Monday, January 31, 2011

Still-lifes of Papa

All it takes some days is a movie, a line in a song, a man sitting by himself at Starbucks doing a crossword puzzle, the deep sound of male laughter, something random, and his face comes into my view. Slowly fading in and slowly out, a series of still-life photographs, fuzzy around the edges. My Papa. It takes but a moment to break through several months of new normalcy, this flood of emotion sweeping toward me with memories of him, and with it the reminder, I really miss him.

His rumbling, chest-shaking laughter, usually at his own joke. His clear, steely blue eyes, dancing, crinkling at the corners and disappearing under eyelids for a moment. His arms, strongest at the forearm, from painting, always suntanned with soft blonde fuzz. How they wrapped around me like a blanket on a crisp fall evening, pulling me against his chest, always his little girl no matter how the years rolled by. I could count on him to be warm and cozy when I needed comfort.

We could sit for an hour, not uttering a word, perfectly content in each other's presence. He'd read his newest novel of the week. I'd be studying. Each of us interrupting the silence at moments to share a thought or idea from our book or from the week. He could do a NY Times crossword puzzle in five minutes flat. I could never finish one, not even close. But I felt so much smarter doing them with him. We'd bounce our dreams off each other, and I'd see the far-off twinkle in his eye, hungry for adventure, never too old for creative imagination, always the visionary with a plan. How I admired him. When he reached a dead-end, he'd find a way to climb through the wall. That was my dad.

Last night, it caught me by surprise, my delayed reaction after watching one of his favorites, Father of the bride. I could see him imitating Steve Martin again, see us planning for my older sister's wedding, inserting wisecracks from this movie along the way. I smile, relishing the memory, and then the taste of bitter and sweet sets in. When it's my turn someday to walk down that aisle, he won't be here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Skinny or fat?

When it comes to health and weight, the women in our culture are obsessed with small. Size zero, no fat, no calories, no extra pounds, small. We want smaller thighs, smaller butts, smaller hips, smaller waists, smaller portions. Small things. While I have my moments of small obsession, there is one thing I do not wish to be smaller.

My heart.

Not the physical organ itself, but the term we use to give meaning to the core of who we are. Over the years, many things can take their toll on our hearts, seeking to diminish them. Our hearts can actually grow smaller if we don't take care of them. The question I ask myself today is this: has my heart grown since last year?

Does my heart have more substance than it did a few years ago? Is it stronger and deeper? Can it hold more love? Am I more in love with Jesus today than I was years ago when I started off on this journey with Him? What is the condition of my heart?

It's challenging to answer these questions, but I need to try. I may want a lean body, but I don't want a skinny heart. I want it strong and fat and healthy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blogging question-and-answer time

At times, I need to remind myself why I'm blogging. You see, I'm not a blogger, at least I don't like to call myself one. Ok, so I am in once sense, undeniably, part of the worldwide web of bloggers. But I didn't start writing because I wanted to be one of the roughly 126 million bloggers out there; I started blogging because I needed an outlet for sharing my writing.

When I tell people I'm a writer, naturally they ask, "What do you write about?" It's hard for me to answer that question. "Uh, I like to write nonfiction." Well, they ask with raised eyebrows, what exactly does that mean? "I like true stories, real life stuff. You know, memoir-style..." But that feels so, vague. What is it I actually blog about?

If any of you are wondering, the answer to that question is two-fold: 1) This concept of "beautiful rubbish" (i.e., God's redemptive artistry in the rubbish in our stories), and 2) Living fully in the present moment. I have a lot of grief pieces woven into my writing as well, since that has profoundly shaped my story in the past several years.

So, who am I writing for in this blog? Anyone who struggles with making sense of "the ugly" in life and longs for some redeeming quality to their story; anyone who desires to fully embrace today and not hang out too much in the past or the future; and anyone who is dealing with, or has dealt with, or is affected by someone who is dealing with grief. If you're looking for a lot of humorous, light-hearted stories, I'm afraid you'll have to check out one of the other 126+ million blogs out there. I like to think I can be pretty funny and charming at times, but I know realistically that I lean more toward the intense and raw, with some humor thrown in here and there.

And finally, why am I writing this blog? As I've already stated, I had no intention of being a blogger. That's not my end goal, for sure. But it's not a bad starting point. I'm well aware that, like it or not, a great deal of writing is happening online now and that's what's most readily accessible to most people. My big dream when I grow up is to share other peoples' stories. To travel to other parts of the world and encounter the lives of others, to enter in as much as they'll invite me, to hear them, and then to help them tell their stories (obviously with their permission and desire). I want to write to raise awareness, to inspire passion and critical thinking in others about important issues affecting people and animals and the environment. I want those stories to point to a larger, more beautiful and complex redemptive story, one that I believe we all play a unique part in. I want to write to inspire hope and faith in something (Someone) bigger than ourselves.

