Someone stole my gluten….

Two years ago this fall, in the middle of some really, really difficult days, I requested a full physical from my doctor. The result of that physical has been two years of figuring out why I have ongoing acute anemia–despite giving up my vegetarian diet and 5 iron infusions over the course of 18 months.

Those two years have included many days where I felt like utter crap physically. I gave up running. I never felt rested. I paid close attention to what foods/activity made me feel good and what didn’t. I spent many hours and many dollars in the offices of specialists.

Spoiler alert: I’m fine. Totally fine.

Well, except for this one little thing: I am currently being treated for (read: living my life as if) I have celiac disease (not the same thing as a gluten allergy–an autoimmune disease that attacks your small intestine, that is triggered by gluten).

One very persistent (and honestly kinda cocky with terrible bedside manner) GI specialist put two and two together on lots of things and finally said to me, “Julie, I suspect you have celiac disease. All our tests and biopsies say so. And I need you to go on a strict gluten-free diet immediately and then in a few months we’ll check your blood work again and I think it will be fine.”

And just like that, I did it. Cold turkey.

Ok, here’s the deal. I am not writing about this for sympathy–and I have a hard and fast rule about personal boundaries and oversharing via social media. But I’ve learned some things in the last few weeks that have mattered a great deal to me, and I think, maybe, they are life lessons in general. So…FWIW:

It is so, so nice to be loved well enough to be known. The first people I told about this celiac thing said to me, “What about bourbon and ice cream?” And, thankyousweetbabyjesus, these two vices of mine are totally fine (barring ice cream with things like pretzels or cookie dough–but those are easily worked around).

I have a much deeper appreciation than I already did for those who have “silent diseases” that require huge life changes and sometimes awkward social conversation. Like my sweet friend Ellen, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes while she was in high school–requiring an instant and massive life adjustment that she has handled with more grace and courage than you can imagine.

I’m annoyed–even more so–by those who are gluten-free because it is (so very oddly, says the Celiac Foundation website) somehow trendy to do that these days. This isn’t a choice for me. Like, at all. I’d never in a million years choose it. I have favorite restaurants I can’t go to easily anymore, favorite beer I cannot drink, and when someone says, “Hey, wanna do dinner this weekend?” I am immediately paralyzed with, “Um, where are we going? Can I eat there?”

Speaking of dinner out…this, for me, is the worst part. I love food. More specifically, I love good food. Being at table with people I love is one of my most favorite things. Some of my best memories are of eating and drinking with the ones I love best, sharing in rich conversation and laughing until our sides hurt. Obviously I can still do this–but it requires more thought and intention than it used to…and I despise feeling like a special case.

Solidarity matters. It means the world when your daughter and your favorite companion help you demolish 2 dozen homemade gluten-free chocolate chip cookies over the course of a week and say, “Just make those from now on…they’re good!” Because I love baking. And I especially love baking for those nearest and dearest to me. Also someone (who doesn’t have to) sharing a gluten-free pizza with you is pretty much gold standard caring and cannot be beat.

And I think, finally, what I am is grateful. Even when I find myself crying in the middle of Paul’s Market because I can’t get my beloved Paul’s BLT on their amazing sourdough bread for lunch anymore. Because what I know is this: it could be so much worse. I am the age my mother was when she had breast cancer, terrifying all of us. And last week, the 45 year old brother of a friend of mine dropped dead from a heart attack, leaving behind two sons and an adoring wife. And…fill in blank. These bodies of ours–they are amazing. But sometimes, they need special care. Sometimes, they fail us. Sometimes, we have to do their bidding in order to live a really full life.

So yea, my gluten’s been stolen. And it is not easy. And it is disorienting. And it requires that I shop, plan, eat, cook and budget differently. But, I’ve had some good help–my sister, some friends near and far, and the ever-loving, so-often-annoying, but-right-now-very-helpful internet have rescued me from utter gluten despair (yes, you can laugh at my drama there!).

And the help reminds me of the truest thing I know–it takes a damn village, people. All the time. Every day. No matter what. I know, I know–I say this all the time, but it is true–we do not traverse this life alone. At least not successfully. Every single one of us is indebted to another. And this is not something to ashamed of; in fact, it is grace. Working its beautiful mercy across our lives and reminding us that we were, at the very core of our beings, built to help each other. Made for relationship. Nothing else works. Not in our families, our social circles, our churches, our communities, our countries…at least, not for long.

This is what I want for all of us. What I find us falling so short of these days. What I say, somehow, in everything I write and every sermon I preach: we are better together. Stronger together. Made to be…together.

Got it?

Okay.

Now…if you’ll excuse me…I’m off to find some coffee. Because, also thankyousweetbabyjesus, that has not been stolen from me after all.

 

 

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Moon’s grace. Sun’s mercy.

“Every morning is an expression of your mercy, God, and every evening a benediction of your grace.”

(The Reverend Dr. Fred B. Craddock, one Sunday morning at the original location of Cherry Log Christian Church)

***

We followed the most gorgeous moon to school this morning. Full and bright and still glowing just before 7am, it hung over the bustle of a city just waking up for a Monday like the most perfect of jewels. Almost as if it had been set just so over the skyline, a divine reminder that the rat race, it’s real, but so is startling beauty, and sometimes it just takes looking up to see it.

