Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – Enter At Your Own Risk

This is the only warning I am going to give to you. Prayer is a subversive activity. If you never prayed this or similar kind of prayer, please DON’T! There is no telling what might happen next.

As if on a cue, a white truck with a trailer hitched to it swings around the corner of our street and pulls in front of our house. A single word emblazoned on its side in large bold letters says EVERGRINGOT.

Now, that’s a strange name… wonder what it means…

A guy jumps out, taking off his hands-free as he finishes up a conversation:

Thanks for asking…I am already on my way – be there in a sec.
He slams the door behind him and waves at me.

Er.. sir… It seems like you got a wrong house.
I glance at the trailer, filled with all the apps and widgets one might need to run a professional landscaping business.

You must be Bob’s landscape guy… He shook his head and burst into laughter,

It seems to me that I am at just the right house.
I look at my rabid-squirrel-rampaged lawn and slowly get off my knees.

But I didn’t call for any landscaping service…

Hm.. that’s funny. I thought you did…

I was just... I stop mid-sentence, realizing that if I finish it, I would sound totally weird. Being weird is definitely not my thing. So, I decide to steer the conversation into the familiar water teeming with excuses.

Sir, you don’t understand… It’s not that I think we don't NEED landscaping service…we really can’t afford…

How’ bout that, he interrupted, … It just so happens that we are running a special today… all-inclusive, full-service gardener with the works – tools, plants, an experienced expert, everything you need to turn this… he hesitated as if looking for an accurate word to describe my wretched yard, but decided against it…. To turn this into a garden of Eden.

This guy is either a con-artist or a lunatic,
I smile at him and as if humoring a lunatic.

And how much is that pleasure going to cost me?

He clasped his hands, intertwining his fingers. I could see dirt under his fingernails.

Already prepaid. In full. No-end contract. You need to show up though. It’s your lawn after all. Sort of… Do we have a deal?

He stretched out his hand waiting for me. Something about those hands tells me he knows what he is talking about and he is dead-serious. If my jaw hasn’t been bruised enough already, this time would have done me in.

If this happens one more time, I will need a maxillofacial surgeon and who is going to pay for that?

I grab his hand and shake it vigorously.

We got ourselves a deal, Sir. We got ourselves a DEAL!

And so I got me my very own personal Gardener.

Prayer is a subversive activity. It should be entered only at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – From Discouragement to Despair

Having been stripped of my ingenious Plan B, in addition to being utterly disillusioned by my new found identity of the Great Weed Exterminator I feel like I am losing ground and slipping fast from discouragement into Despair. Capital D Despair. I have nothing left. I am doomed forever.

In the back of my mind, a tiny bee starts buzzing… I am annoyed and would much rather be left alone to rot. But the bee doesn’t leave me alone. In between the annoying buzzings, I think I hear something along the lines of despair being a compost pile for real growth.

The counter-intuitive nature of the statement gets me quite distracted from my doom-n-gloom. I latch on it like a nursing infant.

Despair is the compost pile for real growth… Despair… is a compost pile… for real… growth…

There is no question that my life resembles a big, stinky compost pile, indeed. And, there sure is a lot of despair. But, real growth? Do I even know what this 'real growth' thing is all about…?

I realize I need a serious miracle. And the only One I know qualified in this department is… God.

OMG! I am such a loser! I need God to weed my garden! How pathetic is that? HOW pathetic is THAT!

Pathetic or not, I have nowhere else to turn. So, I slump down on my knees and utter the most sincere prayer I’ve said in a very long time:

Ah, LORD God, You who created this amazing world out of nothing, You who give life to the dead, make me a gardener.

Just like that.

When you are at the bottom, the only way to look is up.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – Plan B The Astro-Turf

B is for Brilliant…

Planting? She said, I was PLANTING?!! I shook my head, talking to the tree who stares at me without a blink. What was that crazy woman thinking?!! Can’t she tell the difference between WEEDING and PLANTING?? I take the tree’s silence as agreement and turn my attention back to the lawn.

