That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

I run into stuff. Doorframes, mostly, but sometimes walls, the corners of my bedframe, counters, car mirrors.

Last night, I ran into the sliding glass exit door at Walmart. The door was open, mind you—just not quite open enough for me and my lost-in-thought-ness to make it through. And I didn’t just bump the door, either. I hit it hard enough to knock it off its track. I didn’t register what I’d done until I was halfway to my car, and there was no way I was going back in, because, well, that would’ve been an awkward conversation:

Hi ‘scuse me. Hey, ummm, your door’s broken. No, don’t thank me for telling you. Why? Well, because I’m the one who broke it. You see, I didn’t quite clear it. Yes, I know it’s six feet wide. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, you’re understanding correctly: I broke your door with my right shoulder. Yes, yes you’re right: That’s pro’ly gonna leave a mark.

I find a new bruise somewhere on my person at least once each week, and often in the most unlikely of places: the back of my left knee, the top of my left foot, the inside of my right forearm. I’m not aware of the new mark  until it hurts, at which point I look down to discover a rorschach-ish bloom of purple or yellow-green: “Huh. I wonder where the heck that came from.”

It’s not just physical bruises I discover. I often—more often than I care to admit—respond with horrifying immaturity to the slightest of slights, and then once I’ve settled down, I think, “Whoa. Where the heck did that come from?”

A counselor-friend and I used to joke about how much easier relationships would be if we all wore Yuck Tags:

Driving

Poor
Disability
Miscarriage
Gender

Maybe we’d be more gentle with one another if we had a clue where one another’s pressure points are. Maybe we’d be more gentle with ourselves.

Of course, there’s a difference between gentleness and excuse-making.

Before I go on, please remember that I have empathy oozing from my pores. I can explain away anyone’s lousy attitude and actions with a quick exploration of their situation—current or past. I am not prone to tell people, “Just get over it.” In fact, I’m of the opinion that “Get over it,” is one of the most hurtful, disrespectful, dismissive combinations of words in the English language.

However, if I lose my mind in a situation that can be traced back to whatever’s written on my Yuck Tag(s), it’s not your responsibility to apologize to me, anymore than it’s Walmart’s responsibility to apologize for that sliding glass door. (Unless you’re one of those people who intentionally push buttons, in which case, you do get to apologize–on your way to therapy, please. But I digress.)

Okay, I’m circling the airport here, so let me land the plane:

  1. We all have Yuck. (If you don’t think you have Yuck, that’s your Yuck.)
  2. It’s our responsibility to know our own Yuck and how it manifests in our daily life.
  3. It’s helpful if we’re honest about our Yuck and make sure the people around us know our pressure points. We have to be willing to be known.
  4. We get to apologize when we lose our mind in a Yuck-related situation.

But wait . . . there’s more:

  1. Other people have Yuck, too.
  2. When they lose their minds, we do not get to just write them off as as . . . jerks. Instead, we get to ask, gently and without attack, “Whoa! Where’d that come from?”
  3. And then we get to listen.
  4. And then we get to say, “Well, that sucks” or maybe even, “Me too.”
  5. We do not get to say, “Get over it.”
  6. Some people, because of their Yuck, behave like tantrumy four-year-olds. They are not our responsibility. We can work hard not to intentionally push their buttons. We can care about them—even love them—but we do not have to fix them. Nor do we get to try.

So, wanna know my Yuck Tags? I have a lot, and I’m aware of most of them (I hope). Here’s one that’s on my mind today:

When my eldest daughter (now a freshman in college) was 14 years old, she wanted to die. That’s really her story to tell, so I won’t go into details, but here’s what that means in terms of my Yuck: I do not respond well to the finger gun or to phrases like, “Shoot me now” and “Just kill me.” I will not be courageous enough to confront you about it, because I have a deep fear of being thought of as a self-righteous know-it-all. I’ll still love you; I’ll just be less-inclined to want to be around you.

Normally, I’d end a post like this with a simple, “So? How ’bout you? What’s on your Yuck Tag?” That seems too terribly personal, though. Just know that when we’re in the same room together and you lose your mind, I won’t be judging you. I’ll just be wondering what’s on your tag.

