Dandelion Wishes

I love to go on walks, especially long rambling ones out amid nature. Walking on a track or treadmill is no fun, it sparks no magic. It’s great for exercise, but not so nourishing for the soul. So I walk on the 55 acre festival site where I work, or on the trails that connect the various neighborhoods in my master planned community. I used to walk at Lake Brownwood, when my Pop lived there, when I am particularly blessed I find myself walking on a beach or sea wall. During today’s walk, I passed so many yellow dandelions! And I remembered…

When I was a child, we kids still roamed freely in our neighborhoods, without parental supervision. There were no tracking apps to keep us on the radar. We played at neighbors’ houses until the sun started to go down, then listened for our parents to call us home. We walked to school- no moms or dads- just kids that met each other along the way and joined up to make the trek to school in laughing clumps. Since I am, and always have been, a quiet girl, my clumps of friends might only be three or four girls, but we laughed as much as any larger group. At least, they did. I just breathed little huffs of laughter- nothing to bring attention to myself.

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On the corner of our street in a Dallas suburb, there was an empty lot. In early spring, a season of soft blue Texas skies and crisp mornings, this lot was bright with abundant dandelions. You may be cringing at the very word, especially if you’re a gardener or if you grow a perfectly manicured lawn of St. Augustine grass, but I happen to believe dandelions are magic.

When the dandelions were bright yellow flowers, they were inhabited by “tickle bees.” I don’t know what they are really called, but that’s what we called them. We left our houses a few minutes early so that we could spend a few minutes hunting for tickle bees in the empty lot, and if we found them, we gingerly caught them in our fists. They couldn’t sting, so they buzzed around in our hands until we put them in our pencil boxes and let them out at lunch recess, by which time our pencil boxes were covered in yellow pollen.

As the days lengthened and the temperatures climbed, the dandelions became fluffs of white, upon which I made secret wishes. When I blew on the puff, the wishes scattered into the air, magic would awaken, and my wishes just might come true.

My wishes were for a mother who was well, books to read, friends, blue eye shadow, Sean Cassidy records (and to marry Sean in my boldest wishes), spelling bee victories, and dance lessons. For my grown-up self, I wished for a handsome prince to be my husband, sweet babies to play with, and a pretty house that was always clean.

I got most of my wishes. Some I left behind in childhood, like marrying Sean Cassidy. Some I regret, like the shimmery blue Maybelline eye shadow. Some I never saw come true. But most, I did.

Dandelion wishes were seeds of a life. A messy, magical, life.

I used to love watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show with my parents. I didn’t really understand all of it, but the opening credits were so exciting: beautiful brunette with confident stride and wide smile throws a beanie into the air and gets a perfect freeze frame set to a musical button. I am not the girl who “turned the world on with her smile,” I am too quiet to make that much of an impact. But I have learned to make a “nothing day…seem worthwhile.” That’s what most days are, right? Nothing special days filled with jobs and meal preps, laundry and carpools.  My friends, that is where magic lies. In those nothing days.

Sure, I have taught some kids, earned a master’s degree, and shared a few blog posts, but nothing big. Nothing impressive.

I have just walked a quiet, normal life of maintaining a marriage, raising three kids, teaching school, walking dogs, dieting, and making new throw pillows.

I am just the average middle age lady, with a little extra on the hips, a few crepe-y wrinkles on my chest, an inordinate fondness for the color yellow, and a deep love for my sweet husband and kids.

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Empty lots and front lawns not only contained magic dandelions, they also hid vicious stickers: little burrs surrounded by sharp points that embedded in skin, socks, and even bike tires. They were awful. They drew blood. They sometimes buried themselves so deeply that it took a deep breath and fierce courage to pull them out of my foot. Is life full of magic wishes? Yes. But is it also full of stinging hurt? Oh, hell yes.

I feel like maybe my story is like a lot of people’s. Lots of little bits and pieces that make up a life. Touchstones that lie alongside each other on the path that makes the road that makes a journey. That make up a person. That make up a soul. Dandelion seeds that, once blown, float in the wind, sometimes landing in fertile soil. Sometimes landing upon rocks or thorns. Sometimes coming true but turning bitter. Like the Biblical parable of the sower, sometimes we have a say in what seeds take root, and sometimes we are at the mercy of the wind, the rain, the sun, and the birds.

And thorns that leave scars.

I believe, down deep in my bones, that life is magical, and that making the attempt to approach each moment with a sense of wonder enables us to live beautifully, no matter our circumstances.

I believe that my mission, my personal legend, my work is to help others see, create, and accept the magic of their own lives. I listen. I write. I hope. I pray. I dream…

But I don’t dream of big stuff like fame or a million dollars. My dreams are made up of tiny glittery thoughts, like dandelion pollen, a fine yellow dust that softens what’s hard and enables new growth. I dream of my children’s affection, the comfort of my home, reading and telling tales, belonging to a group of friends, and great big glasses of pinot grigio.

I dream of feeling secure.

I dream of feeling content in my own skin.

But mostly, I dream of joyous, magical grace and forgiveness.

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A Magic Kingdom

I recently returned from five days in Orlando, exploring Disney World for the first time in my 52 years. I cried a lot. I cried on the first afternoon, when I watched the show in front of Cinderella’s castle as Minnie, Daisy, Elsa, Anna, Tiana, Rapunzel, and a chorus of dancers sang about imagination and courage.

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I cried that evening as the fireworks exploded and projections lit up the castle while Tom Hulce’s Hunchback sang “Out There.”

I cried when I rode the Pooh ride and when I saw stuffed Dumbos. I cried when the Peter Pan float passed during the 3:00 parade. I cried when Lebo M’s voice chanted:

“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama”

while I stood in line to enter Animal Kingdom.

I cried one last time, sitting on a grassy knoll at the Polynesian Resort, watching the fireworks show from a distance, making a memory with my niece and nephew.

Heck, I am crying right now, just typing this.

Why? Why do I cry so much?

