Thursday, October 30, 2014

Becoming the Miracle

Detour is the place where I begin to own the brokenness and the beauty, giving each appropriate weight and measure, place and proportion.  Neither dominating the other, neither erasing the presence of the other.  

For we are not in heaven yet, neither this is all hell.

Detour is the place and the season when I realize I need to receive with open hands and open heart their unnerving co-existence as a curious gift from the all-wise God who allows – No! – who appoints both the thorn and the rose.  The sun and the rain. The flower and the weed.

It's the place where I make my peace with both pleasure and the pain - begging for the courage to hold and to let go.

For I am prone to cling to my pain as much as I want to cling to the pleasure. 

It’s the place where I let go – and keep letting go – of my obsession with separating what is good from what is evil, the weed from the tare, and allow the One and Only One who knows all things to make that distinction in His good time.

Detour is the place where I let go – and keep letting go – of my craving for the proof of my faith, as if the Cross isn't proof enough of God's outrageous love for rebels like us. 

It's the place where I learn to satisfy my insatiable appetite for what is spectacular and miraculous, amazing and wonderful by embracing the quiet miracle of an ordinary day and its ordinary ways - cooking and cleaning, writing and reading, algebra homework and shopping for Halloween costumes - that carry no attention-grabbing signs, except, perhaps, the ever-present unfathomable vastness of the sky above it all that envelopes us all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Place Where Magic Happens

Detour is a place of magic.  Or misery. Or both.

It all depends how you look at it.

Detour is the place where thoroughly frustrated, my focus finally begins to shift from what I do, or want to do, or wish I could have done to what God does and wants to do in my life.

It’s where my primary concern moves from wallpaper and Venetian Plaster or latest decorating trends to the structural integrity of the house.  To the reality of crumbling walls and the cracks in the foundation. Deteriorating copper pipes. 

Detour is the place where I stop being bothered so much by looks and appearances, by comparison and jealousy and discover the uncharted region of what only God knows and sees - my hidden motives, my fears and strategies for self-preservation and self-protection. What is buried deeply inside my heart.

If I can let go...if I let Jesus in... detour can become a place of incredible freedom from the exhausting task of managing and guarding my reputation to being in awe of the reality of God’s work in my blissfully small life.

Detour is the place of the paradigm shift where my main agenda, my secret obsession each day becomes creating more elbow room for Him to work... in my life.  In the lives of the people around me.

While I watch.
And wait.


And pray. 

It's where I learn how to change lanes in order to slow down to the leisurely stride of the Eternal God who never rushes the sunrise just because the night is getting to be too long.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Four-Letter Prayer

Bail me out o God, and send Thou a time-machine quickly! 
Use Thou the Delete key on Thy super computer and
evaporate into non-existence 
last seven seconds of Thy servant's fleeting life,...

- somehow morphs into a four-letter word that flies off my lips with a loud bang.

I am mortified. 

Turns out, I am not the only one. 

Curiously, my one word, four-letter prayer has an instantaneous effect. 

For barely had the single-syllable left my mouth, my entire family jams up the bathroom doorway clogging up my only exit out of this mess.

What the…? Says my husband, but before he could add anything else, I interrupt, horrified:

Watch your language! Children are listening!

Our young brood, however, seems oblivious to the finer points of linguistic expression.  They are absolutely mesmerized by the unprecedented chaos unfolding before their eyes. It takes a minute or two for the revelation to work its way through their innocent minds, turning their confusion into stunned awe.  

They had no idea that their plain, painfully ordinary mother has a secret identity of a She-Hulk and that she is capable of creating this much destruction with her two bare hands.

A large neon sign DETOUR AHEAD is flashing inside my brain and something tells me that it will be awhile before I open the can of beautifully understated sage Venetian Plaster now buried under the pieces of crumbled drywall. 
I consider taking my high-end angled brush, returning it to Lowe's for a refund and leave all the painting to professionals. 

But what I really, really want to do above all else is punch Mike in the nose, because it's obvious that this mess is all his fault. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Invention of Time Machine

There comes a moment in every person’s life when they wish there existed such a thing as a time machine.  

Or a cosmic reset button.  

Or whatever ingenious gizmo which would allow you to go back in time, perhaps just a few seconds back, and undo, re-do, do-over those few short, ridiculously fleeting moments. I bet nobody in the entire universe would even notice!

But you…  you can sigh a big sigh of relief because the world is back again on its axis, merrily spinning around oblivious to the cosmic catastrophe which has just been averted.

