May 23, 2015

By now, we’ve all read about Josh Duggar and how TLC has pulled the show 19 Kids and Counting from the air. I’ve read the blogs, articles and posts on all sides, and I am troubled by the whole thing. Though not an avid fan of the show, I caught it a few times and actually thought it was kind of cute. Okay, I told myself. So these folks are a bit quirky and definitely don’t raise their kids they way I would, but if they choose to wear jean skirts, have a quiver full of kids and homeschool them all, who am I to fault them? They can do what they want. They seemed a bit too “perfect” on the outside, never arguing, the kids cheerfully doing their chores, obeying without question. It did seem a bit fishy, and I wondered, with all those kids, if it was possible to raise them all without anyone going astray. They are, after all, only human.
I am certainly not one throwing stones or cheering because the show has been pulled. I feel for the Duggars, I really do. No one wants to be put in the limelight like this. I can imagine the devastation, the humiliation as the tabloids go to print. Their bubble world has been rocked, and now all eyes are on them. And though I don’t agree with many of their conservative stances, I don’t think the Duggars are bad folks. But I do think the way they handled their son’s abuse was terribly, terribly wrong.
Let’s begin with the facts. Josh Duggar molested several young girls. Allegedly, a few of those girls were his sisters, one under the age of 5. Some have cried out in his defense, claiming this was typical teenage boy stuff, a simple mistake, hormones gone awry, a repressed kid who couldn’t control himself.  But I can assure you, this is more than that. Sexual abuse comes in many forms, but it must be called out for what it is – abuse. It is not a mistake, an “oopsie” or a thing to be brushed under the rug. It is real, it is bad, it is pre-meditated. And its consequences are many. It is a big deal.
As a writer, I’ve written countless stories about victims of sexual abuse. Many were abused by relatives – a grandfather, an uncle, a brother. Some were abused by a neighbor they trusted. Still others were abused by a member of the church – an elder, a pastor. In a few cases, the abuser was the father who happened to be an elder. I’ll let that sink in for you for a moment.
After speaking to these victims, I can reiterate several common denominators. One, most thought it was somehow their fault, that they had somehow initiated the abuse, even though this was obviously not the case. Two, most were told to never tell anyone. Some were threatened with physical punishment.  Some were bribed. Three, many spent years NOT telling anyone, keeping their dark, horrible, painful secret to themselves. I can assure you this is the worst sort of pain, hiding a secret you are too afraid to share. It eats at you, like a cancer, tearing your insides and outsides apart. If not dealt with, this secret manifests itself in many ways. Statistics show that victims of abuse who do not get proper therapy wind up acting out in a variety of ways – sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol or anything else they can grasp onto. These things are the result of pain not dealt with. It always bleeds through, one way or another. Sexual abuse robs victims of their innocence, leaves them confused, and worst of all, often leaves them silenced. It is devastating on all levels.
Over the years, I’ve known several friends who were victims of sexual abuse.  In my home town growing up, in the very churches I faithfully attended each week, it happened too. Sadly, many victims did try to speak out to their parents, friends or members of their church, but they were quietly shushed. Some were accused of fabricating tales. A few were shamed, made to feel as if somehow it was all their fault. They were made to believe that their abuse was not a big deal. They were dismissed. They were not SEEN or HEARD.
And so they carried that bag of pain for years, some acting out on it, some stuffing it away. But it did not go away. Like the folks in the stories I written, the pain ate at them until it became unbearable, ruining their marriages, their bodies, their hearts and their lives. It nearly destroyed some of them.
After reading several conservative blogs, I am appalled at some of the responses to the Duggar scandal. Many have come to his defense, shaming TLC for pulling the plug on the show. Josh is sorry, they say. Now leave him alone and let him get on with his life. He feels very bad about the whole thing. We’re making a really big deal out of this, gleefully throwing stones because we were just waiting for a family like that to screw up. We really should get over our prideful selves and take a look in the mirror, because we are all sinners too.
Some of this may be true, but I assure you – it is not enough. Josh’s abuse cannot be brushed under the rug. It must be addressed. The fact the family waited so long to act, not telling anyone, not going to the authorities, is extremely appalling. I have friends who have had to turn their own children in to the authorities, and they can assure you that it is the most heart wrenching pain a parent will ever endure. But they did it, to protect others, because it was the RIGHT thing to do. The LAWFUL thing. The MORAL thing.
I’m tired of stories like these. I’m tired of flipping on the news, only to discover that yet another celebrity, another pastor, another political figure, has taken victims of sexual abuse. My heart breaks for it all – for the victims, for the injustice. I’m tired of churches slapping folks on the wrist and letting them slide, turning the other way, ignoring the pain, pretending it didn’t happen, shrugging it off, minimizing the abuse. Most of all, I’m tired of victims not being seen. For I believe that the most important thing in life is to be seen, for our stories to be told. And if we cannot tell them, then what? If we must ache alone, if we cannot trust the ones we love the most, if we cannot speak up, where do we go from there?
Here’s what I wish. I wish that Josh Duggar would get help – real, professional help, the help I suspect he has not gotten because of his parents’ beliefs. Next, I wish his victims would get the help they need as well – real, professional help, where they can pour out their stories and be seen and heard. Next, I wish that no victim will be unseen or unheard again. I wish, and pray, that they will be able to tell their stories, bravely, even if their voices shake as they do. I wish that they will not feel alone, that they will feel loved and surrounded and held. But above all, I wish that someday, there would be no more stories to be told, because this sort of abuse will come to an end. This may be the most far-fetched wish of all, but I wish it all the same.
If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, there is help. I know, because I know many folks who’ve gotten help. If you’ve never told your story before, you can start now. It deserves to be heard. Start by telling someone you trust. Talk to a professional. Check out blogs like Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). You will find you are not alone. You will start breathing a bit more easily. You will find life again. And that bag of pain you’ve been carrying around will slowly come off. There is hope on the other side. But it starts by being seen and heard.

