Monday, December 3, 2007

orange sticky-note philosophy


The book is called Relentless, a trilogy that now has me addicted as a Robin Parrish fan. I started reading it last week, on an ordinary day, on an inconsequential afternoon, in the midst of a dying hope.
I read always. Only complete darkness and damaged arms could hinder me. Even still, cast and all, I'd find a way to turn the page. If broken bones can't stop me, broken dreams are guileless.
So even on that day, the day long in the making, the day of my last shred of possibility, I opened that book and read. I lost myself in the unfolding tale of Dominion rings and mental acuity.
I, thankfully, used it to check out. Ignoring reality makes it go away. Everyone knows this.
I wrote a book last year. It isn't the next great American novel. It couldn't possibly be. It isn't a novel. It's a collection of short, humorous stories about the average life of an average Joe. Or Joette, since I'm a girl. Nothing more. But thankfully, not much less.
It wasn't what I wanted to write. It wasn't even a speck on my imagination. But God sometimes has plans for us we just downright don't want. Learn to adapt. He doesn't always give you a choice.
That day last week, the day I cracked the binding on Parrish's book, was the last day on a long timetable of finding funding for it's publication. Much like waiting for a hot pizza to arrive on your doorstep you never ordered. Don't plan dinner around it. Have a contingency plan.
When a contingency plan doesn't happen, don't bemoan your empty belly. The universe is not ours for the dictatorship. Dang it.
That night, wallowing in self-pity I had thawed, kneaded, baked, and ingested, my roommate and I began talking about Moses, about that moment he stood at the cusp of history, at the day of reckoning, at the edge of the Red Sea.
What had it felt like? Reeeeaaally felt like? Not the Charlton Heston confident Moses. The other one. The stuttering one. The one that ran in fear after committing murder. The one that led his people out of city, only to be sandwich meat between roaring nature and thundering soldiers.
What crossed his mind?
"God, hello? We're about to die here. Did I take a wrong turn? Can you do something about those charging soldiers? If everyone gets killed, they are going to hate me."
Instead, God, like only God can, provided a miracle. At the flick of his wrist, at the mere thought, water separated from it's sister molecules, taking the fish and crawdads with it, and provided a dry bridge.
The children of Israel walked between walls of water. They saw the impossible, and then faced the mountains in the distance, what must have looked insurmountable.
Impossible. Insurmountable.
As we talked, I grabbed an orange sticky note, and in the most legible handwriting available to me, scribbled the words "impossible/insurmountable." I opened the book jacket in front of me, slapped it on the cover page, and shut the book again.
There is has remained. An orange sticky note with my scratchings, speaking to me everytime I sit down to read.
A few days later, for no explainable reason, for no big purpose, for no mighty valiant act, my neck snapped. It sounded a bit like rice crispies. One minute it's just hanging out on my shoulders, the next minute it seems to want off.
I want it to stay. I'm hoping it'll reconsider.
There isn't much I can do right now. The chiropractor said it isn't permanent, just something that happens sometimes. Just life. Another week or so of selling myself to my head, it'll probably stick around and straighten up.
What have I been doing with my time? You should get this.
I've been reading.
And after each painful movement, each gasping pillow adjustment, each time my head starts talking Christmas in the Virgin Islands (I'm not invited), I've opened that book to see those two words: "impossible/insurmountable"
I don't have this faith thing completely figured out. I'd like to believe once I've got it, I've got it. It's mine. All aboard. Full throttle. Wave to the people at the dock, everyone, because we're casting off.
Instead, it's more like a journey, less like a possession. I can't click my heals together, squeeze my rabbits foot, or rub Aladdin's lamp.
I wait. With that elusive hope. I wait. With the promise of God's goodness. I wait. With belief in something greater. I wait. Though the challenges seem impossible, the journey insurmountable.
I wait.
God will deliver. I'm not counting on the pizza boy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the numb toes of the full-flavored life

We were on thin ice. Literally. Ice rinks are generally less than an inch thick, about 3/4" actually. I was concentrating on bending my knees, keeping my ankles straight, and not falling on a sensitive area called the coccyx (also known as the tailbone, the butt, and the badonkadonk).
That's when she asked me the question.
"What do you like most about this season?"
There was a group of us ice skating, trying to remember why it was so easy as a child and so difficult as an adult. (Everything hurts more as a grown up. Everything.)
We were taking a turn around the rink, facing the wind, under the stars, thinking about life's sweet moments, when she asked me the question.
Hmmm...........
My favorite part of the season.
"I like how everyone tries more." I'm not done yet. Wait for it...wait for it..."It seems people attempt to embrace life during this season, even when things may not be going well. Maybe life isn't great right now. But despite the difficulties, you want to just enjoy the moment, this moment, right now, before the season is gone."
Her favorite part of the season is Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.
Before this night, I hadn't ice skated in years. And I have no idea why.
There I was, surrounded by friends of similar life status (i.e. adult singles), laughing about our balance, counting the toes we COULDN'T feel, trying not to fall, and everyone saying, "Why don't I do this more often?"
Yes, why?
It's odd. When I was a child, a two things defined me: macaroni and cheese and roller skating. Now, I never eat macaroni and cheese - too many carbs, too much gluten, too fattening, too few health benefits, if any. And the last pair of roller skates I owned was before the wheels moved into a single line and were renamed rollerblades.
Somehow, while growing up and trying to experience all the adventures of life, I've stopped living the life I loved. My definition of "life experiences" suddenly became responsible, expected, and goal-oriented. And dull.
I don't play hooky. I don't ruin my supper with sweets. I don't fall asleep in the grass. I don't climb trees. I don't chase the neighborhood dogs and then run away to let them chase me. I don't look for laughter. And I don't consistently embrace the moment.
Instead, I opt out of life's small pleasures because I'm too tired, it costs too much, I don't feel like it, I'd rather sit at home, I've got a big day tomorrow, I won't be good at it, I won't know how, I don't want to fight traffic, I've got laundry to do, dishes to wash, a garage to clean, a lamp to fix, paperwork to complete, emails to return, a nap to take.
This isn't about growing up or even growing old. It's about losing my zeal for life, my thirst for it. What happened to the giddiness? The thrill? When did I stop yearning for the day to last longer?
So now I'm responsible. I'm mature. I'm an adult. Right? That's the answer?
Bull.
I'm sulking. I'm moping. I'm pouting. I'm not living life because it isn't the life I special ordered. If only I had more money, if only I had more time, if only I weighed less, if only I had better clothes, if only I didn't have so many problems, if only I felt better, if only I looked better, if only I wasn't alone, if only I had what she has, what he has, what they all have.
If only.
I'll just skip this season. I'll enjoy Christmas next year. I'll ice skate next time. I'll be adventurous later. I'll stop waiting and live my life....soon.
But what about now?
It's odd, I understand. But the truth is we only get one life. Just one. This isn't a test. This isn't practice. This is it, the whole enchilada, the combo meal, the prime time. Here is your 15 minutes of fame, your big chance.
Take it. Run with it. Fly with it. Take it ice skating. Laugh with it. Live it up. Paint it red. Steam it. Broil it. Take it on a trip. Take it on a ride. Take it into the unknown. Just take it.
Don't wait. Embracing life isn't worth waiting for.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aussie Amy and the Quest for cheap Tex-Mex: a letter to Dean Koontz


