Maybe It’s the Sunshine
(or Beauty in Four Movements)

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I think I’ve told you this—or you’ve undoubtedly noticed: I’m the angsty sort. I get wound up about all sort of things—some worthy of the wind-up and some absolutely not. While I’m not ready to label myself a pessimist, I have to admit it’s been easier for me, lately, to see the yuck and the wrong and the not okay.

But the last couple of days have been just… well, they’ve been pretty great

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A Monday Morning Paradigm Shift

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I learned a new word this morning.

pedant: a person who annoys other people by correcting small errors and giving too much attention to minor details

Oh.

You mean, my openly hostile response to the disappearance of the Oxford comma isn’t charming? My habit of editing billboards aloud on road trips isn’t adorable? My propensity to rearrange sentences beyond all reason to avoid ending them with a preposition isn’t brave and pure?

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One Word

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It’s 10:49 am on January 1, 2016. To my right is a stadium cup from Shakespeare’s Pizza, half-full of a home-made smoothie: frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, a handful of spinach, and a scoop of protein powder. It’s not my best effort; it’s a lovely shade of lavender, but I used too much of an under-ripe banana, the berries were freezer-burned, and the consistency is all kindsa wrong. Still, it’s preventing me from pouring a giant bowl of Lucky Charms, so my year is already off to a healthier start.

Not that I’m resolving anything along those lines.

Because I don’t believe in resolutions.

Because I’ve yet to keep one.

Which isn’t my fault.

Okay, yes it is, but there’s no reason to dwell on the past.

ANYWAY. Several years ago, I came across One Word 365, a community of people who, rather than make resolutions, choose “One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.” (Note: Their website’s been a bit twitchy this morning, but don’t give up. It’s a great spot.)

The idea is waaaaay more compelling than my typical “eat better, move more, spend less,” but I’ve never participated because what if I choose the wrong word? My word must be meaningful and inspirational and unique and profound. It must not be lame. It must not be cliche. Other people’s reaction to my word must be, “Dammit! Why didn’t I think of that one?”

(I’d choose ridiculous as my word for 2016, but I’m pretty sure it’s cheating to pick one you’ve already nailed.)

This morning on Twitter, I’ve seen #OneWord365 posts about balance, impact, quiet, yes, ready, bold, embrace, joy, and one that made me laugh out loud (and grumble, “Dammit! Why didn’t I think of that one?”): badassery. 

***

Yeah, so… I was just about to end this post with an I’ll-figure-it-out-stay-tuned when my word smacked me in the face.

My word is now. It’s so perfect. (For me.)

I’m a world-class procrastinator. I put off everything: no task or decision is invulnerable to “later.” At the very least, now will help me become more intentional about what I put off. But that’s not all.

Now also addresses my tendency to wander. Mentally, I mean. Now will snap me back to the present moment.

Who are you with now? Give him your full attention.

What are you working on now? Turn off your phone and focus on that.

Where are you now? Feel the wind, hear the water, smell the leaves.

What meal are you having now? Close your laptop so you’re aware you’re eating and so you realize when you’re full. (Okay, that one sounds dangerously close to a diet plan. It’s not. Well, maybe a little.)

Now. I’m giddy about this word.

How ’bout you? Have a word for 2016?

My Stupid Mouth

There’s a scene in You’ve Got Mail in which Meg Ryan’s character has what she calls a “breakthrough moment.”

“For the first time in my life, when confronted with a horrible, insensitive person, I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I said it.”

But then later in the film, she makes a confession:

“… of course, afterwards, I felt terrible… I was cruel, and I’m never cruel. No matter what he’s done to me, there is no excuse for my behavior.”

Yeah, so about that post I wrote about Mr. Trump last night.

I have a good friend with whom I disagree about many things. Still, he’s often complimentary of my writing, and he told me two days ago that I’m good at challenging the extremes and asking the tough questions without being arrogantly opinionated. Today, though… today I received a single-word text from him:

“Yikes.”

I knew immediately what he was yikes-ing about, but I asked anyway: “What?”

“I just read your blog.”

Yeah.

Here’s the thing: Paul and I are on the same page. Often. I do what I shouldn’t, and I don’t do what I should. Even though I know better. Sometimes, I even go so far as to make a joke about Jesus thinking my mistakes are cute.

That’s simply not true.