With all the holes and craters, it now looks more like the surface of the Moon. I’ve never seen anybody plant anything on the Moon, except, maybe Neil Armstrong when he planted the flag of the United States. I certainly am not a Neil Armstrong.

The wasteland sprawled in front of me speaks its own language.

I can feel the wind fizzling out of my sail, leaving hopelessness and self pity behind. I hug the tree and begin to weep; the puddle around my feet soon overflows the property lines of our yard and threatens to flood both neighbors’. Even though we are in the drought season, somehow I don’t think they would appreciate my free watering service.

I need fresh perspective, I think, still hugging the tree.

Perhaps I should try planking…

I climb to the lowest branch, which is still pretty high for a woman my age and athletic prowess. Somehow I manage anyway, shake of my dripping boots and look down. Being lifted out of the puddle of self-pity indeed helps.

Up in the sky, half way to the Moon, I consider alternatives – adding an expansion to our driveway and turning the whole yard into a basketball court… adopting an Arizona style rock garden with zero grass landscaping. Finally, the energy efficient light bulb comes on in my head and I have a brilliant idea:

Astro-turf! That’s what we should do – we should put down Astro-turf.
All my woes instantly evaporate as I clamber down the tree trunk to call the family meeting.

We are switching to Astro Turf!
I announce, very much impressed with myself.

My husband looks at me over his reading glasses and without apology nixes my brilliant idea.

Ain’t gonna work.
He says, It’s against our HOA CC&Rs, and goes back to clipping the coupons.

What do you mean, It’s against our HOA CC&Rs?!!! They can’t do that! They are overreaching their authority! Forbidding fake grass - outrageous! Think of all the water conservation and NO MAINTENANCE! How can they object to that?!!! That… that’s like banning all the fake Christians, all the phonies and hypocrites from going to church!

Our I-read-Encyclopedia-Britannica-just-for-fun son sticks his nose out of the pages and throws in his two cents.

Mom, it’s really not as great as it sounds… There are some serious drawbacks. The infill required for laying down artificial turf may carry heavy metals which can leech into the water table, plus the turf carries pathogens which are not broken down by natural processes in the same way as regular grass and that…
He looks up, sees that my bruised jaw is about to hit the floor again, and stops mid sentence.

I had no idea that fake can be hazardous to your own, your family’s and your community’s health.

B is for Brilliant… or, perhaps, Bad…

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – This Is Much Harder Than I Thought It Would Be

I’m In Way Over My Head

Smitten by the sudden realization of my compulsive habit, I look at my yard with fresh eyes. They just about pop out of my sockets as I notice weeds ALL around. Crabgrass, Pennywort, Sedge, Goosegrass, Button weed… I stare at the lawn suspiciously, wondering if it might be trying to imply that Whining shares the apartment with its evil twin sisters... Complaining, and Grumbling, and Criticizing, and Comparing, perhaps even Gossiping, and Who-Knows-What-Else… I dismiss the thought as utterly preposterous, since if I had to stop all that, I might as well stop talking altogether! So, I resolutely turn to my lawn and with renewed determination dive head first into it.

I will NOT allow THIS on MY watch!!
I dig like a rabid squirrel, dirt flying, a mountain of pulled-out weeds next to me growing by the second. I am in the zone. I have finally found the purpose of my existence.

Despite the heat, the dirt, the sweat, I actually feel pretty good about my new identity. I can sense adrenaline pumping through my cardiovascular system and I double the speed and intensity of digging.

Suddenly, a tiny voice yanks me right off my high stampeding horse.

Mommy, what is this lady doing??!!?

