My Most Authentic Job

Creativity is great for the brain and the heart. That made me realize that my lawn looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Dandelions and weeds everywhere—in spite of some very expensive fertilizer stuff guaranteed to kill the bad and nourish the good. Truth is, my life sorta resembles a Pollock painting. There’s nothing linear about it at the moment. I’m circling in a lot of directions, splattering, and making a work of art that some people will love and others will judge as trash.

I’m good with that. So good.

That’s because it’s finally sinking in that I’m here to paint a life that God wants. That’s it. I’m not here to judge anyone—including myself. I’m not here to rant about the unfairness of the world.  I’m here to change my world. That means I love without borders. I give without thought of getting. I can’t worry what others think of me. Odd as it seems, that’s not my concern. My concern is to live a life that serves, restores, creates, appreciates, and grows the good stuff like love, forgiveness, laughter, joy, music, art, relationships, faith and loads and loads of hope.

Unfortunately, I’ve been brutal to myself. I’ve believed the worst that others had to say about me. Living in that deadly shadow has only made me feel insignificant and unwanted. It’s made me sick and weak on the inside, tho I might appear strong on the outside. Now I realize that I don’t have stop progressing because someone doesn’t approve of me. I especially realize that the self-judgement has to stop and the self-love has to flow.

Did you read the story about the teacher who took twin apples and secretly bruised the heck out of one, then set them side by side and asked her young students to speak kindly to one and cruelly to the other? When she cut them open, the apple that had been praised and loved was whole, crisp and juicy inside. The apple that had been mocked and judged and abused was brown and mushy and injured inside. That’s what bullying does. And don’t think it’s just kids who bully.

This Easter weekend as I reflect what it means to be a true Christian, I’ll focus on resurrection of the body and the spirit. I’ll reflect on a life that teaches me how to love and how to live now, so that death has no string. I’ll use my faith and the power of God to resurrect what’s bruised and broken and even dead within me.

I’m so far from the person I want to be. I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to learn that I’m not here on Earth to paint or criticize someone else’s art, I’m only here to create my own. (So sorry for the unwanted splotches I’ve flung at your canvases, my peeps.) I’ll be here if you need to borrow a brush or paint. I’ve got a lot of indigo to spare because that’s my favorite color. The Old Testament says it’s God’s favorite color too.

In the meantime, my hope for you is that joy sneaks up on you and hugs you tight. That sunshine warms your soul from the inside out. That whatever hurts within you begins to heal. I don’t believe I’ve ever been more grateful to be alive. Just alive. So get out there and paint the life that’s in you so you can share it with the world. Trust me, we need your beauty and creativity—every brushstroke matters.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The photo is of my little Adelaide “wondering” what it would be like to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. I told her not to get wet, but she’s three and raging with curiosity. So I just stood in awe and took photos.

The etymology of the word wonder means of ultimate unknown origin. It also means to magnify or to be astonished. Have you ever wondered why your life has not gone as planned? I mean no one gets married planning to get divorced. No one drives to work planning to be broadsided by a semi. No one pencils “get cancer” into their weekly schedule.

Last week I heard a story about the Children of Israel’s plight when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Jews captive. What business did “God’s people” have living in a land surrounded by idols? What business did they have living so far away from their beloved temple? The Babylonian king’s strategy was brilliant…let the foreign captives live among his own, and in time they were bound to adapt the Babylonian way of living and thinking, especially the younger malleable generation. The stunned and indignant Jews just knew that God would not leave them in Babylon for any length of time. So, they prayed and planned for their imminent deliverance.

I’ve read the Old Testament a couple of times yet I never realized that these good and faithful people wanted exactly what I want out of life—to live it according to plan. MY plan. The Jews prayed that God would vindicate them and return them to their rightful land. That was their plan, but God had a different plan. He told them to be patient, that their captivity would last up to seventy years, so they should settle in, build houses, plant gardens and eat what they grew. The people, especially the older ones, knew this meant they would never return home. Imagine how they felt. (Jeremiah 29)

For a lot of us, we don’t have to imagine too strenuously. We know how it feels to have our plans come undone. We live with ongoing disappointment. Well, after Sunday’s sermon I realized that faith in our Highest Power means having faith in divine unflawed love, a force that wants us to be happy and successful. Try telling that to the woman who desperately wanted a husband and children, but remains single. Tell that to the spouse who was faithful to an unfaithful partner. Tell that to my friend whose baby, the one they waited thirteen years to have, the son they hinged all their dreams on, was born with trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21.

My own life has known a lot more dead ends than long stretches of open road. I’ve learned that it’s better to be alone than in a toxic relationship. My friend who was initially devastated to learn that her son had Down Syndrome, now celebrates the fact that the kid manufactures pure joy. He’s taken his family on a wondrous detour they never would have chosen to journey. In the process, they’ve all evolved in a way their original plan could not have facilitated.

