Things I Tell My Six-Year-Old


(1) Yes, I realize that feeding the dog one scoop of food is something we have to do every single day, and this chore is extremely onerous.  But somehow, I know you’ll overcome.

(2) Yes, you have lovely teeth. No, they don’t at all look large, protruding like boulders out of your very small mouth.

(3) Please stop squirting room spray on your pillow to help you fall asleep.  Your hair will smell nothing like ocean breezes.  This stuff is swill.

(4) No, you can’t have a Chai tea.  What are you, like 27? Have I ever ordered you that at Starbucks?  You can have an apple juice and a healthy dose of normal childhood, thank-you-very-much.

(5) I’m sorry I ironed on the Daisy pedals in the wrong order but in like five minutes you go through a transition bridging ceremony and you’ll be an official Brownie and won’t need this Daisy vest anyway so please get up off the floor for heaven’s sakes.

(6) It’s not a cartwheel when you land on both feet.  Is that a round-off?  Oh sweetie – did you just fall over?  Oh I see.  It’s your made-up gymnastics move.  Clever.

(7) Please stop eating all the gruyere.  They make icky American cheese for you children of the world who don’t really give a rip.

(8) Yes, take your purse.  You never know when you might need sparkling lip gloss, a bar of soap, and an empty wallet with fake money in it when we go to the grocery store.

(9) Why is there a bar of soap in your purse?

(10)               It’s really just eggs and potatoes and onions with herbs but instead of all that let’s call it Fancy French Eggs.  Au Revoir!

(11)               You will play piano because I said so, and it will increase your skills in all areas of life, and will provide you a ticket into the “I used to play piano when I was little but I hated all that practice but I gave it up and now all I can play is chopsticks” world of adulthood.  You’re welcome.  It’s better than “we sang opera in our underwear.”  At least I’m giving you something you can actually use.

(12)               No, we cannot plant corn in the front flowerbed.  I know that would be “so awesome” but so is the Batmobile and you don’t see me rocking that in the carpool line.

(13)               It’s true that I love you more than the entire world combined.  Because God shines through your veins like a flashlight, illuminating the world with good.  Please don’t stop accepting my love, even when I’m old and stinky.



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Dreams are for those who laugh


I wasn’t sure why I went, really, to this retreat full of writers and strangers all focused on Dreaming Big. In Nebraska, for goodness sakes.  I was at the airport with a heavy heart, telling myself to turn around and go back, back toward piles of undone and unfolded and unclean.  But it was already paid for, and I needed a break, so I boarded the plane with my head shaking slightly back and forth and my hands gripping my purse. What am I to do with dreams at a time like this?  Dreams are for the stable, and the settled.  Those who have things paid for and life wrapped up in boxes.

Dreams are a luxury I just can’t afford.

So I landed and bumped along hills and miles, rounding a corner toward this gathering of souls, through red barns and geese overhead and a landscape peppered with silos. There were speakers and art and writing and coffee, but in the middle of a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon, I rose.  I couldn’t sit anymore.  I couldn’t think anymore.  I was the stoic one in the back who didn’t raise her hands to music. My throat was closing up and I needed to breathe.

So I bundled up and bolted, like I was skipping class and didn’t want the headmaster to catch up.  But as I walked, the pain I left back in the south flew straight into my heart like geese in formation, trudging so predictably back in. I ended up on the edge of a Nebraska lake, all buttoned up in a pea coat to ward off the chilly wind, like I could shore up my own heart.  There were ducks swirling aimlessly around, clucking and dunking and mocking me.  Surely, Lord, you have more in store for me than this.  Surely in time, dreams will arise.  

With the wind and the ducks and the pain chasing my heels, I didn’t feel happy.  I felt like hiding.  And it was then that I heard it, so loud it made me jump. A group of men across the water must have been camping, or having a revival, or playing a mean game of poker, because the only sound I could hear was loud raucous laughter coming from male voices.  Cackling, belly-bending howls that only come from deep inside, where a wellspring of joy bubbles up from within.

Seriously, God?  This? 

And I knew it was my only cure. The one way to break up the sharpness in my chest and shake it up like a snow globe, effervescent bubbles rising from my own soul.  I’d find the funny.  In time, I’d see this season of darkness juxtaposed with jewels of sparkling light, like rubies hidden in Easter eggs found one by one with the passage of years.