I stop in my tracks and look at the boy. I can’t really see him for my eyes are caked with dirt now. I use the inside of my elbow to wipe them off. I notice a large patch of uprooted turf had somehow landed on the eye-shade of my multipurpose baseball cap. I try to shake it off, but in the process I scatter some dirt on the boy and his mom. The perplexed look on his face is a mixture of curiosity, fear and desire to join me in the mud rolling. The fear seems to overtake the other two and he steps closer to his mama and hugs her right leg.

All around me there are holes were weeds used to be. Our lawn resembles an exploding minefield.

The lady… , his mama speaks slowly, enunciating every word, The lady is… planting!

She dusts the dirt off his shoulder as they move on. My jaw drops with a thump, hitting the mound of dirt in front of me.

I’m In Way Over My Head.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – I can quit any time

You don’t know you are addicted until you try quitting.

Fasting is hard. I need all the help I can get to stick with it. So, in order to get my fixated mind unglued from whatever I am attempting to eradicate out of MY-life so I can squeeze a speck of God-life in, I go back to gardening. My yard is always there, waiting for me, always ready to embrace me with open arms. It never talks back to me (well, maybe a time or two). There is always ample work available yielding instant results (unlike my parenting). Best of all, I can do it mindlessly. I get on my knees, pull the crabgrass by the roots, and just let my brain wander off wherever it wishes…. I don’t even hear it buzz…

If only there were no weeds. I would be a better gardener… if only there were no weeds. I would be a better gardener… … if only there were no weeds. I would be a better gardener… … IF ONLY THERE WERE NO WEEDS. I WOULD BE A BETTER ?#*&%@# GARDENER…

I am jerked out of my mindless state, wondering who the heck yelled that last sentence. I suspiciously checked out the neighbor power-walking her dog on the other side of the street, but she seemed an unlikely candidate.

Since nobody else is around, I decide, instead of playing the blame game, I am going to take ownership of this random, isolated, single little thought.

If only there were no weeds, I would be a better gardener. True or false?


I realize part of me believes the statement is true. The part that likes to deny the reality. For, reality, even my favorite gardener Tom MacCubbin would agree, is - Where there is a garden, there are weeds. Like it or not.

I step back, frowning at my lawn for being so blunt.

Where else in my life am I in equal denial about the fact of weeds?

Suddenly, an onslaught of barking thoughts jump at me, having been hidden around some shady corner inside my brain waiting to be released:

If there were no temptations, I would be a better Christian… I was actually a pretty good parent before we had kids. If there were no immature, selfish, SINFUL people in our church, it would…

The whining, complaining, howling dogs have broken the rickety fence in the back of my brain and took the full stage, front and center.

You don’t know you are addicted until you try quitting.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Facebook Fast

Even though I have been walking with Jesus for over twenty years, last year was the first time I made a feeble resolution to join millions of others in giving up something for Lent. The lot was cast, and it fell on… Facebook!

Not Facebook!!! I protested within my own head. I can’t give up Facebook?!!??

The radical thought generated such internal turmoil that I became suspicious I might need to give up Facebook, for in the short time since I'd opened my account, it started dominating my life more than I care to admit.

So, I embarked on my first ever Facebook fast.

The first couple of days, I was too busy with other stuff to even notice I wasn’t logging in. But then my scheduled opened up and I began to hear my virtual friend calling my name. All the symptoms of a detox started popping up like sponsor ads. Suffering through withdrawals, I knew I had become addicted. Going the way of most addicts, I relapsed and peeked in (well, gorged on), just to check if anybody still 'likes' me. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something really fun or perhaps on a cataclysmic event everybody is re-posting and I am oblivious of since I so recklessly chose to cut off my life line. Eventually, I quieted down, being assured that most likely I won’t be left behind if the Second Coming of Christ occurs during my fast. I could finally relax, for a split millisecond peel my eyes off of me - what I think and say and do and how much I am liked for it by other FB addicts - and start noticing even enjoying Life apart from Facebook. What a concept!