Aug 12, 2014

                Robin Williams, one of my all-time favorite actors, just died. Suicide, they say. How could this possibly be? How could the man who lit up the screen, who stuffed himself into a dress and danced across the room with a vacuum cleaner as the beloved, laughable Mrs. Doubtfire, possibly be dead? It just doesn’t seem right. Surely, we’ll all wake up tomorrow and they’ll tell us it’s a joke. And he’ll come out laughing, stick a bulb on his nose and say, “Gotcha!” Surely, he can’t be dead.
                Two weeks ago, a beautiful 38-year-old mother of two went missing after pumping gas in her Oregon hometown. She bought a bag of trail mix and some sleeping pills and simply vanished into thin air.  A loving and devoted mother, they said. Adoring wife. She’d never leave her boys. And yet she did. Days later, they found her – dead of asphyxiation, a suicide note alongside her body. The worst of horrors, unimaginable. Surely, she can’t be dead.
                 Last year, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church buried his son Matthew after the young man tragically put a gun to his own head. Though his parents tried everything to save him, in the end, they simply couldn’t. The boy who’d struggled since he was a child finally succumbed to his illness. All the best therapists, medication and love in the whole wide world were not enough. Surely, he can’t be dead.
                Depression. It’s an icky word. It’s one we like to skirt around. Like grandmother’s soggy yam casserole at the Thanksgiving table, we avoid it as we pile our plates high with other goodies to distract ourselves. Oh sure, we might say it in passing, occasionally. Gained five pounds? Depressing. Vacation was a bust? Depressing. But in reality, depression is real. It’s the elephant in the room no one’s talking about, the monster we choose to not discuss. Why? Because it’s depressing. And scary. And most of all, shameful. Better to talk about babies and wine and movies and football, don’t you think?
                Depression is a monster I know too well. I can’t remember quite when it began – the sinking feelings, the anxiety that so often accompanies the darkness, the tears that sprang out of nowhere, the unthinkable thoughts. By 13, I cried myself to sleep nearly every night. By 14, I discovered The Smiths. For those not familiar with the Smiths, don’t start listening now. They are the soundtrack to depression – that sad, soggy melody that fills up a room and a heart, only to drain it somehow. They really are the pits, as talented as they are.
                By 15, my mother, concerned about my state, took me to a therapist. I can’t remember what we talked about. I only remember the potted plant in the corner of the room, which I stared at the entire hour to avoid the woman’s eyes. She was nice enough, I suppose. She had red, swishy hair and a kind smile, and I liked her well enough. We made small talk, which I believe is how all therapists start. After a few sessions, she deemed me well enough to function in society and sent me on my way.
                But I wasn’t well.  Still, I plugged along, forging my way through the awful, terrible years of high school, hanging my head in the halls and caking on Covergirl foundation to hide my zits. It wasn’t the zits that bothered me, really, though they didn’t help matters much. It was this nagging sense that something wasn’t always right, that I wasn’t okay, that the world, somehow, had decided to rage against me forever. The feeling was followed up with dread, the kind that sinks you into your bed for days.
                From the outside, I had no reason to be depressed. The oldest of three in a loving family, I knew I was loved and cared for.  I’d never been abused. We did not drink booze or do drugs. We went to church every Sunday, and I believed in God. I was a talented writer and piano player, witty and smart and imaginative, with a handful of close friends and a 13-pound cat I adored. But somehow, that wasn’t enough.
                Fast forward to 19. I sat in my 12x12 bedroom, complete with green shag carpet and Christian Slater posters on the wall, a single mother rocking a colicky newborn to sleep. Billie and Bo from Days of Our Lives became my best friends in the isolation following my son’s birth. I planned my afternoons around them, making sure I was always home at 2 p.m. to catch up on my soap, afraid to let them down. And I wondered, in those lonely, monotonous days, how I’d wound up watching soap operas while the rest of the world marched on. How would I ever get out of that bedroom and on with real life? The depression was thick. But thankfully, I’d sold my Smiths cassette tapes at a yard sale and moved on to U2.
                I did get out of that bedroom, finally. I went to college, married, moved away, landed a great teaching job and had three other kids. Life was grand, for a while. More friends than I’d ever had in my life. The beach five miles away. Potlucks and birthday parties and church services and laughter and family trips and a husband who didn’t mind my slightly stretched out belly. And then my fourth child came along, premature, a NICU baby, a tiny thing who arrived in the middle of the night without warning. He was beautiful –stunning, really.  No conehead or baby acne at all. It should have been bliss, once we got back in the routine. But instead, a new kind of depression sank in, this one completely unfamiliar, frightening and black.
                They called it postpartum, but I didn’t know it then.  The doctors brushed it off as baby blues – very common, they said. This too shall pass. But it didn’t pass. On several occasions, I stuck that baby in his crib and ran into the other room. I ran, because I did not want to hurt him. And I was afraid I might. Instead, I sat on a pile of laundry while my other kids built Lego castles outside the door, and I cried until the tears ran dry.
                The anxiety came next, paralyzing and terrifying. It took all I had to stick the key in the ignition of the car. Sometimes, getting to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread was too much. I can’t remember if I made dinner, showered or laughed. I’m pretty sure I didn’t laugh. I have few pictures of that time, but in the few I have, my baby is beautiful and crying, and I am pale and skinny and smiling.
                After a year, I finally got help. The hormones straightened out, and life was good again. Until it wasn’t. Until we moved away, and my health went to pot, and my husband lost his job. I spent a lot of time on my closet floor in a pair of baggy black sweat pants, crying and panicking because I thought I might really die. But when I forced myself out of the closet, I put on heels and lipstick and a smile, and most folks never knew.
                This is what we do, you see. We, who struggle. We put on the brave face. It is not a mask, exactly, because deep down, we really want you to know we aren’t okay. But it’s too exhausting sometimes, too hard to explain why it is that even though we have the nice house and the cool jeans and the fancy car in the driveway and the well behaved kids, we are just not, not okay. Sometimes, it’s easier to just smile, nod and say, “I’m fine.”
                For some, depression comes in waves. For others, it is a dark, ominous cloud that never leaves. It taunts us, day and night, reminding us of all that’s wrong with us and the world. It sends us to the corner when we’d rather dance. It buries us under the covers when we’d rather take our kids to the park. It paralyzes us when we go to a party. It keeps us up at night, thinking and mulling and stewing and wondering. To summarize, it sucks.
                I’ve learned I’m not alone. There are many of us fighting the battle. We are not who you think. We are the room mom with the plate of homemade cookies in her hand. We are the soccer coach with the tan and the shiny SUV. We are the successful executive with the beach front property and the best Christmas lights on the block. We are the homecoming queen with the perfect hair and Colgate white teeth. We are the baseball star who just landed a Harvard scholarship. We are everywhere.
                Like cancer, depression takes victims of all sorts.
                If we find ourselves brave enough to share, we must simultaneously prepare ourselves for the well-meaning words of advice. For the worn-out positivity quotes and Bible verses that come our way. Just trust in God, they say. You have a good life. What all is there to be sad about, anyhow? Get it together already.  Look on the bright side of things. Don’t you know there are others in Africa just happy for one hot meal a day?
                Yes, we know all this. And we don’t need you to say it anymore. We are grateful you’re trying, but it’s not what we need. What we need is for you to try to understand. We need you to know that we cannot help it. If we could, wouldn’t we be better by now? There are chemicals and dopamine and serotonin and all sorts of fancy reasons why we’re not quite right. For some of us, there is past abuse. Unresolved issues. Pain we’re not ready to share. Personality traits we’re born with that make us a bit more prone to feeling sad. Genetics we curse every day. And that’s just the way it is. If fixing depression was as simple as fixing a leaky faucet, Matthew Warren and Robin Williams and that precious mother of two might still be with us today.
                So what can we do? We can be there, for one. We can remind each other we’re not alone. Isolation is the worst sort of demon, but it can be fought. We can start showing up. We can get off Instagram and show up at someone’s doorstep instead, armed with Starbucks and junk magazines and a warm hug. We can stop talking and start doing. We can educate ourselves by asking questions, by asking for the stories. We can stop judging and end the stigma, so vulnerability can thrive. Even if we do not understand this illness, we can do our best to empathize. Even if we cannot put all of the broken pieces together again, we can be one piece. It is a start. A very good start.
                These days, I am happy to report I don’t need The Smiths anymore. But I did go to a U2 concert at the Rosebowl a couple years ago. There were 100,000 people in the stadium that night – the biggest crowd that place had ever seen. As Bono danced around the stage, ageless in his usual tight black pants, singing about streets with no name, I just stood there in awe with the rest of the crowd. And in that moment, I looked around at everyone swaying and singing and realized, we’re all in this thing called Life together.  And then I realized, at the same time, I’m going to be okay. I’m really going to be okay.
 Robin Williams once said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” The world loved the man. The world is a lot of people. Yet somehow, he still felt alone. We cannot save Robin Williams now, but maybe we can save someone else. Maybe we can reach out just a little bit and hold someone up before they fall. Maybe we can say the words every person, no matter how strong, longs to hear: “It’s okay.” And then, “I’m here.”
And maybe, just maybe, we can make the world a braver place.


