Monday, July 28, 2014

Prayers for Peace

At church yesterday, Pastor Jonas read this prayer:


Present and active God, help us to be worthy of trust . .
     your trust . . . our neighbor’s trust

Help us to breathe in the desire for power
     and to breath out a desire for peace.

Help us to breathe in sure knowledge that we are right,
     and to breathe out knowledge that evil can lodge
          in our hearts too.

Help us to breathe in adversaries who bring out our worst selves,
       and to breathe out our best most compassionate             
           selves when we face those who do not trust us
               and whom we ourselves do not trust.

Help us to breathe in the “good” religious selves that we are
   and to breathe out a self awareness that admits
       that we can and do hide from ourselves . . . and you
               even in our prayers.

Help us to breathe in self seeking motives
      we label as pure,
          and to breathe out
                a more vulnerable love.

Help us to breathe in measured logic and calculated risk
     and to breathe out the foolishness of God which            
            passes understanding.

Help us to breath in a false sense of self-enlightenment,
     and to breathe out the knowledge that we can
          never fight evil as if it were something that arose
               totally outside of ourselves.

Help us to breathe in a love that is exclusively for       
      self and family,
            and to breathe out the love of Jesus Christ – a            
                   love for all people, everywhere.

-Adapted from a prayer by Nanci Self who adapted a prayer by Judyth Hill and Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Two peoples, one land,
Three faiths, one root,
One earth, one mother,
One sky, one beginning, one future, one destiny,
One broken heart,
One God.
We pray to You:
Grant us a vision of unity.
May we see the many in the one and the one in the many.
May you, Life of All the Worlds, Source of All Amazing
Help us to see clearly.
Guide us gently and firmly toward each other,
Toward peace. Amen
                                                  -- Rabbi Sheila Weinberg
Jewish Community of Amherst, Amherst, MA

Then, after church was over, I drove home, turned on my tablet, and saw this post from writer Anne Lamott:

Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M's etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards.

I used to think that if the world--or I--were coming to an end, I'd start smoking again, and maybe have a cool refreshing pitcher of lime Rickeys. But that's going too far, because if the world or I was saved at the last minute, I'd be back in the old familiar nightmare. In 1986, grace swooped down like a mighty mud hen, and fished me out of that canal. I got the big prize. I can't risk losing it. 

But creme brûlée, nachos, maybe the random Buche Noel? Now you're talking.

The last two weeks have been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember, and yet, I have not gotten out the lobster bib and fork. The drunken Russian separatists in Ukraine with their refrigerated train cars? I mean, come on. Vonnegut could not have thought this up. Dead children children on beaches, and markets, at play, in the holy land?? Stop. 

The two hour execution in festive Arizona? Dear God.

And let's not bog down on the stuff that was already true, before Ukraine, Gaza, Arizona, like the heartbreaking scenes of young refugees at our border, the locals with their pitchforks. The people in ruins in our own families. Or the tiny problem that we have essentially destroyed the earth--I know, pick pick pick. 

Hasn't your mind just been blown lately, even if you try not to watch the news? Does it surprise you that a pretty girl's mind turns to thoughts of entire carrot cakes, and credit cards?

My friend said recently, "It's all just too Lifey. No wonder we all love TV." Her 16 year old kid has a brain tumor. "Hey, that's just great, God. Thanks a lot. This really works for me."

My brother's brand new wife has tumors of the everything. "Fabulous, God. Loving your will, Dude." 

My dog Lily's ear drum burst recently, for no apparent reason, with blood splatter on the walls on the entire house--on my sleeping grandson's pillow. Do you think I am well enough for that?
Let me go ahead and answer. I'm not. It was CSI around here; me with my bad nerves. And it burst again last night. 


Did someone here get the latest updated owner's manual? Were they handed out two weeks ago when I was getting root canal, and was kind of self-obsessed and out of it? The day before my dog's ear drum first burst? If so, is there is an index, and if so, could you look up Totally Fucking Overwhelm?

