Border Crossings

 

Border Crossings

 Two blocks from Morris Street, Kevin Hammond realized he’d made a wrong turn. Until the wailing ambulance sirens sped past his car, he thought he was driving to work. “That’s what three months living at the hospital will do to you,” he thought with a heavy sigh. “You end up forgetting you ever had another life.” Looking past the columns of prickly cacti guarding the road, he saw disheveled university students making their way to an early round of classes. They stood impatiently, waiting for permission to cross the busy street.

Image result for cactus

 

Driving past the hospital annoyed him.  He couldn’t count the times he’d been told just how lucky, just how blessed his wife and daughter had been to be there. He remembered a nurse reassuring him, saying,“We’re a research hospital, affiliated with U of T med school- the best treatments available this side of Texas. We’ll take care of you.” He pressed the gas harder, barely slipping through the yellow light, thinking bitterly how useless that prestige had been in the end. The only thing it got him was an endless shuffle of disconnected, wide-eyed interns staring at his dying wife and their premature baby as if they’d been petri dishes instead of living human beings.

Seeing both his beautiful wife and their first child—a long-awaited girl they’d named Katie —in intensive care, transformed into bizarre, grotesque caricatures, with intubated faces, foreign lines of fluid piercing their flesh, had shocked Kevin into an unusual compliance. He couldn’t say why but, somehow, their strangeness demoted him into an unqualified and inadequate stranger. At irregular intervals, when a probing mob of white-cloaked bodies wandered into the dark-curtained room, mumbling alien phrases, he’d slowly nod, bewildered, only pretending to understand. That first day they’d advised, “Antimicrobial therapy with mega-dosage penicillin” and forty-eight hours later an unfamiliar credentialed face advocated, “total abdominal hysterectomy.” In both cases, his only response had been “You’re the experts; you know what you’re doing.” After all, what did he know about childbirth complications? No matter how much he wished otherwise, all he could do was wait and pray.

Fourteen years as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent hadn’t prepared Kevin for the hospital’s barrage of dispassionate, cryptic mutterings.  Sometimes, dazed by sleepy hours guarding his girl, he’d frantically gulp down coffee and wonder if the hospital cafeteria laced it with a mild anesthesia. Or, when his dark-circled, itching eyes suddenly jerked open, wide after one of his many involuntary dozes, he suspected that the humming medical equipment competing for his wife’s attention had somehow hypnotized him.  He wasn’t able to shake himself from his mental prison. Although his yearly government performance reviews consistently contained remarks like “scrupulous attention to detail” and “exceptionally qualified to meet agency standards,” at the hospital he was helpless.

Now, speeding through the congested interstate traffic, heading to his first day back at work, Kevin needed to live up to his rock-solid reputation. If he hadn’t glimpsed the hospital maybe he’d have seen the familiar sights of downtown El Paso whirring past. Instead, he thought of his wife and how he’d never see her again. How, after the white coats brought him a form titled “Do Not Resuscitate”, he’d compressed the paper with a dense fury and found the will to refuse. When he’d snapped the pen in two, hurling it onto their disinfected floor, the nurses stared up in alarm from their ever-present charts, eyebrows raised in surprise as if suddenly and unwillingly awakened.

Afterwards, he’d gazed at the blue ink oozing from its casing. He couldn’t remember how long he’d knelt there, rubbing the beige linoleum with those pathetically inadequate, institutional paper towels. The ink soaked through, onto his wrinkled skin, into the creases and whirls of his fingerprints. It reminded him of his first foray into law enforcement, when he’d excitedly rolled each of his digits onto a faded black stamp pad. Back then, his heart had pumped expansively, like it might conquer new territory.

After that day in the hospital he didn’t sleep. He didn’t need the coffee anymore, either. Those last weeks at the hospital he’d pretty much lived in the NICU, passionately guarding his little girl’s frail but growing body, fiercely hovering over her humming incubator, harshly demanding every detail of her treatment. Even when the nurses patiently explained Katie’s regimen, he’d scowl, unsatisfied.

He always hated leaving Katie. But, every few hours he’d somehow propel himself past those heavy white doors, through those antiseptic halls, to the eighth floor where his blond-haired wife lay comatose. She slept there, guarded only by the fresh, white roses he placed by her bedside every Sunday, the occasional visitor and an army of beeping machines.

Her blonde hair. He remembered how she shamelessly monopolized their one bathroom every morning, meticulously styling her long hair. Early in their marriage, when Kevin complained, calling her obsessed, she’d teasingly threatened to shave it off. Reaching beneath the chipped sink, she’d pulled out his electric clippers, plugging them in the outlet behind the toilet. He’d stood in the open doorway, smiling a dare at her and she’d grinned back, held the sheers to her forehead, and switched them on with a flip of her thumb. Then he’d wrestled the clippers away and they’d made love, the laughing kind, the kind that means we’re not just lovers, we’re friends, too. And afterwards he’d buried his face in that hair, inhaling its rose-shampoo fragrance, feeling its silky smoothness on his unshaven face. He’d never complained after that.

That last day in her hospital room he’d pushed the heart monitor away from her bed and stroked her matted mane, feeling the knotted, tangled mess, and nearly wept. He knew nothing of hair styles, but a cheap black plastic comb, a consolation prize for desperately rummaging through the near-empty drawers beside the bed, almost cried out for use. So, hesitantly, he pulled the comb down one gnarled, blond lock. Hmmm… not too bad. Gaining confidence, Kevin edged closer, carefully maneuvering past the twisting tubes sprawling like malignant tumors over her body. Reaching out, he again moved the cheap comb downward when, halfway through the stroke, he recoiled at the monitor’s abrupt, shrill screech, unintentionally catching the comb in a massive, unyielding knot of dirty hair. The insistent machinery couldn’t mask the decisive snap of black plastic teeth.  Pounding feet on linoleum answered the clamorous gadgets but Kevin never had another chance to uncoil her tangles. In the end, he’d paid a stranger from the funeral home to fix it for him.

Now, as he sat at a stoplight, Kevin squeezed his eyes tightly and knew he had to clear his mind. Katie depended on him. On him alone. Besides, he knew there was much to be grateful for: though he missed his wife terribly, his daughter had recovered, and his sister had moved in to help care for the infant. How many people had jobs waiting for them after a long hiatus, anyway? If he didn’t get his act together, what could he offer Katie?

Turning onto South Zaragosa, Kevin scanned the familiar road for marks of change. No, it looked pretty much the same–everything from the misspelled sign announcing the border patrol offices to the weed-infested beds of flowers wilting in the Texas heat. Pulling into the cracked, pot-holed parking lot, one change surprised him. A shiny black SUV filled the parking space he’d occupied for nearly his entire career. “The guys wouldn’t do that,” he thought. “I guess they’re messing with me.”