Climbing Out of the Briar Patch

Thorns

Here’s the other reason we don’t love one another: It’s just too much work.

We get tolerance confused with love, but that’s actually apathyWe think simply ignoring jokes that marginalize people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic situation, or sexual orientation is love, but that’s actually cowardiceWe think who am I to judge is love, but that’s actually lazinessWe think writing blog posts and sermons about about how Jesus tells us to love people is love, but that’s actually just… well, it’s just not: “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close” (Søren Kierkegaard).

In other words, we think we’re loving people, but in reality we’re doing not much of anything. At all.

And I can’t decide if I’m more frustrated at the Church when it’s finger-pointing and name-calling and happily telling “those people” how they’re wrong and where they’re going at as a result . . . or when it’s doing not much of anything at all.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had an opinion on that:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.  . . . There was a time when the Church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. (Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963)

Here’s the in-my-face problem: “The Church” at which I’m frustrated—and in which MLK, Jr. was disappointed—isn’t an “it.” The Church is me.

I’ve been around, in, and about the Church for so long—and, as a result, have had so many disheartening experiences—that I all too easily slip into the briar of cynicism. Honestly, it’s been much more comfortable sitting among those thorns, leveling criticisms, than it is to fight my way out of them. But then Shane Claiborne had to go and smack me around a bit:

We decided to stop complaining about the church we saw, and we set our hearts on becoming the church we dreamed of.” (Irresistible Revolution, 2006)

The Church I dream of requires that we–I–love people: unapologetically, actively, immediately. That is just really stupid hard to do. Know why? Because love requires a willingness to be exposed, disliked, ridiculed, mocked; it requires a commitment of time, energy, emotion, resources; it requires a readiness to be wrong, to risk, to repent, to reconcile.

Well? Today, I’m willing, committed, and ready. 

Eh . . . maybe it’s more honest to say I want to be those things.

So, if you see me walking around bloody for a little while, it’s okay: I’m just climbing out of the briar patch, and I’m trying like crazy to become the church I’ve dreamed of.

Join me?

Inspiration and Anger

Create

I remember the first time I saw Wicked. My girls were out of town, and I was sitting at home on a Friday afternoon trying to put together some sort of Wonderful Night Out for Jack and me. At that time, I didn’t fully comprehend his lack of interest in all things performing arts (or maybe I did, and I was feeling selfish), so I dropped $120 on last-minute tickets, and off we went.

Long story short: At some point during Act One, I realized Jack was sleeping. I, on the other hand, was sitting rigid in my chair and had tears streaming down my face—and not from happiness. No, I was pissed. Not at Jack for falling asleep and certainly not because of the story line. Nope. I was absolutely livid at the performers for having the audacity to be so ridiculously talented. It’s not fair, I thought. Over and over again.

It’s okay: It doesn’t make any sense to me, either. But sensical or not, it happens every time I see a live theater performance: West Side Story at The Muny, Movin’ Out at The Fox, Assassins at the Ivory Theater, the Modern American Dance Company at The Touhill, the freaking St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall. I get so angry.

I have this theory that anger is only a manifestation of a deeper, underlying emotion. It doesn’t take three, $120 sessions on a couch to figure out what my deal is: It’s envy. Of course it is. It’s Obsessive Comparison Disorder (I stole that; I’m not that clever), and it goes something like this:

“I’ll never be able to do that. I could’ve, if I’d been disciplined, but now it’s too late. And I probably wouldn’t have actually made it anyway, because I really wasn’t all that great. Certainly not as good as those jerks on stage. And even if I had made it, I would’ve ended up in opera, anyway, not Stomp, so it doesn’t matter, but it matters so much and it’s just not fair that some people have all this talent and they get to do that for a living. Not me, though. Nope, I’m just watching someone do something I’ve always wanted to do. And oh my gosh her voice is so crystal clear and controlled I just want to choke her.”

(The part about choking goes away quickly because violence is wrong.)

