Friday, January 30, 2015

The Place of In-Between

When I am in desperate need of help, when I don’t know what to do, I begin to backpedal a little.

I linger and loiter. Wait and sniff.

Which is also what I usually do when I have a date with the ocean.

See, we have a little routine when we have a date.  The ocean and I.

It takes less than an hour to get there from our house. This serves well as a much-needed transition time allowing me to re-program my mind and let go of my inland-bound life. 

My solid-ground life tends to grow these long tentacles all into and around me. It's not necessarily a bad life. In fact, it's rather comfortable and predictable, and most importantly I am (or think I am) in charge.   This life makes me think it’s all there is – jobs to do, chores to knock off, responsibilities to fulfill. I weather some storms, withstand pressures and navigate the chaos and  turmoil with greater or lesser degree of success.  Then, at night, I watch two episodes of Criminal Minds.  It makes me feel my life is not so bad after all. It may not be as Pinterest-perfect as the life of my friends on Facebook, but it could be much worse. I could have a serial killer on my back! Thus calmed,  I brush my teeth, double-check that all doors are locked and tumble into sleep until the next morning. 

I know in my head that life is not about checking off a to-do list, but you wouldn’t know it watching me scurrying around my moments and days.

I think there is a name for this condition – tunnel vision – and going to the ocean helps me get outside my tunnel.

The drive is usually quiet and uneventful. This, in addition to above-mentioned letting go my shoe-box-size inland life also helps build anticipation. 

The ocean never fails to deliver, but I admit I have my doubts each time. 

Then, I park the car and open the door letting the air in. I know I am at my destination. 

You wonder how do I know it?

I can smell it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Place of Tug-of-War

This all-out way-beyond-my-little-fist’s-grasp greatness seeps through my pores and sinks down to the place I am mostly unaware it even exists deep inside me. I feel the tension in my neck melting away and my fingers loosening the choke-hold of impossible and petty demands I place on myself, others and even God!

The noise of the small claims court as well as the grand jury investigation which somehow always seem to be in session inside my head are tempered by this extravagant unwarranted mercy extended above, and below and all around me. 

Tempered, I say, not completely silenced. I have to admit it’s a struggle and sometimes just plain hard work. 

You see, my Scrooge and my Judge, the Critic and the Editor know A LOT. But, they have no clue how to sit back and relax. 

Intelligent and valuable as they may be, they don’t understand that their services are not always needed. They descend with me as a scowling drove of tight-lipped responsible, extra-vigilant grown-ups who are well-versed in the significance of name-your-own-monster-here...

...Whatever...he...or...she...may be. 

Any embodiment of any...


... perfectionism...

.... professionalism...

.... have-it-all-together-ism...

My old monsters happen to gnaw on me today. 

I am NOT being a perfectionist, I just happen to value the all-important grammatical and stylistic excellence!   

Sloppiness of thought and speech are punishable crimes.

Messiness and lack of organization a clear evidence of a deep character flaw. 

Of course, being so smart they know how to put on a show ensuring they don't appear too anal, but in reality they are just a bunch of poorly (or, perhaps, beautifully?) disguised control freaks. 

In the past, I would simply hand them a particularly engaging well-written and impeccably thought-out book on spiritual theology and that would keep them quiet if not happy.  They would much rather sit with a cup of tea in a comfortable chair inside their library and not have to deal with the screeching children and seagulls, and the annoying wind messing up their hair and flipping their pages before they have finished reading them.  

Today,  I want to try a different approach.  

But, I know I will need some serious help here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Place of Acceptance

The ocean has been here long before I made my little grand entrance.  It watches me with mostly inarticulate groans as I prance around leaving my tiny footprints all over the beach. It will remain here long after I leave at the day’s end.

Every person dotting the beach is here today because they want to be or somebody who loves them brought them along.  Of course, there might be few who feel forced, manipulated or guilted into coming. Sadly, such approach, even if it's driven by good intentions, effectively ruins the fun available to all who come of their own free will. 

The ocean doesn’t need anything from me nor does it place any expectations on me.  It doesn't judge me for being fat or skinny, smart or stupid, introvert or extrovert, clean or messy, This is hard to grasp for most of us who grow up and live under the burden of impossible demands and expectations our surroundings - home, school, church, social media, and even our own deluded selves - places on us.  Sometimes I don't even realize I compromised my soul in my futile attempt to fit in and be accepted.

The ocean in turn says to me,

You already fit in with me! You are already accepted here.

I am a blessed beneficiary of all its affection, generosity and  grandeur.

There is no age limit to enjoying the ocean – you are never too young, never too old to play.  All our little labels - what you do, who you are, even what you believe - matter little here.  The ocean is equally at ease with the scarred used-to-bes and the naive wanna-bes; the woman covered from head-to-toe in burka, the bold guy showing off his full-body tattoo and a wounded artist plagued by unresolved angst and anger.

