Much Ado About Evil (but approximately zero solutions)

Red Weather Christians

Season 2, Episode 10

There is a long-standing problem with an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect Creator and the existence of evil in this world. While bringing the discussion and theoretical solutions to the table, Jen and Steve offer approximately zero concrete solutions. Perhaps a shoulder shrug is all they have, but they remind everyone that attempting to ignore the problem does not make it any less of one. Can good cause evil? Can evil cause good? Without evil as an option, are we even free to choose?

Sources: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/

a piece

God
you are a poem
metaphor to mountains
and star-studded skies

white     space     and
line
breaks 
and

rhyme 
but most of the 
time
an impossible task
to ask
what it is you mean

your mean is the
average of all of
these words
so I dust off the Bible
and add them all up
and divide by the total
each word with a value
and as I decide 
what is one and what's five
I arrive at the
door of the thought
caught
between opening
-- I supposed -- 
or keeping it closed

I open of course
and the door starts to
crumble
I curse as the knob turns to
sand in my hand
and I crumple
the floor finds my face

the door explodes 
into fragments
and colors
it's shining
it's blinding
and gone
and it's gone 
and each piece
is dissolving to dust
as the dust floats to floor
with watery eyes I
look 

I look
but it's impossible to
see
I want you to
be
on the other side of that door
but before
I said you are
poem
and though I'm
mere mortal
I think I can see
that a poem
means leaving the mean
and not meaning to know
but leaning
and learning
and loving
and so

I look up at mountains
and star-studded skies
white     space      and
line 
breaks
and slowly realize
that the space
and the breaks
and the words
and the marks

all combine to show
a small piece of divine
and I pick up my piece
in my hand say a prayer Please
help me find peace
in my place
in this place
you have made
and this piece
may it be something
special to me so
I feel you and see you in

white     space     and
line
breaks
and star-studded skies.

everyone goes

hey
dad
it's been a 
minute
but I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and I think you're
there right now sitting on your lawn chair drinking hot coffee

I wanted to
talk about heaven
with you
and tell you that
I'm sorry
for all the times you told me
Everyone goes to heaven
and I 
scoffed
because I knew
I knew
you didn't understand
how
the 
gospel
works
you called me a princess
but it was an attack
and I hated you for it
but now looking back
I now can see
how that's
exactly
what 
I
was

I was a spoiled princess
How Dare you Defy Me Dad
Don't You Know I Know
more
than
you
about
life

you told me everyone goes to
heaven
how could a god allow people to
go
to
hell
how could he do that
and why
and I
scoffed
the royal princess that I was
and why should I listen
to someone who wakes waiting
to drink
every
day

I was so much better than that
but now I think I'd like to
talk about heaven
with you
and say
I'm 39
and not a day
goes by
that I don't think of you
and I don't think of you
in hell
but how you have a lawn-chair seat in heaven

and when we
talk about heaven
I want to tell you
that I wish I would have
been a better daughter
later after you died
I tried
I tried
I tried to understand your 
pain
in life
your pain
I think you numbed
you'd sink into
grayed and fuzzed and cotton-muffled brain

but we're talking about heaven
and I want to say
that even though you couldn't stay
to make your heaven
here
on
earth
you've got it now
and now
I know that
I 
don't 
know
all the things I thought
I knew
and you
and you are sitting on your
lawn chair
drinking coffee
restful and content
so proud of me
(you were always so proud of me)
I wish I could have been proud 
of you

but it came too late you couldn't wait
to leave
you 
could 
not
cancer decided
you
did 
not

so hey 
dad
it's been a
minute
but I wanted to 
talk about heaven 
with you
and tell you
that I am doing what I can
to make my heaven
here
on
earth
and when I drink
hot coffee
I think 
of you
of you
of how proud
I am
of you.

Listen: The Grief Episode

episode 4

The grocery list taunts me
with dish soap and milk
But this white page draws me
Black ink spills into words onto white

Because I think I could use some
black and white
in my life right now

So I take what I can get
and sit
and think
and write

You told me I didn’t have
faith in the God of the Bible
That you stopped listening
No good for your blood pressure

Things would be different
if there was a cup of coffee
between us
but the only thing
between us
is a continent

(And as I write black words
on white paper as outside
skies are gray
I think
gray is nice and would suffice
for this cobwebbed mind that is prone to
wander

And as I wander I can’t help but wonder
why God
chose the gray for the day we lowered my mom
into wet earth

That gray is part of my history
It mingles in my veins
and it’s there
and it’s always been there
)

But you stopped listening

Things would be different
if there was a cup of coffee
between us
but the only thing
between us
is a continent

So I tread on
heavily
clumsily
as I wrestle with sacred topics

Maybe on your continent the skies
aren’t gray as you listen to
The Bible
on
audio
repeat
sipping
Steaming
Lattes

you said you love me
and support me
and pray for me
you tell me that
I can know Who God Really Is
because You Do

But the truth is that your black words
on the white screen
end there.

