Monday, February 28, 2011

Road trip

I like metaphors and similes. Perhaps you've noticed that if you've read much of my stuff. Sometimes it's the best I can do to describe something I have difficulty putting into logical words. Like tonight.

Tonight, for instance, I'm driving home from seeing my counselor, and I get this sense - I don't know a better word for it - that God has pulled up beside me in a car as I'm walking along the highway. I don't know where I'm going exactly, but He pulls up beside me, stops the car and gets out to follow me. He invites me to get inside His car. I ask where He's going. He just says, "Come with Me."

So I get in, and we start driving. We, as in He. I've done my fair share of driving over the years, and let's face it, I'm not as great at it as He. That's an understatement. It's dark outside and we're cruising along, mile after mile of pavement stretching before us. I notice we're heading back to places I recognize from my past. Places I've lived. Places I've lost. Places that hold both joy and pain, life and death, in my memory. "Where are we going?" I dare to ask again, quietly, in little more than a whisper. I want to know, but I'm also a little afraid to know, because the closer we get to these places, the more I feel.

He takes me to different sites along the highway. Sites that cars easily drive past without noticing the little white cross and the bunch of flowers laying across the dirt. At each place, He holds my hand and leads me to the burial site, and then He leans down and starts digging away with His hands, scratching at the dirt. He digs until He uncovers something familiar, but unrecognizable. He cradles it like a treasure, places it in a chest, and leads me back to the car. We do this at multiple sites, until multiple pieces have been recovered. And then at last I peer in the chest, at the pieces that now have a shape. I gasp.

My heart.

He leans down and kisses those pieces. Slowly the dullness fades and the color returns, sweeping through all those broken pieces as His breath covers them. They begin to come alive, surging together, pumping in unison.

"I'm putting your heart back together." He says it simply, with finality. And I believe Him, finally.

And all the while, we're listening to this song by David Crowder, providing the soundtrack for this little journey. And I'm gripping His hands.

He is the love

This is the place I've known
Here in the arms of one who loves
Deeper than anyone
His are the hands I've grown to trust

And this is the place I've known
Here in the arms of one who loves
Farther than I could run
His are the hands I've grown to trust
And I believe...

His are the hands that spread the sky
And His is the love that gives me life
And His are the broken, the needy ones
And He is the love

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I get to go to my church this morning, and that makes me happy. It also has me thinking about all the different church cultures I've experienced over the years. As a little girl, I started off in more conservative church cultures - cultures, as in, denominations, but all that terminology starts to get a little too complicated for my taste, so I'll just stick with cultures - and moved toward more charismatic, Pentecostal church cultures through the years. Each of these cultures would agree on a few fundamental things, mainly that Jesus alone is our Savior and our way back to relationship with God, but each also has it's own set of doctrines or beliefs about God, the Bible and what it means to live as a Christian. Some of these differences are slight and some are more apparent, but hopefully Christians within each church culture can agree that the thing of utmost importance is Jesus. He is the reason we're here and He is the one who connects us all as one big family.

But that's not what I'm thinking about this morning as I prepare for church. I'm thinking about how sweet and strange it is that I've found a home within a church culture that is vastly different than the one I was immersed in the last decade. I went from Pentecostal to Presbyterian, if that means anything to you. Suffice it to say, it's a huge difference. But I love it. I never imagined myself at a church that uses liturgy throughout worship. We read prayers outloud together, sing old hymns with beautifully rich lyrics, confess together on our knees, and share communion each week. People here are passionate and serious about Jesus in a different way than my Pentecostal church family. I love and respect those differences.

Several years ago, I wouldn't have considered settling into this church culture. Honestly, back then I wouldn't have believed I could experience intimacy with God in a way that I found satisfying outside my Pentecostal home. But I've reached a place in life where the church I'm a part of isn't definitive of who I am. I don't consider myself Presbyterian any more than I consider myself Pentecostal. I'm just someone who loves Jesus and worships with a Presbyterian church family.

Sometimes I miss things about the Pentecostal style of worship, because it's more familiar to me in its free-flowing spontaneity, but I see myself stretching to embrace a new kind of worship, a new way of relating with God. In the process, I find another dimension of experiencing intimacy with God, beyond what's familiar. In many ways, it's a cross-cultural experience, not unlike my relationship with Ricardo. In order to have a healthy, mutually respectful, growing relationship with someone from another culture, we cannot presume that our way is the "right" or "best" way. We may have our preferences and our comfort zones, we may agree to disagree on a few things, but the more we can open up and enter each others' cultures, the more we can grow. In this way, church is also a cross-cultural experience.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Playing hookie

So I just finished writing a post - a great, witty post about my trip to IKEA - and it was lost. Poof. Vanished somewhere in an internet-cannot-display-the-page computer blip. I really don't feel like rewriting it, since somehow that might feel like having to retell a joke. Jokes are never good the second time around, and neither would my story be. The thing is, I don't have anything else prepared. You see, that story about IKEA, it was my improv story, the story I pulled out of the nothingness in my mind this evening, my back-up plan. And since it back-fired, I've got nothing else. Which leaves me standing in deafening silence on stage in front of an audience while I smile somewhat nervously and attempt to do a nonchalant Michael Jackson slide out the backdoor. That's my wordy way of saying, I'm playing hookie tonight.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A lifetime supply of awe

My last post brought up a difficult question for me to answer: Do I believe in regret? I've heard a lot of people say things like, "I wish I could go back and do things differently." I pretty much agreed with that sentiment in my last post. I'd be lying if I didn't say it. There are things I do wish I had done differently. But is that regret, or is it only regret if I don't let that wish go?