There comes a moment in every person’s life, even an atheist’s life, when they wish there existed a God who could, at least for an instant, bend the stupid rules of the universe, and for just a few short, ridiculously fleeting moments reach down and undo, re-do, do-over those seconds.

And you can sigh a big sigh of relief because the walls of your life are not a crumbled mess around your feet but safely pinned up and held together by the pretty pink-and-blue flowery wall-paper, peeling notwithstanding.

With the strip of wall-paper in my hand, and the pieces of dry wall around my feet, I am firmly planted in that very moment.

I am a former atheist praying to God with all my heart to show me the reset button or send me a time machine that would keep my hands off that peeling wall-paper and off that wall and my world could go back to spinning undisturbed on its wobbly axis. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Secrets Exposed

I march into our house heading straight towards the spare bathroom like I am on top of the world.  The view from the top, of course, is glorious. Possibilities seem endless. 

But, that day, I begin to discover that when you think or feel like you are on top of the world, the only way from there is down.  

My descent from the blazing light of the snow-capped Mt Everest is swift and decisive. 

It comes on me unexpectedly, attached to a long strip of pink-and-blue-and-pretty-flowers wallpaper gracing the bathroom walls.

The wallpaper was already peeling in a couple of places, but everything else looked fine on the outside.

All I did was just gave it a little tug.

What I didn’t know was that this pretty wall of ours with its minor cosmetic imperfections was hiding some pretty big secrets. And with my tiny little tug, with my innocent little pull those horrible secrets were exposed, now for the whole world to see.

The sight made me sick to my stomach.

For along with that seemingly harmless strip of wallpaper, part of the bathroom wall behind it came down as well.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Under the Influence

It could have been the paint fumes…

Or the pepperoni pizza…

Or all those Krispy Kreme donuts… and sugar and caffeine from five cans of Coke…

But after spending all day eating donuts and pizza, drinking coke and watching Mike do his magic with his words and his angled brush, I feel as if I absorbed all his skill and all his funnyiness, and all his calm poise in storytelling and painting by sheer osmosis…

I feel strangely empowered.

I feel good.

No.  I feel great.

I feel I can do it!

Whatever it is… on the way home that day when I drive by Lowe’s, I swerve into the parking lot, cutting off the slow poke in the far right lane who – a grandmother with perfectly coiffed, just-out-of-hair-salon silver tresses -   in turn flips me off. This throws me off balance a bit and I want to retaliate in the like manner, but I am still under the influence of whatever, so I shrug it off and I march into the paint department like I own it.  I grab a brand new, high quality angled brush, the kind Mike used. And then, on clearance table my eye catches a sight of a beautifully understated sage can of Venetian Plaster.

Venetian Plaster!

This takes my breath away!

In that moment all my reason, and all my logic, and my ever-present Inner Critic silenced by the clearance price in addition to the aforementioned pizza, donuts, and the strange effect spending a day with Mike had on me, and... I buy it!

I march out of Lowe's, a proud owner of one high quality angled brush that cost me an arm and a leg and one gallon can of a beautifully understated sage Venetian Plaster so cheap it's practically stolen. 

My intentions are clear. 

The automatic doors slide closed behind me but I am too enthralled to realize that I am on my own. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More Than Meets the Eye

I follow Mike beyond the cheery, creative chaos of the front room towards the rear end of the house. We walk through a hidden hallway to the far back where our journey ends in a tiny spare bathroom.  It must be the smallest and the quietest room in the entire neighborhood.  I sigh a big sigh of relief.

There is a quiet secluded spot in heaven even for misfits like me!

He chivalrously lets me pick my weapon of choice – I decide on the roller, and he gets the brushes – before we attack the walls.  There is really only one surface in such minuscule space that can accommodate my tool, so most of the time I just stand there and watch Mike work.

It turns out there is much more to Mike than his mild-mannered exterior lets on.  He is both a master wizard with the brush AND a great story teller. His stories are engaging, unpretentious and funny.  To somebody they may even sound kind of shallow. I might agree but would argue that they are more of the ocean kind of shallow... the way it appears to a child standing ankle-deep on a sand dune, the waves splashing all the way to her knees... 
Personally, I find his stories a bit unnerving because I am never quite sure if he is just rambling about their family pet hamster, or revealing something important I need to know about my next-door neighbor or perhaps even me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Amateur Profiler

Alas, when in heaven, one must play by heaven’s rules.

