Try to do one thing at a time as often as you can.
Live generously. It is not yours, anyway.
If you take away one thing, put back two.
Beware of consuming experiences in one gulp. Chew them, ruminating until your taste buds can sense the full flavor of each moment.
Kiss the ones you love often, and with warmth. Every time you do, something is born that will never die.
Don’t be afraid to wear color.
Learn to love your hair as it is, unconditionally. Your body as well; it will only age.
You will become a great person only by considering the worth of the small person.
Look in spaces, at faces only others ignore. You will see the secrets of the universe down blind alleys or in unconsidered eyes.
Learn early to unmask yourself. The things that fighten you will shrivel. An unmasked face is the greatest gift you can offer the world.
What would you add to this list?
There has been much-needed rain here in the tropics. The bugs are out: tiny gnats, swarms of mosquitoes, the vines that form the arbor over my front gate are growing wildly out of control. My grass already looks unkempt and I mowed it two days ago. The colors are vibrant, especially against a gray sky, and on my walk today, I was trying to calculate how long I could wear my workout clothes this morning before my skin starts to break out. Getting zits is part of living in the tropics; your skin never has a chance to dry.
A large part of this environment is money. I walk by women who have been transformed by cosmetic surgery. They look eerily alike, with tight foreheads and pursed, full lips; defined cheekbones; large, full breasts, regardless of age. They look like they are from a large family of sisters. I have to remind myself that they’re individuals with actual idiosyncrasies and personality quirks. I walk by nannies a lot too, dark-skinned women on cell phones who smile vaguely at me as we pass, pushing a stroller usually with an adorably plump, white toddler, dressed to the nines. All image-bearers of God.
I sense some emptiness: human to human, there is very little connection. Being a nanny, means feeling a sense of isolation; having been one myself, I know how marginalized you can feel, how invisible. Nannies here are often separated from their own families for days at a time, someone else is taking care of their own children. The babies are separated from their either too-busy parents, a father who travels, and often a mother whose main business is herself, who knows that her job is to keep herself as beautiful, fit, and fun as possible, regardless of how much money it takes. Her child quickly becomes an accessory, something she loves, yet also a bargaining tool with her husband, something to drag into the comparison game with her friends. These women age, helped along by plastic surgery, and sometimes push small, fluffy dogs in a custom-made dog stroller, as if it’s not too late.
Trucks filled with working men fly by, voices calling out to the women on the sidewalk. Men in nice cars and ties on cell phones are blurs, and their stare intensely, enjoying the sights before returning to the business deal at hand.
I often wonder how a person’s surroundings helps shape them.
Occasionally I walk by a person who really smiles, really looks. Often they’re older with gray in their hair and a slight shuffle to their walk. They remind me of the importance of sincere friendliness.
Today as I walked through the dewy green morning, the air thick and humid and unmoving, skies gray, heat already persistent, I thought about this: How much does the terrain, the environment surrounding me, form me? I long to comment to the man walking by with the gray ponytail and the sincere smile about the flatness of the intercoastal today, how it looks like a stretch of gray glass, how humid the air is, how stagnant this world is, not so much as a breeze. But I swallow my comments. I have no wish to stir the water.
love me. I must look approachable or something. Maybe its because I work better in public spaces, with people around, than home alone. Cases in point:
1. Almost every time I travel, I hear, “Excuse me, but do I know you?” I promise, this is not a pick up line. Mothers do this as well as men. “You look really familiar.” Or, “You look just like my (sister, childhood friend, niece, that girl in The Dark Night and Stranger than Fiction, etc.) Thanks, strangers. I guess I have Familiar-Face Syndrome.
2. Old people love asking me questions. “Excuse me! Excuse me! Wheah is the Clematis Street library? Ah we on the right road ta get ta downtown?” Okay, maybe not all elderly South Floridians are from New York or New Jersey, but probably 89% are.
3. The other month I was sitting at Starbucks, engrossed in grading papers. When I grade papers I get really stressed, and really focused, and really annoyed if I get interrupted. Probably because I would rather be doing almost anything else, I would trade a half hour gyno exam for 7 hours of grading anytime. Well, “Susan” asked if she could sit with me at my tiny, one person table covered in papers. I quickly scanned because it was crowded, and said really half-heartedly, “sure, if you don’t mind my papers.” Susan didn’t take a hint and sat down and started chatting me up and down.
Turns out, Susan had a son that did the “Gratitude” conference. (Heard of it?) She had picked me as the one person the conference asked her interview in the two weeks she was down from New York. Susan and I ended up having a heart-to-heart, talked about Jesus, and she invited me to her horsefarm in upstate New York. Maybe one day, Susan. I do love horses.