The final couple of weeks flew by and Easter Sunday greeted me with a huge dose of embarrassment at my own fickle faith and renewed appreciation of the enormity of Christ's love and sacrifice for the idolatrous sinners like me. Even though my virtual love affair with the social networking site started quite innocently, it somehow connected with this thing inside me and morphed into a cheap substitute, leaving me emotionally and spiritually starved.

On Monday after Easter, when the FB ban was lifted, I found myself strangely free from its choking grip. Part of me didn't want the fast to end. I slowly eased into checking and posting status updates, sharing photos and links. I continued doing FB throughout the year with greater or lesser sense of entanglement. My idolatry-prone heart knows its capacity to seek life, acceptance and fulfillment in all the wrong places.

This year, encouraged by the outcome of last year's experience, I considered doing the FB fast again. But a quiet voice surprised me with another suggestion,

How about quitting whining, instead?

Whining??? You mean for my kids to quit whining? Now I would really like that!

Not your kids - for YOU to quit whining! Who do you think your kids learned it from?

Surely not from me??? Whining??? ....Not whining!!! I can’t give up whining?!!??

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Playing Your Part with Heart

Yesterday we finally reached a miniature (or perhaps a huge) milestone in our son’s violinist ‘career’. His baby steps with the instrument were of the kind only a mother can love and appreciate. The rest of the family (and unfortunate neighbors and classmates) endured with less or more tolerance the hair-raising screeching produced by often out-of-tune strings. Being his mom, I always thought that what might have been missing in his experience and skill was abundantly made up by his love affair with the cheap Made in China imitation of the famous Stradivarius.

The day he got a tiny violin to match his size, he swung the front door of our house wide open, marched out, planted himself in the lawn under a holly tree and as he drew the bow against the strings exclaimed,

Hey! Listen! I am using this song to quiet the wind!

His youthful zeal, nurtured by time, practice, expert guidance and community of fellow-mini-musicians finally brought us the day when we can actually enjoy his concerts, rather than suffer through them.

The uniqueness of the MAYS (Metropolitan Area Youth Symphony) concerts lies in the fact that they feature several different levels of performers – from talented beginners playing more simple pieces (if one dares calling a theme from Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 ‘simple’) all the way to some exceptional, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra worthy young men and women, awe-ing the audience by their virtuoso performance of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Mozart.

The comprehensive umbrella of age, talent, skill and experience provides an observer with a form of a musical timeline, a fascinating time-lapse snapshot of the developmental progression in the life of a musician. Each group, each stage is to be relished and celebrated in their own merit – recognizing the familiar tune amidst a horde of straying notes as much as forgetting to breathe while taken by an outstanding soloist. It might be humbling but it is certainly good for the older ones to look back and remember where they came from. And, it’s just as good for the youngsters to be encouraged and inspired by those ahead of them towards greater heights in loving, appreciating and performing timeless classics.

In that multilayer harmony the conductor, the orchestra, the soloist and the audience together are lifted into an even grander design of inspiration and beauty transcending time, place, any individual or group, era or style. They all point towards the Great Composer who gave His one and only Son to be a pitch pipe (or DaTuner, if you are a techie type) for us, who invites us to leave the bleachers, join in His grand orchestra and begin playing our own unique part with passion and ever-increasing grace and skill. It’s the symphony that everyone who heard it agrees is quite out of this world.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him (who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because… you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. I John 2:12-14

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saving the Best for Last

When he first met me, I wasn’t a consideration, because I was a … foreigner. When I first met him, he wasn’t a consideration because I couldn’t pronounce his last name and I already had a boyfriend.

Nine days later, the boyfriend of six and a half years was out of the picture and for the first time I, the ever-expressive, ever-opinionated chatterbox-I discovered that words have some serious limitations.

So begins the BEST love story ever lived. It’s best, of course, because it’s our love story. It has every component of a really good love story – twists and turns, war and peace, long letters and short fuses, dazzling fireworks and all. Thus the Sock found its Monkey, the Spark found its Plug, the Type found its Writer and the Kindle found its Fire. They lived happily ever after, end of story.