Amy came from Australia. Much like their boomerangs, her life had curved around Oklahoma, across the sea, through Europe, and into the Outback looking for identity. Instead she found Simon and a love for Cadbury chocolate.
She worked as one of my writers while temporarily living in Oklahoma, her birthplace and a rock in her shoe. We became great friends because I had rarely been out of the state and loved it dearly. She was the wind. I was the earth.
It was a night much like this one, much like any other, much like others to come. We were bopping around in my Jeep, a term I use because the shocks are bad. She was chasing a story, I was chasing a warm burrito. We took one vehicle believing fate would take us to both destinations.
Fate often multi-tasks.
I pulled into the driveway of a typical Continental house, stark white in the darkness, like hair freshly bleached. It smelled like it too. The lights weren’t on. No need for additional illumination with that house color.
Amy climbed out, grabbing her pad and pen, draping her canvas purse across her chest like Captain Jack Sparrow’s sword holder. In modern times and to a modern community newspaper reporter, one’s bag was one’s sword holder, a place to rest one’s pen while stretching the cramped muscles in one’s hand.
She turned back to throw a smile over her shoulder (excess UK chocolate creates joyful dispositions) and noticed the book in my lap.
“Dean Koontz?” She said it like you had broken a past engagement three days before the ceremony leaving her with seven toasters, three sets of Ginsu knives, and a waffle maker to return.
“Uh yep,” I said, lifting the book from my lap. If I was going to be sitting in the car, excuse me, superior SUV of humble birth and beginning, while she was inside working, by golly, I was going to be reading. Besides, it was a dang good book.
“YOU read Dean Koontz?” she asked, standing outside the vehicle.
“Appears that way,” I said.
“I don’t believe it.”
I started to feel like I wasn’t being a very good friend, like I had broken the cardinal rule of friendship, like I had dated an ex-boyfriend while simultaneously losing weight.
“What’s wrong with Dean Koontz?” I said, turning the book from front to back, looking for anything icky stuck on it.
“YOU Tara? You read Koontz,” she said, more to herself than me. What the heck had you done to the girl?
“What’s wrong with Koontz?” I said.
“I don’t like him.”
Obviously.
“Why?”
“Have you read him before?”
“No.”
“What made you read him now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to read him again?”
“Anything’s possible.”
She shook her head.
“Why don’t you read Koontz?” I asked, still looking for something sinister on the jacket cover.
“He scares me.”
Seriously? Scary? We’re talking about world-traveler Amy, Miss Adventure, Miss I-love-staying-in-scary-hostels-and-sleeping-in-rooms-with-perfect
-strangers-all-by-myself Amy. I had barely traveled outside my own time zone. I had never been on a plane. I thought people still spoke English on the east coast. How could I be doing something, anything, she was too scared to do?
“I think he’s funny,” I said, defending your honor.
“Funny? Are you joking?”
Yeah, that wasn’t a joke. If I was going to tell a joke, it’d be a whole lot funnier than that, something about a priest and a rabbi. Maybe I’d throw in Paris Hilton too because it’s my joke and I can.
“I don’t get you. But I don’t have to. Aren’t you supposed to be interviewing someone?” I reminded her, ready to open this book and get this party started.
“Wow Tara. You really surprise me,” and with that she closed the door, off to her interview so we could move on to my destiny – a bean and cheese burrito.
That was years ago. I’ve been reading you ever since, mostly because you’re just good but also because you smile big in your jacket photo. And I like Trixie. She’s got a mauvais ane presence. That’s “bad ass” in French (it just sounds classier and my mom doesn’t pick up on the profanity).
I wrote this lengthy explanation because…well…hmmm…because I wanted to show how much I love your writing. And because I got home early tonight and am wired from a coffee enema.
You are my favorite, like the color green and the actor Cary Grant. And I thought you should know.
I wrote a book. I know, who hasn’t? Well, not me. I have. Much like my neighbor, my favorite grocer and my dog. We’ve all written. It’s a long story and trust me, the Amy story is short, so I won’t go into it. But I did it.
This isn’t an inquiry for you to read it or endorse it or use it for paper mache. But I wrote this thing, this beast, this quirky organism, and now it’s being read by others. It’s a book about single life as an adult female who has been saved by Jesus Christ. Or you could call it Christian, but I prefer the former.
It wasn’t even my idea. It was the spawn of a suggestion by a writer friend of mine, Jim Stovall (who doesn’t mind when I spill drinks in nice restaurants, gotta love that guy), and it’s matriculated from there.
He said write about single life. I said, “Seriously? What have I got to say?” But as you can see, it doesn’t take much to get me talking. Besides, I love my life. I laugh at my life. I decided it was time we all got a chuckle.
There is a group reading it now. We’re meeting in a few days for me to receive feedback. And I suddenly realized how naked I feel with something so personal riding around in cars, sitting next to toilets and on coffee tables, left on desks and used as coasters, there for anyone to gawk and gander.
Anyway, my point. A little round by now but here it is.
Positive feedback is important. I need it, hope to get it. And despite your success and wide appeal (except for Amy), I bet you need it sometimes too. I’ve been reading you for years but never said a word about it. That’s unacceptable. If we can’t be bothered to express positive things in life, perhaps we should shut-up.
So here it is:
Your writing speaks to me. I marvel at it. I laugh heartily. I even giggle. I shake my head in awe. I jump up and down in libraries and bookstores, even in my living room when I’m surfing Amazon and find a Koontz book. You make me think, you puzzle me. I’ve sat there, wherever you are – a desk, a couch, a diner, a park bench – writing your creations, and I’ve patted you on the back. I’ve given you high fives and thumbs up. I’ve read your lines out loud and waited for the audience reaction. I’ve nodded in agreement and dropped my jaw in surprise. I’ve stayed up late, I’ve gotten up early. I’ve ignored calls and dinner and the need to pee. I’ve invited you into my home, into my little world, into my backpack and taken you everywhere. I’ve befriended you and you’ve been a friend to me.
God has given you a great gift. Thank you for sharing.
This is according to Tara Lynn Thompson of Tulsa, Oklahoma who finally got on a plane last month, who loves to eat peanut butter from the jar, who is addicted to chapstick and fuzzy blankets and who is no one important except to her family and friends.
And she’s good with that.
I just wanted you to know.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Like riding a bike

Try it. Don't ride a bike for a decade, then jump on one. It doesn't just come flooding all back. Instantaneous expertise wasn't happening. And no one talks about the soreness in your derriere the next day.
I bought a bike, my first in....let's just say awhile. And it has a basket. A white one.
Why I bought it, I can't really say. I had solid, grown-up reasons. It saves me on gas when I'm running local errands. It is a healthy exercise. It's a great stress reliever. Huffy needs my support.
Basically, I just wanted it. Biking sounded fun. That about covers it. And I'm kind of tired doing the "grown-up" thing anyway. Why must I justify everything reasonably?
So I carpe diemed over to Academy and got me one last week. The first night my roommate and I (she got a bike too because spending frivolous money with friends is twice the pleasure) took our bikes out for a spin as soon as we got home.
It was awesome. My chain came off. Her bike wouldn't change gears correctly. A parked vehicle jumped out at me. She was wearing out. I was wearing out. We couldn't figure what gear to be in. And neither of us remembered it being so hard to pedal.
We walked back into the house, I sat on my couch, and my neck went out.
"Great," I said. Or maybe it was "ow."
Since I came back from my recent travels (Colorado, St. Louis, Boston), I've been trying to get back into life. I've been doing laundry, getting my mail, stocking my refrigerator, buying milk and eggs because I'll be around to eat them before they expire.
So much has been happening, so many unexpected twists and turns since my unemployment began (4 months, 10 days ago), feeling any form of normalcy has been a struggle. And for some reason, I have no idea why, I kept thinking these suddenly, unexplainable, divinely appointed trips would change things. I mean REALLY change things.
God was moving. Things were happening. I had finally reached that time, you know what time I'm talking about, when everything just works effortlessly. You are in the right place. This is your moment. It's destiny. Your purpose is right around the corner. No more obstacles. It's downhill all the way.
I honestly expected to come back home to cooler weather, easy money, and less body fat. I expected life to stop being life, stop being hard. I never said it out loud. I never even purposefully thought it. But God and I knew, this was it. We had a silent understanding. At some point in life, everything would just start working out.
Hello point.
But my neck went out. That hasn't happened in two years. How could that be part of God's plan? Now of all times? During MY TIME. Oh well, I won't worry about it.
A freelance article I was working on wasn't going right. I couldn't get a good, printable quote from anybody. No problem. It's all part of the plan.
My hairstylist, who's been my faithful hairstylist for the better part of 15 years, who always does an incredible job, gave me a look resembling a rock star, circa 1986. This, somehow, is part of God's plan.
A friend told me today perhaps I should think about waitressing, maybe it would be a good career move for me. Sure. Excellent. I'll start my food service career at 30.
I worked on an email for nearly two hours for my service group, one of those inspired little ditties full of charm and sarcasm and necessary details. Then I sent it. And it was blank. Completely blank. No copy in my sent folder. No copy anywhere. God, okay. So these things happen. I understand. Just give me an hour or so to yank all the hair out of my head.
Then I cut my finger, got a pimple, had to do MORE laundry, realized my bathroom needs cleaned, the dishes are dirty, my Jeep hasn't had her oil changed, the bills are due, and my hair still looks horrible.
I got on my bike tonight and went for a ride in my neighborhood. The temperature was mild, almost cool, the nighttime tempo had settled, and it was only me and a few nocturnal neighbors silently moving in the darkness.
Heading south, I went uphill first. And it wasn't easy. I pumped my legs, switched gears, and pumped some more. I had to concentrate, keeping my arms steady, my back more straight, and watch out for those parked vehicles.
After a block I wasn't so sure this bike thing was a good idea. It was a lot of work. I was breathing fairly steady, a heavy inhale and timed exhale, never easing my pressure on the pedals. I swerved onto the sidewalk and back to the road, moving from ground to ground, wobbling terribly as I went. I had to hold on with both hands or my body and the bike stopped working together.
But I never stopped. The pain in my legs increased but I never stopped. I ached, but I never stopped.
I refused to quite because I knew what was coming.
It only took a few minutes, just a few meager blocks, and I rounded the corner. From here on out, it was all downhill. I'd made it.
My legs stilled and my breathing calmed. I coasted, feeling the wind brush my ears and slide under my neck. The air turned from cool to peppermint, a tantalizing sweetness I could almost taste.
The homes moved past at a heartbeat rhythm. Gagunk. Gagunk. Gagunk. Each one leaving a scent on the air - wood burning, dryer sheets, fresh grass, pumpkin. It was like sampling every entree on the menu, and each flavor complimented the next.
Silence was dominate. The only sound was the soft lull of my bike wheels, the seamless hum of an air conditioner, cadence of a grasshopper, and the undetectable yet audible hymn of the darkening sky.
It seemed as if I coasted forever, much longer than I had pedaled. But it was the same distance. In those exhilarating moments of free fall, everything seemed worth it. The strain up the hill seemed minor, though I knew it wasn't.
The effort may have been draining, but I know it's necessary. It will strength my legs, increase my endurance, and when the time is right for me to ride further, to coast longer, to experience another landscape, I'll have the experience and stamina to do it.
I'll be prepared.
Life, as I'm learning, isn't much different than an evening bike ride. There will always be work. It must be done, not only for our physical strength, also for our character. But there will always be times of coasting too, sweet moments of freedom and long pedaless rides.
And in all honesty, every push up that hill made coming down so much sweeter.
When I reached the end of the neighborhood, I turned around and pedaled up again. Who cares about a sore butt and aching legs anyway? I just wanted to ride.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane

