04 January 2017

The Great Dumpster Fire of 2016: A Playlist for the Ages

I haven't written anything here in a while. There's no real rhyme or reason why--I'm not one of those people who believe blogging is dead. I'm just one of those people who realizes not everyone follows my newsfeed with baited breath, wondering what it is I've done this time. I get it--we're all in the midst of our lives, and sometimes writing out a story sucks all the flavor right out of it. And if I'm honest, I'd developed a bad habit of starting to draft entries in my head while things were actually happening, and just sort of observing them and self-editing in real time, instead of just jumping in with both feet and not thinking of whatever I was doing or whatever was being done as grist for the mill. Plus, there's been kind of a lot going on. But you already know that.

I'm not one of those folks who will stand here and say that 2016 was The Worst Year Ever, but I can say it was rough for pretty much everyone I know, and had some patches in it that damn near tore the hide off my bleeding heart. But this was also the year that my beloved and I moved to The Farm, which we'd been dreaming and planning since almost the very beginning of our relationship, and that has been a balm to my soul and a daily joy--even the 5:30am wake-up time has a tiny bit of happy in it. A tiny bit.

Just for fits and giggles, I thought I'd share my latest playlist with you. Remember when I used to do that, kind of on the reg? For your consideration, please find an aural representation of the year that was 2016. These are the songs I sewed into my heart this year; the words and tunes and mystery that helped me stay afloat and held me safe and warm, along with a short note offering some further explanation as necessary for each...


Africa Unite (Bob Marley) Remember that one time in May 2015 when my back went out, and I spent 4 days in the hospital all jacked up on steroids and muscle relaxers? Yeah, that's kind of a blurry memory for me, too. Except for this song. I was trying really hard to rest, but my sweet little old lady roommate kept trying to get out of her bed, and tripping the alarm...like every 20 minutes for two whole entire days. My only recourse was to shove my earbuds as far into my ears as possible and just let Youtube videos run until I could cry myself to sleep. How pathetic is that? And one morning, at about 2am, this song came on, and soothed me in such a weird way. When I passed the anniversary of my injury, I brought this little gem back out, and found myself very grateful for the relief it had provided.

Are You Ready for the Country? (Neil Young) Clearly, we were. Living in Little House in the Holler is fantastic. I love it, every single day. The quiet, the way the light travels across the face of the hills, how every season has brought us new sight-lines and beauty to witness...you should come visit as soon as you can.

Battle Hymn of the Republic (The Abyssinian Baptist Sanctuary Choir) Maybe one of my favorite sacred songs, this track was on heavy rotation for obvious reasons. I cry pretty much every time I hear it. This cover is an especially lovely acapella version. That last verse gets me right in all my feels.

Bears (Lyle Lovett) I married into a family of hairy dudes. I think of my BIL's every time I hear this song, and this is also why one is listed as Brother Bear in my phone and the other is listed as Baby Bear. I also occasionally refer to Mr Jones as my sweet old bear, but he probably would be mortified if he knew I told you that.

Chief (Patty Griffin)  The way we treat our brothers and sisters from the First Nations makes me want to run and hide in shame.

Desolation Row (Bob Dylan) Seriously, do you need me to work this one out for you? I feel like you probably know everything I want to say about this. I'll spare you the sermonizing. This time.

Devil Town (Bright Eyes) Anytime I wander too far into the deep end of the nostalgia pool containing memories of my small-town childhood/adolescence, I have to listen to this song and sing real loud. Also, can we talk about how much I truly love Friday Night Lights and how badly I want to have Connie Britain's hair? SO MUCH. SO BAD. Do I have a track of me singing this on my phone? Yes, yes I do.

Dink's Song (Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford) Instead of putting people on blast, I said my peace and walked away.

Empty Garden (Elton John) My officemate died two days before my birthday. I miss him every day. I miss playing on projects with him and making beautiful books together, for Jesus and his friends.

Failsafe (The New Pornographers) I heard this song for the first time in 2007 listening to Fresh Air and stuck in traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway. I spent many an evening watching the telly this fall, wondering if there was any such thing as a failsafe to stall and smother the flames that breached the walls of the keep. Alas, there was not. So I guess we're all going to enjoy roasting smores while Rome burns, huh?

Hard Times (Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) Plz see previous entry. Ain't gonna rule my mind no more.

Head Over Heels (JD McPherson) If this song doesn't put some ass in your pants and make you want to dance around, you should probably make an appointment to go see your doctor.

Heroes (Wildebeest Mix) (Peter Gabriel) Yeah, I know it's a cover of a beloved Bowie track, and that it was featured in a super cheesy war movie that I can't even deal with talking about for about a million and seven reasons, some of which would likely offend some of the people who will read this. I. Can't. However, it was also featured on Stranger Things, which took me all of two episodes to fall in love with.

Hold On, I'm Coming (Sam and Dave) This is a song that can be found on many of my playlists from the last decade. I adore this song. It always makes me feel better.

Hold Your Head High  (The Heartless Bastards) Sing it, lady.  Pull every single one of my guts out. Make me remember.

I Hear Them All (Dave Rawlings Machine) This is a really powerful theological musing, and makes me want to cry and pray and believe.

I Won't Back Down (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) Double ditto to previous statement.

If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down  (Blind Willie Johnson) Samson feels all my feels in this song. And Blind Willie...man...that wail...the taproot of so much of the music I have loved my whole life sits right in middle of him.

If You Had a Vineyard (Sinead O'Connor) This song kills me. All I want to do is sing along. And live better. One of my childhood heroes...girl nails one of the cries of my heart.

Luckiest Man (The Wood Brothers) On days when I don't know how to pray for my brother, or think about him, or what to do with all my feelings, I listen to this song and it helps. This song has reminded me of him since the very first time I heard it, and I remember stopping and crying in the bathroom because I wanted to play it for him so bad. Maybe one day.