Dreams are not for the settled.  For the happy.  For the ones-who-have-it-all.  Dreams are for the broken.  For those who hold their arms out wide and say Lord, I can’t bear it any longer.  Help me find a way, with the talents you’ve entrusted to me, to serve.  To find joy.

To laugh. 

And hope will arise, following you all the way to Nebraska.   You stay up past bedtime, and wit will somehow travel from your brain to your pen and it is the new balm of Gilead that is saving your own soul.

I heard the voice of God, and He was laughing. Either that or it was some big hairy dude on the other side of the lake.  Either way, I’ll take it.



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Bring on the Rain


“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Yeah, yeah.  I read that over and over and just couldn’t get my hands around it. It sounds good in theory, like love your neighbor and tithe and eat your broccoli.  My therapist texted me this verse, with no comment but the underlying “read this, you idiot” and I went home and stared at the words while sucking down a re-heated breakfast taco.  Then I folded laundry, and held my kids so tight they wondered what the heck had come over me, and after they went to bed I sat rocking back and forth like it might sway away the pain and swish out the hate and I then drank wine like the tannins might draw out forgiveness and tomorrow I’d wake up with a dull sense of benevolence.

But I just lay there in silence, drawing mental pictures of hate and revenge and the unfairness of this life.  I curled up tight because all my prayers were spent and used up like tissues, all wadded up and tossed aside.  I drug myself upstairs in the wee morning hours and typed out a long prayer and just demanded that God read it directly off my computer screen, because I was too angry to speak and all I could do was write in a choppy bulleted list.  I sulked and stomped back to bed like an impetuous toddler that had just screamed at her father.  Because honestly.

I want to repay evil with evil, and I am too tired and haggard to do what is right.  Maybe I can just repay evil with a little tragic harm?  The next day, I got pulled over for going 50 in a 40 and I sobbed big fat tears.  I lay my tossled, unbrushed head of hair on the steering wheel because Enough Already.  The officer just handed me a warning and a look that was as compassionate as I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he reached over right then and hugged me through the window.  I just drove home with a tear-streaked face, going 20 miles per hour and lusting for a cheeseburger.

Sometimes, it’s easy to hate.  Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s always easier to hate.  Because this life is full of disappointment and pain and fear and when we put our trust in humanity it just bites us in the ass.

What’s hard, friends, is to love.

And I don’t mean love as in butterflies and roses and beautiful cards and elusive smiles on second dates.  I don’t mean love your children or love your mother or love your BFF’s who come over and bring you brownies. I mean loving the man who betrayed you.  Loving the stranger who raped you.  Loving that father who beat you and the mother who abandoned you and that dirty, rotten, self-absorbed, abused pitiful self that you’ve been dragging around for so many decades.

Evil is banal and hideous and frankly, doesn’t deserve your respect.  Because friends, you are above it.  You are mightier than it is.  You have the power of God crawling inside your veins and the Holy Spirit dancing in your vessels and your heart is made anew with light and life and freedom from the chains that only darkness brings.

So bring on the rain.  

Let it pour and soak and drench you with sorrow.  Lament and cry and curl and drink and scream.  But in the end, realize that it doesn’t own you.  Allow yourself to look at that man, woman, teacher, stranger, drug, depression, or self, and say: My God is more powerful than you. You can pound and beat down this house but you’ll never consume me. You are standing in this body and the walls might be falling down around you, but you aren’t dead yet, and you have power unimaginable.  Power that moved mountains and raised the dead and caused the lame to walk.

When the mask is removed, that demon is just a poor needy child, so here’s a sip of cool water for that parched tongue, my sweet darling.  I’ll sit with you and smile at your ugly and stroke your dirty, vodka-soaked hair.  You hear me, darkness?  You can’t survive with me around, because I’m all light up in here and rats flee and Satan runs and evil just bares his teeth but it’s all a mirage that disappears when I get close.  Begone, you fool.  I ain’t got time for your stupid, cunning ways.