Never before. Not even once. Not even briefly. In my 30 years of life, I had never flown. My feet, literally though not always proverbially, have remained on the ground. Until recently.
Seven planes in 10 days. Weird, huh? Events had happened, opportunities opened, the path cleared, for me to head to St. Louis for the Joyce Meyer Women's Conference and then on to Boston for a week long freelance job. In between, I'd have layovers in Kansas City, Memphis, and Detroit. All together it meant seven planes in 10 days.
When God decides to move you, YOU MOVE.
People have asked me forever, "How is that possible you've never flown?" How? Oh it's easy. Don't go anywhere you can't walk, run, bike or drive. Tada. No plane.
You must understand, I'm a small-town country girl. My mother hates flying. And besides, we never had money for plane tickets. If we traveled, it meant saving and saving some more, cutting expenditures, working extra hours, and then going economy.
My father worked in construction. My mother was a homemaker. My brother, in his formative years, could eat Bill Gates out of house and home. My charm wasn't worth a dime. We were a working class family. My father always said, "We may not have anything nice, but that doesn't mean we can't take care of what we have. And be clean and neat."
That, in it's entirety, describes my childhood lifestyle. Clean and neat.
Flying was an extravagance for other people in other stations of life. We were the great American family with a station wagon or mini-van, hitting the national highways with "Holiday Road" as our theme song.
As I got older, I've attempted to fly. I really have. But every time I was scheduled to fly somewhere, it went wrong. EVERY TIME. The trip got canceled. The plans changed. I even attempted to sneak a ride onto a helicopter once, just to say I'd been off the ground other than on a trampoline. Let's just say it didn't work out.
My time had come. I was flying. Was I nervous about it? Of course I was. Are you kidding me? I was getting ready to say my goodbyes. Tara doesn't fly. It's just something she has never done. It's predestined for me never to fly. Me in a plane was a sign of the Apocalypse.
It seems silly, I'm sure. In moments of mental clarity, it was a little silly to me too. But those moments didn't last long.
On a Thursday morning, I gathered my luggage and rolled through security. I sat at the gate and prepared.
Airports, by the way, are an entirely different world, a foreign country with books and t-shirts in plenty and people moving from one line to stand in another. I just tuned it all out and focused on this mission.
I had prayed for lack of fear. I had prayed for courage. It wasn't until the day earlier, I prayed for something different. I prayed to remember God.
In the midst of this milestone, this unconquerable unknown, this silent fear, I began to doubt everything, even God's character. Why was I getting on a plane NOW? Of all the years I've tried, all the many attempts I've made, all the failed energy, He had literally handed every detail to me. I was meant to do this, no doubt. He wanted me to go. Yet I was restless with anxiety.
Why? Because I had forgotten Him. I really had. I had forgotten His mercy, His love, His protection, even His understanding. For many, flying is no big deal. It may seem trivial, an unsubstantiated fear. That's okay. I met a woman recently who is petrified of worms. WORMS. That seems utterly ridiculous to me. The thing is, GOD, in His deep and unyielding empathy of the human heart, cares about her fear. And He cares about mine too.
I made it through seven flights. Some were pleasant. Some were not. Some were on time. Some were not.
Each time I felt any fear or trepidation, I took a moment to remember God because I knew He was in full knowledge of me. I was talking to Him once, moments after a more unpleasant flight and minutes before taking off again. The plane was revving, the seat belt sign on, we began to taxi down the runway, and here I was again taking to the air.
'I'm not really looking forward to this God. That last flight wasn't so much fun. I don't want to be stressed out and wired. Will you help me?'
And he answered rather bluntly, as He always does, as I love it when He does, 'Tara, I'm either with you or I'm not. I'm either good or I'm not. What is your decision?'
I had no arguments for that. When God wants your fear to move, IT MOVES.
'Good point God. Nuf said. Now for my next question. What are they offering for snack options?'

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just what I wanted.

It could have been the french fries. But I don’t think so.
I can’t sleep.
I’ve just gotten in from a Remnant (www.theremnantwebsite.com) project, it’s after midnight, I’ve got outside air clinging to my pores, I need to remove my contacts, and instead I’m here on my couch typing in the dark because I’m so jazzed about life.
Yeah, life.
Funny how a four-letter word can pack so many years, emotions, victories, lessons, shame, renewal, rainstorms and traffic jams. I’ve accidentally cut myself too many times to remember. I’ve pumped gas more than I can figure. I’ve hugged more than my share.
And I have no idea how many hours of my life has been spent washing dishes, going through the mail, changing my vacuum bag, folding towels, or brushing my hair.
It’s all just snug between those four letters.
But there’s a few gaps, no matter how tight you squeeze that word. There is open space, unwritten program, untapped eternity between the “l” and “I” the “f” and “e”. And a lot can happen with just a little breathing room.
The Remnant.
Once it was just an idea. Then it was a concept. Eventually it became a gathering. Now it’s where I go home. To me, it means friends.
I drove home, after a hearty meal of Salmon and fried potatoes, thinking about all the people I had seen that evening, all the beautiful faces in my life, and some incredible new ones I just met. I drove home thinking about the laughter still whispering in my ear. I drove home thinking about a chance to do something not about me, all about Him. I drove home thinking about how I was still smiling.
I drove home loving my life. And I told God so.
This isn’t where I imagined being, even months ago. Jobless, alone, 30. Not my description of what I wanted to be when I grew up. In fact, good thing God doesn’t tell us our future. I’ve crossed too many bridges between here and there. I may have jumped off one.
And this isn’t what my family dreamed either. I remember, even at an early age, people telling me I’d marry young. My mother married young. My grandmother married young. I’d find someone. No problem.
It was said so often I actually believed it. Life was predestined to be a repeat of the women before me. And at the time, it’s exactly what I wanted.
Tonight, driving home in my seven-year old Jeep Jillian (whom I love and pray for often, “Lord, don’t let that sound be the suspension”), heading to my quiet little home, tiptoeing inside so I don’t awaken my roommate, kicking off my Wal-Mart shoes and dropping everything in the middle of the floor because I can, energized by spending the evening with great friends, I realized I had exactly what I wanted. I had a GREAT life. It was perfect for me in every way. And God knew that long ago.
So thank you Father. Thank you for a beautiful life, complete and joyful. It’s just what I wanted.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The only thing to fear

She wore bright green pants. And a matching shirt. I couldn't have pulled it off. She did. I glanced at her sitting on my left and then back out the window again.
I had other things to worry about than fashion, like where this train was taking me, what this train ride would be like, and if I could make it. 14,000-plus feet isn't normal stomping grounds for me, but once on-board my fate was sealed. We wouldn't stop until we reached it.
The engine roared, the train station began moving past my window, and we started up the mountain. Kristin and I were going to Pike's Peak. We had a bottle of water each, two purses, a camera bag, and the expectation of colder temperatures and less oxygen. We were both thrilled. And admittedly, I was somewhat fearful. Okay, I was pretty scared.
Soon the conductor was yapping away in the speaker telling us history. It was comforting, in a background noise sort of way. The train was full with everyone from the kid in the back saying, "choo, choo" every 15 seconds, to the old man from Arkansas traveling alone, to the group of Swedish teenagers speaking their native tongue. And then there was my green pants girl. I have no idea why I was drawn to her, perhaps it was the brightness of the pants. But I watched her from time to time, nonetheless.
As the train continued at a steady incline upward, I could feel panic setting in. My hands were tingling. My chest was warm. I felt a bit dizzy. And that overly crooked light pole out the window, the conductor explained, was actually straight. We were the crooked ones.
On and on we went. The 8,000 mark. The 10,000 mark. The 12,000 mark. I sipped on my water to swallow my panic. I'd exchange a glance with Kristin ever so often. She was quiet, sometimes a little pale. Neither of us felt like running a marathon. We were just sitting there, letting this beast take us toward the destination, what promised to be breathtaking.
At the timberline I began some deep breathing exercises and sipped more water. The trees were gone. Nothing but rocks and cold and dizziness everywhere. I had to get control of this. Just 2,000 more feet. This was doable. My green pants girl looked fine. She was fine, relaxed even, smiling and taking pictures with her friend. I could do this.
An hour and 40 minutes later, we arrived. I got out, feeling my eyes cross, and beelined it to the souvenir shop and some awaiting Aquafina. Soon, the sickness passed (what I learned later, and would have liked to have known earlier, was a case of rapid dehydration). Kristin and I went outside into the bitter cold. It was at least 30 degrees colder on Pikes Peak than on the ground, below freezing, and a cloudy day meant bitter winds. We stood in the wake of God's masterpiece seeing a world that made me feel small and God so much bigger.
Green pants girl and her friend exchanged cameras with us and we all took pictures for each other. Then we boarded the train for the decent down. She walked in, breathing heavily through her mouth, panting, yet calmly sitting down and rummaging through her purse. I watched the heavy breathing, the struggle, the constriction I could almost feel in my own chest and she inhaled again.
She pulled out an inhaler and pumped it a few times into her mouth, stopping to smile and wave at her friend still taking pictures. I changed seats and scooted a little closer.
"Can I fan you or anything?"
She nodded at me. "No, I'll be fine as soon as the medicine kicks in." A few more seconds, her panting calmed and she continued talking. "I have a breathing disorder. The doctors say it's dangerous for me to go above 5,000 feet."
I sat there staring at her. We were at over 14,000 feet. Nearly three times more than their recommendation.
"But I just had to come. I just love this. So beautiful." Then she went back to her world of watching out the window, and I went back to mine impressed by her, irritated at myself.
Later that evening, Ingrid - our gracious Colorado host - took us to see The Seven Falls at night. Another wonder of the world that left my mouth hanging open.
When we arrived, I took out my camera, snapping pictures of the nearly straight upward climb of the stairs along the cliff, seeing the light, the flow, the rhythm of the shot. A woman I hadn't even noticed sitting on a nearby bench caught my attention.
"Be careful going up. It's very steep stairs. But it's incredible. And going down is much easier."
"Oh. Okay. Appreciate it," I responded.
"I'm just sitting here catching my breath a minute. I went to the top. It's a good hike. And I'm petrified of heights. But I just had to go. I can't let fear rule me."
I could barely muster a smile. There it was again. Another woman facing her fear because she simply had to. I nodded and went on my way.
Fear. I know that name. Sometimes I feel it tattooed on my skin, the ink burning into my bloodstream. It rarely leaves me for other travels. If I looked hard enough, I could make out its footprint next to mine in the dirt. And I despise it like no other creature I know.
Being afraid makes me feel weak, sad, disturbed. It makes me question myself, my future, even my faith in God. It taints every bite of food for my soul. It just plain sucks.
The truth is, I'm not alone. It sags off the shoulders of many of us. We slosh about life burdened down with soggy trepidation and squishy shoes. We tell opportunity "no" when all a "yes" requires is courage.
But then there are others, those living their lives regardless of their fear, sampling extraordinary experiences because they faced their tormentor.
I don't have the strength to quell all the fear I have. I don't have the bravery or the gusto. But I do have a protector. And all He wants is trust.
Then, maybe for once, I'll take a journey into the high points of life simply because I had to.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Business as usual