Magpie to the Morning (Neko Case) Mockingbirds and yellow meadowlarks live in the field our back porch looks right into. I loved watching all the birds flit and fly around our new digs this summer. I didn't even mind the starlings in the chimney...one of which greeted us in the living room while we were bringing in our first boxes. You know, they say a bird caught in a room is good luck...we managed to usher her outside before I had a panic attack or she pooed on either of our heads.

Run On (Moby) How I managed to not hear this song until December 2016 is beyond me. But once I did, I put it on heavy rotation. Much like the JD McPherson track, if you don't find yourself at least tapping your foot along with the beat, you should have your pulse checked. Maybe think about adding a multi-vitamin or something.

Secure Yourself (Indigo Girls) Fasten up your earthy burdens. Gird up your loins. We're all in this together, and "it's a long walk back to Eden, sweetheart." Gulp.

Sounds Like Hallelujah (The Head and the Heart) This was one of the songs my beloved played me on our very first road trip, the same road trip where we planned an imaginary farm and realized we were seriously, crazy, deeply, in so much love it was both nauseating and cavity-producing and changed the entire course of the whole universe. For us, at least. As I remember, the first set of "wood's" came right as we were coming over the top of a hill to see a lady standing in her yard with a shotgun.

Wah-Wah (George Harrison) This was the first song George Harrison recorded after the break-up of the Beatles. I listened to it many times while I watched people I thought I knew unspool and say hurtful, awful, hateful, mean things that made me cry and block them from my newsfeed. I wish I had had the courage to say hard things to some of them. But that whole thing Jesus says about casting pearls before swine made me bite my tongue real hard.

When I Paint My Masterpiece (The Band) Like my friend Lady Julian says, "All things shall be well. And all things shall be well. And all things shall be very well."

mil besos,


11 September 2015

For These and All Thy Blessings...

Today is a day for remembering. But this isn't a story about the memories you might think I ought to be writing about today. 

At the head of a column of sweating and twitchy children clad in smothering black wool, gold piping, white epaulettes, smart white-topped hats, and gleaming white shoes, each of us asking the God of our own understanding to help us not drop our horn, or pants, or brains, there stood a man. He commanded the kind of respect from this marching, maturing, smelly, and slightly addled (on even the best of days) concoction of adolescence that might have rivaled the respect given Alexander the Great. This respect wasn't a product of intimidation, force, or compelled by fear. When this man looked into our faces , he met our gaze with kindness, and a twinkle in his eye that invited us to create, to learn a new way to play together. And that was the root of the respect we so rightly offered. The man was incredibly kind. 

This collection of unformed teenage angst, tensed with anticipation would have gone to the wall for this man; a man who ended our summers two weeks early, who ate up every Monday night of the fall semester, who made us wait to eat nachos until after halftime, who took us to Opryland that one time instead of DisneyWorld. We would have gone to the wall (and to whatever comes after the wall) for this man. 

Because he believed we could make beautiful music together, and because he showed us how, we believed him. He taught us how to walk, all over again. He taught us how to breathe, all over again. And then he taught us how to put all those things together. The man taught us to be good, very good at doing these things together. And he was proud. And he told us that we were special. He taught us about legacies, about being proud to so something well, all of us, all together. He told us we were good. We believed him. And we loved him so. 

As we rounded the last bus, which was parked all cattywompass, the waiting crowd roared to their feet, whether they really thought they liked us or not. The air rippled with Indian Summer fervor. The sound hit like a brick, bouncing off everything, knocking my brains and lungs somewhere into the soles of my feet. We had been warned about this sound. They all said it was for us. But we knew the sound was really for him. There would be none of this if not for him. And that noise, the kind of noise that is so loud you feel it inside your chest, continued to rise. It seemed to insist to us that we were indeed ready to do what the man had taught us. Instead of feeling pressure to be perfect, we seemed to settle into the noise, letting it polish us, one last time. We put ourselves entirely to the task at hand. 

And then the sound went dead. Vision tunneled. Everything seemed to hover and hum.  Babies and little kids even sat still. Grandmothers stopped digging in their bags for a hard candy. All the dads stopped flipping burgers outside of the concession stand. 

We sorted out into clumps and smaller lines and columns all along the sidelines. And then, the announcement...the salute...the sound off...and in a miracle of sound and fury, the pride of an entire county owned the joint, played their guts out, knocked UIL judges for loops, and made our parents weep with joy...and him, too.  And we were beautiful. Mighty. Slick. Famed. 

And we were his. And he was ours.

For many people, it would be easy enough to simply say that Butch Crudington taught band. But my God, how powerfully reductive that statement would be. He taught us the value of doing something together, of drawing on the things that we had in common, of making beautiful noise TOGETHER. He taught us to listen to each other, to balance each other out, to dress to the right, to roll from our heels to our toes so that our steps would be smooth and clean. And those lessons stick with a person, long after we left the band hall. Yes, he did teach band, but he taught us how to be good to each other, how to be good WITH each other, and dared us to BE GOOD, to be our best selves, to put all that work in motion.  And those are lessons that last a lifetime, that inform vocations, that help friendships last the tests of time and distance, that make us better partners, better teachers, better musicians, and better human beings. It's tempting to think of his baton as a kind of magic wand, a talisman, some kind of powerful tool that he used to bewitch us into being good.  But his hands, his eyes, his voice, and his very heart really did the hard work of teaching us. And those were simply miraculous. 

When my mother told me Mr. C had died, I thought about the legendary line spoken at Lincoln's deathbed, "Now, he belongs to the ages." I think that's just about right for my teacher, the man who stood at the head of a column of children, and taught them to be good. I also thought about the volumes of sound we put into the atmosphere with him, for him, and how some of those waves must surely still be bouncing and echoing off of the particles in the very highest stratosphere, maybe we even played loud enough for some of that noise to have gone into space. I imagine our best shows, our most perfect notes clinging to each other, streaming still, beauty extending and lengthening and rebounding off the very walls of creation.  And though my heart is heavy, that thought makes me smile. 