And anyway you stopped listening
A long time ago you stopped listening

May I never stop listening



Becoming Red Weather Christians

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. . . . My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.

Jimmy Carter

If you’ve been following along with my life, you’ll know that Steve and I started a podcast called “Red Weather Christians.” It’s a big deal for us. And it’s nerve-racking.

Because it’s about our journey growing up in the Christian faith . . .

And then growing out of the Christian faith.

(Spoiler alert: We are still Christians.)

So we wrestle with how to reconcile still being Christians with lots of questions and doubts. With questions and doubts are we even Christians? Are we Christian enough? Steve and I think we are.

But we do wonder what other people — other Christians — might think.

Listen, there’s a problem in the Christian community: If we ask the hard questions or express doubt, we’re often met with dismissal, eyebrow raises, and defensiveness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Steve and I are two simple people who would like to change the narrative. We’d like to normalize questions and doubts and embrace an incomplete understanding of our own faith (which, if you’re a Christian, I’d challenge you to think about that: can you say you have a complete understanding of your own faith?).

After all, we have only this one life. With one chance to make it count for something. So we’re going to do whatever we can, wherever we are, whenever we can, for as long as we can with whatever we have to try to make a difference.

And we’d like for you to come along with us, asking questions, expressing doubt, and opening yourself up to healthy dialogue. You might have questions for us. You might express doubt towards us. We welcome that.

So I encourage you to join us as we chronicle our disillusionment and analyze our commitment to the complicated faith called Christianity.

We are Red Weather Christians.

Episode 1: If Those Idiots Call Themselves Christians, What Are We?

Episode 2: Sometimes God Moves You. Literally.

Episode 3: Navigating the Missionary Position

That’s what we have so far. Stick around, and the sound quality gets better, I promise. Thanks for giving us grace on that. This is all completely new to us, and we’re learning a lot along the way.

Peace be with you.

When the Snow Globe Settles

We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Listen 6:40

Well lucky for me the people here in Ecuador are anything but mean. The streets, though? They’re pretty mean. Steve and I have learned that even though we have a stroller, it’s actually easier to put the third born in the baby backpack (I swear by the Tula; Steve’s preference is the Ergo Sport). Why? The “sidewalks” here are TREACHEROUS! Huge cracks, broken grates, cliffs-for-curbs — yeah, it’s an adventure every time we go for a walk.

So I’m reading through my mom’s copy of My Utmost for His Highest this year, and I’ll tell ya: this edition is OLD. A couple of days ago it said — and I quote — “ejaculate to Him all the time.” I’m sorry, what? Thank goodness for newer editions.

But this particular quote about being exceptional? Gold. Take even the ordinary things and make them exceptional. I think of my bread baking as pretty ordinary, and yet I am constantly trying to perfect it. At the moment, I’m struggling with a 20-year-old gas stove that doesn’t retain heat well and at the highest gets up to only 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If ever there was an “ordinary” stove, it’s mine.

(I’ve named her Beulah.)

She gets the job done baking my bread, and she’s better than the teeny electric oven in my kitchen. I keep an iron skillet in the bottom to retain the heat a little better, and things are baking along. Even with ordinary Beulah, I try to make exceptional bread. And exceptional bread makes life a whole lot better.

This thing called life certainly forces the issue of the ordinary — have you noticed? We’re always trying to avoid the ordinary, to escape it, to deny it. We want the excitement! The adrenaline! The new shiny thing!

The new oven! The $224.95 Challenger Bread Pan! The fancy bread lame (only $37.50)!

But here’s the gold nugget: even without the new oven and the expensive bread pan and the fancy lame, my bread is exceptionally yummy — it just may not consistently look exceptionally good. From the ordinary, the exceptional(ly-tasting bread) comes. That’s life, isn’t it.

But I don’t let it, let it get me down
’cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra

A fine world, indeed, when we get to eat delicious bread.

Before we moved to Quito, I often thought about how life would be in a new country around new people learning a new language. So much newness and adventure and excitement! And I think that was part of the allure of moving.

I got more views on my Instagram stories than ever when we started our journey — from pulling out of our driveway in Florida to dumping our stuff and collapsing in our new apartment in Quito. The first morning we were here, I documented our apartment, our view, and my taste-testing of all the weird fruits that had been bought for our arrival. I received lots of comments about how people were so excited to follow our adventures in Ecuador.