Routines are easy to get into – unlike those jeans from high school, that relationship from last year, and that dream from endless hope. Routines zip up with ease.
It’s been three nights. Kristin and I arrived in Colorado Springs on Saturday, by Monday night the three of us dwelling in Ingrid’s one-bedroom apartment had a rhythm. I noticed it as I dragged the air mattress from off the balcony, Ingrid brushed her teeth in the bathroom, and Kristin began plugging in all her many electronics for the night. We had a pattern, a routine.
It isn’t that far off from life, in the broader since. I was stuck in a routine for three years, a job with a 30-day rotation from conception to deadline and back again. We played that song until I wanted to bash in the surround sound.
And in a moment, the routine shattered. I was unemployed. No more rhythm, off beat or otherwise. It’s been 11-weeks of what I’d call “massive upheaval.” Who knows what I’ll be doing from one day to the next, what job will come my way, what money will exchange hands and land into mine, and what odd task I’ll do to get it.
On and on, from gardener to construction worker, from telemarketing calls to photo assistant, to cleaning a house to pacing my own, I’ve done just about everything you can imagine, except squash grapes. But my clean feet don’t get me far in the professional world.
Instead, I’ve gone from temporary job to temporary job, losing pieces of my identity at every doorstep.
For a person who bemoans routine like I grumble over undercooked artichoke hearts (stringy vegetables are just icky), I’ve felt a bit lost lately. I’ve had no routine. Despite all my complaints to get out, suddenly I found myself wanting in. Where was my security? Where was my foundation? When would I get a solid job, a steady income, and finally get a good night’s sleep?
If you can define torment, do it now. I’ve seen it’s gnarly face and crooked teeth too many times over the last 11-weeks, more frequently as the clock spins past. I’d like to smack it heartily and give it a toothbrush. But it’s ugliness, for me, is unmanageable.
Truthfully, I’ve been overwhelmed.
Oh I’ve had moments of profound revelation. Times of bold faith. Spasms of brazen and busty declarations that this, this trifle loss of a job, this plummeting foothold, was just all in a day’s work. God could and would handle it all.
And I’ve even believed it a time or two. More often than not. But the not is there. And once planted, spreads like milkweeds in moist climate.
So that’s been me. For weeks, that’s been the portrait of me. And perhaps, more than a vacation, I came to Colorado to escape. Pretending is so much easier when you change the scenery. Here I could push reality aside.
Here’s the guts of it: God had a better script.
I don’t have a job, a title, a cluster of words to define my economic status, professional goals, or philosophy. I have me. And in me lives a Savior.
Yesterday I went to two church services in two churches in two towns. And I asked God in each for one thing: comfort. Please just give me peace. My supply dried up and evaporated weeks ago. And the drought was affecting more than my view on a future career, it was spurring on a deep-seeded, overwhelming, all-encompassing, gargantuan node of hot, steamy fear.
I needed peace like I needed air, and both have been too heavy to take in.
Did I find it? Yes, in moments. It didn’t come raining down. There has been just a drop here and there over the last couple of days. But I felt it just the same.
During the final moments of last night’s worship service, the contemporary if not downright edgy band played an old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”
Oh Lord my God. When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
We don’t always get a bolt of lightning to severe the here from the now, to part the tempest from the calm and sit us on dry soil. Sometimes it’s just a mountain on the horizon to remind us how small we are, how big He is. Sometimes it’s meeting new people and finding a common Love for an uncommon God. Sometimes it’s finding that routines can be replaced, within a heartbeat, within a matter of moments, within an unsteady time when nothing is routine. That’s when I knew He was there, just like before, just like every day of my existence and every day forward, just like He said He’d do, like He’s proved to me He’d do, like He promised and has never broken. He’s been there arranging the future while I’ve been busy counting toothbrush strokes.
He’s been simply going about His routine.

Monday, August 13, 2007

the Alice complex

Iris Johanson. Well, that was a new writer. Sounded promising. I pulled her book off the shelf, nestled her into the crook of my arm, went back to searching. Carly Phillips. Great. She'll go home with me too. And Joshua Ferris. What a great cover. You can come too.
I carried them around, scanning the library shelves, making sure no one else should be invited to my home for the weekend, and hurried to checkout. I had three books and less than two days, should tide me over.
I went home, sat in my favorite spot, couch cushions arranged perfectly to support all my extremities, creaked open JoHanson, and shut off the world. That was the entire purpose anyway, to shut everything out. I didn't answer my phone, didn't check my email, I just vegged. I sat in a still almost comatose type state, turned everything off including my ability for complex thought, and sucked on my pacifier.
Life, for the moment, had overloaded my circuits. I needed down time. I needed quiet. But mostly, I just needed nothingness. I wanted to escape to another world, to follow the rabbit down the hole, to ignore everything resembling reality.
And books always take me there.
I often wondered what propelled Alice into Wonderland. She was too young to fret, too pretty for masochism, too innocent for brassy life. She couldn't possibly be dealing with failure issues and family trouble. I don't remember any mention of a broken heart or fractured finances. And blonds really do have more fun, so what could have been the issue?
Maybe it was something less pointed, less purposeful, more benign. Maybe she simply needed to stop. She needed to stop trying to figure things out. She needed to stop fretting over life. She needed to stop all the noise, the doubts, the misgivings, the questions, the frustrations, the impatience, the seeking, the striving, the work of basically living. She just needed to stop.
This isn't my first escape from reality. I take them often, actually. I've learned, with me, it's up there in importance, next to eating and applying chapstick. I just have to stop.
I over think things. I over analyze. I try to "figure out" everything. I'd move to the ocean and study the tides if I thought it'd give me anything other than frizzy hair. Basically, I exhaust myself.
And here's the lesson I keep relearning and relearning. And....relearning.
Life doesn't require answers, only acceptance. God didn't tell us we'd always be in the know. In fact, He basically said the opposite. And because of this, He recommended a spicy little ingredient to add those ambiguous times: Faith.
We don't have to create it, buy it, mix it, make it. We just accept it. Just accept.
And the next time we trip into a rabbit hole to Wonderland, maybe we'll enjoy the ride.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The WHO

The scenery blurred by, as scenery often does. It moved with a stubborn destination. Behind, always behind me, pushing everything forward, moving the truck I was in closer and closer to the end. It was inevitable. Unless the earth opened up and swallowed this entire vehicle whole, which I've not often know the earth to do, we'd be in Van Buren, Arkansas in a matter of moments.
I was on my way to what most of us in the working world like to call, "The life-sucking, self-esteem deflating, deadly first day." My first day. There was a job laying rubber base at a construction site in Arkansas and it was mine. For two days, at least. Then, if all went according to plan, the location would change, the job would not.
But there was a minor problem. I didn't know how to do it. I'd had a grand total of one hour's training the day before. My brother - the expert - would be there. But, but, but....no buts. It was a job and after two months of unemployment, I needed whatever I could get.
I wouldn't say it was a terrible experience. But then again, another adjective doesn't come to mind. The site was crawling, dusty inch by dusty inch, with workers. Everyone in a hurry. Everyone a different task. And most everyone not English speaking.
Armed with a razor blade and glue gun, I hit the floor. We only had 1,700 feet to cover, give or take a millimeter. Better get started.
It was a revealing day, as was the day after, as has been the days since as I take to the floor armed with a straight edge and a desire to pay my mortgage.
Here's a few truths I've discovered:
- Pay attention to your surroundings or you're bound to whack yourself in the head, hard, in front of everyone. And embarrassment will linger long after the bruise.
- It really is hard not to flash your underwear when bent over for hours at a time. Let's give plumbers a break.
- If you are a female and seeking male attention, try strapping on knee pads. They get attention. Go figure.
- Being outside our element gives us better directions on getting back in.
I didn't belong there on that site. I knew that. So did most of the men who came up to ask me, "What are you doing here?" I was on the floor, cutting pieces of rolled base, strapped with a glue gun and a dangerous glint of perspiration. If they couldn't figure it out, explaining it wouldn't help.
I've asked God a few trillion times in my life exactly what He wanted me to do. "What God? What IS it? Just say the word. What should I do with my life?" That day, I didn't hear Him say a word. I didn't need to. I knew, without the booming voice and cracking thunder.
The answer was not WHAT but WHO. Who am I? I'm a writer. Actions always follow.
What does God want you to do? Forget the What. Focus on the Who. Answer that. And until you can figure it out, explaining it won't help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

To Grandmother's house we go

It happened every time I stayed over at my grandma's.
Maybe it was because I rarely stayed over. Maybe it was delirium from the perfumed air freshener that smelled like old candles. Maybe it was the spike in my blood sugar from all the homemade cookies. Maybe it was because I slept so deeply, so serenely, so undisturbed.
Every time, without fail, I always woke up from a nap or a full-night's sleep in complete oblivion. I'd never held such confusion until that moment. I awoke to a room, an environment, I couldn't place. I had no memory of it, although I'd been here hundreds of times. This was foreign to me, though I knew it as well as my own room.
And realization didn't come quickly. I'd lay there for awhile, trying to place where I'd seen that dresser against the wall, who was talking outside the door, what that smell was in my room (the old candles again). Slowly, ever so painfully slowly, the dawning happened. I remembered. Grandma's house.
I woke up Sunday morning with that feeling. Or at least a residue of that feeling. I recognized my room. I recognized the smell I know as home (new candles). I even remembered my dresser and the third drawer that always gets stuck. But that's as far as I went. I couldn't recall being here before, not this place, not this life, not this uncertainty.
It was like suffering from selective amnesia, although I had forgotten nothing. My life was unrecognizable.
The message at church was helpful, if not comforting. And I listened as the pastor used clips from the movie, "Pursuit of Happyness" with Will Smith, to show how affliction brings about brokenness, and brokenness unabashed joy. When we come to the end of ourselves, we finally open our eyes to see God. He was there the whole time. We just didn't recognize Him, much like the smell at Grandma's house.
It's then that deliverance can be, without inhibitions, celebrated.
This week has been a tough one, and it's only Wednesday. It always seems as if bad news travels with a few bad news companions. And my family is a bit bone tired. I don't even think Grandma's homemade cookies can right this wrong.
But as I sat across from my parents Monday night at dinner, traveling back to my hometown and a life I use to recognize, I kept seeing that image of Will Smith at the end of the movie. I kept seeing him walk into that crowd outside Dean Witter, seeing the look of complete deliverance on his face, seeing his hands raise in victory, clapping and clasping above his head.
I guessing Chris Gardner, the man Smith played, didn't recognize his life at that moment. I'm willing to wager he had never seen this place before. I bet he didn't even know the smell.
But he embraced it nonetheless. It was his, whether familiar or not. And this was his moment to celebrate his unknown without inhibitions.
Sometimes life just doesn't make sense. It doesn't have to. It never promised me or you or even Will Smith that it would. God never promised either.
But this is what He did say, this is what He did promise:
He's here. In the unfamiliar. In the brokenness. In the unknown.
He's here. No further than a whisper. No further than a thought.
He's here. Making order from chaos. Making deliverance in dismay.
He's simply here.
This is the rest I've been seeking, the joy I'm going to embrace, available even outside of Grandma's house, available even inside the unknown.