Well, there’s the obvious answer: Disney is my children’s childhood. I didn’t grow up with much Disney. Some of that is simply because of when I grew up. During the 1970s, Disney animation was in a slump, resulting in limited access to the stories. We didn’t have a Disney channel, we just had Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Disney, which featured Disney shorts, sometimes Disney features, all hosted by Walt himself. My mom didn’t want to watch it. My parents did take us to an anniversary release of Bambi in 1975, I was just eight years old; and the only other Disney film I saw in theaters until I took my three-year-old daughter to see Beauty and the Beast was Herbie Rides Again. 

Mary Poppins is the one exception to the paucity of Disney in my life. It blessedly ran on television frequently enough that I came to know it by heart. Julie Andrews as Mary was my hero. She, with her magical carpet bag, lilting soprano, and penchant for order, was the epitome of womanhood. I loved that she showed up unexpectedly, floating through the sky with an umbrella, feet turned out, impeccably dressed.

Spit Spot!

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What I loved about Mary was that she could come into a house with miserable, neglected children and heal it. She could sing to the toys and they would put themselves away, birds were fed, and the parents eventually learned to see their lonely kids by the magic of flying kites. When I met Mary Poppins and Bert beside the swan topiary near the Sleeping Beauty castle in Anaheim, or in the English pavilion in Orlando, I was overwhelmed with joy. I understood completely that I was meeting gorgeous actresses. Truly, I did. But here’s the thing that happens, if one can set aside cynicism and just embrace the whole scenario: I met Mary Poppins, who spoke to me with flawless diction and loved my Jolly Holiday skirt and ears. I would say I was a child again, and maybe that’s a little true. But I was 51 years old, too. Fifty-one, and just really starting to recognize in a visceral way how short life really is and how essential it is to look for love and drop little seeds of it wherever one finds oneself.

I did not encounter the Mary Poppins of the books until adulthood. The literary, non-singing Mary is a little more acerbic. In the movie, there’s an underlayer of sweetness just under Mary’s efficiency, less evident in the books. In Travers’ hands though, whimsy is abundant and imagination is the cure for boredom, sadness, and grouchiness. In the very first book of the series, the grumpy author writes this simple yet profound sentence, when Jane and Michael ask Mary where she’s been all day and her answer doesn’t match their own expectations: “Mary Poppins gave a superior sniff. ‘Don’t you know,’ she said pityingly, ‘that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?'”

My mom wasn’t much for fairylands, nor for stories, nor for books. I do not remember a single instance of being read to, and the only book I owned was a copy of Bible stories that my grandparents gave me. I didn’t have books with Disney stories, or records like my husband remembers having, ones with “Bare Necessities” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to listen to in my room.

My family was too poor to pay the light bill, never mind a trip to Disneyland; so when my first child was born in the same year that Ariel made her debut, I hopped right on board the Disney steam locomotive train (figuratively speaking, anyway. I wouldn’t get to ride the real thing until I reached middle age). We watched Little Mermaid over and over, I have the most precious photo of my dad on the floor playing with Hilary and her Ariel doll. When my son was just three, he went through a Dumbo phase: every morning, between 3:30 and 4:00, he sleepily stumbled into our bedroom, shook us awake, and asked for Dumbo. He was having bad dreams nightly, and the sweet blue-eyed baby elephant chased away the scary things happening in his brain. We began to leave the VHS cued up and ready before retiring to sleep each night, so that we could get him tucked in with as little fuss as possible. My youngest daughter chose Finding Nemo for her sixteenth birthday theme- unlike the other high school girls who were making duck lips and wearing too much make up, my girl dressed as a Pixar character. We read the stories, we sang the songs, we raised our kids with Disney magic all around us.

I cry when I think of it because Disney resonates: Disney is fueled by love.

I know that millenial ennui dictates we poo-poo that. But bear with me.

Disney, as a brand, is driven by story*; and the stories all center around one common theme: love.

Walt’s love for his granddaughters inspired him to create Disneyland so that they would have a place to play and imagine.

Disney is:

Love of story itself, whether revealed in orchestral pieces as in Fantasia, or in written words, as in the Milne Winnie the Pooh stories.

Love of planet. What is Moana but a great big hug for Mother Earth? The 1950s were a decade of documentary shorts like Nature’s Half Acre, all opportunities for Walt to share the wonders of eco-science with the country.

Love of parent/child. The Mama Bear character in Brave stands in for protective moms everywhere, and when Dumbo’s mom sings him a lullaby while rocking him in her trunk, I weep with melancholy. Gepetto’s wish for a son, made real by the Blue Fairy? Perfection.

Love of friendship. Are there two more sympatico friends than Woody and Buzz? Who doesn’t hope for a group of friends to stand and protect in times of vulnerability, like the dwarves did as Snow White slept?

Love of romance. I have my own Prince Charming, and so I love the romantic stories when shoes are left behind on staircases and hairy beasts are redeemed by the tears of a true love.

Love is magic.

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We know it, deep down, but we forget. Walt knew that sharing these stories and building these worlds would give us glimpses and doses. It was his mission. They still take that mission very seriously in every facet of the company, as I learned when I attended the Disney Institute last year. Their people love what they do.

 

And so, when I immerse myself in the environment, it is a hug for my soul.

When I watch a movie, it’s an infusion of affection and strength.

When I don a Daisy tee or drink steaming hot tea out of a  Tinkerbell mug, it’s an inoculation against despair and bitterness.

When I hit “play” on my Disney playlist, I feel joy. For the woman whose childhood was so devoid of play, of imagination and joy and connection, Disney gives me a place to act like a kid again.

I know I am not alone in this. The parks, cruise ships, and resorts are overflowing with other humans who love the stories. I daresay even the dad I saw in the Magic Kingdom, wearing a shirt that proclaimed in Disney font: “Most financially irresponsible day ever” encountered magic that day with his small children. Disney parks are brimming with all ethnicities, all physical types, all ages. Big, burly urbanites pose with Goofy, silver haired grannies get kisses from Minnie, and tiny boys hug Woody’s legs. We love it.