Dec 28, 2013

My New Years Resolutions


  1.   Throw Less Parties. Pity parties, that is. I am the queen of pity parties. I can throw a mother of a pity party, complete with decorations, fine china and a bottle of “Poor Me” champagne. My pity parties usually take place while washing dishes, sitting in the dentist chair or shopping at Ross. My latest pity party occurred roughly two weeks ago, when I visited the local Ross in search of a few last minute Christmas gifts. Ross is a place I loathe, yet find myself at quite frequently. To quote my friend Amy, “It smells like poop.” And if you sniff hard, you’ll note that it does. There’s always a screaming child nearby, the music is not even suitable for elevators, and the carts suck. Each cart comes complete with a long metal pole, just in case one should get a crazy notion and decide to run with it down the street. On this particular day, there was only one cart left when I entered the store. And I soon discovered why it had not been snatched up: it squeaked. It was the suckiest cart in the store. Within five minutes of my shopping experience, I was in full blown pity party mode. The progression went a little something like this: I always get the squeaky cart. I hate being broke. I hate shopping at Ross. I have no decent underwear. My hair is too frizzy. I hate Pinterest. No one likes me. My life sucks. Yeah, lame, I know. But there I went, on and on and on as I weaved my way through the crowded aisles. By the time I ditched my squeaky cart and got to my car, I was in such a low mood I had to go home and eat four giant chunks of dark chocolate. Yes, I DO know there are far worse things in the world than getting the squeaky cart at Ross. But sometimes, we just can’t snap out of the funk, ya know? So this coming year, I’m going to try harder. I’m going to try to stop the pity party before it starts. I’m going to slam the door in its face, hide the “Poor Me” champagne and focus on the good in my life.
2.       Raise My Voice More Often. No, I’m not talking about yelling at my kids, though, admittedly, I did a bit of that when they were younger. I’m going to start speaking up about the things that matter to me, even if it scares me a bit. I’ve spent most of my life playing peace maker, trying to please everyone, pasting a smile on my face and nodding my head politely. When certain topics arise, I simply change the subject or shove some chocolate in my mouth. But I don’t want to do that anymore. Being silent is not always honest, and I want to be honest – with myself and with others. Several months ago, a friend emailed me regarding something I did not agree with. For the first time in my life, I spoke up. With shaking fingers, I typed back a polite but candid email, explaining why I did not agree with her. I took a deep breath as I hit the “send” button, wondering if we’d still be friends after it was all said and done. But guess what? We are! We choose to disagree, and that’s okay! And so, in 2014, I will attempt to raise my voice, even if I have to clear my throat a few times before I get the words out. Though it feels scary, I believe that, like learning to ski, it will get easier the more times I practice. And I will be okay.
3.      Get More Wrinkles. As I inch toward my 40’s, I’ve noticed a few lines I’m not too happy with. Though I did not think it was possible, I am now a walking testimony that one can simultaneously have both wrinkles and zits. And it sucks. For the first time in my life, I invested in some (very expensive!) anti-aging cream this past year. So far, I’m not sure it’s working. But one thing I’m not too worried about? My laugh lines. You know, the creases on your face that prove you know how to have a good time now and then. I’m hoping to get a few more of those this coming year. And I’m hoping they come with the gut-wrenching, side-splitting, tears-streaming-down-your-face laughter, preferably in the company of good friends, with a glass of wine or a raspberry martini. If I must laugh at myself, so be it. And if I end up more wrinkly by December 31, 2014, I’ll just smile and wear them with pride.
4.      . Use More Paper. I know, the environmentalists are freaking out at this one. To be honest, I’ve never been too good at recycling. In fact, I’m downright lousy. Or should I say, lazy. I know it wouldn’t take much to march my cardboard boxes and bottles to the recycling bin outside, but sometimes I just don’t feel like putting my shoes on. And so I don’t do it. I don’t use the reusable bags at the grocery store either. While we’re at it, I sometimes leave the lights on when I go out, I take long baths and use up too much hot water, and I don’t support Green Peace. So shoot me. But this coming year, I’m vowing to use more paper. I’m talking about trading in the convenient “e-card” , email, text or Facebook message for a nice, old fashioned, hand written letter. Granted, my handwriting is illegible, and even I have a hard time reading it sometimes. But I really believe our generation has lost something in the technology boom. We’ve lost that personal touch, that little thrill when we open the mailbox and find a sweet letter, carefully addressed to us, scrawled on pretty stationery. Admit it –even the biggest Apple buffs love getting Christmas cards in the mail. This year, I plan to send more cards, more letters, more love. Even if it costs us a tree in some forest somewhere in Oregon.  So if you find a little something in your mailbox in the coming days, know that it came straight from my heart, even if it’s too illegible to decipher.
5.       Stop Running. Okay, well, those of you who know me well know I never started in the first place. I tried a few times. I attempted to train for a half marathon for three hours on a Saturday morning once, but I got side cramps and blisters and had to throw in the towel. I’ve tried running on the treadmill, but that’s not much fun either. The minutes crawl by, I sweat profusely, and instead of experiencing this so-called “runner’s high” I so often hear about, I simply feel angry. Like I could kick someone in the shins with my New Balance tennis shoes and leave a nice bruise. So, much as I’d like to plaster a 26.2 sticker on the back of my SUV, running just isn’t my thing. But I’m not talking about that anyway. I’m talking about running from one place to another, constantly scrambling, over-scheduling, squeezing every last nanosecond out of my 24 hour day. To be honest, I’m tired. The pace is exhausting, and I’m not sure us humans were ever meant to live life on the fast track. When I got sick a few years back, my life was forced to come to a screeching halt.  I stopped everything, gave it all up. And in the process, something kind of cool happened. I began to realize that slowing down wasn’t so scary after all.  I took naps without guilt, read magazines at 3 p.m., lit fancy candles I’d never used, and took long bubble baths. I overheard my peers gush about how “busy” they were, as though it was some sort of prize to attain. And instead of envying them, I felt a bit sorry for them instead. But several years later, I’m back on that same fast track, wondering how I worked my way into this constant tailspin. Soccer practice, laundry, dishes, homework –it never seems to end. This year, despite the inevitable madness, I vow (and by vow, I mean try really, really hard) to stop running. I vow to slow down, make time for those I love, to get off the fast train once and for all. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start living again. Maybe I’ll actually make eye contact with the grocery store checker instead of stuffing my wallet in my purse and bolting for the door. Maybe I’ll actually HEAR my daughter when she shares her dreams with me instead of muttering an absent minded “Mmm hmm.” Maybe I’ll actually take in the sunset and snap a photo instead of honking at the too-slow car in front of me. And maybe, in catching my breath, I’ll discover that sometimes all we need to do is just breathe.

