the upside of heartache

If you’ve spoken to me at any point in the past two weeks, you’ve probably heard me lament over the phenomenon I’ve just been thrust into, known as the school pick up line.  Or, as I like to call it: the child drive thru.   Every morning for the past week and a half, I approach the white line painted on the parking lot, brows furrowed, white-knuckled fists gripping the steering wheel, heart racing, sweat seeping out of my arm pits as I scream “OUUUTTT!” With the urgency of war general charging his soldiers into battle.  

It sounds funny, y’all, but it’s no joke.   The child drive thru is my very own version of  the seven layers of Hell described in Dante’s Inferno: each circle around the entrance to the school is it’s own layer of Hell, because it takes me about that many trips to get Max out of the car. Round and around we go, with each visit a new method of coercion: bribery, threats, screams, guilt trips, pleading and begging, until finally he makes his grand exit into kindergarten with a symphony of car horns lined up behind me, serenading him in.  It’s a miracle that I haven’t Britney Spears circa 2009 meltdowned in the parking lot, throwing myself into the cars behind me yet.   By the grace of God, I  overcome.

But yesterday, after sobbing my way out of my drive thru version of this inferno and into the the redeeming drive thru line at Starbucks, I realized that maybe this stuff just gets to me more than it should.   Could it be possible that the child drive thru isn’t supposed to be that traumatic of an experience?  Maybe other people are able to roll through life- and school drop off lines- with the wherewithal to ignore the horns of the cars behind them.

Ive been thinking of this in terms of the dealings of my heart, as well.   I’ve recently come to the realization that my heart is much like that of an untrained puppy.  You know those really yappy dogs that bark a lot and run away when they’re unleashed?  I relate a lot to them.

I get a little carried away sometimes. And though I contend that it’s impossible for any one person to ever ‘feel too deeply,’ perhaps I allow my feelings to affect me too strongly.

I recently went through a rejection that I probably could have handled a little more gracefully.  The rejection took place on a Sunday. Come that Monday around 4 am, I was still crying over it. A friend who was certainly done with hearing me cry over something so ridiculous told me to pull myself together.

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So I did what any sleep deprived and emotional person would do at 5 am and entered myself into a year long contract with a gym. (Side note: I do not recommend doing this.)

So I walked into that gym, approached the front desk…. and started crying again. The concerned front desk person asked how they could help me.  I responded, with no dramatics spared, that “my heart is torn asunder!”  The staff member couldn’t really make out what I had said through all my crying, so I went on to tell them that my heart was broken and it was time to join the gym.   There was a silver lining in this all though, turns out sometimes gyms are able to waive enrollment fees for special occasions… like maybe a birthday, or when someone’s heart has been torn asunder. That $30 discount truly help, too- it made me realize how much I understood Max whenever he would find himself in the depths of despair, and miraculously would feel eons better when presented with candy.  The fact that I am relating to my five year old on this level is something I will leave myself to explore on another day.

But the swarm of tornado feelings whirling around in my chest is something I have to reckon with quite often.  I realize that I have the ability to go from zero to 100 faster than a Bugatti, that I might need to grow a few more layers of skin and that I am easily influenced – and that isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.  I’m really trying to walk into a season of where I am embracing the facets of my personality so that I won’t be in denial of myself, I’ll hopefully fumble through the dark of life a little less than I did the past decade, and I’ll enter a new season of embracing a lot of maybe’s in my life, like: 

Maybe I’m a mess.  Maybe I’m too much. Maybe it’s endearing.  Maybe it’s unresolved issues. Maybe it’s just my DNA. Maybe I have a lot more to work on. Maybe I’m exactly the way I’m supposed to be. Maybe one day I’ll finally learn to regulate the degrees to which I allow myself to feel.  Maybe I’ll be alone forever because I live my life in a language that’s hard for other people to understand. Maybe out of the billions of people in the world one day I’ll find someone who appreciates that I sometimes cry at 2 pm on a Thursday because I just remembered that George from Grays anatomy was indeed the man who was hit by the bus in that jarring episode that aired ten years ago. 

There’s so many variables and I can’t speculate on how this will play out for me. 

But maybe… It’s a gift in many ways.  To feel so much and (as Gibran would say) to be wounded by our own understanding of love.

Maybe there’s something to be appreciated in the act of allowing oneself to be filled and emptied and still remain open. To look at our pains and press our fingers into them, tenderly. 

“Show me where it hurts” life asks me.  “Everywhere,” I respond. 