I think there's a difference between regret and living with regret. Regret, to me, lasts for a moment or a short period of time. Regret, much like guilt, can be very real and a powerful catalyst in bringing about change. Living with regret, well, it's self-explanatory. It lasts a lifetime. It means we're perpetually looking over our shoulders at the past, unable to fully embrace where we're at today and own it. In a way, living with regret means we're defined by the past "what-ifs".

What gets me thinking that I don't believe in living with regret is that there is no redemptive value in it. None whatsoever. Now, let me pause here and say that I've had my share of regrets, but I can't speak for those who have made choices with serious consequences that will follow them their whole lives. I can't speak as if it would be an easy task to shake the dust of those regrets off and keep going. I know from observing others that it's not easy, and I feel compassion for them, because I know that could just as easily be me. So I'll just stick to speaking to my own regrets.

But as I was saying, regardless of the scale of gravity of our regrets, I still don't believe carrying them with us our entire lives is redemptive. What I've been learning the past several years, about God crafting the rubbish in our lives into something beautiful that He can display, it teaches me something about regrets. I don't believe God desires us to live with regret. That He can shape anything ugly or malformed in our lives into a work of art is not an indicator that we can do no real wrong. It is a tribute to His endless redemptive capacity and the fervor with which He works passionately to reshape those things we wish we could hide, discard or do over. He does so to display His splendor, His glory, His love, His redemption, His power - His grace. Grace, as in that gift we could never earn but receive for free. Because I believe this about God, I can believe that we were not designed to live with regrets. There are consequences for choices, always, but we don't have to pick up regret and carry it with us.

God can redeem even the darkest of regrets.

If this were the only thing I knew about God, it would be enough to inspire awe in me my entire life. For I will have a lifetime supply of things for God to redeem, and therefore, I will never cease to witness His craftmanship firsthand. If I have eyes to see.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yellow light

I can tell that I still have some fears to overcome when love is beginning to feel like a poker game. When I'm afraid to risk with the cards in my hand, afraid of what cards the one across from me holds, doubting my ability to accurately read his face. Or more complexly, when he's freely showed me the cards in his hands and somehow I suspect he's a magician showing me trick cards. In actuality, I know we're not playing a game of poker. We've been more honest and open with each other than I've ever experienced. For me that honesty has come with caution, with a boldness I've earned from other experiences.

At times I regret having those experiences. I look at my friends who haven't dated much and wish they had, and I envy them. Or I look at my friends who married the first guy they dated seriously, and I think, wow, you're fortunate. But this is my story, and I have to own it. I have experienced loving and breaking someone's heart, and I have experienced loving and being the one left with a broken heart. I know what it's like to risk with someone, and then to fall flat on my face. I know what it's like to hang on with someone when things are rocky, because of that love. Yes, these experiences come with some baggage - evidently because I am still working through residual fears and difficulties trusting - but they have also taught me how to love and how not to love. And they have pointed the way for me to see and experience the truest of loves - the love that comes not from a man, but from God alone. Could I have done things differently? Absolutely, and it would have been nice if I had at different points. Still, I don't live with regrets, but I do learn from those experiences that have taught me about love.

And when I feel in the midst of that poker game, it's a yellow light of caution to me: Be wise, Amber, but don't be afraid. Love is risky, there's no way around it. But the real kind of love doesn't run from the risk of pain or rejection. Because slowly, slowly I'm learning. I can be rejected by a man, but never by God. The former rejection may wound for awhile, but the latter truth will always heal and remind me that I am forever His. With this knowledge I can love wisely and courageously in the present and leave the future to God.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Zumba fool

On the topic of dance, a few posts back, I have to confess that I'm totally addicted to Zumba classes. In fact, I look forward to them all day long when I know I'll make it to the gym in time. If I need to cheer up, Zumba is one of the most sure-fire ways for me to make that happen. I can go to class with red puffy eyes (which I'm not saying I've done, but I may have done it recently) and leave with a lightness in my step and a smile of contentment on my face.

For those of you who have no clue what Zumba classes are, let me enlighten you. They're basically salsa, hip-hop, belly dancing, samba and other international dances combined in a cardio workout. If you're not naturally inclined to pick up dance moves on the fly, like me, you'll feel a bit foolish for awhile. But stick with it. Eventually you'll loosen up, stop caring that you don't know what exactly what the instructor is doing, relax and start having a ball.

While I'm zumba-ing, I feel so carefree. I think that's one of the most intoxicating things. Dance has that effect on a person. For an hour, everything you carried with you into class is set down, and you just dance, like a kid. I'm even to the point where I'm able to pick up the hip-hop moves, which is a feat of its own. I feel pretty good about it, and it makes me brave enough to stand in the very front of the class.

I can see now why dance therapy can be such a powerful approach to healing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reality check

Today has not been in my hall of fame of greats. Being sleep-deprived and emotional sure doesn't help. I caught myself in a pity party as I was driving away from work, when I glanced to my left at the guy on the street corner. It's been snailing (snowing-hailing) on and off most of the day and the temperature is dropping. There he was, standing outside in a well-worn flannel shirt and sweatpants, no coat or gloves or hat, trying to peel an orange with some object I couldn't recognize. Selling his Real Change papers. I've seen him a bunch before, on another street corner, but today his presence really silenced my pity party.

