Queer

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I brag about my kids on Facebook.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted many, many times about my high school senior, Bekah. Yesterday, in my ongoing attempt to dispel my kids’ assertion that I have a favorite child, I posted about my college sophomore, Emily. I mentioned how smart she is. I mentioned how much she’s learning and, consequently, teaching me. I mentioned that she’s a queer woman.

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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.