I shouldn’t have used the language I used in last night’s post. I can’t stand it when an already marginalized group is pushed further to the sidelines and when vulnerable people are ridiculed and when powerful people misuse their influence to create division and fear and hate. All that emotion tends to short-circuit my brain, and I say stupid things. Righteous indignation is one thing; ugliness is quite another and, quite frankly, doesn’t get us anywhere.

I considered taking down the post, but I don’t want to be disingenuous. Instead, I’m going to say this: I’m decent at writing about Jesus; I’m mediocre, at best, at representing Him. So instead of pretending like I didn’t mess up, I’m just going to apologize.

I’m sorry. And I’ll try to keep it together going forward.

I’m praying for Mr. Trump and for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I’m praying for President Obama and for the news analysts who think it’s okay to use vile language in describing him. I’m praying for an end to psychological and physical violence—between individuals, between political parties, and between countries. I’m praying for answers. For solutions.

I’m confident the light will win.

On the Occasion of My Forty-Fifth Birthday

As luck would have it, I found myself sitting next to the ocean on my 45th birthday.

Typically, the sound and smell of the ocean unravels the knots in my belly and brain; it does a better job of easing my anxiety than any pill or beverage I’ve tried. Not on my birthday, though. Nope. Not even the ocean could push through my pondering of this question:

How do I want to spend my 46th trip around the sun?

Possible answers to that question turned into a sort of resolution-ish thing, which I did not enjoy one bit. Let me be perfectly frank: I don’t have a terrific track record when it comes to resolutions. Or even a halfway decent record.

Eat better. Fail. Exercise. Fail. Write something every day. Fail. Lose 15 pounds. Succeed for a little while; then fail. Get published. Fail. Make progress toward minimalism. Fail. Keep current on my YouVersion Bible reading plan. Fail. Help develop a tiny home community for people without homes. Fail. Save more; spend less. Fail. Train for a 5K. Fail. Read at least 12 books this year. Fail.

You get the idea.

As I sat on the beach, wrapped in my favorite, falling-apart quilt, I endured several torturous minutes of “I suck,” which, to be clear, is not a nice way to spend a birthday. But then, as the sun crested the horizon, an entirely new resolution came to mind. It’s a good one, too:

I’m going to cut myself some slack.

There’s a fair chance I’m going to fail at this one, too, but it’s by far the most liberating idea I’ve had in quite some time. Maybe ever.

I haven’t worked out all the details just yet, but I know one piece for sure: No more scale. I have a bad habit of weighing myself every morning. If I’m a pound or more up, I get super-sad and eat like hell. If I’m a pound or more down, I celebrate. By eating like hell. This is clearly not doing me any good at all, so I’m done with the scale and its stupid, judgmental numbers. When my clothing choices become limited to either the black elastic-waist pants or the gray ones, it’s obviously time to take better care of myself. I don’t need a scale to tell me that.

This is not, by the way, mutiny against the American culture’s absurd standards of beauty (although they are absurd). I just want to feel comfortable in my favorite jeans again. Plus, having a stroke isn’t one of my life goals.

(I don’t really have life goals. But if I did, that wouldn’t be among them.)

(Ugh. I’m 45. Shouldn’t I have life goals developed by now? What the hell is wrong with me?)

(I’m not great at cutting myself some slack.)

Namaste

A few minutes ago, I drafted a ridiculous piece called, “What the hell, social media?” Fortunately, I decided that is the exact wrong way to begin a week, so I’m going to take a different approach.

I don’t remember when I first learned the word namaste, but I remember feeling instantly transfixed by it. Namaste is a Hindi word derived from Sanskrit, and it translates literally to, “I bow to you.” In Hinduism it means “I bow to the divine in you,” and it’s most often expressed with a slight bow and with palms pressed together near the chest, fingers pointing up. I’ve also heard it explained as “the God in me sees the God in you.”

Now, before I go on, I need to address cultural appropriation. If I understand the phrase correctly, it describes situations in which one culture adopts and uses certain aspects of another culture. More specifically, it involves people from a dominant culture swiping bits of culture from the people they’ve oppressed; think white folks wearing dreadlocks or cornrows. (This is a really simple explanation; I encourage you to read “What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation” by Maisha Johnson. It’ll answer the question that I’m guessing just popped into your head.)

By bringing up namaste I’m not suggesting we run to the mall after work and pick up a sari or kurta from Earthbound Trading Company. I’m not even recommending we add the word to our vocabulary or walk around bowing to everyone.