4. Today it was so-and-so from the Palm Beach Post. I was sitting there, writing my thesis, glancing at the open Forbes magazine in front of me, clearly immersed. She sat right down and spit her name and paper out so fast I didn’t have time to catch it in the old memory bank. She asked if I thought the Society of the Four Arts should be rennovated. She didn’t pause, and then told me that rennovation would mean exposing a beautiful pitched wooden roof under the low, ugly ceiling upstairs. She got me with the rafters. I love some old, wooden beams. So of course I said it was a terrific idea. Beams?! Old wood?! I want to go to there.
I’ve heard some people say that some strangers are angels. but all that does for me is to put Newboys lyrics in my head. Or that we should treat each stranger as if they are Jesus. Hmmm. That’s awkward.
Sow in tears. Reap a harvest. Most of us barely know what these terms mean. I mean, our brains pull up images of a painting, maybe, or an illustration. Few of us have the concrete pictures from actual real-life.
I’m studying Psalm 126, a “pilgrim” psalm of significance to me as I ride out my final months in South Florida. So on my favorite Bible research webiste, http://bible.org/illustration/sow-tears I found this and wanted to share:
The following article is based on a sermon by missionary Del Tarr who served fourteen years in West Africa with another mission agency. His story points out the price some people pay to sow the seed of the gospel in hard soil.
I was always perplexed by Psalm 126 until I went to the Sahel, that vast stretch of savanna more than four thousand miles wide just under the Sahara Desert. In the Sahel, all the moisture comes in a four month period: May, June, July, and August. After that, not a drop of rain falls for eight months. The ground cracks from dryness, and so do your hands and feet. The winds of the Sahara pick up the dust and throw it thousands of feet into the air. It then comes slowly drifting across West Africa as a fine grit. It gets inside your mouth. It gets inside your watch and stops it. The year’s food, of course, must all be grown in those four months. People grow sorghum or milo in small fields.
October and November…these are beautiful months. The granaries are full’the harvest has come. People sing and dance. They eat two meals a day. The sorghum is ground between two stones to make flour and then a mush with the consistency of yesterday’s Cream of Wheat. The sticky mush is eaten hot; they roll it into little balls between their fingers, drop it into a bit of sauce and then pop it into their mouths. The meal lies heavy on their stomachs so they can sleep.
December comes, and the granaries start to recede. Many families omit the morning meal. Certainly by January not one family in fifty is still eating two meals a day.
By February, the evening meal diminishes. The meal shrinks even more during March and children succumb to sickness. You don’t stay well on half a meal a day.
April is the month that haunts my memory. In it you hear the babies crying in the twilight. Most of the days are passed with only an evening cup of gruel.
Then, inevitably, it happens. A six- or seven-year-old boy comes running to his father one day with sudden excitement. ‘daddy! Daddy! We-ve got grain!” he shouts.
“Son, you know we haven’t had grain for weeks.’
“Yes, we have!” the boy insists. “Out in the hut where we keep the goats’there’s a leather sack hanging up on the wall-I reached up and put my hand down in there’daddy, there’s grain in there! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour, and tonight our tummies can sleep!’
The father stands motionless.
“Son, we can’t do that,? he softly explains. ‘that’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we must use it.’
The rains finally arrive in May, and when they do the young boy watches as his father takes the sack from the wall and does the most unreasonable thing imaginable. Instead of feeding his desperately weakened family, he goes to the field and with tears streaming down his face, he takes the precious seed and throws it away. He scatters it in the dirt! Why? Because he believes in the harvest.
The seed is his; he owns it. He can do anything with it he wants. The act of sowing it hurts so much that he cries. But as the African pastors say when they preach on Psalm 126, “Brother and sisters, this is God’s law of the harvest. Don’t expect to rejoice later on unless you have been willing to sow in tears.’
And I want to ask you: How much would it cost you to sow in tears? I don’t mean just giving God something from your abundance, but finding a way to say, “I believe in the harvest, and therefore I will give what makes no sense. The world would call me unreasonable to do this-but I must sow regardless, in order that I may someday celebrate with songs of joy.’
Thirty’s the new twenty. Just wanted to see it in words. Actually, I like and dislike this phrase. I like it because I can’t help but hear Jay-Z’s voice in his song “30 Something” :
“I use to wear my hoodie like that (like that)
pile deep in the hoopty like that (like that)
now I got black cards, good credit and such
bae boy, cause I’m all grown up”
I dislike it because I want to be recognized as 30, not 20. What a difference a decade makes! I like the 20-year-old Erin, with her goofy rap moves, skinny-dipping tendencies, and gator-hunting experience. She was ancy and restless, like a dog trying to drink life from a firehose, a goofy skinny-dipping hunter, sailing on the winds of her emotions. She’s still in there, but at 30 I realize the truth of “with age comes wisdom.” I am not so anxious to “make” my life happen, I am more anxious to keep my eyes open as it unfolds, trusting more in what is happening behind the scenes, than in what I can see or feel in this moment. I’m learning. I’m learning that I’m in the middle of a painful and beautiful process of losing me, and staying quiet and still enough to be guided by the Spirit. I’m realizing just how selfish and experience-driven I can be, how I can demand of others what is not theirs to give. I am learning to, in poet Mary Oliver’s words, “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” Oh, so slowly. Oh, so hard.