Today I’m okay with that.

Orange Juice

I’ve been acting like a child, throwing tantrums inside of grocery stores. I get sad in the orange juice aisle, wanting to pour myself in.  I have to apologize to my body, saying, like a parent, “she’s still growing into her feelings.”  

But I’m losing these negotiations. I’ve been saying no for a decade and I’m tired of stitching my seams together when I just want to burst. I want yes, like a boom- like  a firework. And I don’t even like fireworks. I want yes like a broken fire hydrant on the hottest day of the year. I want a yes to last. I want yes that’s easy. I want a yes that’s hard.  I want yes like I’ve just committed your favorite dessert to my broken memory bank, so that when it’s overdrawn I still know what to order over the counter when you’ve had a bad day.

I want yes that feels like grabbing your favorite brand of orange juice.

But it’s out stock.

Damnit, I hate grocery shopping.

 

 

 

I was told to write about cheese.

“Join Match,” my friend Deidre urges me.  There is a higher quality of men on that platform. Tinder is the cheap stuff, because, you know, it’s free. Online dating is no exception for the rule, “you get what you pay for.” So if your end goal is matrimonial bliss, I suppose forking out the equivalent of a few Starbucks drink for a month-long membership is a pretty feasible fee.

But I am two things: cheap and skeptical. And I am still under the assumption that an opportunity at true love should come with a slightly higher price tag. I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to the idea that for $20 a month, I, too, can find love.

In all honesty, I hate the concept of online dating.  I hate the pressure of trying to write something catchy in 200 words or less to make me seem more interesting to strangers. I haven’t always been this way; once upon my pre-parenthood life, the idea of meeting a stranger for a coffee, or adult drink was exciting.  Now, my idea of exciting is sinisterly doing the good ole’ “swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, brief pause, swipe.” Much like my political leanings, I am heavy with my veers toward the left, and I rarely go right. Somehow, it secretly feels so good to reject so many people in such a short time span. It definitely must be the same feeling as skimming through a cheese connoisseur guide book, without ever trying a single sample. “At least I read a book,” I would say to myself, nodding to no one in approval of myself, while tucking myself into bed.

I ponder this as I stroll down the cheese aisle. Have you ever noticed how polarizing cheese is as a food group? We separate cheese classes into two different factions, as if our grocery store is living out its own version of a dystopian young adult novel. Nestled somewhere between the luncheon meat and yogurt, you find yourself in front of the lower class cheese varieties: String cheese, shredded cheese, individually sliced and wrapped cheese. The closer to the consistency of rubber, the better. The section of cheeses that would have survived the Titanic, or, the artisan cheeses, that are supposed to be paired with baguettes and fine wine are in the same grocery continent as the hummus and prosciutto (which, I guess is the higher class system of deli, if you think about it). we have a plethora of cheeses packaged in many different options, at either end of the grocery store, to choose from. We pride ourselves in our diversity. Of cheeses. and online dating platforms.

picking out ones cheese for a lonely night of binge-watching Netflix, really is no different than picking one’s mate. So I, like the lioness, prowl down the aisle, hungry for the hunt. Knowing fully that it is never really about the cheese. it’s about everything that cheese represents.  “I deserve this!” I say aloud in the cheese aisle full of would-be Titanic survivors, convincing myself that I deserve the $7 block of cheese in my hand. who ever could have guessed that cheese was really just a form of subtle sophistication pretentiously wrapped in cling wrap.

Maybe I have likened these two entities to the point of overkill. I don’t know. I just know this: if love is a cheese, I want the kind that is made from the milk of a Balkan donkey from Serbia.

And that’s going to cost a hell of a lot more.

A father to the fatherless

Last week while I was looking over Max’s summer daycare schedule, a lump formed in my throat. Printed on the schedule for Monday, it said “Fathers Day Crafts.” Of course, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, on Mothers day I was given a beautiful hand crafted present: painted napkin holders made out of the cardboard inside of a paper towel, with flower stickers meticulously placed on top. But the words on the schedule did cause a lump to form in my throat, nonetheless, and the following Friday before that dreaded Monday, I approached Max’s teacher and asked that the craft be approached with some sensitivity towards Max, as we have had many tearful conversations about the concept of a “daddy” in recent weeks.

