Forest Fire Ashes

My mouth is full of ashes. I’m choking on dust. I can’t breathe any more…

You, there. Yes, you, God. Up in the sky, in my heart, whatever. I’m mad at You. You already knew that. I know that much. I’m not dumb. I never said You didn’t give me gifts, I’m just saying I can’t use them. It never works out. I’m always caught in the starting gate, left out in the cold, stuck on base and never crossing home plate.

“If we persevere, we get the promise.”

Why do we only get the promise in heaven? Why do the evil seem so victorious now? Why are You so far away? I’m so, so, sick of this. Sheesh, these same attitudes are all over the Bible, and things don’t seem to have gotten any bit better. But I’m not taking that well right now. Feeling like the hero of a Bible story, while giving me good company, doesn’t make me feel better, it just makes me feel sick. Yay! “Hey David, and you, Jonah, why don’t you all come and join me and Job around the self-pity campfire so we can moan and groan about God and all He’s NOT done for us. It’s not like you haven’t spent time practicing!” Proverbs 13:12 tells us that it is the deferring of hope that makes our hearts sick, and that the fulfillment of longing is like a life-giving tree. I’m tired of being heartsick. I’m worn out. I don’t feel like I’m getting any of my longings fulfilled.

“He doesn’t hold back because He is not a kind master. He holds back because in the pursuit we become like Him.”

Really? I guess I’m to the point where I can no longer see how I’m becoming more like You. If anything, I’m becoming LESS like You. Grumbling, tired, and bitter. If You’re really on my side, and all things are supposed to be working out for my good, why isn’t that happening? Seriously, I’m forty-seven. How much longer do I have to wait?

You told me, yes You did, right there in Proverbs 37:4, that if I found my delight in You, You would give me my heart’s desire. Yup. You did. Still waiting. Really, do I have to be in a nursing home before anything good happens? What good will it do me then?

I don’t have a God-sized dream. I don’t have any dream anymore. Why bother? Everything is ashes and I’m tired of the sand and dust in my mouth.



UnashamedI am (by nature, inclination, and probably habit) indecisive. I’m better about making choices when given parameters. I was the kind of girl in high school who relished the creative writing projects that had specific outlines, even if the outlines were, in and of themselves, vague. “Write a Shakespearean Sonnet” was a no-brainer, even though I could write about anything. Likewise with dictums such as, “Write about your favorite breakfast,” since the form was deliberately vague. (I uprooted myself to Maui, and had it on the beach. The teacher never said it had to be a real breakfast!) So, when I heard about a new website called One Word Three Sixty Five where, instead of forming a list of resolutions to guide oneself through the year, I simply had to choose one word, my interest was instantly piqued.

Then came the hard part: choosing one word.

I’d pick a word, then discard it. That went on, over and over, for several days. I really thought about using the word unapologetic, but then I thought about how prone I am to apologizing to people when I’m sorry for things, like being wrong about something. So I kept pondering. I read postings where people submitted blog articles (like this one) about their chosen word, and I was crushed. I started thinking, all the good words are already taken. (There was no stipulation about that, I just didn’t want to feel like a copycat.) So I quit reading the blog articles. I still got the twitter updates, though, with their promises of fun and sharing. (I’m all about sharing. Maybe too much. Ha!) And I fretted. I finally picked one word I was happy with. I talked about it with friends. A blog article I read used it. But I couldn’t decide. What if I didn’t like it in a month? Was that important? Maybe not liking it was just as important as liking it. Hmmm…

But still, I refused to make the commitment. I kept trying on words for size. No, no, no. Too limiting. Not really me. Did I mean that? Maybe a word in German? (Man, if any language can combine various ideas into a single word, it’s German.) I wandered from angst to zeitgeist before I realized that using a word I had to think that hard about was probably not the direction I wanted to go in.

I kept coming back to the word. Maybe that was meaningful in itself? Finally, after two weeks, I’ve decided, and I’m unashamed.

Yes. That’s it. I’m unashamed. (I even wrote about this last summer, so it is something that I think about.) I don’t like regrets, though I have some. I don’t like apologizing, though I do, and often. I don’t like conforming, though I do that often enough, too.