It’s that simple. Once upon a time, I was a lonely, bedraggled, neglected child. I found my prince, I made a family, and I created a life that is full of love, my very own magical kingdom; and the wonderful world of Disney helps me celebrate it.

 

*Yes, I know Disney is also profit driven- it’s a business. A big one. I don’t hold that against them. They craft story and they create a place where even grown ups can pretend their lives are perfect, even if it’s just a respite. I work in the world of theme park myself, and Disney does it better than anyone.

 

I’m Too Darn Hot!

I love Cole Porter. In one of my favorite musicals, Kiss Me, Kate, the cast of the show-within-a-show takes a break in the alley to sing about the heat. They dance an athletic, amazing number which I honestly can’t imagine helped them cool off at all:

“It’s too darn hot
It’s too darn hot
I’d like to fool with my baby tonight
Break every rule with my baby tonight
I’d like to fool with my baby tonight
Break every rule with my baby tonight
But pillow, you’ll be my baby tonight
‘Cause it’s too darn hot!”

I know the feeling.

It’s spring in south Texas: the trees are pollinating, yellow dust covers everything, but mornings are still blessedly cool enough for a sweater. My dog loves to lay in the sun, and baseball season just opened. Spring in south Texas really is gorgeous; wildflowers abound, the light is soft and the flora is a rich green, not yet faded by the brutality of our sun in summer. I walked our tiny yard with my fertilizer spreader last weekend, this Saturday I’ll be digging weeds out and mulching the flower beds. My back hurts when I do this, by the way. Who knew that the simple act of upending a bag of pink fertilizer crystals could be so risky?

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Like many of you, I have been spring-cleaning out clutter as well. “Kondoing” has become a verb at my house, and every item has been subjected to the question: Does this spark joy? My husband is imploring me to stop. I have never been much of a clutter collector anyway, and he fears that if I don’t cease he will have nowhere to sit in the house, as it will just be nearly bare walls and a couple of throw pillows. Oh, and sufficient wine glasses. Can’t let those go.

So I was getting dressed this morning, and decided to see if a particular ivory colored poly blouse sparked joy. I’ve been putting every item on to determine if it gets to remain in my closet. The blouse is a fairly new addition to my closet, nice and flowy with pin tucks at the chest and a lace I can tie at the keyhole neck. I put it on, and within moments I was red-faced, sweating, and ripping the damn thing off.

Spark joy? No.

Spark heat? Hell yes.

Turns out wearing rayon or polyester or basically anything but cotton is impossible when you’re doing the whole menopause thing. These days I find myself wearing cute cotton tees (my current favorite is bright yellow and says “Practically Perfect in Every Way” a la my hero Mary Poppins, though I also love my “We Should All Care” and “Powered my Fairydust and Wine” shirts, seen below). I just throw a sweater or denim jacket over the tee (theoretically making it look more business appropriate), lace up my Converse low tops, and head to the office. Said sweater then gets stripped off in times of flush, then put back on when the radiation fades and the air conditioning makes me shiver. Off and on. Off and on. All day long.

I’ve started collecting cute statement tees just to survive this stage: thin, soft cotton is a must, preferably a women’s cut so it has some shape, and I am happiest when the shirt rocks some sort of motto or a fictional character that I love. I figure if I am fifty-one years old, I can choose what I want to wear and what I have to say. It just so happens that soft, breathable cotton that sweat washes out of easily and requires no ironing is the very thing!

I endeavor not to complain too much. For the longest time, my own shame that I was daring to age kept me muzzled. I wouldn’t admit that I was dealing with the changes to my husband, my doctor, my daughters, or my friends. Mark my words, I carried shame about this! Shame is insidious, and it’s more damaging than embarassment. I couldn’t ask my mom how she’d endured the process, she didn’t live long enough to go through this stage, having died at the age of 46 from complications that arose due to years and years of opioid abuse and mental illness. She barely had time with her first grandchild before she was gone. Last night, I rocked and cuddled my three month old granddaughter as a hot flush swept through me- they seem to start in my chest and cheeks, then the warmth just spreads all over. I asked my husband to turn on the ceiling fan, then rode out the heat with sweet Hazel’s tiny fingers curled around mine. She gives me the kind of joy that enables me to wait until  the heat subsides and look forward to the next phase of feminine humanity.

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Cuddles and tee shirts aren’t my only coping mechanisms: in my purse, there’s a balsa wood fan tucked into a pocket. In January, I wore shorty pajamas lest I find myself awake at 3:00 am, ready to combust. I think I put on my quilted puffer jacket three times this winter, it’s an odd sensation to be flushed with warmth when it’s 30 degrees outside.

But the most vital, necessary coping mechanism has been my sense of humor. For the longest time (well, just the last year or so, really, but it felt much longer), if my body got hot or I got grouchy, my sweet husband would just smile indulgently at me as if to say, “You poor crazy lady, I’ll stick with you through this insanity.” Well, that just made me mad. Until my doc and I sat down and decided to take me off birth control estrogen. She figured it was time to just let my body do its thing. When I tossed that last pill box, its bubble packs all popped and empty, I figured I might as well start laughing at myself.

And ordering tee shirts.

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Weary. Tired. Drained. Energized.

Tired are my feet, that felt today the pavement;
Tired are my ears, that heard of tragic things-
Tired are my eyes, that saw so much enslavement;
Only my voice is not too tired. It sings.”
― Aaron Kramer

One of the things I am discovering as I hit middle age is that I am tired. All the time. So, so tired. I am in the middle of “The Change,” that may be part of it. Hormones are preventing sleep at night, so I’d really rather hunker down and read a book when I should be doing tasks around the house. I have to have a debate with myself when I need to go out and work on my flowerbeds:

Does it matter? (Yes.)

Who’ll notice? (The Neighbors.)

But it makes my back hurt and my hands ache! (It’ll burn calories and build muscle, take a Tylenol and rub down with Father Thyme balm.)

