the untitled project

My POV. Unmasked. I'm not invisible here.

The balcony

“A part of maturity is learning to love some people from a distance. To keep their well-being in your prayers, but take a path away from them.”

When I first saw this quote it reminded me of something I used to tell my clients: “Not everyone deserves a seat in the front row of your life. Some people need to be seated a few rows back. Some people belong up in the balcony. Some need to be booted out of the theater altogether.”

Fortunately, we get to decide who gets a seat in the front row and who doesn’t. If someone is treating you badly, disrespecting you, trying to convince you that you’re unlovable, maybe it’s time they move to the balcony.

Clients would often say, “But not family!” To which I’d say, “Especially family.” Just because someone is a relative doesn’t give them license to treat you with less care and consideration. And being a “nice” person does not mean you are required to cheerfully take everyone’s crap. That’s not being “nice,” that’s being a doormat. Being nice and having a spine and some self-respect are not mutually exclusive.

Who in your life needs to move to the balcony?

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Don’t be afraid

Pure evil. Such a simple concept, isn’t it? Good vs. evil. It’s the foundation of every good book, every good movie, any good story. It’s a concept as old as humanity itself. Can everything really be boiled down to good vs. evil? Even our tattered society that every day seems crazier and closer to unraveling completely?

The tear has torn deeper. We divide ourselves in half, us vs. them. We turn away from one another and cocoon ourselves in our own correct perspectives. We don’t listen, we don’t even try to understand. We just write off the “other side” as, at the very least, ill-informed, if not just plain delusional. No compromise, no benefit of the doubt, not even a tiny step toward the middle. Why should I? After all, I’m the one who’s right!

The one who is most satisfied and thrilled by our human angst and anger is the Enemy. The Enemy has been manipulating us, using us, lying to us since the beginning of time. The Enemy feeds lavishly on our negative emotion. Nurtured by our many fears and suspicions, and feeding them back to us, it’s a dark web of disease that eventually destroys us. While the Enemy — fat, happy and laughing at us — only gets stronger. Lately, the Enemy has been dancing around this endless buffet of our rage and contempt toward one another, greedily lapping up every drop. Time to shut down the buffet…

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid because I am with you. In this world, you will have dark days, days that suck, days that will make you question everything and wonder if any of it is really worth it. But I have good news: I am bigger and badder than all of it. I’ve overcome all of it. And I’m with you, holding your hand, and I will never let go. Seriously, I mean never. I love you too much. I’ve chosen you. Even when you waver, you are still Mine and I’m not going anywhere. Period. So no matter what the world may throw at you, or how hopeless it all seems, I am still in control. You may not understand any of it. That doesn’t change the fact that you and I both know how this ends…

“In the meantime, I’ll hold you while you cry and mourn. I’ll cry with you. It’s okay. It’s okay that you cannot even imagine how much I love you or the wonderful gifts I have in store for you. But one day, I’ll show you. I’ll make everything new again and you will be beyond amazed! I can’t wait to show you!

“For now, don’t be afraid.

“Don’t be afraid.

“I am closer than your breath.

“Don’t be afraid.”

   

How do you read it?

“There was a man walking across an open field, when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to give chase. The man began to run, but the tiger was closing in. As he approached a cliff at the edge of the field, the man grabbed a vine and jumped over the cliff. Holding on as tight as he could, he looked up and saw the angry tiger prowling out of range, ten feet above him. He looked down. In the gully below, there were two tigers also angry and prowling. He had to wait it out. He looked up again and saw that two mice, one white, the other black, had come out of the bushes and had begun gnawing on the vine, his lifeline. As they chewed the vine thinner and thinner, he knew that he could break at any time. Then, he saw a single strawberry growing just an arm’s length away. Holding the vine with one hand, he reached out, picked the strawberry, and put it in his mouth. It was delicious.”

There are two possible lessons — one quite opposite from the other — to be gleaned from this well-known Buddhist parable. The first, a common interpretation, is the importance of living in the moment. Despite the terrible danger the man finds himself in, with the two mice (one white, one black, representing day and night) busily gnawing away at the vine (his lifeline), he wisely reaches out and plucks the beautiful red strawberry and pops it in his mouth, savoring its tart, juicy sweetness. He is truly living in the moment.