But for now, the story I have to tell is my own, since I'm the most willing and available subject around at the moment, and since I know I could use the practice. And I happen to believe that when we're faithful with the littler assignments in life, we'll be more faithful and capable with the bigger ones. So I'm content to start with my little self and see where it goes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Personal remodeling

I'm not always conscious of it, this almost innate tendency to "work" on myself. But were I to make a list at any given time, I may see a pattern of taking on a number of self-improvement challenges at a time. Once I get started, I'm inspired, and it's hard not to take something else on, and then another. As my mind was wandering today, I followed it and made a mental list of some of the changes I've made or am in the process of making in the past several months:

Becoming vegetarian
Weekly "dates" with God
Posting on my blog site daily
Regular visits to my counselor
Weekly date nights with Ricardo
Attending a monthly writer's group
Slowly weaning myself off dairy products
Trying to shop weekly at local farmer's markets
Cutting back on coffee... (as I'm sipping an americano)
Ditching shampoo for a more natural, shampoo-free hair diet (it works wonders!)
Increasing my exercises to strengthen my legs and hips and ease back into running

Just a few things I'm working on, some of them more important than others, but practical and tangible. I do seem to thrive off challenging myself. Though I can swing toward perfectionist, thankfully as I look at this list and humbly note to myself the areas I'm not so faithful in yet, I don't really feel bad about that. It's an ongoing process, and maybe I'm finally getting the hang of just enjoying the journey instead of stressing about my performance or destination. After all, I'm taking all these things on for different reasons, but the underlying commonality is that I want to grow. I don't want to stay the same over time.

However, I need to be careful, that this list of things doesn't become like a pile of books I'm trying to read all at once. I pick one up in the morning and another in the afternoon, and another the next day, and after a couple of weeks, I'm nowhere near finishing any one of them and having a hard time recalling what I've read, so I have to go back and reread some material each time I pick the book back up. Not exactly effective if I never finish the book, no matter how thrilled I was to begin reading it in the first place.

Food for thought.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Working out the kinks

My personal trainer did something that felt sort of cruel last night. I call him my personal trainer, even though it was our first of two complimentary sessions (a perk of membership at my gym, which I figured now would be a good time to redeem). He called our first visit an "assessment." So what did I do? I worked out beforehand. Bad move.

One of the first things he did after our introductions were over was to have me sit down on this hard, cylindrical foam roller. He explained that we needed to loosen up my IT band (long, skinny, important band of tissue running along the side of each leg from hip to knee) and demonstrated how to lay on the roller on the IT band, rolling up and down the band slowly.

"You need to find the most tender place, the place where it hurts the most, and concentrate on that spot. Let all your weight rest on this place and roll it out. You've got two minutes on each side," he said looking at his watch. "Go."

I started rolling, thinking, this isn't too bad, until I hit "the spot." Right between my hip and knee. I felt the pain shooting through my whole leg, burning, stabbing. He looked at me as I winced, "You can cry if you need to. It hurts. Do whatever it takes, but trust me, this needs to happen." I refused to cry, but I did let a word slip out that I won't mention here. I'm not perfect.

He strongly urged me to buy my own foam roller (masochistic thing that it is) and do this regularly. "Do this every day for the next week and your IT band should start feeling loose after that."

Really, every day? Sigh. Fine, every day it is. I forced a smile.

And today, well, let's just say I've been grabbing onto things and wincing as I've slowly lowered myself into a crouch, which I do often in my job. My legs are not happy with me, particularly not my IT bands. But I think I need to stick with it, because if I don't, they won't get any better from here. So I'm taking myself to the gym tonight to roll for two minutes on each of those bands.

Sometimes life is like that, too, huh? Like that foam roller on our tender, tight issues (I'm not really talking directly about things like grief or loss or injustices, because that would be cruel, but perhaps some indirect issues that may slowly arise in us from grief or loss or some form of injustice). Things like unforgiveness, distrust, bitterness, unresolved anger, insecurity, fear, victimization, entitlement, need for control, etc. Maybe at times God feels a bit like that personal trainer, coaching us to hang tight in the places of intense pain. Because He knows His stuff. He knows those tight areas need to be loosened, that this will help us heal and develop strength and flexibility in life, so we can run and jump and play.

And unfortunately, at times the only way to do that is through the pain, consistency and discipline. But usually, thankfully, in (relatively) short intervals of intensity. The period of loosening up those tight places may stretch over a week or a month or a year or a decade, but eventually, there is relief. Eventually those places don't hurt as much as they once did, we can even bear all our weight on them for long periods of time and not wince.