We felt like we were inside a snow globe that had just been shaken up. We left our comfortable, familiar life behind to start a new life in a different country — with three young kids.

We didn’t know what we were doing.

And that was exciting. And a rush. And a frenzy of whatever the little white pieces inside a snow globe are.

But as life has a habit of doing, it settled.

So here we are living life: baking bread, going on walks, buying groceries, playing Mario Uno, catching the Zoomy Gloomies, and doing otherwise inane activities.

And yet, there’s something very exceptional about this ordinary life of ours. What love we have inside this apartment compound that is surrounded by an electric fence (because let’s face it we live in a dangerous area). What laughs we have together when we breakdance on the floor to the soundtrack of Trolls (because I don’t deny it we bought a smart TV almost as soon as we got here). What embarrassment we have when Quito Pizza Company calls us on the phone to confirm our address (because we definitely don’t know Spanish well enough to understand someone speaking 5000 miles per hour over the phone).

It’s a good, ordinary life.

And you know what? As I live and love and get embarrassed, I realize that sometimes the ordinary remains ordinary and that’s OK.

It’s exceptional even.

I’d like to leave you now with a picture of something very ordinary. But I hope you can see that something we consider ordinary is anything but.

Fruit:

Enjoy your life, people. Make ordinary things exceptional when you can, yes. But remember to embrace the ordinary, too. And remember that sometimes, the ordinary becomes exceptional only with a shift in perspective. Like fruit.

(Mostly I just wanted to show you my fruit haul.)

How to Find Your Purpose in Five Easy Steps

“When God brings the blank space, see that you do not fill it, but wait.” –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

On January 4th, page 4, God is moving. God is moving blank space into our lives, and we have to figure out what to do with it because as mere mortals we must take blank space and hurry-up-fill-it-up and move on to the next space and fill it and move and fill and move and fill and move and fill.

But Chambers, with his adept use of the adverb not, clearly advises against just that. Do not fill it. But wait.

And waiting is not something we like to do. As Ariana Grande puts it, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it

(yeah).”

But poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (whom I love and wrote about here) ends his poem “A Psalm of Life” with a simple command:

to wait.

Conflicting messages (what’s new) crossing generations (what’s new) muddy the waters for us. Who should we trust? Ariana Grande? Longfellow? Chambers?

Chambers also writes, “There are times when you cannot understand why you cannot do what you want to do.” I think even in the bubbly glitz of celebrity, Grande would resonate with that at times.

But in the blank space of your brain that doesn’t understand, that doesn’t have the answer, that doesn’t know the way — what if that’s where the magic happens?

This morning, I woke up, changed my 10-month-old’s diaper, made myself a french-press coffee, sat down in the living room, and just watched my boy-child. The older two boys were still sleeping, and my husband was volunteering at a 5K race, so aside from the baby chatter, the house was quiet. Normally, I snatch any time like this (read: those times the kiddos aren’t climbing up and on me like I’m a tree fort) to read. But this morning, I just sat. And watched. Life during those moments was simply about watching a baby explore. I didn’t even make mental plans for the day. And what a lovely morning it was.

I venture to say that quite a few people would enjoy a morning like that.

So it’s not that kind of blank space that we take issue with. It’s the kind where we feel like we’re taking an exam full of questions we don’t know the answers to. The kind of exam with questions . . . and then a lot of white space. Put in that way, it’s understandable why we’re so afraid of the white space.

So if life is like a written exam, I guess we know some of the answers. And some . . .

we do not. And maybe that spooky scary essay question on the last pages of the exam — the question is at the top of an otherwise blank page, and the other pages are white space for you to type all your paragraphs — is a question asking you to explain in 1500 words or more your purpose in life, using relevant examples and textual support, of course, and in MLA format, of course. Spooky scary!

Though counterintuitive to wait when we don’t know the answer, sometimes that’s the best thing for us to do. Even on an actual test, the best strategy oftentimes is to answer the questions we know first and wait on the ones we don’t know. Sometimes after doing the easier ones, our brains have made some connections for us to be able to answer the more difficult ones.

This takes on such a beautiful application to life. Perhaps when we get to a sticky point in life — one that asks us a question we don’t know the answer to — we should simply wait. Maybe answer some “easier questions” first. (For me, the answer to life’s question of how should the house be cleaned today is always vacuum! So as I embrace the vacuuming, I congratulate myself on doing something I know needs to be done. Then maybe after that, I’ll receive some enlightenment on the more difficult questions in life.

And then again, maybe not.)