Middle school has brought with it leaving at still-dark-thirty. We head west from our neighborhood, through to the other side of downtown, to get through the car rider line on time. The adjustment has not been easy, but I’ll tell you, if it means we get to follow that moon on clear mornings such as these…well, maybe it’ll be okay.

I dropped her off, waved at the kind and smiling man who ushers the car riders into the school gym every morning 7 and 7:30, blew kisses to the girl and headed back east. And as I rode the ramp back up to the interstate, back through downtown, there was the sun. A giant flaming ball, just rising over the river, coming up from behind the Abraham Lincoln Bridge with confidence and grace, its light working its way across the still water, the waterfront hotels and walkways, and through the streets of our business district, all of it still pearly and soft, like it was trying to ease us all into Monday without too much of a jolt.

And my lips formed the words I once heard a very wise and very faithful old pastor pray, when I was young and headstrong and thought I knew everything, “Every morning, God, is an expression of your mercy, and every evening a benediction of your grace.”

The words stuck with me–at first because I thought they were pretty. And I am a sucker for pretty words. But as I said…I knew very little then. I know now how much more the words are than pretty.

Every morning is an expression of Your mercy. Every evening is a benediction of Your grace.

These words stick with me now as both desperate prayer and joyful thanksgiving. A prayer that I will err on the side of love when at all possible for me to do so, because life is so precious and so sacred and so short. Joyful thanksgiving for the grace that helps me do so.

I fall short of the “erring on the side of love,” most days. I fail to be thankful many days. But this is the mark I work towards, and working towards it is the only way I know how to be anymore. Because…life…sometimes it sucks.

Yesterday was a very full and very exhausting and in some ways a very hard day. I had on my mind people I love who are hurting deeply and feeling so very broken. I did not handle my girl’s sass and attitude with the sort of humor and patience I usually can, and it ended in frustration for us both. (All is well and forgiven, but such parenting moments leave sore spots in our hearts, right, moms and dads?) I listened to the stories of church members who are carrying such heavy things…and my heart ached for the ways we often lean first toward destruction, the tearing down of one another as opposed to edification, the building up.

It just felt heavy–like I’d left my whole heart on that day’s stage of my existence. 

That moon this morning gathered my heart back up. Reminded me of that old pastor’s words that every single day is a gift, God’s mercy surrounding us in ways we don’t even know, relentlessly pursuing us, drawing us in, refusing to let us go, even, and perhaps especially, when all seems lost.

Know this, friends–whatever you’ve been taught, whatever you’ve been shown to the contrary–there is nothing, nothing, that can separate you from God’s love for you. Nothing that can take away God’s mercy. Nothing that can stand between you and God’s grace.

Not a single thing. Not a single situation. Not a single person. No matter who you are. No matter where you’ve been. No matter what life has handed you.

Nothing can separate you from God’s love for you. Always, it is with you. As the sun rises each morning and the moon rises each night.

And I don’t know what you do with such a stubborn, insistent, unconditional love except be grateful.

And do your level best to live your life and have your being in ways that express it.

 

 

 

 

For Curly Girl (and your child, too, or a child you love as a new school year begins…).

Dear Maddy,

You’d think it was a normal evening at our house if you just happened by. Mommy at the computer with wine and music. You watching a show before bed. If you look close, though, things are little more organized tonite. A little tighter. Cleaner. More ready for the next day. Which is not typically your mama’s MO. But tonite it has been my therapy while I push back sobs and channel my angst with laundry and paperwork, and then turn on my best smile and biggest hugs for you while you pack your new backpack and pick out your clothes and braid your hair so the curls will fall just right tomorrow….

Tomorrow. Your first day of middle school.

Middle school was not great for me. I suppose it could have been worse–but I mostly just tried to get through it. I was super awkward and super insecure and hadn’t figured out the really cool things about myself yet. You, my girl, are so far ahead. You’re confident. Strong. Sure of yourself. And full of more love and grace than I can even begin to describe. Your care for those around you astounds me. Your capacity for joy even more, especially when life has handed you such a rotten, awful deal in some ways.

And this means, that deep in the marrow of my bones, I know you are ready. And you will be fine. Even on the hard days. It will be okay and you and I will make it through the vast wasteland of middle school, hopefully avoiding the most landmines we can along the way.

You’ll be okay. It’s the giant world that scares me–because I know it will break your heart a thousand times, as it already has, and my ability to protect you from its wrath grows less and less the older you get.

This whole blessed summer we’ve hung in this marvelous space between what was and what will be–suspended with friends and family and long summer days turning into beautiful summer evenings. I’ve had you right with me most of the time, and it has been bliss. But tomorrow, tomorrow you walk into middle school, and I can already see you holding yourself taller, smiling at the new adventures. You’re so ready for this. And I am in awe of how fast you’ve grown and how long ago and also just yesterday those early days of just you and me, when everything was so simple and I could hold you tight against me and breathe in the scent of you and all was right with the world, seem.

I blinked, my precious girl. And here you are. Ready to take on the world. 

