Thursday, September 26, 2013

Heart of stone

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

I’ve never seen an actual gallbladder, though I’m almost certain I have one somewhere in my body. It hasn’t given me any trouble. Lucky for me. But I can imagine what a gallbladder looks like—all sort of gnarly and wrinkly like a jalapeno pepper that has been in the vegetable drawer too long. And if it has the dreaded gallstones, it’s gnarly and wrinkly with big ugly lumps. I think that’s what my heart was like before the grace of God brought me back from the land of the heavy hearted.

(I know, I know . . . the jalapenos look good to me too. I just thought it was a more appealing photo than a gallbladder.)
Often I find a verse in the Bible that had never caught my attention before, and today this verse from Ezekiel is the one. This is what God has done for me—given me a new heart and a new spirit. God has renewed me. I was caught up in self-loathing, self-pity, self-absorption. My heart was broken and that was all I could see. Too much self didn’t make life better; it just kept me swimming in the same putrid slime of anger, bitterness, hurt.
I can’t claim my journey is complete. Every day I need to do it again, turn it all over to God, put it at the foot of the cross, and ask Him just to be with me. Life is good when my heart of flesh has found solace in faith in a merciful God.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Self mutilation

I'm writing this post about self mutilation just because it seems such an unlikely topic for me.

Can eating a dozen doughnuts, washed down with a pitcher of margaritas (with salt--human beings cannot exist without salt) be considered self mutilation? Surely it's not good nutrition.

Can getting multiple tattoos with incompatible themes be considered self mutilation? I'm thinking a ginormous Our Lady of Guadalupe on my back with a Frida Kahlo sleeve on one arm and a peacenik collage on the other arm. A banjo on my right calf and a flock of butterflies on the left. Maybe a crown of thorns around my neck?

Can a pair of size 7 (on size 9 feet) stilettos be considered self mutilation? Especially if they are pink patent leather with studs and platform soles? A far, far departure from the sensible shoes I normally wear. I couldn't walk half a block in such shoes without some sort of permanent damage.

I've been thinking about piercing my nose because it's such aberrant behavior for me. Would AARP approve or would it be considered self mutilation and, as such, improper for a woman my age? I've never, ever seen an ad for nose piercing in an AARP magazine. That makes me want it even more.

Truth is. When my husband left me and I was in the depths of misery, on a few occasions I wrote things on my arms with a Magic Marker. I'd get really, really angry and distressed at night, couldn't sleep, and I would write on my arms--words that cursed him and what he did to me. I can't really coherently explain why--I think it was just that I wanted some sort of visible, tangible witness to my pain. It was so immense and I was sure no one else understood. I didn't have the nerve to cut myself but writing on my arms seemed like an acceptable substitute. It was crazy sad. I was crazy sad. I would wake up in the morning and have to scrub off the writing so I could go to work. It was indelible ink and wasn't easy to scrub off.

Truth is. I don't mean to be flippant or to make light of those who harm their own bodies. My heart breaks for those--mostly young women--who cut themselves in an attempt to make their pain tangible. Their twisted thinking somehow leads them to believe it will relieve their anguish. It doesn't relieve the emotional pain. It just leaves scars on their bodies, scars that can be seen when the scars on their hearts can't be seen. With some effort I scrubbed off the words I wrote on my arms. The scars from cutting can't be washed off, can't disappear so easily. Take care of yourself. Please. I'm praying for you.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

iPod-induced meltdown

Maybe it’s time to throw my beloved iPod in the trash. I had a meltdown today when Mason Williams’s “Classical Gas” came up on the random rotation. It got just past the intro, when it’s still solo acoustic guitar, when that damned riff pierced my heart. I wasn’t even thinking about it, wasn’t in the missing-Mike zone, when I heard that little musical phrase. Instant tears. By the time the trumpets and all that doggone excess instrumentation got going I was on my knees, weeping, begging God to make my sorrow go away. (I deplore what all the excess orchestration did to that song—it’s so beautiful when it’s just guitar. But this emotional flood was not an overreaction to the arrangement flaws.)

Mike was an incredible guitar player and he played “Classical Gas” for fun, just to warm up. I never heard him play it in public. He didn’t think his version was worthy, but I thought it was better than Mason Williams’s original. So the sound of that little hammer-on, pull-off thing that Mike did so well seemed to skip right through any cognition in my brain and punched me directly in the heart.

“I know he’s not coming back, Lord,” I said. “That’s why it hurts so bad.”

Next song in the iPod rotation comes up. It’s John Gorka singing “Love Is Our Cross to Bear” followed by Marc Cohn singing, “True Companion.” Oh, come on, this hateful iPod has become an instrument of torture.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Praying with attention deficit

Sitting at the kitchen table, eyes closes, coffee getting cold, open Bible in front of me. I’m praying but saying nothing to the Lord. Just listening. I hear the hum of the refrigerator, an occasional car passing by, the cat slurping her water. I’m just sort of beaming my heart to Him, confident that He already knows everything, all of my concerns, all of the gratitude.

Finally I pray aloud: “Use me Lord. Use me quietly so I’m not tempted to boast.” And I return to silence, listening to Him. My mind starts drifting off to my grocery list.

So I open the Bible and read Psalm 103 and start singing the worship song “. . . bless the Lord, o my soul, o my soul, worship His holy name . . . for all your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mike for a nanosecond

Yesterday morning—when I was still half asleep, maybe three quarters asleep, or maybe I was dreaming—I said to myself, oh, good, it’s Friday so Mike will come here tonight. A couple of weeks ago, in the grocery store, for a fleeting second I thought about buying some pork chops to grill the way he liked them. And just this afternoon I was unloading things from the car when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mike coming around the corner in his pickup truck. The driver looked like Mike but the pickup truck was white, not grey like Mike’s. It wasn’t Mike. He has been dead now for a year and a half.