And then... we're back to running again. It will be worth it not to turn back.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A theory

For years, I've told people, "I'm not a verbal processor." I need to process internally before I can talk about things with someone else, I'd say. My mom, on the other hand, now she's a verbal processor. Needs to talk with someone, to get things out of her head in order to clear it, in order for things to make sense or to experience relief. Poor Mom. So many times she's hoped I would process verbally with her and I let her down. Sorry, Mom, I'm just not a verbal processor like you.

But yesterday, it was strange. I was talking to myself about some things on my mind as I was driving home. And it hit me. Let's be honest, I'd venture that lots of us talk to ourselves on a daily basis, so why not own up to it. Talking to ourselves is nothing more than taking that inward dialogue that we all have going on almost constantly and saying it out loud. Why is that somewhat taboo to admit? Most of us are not broadcasting conversations that we're hearing with other "voices" inside of us. It's just our own.

I think I talk to myself more than I do anyone else. You see, I'm not typically a "chatty" person. I can get my tongue rolling, but I'm just as content not to. Partly because I'm just as content to listen, and partly because it takes my tongue awhile to catch up to my mind when I'm with someone. But get me by myself (in the car especially), and whoa, suddenly I'm a talker. Why? Perhaps because... I'm a verbal processor after all, but I'm in the closet about it.

So here's my theory: there are public (social) verbal processors and private verbal processors. My mom is the former and I'm the latter. Within those two groups, some are immediate, in-the-moment verbal processors, like my mom, and others are delayed verbal processors, like myself. All verbal processors, but different expressions, different outlets.

I don't know why, but somehow this little revelation is a relief to me. I'm free to be a verbal processor, but in my own way. Now, if I could practice turning more of my private verbal processing into focused prayers instead of rambling conversational prayers, that would be good. But I kind of think God doesn't mind these conversations, even if they're not in "prayer" format. At least I'm talking. Without a doubt, in mine and God's relationship, the opposite is true of most of my other relationships: what I need to work on is being more of a listener and letting Him do more of the talking.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Growing up into a child

Now that I'm officially Thirty, I've been practicing letting the words roll off my tongue without hesitation or embarrassment (why we should ever be embarrassed about our age, I'm not sure). I've even been surprised at myself when someone has asked my age and I nonchalantly reply, "Thirty," like it's no big deal, or when I bring the topic up myself, which I've been doing when someone asks me, "So, what's new?" Well, for one, I say, I'm thirty.

But the funnest (I can get away with this word because of my age) part is, now that I'm growing adjusted to my decade shift, I'm actually excited about it. Yeah, instead of feeling like, "Holy guacamole, I've gotta grow up!" I feel more like, "Yippee skippy, I getta get to living!" Which means getting more serious about some very worthwhile pursuits, such as writing, but also, getting less serious in general. Haven't I spent enough of my short life taking myself too seriously? I need to grow up into more of a kid again.

How do you do that, you may ask? Good question. I was hoping you'd ask. Here's one of my answers - ahem - are you ready for it?

Practice the art of puppeteering.

It's just an example, mind you, and it may seem a little strange, but it's really... freeing... and just plain fun. You may recall I wrote last week about my birthday gift from a dear friend - a stuffed cow, whom I named Carnita. Well, Carnita has become somewhat of a source of comedic release and creativity in mine and Ricardo's relationship. She has her own personality of sorts, and a voice, which Ricardo provides during our puppet show conversations, and it never fails to make me laugh. Because I'm fully aware it's silly and childish, but I could care less. It's fun, and for a few moments, it reminds me of the pleasures of being childlike.

So there you have it. Stuffed animals don't change over time, we do. So revisit your childhood and practice puppeteering with an old or new stuffed friend - and preferably, someone else, just because sharing the experience is so much funner.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An extraordinary teacher

"Pain rearranges our priorities."
~Kenneth E. Bailey,
author of Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes

Our culture seems moderately obsessed with the idea of planning ahead for the future (an ironic juxtaposition with our cultural need for immediate gratification and bottomless pit of credit card debt). Retirement plans in our twenties (or younger?), stocks and IRAs and 401K plans and the like. It's not that uncommon for me to be talking with someone about their goals for the future and to hear some version of, "I want to work my butt off until I'm forty or fifty-something and then retire." It's then, they explain, that they'll do the things they really want to do; when life will be good and sweet; when they can finally travel, study, relax, enjoy family and friends, enjoy the things they have acquired. And honestly, I respect and admire people who can seriously dig their heels in and work hard toward a goal, who can responsibly plan for the future. But this idea of an inevitable future waiting for me I no longer relate to.

Mr. Bailey hit the nail on the head for me in four concise strokes of his pen: Pain rearranges our priorities.