I have long since weeded out people who might respond to my condition by saying cheerfully, "God's got a perfect plan." Really? Thank you! How fun. 

There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, "Let Go and Let God," because they know I would come after them with a fork.

It's not that I don't trust God or grace or good orderly direction anymore. I do, more than ever. I trust in divine intelligence, in love energy, more than ever, no matter what things look like, or how long they take. It's just that right now cute little platitudes are not helpful. 

I'm not depressed. I'm overwhelmed by It All. I don't think I'm a drag. I kind of know what to do. I know that if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. It begins by putting your own oxygen mask on first: I try to keep the patient comfortable. I do the next right thing: left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. I think Jesus had a handle on times like these: get thirsty people water. Feed the hungry. Try not to kill anyone today. Pick up some litter in your neighborhood. Lie with your old dog under the bed and tell her what a good job she is doing with the ruptured ear drum. 

I try to quiet the drunken Russian separatists of my own mind, with their good ideas. I pray. I meditate. I rest, as a spiritual act. I spring for organic cherries. I return phone calls.

I remember the poor. I remember an image of Koko the sign-language gorilla, with the caption, "Law of the American Jungle: remain calm. Share your bananas." I remember Hushpuppy at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild, just trying to take some food home to her daddy Wink, finally turning to face the hideous beast on the bridge, facing it down and saying, "I take care care of my own."

I take care of my own. You are my own, and I am yours--I think this is what God is saying, or trying to, over the din. We are each other's. Thee are many forms of thirst, many kinds of water.
--Anne Lamott, Facebook post

I don't know how people like pastor Jonas and Anne Lamott have such insight into the human condition. They know just what to say when I need to hear it.Current events have been making me feel overwhelmed this week. Helpless.

But experiencing two such amazing prayers for peace on this Sunday, this day of rest and rejuvination, helps me start the week anew. Renewed. Hopeful. Ready to start over and find out how I can help.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thatcher, Sawyer, Annie




Kids and Puppies Make Great Friends

Most of the time, our eleven-year-old Beagle-Lab mix, Sawyer, and our four-month-old Shepherd Surprise, Annie, get along.

Sometimes Annie gets too playful when Sawyer just wants to sit in peace and chew her rawhide.

Sometimes Sawyer thinks Annie's gotten too close to her rawhide. That puppy must be put in her place.

Sometimes the puppy says, "Screw my place, Sister. I can bark back!"

The puppy backs off, knowing she'll never be as clever as an eleven-year-old dog, even one recuperating from a bout of pancreatitis, coccidiosis, and tapeworms. I can tell Sawyer is feeling better after our visit to the vet because the dog who just the other day was refusing her meals, treats, even her rawhide, is now firmly guarding it.

One of the wise things Sawyer has learned in her eleven years is when to throw a puppy a bone and let 'em have a turn chewing on the rawhide. Otherwise known as nap time.

This is a picture of Sawyer when she was Annie's age, eleven years ago. Annie, like all puppies, is annoying. It's a good thing puppies are cute or we'd toss them out with the trash. Why do puppies think bowing and barking and then springing forth to bite you on the cheek is a good way to ask someone to play? But Sawyer is patient with her. When Annie bites her on the cheek or won't stop barking in her face, Sawyer looks like she's rolling her eyes at Annie. Saying, "Yeah, right, Kid. Go play with your squeaky toy." The fact that Sawyer doesn't bite Annie and is so patient with her is, I think, because she remembers what it was like to be a puppy. Back when she would annoy her older furry brother, Earl, who passed away a couple of months ago.

Katie adores Annie. I think she understands what it's like to be the only kid around a bunch of lazy, boring grownups. Katie appreciates Annie's energy.

Annie sure is cute.

Thatcher, our eleven-year-old cat who grew up around puppies, is largely unfazed by Annie's presence. I notice he stays high off the floor, though. Smart cat.

Thatcher is laying on top of the table. Annie is underneath, chewing on the legs of the chair. The constant vibration that emanates from Annie's destruction must be rather soothing. Like sitting in a massage chair.

Annie finally conks out. She's so cute. When she sleeps.