And you know what’s absurd? (Because up to this point, it hasn’t been?) I didn’t really even want to go into the performing arts. I don’t regret not going off to New York to try to make it. I really can’t fathom performing the same show over and over and over again. But it doesn’t matter if I want to. The point is I can’t, and I don’t like that word even a little bit.

Oh, but it gets better, friends. It extends beyond performing arts and into things like, ooooh, biomedical engineering. I watched this video this morning and cried because of its wonderfulness, yes, but mostly cried because I’m so mad at that kid for being so smart and so generous and grrr he’s using more than his fair share of intelligence and creativity and it’s just.not.right.

Yes, you guys, I realize this is the dumbest thing ever, ever, ever. 

It may make more sense that this happens to me when I’m reading. John Irving infuriates me. Those Canadian women? Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood?  Hate them. (Love them.) Hate them. Ann Patchett. Jhumpha Lahiri. Dave Eggers. Anne Lammott. Nearly anyone who’s ever been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. And, for the love of all that’s good and right, don’t come within 100 yards of me if I’m just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Light is Like Water” (the most beautiful short fiction piece I’ve ever experienced), or you will see angst like you never knew existed.

Talent should inspire me, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t I have unicorns leaping over rainbows in my right hemisphere, pooping out turns of phrase and brilliant metaphors? Well, that’s not what happens. Instead, gargoyles emerge from my amygdala, flatten the unicorns, and grab me by the elbow: “Run, Kelley. You’ll never be that good. There’s no point fighting for it.”

Stupid talented people. I can’t stand them.

I love them.

Smelly

My first friends on Sigma Lane in Rantoul, Illinois were from another country. (I’m not going to say which one, because the commentary to follow will not be complimentary, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m anti-_____ or that I think all people from ______ have this problem.)

The moving truck hadn’t even pulled away from our new home when I began wandering the neighborhood looking for playmates. J and A were sitting on their driveway drinking coconut milk–from an actual coconut. I was bold then: “Hi. Do you want to be friends?” I asked. “Sure,” J responded, offering her coconut to me.

I have only flashes of memory in regard to J and A: the coconut; the time we built a go cart out of a milk crate and roller skates and, on a test run, I did a mid-air flip and landed on my face; and the way their home smelled.

It was awful. Awful. 

I mention that J and A were from another country because I’m guessing some of the awful had to do with unfamiliar oils and spices. We were a hamburger-noodle casserole family, and their home smelled nothing like that. In fact, it smelled like nothing I’d experienced before.

Except. Dog poop. That smell I recognized. I just wasn’t used to experiencing it inside the house. J and A had a Pekinese, you see, and their basement was his kingdom. The first time J took me downstairs to meet the dog, I was overcome with the sight and smell of several weeks’ worth of poo. Tip of the day: If your basement floor is covered in dog mess, your house will smell like a natural fertilizer factory. There’s just no way around it.

And it’s from this experience that I developed one of my many hospitality-related anxieties: I worry about having a smelly home.

Admittedly, I have a sensitive nose. I’m constantly chasing after “mystery smells” that no one else in my family seems to be picking up. Usually, such offensive aromas can be traced to a rotting potato in the pantry. Once, I discovered soggy newspapers in the recycling bin. Chicken packaging and cantaloupe scraps are the easy ones to pinpoint, but I’m haunted by the more elusive, vaguely organic, olfactory horrors. “OHMYGOSHWHATISTHATSMELL?” “What smell?” Jack often responds. (He’s ten years older than I am, and I’ve heard that smell is one of the first senses to go, so he cannot be trusted.)

One of the reasons I don’t open the door to unexpected guests has to do with the time it takes for the smell of a newly lit candle to penetrate a room. It’s not polite to ask people to wait on the front porch for 15 minutes to give the candle time to do its thing. So, I do the next rudest thing: I don’t answer the door. I’m doing you a favor, really.

Anyone get me? Am I the only one with this fear?

Picking Up Speed on the Downhill Slope

On November 27, 2014, I turned 44 years old. The life expectancy of an American female is 81.2 years old, which means I’m beginning to pick up speed on the downhill slope. It’s okay, though, because I have a strong strategic plan for remaining youthful-ish: Wear Converse tennis shoes whenever possible.

