The End: When endings are the doorway to beginning

In an interview released yesterday, Eugene Peterson said if asked, he would officiate a gay marriage. As I am sure you can imagine, the internet exploded. While I agree with his position, that isn’t actually the part of the interview that brought me to tears. Instead, a bit further down the article, the interviewer spoke of endings. Mr. Peterson is 84 years old, reaching the end of a beautiful career and lifetime. The interviewer asked, “One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?”

What a question, eh? One day you will no longer exist. Here is a portion of his response…

“I haven’t been part of anything big. I’ve never been a big church preacher. I’ve never been on the radio or anything like that. I’m so pleased that people care about what I’ve done and support it because these are difficult times for the church. I’m quite aware of that. Anyway, I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would remember at all.

This is where I cried. For a thousand reasons, this honest, gentle response touched my soul. Not three sentences earlier he uttered words that will echo across blogs and tweets and facebook rants for weeks to come, without changing much. No, it’s the gift of his long, consistently beautiful life which we will remember, and he didn’t do any of it for fame or recognition. This is beautiful.

Last week I told my husband, I feel I’ve written out all my bitterness. I still have things I am angry about, of course: injustice, 45, the ways we treat each other. These things make me angry, and they should. Anger is a catalyst for change; I hope I never lose it. But bitterness is anger we turn inward, hanging on to it like a trophy, to prove our rightness, our superiority. At some point, that feeling flowed out of my fingertips and disappeared. My heart feels buoyant, expansive, and filled with light.

I have changed. Nothing else about our situation has. I’m still checking the weather in other people’s cities. I’m still a misfit in a conformist culture. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I really haven’t figured out anything at all. But I understand myself better, and if that is the only thing I take away from the last 100 days, then it is worth the hours and days of effort I put into it.

But it isn’t my only takeaway, not at all. Writing for one hundred days has helped me rediscover my voice, the one I use to speak when I’m not defensive or wounded or (very) afraid.  I learned to sit comfortably with fear, but not with silence, not anymore. I understand now that  I am most powerful when I love well, and sometimes the best way to love well is to let go.

Most importantly, I know I am not alone. You all came with me. Maybe not every day, but you showed up. You spoke up. You let good enough be good enough on days when showing up was the best I could do. I didn’t take this journey alone. I hope that you may also have felt a bit less lonely you yourself. Deconstruction is a difficult, often isolating experience. It’s good to hear the voices of others to help you feel normal, sane or at the very least, not condemned. Like Eugene, I’m just surprised anyone cared enough to read at all. That’s the truth.

I love new beginnings. I always have. But endings? I haven’t always done well with those. Still, here we are. Together at the end, one hundred days later. It takes an ending to give birth to something else new.

There it is. Can you see it?

 

 

Efficiency is boring: Why I always stop for ice cream

When my girls were young, I often felt overwhelmed. Part of the problem was the unrealistic expectations I placed upon myself. Another part was the constant feeling that I needed to get more things done in a shorter amount of time. Many nights I went to bed feeling worn out and frustrated, as though all I had accomplished was spinning my wheels. I constantly chased efficiency.

Hindsight is kind to me now. I’m able to see what really matters was happening quite invisibly while we stumbled about. My children were growing into human beings, and oh what marvelous human beings they have become.

But it didn’t happen efficiently.

Raising children is a long, sprawling, messy, inefficient process. Sure, you can rush it along, but why? We have decades and decades of adulting ahead of us. Childhood, on the other hand, is just a tiny span of time. And yet its sprawling untidiness often made me feel as though I was somehow living completely wrong. I knew there must be a way to tighten up, to remove the messiness.

If there is a way, I sure never figured it out. We had cereal for dinner for days when my husband was out of town. Also, ice cream. We wore dirty clothes and, sometimes, skipped baths. We definitely skipped school on beautiful days and not-so-beautiful days. They never took a test or received a grade. Not one. I never got it all together, and so each day was a bit of an adventure without a map leading us to the end point.

Gosh, I’m so glad for this.

I’m so glad we chased curiosity and went to Sea World on Thursdays (sometimes every Thursday.) I’m glad we watched movies on rainy days and took unexpected trips and left chores unfinished to read just one more chapter.

Our rampant inefficiency has led to the most interesting life. My delightfully messy children have grown into such captivating adults. Sometimes we sit around the dinner table and have discussions that swing from silliness to serious and back again so fast I almost have motion sickness. We look at the world from the front, back, and sideways and never see the same things twice, nor hold the same opinion very often. We’re not neat or conventional and, most certainly, not at all efficient.

