Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Write: The riddle of faith

I just finished reading Ross Douthat, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times and his take on Christianity, "liberal" Christianity in particular.  I've spent the past hour scouring articles about the Chic Fil A controversy, and somehow ended up here, reading about the demise of Christianity, at least in the eyes of American culture.  And I feel all fidgety inside, because I try to keep this blog from being about my political views, but when I read all the press and the barbed comments flung across social media, it's hard to stay silent.  

But I'm afraid to speak.

Seems these days, it's a classic case of "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't" when it comes to Christians professing their stances on some of the hot potato political issues.  Seems it's increasingly dangerous for Christians to say much at all, unless it's in line with the most current acceptable beliefs of our culture.  And more kudos are given to the Christians who can defend themselves with PhDs from the most intellectual, progressive universities, followed by a vocabulary that can keep up with all the academic lingo - well-versed, well-researched, hyper-rational, and above all, tolerant. 

As I write this, I can already feel readers bristling, preparing their defense or simply clicking the page closed.  What is she going to say that is bound to be so controversial?

Nothing, really.  Not today.  There are Christians out there that seem to thrive on their reputation for being controversial.  I am not one of them.  That doesn't mean, however, that I don't write myself into a controversy now and then.  I just don't go looking for it.  Usually.  

No, my thought today is woefully simple.  Far too simple, I'm sure, for the readers of Mr. Douthat's Op-Ed column.  I think all these highly intellectual articles and studies of modern or postmodern or liberal or whatever-you-call-it-these-days Christianity drive home some great points.  I'm not really trying to knock them.  I just think they are making it way too complicated.

I think Christianity, in its purest, truest form, is not a religion, but an identity and way of life for those who are willing to be childlike.  Who are willing to lay aside agendas and follow the One who is Love.  This is not an intellectual pursuit.  Love is a choice, yes, in the way diving off a towering cliff is also a choice.   It demands absolute surrender.  It will likely never appeal to those that require all of their sharpest intellectual inquiries to be accounted for before taking the plunge.  Not because Christianity is, as it's often mistakingly portrayed, a check-your-brain-at-the-door faith.  But because faith is just that.  Faith.  There will always, and I mean always, be unanswered questions to wrestle with.  It's not always rational, it doesn't make a god of intellect, and it's supernatural.  It's childlike.  And that's just plain demeaning for a lot of folks. 

So columnists and authors and bloggers and freelance writers and tweeters and professors and students and readers and politicians can debate it all they like.  And we can, by golly, even learn some great things and be intellectually and spiritually challenged by their debates.  But that's not ever going to solve the riddle of faith.  

Doesn't faith always looks ridiculous?

I'm still a Christian after all these years because somewhere along the way I fell in love with a God who invited me to become like a little child and live an upside-down life of devotion to him and love for others.   And, let's face it, if God were the one to make a list of rational and intellectual reasons why he should love me in the first place, or after these many years of daily mess-ups, it certainly wouldn't stand up under the scrutiny of a NY Times Op-Ed column.

Oh, and p.s.  I guess this probably is stretching the "free writing" theme for Just Write...but I did write it freely in the moment as I processed what I was reading, if that's worth anything. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Waiting in the Garden

My heart is heavy.  With sadness, with expectation, with remembrance.  I've been following the story of a man full of love and much loved - husband, dad, grandpa, brother, uncle, friend, pastor - and his family, in a three year battle with advanced prostate cancer.  They've been believing for a miracle, enduring in faith, for these long months, and I add my prayers of faith with theirs.  And now, as his strength is declining, as his pain is unrelenting, as doctors give him two to four weeks left to live, I find myself on my knees this morning, weeping and singing and crying out to the God I know understands the fear of death and the agony of loss more than any of us.  He's stared it in the face, felt it coursing through his veins, doubling him over in anguished sobs. 

Jesus in the Garden.  

Jesus, Son of God and fully human, pleading with God to the point of sweating blood, "Is there any other way? Please, spare me from this death..." And after hours of anguished wrestling in prayer, "Yet...not my will, but Yours be done here."  Jesus wanted out.  He didn't want to die.  

I remember this as I pray, soaked with tears, as if Jesus were kneeling beside me, remembering his own moments with fear and sorrow and death.  And I'm trying to pray like he did, with that gut-wrenching honesty, pleading for deliverance from death, trusting ultimately in his sovereignty even in the face of death. 

I wish I could say I had these moments of clarity of faith when my own Papa died.  The truth is, I felt dead inside, spiritually checked out, and what I just wrote above would have ticked me off at the time.  I didn't want to hear about God's sovereignty or his plans being different than our own.  I just wanted my Papa to live.  I didn't want to face the pain of losing him.

