December 30, 2011

you say christmas cards, I say primitive facebook

I was talking with my dad last year about Christmas cards. We were going through the list of people we see each year in the cards and how it's nice to get up-to-speed on their lives. He made a comment about how he should get back on the holiday card bandwagon so he could keep up with those people more effectively. In my head I thought: isn't that what Facebook is for? Which is when it occurred to me. Christmas cards are just a primitive version of Facebook. 

Every year I looked forward to the lovely day on which the very first holiday card would arrive. I loved as they stacked up in the card-sleigh (the sleigh in which we stacked our cards), and every time a new batch rolled in I would go through them like they were baseball cards, picking MVP's, laughing at poems written in earnest, crying as I read aloud from a heartfelt letter. We'd see who dyed their hair since last year and who is living in their mom's basement again and it was great fun. Perhaps something of a horrible exercise in judging books by covers and whatnot, sure, but fun nonetheless.

Then along came Facebook. 

See, in the olden times, pre-social media, there were Christmas cards. You'd spend a month of the year receiving small doses of people's lives, pruned to look as pretty as possible. You'd get all caught up on their year through a concise anecdote or two and what is without a doubt the picture they've decided is the best they took all year. But I bet you'd also have a little their life looks so perfect moment of resentment. In that moment you tend to forget that you yourself wrote your card to show off your good parts. You yourself picked that picture of you at the one formal event you attended all year in order maybe to appear more glamorous than you are. These are things our brains forget to remind us when we feel the pang of low self-esteem at those whose lives seem prettier than ours on holiday-themed cardstock. We're just a bunch of [carefully wording, photoshopping] liars. 

So Facebook, I'm pretty sure, would be the equivalent of if every single day of the year from every single person you have ever known you got an upbeat holiday blurb and the very best picture of them they could locate. It's like constantly being beaten over the head with other people's success and good fortune. Where before we got one little mini update once a year and that was enough, at the present moment I think we are significantly too aware of what everyone is up to, all the time. I think it's not terribly healthy. 

And talk about a horrible exercise in judging books by their covers and whatnot. Woof. It's no wonder we're sent into a tizzy when someone posts a bad picture of us or when we tipsy-post something we shouldn't have. Within moments we'll know if someone Likes it. Maybe someone'll comment something sassy or reproachful and we'll feel ashamed. Maybe as the minutes and hours pass, no one will say anything. That's the Facebook kiss of death. That's like someone calling right after the holidays and telling you, "oh I got your card this year" but not saying whether they liked it or not. You're left to wonder, and likely you'll assume the worst. You'll berate yourself for not including the picture of that one day your hair looked really not like a lion's mane, or mentioning all that volunteer work you're doing. Better luck next year. 

We should all try harder to not get sucked into the holiday card game. To recall that while that girls' profile picture makes her look like a supermodel, mine is from the one day I intentionally dressed up for the specific purpose of getting my picture taken and the other 364 days of the year I was probably wearing my sorority sweatshirt with the puff paint stain or one of it's siblings, such as the softball hoodie I stole from my high school. 

So while it's fun to keep up with people, to stay in touch, to see how everyone's doing after all these years, let's just remember something. Facebook, much like a Christmas Card, isn't a full picture of reality. 
It's just a happy snapshot of a normal, messy life.

December 22, 2011

things that don't have faces

I decided to revisit and revise this previously posted post, because today was a hard day. And I wondered for a minute, when I got home tonight, just why it was so hard. And then I realized: I've had this job for 7 months. Mental illness has faces. 

Kids are funny, and my nephew Timmy is one of the cleverest. I find that when he doesn't want to do something, he can usually come up with a pretty good reason that he can't. Once, another little boy wanted Timmy to play with a worm. Clay held up the worm and Timmy told him, regretfully, "oh, I can't. I'm not allowed to touch things that don't have faces."

Besides that this may very well be my favorite sentence of all time, what an interesting thought that is.
Things that don't have faces.