Childhood ends. We wade into adulthood, and spend decades sifting through what to keep and what to throw away from our formative years. I keep these memories. I memorize them the way I memorized the fight song--like my life depends on it. Learning to play together, to make something beautiful, to create, to perform, and to be proud are the root lessons of a life well lived. I am grateful to have been Mr. C's student. I'm grateful that he knew how loved and special he was to so many of us. We wrote him love letters twenty feet high, defacing public streets to proclaim our love and loyalty to him. And we can still tell him we love him every time we make music, every time we can walk across a room without falling down, every time we encourage those around us to be their best, and check our tuning. He knows as he is fully known. And that is more miracle than any of us could ask or imagine for our teacher and friend. 

May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. Thanks be to God. 

Mil besos,

13 April 2015

eleven hundred days: a retrospective

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much? 
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read? 
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems? 
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poem

--Walt Whitman

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.

--Gwendolyn Brooks

So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.

--Paulo Coelho

we are good at a lot of things, and getting better every day.  one thing we are not great at is taking pictures.  but i have all these snapshots stored in my brain, envelopes full of mental polaroids...

the envelope marked first date would have pictures of the teenage girls who complimented your beard on our first date (remember how long it was!), of us eating breakfast tacos at the farmers' market, of the grin i couldn't wipe off my face for days afterward.  

in those earliest days, there are pictures of a flock of wild turkeys, trails in the woods, rivers we swam in or drove across, funny little diners and fancy little diners and splitting whatever chocolate thing is on the dessert menu.  meeting family, meeting friends, meeting all the other people who are important for us to know--collages of cousins, kin, co-conspiritors--all those faces we love and who love us.  pictures of road trips--of monuments and moments, of menu screens for podcasts and menus for new things to try, stories and backstories, laughter and tears, learning something new every single second.  

we have packed and cleaned and moved and cleaned and unpacked and repacked and cleaned and moved and unpacked...a lot.  no photo album would be complete without a picture of us changing out the fan in our bedroom, or painting miles of walls, or brushing sawdust off of...everything, assembling boxes, sorting through what to keep and what to throw away, sharing advil and icepacks and snuggles and snores. 

there would be a picture of me sleeping, and a picture of you watching your zombie shows on Saturday mornings, pictures of the dog and cat whining and hissing at each other from opposite sides of the baby gate, pictures of us making dinner in our impossibly tiny kitchen, me watching you watching football or you watching me count stitches in my latest attempt to be crafty. 

all these moments, tiny snapshots...they sparkle and glitter and shine.  i continue to be utterly amazed and grateful that i get to share them with my beloved. 

mil besos,

17 March 2015

Lent 2015

He came to save us...to save the world. He still does it every single day. One time, he even went all the way to hell, and back again. He did it for you. He did it for me. He did it, and would do it, all over again, even if there was only one of us left. He did it for people who have no idea what or who or how he is or was or will be. He did the one and only thing he was ever born to do--he saved the world.

There’s no magic in what Jesus did in his life, and with his life. Oh sure, there are big and giant events of the radically unexplained all in and around and through and beyond his life. But there’s no magic. There’s just love. There’s an absolutely transcendental refusal of the will to power, and a daily acceptance of the fact that we are broken and dying, and the only real way any of us can be saved or be called good is to love and be loved.

Jesus lived fully committed and enfleshed to that reality, and stood eyeball to eyeball and toe to toe with the broken and dying world, and did the least rational and most redemptive thing he possibly could have done, and just loved the hell out of it. Loves the hell out of it. Loves our sharp and pointy edges and wheezes and insomnia and hardness and forgetfulness and spite...loves us down to the bottom of where all those things wrestle, and sits down with us in it, and wipes our faces, and helps us get back on our feet, and put our faces to the sun, and start to become whole and...holy.

 Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being lifted up the desert, like the brazen serpent of Moses, during the forty years of wandering. See, that serpent was a healing talisman, and it went up, at the head of camp, at the same time and with the same attention and fervor that the Tabernacle went up. It was huge, and way up high, so to be seen from most every vantage point. The Children of Israel had been tasked with treading upon the adder’s head for even longer than they had been wandering in the desert, and this desert seemed to have an abundance. People were bitten, people died. It was unpleasant. It was not unexpected or unheard of. But it sure made the going tougher than it already was. A remedy was lifted, and all anyone who was bitten had to do was look at it, and be healed. 

Sometimes, we get too deep into the fancy business of church or trying to live self-actualized and adult lives, and we get bitten. And it stings. The sting reminds us that we are actually kind of fragile, that no matter how hard we try we may still be caught off-guard. When we come to that kind of understanding about our brokenness--by being broken, it’s hard to look up. It’s hard to look at Jesus and see that the love he lived and lives is the only way to get better. We feel bad for falling, in the first place, for not seeing a snake in the grass when we should have been paying closer attention than ever, and maybe we feel like looking up is like taking a get out of jail free card, and that’s bad, because we’re not playing by the rules.

We get caught up in the pain and shock and hurt of the bite, of the blood and the mess, and forget to look up, because OH MY GOD, NO ONE HAS EVER FELT PAIN LIKE THIS EVER, EVER, AND IT MUST MEAN I’M ALL ALONE AND FINALLY GOT WHAT WAS COMING TO ME. Or maybe that’s just me. When life bites, and it’s always when I least expect it, always at the worst time possible, always when my defenses and reserves are running low, it’s hard to remember to look up, to see Jesus and his love lifted up in front of me, and sometimes, it’s just hard to meet his gaze, to admit my weakness, my inability to save myself, my lack of vigilance and competency laid bare for Jesus all the world (or so it feels) to see.