I'll never forget watching life slowly leave his body.  It felt like an eternity, each minute ticking by in my ear, sounding like fingernails on a chalkboard.  I thought when they removed his tubes he would die quickly.  I wasn't prepared to watch him struggle, his lungs gasping for air, choking on fluids in his throat, for nearly six hours.  My prayers for God to heal him gradually shifted to angry pleas that he be compassionate and end Papa's life.  This, in my book, was not a dignified way for Papa to go.  Didn't God owe it to him, this man who had loved and followed him for so long, to spare him further suffering?  Didn't he owe it to us to spare us the agony of watching him die like this?  It was like God was rubbing salt in our open wounds and I was all but shaking my fist at him.  I wasn't able, in these moments and for a long time after, to see it any other way.  

Papa wasn't supposed to die at fifty-eight. I wasn't supposed to lose my dad at twenty-seven.  My mom wasn't supposed to say goodbye to her husband, the love of her life, six days short of their thirty-six anniversary.  My sister wasn't supposed to lose him the day after her wedding anniversary.  His grandkids weren't supposed to lose him at the ages of four and eight months.  I wasn't married yet, didn't have kids for him to hold yet.  It wasn't supposed to happen like this.  But it did.  And nearly four years later, only by the grace and healing of a faithful God, do I kneel in a different posture than I did when praying for my own Papa.  

As I pray, I'm singing along with a song I found online, and this song levels me.  At the same time, it leverages my heart to heaven, where I'm reaching my hands up high as if to grab hold of Jesus' hand and the hand of my Papa.  And I can almost see them, not really with my eyes, but squinting with the eyes of my heart.  My heart holds a mix of sorrow, hope, expectation and longing, as I lift my voice to heaven.  If faith can move the mountains, let the mountains move/ We come with expectation/ Waiting here for You, waiting here for You/ You're the Lord of all creation/ And still You know my heart/ The Author of salvation/ You've loved us from the start/ Waiting here for You/ With our hands lifted high in praise/ And it's You we adore/ Singing Allelujah/ You are everything You've promised/ Your faithfulness is true/ We're desperate for Your presence/ All we need is You/ Waiting here for You...

Yes, waiting.  Waiting for him to come, as he always does, though not always in the way we expect, in the way we want.  But to broken hearts and crushed spirits and angry questions and hopes deferred, he comes.  He enters in.  He covers with his loving presence.  He hunkers down and never leaves, even with fists punching the air. 

I miss Papa in these moments, so deeply, choking back tears, as I know I always will.  And I hold this family closely in my heart, not knowing the plans God has for this man that they love or for them; not knowing this road they travel wearily or the shoes they walk in that are blistering their feet; but full of gratitude forged in the fires of loss and grief, that the One who has walked this road hears their cries and can handle their sorrow.  Because he's been there.  And he is everything he's promised.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My eight-year old teacher

His smile reminds me of Papa's.  Tentative at first, almost self-conscious, but luminous in full bloom, light wending its way through crevices to the heart.  It's impossible not to feel something on the receiving end of that smile.


He's three parts innocence, one part touched by the inequities of life.  Eight and a half years old, brilliant, and small for his age, he's already known some struggles, and this shows at times behind a guardedness in his eyes.  Beneath that, he's still the tenderhearted kid he's always been, with eyes that see hurting people in the world around him and an inquisitive mind forever formulating questions. 

And he is passionate about bugs, and really, all living creatures on two or four, eight or ten legs.  
Just yesterday, me and Gramie and Jayden are at the Seattle Bug Safari, an attraction I've never thought of exploring until I had a reason under four feet tall, and he's our tour guide.  We migrate slowly from tank to cage to glass case of beetles, cockroaches, scorpions, tarantulas, black widows, praying mantises, hanging stick bugs, grasshoppers, and water beetles.  He possesses knowledge of each one and reads to us from the descriptions posted.  His voice is excitement bubbling over, flagging us to take pictures, to capture these fascinating creatures for his journal.  I try not to be grossed out by the hissing cockroaches, the six inch centipede, the printout of the health benefits of eating insects.  Bugs have never been my thing. 
Once my arm hairs have returned to their normal position, I force myself to study the gigantic fuzzy black tarantula.  Apparently it's a she and she is passed out with a few of her legs in the water dish, laying on top of the reason for her exhaustion: her exoskeleton.  The guy running the Safari says she shed it all the day before in a matter of hours.  They'll reach in with long tweezers in a couple of days to retrieve the skin and pin it up on display.  Surprisingly, I'm filled with a reluctant fascination and respect for this creature, and I wouldn't have been, were it not for my nephew.