Yep, that’s pretty much the extent of my strategic plan.

Most of the time, I don’t feel old. I’m still keeping up with technology, I don’t fly south for the winter, and I don’t own a Craftmatic adjustable bed. (Confession: I really, really want a Craftmatic adjustable bed.)  Some days, however, I’m pretty sure I’m being scouted by the AARP. They’ve seen me look longingly toward my bedroom beginning as early as 7:30 pm. They’ve noted the increasing volume at which my knees creek/pop/grind on the way down the stairs. They’ve caught me listening to the oldies radio station; they’ve seen me crank it up for Depeche Mode’s “People Are People.”

The most disconcerting bits of my middle-aged-ness have to do with my appearance. (Big surprise, right?) With increasing regularity, I catch my wrinkled reflection in the mirror and think, “Crap. How many times did mom tell me to use sunscreen? Why in the world didn’t I listen to her?” (<—– This is another sign of advancing age: I’ve conceded my parents’ superior wisdom.) And then there’s my poor hair. The blond has apparently thrown up its hands in surrender to the silver. And who wouldn’t? They’re dangerous-looking—all wiry and crazily postured.

There are, of course, things that can be done about my aging hide. It’s just that said things are so stupid expensive, and spending $120/month on products to fix my wrinkles feels incredibly vain and fiscally irresponsible. Plus, it’s my fault I have wrinkles. Miracle, anti-aging lotions are the dermatological equivalent of those traffic law places that make speeding tickets go away. If you do the crime, you gotta pay the time, is what I’ve always said. (Actually, I’ve never said that before. But I can see why people do.)  I could also do something about the gray hair, but once you start down that road, it’s for life, people. I just can’t make that kind of commitment.

Oh! And what about those lovely, momentary lapses of mental acuity?

“Gah. I can’t find my stupid phone. Could you call it please?”

“Kelley, I did call it–two minutes ago. You answered it. You’re talking on it.”

“Oh. Hahahaha. Wow. I’m a genius. That’s funny.”

That’s actually the opposite of funny, but when I’m blinded by fear of quitter synapses, I laugh. Apparently.

Okay, just typing that out made me nervous. If you need me, I’ll be at the shoe store.

Prince Jack

Jack

Jack grew up on a south-central Kansas wheat farm. He began driving an orangey-yellow, Minneapolis Moline Model U tractor the summer he turned seven years old—all red-headed, freckled, and snaggle-toothed. His dad, Pops, tied a rope around his waist so if he fell off, it would pull the hand clutch and, theoretically, stop the tractor. Jack’s now certain that would not have worked, and he would’ve just been drug across the field. (Yes, I know the word is actually dragged, but Jack, in his proper Kansas dialect, says drug.) (He also says nuke-yoo-ler instead of nuclear, but that’s a whole other issue.)

As a high-schooler—still red-headed and freckled, but now with better teeth (because he turned them himself every night) and sporting when he refers to as an “afro-mullet”—he drove a 1971 Camaro: gold, with a 10-foot whip antenna. (Actually, owned isn’t exactly correct. He still owns it. It just doesn’t have an engine.) Until Pops passed away in 2011 and renters came to live in his pink, asbestos-shingled house, Jack’s childhood bedroom still sported a black velvet, “Born to Drag” poster. Weekends consisted of treks to St. John, the uppity town eight miles west and two miles north (all measured in wheat fields), where he and his buddies would aggravate their rivals by blat-blating around the town square and then racing the cops back home. Plus Coors. Weekends were made for Coors.

Jack was handed very little. He was expected to work all through school; purchase his own car, fuel, and insurance; and pay his own way through college. (Can you imagine? I couldn’t.) Over time, he shifted his attention from the family farm to the local farm store, and before he’d even finished up at Barton County Community College, he found himself in the position of Parts Manager at a Peterbilt dealership—a title he’s had for more than 35 years.