I felt ashamed and humbled by this flash of reality check.

I may have felt like I was having a bad day, but I couldn't say I was having a bad life. And maybe this guy wouldn't say that, either. I don't know his story. But I'm guessing things have been rough for him for quite awhile. I, on the other hand, have a job, and not a bad one at that. I have medical benefits and excellent health. I have a warm, dry place to live. I have fresh, nutritious food to eat at any time of the day. I have family and close friends. I have more clothes than I need. I have education. And I have hope. This day will soon be a blip on the screen of my memory, nothing more than a little bump in the road. And this fellow will continue to stand with his papers out in the cold. My heart melted like a puddle.

I may be having on off day, but I'm not having a bad day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Metaphorical mexican food

I was chatting with a customer today, while he sat for his morning routine of reading the paper with a cup of black coffee and a doughnut. He told me some stories from his younger days, working for a newspaper, how he missed the excitment and livelihood of the job. He very sweetly asked if this was my first job, or perhaps was I fresh out of school? I laughed, opting to take that as a compliment of my youthfulness, and shook my head. "Nope, not at all. Actually, I have a Master's in counseling."

His eyebrow raised and he looked full of curiosity, so I launched into the five sentence version of my story, of why I am where I am. He said he hoped I would not be here much longer, that I would be back in my field. I thanked him and said, "Well, I want to pursue writing. Right now, this job allows me to do that." We chatted a bit more and he wished me luck. It was my first of two conversations today with customers about my desire to grow and develop as a writer, my hopes of pursuing publication someday. The more I talk about it, the more real it seems on one hand, and the more ambiguous it seems on the other.

I don't have any projects I'm currently working on, for one. I know nonfiction is my focal point, but that's like stating you want to cook Mexican food for dinner, and that's it. But do you want tamales or taquitos, enchiladas or sopes, carne asada or quesadillas, ensalada de nopales or chilequiles? What about salsa, pico de gallo or guacamole - or all of the above? I love personal narratives, redemptive stories, writings about grief, and memoirs. Great. But do I write about myself or someone else? Do I tell the story of how I've walked through the grief of losing my Papa? If so, do I focus on his life as a whole, or on specific memories I have of him, or things I learned from him, or characteristics I loved about him, or how losing him so unexpectedly and tragically has impacted every area of my life?

Do I find someone else who would like their story told? Where do I find these stories? Do I travel someplace and tell a story that draws awareness to an important social issue that has impacted the lives of people in that place? Or do I focus on short stories, topical things, that I can submit to journals or magazines or collections of some sort? If only I knew what I wanted beyond Mexican food, it would be so helpful. I suppose that will come with time, but for the moment, all I know is to continue posting on this blog every day. And I sincerely hope and pray I'll have the courage necessary to take that next big step, to risk in a big way, when I have an idea what I should be aiming for. There's a lot of truth in the saying that if you aim for nothing you'll hit nothing, but it's hard to aim for something when the target is so blurry. Thankfully I'm not nearly as impatient as I used to be. Things tend to come into focus at the right time, learning how to be productive in the waiting room is a discipline all its own.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A neighborly game of pool

One of the things I love most about Seattle are the distinct personalities of its neighborhoods. The way you can be in a microcosm of a small town in the heart of a relatively large city. Where you can run into people you know at the grocery store and at the gym, where you can know the names of your baristas, walk to a farmer's market, and recognize the lady on the street as one of the local librarians. And so I love my neighborhood of Ballard for many reasons: proximity to the gorgeous waters of the Puget Sound, stunning views of the Olympic mountains, home to the Ballard Locks (where you can gawk at the sailboats and yachts passing through, or in the right season, the salmon heading out to sea), near to my beloved Discovery Park, a walk away from Fresh Flours bakery or Cupcake Royale, also a walk away from the tasty El Camion taco truck and Big Bowl Pho, actually a walk away from just about anything essential (like the library), or not exactly essential but just plain desirable (such as great coffee). Yep, Ballard is a pretty cool place in my books. And for all the fuss over the condo boom here, it is still full of charming houses that fill street after street, complete even with yards and front porches and plenty of pooches and kiddos.

I don't know why, but it fills me with a tingly sense of satisfaction when I am out and about in my little section of the world here in Seattle, brushing shoulders with virtual strangers who happen to be my neighbors. Last night, Ricardo and I decided we were hankering for a couple games of pool, so we hopped a bus outside my door and popped into the new Ballard Ave Pub on Market Street. I've passed it quite a bit, peering in the floor to ceiling windows, and admired the single pool table at the back of the pub. When we arrived, it was pretty dead. Just the pub owner and an old man sitting at the counter nursing a drink. Ricardo and I happily took over the pool table with our 75 cents.

After each of us had won a game, a middle-aged lady with a friendly smile wandered over to us. I'd seen her watching us and wondered if she was mesmerized by our incredible skills (though on second thought, I dismissed that idea) or if she wished we'd hurry up and relinquish the table. Turned out she wanted to know if she and her boyfriend could play doubles with us the next game, on them. Ricardo and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, "Sure. Why not?" She smiled and went back to her seat at the bar next to her boyfriend.

It turns out, the four of us had a great time playing together. I learned that these two have known each other since the fifth grade and after twenty years finally got together. They usually play pool at the OP (or Old Peculiar) down the street, but they said the tables there are old and bad. I couldn't really tell a good table from a bad table, unless you lined them up side by side, but I nodded and tried to talk pool talk with them.