On the other hand, could the lesson be how foolish the man is to allow himself to be distracted by the hedonistic pleasures in front of him, instead of working to rescue himself from a perilous situation? I’ve seen both viewpoints taught and the latter promotes resistance of frivolous distractions, taking control of the situation by climbing up that vine while you still can and killing that stupid tiger!

How you interpret this parable will likely depend upon your spiritual orientation. Serious religious scholars of all persuasions would balk at this, but I’ve always had a problem with the notion of “absolute truth.” I’m not sure it exists. For me, I choose to espouse the “living in the moment” lesson. How wise would it be to climb up the vine and try to kill an angry, hungry tiger? And by doing that, the man wouldn’t get to enjoy the strawberry. Maybe God called the man’s attention to that strawberry as a sort of “last meal” before he’s mauled to death by the tigers below. Maybe the man’s ability to momentarily ignore the overwhelming negatives in his life and just indulge in the simple pleasure of a delicious strawberry is representative of how we can live our own lives. Sure, the negative stuff is there and we have to deal with it, but the positives are also there and we can choose to focus on and savor those… if we allow ourselves to do so. What’s your take?

[Thanks, Peni, for the great philosophical discussion!]

For the girls

Advice for girls:
Be loud and gross and take up space.
Stop saying “sorry” and start saying “don’t interrupt me.”
Stop saying “Because I have a boyfriend” and start saying “because I said so.”
Say “no” and say “none of your business.”
Take selfies and don’t laugh at jokes that aren’t funny.
Be snide and sarcastic and wear your hair the way you like it.
Help out other girls and be vocal about what makes you mad.
Be masculine and feminine and both and neither and be unapologetic.
Don’t set aside your comfort for boys’ egos.
***
I saw the above on social media this week and found myself wishing I’d read it when I was 12 years old instead of 56. I’m not one to spend a lot of time second-guessing or agonizing over my life choices beyond learning from mistakes because, really, where does that get you? It’s not just an unproductive punishment, it’s simply a waste of time and energy.

Still, I wish I could have read, understood, and internalized the above advice decades ago. I was raised to be a people-pleaser and became an introvert somewhere along the path. Staying out of everyone’s way and learning to be content with my own company has been both blessing and curse over the years. Now, I am certainly closer to being the person described above. When I reached my 50s, a light bulb popped on over the head of my inner adult and I felt like I’d finally earned the right to be who I am. But I still have work to do.

It’s kind of a shame that we often don’t fully develop our true selves until much later in life. The time to make so many enormous and consequential life choices comes at the beginning, when we’re all a little crazy, green, and uninformed. (Who came up with that timeline?) And it’s at that stage, ironically, that we think we are perfectly capable and know everything. But very few people get everything right the first time. Bless those do-overs life sometimes gives you. To make better choices, allowing a chance for real contentment to settle in.

How will you honor your true self today? Today, I may not be “loud and gross,” but I’m definitely planning on taking up more space.
 

 

No judgment

John 3:16 is arguably the most widely known book, chapter, and verse of the Bible. You see it on signs in the end zone stands at football games, on billboards, even on t-shirts. The verses that follow John 3:16 are less well-known.

John 3:17-18 read: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.

That’s Christ talking and I love that part. But then, it’s easy for me to love that part because I’m not in a leadership position in a church and nobody really cares what I believe. Nobody is coming to me for guidance, or for the “last word” on what they should believe.

I often feel sorry for church leaders, especially nowadays. What a difficult position to be in, trying to navigate our modern-day world while viewing everything through a Biblical lens. Trying not to offend the hard-core Christians (read evangelicals), while still remaining inclusive of all of God’s children.

The organized church has made it easier by always viewing sexual sins as worse than any other type of sin. Nowhere in the Bible will you find sexual sins touted as worse than any other sin, but we humans have categorized them as such. As a Christian, you can be forgiven by fellow Christians for every other sin, except a sin involving sex, i.e. an affair, being sexually attracted to a member of the same gender, stuff like that. And heaven help you if you’re a member of church leadership and commit a sexual sin… wooweeee! You in big trouble now! You might as well pack your bags.