However, I am proposing that we adopt the namaste posture—the interpersonal one, not physical one. What would our families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, communities, and countries look like if we were able to recognize the divine nature of the people with whom we share space?

Namaste isn’t bound by a particular faith system or culture; we can see the “divine” in multiple ways. When I say I see the divine in you, I’m saying that I see you as a person of inherent worth, one who carries around a tiny piece of God. But your divine might look totally different from that; yours might have something to do with nature or metaphysics.

The point is that by adopting the namaste posture, we’re committing to look past the junk we display out in the open, and we’ll keep looking until we see the healthy, vibrant core of every human being whom we encounter. Of course, this is more or less difficult depending on who’s standing before us. Close friends? Easy. Family members? Depends on which one. Neighbors? The one who keeps parking his truck directly across from my driveway? He’s pushing it. Same with the guy who turned on his Christmas lights yesterday.

What about people with radically different political views? How about those who are unkind to the people who are dearest to us? People who’ve wronged us in the past—over and over again? Refugees? Someone who’s taken something—or someone—from us? Muslims? Christians? Atheists? People who say terrible, awful, hateful things on social media? Someone who flies a Confederate flag? Someone who supports gay marriage—and is extremely vocal about it?

What about a terrorist?

Can we find the divine in a terrorist? 

I don’t know about other faith systems, but Jesus was clear about loving our enemies, and I can’t think of a stronger enemy than those who’ve brought such horror and grief to people in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and countless other human hearts. I don’t want to bow my head to someone who has slaughtered even one person. I don’t want to see the divine in him.

And yet, Jesus says to love him. The only way I can possibly do that is by searching deep for the spark of the divine. The one that looks just like mine.

Namaste.

Recombobulation

It was early 2011, and I’d accidentally become a consultant. I’d just come through security at the Milwaukee airport, and I was attempting to shove my computer back in my bag while simultaneously juggling sundry pieces of attire (shoes, belt, jacket). Cursing under my breath, I dumped everything onto a metal bench so I could get myself back together. As I laced up my shoes, I looked up to see which hallway would take me to my gate, and my eyes rested on a sign that read, gloriously, Recombobulation Area. I barked out a flustered, exhausted laugh, snapped a quick (and therefore blurry) photo, and went on my way.

I’m thinking about driving up to Milwaukee to sit under that sign for a couple of days.

You see, every once in awhile, I feel a Big Sad sneaking up behind me. I try to trick it into leaving; I dazzle it with my everything’s-okay smile, I laugh in its face, I burrow under three or four blankets on the couch, hoping it’ll think I’ve left the room. But eventually, it catches up with me. And then it says mean things:

  • You’re too old to do what you want.
  • You’re incredibly annoying and no one really likes you.
  • You’ll never find your people.
  • You’ve been eating cookies again, haven’t you? It shows.
  • Your kids are successful in spite of you, not because of you.
  • Your husband is secretly disappointed in you and bitter about your inability to pick a career and, you know, do that career for more than three or four years at a time.
  • Your friends are all together today–without you.
  • You say you’re an advocate for marginalized populations, but when was the last time you actually did something?
  • You have nothing useful, insightful, or important to say.
  • You’re a fake.

These mean things, which on a good day I recognize as lies (or at least exaggerations), do a great job of completely discombobulating me. I drop all the balls I’ve been trying to juggle, and, instead of spending time in fruitful activities like exercising or writing or cleaning the house, I get caught up in largely pointless activities–like reading through page after page of Facebook posts that only serve to discombobulate me further. Which is why, on Tuesday night, I decided to break up with Facebook for “a while.”

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to do that? 

In the last 36 hours, I’ve snuck back on Facebook a couple of a handful of several times (I’m such a disappointment)—but only to make sure no one’s posted something on my wall that requires an immediate response. Which hasn’t actually been helpful, because some people have posted things, and I can’t respond because I was dumb enough to put up a gone-fishing type update, so I can’t be caught online, so I’m feeling doubly bad because now I know people posted things and I’m ignoring them. (Wouldn’t you like to live in my head for a little while?)

ANYWAY. Here’s what I’ve learned in my brief time of (mostly) not being on Facebook: Much like the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are” (attributed to either Confucius or Buckaroo Bonzai) I will not get recombobulated by putting my fingers in my ears, closing my eyes, and singing, “La la la la laaaa la. I can’t hear you.” The world is what it is, and people are who we are. All I can do is keep my head above water, put a muzzle and a leash on the Big Sad, and try to love people well enough that the world begins to change.