Actually, we just talked neighborly talk, which both Ricardo and I thoroughly enjoyed, and so did they. We laughed a lot, and they apologized several times for being slightly buzzed, and we passed the time like old friends. They had to take off before us, but they kept thanking us for the nice game and said they enjoyed our company, and we agreed and said we hoped to see them at the pool table again. I don't know if we'll run into them again or not, but I have a hunch we might, because that's one of the many things I love about my neighborhood.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Feeling the music

I've admired ballet dancers for years. For their grace, for the practiced ease with which they move, for their flexibility and strength, for their poise. It's only in the last year, though, that I've admired latin dancers. Being older than a young girl, ballet seems difficult to learn as an adult, though certainly possible. However, it's easier to learn while your body is still as pliable as a child's, when you can train and discipline your body to move with apparent effortlessness. Latin dance appeals, on the other hand, because of its accessibility. What is most required in my personal favorite, salsa dancing, is passion. This passion in dance does not come effortlessly to me, but it's amazing how much the philosophy of latin dance spills over to my outlook on life.

I met Ricardo right around the time I was falling in love with dancing salsa. The more I danced, the more I realized I've been a tightly closed flower, now beginning to open up and breathe. Slowly, I stopped listening to my self-conscious voice, warning me not to make a fool of myself doing something I might fail at. I guess you could say I kicked up my heels and started dancing off my lack of confidence. Dancing began showing me about the way I am in relationships, about how I feel about myself as a woman, about my approach toward life. It also began teaching me about this technique that's not a technique at all, which Ricardo lovingly refers to as feeling the music.

The best salsa dancers are not necessarily the ones who have practiced technique for hours upon hours, or taken class after class. Technique can be learned and mastered. But no one can fake the passion of feeling the music while dancing, and no one can masterfully dance salsa without this ability. The dance may be perfect in form, but it will fall flat. It will fail to inspire. Because latin dance is all about passion, about letting go of self-consciousness and inhibition and learning to follow the voice of the music.

Sometimes I like to close my eyes while dancing with Ricardo, especially if we're in a very crowded room. I am prone to attention-deficit disorder while dancing, so big crowds can be disastrous for me, distracting me from hearing the music. When I close my eyes, it takes a moment to adjust, but then I pick it up - the heartbeat of the music - and slowly I begin to follow. Pretty soon I'm smiling with my eyes closed, dancing freely, unaware of how I look, only how I feel.

Over time, I guess how I am on the dance floor is teaching me something valuable about dancing in life. Recognizing the value of technique and classes, of discipline and training, I know the real treasure lies in letting go and diving into life each day with a passion to feel the music and follow it, risking mistakes and feeling foolish, trusting I am capable of going with the flow of the music. Which for me translates to, following the flow of the Spirit's music each day. Not that it has to look "spiritual", but that following God is more like a passionate dance, more like feeling the music and going with it than learning a technique. For that reason, dance for me is neither secular nor sacred, but a medium through which I can enjoy the freedom of movement, and in a broader sense, the free-flowing twists and turns of life. It's about accepting who I am, someone beautiful in her own unique expression, and growing comfortable in my own skin as I try to keep in step with the Spirit each day.
I think we were created to be dancers.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I received an *anonymous* request to write a special blog for a special someone. A stuffed bear, to be exact. His name is Chinito, for his synthetic curly fur, and he really is a mischievious bear. He showed up at my apartment late one night, hand-delivered by Ricardo, and since then, he has acquired quite a personality. I think I'm more impressed with Ricardo's acting ability than anything, but I'm telling you, it's like Chinito comes alive, crazy as that sounds.

He has a fiesty grunt of a voice, and for all his gruffness he's a sensitive soul. He likes soccer, cartoons, tequila, cuddling, and... beef. He gets a bit ruffled when I don't pay him enough attention, so I decided to honor him in this blog (he can become a little jealous of Carnita, who was featured last month). If this sounds too odd to you, it may be an indicator that (a) you need to lighten up and get a stuffed animal of your own to bestow a personality upon, (b) you don't identify with my own (unique) personality, or (c) you haven't met Chinito. Whatever the case, Chinito exists and he is a darling, thoughtful bear.

For instance, while I was in Portland last weekend, I received a picture text message from him, saying he missed me and was going to play soccer in the park, with his fuzzy face filling the screen of my cell phone. How could I not love this bear? It almost makes me forget the many times he's threatened to eat Carnita. No bear is perfect, or vegetarian for that matter, so I love him as he is. However, if he eats Carnita, I will send him packing to Ricardo's.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the road to fluency

What would it take to be fluent in another person's love language? Piggy-backing on the last few sentences of my previous post, I guess I don't want to brush past it too quickly. It's such a huge thought, deserving more than a passing comment or a surface treatment. It needs some serious reflection. I honestly never thought before of learning another person's love language as similar to learning a second language.

I've been slowly learning Spanish. I really had no desire to learn Spanish before meeting Ricardo. Swahili, yes, possibly even French (only because it's spoken in West Africa), but never Spanish. It's the classic case of acquiring new, unexpected interests as a result of a romantic interest in someone else, but it's genuine. As in, I'm not faking my desire to learn Spanish. After all, it's his primary language, and so the more I understand Spanish and am able to communicate with him in that way (or at least understand some of what he says), the better I understand him. It's forever a huge part of who he is, so naturally, I want to learn. I'm motivated to learn, and I find the whole process a fun and rewarding challenge. That said, I confess I'm thankful I'm not having to fake an interest in golf or video games (are they even called that anymore?) or comic books or bryology (the study of mosses and liverworts). Spanish and the many subsets of the Mexican culture from which he comes are within my realm of interest.

