Monday, June 29, 2009

The Beauty of Brokenness

I love Mosaics. I love to look at each tiny little piece of broken tile, and try to see it first as separate from the whole, as a fraction of the thing it once was. Did it used to have a life of its own, maybe as a vase or a plate, before it met its shattering fate and went on to become a vital component of a work of art? How did it break? Was it dropped, mishandled, intentionally destroyed for a larger purpose? I love that the pieces haven't been thrown away or wasted, but that the artist saw their remaining (or maybe enduring) value, and picked them up and said, "I can use you."

Mosaics are cool, because they are a neat little visual allegory of the way God works. Human beings, it seems, are even more prone to breaking than ceramic or clay. When I think of all the people who have most touched my life, whose words and deeds and legacies have helped to form and shape me, I am taken by the realization of something they all seem to have in common: they are, or were, decidedly imperfect, "broken on the wheels of living," as Brennan Manning has said. They are works in progress, turning their messes into messages and their tests into testimonies. Some of them are, indeed, a bit rough around the edges, and I suspect that their creator and mine is okay with that.

People who have been through a bit of fire, who have lived and learned, who have shed some lifeblood and come out the better for it, are effortlessly inspirational. They don't have to try too hard to be pithy or poignant or witty or wise, because the fact that they are still here speaks volumes before they ever have to say a word. They have a wide-eyed wonder at having endured, having been spared, that is contagious.

They are the recovered addicts, the tenderhearted former bullies, the learning-disabled scholars, the wounded healers. Their lives speak, encouraging others to press on, to trust in the restorative hand and heart of God.

I remember an early concert given by the late Rich Mullins, the well-known Christian songwriter, wherein he reached for his guitar to play an acoustic ballad, and as he began to play, he started laughing and admitted, "This guitar is terminally out of tune, but I tend to think things are boring if they're really fine." The audience chuckled, because part of the appeal of Rich was that he was, in fact, quite rough around the edges. He didn't stop to tune the guitar; he started the song over again, still with the same out-of-tune instrument.

I like his style; Rich could appreciate the brokenness in both people and things, because he himself was admittedly broken. And maybe he was right; maybe pristine equals dull, and flawed equals interesting. And if that's the case, if all of us who are flawed and imperfect are more interesting and valuable for our brokenness, then maybe we can learn to embrace our shattered lives as a new kind of creation, like a mosaic. Maybe we can learn to be just a little bit more grateful for where we are, in light of where we were. Maybe we can remember that in our weakness, God's strength is made perfect. And maybe, just maybe, broken will become the new beautiful.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

At Play in God's Creation

When you are a seven-year-old boy with pent-up energy, a wild imagination, and a desire to do nothing more than run, wrestle, and swim, summertime can be either a welcome release or a supreme frustration. For my little Jaden, unfortunately, thus far it has been the latter. No one is around. Country Squire has become a ghost town this summer, leaving Jaden alone to play with his legos for an hour in the morning and then to mope and whine for the remaining eight hours until his friends come home from day camp.

Yesterday, he was a fairly good sport all day, tagging along with me on errand after errand and rolling his eyes quietly while I sat at the computer and attempted to get a little work done under his watchful eye. Sensing his unreleased energy pulsating just under the surface, I kept checking in:

"Would you like to go for a quick bike ride?"
(Only if my friends can go.)
"Are you hungry?"
(No. I'm bored.)
"Want me to turn on the sprinkler?"
(Only if you'll play with me. Otherwise, it's boring.)
"Would you like a drink?"
(MOM. What I would LIKE is for you to PLAY with me.)

I feel for the kid; I really do. I can imagine what a drag it must be to hang out with a thirty-two-year-old woman on a shoestring budget, when all you really want to do is get muddy and poke other sticky-fingered short people with plastic swords. On our lengthy car trips to the bank, the store, the office, I brought along Jaden's portable DVD player, hoping to take his mind off of what a bummer his young life is at the moment (they're very dramatic, seven-year-olds). He wanted nothing to do with it. He also showed zero interest in his KidzBop CD's, his Happy Feet soundtrack, or, once we got back home, his online netherworlds of Webkinz and ClubPenguin.

Finally, around six o'clock, I caved. He had squeezed himself into the too-tight mold of a mini-adult all day, and enough was enough. I left my projects and tasks partially-finished, whipped up PBJ and carrots and called it dinner, and tossed the kid back in the car. We were off to have some FUN, dang it.

We wound up at Delwood Park, a cool nearby nature preserve with a scattering of bright, shiny new playground equipment all over the place. But, just as he had shunned my bright shiny offerings of DVD players and up-tempo kid-friendly pop music, Jaden shunned also these fancy-schmancy playgrounds, and instead asked me to drive all the way down to the end of the park property, and park the car by the creek. "Let's go this way, Mom," he said, blue-gray eyes alight as he gazed toward the moving water. Then, looking down at his feet to remind himself of what shoes he had chosen, he asked, "And can I get wet?" And I, the cool, selectively-permissive mom that I have become, replied, "I guess."

I rolled up my jeans and followed my little adventurer into the creek, up to the ankle, then the knee. The water was clear; I could see the bottom, and kept my gaze several paces ahead of where I knew Jaden's was, as he waded in, the chilly water reaching the bottom of his butt. We looked for snails and tadpoles, found a really gross dead fish, pretended to be on a reality show about a mother and son struggling to survive in the wilderness for months at a time. Jaden found a strand of gold plastic mardi gras beads in the water and tied them to his belt-loop; this was our "treasure", and he, in character, told me that when we finally made it out of the wilderness, he was going to sell it in order to buy us a houseboat so we could live on the creek.

Thirty minutes into our little make-believe adventure in the creek, nature called, and I watched a mischievous smirk came across Jaden's mud-smeared face. "Mom?" he asked, "Can I pee in the woods?" And I, as ever the cool, selectively-permissive mother, sighed deeply and said, "I guess."

We never did make it to any of the fancy-schmancy playgrounds. It was still somewhat light out just before nine o'clock when we made our way back to the car, my sandals sloshing and squirting and Jaden's orange shorts muddied beyond the point of no return. We were wet, chilly, and riddled with bug-bites galore, and we had to sit on sweatshirts and towels on the way home to keep from christening the car seats with creek water.

I hadn't spent a dime. There was no general admission ticket price to get in. None of the things we found to play with required batteries or access codes or password protection. We were simply at play in God's creation, and this was good, not-so-clean fun.