But I know that’s the only way to not die in the dust, with the curse of the ages clinging around my feet. I know it’s the way back to life, to love, and to the deep joy Jesus offers us with a life among God’s people of all shades and shapes and sensibilities. I know it’s the way I remember the some of the very best and deepest things I know--that God so loved the world.

That’s you.
And that’s me.
Every single day.

 mil besos, rmgj

21 March 2014

Mixtapes From Babylon: Conspiracy Theory, Pt. 3

I was on my yoga mat one day, twisting and turning myself and trying not to worry too much about going to hell for chanting mantras along with the video.  I’d done this series of exercises enough times to be able to do most of the whole practice with my eyes closed. About half-way through the warm up, I could feel myself just grinning from ear to ear, smiling so hard and so big that I could feel all my teeth showing and my head tilted back. As I was holding a deep breath, with my arms and clasped hands over my head, just at the point where I was sure I was going to have to take a breath or pass out, this incredible wave of peace and bliss and awakeness and deep, fathomless love leveled me. In the maybe-30 seconds of that held breath, something so precious was made clear to me--in that next breath I took (as willful and purposeful as every single one I’ve taken before or since, or ever will until I breathe my last), I felt inside myself and around myself and in all the places there are to go in the whole wide universe a deep and profound connectedness to God as the source and very substance of my breath.  God was so very very big, and so very very good, and still found the time to love me so much as to show up under my very nose.  To have such a kindness extended to me, this breath...this life...all the goodness around me...to have that personal and intimate exchange with God just by breathing is awe-inspiring, and so incredibly humbling. That the Creator of All Things bothers with something as silly as my next little breath...or yours...or any of ours...that’s a wonder and a mercy.

This breath took place on a little rectangle of carpet, in my old bedroom, on my blue yoga mat.  I’m sure the cat was looking on disdainfully from the edge of the bathtub, in that odd and judgey way that cats have of staring at their humans. It was a perfectly ordinary breath, but it changed everything. That breath was so sweet, not rushed or hiccupy or choking.  I remember taking this long, luxurious sip through my nose, of feeling warm/not hot, kind of buzzy, and that strange feeling I always think of as the Scorcese Stretch--you know the one, where the dolly zoom gets all up in your head and you realize what you’re really supposed to be seeing. And even as I felt myself taking the breath, I felt utterly detatched from it--my lungs were glad to have it, and immediately began putting it to good use.  But my head and my heart and my soul, I guess, whatever Trinity of self I possess, basked in the glow of a Presence, of that first and always animating breath, of whispers of the true and best things about life and love, of sighs that transcend words, and the angelic harmonies of all the voices that ever were praising a God who just loves, loves, loves; who hopes and strives mightily with us to help us find ways to love God back, to see and feel the breath of God under the nose of every single person we meet, to love the next breath in our brother’s nose as much as we love the next in our own.

This feeling I felt was like nothing I’ve felt before or since.  I’ve reconciled myself to knowing that something like that may be a once in a life-time deal.  I read the story about how Moses had to veil his face after seeing just God’s back, because being in the presence of the Almighty rubs off on a person, and seeing Moses all aglow in the suntan of I AM apparently really freaked out the Children of Israel. I also read the story about how Elijah climbed the mountain to give God the finger--the really bad finger, the one you take out and point and shake and use to gesture with when you want to say, “Listen, dude...I’m doing what you asked me to do, what you made me to do.  I’m doing it.  We’ve got a situation you wouldn’t believe, and all I’m asking for you to do is WORK WITH ME HERE, LORD.  What, with all due respect, is the damn deal?” And God (using one of the three approved voices I really wouldn’t mind God sounding like) tells him to go stand outside the mouth of the cave in which he’d been hiding.  You probably know the rest, but I’ll fill you in--God ditches the obvious entrances of wind storm, pillar of fire, and earthquake, and instead Elijah finds himself clinging to a cleft in the rock and veiling his face with his cloak as a whisper of wind blew by him.  Just a whisper, a breath, a tangible and transcendental and utterly common occurrence, just God being God. I felt like that...awe struck by the regularity, the normalness, the banality of my breath, even as I revelled in this glow of compassion and loving kindness, this dazzling golden light that seemed to be all I could see behind my closed eyelids. God was there, loving me, right under my nose, and I stretched out as long and tall as I could and rested in that warm and lovely place.

Breathing has become a sacred thing for me.  It’s the simplest of the sacraments I celebrate in my life.  It’s my outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Every single one is precious. I want to be careful with them, spend the well.  A phrase I heard on NPR the other day strikes me as particularly insightful, “I knew the moments were finite, yet unknowable.”  So it is with my breath, and with yours, and everyone else’s, and that’s one of the reasons why we should be mindful with whom we share our breaths, with whom and over what we may conspire. 

In the final analysis, one more breath can mean one more step, one more kind word, one more time to do what God has for you to do to the best of your ability, one more time to fully accept and love the world around you even when it's broken and dying and hard. One more breath will sink you or save you, but the reality of that breath is that it's not yours, it's borrowed and recycled and regenerated and so full of possibility and potential and fathomless love and mercy. It comes from the very mouth of God, and pours life and wonder into our little clay lumps of self, and it's job to conserve that breath, to use it well, to focus the intention of our life-force--our nephesh, our ruach, our prana, our whispers and sighs--into words of love and peace and kindness, even when the words are hard to find, and seem to get caught in the backs of our throats. 