I ache for the ways your life has already taught you pain. A million times a day I want to tell you how sorry I am for the things that have taught you far too young that this life we live can be so brutal.

And a million times a day I also want to say, “But see how beautiful, too?” Because oh, my sweet girl…you are so loved. So held firm in the grip of a village mightier than you even know. It eases the sore and grieved spots in my heart on a daily basis when I remember the truth I’ve promised you for years now, “You will never be alone. No matter what.”

I have no idea what’s coming for us, kiddo. Life has changed so much in the last few years for us I hardly recognize it–and I have no idea how tomorrow or the next day or the next year will unfold. What I know is that we have people. And we have laughter. And we know joy. And this is everything.

And so, Curly Girl, tonite I pray. Fiercely. For your safety (God how I pray for your safety, wanting to fall to my knees sometimes with the desperation of it). For your heart to remain full of love. For your mind to grow and learn and drink up new knowledge. For your spirit to remain intact, firm in the truth that you are God’s and God is love and nothing can ever change that. Nothing. Not ever.

And I pray for the other kids we love. For Gabriel and Ruby. For Livy and Ethan. For Beckett and Jett. For Madeline. And I pray for our teacher friends and the ones who’ve brought you this far, giving thanks especially these last two years for our LPAS family. They have quite literally carried us, sweet girl, and I’m not even sure you realize how much. And I pray for the new family we’ll have at WMSFA. That we’ll find our place, and that you’ll be able to seek and find some good friends for the journey and some golden teachers to inspire you along the way.

Tears fall, tonite, my girl, on this keyboard. I cannot help it. And in them is all my love for you and all my joy and pride in who you are becoming.

Break a leg, Curly Girl–this world? It is your stage, and the role you have to play, and the song you have to sing–it matters so very much. 

All my love, to the moon and back,

Mommy

 

Their skin.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written. Full stop.

I am not sure there is another book that deals with the intricacies and complexities of small town southern life in that day and time with more accuracy and care and intention. I somehow feel for every person in it, even the decidedly unlikable ones, and the capacity of the book to help people understand the harm that can be done by real prejudice, real hate and real selfishness is unmatched…as is, thankfully and conversely, the book’s capacity to see how real good and honest care for one another can cause shift toward compassion and forgiveness.

I could barely contain my glee when the Curly Girl chose TKAM to read from the list recommended by her new middle school for summer reading. The book is a challenge for her–not in content, but in the difficult vocabulary, whip smart whit, and complex sentence structure. Harper Lee did not play with the English language. She mastered it, and then used it to weave a completely delightful, painful, gut-wrenching and inspiring story.

(Also it took CG about 5 pages to declare, “Scout is amazing.” But I saw that coming a mile away.)

All this to say, we’re making our way through it. Slowly, and with lots of pauses, but surely. And then, last night, we stumbled on these words from Atticus Finch, Scout’s father–a widower, a lawyer, and a true believer in good:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-”

“Sir?”

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

(Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird)

We read the words twice, and I asked CG if she knew what Atticus meant. “Yes,” she said, “he means you have to try to walk in their shoes.”

And in that moment I knew, I do not care if she gets anything else from the book, as long as she gets this one thing, “…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it….”

Because good lord, y’all. If there were ever a time in the history of these United States when it would be a really good thing for us all to heed Atticus’ advice…this would be it.

This. Would. Be. It.

  • If you are not a woman who has been sexually harassed or assaulted at work, you do not know how helpless it can make even the mightiest woman feel, and how much shame it can produce.
  • If you have not been divorced, you do not know how it feels or how difficult it is to truly heal from. No matter the reason.
  • If you have not been life-threateningly ill, you do not know the fear it causes, deep in your bones, and how that fear sticks with you, even when you are well.
  • If you are not a Muslim intent on peace and charity and prayer, you do not know what it is like to fear you will be mistaken for the “other kind.” And if you are not a Christian intent on peace and charity and prayer, you do not know what it is like to fear you will be mistaken for the “other kind.”
  • If you are not a black man who has never known anything but poverty and violence and prejudice, you do not know what it’s like to try to thrive past all that.
  • If you are not a white man who feels unheard, left behind, as if his voice and presence no longer matter, you do not know how it feels to try to make sense of a very different world.
  • If you are not a single parent, you do not know how much harder it is to do…just to do…every single day.
  • If you are not a gay person, you do not know what it is like to struggle with the fear, and confusion and sometimes shame of figuring it all out while you search for someone, anyone, who will love you through it.
  • If you are not a mother fearful that her children will be swept up by the gangs in her Central American country, you do not know what it’s like to be willing to risk an illegal crossing into the United States, even if it means prosecution.
  • If you have not been directly affected by addiction–of any kind–you do not know. You just do not know.
  • If you are not a Trump supporter, you do not really know why another person would be. And if you were not an Obama supporter, you do not really know why another person would be.

You cannot know. You cannot begin to understand. Any of these things. Unless…

Unless…

Unless you (we) first learn to listen.

To listen.

Without already forming an response in our heads.

Without assuming our way is better no matter what.

Without any other motive than real understanding.