What are you afraid of, anyway?  That the person that hurt you most will get away with it?  That they might take you for a fool? That they might get a free hall pass for all the damage they’ve caused?  Oh dear friends, they will have to live with the consequences of sin, and vengeance is not yours to take.  Make room and step aside as God enacts his own wrath.  Our job is only to love, and love when it’s hard, and love when it’s not realized, and love even when we are bruised and torn and left alone in front of that mirage we thought was water.  But we can repay evil with the pure, clear, smooth freedom of love, which washes much more clean.

And then nothing will ever chain us.  Nothing will bind us.  We can stretch out our wings and stand before God with bulleted lists of prayers fluttering to our feet, our soul smiling and our hair getting drenched with dew from heaven, and God’s redemption, and we can know that we are living, leading, learning.  Uncurl.  Unclench. Undo the chains around your hardened heart, and bring on the rain.

Overcome evil with good. 


Rainy Day 4

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We were born into this world seeking relationships.  We are members of teams and classes and towns and clubs.  We were created for community, resting safely in the notion that we are never, ever alone. Adam needed Eve and mothers need daughters and we are drawn to fellow artists, Christians, comedians, football fans, runners, and scholars, because it makes us feel part of something.  We shower and praise and ooze so much sweetness it’s saccharine.

But what happens when the cake gets moldly? When the excess, excessive?  We grow spoiled and lazy and bored and tired.  What was once a community of friends becomes too much good and too much praise and the banana turns black, sticky sweet with flies.

The circles we keep, they are suffocating. 

If we aren’t careful, what was once pretty becomes ugly.  What was encouraging  becomes fake. We navigate toward the same cereal, and the same sentences, and the same color skin.  We begin to say phrases in the same awkward manner and the Once. So. Different becomes just another yawning repeated period.  If we aren’t careful, we draw the circle too tight, and choke on all the beauty.

I’m trying these days to appreciate what’s right in front of me and not let hate creep in like a fly through a screen door.  And in order to do that, I have to abandon my post for a while, only to return later like a thirsty dog who needs soul-filling water. Because that’s what your inner circle is designed for – to be a resting place for your tired feet, and to speak truth that is never taken for granted.  It’s the deep well you can draw from when your throat is so parched you can’t speak.  And then you can cry real tears, and squeeze hands with true joy, and your thanks resonate to the high heavens.  We need the upper room because the world is a dry, dusty place.

But when our hearts refuel, it’s time to step out toward unknown territory.  And it’s frightening. You are stark naked without trust of your friends, and your family, and those who know your humor and your insight and your perspective.  You can be targeted and criticized and sometimes attacked beyond measure.  But there are also times your faith is tested, and it miraculously survives, and your witness is larger than a hundred Sundays.  It’s a gamble, and a true test of character to live in different worlds, among various tribes, and try to stay true to your Creator.

I’ve seen people content in their own bubble, happily navigating their upper-class life with ease, befriending those who are guaranteed to reciprocate (out of obligation if nothing else), and then discovering a void they cannot fill.  Or wishing for deeper, more meaningful relationships.  Or just living a life of vanilla.  I desire so much more than vanilla.

So draw different circles.

If you sing, join a group on the edge of town.  If you write, explore magazines that don’t always see things like you do.  If you pray, kneel down in a different place. And if you worship, try holding hands with people who are not like you, who don’t always talk to God like you do, or who might not know God at all.  You have the ability to shine with truth, with strength only the Father provides, and you’ll be amazed at how well those toddler legs will walk.  We are not designed to stay within the lines, growing bored and lazy and dumb.  We are charged to keep drawing different circles and charging forth into the world – a place full of scatter and loud noise and ugly, ragged edges.

Go anyway.  Bring your best self.  Your true self.  Be a better person than you think you can be in a place you are not naturally comfortable. Only then are you the person God designed you to be. Take a deep breath. Push yourself.

Get out the chalk and start drawing new lines. 


i saw william blake at the center of everything : dolores park, san francisco (2012)

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Odd and Curious Thoughts: Celebrity Edition

(1) Every time I look at a gossip magazine in the grocery store I see a column that reads “Stars are just like us!” with a picture of Jennifer Garner at the Farmer’s Market or Gwen Stefani buying her kid an ice cream. But I never see these people wearing ill-fitting workout gear accidentally running over their kid’s tricycle while yelling at their 2-year-old to stop eating old goldfish found in the crack of the car seat with allergy eyes wondering if they lost their credit card. So they aren’t like us.