Please don't misunderstand me. I hate to be a downer or sound morbid, but the question begs to be asked, "How do I know I'll actually make it to retirement?" How do any of us know? Isn't a bit... presumptuous, even prideful, to think we have any day beyond today? I'm all for planning, and I'm not advocating a life of fear and dread. If anything, I'm advocating, put a little away for the future, but give yourself fully to this day. It's not a new or noble concept - many famous quotes address this idea - but it can be a hard one to open the door to and invite in, not as a guest but as a resident.

For me, when the unexpected pain hit - my Dad's death - my priorities were nearly turned upside down. Even today, nearly two and a half years later, this idea of living today, of embracing the rearranging that pain did to my priorities, is not an easy one to let take over my life. I'm learning, though. There are things much too important to put off. There are relationships far too priceless that I'd rather enjoy today, not knowing how long we'll be in each other's lives. Suffering is not our friend, per se, but to borrow from Bailey once more, it is "an extraordinary teacher."

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Committing to write every day, instead of when inspiration strikes, is teaching me to take an expectant stance toward inspiration. It is challenging and expanding my borders of inspiration. Truly, I am not seeing if I cannot notice at least one thing in each day that kindles my fire to write.

Today, it was one boy in a group of kids standing at the front of the church as the service concluded, as they do every week. His face was glowing, beaming really. I couldn't tear my eyes away from him, several heads taller than the other children, swaying in perfect rhythm to the music. He was drumming a beat on his legs and nodding his head with the inspired, unreserved passion of a musician who enters into his music.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
with His blood He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
paid the debt, and made me free.

Watching him, I didn't even join in singing the words. I didn't need to. It was worship just to see him dance and drum and sing, just to see the joy busting from his seams. This beautiful boy with Down Syndrome, who looked no more than twelve or thirteen, was leading me in worship, and it was glorious. I could almost see Jesus bobbing and drumming to the music right beside him with the same beaming face, the same uncontainable joy, beckoning me to enjoy Him more like this boy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I'm pretty fond of Seattle. It's a beautiful, bustling, environmentally-friendly, green and vibrant little city nestled on the stunning Puget Sound, surrounded by the Olympic mountains on the west and the Cascades on the east. I may be biased, but it's hard to believe it could get much better than here.

Still, that doesn't stop me from the occasional daydreaming of living in other places. Places where life just seems, well, slower, savored, bite by bite, flavor by flavor. I close my eyes and imagine a small town perched on some cliffs in the Greek Isles, overlooking the sea. I know it in my mind, because I remember seeing it on the travel channel one night when Dad and I were browsing for something on tv. We were mesmerized by the picture (I inherited my romanticism from him) as the narrator described how all the people of the town, young and old, gathered every night near the cliffs to sit and watch the sunset.

In my neighborhood in Ballard (northwest Seattle), I'm just about 10 blocks from a stellar view of Shilshole Bay. In fact, there's a little park there - a long strip of green grass with a picnic table and a few benches - which the locals refer to as The Bluff. From The Bluff, you can get lost in the majesty and mystery of the Olympics, which look so close you could almost jump in the water and swim to them, but I think they're a ways further than that. And if you look straight down, it's like a docked parade of sail boats stretching along the waterfront in Shilshole Bay Marina. Just a crink of the neck to the south is the tiny peninsula at the tip of Discovery Park, which has got to be one of the largest and most wonderful out-of-city park experiences you can have in Seattle.

The Bluff is a hidden gem in Ballard. In the summertime, or really anytime it's sunny outside or there's a colorful sunset, this place will be teeming with locals. Families picnicking. Dogs socializing. Kids kicking soccer balls. Avid readers stretched out on blankets. Babies toddling in the grass, figuring out how to walk. Teenagers parked in cars. Bicyclists stopping for a visual feast and a water break. Photographers poised for the prime sunset. Older couples strolling hand in hand.

Come to think of it, I must love The Bluff because it's as close as I've gotten to that little town in the Greek Isles. Here, in this slice of Seattle city life, for just a few minutes or maybe for an hour, life appears to slow down. Peoples' busy lives intersect in a neighborhoodly ambiance. And we all sit down, take a breath and behold a universal wonder: the setting of the sun.

Here I'm challenged to consider, how can I slow down and experience the savoring of life in my own city? Sunset by sunset.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Get to

I heard the vibrations of my phone and immediately felt like groaning in protest. That can't be my alarm already (internal whining)... you mean I have to get up now? Shoot, do I have to get my writing finished this morning? Maybe I can squeeze it in later... nope, I can't. I have to do it now. I threw my covers off reluctantly and rolled off my mat on the floor (yep, my bed is a foam mattress pad, and I like it. Been sleeping this way for over four years).

And so the conversation with myself went. Until, thankfully, I remembered to switch one little word in my dialogue. I've been meaning to try this all week, but I kept forgetting. It changes everything, I'm telling you. It's empowering, attitude-shifting, affirming, even gratitude-inspiring.