I accept Mike’s cordially extended hand muttering perfunctory pleasedtomeechu through my gritted teeth avoiding his gentle eyes.

I know nothing about Mike, except that he is my boss’ good friend, which in itself speaks volumes. At the moment, however, I happen to grossly overlook that vociferous fact.

I am fully aware that I am neither God nor an FBI profiler. I consider myself an open-minded, non-prejudiced person. And yet, I feel a compulsive urge to mentally X-ray Mike and pin him down:

His age.

Where does he fit on the fleeting scale between too young and too old? I decide to squeeze him into the prickly category of middle age, which instantly raises its own questions.

His experience.

Is he a rookie? Or a pro? Or just meddling?

And the pecking order determined by the above. 

His motives.

Why is he really here? Are his intentions purely altruistic, obligatory or merely pragmatic? Is the real reason why he is here to do the work only so he can brag about it social media? Or to eat pizza and donuts, along with those teenage boys tossing frisbee on the front lawn?

His mild-mannered demeanor turns out to be impervious to my amateur attempt at profiling.  He breaks the awkward silence by motioning towards the house,

Shall we get to work?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Heaven is Messy

Heaven, it turns out, is much messier and more chaotic place than I imagined.

When I arrive at the house, the party is already well on the way.

There are people everywhere. Some teenage boys are throwing a Frisbee on the front lawn.  Inside, on the floor of the front room, a couple of toddlers are crawling around the wooden tracks,  pushing Thomas and Clarabel, making choo-choo train noises. Their moms are satisfying their craving for much-needed adult conversation.  Drop-cloths are strewed all over, with people balancing on top of the ladders and hanging from the sides of the vaulted ceiling, no safety nets in sight.

There is almost palpable energy exuding off the walls of this place of creative chaos.  Men and women baptized into Sunny Side Lane and Golden Honey hews of yellow in addition to the glowing enthusiasm, or what Josef Pieper might call ‘divine madness’...

Being a melancholic introvert, suddenly I have second thoughts... it all feels a bit too much, and I consider the shortest distance to the nearest exit.

Just then my boss pulls up the driveway, having completed his second run to Home Depot since the beginning of the day, carrying additional cans of custom mixed paint. He seems genuinely happy to see me as if I am the only person who got and responded to his invitation. He sets the cans down, walks me back into the houses and introduces me to his good friend, Mike. 

Mike will be my painting partner. 

I want to say that I really don’t need a painting partner.  That I already have painting experience and prefer working alone. Even as the words are on the tip of my tongue, I look around and notice that all the painting going on is done in teams of twos or threes.

To a lone ranger like me, it seems like a bit of an overkill. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Unexpected Invitation

I must be affected by the paint fumes because I hardly notice that the clean-up takes at least twice as long as the actual painting. I am delightfully exhausted and satisfied when I finally crawl into bed at 3 AM.  When the kids wake up at 6 AM I jump out of bed, thinking it all must have been a preposterous dream. But, I am greeted with the mess of displaced furniture and the glorious new room, still very much pregnant with all its world problem-solving potential. The sight makes me forget I am facing the day with only three hours of sleep.

I move the furniture with the ease of Mary Poppins. As the room begins to take shape, I get even more inspired and energized.

I can do this! It’s so easy.  I don’t even need somebody to help me.  I can paint myself!

Our whole house waiting, my biggest dilemma is deciding which room I should paint next.

Buoyed by my raving success I zoom through the chores, eventually settling down at the computer to check my e-mails. In the IN-box I notice a new message from my boss. He and his wife had just bought an old fixer-upper with a lakefront view.  Everyone is invited to a party.  House-painting party, to be precise.

 There will be friends.  Lots of friends.

There will be food.  Lots of food.

There will be drinks.  Lots of drinks.

There will be free flow of gallons and gallons of paint.  Drop-cloths.  Paintbrushes. Rollers. All imaginable paint supplies provided.  Last, but not least - no prior painting experience necessary. We’ll show you the ropes. RSVP by... 

I think I must have just died and woke up in heaven. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Extreme Makeover

The following week, after I drop my husband off at the airport, I stop by Home Depot and stumble upon a gallon of gorgeous tan paint sitting on the 'Oops' table for just five bucks. I thank God for the OCD person who returned it because it wasn't 'exactly what she wanted', interpret this as a clear sign of confirmation, pay the cashier, go home and immediately start moving the furniture. That night, with tucking kids in bed behind me, I call Karrie. Within minutes she knocks quietly on the door wearing paint-splattered shorts and an old T-shirt with splotches of dried up sage greens, brilliant whites and midnight navys all over it.  