We aren’t boring, either.

It’s only taken me forty-four years to figure out efficiency is boring. The point isn’t  to get to the next things as quickly as possible just so to cross it off some cosmic list. The point is to suck every bit of enjoyment out of the journey even if it means it takes five minutes or five hours more. Also, you should definitely stop for ice cream. With sprinkles.

 

The state of home (or I have no idea what to say today)

The air-conditioning is out in my van – again. I’m sad about it, mostly because it’s fairly hellish outside. Although, it does give me a great reason to not go anywhere at all. We all know how much I love staying at home.

This week, in a fit of energy conservation and frustration at my inability to stay within the grocery budget, I unplugged the second fridge. Hunky keeps asking me, “Why are we doing this again?” And I’m not sure how to explain that it feels like an act of resistance and a stab at control.  I may still have rage issues.

One of my progeny (I’m not allowed to say which, publicly lest her application isn’t selected) is applying to an international mission trip in the spring. I’m excited and jealous. She’s stepping out of her comfort zone to do this and I applaud her for it.

However, I either need to win the lottery or start making money blogging or get a real job. If I apply to Chic-fil-A my daughter can be my boss. Also, I will starve to death. (Chicken isn’t vegetarian).

This morning I fed eleven cats. ELEVEN CATS. As much as I like the quiet of summer when all the college students are away, I need school to start again so I’m not the only person in the neighborhood caring for these semi-feral critters. All commentary on my decision to feed these cats will be ignored. I don’t kill spiders – do you really think I’m letting kittens starve? No.

Family vacation coming soon. I am ready ready ready. The ocean is calling. I’m collecting books and making grocery lists and trying not to be anxious about leaving the dogs for ten days. As I write this Mo has draped himself across all my pillows staring at me with lovelorn eyes. Perhaps it’s ridiculous but our love is real. I miss them when we leave home.

Today relationships are on my mind. How I do better with a few, close friendships than a vast sprawling network. About the power of small kindnesses and the interconnectedness of sharing the day-to-day mundane over the span of years. I started to write about that today, but it’s not ready yet. I need to let it marinate a little longer.

I’m terribly behind on book reviews which is a shame as I’ve read some really great stuff lately. Since I don’t plan to leave home this week without A/C, maybe I’ll get a chance to finish them at last. I can’t make it rich as a professional reader while being a book review slacker now can I?

Thus is the state of my head, heart, and home this Friday. Summer rolls along and takes me with it, just as it always has.

 

Embracing space: what’s left when there are no distractions

Do you know why most New Year’s resolutions fail? (I know, we’re in the middle of a July heat wave. Bear with me, here) I think it’s because we try to add new things to our lives without actually making space for them. We want to hang on to all the old ways which are familiar and comfortable and on top of them add all these other, better things which will make us new and improved. I know it’s what I do, anyways.

This concept occurred to me this morning while I was sitting with my funk. Somehow, when I was journaling this morning, I wrote myself into a funk. Usually writing works the other way around for me. So there I was, stuck; stuck in the mucky, monkey-mind mess that likes to snare me from time to time. You know the one. There’s never a specific thing you can point to and say, this is the problem. Instead all the little imperfections and quirks and wish-it-could-be’s and if-only’s pig pile on your brain and dance around in spiky tap shoes.

No? Am I alone in this?

As I sat there with all the tap dancing things I should be doing-thinking-improving-changing-being, I realized something. By allowing this fallow time in my life, by not filling it with appointments and obligations, I have no distraction from my funk. I just have to sit with it. I suppose I could have created some busy work. Something always needs washing or sorting. But I didn’t. Instead I just sat with the funk.

I am funky, I thought. Not very pleasant at all.

A funny thing happened, then. I sat there and accepted the funk without fighting, without creating a distraction, without rushing to escape. Pretty soon, all those terrible tap-dancing things began to seem quite silly. The longer I sat, the sillier they became. The more I made room for them, the smaller they shrank. After awhile- poof! – they disappeared.

How strange, I thought. This has never happened before. What’s different?

Then it came to me: space. Empty space made it possible for me to sit quietly  while the jiggering, yammering demons did their worst. When I didn’t flail and flounder or argue and chide them, they wore themselves out. They disappeared, leaving me none the worse for the experience, and perhaps, even, a little bit better.