I don't have to do anything; I get to.

I read this in a book recently, and it stuck. But it takes practice and some discipline. I get to go to work this morning. I get to sit in one of my favorite coffee shops beforehand and do one of the things I love most: write. I get to interact with my customers and enjoy my coworkers. I get to have this day.

Maybe you'll even want to try this little experiment with me. I mean, why not? It may seem silly or trivial, but it couldn't hurt anything. And you may even find yourself surprised.

But I'll stop writing now and let you get to your day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The distant war

A young man who's a regular customer at our Starbucks recently accepted a job opportunity in Afghanistan. He was working construction at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation site across the street from us one day, and then came in to tell us goodbye, that he would be shipping off the next day for Afghanistan. The opportunity of a lifetime. I didn't envy his destination, but I agreed that it could be an incredibly eye-opening experience. We said goodbye and he said he'd be back in a few months.

He walked into Starbucks yesterday morning, and I did a double-take. "Back so soon?"

He explained that he was kicked out of the compound where he was stationed because he lost his security badge. It would have cost the company more money to provide him escorts for several days while they issued a replacement than it would cost for them to ship him home. So here he was, back to life as usual.

"It was so crazy over there," he said, "Unreal."

I think he was there for maybe two weeks. He said he couldn't sleep. He wore earplugs, but they couldn't block out the sound of fighter jets flying overhead, or the missiles, or the explosions in the distance.

"It's real over there, the war...." His eyes got big as he spoke. "I wasn't too disappointed to come home."

I shook my head. "I can only imagine."

But really, I can't imagine. What it's like to sleep like that every night, except not in a secured compound. In a village or a city or a town, under fire continually - as in, the war never ceases.

People don't take a day off from war. They don't go on a vacation. It's just their lives. War covers everything, like a cancer spreading from cell to cell in the body. I guess it can be "treated," but at a high, high price - probably the highest price - with lives and futures, the loss of physical and/or mental health, loss of safety, a decimated country, a gasping economy, a bleeding government, and even something as basic as loss of sleep. But I don't know this from experience. I don't know what it's like to live in this reality, to never know when or if it will end in my lifetime, or if my lifetime will end first. Will my loved ones come home that day? Will the war invade my town, my neighborhood, my home? People in the midst of war zones seem to not even have the luxury of deciding whether or not they will live in the moment; it just is.

Standing behind the counter of Starbucks in the coffee Mecca of North America, inside a spacious and abundant grocery store, I felt even more removed from the war. From the Afghani people, whom I admit, I think of very rarely. And I thought, that could be me. Except, right now it's not me. It's a struggle not to feel completely guilty about that, so spoiled and privileged, but that wouldn't really honor the people whose lives are caught in the prison of war. Instead of giving into the guilt, perhaps I can remember the Afghani people and honor them with how I invest what I have been given today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's your story?

I finally have a satisfactory reply to the standard social question, "What do you do?" That question, whether I like it or not, is indirectly asking, "Who are you?" in a soundbite. In other words, give me the paraphrased, let-me-look-you-up-and-down-in-a-quick-glance answer. Well, my answer is, I'm a writer.

While this may seem like stating the obvious to you, like commenting, "It rains in Seattle," to me it's a wonderful, liberating breakthrough statement about myself. On the outside, I look pretty calm and collected when I utter these words, but on the inside, I am jumping and clicking my heels together in mid-air. And there too many reasons this is so, but I'll only jump into a few of them right now. And contrary to how it may look, I'm not feeling liberated by some title that defines me. No, I'm over being defined by what I do (it was sooo last decade); it's actually much bigger and more exciting than that.

I've been reading some books lately about the writing process and being a writer, from people that have been doing this for years. One of these authors, Anne Lamott, describes how some novelists will sit down with a fixed idea of a character and how this character will behave and who this character will be by the end of the story. But in the process, these authors often become frustrated or stuck, or their story feels forced or stagnant, because their writing is not allowed to flow naturally and spontaneously where it wants to go. The truly gifted writers, Anne says, are the ones who have an idea of the type of character they want to develop, but they let that development happen creatively, taking twists and turns and following where it leads, until at the end of the story, they often have a character who is much different than they had originally intended creating. A character with more dimension and depth than they had planned. These authors have to be willing to be flexible and risk following the creative lead of their writing, instead of merely the logic of their outlines.

And then there are us, the characters as well as the (co)authors. We have a story to write, but in which way do we write? Do our stories flow from very rigid, planned outlines? On the other extreme, do we follow every whim that blows on the wind? Or do we have an intention that we seek to write and live every day, but we surrender to the freedom of that day and whatever it may hold, and chase after it with curiosity and courage and wisdom? What kind of characters are we allowing ourselves to be? Do we think we know who we will be at the end of the story, or are we willing to be surprised by the journey and how we develop?