Sawyer says, "That's a good idea, Kid. I'll join you."

When Annie awakes, Katie takes her outside for a potty break. And some lovin'.

Kids and puppies make great friends.

I love to watch them play together.

I look forward to watching them grow up together.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Two Dresses

Katie is nearly eight. She goes up to my shoulder. Today I hung two handmade dresses in the back of her closet. I bought them long before Katie was born, back before my body changed. I loved wearing them. But my body has changed too much for me to comfortably wear them now without a corset or without being a contortionist.

I hung these two dresses at the back of Katie's closet so one day she can wear them. As fast as she's growing, that day will come soon.

Motherhood teaches us to accept our bodily mutations that allow us to give birth to a person whose body changes even more dramatically than our own. And so fast. Faster than you can imagine until it happens to you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Pat

Today would have been my brother Pat's 53rd birthday. He died on January 14, 2011, when he was 49 years old, of liver failure.

Pat didn't like to celebrate birthdays or holidays or special occasions. He lived every day like it was a party. Wherever he is now, I hope he's drinking and dancing and making everyone laugh like he did here on earth most of the time.

Pat was far from perfect. All of us are. Pat, like all of us, also had a special gift. Pat's gift was enjoying each moment of life to the fullest, drinking, dancing, jamming, laughing, partying like there's no such thing as tomorrow. Only the here. The now. This moment.

Might as well share it with those we love.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Puppies Make Great Therapists

Katie and Annie, 13 weeks old

We got a new puppy. The rescue worker guesses she's a Shepherd mix. She was a stray, so who knows? We call her a Shepherd Surprise. Her name is Annie. We adopted her for Katie's birthday gift.

She's a gift to the whole family. I napped with her this morning, spooning her warm puppy body. She's only 14 weeks old. I was afraid I might roll over on her. I was afraid she'd pee the bed. I woke up about an hour later, feeling relaxed and rested. And dry. No worries.

Puppies make great therapists. A couple of months ago our 13 year old dog Earl died. I didn't realize how much I felt depressed until we brought Annie into our lives.

Happiness is the absence of numbness and depression. I feel more alive when I'm happy than when I'm depressed.

Puppies remind us that life is full of shit and piss, but also full of fun and wonder. And really comfy naps. I look forward to seeing this puppy girl grow up.

The day we brought Annie home, Katie said, "I think Earl is happy for us."

I said, "I think Earl is happy for us, too."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nick Hanauer: A Reasonable Rich Guy

I was born a Midwestern, middle-class white girl. My parents rarely had trouble finding a job, and the times my dad did get laid off he was able to support our family with unemployment insurance until he got hired for the next job. My dad is a tightwad, so I wasn't spoiled with material possessions growing up, but I always had a full belly, clothes on my back, and shoes on my feet if I bothered to put them on before heading outside to play. I grew up in the suburbs with central air conditioning for when it got too hot outside, a two-car garage for my parents' cars, and zero economic worries for our family.

As a teenager I rebelled against my parents, two accountants who value a fat bank account, life insurance, health insurance, and other safety nets of the bourgeoisie. I read somewhere that money is the root of all evil, and I took it to heart. During several arguments with my dad during my rebellious teen years he called me a pinko commie, which I knew he meant as an insult, but it was a label I wore with pride. Even though the reason I hated money had more to do with Jesus than Karl Marx.

Although I was more of a flower-child myself, hippies were passe in the Eighties. It was a lonesome group of one at my high school. So I hung out with the punks. The artsy-fartsy kids, the drama kids, the gay kids, the misfits. I don't even need to take a "Which Breakfast Club Character/High School Stereotype Are You" Buzzfeed quiz to know I'd get Allison Reynolds.

"Fuck Authority!" was my nonviolent-resistance cry, along with "Fuck the Mainstream," "Fuck the Rich," and "Fuck Capitalism". The only good thing I saw coming out of Reaganomics was the punchline of a joke.