I began to wonder how many other simple lessons I miss because I am always busy, always thinking, always striving to be something better than who I already am. Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with activity or with aspiration. Only I get tripped up by trusting in should or must instead of simply accepting who I am, and letting what comes, come.

I should be better than this by now.
This must finish this so I can be….
If I don’t accomplish what will they think? (They who? I don’t actually know.)

It’s no wonder I fall flat at resolutions, be they New Year or otherwise. I never make room for anything to be fully realized, especially not my own heart. Instead, I just try and squish newness in and around the things I love to do, the things I need to do, the things I should be doing and the tap dancing demons. I’ve never found the courage to clear out enough space for anything to change or grow. Whether I’m afraid to let go or certain I can hold it all, the result is the same. I smother everything in layers of expectation – the good, the bad, and the messily fantastic- and expect it to be different this time.

So yes, this morning I was uncomfortable. Funky, if you will. But I survived. It didn’t last too long or hurt too bad, really. Those fiery darts turned into flowers when I stopped using all my defenses against them. There’s a lesson to learn in this. I plan to make space for the rest of the day to let it sink in, making room for the newness, room for wonder.

It’s kind of amazing the insight you can find in a wide open space when you stop looking for something to fill it.

 

The Power of Showing Up (even on days you’d rather not)

Eighteen years ago, I stopped working to stay home with my children. At the time, I had an almost one year old and a new born and working simply to break even with day care seemed ridiculous. Of course, when child number three came on the scene seventeen months later, I was locked-in with stay-at-home parenting. As the girls got older, we made the decision to home school. And that’s my life in a nut shell for the last twenty years. Sure, tons of other things happened, but when I look back over it what stands out is showing up to raise and educate my ladies. All day, every day for a very long time. It’s been a worthy couple decades for sure.

I say all that to share this, I’m no stranger to the occasional tedium of simply showing up. For me it was the daily routine of young children and then the daily routine of school. Day after day, week after week… Maybe for you it’s something different, but we all have seasons where it seems like showing up is all we do and nothing ever changes.

I feel like that today sitting down to write more words. Yes, more words. I am not sure how many words I’ve tapped out over the last ninety-two days. 50,000? 75,000? Many, many words. I show up and I sit down and I tap, tap, tap. But days like today it seems like a whole lot of effort for very little result. Truthfully, speaking, I’d rather be watching Gilmore Girls.

But here I am, showing up again.  Same effort, new endeavor.

It’s not easy the little mundane things we all have to do every day. It’s easy to believe we’re the only ones caught up in the mundane repetition of what it takes to build a life, a family, a career, a legacy. Everyone on social media is posting the highlight reel; television and Hollywood constantly promote the dream of miraculous discovery followed by instant fame and fortune. Meanwhile, I’m doing good if I have on clean shorts and a clean shirt on the same day.

Can I get an amen?

We’ve packed a thousand lunches, washed ten thousand plates and matched (or shoved in a drawer) at least a million socks. I can fold a fitted sheet neatly in under forty seconds, but there’s not an audience for  that on America’s Got Talent. I’d throw in the towel, but I’d just be the one that has to pick it up again.

Sometimes it just seems like we ought to have moved on to something more important, more glamorous, more rewarding by now, am I right?

I may not have fame and fortune to show for these weeks turned decades of showing up, faithfully, day after day. But I have gained a little bit of insight now that I’ve finally stuck around long enough to look back. What I realize now is there is great power and deep beauty hidden within the bland facade of the day-to-day grind.  I see it in the forms and faces of my children, near grown.

Oh, I say, breathlessly, when catch them in the corner of my eye. Oh, there is a masterpiece. I didn’t see it until just now.

Even though those moments are fleeting, the weight of them adds magnitude to my soul. This is the moment, even if no one else sees it, this is the one.

But we have to be watching, waiting, expectant, because for most of us, glimpses and glimmers of glory are all the fame we are destined to receive. We have to open to receiving the unexpected holy moment right in the middle of scraping the egg pan and punching the time card and tap, tap, tapping the words on the screen.

We have to be ready, and we make ourselves ready by showing up. By doing the next thing. By not checking out even though binge watching Gilmore Girls sounds so much more appealing. (Even if you sometimes binge watch Gilmore Girls instead of showing up, it’s ok. Show up tomorrow. )

There’s power in showing up. There’s depth and beauty and hope and encouragement in the midst of those who don’t lose sight of what matters in search of something more exciting and renowned. These little things, the mundane, loving, self-sacrificial things can shape a home, a neighborhood, a city, a culture…the world.