The sense of conspiracy is exacerbated by our whispering as we spread out the drop cloths and lay out the paint, the roller and the brushes. She hands me the big roller along with a few simple tips. My hands are a bit shaky, but there is no turning back now. She volunteers for all the cutting in and the edges, while I am in charge of the bigger job of rolling.

I think she is doing this because she is tough.  She is former military. She wants to break me in right away so I understand fully how difficult the job really is. This would paint an accurate and realistic picture for all my future aspirations and expectations.

I fumble at first, mainly because I feel like I am treading on forbidden ground that is dedicated to professionals only. But, by the time we get to the third wall, I get a hang of it and feel like a pro.  We are finished in record time and I cant’ believe my eyes. 

The room is transformed from a dingy useless appendix into a cozy, inviting space waiting to be filled with books, and comfortable furniture and friends old and new,  where we will spend hours together discussing lofty ideas and solving all world’s problems holding warm cups of freshly brewed lemongrass tea in our hands. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Anyone Can Paint!

I say the last word – professionals - with solemn respect for the deep inner workings of the secret knowledge combined with unattainable skill passed on from generation to generation to chosen few through some clandestine initiation rite.

Professionals?!!! She laughs uproariously as if I just told her a particularly funny joke. Painting is not just for ‘professionals’.  Anyone can paint. You and I can paint that room in one evening.  

I’ve known Karrie for years. She is a former military, civil engineer AND a middle school algebra teacher. I’m not kidding. She’s definitely not an impulsive type. She is half-German! But, she is not a painter - at least not that I am aware.  

Despite her uproarious laughter, she sounds serious like she really meant what she said.

I stare at her like a convoluted algebra problem, the two sides of this equation simply not adding up.   

As if to clarify my dilemma and seal her statement, she repeats it, this time slowly, making sure I understand every word:

You and I can paint that room in one evening. After your kids are in bed.  Before YOU go to bed.

Her words linger between us trying to decide which way they should go.

I really can’t explain what happened next. Whether it was her rock-solid confidence? Or my momentary lapse in judgment where I forgot all about myself and latched onto her words… actually believing what she said….

But in that split-second of extraordinary lucidity or extraordinary lunacy, I felt something in me getting unhinged, and before I knew what I was doing, I blurted out:

Let’s do it.  

And as if to seal the certificate of my insanity, I repeat it:

Let’s do it next week.  

And thus I took a leap of unbridled faith into the techno-color abyss of Behr and Sherwin Williams.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Leave It To Professionals

Some things are best left to the professionals, I’ve been told growing up.

Like brain surgeries.

Or haircuts.

I tried to negotiate cooking and cleaning into this equation, but those turned out to be non-negotiables. That is, non-negotiables if I wanted to get married.

You must know how to cook, and clean and make a good cup of strong Turkish coffee before you get married. My mom would pause after each invariable as if to enunciate its singular importance. All the aunts and uncles would nod in agreement.

Yea, yea… they muttered.  The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

I thought I was doomed.

It turns out, even doomed people get married. To top it off, my husband doesn’t even drink coffee! And last week he made himself a sandwich with ‘duck food’ bread. He said he couldn’t tell the difference.

Life is full of wasted effort.

Nobody mentioned anything about painting. It was clear as day that painting was right up there with haircuts and brain surgeries. I accepted this truth as self-evident.

When my husband and I bought our house, it was just the two of us. The house was large and we spread out like crabgrass – each claiming our own space. This was all good and dandy until kids came along. Our growing family forced redistribution of the square footage.  Our son claimed the old guest room and the old study became a nursery for the Thing 2. Our living room remained the only underutilized dead space that admittedly carried considerable potential. 

But, there was a problem. The room needed to be painted.  Badly. And I didn’t know any professionals who could do it. I was stuck with the decorating preferences of the previous owner – pinks and blues and pretty flowers – with its peeling accents, like it was the law of Moses.  

I resigned myself to the color-wheel status quo until one afternoon my next-door neighbor, Karrie, probably tired of listening to my complaining about our house dropped a bombshell:

Oh, you can paint that room in no time.

But that’s impossible- I can’t paint!!  I exclaimed, It’s a job for professionals!