It’s fitting that a rabbi said: Man plans and God laughs. It’s time for me to stop complaining and start trusting that when I hit a brick wall there’s an unseen reason. Maybe it’s to make God laugh, the way a parent does when a toddler tumbles, only to spring back up to cheers. He knows that every time I get back up, I’m transformed. Maybe the wall is to stop me from making a mistake, or turn me in a different direction or protect me. No matter. I’m going to rewire my brain’s rutted circuitry and see it as a plot twist in the story that’s my life. What would a story be without an unforeseen plot twist? It’d be boring and predictable. I can hardly wait to turn the next page because the Author and Finisher I’ve come to know does not do boring and predictable. He does wonder.

Making Life Simpler

It’s happening. Every day I get closer to living my ultimate dream of what I call spiritual simplicity. What it really means is I’m getting rid of “stuff” and focusing on what really matters to me…people, service, experiences and learning.

Did you realize that U.S. consumers are parents to only 3 percent of the world’s children, but we blessed American dads and moms purchase forty percent of the world’s toys? That statistic boggled my brain. What toys do kids need these days to experience a happy, creative, rewarding childhood? We took baby Nellie to the park this past weekend and all she needed was the great outdoors. She played with a stick. She found joy in the swing set, the ducks, and a dog that happened by. When the malamute attempted to steal her stick, Nellie was having none of it. She became the dog and stuck it in her mouth and dared us to wrestle it from her. Nature and her imagination. You can’t buy those two things at any toy store.

       That got me to thinking how joyous life is when we keep it simple. The happiest people I know are people who pull the car over to look at a sunset, or weep at the budding of a flower, or roll up their pants to run into the ocean waves. People who aren’t too rushed to pay attention to other people. They have time to stop and “chat” with a neighbor. People who are curious. People who bend down to speak on a child’s level. People who sing along to the radio. People who dance when the music starts. People who create. People who take God at His word.

       I’ve been reading a lot about Thoreau and his quest to “live deliberately.” We mistakenly believe he went deep into the woods to get away from the din of society. Not true. Emerson’s little piece of property where Thoreau took refuge sat on the outskirts of town.

       We don’t have to go far. We don’t have to spend much. We don’t have to cave to advertisers telling us what will make us happy. We’ve got an inner voice that speaks the truth and guides us to true happiness. The problem is we’ve also got a crowd of other voices and they all speak louder. They all have opinions about how we should live.

       Silly us.

       We’re responsible for the quality of our lives. We’re responsible for our own happiness. Tomorrow I’ll make another bag of “stuff” and donate it. That makes me happier than going to the store and bringing another bag of “stuff” into our home.

       Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe the kids should take me seriously when I tell them to pick up their “stuff.” Whatever is going on, I’m glad life is getting simpler.

          

 

  

 

 

The REAL Santa

So I met the real Santa Claus the other day. He was taking a quick break from his shift at the mall, sneaking out the back way because kids were still lined up and his bladder was about the burst.

“Santa, you got a minute?”

“Not really,” he said, bouncing on the tips of his boots.

“I’ve just got a quick question,” I pestered. “I’ll walk you to the restroom and keep aggressive kids at bay.”

“Fine.”

“So how’d you get to be the real Santa?” I asked.

He turned his head so fast I saw the elastic string used to tie his beard tight. The guy had dark stubble beneath all the snowy white.

“What are you, a wise guy?”

“I guess,” I said. “I’m a writer, and I noticed the sign in front of your North Pole photo display.”

We both glanced past the gingerbread wall at the sign that, in bold red letters, declared: The REAL Santa.

His bells jingled as he hurried through the curious crowd. I had to jog to keep pace.

“Listen,” he said, “if you want to know how I got the job, I’ll tell you. My brother used to have it. Then he died and they gave it to me. Big bellies run in our family.”

I felt a little foolish for even asking, but I was curious. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ve been trying to feel the spirit of the season. When I spotted your sign, I figured you’d have some insight on the real deal.”

We were almost to the restroom. He paused long enough to nod in my direction. “You got kids?”

“A houseful,” I said and something pricked my heart.

He lowered his voice and crooked his finger so I’d lean in to hear. “I’m not sure what you’re after, but I’ll tell you this—I’m not the real Santa. You are.”

Right then two little boys came tumbling out the restroom door, twins about four years old. They made a beeline for the man in red while I ambled back the way we’d come.

I was searching my brain, trying to fine some profound meaning in Santa’s two-word response. That’s when I stopped right in front of the Christmas display, complete with gingerbread siding, synthetic snow, a camera and a big ol’ digital printer, and the empty red throne waiting for Santa.

The line coiled all around the North Pole display. Little kids, big kids, babies, and in-between kids. Some dressed right off a Gap Kids cover, others looking like they’d just rolled outta bed. They were with parents trying to hold hands sticky from the free candy canes elves were passing out. One mother clutched both a toddler and an infant, squirming and crying, but matched perfected in red and green stripes. A grandma looked weary and threatened coal if her grandson got out of line “one more time.”