As an aside, it is cold. This morning when I got in my car, it was -13. Degrees. Fahrenheit. Given my personality it may not shock you to learn that I rarely check the weather. As such, I often leave the house wearing inappropriate footwear, and sometimes I walk out my back door in the morning and step into a winter wonderland when I didn't even know it was supposed to snow. But on Sunday at the food bank I had so many people alert me to the weather that this time, I knew it was coming. We prayed a lot this Sunday about the impending temperature drop. We prayed for jobs to come through so that they could afford a motel room for a couple of days, things like that. A mere 48 hours later I walked out of the gym and the sweat in my hair froze. It was in that frigid moment that I started to really worry about those who wouldn't have a place to sleep when it was in the negative teens.

I have to admit that I haven't worried much about this in the past. It's never bothered me to the extent that it did yesterday, anyway. And I felt like such a jerk because it was the first day I worried about it, but it was far from the first time people had been homeless in subzero temperatures. I felt selfish and ignorant and hypocritical. But maybe it isn't that I was a soulless human being before yesterday (fingers crossed). Maybe it's just that this time when it struck me that people would be without homes in this disgusting cold, it didn't just look like a special on the evening news; it looked like people I hugged and laughed with not two days ago. It's not that I've never had compassion for people sleeping on the street, it's just that now, homelessness has faces.

It's sometimes hard to really understand things that are beyond the realm of our experience, because those things don't yet have faces for us. It's not that I don't care or don't see it before, it's just a different, more wholehearted kind of care and sight after. Giving pain a face makes it real-er. And when something gets real for us, I don't think we need to be embarrassed because we didn't get it before. It doesn't mean we're heartless, just so very limited.

I didn't have much empathy for addiction until it had names and stories, until they were in my family, until I saw my own face in theirs. Maybe divorce is just a statistic until your best friend gets one. If you come back from Africa and suddenly can't talk about anything but, it doesn't mean you're going through an "Africa phase" or that your concern is a fad. It's that now, Africa has faces. Maybe you never felt the need to speak out against derogatory slurs until homosexuality was a friend you dearly loved and mentally handicapped was the sweet kid holding your hand tightly at Young Life camp. Suicide didn't hurt until it was someone I'd gotten accustomed to seeing all the time. When I heard about Penn State I had to close my office door and cry for a longer time than I even expected, because child abuse has faces. I didn't often think about cancer until it bulldozed my family, and now even hearing the word hurts. And I didn't pray much about people sleeping on the streets until sleeping on the streets had faces.

My stomach was in knots as I tried to pray over every name I could think of. But through the knots there was a whisper of truth and with it, a sigh of relief: it didn't matter if I knew their names because Jesus knows their facesGod knows each of our faces. We are all faces, names, stories, children, and the knots that I feel over the names I know is nothing compared to the love, compassion, and pain that Jesus feels for us and with us. And while I can't begin to wrap my mind around bad things, while I feel completely blindsided in the face of tragedy, at the end of the day I believe that God is big, bigger than any of it. And Jesus is so personal that the smallness of him can seem almost counterintuitive. I believe he knows your face and my face and the faces of everyone I just mentioned and then some. The very hairs on our heads are numbered. If even just one of us is lost, he knows it, and he comes looking.

I chose this profession. I've picked a life with people, and as I've mentioned before, some days it's hard. Today was harder than most. Maybe this whole face thing is another part of why we're meant to be together, in community, taking care of each other - so that when the horrible days show up, we're not alone. So that we can catch a glimpse of the immensity of the tenderness of God. When we feel the knots (that come, inevitably, with community), I believe it's a reminder that God is big enough to be powerful and small enough to be personal. What a lovely juxtaposition.

Even though it means we have to feel heartbroken sometimes, may our hearts keep right on breaking for the things that break God's heart. Let us [continue to] see faces.

