One of the first things I do when directing a play is have every person fill out a character analysis. Yes, they do think they’ve stumbled back into high school, and some are none too pleased about it. But fact is, you can’t possibly play a character convincingly if you have no idea who the person is. I ask the actors to figure out what drives their character—his wishes, dreams, fears, favorite food. Her height, family makeup, past regrets, and proud moments. Down to the most minor character, they can’t go onstage until they know what that person would do in the moment.
It’s called backstory, and everyone has one. Recently, one of our lead actors was having a difficult time getting into his role. He found his character boring. So, being a writer, I got busy. I made up a backstory. A really good one. A really, really not boring one. One anyone would have fun developing into a real person on stage.
It got me thinking. That actor couldn’t see the backstory. He only saw the words written on the page right there. He had no idea where his character had been, what he’d done, and how those things had affected his life. Thus, he had written off his character based on the little evidence he had.
And we do the same. In real life, with real people. We look at the evidence in front of us, and we make a judgment. Perfectly put together? She must have been blessed with a perfect life. She must think she’s better than me. She must have never had to struggle like I have. And boom—she’s instantly not my kid of person. With no real idea of her backstory.
Not so perfect? Maybe the woman who just smacked her kid upside the head in front of you in the Walmart line? Well, we know how to categorize that kind of person too, don’t we? But truth is, we don’t have a clue. Her backstory may be something you’d never want to read in a novel, let alone live. Ditto the young man who stole your gas card and filled up five of his best friends’ tanks. Or the young woman trying to learn English and get a job with minimal success. Or the cheerleader you think is a snob.
We don’t have a clue. So why do we act like we do? Because categorizing is easier than learning? Because it makes us feel better to compare? Because we’re human, and we have our own story? Yes, all of the above. Which is why we need a reminder sometimes.
The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16.7) I can’t see someone’s heart. With no Steve Jobs anymore, who’s going to ever come up with the technology to let me? So possibly, I should wait until I have a person’s backstory to decide what I know is true. All the world really is a stage.

hitting send

After almost five months, I have to unequivocally say that I do love my Macbook. Almost. The one things that drives me around the bend is the autocorrect. You know what I mean. Many of you have been victims.
You type one thing, and you think, when you hit “send” or “post” or whatever, that it has put what you said into writing. But alas, you made a typo somewhere, and instead of telling your spouse you’d like to kiss him when he gets home, you apparently told him you’d like to kill him. Makes a big difference in the mood when he walks in the door.
My computer thinks it knows what I meant. It thinks it knows what was right. It truly believes, somewhere in its Big Apple brain, that it knows what is best. But often enough, it is not at all what I meant.
Sometimes I suspect our own autocorrects work that way. We think we know what is best. We’re sure we are following the right path. We truly believe we have the knowledge and understanding to blaze our own trail and get it right. But we get it wrong.
The writer of Proverbs says, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” Perhaps we should not be so quick to trust our own autocorrects. Perhaps we don’t know as much as we think we do. Chances are excellent that you, like me, have quite a bit of past evidence to support that conclusion.
I try to proofread my messages now before I hit “send.” I’ll try harder to proofread my life by checking with the Editor in Chief before anything goes out that may not have been the best message I wanted to send.

sit in Starbucks time

Several weeks ago, I sat in Starbucks for my bi-weekly, um, sit at Starbucks time. Sorry, don’t have a better name for it. But as an aside, do you think it’s odd that spellcheck finds nothing wrong with the word “Starbucks”? They truly have taken over the world.

Anyway, while I wait for child #3 at gymnastics four hours a week, that’s next door. And a few weeks ago as I sat working, I noticed something odd above my head. Fireworks. No, not directly above my head. That would be odd. But out the window and right across the street. I mean real fireworks, not a few sparks set off randomly by drunken people who went up to Wisconsin for bottle rockets. A full on, serious fireworks display, in the middle of December. What?

The truly odd thing, though, was not fireworks in December, odd as that was. It was that no one else in the entire coffee shop noticed. No one looked up. No one seemed to realize that the equivalent of July 4th was going on right outside the window. I started seriously to worry that I had finally lost my mind and only I could see them. But no, eventually two kids noticed, so for the moment at least, I felt sane again.

It made me ponder, though–how many things go on right outside my “window” that I never notice? How wrapped up in whatever trivial thing I’m doing do I get that I miss the fabulous right in front of me? That’s why I’ve enjoyed driving child #3 to school every morning at 7. I would never really look at a sunrise otherwise.