(2) Some crazy lady was arrested for stalking Clay Aiken.  I think this is clearly a publicity stunt because tell me who would stalk Clay Aiken.  Tell me.

(3) I’m actually proud of Lindsay Lohan.  She’s re-invented herself and apparently has a new career out of showing up at court appearances looking haggard.  She’s doing great and we all need to support her in this new endeavor.

(4) Speaking of getting in trouble with the law, Reese Witherspoon got pulled over and was all “I deserve to stand on American soil” and “Do you know who I am?” She then issued a statement the next day about how much she loves law enforcement, Go America, boo to drinking, very sorry to disrespect the family, red-white-and-blue, just headin to the policeman’s ball, etc.  I’m so renting Legally Blond this weekend in tribute.  I’m also going to say “Do you know who I am?” more often.

(5) Ryan Lochte has his own television show.  Ain’t nobody cares what Ryan Lochte has to say about anything, but we will all tune in to see if he takes off his shirt.

(5) I also don’t care what Kim Kardashian wears during the course of her pregnancy.  Laws are being made, people are displaced in war, somewhere on an unknown channel Ryan Lochte is shirtless.  Priorities. 

(7) Kristen Stewart is a beautiful girl, so I’m confused as to why her hair always looks like she just got out of the pool.

(8) Who even is Amanda Bynes, and why is her mental deterioration anyone’s concern?  Let the woman cover her head, mutter about prunes, wander around, and get extensions in peace.  Have mercy.

(9) It has been formally revealed that Gwyneth Paltrow endures 2-hour workout sessions every single day, has an uber-serious carbohydrate ban, and maintains a “fashion essentials” list that totals more than the value of my house.  You lie, People Magazine.  Celebrities are not just like us.

(10) Robert Downey, Jr. just made $50 million on one film.  They are like us in the same way that I am like a person who dusts.

(11) I have a crush on Connie Britton’s hair.  It’s out there. I said it.

(12) I ain’t gonna lie. I knew more about the details of Justin Timberlake’s new album release than who was running for local office.  But at least I’m focused on real people. You know, people just like us.

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The Trouble I’ve Seen


Eleven years ago today, a ruddy-faced doctor in a white coat took off his glasses and informed me that there was a raging tumor living inside my eyeball.  News so strange I had to ask for it to be repeated, the words cancer and melanoma all jumbling up inside my head with other strange words like success rate and surgery and I found myself sitting with my hands folded calmly asking for a tissue.

From there, I headed straight into a CT scan full of beeping red dots and IVs pumping toxins.  My wrap-around shirt landed with a soft thud on the floor while I bore my gown of misery like a soldier, trudging forward to get a mammogram before my thirties had even dawned.  My lungs and my liver and my brain and my breasts were all needled and raped, but it was all in the name of progress because melanoma’s a devil’s son.

A week later, my husband and I headed to the world-renowned expert in Philadelphia, eating cheese steak while hearing bullets zinging around in the distance.  We huddled together waiting to for what seemed like hours to see the doctor, in a room filled with foreign languages and travel-weary patients.  We earned ten precious minutes where I rapid-fired questions to the doctor that I had saved in a three-ring notebook.  Year after year we trekked back through sleet and blizzards and pouring rain, cobbling over stones and bricks toward the end of Walnut Street, crossing our fingers for the joyous refrain that life’s tentacles were still strong, holding us together in times such as these.

But radiation is a sniper that shoots to kill, taking down tissue and muscles and solid respectable youth.  I sat in the waiting room with the grey-haired diabetics waiting for lasers and four-inch needles and news that my retina was simply too weak to stand. It just needed a wheelchair like an old war hero with a slug in the shoulder, so they filled my eyeball up with oil like a slab of wood puddy in an empty, hollowed-out hole.  When I was pregnant with my son, I got a cataract so thick my eye almost exploded with pressure and I endured three hours of surgery without anesthesia, which I would never ever recommend to anyone in a million years of Sundays.  What we do for our children, and concurrently to save our own lives.  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sang to the old people, and they nodded like honey child, I hear you.