The black double door made the same old, high pitched squeal as Kevin opened it and the same dusty, artificial plant guarded the foyer. When the guys glimpsed him walking down the dim, fluorescent-lit, carpeted corridor, they crowded around him, banging him on the back and shaking his hand. Alvin leaned in and warned, “Man, watch out for the new sarge. He’s out to prove something. We’re pretty sure he drove that black SUV straight out of hell.”

The whole group acknowledged the remark with a turbulent sea of nods. “True. You may be Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes but watch out, man.”

The men hastily dissipated as an unfamiliar face moved towards Kevin commanding, “Back to work, men. This isn’t Happy Hour. Officer Hammond, I’ll see you in my office in ten minutes.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows and walked towards his office in the corner.

“Uh-uh, man- the sarge moved stuff around. Your cubicle’s down that way now,” Alvin whispered grimly before he high-tailed it towards his own desk.

Kevin found a desk bearing his nameplate not too far down a parallel corridor. Chucking his briefcase in the corner, he looked around at the windowless walls, at the dusty, laminate furniture topped by an outdated computer.

“Same old, same old,” he thought until he caught the edge of a familiar gold frame lying on the file cabinet. Lifting the frame, he noticed a massive, web-shaped crack marring the glass which held a favorite photo of his late wife. A photo from their last vacation — before the baby, before the hospital. He’d splurged on a trip to Hawaii. She’d always wanted to go, and after she showed him the positive pregnancy test, he surprised her with dinner at her favorite Indian joint downtown and presented her with the plane tickets. In the picture she smiled, blonde hair shining, with a background of impossibly blue waves, beside a lush display of white hibiscus.

“Officer Hammond, get in here immediately!”

Kevin’s head jerked upward at the sound of his name. Quickly replacing the picture, he muttered, “Crap!” before heading up the hall. Entering his boss’ office, Kevin caught the musky scent of sweat.

“Sorry, Sarge. I lost track of time,” he apologized.

“If there’s one thing I won’t allow, Officer Hammond, it’s lost time. Never let it happen again.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Hammond, I’ve looked at your files. You know what I think?”

“No, sir.”

“I’ll be honest with you, son. Your evaluations look too good to be true. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I hope to earn your respect, sir.”

“That’s right, boy. You’ll be earning every last ounce of respect you get ‘round here. Now get out of here and catch me some border bandits.”

“Yes, sir.”

With that, Kevin about-faced briskly from the room. Exhaling forcefully, he made his way back to the dusty cubicle assigned him while curious eyes from around the office looked on. Parking himself in the worn black swivel seat, he switched on the computer, wiped the dust from his wife’s picture, and propped it on his desk.

“Welcome back, Officer Hammond,” he thought wryly, “Well, back to the grindstone it is. Katie’s counting on you so you better get to work.” Then, with another glance at the damaged photo, he pivoted his chair towards his computer, thinking, “Three months of backed-up emails won’t read themselves.”

Several hours later, Kevin felt eyes trained on his face and looking up, he saw his boss glaring at him from across the hall. “You gonna sit in that chair all day, Officer?”

“No, sir. Just catching up, sir.”

“You better run faster, then. No officer of mine spends a day glued to a seat. Catch ‘em and bag ‘em, boy. That’s the only work worth doing ‘round here. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, sir. What would you like me to do, sir?”

“What would I like you to do?” Sarge replied sarcastically. “How about getting in a car and driving a route? Would that be too difficult, buddy?”

“No, sir.”

Kevin grabbed his stuff and glanced around the office for a couple minutes, wondering, “Is it lunch time already? Where’d they all go?” Shrugging his shoulders, he grabbed a set of keys off the wall, signed out, and walked out the door, thinking, “What does he expect out of me? There’s no one here to partner up and he’s gonna chew me out no matter what I do! I’ll just drive around until lunch ends and then come back.” Reading hours of backlogged emails did nothing to solve his problems, anyway. Besides, Kevin always enjoyed heading out on patrol. Solitary patrols broke protocol, but maybe the searing sun burning through El Paso could illuminate his thoughts.

A handful of government-issued black Chevy Tahoes sat baking in the near-empty parking lot. As Kevin opened the closest vehicle’s door, the building’s distorted reflection moved down the pivoting door in rippling waves. Quickly switching the air on, he shifted gears and made his way out of town.

Passing through a row of restaurants, the scent of wood-smoked barbeque seized his attention. He and his wife ate there a couple times and she’d always said good things about it. Sometimes she’d joke and say that fattening him up was her personal mission. Then their friends would laugh and congratulate her on a job well done. His pants fit loosely these days. Friends brought food by the house all the time but every time he sat down to eat, he’d end up looking at the empty seat staring at him from across the table.

Now, trying to pass the time, he made a left turn into the restaurant’s parking lot and circled the building for the drive-thru. An orange plastic cone and a sign reading, “Drive-Thru Closed for Remodeling- Let Us Serve You Inside” barred the passage. Shaking his head in exasperation, Kevin turned the wheel away from the restaurant. “I can’t go in there,” he thought. “Now isn’t the time.”

The road out of town looked quiet enough on this ordinary week day. He didn’t know exactly where to go. “I hope those lazy bums eat their lunch and get back to the office quickly,” he thought before turning onto a familiar, dusty side road leading to the river. A new series of white PVC irrigation pipes traveled from the riverbed, following the road, moving water to a nearby cotton farm. Even from a distance, Kevin could see the snowy white bolls waiting for harvest. Within a week, those fields would explode in activity as cotton pickers traveled up and down their rows, stripping the plants bare until only a brown barrenness remained. Growing up in the south meant he’d seen those white fields transformed many times. Sometimes he thought cotton’s journey from plant to cloth almost seemed miraculous.

Now, as Kevin’s eyes roved over the dry Texan border a flash of bright, patterned fabric stood against the white, blooming cotton bolls, shaking Kevin from his reverie.  Years of law-enforcement experience refined his instincts, pushing distractions from his mind. He knew with near certainty that he’d stumbled on illegals trying to make it into the nearby city.

El Paso’s reputation as a haven for illegal immigrants had become a joke; it happened so often that Kevin read its signs like a second language. Initially, he’d had all the excitement of a proverbial young buck. He couldn’t help himself; he’d look everywhere for illegals. He’d be out with his wife and while she shopped, he was scanning the swarming hordes of mall- goers. Sitting on a bench, he’d suddenly hear, “Kevin. Kevin! Earth to Kevin! I’m talking to you! Have you heard I word I said? Why do I even bother taking you out?” He tried explaining himself: what his job meant to him, how he wanted to be the best, but in those early years she couldn’t really understand. As time went by, though, she stopped interrupting his pensive contemplations. Instead, she took to watching him. Sometime he’d catch her stare and she’d smile quietly, like a deer in the woods, alert but almost invisible.