Without an honest effort to know the story of another person and find some common ground.

(Spoiler alert: If you are willing to dig deep enough, to be vulnerable enough, there is almost always common ground. Almost always.)

Look, I know. There is such a thing as real narcissism. And also real evil. And I have seen the damage and heartache both of those things can wreak. And I am not writing for such folks, because I believe we have to protect ourselves from that ilk and, also, I believe that they are painful exceptions to the rules that there is, almost always, common ground. That there is, almost always, a story that matters. That there is, almost always, a way to forward.

It’s so hard, y’all. I know.

It’s so hard to try to consider why someone would do something or believe something that you vehemently disagree with. It’s so hard to try to lift ourselves out of our own experience and into someone else’s. It’s so hard to actually do the work of lacing up someone else’s shoes and walking around in them.

But what I know for sure is this: when we do, when we do this hard work of listening, of making a real effort to understand…it makes all the difference. Transformative, sea change kind of difference.

Because it is only in this hard work that perspectives shift and hearts soften and the hope for kinder, more just and more whole communities becomes possible.

Their skin. Trying it on isn’t easy. But I believe with everything I’ve got that it might actually be worth the effort. Besides…Atticus says so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey America? Our kids are watching.

As many of you know, one of my favorite things ever is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. SVU will begin its 20th season this fall, and I have been watching since the beginning. Mariska Hargitay is my #1 woman crush, and I used to say that meeting her was on my bucket list–but I’m pretty sure I would just stammer and ugly cry and maybe pass out if I actually got that chance, so I’ve resigned myself to admiring her from afar.

There’s an episode of SVU involving a little boy–roughly 5 or 6–who is caught in the middle of a vicious and violent divorce. Mom and Dad, for multiple reasons, are splitting up and their anger at one other is very loud and very toxic. As is often the case with divorce. Because no matter the reasons, it is awful. And it can make the most peaceful of human beings want to do the most not peaceful things. Shattered hearts and destroyed dreams are not to be underestimated when it comes to the capacity of one human to exact pain on another human–even one he or she once loved very much.

Anyway, in this particular episode, little Tommy sneaks down the stairs one night in the midst of a very heated argument between his parents. Insults and names and accusations are being hurled back and forth and things are getting worse and worse. And suddenly, into the din, breaks Tommy’s voice, “Mommy? Daddy?” And Mommy and Daddy see his tearstained terrified face and suddenly they realize–our kid…he’s watching. He’s seeing us tear each other apart.

Hey, United States of America? Our kids are watching.

Did you hear me? Our kids are watching.

They see us pointing fingers and declaring who is right and who is wrong.

They see us choosing party over country.

They see us judge one another for the color of our skin.

They see us shooting one another.

They see us not doing a damn thing, really, to stop the influx of opioids into every community in this country.

They see us calling names and throwing jeers and crafting insults and using whatever supposed hot take we’ve come up with for the day to exact our rage on the world.

They see us refusing to work together.

They see us choosing power over love and profit over people.

They see us hiding behind our social media accounts so that we can be snarky without any accountability for it.

They see us.

And we should be ashamed of what we’re showing them. 

Look, I believe in God — a loving, generous, graceful God — and that this God created us and sustains us and loves us all beyond measure. And that cannot help but influence how I live and the choices I make.

And so, also…I believe in right and wrong, even if sometimes that’s hard to figure out. And I believe in community. And I believe in caring for one another. And I believe that sometimes I have to give up some privilege if it means someone suffering gets a leg up. I believe in investing in one another. I believe in civil rights. I believe that the American dream still exists and that we’ve done an awful job of protecting what it means to be a part of that dream.

I also believe our systems are broken and our country is terrified and that when things are broken and terrifying people tend to retreat to their safe corners and push away everything and everyone that poses a threat. Even if the threat is just disagreement.

Whatever your political affiliation, whatever your faith tradition, whatever your age and stage in life, this is a very, very difficult time. And that’s an understatement. But no matter how difficult things are, we are doing ourselves no favors, and we are certainly not helping our children learn how to navigate challenging times, with our refusal to engage in actual civil, public discourse.

There is a time and place for righteous anger. And we live in a country where we are free (I thought) to disagree with one another. But our disagreement, our anger–this is not license for cruelty. For dehumanizing one another. And we are, near as I can tell, becoming pros at the cruelty and dehumanizing.

And our kids are watching. 

Y’all, every single one of us has a story. Every single one of us has a reason we believe and act the way we do, and our lack of care for one another’s stories is going to be our undoing. I believe this with everything I am. Because that neighbor who voted/believes/lives life differently than you? There’s a reason. And isn’t just that he’s a “liberal snowflake,” or she’s a “cold hearted conservative.” There’s a story–I promise you. And until we make time and space to listen–really listen–to each other’s stories, we will remain at an impasse.

We suck at listening. At really hearing one another. Honestly. We’re terrible at it. And it’s destroying everything that’s good and decent and true and worth celebrating in this country. Because everyone needs to be heard. Really heard. Just like everyone needs to belong. Really belong. 

Most of all our kids. 