Regardless, the point is that Ricardo is someone I love, and therefore, he is well within my realm of interest. I want to know him. I want to understand what makes him feel passion or sadness or anger, what triggers his emotions, what gives him energy and what takes it away, what his dreams are and what he fears, what pulls him close and what drives him away. I want to know where he comes from and what has shaped him into the man he is today. I want to know all the nuances of his culture. I want to know what makes him feel supported and what makes him feel undermined. I want to know what actions on my part make him feel loved and cared for. These things are the substance of his primary language, more pervasive and yet more subtle than Spanish.

Too often, my own language gets in the way. More so, my desire or expectation that he be fluent in the ways I love can obscure my ability to speak his language. My first thought in a disagreement or miscommunication is generally not, "How can I meet Ricardo's needs in this moment?" rather, "How can I make sure my needs get met?" It's the sad truth. The good news is, I don't intend to stay there. Inch by inch, I'm making my way toward fluency in Ricardo's language of love. I've got a long way to go to fluency, but the challenge serves as a continual reminder to be intentional, to not grow lazy. I can think of no other language worth learning right now than his. I just pray I can be a good and faithful student.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

love & onions

I've got onions on my mind. Chalk it up to another inspired thought from the counseling office. You've probably heard some metaphor or another about how people or life or grief or healing are a lot like an onion. Lots and lots of layers. It's a good metaphor, I think. Except we're not confined to a little ball. Our layers our infinite. We spend our entire lives peeling back one layer of healing, one layer of growth, one layer of character development, one layer of revelation at a time, and we never reach the end. There's always, always something more to learn in life, about ourselves and each other and God and how the world works.

Sometimes I feel like a poor, cowering little onion trying to hide her nakedness, as one layer after another is stripped away. But I know I'm not really naked, far from it, though it may feel that way at times. Just when I'm adjusting to one new layer of skin, another is exposed. I want to beat my little onion fists against the wall, begging the peeler to slow down and give me a break. And yet I know I thrive on the peeling back process as much as a plant thrives on pruning.

Love is a lot like an onion, too. To think we can peel it back and look at it in one fell swoop is laughable. Who can peel an onion like that? Surely not even Chuck Norris. Love has infinite layers of depth and dimension, and the sense of exposure at times is nothing more than adjusting to the vulnerability and maturity required of me in a new layer of love's onion. I can shrink back from it and clutch my layers against me, refusing to be peeled any further, this is true. But my love will be stunted, and I don't want that. I want to love deeper. I want to love further. I want to love wider. I want to love higher. And the only way to that ever-expanding capacity to love is through peeling.

My counselor suggested we need to learn how to love smarter, not harder. To do this requires a willingness to learn the love language of another, which is tricky, because no two languages are exactly the same. We can learn to be fluent, perhaps, in two or five or ten love languages, but it takes smarts. It takes courage. It takes tenacity. And it takes the humility of an onion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Lately, writing in the mornings has worked for me. I get up and head to a coffee shop near work about an hour before work starts, and there I happily sip my coffee and get my juices flowing for the day. But sometimes, like today, attempting to write in the morning is similar to starting a car with no fuel in the gas tank. The key's in the ignition, I turn it, and... nothing happens. Just the sound of a sputtering starter. Brain freeze. I really have little desire to write about yesterday, and today nothing has happened yet. Nothing in particular is on my mind, except that after four and a half hours of sleep, I'd prefer being back in bed. So all this makes for not an exciting post at all, for which I apologize, and I promise tomorrow will be better. What I need is some back-up fuel for days like these.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My valentine

Today I'm choosing to celebrate true love. Not romantic love, not friendship love, not temporary love, but the real deal. It's been years since I believed in fairy tales, in someone fulfilling our "dreams come true" hopes for love. There's really only one lasting, unfading love I've tasted, and it hasn't been from another person.

This love has witnessed every moment of my life, even created it. This love has watched me grow through the years, has been beside me learning to walk and learning to get up after I fall. This love has bandaged many boo-boos and held me through many boo-boos too big to bandage. This love has sung over me in my sleep, painted thousands of brilliant sunrises and sunsets, never one the same. This love has danced with me in sheer joy and huddled with me in sadness. This love has been with me behind closed doors when I haven't let anyone see the real me. This love has steadied my boat in the stormy seas. This love has bottled my tears.

This love has coached me to get up and keep walking when I've been on my face. This love has whispered true things to me when my mind has been swirling with confusing lies, has held a mirror up to show me who I am when I see nothing but blur. This love has been with me on my worst days, on the days I can find nothing to love in me. This love hasn't made promises and not kept them. This love has planted dreams in my heart and then said, "Do it, I'm with you." This love has been in question, sadly, too many times, and though feelings of disappointment have come and gone, this love has never truly disappointed. This love has remained steady and faithful through a barrage of doubt. This love has held nothing back from me, has freely faced death and the grave for me, so that I could freely live. This love lives forever, every day showing me glimmers of eternity, of what real love is.