And as we pulled out of the park and headed back home, my kid, whose day had included ten hours of utter boredom and two and a half hours in paradise, said to me, "Mom, I loved this day."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm Not Okay, You're Not Okay

So I'm having one of those nights, one of those annoying, itchy nights where I find myself being good and honest with myself, about myself. I hate when I do this; I am ever so comfortable when I can remain deceived. But tonight, I can't seem to shake this conviction about one of my silly little "issues." It seems I've worked myself into a tizzy over the years, and developed a nasty little habit: "Hi, I'm Jena, and I idealize people."

It's horrible, really. I tend to see people as being infallible, incapable of falling short or messing up or going wrong. I've done it with my pastor and his wife, who brought me back to my senses when they reminded me that they -- yes, even they! -- argue sometimes and don't always see eye-to-eye. I've done it with a friend of mine who I pretty much assumed had the perfect life -- great clothes, doting husband, way-cool job -- who then ruined my mirage by going all human on me. In fact, if you're reading this and we know one another, I might even do it with you. I probably wouldn't be too hard-pressed to come up with three bullet points and a poem to support my argument that you are cooler than I am, better informed, more together. You're welcome.

But, see, I'm not doing you any favors by perceiving you this way. In fact, on the contrary, I'm cheating you. You might need help or prayer or a shoulder, and I won't be sensitive enough to offer you any of the above, because I will be over here assuming that you've got it all together. Sorry about that.

So, off I go to sleep, under layers of blankets and the heavy weight of conviction. The great thing about tomorrow is that is generally follows today, and brings with it a chance to change for the better. So, the goal for tomorrow: get real. Look around and take note of the human condition of imperfection and neediness, and recognize that it seems to have stricken us all.

Good night, my fellow ragamuffins.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I recently heard Oprah say that life for a woman begins at fifty. (Of course, ten years ago she said the same thing about a woman turning forty... but whatever). Anyway, I think there may be some truth to that. Still, if that is true, I've got precisely eighteen years to kill before my life really begins, so I figure I'd better have a plan for the interim.

In my twenties, I made some mistakes. A few faux pas, an oops here and there. So, I've got my thirties to fix all those mistakes. In a word, my thirties shall be all about restoration (sounds good in theory, looks good in print). Then I'll turn forty, and my forties will be about enjoying the journey - walking my son through his teen years, taking he and his friends out for pizza Friday night after the game, chaperoning class trips along with my endearing soul-mate of a husband (role yet to be cast). And then finally, climactically, I will enter into my fifties, and I will have arrived. Ta-da!

Or something like that.I have a few very dear friends who happen to be women in their glorious Fifties - sagely in their wisdom, almost ethereal in their beauty. There is a stunning sort of beauty that seems to come from knowing better. It is a relaxed assurance that illuminates their faces with a certain elegance that cannot be feigned by the younger set - it can only be earned by putting in one's time. They have forged their way to this place of justified contentment, and now they are basking in it.

I love to look at their hands - feminine and yet worn with years of loving service. How many lunches have they made, how many tears have they dried, how many times have they folded in prayer for those whom they love? (I look at my own hands differently since I have become a mother. Our hands become magical, you know, when we use them to nurture children, whether our own or others' children whom we love. Suddenly our magic hands can fix toy trucks and budge sticky zippers and cut peanut butter sandwiches just right.)

Anyway, I may have another eighteen years to go before my life can officially begin at fifty, but parts of me seem to be getting a head start, starting with the head itself: today, yet another proud wiry white hair poked its way up out of the crowd of blonde ones, daring me to yank it out. I didn't. I suppose it's a right of passage.

On the flipside, last week I got pulled over for speeding on my way to the office, and for the first time in a while, I wasn't able to charm my way out of a ticket. I guess maturation does have its disadvantages...

Of Houses and Hearts

About a year-and-a-half ago, I bought a house. A townhouse, actually, and an old tired one at that. It had plenty of room, three good sized bedrooms and two baths, great views of an open field, and a nice little yard with a swingset for my kid. Let's just say that it had all the makings of a really good home for my little miniature family, but it was obvious that it was going to need some real TLC before it would be anything I could be proud to call home.

The old vinyl floor in the kitchen and powder room was faded and worn, not to mention conspicuously outdated, with its tiny country-blue hearts and flowers. There was no microwave (which was inconvenient, since that happens to be the one kitchen appliance that I have mastered the use of), but only a sad-looking harvest gold extractor hood, which I knew would have to go immediately. The kitchen cabinets were original (meaning only two younger than I am myself), and despite layers of white paint, they screamed "replace me!" whenever I peered in their direction. The plain, flat insulated steel entry door was dented and scuffed and had no more character than a tiny peephole at eye level, and the staircase was guarded by an unsightly one-piece black wrought iron railing, which I promised myself would be the first thing I would update.

I bought and closed on the home in April, and immediately set to the task of bringing about my vision for my new aquisition. I saw much potential hiding in the ugliness contained in its four walls, and I told it so. "You will be beautiful one day... trust me," I said as I ran my hand along one of its scuffed and scarred dirty beige walls, stained with time. The obnoxious black railing came down and I hired a stair company to build a lovely oak-and-iron balustrade with basket and twist details. The nasty old vinyl floor was covered over with wood laminate, updating the kitchen instantly (the inside of the kitchen pantry was not re-floored, however, and now whenever I reach in for the Cheerios, I am reminded of my kitchen's past life). The harvest gold hood was ripped off and replaced with a nice microwave hood, finally enabling me to cook (or, at least, to re-heat). I had the entire home repainted, in earthy tones of khaki and sage (and of course, one room in all-American-boy-blue). I replaced the front door with a charming decorative door with an integrated leaded glass window. And then I stepped back and looked at what my tired, abused old home had become, and I saw that it was good. And, seeing that it was good, I gave the house my final mark of approval: I moved in and made it my home.

It is interesting to me, when I allow myself to wax philosophical for just a moment, the many ways in which the transformation and restoration of a home can be likened unto the transformation and restoration of a heart. Humor me a moment, and I'll try to explain...

My house was old, dirty, and kind of smelled like feet. It was obvious that it had been mistreated rather than nurtured and cared for properly, and because of this lack of proper care, it was tired and sad, and it wore that sadness on its walls like battle scars.Hearts are like that, aren't they? When a human heart is not nurtured or cared for or maybe when it has even been abused and mishandled, its sadness can also translate into ugliness that is worn on the surface - an air of cynicism, a hardness in the eyes, a seemingly permanent scowl. Or maybe the sadness never finds its way out; maybe the tears are cried in instead of cried out, and maybe that heart becomes also similar to my old "before" house - lovely and manicured on the outside, with its new architectural roof and its neatly painted shutters - and only upon opening the door can one see the sadness and ugliness that has been hidden within.

