head on. And also on not doing things that are unkind or thoughtless, just because they aren’t technically wrong.

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I mean, Donald isn’t WRONG for not wearing pants. He is a duck, after all. But boy was he embarrassed when we pointed it out. Then we all got a good laugh out of it.

Draw whatever metaphor you will from that one.

 

 

On Being a Writer

I always harbored romantic notions of what life as a writer would look like:

I thought I’d live in a cabin in the mountains. I’d leisurely make coffee each morning, warming my hands on the mug, preparing for another day of brilliance. I’d walk my Irish Setter, Maggie, unleashed along the sun dappled mountain trails, wearing a sweater (both me and Maggie), still holding that cup of coffee. Then I’d settle down at my desk overlooking the forest and a small creek, and begin to write. I never envisioned a computer, so God only knows what I was writing on. A typewriter, maybe? Which would work. Because writers never make mistakes and they never have to revise. Not really. Just an added comma here and there. Brilliance would emanate from my very being. And my sage wisdom about life, my tremendous insight into the inner working of the universe, would flow into my characters with ease. People would clammer to buy my latest work. I’d be revered and mysterious.

Here’s the reality of my life as a writer:

I get up at 5:30 a.m. not to write, but so I can grab a minute to myself for mindfulness & meditation–which is key to my being able to write later on. I do get to sip a leisurely cup of coffee as I bask in my morning quietude. That’s about the only similarity between the romanticized version of me and, well, ME.

I do have a dog. She’s a bouncing, drooling mess who I adore but who will never, ever go anywhere unleashed. And I can’t have a cup of coffee while I’m walking her, unless I intend to rejuvenate my skin with the wonders of caffeine. Because you know I’d be wearing that cup of coffee.

I write at my kitchen table, while telling the dog to stop barking at passersby and intermittently throwing a toy for her to keep her entertained. I have written a middle grades novel, which felt brilliant as I was writing it. But now it needs revision. As all writing does. And that doesn’t feel brilliant or romantic. It feels like work.

I write not serenely staring out at the lush mountainside but casting sidelong glances at the mountains of books that need to be cleaned, scanned, and sorted–inventory for the used bookstore that became part of the dream. Because every story matters. Mine. Yours. The ones in books and the ones yet to be told.

Writing involves practice. It’s the constant jotting down of thoughts and ideas. It’s grabbing a minute to write a blog post. It’s revising for the good of the story–because you believe it deserves to be told and is therefore worthy of your work, your effort.

Writing is messy. It’s not linear. But that makes it a lot more like me. I can relate to its ever evolving nature, its immediacy, its fits and starts. Nothing is more rewarding to me than immersing myself in stories.

But I’m going to be honest: my dog hates wearing sweaters.

Sometimes Life Happens in Odd Places

“God is either everything, or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t.”

I sat on an overstuffed couch that was a little too deep for my feet to comfortably reach the floor in a church basement illuminated by lamplight. I sipped my bubbly water and looked around at the small group assembled, feeling lucky to be there. Where else would I be talking about a God (of my own understanding) with a group of strangers on a Monday night?

I used to resent sitting in A.A. meetings. I wanted to be out in the world doing things. But I’ve come to realize that I am a better doer, dreamer, partner, parent when I get quiet enough to connect with my Higher Power. At the same time, it’s crucial for me to get out of my own head & into the world. Sitting in an A.A. meeting gives me a place to introspect… but also to share. It’s unique. And weird. And bizarrely perfect.

Other people’s stories hold tremendous sway for me. And A.A. is all about stories. They help us make sense of ourselves. They give us hope. They offer a blueprint for a way out of addiction and back into life.

A.A.ers form this quirky community united by one single purpose: to stay sober & help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. But that help looks different for every person. Sure, there are things about the program that are universal: the 12 steps & 12 traditions, being of service, sponsorship, anonymity. But what I find truly fascinating is that each member’s reflections on their own journey, the habits and perspectives they rely on to stay sober, and their interactions/beliefs/understanding of their Higher Power are what give people enough hope to get them to come back a second time. Because, let’s be real: the 12 Steps don’t work if you can’t get folks to stick around long enough to hear about them.

A.A. is a group of drunks who come together time after time after time to share their stories. A single meeting can span the entire spectrum of human emotion. And it’s okay. Nobody shies away from the hard, messy emotions in an A.A. meeting. Because honesty keeps folks sober. So folks listen unflinchingly to both the most horrific and the most tender parts of the human experience. Macabre humor abounds (Addiction is no fucking joke. But after you live at edge of death, in one form or another, laugher reminds you that you made it out). And they rally around the folks who are struggling.

In the world, you’re supposed to hide your pain, deal with it quietly, keep it to your damn self. But in an AA meeting, you bring your pain to the group. You expose it to the light, lay it out for everyone to see. And, in the sharing, you realize that you aren’t alone after all. That you never have to be alone again. That you never really were.