Perhaps another reason blank space is so scary is that we are simply not used to it. We are busy people living busy lives every single busy day not leaving any room for fill-in-the-blank. We love filling in those planners (I do.). We glorify busyness. We complain about chauffeuring our kids to one event after the next, but we keep doing it. So when God brings blank space, we crumble. We need to know God’s plans for us — immediately. We need to have our black and white, fundamental answers. We need to hear the clear voice coming through the clouds telling us what to do next.

But knowing all of that would make us . . . God. (Or, I guess, Taylor Swift, who acknowledges a blank space and thence a name to fill into said space.)

So can we as mere mortals (Taylor Swift exempted here) do anything to make the inevitable blank space more tolerable? I, like Emily Dickinson, believe there is hope, even for mere mortals. So what can we do to preempt the crumbling of our souls when God brings confusion and misunderstanding and gray areas and doubt (i.e., blank space) to our lives? Take a quick look at these five easy steps!

Because sometimes, we just have to be OK with confusion and misunderstanding and gray areas and doubt. Sometimes there is nothing to do.

But wait.

Attendance-Question Monday (and wisdom from a curmudgeon)

“They never had much, but they always had enough.” –Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, put it on your to-do list. And even though I’m only 93 pages into the book, I’d already (with confidence) advise reading the book first. (Update: If you follow my blog, you’ll remember I was reading The Water Dancer last week. Finished it. It was great. Read my short review on Goodreads here.)

Do yourself a favor and read the book first — surprise. It has quite a bit of internal monologue that is hilarious and devastating that you just don’t get from watching the movie.

This particular quote comes when now-curmudgeony Ove is reflecting on his childhood and, specifically, money and material goods his parents had. They may not have had much, but they had
-food on the table.
-a roof over their heads.
-shoes on their feet and clothes on their backs.

I was drawn to the quote for its simplicity, its structure (look at the beauty of the antithesis of never and always), and its meaning. The idea that never having much and always having enough don’t have to be mutually exclusive? That’s gold.

What’s particularly troubling, though, is that many of us have much . . .

but we still don’t feel we have enough.

It’s dizzying thinking about how much stuff we have. And while I could write endlessly about our “stuff” problem (see one of my posts here . . . and another one here), what I’d like to tap into today is not about having enough. . .

but about being enough.

Today for attendance-question Monday, I asked my students what “the ideal age is.” I received a range of answers, from 4 to 99 with the mode answer being 25. Their reasoning ranged from being a kid with no responsibility and a play-all-day lifestyle to being old and retired and not having to do anything except go to church once a week with the wife. We enjoyed thinking about the question, and some of the students had some wacky and fun answers.

What troubled me, though, is that none of them answered with their current age. And I can’t fault them. I wouldn’t have as a stress-ball teenager, either.

I just had a birthday yesterday, and wow I am thankful to be the age that I am. I would never choose to be younger (I wouldn’t know what I know now, and I don’t like the idea of going backwards). And I wouldn’t presume to know that any age above mine is ideal. I told the students that when I was 25, I definitely thought, “THIS. This is it. This is the ideal age. I love it.” But then I turned 26, and … 30, and … 38, and every time I thought, “THIS. This is it!” I love how every year of my life brings with it new experiences, new knowledge, and new sentences that I read and write.

The students (and probably lots of humans) default to thinking that any age other than their own is better. This makes me sad. And it makes me wonder if they believe that they are enough.

And even though I am very happy in life, I most definitely have seasons of feeling like I’m not enough — like maybe another age might be better. This year, because I’m nursing a now 9-month-old, I come home from school every day instead of staying at school to pump. This has been great, but has resulted in my not eating lunch with my “school friends” in the break room every day. It’s also resulted in my missing weekly lunch meetings with a group of Young Life girls. I miss these humans. And as I go through the year, I notice little things here and there that they’re doing that I miss. I’ve strapped myself in, the lap bar locks, I lurch forward, and just like that I’m careening down and around on the roller coaster of . . .

insecurity. I feel like I’m missing out. I feel like my friends maybe aren’t my friends. And I feel like I’m not enough.

I know this season will come to an end, but I’m realizing more and more (the older I get), that there are certain things in life that are simply outside of my control. I have chosen to breastfeed my baby, and that means I don’t spend as much time with certain people. That is my choice. What’s outside of my control is how those people will respond. I have to actively refuse to let things outside of my control affect my happiness. I have to actively refuse to let things outside of my control affect my feelings of not being enough.

And even though this has been a difficult season in terms of friendships, it’s not to say that it’s been all bad. One friendship in particular has deepened, and I am incredibly thankful for that. At (now) 38 years old, I am feeling the best I’ve ever felt. I love life and feel blessed to live it.