So today, on the day of love, I want to celebrate that love. Not because I'm bitter or cynical about Valentine's day, but only because I know this love has no limits. It's not a mirage. No, it's not that pool of glistening water in a molten desert that flashes seductively from a distance, getting your hopes up, so that when your thirsty self comes near, you find nothing to drink from after all. Today I'm celebrating that there exists a real pool of water to drink from in my thirst for love, and it's a pool that never runs dry. I'm celebrating that only one love can ever fill my cup. Only one love is everything it claims to be. And I don't need balloons or flowers, stuffed animals or chocolates, candlelight dinner or a beautiful card to let God know He's my valentine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Breaking cahoots

My apologies upfront for any ambiguity or cryptic content in this blog, but I'm writing about the here-and-now, and this, my friends, is where it's at.

It hit me today that there are questions I've been hiding in the closet of my heart for the past few months, and that they needed to come out. So I did something I hope was brave and not premature: I let them out. That's right. I asked those questions to the person I needed to be honest with, and I no longer hid behind the fear of the unknown. Have you ever done that? It's both frightening in the level of exposure you feel, hanging awkwardly in that place of the unknown, while also liberating you from the dread of an answer you may not want to hear. In letting those questions out of hiding, it's making a statement: I won't be in cahoots with fear any longer. I'm going to face it head on, instead of waiting for it to creep up and grab me from behind. I'm going to surrender.

And that's the place I find myself in this evening. Waiting, choosing not to dread the answer. Learning once again what trusting God looks like.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Here I am, sitting at my favorite Cafe Delirium, or Cafe “D”, in Gresham (east of Portland), across from a plush green sofa that my best friend and I clocked a lot of hours on throughout the years. The cafe is half a block north and two blocks south of both locations of my parent’s former bookstores here on Main Street. Across the street is Dee’s Studio where my sister found her wedding dress, now with a "For Lease" sign in the window. And so the memories start coming home, some with speed and others with the pace of an unhurried stroll.

Being back in Portland elicits strange, vague feelings, like shadowy clouds moving across a muted blue sky. I have nothing against the city. In fact, if I hadn’t already lived here and left it behind, when I read over reviews of how innovatively green and vegan friendly Portland is, I would think to myself, now that’s my kind of place. But Portland and I have a history. And while not a bad history, when I’m back in town there’s always an unexplicable sadness hanging over even the sweet memories, even the new memories. Not to mention, for all the delicious, funky cafes and coffee houses, all the eclectic hipster shops and the art scene, Portland is missing some vital things that I dearly love in Seattle: the Puget Sound, ferries, the overall urban factor, and of course, most of my dearest friendships.

Cafe D hasn’t changed much. It’s still jam packed with mismatched comfy armchairs, shabby chic furniture, tables and chairs, throw rugs and local artwork. It still has my favorite vanilla chai, which I drink blended for old time’s sake, even though it’s cold and windy outside. My bf and I spent countless hours here, most of them ditching our dull history classes at the community college for some chai and catch-up time. I don’t know how many tears were shed on that green sofa as we spilled our guts to each other, how many times we huddled together laughing until we cried, how many crossword puzzles we attempted (and later abandoned) together. We didn’t really come here to study; it was our meeting spot, for just about every occasion.

Main Street has changed, though. There are still the staple spots, like Sunny Hans teriyaki, Bocelli’s Ristorante, Wall Street Pizza, Lil' Britches, Tedrick Family Chiropractic, Main Street Nails and Tanning, and of course Cafe D. The spots where the bookstores used to be are an office and a resale clothing/home decor shop. The latter shop, the one that’s now a retail business, is a charming old brick building that originally started as a church. Since then, it has been a revolving door of failed businesses. It’s always been that way. Chinese restaurant, Irish pub, catering business, wedding event center, Christian bookstore and cafe, and now, resale clothing and home decor shop.

The way I remember it, though, when at the height of its glory as a business, is Still Waters Christian bookstore and cafe, owned by my dad and mom. Hardwood floors, old wood molding, dark wooden rails trailing up to a cozy balcony, tall ceilings and beautiful windows, neatly lined rows of bookcases, the smell of history. Now those memories are a part of my history. I haven't been inside for at least five years, but I will forever associate that place with my Papa. It was his baby.

I don't know where the sadness comes from, but each time in town, it's like I'm trying to stay ahead of the memories. The past no longer exists, that's the strange thing. The house we lived in on Orchard Place is still there, our old neighborhood much the same, but life has moved on, chapter by chapter, leaving the memories behind. The sadness was there even before my dad died, but it's more pronounced in his absence, as if to remind me he, too, is a past memory. And that, perhaps, is the main reason I could not foresee myself moving back to Portland.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My best friend's getting married

I've known this day was coming. For eleven years now, since we became bff's overnight at community college, I've known it. And now, though it's been on the horizon for six months, it's not always real to me: my best friend's getting married. But tonight, at her shower, watching her sit so poised and radiant with a veil cascading down her back, talking about how they met and the Proposal, it sunk in.