My house needed the touch and the investment of someone who would care for it and restore it and be willing to call it home. It needed someone who would see all that it could be, someone who would dare to enter into its tired, bedraggled, miry state and work patiently from the inside out, making the old new again, and the dirty clean once more. You might know where I'm headed with this analogy; our hearts are like my old house. A heart needs that same restorative touch of someone who cares enough to invest in it, to enter into its filth, to clean it up and love it and - you guessed it - to call it home.

I'm so glad God seems to think like a real estate investor. I'm so thankful that He sees my potential even when I am dirty and tired and ugly and wearing my years of mistreatment on my battle-scarred walls. I'm so glad that He runs His able hand along those walls and whispers His promises to me, just as I did to my old ugly house on that first day after I bought it. And it is worth noting that I didn't wait until the house was pretty before I bought it. I bought it when it was ugly. I bought it when it smelled liked feet.

A major difference between God and myself, though: I waited until my house was somewhat pretty before I chose to move in. God is far more tenacious as a restorer, moving right in in the midst of our filth and disarray. I'm so glad that God's love is the sort of "reckless, raging fury" that moves right in and makes itself at home, even before we are the least bit able to offer him hospitality - even when, like any nasty old building, we ought to be condemned. But He doesn't condemn us. He moves in. He calls our hearts Home. That amazes me.

My nasty old house is still old, but it isn't nasty anymore (most of the time!). It is obvious now that someone loves it and cares for it and keeps it clean (most of the time!) and smelling like vanilla instead of feet. It is useful to its owner now, serving me well, allowing me to offer hospitality to others when I play hostess for gatherings and groups. We ought to do the same with our hearts as we do with our homes - invite others in, and offer hospitality and warmth from within its walls.

One more thing about my house, though - it's not exactly finished yet, you see. I haven't yet replaced the old painted cabinets in the kitchen, and that thirty-year-old countertop is now screaming to be replaced as well (in fact, just this week, one of its laminate edges broke off completely, exposing some very old pressboard guts). My house is still a work in progress... yes, much like my heart (and yours). And even once I find the time and money to finish updating the kitchen, I will still be able to open my pantry and look at about four square feet of old country-blue heart-and-flower vinyl floor, should I need to be reminded that my house has a past.

But if you ask me, a house with a past is far more interesting than a brand-new house, anyway. A house with a past has stories to tell. If only its walls could talk... what would they say, I wonder? What would they have to share?

And that, of course, is how hearts are far more lovely than houses. Hearts can speak and share and tell stories about from whence they have come. They can tell others about the mighty restorative hand that made them new again. They can tell other dirty, bedraggled, tired hearts that there is hope, that there is a creative, visionary God with a love like a reckless raging fury who is eager and willing and able to pursue them, purchase them, inhabit them, restore them, and call them home.

End of an Era (Journal entry from BEFORE I turned old)

Saturday, December 31, 2005

So, I just turned 29 and suddenly I find myself waxing somewhat philosophical. Someone once told me that our twenties are supposed to be about self-discovery, and so of course this is my last year in which to discover myself, or I suppose this will have been a waste of a decade. No pressure there.I don't know that I have discovered myself, as it were, but I have certainly learned much about this person I find staring me down in the mirror every day. And, short of discovering myself, at least now I like myself enough to be able to say that if I were not me, I would want to be my friend. Or, at least, I would want to buy Me a latte and get to know Me better.

So, who have I become over the past 29 years on this planet? I was born a sin-stained earthen vessel, flawed in my humanity, and try as I have to remedy that, I remain the same. I would surmise that part of "self-discovery" is the discovery that perfection is an unattainable goal, this side of Heaven. I am not who I wish I was, but I am someone I can live with (good thing). STILL...

I drive too fast. I drink too much Diet Coke, too much coffee (my "soft addictions", according to a very frank friend of mine). I am awful at most sports. When playing the piano, I have a "heavy" left hand - when drumming, I am "fill-happy." I am not as fearless as I would like to be. I care what people think, even though it is much cooler not to. In my faith walk, I tend to take one step forward and two steps back at times. I have a nasty little habit of inserting my foot into my mouth, and an even nastier habit of apologizing too much. I often try to cram 20 hours worth of productivity into a 24-hour day, which when I do the math, tells me that I don't afford myself much time for sleep. I have a hard time standing up for myself, a hard time admitting need, and a hard time forgiving myself. I tend to complicate things, tend to overthink and underpray. I have a peculiar tendency to self-destruct when under pressure. BUT...

I am a good (not perfect) mom. I am very nurturing. I give great back massages and foot rubs. I am a forgiving person. I am a good listener, an even better hugger. I am fun to hang out with, good at making people laugh. I can do uncanny impersonations. I am a decent writer. I have sadly accepted the fact that I will never be an alto, but I am a well-trained soprano nonetheless. I have relative perfect pitch, which comes in handy. I am good at Scrabble and Pictionary. I am a very smart shopper (never pay retail!). I am a faithful friend and an ethical employee. Little kids like me and teenagers think I'm cool (major boost to the ego right there). I can french braid my own hair. I see the glass as half-full most of the time.

Moreover, I may not be who I want to be, but I sure as heck am not who I used to be. I may not have yet arrived at wherever I am going, but at least I am not where I was. I am a work in progress. I am Not Finished Yet.

"Author Under Construction. Please check back regularly for updates."

The Ministry of Noticing

Twice in the past month, I have had friends repent to me for misspelling my name. Ignore the fact that my parents chose to spell my name in a manner that, unbeknownst to them, is phonetically incorrect, and that "J-E-N-N-A" actually looks a lot better and makes a lot more sense than "J-E-N-A", which the rules of phonics dictate should be pronounced "Gina." Ignore both of these facts, because I digress... Already.

The point is, two of my friends -- one old, one new -- took a moment to notice something that some might think relatively insignificant, but that in fact is quite the opposite. A person's name is important. In Biblical times, parents put a great deal of consideration into chosing names for their heirs. Isaac received his name, meaning "he laughs", after Abraham laughed at the notion of Sarah's miraculous pregnancy. Samuel ("God has heard") was given his name after his mother, Hannah, prayed earnestly and fervently for a child, and was overjoyed that her request had been heard and granted. And, if you need further (extrabiblical) proof that names are significant to a person's identity, just ask Dances with Wolves and Stands with a Fist.