Friday, July 6, 2007

this side of delirium

I was going to tell you all about it.
Just finished a 22-hour workday, most of it on a new little job venture. Or maybe just experience is a better word. And I wanted to share, as I've been doing, as I promised I would do.

But I'm not going to do that. Not right now. You see, I'm tired. I'm really, really tired. 26 hours and counting, no sleep. And I've just worked the most physically laborious day in my short-term memory.
The sun is up. But I'm going to bed.

Despite the fact I've spent a large portion of my time thinking of a...oh...possibly amusing (or maybe I was just bored and it amused me) blog to write, at this moment I can't think of one bloody thing at is funny. Not one. Geez. Give me a minute here....hmmmm...nope. I can't even remember a knock-knock joke.

So instead, I'm going to get some sleep, if I remember how. And tell you all about it later.

Wait...I just remembered this one.
Knock knock...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ticked me off

At least I didn't have to make that dreaded, demoralizing, degrading call.
"Um, yeah. I'm sick today. I can't come in." Didn't have to say it. There was no one to call. The only things waiting for me this morning were ticks and tree limbs, spending the morning planning my demise. We'd just have to rumble another day.
I woke up around 3 a.m. a little dazed and confused. First, I wanted to know why I was awake. Second, I wanted to know who had cracked my head open while I was busy sleeping.
I was sick. A summer cold - the worst. I got up and read a little, drank some magnesium (because it's good for headaches) and wondered how in the world I was going to get myself to work feeling the way I did. Then I remembered. I DON'T WORK! Oh yeah. Slipped my mind. I am now a woman of leisure, at least until the repo men come. I don't HAVE to get myself anywhere. So I went back to bed.
Mostly, my day was filled with old movies, kleenex, and wondering who was messing around with the thermostat. It literally took me hours to realize the temperature change was in me. (Fever is a beautiful excuse for delirium.)
Where did this cold come from? Who knows. I had a few thoughts of Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever and then realized I usually only socialize with local vermin.
So I went back to the fact I'm weak.
It's true.
I caught a cold because I got overheated. Plain and simple. I was just some girlie girl office worker who thought driving without air-conditioning was really toughening me up. Now I'm outside in Oklahoma in JUNE - I couldn't go through this career crisis during a mild October, no - and thinking I'm Superwoman with a penchant for fighting off the Little Shop of Horrors.
Just like every job or responsibility I've had in life, I attack it. And, while in my war, ignore the subtle signs of battle fatigue until both legs go missing.
Why isn't it okay when we can't do it all? When we can't control our circumstances? When we can't fix our problems? When we can't overcome difficulties just by sheer willpower? Why do we push ourselves so hard? Is it really just independence, or is there some thick pride mixed in?
So, for now, I'm relearning a lesson I've learned...oh...just a few times before. Pace yourself. Do what you can. Realize your limitations (everyone has them). And trust God to fill in, up and over the gaps.
What's on the agenda tomorrow? Work? Nope. 'fraid not. Tomorrow I boil new potato soup and up my Vitamin C intake.
May the weeds enjoy a day of reprieve.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Just weed it

There were weeds in the garden. Rocks in the trailer. The weeds were to be pulled out. The rocks were to be put in.
Ooookay. Got it. No problem.
I pulled on my psychedelic pink and green gardening gloves (because they're cute), tied a purple do-rag around my head, and went to work. This was going to be great. Work. Yes. Just what I wanted. Something physical. No brain power needed. Just weed pulling and rock putting.
The sun came out. The clouds rolled in. The rain came down. The sun came out. The clouds rolled in. The rain came down. All day long with this cycle. I kept waiting for nature to throw in a couple pieces of hail just for variety.
But that was okay with me. Everything was okay with me. This was good work. Honest work. Sweaty work, I thought, wiping my face on my sleeve.
I pulled those weeds like a pro, like a woman on a mission, like a pioneer seeking undiscovered territory that was also weedless. And oddly, I didn't really notice the stinging on my arms. Not really. Not at first.
Then it grew. And started to burn. And when I glanced down at these anti-weeding machines of mine, I started to see the first signs of blood. Hello? Those wretched plants - not the weeds, mind you, the blasted plants - were like little razors disguised as innocent grass. Stupid plants.
I refused to succumb. Refused. No way was I going to get fired from a one-week assignment to clean out some flower beds. NO WAY.
I moved down the line, removing the nasty little weeds while being poked, stabbed, and assaulted by these docile looking kermity-colored creatures.
What were they?
Who knows. Not petunias, I can tell you. Certainly nothing earthly, if you ask me. Some hybrid alien plant form sent here to gather blood and skin samples from temporary, ignorant gardeners like myself.
No matter. I fought them anyway, determined to do as much damage as possible before the mother ship arrived.
And when it came time to move the rock, baby, I moved that rock. I moved it until it couldn't move anymore. (Or maybe that was me.) I moved it like no body's moved rock. I moved it and it stayed moved.
Then I went home, showered, and collapsed.
Day two.
Same assignment, bigger area, more plants, more rocks.
Here's the odd thing. The really odd thing. Despite the cuts. Despite the sweat. Despite the heat. Despite the blood loss and eventual skin grafts I'll be needing. Despite the overwhelming urge to shove my face in a river and drink until it runs dry. Despite the grotesqueness of me when the day was over. I had a blast. I mean, I really had a blast.
I was outside. I was working. I was breathing in oxygen, breathing out old deadlines, working with and sometimes against nature, and finding joy in the simplicity of it all.
Dang it. It was DIFFERENT! And I couldn't get enough of it. I even broke into spontaneous laughter or sometimes song, exchanged some entertaining jokes with myself, and burned my nose. People, it doesn't get much better than that.
What does one do in their third week of unemployment? Whatever one must. Might as well enjoy it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

the salty sweetness of carpet

Beth Moore describes it as laying prostrate on the floor. I call it face time. It's the time I spend laying on my face.
It isn't a new exercise regiment. I'm not playing dead. And I don't find comfort in smashing my nose into the floor and chewing on my carpet fibers. It's less of a physical reaction and more like a spiritual destination. It's the end of it. The end of all of it. The end of me.
I've been there a few times over the last year or so, and carpet isn't all that tasty. Trust me. Leaves me wanting.
It isn't comfortable, attractive, or a stupid human trick. It's a revelation, a realization, an acceptance. It's coming to the reality of yourself and your abilities. It's the end of ego.
This is the moment you find yourself at the end of all the stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. If I could rewrite them, I'd slip an addendum between depression and acceptance, and I'd call it face time: A fun little trip to self-awareness and reality acceptance where you literally drop to the floor because standing takes more than you've got. This is where I mumble my sincerest of prayers, into that flavorful cut pile rug. And possible, this is the only place I finally shut up long enough to hear any answers.
It isn't that God only speaks from the ground. He doesn't settle to the floor like aerosol air freshener. He's everywhere at all times. At the top of a mountain. At the base of the pit. He can be reached while sitting peacefully by the lake or standing in the center of Mardi Gras.
But I hear him better in the carpet. Down prostrate on the floor. Face stuck into the ground. That's as low as I can get. From there, the only direction to go is up.
Does that mean God is only satisfied when we're broken? He doesn't move until we've sunk to the bottom? He likes watching us grovel?
No.
The truth is, it isn't until we run out of ourselves, when the tank is empty, the engine no longer sputtering, and no life left when we turn the key, that we seek to be filled by God. It isn't until then, until our face time, we stop looking around for our answer and start looking up.
Just make sure to vacuum regularly.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A question...

Just going to leave you with a question today

And the most important part is who is asking:

Jesus.

"What do you want Me to do for you?"

He asked this twice, when being sought out by two different people for two very different reasons.

I'm not concerned about the answer. What I want to know is your motive? Or more so, MY motive.

What do I want Him to do and WHY?

Now I'm going to go answer it.