It’s baffling (and funny) to think that at 25 I really thought I knew who I was and what I believed. I’ve had quite the seismic shift since then — not only with life circumstances (grad school, jobs, houses) but with people (losing my mom, having a baby, having another baby, losing my dad, having another baby). When my students gave their answers, I don’t think they were thinking about other humans in their lives. And other humans are so very important.

But even with the sad seasons in this life (death of parents or even death of certain friendships), there is still so much (read: enough) fulfillment in this life. Every year of my life, I learn so many things about myself, about my marriage, about my kids, about teaching, about my students, about sourdough bread, about healthier lifestyle choices, about God, about life. And it’s enough! In the best way, it’s enough.

Ironically what the students hate the most about life (school) is what I’ve come to believe is one of the best things about life (learning). Granted, my learning is not inside a classroom with a witch-for-a-teacher who scuttles around giving lots of assignments and quizzes and tests and projects and grades and memorization of poems. And after writing that sentence, I’m in no hurry to be back in school. But learning to be a better human? I pray I never stop. And while learning looks different on everyone, here are some ways I use it to make every year my ideal year:

  • Learn through reading books. (SURPRISE! I bet you never saw this one coming.) Read all sorts: literary fiction, fluff fiction, non fiction, religious texts, reputable news articles and Op-Eds. You’re learning writing style, vocabulary, content, and . . . empathy. It’s all good. And it’s a great little escape sometimes, too.
  • Learn to write for an audience. Though I may have a total of three people who read every single thing I write, it’s still been such a wonderful learning experience for me to be disciplined in my writing. I think it’s making me a better teacher and a better human.
  • Learn to eat real food. As the wise Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I learn by reading books about food and watching documentaries about food and trusting my gut. I learn more each year, and that’s fun. Where I’m at right now is trying to eat minimal amounts of animal products. We’ll see what I learn in another ten years.
  • Learn to sleep better. I listen to podcasts about it. I read about it. Then I sleep on it.
  • Learn to exercise outside on occasion and get some Vitamin D (from the actual sun).
  • Learn how to have meaningful discussions with people. One of my favorite times in my relationship with my husband is when we sit down to watch something together but pause it after a couple minutes to talk about some random thing and never end up un-pausing because we just keep talking for two hours and then it’s bed time. Whew! Having someone in my life that I really enjoy talking to is something I don’t take for granted.
  • Learn new things in the kitchen. It’s fun. And rewarding (most times).
  • Learn to let go of the things outside of your control (like pesky traffic lights, for one).
  • Learn that God created this beautiful earth for us to live our best lives. Believe that God made us to be enough.

Enough.

How to Achieve Immortality (it involves pie)

“Its meaning is in the doing.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer

Oh, this book. It’s on another level. It’s strange, and . . . I like it. When the mayor says these words to our narrator, Hiram, it’s one of those moments that make us pause. We know something big is happening. I’m still working my way through the book (only on page 93 right now), and there are these little wisps of smoky magic throughout. I’m intrigued, and hopefully my 9-month-old will allow me a window of reading time more than three minutes at a time.*

(*Note: NOT a recommended reading strategy, but if it’s all you have, you take it. I hear people tell me — ad nauseam — that they simply don’t have any time to read. And as I look at them with an ever-so-slight eyebrow raise, I think to myself, “Wow, to not have five or ten minutes in a day. That’s something.” And I would wager that something is in fact not true. Turn your phone off. Try again. Goodbye.)

But aside from my sentiments on reading (and how if you’re a human you better be figuring out how to do it — hint: open book, look at words, turn pages), I love this quote because of its — you guessed it — simple truth.

Meaning is in the doing.

We’ve heard it before: don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk; actions speak louder than words; practice what you preach; etc. But what these familiar phrases lack is meaning. And that meaning element is good. Really good.

So what is the meaning of your life? Simple. Look at what you’re doing. I don’t care what you believe or what your Enneagram is or even what you say. What do you do?

Do you believe in God and/or the Bible and/or Jesus but find yourself gossiping with co-workers, holding onto grudges, dwelling on and perpetuating negativity?

Do you look for the cutesy-tootsie Enneagram infographics on Instagram and immediately post to stories OMG? It’s real life if it’s on your stories. We all know that.

Do you say you want your kids to get the best education when they never see you reading (but instead see you as a screen-zombie to your phone)?

Do you want a happy life but go to bed each night exhausted and drained, wondering when the next weekend/break/hiatus/sabbatical will be?

I’m a teacher, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of living for the weekend (and the random government days off and Thanksgiving break — ON IT!! — and Christmas break and spring break and summer break). But, hello — what am I doing each weekday to be happy?