The man can repair almost anything using duct tape and baling wire, a trick he learned keeping his family’s gasping, Allis Chalmers combine running summer after summer after hot, dusty summer. Our not-quite-as-handy friends call him for all manner of what-do-you-know-abouts and hey-do-you-think-you-could-help-mes: stubborn mailbox and laminate flooring installations, leaky plumbing and uncooperative furnaces. Our garage is stuffed with tools, most often used to help someone else.

Given his association with farm implements, hot rods, heavy trucks, and miter saws, you might assume that jack is stoic. Maybe even gruff. Au contraire. He’s the most tender-hearted person I know. He doesn’t cry watching Hallmark commercials; he cries talking about watching Hallmark commercials. He has a clear understanding of what actually matters, and he ‘s moved when he encounters those things.

He feigns arrogance to get a laugh:

What’re you up to, Jack? “Six feet and good lookin’.”

He gets clever with waitstaff:

What would you like, sir? “A bacon-cheeseburger. Leave the garden in the kitchen.”

He tries to confuse cashiers:

Need anything else today“Cash.”

And our new, favorite Jackism:

“You’ve heard of black magic? Well, this is Jack magic, baby.”

I cannot recall a single time in our nearly 14 years of marriage that Jack’s raised his voice to me. There’s been no name-calling or threatening. No mind games or manipulation. It took me a handful of years to relax into that reality. On occasions when I find myself in a gathering of only women and the conversation inevitably turns to the airing of matrimonial grievances, I’m helpless to participate. Jack does the laundry in our home. He’s happy to help with dishes, clean the floors, scrub the bathroom. I began graduate school full time three months into our new marriage, and he dove into his first-time parental responsibilities of my girls—not quite four and six years old—with aplomb. It was years before people realized he was “just” their step-dad.

In short, Jack is the male version of Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way. Toolbox rather than carpet bag. K-Hits rather than “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Work pants and pocket knife rather than frilly apron and parasol. And although he’s fairly secure in his masculinity, I’m certain he wouldn’t appreciate the nickname “Mary.” What else could I call him, then?

Prince Jack.

The Year of Doing It

Favorite Friend and I were on a road trip last week, and for a significant portion of the drive, we lamented about how we’re tired of just talking about doing things and how we want to actually start doing them. So we have declared 2015 to be The Year of Doing It.

My “thing,” as you might have guessed, is writing.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. Instead of making random sentences with my elementary school spelling words, like we were supposed to, I turned them into elaborate stories about (and my mom will have to check me on this, but I think this is right) a Giant Yellow Invisible Chicken. I’ve rarely struggled meeting minimum word counts on assignments. When I was a teenager, I declared that I would someday have a short story published in The New Yorker. 

The trouble is, I don’t write. Not much, anyway.

Last week, I stumbled across a blog—which I now can’t find and so I’m wondering if it dreamed it—that instructed would-be writers to “just sit in the chair and write.” Don’t edit. Just write. Don’t worry about how pretty your blog looks. Just write. Don’t get addicted to likes and comments, just write. Don’t think about SEO. Just write. For an hour. Every day.

This morning, after spending a little time in scripture and trying to make nice with my [he]elliptical, I sat down at my big, square kitchen table for my hour of writing. And for the first 10 minutes of that hour, I just stared at the blinking cursor, trying to come up with something to say.

And this is where the fear comes in.

I haven’t written much in the past because I have a nasty internal editor who tells me I have nothing to offer. “Everything you have to say has been said before–and better,” she says. “Who the hell do you think you are? Why would anyone want to read your stuff?” she says. “Just pack it up and go eat some ice cream or something,” she says. (Which is just plain mean, because I don’t have any.)

I find myself staring at the stupid, blinking cursor and thinking, “What if she’s right? Oh no. She is right. Of course she’s right. I’ve only been at this for six days, and already I can’t think of anything compelling to say. This is the dumbest idea ever.”

I’m not going to listen to that voice. In fact, if I could flip her the bird and storm out of the room, I would. (Except the flipping-her-the-bird part, because I’d feel terrible about that five minutes later, wondering if I’d hurt her feelings.)