One of my huge blindspots in my early to late twenties was depending on the not-yet to define my character, to tell my story. My story was essentially, "One day, I will do this," or "In the future, I will be this." After my Papa's death, my story seemed to fail miserably, and essentially became, "In the past, I..." or "I don't know my story anymore because this is what happened to me." I didn't know how to be the character whose story was beautifully wrapped up in the telling of the moment. "Today this is who I am."

And today, I am a writer. It's not the whole of who I am, but it's a more representative description of who I am than, "I'm a barista at Starbucks." Being a barista at Starbucks funds my passion to write and allows me to further develop into the type of character I'd like to be, not knowing what twists and turns that will take or what the finished product will look like.

Isn't that true of so many things, though? It is for me, at least. I think of my relationship with Ricardo. People like to ask, "Do you think he's 'the One'?" Or, I love this one: "Can you picture yourself with him for the rest of your life, more than any other man you've met?" I'm thirty, and I'll be honest, I've been in love before. And I was pretty quick to answer those questions with confidence for more than one guy. I was so eager, really, to answer those questions, as if I had a foolproof answer. Problem was, though I loved them, those guys weren't a part of my story for as long as I thought they'd be. And I'm not sorry for that, for they truly shaped my character, but it does leave me a more cautious storyteller.

It seems to cause some discomfort or confusion in people when I respond honestly to these perfectly normal questions like the ones above, but I'm making an intentional effort not to live in what-ifs anymore. The most honest answer I can give to these questions - and really, most questions right now - is that I can't speak for what the future will look like, but today, for instance, I'm falling in love with Ricardo and enjoying the ride, bumpy and smooth. And that's enough for me at this moment. Maybe my answer will change tomorrow or six months from now, and I'll be more sure of myself then, but I'm quite content at this point to rest in the reality of today and leave the what-ifs to the real Author.

If we just sit with that, let it seep from the soles of our feet to the souls of our very being, I think we would find ourselves reverberating with a joy and liberation that makes us want to dance and sing our stories every day, come what may. For our stories are fluid and vibrant like a river, ever changing, ever flowing, never remaining in the same place, unless we build a dam and try to contain them. Let them flow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


A friend gave me a stuffed cow for my birthday. It was supposed to be a goat, but my friend said she couldn't find a stuffed goat, so the cow it was. I named her Carnita, which I laugh at because I'm vegetarian and Ricardo laughs at because he can picture each part of her made into a delicious taco. When I pulled her out of the gift bag, I didn't even suppress my squeal of delight (no one was around, so it was ok). I thought, I'm thirty and I got a stuffed animal! Maybe some people were too old at eleven or sixteen or whenever, but at thirty, the little girl in me that secretly sticks her tongue out at stuffy adults was thrilled. I hugged Carnita and she sleeps with me at night, with her lovely stitched smile.

To say I loved stuffed animals as a child would be putting it mildly. At the highest count, I remember my stuffed animals numbering well over one hundred. One afternoon, I gathered them all together in my bedroom and conducted a little census, writing each of their names on a sheet of notebook paper. The point of the exercise, however, was not simply to know the number of animals I owned. I had a plan.

You see, I was feeling some nine-year old guilt. Here I owned this whole herd of stuffed animals, but only a handful had the privilege of sleeping in my bed at night. I had my favorites and felt bad about that. So, not wanting any animal, stuffed or real, to feel left out, I created a system to solve the problem. A sleeping schedule.

In my attempt at fairness, I cut out strips of paper with each animal's name on it, folded them and stuffed them in a jar. Then I numbered out the next one hundred something nights and, one by one, drew a name and wrote it in sequential order on the schedule. When the last name had been drawn and written, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride. I did it, I solved a huge problem. But when bedtime came and I picked up the stuffed animal whose name was drawn for the night, I was torn. I still wanted to sleep with my favorites. Therefore, another rule was instated. I would follow the schedule I'd drafted, but I would allow myself to have my favorites beside me as well.

And the moral of the story is, it's ok to have favorites sometimes. And perhaps, we have more parts in common with our childhood selves than we realize, and perhaps, that's not even something to be embarrassed about.

Monday, January 17, 2011

This day

“Some days, 24 hours is too much to stay put in, so I take the day hour by hour, moment by moment. I break the task, the challenge, the fear into small, bite-size peices. I can handle a piece of fear, depression, anger, pain, sadness, loneliness, illness. I actually put my hands up to my face, one next to each eye, like blinders on a horse. It’s my way to remember to stay put in now. Blinders make horses stay focused on what is in front of them. With blinders, they can’t see to the side and get scared or distracted. They can’t see what is going to happen, so they keep putting one hoof in front of the other and keep moving. I put my blinders on and tell myself, no looking at tomorrow, no looking at yesterday, then take a step and another and another....