Last year, I went through the book The Happiness Project with a group of friends.  Cannot recommend that book enough–read it in 2012. In it one of the keys to happiness she mentions is mindfulness–“The cultivation of conscious, nonjudgmental awareness.” In other words, paying attention. In our multitasking world, how much do we really pay attention to what’s in front of us, be it children, spouse, or “simply” a sunrise?

A good goal for 2012.

And by the way, I googled it when I got home and discovered that the fireworks were for the Hindu holiday Diwali. Now I know.

little boxes on the . . . well, somewhere

So, yes, I cleaned the attic. And then I counted. Empty plastic boxes. You know, those shiny colorful boxes they put on sale right about this time of year, for all those people who made a New Year’s Resolution to get more organized? The Great Marketing Geniuses know this, and they know they can entice you with color and newness to buy boxes to neatly wrap up said resolution. Probably, you’ll put it in your attic.
Clearly, they’ve enticed me in the past, because I counted twenty-six empty plastic boxes when all was said and done. Twenty-six. All full of stuff we, apparently, didn’t need. I have a problem. I have been known to buy new boxes when we had perfectly good old ones just because the new ones were so darn pretty. Even though I knew they would just sit in the attic and never be seen by anyone but possibly a random rabid raccoon.
Is there a recovery program for people with a plastic storage box addiction? I know, I know–recognizing that I have a problem is the first step. The first thing to do is always recognize that we’re in denial. I need to get rid of the denial.
But . . . what should I do with it? I know, how about if I pack it up in a colorful plastic box? Denial is pretty messy, you know, and I need to keep it neatly packaged. Then I’ll store it away somewhere. You never know when you might need it again. I’d hate to not have it if I ever wanted to pull it out again for any reason.
I hope you’re recognizing this as a bad idea. Worse, even, than packing up twenty-six boxes of stuff we’ll never use. Some things you shouldn’t keep because they’re out of date—like those clothes child #3 laughed hysterically at even thinking that her sisters wore those once upon a time. She’s currently looking for blackmail photos.
Some we shouldn’t keep because someone else could use them and we never will. Like the elementary school supplies still up there when our youngest is almost a junior in high school.
Some we should ditch because they just clutter up our lives with things we don’t need but keep thinking about when we should be paying attention to the things right in front of us.
And some, like denial, we need to get out in the open and face and discard forever, before it molds and mildews in the attics of our minds and hearts. Before it causes so much of our lives to be tainted with its faded-to-off-color viewpoints and worn-out beliefs about ourselves.
2012 needs to begin with a clean mental attic. I’ve got twenty-six empty boxes—what about you? Let’s not, in 2012, fill them with things we don’t want to carry with us forever.  

the final frontier

I spent two months this fall and winter going where no man has gone before. My attic. And no man has gone there because, quite literally, no one could. The closest one could come was to stand at the bottom of the stairs and gaze upward, assuming that what you wanted probably was up there somewhere, but there was no way you could get past the fifteen boxes of miscellaneous junk, ten piles of play costumes, twelve stacks of electronic things your husband was certain he might need someday, and four bins of craft materials to actually look for it. Honestly, I am not exaggerating when I say that you could not get up those stairs. And if you could, you couldn’t move once up them.
But, as one of my favorite movie lines goes, “I am no man.” So up I went. Why? Well, my daughter is to blame. For the past couple years, she has been bugging me to clean it all up with her. She loves to organize. And I’ve always had an excuse. It’s too hot up there. It’s too cold up there. It’s too nice outside—I need to garden. I’m way to claustrophobic to work in the attic. All true. But none making her happy, as she really wanted to get the job done.
Then she left for three months. And I started to think of what great surprises we could create while she was gone to welcome her home with. You know what I realized was number one. So up I went, for two months, and cleaned that attic. I cannot tell you how many bags of stuff I gave/threw away. We probably could have clothed a small nation. Though my youngest daughter, who helped, would add that it would have to be a nation of girls with no fashion taste whatsoever, given what was in the attic.
Part way through, I realized something. That I gladly did for love what I would not do when she nagged me. We know this as parents and spouses, that nagging does not work. But we don’t really believe it. I got first-hand experience that it is so true. We don’t want to be bound by laws of what we should do. But we joyfully do the same thing if it’s an act of generosity to one we love.
Which, of course, is the entire point of the Christmas season we’ve just celebrated. God knows that. And he really, really wants us to do life with him because we love him like crazy, not because we feel like we must. He wants us to do things his way because we’re so glad he’s in our lives and we want to see his smile, not because we’ve been nagged. He wants us to look at what Jesus did for us in the cradle and the cross and say, “Wow. I’d really like to clean up my attic. Just for you. Just because.”