To breathe together, to conspire, connotes a kind of intimacy.  Whispers, susserations, mutterings, sighs, noises that could barely properly be called vocalizations, almost mouthing the words--this is what we do when we hatch a plan, when we share breath, when we conspire, when we say i love you in the dark of night, when we argue in the bathroom surrounded by a houseful of people, when we take a cab to the airport, or conference in the hall before a meeting.  We share breath and intention and life in those breaths, with those people.  We should be careful that they are good people, that we and they are using those collected breaths to move onward and upward, people who can remind us, even on our worst days, that the wonders of a mighty God, lie just under our nose. In a place like Babylon--this broken and dying world around us, this place where we don’t fit right, where we are so painfully reminded of our own brokenness and that of others just by rubbing up against each other--we have to remember that, we have to be reminded of it--the real trick at the heart of it all is for all of us, just to keep breathing. 

mil besos,


I remember taking a deep breath, one afternoon, not too very long ago. I took this breath and looked right into his big blue eyes, and told him I loved him for the very first time, ever. I'd been thinking it for the entire back half of the last week, before I saw him, again. Every time I thought it, this thought that I loved him, I felt like I had to take a deep breath and find my legs, again.  

So, I found myself looking at him, in his blue flannel shirt, sitting on my green couch, windblown from riding 90 miles in his van with the windows down, and still wearing his super-long beard, and I took this breath, and tried so hard not to be afraid or timid or talk myself out of it. In an outrush of breath that I was supremely happy did not come out as vomit, I told him that I loved him.  

And then he took a breath, and said he loved me, too. There have been many breaths between us--plans hatched, comments shared, dreams said out loud, discussions about all the house keeping minutae no one can make romantic, concerns and struggles. To be able to share breath with him is a precious thing to me, something that goes deeper than words, and into my bones. To know that we share breath together, and share it with a Creator who loved us into being and loved us into each other...well, that makes me have to take a big breath, and breathe out a very ardent and grateful sigh, a deep prayer of joy and thankfulness.  xoxo-r


19 March 2014

Mixtapes From Babylon: Conspiracy Theory Part 2

at various points in my life, yoga has been a really important practice.  sometimes, i even dream about yoga poses or classes or things to do with yoga, besides the really comfy pants. sometimes, when i can’t pray or don’t know what to pray for, and i feel restless and ill-at-ease, i can do a practice, and feel better. some people walk labyrinths, some people have therapists, some people do yoga, go to confession, take long walks, read their Bible, journal, whatever.  when i feel my brokenness poking through, i know the place i most belong for God to say what needs to be heard is on my yoga mat.

which brings us up to the present day.  i’m thirty-five.  i’m married to the absolute love of my life. we’re about to celebrate two years of knowing each other.  he is amazing.  he loves me so much and so well that some days, i even believe i’m the badass he says i am. and there are other days when i am hopelessly unconvinced of my awesomeness, and just pray he doesn’t figure out all the terrible shitty things i know to be true about myself and know that he will stay married to me, anyway, because he’s amazing and loves me, just the same, and poor him.  gross.

i can’t overstate the fact that i am terribly grateful for this man, and for the life we make together.  i could not have picked out a more appropriate and perfectly suited mate for my soul. every single day, i become more and more convinced he was absolutely custom made.  he is one of the best and brightest ways i see the face of Jesus in the world, and know the love of God in my life.

all of that is true, and so is the fact that right now, i’m just having a hard time feeling settled inside my own head. there’s kind of a lot going on.  life keeps happening, and whether or not i really could go for a two-week break on anything new happening at all, anywhere in the world, and just get kind of caught up doesn’t mean jack squat, in the grand scheme of things.  this is not how life works. sometimes, i have to get right with the fact that occasionally life gets a little busy and pokey and super-tiring and hard, and the thing i need to do most is just keep breathing. but holy smokes, my brain is so full, and it's a really good thing my brain remembers to breathe for me, because if i had to remember to do it every few seconds or so, at some point in the day, i would probably die.

we may be moving into a new house.  i have 2.5 jobs, and six email addresses to manage.  my work life is going to quintuple over the summer, and my job is still kind of strange and new to me, and while i know it’ll be fine, i’m kind of freaking the deuce out, because TRANSITION TO NEW THING I’VE NEVER DONE BEFORE.  and until that time, i’m trying to bill as many hours as i responsibly can at two very different but equally lovely non-profits, and subbing for the public school system.  it's kind of hard not to worry about those things...and other things...to just breathe through them, the way i have to remember to breathe through at charley horse at three a.m.

mostly, i worry about money and not making enough, and it always being winter and never Christmas and cancer and car wrecks and vulnerability and resilience and not being a whiner and is this shit normal at all and why does every third person seem to want to vote on whether we have kids or not and the damn bells have stopped being charming because sometimes it’s nice to sleep uninterrupted until 9:30 and should i cut my hair or leave it or does it make me vain to even think about that and i really need to buy a new jar of eye cream and did we eat enough protein this week i have no idea what i want to watch on tv and this rug is puckering in a funny way and i’m excited about buying a new dress but i don’t want to try one on and god i hope i don’t look like a dumb shit in the pictures (tangent--it’s not my wedding, why should i be giving a shit about if i look good in someone else’s pictures...so tacky to be so selfish) and why did it bother me so much that those kids were mean to me and called me a bitch and why was i afraid of them why did i feel like i had to shout to be heard or that i had anything worth saying to them that would make a difference in their lives did someone tell that child they were loved before they left the house did they have a house to leave why do i feel so white and so naive and does this mean i’m secretly this dumb about everything else in the whole world and no one had the heart to just tell me to wake up and smell the fried okra god i hope i remembered to put salt in that...

i don’t mean to issue heavy silence, because this shit, this broken tape of things I’m not even trying to hear, is not about anyone but me. and i suspect, at our toughest and most tired moments, all of us have unwound just a little bit. and i am quiet, right now.  on the couch, at night, during the day.  i work a lot from home, when i’m not in meetings or in a classroom.  our house can feel very big and very quiet.  and sometimes, that is really great.  when i’m doing what i like to think of as “reassessing”, it’s sometimes easy to get swallowed up by a big space, and i end up feeling even smaller than when i started.  i think that’s why lately, i’ve been sticking to the kitchen table and the backyard. even while i’m feeling kind of pokey and broken, right now, it’s nice to be able to watch the light change across the table and watch spring creep into the backyard.  the light and the color remind me that this part won’t feel so pokey and broken, forever.

and yoga breathing...i didn’t forget...part three to follow...

mil besos,

07 September 2013

The Least of These...