Absent-fatherThe past few months have been really hard on us because Max has only recently discovered this looming absence of a father in his life.  It’s not as if this development is new; When Max was born, his dad became invisible in his life before I was even discharged out of the hospital. But Max is older and much more aware of how things are now. So in the past month, Max has asked me many times where his daddy is. For years I have been practicing the answers to these questions I knew would one day come, but any answer I can conjure still does not feel right: this experience has shown me that the harshness of reality can sometimes rob the holiness out of honesty.

But I’ve done my best, mostly thanks to the help and counsel of some wise friends. I have recorded many of these conversations and played them back over and over, not in masochistic way to torture myself, but to gauge how much I’m screwing this up. In these conversations, I reiterate that many kids don’t have moms or dads for a multitude of reasons. I remind him that there is no lack of love; while there is no true replacement for a father, we have an abundance of men in the form of granddad and uncles that love Max and foster a significant presence in his life. I am learning to trust that the goodness of God will wash the raw wounds of Max’s fatherlessness today and in his future. While I do not believe that any amount of human faith can remove the pain from this lack, I am learning that there is room at the table to invite God into this pain.

But I won’t even pretend that I am handling this season with the grace I aspire to exude; I am angry. I am hurt. I am bitter. even now. And I know I am wrong. When Max was first born, I remember talking with my friend, David about this. I admitted this anger to him, telling him that I knew it was wrong to be angry. Being the good friend that he is, he said ‘it’s righteous anger.’ Coming from (what I would deem) a legalistic background, I have a knack for getting hung up on theological implications on the concepts of anger and forgiveness. In my early twenties, I had a hard time embracing a religion that did not allow me room to be angry, when there was so much wrong in the world. I had a turning point in my faith one night, after losing a friend to a drug overdose, when my friend Jesse told me that if I wanted to be angry at God, then be angry. Hash it out. He wouldn’t fall out of the sky. And I know it doesn’t sound pretty or make for a good testimony, but I really don’t feel like my faith was ever real before I sat on my bed that horrible night, and told God how much I hated everything he did. (If you are clutching your pearls right now, I promise, the conversation didn’t end there).

So this ‘righteous anger’ turned into holy rage. (That’s just a term I made up, because anger has a tendency to grow) and I’ve gone through a vicious cycle of rage, repent, repeat. and I am tired. I remember all the years of swimming lessons I did as a child, at the end of every summer, in order to advance to next years level, we would have to doggy paddle in the deep end for a certain amount of time. About half way through the exercise, we were instructed to place our hands above the water, and rely solely on our legs to keep us afloat. It was tiring, and I always hoped that they were watching me in case I was the one person that would end up drowning in this exercise. I have often felt like this in my single parenting endeavors, my hands are above water- holding an entire person above me, trying to keep us afloat. My legs would go from kicking furiously under my body, until I would be able to get into a good rhythm. Like my shaking arms and tired legs, life ebbs and flows. Sometimes I think, “okay. I think we’re okay.” and sometimes I am praying for a life vest, because my legs and arms just don’t think it can hold the weight of us. The waters get testy. I remember the people that abandoned the ship. I get angry at myself for not being a better swimmer. I get mad at myself for not being better, period.

But I also know that it doesn’t have to be this way. I am learning just how boundless grace is; the kind that is talked about in Matthew 18, When Peter asked Jesus how many times he would need to forgive those that hurt him. We make forgiveness out to be this simple thing too often, and perhaps its my lack of faith speaking, but it just does not seem that simple. I don’t think it’s something we can do of our own accord, but rather something we have to ask God to do for us. I know I can’t, Lord, but you can. I cannot redeem this, Lord. but you can.

So that Monday came and I picked Max up from school. Max came running out of the playground with his fathers day craft in his hand, excitedly saying, “I made this for my dad!” I exclaimed back, “wow! Well your pappaw will love this!” and rushed him back to the car before I let the tears fall.

and I, the mother who always says, “I’ll figure it out” thought to myself, “I can’t fix this.”

and then I felt His sweet words in my heart say, “I know. I never asked you to.”

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Ps. 68:5

Runner

I was reading through some of my old journal entries the past couple of days and found some real gems that I had forgotten about over the years.  I use to study Judaism on a personal level because I found the religion to be so beautiful and I was curious to see Christianity through the lens of Judaism, to answer some of my own theological questions. I used to read the berakha’s (blessing) because they emphasized the importance of paying attention.  For example, one of the berakah’s I found scribbled in my diary: “Baruch atah Adonai (Holy one of blessing), Elohenu melech ha’olam (your presence fills creation)”.  Every time one of these blessings is recited, the person is effectively saying, “pay attention” to the blessing, which is found in creation.  In this way, we are reminded again and again that our everyday world conceals wonder and mystery. 