December 16, 2011

santa is a party clown

I continue to posit over and over that my niece and nephew are the funniest kids on the planet. And though she doesn't get nearly enough press on here, my big sister Amie is a kickass mom, and when it comes right down to it, that's why her kids are so cool. And you know I mean it because I said the a-money-money word and I rarely do that in so public a forum. But Amie is so great that she warrants a public swear every now and then. As big sisters go, I really hit the jackpot with mine. Little sister was a role I got comfortable with later in life, when I was maybe not so little, but it's hands-down one of my favorites. And as you can see, just because you're an adult doesn't mean you don't still think your big sisters are the best dressed and coolest ever. For many years I was fairly focused on maintaining my position as bossy elder sister to Ben & Thomas [sorry dudes], so I am experiencing little sister syndrome late in life. So good.

Anyway, for sure Timmy and Shelbie are smarter than me. I'm sure of it, because they are constantly saying things that make my internal dialogue go something like this: I knew that. Right? I did, didn't I? Surely... I must have... They say things that are so funny and profound all at once that it's hard to fully wrap my mind around it. Given their track record, I wasn't that surprised when Timmy said to Amie the other day, about Christmas, the following:

"So, is Santa like a clown for Jesus' birthday?"

[are. you. kidding. me.]

Today I spent more time trying to come up with a Christmas list than I did thinking about Jesus. I'm embarrassed about it, but it's the truth. And that's what Timmy was getting at when he said that to my sister.

"Jesus is what's important, right?"
"Santa is fun but Jesus is the big deal, right?"
"This party is really for Jesus, right?"

Whether he knew it or not, with that little question, Timmy hit a pretty hard theological nerve. For me at least. Because I think no matter how good you are, no matter how much you love Jesus and how well you evangelize and how many seminary degrees you have - yes, even for you - there may come a moment where you're so caught up with the clown that you forget about the real reason for the party. There are moments when things that are not the point take the spotlight over the real reason we're celebrating. When our focus goes to gifts that are shiny and tangible. When we gloss over the gifts that make our souls more beautiful, not so much our wardrobes.

Clowns aren't bad. They're fun, so long as they're not starring in a horror movie. But if you're at a birthday party, you don't fawn over the clown, do you? You don't tell the clown how much you love it, right, how glad you are it was born? Unless, of course, it's a clown's birthday... but let's forget that as an option or my whole analogy is shot. My point is this: instead of spending the holiday season focusing on frivolous entertainment, on Santa Claus and Christmas lists and peppermint mochas and the Mariah Carey Christmas album, I hope that we can all [myself perhaps most of all] heed Timmy's warning and not lose sight of what we're celebrating.

Because this party is really for Jesus.

December 13, 2011

everything is fine

I'm sitting in a 24-hour coffee shop which is right next door to a Cash For Gold establishment. I like this place because there are books everywhere and a piano and not many people and it's a little weird, maybe, but then again so am I, maybe. I came over here straight from recovery group, R@W, where I was just tonight whining about the fact that it seems like nothing is happening in my life right now. I'm bored. I catch up with people and I have nothing new to report, and it's annoying. I'm ready for some excitement and it seems like the readier I get, the less excitement seems to come. The guy making coffee remembers me from last week, so that's something I guess. Maybe I'll be a regular here. Or maybe the Cash For Gold sign is too bright, shining in my eyes. Hard to say.

But now I'm sitting here. I'm listening to Belle & Sebastian, at the moment. It's a song I don't really like, but I don't want to waste a Pandora skip just yet, so I'm hanging in there. There, finally, it's over. And another crappy song has taken it's place, but for some reason I haven't changed the channel yet and honestly I probably won't, for no particular reason. Maybe things will turn around, if I use a skip? Eva Cassidy. Yes please. I am g-chatting with my brother, and I am laughing out loud because he is being funny. And he is in a Starbucks hours and hours to the east of me, laughing out loud because I too am being funny. The girls across from me are obviously horrified, but I'd be lying if I said I cared. I wonder if my brother is as unconcerned with the judgment of the banjo-playing transient he's sharing a table with. I'll have to ask.

And it just struck me -

nasty old chai tea taste in my mouth, another crappy song on Pandora, writing things and talking on the phone intermittently and getting judged by girls wearing too much eyeliner for laughing out loud in public, still a little in disbelief that a real-live author posted my writing on her blog, my eyes are getting sleepy and now I'm antsy to leave because I remember I'm going to finish my book tonight

- that I'm just fine.