They’re watching. And my deep prayer is that we will come to our senses as a nation and realize this before it’s too late. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Ant Man and the Wasp (no spoilers, promise)

It’s been a hella busy July at our house. The girl child went to camp. I worked a lot. Then I went to NYC for a few days. Then there were various appointments to get to and now there’s “back to school” talk in the air already and I’m starting to get that panicky “What did I forget?” feeling just about every day (aside from my normal, “Where are my keys? Have you seen my phone? Augghh! I need to get gas!).

My yard is not anywhere near as pretty or well-groomed as I would like it to be, and for three summers now I have missed the garden I once had with squash and peppers and herbs and eggplants all growing so beautifully. Thank goodness for the retired cop who at least keeps the grass mowed for a modest fee once a week. His retirement side hustle is basically my salvation.

My room at home has been half-painted for a month. Major props to Neana for rallying the paint can and brushes while I was away and finishing the job.

My house is neat–but it ain’t clean, y’all. Not by a long shot.

And I often–often–feel as if I am letting those around me down…because the juggling act of a busy life sometimes means you drop a ball. And I despise dropping balls…the grace I extend to others in this area is not mine to receive (apparently).

Meanwhile, you know, our country is still in utter chaos and people are still mean and snarky and cruel, and life is scary and sometimes awful things happen and lives are broken and things are hard and money is tight and relationships suffer and hate seems to rage and selfish sometimes wins.

Because…you know…life. 

Life. 

And so yesterday, a rainy and muggy Sunday, me already tired from a full morning’s work, was the perfect day for a movie. Specifically one the Curly Girl and some of our favorites had been DYING to see: Ant Man and the Wasp, Marvel’s much-anticipated sequel to Ant Man (which was also a big hit in our house). All five of us watching together loved it, and anytime a movie appeals equally to ages 8-46, you can pretty much call it winning.

It was a welcome break from the chaos. The weighty things. The every day rat race of trying to balance work and home and everything in between. We got to sit. And breathe. And just be…while a wonderful story unfolded in front of us.

If you don’t do “superhero movies,” it’s easy to mark them off as merely child’s play, shallow fantasy, or pure fluff. And all I can say about this is to each their own, but you’re missing out on some incredible storytelling. And the Ant Man story is no exception. I mean, sure, he has this super cool suit that means he gets to minimize to ant size and get just about anywhere to solve just about any issue and destroy just about any force of evil. That’s badass enough. But also? He’s a dad. A single one at that. Who has been unfairly treated by the “justice” system. And who wants nothing more than to be with his beautiful little girl and maybe have a second chance at love and life.

Ant Man (Paul Rudd plays him ladies–need I say more?) is so gorgeously complicated on the one hand, and yet so completely simple on the other in his desire to be a good friend, make a decent living, be the best father he can be, and risk the beauty of falling in love again. And all I could think as the scenes flashed before me was, “This is life. In all its struggle and all its charm and all its shattered dreams and all its hope…this is life. And this man…he could be any of us, just trying desperately to do our best.”

And I immediately breathed a prayer of thanks for the normalcy of the moment. The realness of being in a normal theater on a normal day with people I care about so much and with a reminder of all that is good about this life playing out on the giant screen in front of me.

There’s a scene toward the end where a character I spent the first 3/4 of the movie hating suddenly becomes so human…so real in her pain and anger…it’s impossible to hate her when you realize that she’s hurting so deeply, and is so afraid. She tries to run off alone, to escape the pain she’s caused others…and her friend won’t let her. “I will not leave you,” he says.

I. Will. Not. Leave. You.

Y’all–if you have one person…even just one…in your life who will say this to you, who will promise to never leave you, no matter how much you may hate yourself, no matter what awful things you may have done, no matter how unworthy you feel…if you’ve got someone who will say that to you…hold on to that person. With everything you’ve got. 

Because this is what matters. Above everything else. And especially over and against the things that threaten to tear us apart. What matters is holding hands and sticking together. What matters is understanding that we belong to each other and that we are so much stronger together, when we stand in each other’s corners, and sit with each other’s pain, and help each other move forward into whatever is next. What matters is not facing it all alone.

Movies like Ant Man use fantasy to help us understand what is real. Throwing on a high-tech suit that’ll give you super powers? Probably fantasy. But being your daughter’s hero? Helping family find each other again? Opening your heart to the possibility of love? Rebuilding after you’ve lost everything you once dreamed of? That’s real. That’s completely and absolutely real. 

And, somehow, that gives me some hope. 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Feelings

I have never been one to hide what I am feeling very well.

(I also have RBF* and sometimes that gets misconstrued as me being angry, when I am totally not, but that’s another story…).

As one person who knows me very well says, “I mean, Jules, your face, it’s about as subtle as Times Square.”

Go ahead. You can laugh. 

Because it’s true. I have, what the school-age son of a dear friend of mine calls, Big Feelings.

Big. Feelings. And that means that on any given day, my heart breaks about a thousand times. And if you work with me, or are a regular part of my life in any way, man, I’m so sorry, because I’m sure it’s exhausting. Another person I know calls it being a “weeper,” and perhaps this is true. I express just about every emotion with tears: anger, sadness, joy, love, rage, frustration, heartache. Also if I am saying anything at all remotely important to me I’m likely to choke up.