He didn’t know exactly why or how it happened, but he gradually lost the need to enforce borders everywhere he went. He hadn’t thought about it until those long days in the hospital gave him nothing but time to think. Had it been around year five? Or eight? He wasn’t sure but at some point he found his life more absorbing than his job. Maybe it was the way the people looked sitting across from him as he filled out their deportation papers. Or the way the families cried, screaming goodbyes as he tore them apart at the close of visiting hours. Every morning he’d pin his badge on his uniform with a sense of pride but he replaced zeal with extreme competency. He put in his hours, he followed the law, and that was enough.

Today, he surveyed the surrounding fields through the sunlight glaring off the windshield. He needed to catch another sign, a sign like the patterned cloth. A sign for Katie. He needed this for Katie. He didn’t relish the hours of bureaucratic paper-pushing he’d have once he picked up these people but in the end, laws were laws. Besides, it would look good for him, after so many months off, to come back with a catch.

He pressed hard on the gas pedal, propelling the black Chevy Tahoe past a roving colony of tumbleweeds, down the rocky incline, towards his approximate target. The furious sound of stones hammering his wheel beds shattered the farm’s peace. Shadows racing in the distance confirmed his suspicions. An aggressive pace brought him close to them in a matter of moments even though the closer he got, the faster they ran. It looked like just two – a man and a woman.

He wanted to think that, with all his training and experience, he was safe. In anger, he thought back to the guys eating lunch, to the new boss, to the hospital, and pulled out his gun. He knew from experience that the majority of these cases were just desperate people looking for a new life, but this year the Mexican gangs were bold. Los Zetas beheaded their rivals not far from the border and kidnapped random civilians. It wasn’t beyond them to kidnap a border agent or to operate in pairs. What was he getting into? If he was the one in the hospital bed, signing a DNR, what would happen to Katie?

Banging his hand on the steering wheel, he cried out in anger, “God! What am I supposed to do? What am I doing?” before slamming on his breaks and spraying pebbles towards his targets. He jumped from the vehicle, aimed his gun, and commanded with his limited Spanish, “Freeze! Border Patrol! Paré!” The two dusty, panting figures broke their flight and then, with a disconcerting suddenness, burst into frustrated, angry tears. Facing away from Kevin, the man raised his hands in surrender while the whimpering woman also stood with her back to Kevin but her hands hidden, as if paradoxically frozen by the dry, Texas heat. Sweat poured off Kevin’s face as he trained his gun on the woman. Only her panting sobs broke the silence of the clean, white surrounding acreage. Images of his wife and daughter flickered through Kevin’s mind and as he shouted “Hands up! Manos arriba!” but still the woman refused to comply. As Kevin repeated himself, he heard his heart pounding, intense adrenaline magnifying every shadow in that lonely land. He couldn’t take a chance here. He couldn’t let Katie down. He couldn’t…

The weeping woman pivoted, slowly exposing what, he couldn’t say. The man stood stock-still, weeping frantically with muscular, brown arms upraised. Kevin could hear the faintest snatches of, “Por favor, por favor” from the two. Still the woman turned.

What left his throat as a shout nearly ended in a cry, a cry of desperation, “Paré! Manos arriba! Por favor, Señora! O God! Manos arriba!” Still she turned, the courier of some unwelcome, unseen message, until, with shaking, unsure hands, he fired.

Ay Dios! Ay Dios, mío!” the man cried, rushing to the fallen woman, who lay on a bed of crushed cotton. Kevin, pale and nauseous, stood slumped, exhaustedly holding his warm weapon, watching the man shake the body before him. “Oh Dios!” he cried again, at last turning the body for Kevin to fully see.

A tiny body cradled in masses of white, flourishing fruit. Kevin, perplexed and astonished, felt himself warily shift closer, as if pushed from behind, catching his breath as a faint, treble sob hovered in the air.

“Oh God! Is it alive? Is it alright?” Kevin exclaimed.

He rushed forward, precautions forgotten, kneeling beside the child only to find a vacant stare,  a pathetic, whimpering cry to pierce his heart. He knew sickness when he saw it.

Twisting to face the fallen woman, he saw the man shaking her in vain. Kevin begged  him, “Paré, señor! Ella està muerta,” but the man wouldn’t give in. Putting a hand on his shoulder, Kevin begged, “Senior, paré, por favor…” only to have his hand roughly shaken off by the man’s determined jerking.

Turning away, Kevin carefully picked up the infant and examined its distant, black-eyed stare for signs of hope when behind him he heard a strangled gasp. A choking female breath panted, “Por favor, por favor, mi bébe! Él está enfermo! ¡Ayúdeme!”

Kevin exclaimed in surprise when saw the man help her sit up. “Is there blood? Did I miss her? Oh God, I hope I missed!”

The woman gazed up at Kevin, begging for mercy, repeating herself: “Mi bébé! Él està enfermo!” Then, timidly rising to her feet, she brought herself to stand before Kevin as he held the child in his arms. “Su nombre es Casta,” she murmured quietly. Then, caressing the child, she echoed, “Casta. Casta.”

Kevin gazed at each face before him. The man and woman stood side by side, his strong arms circling her waist, supporting her weight as she leaned into his hold. They stared back with a strange combination of diffidence and hope, into Kevin’s eyes . Looking down at the baby, the pressure of forming tears overwhelmed his eyes as he whispered, “Casta… Casta.”

The woman offered the smallest of smiles. Then, pointing at herself, she said, “Me llama Estacia” and touching the man’s shoulder, she said, “Se llama Adan.”

Kevin didn’t know what to make of this. He typically only learned the names of illegals as he perfunctorily jumped from one bureaucratic necessity to the next, filling out papers, bubbling in codes, adding files to a database. His eyes rested on the cotton and the irrigation pipes feeding the sturdy, blooming plants, as if they might also speak. The worst heat of the day had passed and a small breeze lifted his hair.  Kevin gazed back at Estacia and Adan, at the white fibers streaking their clothes. Then, feeling the slight, infantile warmth on his arms, he returned a slight smile, saying, “Kevin. Me llama Kevin.”