I carry stress in my eye, drooping like Friday before lunch, weary of being held together with ribbons. I go back every year praying that a rogue cell won’t burst like a terrorist out of hiding, since it’s fatal and the success rates are hopeless and my oncologist tells me it’s useless for me to come see him anymore since a metastasis only buys me a year, maybe two.  He reminded me of that again today as I asked for another appointment.  What do they know, these doctors. No one wants to stare mortality down like a cobra wondering if it will strike or just slither off into the ether, and the difference between one year and two is hundreds of more days.  It matters, you doctors who count years like pebbles.

Those years, they are diamonds to me.

I think about all the happy times since then – babies and birthdays and laughter like bubbles floating large and fat over the driveway.  It’s been a lovely ride, hollowed-out and plugged, with one eye that’s crippled and propped up like the old man in Weekend at Bernie’s.  But despite it all, beauty abounds. Every day I stumble into God’s masterpiece with a depth perception so poor I can’t even thread a needle, and yet somehow I survive, and see, and have vision beyond my own present darkness.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, I sing to our babies, rocking and shushing and rubbing their backs until their eyes droop.  But you see, Father.  God and son and spirit and healer, master of this worn-out veteran life.  You plug up this eye and this hollowed-out heart and you never have failed me.  All these years.  All this sorrow.  Nobody but you, Jesus.

Glory Halleluiah.   


If you want to hear this song sung the way I like it sung, you need to hear it by Mahalia Jackson:



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It will all end up happy


My daughter’s been hurting lately.  But not in a way that needs a band aid.  She’s trying to navigate a world where things don’t make sense and friends can turn and love can end.  People who were steady are instead shifting and purple starts to just look black.  She’s entering into a world where problems loom so much larger than she can handle and there’s all this business of boundaries and obedience.  So I’m rolling up my sleeves and doing my mother’s best at fighting the heavy. As Florence + the Machine blares through my ipod speakers, it is hard to dance with a devil on your back.

So shake him off. 

Today, one of my daughter’s girlfriends came and spent the day.  We made blueberry pancakes with roasted pecans and shook powdered sugar on top from an old half-rusted sifter.  In the afternoon we had a party for no reason where six girls played dress-up and beauty shop and hop scotch.  They ate cupcakes and danced like monkeys and drew roads all up and down our driveway with chalk.  When the mothers came the girls all cried out to stay, with dirty feet and tussled hair and my daughter just beamed with pride.  At night, we watched The Jetsons episodes, with George puttering around in his space mobile.  And after bath, I heard her talking to her dolls and soothing their fears.  Rocking and loving and tucking them inside sleeping bags tight.

It’s time for bed, I said.  She smiled without argument and turned off the lights.

I came and lay beside her, that precious skin and fragile spirit that I bore and held and loved before I even saw her face.  I told her that God gave her a spirit gift of intuition that not everyone has.  I told her she could sense a good friend from a bad, and that she naturally gravitates toward honest and real.  I was proud that she sought out pure, kind hearts.  She nodded at this, because she’s wise enough to know it’s true.  I told her that good friends are lifetime treasures, and that I’ve been on-my-knees thankful for them myself.

Then this precious soul tells me with a shaky voice that sometimes good friends turn bad, and bad friends turn good, and I said that’s just about right.  And yet baby, don’t get jaded because the cream will always rise.   Keep seeking out good with your heart and it will all end up happy.  She hugged me tight and asked for butterfly nose kisses and said that she liked to snuggle in flannel sheets even in the Spring because they’re soft, and I told her that was just fine too.  I rubbed her little girl arm and smelled that baby-fine hair and wished she’d stay this way forever.

Growing up’s the pits and all it means is mortgages and heartbreak but to be young means to flutter and sing and never have to worry about ill-fitting waistbands.  Being young is joy and hope and light that conquers all.  At the end of the day, as the cicadas sing and the oak trees brush against the tin roof and momma’s always gonna be around, light does indeed win over darkness.   Cupcakes and hop scotch and blueberry pancakes soften into dreams, and fresh new mornings, and school shoes once again, and isn’t this what childhood is all about?


playing dress up

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