Flowers and fertilizer are expensive. (Think of the bees.)

Now that I live in a house with a sprinkler system and no longer have to schlep around a water hose in the heat, there really is no excuse to ignore my flower beds. I actually love digging in the dirt, and I love how the beds look when I pull into my driveway surrounded by marigolds and geraniums. It’s just the damn exhaustion. My inertia is magnificent in its…lack of ert.

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I do keep doing what needs to be done…for the most part. A couple of Diet Dr. Peppers each day keep me moving: I am teaching three college classes in addition to my full time job, exercising 4-5 days a week, making sure laundry is done, dogs get walked, grandbaby gets babysat, etc. I recently applied to volunteer at our local women’s shelter, which will be an added obligation on the agenda; but I have a feeling it will give me some perspective on what exhaustion of the spirit looks like. Menopausal fatigue can’t compare to that.

But today…I am weary of something else. This morning, when my husband turned on the news, we were gut punched with the news of another hate crime, this time a shooting in New Zealand, a country that hasn’t had a mass shooting in around thirty years. It’s on the other side of the world from my Texas home, but our globalization means that we are all connected. We are all, no matter our country, children of God.

I say this to the conservative members of my family (that’s most of the clan).

I say this to the progressives in my family (there are a handful of us intrepid souls).

I say this to friends, I don’t care where you fall on the political values spectrum.

I say this to colleagues.

I say this to strangers:

We cannot afford to go on this way.

What we say matters. About a month ago, I wrote about the conudrum we face when we try to have productive political discussions. We seem not to listen with any intent to discover, we just wait for the other person to take a breath so that we can insert our own opinion. I wondered if it was worth the effort and the risk of lost relationships. I thought maybe I should just start silencing my own self, keeping my worries and judgements and questions stifled. For the sake of peace.

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Last evening, I happened upon a conversation on a friend’s Facebook wall, and my friend, a progressive, was trying to understand and connect with an old friend of his that had gone on a lengthy multi-post tirade against Muslims. No one could get this man to understand that the religion of Islam, the Quran, doesn’t teach the extreme hate that he believes it does. Several people tried to get him to understand that most, overwhelmingly most, Muslims are peaceful folks who just want to live a life of joy with their families. The thread hurt my heart. Then I woke up to hear about a white supremacist shooting up two houses of Islamic mosques; and I wanted to go back to that post, to that man, and challenge him. Because his own hatred was the sort that cost at least 49 people their lives yesterday as they were mowed down in their houses of prayer.

This vitriol isn’t targeted only at Muslims. Yesterday afternoon, an insurance agent on Facebook’s marketplace used a thoroughly disturbing and inappropriate photo of a fatal car crash to sell insurance policies, and joked about traveling to Mexico. When someone questioned her wording, a cascade of fury and hate was spewed at any and all Mexicans. It turned my stomach to read the posts, because I realize that I am, without knowing it, walking among racists each and every day.

These conversations do matter. They are the climate where intolerance and bigotry foment. Social media is the new public square, and what we say and allow to be said incites. Provokes. Inflames.

Chips away at our hearts.

Voices of reason are required. Gentle voices, yes. But not always.  Those of us who are tolerant and empathetic, who see the humanity in people of different colors and faiths, may be hamstrung by the belief that we must ever and always be benign. Moderate. Though the cause of kindness will not be served by hatred and venomous speech, it won’t be served by silent compliance, either. A polite “please” will not expose and root out hatred in hearts.

I am tired, yes. But I am more tired of shootings, of crying children, and of words of prejudice masked as patriotism excused as free speech than I am of anything else in this mess. I believe, with all my heart, that women are going to have to be the impetus for change on this. Men like my husband, who had tears in his eyes this morning, do grieve. And I have encountered women who are as bitter as anyone could be. But if the compassionate and open-hearted women who have been silent for so long will add their voices to the conversation, and will make allies of like-minded men, perhaps love can prevail.

The women I admire in the public eye (Glennon Doyle, Liz Gilbert, Brene’ Brown, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai) have spoken over and over about putting kindness, bravery, and justice into the world. They have big platforms, they speak on television and their podcasts have thousands of subscribers, they’re invited to speak in full coliseums and their books line shelves. Those women are capable of inspiring enormous change. Their scope makes me feel insignificant. Powerless. But I am not.

My voice is small. My reach is tiny. My following is negligible. But by god, I am going to keep trying. I am going to continue combating negative with positive. I will strive for healing. I will take the high road, though I may not be a tranquil traveler upon it. And I will speak. I promise to do it with respect, though maybe not with my best manners. I will speak. And I will act. I will contribute money, I will march, I will write, I will befriend, I will advocate, I will send letters. It’s going to take actions both large and small to right the ship. I’ll just add a Diet DP to my daily intake to stay awake and get “woke.”

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I’m Outa Here.

Fruit Salad, Laundry Soap, and Evolving Faith

It has long been my practice to write small observations about the little magic moments found in daily life. I try to keep mind and heart open to signals that the Universe, or God if you prefer (perhaps even Goddess), places in my path; sometimes connected to what I see in nature, perhaps a song, or a memory. For months I have been bumping into Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in such random and frequent encounters that I decided the Universe has something to say to me through her life and work. Based on beloved author Liz Gilbert’s MO I bought a biography to read and started an index card file for research about Shelley’s life and work. Someday, maybe it will be a book.

Today, the signal is all about the Fruit of the Spirit (I capitalize because sometime in my distant past a preacher instructed that this phrase is a proper noun, and so must be appropriately capitalized- I have no clue of the veracity of said pulpit-granted grammar lesson).

I don’t really know why, but I was singing the old vacation Bible school song about the Fruit just a day or so ago. While standing in the shower, my mind chanted them all, with the little melody:

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self Control.

I remember another sermon in which a pedantic preacher spent a ridiculous amount of my Earth time parsing whether the Fruit was singular or plural, his point being that they were a collective, and that you’d better excel at all equally if you wanted to be in God’s good graces.

