nothing to wear?

I manged an amazing feat this morning. I scrubbed down the lawn furniture with bleach water and did not bleach one bit of the clothing that was terribly inappropriate for the job. Yes, I’m aware I should not have been wearing it.
That I had a good excuse means nothing, really. Tell that to child #2, who is constantly being stopped at the door by yours truly as she is exiting to paint the house or plant a rose in her favorite new dress. I tell her to reverse her little steps and go put on something appropriate for the job right now. Because I am the mom. And also most likely the buyer of the dress. So had I bleached my clothes, she would have not one iota of sympathy.
Appropriate attire for the job. If I go to a hospital Christmas party, at which I expect to be horrendously bored and have to remember names of people I meet once a year, I will nonetheless at least look good. I won’t wear my ratty “Oklahoma” Tshirt and the Bears sweats I’ve painted in for twenty years.
If i’m mucking up a basement flood I will not, child #2, toss on my blue velvet dress and pearls. Just kidding. Not about the dress, about cleaning the basement. I don’t do that. I don’t care what I wear when that’s being done, because I don’t do it. But you get the point.

Like the photos above–Interchanging those outfits would probably be a bad idea. I’m thinking Lady Gaga hoops on a balance beam equal disaster. Playing in the snow in a leotard might get just a bit chilly. And going trick or treating in your footie jammies, well, that might actually work, so here is where the analogy begins to break down . . .
Which all leads me to wonder what I should be wearing as I go about daily business. And, not surprisingly, God has an answer to that.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3.12-14)
So if I find a relationship in distress or a job situation in disaster, maybe I just forgot to put on the right kind of clothes. Is it possible the anger or selfishness I was wearing for the occasion was totally inappropriate? (It always is. That was a trick questions.) Did I put on resentment this morning and then wonder why I was unhappy? Did I put on shoes of pride and then run right into trouble posting my views on Facebook? Why should I be surprised when I got a big fat mess all over myself if what I was wearing didn’t match the job?
I’m thinking that with the leftover water out there I may wash down some of the house. The mildew on the siding could someday soon start forming its own version of “The Blob” and come inside and devour us all in bad 50’s cinematography. (If you don’t get the reference, I can’t help you.) But knowing that will involve considerably more splashing, I will change first. The ratty “Oklahoma” Tshirt is white. It is perfect for the job.

doing time

Confessions of a literature snob: Every summer during college, I spent months reading what I refer to as “fluffy romance novels.” Novels which pretty much always took place in another century. They involved long pretty dresses and people with titles. Absolutely necessary therapy after stuffing my head with Shakespeare and James Joyce for nine months. There was just a limit my brain could handle without overheating and spilling boiling British literature all over the place. Which would not be pretty, let me tell you. Particularlythe Joyce.

I had to escape.

Years later, I have not given up my lit-nerd ways by any means. Every morning when I walk/run/hobble for exercise, I listen to podcasts of—are you ready? The Tolkien Professor. It’s the highlight of my day. Laugh if you will. I don’t care—I live on a higher level. Or a completely fantasy one.

But a quote I heard one morning stopped me in my tracks, literally. When confronting public distrust of escapism, Tolkien asks, “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”

And now you ask, what the heck does that mean? And what about it made you stop in the middle of the sidewalk, to the dismay of the bicyclist behind you?

Because he put into one sentence what almost every human being feels and cannot define. We would never tell a prisoner that his cell is all there is, and a world outside it, a world he once called home, doesn’t exist. If we did, he’d call us the crazy ones. Of course it exists, and of course he’d far rather be there than in the cell.

The nutcase is the person who would paint a rainbow in his cell, light vanilla cookie candles, and start singing, “It’s a small world after all.” (Of course, one could argue he wouldn’t even imagine rainbows if there was not a real other world out there, but that’s another theological question.)

I love this quote because it tells me that escapism, for the purpose of seeking something better, should not be laughed at. It shouldn’t be something we’re embarrassed to admit to. It’s the most normal human response to a world we sense is fundamentally flawed. It’s what any reasonable person who knew in her heart that home was somewhere else would do.

Notice I said for the purpose of seeking something better. Not just to retreat into your one little Unibomber cabin away from the world. (Though goodness knows I do want to do that sometimes, too.) We know there’s something better. After weekends like this one, especially, we sense that. Something is very wrong with the present prison cell. 

The question is, do we light the cookie candle and pretend it ain’t so, or do we recognize that we’re looking for something that is more real than what we see? Something that, maybe, has the power to break into this broken world and shine some of that fantastical beauty on it? And are we courageous enough to admit we need to escape toward it?

As another of my favorite writers put it, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis

What do you consider escape?

six-dollar receipts

Working on our budget is depressing more often than not, but it doesn’t usually make me tear up. But yesterday, while sorting receipts, I happened to pick up one from our favorite little coffee shop, La Spiaza in Wheaton. And it reminded me that two weeks before, I had sat there with middle child discussing literature, theater, and the likelihood that frying pans really would make great weapons in a pinch.
Which, of course, reminded me that she’s not here, off to another corner of the world again, being young and adventurous. Hence the eye-moistness.
But this is not a poor-me-I-miss-my-baby blog. I mean, I’ve already done that. For me, its a reminder that the little things tend to turn into the big things.
The small kindness you show turns into a memory for someone that helps her turn a corner.
The meal you bring a couple college guys on their own becomes a thoughtfulness they pass on to the next person.
The compliment you paid someone who felt insecure with her self-image gave her the courage to hold her head up that day.
The two hours you spent tie-dying shirts with kids in a rough neighborhood made one think he had some value to someone after all. (Go, child #1!)
The six-dollar receipt you dig up from the bottom of a pile brings a bittersweet reminder of something very, very good.
I’m convinced that lots of little things make up the big things. Lots of little things can change the big things.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Teresa  

crazy bright courage

Nail polish is making a big splash these days. If you don’t believe me, just take a quick browse of Pinterest. (No, guys, we won’t take away your man card if you do. Although if you do start pinning a bunch of nail designs . . .) 