So, I had this silly idea that I would wake up on the morning of my birthday and feel depressed. At twenty, my vistas for myself in ten years were incredible. I worried that I would wake up to: No man, no kids, no platinum records, no published books, I haven’t (yet) learned Spanish or the guitar fluently. I haven’t finished grad school, I haven’t attended classes at Oxford, etc. etc. but instead I woke up grateful. Thank you, Jesus, for my life! I have life!
The day continued in gratitude…I talked with friends on the phone near and far, an old friend from college I haven’t spoken to in years remembered it was my birthday, my roommate had given me a card written in beautiful words and balloons outside my door, etc. etc. and I’m not even on facebook! Heidi (my close friend) sent me a package, I recieved a birthday card from her mom and sister, and the newly married Kristian Campbell, who had her second wedding here in March, had hidden a very generous gift in my room. My friend Michelle had set me up with a facial at the very posh salon she works at. And then I got to sit on on a fiction workshop, drive down A1A, get a manicure and pedicure from Michelle herself, and then watch my worlds collide at DaDa’s, a really quirky restaurant in Delray Beach.
Friends, new and old, met me there, along with my brother and sister-in-law, who left their 3 kids with their friend Tina. (Thanks, Tina!) That was a gift in itself. My neighbors came, friends from FAU were there, girls from my Real Sex study, a old co-worker from my high school teaching days, Janny, came. The idea was to tell stories and sing songs and read poetry…an open mic night, if you will. Those things are my favorite, and I have so many talented friends. My roommate, Becca the amazing, played a song she wrote, “Grace,” and some Patty Griffin, my friend Grant also sang. Jill Bergkamp, my poet friend from FAU was there with her husband, Steve. Jill (pictured here…don’t kill me Jill, I think you look beautiful)
read a poem by Mary Oliver called “To Begin with, the Sweet Grass.” The poem made me cry (I hate crying in front of people!) but it was so beautiful I couldn’t help it. To me, this poem does to me what laughing with my neices, or singing along with Mumford & Sons, or climbing a mountain does.
For awhile now, I’ve wanted to write something about the Misunderstood Jesus. I can’t remember where I was, or who I was with, the day I identified Jesus as the Most Misunderstood Person who has ever, or will, exist. It might have been L’Abri. I need to look at my old purple spiral notebook I used that year to write down my thoughts and feelings and first poems and prayers I’d written for awhile. It may have been after the scales fell from my eyes and I was able to see the landscape of the Swiss Alps for the first time, after stress and cynicism had clouded them for so long. I described the Alps to my journal as “like a fake Hollywood backdrop.” I could not absorb their beauty for months after my arrival to the creaky, wooden chalet on the side of the mountain, whose paths zigzagged in front of it like someone trying to escape an alligator. “Run and zigzags and it can’t catch you,” all Floridians are told in Surviving Shark Attacks, Lightning Strikes, and Alligator Chases 101. Back then, I imagined having the presence of mind to run in zigzags in the moment, instead of freaking out and relying on middle school track skills to outrun the beast. “You cannot outrun it. It is faster than you.” I hoped that the alligator chase wouldn’t happen until adulthood, because all children know that in adulthood you have a calm, panic-free presence of mind in all things. After all, after twenty-five you have your life all figured out and nothing really bothers or scares you anymore.
It might have been when my friend Jenny, a beautiful blonde from Seattle, Ultimate Frisbee champion, and mountain climber whose outdoorsy parents took her on her first climb as soon as she could walk, and I were talking about the Bible and all of the opportunities for its concepts to be misunderstood. “It’s interesting,” Jenny said in her thoughtful way, stunning blue eyes looking up at the wooden beams of the ceiling, blonde head tilted in that way Jenny has when she’s thinking. “I was talking with Richard about this.” She cracked her knuckles and stared into my eyes intently. “How do we know the Bible is truth? It is a translation of a translation.” It’s crazy. A whole movement of people basing their faith and entire lives on a possible misunderstanding.
Well that planted a seed that would germinate into a large tree, like a Banyan, with its rhizomatic roots, where they grow up, down, and every which way around. I’m not sure how that tree germinated, and I don’t want to create a memory that’s not there, but somehow Jenny’s words had life in them, life that wanted to grow roots that would attach to my mind and heart and thoughts, words that would bear fruit in the next two years as I thought about the insanity of a God who would be so desperate to communicate (and allow his people to become part of the story) that He would allow for translations within translations, and the chance for complete misunderstandings to happen. He would allow the truth to get bloody and beaten into gross misrecognition, he would allow others to climb into the skin and make false claims and promises, dragging others down with them as the drank the Kool Aid together. He would allow the Serpent to lie to the Woman and the Man, and therefore all Women and Men, for all of History. All of this Misunderstanding. All for the Love of us.
Misunderstood Jesus. Who is He?
To be continued…