And instead of driving to Milwaukee, I think I’ll designate a small space right in my home office as my very own Recombobulation Area. It’ll be sort of like a time-out corner.

My family’s going to love it.

Lawd Jesus

My version of fight or flight looks like have-an-extreme-and/or-inappropriate-emotional-reaction or curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-in-the-corner-and-cry-until-someone-delivers-a-pint-of-Baskin-Robbins-Peanut-Butter-‘n-Chocolate. Today, I’ve been sort of oscillating between the two extremes, which basically means I was still in my pajamas at noon, I ate my weight in Halloween candy before 10 am, and I used most of a box of tissues from 9 to 10:30 am watching six too many “most emotional moments on the X-factor” YouTube videos.

(I’m a riot to live with. Truly.)

What has you all fight-or-flightish, Kelley? You’re so sweet to ask. Several things, really, but it’ll be super sad to write about a couple of them, and I’m tired of crying. Instead, I’m going to write about something else in an effort to distract myself. (Otherwise known as denial.)

So let’s talk about leggings.

Several people and a couple of “news” outlets have been sharing a video of a woman offering some style advice. Here’s the gist of it:

Some of you people like to use leggins as britches. As pants pants. That ain’t how they’re supposed to be wore. … Lawd Jesus. White leggins. Thems a big ol’ no-no.

She’s very concerned about people showing their rears, and I’m sort of confused because the leggings I know about are basically yoga pants, and people show their rears in those all the time. (Oh crap. Am I supposed to cover my rear in yoga pants?)

Why are we so offended by someone else’s choice of clothing, anyway? And why do we think we have the right to shame people for not complying with our opinion? Does “say something nice or say nothing” no longer apply? I mean, are we actually being harmed by someone else’s attire? It’s not like second-hand leggings is a thing.

Also, please never use “thems” as a substitute for “those are.” Because if you do, I can’t be friends with you anymore.

I just violated my own “nice or nothing” rule, didn’t I? Lawd Jesus.

Wrinkles

Yesterday, I was sitting on my office floor reading Furiously Happy (which you should absolutely read, unless you’re repulsed by the f-bomb and really random stories about everything from surprise funerals to taxidermied racoons) and blow-drying my hair when I caught my reflection in my little round mirror.

Except it didn’t look like my reflection at all; it looked like one of those old lady dolls people used to make out of pantyhose. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. (I googled “pantyhose dolls” to be sure they’re actually a thing, and they are. Or were, anyway. Oh, and if you choose to google “pantyhose dolls” be prepared to erase your browsing history, because, well, ew. You’ll see what I mean if you google it. But don’t.) (Side note: Pantyhose is right up there with moist in terms of worst words ever.)

ANYWAY. Up until about three years ago, people were all, “No way! You can’t have high-school-age kids!” And I was all, “Yes way! And thank you!” and that is no longer happening because my face is like a relief map of the Grand Canyon. No, I am not exaggerating. My reflection was startling. I mean, I knew I was more lined-up than several of my high school classmates (who apparently don’t age at all and I’m looking at you Lori), but until that moment—with all that natural light coming in through my 10 giant office windows—I didn’t realize that I have more wrinkles than my 69-year-old mother.

I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so here’s a photo.

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Go ahead: Click on it to enlarge it, and start counting. I told you! 

I sat there and stared at that mirror for several, long moments. I let my face muscles totally relax. I recounted countless sunburns and sleepless nights. I got pissed off because I know life-long smokers with better skin than I have. I thought about all the gazillion-dollar “solutions” on the market—creams and serums and potions designed to take years off my face.

And then I said, out loud, “Oh, who the hell cares?” and went back to reading my book and drying my hair.

I’ve earned my wrinkles. They have stories. (Well, except for the one under my nose. I have no idea what causes a wrinkle to appear there, and if it’s some strange facial expression I make, I’d rather not know.) My forehead lines, for example, started forming 125 years ago in middle school, which is when I discovered that raising my eyebrows made my eyes look bigger (and, according to Teen magazine, better), so I walked around looking perpetually surprised. For all I know, I’m still doing it.

That “Oh, who the hell cares?” moment was so freeing that I’m looking for other things to which I can apply it. My gray hair. The extra 10 pounds I’m carrying around. The fact that the stones in my engagement and wedding rings aren’t real diamonds. (Intentionally. I can’t be trusted with nice things.) The lack of seasonal soaps in my bathrooms. The windowsills I haven’t cleaned in a decade. (Go ahead and say, “Gross!” but here’s the thing: I never look at them. No one ever looks at them. When we’re ready to sell this house and move into our tiny home, I’ll clean them as a courtesy to the next owners, but for now? Who the hell cares?)