Sometimes we major in minors, yes?

This morning, after my recent reminiscence of the Sunday School ditty, I was scrolling through Facebook and two friends’ posts showed up consecutively with the Galatians scripture embedded in lovely green graphics. Same verse, identical color scheme, different art.

A signal, I think. This may not head where you’re expecting, by the way.

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For, you see, I consider myself a “Recovering Christian.” I grew up in a conservative evangelical tradition, where adherence to scripture was valued (which can be great), but what adherence meant was subject to a preacher’s interpretation (which can be awful). It was drilled into my heart and mind from the time I was very small that it was my duty to save souls. The church had mounted Matthew 28:19 above the exit doors, admonishing us as we left the carpeted lobby to head among the heathen masses:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

I carried with me a deep fear and painful guilt that I was supposed to offer Jesus and the church’s “Five Steps of Salvation” process to every single person I met, and for an introverted soul who deeply wanted to please both Jesus and my church leadership that was an unbearable burden. I stumbled through some door-knocking, invited kids in the neighborhood to Bible class, stammered through opening conversations about Jesus with school friends. Scary. Through junior high and high school, I struggled with one-one-one evangelism, and slid right on into college that way. In my small private church college, it was a little easier. Pretty much everyone was already a baptized believer; but I was introduced to a new gospel: the gospel of Amway.

“Do you know anyone who might be interested in making a couple extra thousand dollars a month working 8 to 10 hours a week?”

“I was wondering if you could give me your opinion on a business I’m looking at. I really value your opinion and could use your input.”

“Well, sure, we do sell Amway products, but that’s only about 20% of what we sell. Everything else comes from over 2,000 other companies, most of which are ‘Fortune 500’.”

I fell in love with a boy who did Amway. He had signed up before we met. Here’s how it went:

Respected college professor was supplementing his small Christian college salary with the multi-level-marketing scheme (and who can blame him, really?), got his son involved, his son approached Travis. Travis, being a people-pleaser, said “Sure!” And so our first six years of marriage were spent trying to make this crazy thing work.

I mean, it does work for some people. It does. Good grief, our current Secretary of Education bought her way into the Presidential cabinet with her Amway family fortune.

Amway

Amway provided an automatic circle of friends, which was really cool for this introverted young woman. We gathered for weekly meetings to account for progress, sat together at church, enjoyed monthly potluck suppers. We attended conventions at semi-fancy hotels and paid registration and room fees that we didn’t have the money for (but it was an investment in our future so our sponsor helped justify it). Attendees sang patriotic songs- several times I delivered Sandi Patty’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the festivities- flags were waving, tears were shed. Many wore red, white, and blue. There was lots of testifying about how the Lord had blessed our endeavors. Guest speakers dangled tempting photos of tropical vacations and reminded us how much easier it is to tithe when you’re rolling in the big bucks, part of the allure of the health and wealth gospel. The pain of it, even now, is that love for Jesus, love for country, and love for wealth were so enmeshed that my faith became clouded. It’s easy for that to happen when you somehow believe that God is going to bless you with cash if you just keep working the plan; then He doesn’t. The Fruit of the Spirit had a hard time flourishing in the garden of my troubled heart.

Amway nearly destroyed us. It really, really did. There was an underlying message that if you truly loved your family, you would overcome your discomfort and approach everyone about joining you, so there we were, twenty-ish years old, both with horrible self-confidence issues, trying to pay bills and buy shoes for the baby, and honestly no credibility whatsoever. I did what I was told I should and kept reminding Trav to make the phone calls. He called, usually without success, and became discouraged, which I interpreted as “You don’t love me and our daughter enough to overcome your discomfort” and I wouldn’t make the calls myself because I was an introvert, dammit, and besides it’s the man’s job to provide for the family (I tell you- I was a different person then). We would consider bailing on the whole thing, then he would say he did want to keep it up, so the whole cycle would begin anew.

Then there’s the whole recruitment thing. I don’t make new friends easily these days. I didn’t back then, either. I would meet a lady and think she might make an awesome friend, but I would either spoil it by using an Amway approach line, thereby cutting off all hope of future conversations, or I would just chicken out and not approach at all because I knew that at some point I would have to bring up Amway.

Travis and I didn’t trust each other, we didn’t trust ourselves, we spent money that should have been spent feeding our child on extra products or convention tickets, we risked friendships. Our marriage nearly caved. We watched another couple in our group disintegrate under the pressure, that was when we knew we couldn’t do it anymore. We confessed to our sponsors, and they lovingly told us that if they had known how we were struggling, they would have helped. They would have advised us differently.

So here’s my takeaway from Amway: I was not living a life, nor setting goals, that were true to my real self. I didn’t know who that self was just yet, so I let other people define it. I spoke affirmations that I now know were in complete contradiction to my deepest nature. I dressed like and aligned my politics and religion with those peers, I played tapes about building a business when I wish I had listened to music instead. I paid babysitters and gave up valuable evenings with my sweet little ones, all so that I could sit in strangers’ living rooms trying to sell them the dream and a starter kit.

Amway wasn’t for me. Around my fortieth birthday I realized church wasn’t for me, either. The church, like Amway, nearly destroyed us as well. Stories for another day. But authentic friendships? For sure. The rabbi Jesus? Absolutely. These days, I share a different good news; which is that we are all capable of meeting the Divine One in our own way, in our own time. No church or preacher required, though I know that many, many people find great joy in both of those things. But you know what is needed, sorely needed, in our world? Those Fruits. I believe that when we spend time where the Divine One resides, we cultivate love, joy, peace, and patience. We harvest kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

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Now that I am fifty-one, I don’t quite follow the rules of the 1970s little girl Christian that I was, nor do I adhere to the 1980s dutiful Amway salesperson. When I was a youth, I recited, “See and save. Seek. Save.” In the Amway days, my mantra was “books, tapes, and meetings.” Now, it’s “Be still. Be still. Be…still.” I know which one resonates deeply with my soul, and I won’t let even the promise of a yacht or my own island in the Caribbean move me from it again.