Beet still my heart

She had misplaced her juicer. My mom just couldn't find this rather expensive piece of machinery anywhere. She looked high. She looked low. Nothing.
Maybe I had it? No I did not. Maybe someone borrowed it? No they did not. Maybe it was stored in the barn? No it was not.
It had just vanished. Poof. Just like that. One minute there. The next minute gone. No scientific explanation to it. Aliens had finally made contact, traveling billions of light years to suck up my mother's juicer in their space ship and hightail it home.
The end.
Not quite.
You know what it's like when you lose something. It eats at you. It disturbs your sleep. It feels as if something just slipped out of your control when you weren't looking. And you use all your God-given senses to ransack your life in a frantic search for what's missing.
I've lost things before - an earring, a CD case, several indistinguishable white socks, and one perfect man. (Note to self, buy more socks, forget about the man.)
Tonight, my mother and I visited. She's been upset about certain things going wrong in her life (She's got an unemployed loser for a daughter. Not me. The other one. Wait. I am the only daughter. Bummer.) and has been seriously questioning whether God is all that concerned about the details of life. Does He really care about what she cares about? That was her real question.
She had been up nights. Not eating. Stressed out. Beginning to feel numb. So many things weren't going well and then, of course, as if she needed any more to worry about, her daughter loses her job.
Geez.
Was God up at night? Was He losing sleep? Could He eat while she found swallowing a chore?
Then the oddest thing happened, she decided to start searching for the juicer again. Yes, again. She had been given an excellent deal on several pounds of beets. And they just wouldn't keep. They HAD to be juiced.
Besides, she had only put in about five weeks of solid, sun-up-to-sundown effort into finding it. She needed to try again.
So tonight, resigned to another futile effort of searching, she walked to the storage area and began again. Check above, check below. It wasn't here. It wasn't there. She had looked all these places before anyway. She knew the answer. And as if crying out to her Father in one last exerted effort, she asked Him again, "God, if you care at all. I really need to find that juicer. Will you help me?"
She turned once again to her hunting and without breaking a sweat, there it was. The juicer. Just like that. The prayer, be it ever so humble, was answered.
"He was waiting until this time to answer that prayer. I wasn't finding it for a reason," she told me, a revelation in her voice.
"Uh huh," I said.
"He knew I needed something, anything, to tell me He was listening. That He cared," she said, realization dawning.
"Uh huh," I said.
"He...used...the...juicer," she said, pausing after every word.
"Pretty cool, isn't He? He's always got a plan," I replied.
"Uh huh," she said.
Things are going to be a little different in the Thompson home by morning. Mom will start the day after a good night's rest. Dad will start the day with a lifetime supply of beet juice.

Friday, June 8, 2007

In lightning

The Grand Canyon I get.
Niagara Falls.
Paricutin Volcano.
Even Mount Everest.
I completely understand - or at least to my own satisfaction - why God created these wonders. I mean, think about the Grand Canyon. I've been there. I bought rock souvenirs. I put a quarter in the binoculars and looked all the way down. And I've gotta say, that's just one really big hole. I mean, REALLY BIG HOLE. It must be admired.
The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia,
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Mount Fuji in Japan.
I get them all. I really do.
But this evening, standing with a friend, talking about the hand of God, watching a thunderstorm move in, what I didn't get, what I couldn't quite grasp, was lightning. The jagged flashes, the blinding light, the fidgety movement, it just seems like a lot of work for a natural occurrence that doesn't occur all that often. I mean, it's here, it's there. And when it's here, it moves so fast you think it's there. It really serves no purpose other than keeping those Cox repairmen busy.
It wasn't too concerned by my doubts. It just kept moving in closer and closer, no hesitation, no awkward social greeting. It invaded the evening without even an "excuse me, is this a bad time?"
For me, lightning has always served as a warning. This is the light show before the big guns get going. Lightning means I need to check the weather channel for tornado warnings. Lightning means I'm about to get rained on. Lightning is the precursor to big things to come.
And as my friend and I stood there, watching this electric symphony, the thought became clearer and clearer. This thing, this natural spasm of positive ions and electrons, this deadly and untamable reaction, is just to get our attention. God didn't want us to ignore what was coming so He sent the attention grabber on ahead.
It isn't all that different from life. Sometimes God sends us a little lighting, a little bolt of heat that cracks our sky, shakes things up a bit, rattles our senses, and leaves us blinking in the dark. It could come through disasters, disappointments, or even...I don't know....budget cuts at work? Just a thought.
So now, ending my fourth day of unemployment rather late (because I was out watching the lightning storm, you got that already didn't you?), I'm wondering if this is only the attention grabber. Maybe this is the pre-show, an act I couldn't ignore because God needed to get my attention to prepare me for bigger things to come. (I'm not alone here. You might want to check your skies.)
Here's how I'm going to handle it. I'm not going to hang out under trees. I'm not going for a late night swim. And I'm not going to stick my tongue to a metal pole. I'm going to shut up and pay attention and hope lighting really doesn't strike in the same place twice.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Leaving Los Larvae

I kept chanting it in my head. "They're just cute little baby flies. That's all. All babies are cute. Cute little baby flies."
This is what one does on Day Three of Planet Unemployment. They become responsible homeowners and realize, to their abhorrence and dismay, there are MAGGOTS in their outdoor garbage can.
Oh help me Jesus. They were there.
What does one do? One buys gallons of bleach and eradicates said baby flies.
I drive little these days. Gasoline is too expensive. And my bike is broken. Instead, I walk. Or go nowhere. For a person use to living in their vehicle, I've suddenly, and quite surprisingly, discovered I own a home. At least for now.
Being an adult, yet being single, is a nifty little demographic status that keeps us quite comfortably in the adolescent stages of life. We work. We pay our bills. But dang it, we aren't home enough to spend that much time wondering if we should repaper the front closet.
Buying a home does not mean I've suddenly become a full-fledged adult. No sir. I bought it because it was pretty.
Anyway, I'm learning that upkeep is just one of those things, like repainting your toenails. Just hunker down and do it. Too much spare time and I'm beginning to see this place through all new eyes. I mean, dang it. I actually thought about repapering the front closet.
So here I am with a problem. Lots of little bitty problems actually. And let's just preface this by saying, Tara has a weak stomach. I know. I'm a bloody reporter. I know this. I've seen a lot of nastiness in my day. I know this too. I've been in meth houses where the oxygen was no longer human friendly, homicide scenes you can't quite scrub from your memory, and accidents that ended your innocence. But you tell my stomach not to get queasy. Maybe it will listen to you.
I breathed in and out a few times, kept chanting my mantra "they're just baby flies," grabbed my gumption, and went outside. Armed with my funky green and hot pink garden gloves, garden hose, and the ability to hold my breath for three to seven minutes, I attacked this monster. And once the kill was complete, once I had ended this tribe of larvae, I removed all evidence of a crime and vacated the scene.
You could say this is just unemployment. But let me tell you, this is no minor leaguer time wasting. This kind of uselessness is only for the brave hearted, low pain tolerant, and minds of solid steel. This is kill or be killed nothingness. This, my friends, is life in the no lane.
Tomorrow? I'm pulling weeds. Watch out world!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

they claim to be

Here, fill this out. Oh, and this. Now, fill this out. And when you are done, come back to my desk and we'll fill everything out.
Welcome to the reason most of the unemployed in America find themselves on the shoulder of a bridge, weighing whether to file a claim for unemployment or jump off.
It wasn't all bad. There wasn't a bad smell to the place or hateful workers. In fact, the woman helping me was very friendly and looked exceptional in turquoise. And a man filing for some kind of retirement benefits walked in wearing an unnamed cologne that increased my body temperature.
It's just the sheer madness of it, really. The belief you'll fill out all these blanks, answer all these questions, and the perfect job will seek you out like the wet nose of a puppy in your open hand. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. I'm just saying I'm doubtful. Okay, I'm still an unbeliever. I just don't believe a resume tells you diddly about me. In fact, I know it doesn't.
This is like filing out a dating application and believing chemistry will strike when you read the candidates middle name. "Henry. Yes. That's him. I knew I'd marry a man with the middle initial H."
Perhaps I should have been better behaved. Perhaps I should take it all more seriously. Perhaps I just don't fit well inside a box. The squeeze is just too tight. It reminds me of a double-breasted vest I own that forces my figure out, instead of holding it in, because the space allowed wasn't designed for my unique form.
That's a resume. I just can't fit inside of it.
It was around the second set of yes or no questions when the electrolytes in my brain began slamming themselves into my skull in a vain attempt at suicide.
Can you "provide information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person?" Interesting. So you're asking me if I know how to use a phone, a piece of paper, a computer, and my mouth? Sure. Think so. Next.
Can you "see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer)?" And the English translation of that question is: Do your eyes and brain work together? Why yes, yes they do. Next.
Can you "understand information and ideas presented in writing?" Survey says: Yes, I can read.
Can you "understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences?" Translation: They want to know if I'm deaf. No, but I do walk around the office with headphones shoved in my ears playing anything from the 80's heavy-metal era. Hope that's not a problem. Next.
Can you "write synopsis?" Yes. Much better than you. Next.
Can you "arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules?" Absolutely. I know how to count all the way to 75. And I learned the alphabet song last year. I'm a go.
My apologies, most sincere, to all those who made it through various forms of these questions and did not snap in the end. I, however, am not one of you. By the time I got to the section to write my objectives, which in normal speech means to sell yourself, I wrote this:
"Tireless experience in writing. I can produce it myself, produce it from others, edit it, juggle it, grill it, organize it, tweak it, squeeze it, plump it, stump it, brighten it, thin it, excite it, invite it, take it, leave it, bring it, brought it, toss it, enlighten it, sizzle and flambé it.
And that's just the writing part.
My communication skills are excellent. No, better than that. Superfantastic.
I work well with others and play nice. I'm energetic and love a challenge. LOVE it.
But you can't know me or know what I can do by reading a resume. Not possible. I'm three-dimensional - in body, mind, skills, personality, goals, and shoe size. A resume is not."
I signed off, signed out, and hit the road. If a prospective employer wants to know who I am, just ask. And I promise to answer in English.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Day ONE on Planet Unemployment