I've simmered down a bit now that I'm a middle-age, married mother, raising our child in a decent-sized ranch house in the suburbs. I see the benefits of a comfortable, safe life. We're not extravagant spenders, though. We're both concerned with over-consumption's effect on the planet. We reduce, we reuse, we recycle. We only have a one-car garage, but we do have central air in our house and few economic worries.

Even during the Great Recession, my husband Will and I have remained employed at well-paying jobs, enabling us to make our mortgage payments on time and keep our house, unlike many of our fellow Americans. We're far from rich, but compared to most of our neighbors we're well off. Our kid doesn't qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program, even though 70% of the kids at her public school do. We have too much income from our jobs and my husband's stocks, which he gets from his employer as part of his benefits package, to qualify for food stamps or housing assistance. We don't have to rely on charities or food pantries or WIC programs to feed ourselves each month.

I'm not trying to brag. I'm trying to show my gratitude for my position in life. I'm no smarter or better educated or less lazy than anyone. I just lucked out and found a job that I love that pays a living wage. Then I married a man who lucked out and found a job that he loves that pays a living wage. We might drive old clunkers and buy our clothes at the thrift store, but that has more to do with our interest in the whole reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy of living. People think because I believe all people deserve to eat, sleep, and live in relative comfort that I'm a pinko commie, but my way of living is quite conservative as in conservation.

When people ask about my political ideology, I jokingly call myself a pinko commie, or, at the very least, a bleeding-heart liberal underdog lover. I'm a registered democrat, but most of the people I end up voting for are far too-right wing for my taste, even though they're the most progressive of the limited choices. My favorite politicians are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, too of the most socialist-leaning senators around.

But honestly, I'm not anti-capitalism. I'm just anti-capitalism-gone-wild. I believe in laws and regulations that help the middle class. That's why I love this argument for increasing the minimum wage. The crazy thing? It's written by a bazillionaire, Nick Hanauer. Damn, the teenage rebel in me is shaking her head. What's happened to me, that I've begun to agree with The Man?

Well, reason. And pragmatism. And an appreciation for a well-written argument.

Like all things, moderation is the key. If I can learn to listen to a rich capitalist, I think maybe some of my libertarian friends could learn to listen to someone espousing the benefits of government lighting fires under business owner's butts to pay their workers a living wage. How? Here are some examples:

"Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government. If people are getting $15 an hour or more, they don’t need food stamps. They don’t need rent assistance. They don’t need you and me to pay for their medical care. If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit. This is, in other words, an economic approach that can unite left and right."

"Most major social movements have seen their earliest victories at the state and municipal levels. The fight over the eight-hour workday, which ended in Washington, D.C., in 1938, began in places like Illinois and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The movement for social security began in California in the 1930s. Even the Affordable Health Care Act—Obamacare—would have been hard to imagine without Mitt Romney’s model in Massachusetts to lead the way."

"Sadly, no Republicans and few Democrats get this. President Obama doesn’t seem to either, though his heart is in the right place. In his State of the Union speech this year, he mentioned the need for a higher minimum wage but failed to make the case that less inequality and a renewed middle class would promote faster economic growth. Instead, the arguments we hear from most Democrats are the same old social-justice claims. The only reason to help workers is because we feel sorry for them. These fairness arguments feed right into every stereotype of Obama and the Democrats as bleeding hearts. Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness—and lose every time."

"Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us."

"The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics."

Wow, just wow. Read Nick Hanauer's full article here. Then get back to work, you lazy hippie. I hope they're paying you a living wage.

Claire, the Not Judgy, Super Awesome Dental Hygenist

If you're looking for a good dental hygenist, I highly recommend Claire at Johnson County Dental Care. She was able to get a tricky stain off my front tooth. She's gentle, friendly, and best of all NOT JUDGY about drinking too much coffee or not flossing enough.

Sparkly white teeth despite my coffee addiction. Thanks, Claire!

If, like me, you dread going to the dentist for a six-month checkup and cleaning simply because you're not in the mood to hear a big lecture, but you want professional help to have the healthiest smile you can, give them a call to set up an appointment--and ask for Claire.