This is as far as the definition of love reaches in most people’s minds. The rush of emotions, a walk on the cloud, or, as some cynics may call it a 'temporary state of insanity'. For, speaking from experience, love does make you do some crazy things we would never dream of doing otherwise. Writing poems, buying flowers in the dead of winter, abandoning our safe, carefully controlled, self-contained world and embracing some utterly Other as a vital part of our very being, putting the desires, wishes and preferences of that one above our own. Just yesterday I was my happy, content, busy me. Today I am a wreck without this long-lost soul mate who, a split second ago was a complete stranger. When, through some small token of providence I am assured of his love for me, I am blown away that cosmic forces would be so graciously inclined to pick me, this pitiful, undeserving me, and shower me with such generosity and favor!

Nobody, however, can live in a permanent state of euphoria (unless, of course, you are a drug addict or mentally ill). For, sooner or later, the flash-flood of adrenaline, dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin slowly (or abruptly) subsides. You can’t have lavish, elaborate candle-light dinners every single evening. You don’t stay up just talking all night when you have kids to take care of the next day. It’s impossible for me to look dazzling when I first wake up (or any other time, for that matter). My husband discovered that the Amazing-Sexy-Legs turns into an Incredible-Mrs-Hyde (as in Jekyll and Hyde) before she had her SECOND cup of coffee in the morning. My stunning mate is a little less of his usual Mr. Universe self before he shaves and takes a shower. And, I was shocked to learn that even Mr. Universe farts after having milk and cereal for lunch.

And so I begin to notice ever so slight a shift in my perception. I start seeing things I didn’t see before… all these big and small imperfections I was so blissfully blind to and I am at a loss. What am I supposed to do with all this new information?!!?

Suddenly I am confronted with a choice. I can choose to chase after one adrenaline-rush after another, trying to recapture or recreate the chemically-buoyed feelings of love. My OMG-keep-me-perpetually-entertained-and-happy-lest-I-die-of-boredom Botox-skin-deep culture implies there is no alternative. Much of my broken, idolatrous self gladly concedes to the allure of this course of action. If I go down that path, I discover that it is ruled by the law of diminishing returns. I need more, and more, and MORE… and my sense of discontentment and restlessness grows bigger and bigger and BIGGER. Nobody, not even my amazing Mr. Universe can measure up or compete with that kind of pressure. So, I can decide that, just as I have so hopelessly, so involuntarily fallen madly IN love, I can as easily, yet, ah so sadly – or MADly - fall OUT of love. The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia offers a guided tour of artifacts of such love gone sour. The end of that story, onto the next.

Or, I can chose to believe the vision imparted by the ‘temporary blindness’ (or, perhaps, it was a provision of an extra eye to see the possibility in the impossible?). I can receive the whole package – what makes sense to my pea-size brain and what doesn’t – and ask God to help me do the hard work of faith… the hammering out of that incredible, dazzling vision in the nooks and crannies of our lives, day-in, day-out, year in, year out, staying true to the promise when the glare of the stage lights is off and burned mac’n’cheese is on the dinner table. With good days and bad, cancers and cavities, fun and funerals, homework and yard work, the dark nights and the dark chocolate, when nobody is watching and nobody needs to know.

In that murky texture of ordinary life, love, true love settles down like snow… gently, quietly, patently, faithfully - no fanfare, no self-inflated noise… over, under, in and through, and all around… until the entire earth-bound landscape of our lives is transformed by its heavenly beauty. Growing deeper and deeper as the years go by, it transcends by light years any dazzling display conjured up by some fleeting, hormone-boosted emotion. And, once again, I am left speechless, marveling at the gracious inclination of the good Lord to pick me, this pitiful, undeserving me, and shower me with such generosity and favor. And I remember that He always saves the best for last.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:10