Sometimes I like to sit down and think about what I do in a day. I suggest you do the same. So let me walk through a typical “school day”:

  1. Wake up a little earlier than I need so that I can enjoy a quiet few minutes with my cup of coffee and a book.
  2. Do all the necessary personal preparations for school. I have a simple wardrobe, so dressing never takes a long time. I don’t wear much makeup or do much of anything with my hair, so, again, less time. I think the key here is not worrying too much about how I look.
  3. I ride my bike the almost-mile to school. As I ride down my street, I often see the beautiful sunrise and thank God for the morning greeting. I see a couple of folks fairly regularly that I wave to and say “Good morning!” Rick is my regular walker, and we’ve actually stopped to meet each other since we see each other nearly every morning. When it’s cold (in the 40’s — I don’t bike under 40 degrees fahrenheit; I have standards, people), my regulars and I exchange the knowing nod of it’s cold and WE OUT HERE.
  4. I get to school with plenty of time to spare so I never feel rushed in the mornings.
  5. I enjoy chatting with my homeroom students. They’re ninth graders and crazy. And I love them . . . almost all the time.
  6. I write my curriculum based on what I love. So classes are never dull. (Does it get tedious doing the same lesson again and again in a day? Sure, but the students are so different that even with the same lesson, the variation still prevails.)
  7. I enjoy my lunch with adults. This is a time I get away from the students. Some teachers let students eat in their rooms, but that just isn’t for me. I need a balance of teenagers and adults in my day, and chatting with adults at lunch is a needed respite. (This year has been a little different because I actually bike home every day for lunch to nurse my baby. But I always get to chat with my husband, and he is — I would say, for the most part — an adult, so it counts.)
  8. I try not to stay late at school. I’ve found that if I’m absolutely overwhelmed with papers to grade or lessons to write or fill-in-the-blank to do, I’m actually not being efficient at my job. Even if you’re not a teacher, see if this applies to you. Work smarter, not harder. (Hey, just because you’re that person who stays super late every day at whatever job you’re at doesn’t mean that you’re actually a good employee. WE HAVE GOT TO STOP THE MADNESS OF EXALTING THE RULE-FOLLOWING ROBOT-OVERWORKER.)
  9. I ride my bike home, sometimes in the rain, and enjoy noticing weird and interesting things on the path. Like a huge spider in a huge spider web that I have to swerve to avoid smashing my face into. Sometimes students or parents or coworkers give a little honk and wave as they drive by. It’s nice.
  10. I enjoy my evening with my family. We try not to make plans so that our weeknights are open to our every whim. Whims normally include trips to Trader Joe’s, maybe a dinner out at Moe’s on kids night, the library, or — the craziest whim — staying home. The husband has a fire going in the fireplace when the temps get way, way down into the fifties here in sunny Florida.

No crazy tips on how to be happy except to say that my life isn’t crazy. I do my best at living life, and that includes spending the most time doing what I love and being with people I love. Being a mom and wife and teacher? Love that about my life. Reading lots of books and writing (on a mostly-weekly basis)? Also love that.

So my last blog post was about my grandmother’s lemon cream pie. Since today’s blog post is all about doing, I thought I’d update you on the pie progress.

PIE PROGRESS UPDATE: I made the pie. I made the pie on Wednesday night, chilled it overnight, and brought it to our friend’s Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday. I thought that I hadn’t whipped the cream long enough for it to set properly and was absolutely terrified that it would turn into a gloppy pudding mess as soon as it was cut into. You know, when you lift out the slice, and the rest of the pie just sort of oozes into the open space and globs it right up? Yeah, that’s what I imagined. So I downplayed my pie to everyone at the feast, and when it came time to cut, I prayed “DEAR JESUS DO YOUR WORK HERE IN THIS PIE.” As I ever so carefully lifted the slice out, the whipped topping just held.

AND IT WAS MAGNIFICENT.

In fact, when I truly beheld its magnificence (in my mouth), I was transported back to my grandmother’s table (with all her fine china and crystal because, you know, she fancy) in Palo Alto, California. And I said a little prayer of thanks, and scarfed that pie down.

The point is, I wrote about the pie. I found the pie recipe. I read the pie recipe. I thought about the pie. But it wasn’t until I actually made the pie that meaning glinted through (in the form of a crisp, buttery crust, a tart lemon cream, and a light and fluffy whipped cream with little shreds of lemon zest on top). It was nice to think about the pie and read the recipe and reminisce about my grandmother. But it was joy making the pie and sheer decadence eating it.