By latest count, UNICEF estimates that one million Syrian children have become refugees, since the start of the civil war.  One million children are displaced, homeless, and surviving in camps or have been taken into homes and communities in Jordan, and elsewhere.
Let me put that into perspective for you.  Imagine if the entire city of Austin, Texas were made up of children, and that whole city was forced to evacuate to Houston or San Antonio, and they had to walk the whole way.  Some of them would be alone, without a grown up to love and care for them, or make sure they were safe at night.  Some of them would be wounded or recovering from attacks. Most of them would have seen things that no one, no matter how old they are, should ever see.  Some of them would have watched their parents or siblings or relatives die in front of them.  Some of them would be in shock.  All of them need to be loved.  Chaos…chaos and questions with no good answers, and the incredible strain on infrastructure, and no end in sight, either to the conflict or the on-coming tide of more people being forced out of their homes.
One million children who don’t have political loyalties or understand why they are being forced to leave have seen with their own eyes the horrors of sectarian violence that you and I cannot even begin to fathom.  And that’s to say nothing of their parents, caretakers, surviving relatives, and remnants of their communities.  These children, by and large, unless an almighty change begins and is effective, will spend months or years growing up in refugee camps.  Most of them will not have access to the kind of educational opportunities, or physical and  mental health care that should be the right of every child, everywhere.  And we have to ask ourselves what coming of age in a refugee camp does to a person.  One of my political science professors was fond of reminding us that moderates do not grow up in camps.
I don’t have any answers for what to do with or for these children, except to pray.  One million children…one million little lives, just at the cusp of understanding, little people who should be out in the sunshine, and not walking a long and dangerous road into a tented camp…it’s enough to break your heart. I'm absolutely bowled over by the hospitality the people of Syria's neighboring countries have shown to those displaced by war, especially the people of Jordan.
Not to get all geo-political and preachy on you, but I wonder what we would do if over two million refugees from Mexico or Canada started pouring over our borders, seeking refuge and solace and peace.  Would we take them into our homes, into our families, would we be willing to make space for them in our parks and industries and daily lives?  Some days, I doubt that very much.  I am so grateful to the communities in the Middle East who have taken Syria's displaced people, especially the children, into their lives with such grace and mercy.  I am humbled by it, and challenged to ask hard questions about the way the US treats refugees and those seeking asylum from all sorts and kinds of violence and strife.
If you have a few extra pennies, there are a several very good and very reputable organizations that can put them to work, helping these little people and their families have better days.  Some of them you can find here: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/06/world/iyw-how-to-help-syrian-refugees/index.html.  You can also visit www.episcopalrelief.org to find out how you can help, as well.  As always, your thoughts and prayers, your awareness of the situation and willingness to share your information goes a long, long way to helping them, as well.

mil besos,

10 July 2013

Conspiracy Theory, Part One

v. conspiredconspiringconspires
1. To plan together secretly to commit an illegal or wrongful act or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.
2. To join or act together; combine: "Semisweet chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso, Cognac, and vanilla all conspire to intensify [the cake's] flavor" (Sally Schneider).
To plan or plot secretly.
Middle English conspiren, from Old French, from Latin cōnspīrāre : com-, com- + spīrāre, to breathe together.
conspirer n.
conspiringly adv.
--The American Heritage Dictionary

 “Love is a portion of the soul itself, and it is of the same nature as the celestial breathing of the atmosphere of paradise.”
--Victor Hugo
““And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
 and the man became a living soul.
Genesis 2:7
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand
will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and
with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
--George Eliot

In Babylon, the strength of your conspiracy theories, seriously having the courage of your convictions, will sink you or save you.  Now, I’m not talking about whether or not you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or if you only drink bottled water because you think fluoride is eating your brain.  I’m talking about conspiracy theories in the strictest, old-school, deep and nerdy Latin meaning.  Conspiracy means, most basically, to breath together--like whispering, sighing, saying things just barely out loud enough for the person right next to you to hear.  With whom you choose to conspire, to test your life theories—the breath that backs up what you have to say about your life and the world, and what you think God means, or what love feels like, or what to do about the hard hanging curveballs that life throws…that, friends and neighbors, is what it’s all about. 

Without inviting you into the inner sanctum of our life, I can tell you when I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes scared or anxious or nervous about whatever life stuff I or we are in the middle of processing, I put my ear up against his back, and listen to the love of my life breathe, and try to match my own respiration to that rhythm.  Usually, instead of dropping off to sleep, I’ll fight to stay awake just a bit longer to kind of marinate in our shared breath. I may have laundry lists of tasks to complete, and fight anxiety about my extended family, or jobs, or selling my condo, or third world debt, or the climate change, but in those breaths in the quiet hours of the night, I find myself really believing that all things shall be well. 

I remember the night one of my besties came to my backdoor, weeping inconsolably because some ridiculous asshole masquerading as a grown-ass man with his life together had just broken her heart into about a million pieces.  Before we could unpack the hurt, and find a way forward, or go pick out new shoes, we breathed together for a long time.  At first, there were the wracking sobs, you know the kind—you’ve breathed those breaths on your own, or with someone. 

