The Last Day of September

September 30, 2016:

Yours truly just returned from the grocery store. It’s been a productive day! I’ve only slacked twice. Normally, I turn the television off the moment Brandon is done watching the morning news – and by news, I mean ESPN’s Sports Center which he honestly believes is the same thing – but this morning I left the television on so I could finish watching a broadcast about that awful train crash in New Jersey. Text messages were sent to every person that I know of who currently commutes through Hoboken. I was so concerned that I actually wished I had the cell phone number of my old colleague from The Amazing Foundation. I miss her, sometimes. I miss The Amazing Foundation too.

I kicked off today with intense, desperate prayer for wisdom about the state of our kitchen. I stood at the deep sink in a hideous blue, flowered bathrobe and cheerfully told Brandon to have a great day. He thanked me for it in a distant manner  that let me know he was really thinking about a) where he’d placed his headphones or b) he had already realized his headphones were still in his office and was now contemplating how angry I’d be if he “accidentally” took mine. (Very angry. Very, very angry.)

“See you later tonight. Dinner is chili. We’ll watch a movie on the couch. … WE’LL NETFLIX AND CHILI! Ha ha! See what I did there?!” I said.

“…Yeah,” he said. Just like that, flat. I didn’t let his failure to realize how funny that was get to me. I can’t help it if he can’t see that underneath this awful robe and crazy hair is a witty, gorgeous woman who just needs a break. No, no. I remain mature and joyful, letting the *peace that transcends all understanding make this moment ok too. I just finished washing the dishes and mentally planned my final day of working from home.

I did the last bit of the work The Chaotic Christian Company paid me to do. After that, I applied for a juicy job – one that I want, but will never, ever take unless the directive is hand-delivered by a large angel holding a golden scroll, an earthquake hits,  the Nile River turns to blood, the sky goes dark and a ram appears in a bush – AND THAT BUSH BETTER BE ON FIRE.

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To Me, Not For Me

Things are falling apart. Things are out of my control, and I want them IN my control.

I want to live my best life now.

Just. Like. Oprah.

***

There is a story in the Bible that hasn’t meant anything to me until now.

Jesus is there, in this story, with His disciples. They encounter a blind man and I have to assume that Jesus saw him, but it was His disciples who were the first to make comments. A blind man living at that time was surely unkempt. Unbecoming. Unwanted. They take it all in.

And so they ask: “Whose fault is it that this man is blind? Is it his mother’s or father’s? Is he blind because of sin, because of something bad that he has done?”

The man doesn’t even have a name in this story. He is just ‘the blind man’. He is only known by his downfall, until the hero of this story steps in.

That would be Jesus. And Jesus says: “You are asking the wrong question. You are looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”

Following this, Jesus heals the blind man and the man-who-now-has-sight worships God. The man-who-now-has-sight goes throughout the town doing more of the same, glorifying God and making known the miracle that has taken place in his life to each and every one.

You see, the man was not at fault, nor was he under invisible punishment. The man is blind because his blindness will eventually highlight God’s miraculous power. His disability will demonstrate the magnificent ability of God; His power to save and correct and make whole.

***

I can’t fathom asking Jesus who is to blame for a man being born blind, but don’t we always suspect and form opinions when trouble surrounds our neighbors? Doesn’t the phrase “Why me?” echo in your spirit when the thing you wanted isn’t yours to have? We’re human. We want to understand why things are happening. We need answers damnit. Now.

This time, I recognize that I am not owed answers. I recognize that I am only here to witness—and to witness to you in real-time. I would love to know why a month that began with so much promise has failed to follow my perfect plan. I would love to understand why my security blanket made of family and finances has holes in it. Why I have to find a new job. Why I haven’t gotten pregnant.

I would love to know WHY…and finally, I think I do.

This is happening to me, but this is not happening for me.

This is for the glory of God.

Grandfather is Dead

In all fairness to my sister, she had walking pneumonia last week and it flared up again. Couple this with a broken phone and no sense of time, and well, it causes significant delays between urgent calls.

Telling her that Grandfather died was hard, and I didn’t do a very good job. I delivered somewhere in the middle though, when I elaborated on faith and the eternal promises God has generously given to each of us. 

The most confusing part of this entire process is which verb to use when discussing him. In a few months, I’m certain my description of him will flow naturally, but I’ve been tripping over tenses since I learned he is gone. “He is so funny,” I’ll start, and then I quickly find myself changing that to “He was very, very funny. The funniest person on the planet. You better hope people laugh after this, because all the funny is GONE.”