But ultimately, I’m unashamed. I’m not ashamed of who I am, and who I’ve been, and what I’ve done, and where I’ve gone. These are all experiences that have shaped me. Perhaps I would’ve preferred being shaped by other experiences, but that’s too bad now. I can always choose to go in a different direction. But as for what I’ve done, and who I am? I‘m unashamed.

One Word 365And by the way, if the word picture at the top intrigues you, I did it myself. If you’d like one for yourself, let’s talk. Drop me a line.

P.S. A big thank you to Jon Acuff for giving me the idea for the word. It was his blog article that prompted it. The One Thing I Hope You Don’t Feel This Year.

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Dinner with the Pope

He actually enjoys drinking Fanta with dinner.After the second bottle of wine, His Holiness really loosens up. He kicks off his red loafers (yes, loafers) and slips off his zucchetto. Another glass or two and it gets easier to see that he’s just another white-haired old man, frustrated with the way the world has changed since he was a boy. Certainly many good changes, to be sure, but “the young people, nowadays…” I nod sagely.

The table talk almost instantly quiets down, as it usually does once His Holiness starts in with that tone of voice.  The other men, most of them with white hair too, even if their skin isn’t, lean in a little, their soutanes rustling around their legs like ladies’ long dresses from a bygone day, equally weary of and curious for these stories. Will it be the Hitler Youth? His years as a professor? Time spend with John? with Paul? with John Paul? Will he become increasingly strident during this monologue, or disgusted? He definitely won’t whine. (That’s a little hard to imagine anyway. The Pope? Whine? Maybe back when he was a little boy in lederhosen. Do German children ever whine? Maybe once.)

But tonight is different. Because I’m here.

Dinner with the Pope, in this day and age, isn’t like having dinner with any other man. The micro-thin veneer of respectability sported by the ultra-worldly popes of the Renaissance (like the sexy Borgia popes with their in-house mistresses and the gentle pitter-patter of the ever-increasing number of their soon-to-be-legitimized children’s feet swelling to the din of a thunderstorm down the halls of the Papal residence) has grown thicker and harder than a granite countertop.

While that may be good (indeed, almost "American" in its sense of puritanical respectability), it makes my job much harder. I’m only a little ashamed to have used, over the years, my “feminine wiles” to get a man to do something for me, though I’ve yet to use them to get a man to do something for me that he didn’t want to do anyway—even if his desire was subconscious. And though I am very conscious that I am surrounded by men whose very public pronouncements of chastity do little or nothing (depending on their cultural background) to mask their all-too-masculine appreciation for feminine attractiveness, they are still churchmen and so we must maintain the veneer. In fact, if only for tonight, I am happy to do that.

I’ve occasionally wanted to be a nun in my life, but never so much as now, when having a veil and no makeup might lend a force to my words that no amount of eyelash batting and under-the-table footsie can give. But no amount of soft and sexy can compensate when you have to give a man hard words. Words that tell him he’s wrong. Every word as hard as a brick. A brick he can either use to build a bridge for further discussion, if he’s wise, or one he can use to brick himself up into a wall of stubbornness, if he’s not. While I’m hoping for the first, I’m figuring on the latter.

“Your Holiness, I’d like to ask you something.”


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One of “Those” Days

Because  I said so, that’s why.

After a weekend out of town, I was all prepared to be a veritable font of creativity this morning. Until the sneezing set in, that is. My allergies have no seeming rhyme or reason and I have this admittedly quirky idea that once I go to a doctor I’ll have admitted that whatever is making me sneeze exerts a real power over me. (As if being virtually confined to my bed and/or fearful I’ll wet my pants in public from sneezing is somehow the kind of “fake” power usually exhibited by overweight mall security guards.)

I prefer writing in the morning, but that’s also when I “prefer” sneezing. I’d say that makes me a morning person, but I don’t think sneezing ranks very high on most Seven-Habits-style lists of “Contributing Factors Associated With Executive Productivity.”

Maybe tomorrow?

Performance Anxiety

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do EmersonI’m so excited about doing this. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I guess I’ll do this. Excuse me while I throw up in my purse.