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.

Some sins we humans just cannot forgive. And we feel it’s our duty to point out where we believe others are lacking and going off the rails. There’s plenty of judgment to go around, but very little love and even less forgiveness. I think it’s because we feel that to forgive is to condone, even though we have the example of Christ to go by. It’s really pretty simple: Our job is to love and forgive. Judging falls in God’s job description. We’re off the hook on that one.

But how are we supposed to feel superior to lesser Christians if we can’t judge them? Where’s the fun in that? Well, I’m afraid that’s one wicked indulgence we’ll have to give up if we want to be more Christ-like. Nobody said being a Christian was easy.

The big cover-up

Last fall, I attended a baby shower for a friend of mine. During the event, I noticed a young mother across the room who was sitting with a blanket draped over her body from neck to lap, and a pair of little feet sticking out from beneath the blanket. Despite my lack of experience with kids, I knew exactly what was going on under that blanket and I found myself feeling indignant. Having never given it much thought before, I knew at that moment exactly what my stance was on women breastfeeding their children in public.

They absolutely should feel free to do so.

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. As the saying goes, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Even so, I do believe I’ve become pretty good at spotting hypocrisy and stupidity when I see it, and forcing a woman to cover herself and her child under a hot blanket while breastfeeding has got to be on the Top Five List of most ridiculous constraints ever foisted on women.

And I think I may have a theory as to why the practice of public breastfeeding makes some people so uncomfortable. We have all been taught, from a very young age, that the female breast is exclusively a sexual apparatus. Even elementary school kids know “boobies = sex.” So when a mother is brazen enough to bare her breasts in public for any reason, it feels wrong. Scandalous. It feels as though she’s preparing for public sex. Our society has been marinating in sex for so many years, when we see a bare breast in public, it’s difficult to make the leap from sexual purpose to the very utilitarian purpose of feeding a baby.

Picture for a moment your parents naked and having sex. Now, acknowledge that intense feeling of “ick” that you just experienced. It is weapons-grade discomfort, right? That feeling factors in, too. Your mom’s breasts were originally designed to feed you, just as your grandmother’s breasts were designed to feed your mom. It’s a brilliant system, common everywhere in the animal kingdom, providing the best possible nutrition for offspring.

So why should a mother cover herself and her nursing child under a blanket to appease your misguided sense of impropriety? To calm your feeling of “ick” because it forces your mind’s eye to see your mom’s breast, feeding you? You are witnessing nature at its finest. Humans are the only species that gets all twisted over this natural, beautiful process and requires mothers to cover themselves as if they’re doing something they should be ashamed of. They’re not. Please, get a grip and grow up.

First date

Today is a very special day. It was on this day, July 30, 2000, also a Sunday, that Marcus and I had our first date.

After multiple attempts during our marriage, I had finally left my husband earlier that day. I had tried to leave before, but he always talked me into staying by telling me that if I left him, he’d stop paying our mortgage payments and then the bank would come after me for the money, which I didn’t have. Fearing I’d have to declare bankruptcy, ruining my credit for years, I stayed with the abusive jackass far longer than I should have. Eventually, I got so sick and tired of putting up with his crap, I said, “Fuck it, you know what? I don’t even care anymore. Whatever the fallout from my leaving, bring it. I’ll deal with it. It can’t be worse than what I’ve been living with.”

A neighbor was outside and saw me putting my suitcase into the back of my car. He said, “Going on a trip?” I said, “Yep!” thinking to myself, And I ain’t never comin’ back!

Feeling like I’d just been released from prison, I drove to a hotel on the outskirts of town and checked in. Once in my room, I called my mom. Then I called my friend Marcus, who had already shown me more respect, attention, and tenderness in the short time I’d known him than hubby had shown in the past five years.

Marcus told me he had a wedding to attend later that afternoon, and would I be interested in accompanying him? Afterwards, we could “grab a bite to eat.” I said, “Sure, I’d love to!”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Within six weeks, we were living together. This past February, we celebrated 15 years of marriage, and I have never had cause to even question, much less regret, my decision. Thank you, God, for giving me the strength to leave a miserable situation and choose the right one.

[The photo above is of Marcus and me on our honeymoon in 2002.]