Surrounded by the vastness of the sky above, the sand beach under my feet, and the great big blue, my huge, unsolvable problems are scaled down to size. 

Curiously, as my problems are being reduced, I don’t feel diminished as a person.

There is something inside me that actually gets enlarged. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Place of Safety

My daily dose of three pages of longhand sometimes feels like wading through a layer of muck that reaches up to my eyeballs. Other times it's as exhilarating and terrifying as a free-fall off a cliff while I count seconds before crash-landing.  

I want to think of myself as being a pretty good listener, but I am discovering that I might be listening to everyone else except my own soul. 

In my head I know I am safe, but my heart is unnerved by the torrent.  I need a place that would assure this anxious heart that it’s O.K. and calm the rush of swirling thoughts.

Going to the ocean for my first artist's date seems most appropriate.  

Ocean has always been a dependable wellspring of safety for me. It never fails to welcome me with open arms, no questions asked. Not once have I heard him pout,

Where have you been??? Why haven’t I seen you in so long??!

I admit that I tend to say to myself,

God, I MISS this!, every time I make it to the coast. I must be imagining because in the rumble of its roaring waves I think I hear an echo, 

I miss you too. I’m glad you are back.

No cold shoulder. Not a hint of reproach.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mother Courage

The little naked-butt word that escapes the rigorous sentinel of my Internal Editor, turns out to be a kindness of sort. The raw energy of its un-Photo-shopped truth does its magic inside our group.  It scrub-cleans our ears, dull from being accustomed to hearing only what others think we want to hear. 

She volunteers to be next.  The seasoned veteran in the business of service, sacrifice and self-negation.  Mother to many.  Faithful, dutiful wife of a respected leader. Mostly invisible accessory to a greater mission.

On the outside her bowl is beautiful and rich and full of opportunities and experiences the rest of us can only dream about. Fascinating people and exotic places. We’ve known each other for years and I never bothered to look, to ask what’s on the inside.  Perhaps I wasn’t ready for what I may find there.  
The bowl she brings to our communion table is full of emptiness, and loneliness and depression, and meds that work and don’t, and an ocean of unshed tears over a lifetime of losses. She attaches a label to herself that makes my heart sag.

Somewhere along the way she got branded. Her vast capacity for experiencing the exquisite joy of this life as well as its gut-wrenching grief is now reduced to a mental illness tag.  To be numbed by alternating the assortment of religious platitudes and daily dose of Prozac.

We listen to each other and bow our hearts to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. Worn out from carrying our own, we lift up each other’s bowl to Jesus.

She wraps up our prayers by praying for me.

Thank you, Lord, for these three daily pages of longhand vomit, she says. Maybe it's time for me to start my own...

A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.  For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”  Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Mark 5:25-34

Monday, January 19, 2015

Artists Anonymous

We are huddled in our little groups of twos and threes, passing around in whispers our empty bowls of prayer requests.  She is a seasoned veteran in this business of service, sacrifice and self-negation.  Her husband a respected leader. Each of us hesitates a little before I finally take a chance and set out my bowl first.

I am doing this… I search for words to describe the Artist’s Way and keep falling short… A book? A workbook? A 12-step-like recovery program for wounded artists?

Their gentle eyes rest on my face, waiting patiently for me to clothe my squirming thoughts into ill-fitting syllables.  Finally I confess, settling on a simple action verb that has over-arched my existence since before I could talk.

I write.

Three pages.

Of longhand.

Every day. 

Of whatever goes through my mind.

Even as I say this, the filled-out pages flash before my eyes, and I know that these words don’t give a shadow of justice to the reality of what these pages represent.

Oh! Her eyes having endured the burden of my quest for adequate wardrobe light up in recognition.

It’s like a prayer journal!

No! I blurt out. Not at all! I would call it more like … vomit, I explain and my eyes pop wide open the moment the word reaches the auditory processing system inside my head. I am thoroughly mortified together with my shocked praying friends.  We laugh even as I kick myself for being such an idiot and I want to kick God for making me look like a fool in front of these women.

My internal editor hisses: 

You blabber-mouth! You should have said something like,

"It's a ham radio for the soul." Or, even better,

“It’s a lush, ever-present oasis of absolute safety where you get to hear your own thoughts and feelings...”  Or,

“It’s a critics-free zone where I get to be fully myself!” Or at least,

“It’s a self-deception lie detector that helps me navigate through confusion of life where truth and appearance often don’t occupy the same space.”

The Editor, of course, is right. There is a million other things I could have said, but no!

Of all the beautiful words in richly stocked up English language, my brilliant brain chose to humiliate me by landing on vomit! 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Writer Meets Editor

How about you, Mom?  How was your day?

The dinner is on and so is the conversation about the events of the day. We pass around questions and answers along with serving dishes from one person to the next. 