In 2009 I had high hopes of learning Hebrew.. and I tried for about a year, writing the Hebrew Alphabet over and over again (which, by the way, the Hebrew alphabet is remarkable in itself, because every letter contains spiritual meaning)- and the little bit that I was able to grasp was phenomenal and interesting and beautiful and in many ways, awakening in numerous ways.
and then I gave this venture up completely,because, well… you know, I’m not scholar, and I can’t pretend to be.  But lately, I’ve discovered through reading old diary entries that sometimes we pick up and throw out knowledge (even if it’s only to ourselves) that doesn’t really resonate with us until years later. 

For example, I found some theology studies of Origen and Augustine that I jotted down, not knowing the surprising impact it would have on me four years later, while skimming through old pages as I’m clearing out my bookshelf.  So if you take anything from this, it’s this: keep everything you write.  Sometimes when I’m cleaning out my closet I discover poorly written poetry on the backs of receipt paper in the pocket of jeans that don’t fit me anymore, and I post them on a bulletin board in my room, knowing that years later they might find themselves in a poem or an essay.  It might not be anything now, but someday it could turn into something.

So with that said, I found this poem I wrote some time ago.. it’s kind of funny knowing that, at the time I was going through some deep reservations as well as revelations regarding my faith.  I was on the brink of letting the belief system I had always clung to, go, all the while knowing that I could not.  This was pre Minneapolis.  It’s kind of Ironic, because I titled this, “Runner”- and this was right before I really knew what it meant to be a runner (a noun which could accurately describe my endeavors).  Looking back, I think all the running was a dare, as in… “How far will you chase me, if I run, Lord?”
This was the response I found:

“Where can I go from your spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me;
your right hand will hold me fast.”  (psalm 139: 7-10)

I have to say now that this has become my life verse, because I have lived such a game of cat and mouse and I am always being found, being caught in a web of grace even when I was least deserving.  I could write about that forever, but I’ll just share the poem I wrote years ago, already:

a long time ago
I discovered a tricky poison
and dove into its crowded well

and I learned to live there
or die there, rather
my vision was masked by my hell.

down there,
love’s forgotten
replaced with selfish aim

we all think we know
think we’re right
think this carnage
equals life

and one
by one
by one

we lose the will to fight.

or perhaps we choose

deny, deny, deny

tell yourself it matters not
tell everyone

(because misery loves company)

that’s how we all got into this crowded well, isn’t it?

This is truth

there is a way which seems right to man,
but in the end it leads to death.

and I am too young to die.

so out I go,
climbing towards the air
I have hope.
I choose to have hope.

I’m leaving here with a bitter taste
and a heavy heart
afraid to look back
(don’t look back)

and I mourn the death of who I was
I stand over her
that old me

she was so many things:proud, ashamed, confused, blind, rebellious

and down she goes
underground
never to return
hands over my eyes, I whisper
“Oh Great Creator, keep me from her”
open my eyes
let my heart crave justice
let my mind know beauty
and let my lips bring only life

allow my ears to hear your secrets
your promises and your peace
(will surely heal my wounds)

i am yours from beginning
your love in mans design
made to rule nations
of the children of one divine

and still we run
and shut our ears
deny, deny, deny

and the poison, like a harlot is calling.
and you stumble to her bed.
you think she’ll numb the hurting
but tomorrow you’ll be dead

and wisdom is crying out
oh that we would listen.

Thanksgiving: a reflection.

As Thanksgiving approaches tomorrow, it is a time to reflect on what we are truly grateful.  To say what I am truly grateful for this year requires that I time travel back to a past thanksgiving, a time when I learned a truly invaluable lesson.  I believe it was 2009, I was waiting tables at a local restaurant, Mimi’s.  I was semi new to the serving industry and there is no way I can say this any better, I really sucked at my job.  The juggling of tables, transferring orders to a screen, then to a kitchen, I often got lost in the mess of it all and so did the orders of whoever had the misfortune of sitting in my section.  So on that particular Thanksgiving, I had a family of four sit at one of my tables, with the sweetest disposition.  They were a great table- understanding, patient with me, knowing the business and chaos found when working at a restaurant on a holiday, and grateful that I was serving them.  And so out of the four meals they placed with me, only three were delivered and only was correct.  I will reiterate here: despite my best intentions, I was a terrible server.  There is something innately embarrassing when you feel so inefficient at any given task, especially one when your paycheck is at the mercy of your performance towards the person sitting behind a table.  So I had to approach them with a list of apologies unattached to excuses of placing the blame on a busy diner, or an exasperated kitchen staff and was forced to reveal the truth of the matter: they sat at the wrong table with a server who happened to be completely inadequate.  They deserved better. 