Handing Casta to Estacia, he motioned for all of them to follow. Another whimper escaped the child and a deluge of pain flooded Kevin’s breaking heart. “O God, what am I supposed to do?” he wondered as he opened the rear doors on the Tahoe. He’d seen the system with its rigid, impersonal, all-encompassing laws exasperating even the most long-suffering, uncomplaining characters. The couple slowly climbed into their seats, staring back at him with questioning eyes before he closed the heavy, black door.

Kevin kicked the hot rubber tires. The fertile earth, loosened from his boots’ deep crevices, fell to the ground. Opening the door, he heard his passengers in quiet conference. He couldn’t understand their words but he could hear worry in their voices. A blast of stifling heat smothered him from the oven-like vehicle. When the warm vinyl seat burned his legs and the metal seatbelt buckle bit his fingers, he snapped. “Crap!” he exclaimed, punching the steering wheel. “This is too much. What am I supposed to do?” Glancing back, into the eyes of the startled faces behind him, he caught his reflection in the rearview mirror. Stray white puffs of cotton dotted his body. He pulled wonderingly at the wisps, pinching them off his hair, from his shirt. Rolling them silently between his fingers, he could smell their fresh odor filling the car.  Then, gently placing the ivory puffs on the neighboring seat, with a face of grim determination, he declared, “That baby needs a hospital.”

“Hospitál? Clínica?”Adan and Estacia questioned, breathing the words like magical incantations, as if speaking too confidently might break the spell. Kevin answered their hopeful faces by pressing forcefully on the gas pedal, launching the car over the steep, stony incline. The speeding vehicle rocked its passengers almost violently and the baby exhaled another whimper while his mother held her tightly, whispering, “Shhh… Casta…shhhh.”

In his mind, Kevin saw Katie. He saw her gray, newborn body under a heat lamp, his wife looking on. He saw Katie wrapped in tubes, nurses hovering over her body. He saw her strapped into a car seat, finally coming home. He saw her eagerly draining bottles, sucking ravenously in her thirst to live. He saw her as he’d left her just this morning, wearing the pink pajamas embroidered with white flowers, sleeping softly in her crib. He’d opened her squeaking door and when she’d murmured a response, he said, “Shhh, Katie…shhh.”

Ahead of him, he saw the familiar sights of downtown El Paso. Intersections busy with white cloaked interns and columns of decorative, flowered cacti surrounded the hospital. Pulling over, he quickly parked the car in a quiet spot and opened the rear door. Estacia exited, holding Casta tightly, and Adan followed behind. Standing beside the Tahoe, they gripped his hands, repeating “Gracias, señor, gracias,” before swiftly crossing the street and disappearing into the tall, glassy building.

Kevin stared after Estacia and Adan long after they walked through the automated hospital doors. The doors opened and shut, opened and shut. People walked in and out, all types of people. They pushed wheelchairs; they carried babies. Sometimes they held flowers. On the street corners, guilty smokers puffed away, finding camaraderie in their taboo addiction. A young couple embraced nearby, weeping passionately while down the same street an elderly man leaned on his cane, walking alone. Kevin stood there silently, watching the world spin and thinking that, just maybe, it might be beautiful.

As Kevin typed his resignation letter, he thought of Katie. Then he thought of Casta, and Estacia, and Adan, wondering how they were. He stood tall as the sarge chewed him out, labeling Kevin as weak, angry that Kevin took off three months only to quit his first day back on duty. Then, walking from his office, Kevin made the rounds, shaking hands and saying goodbyes throughout the dim, fluorescent room. Briefcase in hand, he looked around the place one last time. His wife’s photo smiled at him from across the room and picking her up, he turned to go.

 

 

My Most Recent Addiction

My kids think I’ve lost it.

The house is for sale, and that means WE. GOTTA. KEEP. THE. HOUSE. CLEAN!!!!

I hate house cleaning, friends. I seriously hate it.

If I could, I’d dive into the cooking part of momming, and outsource the cleaning.

That being said, I’ve managed to do a (half) decent job. Except, that is, with my *EVIL* shower.

The shower in my master bath is a big ‘ol pain in my butt.

I’m going to level with ya’ll and tell you that we’ve lived in this house about 7 years, and in all that time, I’ve cleaned that dumb thing maybe 7 TIMES. I will say that my husband cleaned the shower for the first couple of years we lived here, but even so, my record isn’t so great. Let’s just say I’m conscientiously objecting to the wet and cold of shower cleaning and to the fact that NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY, the shower is never 100% clean.

I’ve tried half a dozen cleaners that claim to solve hard water stains and mildew, and all I can say about those stupid things is that they STINK. I mean, both literally and figuratively. I’m a crunchy sort of girl, and the chemicals just don’t jive with my values.

I’ve also tried DIY earth-friendly cleaning options. Baking soda. Vinegar. Borax. Lemon juice. The good news is these only stink one way: figuratively. I wish I could report better news, but these cleaners didn’t clean my shower very well.

Now, the good news: I’ve found something that WORKS.

Can I get a hallelujah?

A couple nights ago, after desperately scrubbing my shower for about an hour and being unsatisfied with the results, I had a eureka moment: why not use the kitchen copper scrubby things to SCRUB OUT the mildew? I mean, I was a little nervous that I’d scratch the tile, but after SEVEN YEARS of unsuccessfully cleaning that shower, why not just go for it?

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Handy Dandy Copper Scrubby Thing *ta-da*

More about the copper scrubby thingies: I found these a few years ago at the Dollar Tree. For several reasons, they are about a gazillion percent better than Brillo Pads (you know, black ones with soap in them) I’d been using. Brillo Pads get slimy, rusty, and don’t last long. The copper scrubby things last forever, and they aren’t gross to touch. Best of all, they’re super effective! The Dollar Tree sells a couple brands. Brillo makes some, but I usually get the other one. Either way, they’re all good!

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Four Scrubbies Instead of Three- SCORE!

I think the results speak for themselves! Since that night, I’ve been ALL ABOUT cleaning my shower. Every time I get in there, I tackle a different spot. It’s magical! It works! It doesn’t stink in any sense of the word!

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See that mildewy grout? EW.
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Not perfect, but way, way better! And no stinky chemicals!

Now, I’m not saying this will work for you. Your tile may be prone to scratches, so be careful if you decide to try it out. My shower is an older one, and it requires aggressive cleaning to look even sorta clean. That being said, I’m really happy with the way it turned out!

This morning I asked my kids to get me the new package of copper scrubbies that I just bought so I could work on the shower some more. They started accusing me of being addicted to cleaning (a hilarious accusation if you know my severe cleaning aversion), and to “help” me, they hung signs all over the house warning me about the serious danger I was in:

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I guess that’s a win-win: my kids are aware of the evils of addiction, and I *finally* get a clean shower.