I also brought some of my homemade sourdough bread to the feast, in the forms of a fougasse and four baguettes. Again, I like to talk about bread. And I like to write about bread. But it’s the doing that brings the true satisfaction. And I think satisfaction goes hand in hand with meaning. Like my read-more-books-talks with adults and the I-simply-have-no-time syndrome, people love to talk to me about bread and how they’re “going to try to start making bread.” But then, inevitably, they catch themselves and admit that they “simply have no time.”

Really, could we all probably come up with *all the things* that *take up all the time* and actually not accomplish much in life? YEP. So figure out what it is you want to do in life and do it. Or figure out what you want your kids seeing you doing and do it. Case in point: There’s a baby on my back. Right now. As I write. That baby is just soaking in the writing vibes. Now in fairness, he is asleep in a baby carrier on my back. And that is not normally how I write. But my husband is *doing* a bonfire and campout tonight with first-born and second-born. (They’re in the backyard in a tent. Bless my husband’s soul.) So I’m on baby duty 100% tonight.

When I try to think about what I want to do in life, I try to think about what I’ll remember (for good reasons or at least some hearty laughs) later in life — or what my husband or kids or students will remember later in life. Bonus: Doing things that people will remember will create your legacy. And you will achieve immortality as your deeds will live on forever after you pass. Immortality? Level up.

Will this lemon-pie-making become a probably-yearly tradition? Yes. And I think my kids will remember the tart-sweet of those bites and think of me. Same with my weekly bread (minus the tart-sweet).

Will my writing live on after I’m gone? Yes. And maybe my kids will get a kick out of reading what their silly little super cool mom had to say about life and love and sentences.

So what this all loops back around to is . . .

IMMORTALITY.

Really, though, it is. Do things. Do things that you (and partners and kids and students and people) will remember. And as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said (but because he has achieved immortality through his words, he still says — present tense), “Let us, then, be up and doing / with a heart for any fate.” If you have time, read the entire poem here. It is life-changing. But it might take a minute.

I wonder what you’ll do.

Out of the Echo Chamber and Into the (Red)woods

“Neurotics complain of their illness, but they make the most of it, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a lioness her young.” –Sigmund Freud–

The father of psychoanalysis has some words for us today: Complainypants* complain of [fill-in-the-blank], but they make the most of it really actually love having something to complain about, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a conservative his guns.

(Listen: I have an uncle in Tennessee with a truck bed full of guns. I wouldn’t mess with that.)

So because I don’t want to go up against a lioness or my gun-loving uncle, I’d love to figure out a way for everyone to live well, complain less, and not feel threatened.

The first question to tackle is WHY in God’s grandeur do people “need” something to complain about?

I know I have a tendency to get caught up in the echo chamber of my own voice spewing verbal vomit of the complaint du jour (Mmmm, that sounds good — I’ll have that). And let’s visualize for a moment verbal vomit spewing in an echo chamber.

Ick.

And if you’re more extroverted than I, perhaps you usher other fellow complainypants into your echo chamber. Now we have several people, in an enclosed area, verbal vomiting.

Uh, this is straight unsanitary.

But back to God’s grandeur.

God has created a pretty great earth for us to tinker around on. Just the fact that the sun comes up every morning is pretty awesome. (Do a quick poetry search of the word “aubade” — a poem celebrating the dawning of the day — and you’ll get pages of results.)

When I was a camp counselor years ago (shout out to Redwood Camp in the Santa Cruz mountains), I’d take my little elementary-school darlings on (very easy) hikes through the redwoods. WOW, would they complain. We are literally in the middle of the most magnificent redwoods on a beautifully sunny (but not too hot because it’s Northern California in the mountains) day, breathing in the fresh, crisp air with birds twittering in the background and the 9-year-olds are finding things to complain about. I had to institute a rule: if you complain about one thing, you have to verbalize five positive observations. And you know what? It worked pretty darn well. A potential complain-fest turned into a waterfall of gratitude.

It was a simple exercise in perspective that worked really well for 9-year-olds.

But I’d venture to say it’d work well for us humdrum adults as well. Because even though the “world is charged with the grandeur of God,” we somehow continually hone in on the negative. And then talk about it. Maybe even out loud. And maybe even to other people. And before we know it — yep, vomit-covered echo-chamber walls surrounding us. It’s so gross in there, but we’ve acclimated. We don’t notice the vinegary, acidic throw-up smell. We’re not fazed

by the slow crawl

down the wall

of globs

and chunks

and

corn

kernels

and stomach acid.

Imagine being outside of the chamber and opening the door to that! And to see multiple people inside bobbling around? It’s enough to make a person sick.

Why, we might ask, don’t the people inside HOOF IT OUTTA THERE?

Well here’s where things get interesting. And sad.