They feel like they start at your feet, somewhere just behind the cuticle on your big toe, and tear their way out of your insides, making your throat and everything else in between burn and smolder, and even as deeply as they are drawn, you never feel like you can really catch your breath.  There are hiccups, there are shallow gasps, and words to try and chew out, or explanations or apologies. And at some point, you start to slow down, the thoughts slow from ludicrous-speed-plaid to warp-speed silvery-white, and you start to hear the sounds you’re making, and begin to compose yourself.  The hot tears start, rather than just the apex of emotion tear-quirts, rolling long and fat down your face, and puddling in the well of your throat or on your pillow, or the steering wheel, or the shirt of whoever is holding you.  And mostly you’re not trying to talk, you’re just trying to stop making noise, and you’re breathing a little bit deeper, a little bit longer, and are starting to catch up with yourself.  And you get better.  And soon, you’re back to  your breath, your normal breath, with just a tremble, every now and then.  And the breath draws you back to yourself, to hear, and to now.  You may be sobbing again, in another hour, or in the morning, or over something stupid on tv or the radio, or because you remember the sharpness of whatever it was that made you cry in the first place.  And you’ll do it until you’re done.  It was that way the night in my driveway, with my bestie.  Catching our breath, catching up to the hurt, catching up to the present moment was what brought us back inside, and helped my darling friend figure out how to dust herself off, and process, and move forward. 

Breathing is something that’s easily taken for granted.  Two experiences in my life have radically reformed the way I think about breath, about the way I try to value my breath, to be connected to it, even as I realize I don’t control it, my brain and God are in charge of that.  One is really easy to talk about, easy to share with you, and the other is one I’d rather not relate, because it’s a sad story, and I don’t want to end up at the end of this paragraph sobbing.  But, tell the truth and shame the Devil, right? 

Yoga…yoga helped me to connect to my breath in a very…and I hate this word…spiritual way.  I was able to access the idea of the Holy Spirit in a whole new way, to see around the corner of what grace might look and feel like in that every day and sacramental banality of breath.  Breath, in yoga-speak, is known as prana, or life-force.  Your prana is what connects you to everything in the Universe, it’s what connects you to the Infinite Divine.  It’s the way I came to understand the story of Adam, and God’s animating breath.  Learning to connect those dots, man…it changed the way I pray, changed the way I calm myself down when I’m upset, how I teach Sunday School…everything. When I am mindful of my breath, when I can lose myself in breathing during my practice or during the Eucharist, or when I have my ear pressed up against my husband’s precious back, I feel so deeply connected to a well of love and mercy, to a source of comfort and compassion that can only be called God. It is my life-force, it is what animates me and empowers me in this experience of this life, this present and incredible life. And in those breaths, I am never afraid, I never think about not taking another breath, there is nothing but love and hope and light and good things. Such deep breaths, and so restful.

The night my father died, I learned some hard lessons about breath. All those days before that day, over fifty of them, that last time in the hospital, all those days, that last breath seemed like it was going to happen any minute.  There’s a point at which I guess I just became numb to that fact, to the exhausting inevitability of that last breath, and not knowing whether to be relieved or horrified or both.  Mostly, I just put my head down and went to school, and prayed to God that I wouldn’t hear my name over the loudspeaker. I remember being convinced that he would die while I was at the prom or Six Flags Senior Day.  He died on a Sunday, two weeks after prom and the day after Six Flags.  And five days before I graduated.  Honest to God, I don’t remember if I was in the room when it happened, or if I saw him after he died.  If I was, or if I did, I have no memory of it, and I am so thankful for that.  I left the room, I know, at some point, because I couldn’t stand the noise, couldn’t handle all the feelings I was feeling, of how the walls felt like they were closing in and I knew there was no way I could unsee or unheard anything that was happening. 

I felt like a coward for the longest time about that, about leaving that room when I did. But I forgave that 18 year old girl a long time ago. I couldn’t stand how it made me feel to hear those breaths.  I wanted them to get better, to clear up, for the last nine months to have been reconciled, but I also just wanted them to stop, because I knew it wasn’t going to get better. And I honestly could not conceive of a way for things to have gotten worse, unless it was for him to just keep breathing like that for another…day, week…?  And he stopped.  For the first time in two weeks, he opened his eyes, and focused on something at the far end of the room, and he stopped. And that’s the day I learned in a concrete and visceral way that people really do die.  Even people you love the most in the world, and it doesn’t matter how much you love them, or how much you pray, eventually, we all die.  That next breath, however tortured or peaceful, will not come. And that is a hard thing to know, on a bone-deep level, and not just in some philosophical blah-blah kind of way.

The yoga story came after the part where my dad died, and I’m grateful for that.  Coming to an understanding about how my breath is borrowed from the mouth of God means that everyone else’s is too, and that’s changed the way I treat people, how I love them, what I do with my breath.  And it makes me less afraid of the day when I or someone I love stops breathing.  I know it will be hard, harder than I can imagine.  And I don’t want to think about those days.  But this is real life, and we can’t just pretend it’s all baby farts and rainbows.  You have to hold that reality in both hands, or go crazy. 

End of Part One

28 April 2013

A Babylonian Ice Cream Social

The universe is an intelligence test. 
--Timothy Leary

One day when I was practicing chanting in my temple in Vietnam, there was a 
durian on the altar that had been offered to the Buddha. I was trying to recite the Lotus Sutra, using a wooden drum and a large bowl-shaped bell for accompaniment, but I could not concentrate at all. 
I finally carried the bell to the altar and turned it upside down to imprison the durian, so I could chant the sutra. After I finished, I bowed to the Buddha and liberated the durian. 
If you were to say to me, "Thây, I love you so much I would like you to eat some of this durian," I would suffer. You love me, you want me to be happy, but you force me to eat durian. That is an example of love without understanding. Your intention is good, but you don't have the correct understanding.
Thich Nhat Hanh, 

The real damage is done by those millions who want to "survive." 
The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don't want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won't take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. 
Those who don't like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control. If you don't make any noise, the bogeyman won't find you. 
But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? 
Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.
--sophie scholl

There was a time in my young life when it was necessary for me to go to daycare.  I hated it.  My dislike for daycare was so strong and fierce that when I didn’t have to go anymore, my dad made me a daycare graduation certificate.  It’s not like I was molested or kept in a cage, or anything dramatic.  But daycare was not my house, not my toys, and it felt like (even though there were probably only 10 or 11 of us) there were 40 kids crammed into this little house.  The lady who kept the daycare was a nice lady, as I remember, who had a penchant for daytime soaps.  One of the three things I vividly remember about daycare was being introduced to The Young and the Restless (which I called the Lung and the Restless until I was about five or six), a fact I’m sure didn’t delay my parents in pulling me out of day care as soon as possible.