Three Favorite Summer Low Carb Recipes

I’m trying to make healthier choices, and making wise food choices is the hardest thing for me. I actually enjoy exercise, but I LOVE FOOD. I love to EAT. I think approaching food from a deprivation mindset is a sad way of living. Truett Cathy (the founder of Chick-fil-A) said, “Food is essential to life; therefore, make it good!” I couldn’t agree more! I try to eat low-carb/paleo/ keto meals.

These days my family is enjoying summer meals and lots of delicious produce. Isn’t it great to eat seasonally? Every winter I make tons of soups and roasts, but when summer roles around, I’m all about the grill and fresh produce! We want to eat lighter foods that don’t require too much of a time investment- that way we have more time to linger on the screened porch! Here are three easy, healthy, delicious meals that our entire family really enjoys!

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It took a lot of self control to snap this pic before devouring my meal.  You’re welcome!

 

Recipe #1:  Chili-Rubbed Chicken

I love dry rubs on meat because, unlike marinades, dry rubs don’t require me to think ahead too much. Last night I literally got our meat out of the freezer an hour before mealtime and just ran hot water on it in order to thaw it.

So, here’s the deal: I’m a pretty fluid cook. Recipes aren’t really my thing, and I don’t really care about exact measurements. That being said, I’m certain that you’ll get my drift and be able to get great results.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Make the spice mix. The exact proportions aren’t important. I guesstimate that I used 1/4 cup sea salt, 1/4 c. chili powder, and maybe 1 TBSP of Italian Seasoning. Mix this together.
  2. Prepare chicken. I like to remove the skin and cut the chicken breasts in half (so they cook faster on the grill).
  3. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken. Make sure you get it allllllll over; you will be so, so sad if you miss a spot! Get the sides, front, back…. everywhere!
  4. Cook it. I love the grill, but last night I ran out of gas (poor me), so I baked the chicken (about 375 degrees for 1 hour or until no pink in the middle).  This chicken is AMAZING both ways- grill or oven- you pick!

Benefit of cooking in the oven: you get lots of gooey, crusty, spicy baked-onto-the-pan bits.

*My kids & I may or may not have voraciously scraped EVERY.LAST.BIT off the pan and stuffed our gooey spatula into our happy mouths.** Don’t judge: you would, too!

NOW: EAT and ENJOY! This stuff goes FAST, so I like to make a double batch.

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Four Zucchini Entered, But Only 1/2 of One Remains

 

Recipe #2: Zucchini Boats

My husband and I love our summer garden, but sometimes the kids aren’t as excited about what our garden produces. They love planting it and watching it grow, but eating from it isn’t exactly their fave. This recipe changed all that! For many years, my daughter had a full-fledged WAR with SQUASH, but MIRACLES DO HAPPEN– PRAISE!!!- she LOVES this meal! And it’s easy peasy!

Directions:

  1. You can use squash or zucchini. I think eggplant would work too, but I haven’t tried that one… yet!
  2. Cut the vegetables in half lengthwise.
  3. Scrape out the middles/ seedy area. Now you have “boats!”
  4. Rub the insides with olive oil & sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  5. Make a meaty spaghetti sauce. FYI: if you’re eating low carb, be careful about spaghetti sauce. It can contain lots of hidden sugar!Read your labels! I like to add extra Italian Seasoning & garlic to make the sauce really flavorful!
  6. Spoon the meaty sauce into the “boats!”
  7. Sprinkle whatever cheese you like on top.
  8. Bake it at about 400 degrees for maybe 30 minutes.
  9. YUM!!

BONUS: If you have a garden overflowing in squash or zucchini, this recipe uses up a lot of veggies! No more piles of produce taking up valuable kitchen counter space!

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Three Empty Kid-Bowls lined up on the counter: M.I.R.A.C.L.E.

 

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This year’s garden isn’t huge (we have our house on the market), but we love it!

Recipe #3: Creamy Lemon-Berry Whipped Dessert

I told you before that I HATE food deprivation, and that extends to desserts. Last night I let my kids have some ice cream w/ berries, and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun OR make an unhealthy choice. I want to be healthy AND eat dessert. And it’s totally possible. TOTES.

Lemon-Berry is one of my favorite flavor combinations. It makes me HAPPY, and I think you’ll like it, too! Here’s watcha do:

  1. Get some heavy whipping cream. (I LOVE real whipped cream, and if you haven’t made it, you’re missing out on a REAL pleasure!) You decide the amount. This can be made as a single serving or for larger amounts. Actually, I tend not to make singl servings; instead, even if I’m just making it for myself, I’ll make two servings so that I can save some for later. Anyway, when it comes to amounts, just eyeball it. For a smaller amount I use maybe 1/3 cup heavy cream. For my family I’d use maybe 2 cups.
  2. Dump however much whipping cream you want into your mixing bowl. Now whip that thing on HIGH. In a short while you’ll see that it gets thick and creamy.
  3. Add some cream cheese. For just me, I use maybe 1/4 bar of cream cheese, but if I was making this for my family, I’d use a full bar. Mix it all up together. Whip it lake you’re crazy from delicious yumminess (Cue music: she’s a maniac, maniac, I sure know! And she’s cooking like she’s never cooked before….!)
  4. Add lemon flavoring to taste. I had lemon oil on hand (like what’s used to make hard candy), but you could also use lemon extract.
  5. Add sweetener to taste. I’m using Trim Healthy Mama’s Gentle Sweet, but use whatever you want.
  6. Put in a dish & top with berries.
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Every summer, I love spending time outside working in the yard! This girl got no time for a hot kitchen!

 

Last night I packed up our dinner & we headed to a local park for a picnic, hike, and time in the creek.  Goooood food and gooooood times! Live life like ya mean it!

I hope that you’re enjoying your summer! Eat good food, party with your friends and family, and soak up the sun!

 

When Kids Minister to Parents

My husband went out of town a few days ago, and he’s supposed to be gone for a couple weeks. This busy summer is pulling me like I’m a Gumby figurine fought over by a bunch of selfish toddlers, and with him now gone, this week all that pressure came to a miserable, explosive head. In the midst of taxiing my kids to soccer camp, juggling my pre-teen’s drama, and trying to make healthy choices (another stressor), I LOST. IT.

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I won’t go into the details, but I suffice it to say that my 11 yr. old either made a mistake or purposefully disobeyed me (I can’t know which…the dreadful reality of parenting), but either way, she caused me stress, and I didn’t respond well. After a day filled with other childish shenanigans, in the middle of Joann’s Fabric, I angrily lashed out at her and said things NO ONE should hear. I’m guilty of the common sin of saying something permanently hurtful because I was temporarily frustrated. My poor, poor girl!