Stage fright is, ultimately, a kind of narcissism. (And if you’re thinking of navigating away from this post because you’re not a stage performer, you’d be wrong, because stage fright can affect everyone, even if the only stage you’re on is in a metaphorical one in your mind.) It says that my emotional state is more important than your satisfaction. It says that my nervousness as a performer deserves a bigger slice of pie than your getting what you came for as a viewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, dancer, baker, or mother of preschoolers.

As a pianist in a small-town church, I worked with any number of singers and musicians, from trained professionals to children whose parents alone believed they had some special skill. (Most parents think this, some more than others. Usually, there’s an inverse proportion involved.) Maybe I’m overestimating, but I find that the church environment, with its family-like sense of acceptance is a good one for everyone, really, but especially beginners. Personally, I find this amazing. After all, most people at least listen to the radio, where the marvels of studio technology can render all but the most incompetent into some degree of listen-ability. Television shows like “American Idol,” where even the truly talented can be discarded every week like so much post-party confetti, have turned many people whose own singing in the shower makes Rebecca Black look like virtuoso into armchair critics harsher than those of the New York Times. So hearing genuine applause for the wavering tones of a grandmother of seventeen who just finished three rather off-key verses of “How Great Thou Art” is really lovely, if a little surprising. I’m glad for that, because it’s that very level of acceptance that allowed me to support myself for several years as a professional musician; something I could never do here in Milwaukee.

But even I have limits. I once worked with a man, a grown-up man with children, who was a very nice singer. Not ready for Broadway, but quite nice. He loved to sing, and people really enjoyed hearing him. He came from a musical family where almost everyone sang nicely, so he got a lot of support. He’d come up to me after a service and tell me about how excited he was about this particular song, and how he’d like to sing it at an upcoming service. Sometimes he would mention how he felt like God wanted him to sing this number, and how wonderful it was to feel this way. He would practice on his own, and then we would usually have a practice session where he would come in with the other musicians and the pastor for our weekly run-through. He was fine. But almost inevitably, on Sunday, he would climb up the three steps to the podium, stare out at the fifty to one hundred people in the seats, gulp (almost audibly), step away from the podium, back down the steps, and rapidly walk out, usually all the way to his car, where he would either sit for the rest of the service, or just start and drive away.

The first time this happened, I was amazed. What on earth?! Scanning the crowd from my piano bench at the front of the church, I could see a number of people who shared my emotion, but maybe more who seemed to take it all in stride. Later, I found out why. Steven (not his real name) was so paralyzed with stage fright that if he actually made it through a song, it was practically miraculous. If he didn’t actually leave the service, he would come up (again) afterwards and stammeringly apologize to me and the other members of the worship team. Afterwards, he would say something about how it was so amazing to him that none of us ever got nervous, and how that clearly proved that God didn’t really want him to perform after all.

Which is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I told him that. He didn’t believe me.

I explained how even though I played every single week before the same accepting crowd, I still got nervous (though it did get better). He still didn’t believe me. (He’ll never believe me.) I also sang for bishops. Often in Spanish. I got really nervous. I also threw up once as a novice baker when trying to get a large batch of glazed doughnuts ready for a demanding customer. I was weirdly nervous. In no way does that mean that I got to leave. And neither do you.

First, if you give a rat’s ass about what you’re doing, you probably also want other people to care. And if you want them to care, you’re going to be nervous. Second, God has nothing to do with it. (Well, God does have something to do with it, but I’m not getting into that today.) I understand that even the fantastically talented Adele is routinely given to throwing up before her concerts because she’s just that nervous. But she doesn’t just walk off! And new parents (especially fathers) are often nearly paralyzed with fear that someone they’re going to hold their new baby wrong. But they don’t then leave the hospital, hoping some other kindly but obviously more accomplished person will come along to rescue their newborn. Of course not. They just muddle along bravely. And you know, they’re fine (well, at least until the therapy bills come rolling in, but that won’t be for years).

Ultimately, life is about showing up and performing. There is no dress rehearsal, and all the performance anxiety your mind can muster will not allow you to leave the stage early.