This is freeing, you guys. It’s like I’m flipping the bird at Cosmo, HGTV, The Shane Company, and Bath and Body Works AT THE SAME TIME.

All that crap consumes so much time, energy, and resources. If I say, “Who the hell cares?” to the right things, I’ll have more to offer the actual right things—which, by the way, aren’t things at all. They’re people.

So there you have it: The wrinkles are staying. They remind me of who I should be.

It Could Happen, You Know

Brené Brown says vulnerability is a good thing, so let’s talk about my mental health.

I have an anxiety disorder. My imagination gets me in trouble; it’s vivid and unrelenting and, occasionally, quite grim. I’m truly gifted at the game of What If.

My anxiety has gotten markedly worse since my mom fell backward down a flight of stairs and broke her neck last October. She’s fine now, other than sporting a wicked scar and losing some range of motion. But I’m still a bit fixated on her fall, because it’s a variation of one of my recurring What Ifs—and it actually happened: 

“What if, while home alone, one of our girls slips down the stairs and breaks her neck or cracks open her head? And what if she left her cell phone upstairs, so she has no way to call for help?”

That might sound like a run-of-the-mill worry, but my brain is enough of a jerk to come up with a slow-motion play-by-play of what could happen and, even worse, what the result would look like. It’s horrifying, and if I don’t quickly find something to divert my attention, those images will just keep looping. Most of the time, singing the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song to myself does the trick. I know that’s a ridiculous coping mechanism, but it works (usually) and it’s a whole lot healthier than consuming an entire package of Oreos.

My most recent What Ifs include, but are not limited to, the following topics: my dad’s cancer; finances; car accidents; the unlikely event of a water landing; bridges; thunderstorms above the treeline; bungee jumpers; murderers; mystery smells; undercooked meat; cliffs; my terrible memory; being electrocuted; driving (that’s a brand new, particularly irritating one); power tools; retirement; parenting; spousing; moving heavy furniture; and the interaction between 15-year-old boys and alligators and/or lions (that’s not as random as it sounds, but it’s a long story).

Some of my imagined scenarios are sort of reasonable, but a whole, whole lot of them are laughably implausible. Such as:

“What if I just ran over a small child?”

For real. If I’m driving through a neighborhood and I run over something—like the curb—I have to look back to make sure I didn’t hit a human being. Even though I know it was the just the curb. Because what if there was a pigtailed four-year-old sitting at that curb playing jacks or drawing flowers on the sidewalk? And what if I just ran over her?

I use up a lot of energy worrying about such things.

Here’s another one:

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My Driveway, a Sinkhole-in-Waiting

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but I’m convinced there’s a sinkhole under our driveway. Jack says it’s not a sinkhole; it’s ants. Now, think about that for a minute. If we have enough ants that their little underground highways are causing our driveway to fall apart, we are in serious trouble, and Jack’s attempt to relieve my anxiety didn’t help at all, because now I’m picturing a sinkhole filled with ants.

I’m only sort of kidding. It could happen, you know.

All right. That’s PLENTY of vulnerability for one day. But please read these next two paragraphs carefully.

My anxiety is not (usually) debilitating, I don’t suffer panic attacks, and today I can laugh at my brain. But I can’t do that every day. Please know I’m not making light of anyone else’s struggle. There are some forms of anxiety that are just never funny, and if you’re close to someone who has anxiety, it’s not at all helpful to laugh—unless he or she is laughing, too. People with anxiety aren’t just “worrywarts.” Anxiety is real and it’s difficult and it’s illogically logical, and we’re not doing it on purpose to irritate you. Also, telling us to “just stop worrying about it” won’t do any good. Please be patient with us. Let us talk about our concerns for the umpteenth time. Getting that crap out of our heads can be incredibly therapeutic, and sometimes it takes more than one round of spewing. (Confession: Even though I have anxiety, I don’t always deal with other people’s anxiety all that well. So this is a good reminder for me, too.)

Now, if it’s YOU who’s dealing with the anxiety, you aren’t alone. And anxiety and depression are closely linked, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless talk to someone. If you’re afraid to reach out to someone you know, call 800-273-8255 or use Lifeline’s chat. The world needs you, so don’t give up.