6.      Gain a Little. The scale is perhaps the most dreaded fixture in our lives. We stare at it as though it were a live serpent, deciding whether or not to step on and face the music. Did the pumpkin pie and Fireball and garlic mashed potatoes really catch up with us this year? And if only we could take back that calorie-ridden fruit cake we ate JUST so we could say we’d tasted fruit cake! Did we do enough lunges and crunches and burpees to work off the junk? I didn’t own a scale for years. Then I finally bought one at Target this summer, and it promptly broke two months later. It cost $20 and didn’t have a warranty. And no, I didn’t break it…it broke on its own. A wasted $20, my husband said sadly. But I feel much better now that it’s gone. I don’t have to stare at its ugly face on my way to brush my teeth in the morning. My freedom to eat dark chocolate at night is regained. But I wasn’t talking about gaining pounds anyway. I was talking about gaining LIFE. You know, really living. Gaining experiences, new friends, new tastes, a new skill. Hiking that mountain I’ve only looked at from a distance. Finally signing up for that cooking class. Making the effort to walk a few yards across the street and finally meet my new neighbor. Visiting a new state. Trying that new lipstick. Gaining the courage to finally write the book I’ve been wanting to write for so long. Pounds will come and go, but life is priceless. So are you with me? Let’s gain a little this year! And if we wind up a bit plumper by next New Years Eve, we’ll call it a good year.