This is a strange little place. There are no alarm clocks here. No expectations. No one expects anyone to be anywhere at any time. And pressed clothes are optional.
Eating occurs whenever and often. Silence is profound. And the phone rings, but they are all personal calls.
There are no meetings, no desks. Work is done by sitting on the floor and using your lap as a table. Naps can happen spontaneously. And NOTHING absolutely must be done by the end of the day.
Unemployment. I've never visited this strange and unusual place before. I've seen brochures, but never had the courage to check it out. Now I'm here but not of my own doing. My boss, or what was once called such, sent me here on Friday afternoon due to budget cuts. I packed light.
You can always take more. But I didn't. I took my books and my paperweights and walked into the sunshine, leaving the deadlines, the disappointments, the daily schedule behind. I haven't missed them yet. But then again, it is only my first day.
I left without a tear. And they haven't really come since, not enough to pool, not enough to really bring me sadness, not enough to even earn mentioning.
Instead, I left, wondering if it was too late in the day to enjoy the park. I walked for over two hours, heading north along the River, not sure if I'd stop until it got dark, not knowing if I'd stop once it did. I just needed time to think, to speak with God, and hear Him speak back. You see, this is my answer. This trip. This adventure. It's exactly what I asked for. I wrote it on my Christmas list. I asked during a falling star. I blew out birthday candles, and it wasn't even my birthday. I've been wanting an adventure. Not just any adventure. I wanted one with God. Me and Him. Some me and He time. I asked him to knock me off my feet and take me on a journey. And our first stop, our first destination, it's Planet Unemployment.
What does this mean?
I don't know. It isn't important that I do. I'm just going along for the ride, anxious to see the scenery while not particularly concerned about the destination. The way I see it, God is moving in my life. And He's given me a first-class ticket. Now I'm going to spend my time exhaling, asking for a fruity drinks with umbrellas in them, and taking in all the sights. I can't wait to buy some souvenirs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The knowingness of nothing

I didn't get it. I really didn't. I mean it hurt. It really hurt. And I'm no baby, my friend. I can take pain. Ever have your grandmother set you up on a blind date? No? I have. That's blunt trauma, and I'm a survivor.
But this pain, this was different. It was perpetual, enigmatic, and enjoyed traveling about my body, hitching a ride here, taking a drive there, seeing the sights, snapping pictures. A total tourist pain, completely not at home inside me.
After a few weeks I started getting irritable. After a few months I started getting depressed.
I had thrown my back out. Yep, I did. Here's the warning that should be placed on all clandestine boxes, "Picking up and carrying on one's hip could cause disk misplacement and months of whining that even your mother won't want to hear. Check with your physician before lifting any and all boxes."
My chiropractor and I got very close. Although I'll admit, not meaning to be unfaithful, I had a love affair with the roller bed.
You'd think I could have a good sense of humor about such things. And I did. For a solid 20 minutes, I laughed this pain off. Then I started getting testy. And more so, scared.
What I didn't understand, what confounded me time and time again, was the fact God was simply not answering my prayer. No divine communicado. What good could possible come of this? Of all the things in my life swirling down the toilet, was this REALLY what I needed right now?
I could answer that. No. No, it was not. What I needed was to miraculously and spontaneously lose 12 percent more body fat, get a rebate check from my credit card for $15,000, open my front door to find a Cary Grant look-a-like lost and lonely.
This made no sense. None. And I was sick of it.
I HAD been in some of the best shape of my adult life. I had been pushing myself, working out hard, lifting weights, building my strength, pushing myself beyond what I thought possible. It felt good. Too good. So I kept at it. And at it. And at it. My usually three day/one-hour workout turned into six day/two-hour workout. And I wanted more. It made me feel powerful, in control, like I was the one piloting this life. The constant soreness was just weakness leaving my body (who ever made that stupid statement anyway?). And my constant exhaustion was simply lack of sleep. Nothing more. So I kept right on pushing.
Then, on a day I can only remember as rainy, it all stopped. Just like that. No more sweat. No more weights. No more control. I was injured and it wasn't healing.
So time went on. I slept with a pillow between my knees. I went to my chiropractor. I did my stretches. I waited and watched and held my breath hoping for improvement. Then I passed out because you should never hold your breath that long. Eventually, ever so tediously slow, the pain began to subside, I walked normally, I moved freely, and I still slept with a pillow between my knees.
I gave up understanding. God wasn't going to explain this. It was going down in my history book as one of those great question marks I'm suppose to remember post death to ask, though I know I won't. It had been completely pointless. Just bad luck. Just bad karma. Just life.
Months later, sitting in my doctor's office (it hasn't been a steller year), we reviewed the results of some tests I'd taken. I had some problems but nothing that couldn't be reversed with more sleep, supplements, and a whole-foods diet. Thankfully. However, BIG however, I was on the edge, just tittering on the brink of plunging further beyond the line of easy reversal. I was at that point someone named No Return.
And then my doctor said something rather profound, "Good thing your back went out."
Huh? Good thing? It's not like it just "went out" for dinner, "went out" for a smoke, "went out" with Cindy my hairstylist, it w-e-n-t o-u-t, as in, not in. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, had you continued pushing yourself like you were, you'd be in a much worse situation than you are now. It's really a blessing you were forced to quit. Otherwise, you'd be pretty sick right now."
Oh, I thought. 'Oh,' I formed with my mouth. "Oh," I finally said out loud.
Who'd uh thunk it. The pain had a purpose afterall.
I sat across from my mother recently while she received some bad news. After months and months of praying, after disappointment upon disappointment, here she was to be disappointed again. I could see it on her face. Why? She was asking. And I couldn't help but think of my pain.
"Mom, we don't always know the reason for these trials. That doesn't mean there isn't one. We have to trust God knows what He's doing. We just have to trust...God."
I'm still doing my stretches, still seeing my chiropractor. The pain is minimal, though not gone. And there's just enough of a reminder to keep me from picking up any boxes. I don't understand everything in my life. In fact, I have a hard time understanding my cell bill. The mysteries of the world are certainly not frightened of me.
But perhaps that's the adventure. That's the thrill. The not knowing. That's part of what makes life so confounding, intriguing, irrational, yet fascinating. We don't know. We can't. But we've been invited to know Someone who does.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What does it all bloody mean?

Can the seemingly meaningless dumb luck of life have greater meaning?

Could losing $20 propel you into financial freedom?
Could stubbing your toe cause true love?
Could getting cut off in traffic actually save your hide?
Could that missing sock eventually explain the meaning of life?

In the far reaches of unexplained phenomenon, could one innocuous event, or even not so tame event, eventually lead you to a destiny? Or at least a really groovy time?

Hmmmm.....
Let's think about this a bit. More later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Love is blind

I stood in the back lurking. Deep in the shadows I watched, like a stalker, like a thief in the night, like a serpent hunting. The darkness thickened near the corners so I backed up, edging closer and closer to obscurity. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, not quickly, but slow, a timeless rhythm tossing the wind back and forth between movements. I stayed inside my personal space, shrinking to nothing. Unseen. Unnoticed. Unknown.
The only light, the only sound, came from a stage in the distance. The eyes of cameras watching every movement, much like me. It was just a show, a simple national platform, and a friend of mine sat there among the cables and wires, the backdrops and backlights, being in the cornea of the spotlight.
He's a special man. A success by any standard. A national columnist. An award-winning author. An international speaker. A dreamer who knows the smell of battle to keep the dream alive.
At age 17 he started going blind. At age 29 the process was complete.
The bubbly interviewer smiled through her raspy voice, an extravagant personality beneath big hair and a small frame. She spoke on his books, his movie, his television network.
Still, I remained in the dark. He didn't even know I was there, a spy among strangers. I thought I came to support him. I learned later it was all for me.
She began wrapping up the interview and asked one final question.
"Jim, does being blind limit you?"
He answered, in the sure-footed way he always speaks, comfortable whether at Tiamo's talking about my life or sitting in a ghastly lit chair in front of a live feed talking about his.
"Yes, of course," he said. "It limits what I can do."
And here's the pearl I haven't been able to get out of my head all day.
"But it never limits who I am," he said.
I stopped shifting my weight, stopped my nervous twitch of shifting my weight, stopped feeling the cushions in my shoes squish with my body weight. I stopped lurking in the dark and just stood there plainly. I stopped seeing the chaos behind the scenes and started seeing the chaos behind my eyes. I just stopped.
There in the cool darkness I realized I was the one blind. I cannot see where I'm going, only sometimes where I've been. My eyes haven't adjusted to the darkness. My other senses haven't heightened.
I'm blind. My life makes little sense, the directions even less. I turn north and find out I've gone east. I've make a right to realize I should have made two lefts. And I step out to realize I should have used the other foot.
So many times, I live life blindly still believing I've got perfect sight. But I don't. I'm blind. Completely and totally in the dark. Decisions are limited. I don't have the ability to push my future forward or back, to curve my direction to the left or right. It does not, however, change who I am in Christ.
I'm still His daughter, His beloved, the twinkle in His eye. I'm constantly in His sight, the object of His affection. I'm still His and everything He made me to be. And I don't need my eyes to see it.

what do you WANT?

If a friend asks me that question, I usually answer, "understanding."
If a boss asks me that question, I usually answer, "money."
If a man asks me that question, I usually answer, "dinner."
If God asks me that question, I usually answer in stunned silence. What do we want? What do we REALLY, truly, from the blood and guts of it, want?

Don't answer that. Let it marinate awhile. Your response might surprise you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Back to the Future

Somethings just need to be left alone, like beehives, sizzling coals, government employees, construction areas littered with non-English speaking men on their smoke break, cactus, scabs, ceiling insulation, and the past. Sometimes, yes sometimes, it just needs to remain where it belongs, behind you.

We seem to be in the rehashing generation. Everyone needs to talk things out, clear the air, vent their frustrations, release their tention, right the wrongs, and get closure.

I think those are excellent ideas. Here's how I'd do it:

- Need to talk? Get a plant. They'll actually appreciate it.
- Clear the air? Open windows are good for such things.
- Vent your frustrations? Punching bags don't feel the blows, people do.
- Release tension? $65 for an hour massage will be worth the money.
- Right some wrongs? Put your energy into helping someone else.
- Get closure? Leave it alone. Closure just happens.

Don't stand with your eyes on the past, turn your focus back to the future.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Fisherman







Wrote a letter to Larry Huntsperger, author of "The Fisherman," recently. (He graciously responded the next day.) This is an amazing book about Peter and his grandest adventure as the best friend of Jesus. The book is out of print as of December, but still available on Amazon. And a journey each of us should be willing to grab our nets, pack a few dry clothes, and climb onto the boat to experience. You may discover how much of Peter you really are.
Here is the email and my own Peter experience.