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A Thirtieth Birthday

Today is my oldest child’s thirtieth birthday.

Huge, heavy sigh. How can so much time possibly passed since the day I first held her?

I remember my thirtieth- I had three kids, aged 8,6, and 3. I was teaching third grade at a local Christian school with an extremely low salary, so money was…tight. But friends from church gave us tickets to see the Broadway touring company of “Kiss Me Kate,” and I think we saved up money for a dinner at Outback Steakhouse. I was utterly domesticated.

Not my girl, though.

This woman is out in Los Angeles, being brave and daring and falling and getting back up and risking and laughing and crying and learning and writing and acting and ailing and earning and…

living.

It’s not that I didn’t live at 30, but I chose the known path. The safe path of traditional marriage, child-bearing, and school teaching. For me, the great unknown was simply making a healthy, vibrant family. I didn’t have one growing up. I wanted to forge a new path that looked so simple, so traditional, so wholesome, that it was for me, a frontier.

Hilary was the first child, the one who had to bear with all my learning and figuring it out. I may have taught her how to put on her shoes, brush her teeth, and know the front from the back of her clothing, but she’s the one who taught me how to be patient, how to cuddle, and how to listen to one’s own deepest heart.

When she was about twelve, and in a rather awkward phase, she loved to sing. But she wouldn’t necessarily do it with anyone watching. I was upstairs, putting away laundry or some such thing, and heard a sweet soprano voice cutting through any sounds of cartoons downstairs or traffic on the street. Upon realizing the sound came from my own back yard, I opened a window and hid behind the curtain, peeking out to see Hilary, feet planted in the grass, mouth wide open, singing a Charlotte Church tune with all her sweet heart and soul. She thought she had no audience, but she had a host of listeners: leaves, birds, blades of grass, the Divine One, and me. Her mom.

She still sings; her spirit and soul sing a melody of independence, grace, and creativity. Now, though, she doesn’t hide in the back yard to do it. She puts herself out there. Comedy clubs, spontaneous musical theatre tunes on the interwebs, producing a web series, acting studio; these are the professional modes. And in her personal life? She left an unhealthy marriage and started a new chapter, surrounding herself with friends and venturing into the murky world of Los Angeles dating.

My daughter is fierce yet tender, intelligent yet humble, gorgeous yet unaffected. She is the first of my three greatest gifts. I am so grateful she’s mine.

Happy birthday, Dink.

Abortion Meets Compassion

About five years ago, I decided to reshape my life. A mental health scare coupled with spinal injury and vocal cord paralysis may bring on the overwhelming need for change, I suppose. When the you-know-what hits the fan in pretty much every area of your life, it’s time to re-evaluate what you believe.

And I decided to believe in compassion; compassion for my own self, and compassion for others. Even, maybe especially, others who make different choices from the ones I would.

That sounds easy, right? Not always, my friend. Nowhere even close. Living a life driven by empathy can sometimes wound. It can occasionally wear you down.

Last night, I had a bit of a rough start to my evening. I was rushing from my full time job in an office to my part time job as a college professor. Traffic had been light, so I had a few minutes to sit in my car and eat an apple while checking in on social media.

Thanks, Facebook.

Here lately, because of a case in New York, there’s been a lot of talk about late term abortions. Talk that hurts.

If you know me at all, if you have heard my story or read my blog, you know that I used to be a devout Christian. I was raised in church. I won the Bible Bee at church camp in sixth grade, I studied Bible at Lubbock and Abilene Christian Universities, I counseled at camp, I spent seven years as a youth minister’s wife, I created the Sunday School curriculum for our entire church in Oklahoma. I physically helped to baptize two of my children. I stood in the shade of my husband’s sunlight, as a good Christian wife was meant to do. I stayed home raising babies as much as possible.

I just love it when a stranger on social media calls me both an “atheist” and an “idiot” in the same sentence before going on to trumpet their own Jesus faith. Pffft. Silly, silly man. Jesus and I go back a long, long way.

In my youth, both spiritual and emotional, I believed all the things a Christian is supposed to believe when it comes to politics. What was it Paul said? When I was young, I spoke like a child…etc.?

In the current American climate, I have come to suppose there are three weighty issues that fuse faith with politics; one’s stance on a wall to keep out illegal brown people is now tied with opposition to abortion for top priority. Putting mandated Christian prayer back into schools seems a distant third.

I only want to talk about abortion though. And how it changes the way people relate to each other.

First, let me get this out of the way: I believe abortion is a tragedy. Always. I never, ever think it’s a thing to celebrate.

When I was eighteen, I was resolute in my understanding that abortion was a sin. An unforgivable sin. So very sure. It was what my preacher taught, and it made sense. Precious sweet embryos need protection. They need a chance to live. They are dear. It was, in my young and certain mind, a black and white issue. “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

Then a friend, I’ll call her Cindy, found herself pregnant. She had been a fringe youth group girl, we hung out some at devotionals and trips to putt putt, but we went to different high schools. We weren’t close. To be honest, it surprised me when she came to me, imploring me to take her to the abortion clinic in Dallas. I didn’t have a car, but she just needed me to drive her home, in her car.

No one else would help her. She told me then that she felt she could trust me. That I would keep her secret. That I could forgive her. Friends, sisters, that was a crucial moment. I could have condemned her like all her other friends had done. I could have told her she should have just kept her legs closed.

But I thought of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. How he knelt, how he refused to condemn her. How he said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Cindy had been abandoned by pharisees. She needed me to be Jesus. So I took her to the clinic.

I don’t know what I expected, maybe a shadowy, filthy room with cobwebs hanging in the corners and an upside down crucifix suspended over a stone altar engraved with a pentagram? Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” playing backwards over the sound system while men wearing butcher’s aprons cavorted in glee as they worked over the poor women? I was scared to walk into the clinic, though. It turned out to be a well lit, clean doctor’s office. It looked like the same place I had visited my entire childhood to get antibiotics, vaccinations, and lollipops. Cindy ached after it was over. She didn’t cry, but she was very, very, quiet. I got her home and tucked in to her bed, surrounded by stuffed animals.