Jan 28, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

I almost did the unthinkable last week. My fingers hovered over the “delete your account” button as I contemplated taking a break from Facebook land. For good? Temporarily? I wasn’t sure. But those guys at Facebook are good—they know how to pull at the heartstrings. “So and so will miss you,” they reminded me in a last desperate attempt, producing a slew of photos of people I’d wave goodbye to if I cut myself off. I contemplated, mulled it over, and in the end, I decided not to pull the trigger.
For the past several years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Having moved out of state and back, it’s been a great tool for me to keep in touch with friends near and afar. I’ve celebrated with friends around the country as they posted first photos of pink little newborns and cried with others as they grieved a loved one or expressed having a bad day. I’ve been able to share my own life’s journeys, triumphs and difficulties as well. Facebook has provided ample opportunities to network, connect and converse. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve scored sporting tickets, a new table, a great lasagna recipe, free workout tips, great jokes, new music suggestions and parenting advice. And I cannot forget that it was a kindly stranger on Facebook who generously donated to something near to my heart two years ago. So what it is it about the social media site that makes me cringe sometimes?
For starters, it is the sheer concept of vulnerability. Is there not something a bit intimidating about putting ourselves out there for the world (or at least our 600 plus Facebook friends) to see? I will be the first to admit I’ve started to update my status and then quickly erased it for fear I will be misunderstood. I admire those who can bare their souls completely, and though I like to think of myself an open book, there are times it’s just easier to post “Having oatmeal and a banana for breakfast.” Why? Because I don’t really want to share what’s on my mind. Because I know some will understand but others will scratch their heads and wonder if I’ve lost my marbles. Because my post that was supposed to be construed as funny will not be, and the post that was meant to be thought provoking will be overlooked. To be misunderstood over coffee is one thing, but to be misunderstood in a land where our words disappear into virtual thin air is another. We may not be in junior high anymore, but there is something about Facebook that sometimes makes us feel like we’re 13 again, hovering beside our locker in our fake Guess jeans and bad perm, asking the question we all long to know: “Do you like me just the way I am?” It is because of this that we sort through our photos and post only the best of the best, the ones where our hair sits just right and our lipstick is on and our stomachs are sucked in and our cellulite has been disguised. It is because of this that we feel a bit bummed if no one comments on our photos and a bit pleased if 90 people do. Or is that just me?
Secondly, what we see of someone on Facebook is only a fragment of who they really are. For instance, though I have a deep faith in God, I don’t feel compelled to post Bible verses every five minutes or interject spiritual things into every online conversation. It’s just not who I am. On the same note, I actually do have very strong opinions about political ideas, but you’ll be hard pressed to see me post much about our president, gun control or other White House shenanigans. I believe Facebook was meant to be a glimpse into our lives, an opportunity to give others a taste of who we are, yet somehow along the way, it seems we’ve let it define us—all the way down to the number of “friends” we have on our page. I suppose that if someone were to browse around my profile, they’d conclude, based on my status updates and photos, that I was a rather clumsy, endearing goof who always finds herself in a pickle and likes to make others laugh. What they may never know is the other side of me, the one that feels a bit like a misfit in life, that constantly wonders if she is good enough, wondering if she’d even find herself qualified to work at Burger King should the need arise. The one who spends ninety percent of her days in fuzzy socks and baggy pajama bottoms but slips into a nice dress when she heads out for the night. The one who posts “having fun” pictures with her kids, all smiles, but sometimes keeps herself awake at night wondering if she’s doing anything right as a mom. This is why I must conclude that, while Facebook is fun, it is not a substitute for real life. Real life is tears and laughs over cappuccino at Starbucks; that’s where we reveal our true selves in entirety.
Thirdly, there’s that whole idea of feeling left out. Think you’re the only one? Think again! A quick Google search on the concept blew me away; turns out social media has created a whole new problem that some bloggers and experts have dubbed FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.” The very place we go to to feel connected can be the very place we feel loneliest when we see what fun everyone else seems to be having … without us! Trips to exotic places, parties with friends, six-course dinners we were not invited to, and the list goes on. Suddenly, though our lives were fairly interesting and fulfilled five minutes ago, they are completely and utterly B-O-R-I-N-G now! We MUST get a life … pronto! We must know in our gut that no one can have possibly have fun 24-7, yet somehow we get this wild idea in our heads that we are the only ones sitting at home folding laundry, nursing colds, changing diapers, scrubbing toilets and eating cold pizza for dinner.
My last “gripe” (if I must call it that) has only been brought to my attention recently. I like to call it Information Overload. I first realized my uneasiness after the Sandy Hook shootings. In the weeks that followed the tragedy, I found myself increasingly fearful and restless as I pored over the many posts on the matter. Suddenly, it seemed bad news was everywhere. Being the sensitive soul that I am, I found myself crying over lost puppies a friend of a friend of a friend had posted, poring over stories about impoverished children in other countries, and anguished over a terminally ill child I would never meet. I prayed for as many of them as I could, but my head and my heart began to hurt so much I feared they might burst. And then, through two separate conversations with friends, I realized the problem: As humans, we are simply not meant to digest so much information. Political wars, illnesses, famine, unemployment and other crises have existed for decades and decades, yet through increasing technology and social media sources, it seems these issues are brand new. Though we should care, we simply cannot take the world on our shoulders—it is too much for one person to bear. And strong as we might like to believe that we are, at the end of the day, we are still just one person, doing the best that we can.
For me, Facebook will always be a bit like the dive Mexican place my friends and I frequented growing up. The chips were always stale, the seating too crowded, the noise level too high, the carpet outdated, the tacos a bit too greasy. But there was something that kept us coming back time and time again. Despite its quirks, it was good. And the good part--the nostalgic, happy, good friends and two-dollar one-pound burrito part-- outweighed the bad.
Ironically, I plan to post this blog to Facebook. Why? Because I care about you all. Because, I suppose, I hope that you feel a bit of what I do too. That I’m not alone. And isn’t that what sits at the root of ourselves? The idea that we are not doing this crazy, beautiful life alone? Isn’t that what Facebook was meant to be all along?

Sep 8, 2011

Lessons From the Trenches

It's been a while since I've last written on here. My life looks a bit different now. My kids are all in school now, I'm "Mom" and not "Mommy" anymore and I actually squeeze in a coherent thought now and then. I eat salads and drink coffee on a regular basis and have traded play dates at the playground for concerts and the occasional trip to the local dive bar. I even did a mud run a few months ago, something I thought I'd never try! I dye my hair every four weeks to cover the grays, bought my first tube of wrinkle cream (stuff's not cheap!) and stopped shopping at the 99 cent store for make up. My house is semi-clean for the first time in years, I like sushi and I discovered Mumford and Sons. I'm still trying to like wine. In a nutshell, I've grown up a bit. But the lesssons I've learned the past few years go beyond 25 dollar jars of make up and goat cheese salads. I thought I'd share just a few of them with you:

1. Chocolate Cake is Good. In the book "The Pleasure Prescription" the author reminds us that food was made to be enjoyed. Yet, thanks to the booming "health care" industry, we've been told to count every calorie, gram of fat, carbohydrate and ounce of sodium in our diet. Blah, I say. I've done it all, and the only result I got was grumpy. My new conclusion is the age-old motto "Everything in moderation." Chocoalte cake is delicious. Which is why I savor every bite and even go back for seconds when possible these days. And no, the fat-free, reduced calorie chocolate cake does not taste the same. I want the real thing, thank you very much. And spending the next hour "working off" my cake on the treadmill turns my lovely indulgence into a boring mathematical equation. When my father in law was in hospice four years ago, dying from heart failure, the nurse pulled me aside to say, "Since he really doesn't have long, let him eat whatever he wants. If he wants chocolate cake three times a day, let him have it." My eyes grew wide as I replied, "Really? Are you sure?" So, must we wait for our deathbed to enjoy chocolate cake? I think not. The time to enjoy food is now.