We pass through Pike Market when we're finished, through the sights and smells of foods he can no longer eat with his gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet.  He's struggling under the torment to his senses, but he happily chomps his celery and peanut butter, grapes, applesauce and potato chips for lunch as we sit outside the Market.  A homeless man with stringy hair matted with spit and who knows what else, his tattered clothes hanging on him, shuffles over to our table and sits down.  He tells us he was just released from the county jail and needs $4.50 for a bus ride home.  Mom shakes her head no, compassion etched on her face.  He stands without argument and shuffles past Jayden to the next table.  

Jayden is full of questions, immediately concerned for this man.  We explain that people don't always tell the truth when they ask for money, but regardless, the truth behind their words is that they are often in pain and need love.  "We should pray for him," he insists with pure conviction.  And so we do.  All the while, I feel the tears threatening the corners of my eyes in sadness for this shell of a man, and awe and gratitude for this tender heart of the boy that is my nephew.

He reminds me, in his own way, how many life lessons can be learned from an eight-year old. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just Write: The hands of time

I trek the quarter-mile walk from the backdoor of our apartment to the steep set of concrete steps leading up to the Pavilion, where I'll swipe my key card and climb one last set of carpeted stairs to the gym.  I'm faster now, on one crutch, and so it doesn't take me that long, but I'm in no hurry so time really doesn't matter.  Time, in fact, has loosened its grip on me since this injury, as if severing my tendon temporarily severed me from rushing through life on the hands of a clock.  I miss having at least a skeleton of a schedule, but I no longer restlessly tick away the hours of a day like I'm lost in some version of my own Twilight Zone.  I lean into my crutch and I lean into the hours that stretch before me in this day, unscheduled and free of anxiety.

Through the gym doors, I enter to one solitary young man, finishing his stretch and watching the news.  We acknowledge each other with nods and smiles given to strangers, and after a few moments, he points to my boot and asks, "Achilles?"  I'm surprised he knows this - I wouldn't have known this if it hadn't happened to me - and ask if he's injured his before.  He says no, but he thought he did last week playing basketball, but it was just a tear in his calf.  His ACL, though, he's torn twice in the same leg. Knowing looks pass between us. 

We talk about injuries and he comments that he thinks having these types of injuries would be good for all of us at some point.  How it gave him a small taste of what it's like to be disabled, and how much more he appreciates what he's taken for granted all his life.  I couldn't agree more.  Our injuries can be gifts and I will recover, and I no longer treat that as something owed to me, but that, too, is gift.  This stranger and I, we bond in a moment over how wounds instruct us and gratitude heals us and we are changed in the tearing and binding and recovering.

And I unstrap my boot and my one tennis shoe, lean my crutch against the equipment and swing up on the seat of the stationary bike.  The sensation of socked feet against pedals, pushing in circular motion, of my tight tendon slowly releasing and lengthening, makes my heart dance a little jig.  And I say thank you, in this moment, and for all the moments leading up to this one that have taught me to see and how time is not something to fight against but to lean into.

I lean a little more into the pedals and relish the stretch.

*This post is linked up with Just Write, a Tuesday writing exercise.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The EO Award

She rises early, prepares breakfast for her family.  Gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, she is not free to prepare whatever is simple and easy.  Hers is a labor of love in the kitchen, feeding bodies, nourishing hearts, guarding health.  She repeats this for lunch, and then for dinner, day after day after day.  Dishes, laundry, picking up around the house, shuttling kids to and fro, managing doctor appointments, growing her own business, clipping coupons, paying bills, nurturing friendships, digging deeper into God.  Life seems to have accumulated for her new sets of challenges through the years, often in a relentless parade and not often spread out, and yet she only grows more beautiful.  Layer upon layer peeled back through struggle to reveal deeper, radiant beauty. 

She is my hero.

Mom and I were talking about her yesterday, about all the things she faces with grace and perseverance.  And Mom says, "She's my hero," and I think about this and nod firmly in agreement. Yes, she's mine, too, and with this confession a pang of love seizes my insides, squeezing hard.  

My sister is modest, not one to draw attention to herself.  She never has.  I, on the other hand, the youngest child, often loved the attention and maybe still do.  If she reads this, she may be embarrassed, but I don't mind.  Sometimes it does a soul good to be noticed, to be admired, to be thanked.  Sometimes we don't realize that the unremarkable things we do on a daily basis are, in fact, remarkable when done with love.  Another blogger calls this "the extraordinary ordinary" - and this is the stuff of a life fully lived.  

My Sister, I see you.  And you are remarkably lovely.

So, if I could give out an award today (and $10,000 to whisk you away on a European adventure for several weeks) for The Woman I Admire Most For Living Out the Extraordinary Ordinary, it would go to you.  