Vivid memory number two: peeing my pants and getting into major trouble for it, from all directions, and getting teased for doing it.  Never mind the fact that I was waiting for the bathroom, and Craig, who I already didn’t like was taking the longest dump in kid history and I told the lady I HAD TO GO.  I remember standing in that hallway and feeling the gush down my legs, soaking through the terrycloth of my little kid shorts.  Ever since then, I’ve tried my very best to make it to the bathroom at the very first hint of needing to tinkle.  Some shit I don’t forget, people.

This brings me to vivid memory number three, and possibly the central reason I hated daycare.  The lady who kept us was a nice lady—nice enough to let us be in the same room when she watched her soaps, nice enough to not yell too much when I had a hard time napping, and nice enough to give us ice cream.  Not a bad deal, really.  Except that the ice cream was always Neapolitan.  Always.  Hear me now: on the list of things I really don’t like in this world--including cancer, crushing poverty, bigotry, and violence—Neapolitan ice cream ranks just below the threat of thermonuclear warfare and slightly above having to go to the mall at Christmas time.  I hated it as a little kid, and I hate it as an adult.  If given the choice between Neapolitan ice cream and something you scraped off the bottom of the cat box and froze, I’d have to give it a real long think.  Seriously.

See, the real problem with Neapolitan ice cream is that there’s just too much going on. I know, I know…it’s only three flavors, and it’s the three favorite flavors of the entire ice cream eating universe, all smooshed up together in one big happy carton.  All I really care about is the chocolate.  I can handle the vanilla, if I have to.  But, you guys…there is no flavor in the world that makes me want to barf more than fake strawberry.  Ugh, I get all spitty and burpy just thinking about it.  As luck would have it, the daycare Neapolitan always had chocolate in the middle.  You’d think that would be the prime spot to put the chocolate, since it’s sort of the main attraction to all right thinking people in the world.  But it’s invariably played down by the vanilla, and the strawberry leeches into it, and you just taste everything all at once.  And it’s not just one flavor…it’s all of them.  And that, to my three-almost-four year old mouth (and to my almost-35-year-old mouth) was just too much business, especially when one of the overriding flavors is one that makes me want to barf.

Living a real life in Babylon is a lot like eating my way through a huge freaking carton of Neapolitan ice cream.  The best stuff, the stuff to get excited about, to stand in line for, to sweat, work, cry, bleed, and truly love is usually sandwiched between the insipid and the outright awful.  And I almost never get to take one single bite of any one flavor.  There’s no working my way through the strawberry awfulness with a furtively hidden gag and watery eyes, knowing that in two more bites I can have the ho-hum vanilla and the truly sublime chocolate.  And that is hard.

My father and my grandfather used to remind me, often in identical phrasing, that we all have to take the bitter with the sweet.  And boy, do we ever.  And the bitter and the sweet come in the most exhausting combinations…like getting all excited to see my far-flung cousins, and crying for an hour because the reunion is at a funeral, or having a really great tax refund, only to blow out two tires and have to spend the money on the car instead of a fun weekend.  It’s knowing that my wedding day was the most special and holy and wonderful day and I got to marry the most incredible man who loves me more than I can possibly comprehend, and that my brother showed up drunk and late.  It’s peeing in my pants and having my mother bring me dry ones and giving me a big hug in the middle of the day, and still getting dessert at lunch, except it’s freaking Neapolitan ice cream, every damn time.  But that’s life.  And it’s life in Babylon, for sure.  We take the bitter with the sweet, and know that somehow, in some way (that’s both magical and miraculous) the two sensations buffer each other.

Sweetness can kill us and numb us just as much as bitterness can suck all the moisture from our mouths and make us feel jaded.  But because they come together, it’s just about impossible to be carried away by either one, and hopefully, we end up, if not satisfied, at least sated...and if not sated, well, at least we know we had something to sustain and nourish us.

T.S. Eliot understood that concept, and I think that’s why he said that April was the cruelest month, and this month has reminded me of that quote, over and over…the whole world is blooming, and winter is receding and we’re all set to work on our gardens and tans, and I’m celebrating meeting my husband a whole year ago, and along comes North Korea, and the Boston Marathon bombing, and a building collapse in Bangladesh, and George Jones and my Aunt Lu freaking die.  The sweet reek of the flavor I most ardently dislike encroaches on the ones I love best, and they are all in my mouth, and there’s nothing to do but swallow and take a big drink of whatever is nearest to hand to clear my palate.

It’s hard to swallow all of those things gracefully and gratefully.  But the alternative isn’t as simple as it was in daycare.  Refusal is not an option.  We lick our plates and bowls clean, in this part of the world.  Even the crappiest tasting, crappiest feeling, crappiest of crappy desserts is still dessert.  It’s still nourishment, and nourishment brings life—a life that is moving and being and changing and rising and dying, and I don’t want to forget that.  Because even thought the strawberry bleeds into the chocolate, and the vanilla is just so…vanilla, there’s this big, wide ribbon of chocolate moving through the middle, and somewhere, I’m convinced there’s a bite that is unsullied by the lesser tastes, telling me that I can and I will finish, and I most likely won’t throw up on the rug, when I’m done. And on most days, days when all I can see are dish after dish of frozen tri-color nightmare stacked up in rank upon rank, with just one spoon and only me to eat them, that is enough.

Mil besos,