(A side note: my son Jaden's name is from the Hebrew, also meaning "God hears and knows." As for me, my parents initially chose to name me Kelly, like any good Irish baby, which would have given me the legacy of "bright-headed one." Instead, because the name had already been used in the family, I became Jena, "the small bird." So, I didn't have to live up to the expectation of being bright, after all.)

Anyway, the fact that my friends took note of the correct spelling of my name, and then set about being intentional to spell it differently in the future, said something to me. It said that I mattered, and it said that they noticed.

Can we get good and honest for a minute here? We all want to be noticed, to some extent. If it were not so, we wouldn't bother to change our profile pictures or update our statuses on Facebook, now would we? Would we bother at all if we thought no one would take note of it? According to my sister, who on principle very rarely updates her status, there is something inherently narcissistic about Facebook. I think that's stretching it a bit, but if you dial down the drama a few notches and delete the diagnostic code she has just labeled upon us all, I think I can smell what she's cookin'. We want someone to read our stuff, browse our profile, look at our photos. And I don't know about you, but I get a little giddy when one of you pops by my profile and writes on my wall, or sends me some Flair, or gives me a sticker. It means I crossed your mind. It means someone said, in essence, "Hey, I know you're there."

Back in the dark ages, like 2006 or so, some of us used to do crazy things like get in our cars and drive to Target and buy a Hallmark card and write in it - like, real writing, with a pen! Crazy! - and seal it and stamp it and... Phew. Well, I'm exhausted. Thank goodness we've evolved since then. Now with a little click of our mouse, we can let our friends know they crossed our minds. Pretty cool.

So here's my thesis: I believe, being the cock-eyed optimist that I am, that Facebook could start a revolution of "noticing" and acting on it, not only in the virtual world of cyberspace, but maybe even in this concrete jungle that we inhabit when we're not nose-to-screen. If we get used to making comments and writing notes and sending little virtual presents, maybe - just maybe - that senstivity will translate into the real world, where there are people all around us who are desperate to be noticed, desperate for our comments, desperate for confirmation that they matter. They might really need one of these: :) or one of these: <3 or one of these: (((hug))) but in the real world we'll have to use our faces and our arms instead of our keyboards, which will require a bit more effort, so start small if you must. You could always start by spelling their name correctly.

Topamax: A Cautionary Tale

I just spoke with a friend of mine who, like me, has suffered over the years from debilitating migraines. She was excited because her neuro had just put her on a "new" drug, the miraculous pharmaceutical wonder, Topamax (which is not new at all, only newly prescribed for off-label use in treating migraines. Topamax is an anti-convulsant designed to treat epilepsy and sometimes prescribed as a mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder).

Anyway, she was optimistic that her lack of a headache for the past eight days would be indicative of the overall success she would have in relieving her symptoms, and as I assured her, this could very likely be true, as I did not have a single migraine attack during the many months that I was on the 'Max. HOWEVER...I also felt it was my place to give her a little more information -- more than that which is detailed in the legally-mandated pharmaceutical disclosure insert. For the sake of objectivity, I also encouraged her to do a little googling for herself and read other patients' experiences on the many, many online chatrooms devoted to this drug. To save you time, though, if you or someone you care about is considering taking this miracle drug, here is MY own experience, encapsulated (so to speak).

First thing I noticed was the bizarre tingling in my fingers and toes, and the burning sensation on the top of my head (a little freaky when you can FEEL a drug working in your brain). Also, my tongue would become numb and feel like it was filling my mouth. This would eventually make talking a challenge (and I rather like to talk). But, whatever. I figured I could deal, if it meant no more headaches. I could stick it out, if those were the only side effects. They weren't.

In a few weeks, I began to experience unbelievable vertigo. I would sit at my desk at work with the mouse in my hand, and it would feel as though it were swelling in my hand and I could barely hold onto it. Then my chair would begin to tilt forward until I felt like I would slide right off it and land under my desk on the floor.

And then the really fun stuff started: the "mild aphasia" that the inserts warned me about. Let me tell you, aphasia is no less incapacitating if we label it "mild." If you're unfamiliar with the term, aphasia is defined as "one in a group of speech disorders in which there is a defect or loss of the power of expression by speech, writing, or signs, or a defect or loss of the power of comprehension of spoken or written language." Does that sound "mild" to you? I was losing my ability to speak and to formulate sentences. One look at the blotter pages from my work calendar at that time will tell you how screwed up I was. I couldn't spell. Not even my own NAME (seriously). The word 'remember' was spelled, 'rerememember.' My handwriting changed, resembling that of an angry twelve-year-old boy (or perhaps a serial killer). Food tasted terrible. My Diet Coke no longer had fizz, and tasted a bit like chicken.

I am appalled to hear how often Topamax is now being prescribed for off-label use as a weight loss aid. Will it work? Very likely. Is it worth it? That's a personal decision. You'd have to ask all the skinny people who can't form sentences or write their names. But be patient as you wait for them to answer; they will probably stop mid-sentence and forget what the question was. And we're not done yet. There's more.

My short-term memory evaporated. I couldn't remember sequences of events or put them in order in my mind, and I had to write everything down - everything. On three separate occasions, I made deposits at the drive-through at my bank and drove off with their little tube thingy (Do you know how embarrassing it is to go into the bank with three tubes in your arms and confess that you've done that MORE than once??).

Two more... Hair loss. They don't tell you about this one, and it often doesn't happen until you've titrated up to some of the higher dosages, but it is really not that uncommon (again, google it - you won't find it on the offical Topamax website, that's for sure). Topamax drastically depletes the body of the B vitamin Biotin, which is essential to the health of hair and nails. I lost about a third of my hair (judging from the thickness of my ponytail). Are you scared yet? There's more.

Depression. Not just ho-hum, got-the-blahs despression, but big-time full-blown chemically-imbalanced clinical wanna-die depression. This was the one that finally made me come to my senses. I sat across from my mom one night at a table at Syl's, trying to enjoy an amazing meal (we were celebrating something... of course, I can't remember what because I was drugged) and I could not stop crying. Tears just kept falling into my double-baked potato with a salty sad splat. Nothing was wrong. I just wanted to die, that's all. For no identifiable reason.

This could have been where the story fades to black. But it isn't. At the admonition of friends and family, I chose to flush the blasted miracle drug down the toilet and go back to chomping Advil Migraine like pez. So, that's my story. It might not be yours, so take this or leave it; it's up to you. This is just the stuff I wish someone had told me before I nearly became a statistic.