I spent my Monday night talking about God (the way I understand God–without anyone trying to dictate or co-opt that understanding) and sharing hope with folks gathered in a warm, cozy church basement lit by lamplight.

Not bad for a Monday.

Meeting My Appropriate Edge

I can force things. Or I can chill the hell out, listen, and learn something. Lately, I’m opting more for the latter.

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This is me after I had “met my appropriate edge” on a run.

It was serious business (obviously).

Well, truthfully, the whole idea of meeting my appropriate edge IS kind of a BFD to me. And it’s become a touchstone of sorts as I move through the world.

In January, I did Yoga with Adriene 22 out of 31 days (which for a recovering perfectionist like me seems… fine, I guess. But, truly, part of me just wants to be like: Dude, you couldn’t have bucked up and done those extra 9 days?!?). Look, I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I’m a little taken with the whole Yoga with Adriene scene. I like a yogi who can say the kind of random, absurd things that run through my head OUT LOUD on a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. She totally has convos with her dog while leading a yoga practice. She makes me laugh. And reminds me to be kind to myself. And that I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to acknowledge where I am right now, today, in this moment.

Anyway, she’s constantly saying  “meet your appropriate edge.” Which just bounces around in my head, even off the mat. It’s kind of brilliant. I mean, if she just told me to meet my edge, well, I’d have to take that as a challenge. Even though I know it’s not meant to be. But my appropriate edge changes from day to day. It allows for softening when I’m injured or feeling vulnerable and for pushing when I’m feeling vibrant, energetic, and ready for forward momentum.

Telling me to meet my appropriate edge implies an inherent trust that I know what that edge is. That I can trust myself.

This whole foot debacle has taught me a lot–about my body and myself. And, no, I didn’t ask to learn any of it. I’d rather have been running consistently, instead of in fits & starts. But, no one asked me before the Universe threw me this “learning opportunity.” So I’m making the best of it (and making a list of things to remember):

  1. 43 requires more care & maintenance of my body than 33 did. I can’t ignore the tightness in my hips and assume it will go away. It won’t. I can’t jet off for a run without stretching. I’ll really regret it later.
  2. Everything is connected, in running and in life. My foot pain? Caused by my hips. For real.
  3. Yoga, stretching, and listening to my body will keep me healthy and running.
  4. Stubbornness is over-rated.
  5. The negative, self-sacrificial messages I internalized about self-care as a kid were some bullshit. And they’ve got to go. To care for the people around me like I want to, I must care for myself. The two are inextricably linked.

Which means that, while I run, I’ve got to pay attention to what my body is saying. Of course, it always cusses on the hills (so do I. Like, for real, if you’re offended by cussing, EARMUFFS when I run by).

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On the day of the serious-meeting-my-edge picture, I was relatively pain free until about 2 miles in. Then I could feel the muscles in my foot begin to tighten. By 2.25 miles, it hurt. Bad. Typically, I would’ve just pushed through. I would’ve been all grit and suffering and like-hell-I’m-gonna-quit-before-I-get-to-3-miles. But, this time, I just stopped. And there was some bizarrely glorious freedom in just letting myself be. 

I’m more trustworthy than I used to be. That’s what the idea of meeting my appropriate edge reminds me. I have intuition & insight–but I have to listen to myself, to my body, to my heart to access them.

In order to lead the BIG, joyous, fulfilling life that I want, I have to trust myself.

Meeting my appropriate edge that one day lead me to two more runs this week where my appropriate edge looked a lot more like this:

That feels like a pretty big win these days.

 

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Book of Qualities

A sweet friend gifted me this book. Out of the blue. Because he thought I should have it.

The gesture made me a little teary. But, page by page, it meant even more that he’d chosen me for this book. Because it’s lovely. It speaks with such a gentle honesty.

It’s a treasure, this book. I loved it so much that I wanted to draw it out, to savor it bit by bit. So I limited myself to two–maybe three–qualities per day. Right before bed. Reading it was a balm. And it offered me poignant insight that I often dwelled upon as I drifted off to sleep.

Each quality of the human condition–worry, pleasure, competition, forgiveness, intensity  (99 in total)–gets a personality, a style of dress, a mode of moving through the world, an energy, and a smattering of favorite things:

Change wears my sister’s moccasins… He likes to come up quietly and kiss me on the back of my neck when I’m at my drawing table…Change is very musical, but sometimes you must listen for a long time before you hear the pattern in his music.

The “negative” qualities spoke to me the most. I began to understand them differently and to look on them with a new tenderness. After all, they are my teachers; it seems only right to respect them, even if I can’t always welcome them.

I finished the book weeks ago.

It’s still on my nightstand, where I can keep it close.