It was pretty good.  I went to a meeting…

What kind of meeting?

It was a writer-meets-editor meeting…

The collective groan that interrupted my sentence is punctuated by,

Oh NO! The dreamer meets the dream-CRUSHER!

The experience of our family fully confirms the bitter Dreamers vs Crushers stereotype. Every day a battle erupts or another between the right-brainers and the lefties. The creatives and the realists.  The dreamers and the dream crushers. Sometimes it’s an all-out war raging under our bobbling roof.

Nobody seems to notice that in this war both sides play the part of the half-wits.  

I know how it sounds, but it wasn’t like that at all.  I really like Marianne.

They look at me as if I just produced a flying pig belting out Let it Go inside a winter wonderland of the Frozen over hell.  

A LIKE relationship between a writer and an editor??? Impossible!

She suggested that we do this workbook together…see where it takes us...

A workbook?!! But, you don’t do workbooks!

You would think I just sold out my soul to the devil by trampling upon yet another time-honored family stereotype. (Although I have to admit here that I still cringe from the fill-in-the-blanks, right-answer-left-answer type of learning tools. )

Well, it’s not a TYPICAL workbook. I proceed slowly. 

One must carefully defend their seemingly cowardly compromise. 

It’s called…, I pause savoring the marvel which placed these two unexpected bed-fellows - the writer and the editor, on the same crumpled up page…

The book is calledThe Artist's Way.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Second-Chance Christmas

All around me the world has already moved onto the next thing.  This was abundantly evidenced by the forest of dead Christmas trees lining up our street for this morning’s yard waste pick up.  

Even in our own household, some of us begun to feel a bit crowded out, a little suffocated by Christmas season. As a result, by the evening of January 1 all the stuff symbolizing the birth of Christ, vague and syncretistic as their symbolism may be, was stripped down and stuffed up into the attic.

I guess, there is a first for everything!

It’s the New Year, the new resolutions, the fresh start.  The clean slate.  Empty space!

And then, yesterday, I hit me.  

It’s Christmas Eve! Again! 

Instantly I am transported into a time warp, to join half of the Christian world who celebrate on this day the birth of the One and only true peace-giver on earth.

Peace on Earth. Christ is born. 

Solid, penetrating peace into my own anxious heart.

Yes! He is born indeed.

Mir Bozji. Hristos se rodi. Vaistinu se rodi.

I feel ridiculously joyful and radically subversive, crying as I chop onion after onion for prebranac. I know half of my brothers and sisters all around the world are shedding tears with me. The way life and onions make us weep. Slice after slice, following the stinging pattern of the traditional Christmas Eve meal.

Fish. Boiled potato salad. Baked lima beans.  Red wine.

The simplicity of the meal we eat is both healing and convicting.

I know I make life more complicated than it needs to be. 

Today, I feel like I was given a second chance at the real behind much of my Christmas.

I feel blessed by my heritage that reminds me to re-remember even when the world around me seems to have already forgotten. 

The simple ‘poor-men’s’ meal speaks its own sermon... only few things are necessary.  In fact, only one.  

And when I grasp...

... when I take hold of the truth… 

...when I recognize His enduring quiet Presence in my life… 

... I know that this One...

... this so often overlooked, misunderstood, underestimated, ignored, taken-for-granted, lost-in-the-clutter-of my-life One...

... is more than enough for me. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Like the Dawn of a New Day

Today is Ephiphany, or Three King's Day,  an appropriate day to conclude our series Magi-cal Journey and enter the new season of growth and change on our own journeys with Christ.

It’s in this shabby room, where the light was glowing not from the outside, but as it were from the inside… that the tired travelers finally reached their destination.

But the destination wasn’t the place.  It was the Person!

They looked around and nothing was as they had imagined. The man, the woman (really just a girl) and the Baby.  Nothing, nothing at all was like they imagined it would be.

And yet, in the heart of their hearts, in the marrow of their bones, they knew that that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

They all got wobbly in their knees, fell prostrate on the dirt floor and worshiped Him.

Then, they remembered  something, and scrambled up and scuttled around, until their trembling fingers held the gifts they have brought along...the strange shower of gifts for a newborn.  The gold, the frankincense and the strangest of all, the myrrh…  suddenly made perfect sense in this shabby room where God chose to dwell.

The bitterness intermingled with the sweetness.

The healing bleeding out of the wounds…?

The life being birthed… out of … death???

They didn’t… they couldn’t pretend to understand.  Their brilliant minds, and even their adoring hearts, too tiny, too limited to contain such a mystery. And yet, just being next to Him put both their minds and their hearts at rest.

Tired from their journey, and from the overwhelming marvel of the Word of God Himself wrapped snug in the swaddling cloths of a whimpering baby, they did the next most natural thing we humans do when we reach our limits, when we are get exhausted and worn out. They fell asleep.