Very quickly, I tried to make up for my terrible words. I apologized. We group hugged. I asked for forgiveness. I tried to make amends. My kids were gracious and forgiving, but even so, by the time bedtime rolled around, I was 1000% ready for a BREAK!

But did my kids want to go to bed? Do kids EVER want to go to bed?? After I tucked them in, I hugged them, but they wanted more. Looking back, I can see that after our difficult day, they actually NEEDED more! But at that time, REST was all I really wanted! As I desperately desired to close their doors and collapse in my own bed, my youngest made a request:

Mommy, sing me my baby song.

(I have a “baby song” for each of my kids; it’s a little thing I do for each of my newborns, and something I occasionally sing for them.)

Now, as you can probably surmise, I absolutely did NOT want to sing. I wanted silence. I wanted pillows. I wanted isolation, but Sylva wanted a reminder that I love her, so in my tiniest, softest voice—about all I could really muster—I gave her that song:

When I think of you, I think wind through the trees

Crisp autumn days, and bright swirling leaves

Sweet baby Sylva, your momma loves you

She thinks you’re wonderful….

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(Credit: “Windy Autumn Day” by Lilia D.)

I felt better as the song ended, and I still wanted to go to bed.

BUT SYLVA WASN’T FINISHED….

Mommy, sing Rosie her baby song.

In my pitiful, self-absorbed state, I whispered back that I didn’t think Rosie wanted her baby song. I didn’t think Rosie wanted anything from me. Honestly, I think she just wanted me to leave her alone. Because my two girls share a room, Rose probably overheard my whispers, and being the girl she is, she didn’t contradict me. Still, Sylva persisted.

Mommy, sing Rosie her baby song. Don’t return evil for evil.

In that moment, my eyes welled up, and my hard, tired heart swelled. I’m not the best at teaching my children scripture—that’s a whole other subject—but here was my 6-year-old, encouraging me in the exactly right way. She perfectly ministered scripture to me, and our family desperately needed it!

I sat down on Rose’s lower bunk and stroked her beautiful hair and whisper-sang

I love you more than sunshine on a bright summer’s day

I love you more than Christmas or going out to play

I love you so much Rosie, my heart just overflows

I’ve got to give you kisses from your toes up to your nose!

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Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/first-day-of-summer-2013-june-21_n_3472964.html

Like a broken colt, my strong-willed tweenager accepted my love in a way she’d bucked all week, and when I finally did close her bedroom door, I did it with a clean heart.

Although I eventually did collapse on my bed in sweet, introverted, isolated oblivion, before I did so, I made my way into my son’s room where I also sang him his “baby song.”

….You were my little baby

But now you’re my big boy

You’re the apple of your momma’s eye

And daddy’s pride and joy!

And after that, my family slept under our roof, glad to make it together through our imperfect, sad day and hoping to again never see a day like it.

 

Moral of the story: Pour scripture into your children, and it will overflow into your own life! Also, say NO to stuff so you can say YES to your kids!

Make Your Home a Hospital

PART I

A couple weeks ago, I went out to long-overdue lunch with a beautiful friend. As we sat across from each other in that cute little downtown diner, she gave me something that the petty side of me had actually wanted for quite a while: an apology. After thinking about it, though, I realized that I owe her an apology, too.

In fact, I owe the whole world one, and you, my friend, probably do, too.

You see, a while ago, I had my friend and her new-to-the-area family over for a meal. It was sometime around Christmas, and my husband and I lived in a tiny 1400 square foot house. I think I made brunch, and since we didn’t have a living room, we sat huddled in my small living room. Some of us sat on folding metal chairs because I didn’t have enough furniture for the whole group. It was far from glamourous, but I enjoyed having them over, and they’ve said many times that they really loved our time together.

Doesn’t sound like there’s a reason for an apology, does it?

Here’s the thing, though: That day (and at many other times), she’s said that she wants to have me and my family over sometime, too. Has this happened?

Not yet. It’s been about a decade, but not yet.

She’s not the only one to say this sort of thing and not follow through. Sadly, many people I know have said and done the same thing to my family. Most of the time, “we’ll have to have you over” doesn’t really pan out in the real world of work, family, church, little league, chores, swimming lessons, grocery shopping, etc.

Our best intentions become little broken promises, and we’re left with these terrible regrets that rob us from the joy that God gives to those who live out His Word in this broken world.

Hospitality– what my dictionary defines as “receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way—is a central topic in the Bible, but it’s something that many of us rarely do.

Think of this:

1. While He walked this earth, Jesus modeled hospitality.

Take a look in the Bible at the number of meals that  Jesus shared with others; He ate with friends like Mary and Martha, sinners like Zacchaeus, and ministry partners like the disciples. During his short, busy lifetime, Jesus especially valued hospitality, and we should, too!

Jesus ate meals

2. Before Jesus left earth and went to heaven, he made a promise to show hospitality to us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3)

3. One way in which Jesus differentiates true disciples (the sheep) from false followers (the goats) is that true disciples show hospitality:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:35)

4. God especially expects church leaders to show hospitality (it’s actually a qualification for ministry):

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” (1 Tim. 3:2)

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5. God also expects ALL his followers to practice hospitality:

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

So, to be clear- hospitality is not the sole domain of women, a gift with which God only gives to certain individuals, or something that God expects from the married but not  the single. Instead, it’s a sign of true discipleship! Honestly, we could fill pages with verses on this subject, but even with these few verses, the point is clear: God prioritizes hospitality, and His followers should, too!

PART II

It’s all well and good to say that Christians should practice hospitality, but it’s another thing entirely to actually do it. Like so many other things that we know we ought to do, we’re caught in Romans 10:17…”  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

When it comes to hospitality, how do we bridge the gap between “We should have you over sometime” to sitting down together around a table?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Like any other good thing, we have to start in prayer. Why not pray about hospitality? Ask God whom you should invite. Ask God to show you the best time to have people over. Ask him to give you a passion for hospitality. He cares about these things, and He’ll help you!

2. Read a book or a blog about Christian hospitality! There are lots out there, and I’ve found them tremendously encouraging and challenging!

3. Relinquish worldly expectations. There’s a big difference between “entertaining” and “hospitality.” The first is ME-focused (MY house is gorgeous, MY cooking is amazing, MY family is picture-perfect), while the latter is OTHER-focused (how can I bless YOU?). Some of the excuses that my sweet friend said over lunch are things that many of us use to justify our lack of hospitality: “My house isn’t clean enough,” “I’m not a good cook,” “I’m busy.” Real hospitality isn’t about being Martha Stewart; it’s about showing love to others by putting them above ourselves. Honestly, I’d be thrilled if a friend had me over & we ate hot dogs (or even better, drank coffee)! It’s not about the food, the house, or propriety; it’s about the fellowship.