When we get comfortable in our environment, it’s difficult to make a change — even if the change will benefit us and everyone around us. Just a quick assessment of American culture will tell us that we looooove being comfortable. (I wrote about that here.) And what’s more, when we get used to complaining-as-default, we forget how to communicate in any other way.

Go ahead and think of that person in your life who’s always complaining (maybe it’s you). If you’re in conversation with this person and you’re only allowed to talk about positive topics, would they (you?) have a difficult time coming up with things to say? The following isn’t shocking or new information, but I’ll say what many others through the centuries have said: It’s easy to complain. It takes more effort and creativity and confidence to speak about topics in a positive light.

Just take a minute and transport yourself back to high school, the land of gossip and cliques and lip smackers. What do you and your friends more often than not talk about — how well so-and-so did on her speech . . . or can you buhlieve Jessica posted a pic with Eric when he and Danielle just broke up last Tuesday? If it was the former, congratulations. You were a better person than I in high school.

(I’d like to take a moment and make a general apology about who I was as a person in high school. I wasn’t horrible, but I sure as hell could have been better.)

So far we’ve

  1. gotten comfortable in our environment (acclimated to the vomit pooling at our feet) and
  2. started to forget how else to communicate (complaining is easier, and we’ve become products of our environments).

And now . . . for a delicious dose of delusion!

When our complainypants voice is the only one we hear echoing back at us or we surround ourselves with other complainypants and their chittering voices or we seek out other complainypants to be complainypants together, we start to believe that these negative opinions are the

only

ones

that

exist.

This is a problem. This is where we lose touch with reality. Perception becomes reality. And the perception? It’s stinky and gross.

This is a problem for the delusional Debby’s (not to be confused with Debbie Downer) out there, but it’s also a problem for the positive Polly’s — unless they speak out.

So maybe you’re sitting here reading this post thinking, “I’m actually a pretty positive Polly most of the time.” Great! You have an important job to do: YOU, my friend, have to take down the delusional Debby’s, one Debby at a time.

When you are talking to a complainypants friend, thinking, “I don’t agree with him-her,” it’s time to get to work. You must speak up. You must voice your opinion. If you don’t, your silence will become validation to your complainypants friend that you share their opinion. Yikes.

This is also a problem.

Problem 1: Being delusional.

Problem 2: Perpetuating said delusion.

To recap, we’ve

  1. gotten comfortable,
  2. forgotten how to communicate in healthy ways, and
  3. become delusional.

Wherever you are right now, stand up. What is the thing in your life you’re complaining about? Now take a big step backwards. Think about what preceded your getting to the point of complaining. Why are you at a point in your life that you’re complaining about the thing?

I’m going to venture to say that one reason you’re complaining about the thing is that — in some way —

you care.

So before we trap ourselves in the verbal vomit echo chamber, chunks flying, let’s

take

a

step

back.

Let’s realize that maybe complaining can possibly come from a good place.

Last week at my school was the whirlwind that was Homecoming Week. On Friday, each grade participated in a lip sync competition. This has become quite the big deal at my school, so naturally, whoever didn’t win was going to be mad.

I may have (horrifically) underestimated how angry the seniors would be if they didn’t win.

(They didn’t win.)

One senior girl charged up to me, complaining that the competition was rigged! She complained that the juniors were cocky and shouldn’t have won! She complained that the judges didn’t fill out the rubrics correctly! She complained. I was annoyed and taken aback and frustrated. (As student council co-sponsors, my colleague and I work hard to make homecoming games as fair as they can be, including creating rubrics to be filled out by unbiased judges.)

But as I was talking to my colleague after school that day, we both came to the realization that we’d rather the anger (and subsequent complaining of unfairness) than indifference. She complained . . .

because she cared.

Students bursting with school spirit, charging through a great week of playing games in the hopes of representing their grade well? I respect that.

So can we all take that step back together and assess why it is we’re complaining? Is it because we actually care about something? Perhaps there’s something we can do (action) to make the situation better before we even get to the point of complaining. Perhaps we can change our mindset and focus on the five other positive things going on.

Is someone else complaining to you? Encourage action. Or a shift in perspective. Remind them of the five other positive things going on. But speak up.

And give yourself (and others) some grace. Complaining is so ubiquitous it’s easy to get sucked in. And it may even stem from a good place of caring. So as we do in life every now and then, let’s take a step back (or a step out of the pool of vomit), lift up our head, reassess, and forge ahead as best we can to a life well lived.

*The term “complainypants” comes from a blog my husband and I enjoy: Mr. Money Mustache. Here’s a fun (but rated M for mature) article to check out: “How to Tell if You’re a Complainypants.”