2. Good Friends are Gold. I recently read that the average adult has only one close friend, someone to share their deepest sorrows and delights with. I find this truly heartbreaking. Have we gotten too busy to remember the most important element of life: relationships? Sure, we've got Facebook, Twitter and texting, but when was the last time we picked up the phone to make a call or sent and old fashioned "thinking about you" card? I'm happy to say I have many close friends, but I do not take a single one for granted. I know the loneliness factor all too well. I know what it's like to be the "new girl" in town and watch the other moms gab away in the school parking lot while you watch wistfully. I know what it's like to grow up painfully shy and spend junior high lunch hour in the bathroom because you've got no one to sit with. Doesn't matter how old we are; we all need friends. Acquaintances are nice, but they don't bring us soup when we've got a splitting migraine and can't get our kid off to school, they don't encourage us to get out on the dance floor and try the Cupid Shuffle, and they certainly don't call just to "check in and say hello." Perhaps we ought to try the old adage "If you want a friend, be one" more often.

3. Nothing Beats a Good Laugh. If there's one thing I do more of these days, it's laugh. In "The Pleasure Prescription" the author points out that we cannot know true joy unless we have known true hardship. Three years ago, I was tempted to throw myself under any large moving vehicle at a moment's notice. Translation: I was severely depressed. Considering my circumstances (major move, job change, loss of health, best friends divorced, death in the family) I had good reason to be, but I soon learned that staying that way forever probably wasnt the best idea. Still, how does one "snap out of it" when life gets tough? Why, they read the the Shopaholic series, of course. These books were one of the few bright spots in my life when I couldnt get out of bed during my illness. I laughed until I cried, until my husband nudged me in bed and said "Could you keep it down a little?" Did I mention it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud? But the more I practiced, the more I laughed. Then a little TV show called Modern Family came along, and again I found myself in stitches. (And wishing I'd been clever enough to write it myself!) Now days, I laugh all the time. I laugh at myself, I laugh with my friends, I laugh along with my kids as we watch Disney shows, and yes, occasionally, I laugh at other people (A browse on the People of Walmart website will do the trick..very mature, I know). Growing up, most adults I knew didnt laugh very much. I figured things must stop getting funny around age 20. I wasnt particularly looking forward to becoming an adult because, frankly, it seemed a bit boring. Quite the contrary, I've come to learn. Being an adult isn't's just that some adults are, er, boring. So if you're one of those boring ones and like to multi-task too, at least laugh for the mere reason that it burns calories, keeps your face in shape and is also good for your cardiovascular health.

4. The Grass Isn't Greener. I've checked, believe me. The grass may be greener on the outside, but the plants on the inside are probably all dead. A recent study shows that most people live by the "Twice as Much" principle, meaning they desire to make roughly twice as much money as they currently do. In the end, they wind up half as happy. The reason our national debt is at an all time high? We're still trying to keep up with the Joneses. (Who are the Joneses anyway? I'd really like to meet them and see if they're all that!) So what's the solution? Be thankful for what you have and get over it. I'm forever playing the "grass is greener" game. Her hair is shinier (she must go to a really fancy salon, so I'm going to have to add that into our budget), that husband seems more romantic, their house is bigger, their kids are more athletic, they take more trips than we do. Nothing will rub things in like a browse through friends' photos on Facebook. With posts like "Living a fabulous life!" and "Couldnt be having a better day!" we're somehow deluded into thinking that everyone's life must be better than ours. Little do we know that the so called romantic husband who picks up flowers for his wife at the store once a week also beats her to a pulp before bed time, and that the lady with the shiny hair is actually wearing a wig because she just finished chemo after a horrific battle with breast cancer. A lady who I assumed had tons of money because they were always taking lavish vacations and buying fancy things just confided in me that they couldnt make their mortgage last month. So we just never know. As my wise father often told me, "There will always be those folks who have it worse than you and those who have it better than you." Hmm, so true, Dad, so true.

5. Life Is Meant to be Lived. In the Pleasure Prescription, the author, a cancer survivor himself, talks about the time he spent with other cancer patients on his ward. These folks, he explains, were more concerned with the well being of others than they were for themselves. They took joy in little daily things, like the sun streaming through their window, a cool rag on their forehead and a special dessert when their stomach would allow it. The bottom line? They were just happy to be alive. Many books I've read over the past year sum up most church going folks with this paraphrased quote: "We are told that eternity is all that matters, so we walk around, sour pussed martyrs, saying "Oh well, at least I've got Heaven" in an Eyore tone. We study our Bibles to become more "studied" and yet we forget how to love our neighbor. We spend more time picketing political causes than enjoying sunsets, good music and our spouses. And we spend so much time in Bible studies and volunteering at the church that we forget to look outside our little world at the dying, broken, homeless population that needs a loving touch." Indeed, we've done all that and more. John Eldredge expands on this in his book "Desire" when he says, "We kill all the deepest desires in our heart and call it sanctification." Who put those desires in our heart anyways? Perhaps the creator of the universe? Is it any wonder many folks look in our world and want nothing to do with it? I was nearly there myself, ready to step outside those church doors forever. But something still draws me in, and that something is Jesus and the beautiful, wonderful, colorful and sometimes messy life he lays before us. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. It's why we have good music, begonias, and yes, chocolate cake. Author Richard Dahlstrom explains a scenario in his fantastic book "O2" about visiting a family in Germany. The family sat at a long table, feasting on the finest of foods, laughing and encouraging him to participate. The grandmother poured herself one mug of German beer after another and seemed to be having the grandest time of all. He was just starting to judge her a bit when she stood up, pulled him into the other room and began to show him pictures of World War 2. "You know what got me through that horrific time?" she told him. "It was God." In that moment, he felt about four inches tall. This woman had known true hardship, and she had much to celebrate. She knew that life was indeed good, rich, beautiful even. And she celebrated it with a couple beers and some good food. All through the Bible, there is mention of lavish feasts, wine and good company. So why are still walking around with our tails between our legs and our heads down? It's really hard to see a good sunset or appreciate a stunning mountain peak with one's head hung. It's time we start looking up and start living again.