4. Think of hospitality as a MINISTRY. Too many times, when we do manage to have people over, we’re inviting people who fit into our comfort-zone: friends, family, pastors, church-goers, etc. That’s great because we never know what others are experiencing and how our ministry may bless them, but at the same time, I would like to encourage us to think outside the box when it comes to hospitality. Who do you know who might need special encouragement? A widow? Someone without much family or social ties? Someone struggling with their Christian walk?

We need to think of the root word in hospitality—HOSPITAL—and consider how we can make our homes a place of healing for the broken hearts trudging through the world rather than playing it safe by inviting people over who don’t honestly require much ministry!

sitting on floor hospitality

5. Don’t expect others to reciprocate. As well-meaning as your guests may be, and even if they do have you over, basing our hospitality on the hope of a return invitation misses the whole point! If we want a reward for our ministry, is our motive really love for God and others? When we let go of these expectations, we also help ourselves avoid the temptation to harbor bitterness. Honestly, I’ve struggled with this, and my struggle reveals my own selfish tendencies. Real hospitality, though, isn’t about what we can GET, but what we can GIVE.

With these things in mind, this year I want to intentionally show hospitality. Lately I’ve been lax in this area, but with God’s help, I want to receive and treat guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

What about you?

  • Do you think hospitality is an important ministry that Christians should practice?
  • Do you have ideas about how to express hospitality?
  • What successful hospitality experiences have you had?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let’s become more hospitable together!

The Arts and Christian Education

 

Note: Although the article following article was originally published in the Renewanation Magazine, I’m reprinting it here because Christian arts education is one of my passions. If you’d like to learn more on the subject, I’m giving a talk on the subject next month at Wellspring Presbyterian Church on January 13th at 7pm.

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Renewanation is a Christian organization working to transform culture by giving children a Christian worldview. If you’d like to learn more, check out renewanation.org.

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The fact that you’re reading the Renewanation Magazine means you probably know that the mission of this organization is to “Secure a bright future for America and the world by instilling a Christian worldview in the hearts and minds of children.” You probably also know that Renewanation’s primary method of accomplishing that mission is to help children receive a full-time Christian education.  We passionately desire to educate the minds and the hearts of our young people so that they, in turn, can change culture.

However, while Christian schools tend to greatly exceed their secular alternatives in academic matters, the Christian community has failed to fully embrace a complete understanding of what it means to educate the heart. For the most part, we’ve perceived this to simply entail moral education. Unfortunately, we understand that simply knowing right from wrong rarely succeeds in producing desirable behavior. Real change comes from inspiration and inspiration is the realm of the arts.

If Christians seriously desire to change culture, doing so will require a much greater appreciation and investment in the artistic development of our children.

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How can art transform culture? The answer to this question may be answered in both ideological and practical terms. First of all, the arts may and should glorify God. Men are made in the image of God: God is the Creator and like Him, men also create. It is not a question if men create: they will and do. The apropos question is “What will we create?” Francis Schaeffer notes, “The arts…do have a place in the Christian life-they are not peripheral… The Lordship of Christ should include and interest in the arts… An artwork can be a doxology in itself” (377). Do we want to train our young people to worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Then we must teach them how to do so with the creativity with which God endowed them.

Secondly, the arts have practical application. Francis Bacon, the celebrated scientist and devout Anglican, wrote, “Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences” (qtd. in Schaeffer 377). In short, Bacon understood what few of Christians seem to comprehend: the arts serve a pragmatic purpose for the Christian.

The arts are a valuable tool available to the Christian working to subdue all of creation to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The television shows about which Christians disapprove were made by artists. The books on The New York Times Bestsellers List were written by artists. The music we don’t want our young people to hear was made by artists. Andy Crouch, in his book “Culture Making” rightly explains that “…the only way cultures truly change is through the introduction of new cultural goods” (190). So, if Christians truly desire to change culture, ranting and raving over the latest cultural “no-no” simply won’t do the trick. We need must create.

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When it comes to art, Christian standards have simply been pathetically low. Although alternatives to secular art exists in certain genres (most notably music), the real goal isn’t the creation of a long list of Christian alternatives. Instead, we want and the world needs Christians who create so compellingly that their good works saturate culture, becoming the standard rather than simply secondary alternatives.

Our cookie-cutter fiction, our predictable film, and homogenous music won’t do the trick. To raise the bar, consider Dante’s “Inferno”, Handel’s “Messiah”, or Michelangelo’s “David.” This is originality; this is culture changing; this is true Christian art. Although my examples are centuries old, my point still holds: we want authentic art with lasting cultural value, not fleeting, commercial stand-ins.

How can we encourage culture changing creativity in our young people? Several methods come to mind.

  1. Own your artistic biases. When the church imposes extra-biblical values on creative freedom by approving and rejecting certain genres or styles, we relinquish the opportunity to impact culture. Sadly, many young artists fail to reach creative maturity within the church because the church fails to value individual diversity. We present them with a false dichotomy: deny yourself or deny the church. Is it any wonder that many young artists leave the church and pursue more accepting environments? Gospel, rock, classical, and reggae music all have the capacity to honor God. Poetry, fiction, and prose may all change culture. Both abstract and realistic art have their place. In short, the Christian community must learn to protect and foster artistic freedom.
  2. Insist on technical excellence. There is a grammar (a set of rules) to every skill but too often modern artistic training ignores those rules in the interest of “fun” and “creativity.” Mature creative excellence stands firmly on the foundational knowledge of its predecessors. Christian artistic training should insist that artists master the grammar of their genre. Beware of “mushy, feel good” training that bypasses basic skill development.
  3. Provide artistic inspiration. If your child has artistic leanings you should make it a priority to encourage those inclinations. For example, many times the arts flourish in community. Perhaps you could find or even initiate a Christian artistic community in your area. In the absence of a physical community online options are available. Beyond that, invest in books and classes. Visit museums. Attend the theatre. Enjoy a concert. Read a book with your student and discuss it. Join a book club. Don’t let cost deter you: many low cost and free choices can be found. The local library is a great resource!
  4. Consider how you can help your local Christian school or homeschool community develop a robust arts program. Unfortunately, funding issues prevent many Christian schools from investing in the wide-ranging creative capacity of its students. This problem can be remedied when parents, concerned individuals, and the Christian community as a whole begins to see the value of artistic education. Sponsor a contest. Hold a fundraiser. Provide public opportunities for creative expression. Encourage high standards. Mentor a young artist. I’m sure you can think of more ideas to foster creativity in your school!