And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Matthew 2:12

They returned to their own country by another way. On the outside, they might have looked the same… but, on the inside they were changed… changed by the journey, changed by the Baby who will grow up into those strange gifts to become the Prophet, the Priest and the King… The Baby who was born to become the Lamb of God, the perfect Lamb who alone gives the gift of Life – true eternal Life to all.

It was the dawn of a new day.

This post is the ninth and the final installment in the Magi-cal Journey series.

Lost and Found

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Best New Year's Resolution Ever

The initial enthusiasm was immediately tempered by the rude parking-lot awakening. Isn't that how the New Year's resolutions often work? But, we were not completely deterred by that hump. As I said, we were desperate and we paid big bucks, so whether we like it or not, we were going to HAVE FUN!!

And we did have fun. We quickly discovered the rides that gave us the biggest bang for our bucks and focused on those - the Hulk, the Rip Rockit, the Dragon Challenge. The Mummy.

Soon, however, the law of diminishing returns kicked in.
Do we have to go there AGAIN?, some of us whined more than others.  It’s too hot. It’s too cold. We’ve already been there a million times (some of us have greater propensity towards exaggeration). We’ve already seen everything there is to see. I am tired of having fun.  I just want to be home. 

I admit that some bribing was being employed. And some manipulating and even guilting. I am not proud of it.

And then came the last day.   We all knew this was the end.  Nobody needed to be forced to get ready.  Nobody whined. Nobody complained.  There was no need for bribing. We just all agreed that we will leave before the crowds and try to make it home to catch the ball at New York Times Square before it falls. 

We walked the familiar streets with fresh bittersweet awareness – noticing this detail here and that detail there for the first time, even though we walked right past it at least a million times before.  We rode Hulk, screaming until our throats hurt, to the horror of giggling teenage girls from Bolivia sitting in the row behind us.  We offered to take a family photo inside Hogwarts Express to a family of five from Japan. When they kindly tried to reciprocate, and thus our conversation started, they were wonder-struck to meet somebody who is so lucky to actually live here.

You are right. We are lucky. And...we don't deserve it... 

We realized we never saw Poseidon’s Fury and Grinchmas and never bought a wand… and then it was time to leave.

At the time we had no idea.  Our desperate New Year's resolution became a bitter-sweet time-capsule of a lifetime condensed into 365 days. We had a ton of fun. We became tired and resentful.  We lost our perspective and our wheels a time or two.  But, on the last day, on the very last day, we realized we walked by so much without really seeing it.  We heard so much, without ever understanding.

Which makes me wonder if this year...


...I could try...

...right here...

...right now...

like it's my last day?

The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8

Friday, January 02, 2015

New Year, Old Resolutions

As a part of our 2014 New Year’s Resolution, on December 31, 2013 we purchased a 365-days-access-to-distilled-family-fun pass to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

It was our desperate, last-ditch attempt to force more fun into our intensely overworked, stressed-out, absolutely-need-more-margin, fraying lives.

We rang in the new 2014 surrounded by tens of thousands of complete-strangers-turned-best-friends, of every color, language, shape and stripe because of our shared desperate, above mentioned need. 

But also our shared love of fun and family.

Desire for a positive, fresh start.

More joy and laughter!

A refreshing escape, no matter how temporary, from a bad news filled world. Even during Christmas. Especially during Christmas.

We were all equally eager to capture our delightful experiences on our phones and cameras so we can share them on Facebook around the world and relieve them again and again as they recede into our usual run of the mill existence.

In line for Minion Mayhem we chat with a middle-eastern family from Canada like we’ve known each other forever.  When they hear we are locals, their eyes grow really big. 

You actually live here??! 


We savor the moment because for once, in somebody's eyes we've become that picture-perfect-Facebook-wall turned-real family!  We decide some illusions are best left untouched. 

We scream and laugh, and laugh and scream like teenage girls along with a group of tall gay guys from Netherlands as we ride Hulk together.  Then we do it again.  And again. 

We toast cold butterbeer to a band of Brazilian tourists surrounded by a leaning wall of shopping bags bursting with overpriced happiness. 
We watch our resident Harry Potter buff  in those first magical moments of entering Hogsmead, where imagination inside a woman's head and her black-on-white words have gone viral and been translated into pinch-me-so-I-know-I'm-not-dreaming reality.  We look at each other, and we know we hit a jackpot.

The pure magic lasts well into the first hour of New Year. 

Dizzy with excitement and full of hope for the coming year, we leave the park in the company of all our thousands of new best friends. The moment we got to the parking lot, it is clear that the magic is over.  For the next few hours we are simmering in a hell of a traffic jam, trying to leave like everyone else, surrounded by the ear-splitting sound of car alarms, honking horns, tired screaming children and their tired screaming parents. 

Suddenly we are not friendly any more.