I don’t know whether to curse those fleeting seconds when my head is back in the old life, when he was alive, or whether to find some joy in those nanoseconds. In my old life I took it all for granted. He came over, I cooked, we played music, we talked and talked, and we kept loneliness at bay for one another. In my new life he is simply gone. In those fleeting, unconscious moments when I forget that he’s gone, I still have the sense of the routine and I take it for granted that he’s a big part of my life, that he’ll always be there. It’s hard to savor that brief amnesia when the reality hits me so quickly, with such finality. It makes it sting all that much more, knowing that nothing will recapture that time.

Mike has ridden off into the sunset. In a sense time does heal. But I still miss him--time hasn't taken that away.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Starry, starry night

“There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing.”
Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Earlier this summer I spent two weeks in Telluride, Colorado. Telluride is a rather isolated town in a box canyon, high in the Rocky Mountains in southwest Colorado. And it is beautiful, beautiful beyond description.

My insomnia did not disappear in the high altitude and cool, clean air like I had hoped it would. But insomnia has its advantages. On more than one night I could hear a bear noisily rummaging through our trash cans. The trash cans have bear locks on them so the most bears can do is knock them over and kick them up the alley. The locks don’t stop them from trying. I looked out my bedroom window but it was so dark that I couldn’t see the bear, even though it was just feet from our back door. I’m not foolish enough to go outside and try to chase a bear with a broom.

One night, at about 3 a.m., after being awake for what seemed like forever, I slipped past my granddaughters’ bedroom and down the stairs. The living room of the house we were renting is two stories high with one wall, floor to ceiling windows, facing the ski slope. I lay on the sofa, looking up at the amazing sky. There was no moonlight so it was very dark and there was not a cloud in the sky. Never have I witnessed a sky like that—stars and stars and more stars.

I thought about the Donald Miller quote that I have on my bulletin board and I thought about how amazing the universe is, how amazing God is to have created it, and how little I understand. I realized that those stars are still hanging in that sky in the daytime, when it’s cloudy, when we can’t see them. The simply amazing universe doesn’t change, doesn’t go away when I can’t see it. Just like the billions of stars, God is always there, even when I don’t feel His presence, even though I don’t see Him.

I learned some things that night on the couch in Telluride. I learned that I can’t expect a bear to show up on my schedule. I learned that I should find more ways to take advantage of insomnia. And I learned that I’m a flawed human being with limited understanding and that God’s power and awesome creation are much greater than I ever could imagine.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Watermelon cucumber salad

Last Saturday I spent a long, lazy afternoon having lunch with my dear friend Jane who was visiting from Kentucky. We had a year’s worth of life to catch up on. We were at an outside table at Clyde’s in Ashburn, sitting under the arbor, being served by a waiter who told us we could have the table for as long as we wanted. Can there be anything better?

Other than having unrestricted time with Jane, the highlight of the meal was a watermelon cucumber salad that I’ve attempted to duplicate. I made some changes, but this is true to its inspiration—fresh, uncomplicated, perfect.

Watermelon Cucumber Salad

4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
1 mango, peeled and cut into cubes
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced rather thick
Salt and pepper to taste (I actually used Penzey’s lemon pepper)
Raspberry ginger balsamic vinegar* (approximately 2 tablespoons)
Springs of fresh mint

Toss the cut watermelon, mango, and cucumber in a bowl. Add salt and pepper and splash with vinegar. Toss gently and garnish with mint.

*I used Ah Love Oil and Vinegar balsamic vinegar—it’s my new addiction. Other flavors of their balsamic vinegar might work equally as well.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kim the climber

“Will you guys please cut out the racket? I can’t even think in here!” I would have yelled out the window but no one could hear me. So much for serenity. There are tree guys outside in the park across from my house, trimming trees and grinding up the branches in one of those scary grinder things. 

Actually it’s a bonus to be living directly across from the park—about 99.987 percent of the time. Other than the current noise and the time there was a body found in the park, it’s a lovely place to be. I never saw the body and the police officer told me they suspected the person had been murdered elsewhere and the body was dumped in the park, less than a block from my house. Had the massive wood grinder been there at the time of the murder, I suppose the murderer would have found a great way to dispose of the body. Yes, I’m trying to find a way to kill my appetite.

I watched one of the tree guys this morning, high up in a tree, adjusting ropes, and cutting large branches with the chain saw he had attached to his waist. Whatever he earns doing this job, he deserves every cent. Lord, have mercy, would I ever climb like that, dangling from a tree limb while using a chain saw? I know from experience that he is called a climber in the tree world and that climbers are treated with reverence and awe by the guys who rake up the branches, drive the trucks, and load the wood into the chipper.

When we bought our old house, we needed a lot of tree work on our long-neglected lot. We hired a crew that—much to our amazement—was led by a woman named Kim. Kim was strong as an ox but less than five feet tall. She was the boss and the burly country guys who worked for her paid attention when Kim barked orders at them. The guys were rough around the edges, tattooed, had few teeth among them, and they smoked unfiltered cigarettes. But, I swear, they wouldn’t look Kim in the eye. She was the pitbull runt of the litter who sent the mangy mutts running for their lives. And Kim was the climber. She climbed the big trees with speed and agility, throwing the ropes around, and using the chain saw like it was a carving knife. You know the question about people you would choose to be in a foxhole with you? I’d choose Kim.