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As I close this article, I want to challenge you to consider what it would mean for culture if high-caliber artists possessing a Christian worldview became the norm. Consider how you feel when enveloped in the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps you’ve walked on the ocean’s edge or stood in the forest, high on a majestic mountain.

God’s creation fills us with joy and wonder, doesn’t it? It enriches and ennobles us. We feel whole in its presence. And although man will never rival God’s work, we can emulate Him. We are made in His image. We have the culture changing power to erase the ugliness of destructive, sinful art. If we invest in the creative capacity of our young people, we can fill the world with beauty and goodness.

Michael Medved, the American journalist and political commentator, said, “Savvy observers occasionally note television’s resemblance to the weather: Everybody loves to complain about it, but nobody can fix it” (Michael Medved Quotes). Fortunately, while some might say the same for all types of creative endeavors, we know that Medved and those who concur with him are wrong: by God’s grace, we can do something about it. The only question is, “Will you?”

 

Works Cited

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downer’s Grove: IVP Books, 2008. Print.

Schaeffer, Francis A. “Art and the Bible.” A Christian View of the Bible as Truth. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982. Print.

“Michael Medved Quotes.” Brainy Quote. Web. 4 January 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Admit It: The World Sucks

 

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m in the dreaded holiday Vortex of Loneliness.

I’ve spent most of the day shopping alone, as usual. I’ve survived the dizziness that descends every time I visit Walmart, the entitled shoppers of Fresh Market, and the teenage Kroger cashier who’s so busy talking to his friend that he doesn’t acknowledge me. Every year it’s been pretty much the same story: I’m in this alone. As the mom of 3 young kids, I’m responsible for making holidays happen. It’s my privilege and my burden.

Most of the time, I feel the privilege of holiday planning. Cooking delicious meals, shopping for this year’s perfect tree, wrapping their little presents… I’m blessed!

Sometimes, though, in all honesty, the holidays really, really, really suck. I mean in the worst way. As in “I’m a Christian, and I love Jesus, but I want to stick up my middle finger at the whole stupid world and say every cuss word in the dictionary” suck.

When I think about my stupid adopted dad (the fake Methodist minister who molested my sisters and is now on his 3rd marriage), I get mad.

When I think of my terribly naïve and unavailable adopted mom…

When I think of my adopted siblings who didn’t reciprocate when I tried getting to know them…

When I think of my former “pastor” who destroyed my church (the closest thing I had to a family in my life)…

When I think of the insular church, the smug cluelessness of most people with big families, the corporate materialism saturating the holidays, and this sin-soaked world…

I’m so, so mad.

Today, for the first time, I even aimed my anger at the 2 people who are my birth parents. I don’t know them, but if they happen to read this blog, birth parents, please let me extend a hearty “Thanks for abandoning me and leaving a massive never-quite-healed scar on my heart.” Yay.

I know that, as I Christian, I’m not *supposed* to say this stuff. I’m not *supposed* to get raging, selfishly mad, or want to stuck up my middle finger, or cuss. I’m supposed to smile, and forgive, and love.

I know that, in the span of human suffering, my problems aren’t unique. This time of year, I get that lots of Kroger shoppers probably feel the same way I do. Even worse, my problems aren’t even high on the totem pole of human misery. After all, right now, masses of Syrians are fleeing terror or living in conditions I can’t even dream of. I feel lame and petty for even feeling mad about my first world problems when I think of the world’s pain and sorrow. What right do I have to complain? I shop at FRESH MARKET, for crying out loud.

These are things I know. I know. I know. I know. But knowing doesn’t help much when I’m wandering through Walmart’s lonely aisles and desperately wanting someone to care. It doesn’t help when I’m reading Facebook posts about family visits, and I’m cooking alone in my quiet kitchen.

Really, the only thing that helps are my three little munchkins who need me to rise above my own pain and give them something I don’t particularly feel like giving. They want a happy Thanksgiving, and they want a Merry Christmas, and by God’s grace, I’m going to give it to them. When I literally feel like melting into a puddle of self-pity and despair (I know it sounds pathetically dramatic, but it’s true), those kids are God’s power made real to me. Through them, God shines His light and teaches me what real love means.

If there’s one thing I know about human nature (and especially Americans), it’s that we want to be strong without doing the heavy lifting to get there. We envision ourselves with the spiritual brawn of Mother Teresa, but we won’t lay down our lives for lepers. We’re sure that we would save Jews and defy Hitler, but we can’t defy our own television sets.

In this season, when all I really want to do is hibernate in a fetal position until January 2nd rolls around, God makes sure I do the heavy lifting.

He cheers me on through my kids. He’s my coach shouting out, “Come on, Sharene! You can do it! Life isn’t about you! Give them a Christmas to remember! Smile when you want to weep! Dance when you want to mourn! Give when you want to get! Come on, Sharene! You can do it! You can do it!” It’s not Olympic-level spirituality like that of Mother Teresa, but for me, it’s pretty darn hard.

Right now, I can hear Him in my heart, and it is the best gift I have ever received. It is hope and a promise. It is a future. It is a reward. It is the reality of Jesus who is real and is living and is making a difference in the here and now.

I won’t do the religiously-correct Christian thing and pretend that life is easy, or that I don’t struggle, but without Jesus, I would be one of those terrible and numerous statistics in the painful cesspool of life on this messed-up earth. Again, I know it sounds pathetic, but it’s true. 

So, this holiday season, I’m really and truly thankful. Even in the midst of my most intense bouts of loneliness. Even if I’m partly jealous and longing and pathetically craving what I can’t have. I don’t have a big, happy family or a comfortable, welcoming homeplace to visit, or a “normal” family tree. But, I have a great husband, and 3 sweet, crazy kids, and friends. And most of all, I have Jesus who makes the other stuff more than enough.

So, in the end, I know this: God is good to me. God is good.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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A Small Note:

In a confessional article like this, I feel like I need to say a few things:

  1. First of all, this article’s purpose is not to incite my readers’ pity. No pity, got that?
  2. Empathy, however, is good… as long as it leads to action. Show some love to someone—especially to someone who really needs it. Be Jesus.
  3. Please… advice, as well-meaning as it may be, is unnecessary. Prayers, though, are welcome. In fact, pray for everyone struggling this holiday season. 
  4. No, I did not actually spew a stream of cuss words or flip off the world. I was really tempted to, though.
  5. Thanks for reading. May God bless you and your family with a sweet, joyous season of celebration!