Never underestimate the impact of your love.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A smile as wide as the lake


All summer long, I've stared out at Lake Washington and eyed swimmers and paddle boarders with envy.  The water taunts, and I'm a thirsty pilgrim in the desert, licking my lips and imagining the cool liquid coating my dry throat.  Except, I'm not thirsty, really.  I'm just on crutches.  And it's been one of my secret prayers and a semi-regular conversation with God, that the summer not end before I can slip this body into a lake, even one time, not to float around on a raft, but to swim free.

I miss my freedom, the little morsels of movement I've taken for granted all my life.

So yesterday, I'm at a big beautiful lake that I love in Bremerton, in the backyard of my friend's parents, and the sun is heating us up on the deck where we read.  My two pals and I decide we're going to take the plunge and make our way down to the deck.  I strip down to my pink polka dot bikini, the one I was supposed to wear on my honeymoon in Hawaii, and steady myself on one crutch and my boot down the wooden steps of the gently rocking dock.  The boot comes off, and I'm gleefully down to my bare feet (another little something I don't take for granted anymore).  I inch myself like an upright caterpillar to the end of the dock, dipping feet in the cool lake.  My only goal is to get in the water with as little use of the legs as possible, and preferably, no kicking of the feet.  I flip over onto my stomach and lower myself in, unable to stop myself from the kicking necessary to keep myself temporarily afloat.  And then, I'm in - with two foam "noodles" buoyed beneath my hips and a mile-wide grin.  My friends dive in right after me. 

The water rewards us, both chilly and enticing, and we take off toward the other side.  Naphtali with her breast stroke, Ruthie with her crawl stroke, and me with my arms-only stroke.  We joke that we should swim the distance across - roughly three quarters of a mile - and I try to find a position that feels efficient.  As my body glides somewhat awkwardly through the water I feel as free as the trout that swim in the depths of the lake.  I don't know how far I can go, but the refreshing water engulfing my skin, the sensation of my upper body working in fluid motion and my core muscles engaging ever so slightly, combined with the breeze across the lake, an eagle swooping to my left, and my close friends on either side of me, I might as well be in heaven. 

As we cut our paths through the water, we talk of doing the Seattle to Portland bike ride in a year or two, and I'm fantasizing of a way to still participate in the triathlon at this very lake come September.  I know it won't happen, but this swim takes me one step closer to my dreams of returning to the activities I love.  My arms are working hard, but I'm not wearing out yet.  Pretty soon, we're near the rocky beach on the other side and we turn ourselves back, chuckling at the realization of our "joke".   We stroke back strong, unhurried, relaxed, ending our nearly mile and a half swim with excited talk of hot showers.  The joy of the swim stretches taut the muscles on my face and leaves my body a little wobbly with fatigue.  It's absolutely glorious. 

Back at my physical therapist's office today, he's pressing down on my ankle, manipulating around the scar, pulling my foot back and pushing it toward me.  He has me stand up on bare feet, walking with one crutch for the first time with no boot.  I wobble, apprehensive of the feel of body weight on this bare foot that hasn't born its full weight in three months.  My balance is off, nearly nonexistent, and the pressure builds around my heel and ankle as the tendon stretches, just a little further.  He has me step onto a stationary bicycle, slip these bare feet into pedals, and ride at 80 rpms for only five minutes, and I grunt softly but grin happy, as I did on the lake remembering how it felt to be free. 

It's these baby steps of rehabilitation that condition me to slow down and savor these morsels of joy, these reminders that everything in life is a gift on loan, offered one day at a time.   


Friday, July 13, 2012

Two faces of thunderstorms

A florescent flash appears, ripping downward from shroud of cloudy heavens to trembling earth outside my window.  Two seconds pass, and the skies rumble and shake, beating out a drum roll, a clash of raw power so great that I can understand why the ancient Greeks believed in Zeus.  The rain falls in fury.  And I lay on the bed, with blinds pulled midway, an unblinking eyelid of the window peering out at the summer storm.

Thunderstorms enchant me.  They always have. 

Before I lay on the bed, while the storm still revved its engines, I scurried to the shower, lit some candles, turned off the lights and stepped in under the warm stream.  I tuned my ears to the thunder and listened while I stood in my own rainstorm.  As a young girl, I read books of families in cabins with tin roofs and how they loved lying in bed listening to the rain's melodies, and how I longed to be there, to hear that sound.  Even now, I wish for a tin roof on rainy nights, so I content myself with an open window during a thunderstorm.  

Thunder and lightning and driving rains are soothing when I'm indoors, watching it brew from a distance.  It's a whole different world being caught in the throes of a thunderstorm.  The quaint idea of rain on tin, of light illuminating dark windows, of skies roaring, quickly dissolves into sheer vulnerability and adrenaline-pumping fear.  Majestic nature becomes downright frightening.  