He Said, She Said

So I'm sitting in the office this morning, having a little chit-chat with my friend Bob about the differences between men and women. His theory is that a man's brain is full of “boxes” - a box for his buddies, a box for the car, a box for his job, a box for his wife or girlfriend, a box for the kids. He says the key is, these boxes must never be allowed to touch one another. Everything is compartmentalized. And, he tells me, they have one other box, a secret box that the women in their lives know not of. This box, he says, contains nothing. Nothing at all. Pure nothing. It's their favorite box, he says.

I told him my theory about men and women's brains. Sitting at the computer, I used my screen as a little visual aid (men do well with visuals, right?). “Look, Bob,” I said, “See my screen here? See how I have about eight different windows open at once? I am working on all of these things. One is my online bank account. One is an unfinished query letter to a literary agency. One is an email to a friend. One is a chapter to the book I am working on. One is a follow-up letter to all the people I had through my open house on Sunday. One is the Allstate website because I am looking up their phone number so I can bug them about my reimbursement check. One is the MLS database, because I'm searching for properties. And one is google, because I need to find the perfect chocolate dessert to make for some friends next weekend.”

Bob laughed. “You're doing all those things at once? What, do you have ADD or something?”

“Nope,” I said. “I'm just multitasking. It's what women do.”

“Don't you ever want to just think about nothing?” Bob asked, in awe.

“We can't,” I said, shaking my head. “It's not possible.”

“You know,” Bob said, “I read one time that they did a study at some research hospital somewhere to see if people really could think about nothing. Honest to Pete, they discovered that a man's brain is capable of showing such little activity that he would appear to be dead.”

“See what I mean?” I countered. “My brain will probably still show activity after I really am dead. I'll be thinking of all the things I meant to get done before I died!”

“Okay,” Bob said, clearly intrigued. “So if you say your brain is like that computer screen, with all those windows open at once, what's going on in my brain right now?”

I smiled. “Screen saver.”

Wishin' and Prayin'

I'm not an especially assertive person. A few of you have sent me Facebook messages telling me that I seem so much bolder than you remember me in middle school, high school, college, prison, wherever we saw one another last. (Okay, not prison. Just making sure you pay attention.) I appreciate your messages, but as I read them they cause me to giggle through my coffee, because I'm only bold in my "virtual" world. My friend has a magnet on her fridge that says "I wish I were the person my dog thinks I am." I think I need one that says, "I wish I were the person my Facebook friends think I've become."

But wishing only gets us so far. I could wish for a lot of things. I used to make quite a habit of wishing. I wish I could go back in time. I wish I had finished school. I wish I had eyes like Bonnie's, hair like Kris' and a body like Ellen Pompeo's. I wish I were less neurotic, and didn't care so much about things that don't matter. I wish I could be a stay-at-home mom, I wish I could get a multi-book contract, I wish I were more proficient on piano. I wish, I wish, I wish. Wishing gets singularly dull after a while. I wish I could stop wishing.

Wish granted! I've decided to trade wishing for hoping. The key, of course, is to know the difference. You have to sort out the changeable from the unchangeable. Reciting the serenity prayer helps, if you can get through it without feeling like Stuart Smalley. If you can do that, then you might be able to eventually trade the hoping for praying and mingle the prayer with action.

My son Jaden's kindergarten teacher last year taught the kids an invaluable little mantra: "'Ya git whatcha git and you don't throw a fit." Maybe that's a magnet I need on my fridge. It's true, after all; we "git" what we "git." What we're responsible for is what we do with what we "git." And all the wishing in the world won't change that.

I think I'm starting to get it. It has taken 32 years, but I'm starting to understand. And who knows? If I continue to listen to the wisdom of kindergarten teachers, I may just become the person my Facebook friends think I am.

Depression: The New Black?

So I'm standing in line at Starbucks this afternoon (thanks to all of you who have purchased gift cards to help fund my espresso addiction in this economically dry season), and I can't help but notice the emotional state of my barista, Kristy. Most baristas at Starbucks seem to have been trained to exude sunshine and rainbows with their glowing smiles and conversational ease. They're breezy, for the most part; they're takin' orders, makin' lattes, lovin' life. (They also have a pretty sweet job, earning full health insurance benefits for just 20 hours a week, while pushing one of America's last legal drugs). Kristy, though, seems to have missed a memo. She's not breezy. Her smile doesn't glow. In fact, she sort of looks like someone has just killed her puppy.

This doesn't sit well with me. I can't very well just take my double tall nonfat extra foam cappuccino and leave. I gotta know what's up. Something's not right. So, because somewhere deep inside me is a junior high school social worker who missed her calling, I dig a little.

"So, have you been here since like five in the morning?" It's a good ice breaker. Everyone knows those poor kids in the green aprons start work at the crack of dawn, and my guess is that doesn't go over well with a teenager.

"Pfft," Kristy replies. "Shyeah. Yesterday and today. I just wanna get out of here."

"I'll bet you do," I say. "It's pretty awesome weather out there for February. I hope you can get out there and enjoy it soon."

"Yeah," Kristy sighs. "I'll probably just go home and sleep anyway, so it doesn't really matter."

"Mmm. Probably didn't get much sleep if you had to make it here by five."

"Actually, I went to bed at like 7:30 last night," she says, sweeping her pink and black bangs across her forehead. "If you're asleep, you don't notice how badly your life sucks."

"This is true," I say, waiting for more.

She obliges. "I swear, all my friends and I are like that. It's like, why would we want to be awake, right? Like, why would anyone actually choose to be awake rather than sleeping? I mean, seriously." She hands my gift card back to me. I notice the tattoo on her left hand: TWLOHA.

"To Write Love on Her Arms, right?" I ask, gestering to her hand.

"Yeah," she says, smiling just enough for the pendant lights to create a glint on her braces. She looks surprised that someone like me (someone, you know, like, old) would be familiar with the acronym. "It's just, you know, a thing. It's just something I'm sort of into."

"You must really care about that cause," I say. "I mean, tattoos are permanent. Did your parents ask what it meant?"

"They didn't even notice the tattoo," she says, a disgusted look coming across her face like a shadow. "And I've had it for, like, two months."

I glance outside. I should go. My kid's gonna be home in fifteen minutes. But I can't. I take a slow sip of my coffee and proceed with caution. "Really," I say. "Two months and they never noticed?"

She shakes her head, razor-edged strands of hair swinging side to side. "So..." I say, running my finger over the top of my to-go cup, "If they ever happen to notice, what are you gonna tell them?"