It may not be exciting, today. But everything is fine.

December 9, 2011

remember that time I online dated?

There comes a time in every writer's life, I think, where funny has to trump embarrassing. Where no matter how much you don't want people to know you did something, it's too good not to share with the world. That time, for me, is today.

A while back I found myself in kind of a pickle. A jam, if you will. Other foods that come in jars maybe, too, I'm not sure. For one thing, I was becoming acutely aware that I suck at dating. I'm good at a lot of things, but dating is just not one of those things. For the other thing, I was stuck in a pattern of spending a lot of energy on unproductive... situations. Yes, that is an accurately vague word to describe bad news boys. So in a moment of weakness, curiosity, and boredom, I did something I swore I would not do. At least not until my mid to late sixties, anyway.

My famous therapist's encouragement ringing in my ears, I precariously entered my credit card number, THEREBY entering the forbidden and more than slightly embarrassing land... of online daters. Yes, that's right.

I signed up for a month of

I know, I know, I was disappointed in me too. But lucky for you, this experience was, right out of the gate, just absolutely delightful blog fodder. That made it seem less like vulnerability and more like a social experiment, which made me a little less horrified at what I was doing. A little.

Oh, my, you guys, there are some really wretched people on dating websites. And I'm not trying to be judgey or anything, truly, but there are some real weirdies out there! They make choices that truly blow my mind. I mean, you would think that someone who is writing and posting things with the SPECIFIC PURPOSE of trying to convince someone to want to date them would be a little more choosy. But you guys, they aren't.

I went in with an open mind, I assure you I did, but it was hard to maintain that level of acceptance. After the first date - the most awkward and un-fun two hours of my life thus far - I knew that this wasn't going to work out. Going on dates with people you know you're not interested in spending a minute with, let alone a lifetime, is not a fun thing. It's just not. So after that little escapade, I decided to stay away from situations where I would have to spend more than 5 minutes with someone who wasn't even a little bit interesting to me. It was too painful. Which, you may be able to deduce, means I didn't go on very many dates during this monthlong venture.
But I did put together a little list of advice for those poor clueless lonelyboys.
And I hope they will heed my warnings:
1a. If the first thing that comes to mind when I see your primary photo is "he's for sure in his mom's basement in this pic" then you're in trouble. This means no pictures of you clearly taken by a webcam with you sprawled across the floral comforter that's probably been on your bed since 1996. No thank you.

1b. Oh and also, if the only pictures you have to offer the world wide web are pictures of you by yourself in your bedroom or shirtless in the reflection of your mirror, I'm not going to find that attractive. I'm not going to swoon at your rockin' hot bod, which is clearly what you're hoping I'll focus on. I'm probably going to assume you don't have any friends and rarely leave the aforementioned basement.

2. Maybe don't start an email to a girl who is white [this is an actual direct quote. I copied and pasted for authenticity], "up front and honest, typically I date black... however, I've been trying not to limit the possibilities." Yes, yes, I'm swooning. I'd love to go out with you even though I don't fit the racial profile you typically go for. Your honesty is not at all weird to me. Also, for the record, that guy was also white.

3. If you find yourself typing the words, "Am I too close to social security for you to consider going out with me?" - you probably are.

4. Is there a cat on/around/in the vicinity of your photo? Is the first thing under interests, "my cat"? I'm out. It's over before it began. Our love was doomed from the start.

5. More than once I was matched with someone based on the following criteria only: "Like you, he's not a smoker!" Really? You air 26 success stories per minute on national televison and that's the best criteria you can use to find me love? It's not even fully true, there just wasn't an option for "only sometimes at really low points in my life and I don't plan on divulging that until we're like 10 dates in," now was there? No. No there was not. Thanks for letting me be my whole authentic self, Match.

6. If you're opening sentens is typed as tho u r an orangutan who probly didn't finish 4th grade, I probly am guna twitch a little until I can find the "no" button. Srsly. It's 1 paragraf on a dating websight. Get a proofreeder. Use spelchek. I beg of u. It's not 2 hard, I promiss.