With grief, I am learning, comes hyperbole.

It was hard to understand my sister given she can hardly breathe through her mouth and her nose is for decoration only at this point. There were long stretches of silence when I wasn’t sure if she was sobbing or waiting for her breath to catch up. I went into FIX IT mode, coaching her to rest as much as possible until she is cleared by the doctors to return to the classroom as a first-year teacher. I actually looked into ordering food from across the country for her, but the shipping fees were out of control. I settled for a list of basic to-do’s including the obvious-but-so-easy-to-skip-when-you’re-sick rules: shower, brush your teeth, open the blinds and so on.

I continued, “And once you’ve had soup, you’ll rest again. You’ll read a book. You won’t post any articles about rape. You won’t think about rape or post about rape.”

“It’s an epidemic,” she puffed.

I sigh. Because she’s so right.

*****

This was an awful week to start a liquid diet. This was an awful week to feel insane stress at work. This was just an awful week. It’s not even done and I’ve totally written it off, positive it cannot make a dominant comeback. This week isn’t Serena Williams. It’s just an amateur, one that will be remembered more for its poor performance than anything else.

I don’t like the present. And I miss the past.

 

Grandfather Is Dying

My sister has managed to post two articles about rape on Facebook in the last 24 minutes. I’m so proud to know she’s thinking about rape – advocating for its victims, sounding off about the alarming rise in cases reported, and keeping us honest about the injustices seen in and outside of the courtroom – but for the love of God, when is she planning to call me back?

I am thrilled, just THRILLED to know she’s thinking about women’s rights and spends her lunch breaks posting articles that pretty much amount to Brock Turner Is a Fucking Piece of Shit Rat Ass Garbage Hell Hole Specimen, but when is she going to call me back?

I’ve been trying to tell her that Grandfather is dying since yesterday morning. That’s over 13 hours, or approximately 390 sexual assaults since I first reached out.

If she’d answer, she’d know that Mom is doing well considering her favorite parent is dying. She’d know that I am not. She would probably want to know where my promise is, the one where I swore that as long as he lived a healthy life and could dance at his 100th birthday party, we’d let him be and wouldn’t cry when this time came.

He just stopped eating. He was fine last month, and it’s like all of a sudden he’s made this irreversible decision to move on, with or without us being ready to take those steps with him. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that we don’t take the steps by his side, we are instead left walking behind a hearse.

I’m devastated. Calm, but totally emotional. And very, very certain that he would want me to purchase a black, wide-brim hat and some cool-looking round sunglasses for this funeral. A funeral we wouldn’t have to plan if he would just sit up and ask for dinner. They would be delighted to fetch it. They would go running like fools, and race to be the first one back. He could have anything he wanted.

Anything in the world.

“It’s Not Bruce, It’s Me”

There is a “plank” in my eye. If you noticed and weren’t fooled – not even for a second, not even when I finally used my Warby Parker gift certificate and tried hiding my eyes behind hip, lightweight glasses for the low, low price of $95 like the rest of New York – then you probably also noticed that I have been wearing the same grey and black wool-blend sweater for weeks. It’s time for both of these to go.

A speck in your eye and a plank in mine right? Focus on change within yourself rather than calling attention to another’s wrongdoings? Jesus is one of a kind: He’s so smart, and He’s always challenging us to bring the kingdom of God alive within ourselves in a true way—which makes this a terrible time to tell you I wrote a whole blog post that only focuses on others. It was inspired by this really annoying woman who appears on my Facebook newsfeed, but whose posts I won’t stop reading because as special as she is, she’s highly entertaining too. I wrote the whole thing in 10 minutes and it was far easier than writing what you’re currently reading. I talked about Bruce Jenner too. And I said that gender is not a damn choice, you’re born with your gender, but that I believe in treating people with dignity so if you want to live as a woman then I must respect your decision. I am forced to wear pantyhose for fancy work events, and I can’t wait to take them off. You can have them.

Removing a plank from your eye is easy. Alright, maybe not easy, but we can assume that removing a plank is very doable, or else why would Jesus firmly command us to take it out before calling attention to the speck in someone else’s eye? Plank removal is probably easier than a lot of things, like asking the waiter to split the group tab into seven individual checks at the end of a big meal for example. Is it me, or has asking for your check to be divided become almost taboo? I don’t understand this way of thinking. I managed a restaurant; I was a waitress in a restaurant in Soho. You know who eats at Soho restaurants? People who want their tab split into the maximum amount of checks possible, that’s who. And I did it every single time. And then I collected a nice tip because the patrons were all like, ‘Man, she didn’t completely freak out at us for asking to pay. Not to mention she has some great breasts.’