 

Trading places

Driving around town the other day, I noticed, as I often do, a work crew from the local prison complex mowing and weed-whacking the grass along the side of the road. I’ve noticed these crews in the median of Dual Highway as well.

This arrangement seems like a win-win. It gets a job done that needs to be done, while providing an opportunity for inmates to be outside and away from the prison for a few hours doing something productive. Every time I see these crews, I want to thank them for beautifying our environment. My guess is that some people driving along in their cars would gladly trade places with those guys. Not the inmate part, but the grounds working part.

Once upon a time, I inhabited the corporate world. I worked for a behemoth Fortune 100 company in one of their communications and PR departments. For the most part, it was a great job, but I eventually got tired of the constraints and group-think that come with that territory. It seemed as though we were always in meetings, either at the regional office or off-site. One of my mentors within the company knew of my frustration with perpetual meetings. I once told him: “I attend so many meetings, I don’t have time to do my job.” He said: “I thought attending meetings WAS our job.”

We were off-site at yet another “leadership meeting” [insert eye roll here] and I was in charge of a presentation to the group. I was prepared, but more than a little anxious. I left my hotel room with my computer bag weighed down with equipment and materials for the meeting, and stood waiting for the elevator. I looked down the hallway and saw a maid from housekeeping going back and forth from a room to her cart. I think she caught me staring at her and possibly thought I felt sorry for her, a lowly maid, while I was clearly on my way to some corporate function.

But the truth is, it was the exact opposite. I actually envied her. I felt like saying, “Hey, how about you take this heavy computer bag full of crap and attend my meeting and I’ll stay up here and do your job? I love to clean and it’s nice and quiet up here. I can clean these rooms … not as well as you can, but I could do it and have a much more relaxed day up here in all this lovely solitude.”

Alas, it was just a fantasy. I attended my meeting and everything went fine. But I often think about that housekeeper in that hotel. She’ll never know it, but she brought into clear focus for me that day that there’s dignity in all work that’s done well, and that sometimes, people aren’t thinking what you think they’re thinking.

Just like those inmates along the side of the road. I have no idea what their individual stories are, but I hope they’re enjoying their time in the sunshine and fresh air because I am definitely enjoying the results of the valuable work they do.

Grace

I love the fact that salvation cannot be earned. It’s a gift offered to us by a loving Father who’s known from the beginning that none of us could ever earn it anyway. So it makes sense that earning salvation was never part of the plan. Because it’s impossible. No matter how good you are, you cannot earn it.

We humans are all in the same boat on that account. From the greatest to the smallest, we are all equal opportunity sinners in our Father’s eyes. From the Pope to Mother Teresa, from Charles Manson to Jeffrey Dahmer… Sin automatically comes with the territory of being human. If you’re born a human, you are a condemned sinner from Day One. All of us stand on that level playing field, no exceptions.

BUT… by accepting God’s gift of grace that’s available to everyone no matter what, we can be seen as flawless in our Father’s eyes. You know that parent who always sees their kids as perfect and they can do no wrong? Whatever horrible things you’ve done in your life, whatever nasty things you’ve said or thought, you are already forgiven. The price has already been paid in full, about 2,000 years ago. Even if your fellow humans have not forgiven you, your Father has. He loves you beyond measure, even when you don’t deserve it. And not one of us deserves it. Yet there He is, loving us with abandon day after day… waiting for us to acknowledge Him. He won’t push Himself on you, He’s not like that. He waits patiently, yearning for you to ask for His help, express gratitude, or even just talk to Him. Like any loving parent, He wants to give us everything. But we have to ask. And we have to accept His gifts with a grateful heart. The greatest being grace.

Yellow roses

Me: “This room has a nice view, Dad. Look at all those rose bushes they have planted right outside your window! I’ll bet they’re really beautiful when they’re all blooming.”

Dad: “The yellow ones are my favorite.”

Me: “Really? I didn’t know yellow roses were your favorite.”

Dad: “Yeah, I think they’re really pretty.”

I’ll bet Heaven has the prettiest yellow roses you’ve ever seen, Dad. We’ll pick them together when I get there. I love you and miss you everyday.

Happy Father’s Day. See you soon!

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