I’m pretty sure child #3 alone has “pinned” about forty-three ways to “do” your nails. It’s the new fad.  

But even by those standards, the lady whose hands held my book at the table stood out. They glittered, swirled, and scattered light in a crazy pattern of bright. I loved it.

Then I looked up to see to face attached to the hands and noticed. She wore the tell-tale cancer scarf tied around her bald head. I complimented her nails, and she told me the story.

“I can’t look the way I want to everywhere. It’s taking its toll, and not just on my hair. But what I can do, I do. And I can make my hands stunning.”

And right then, I felt stunned by far more than her hands.

But what I can do, I do. I hesitate to add anything to that. It says it all. What’s our excuse for so many things we never do? I’ve never done that. I’m not going to make a difference. There are just too many things in my way. I don’t have enough time, talent, money, whatever. Someone else can. But what if . . . Maybe another time.

What I can do, I do. She couldn’t cure cancer, or make her hair grow back, or run a marathon for research. But she could look for the positive in life. She could encourage other women with cancer. She could paint their nails (and she did). She could spend a day with her favorite thing—authors and books. She could spread beauty and joy in her corner of life, despite circumstances far worse than those that normally make the rest of us start grumbling into our Starbucks and whining at the first unlucky person to ask, “How’s it going?”

What are your “fingernails”? What can you look at and say, “I’m going to make that beautiful, no matter what else isn’t? I’m going to take one thing, and do what I can do with it?”

It doesn’t have to be a part of you. It could be a part of something around you. A small bit of a larger cancer. Like the Section 8 neighborhood my daughter wants to make a garden in. It won’t solve their problems. But it will be one stunning spot.

What I can do, I do. This lady could face life with courage. And stunning fingernails.

down and dirty

If you’ve seen the photos, you know. I was a dirty girl this weekend. For the second time. For the uninitiated, the Dirty Girl Run (and I use the term ‘run’ very loosely) is a 5K through a mud-covered obstacle course, all to benefit breast cancer and also laundry detergent manufacturers everywhere.

When my sister asked if we wanted to do it last year I thought, well why not? Actually, there are a lot of reasons why not, notably being I have never done a 5K in my life and I might seriously injure myself, but those did not occur to me. I just wanted to have fun with my sister. We are both cancer survivors, so we deserve it. Plus, I could fling mud at her like I did when we were kids and no one would punish me. (She would say no one did then, either, and she would probably be right.)

I thought I hated “Get Over It” most, the wall you have to climb over with footholds sized for a three-year-old’s feet. A very small three-year-old. Scary. But this year, there was worse. “Netchix,” an endless pit full of deep, slimy, mud covered with a heavy net. Claustrophobia kicked in big time with the weight of that net on my head as we crawled. Did I mention I will not be joining the marines any time soon?

But I am not someone who will go around an obstacle unless it is pretty much court mandated. So, through we went, my youngest daughter and I.

My favorite part of the course, however, was not the well-deserved finish line. Nor even the even more well-deserved shower. It was the hill climb. Two big ropes, up a steep, muddy hill, then down it. This picture is me going down, which was quite fun, really. (And oh, I beat that young thing next to me down the hill, by the way.)

But the best part of the day was watching that hill climb. Before me went two other women. One looked to be in her seventies. The other, well, carried a lot more weight on her than she probably wanted to. When each woman faltered and looked as if she might not make it up the hill, every women at the bottom started cheering. Clapping. Yelling encouragement. Making a lot of noise. Letting two strange women know that we believed they could do it. And they did.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 
(2 Corinthians 13.11)

It’s kind of embarrassing, honestly. A bunch of women who don’t know each other are doing a better job of this than we are in the church. They instinctively knew what those women needed, they put themselves in their place, and they cheered, loud and long.

But in the church? I have to wonder if the reason it doesn’t always feel like the God of love and peace is with us is that we aren’t doing the first things mentioned here. In a recent Barna poll, the majority of people in churches, when asked if they experienced God’s presence each week, said no. I’m grateful I do. But I wonder if there’s good reason most don’t.

Strive for restoration. Don’t walk away from hurt, retaliate, or gossip. Restore relationships. Tough work. But if we want a God of peace we’d better invite peace into our presence.

Encourage one another. Show up for each other. Have each other’s back in the tough stuff. Push them up the hill, if necessary. If instead we pull them down because we’re jealous, or frustrated, or angry, don’t look for a God of love.

Be of one mind. No, not agreeing on everything. That won’t happen. Plus, it’s boring. But agree that some things are more important than personal opinions, feelings, or preferences. Things like, ““Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Andlove your neighbor as yourself.”

Something to learn from a bunch of dirty girls.