So how did this new plank get there? How did I let something that is hard and foreign and frankly, dangerous, just sit in my eye? I mean, I value my vision; I would be terrified if I were to awaken and my sight was gone. Sure, it may have taken me nearly a year to pick up with blogging, but I really do value words, and having this site as a vehicle to express my thoughts, triumphs and disappointments means so much to me – none of which is possible, in the traditional sense, without my sight. But I’ve let this sit and sit because as easy as removing a plank might be, it’s far easier to look for specks in the eyes of others.

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Year of the Bucket List (Part 2)

BW_Jasmine

BW_brandon

 

I have told everyone who will listen about the trip, with the exception of Amanda, the girl who works in our neighborhood fish spot. Oh, I’m hungry just thinking about it while I talk about her. Amanda is young, and White, but I’d bet my next paycheck that she grew up in a Black neighborhood. She’s comfortable around Black people, doesn’t get frazzled when some of the rude customers waiting for the bus in front of the shop get an attitude. She wears a chef’s uniform in a way that tells me she’s taking her job seriously, and hopes she doesn’t have to type orders into an ipad for too much longer.

Brandon is the one who struck up the first real conversation with her. After they got beyond “Where do you live?” she told him that she has never travelled. Never. As in she’s never left the state of New York, not one time. And this, my friends, made me incredibly sad. Weeks later I asked her where she would go if she could travel anywhere in the world, and she told me Colorado was her first choice.

“Why Colorado?” I asked.

“Well,” she said with an embarrassed look on her face, “I’ve never seen mountains.”

Uh, here’s the thing: the next time you want to TEAR MY HEART OUT in a fish spot all you need to do is to tell me a person dreams of seeing mountains, but has never had the money to go see one, ok?

She instantly became my project. How could I help wanting to help her? I realize there are worse things in life than suffering from a lack of airline miles, but God didn’t put a young, low-income girl who has never seen anything outside of New York City – with its disgusting subways, and rats, and crazy people everywhere! – in my path for no reason. I have to bless her. I must bless her. If someone beats me to blessing her I’ll be crushed!… so as soon as I get my tax return back I’m going to buy her a groupon for two nights in a Myrtle Beach hotel and a bus ticket to get there and back. Yes, I realize that Colorado and Myrtle Beach are not the same thing, but plane tickets to Colorado are insanely expensive, and c’mon, everyone knows the beach is better than the mountains anyway. I tried to buy the trip over the weekend, and was shocked when I realized ‘I don’t even know her last name’.

Dear God, make me rich so I can forever do things for the people You cause me to care for, whether I know their last name or not. And Lord, let Brandon forever be the understanding, relaxed person that he is because only he could handle a wife like me who will blow our life savings if I get one of my “ideas”.

Other synonyms for relaxed are calm and tranquil, none of which accurately describe Brandon—and least not according to our acupuncturist. For twenty-something years I scoffed whenever people mentioned acupuncture around me, until I found myself on the borderline of depression and was extremely fatigued two years ago. I credit the good Lord for pulling me out of a hopeless pit, saving me from rocky emotions; and I give acupuncture its due for giving me energy and zest!

I noticed Brandon’s energy dropping at the beginning of this year, and decided that we both needed a round of acupuncture when it didn’t come back up after the holidays. And in my case, surely the half-marathon training and job stress and poor diet had nothing to do with it. Nah. As usual, Dr. Nan was upbeat and confident that we could tackle this with a few strategically placed needles. Most doctors who practice western medicine are cautious and practical and don’t want to over-promise results, but Nan basically guarantees you’ll feel better with absolutely nothing to prove it and frankly, I appreciate this type of irresponsible medical care.

We walked into Nan’s new office which is directly across the street from my office – I see you hooking me up Lord, and that’s why we’re friends – and sat down in two chairs across from a peaceful water fountain. Brandon filled out new patient forms while I slipped away with Nan into a room that looks very much like a massage parlor. The walls have a few Chinese drawings on them, but other than that the room is very bare. After you’ve stripped down to your intimates, Nan patiently talks through any pains or stress you have before she inserts her tiny wonders.