"Huh," Kristy scoffs, picking at her cuticles. "Tell them I'm into cutting? As if."I nearly choke on my cappuccino. She has obviously missed the mission of To Write Love on Her Arms. I can't believe she is telling me this.

I thought about Kristy for the rest of the day. Not so much because she is an anomaly (she isn't), and not because I am particularly horrified by those who self-harm (I'm not). The thing that got to me, as I replayed the conversation throughout the day, is how casually she spoke of her self-injurious behavior, and about the collective state of depression of her circle of friends. And from where I sit, observing the world from a concerned layman's point of view, the problem is not only that teenage depression is an epidemic. The problem is that it is trendy.

One would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the current "emo" culture. Movies like "Prozac Nation" and "Numb" and "Girl Interrupted" have gathered a cult-like following (and I have to admit that I own the latter). Rhianna's hit "Disturbia" was nominated for a Grammy tonight for best dance recording. We dance to lyrics like these:

It's a thief in the night / To come and grab you / It can creep up inside you / And consume you / A disease of the mind / It can control you / It's too close for comfort

The good news is, there doesn't seem to be much stigma in being clinically depressed anymore. This, as I see it, is progress. But progress can progress too far, can't it? Marya Hornbacher, in her memoir "Wasted," says it this way: "People who’ve Been to Hell and Back develop a certain sort of self-righteousness. There is a tendency to say: I have an addictive personality, I am terribly sensitive, I’m touched with fire, I have Scars. There is a self-perpetuating belief that one simply cannot help it, and this is very dangerous. It becomes an identity in and of itself. It becomes its own religion, and you wait for salvation, and you wait, and wait, and wait, and do not save yourself."

And that, I think, is why Kristy was on my mind all day, and why now, at one o'clock in the morning, I find myself troubled not only for her, but for her entire generation, which happens to include a lot of kids that I love to death. Once depression becomes identity, what motivation is there to seek out help and receive healing? I gave Kristy a telephone number to someone I thought she might find helpful. I told her I would see her again (and now I have an excuse to return to Starbucks, which is always convenient).

And now, at 1:00 am, I am going to leave her, and the rest of generation black, in the hands of God. Otherwise, quite frankly, I'll end up depressed. I'm just sayin'.

To My Beautiful Girlfriends (Read: ALL of you!) -- posted on Facebook in 02/09

Yesterday marked a little milestone in my short little life. In support of a great lady out in Tennessee who is making a difference in the war against twisted cultural ideals of beauty and self-image, I posted a picture of a nude-faced Jena. The woman, Constance, has challenged herself to go sans makeup for one month (and yes, she picked the shortest month of the year, but it's also eating disorder awareness month, so we won't hold that against her, will we?). Well, a few days ago, Constance was getting a little tired of posting "scary pictures" of herself on Facebook, so I offered to do the same, as a gesture of support and encouragement. She said she would appreciate that, so I uploaded the nude-faced pic and tagged her in it as proof of my (notably admirable) loyalty. But she took it a step further and challenged me to make the pic my PROFILE pic for a day. Now THAT, I gotta say, I wasn't so enthusiastic about. Of course, all anyone has to do is challenge me or dare me, and I'm stirred. Hence the "naked" profile pic of Jena.

I wasn't prepared for the response I got from so many of you. My inbox was full throughout the day. Some of you shared things with me that I would never have expected, and I want you to know how much I appreciate your honesty. It made me feel pretty warm to realize that you felt comfortable enough (or, at least, compelled) to respond as you did. But it also made me realize just how far-reaching the damage of our western beauty myths has extended. I was shocked to learn how many of my (beautiful!) friends are at war with their own reflections. (Please note: I have tagged many more people here than just those who sent me messages, so don't try to figure out who responded. You'll never know, and that's how it should be!)

Last night around midnight, figuring I had fulfilled my duty, I changed my profile picture. I was all too happy to do so. Then I woke up this morning to more messages from you, and I felt convicted to put the naked-faced shot back up for another day. I had NO IDEA such a teeny little act of "protest" would spur such a reaction. Things are all a-buzz in my little corner of the Facebook world. I never thought disturbing the peace would be so fulfilling.

Enjoy your day, my pretties. You are God's masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)...Jena

Love Lessons

Will Rogers was full of baloney. He is known to have said, "I never met a man I didn't like." Call me cynical, but I find that hard to believe. What about the guy who cut him off in traffic? What about the guy who stole his girl? What about the guy who spread nasty rumors about him on the internet, stole his identity, and sent him harrassing text messages? Okay, maybe those things never happened to Will Rogers. The point is, not everyone is likeable, and if we're good and honest (and we're not), we simply do not like everybody.

Well, that's not very Christlike, you might say, and I would disagree. (And, in keeping with the theme, my disagreeing with you might cause you not to like me. But I disgress.) Did Jesus really like everybody? We know that He was sinless. We know that He showed love to all people (impossible for Him not to show love, since God is love). But did He like all the people He loved? And do we have to?Let's bring this down to an elementary level for just a minute, and consult the ol' Webster's dictionary. Webster defines the words 'like' in this way: 'to be suitable or agreeable to; to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in.' We already know Jesus wasn't in agreement with everybody; that one is simple enough. Did he have an attraction toward all people? Perhaps to some more than to others. This is purely speculation on my part, and if I am way off, God Himself will take it up with me some day when I ask Him about this (and I plan to).

Moving on.The Great Webster defines 'love' simply as: to have affection for. Not a very comprehensive definition, but we know Jesus certainly had an affection for all people (affection meaning 'fond attachment and devotion'). I can think of no more profound demonstration of devotion than to lay down one's life for others. Still, Webster's definition of love leaves me unsatisfied, so let's see what God Himself has to say on the subject.'Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things.' (I Corinthians 13:4-8). Okay, now that sounds like Jesus to me. It also sounds much harder to do than to simply have affection for people. Affection comes easily to me; patience, not so much. I very often want to insist on my own way. I can be irritable, I'm sure (ask my son). I don't necessarily rejoice in what is wrong, but I certainly don't always rejoice in what is right. And can my love really be expected to endure all things? All things means ALL things. That's a lot of things to endure. Do I really have to?

In a word, yes. Whatever love is, I am called to personify it in the world. Whatever love looks like, it is to be made visible in my life. Loving people is not optional, not up for debate, not an elective course in the school of life. Liking people, though, is a grayer area, and I am pretty grateful for that, because it means I can have opinions. I don't have to become a pleasant but mindless clone. I can be honest with God and with myself and say, 'you know, this person or that person just really hacks me off. They get on my last nerve. If I never see them again, it will be too soon.' But, most likely, God will ensure that I see them again. Being the perfect father that He is, He seems to place those people - those "prickly people" whom I do not like - in my path as many times as it takes for me to learn to love them.