I know longer squander today being afraid of tomorrow or wallowing in guilt or resentments of the past. God isn’t present in the past or future. The great I Am is in the present moment. When I claim that presence, I can get through anything today. That’s all that is required of any of us, to live today.”

This long excerpt is taken from a book called God never blinks, by a woman, Regina Brett, who writes from a place of having weathered many things in life, including a battle with breast cancer. Her book is broken down into what she calls “50 lessons for life’s little detours.” Boy, could I relate to that. But even more, this metaphor of putting blinders on her eyes to keep her focused on the moment, the moment that God is present in, sang right along with the tune I’ve been hearing lately. Live for today. Our lives do not exist in the past; we have no guarantees of a future. All we ever really possess is this moment, so don’t squander it.

It’s my aim to wake up each morning and, whether in my sleepy fog or refreshed wakefulness, begin by thanking God for this day. Not because I necessarily feel thankful or am compelled by some other emotion, but first and foremost just because this day is my present to receive, unwrap and share.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Ok, so I'm pretty keen on this post-a-day bit, but I've gotta be real here. I wrote something first thing this morning, saved it to my laptop and was going to paste it to my blog when I had internet later in the day. "Later" being, up past the time I'd like to be in bed considering when I'll be getting up in the morning to do some writing before work... but alas, here I am, mumbling some not-so-sweet things at this laptop for not doing the simple function of copy and paste. That's it, it's all I ask, but nope. It won't do it. I've ruled out user error as a possibility, since, let's face it, I'm not technologically savvy, per se, but I'm sure as mud savvy enough to figure out how to cut and paste into my blog. Anyways. I'm making an executive decision (convenient, since I'm the only one here to make the decision) to stop sighing and rolling my eyes at this laptop (not mine, by the way) and just go to bed.

So just for the record, I did write something today other than this pathetic rant. Tomorrow is a clean slate.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

5-year old memories

* My little disclaimer: This post has nothing directly to do with the theme of beautiful rubbish. I may take little diversions here and there to practice writing different stories from my life (or other's lives).

Puff-Puff was my best friend. No matter that she was a small fluffy dog. She understood me; she graciously indulged me in my childish play. After dinner many nights, I would cross the yard from the little yellow house we rented on Causey street in southeast Portland, to our neighbor's house - an older couple whose names I don't remember - to ask them if Puff-Puff could come out and play. If they said yes, I'd race happily to our backyard with Puff-Puff trotting at my heels.

My family didn't watch a lot of TV growing up, but we did love our Little House on the Prairie episodes. So naturally, I'd pretend to be Laura Ingalls in the opening credits, running through a grassy field in a gingham dress and pinafore with long brown braids flapping in the breeze, faithful Jack tailing close behind. Puff-Puff and I shared many prairie adventures in that gopher hole-filled backyard, playing underneath the crab apple trees.

Sometimes, Puff-Puff's mom would tell me she couldn't play because she was eating dinner. So I'd ask to come in and sit with Puff-Puff while she ate. The lady must have been sweet and obliging with me because she usually opened the door and let me in. I'd come in and plop down beside Puff-Puff on the berber carpet of the entryway while my doggie BFF daintily crunched her kibble.

I watched her with curiosity. I watched her with a longing to be part of her world, even for a few moments. One time, I couldn't stand the curiosity, and, feeling left out, looked both ways before snatching a piece of dog kibble to munch on. I chewed, stopped, scrunched my face, and looked for a place to spit it out. So much for that bonding experience.

Years after we moved from Portland, we returned and revisited the neighborhood to see if our little yellow house was still there. I think it was remodeled (it was kind of a dump), and it was no longer a little yellow house. But our neighbor's house was still there, much unchanged. We knocked on the door and discovered they still lived there and remembered us. I asked if they still had Puff-Puff. They told me she'd died a few years before.

As I stood on that old street in the midst of a facelift, surveying the neighborhood to access memories from that one year we lived there, I closed my eyes and envisioned a scrappy five-year old with short blonde hair and her fluffy canine best friend, romping through a backyard that no longer existed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

One of the invisible children

He sits in an armchair in the corner, usually alone, his tattered army duffle bag on the floor beside him. I watch him occasionally from the other side of the counter at work. I've never seen him come into the store with anyone, or sit and try to talk with a stranger in the seat beside him. Even when I talk to him, he jumps a little, like I've communicated with him through a walkie talkie with a five-second lag and pulled him out of a daydream. When he comes up to the counter for a refill on his cup of hot water, he answers a question in as few words as possible and then walks away shuffling his feet.