6. There Isn't Just One Box. From the time I was a kid, I felt different. My mother accused me of daydreaming and my teachers and peers accused me of being too shy (or snobby, as they perceived it) In truth, I was just a dreamer stuck behind a little metal school desk who would rather be writing stories and playing the piano than working up fractions and talking about the weather. It took me over 30 years to discover the crux of my problem: I was different. A personality test revealed that my kind makes up less than one percent of the population. In other words, 99 percent of the rest of the world wasn't going to "get" me. Amazingly, I wound up marrying a fellow INFP (Meyers Briggs test for those of you not familiar with those terms) and we've spent the last few years trying to help one another get on the best we can in life. Learning who I was explained so much: why I often felt bored in church, why I hated going to parties alone, why I detested small talk, why I was constantly scatter brained, why Steven Curtis Chapman sometimes made me cringe, and why I often ditched my housekeeping to run off to lunch with a close friend. Learning that I didnt fit in the "box" made me rethink this whole "box" thing. Who says what goes in the box anyways? Countless books, sermons, TV shows, movies and media images have flooded our minds over the years, swaying us to believe that beauty looks a certain way (tall, blond, thin!) that a good Christian looks a certain way (never drinks, attends three Bible studies a week, serves in the nursery!) and that success looks a certain way (big house! fancy car! cushy CEO job with private office and cushy leather chair and pretty secretary!) Isnt the beauty of life the fact that we're all different? Wouldnt it be a shame if everyone was a leader, if everyone desired to work as a nurse or if everyone wanted 2.2 kids and a dog and a white picket fence? Since when did life become so small? These days, we have to lump everything into categories. "Organic and non organic food." "Secular and non-secular music." "Environmentally friendly products and harmful to the environment products." And on and on we go. Surely God didnt set out for us to be so "small" minded when he created hundreds of different flowers, animals, trees and fruits in the garden. So I don't fit in the box. I'm okay with that. I like my odd shape. I'm a writer and a musician. I don't plan PTA meetings and events or have the cleanest house. But at last, I'm okay with that all.

So there you have it. I'm sure I could go on, but this is a start. In summary, eat more chocolate cake, laugh more, make time for your friends, live life, stop wanting someone else's life and stop trying to be someone you're not. Maybe I've saved you gobs on self help books (goodness knows I've read enough of those to last me a lifetime) Or maybe you stopped at the chocolate cake part (gosh, I hope you have, and I really hope you're enjoying every last bite!) Either way, have a good life. You only get one, so enjoy!

May 9, 2011

The Good Life

Since when did we stop being impressed with sunsets? I live in the foothills; from my house, on a good day, I can almost see the ocean. When the sun sets, it does a pretty good job around here. Most days, I pass it by, give it a polite nod as I head home, but the other day, I had to stop. And just stare. Because it literally choked the breath out of me. No words could have done it justice; to call it a painting of vibrant colors would have been an insult. It was literally...astounding. As I found my breath at last, I wondered how many others I had missed, my head hung as I absentminedly changed the radio station and grumbled at the guy in front of me. So I have to ask, when did we stop being impressed? "Oh yeah, another sunset. Been there, seen that." How about babies? When did we stop marveling at them, the tiny miracle, in a mother's womb one minute and taking a first gulp of life the next? "Yeah, they're pretty cute." That's what we say as we send off a congrats card and go back to checking our e mail. And then I have to wonder, when did we stop living life? The pulse is still there, but the heartbeat is fading as we give up our souls to the mundane. John Eldredge discusses this dilemma in his moving book "Desire." While visiting the Grand Tetons, God decided to put on a show for him and his family one night. Out of nowhere, elk, coyotes and moose crept out to say hello as his family watched under the star streaked sky. He describes it as a "living work of art" and adds, "We were all caught up in something bigger and more beautiful than we had ever known, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art." He then goes on to say this: "While talking with some friends about summer vacations, I recommended they visit the Tetons. 'Oh yeah, we've been there. Nice place', they said. Dismissal.....Then we try to get on with life. We feed the cat, pay the bills, watch the news, and head off to bed, so we can do it all again tomorrow." So again I have to ask, when did we stop living life?
In his great book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell talks about being 16 and being at a U2 concert on the Joshua Tree tour. "When they started with the song, "Where the Streets Have No Name" I thought I was going to spontaneously combust with joy," he says. " This was real. This mattered. Whatever it was, I wanted more. " I've had those moments. Two weeks ago, while skiing in Utah (I say this as if I ski all the time, when really, I hadn't been in ten years and fell off the chair lift my first run up!) I had a moment. It had begun to snow and hail, and the resort closed down the lifts for an hour. Bummed, we retreated inside and grabbed a cup of coffee. When at last they re- opened, we jumped back on the lift and made our way up. My friends took one route, while I detoured off to another. As I came around a corner, I had to suck in my breath. I was skiing on fresh snow, never been touched before by another human being. Sacred, just born ground. Sounds silly, maybe, but it was just so beautiful and profound to me that as I weaved my way back and forth I almost cried. I had another moment yesterday. I came upon a new song while flipping through the radio stations, and I had to crank it up because it was just that good. I had chills. Later that day, I went home, Youtubed it and listened to it a dozen more times. Literally. I went to bed with it in my head and woke up with it in my head. It was just that good. My daughter came to me last night with her own version of chills. "Have you ever heard a song and you just could not stop thinking about it and you wanted to listen to it forever and ever?" she asked breathlessly. I told her that I did, that I'd had my own moment just hours before. She was caught up in her own, lost in a Disney song about girls who feel beautiful just as they are. For both of us, the pulse was just a little bit stronger. Have you had your moment lately?
What if those moments weren't just moments, but the way we lived our entire day, our entire life? I'm talking more than just "stop to smell the roses" but really living, breathing and taking everything in with awe and wonder? I believe in God, in a creator of everything good, but I know lots of people who don't believe in God. I must say, some of them are living life better than me. And by that, I don't mean fancier cars, more vacations, bigger houses. I mean, they know how to live a full 24 hours. They laugh more, they rave about a good wave when they surf, they sing the loudest at rock concerts, they get impressed by sushi . Their heartbeat is strong. But sometimes mine's not. I'm just limping along, barely breathing it in, hardly glancing up as my kids shout out "Look Mom! I did it all by myself for the first time!" And I have a hunch God is pretty bummed, because everything that is good is everywhere and I've deemed it just another ol day.
I have a friend who decided to take a picture of her kids every day for a year. Every day, no matter what, she carries her Nikon with her and snaps photos of random moments. A sleeping kid in a car seat with a half eaten ice cream cone stuck on his chest. Kids laughing in a bubble bath. A game of Frisbee out back. These aren't the big Kodak moments, the birthday parties, the weddings, the baby showers. This is life. And it's a good life. A great life.
So when did we stop whipping out the camera? When did we decide, "Nah, this isn't really worth capturing? Same ol, same ol here." I have a hunch. It was somewhere between our last college final and our last promotion at work. Somewhere between that last dirty diaper we changed and that last bill we paid. Lost along the road between soccer games and ballet class. That's when the camera got tucked away. That's when sunsets became predictable, fresh snow became a pain in the butt, babies became a dime a dozen. Even the well meaning stuff ate us up. We sat in church and someone told us, in so many words, that in order to love God more we had to enjoy life less. Quite the contrary, I would venture to argue.
I don't know much, but I do know God gave us taste buds. And two eyes and two ears. And a zillion different kinds of flowers to enjoy, when they could have all been tulips. He gave us the cocoa bean and the coffee bean, for crying out loud. (Hallelujah!) And music. We can't forget music. So I ask again, when did we stop living the good life and settle?
Rob Bell ends Velvet Elvis by sharing about a party he recently held. He called it "An Epic Celebration of All that is Good." There was no special occasion, but they got a DJ anyways and danced the night away, ate good food, hung out with the neighbors til the wee hours of the night. Sounds like a pretty good party. No presents, just lots of celebration. The good life.
Life doesnt always feel like the good life. Sometimes it stings. Sometimes it just plain sucks; it hurts. I know, because I know. Telling someone to enjoy a sunset when they've just lost a loved one doesnt feel right. But even then, something beautiful is near. A good cry. A suffocating hug from a dear friend. A home made lasagna created by someone who got on their knees for you last night. A God who cried along with you. It is there, it's always there.
And so somewhere, between the 405 and the 605, the third aisle of the grocery store and the stream of cars at the gas pump, we've got to find it again. Get out that camera. It's time to snap a picture of the good life.