Mr. Huntsperger,

It was my favorite aisle. Somewhat dark. Secluded. And the book selection excellent. I saved that aisle during my visit to the library to the very end. It was so secluded, like my own private book collection. Row stacked on row stacked on row, I knew the profile of nearly all of these books. After years, their sharp chins and pointed noses were familiar, like the recognizable drawings of Albert Hitchcock and his potbelly.
So there I was, walking that special spot in the universe, when a new book walked up to the line, turned sideways, and waited for acknowledgment. The color of it's complexion caught my eye. "I don't remember you. Who are you? Where did you come from?" I picked it up and met, "The Fisherman."
I wouldn't say it was kismet or even fate. But I read the first paragraph in Chapter One and couldn't put it down. I tried but it stuck, no chewing gum or Karo syrup needed. It just wouldn't budge. Finally, I tore it's talons from clutching my hand and I set it back down. But I needed to read this. I HAD to read this. I stood in my secret garden for a few moments, holding that book yet again, knowing it had to come home with me.
That was perhaps one of the best decisions I made that year, whatever year it was. I LOVED your book. Adored it. I read it and cried and skimmed the words with my mouth open. Sometimes I even added a few head nods. It was a very interactive experience.
Afterwards, I talked about it to everyone. I went to Mardel's, took every copy they had (about three), which was all I could afford, and asked if they'd be ordering more. I even got a copy into the hands of Larry Payton, the owner of Celebrity Attractions and producer of the national stage production, "The Rock and The Rabbi," about Peter and Jesus. The play is one of the best I've ever seen, absolutely amazing, and it reminded me of your book. I told Mr. Payton about it who agreed to read it. A week later, he sent word that he loved it and had passed it on to his wife to read next.
Anytime I've met someone struggling to understand Jesus, I said, "I know this book you should read. If I get you a copy will you read it?"
My father, also a pastor, read it and wept. He said it was incredible and kept my last copy for far too long. I staged a coup and took it back.
I don't know why I'm writing you now. It's been a few years since I read your book, but I still love it. Today, in the midst of deciding to either follow God's voice no matter the destination or sit in my quiet cubicle life and despair, I thought of something in your book, of an imagery I haven't been able to forget.
There was Peter and his crew, tired from fishing all night, and with nothing to show for it. Jesus told them to cast the net one more time. Just one more time Peter. Don't ask questions. Don't explain the tide or the temperature or the lay of the sea. Don't grumble about all the effort you've already exhausted, your unending knowledge of fishing, or your half truths. Just cast the net. And in exasperation, he did.
Suddenly, the waters moved. The surface erupted. And the fish crawled over each other, anxious, willing, excitably even, trying to get into that net. As if they were saying, "I want the honor of following my Creator's voice, even to death. Give that honor to me!"
I've never forgotten that scene. And I realized today, that's what I want. I want the honor of following my Creator's voice, even while I die to myself. So today I searched for you on the web and found one of your friend's on myspace. I know him only as Mr. Jackson. He directed me to your website and email.

So thanks. That's all I wanted to say. You're writing moved me. It did more than that, actually, It affected me. It gave me a vision of a Savior I want to know in perfect clarity. What you did has enriched my faith. And I'm quite grateful. Wordy. But grateful.

Tara Lynn Thompson

P.S. You can visit my blog, if you are ever interested, and read today's blog. I didn't mention the book. But it inspired me to write, "My resignation letter". Thanks. My blog is taralynnthompson.blogspot.com.

P.S.S. I'm going to read your book again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My resignation letter

Stop trying. Just stop. This very moment, quit.
I've been a fighter my entire life. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try harder again, and again, and again. And just keep trying. And put more effort into it. Give it all you've got. Don't back off or back down. Don't let up or let go. You'll succeed if you put your back into it, your arms into it, your legs and your core and your pinky toe.
That's me.
And somewhere along the way, some mile marker I never noticed, the successes stopped. The wins decreased. The victories didn't come.
I gave it a little more.
Still nothing.
I gave it all I had.
Nothing.
I muscled up more strength.
No, was the answer. A resounding, unyielding, immovable, unshakable, unintimidated no.
It hasn't been easy to swallow for a fighter, retired too early to the bench. I just needed to train harder, eat more protein, get my second wind.
No.
Today, strapped with this no answer for far too long, I came upon a note. It was double-stitched with flowers around it. And it was hanging on a bathroom wall. It said something very similar to this, or this exactly, "Be still and know that I am God." And underneath was a little geographical location, Psalm 46:10.
Be still. Do nothing. Relax. Don't move. Let go.
I read the entire Psalm and reread it again. I realized what I was reading was my own resignation letter. So here it is, the Psalm, written in my own hand.
Ladies and gentleman, I'm quitting. And here it is, in my words, in black and white, Psalm 46


"God is our fallout shelter and heavy-weight, a primed warrior when trouble comes knockin.
So we're not going to fear. Not going to do that. Even if the earth starts doing a jig and the mountains topple into the ocean like in Superman I;
Though the waters start howling like a disgruntled and mammoth sized sea urchin and even the mountains freak out.
Then we'll see Fantasy Island, although it isn't a fantasy, with it's beautiful waters crisp and cool and giggling. God has a place here, above the peaceful streets, where He's on call 24/7. Ready to respond with a simple prayer, instead of the Bat signal, which can be costly and difficult to operate, not to mention inconvenient and somewhat gangly.
There are other places, sin cities, where people snarl and try to pick your pocket. They talk a lot of smack, as if the earth will obey. But it takes orders from no one except God.
And He's ready to battle it out, always and forever for us. He's like Rocky, but without the calcium deposits, and His speech is easier to understand. Plus He has a mighty posse of angels you don't want to tussle with.
So open your eyes! God is amazing! He's superfantastic! He's an active environmentalist, a peacekeeper, and likes to bend weapons in half with his bare hands.
Take a knee. Take a chill. Step back and relax and take a look. He's there, all around you, above everything, high on that hill at Fantasy Island.
And He's ready to rumble."

Effective immediately.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The wiles of Wal-Mart

I walked slowly. Down the aisle, toward the shampoo, I limped and stepped, limped and stepped. If nothing else, it gave me character. But mostly, it just kept my ankle from throbbing and my back quiet.
So I limped and stepped, limped and stepped, walking into Wal-Mart during the frenzy hour. If there's one thing I hate, it's celery. If there's two things, it's celery and driving on empty. But somewhere on that list, probably between popcorn kernals stuck in my teeth and biting into aluminum foil, is going to Wal-Mart during the frenzy hour. I'd prefer to starve. Or do without toilet paper. Or just skip whatever necessity has propelled me there.
To me, it's a wasteland of shredded nerves. Everyone's anxious. Everyone's in a hurry. Babies are crying (they feel my pain). Moms are wickedly verbal or exasperatingly silent. Men are gumbling. Cell phones are ringing. People are yammering. No one is happy to be there.
Hit Wal-Mart at 2 a.m., completely different atmosphere. It's a nest of curious people and odd conversations. But at 5:30 p.m., when the school bell has just sounded, it's just screaming kids running for the playground.
But I went anyway. I had big priorities to fill. I wanted a new notebook. And darn it if I wasn't out of baking soda. So I went, limping and stepping, limping and stepping.
The place looked pretty much the same. No roller coaster had been installed since my last visit. I didn't see a traveling circus inside. Just people. Just aisles of goods. Just individual agendas rushing about trying to reach a goal.
And there was me, walking like the film reel was stuck, moving as if the focal point of a Matrix sequence. I did my Tara two-step to the stationary section, a shuffle to the toothbrushes, then I made my long track across the country to the north shore of produce. All of it I did slowly, moving to my own rhythm, not stopping to smell the roses because they were out of season, though I saw a nice fake arrangement of vines near the sewing needles.
It occurred to me, about the time I was surveying the bottles of olive oil, that this frazzled mess of a place, this hub of my disdain, didn't seem to bother me at all. Of all the times I should be loathing my presence here, I didn't loathe it. I didn't even seem to mind. Hurrying was out of the question. It was pointless to try. So I moved like the weary ship among familiar waters, though turbulence lapped at every edge.
Miraculously, I was unfazed.
The shocking truth hit me, somewhere between the Long Island of the new spring line and the Rockies glittering in the jewel cases, nothing had changed. Nothing in this madman of a convenience store had changed. Nothing but me.
It was my own hairbrained rushing, my own need to grab the goods and go, that made the event so detestable. All along, it was me.
I pondered this awhile. Besides, it took me forever to limp and step from the pharmaceuticals to the checkout lane, from the parking lot to my parking spot on the west coast. I had time to kill.
So often, more than I'd care to admit, when someone asks how I've been, I reply with, "Busy." And if they press me further, I might add, "It's just been crazy lately. Just crazy." I can't figure out what the blue blazes I'm talking about. WHAT'S been crazy? Life? It must be. Because I'm consistent with my answer. There is NEVER a moment I'm not busy, not moving, not trying to obtain a goal, an errand, a location, a particular achievement I've set for myself that day - be it baking soda or bedlam.
In all that scurring about, when, if ever, do I actually stop? When do I calm the noise? And if I don't, how can God EVER get my attention?
I've not been so jazzed with Him lately. I've been in pain, my schedule got rearranged, and dang it if God didn't allow SuperVideo to charge me late fees. Truth is, everything suddenly came to a halt. No more moving. No more achievement. No more. I sat, I stared, I waited for the nothingness to end. But what I wasn't doing was stopping. I wasn't listening. And I had left God with no other choice. The rug I was standing on got pulled. And I fell.
I read a prayer recently that has been jingling around in my brain like a pop lid stuck in the can. Initially uttered by Sir Francis Drake and later repeated by missionary Jeanie Curryer, here is the prayer,
"Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves. When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little. When we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord."
I finally reached my vehicle, parked in that spacious lot, with no sense to rush into traffic at all. In fact, I felt completely and utterly at peace. Instead, I sat there, reclined, and enjoyed the scenery.
Finally, perhaps the first time in ages, I stopped.