I can tell he's not that old, but his face is covered in a foresty beard and the whites of his eyes are pinkish. He's a nice guy, doesn't ever bother anyone, just keeps to himself and stares off into space. For hours and hours. Sometimes I catch him in a smile, his mouth curved like he's going to laugh, and I wonder what he's thinking there in his own world.

Today when he came up for about his fifth cup of hot water, I asked him when his birthday is. He paused, "Oh, uh, it was awhile ago."

"Oh yeah, when?"


"How old are you?" I tried to sound like this question didn't come out of nowhere, but it just hung there alone. He didn't seem to mind.

"Uh, I think... thirty-five... or thirty-two....?" And he trailed off toward the condiment bar, pulling his answer with him.

He took his seat again and continued to stare off. I wondered how many of his thirty-something years have been lost in this space, how long he's slipped through the cracks of society, how much longer he'll simply exist in invisibility.

What kind of redemptive story does God have for this one, I wonder, and will he live to tell it? I pray he will.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Napkin art

Challenge for the day:
Stop yourself from wondering how things may have turned out.
If you find yourself thinking 'what-if,' then stop.
You made each decision in your life for a reason;
there is no need to look back.
(taken from a fellow blogger's site:

A week or so before my birthday, I was sitting in a coffee shop, my thoughts dancing with some trepidation to the tune of change. A new year, and a new decade, lay before me. The question in that moment wasn't yet, What will I do with the next decade? No, in that moment, I wondered more how to wrap my brain around starting a new decade, and how to properly remember the one I was wrapping up. So I grabbed a napkin and a pen and began to write, as I often do when I have no paper with me.

On one side of the napkin, I drew an outline covering all the years of my twenties. But instead of writing specific dates and events that occurred, I simply wrote key words that would describe, for sure not the whole of my twenties, but at this place and time, my emotions about my twenties. You might guess that they weren't super positive. I think "pain, hearbreak, disappointment, grief, shame and loss" are what I chose to write. I didn't write those to have a little pity party for myself on my napkin, for certainly there were just as many beautiful and wonderful memories and emotions I could have easily written there. I just needed to write those specifically sad ones down in order to highlight the freedom on the other side of the napkin.

I flipped the napkin over and drew another timeline, covering the years ahead of my thirties. All I wrote there was "Blank pages yet to be written upon...."

No need to look back.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No goat, no glory, but we came so close

More than a few months ago, I got an idea for my birthday. Some may think it childish, bizarre, off-the-wall or downright stupid, but I thought it was brilliant, if not a tad eccentric. The perfect way I wanted to celebrate my entrance to the 30s, at least during the day. And this idea became my not-so-secret secret, which I confided in several people, including my boyfriend, Ricardo. When I told him, roughly six months ago, I think he looked at me with one of his increasingly familiar Lord-what-do-I-do-with-this-woman (or in Spanish, ay contigo) half-grins, speechless, but supportive.

This grand idea I had was to rent a goat for my birthday. Not only for the sheer pleasure of a goat's company, but also for the thrill of doing something unexpected, something unusual for my birthday. My plan was to walk my rented goat through downtown on a leash. If people could walk poodles and ferrets, strut with painted parrots on their shoulders, then why couldn't I walk a goat on a leash through the city? Surely one of the goat rental places in the area would oblige such a unique request.

I didn't actually think it would happen, but still, I was disappointed as my birthday arrived and I had no plan for renting a goat. So I was floored when Ricardo confessed to me over coffee this morning, with a hint of devastion in his voice, that he was unable to secure a goat for the day. I kind of laughed and shrugged it off as a joke, until he told his story. Of how he called a place in Redmond that rents goats, and how the lady sounded happy and eager to rent to him until he told her what he wanted the goat for. There must have been silence on the other end, then, incredulation. Something like, "You want a goat for what? Uh... I don't think... let me see.... I'll have to check with the boss on that, uh, request, but... yeah, I don't think we can do that." And then Ricardo, working his persuasive business skills to surprisingly no avail. They wouldn't budge. It sounded too dangerous, a goat in downtown. "But we'd have him on a leash," Ricardo tried to assure her. Click.

And then he called his friend in Woodinville, who owns a herd of goats. His friend laughed, too, probably muttered something along the lines of "poor guy with the crazy girlfriend." Still, he said he would have liked to help, but his goats were out of town until next week.

I laughed in that coffee shop until the tears were practically rolling down my cheeks. I was simply impressed that Ricardo tried. I mean, he had a plan, even a truck for transporting the goat and a friend willing to be the chauffeur. We came so close. My hope is not lost, though; the year has only just begun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing goal for 2011

Hi friends,

One of my huge goals for the new year, as well as for my 30th year, is that I want to blog more. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog once a day (or a minimum of 5 days a week) for all of 2011.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be a fun and inspiring challenge to take my writing to the next level and see what develops. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Thanks so much,