I first noticed her in a calculus class. The girl at the table next to me with the colorful striped socks. Surely she is cool, I thought, because she's got good taste in socks. My intuition was spot on, and we struck up a friendship one afternoon while studying in a common area at the college. That was eleven years ago. Since then, we've each been through multiple boyfriends, heartbreaks, late-night study sessions, college graduations, life tragedies, celebrations, new jobs, new apartments, road trips, birthdays, funerals, adventures, and now, a wedding. We've been roommates several times (I thought we resembled the Odd Couple). We've prayed hours and hours together, worshiped together while I jammed on my guitar, cried together, laughed hysterically together, dressed up in funny costumes together, adopted a grandpa together, shared the deepest things of our hearts. She's the one of the most loyal, faithful, hang-with-you-till-the-day-you-die friends I've had the pleasure of knowing. She's more like a sister than anything else. I'd do anything for her, and she'd do the same in a heartbeat. There aren't many friends that come through this life that you believe will be around for your whole life, especially if you've moved around a lot like me and aren't great at keeping in touch long distance. But years ago, I finally let myself accept that she was one of those friends that wasn't going anywhere, no matter where we lived.

And now she's getting married.

From the depths of my heart, I'm happy for her. So happy. This is right, it's what she's wanted. He's right for her. But I don't know why, it's hard to give her away. It's hard to think of closing such a long chapter, punctuating it, and turning the page to start writing a new one. I don't know what it will look like, much like everything else in my life. But I'm learning to trust that, though a different chapter, we can still be beautiful characters in each other's stories.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Readin' and writin'

The more I spend time writing, the more I see how much reading enhances my writing, but the harder it is to make time to read. I love to read. I grew up around books. My parents had a personal library in most of our houses growing up, they were in the bookstore business for half of my life, and I affectionately recall weekly trips to the library as a kid. As I've grown older, however, I'm horribly guilty of talking about my love for reading more than I actually read. For instance, it's not unusual to find four books of mine lying around the house that I'm in the midst of reading, of which I'll finish one, if I'm lucky. If I'm not excited about a book in the first twenty pages or so, I'll ditch it, unless I have some motivation to persevere.

That said, I got to thinking about the books I've read in the last year. Maybe we'd better make that the last two years. Of those, which have been the most rewarding reads? Hmmm, let's see.

1. Mountains beyond mountains - Tracy Kidder. It's the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, whom I see as the Mother Teresa of Haiti. I not only love the tireless devotion and passion that drives Dr. Farmer to champion for free health care for the poorest of the poor in Haiti (and other countries), but as a writer with an affinity for memoirs and narratives, I love the way Tracy Kidder tells the stories of others in writing. He's a masterful storyteller, and he does so without the reader hardly knowing he's there. Beautiful.

2. Room of Marvels - James Bryan Smith. I read this book right after I read The shack (which, controversial as it is, I really loved and appreciated for specific reasons), and the two had a lot of similarities, though different stories and styles. Having just lost my Dad, this book spoke powerfully to me of life beyond here, of the mystery and creative purposes of God in weaving the stories of our lives, of the impact that we may have on our world, regardless of what we can see. It made me wonder about the life that my Dad is continuing to live with God in heaven. Smith reminded me a lot of C.S. Lewis.

3. unChristian - David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. This book challenged me in so many profound ways as a follower of Christ in the culture I live in. It's a must-read, in my strong opinion, for any Christian who really cares to love people from all different backgrounds, belief systems, etc, and it starts with putting aside defenses and actually listening to what a large demographic of our culture has to say about their perceptions of Christians.

4. I'll lump these all together, for efficiency: Blue like Jazz, A million miles in a thousand years, and Searching for God knows what - Donald Miller. I've just got to say, I deeply appreciate Don Miller. I've got a writer crush on him - I love the way he communicates. I loved different things about each of these books of his, and some of his books more than others, but the thing that remains the same throughout is his refreshing, bumbling candidness about himself and life. He never tries to make himself look great, only to be honest and real, which of course, is endearing.

5. Writing to change the world - Mary Pipher. She got me at the title. I am passionate about writing for a greater purpose. And she offers some very practical tips and perspectives for writing in such a way.

6. God never blinks - Regina Brett. Another refreshingly real writer, sharing about what she's learned through life's detours. Short chapters with great insights. From a faith perspective without being "churchy" (though I don't agree with everything she says, I appreciate her authenticity). Her style reminded me of Anne Lamott.

7. Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: Cultural studies in the gospels - Ken Bailey. I'm still working through this one, to be honest, but I don't want to fly through it too quickly. It's packed, and I mean packed, with insights and historical treasures. Already it's shaping the way I read the gospels and also how I see Jesus.

8. Strength in what remains - Tracy Kidder. Ok, I already have him on this list, but he's just so good. This book was one of my favorites of the year. An amazing, amazing story of strength and resilience and perseverance, of someone who harnessed his pain to do incredible things for others with his life.

9. Eating animals - Jonathon Foer. I knew I was forgetting a really important one. The book that educated me immensely about the factory farm industry and some philosophy about why we eat animals, and certain ones at that. What I loved about this book: It was not directly a case for vegetarianism, but with the facts he presented in the passionate but objective manner I so appreciated, it ended up being a slam dunk case for me. Extremely well researched, well-thought, well-articulated, provocative book. I haven't been the same since.

I think that's all I have time for at the moment, but it's a good start. Looking at the list, though, I can see I need to get a' readin'. I read most of these books months and months ago.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beautiful encounters

It’s often difficult to break through barriers of social ettiquette to reach authenticity with people. Every day I’m aware of this while I greet customers and coworkers in over a hundred mini conversations throughout the day: “Hey! How are you this morning? It’s good to see you. Are you having a good week?” I want the hear the real answer, but the truth is, it’s more efficient in business to have people give the short, standard replies, the “Oh, fine. I’m tired, but good,” and so forth. Customers understandably grow impatient in line if I take too long with the person in front of them. However, I relish those moments when I truly connect with a customer, even if just for that moment.