“Just the right side of my back,” I said. “And I’d love to drop five pounds so throw one of those in there too,” I joked.

“You’ve gained weight haven’t you?” she asked me.

I let out a massive sigh and then waited for her to insert the first needles for my back pain. But she didn’t. She waited for me to answer her and listened while I explained how I found it odd that I’d been exercising more than ever but hadn’t dropped a single pound. I was feeling heavy (and burdened), and Nan assured me that after two sessions for back pain we could explore what was happening with my metabolism. And for Brandon, she prescribed “at least six sessions” for what she called a “tornado” of stress that he has been carrying around.

I will let you know what happens.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures that mean more every single time the temperature dips below 60 degrees in April.

 

 

 

Year of the Bucket List (Part 1)

Our marriage counselor cost $200 for the first and only session we attended. I wasn’t the one who found Veronica, but I trusted her the moment we shook hands, mainly because she was plump. Her soft, chubby face and round body signaled that she has plenty of love in her life and might be able to help us. Anyone with a healthy appetite is giving and receiving love in some form. I didn’t even notice that she was unmarried until forty minutes into the session, but I’d rather she was unmarried than skinny. Take it from me, a person who holds multiple degrees from the School of Real Life: A fat trainer shouldn’t consult you on how to lose weight, and a very skinny person doesn’t know a thing about being happy.

The foundation where I’m employed holds a “town hall” meeting for the entire staff on a monthly basis. We’re expected to arrive early on those mornings. Each meeting is booked on our calendars for the entire year, meaning no one should be surprised when they roll around at the start of each month. But for some deep, divine reason I’m always running late on those mornings. The train runs late, I forget to pack breakfast, the normally empty coffee shop has a long line and each of them wants a cappuccino instead of plain joe. I panic when I’m caught at a red light, and I use that time to decide which side of the conference room I’ll try to enter in. I would rather call in sick than be the only one who arrives late. I slowly approach the building door—

—and notice four of my colleagues with the same panic and sweat on their foreheads reaching for the elevator button, just like me. And I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one. I am comforted, and chatty, and so relieved to not be the only one.

And that’s why I just told you that ten months into our marriage we had to go see a counselor. God forbid you think you’re the only one. There’s nothing worse than living with that thought.

We’ll discuss what led us there in detail later on, as I’d rather focus on how this fits into the bigger picture. In the same way that a few low notes punctuate a song without defining it, so it is with our beautiful, challenging, and loving marriage that turned one year old yesterday. If I were to only focus on the low notes, instead of the 365 total notes that formed our first song I would be discouraged. Thankfully there were plenty of highs too, and plenty of harmony.

But my duet partner is and forever will be Amber, my former roommate. Amber has owned a guitar for years, but never learned to play. When I received a gorgeous acoustic guitar in February for my birthday – from my husband, lest you thought we were doomed – , I called her up and told her we were taking lessons.

“It’s the year of the bucket list, so we’re doing this,” I said. “I’m running the marathon and growing a ministry and learning how to play the guitar because this is THE YEAR OF THE BUCKET LIST.”

And indeed it is, and indeed we are. Each Tuesday I bring my guitar, Mahalia, to my office and then I take her to a dusty midtown office for an hour of strumming. I named her after my great-great-great-grandmother who was a slave, set free a few years before her death. Mahalia was most likely in her forties when she was made free and travelled with her 11-year old daughter Mariah (my great-great-grandmother) to Alabama. They settled, and then she died. But not before she experienced the ultimate bucket list item, freedom; for her and for her family. When I hold this guitar I think of her, and I am grateful, and I am eager to travel to an unknown place and make history just like she did.

Everyone should travel. For instance, I just came back from Jamaica – with my husband, lest you thought we wouldn’t make it a second year – and it was a nearly perfect trip. Clear skies and a dangerously hot sun appeared each day, and each day we saluted it from the outdoor table where we had breakfast and mimosas. From that same table we could observe the life-size chess board only steps from the beach. When it was unoccupied we would rush to it and play. Brandon would sit and study the board, and I probably lost both of our long games because I couldn’t stand still with reggae music in the background. We never fully explored the resort, opting to explore the employees instead. Men and women with American names and thick Jamaican accents talked to us about everything: music, government, and mysterious things that you never fully understand unless they are the lyrics to a Bob Marley song. These are the things that happen when you go to an island as special as Jamaica.