From where I sit, I see a common misconception about love. We tend to think that love is something that we feel. And it certainly can be. Showing love when we feel love for a person comes naturally to many (though not all) of us. But what about when we don't feel it? Love is still possible and, in fact, mandated. No, love is not something you feel; love is something you do, and something you do intentionally. It must be chosen and acted upon. Christ's death upon the cross was a profound act of love. My guess is, He didn't "feel like" giving His life that day, and certainly not in that way. He asked His Father if He would let the cup pass from Him - in other words, "Father, is there any other way?" - and yet the act of love was when He followed that prayer with a famous, world-changing sentiment: Nevertheless. "Nevertheless," Jesus prayed, "Not my will but Yours be done." That, as I see it, is love in action. That is love as choice, rather than love as feeling. And I'm pretty sure it's not the choice I would have made (which is one of many reasons it's good that I am not God).

So, what have we learned here in our little love lesson? We do not have to like people in order to love them. We do not have to feel love in order to demonstrate it. And knowing these things will not make it any easier. Class dismissed. Go in love.

Pimples and Wrinkles

It's an ordinary tuesday, like any other day. I climb out of bed, put on my robe and slippers, and pad into the bathroom. I turn the faucet all the way to hot, hold a washcloth under the stream of warming water, and meet my own gaze in the mirror. There she is. Same ol' mug as yesterday, and the day before. Except... what the... Oh, no. You've got to be kidding me, I think. Seriously? Seriously??

It's a pimple. Right there, on the forehead, little left of center. Come ON, I think. I'm too old for this. I am thirty-two years old. In fact, I am not only too old for pimples, I am old enough for wrinkles. I lean in closer, straining to see myself clearly with my aging myopic eyes. Yep, there they are. Tiny, fine lines, right there beside the eyes, and a stubborn vertical crease between the brows, a result of years of habitual squinting. I stand tall, pulling away from the mirror. I sigh. Pimples and wrinkles, at the same time... doesn't seem right. That just seems like too much ugly on one face.

I ponder on this injustice as I brush my teeth (the teeth, thank the Lord, are still good). Suddenly, through a mouthful of toothpaste, I laugh. And I laugh. And I laugh some more. How odd... I seem to have the worst of both worlds, stuck between adolescent awkwardness and middle-aged malaise! Pimply adolescents, as I perceive them, still have most of their lives ahead of them. They have a lot to learn. They're usually not quite sure who they are, and they stumble through life with precious few tools, breaking things as they go, learning lessons and making messes. And those who have soldiered through and arrived in middle-age or beyond, as I perceive them, have established some things for themselves. They are no longer preoccupied with pleasing all people at all times (they have, no doubt, learned that such a goal is a waste of invaluable energy). They not only know who they are, they no longer wish to be anyone else. They boast the beauty of a mosaic - a masterpiece of broken pieces, arranged and rearranged into something lovely, though the brokenness remains.

Pimples and wrinkles. Awkwardness and assurance. As I rinse my mouth and blot my face dry, it all makes sense. Of course I should have both... This is me. Learned and learning. Established and evolving. Grown and still growing.

Too much ugly on one face? Maybe. But at least it's an honest image. I'm just sayin'.

If They Only Knew (Song for Polly)

IF THEY ONLY KNEW (Song for Polly)

Walks past the storefront window
Sees her reflection in the glass
She doesn’t really know that girl
Might have met her in the past

Seems to have it all together
Must just sail right through life
Probably someone’s mother
Someone’s lover, someone’s wife

(chorus)But oh, if they only knew
The confusion and the lies
If they could see the struggle
That she snuggles with at night
If they could see behind the smile
To where the worries lie
They’d nevermore believe her
When she says “I’m doing fine”

Goes to church on Sunday
They’d notice if she didn’t show
She’s a familiar face
A name that everybody knows

She teaches little children
How to love and serve their Lord
And all that know her love her
But there’s a shadow they ignore

(chorus)Because oh, if they only knew
How she cries herself to sleep
If they could see her weariness
And the secrets that she keeps
If they could look beyond her mask
To the tenderness inside
They’d dig a little deeper
When she says “I’m doing fine”

(bridge)And when the sun sets in the evening
And when her telephone stops ringing
She’s needing something to believe in
And wishing somebody would call
Oh, anyone at all

And oh, if they only knew
All the questions in her heart
If they could know the emptiness
Of how they echo in the dark
If they could see her hidden tears
And hear her silent, stifled cry
They’d never let her get away
She’d never go another day
They simply wouldn’t let her say
“I’m doing fine”

Polly Williams (1974-2008)

Eavesdropping in Starbucks

So, I'm sitting in Starbucks right now, in my usual corner that always seems to have been left vacant because it was waiting just for me. I have my laptop in front of me, and I have vowed to myself to avoid the internet today, in the interest of getting some real writing accomplished. But, just for a moment, I have to break my vow, because I have to share this. Or, at least, I have to take a minute to write it, since that seems to be my chosen means of processing life.

This tender, quiet man is sitting at the table behind me, talking to a very loud and outspoken woman. The man is older, maybe in his mid-seventies, and he is telling this woman how badly he misses his wife, and how he believes that his newly diagnosed cancer is his gift from God, so that he can go home to Heaven to be with her. The woman is telling him that he mustn't think that way, or he will have no chance of beating the cancer. For the past 45 minutes, she has been doing most of the talking, while I try not to eavesdrop (clearly, I'm not putting forth much of an effort). She is very eloquent and articulate. She has either practiced this speech in front of the mirror or she talks for a living. I've decided that she would make a decent motivational speaker, but a crappy therapist, because she hasn't listened to a single word the man has said.

The guy misses his wife. He is beside himself. She's been gone six months, and he hasn't slept in their bedroom yet because he can't bear the thought of inhabiting it without her, so he's been sleeping on the couch. He doesn't know what to do with himself, because he has never had to be with himself unless she was there to tell him who he was. He was always "Ellen's Jim"... and now he doesn't know how to just be "Jim." They never had children, and now, as an old man, he regrets this.