Just six months later, another close friend had a secret abortion. Pretty much the same reason, and secret because of the derision she knew would be heaped on her. We attended a private Christian college, and sexual purity was literally a requirement for continued attendance at school. The appearance of chastity was the price of admission to our social life. She could not bear the shame, and she would not stigmatize her family.

Did Jesus ever reproach women who were suffering with shame, even if their sin was sexual? Did he ever, ever put limitations on the blessing he offered? I’ll stake my life, there’s no instance in which he ever imposed boundaries on the gift of grace and compassion to hurting people. Self righteous pharisees? Yes. But not hurting people.

Not being Jesus, I still struggled, though. I ached in my soul to think of lives not lived. Embryos terminated. I knew what church taught. The Bible is not specific about this particular situation, and so one has to decide if its prohibition of murder is applicable. I asked my mother in law about it, and was surprised to hear her own thoughts. She supported keeping abortion legal. Surprised is too mild a word, really. I was stunned.

My MIL reasoned that women would have abortions. Period. Always had. Always would. In her heart and mind, to allow a woman to perish due to a misplaced, jagged coat hanger causing uncontrolled hemorrhage was as vile an outcome as the other. To my mother in law, the woman’s life and safety was precious and also worth protection. Pragmatism, yes. Compassion for women? Definitely yes.

I remind you, in case you’ve forgotten the bit I wrote at the top- I think abortion is a tragedy.

In my early 30s, I was staying at a beach house with a group of relatively new friends, and as the night progressed, we started talking about abortions. Several of my friends had had them. Different ages, circumstances, responses, faiths. I began to understand, to really get it: it is possible to have compassion for all the people in the scenario. And in the time that has passed since that night, I have learned of more friends, students, and even family who have trod that lonely sidewalk into the clinic. I don’t think any of us are truly untouched by it.

So that’s the way I have approached the abortion issue since that night. I utterly and unequivocably refuse to sit in judgement of a woman who feels she must have an abortion.

I understand why some people can’t condone the act. I really do. Nevertheless, I believe with all my soul that my heart contains enough compassion for both mother and lost child. Our hearts hold limitless love. It is only when we choose to wall off that love that we cannot meet people in their need.

You know what I don’t understand? When some of those same, supposed Christian warriors call me names. Like “Idiot.” or “Atheist.”

It is incomprehensible to imagine Jesus talking to me like that. It is unfathomable to put Jesus on a street corner shouting obscenities at wounded women entering clinics. And yet, for some, it is their MO. It’s how, in their sense of righteous indignation, they’ve decided to win the race to climb Morality Mountain. They’ve forgotten though, that Jesus isn’t up there. He’s down in the valley, loving on the hurting folks. Even the women who have chosen to abort a child. And so I must, too.

Conundrum

It’s not easy being a person of conscience, of ethics and morals and decency. It’s really not. Your own particular brand of conscience may require tithing and public prayer before digging in to your chicken fried chicken at Black Eyed Pea (90s me), regular donations to Public Media (00s me), monthly contributions to Planned Parenthood not because you think abortion is a party but because you hate the idea of women bleeding to death from botched back-alley abortions (10s me).

Your decency might be to support the US flag, no matter what the circumstances. You might believe, honestly and truly, that patriotism is unquestioning.

Your morality might include sponsoring a child through Compassion International, a fantastic organization which I still happen to support monetarily, even in my post-church life.

You might volunteer in a soup kitchen, you might always tip 20% because you comprehend that those in the service industry need to buy groceries; you might even drive a Prius.

And if you’re like me, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you refuse a plastic bag in favor of your reusable one, or hand the paper-wrapped straw back to the drive through window attendant while explaining to their puzzled faces that you carry your own stainless steel straws with you, it just seems like it’s never enough…

because it’s clear that no matter what choice you make, it’s going to have a harmful, unintended consequence somewhere in this great big world.

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The genius TV sitcom “The Good Place” is handling this conundrum with a deft touch this season. As Michael, so brilliantly played by Ted Danson, and his posse of afterlife wanderers is realizing, the most innocuous choices can have magnificently terrible consequences. A simple tomato purchase is rife with opportunity to wreck a distant life in an accidental and unavoidable ripple effect: pesticides and underpaid laborers, for example.

Here lately, I find myself stymied by the quest for toothpaste:

the tubes that normal toothpaste come in are not recyclable. So when I throw them in the bin, where do they end up? Land fill.

I could order the chewable tablets that you bite down on, they’re packaged in glass, but then there is a truck that has to deliver them to my house, which creates more exhaust fumes, and thereby a larger contribution to global climate change.

Baking soda just tastes gross.

I have settled for a brand that touts itself as good for the groundwater, and it comes in a tube that is made from plant material and is recyclable.

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But then I am plagued by the follow up thought: I hear that recycling is at a near-halt because the Chinese are no longer buying and shipping our waste to China, and American waste companies can’t afford to actually recycle the volumes of plastic and cardboard that are now stacking up in warehouses.

What about the turtles, fish, and ducks, friends? WHAT ABOUT THEM?

And can we talk relationships? I spent a good hour today worried and upset and angry. Like so many others, I posted the video of the red capped teen staring. I try to keep my social media political posts to a minimum- just a couple a month, normally. My life’s work is about finding joy and sharing peace. Not about stirring up discord.

But this incident of the Catholic high school boys and the Native American elder really bothers me. Maybe it’s because I taught high school. I am familiar with that smirk, I have been cornered by a high school boy who threatened me harm out of the sight of security cameras, I have been hit by a student, I too have found myself in the midst of an unruly group of inadequately supervised teens and known the fear of turning every which way only to realize I was at the mercy of the “Lord of the Flies” adolescents.

But those aren’t the relationships that upset me today. Not tribal elders, not smartass teens, not their school leadership. And yes, I have seen the opposing arguments that we don’t know the real story, and to be frank, I am not buying most of it.