I generally immediately apologize for the tears. I know they make a good number of folks uncomfortable. But trust me, they don’t need fixing. Or drying. You just have to roll with it, and get that I am having a Big Feeling and it must be expressed or I’ll likely explode.

There are times this really gets me in trouble (hence the sorry). Sometimes, the Big Feelings completely overtake me and I wind up trying to explain it. This is never a good idea. Because I sometimes say things that don’t need to be said. Or lose all perspective and wind up saying foolish and selfish things. Or make mountains out of molehills. Or basically just become irrational.

File those moments under #thingsJuliewishesshehadhandledbetter .

But here’s the thing I’m learning–or at least trying to. We’re all pretty jacked up. For all sorts of reasons, and generally the world asks us to set the jacked-up-ness aside, soldier up, and keep at it. And there’s some value in this–in being able to carry on with your life and work even though you feel like you might be dying inside.

Still, I think we often ask too much ourselves, and “bucking up buttercup” too often means being fake–both to ourselves and to the world around us. And I have to tell you, at age 43, I’ve had enough of fake. The moment we choose to be truer to our notion of what those around us want us to be than we are to ourselves, we become less of the person we were meant to be.

No matter how big they are, your feelings, they are yours. And you’re allowed.

I want to be clear that Big Feelings are no excuse for being an asshole. You don’t get to ruin everybody else’s day with your baggage and/or emotions. And you don’t get to treat others like crap just because you’re having a bad day. Have your feelings–but don’t force them on everyone around you. I’ve been guilty of this in my life–and always regret it.

You may be wondering why this matters enough to me to write about. I mean, come on, Jules–there’s a whole lot wrong with the world and you want to write about feelings?

Yea. I do. Because, yes, there is a whole lot wrong with the world. And we are all so very broken. And every day, it seems, we find a new reason to lash out at one another–the frequency with which we do that on social media, especially, is terrifying to me. It’s as if our Big Feelings give us license to attack and dehumanize anyone who doesn’t affirm or agree with us. And this is tearing at the fabric of our communities with deadly accuracy and consistency.

And sometimes the pendulum swings to the other side, and we find ourselves so afraid of offending someone and their feelings that we fail to even speak honestly or grapple with difficult situations with any integrity or courage. Also not helpful.

It’s such a fine balance–feeling what we feel and also recognizing that everyone else has baggage too and it might be real different than ours; feeling what we feel and also trying to pay attention to the feelings of those around us; feeling what we feel and trying to figure out what’s appropriate to share and act upon and what’s not.

Big. Feelings.

For me, what it boils down to is this (and let me just say real quick I rarely get this right…still…I’m working on it):

  1. Be you. Fully you. With all your flaws and all your awesomeness. And realize that for some people YOU may be too much. Or too wrong. Or too…YOU. These people are not the ones you hold on to.
  2. Big Feelings are real. And feeling them is honest. But you gotta find a way to put it all in perspective.
  3. This world is friggin’ angry. Especially our corner of it. And I swear to you that simple human decency and kindness is our only way out. Don’t be a jerk. Just don’t. (And yes, I made a note to self, here!).
  4. You are not responsible for another person’s feelings. But that doesn’t mean actively seeking to hurt another is okay either. See #3 (don’t be a jerk).
  5. Sometimes you just gotta step back. Hit the pause button. Take a breath. And remember that you are HERE. You are YOU. You are ALIVE. And it will somehow be okay.
  6. Care for each other, y’all. Shelter each other. We’re all on edge. And raw. And jumpy. And the tension of both our personal lives and the general state of our country right now has us all uptight. So…love harder. Feel deeper. Remember that as long as we’re loving each other all is not lost.

Look, this has rambled, I know–maybe chalk it up to my own BF’s…but maybe also try to notice your own. And how they both help and maybe sometimes wreak havoc in your life. And as you do, remember…we’re so much more alike, feelings and all, than we will ever be different.

Breathe, friends. You’ve got this. 

*Resting Bitch Face–it’s a thing, trust me.

 

 

 

 

Rupture and Repair

There’s a hinge on one of the cabinet doors in my kitchen that is loose. And as a result, the door doesn’t close properly. It needs repair.

So does the shutter that got ripped off the side of my house in a storm last week. And the shed in my backyard that is crumbling from years of neglect (although the sweet creamsicle-orange kitty that has taken up sometimes residence in it doesn’t seem to mind). And the spot on my deck where the former owners thought it would be a brilliant idea (sarcasm font) to stack up 30-some concrete blocks around a whole lot of dirt and build up a “garden” on the deck.

Because this is what it is to be a home owner–a series of repairs. There is always something breaking, something wearing out, something on the fritz. Lucky me, I’ve got some good folks around who help with the things I can’t figure out, and a dad who isn’t too far away and doesn’t mind doing what he can either.

This morning I had a long overdue conversation with a dear friend–we live ten hours apart and haven’t talked nearly enough in the last few months. So it was one of those, “How’s this and how’s that and what’s new?” convos that lasted an hour and went super fast and wasn’t nearly long enough.