If we just keep showing up, we can do anything.

 

 

Happy Birthday to the Man who loves

This morning I went to Kroger, early, before-early-service early. I had a few last minute things to grab for tonight’s special birthday dinner. While I was there it seemed every third person had to stop me and make sure I wished my Hunky happy birthday for them. People I didn’t even know asked me to pass on their well wishes.  Generally, I don’t enjoy shopping, but today’s trip made me smile and then laugh. I guarantee my Hunky hasn’t told anyone today is his birthday, and yet still people know and send their love.

That’s the kind of man I married. He makes people feel seen, heard and loved. Without agenda, he simply, genuinely cares about people, all people, everywhere. We’ve been married for two decades, and I see it everywhere we go. I’m married to a man whose heart is big enough to embrace the entire world, and isn’t afraid for people to know it.

When we spend a day in public, my girls play a game where they keep count of the people who stop for a hug or a hand shake or just to share a few words. Craig never forgets a name, or a face, or a story. Perhaps it’s the last one that’s the most important. He takes the time to hear someone’s story and he remembers the details.

It’s not just people “out there” either. Here at home, he sees, he hears, he remembers. Details and events that have long left my working memory he recalls in perfect detail. But he never uses these things against us, or to prove a point. Instead he uses them to elevate, to reflect and to constantly remind us how much we are loved. He loves in a way that makes people want to be around him simply to be reminded of our inherent worth.

When we left Florida, we weren’t allowed the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. But once our severance period ended, a dear friend opened her home for a sort of long awaited farewell party. Most of that night is a blur to me now, but what I will never forget is that people literally LITERALLY filled every room and then out onto the porch, down the walk way and lined the sidewalk down the street, waiting, for a very long time, for their turn to receive a Craig hug. For hours and hours he hugged and listened and loved and cried.

For all my life, I will never forget what it is like to see in such a concentrated way how it affects everyone around you to be a person who loves well and fully.

If you’ve read any part of the last hundred days of writing, you know I’m a big, floundering, messed up human. I’m not certain that will ever change. But what balances me out is being deeply known and passionately loved. How true it is that kind of love covers over a multitude of sins. It certainly does for me.

Happy birthday to my love, my heart of hearts. The world is absolutely a better more beautiful place with you in it. I hope you never doubt that. And never forget your meaner, less forgiving half is more than happy to take on anyone who says otherwise.

Learning to let go; releasing resentment and control

This summer, it’s shaping up to be wet and muggy. Honestly, I hoped to be elsewhere by now. I’ve made no bones about how I feel about a deep south summer; they stink. (I promise this whole post is NOT a rant about summer.) But last night as I was journaling, when I answered the “What do you need let go of today?” question, I said, I need to let go of resentment over being here for summer.

I have to tell, staring at your honest unfiltered words on paper is a terribly humbling experience most days.

Friends, how much energy am I wasting over being pissed at summer for…well…being summer and for my lack of control over it? So much, apparently.

Which got me to thinking, how widespread is this issue for me? I expend so much concern and frustration over things I do not now, nor will I ever, have the power to influence or change. Global things like the weather, intimate things like failed relationships, family things like what if something bad happens to someone I love.

Yesterday, I shared about uncertainty, which seems to have unleashed a chain-reaction of insight. Not only do I try to distract myself from the discomfort of uncertainty, I actively try to reverse it. It’s like I’m bailing with a teacup after my rowboat was hit by a freighter. So much effort expended with less than zero possibility of affecting the outcome.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me that this is why I really needed a period of hibernation. I can’t escape the daily deluge of crap that seems to threaten the existence of the entire planet. Most of which, I cannot control.  Raging against everything has depleted me utterly.

I must learn to let go.

Now I wish I could expound upon how I will go about all this letting go (a minimalist shouldn’t struggle with this so much, you would think). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it will look. But I have to do this for my own well-being. I’m beginning to realize these internal seismic tremors aren’t just spiritual. They signal shifts that occur across every aspect of my life: relational, physical, emotional and spiritual. I can’t dismantle one and leave the others intact. Everyone’s along for the ride.

Fortunately, I believe in the saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Having experienced this before, I believe I am already learning to let go, even before I knew why I was learning. Meditation, journaling, withdrawing from harmful places and situations are all tools of release. Even when I didn’t know why I needed them, I was practicing them.