 

If you are familiar with the serving industry at all, or even happen to have spent any amount of time living in the Waldorf area, you are aware of how thankless and unforgiving people often are, especially when it comes to their food.  When someone orders steak, they generally want a steak.  They don’t want the chicken placed before them.  And it seems like a simple matter, but there are those of us in the world who just… well, as my choir director once told me, politely: “I think you would be better blessing the Lord in other areas.”  Some of us just don’t make the cut in particular areas.  Waiting tables and singing in a choir, or any public place for that matter, happen to be where I have fallen through the cracks.  But these people who I served that night extended grace to me though I was undeserving.  At the end of the meal, the man at the table handed me a signed receipt with an extremely generous tip.  I don’t even remember what he said to me, but after seeing the tip, he handed me double the amount in cash amount too, leaving me with a tip that was 100% of the bill (something that has never and likely will never happen to me, again) saying something along the lines of “you’re doing great” or maybe it was just “Happy Thanksgiving,” but it was such an extension of kindness; it will forever be engrained into me.  And I, being the cry baby I am, proceeded to stand at the end of their table and sob until my boss pulled me into the back, probably because he feared I would ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner.  This is the perfect allegory of Christ’s love for me—it is always extended to me when I am least deserving. 

 

I ponder this because recently, I feel much like the inadequate server of my past, where, instead of fumbling through orders, I am fumbling through the burdens of life, itself.  One more failed relationship. The bank account is so dried up it can’t even cry.  I say it over and over again to myself: that I am undeserving, unworthy, inadequate, a failure of failures.   But in the mess of it, God is extending himself, revealing himself in ways, telling me that I am worth it. Nothing has to be redeemed because it already has been.  There is only the need to repent, to stop placing blame on circumstances, the kitchen, the pains caused by other people.  

 

I learned a word the other day, Metanoia.  It comes from two significant words: Meta and Noia. Meta means “after” or “beyond” and Noia is a word closely related to the word “Nous”- which is often used in theology/philosophy, referring to the order of the universe and the basics of the world of meaning one inhabits.   In ordinary usage, meta means “change” and noia means “mind,” therefore resulting in….”change your mind.”  But this changing of the mind isn’t deduced to the change of mind you experience when you’ve decide that you want a Quesadilla after you’ve ordered nachos.  This is referring to the change that transforms your world- a radical metamorphosis of your very being, the placing of yourself into another world, completely.  The idea of it sounds kind of day dreamy, but it’s biblical to the core. In the christian world, this word embodies the idea of repentance.. fleeing from which we know and clinging desperately to that which we do not understand.  And in the midst of all these failures and heartache, God is re-wiring me, setting in me this Metanoia like a broken bone on the mend.

I will never understand why God chooses to pursue me the way that he does.  But I will never tire of it either.
I am thankful this Thanksgiving that God is forever changing me.  For being patient with me, for not giving up on me.
This truth is changing my life.

 I love you all and hope you all spend tomorrow reflecting on what you are thankful for the most. 

Minneapolis: a love letter

The second time I was baptized
took place right after my plane landed
and my feet touched the foreign Minneapolis concrete.
It was an intimate communion that took place
between the soles of my shoes and the ground beneath.  

It was raining
the first time I saw the city
whose skyscrapers are now engraved
into the back of my eyelids. 

Sometimes, when you arrive at your intended destination,
you discover that you have a lot more baggage
than what is found in the single suit case
that is holding your hand. 

Three years later,
you find yourself writing love letters
to places instead of people,
asking it, “Do you miss me as much as I miss you?”
But you’re kidding yourself if you convince yourself
that you miss that place as much
as you miss the way
that place made you feel. 

if love is an equation
than 58 square miles is the answer, Minneapolis.
if love is a season
it’s always winter, Minneapolis
if love is a phrase
it’s “get close to me,
because I need your body heat,” Minneapolis

I know you’ve seen me
dancing under the lights of
other cities
making homes inside of
places that aren’t you,
but I want you to know that:

you will always be my first kiss of a city
and you never forget your first.

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