Nov 17, 2010

Gypsy Church

I'm embarrassed to say it, but here goes. Since we've moved back to Orange County nearly three years ago, we've been to 8 different churches. Yes, 8. I will begin by emphasizing that there was absolutley nothing wrong with any of them. In each church, I have found kind, loving people, friendly faces, good teaching, great worship, nice kids' programs and even some pretty tasy donuts and coffee. But somehow, it wasn't enough. For me. Somehow, I left feeling worse, sadder, lonelier and more confused. I wish I was one of "them". I watch them high fiving, discussing the family barbecue last weekend, the upcoming Christmas program, the Lakers game. And I desperately want "in." And it's not that I couldn't be, if I tried. I consider myself a pretty friendly person and generally have no problem fitting in. So why, three years later, do I still feel like an outsider, that no matter where I go, I'll be stuck in the back pew, taking it in and leaving feeling like I can't breathe? I have an inkling of how I got here. Three years ago, things weren't so complicated. We loved our church, went every week, attended small group; I even played on the worship team. I loved every mintue of it. I found warmth, genuine- ness and depth. I found something real. But something happened after we moved back. My life sort of fell apart. I got sick. My husband lost his job. I watched as close friends' marriages dissolved and cried for them. I sat in the back of a Catholic church and wept for a 5 year old boy who lost his life due to cancer. I watched helplessly as someone dear to my heart fought mental illness. I heard one story after another from friends who grew up in church and for the first time don't know if they will go back. I got angry. I lost everything I knew to be true. But it didn't end there.Something else began to happen. My anger turned to searching, my searching to compassion. The homeless guy in front of the bagel shop might have a name now. The snippy room mom at school might have a husband who beats her when she gets home. The boy who acts out in class might do so because he hasn't seen his dad in a year. And suddenly, it's not enough. Its not enough to just sit back and watch, to throw a can of soup in a paper bag and call it feeding the hungry. Not enough to say "How you doing?" on Sunday morning when we don't really want to know the answer. And frankly, don't have time to do anything about it if we knew. Is this it? Is this where it ends? A feel good message, a couple songs we know by heart and can hum along to, and then we're out the door and off to lunch at the burger joint down the street. Surely, this can't be it. God, for me, hasn't changed. In fact, I'm more keen on him than ever. His love becomes real to me in new, simple ways. I don't always hear him, but I feel him. I might be starting to really know him. And I might be willing to believe he loves me just as I am. I drop out of Bible study for the third time and head to the library, where I pick up a handful of Christian books and dive in. Interestingly enough, it turns out I'm not alone. Preachers use words like "Jesus of Suburbia" to describe the safe Jesus we've created in our lives. I couldn't agree more. George Mueller reminds me that praying radically is not only okay, but encouraged. Corrie Ten Boom flies halfway across the world without knowing where she's going, but God meets her there. Brennan Manning reiterates that the gospel is simple; we are the ones who have made it complicated. Francis Chan says that crazy faith is the way to go, and I think he's on to something. Then I pick up a little book called "Quitting Church". A journalist spent the past few years interviewing people all over the nation and came to a conclusion: for some, church as it once was isn't enough anymore. But people are still searching, she says. In fact, it's the "good, faithful ones" who are leaving. Wanting more. But what? This leads me to the next phase of my journey, the one that scares me the most. Because it doesn't have a name. I dont know where I'm going next or what it entails, but I do know it will be good when I get there. Sitting with the homeless under a bridge in Texas breaking bread? Maybe. Hanging out with troubled teens who last night wondered if it might be easier not to live? I'm up for that. Having a cup of coffee with a friend whose husband has just walked out the door? That sounds pretty good too. But all this takes time; a broken heart doesnt always mend the same way. For me, it goes something like this: Growing up in the church, it was simple. Love God, love others. Then it became complicated. Now I want simple again. And I have a hunch I'm not the only one. So if you see me at your church on Sunday, please say hello. Invite me to lunch if you want; I have no grievances against the burger joint down the street. But if I'm not there, please don't wory about me or add me to your prayer chain with concern. I'm not a wayward soul. As my kind friend Karen points out, not all who wander are lost. I will find my way. And when I do, I'll slip off my shoes, park my gypsy wagon and stay a while.