For me, The Year of Doing It means sitting in the chair and writing for an hour every day. And some days what I have to offer is going to suck, because if I’m worried about being brilliant and hilarious and profound all the time, one of two things would happen: I’ll get fired from my real job because I’ll be laboring over posts for hours instead doing what I’m actually paid  to do (which is kind of exactly what happened yesterday). Or, and this is more likely, I’ll quit. Again. I don’t want to do that.

I’m not going to do that. 

So, what’s your “It” for the year?

Why We Don’t Love One Another

Far From the Tree

When I’m in the car, I listen almost exclusively to NPR. To be perfectly honest, I began doing so because I felt super-hip saying, “Hey, did you hear that piece on NPR this morning?” What’s going on in my head in those moments is, “I listen to NPR, so I must be way-smart and cool, and so you must like me. Right? Please say I’m right. Please like me.” Over time, though, I began to actually, you know, learn stuff. And feel stuff. And wonder about stuff I’d never thought of before.

I was driving my little Honda Fit home from Columbia one afternoon when I heard a piece I just couldn’t shake. The gentleman being interviewed, Andrew Solomon, had a gravelly voice, and he so carefully constructed his phrases that I thought he was surely reading from a manuscript. He was talking about conversations he’d had with Peter Lanza, the father of Adam Lanza—the young man who, before shooting himself, killed his mother, six teachers, and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. I was heartbroken for Lanza, who confessed that although he loved his son, he wished he’d never been born.

I’d only heard part of the interview, so the moment I got home, I searched online for Solomon and discovered that he’d written a book called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. So, I did what I do: I went immediately to Kelley’s Happy Place #2, Barnes and Noble, and bought it.

(This isn’t really a book review, I promise, so hang with me for a minute or two.)

Far From the Tree is a series of essays exploring the lives of children who are different from their parents in drastically different ways—children who are deaf or are dwarfs; children who have autism, schizophrenia, down syndrome, or disabilities; children who are prodigies; children who commit crimes, were conceived in rape, who are transgender. I spent nearly a year soaking in this book, and not only because it’s 702 pages long (962 if you count the notes, bibliography, and such). It took me so long getting through it because there’s just so much humanity in there that it was difficult to take in quickly.

The New York Times Book Review had this to say about Far From the Tree: “A book everyone should read, and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.” Yes. Absolutely. Before I read it, I would’ve described myself as empathic—maybe even forward-thinking. This book cracked my head and my heart wide open. So much more than I could’ve imagined.

I’m sickened when people are treated as “less than.” Any person. In my past life, when I did counseling, I found myself extending compassion to a child who’d been molested by his father–and simultaneously extending grace to that father as he was being led out the door of his home by law enforcement. When I hear about rioters and looters, my first thought isn’t, “What is wrong with them?” It’s “What’s wrong with the world that this is the way people try to be heard?” When I hear the hateful language being spewed about people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender; women who’ve chosen to have an abortion; or people with a religious preference that differs from their own, I want to shake my fists and scream, “These are human beings you’re talking about. They’re not an issue or a debate to be had.”

I don’t think like this because I’m a saint (but you knew that) or because I’m one of those hippie-NPR-listening-tree-huggers (which may or may not be true). I think like this because I’ve been instructed to. We’re supposed to love one anotherThat’s not a polite suggestion. It’s not limited to people who look and think and act and talk just like we do. I’m not always good at this. I don’t always say nice things about ultra-conservative, evangelical Christians, for example. My sweet husband (whom I’m sure you’ll meet in a post at some point) accused me over the summer of being so open-minded that I’ve become close-minded. That observation broke me.

Here’s the bottom line: I think we don’t love one another because we don’t know one another. I said the other day that authenticity breeds kindness. So does listening—whether face-to-face or through a book like Far From the Tree. You’ll hear me say this a lot: I’m not suggesting that we all need to change our opinion on issues. I’m only suggesting that we need to change our opinion about people. 

I don’t know how else we’ll be able to love them.