I know.

Lightning illumines a memory, three summers ago, on Ross Lake in the northern Cascades.  Three girls in an aluminum canoe and one kayak in the middle of a lake at least a mile wide, cradled between mountains.  We've got a long paddle this day, around eight miles, but the skies are brooding.  We paddle hard, wanting to see how far we can get before we have to pull off.  Until the lightning stretches like a scar across the top of the mountains, and we count.  One one thousand, two one thousand - KABOOM!  Thunder bounces from one side of the lake to the other and the rain starts to pour.  The winds pick up speed across the waters and we strain our eyes to see a place to pull in on the long expanse of land in the distance.  It doesn't look very far to paddle, but we know in these waters, we've got a good fifteen minutes of strenuous pull.  The lightning-streaking-thunder-cracking-wind-whipping combo isn't relenting for us.  

And there, in the middle of the lake, I realize I'm just a tiny ant in a metal boat, at the mercy of nature, praying the lightning doesn't electrify the waters.  Here, thunderstorms are to be feared.

Driven by adrenaline, we make it to the shoreline and find a small wooden dock, pull our boats up on land so the water doesn't swallow them whole.  We're laughing now, nervous energy, wet clothes clinging to wet bodies.  There is no shelter but the trees, so we make our own canopy and ride out the rest of the storm in a happy huddle.
My love of thunderstorms is now tempered, rightly so, by that experience on Ross Lake.  But I still relish these rare moments of sights and sounds and smells through the shelter of my window. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Food for kicks, from a non food-blogger

Ok, so I confess, I've been reading a lot of food blogs lately.  And they're addicting.  I mean, why has it taken me all these years to discover the sheer joy of blogs with their banks of tantalizing recipes?  Oh wait, it might have something to do with having hours upon hours of time on my hands that I've never had before.  Or something like that.  And it might have something to do with the excitement of having someone to cook for, to share meals with (though he does not have a sweet tooth, so when it comes to baked goods, I'm on my own). 

But yesterday was one of those not-so-rare days, for this season, where the joy of being creative in the kitchen was palpable.  From kale chips (I added smoked paprika) to fruity greek yogurt pops, washing fresh blueberries to stash in the freezer, to prepping for dinner.  Fun, fun, fun.

That said, I just can't resist sharing what we had for dinner last night, in case it lights up anyone else's taste buds.  I adapted the recipe to add a few of my own touches to it.  It's really ideal for those who like to get creative or use up whatever they have on hand. 

Zesty zucchini enchilada casserole

4 zucchinis, quartered and diced
1 small onion, diced (any color will do)
8-10 white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup corn (frozen, fresh or canned)
1 can diced green chiles 
1 can diced jalapenos (or if you don't like spicy, sub 1 can green chiles)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups shredded cheese (1/2 cup set aside)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
5-6 corn tortillas
1 jar salsa of choice (or approx. 2 cups fresh salsa - I used Ricardo's homemade salsa verde)
1 shallot, sliced in slivers
1 avocado, sliced (optional)
salt to taste 

 Small disclaimer: 
I'm not a food photographer, but my photos are usually better composed than this.
I was balancing on one leg and in a rush to get to dinner.

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Coat the bottom of a casserole dish (9x13) or dutch oven with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, mix together zucchini, mushrooms, onion, corn, chiles, jalapenos, 1/2 cup of cheese, black beans and salt.  Coat with flour and toss.  Pour salsa into a bowl, then dip tortillas in the salsa.  Place 2 or 3 tortillas on the bottom of the baking dish of choice, then pour half of the mixture on top.  Layer with 2 or 3 more tortillas.  Top with the rest of the mix.  Cover with foil (or lid) and bake for 25-35 minutes.  Pull out and top with the remaining salsa and shredded cheese, then bake uncovered for another 20-30 minutes, until cheese is lightly brown and sides are bubbly.  Garnish with shallot slivers and top with avocado.  This dish makes enough to feed a family AND have leftovers, so be prepared to have it most of the week if you're only two people, like us!

Oh yes, and don't forget the fresh fruit water.  I used oranges this time, but you can use whatever sounds tasty to you.  It's simple and easy to experiment:

1 orange, peeled (or other fruit: cantaloupe, pineapple, limes, cucumber, strawberries, apples and mangoes are a few faves)
sugar or sweetener (if desired)

Place the fruit in a blender, fill with cold water about 2 inches above the fruit.  I add about 2 TB of raw cane sugar or 1 TB agave.  Blend until creamy and frothy.  Pour through a strainer (the mesh kind is the best) into a pitcher.  Fill blender pitcher 2/3 full with cold water and pour through strainer.  Adjust the water or sweetener amounts as needed, and add more fruit to make a larger serving.  Serve over ice. 