I haven't turned around to look at the guy, but in my mind he is incredibly lovable and cute, in that sweet, musty-smelling old man way. And I gotta say, this woman is getting on my last nerve. I want to spin around in my chair, shove her scone in her mouth, and take the cute old man home with me. I want to take him to the park and to the mall and bowling and golfing and teach him to play the drums and draw. I want to help him figure out who Jim is without Ellen. But, first, I'd better get a little more writing done.

Anyway... if you think of it, pray for my sweet friend Jim here, who doesn't want to live without Ellen, and pray for his annoying know-it-all friend. And then pray that I can stop eavesdropping long enough to edit a chapter or two.

On Becoming Cool

There are those qualities that define a person - gentleness, sweetness, an over-the-top talent or sense of humor - qualities that become synonymous with a person's name, or that we equate with the person whenever they cross our mind. I'm not sure what my own defining qualities are, and I think I kind of prefer that sort of ignorance and lack of self-awareness. It would be just like me to dislike the list and covet the defining qualities of my friends. Coolness is one of those qualities that you either have or you don't have. From where I sit, coolness isn't learned; it's innate.

I'll admit it: I wish I were cool. I don't think I am. And the very fact that I wish I were cool proves this to me. Cool people don't think about being cool. Cool people don't think about what people are thinking about them. Because really, there is nothing quite as uncool as self-consciousness. I struggle a little with self-consciousness. A less charitable observer may say that I am a neurotic mess. I tend to think it must be so liberating to live on the other side of the fence - to be one of the few truly cool people in the world who are untethered to their need to please others, to be accepted and well-liked and agreed with. These are the rebels of society - the men who dare not to stifle their tears in the interest of virility, the women who dare to lounge on the beach in confidence, regardless of the size of their buttprint in the sand. These are the few who live above the threshold of coolness. It seems almost tragic that they don't know it, and wouldn't care even if they did.

An old classmate of mine from high school told me last week that, although we had only known one other casually from performing in a play together, she could remember wishing at the time that she were cool like me. I blushed a little when I read that (and blushing, by the way, has never been cool), and I told her that I never had any idea that I was cool. The fact is, she had me all wrong. I'd fooled her. Which means that, while coolness can not be learned, it can be faked. And faking coolness, I suspect, is what most of us do on a daily basis. We just don't admit it, because that kind of honesty would make us feel as uncool as we secretly know that we are.Think about it. You're walking down the sidewalk, shopping bags in hand, and you trip over an uneven patch of concrete. So what do you do? You break into a little jog, pretending that you meant to do that. The trip was merely your launch. Or how about when you're sitting at a stoplight, and you reach up to scratch your nose (for the sake of maintaining our collective fantasy of coolness, we won't deal here with words like 'pick'), and you turn to the side and see that you had an audience in the car next to you? Oops. Busted.

The people-pleasing thing keeps coming up for me. It's obviously a tether that God wants to bust me out of. And I suspect that if or when my memoir makes it to publication, the poop (can't say that other word, or my more conservative Christian friends will really think I'm uncool) is gonna hit the fan when it comes to keeping everyone pleased with me. I'm a tad more liberal than about half of my evangelical friends, and just a hair more conservative than the other half. Which, I guess, means that not all of them can think I'm cool at once. Can't please all the people all the time; might as well quit trying. Might as well put my feet up and relax a minute.

No, I'm not cool. Not the organic, innate type of cool, anyway. My friend Heather has a teeny little nose ring, and wears it as though she were born with it. If I pierced my nose, I would look like I'd had a freakish accident which left shrapnil behind. I can't learn to be cool any more than I can learn to be black or learn to have a different blood type. I can only be me, and embrace the fact that I trip over cracks in the sidewalk and pick (there, I said it) my nose in the car and tend to obsess over the width of my buttprint in the sand. And then, to make matters worse, I write about these things, which one could argue, makes me a peddler of TMI.

But exhibitionism sounds kind of cool, really.

Busted! (Or, to use a churchy term, convicted!)

Have you ever sensed God speaking to you in such a way that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was His voice? More specifically, have you ever sensed the conviction of His spirit so profoundly - and so precisely - that you felt compelled to fall to your knees, right where you stood? Yeah, me too. This morning, in fact.

So I'm in church early this morning for sound check and practice, and I'm hearing my own voice in my monitor, singing words like "Take my heart and form it / Take my mind, transform it" and suddenly a mental image flashes into my brain: my prom picture. How spiritual, right? Chris had posted it on his profile yesterday, and we laughed and reminisced about it, and then I added it to my own photos, along with some disparaging comments about my pasty skin and fat face. I didn't think about, you understand. I just did it. It was an automatic, almost unconscious, response. Luke 6:45 tells us that "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (or the fingers type, as it were). I guess I might have a little darkness in my heart, to put it mildly.

As I often like to do with conviction, I shook it off and re-focused myself on the music. During the second service, I heard my voice in the monitor again, singing back to me, "I'm captured by Your holy calling / Set me apart / I know You're drawing me to Yourself / Lead me, Lord, I pray." Such a beautiful song. I've sung it more times in my Christian life than I can count, and yet each time it means something different to me. And this morning, try as I did to shake off that nagging sense of conviction, I felt that God was reminding me that if I am to be truly "set apart" for Him, and if I really want Him to "lead me, Lord, I pray", I must make some changes, both in my heart and between my ears. No more dissing myself in photos, or in storefront windows, or in the mirror. It's JUST not cool with Him. Whether it bothers me or not, HE doesn't like it one bit. Ouch.

And I still wasn't off the hook. I looked out at all those beautiful teenagers in the first three rows, just fifteen feet in front of me, and watched them as Eric sang, "Who are the treasured and the prized / Who is the apple of God's eye / Who is" and then they sang along with me, "We are, we are, we are!" Their sweet little faces made me cry. These are kids I love very much. These are girls I want to teach to love themselves and respect themselves and see themselves as God sees them. In fact, should I ever go back to school, it would be with the goal and the hope of equipping myself to work in such a capacity. But it looks like I may have far more work to do than can be done in the classroom. Heart work. Work that no one else can do for me. Work that hurts, like re-setting a bone that's been broken for thirty years. Am I up for it?I don't know, honestly. But if I want to help other women to build healthy self images, I had better be. Otherwise, I might as well stand before them and say, "Hi there, Pot. It's me kettle. Yeah, you're black."

So, what to do? Well, for starters, I plan to sit on my hands if I have to each time someone posts a photo of me that I don't like, to keep myself from typing out of the overflow of my goopy, sludgy heart. You can call me out on that if I screw up. And, I'll continue to sing my songs of praise to the One who is far more forgiving toward me than I ever have been. I should try being a bit more like Him.