7. likewise if you cant be bothered to use Punctuation or are sporadic and inconsistent with Your capitalizations I might go out with you just so i can have an opportunity to Punch you in the face for your clear hatred of the english Language

8. One guy who emailed me mentioned that he liked to cook. I asked, what was his specialty? This was his response, and I quote: "I am a good cook. I can make anything. For me cooking is a science and I have the skills to cook so all I need is a recipe. I don't know much food science though so I don't create things too much on my own. I like to cook all things. I am not much of a baker though." So wait. It's a science to you, but you don't know much of it? I'm confused on several levels. One of two things is happening here: either this guy is literally a robot, or he is the actual most boring person I've ever interacted with.
9. Making 27 comments about "I never know what to say on these things" or "how awkward this is LOL" does not, in fact, make it less awkward.
10. If we're out, on a date, and I tell you I don't want gravy fries, please don't embarrass us both by trying to peer pressure me into ordering them while the waiter stands there, awkwardly, probably considering if we'd notice if he just slipped away and avoided this whole situation. Force feeding me food I don't want is not attractive and will not, in fact, lead to us going two-stepping together after our drink, which you had originally hoped for.

So there you have it. There are some normal people on there, I think, they're just... harder to come by, let's say. Lots of people date online. Some people even succeed and get married and live happily ever after and I think that's superb. So while I genuinely see nothing wrong with it and I'm sure some of those people I mentioned are perfectly normal men who simply made bad dating-profile choices, I think I'm done with it for now. I just don't feel great about feeling like my every word, photo, and habit is being judged and analyzed by weirdos using the internetz from their mom's basement.

Someday I'll get better at this whole deal. I mean, I will, right? I will. I think. Either way, I've met too many unicorns to get caught up with robots who "don't know much food science" or two-stepping-gravy-fry-pushers. Plus, maybe some girl out there wants to date a guy who can't spell and loves cats and has an assortment of floral bedspreads. I bet the weirdies are unicorns for someone, too.

I like that, actually. Let's end with that.
On the high note of a low point.

December 6, 2011

at times most unexpected

I missed you today.

And it never happens when I expect it to, but at times most unexpected, which is tricky. Because instead of being ready for it I'm standing in a store and I see something you'd like. And I think, what a perfect gift! Before my brain has time to catch up, I hold the thing in my hand. I applaud myself again for how much you will love it.

And then I remember.

I prepare for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, important days. I know they will be sad and I am ready. But I do not prepare myself for walking through a store. I cannot anticipate that I might hear that song you loved. I don't know how to plan for being caught off guard.

That is a hard thing about grief, to be standing in the sale room of a store in a mall holding measuring spoons shaped like fish in my hands and I feel like I can't breathe because I forgot, for a moment, that I cannot buy you presents.

On the other hand, I don't mind that every now and then you are still so present to me that I want to buy you one. That's how I get myself to let go of the fish and walk back out of the sale room and into the mall and so on and so forth; because it is in those moments, in songs and stores and other little pieces of you out there in the big wide world, that I remember how to keep breathing and living and being ok. Because no matter what any of us do or where we go or how well we prepare for any of it, you'll always be there, in those places, with each of us. At times most unexpected.

December 1, 2011

the one where I guest post for reverie.

How I get so lucky as to be a guest poster on sweet Sarah's reverie blog, I just don't know. But sometimes she lets me and today is one of those times! The topic she presented spoke to my soul and I had no choice but to answer. Here is that answer. And while you're there, definitely read some of Sarah's brilliant writing!

Also, something funny: in order to submit this post, I had to post an original photo with it. I toiled over what to do and ended up having a delightfully awkward afternoon photo shoot with my friend and coming up with the photo for the post. But we also came up with these which I think demonstrate pretty adequately how not acquainted I am with posing for photo shoots. Hope you enjoy.

sorry, subscribers...

Last night I pressed the wrong key and accidentally posted something unintentionally. It was an old post I was playing with and it's not done and I didn't mean to post it. Soooooo... ignore it. Or don't, I guess, that's your call. The original is probably better and you can find that here.