Today I was taking a lady’s order and noticed either she wasn’t having a great day or she wasn’t a very warm person, because her face was quite serious and her tone very businesslike and no-nonsence. As I prepared her latte, I asked about her day. She didn’t look me in the eyes but for a second, looked down, and forced out a very unconvincing mumble of “Fine.”

In these circumstances, I don’t often know how to proceed. Do I drop it and ignore her response? Do I take that as a hint that she doesn’t want to talk? Or do I gently show some interest in knowing more? Well, seeing as I’m not so great at ignoring these kinds of things, I waited and discreetly watched her as I finished her drink. She looked like she was holding back tears. My heart went out to her.

As I handed her the latte, I caught her eye, “I really hope your day gets better.” Now the tears were rolling down, but she didn’t turn away, just stood there fiddling with her drink and gave what seemed to be an unconscious sigh of frustration. I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t turn away, even though maybe that’s what she wanted. “Is there anything I can do?” I finally asked, hoping it sounded as sincere as I felt.

She just stared at me, perhaps a little surprised, then gave a faint hint of a smile. “Your smile helps,” she said. “Actually,” she blinked back more tears, “I found out today that my job ends in a month.”

She looked so alone across that counter. I sighed, “Oh... I’m so sorry. That must have been awful news to receive.”

Her face reflected some embarassment about her tears, which she followed up with, “I’m trying not to let it affect me, but...”

I stopped her. “Of course it will affect you. What a big unexpected blow.”

She was quiet. "I was there for 20 years... I didn’t think this would happen.”

“Wow, that’s a long time, of course you didn’t. I really am sad to hear that.” And I was, though I have no clue what the imminent threat of losing a long-held job feels like.

As she turned to go, I asked for her name and told her I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers for a new job. She smiled with her teary eyes and walked away, and I realized my eyes were on the verge of tears themselves. I felt humbled by how tempted I was at first to judge her as an unfriendly person, how wrong I would have been.

I don’t know if I’ll she’ll be in again, but I know I won’t forget her. I began praying that God would comfort and encourage her. It was one of those more -rare-than-I’d-like experiences at work where I felt like, maybe, in this moment, I was the answer to my own prayer for comfort for this lovely woman.

In addition to a new job, I’m praying this will become a piece of beautiful rubbish in her story, when things looked so ugly for awhile, and then - the beautiful unexpected emerged. I won’t be the answer to that prayer, but God is so creative, I’m sure He’s already got something in the works.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Starting places

*At my writer's group last night,

I started thinking more about the story I'd like to tell,

about this idea of beautiful rubbish, were I to write a book.

But where do I start?

I'm not sure I know that answer yet, but here's what came out.*

I will remember the last conversation between Papa and I as forever eerily punctuating my transition to writerhood. The temperature remained solidly in the upper eighties that week in August as he and I worked together on an outdoor painting job. I painted in shorts and a bikini top, to maximize the inevitable tan, since we were mostly working secluded in a backyard. Working between free-flowing conversation and silence, we had been talking about my plans for the near future.

I was but two months out of grad school, just two and a half weeks out from packing my belongings into my Honda civic and driving cross country with my dad to Minneapolis. I had big hopes for working with an organization in the city that provided culturally creative mental health services to refugee clients who’d survived major traumatic events (what a mouthful, huh?). This is what I’d been grooming myself for in grad school these past two years, and really, what I’d been preparing for all of my twenties. And here I was, twenty-seven, finally on the brink of launching out into my field.

I stopped to give my forearm a quick break and turned to look at my dad a few feet away with a paintbrush. The sun fixed its gaze on me with beady eyes, until the sweat crept from my temples and quietly rolled down my cheeks. “Papa?”


“I know this sounds crazy and ridiculous, considering I just finished school with a Master’s in counseling, but, all I’ve wanted to do since finishing school is to write.” I studied his face, which didn’t look at all surprised by this confession, feeling a secret weight roll off my heart. I hadn’t told this to anyone.

“I don’t think that’s crazy, honey. If writing’s what you want to do, then do it. You’re an incredible writer, I’ve always thought so.”

I nodded my gratitude. I could always count on my dad to understand. After all, I’d inherited my distaste for conventionality, my hunger for adventure, my artistic bent, from him. My dad didn’t fit into a box, and I admired him for that.

“I don’t know what that means,” I continued, “Where to start, what to write, what, if anything, I’ll ever publish. I just know it’s in me, it’s what I love. Much more than counseling.”

Our conversation shifted to plans for the big move. Something in me felt that I’d just gotten the blessing from my dad, to be something more than I went to school for. To unleash more creativity in my dreams for life.

I recalled this conversation with a growing sense of displacement and detachment just a few days later. The next evening, I sat down to write. Finding a computer with internet access in the ICU waiting room at Harborview Medical Center, I posted a note on facebook requesting prayer for my dad. He fell off a ladder and hit his head on the concrete driveway while painting that morning. Now he lay in a coma in the hospital. I had no clue what sorrow the next week and months and years would bring, only this deep down rumbling, this knowledge that I would not be taking that cross country trek to Minnesota with my Papa after all.

And I was right, life had a very different turn in mind. Nine days after that conversation with my Papa, he passed away, not having woken from his coma. The past two and a half years have been my journey to uncover and accept the beautiful in a landscape of rubbish. It’s a story very much in process.