No, today it came from an old friend. A friend who is so staunch in her conservative world view that she posted a response that I could not even begin to handle. I deleted the whole thread, which I was planning to do anyway, but once the conservative mommy blog link was shared, I churned. I churned all afternoon. I would gladly have had an actual dialogue with this friend, but what I was unequivocally not willing to do was read a right wing mommy blog.

And here’s where I am stuck: What happens when our own particular value systems are so firmly at odds with each other that to compromise feels like we are cutting a piece of our gut out and laying it on a table as blood sacrifice?

There’s a lot of talk that goes: “We all, at the most basic level, share the same values. We just want a safe and happy place to raise and love our families.” Yeah, well, that’s the easy and obvious one. But if you go just one step deeper than that, to ask the questions about what justice looks like, what good citizenship looks like, how money should be spent, which lives have value and where people should be able to breathe freely, things get more complex. And those values are as essential to our humanity as loving and providing for our families.

Wasn’t it Jesus who said:

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

Those rude teenagers in Washington DC are not my enemy. And that gentleman beating the peace drum is not the enemy of the conservatives.

When does keeping the peace with friends, neighbors, work colleagues, and relatives, at the cost of staying silent on issues we feel passionately about, begin to erode our souls? How do we compromise when to compromise feels like betraying everything we hold dear? Or does it even matter, except in the voting booth? Does dialogue about issues matter?

I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that my own worry about which toothpaste to use is a microcosm of everything else that I am fearful about right now. It just seems like a decision about freedom and equality is too tough, so I’ll debate the merits of my organic toothpaste purchase. Shall I buy mint or vanilla flavored?

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French Fries and Legos

In 2016, my husband and I bought a new car. It’s  Ford Escape (we aren’t big spenders, no BMWs or Caddys for us, at least not in this current life), but I splurged and opted for leather seats and a sun roof. This was our first post-child-rearing car, it was the one I wanted to drive for a long time, and I kept its interior clean. No jelly smudges on the upholstery, no milk stains on the carpet.

Oh my stars- milk in the carpet! Once, when my kids were little, I smelled something truly vile in my car, a little red Ford Escort. Or maybe it was the white Ford Tempo. It’s all a blur (though it’s clear we’re loyal Ford folks). I searched and searched, until I found a bottle under the driver’s seat. The milk in it had curdled, was leaking gas and fluid, and smelled to high heaven. It was rank like a boys’ locker room laundry hamper; like rotten, sulfuric eggs or fresh skunk spray on a humid morning. The smell lingered for months, no matter how much scrubbing or Resolve I used.

This new cinnamon-red, tan-leather-upholstered, luxurious clean crossover was my reward for all the years of driving three kids around, pulling through McDonalds to grab them sustenance before a game, piano lesson, or orthodontic appointment. Since we were new empty nesters, we anticipated a good five years of clean, quiet road trips to little wineries and out-of-the-way art galleries. I even got my nose pierced to celebrate the Empty Nest! I was ready to rock!

Just last week, while cleaning out the SUV, my husband found a french fry wedged between the seats. A french fry.

You see, our life took a major shift lately. A good one, a happy one, but still: a shift. We became grandparents. And not just grandparents of one little newborn. Our daughter’s partner has two children, and so we are insta-grandparents (just add white wine and stir).

Thrown in the deep end, so to speak. In it up to our eyeballs. Trial by fire. Zero learning curve.

So now, we have added trips to the children’s museum and Chik Fil A back into rotation.

My husband just glommed right onto this grandpa thing. Maybe it’s his silver beard. Quite possibly it’s his jolly, extroverted personality. More likely, it’s his big heart. I took a little time to adjust to the idea. I am an introvert who likes neatness and order and quiet. I willingly relinquished those things while raising a family, and I was pretty excited about having them back for a bit. Also, being a grandparent means you’re in phase three- the last phase- and that’s sobering. Then I met the kids who would be joining our family, and fell in love. The girl is seven, a second grader who reads well and instinctively mothers her little brother, a four-year-old with a glimmer of impishness in his eyes. Now I couldn’t care any less about a french fry in my car.

There’s a single Lego sitting on my fireplace mantel. I found it under the TV stand while looking for the remote, just sitting innocently on the hardwood floor, thankfully out of stepping-upon range, waiting for its owner to get back down to floor level and play his games of imaginary build and destroy.

A friend teased yesterday, learning about my newborn grandchild, “I bet you have your own car seat in your car.” I do. I bought a car seat, a pack-and-play, and a swing. There’s baby shampoo, formula, diapers, and wipes in what has been my yoga room and is now a shared space. My asanas are now kept company with Pampers and that wonderful smell of baby shampoo. And atop my refrigerator I have current family photos with four new and welcome faces.

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There’s no instruction book for being a grandparent, though I did stumble across an amazing book called Grandpa Magic: 116 Easy Tricks, Amazing Brainteasers, and Simple Stunts to Wow the Grandkids while at Barnes and Noble(see below for link). It was one of my husband’s favorite Christmas presents. I found him studying the tricks Sunday afternoon in his home office. He has big plans brewing, I think.

The kids? They’re the easy part. Spending time in the back yard playing school, coloring pages, bubble baths? I know how to do that stuff, though it’s exhausting. One afternoon of helping them ride their new bikes in our neighborhood wiped me out. Now I understand why my in-laws looked so frazzled after my kids visited.

I fear that the hard part is going to be knowing when to help my daughter and her partner and when to back off; when to offer advice and when to hush. When to let them stumble while they figure out the best way to parent. Parenting hurts. When your child is sick, when someone hurts their feelings, when they fail, your heart aches. I don’t think that’s going to get any easier.

I just want to be the safe place. The lap that offers the best cuddles for the little ones and the ear that provides unerring support and love for their parents.

Maybe I’ll even practice a magic trick or two. Everyone needs a fairy grandmother with a little magic in her wand.

 

 

 

 

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