Just Write: Bernadette's business card

I will always remember Bernadette.  Married for less than two weeks, one week out of surgery to repair my severed achilles tendon, my husband and I needed a brief escape from the apartment, so we found ourselves at the Mercer Island Thrift Store.  While he perused the men's clothing, I hopped my way on crutches to eyeball the rest of the upstairs.  Face flushed from the late spring surge of warmth, the stuffy air congregating in the store's upstairs, and the exertion of energy required for hefting the plaster beast of a post-op cast on my leg, I propped myself against a wall and pretended to be interested in the formal gowns hanging beside me.  

"Oh, you poor thing," a gentle voice interrupted my browsing.  "This must be right about near prom season for you, too!"  

I turned to face a slender woman, appearing to be in her mid to late sixties, her brow creased in concern for me.  

I chuckled, "No, not prom season exactly.  Far from it, actually.  But this did happen right before my wedding."  

"Your wedding?  Did you still get married? Oh my, you don't look old enough to be married!  Do you mind if I ask what happened?"

My smile spread wide.  At thirty-one, a girl can start to feel a like she's tipping over to the old side of the aging scale, and what a delight it was to still be considered eligible for prom.  But more than that, the sincerity of her concern for me warmed me inside.  

"Well, I ruptured my achilles tendon in an exercise class, four days before our wedding," I explained.  "Not exactly what we had in mind for our wedding... but I'm told it makes for a great story." 

"Oh, that's terrible!  At least you're laughing about it," she sympathized.  

"It's either laugh or cry, and really, it gave me a chance to see before our wedding what an amazingly supportive man I was marrying.  That is the most important thing."

We introduced ourselves and stood chatting for a few minutes about my wedding, her telling me how she moved out here from the East Coast with one of her sons, how she lived down the street in an apartment.  How she was searching for something nice to wear on Mother's Day when her son took her out for dinner.  I helped her browse for a few more minutes.  Before she moved on to the dressing room, she pulled out a worn business card and wrote her name and phone number on the back.  Handing it to me, she offered, "If you ever need any assistance while you're recovering, please don't hesitate to call me.  I'm retired and I live alone, so I've got plenty of time on my hands, but I am on the bus.  I've raised and nursed six children, so I'm pretty good at mothering."  She finished with a beam reminiscent of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, a glass of milk and a soft bear hug on a hard day.

I reached out to accept the card, our fingers touching, stunned that this beautiful stranger had offered such a thing.  I didn't even know people still did things like this, not here in our keep-to-yourselves Seattle area.  Except, we weren't in Seattle.  We were in Mercer Island, just a five-minute jaunt across the water from the big city, and already this small community felt like a breath of fresh air, thanks to people like her. 

"I'm... touched, Bernadette.  Thank you, so much.  And I wish you a happy Mother's Day."  We exchanged smiles, and she turned to go, leaving me with my jaw practically hanging open.  I carefully tucked the card into my pocket. 

*This post is linked with Just Write - check out Heather's The Extraordinary Ordinary blog. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

From sixteen to thirty-one

When it comes to most areas in my life, I'm not what one could call skittish about sharing my heart or spilling my guts in writing.  There are a few topics, however, that I shy away from saying what's really going on.  Body image is one of those.  And what woman (and many men) can't relate to that?  Any of us can relate to being our own worst critic, of seeing ourselves in some capacity through broken glass, of never being satisfied with who we are or how we look.  

I've come a long way.

I'm not sure any of my friends in high school knew I had an eating disorder.  I'm not sure I even really admitted it to myself.  I never made myself throw up or starved myself to hospitalization, but I hovered in the grayness of highly restricting my calories for all of my sophomore and junior years.  Here I ran miles a day in track, cross country or off-season training.  Sometimes running twice a day.  And I was obsessed with not gaining weight, not being able to pinch any extra skin off my belly or arms or legs.  I remember freaking out the first time I thought I saw the trace beginnings of cellulite on my thighs.  P.a.n.i.c.  Of course, it wasn't really there.  Not yet, at least.  

My mom and older sis knew, though. They saw my rib cage starting to poke out and tried so hard to get me to talk, to see a counselor, to eat more.  I brushed them off, dismissed it all as being overly protective.  I'm not skinny, I'd protest.  My body's just fine.  Well, fine but still in dire need of tweaking, refining, shaping, monitoring.  The problem was, I knew too much.  I knew all the signs of anorexia and bulimia, and I didn't quite fit the mold.  So I figured I was ok.  But I didn't feel ok.  I felt like my life was ruled by what I put in my mouth and how much I sweated it off.