We talked about heartache. The things that have left us broken. The things and people that are helping us heal. We talked about how hard it is to trust again after things have shattered and how fear is often so much easier to listen to than hope. Especially when it comes to relationships and the possibility of being fulfilled and joyful again.

“Rupture and repair” is the image we settled on for what life often seems like–a series of ruptures and repairs. Like a house, only with a lot more pain and soul-ache and intensity and long-lasting effects.

Rupture is deeply, profoundly painful. It’s what volcanos do, after all. Aortic valves. Cysts.  Pipelines. They burst when ill or faulty or active and the result is generally chaos and a long recovery.

Sometimes our souls rupture. Our very beings. Our hearts feel like they might quite literally burst with the anguish or anger that comes with what’s happening and how, after all, do you stem the rushing tide of a ruptured life? How do you put back together whatever’s left in some way that points toward a future?

How do you pull yourself off the floor of your existence, where you’ve fallen and huddled, small and afraid and broken, and stand upright again? With eyes clear enough to see new possibility and a heart whose bruises have healed just enough to imagine love and joy and hope again?

There’s no handyman–or woman–for that y’all. No trip to Lowes for just the right parts. No DIY video on YouTube or Pinterest.

Nope–there is only the slow, steady, determined work of the human spirit–a most tenacious and scrappy spirit if there ever was, when it sets it mind to something.

And there is grace–like a gentle summer rain, falling softly on the parts that ache the most, filling up the cracks and fissures of our souls with its redemptive mercy, and helping us find life again.

And if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have someone in this with you, to have a helper and support and true companion who will stand with you through it…well, then stop and say “thank you” right now, because this is no small thing.

The breaking will happen again, y’all. Over and over. Because this is what life does. It breaks us. In a thousand ways, both small and mighty. And sometimes it will seem that you cannot survive the breaking.

But you can. You will. Repair is possible, and with every repair, every effort at wholeness, you become, I believe, an even more beautiful version of the person you were made to be in the first place.

The rupturing does not get the last word. Because it is in the repairing that we find what it means to be fully alive, the scars from what has been testaments to strength we didn’t know we had. A promise, of sorts, that on the other side of what we thought would destroy us, is, it turns out, goodness and grace beyond measure.

 

 

That day I heard (a whole bunch of) deeply devoted raucous soccer fans sing Rodgers and Hammerstein…

I first knew the song from the musical Carousel. A Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that,  per usual with that duo, is not all sweetness and light but has some dark and meaningful undertones about what it means to live this beautiful/brutal life. Gut-wrenching, really, with music that gets right under your skin and stays there.

You’ll Never Walk Alone is maybe the most famous chorus from the musical–I first learned it in high school, and I think sang it with my college choir, too. Regardless, I’ve known the words by heart for 25 years now.

What I did not know, until maybe a year and half ago, is that You’ll Never Walk Alone, albeit an edgier, less meticulous, version of it is the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club.

I’m not even going to try to give you a history of LFC. Or explain why they are such an endearing, motley crew of blind-devotion fans. If you really are a curious, here’s a bit on how You’ll Never Walk Alone (heretofore YNWA, per LFC’s way of denoting it) came to be their jam. But I can’t even begin to explain it all–partly because sports-talk has never been my thing (and I can’t even pretend to know all the lingo), but also because I honestly feel like I’m way too new to this party to have any street (pitch?) cred at all in talking about it.

But here’s an example of how deep it runs: over Spring Break, while lounging by a pool in Destin, I saw a man with an LFC shirt on–and I said, “Hey! You’re a Liverpool fan!” And I swear to you, we talked for 15 minutes, and by the time the convo was over I knew his name, his daughter’s name, and that–lo and behold–they were actually from here in Louisville and our kids go to the same school. 

I can’t even make that up, y’all. This white Southern woman met and had a lively conversation with a native Middle Eastern man whose child goes to the same school as mine, in another state, because of an English soccer team with super colorful history.

How’s that for global diplomacy?!?

And then there was this past Saturday, where I found myself at a watch party for the final Champions League game at local Irish bar. Liverpool v. Real Madrid. A big freaking deal. We arrived a half hour before game time. And already it was loud. Electric. Barely controlled chaos. Guinness was flowing liberally and bright LFC jerseys and scarves stretched as far as you could see. A friend I hadn’t seen in forever hollered my name over the din and we exchanged greetings, the folks he was sitting with suddenly friends because we were all there for the same reason, and for the same team.

We had to scrounge for seats, and I am eternally grateful to this completely colorful and wonderful Englishman who got us situated, and also grateful for the one bartender who paid any attention to my charming (well, I tried for charming) “two Black and Tans, please” and so helped me get to my seat, cold beers in hand, just in time.

Just in time for YNWA.

I’ve heard about it. I’ve watched videos of LFC fans singing it with their damn hearts on fire at Anfield, LFC’s home. I’ve listed to recordings of it. I’ve heard about it, you know? So I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was a thing.

I was in no way shape or form prepared to really experience it. To feel what it was like for a 100 Liverpool fans to raise their voices in earnest love and admiration for their boys in red in the back room of an old bar, wooden rafters bursting with the reverb of the sound, chills running down my spine, and complete strangers throwing arms around one another in perfect accord.