List One

The Biggest Spoon I've Ever Seen

1. BreadCo (or Panera, if you live outside the Lou) has a new menu item—the Lentil Quinoa Bowl. In addition to the lentils and quinoa, it has tomatoes, kale, spinach, and a sliced, hard-boiled egg on top. It might be the healthiest thing I’ve ever eaten. But I almost didn’t eat it, because it came with a spoon large enough to excavate a hole for the foundation of a new apartment complex.

I took a picture for you—hoping to illustrate how truly ginormous this spoon was—but the photo just doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know if they ran out of regular spoons so the manager raided her grandma’s serving utensil drawer or what, but this thing was ridiculous.

I managed, of course. I just wanted to warn you.

2. A couple of days ago, I made myself a deal: I can only watch Mad Men while I’m using the [h]elliptical. I know there’s a danger that I’ll just be less motivated to watch Netflix instead of more motivated to exercise, but it seems to be working. It’s worked twice, anyway.

3. When I was in high school, I decided I was going to join the FBI. My decision was solidified when my dad told me I’d never make it through the training. He also told me I’d never make it through college calculus, which compelled me to earn a math minor. “Oh, I’ll show him!” I pronounced to no one in particular. “I’ll go all the way through Calc III! That’ll teach him!” Here’s some free advice: Never ever take a math class just to prove a point. I cried every day that semester. Anyway, I was all set to get my Jodi-Foster-in-Silence-of-the-Lambs on—until I realized I’d have to carry, and likely use, a firearm. And the FBI dream died.

Or did it?

 

Thank You?

On Christmas Eve, I received a stack of cards from people in my church family. When I got home that night, I plugged in the tree, turned on the fire (yes, we’re cheaters), and collapsed on the couch to read the cards.

You know those days when you feel like nothing you do really matters and no one cares about your hard work and you might as well put in only half the effort you usually do because no one notices when you tweak something for the umpteenth time anyway? And then, just for fun, you get all swallowed up by self-doubt and you reach the only logical conclusion, which is that no one likes you? Yeah, I hate those days. But have you ever been having one of those days—or a whole string of them—and then someone does something so remarkably thoughtful that all that Yuck evaporates and the sun comes back out and suddenly you’re petting a unicorn who’s just delivered to you a bouquet of your favorite flowers and an ice cream cone?

That actually happened to me on Christmas Eve.

The cards I received were so beautiful. People wrote the sweetest, most affirming messages. Were many of the cards attached to plates of homemade goodies? Oh, yes they were. And did many of them contain gift cards? Oh yes, they did. I was floored.

I was still thinking semi-clearly—despite the long day and big emotions that come with unexpected generosity—so as I was opening the cards, I was jotting down whom I needed to thank and for what. Brilliant!

Except.

Except I only wrote people’s last names. And two families in our church have the same last name. Both gave cards. One contained incredibly affirming words and has found its way into my “look in here when you’ve decided no one likes you” file. The other contained a Starbucks gift card. And I had no earthly idea which was which.

I was taught that thank you notes should be specific and heart-felt, so I wasn’t going to just write:

Hi,
Thanks so much for your encouragement. Happy holidays.
Sincerely,
Winner of the 2014 Lame Thank You Card Award

I was also taught that it’s ridiculous to send a card to someone who’s sent you a card. (I’m still not sure I agree; gracious words are a gift, as far as I’m concerned, and the Bible agrees with me, so I’m obviously right.)

I considered this:

Dear Wonderful People,
Thank you for the Starbucks card. If you gave it to me, I mean. Otherwise, thank you for the message you wrote.
Love,
The Queen of Dorkland

But that didn’t seem quite right either.

Know what I did? I decided etiquette-schmetiquette and I emailed one of them and asked. Yep, I sure did—with the subject line “Awkward Question.” And she responded. With more kindness.

This may seem like a trivial situation, but here’s what it got me thinking: Authenticity breeds kindness. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, if you’re real with people, they’ll be real with you. Eventually, we’ll all realize—and accept—that we’re all just a little—or a lot—messed up. At that point, there will be nothing left to do but extend kindness to one another. Can you imagine?

The other thing I learned: “Thank You?” notes are now a thing.