It's so ironic that the crazy things we do to ourselves in the name of "self-control" or "perfectionism" often end up putting the shackles on us.    

Now, I'm not saying this because it's the "religious" thing to say, but in my story it was seriously the grace of God that saved me from starving myself.  There was no intervention, no sign with neon lights, no huge decline in health that steered me off the path - nothing, but the simple realization that food ruled my life and robbed me of the joy of living.  The cost just wasn't worth it any longer.  I guess you could say, I began the process of relinquishing control in this area to God, the one who knew I really did have a problem, and the problem wasn't really food.  Time to choose whether to believe the condemning voices from cultural messages or myself - that I'd never be enough - or believe what God said about me - that I'm always enough in him.  I'm so thankful, to this day, that I stepped off that path before it had such a hold on me I couldn't have walked away so easily. 

Today, I love food.  I enjoy eating.  I don't own a scale, though I admittedly feel dread in the pit of my stomach whenever I go to the doctor.  I eat healthy in general, but I don't stress out about my sweet tooth or sweat the small stuff.  I thought my self-image and self-worth weren't in any way tied up in this whole process, like they were before.  I thought I'd healed from that.  

Well, I still bear some scars.

After my injury and the abrupt end of all exercise, which I did intensely five times a week, I can feel the tension lingering just below the surface.  The buffer I'd found between me and my food issues is gone.  The struggle with anxiety - Will I gain weight?  Lose all my muscle tone?  Ever return to the same fitness level?  I've watched my legs change shape (the injured one much more dramatically; the other, more imperceptibly) with a critical eye.  And a critical tongue.  Later, I wanted to cry when it sunk in I'd been bitterly calling my injured leg ugly.  Or, in Spanish, fea.  My ugly leg.  

When I was sixteen, I didn't understand that life and death were in the tongue, in words spoken over myself, but I'm not sixteen anymore.  I'm thirty-one, and I know better.  I know what damage is caused by calling myself or any part of me ugly.  I know that true beauty, worth and identity are not physical trophies to be won, degrees on the wall, career achievements, or how I measure up to peoples' (or my own) expectations.  I know these things, and still, fifteen years later, I struggle.

And I know I'm not alone.  So I challenged myself to write this today.  Somehow brought out of the shadows and into the light, dusting off the cobwebs, it doesn't look very intimidating.  But speaking the truth about who we are, to ourselves and about ourselves, is always healing, even when it's not pretty.  

I am not an ugly leg.  And you are not a pair of big thighs, rolls around your middle, jiggly arms, acne-scarred skin, wrinkled face, whatever it is you judge about your body.  We are not these things.

So whenever I notice my tongue spewing sour lies about myself, I'm going to speak the truth, starting here.  For me, the greatest, truest beauty I have is the life of the beautiful Christ making his home in me, transforming me from the inside out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just Write: Mailboxes and love letters

Among my most cherished memories growing up are the years of exchanging snail mail letters with my childhood best friend, Rachel.  It all started when we packed up and moved the day after Christmas, from eastern Washington to small town Oregon, and I waved goodbye to the bestest friend I'd known in the ten years I'd been alive.  We promised to keep in touch, and boy, did we.  Each week, we'd each send and receive at least one letter, if not three, and I'd check the mailbox daily in anticipation.  Over time, we got increasingly creative, designing newsletters and crafting stories, often writing in "character" based on a family of stuffed dogs we'd made up while living in the same town.  This went on until we grew out of it, several years later, but I have a dog-earred manilla envelope stored in a box somewhere that holds many of these letters and stories.  

And then came the birth of email.  Quick and convenient, and don't get me wrong, I love it, but... it's not got the same personal touch as a letter or a card.  At least not for someone sentimental like me.  I'm the girl who can go through her closet and purge clothes and shoes fairly painlessly.  I can clear away inanimate objects without regret.  But those notes my friends and I passed in high school, the cards received from loved ones through the years, the letters from my childhood, I can't seem to toss those away without considerable internal conflict.  And that's why I told my husband, when we first started dating, that one of my "love languages" is cards and love notes.  I'm a writer, after all, and as such, I love written words that I can hold in my hands.  I'll cherish sappy, heartfelt cards forever.

So my sweet husband, not being a writer and never having been in the practice of giving sappy cards, is learning over time what touches my heart.  I have a box that now holds my growing collection of cards and notes folded up in little triangles, written mostly in Spanish.  Every now and then, I'll pull the box down from the top shelf of our bookcase and read through them all, reliving the moments, relishing the memories, remembering why I first fell in love with him.  