“…walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone…”

I was in tears before the first verse was over, completely overwhelmed with the spirit of it, the tightly knit community of it. The raw love inherent in the full-throated singing of the lyrics. I couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. Even as I felt like a bit of an outsider from my own perspective, I knew that everyone around me didn’t feel that about me. I was there. A red LFC scarf thrown around my neck. I was smiling through those tears and it wasn’t hard for us all to catch each other’s eyes, grin big, and keep singing. With all we had.

I promise you, not a damn one of those people cared, in that moment, who I voted for in the last election. Or what I did for a living. Or what socioeconomic status I fall into. Or whether or not I’ve been divorced or broken or down on my luck. Or what color my skin is. Or who I am in a relationship with. Or why I’d even shown up. At that moment, I was part of it. I was theirs, part of something so much bigger than myself, with more history, more far-reaching effect, more momentum, than I could ever muster for anything on my own.

It was the truest, purest form of community I have seen in longer than I can remember. 

Liverpool lost the match–in some really heartsick moments. Plus their star player, and the great hope of the entire nation of Egypt for this year’s World Cup, was seriously injured before the first half was over. So it was a somber lot that cleared that bar two hours after we’d sung its roof down–but even the somberness had its sense of togetherness–squeezes on the arm, pats on the back, a head nod from someone I’d just met as if to say, “Glad you were here…next time we’ll get them.” But maybe the best thing were the words LFC’s own captain spoke post game, when, in an interview, he was asked to comment on the mistakes of individual players that perhaps had led to the loss, “We lose as a team,” he said.

We lose as a team.

Damn if the United States of America, hell, the whole world, and even our individual cities, school systems, and churches couldn’t learn a lot from Liverpool Football Club. 

A scrappy European football team, drenched in history as fighters, as a tightly knit clan of blood brothers and sisters, their whole hearts poured into their life together. The things they could teach us.

If we cared, at all, to listen. 

 

 

 

 

Weeds.

IMG_0275Lemme tell y’all how I feel about the long, choking, vine-y weeds one finds here in Kentucky. They may be all over the place, but I’ve never seen anything like them until I first tried to maintain a yard here.

I despise them.

They pop up out of nowhere. Innocuous and tiny one day, like huge ropey snakes the next, threatening to squeeze the life out of whatever flower or shrub they’ve wrapped themselves around. There are many types of weeds…I know this. But this particular brand–whatever it’s called (and I do not care) makes me crazy.

It’s almost rage, and it bubbled right up when I saw that this one had begun wrapping itself around one of my azalea bushes, when I swear to you that two days ago the damn weed was not even there!

Gah. Despise. 

The only word for them is insidious–persistent in their quiet destruction, escalating to a major chore over a few steaming hot days and one hard rain.

I ripped this thing out of the ground so hard. So fast. Maybe said a few colorful words as I did, realizing it isn’t even June yet, so a whole bunch of these things will rear their ugly pervasive heads over the next few months. They have to be dealt with posthaste. Forthwith (just like Danny Reagan says a least once an episode on Blue Bloods). If you don’t…well…they thrive, and the next thing you know Grandma’s daisies are getting a boa constrictor type of treatment.

I know–I know what you’re thinking. It’s just a weed. A simple growing thing that you’ve already plucked right out. Chill, Jules. 

But y’all, there’s the thing–they remind me of so many things in this life–So. Many. Things.–that have the same effect on us, both as individuals and as communities.

Things like grief. Shame. Rage. If such things are not dealt with, resolved, talked through so that they no longer control the landscape of your life…in the end, they will strangle any possibility of hope or joy.

Things like hate. Greed. Narcissism. These guys–I mean good lord how they can rip apart lives and communities, wrapping their tentacles of manipulation and isolation around us until we can’t even breathe with any ease at all, so tense and afraid and angry we become.

Things like shattered dreams–the way they keep flashing in front of us in bouts of sorrow or occasional nightmares or moments of “what might have been,” so much that we are unable to move forward, out of what we feel has wrecked our lives and into what might be waiting for us on the other side of the wreckage.

We were made for so much more. Hardwired, as Brene Brown says, for connection; created to live in love. And weeds–my metaphorical ones, anyway–they cut us off from the very things we need to live, and corner us into lesser versions of ourselves.

I had a very conscious thought tonite as I tore at the very root of that weed, pulling with vigor, determined to get it, that I could just as easily be pulling at any number of situations or experiences that have been cause for sadness or anger or frustration or fear.

We all have them. 

But here’s what I know: it’s possible to pull the suckers out; or, at least, talk them out, work them out, figure them out, so that they are no longer so threatening, no longer able to dominate our hearts, no longer able to keep us from being all that we were meant to be.

And yes, they’ll pop back up from time to time. But you’ll learn to see them coming. Learn to grab ’em while they are just tiny little thoughts and not great huge monsters. You’ll clear them out, quicker this time.

And when you do, you will find that what is left is space for grace to do its mighty, merciful work of pulling back together the pieces of your heart, so that goodness has room to riot again.