Then above all the bustle, I heard, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa was back. He jingled and jollied his way to his chair while elves hurried to snatch credit cards from adults’ outstretched hands. Twenty bucks for a snapshot of their precious little one on Santa’s lap. But the first little girl in line was having none of it. She writhed and screamed like she was about to get immunization shots.

“Mommy!” she screamed.

Her mother bribed her, threatened her, then finally hid out of the way, just around the corner of the gingerbread wall.

That’s when my answer began to come. That’s when I realized what Santa meant.

I kept watching and sure enough, the scene repeated. When children went to have their photo taken, the adult that brought them, the one that loved them so very much, stepped out of the way, right smack dab in front of the sign that declared: The REAL Santa.

The truth was so Christmassy plain and perfect…even I got it.

And I think you will too.

 

This Might Just Make You Happier Than You’ve Been In A Long Time

This is my precious G-baby, Adelaide. We like to swing together, so this week while I’m pumping my way to the sky she says to me, “Did you feel that? Something just sprayed me.”

We’re in a forest in Florida so it could be anything, but I go with, “It’s probably just tree sap.”

“Or bird sweat. It could be bird sweat!” Her shout startles a flock of fowl skyward.

“Or bird sweat,” I concede.

We swing side by side for a few more pumps when a warm, wet glob plops down on my forehead. While I’m wiping it away lil’ Miss A turns to me and makes a face. “I know what it is, G-Mom.”

I don’t even dare to ask.

“It’s squirrel pee. It’s raining squirrel pee!”

Mercy me! Squirrel pee.

I start to giggle. Then I laugh. And then I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

Know why? Because I’m feeding my brain all the good stuff. Look up a hormone called prolactin. It’s usually associated with female milk production, but since my lactating days have long since dried up, this is the cranial magic that breaks down barriers between individuals and allows us to bond. Mother/baby, G-Mom/G-baby, Stranger/Friend, etc.

We humans are not meant to live life solo. We’re meant to bond by dancing and singing and thriving in tribes. Survival depends on it.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, my heart is with my “tribe.” It’s also with those who are without a tribe. I’ve been there. I was raised in foster care. Some homes made me feel welcome and safe. Others made sure I felt isolated and inferior.

No child should ever feel those feelings or be that vulnerable to predators.

So here’s what I hope we’ll do this week. I hope we’ll seek for ways to include others. It’s not hard to find lonely people. They’re on the streets, in nursing homes, and in our own homes. Next I hope we’ll find a way to better bond with each other. To pardon old trespasses once and for all. I hope that we’ll invest in experiences rather than things. Make memories. Shop. Cook. Create. Laugh. Reminisce. TOGETHER!

Nourish our bodies with healthy food and our brains with healthy neurotransmitters that come from bonding, laughing, being grateful—from tossing stress out with that nasty, soggy little giblets package you find when you violate a turkey’s cavity by sticking your hand where it doesn’t belong.

Here’s the deal. You are meant to be happy. You deserve to be happy. Happiness thrives when it is shared. So I pray that you’ll find yourself showered this holiday week with unexpected delights. Maybe not squirrel pee, but then again…it worked wonders for me.

The Question Most of the World Can’t Answer…but now you can.

This morning I woke up at 4:57 a.m. with a song in my head demanding to know, “What Does The Fox Say?”

It’s pitch dark in my room at 4:57 a.m.

And deadly silent.

For a second I thought I was being punked.

But no. It was all me and my crazy brain.

So I did my morning yoga practice bobbing to that song playing in my head. Nothing tranquil about that, so I grabbed my tablet, and looked up Ylvis. You remember the Norwegian brothers Vegard and Bard Ylvisaker. No? Well, you’ll remember their 2013 song. To date, “What Does The Fox Say?” has a measly 628,999,032 views.

The photo is of our little Tennyson, being the fox.

Was it only three years ago? That catchy lil’ tune was on a constant loop playing on late night television, as background music in  grocery stores and blaring from cars idling at the stop light. It was everywhere. And then it wasn’t.

It had its moment.

That’s all any of us ever really get. A moment. A moment to be a child. A moment to be a teenager. A moment when love is new and tingly. A moment to hold that brand new, still-wrinkly-from-being-crammed-in-the-womb, baby. A moment to make a difference. A moment and no more.

Then everything changes. Everyone changes.

Carpe diem is the Latin aphorism meaning “to seize the day.” But what about seizing the moment?  That means living right now and not waiting for the right moment, but like they say, to make the moment right.

Since this blog asks questions and seeks answers, I asked a weird question. Nobody can call us dumb if we know something most of the world doesn’t know: HOW LONG IS A MOMENT?

Here’s the research paraphrased: A moment was actually a medieval time unit based on a solar hour—40 movements of a shadow on a sundial. An hour meant one twelfth of the period between sunrise and sunset, so the hour depended on the length of the day, which like today, varies with the season.

The short answer is 90 seconds. A moment equates to 90 seconds.

So now you know something most people don’t know. You also know that you don’t have a moment to waste, and you’ve got reason to have a stellar day because you’re smarter than you were a moment ago.