And, I, in turn, have a very good reason for picking up my pen and leaving notes for him.  Which, to my delight, he cherishes as well.

Then a blog post the other day along the lines of "keeping the romance alive" in marriage got my creative juices flowing.  A mailbox for love letters, I thought.  That's what we need.  I'm not a particularly craftsy girl (much too impatient, I'm afraid), but I searched the craft store yesterday and found a few simple items to construct my idea.  In less than thirty minutes, it was finished, and I sat back on the bed and studied it with childlike glee.  

Who said cutesy mailboxes and love notes were only for Valentine's day and anniversaries?

Go ahead - get creative with the ones you love...

* I linked up with Just Write for this post, which was created by a phenomenal blogger, Heather, for writers to share their posts on life every Tuesday.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mornings lost and found

I remember clearly a season of blissful mornings.  The year we lived in the little yellow house on Cosy Street in southeast Portland, behind Clackamas Town Center mall.  The fleeting era of kindergarten.  I'd rise early, without rush, and nestle myself in front of the television, back when it was a box, my eyes fixated on as many episodes on the Cartoon Express channel I could squeeze in before breakfast.  Namely, Scooby Doo.  I adored that wacky dog and his gang of misfit friends and delighted to come along with them on their mystery-solving adventures.

Meanwhile, Mom would be scrambling to get my older sister ready for fourth grade, and as soon as we waved goodbye to her on the bus, we grabbed each other's hands and strolled to the mall for breakfast.  The Muffin Break.  Oh, how I loved going to the Muffin Break - in fact, that must be where I can trace the origins of my my weakness for bakeries - my mouth salivating at the thought of a warm chocolate chocolate chip muffin, the chips melted inside.  This was our morning tradition, and while I doubt we did it every day, in my memory it was our mornings.  We'd walk back home, and I'd get ready to catch the kindergarten bus, back when school was little more than glorified play time.  Back when life was more simple.

The departure from a life of blissful mornings happened when I was six - the start of a life of formal education and then, adulthood.  From first grade up until about two months ago, with a few exceptions in between, mornings have been a blur of activity.  Two months now of not getting up sometime between four-thirty and five forty-five in the morning, of passing the mornings quickly by making coffee and espresso drinks for a steady stream of customers as I watched the occasional cotton candy sunrise with longing, on full display in the windows to the right of the kiosk.  It's not that I didn't enjoy these mornings; I simply felt I was along for the ride, whether I wanted to be or not.

But an injury changed all that, and now I sleep in ridiculously late in comparison, and I'm rarely in a rush to get anywhere.  I make a breakfast smoothie and come back to bed, where I prop myself against pillows and cover with a fuzzy blanket, and I sit and read, feasting first on two books: My bible and a daily devotional.  Luxurious as this sounds, it hasn't always been a picnic in bed.  There have been the days, sometimes the weeks, when I didn't particularly want to get back out of bed.  The days when feelings of depression squelched any joy I'd have taken from this morning tradition and the tears sank me heavy under the sheets.  But the more times I come crawling back to this place, this hallowed space carved out in the freshness of the day, the more I look up.  And I see this for the priceless gift it is.

I read this, just two days ago, and smiled.

My voice You shall hear in the morning, 
O Lord; 
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.  ~Psalm 5:3

It's hard not to see life differently when I look up.  When I'm in the bedroom, well, it's nothing eye-catching, just a smooth white ceiling with one yellow lamp.  Outside, it's more exciting - clouds and patches of blue and wind-blown trees and a big yellow ball of fire and sometimes a pair of soaring eagles.  But more precious to me than what I visibly see with my eyes when I look up is what I don't see.  The invisible realities that I rush past ten thousand mornings, that when I slow down and look up and train my eyes to see, become increasingly more real than those physical things I see.

We don't have to be stuck in bed to see these, but sometimes a little enforced rest does wonders for the eyesight.

I look up with a heart filled with thanks.  I look up when I offer my tears to God in prayer, a sacrifice of praise.  I look up when I choose trust over fear.  I look up when I untangle myself from the cares of yesterday and let go of control of tomorrow, and live fully today.  I look up when I sing songs instead of stressing.  I look up when I get over myself to love another person.  I look up when I laugh with my belly, when my smile lights up my eyes.

I look up, and I see God.  And God lights up even the darkest of mornings.  God redeems mornings that have dried up in exhaustion or disappeared in just plain busyness.  God restores souls and opens eyes wide to see in the mornings.  God renews strength and fills hungry hearts in the mornings.  And I don't know yet how I'll do it, when I go back to early morning work hours, but I know I can't go back to morningless mornings.

What about you?  How would you like your mornings to be different?  What small step can you take to "look up"?