So here I am, ready to tolerate summer (hey, it’s a stretch to ask me to embrace it), and lean into being exactly where I am for one more sweaty season. Even if it isn’t comfortable, it can still be very, very good. And I can learn to let go of what is not, without trying to fix it.

Self-awareness to the Rescue: Recovery and Growth

Basically, yesterday was a wash, creatively speaking.

The good news is that self-awareness changes so much about how I process days like yesterday. I understand that I often fall prey to my own castles of expectation. I also don’t transition quickly. Basically I sabotaged myself by expecting too much, too quickly. I didn’t allow time for decompression and transition in my mental processes. Throw in a bout of anxiety and some car repair, and I simply didn’t have the resources to bounce back.

Working through a 12-step recovery program hasn’t always been easy or fun. It’s very difficult to honestly take inventory of my shortcomings and failures. But if I do it with balance and self-love, inventory reveals so much about my personality and patterns of behavior. I can actively work to change behavior patterns, but personality is a bit stickier. Rather than try to change my personality, I am learning how to work better within it. Being an introvert and an HSP (highly sensitive personality – read more here and here) aren’t liabilities until I don’t respect my boundaries. Then I begin to frazzle, fray and eventually, fall apart.

I know these things about myself now, but that doesn’t mean I always make the best choices. Occasionally, I even have days like yesterday where my personality protests for no discernible reason. Even though it’s frustrating, at least now I can say, I understand the problem. I may not completely understand what triggered the breakdown, but self-awareness means I can work through the cycle more quickly and effectively than before.

It’s interesting to me that we live in a culture that is steeped in education, success and progress, but we generally spend very little time learning to understand ourselves. It wasn’t until I was in therapy that anyone really encouraged me to listen to my very own soul. In fact, being immersed in a religious environment, I learned not to trust my inner voice at all.  I believed I hold little of inherent value and I shouldn’t love or trust emotions or internal desires. My own terrible, wretched flesh was my enemy.

I don’t believe these things any more, but I am not immune to falling back into unhealthy thought patterns. When my emotions are high or my physical self needs food or rest, I have to remember that taking care of myself, listening to my inner voice, is ultimately the most unselfish thing I can do. Self-care makes me a better human, which benefits everyone around me. Self-awareness makes me a better steward of my own soul.

Yesterday was an aberration, a blip in a pattern of healthier and more self-compassionate behaviors and choices I continue to learn. Today, I can continue to beat myself up for being entirely human, or I can move forward with the choices I know make me a better human. And I can say thank you to everyone who saw me yesterday and choose to love me anyway, still.

This recovery thing? It’s working for me. One day at a time; one moment at a time.

How I spent all day reading: thoughts on guilt

Today I fully intended to write a follow-up post to yesterday’s thoughts on happiness. I even have part of the post pre-written. Instead, today, I read books. It’s the perfect sort of day for reading, dark, rainy, quiet. I was alone in the house all day except for the dogs, who love nothing more than to curl up next to me on the sofa. Since I have quite a few books que-ed up right now, I gave in to my base desires. I spent the entire day reading. It was completely delicious.

True, when I go on vacation, I spend entire days parked in a chair by the ocean reading book after book after marvelous book. I find it harder to indulge this way when at home. Here I can always find ways to be busy. Or to lose myself in the million responsibilities tied to parenting and wife-ing and life-ing. You can fill in the details, we all have lives filled with them. It’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time for the things we want when there are so many things and people that need us.

It’s almost a drug, this illusion of being needed. We want to matter, to know we hold an important position in this world. We measure our worth by how many people depend on us day in and day out. So we pile it on, the duties and activities and responsibilities, making ourselves important, believing ourselves invaluable. Then we look at all the appointments and responsibilities which fill our lives to the limit and beyond, leaving no time for self-indulgence or rest.

Or maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last five years feeling guilty for failing to measure up to an arbitrary, shifting standard. I’ve signed up, cleaned up, cooked up and shown up to the point of exhaustion. But about six months ago I came abruptly to my senses. I realized I’ve wasted innumerable hours chasing after ill-fitting recognition for something I don’t want after all. I’ve chased acceptance and value in a vicious cycle, constantly falling short, constantly trying harder.

So I stopped. Yes, just like that.

And then I felt guilty…again, maybe more than before.

But instead of fighting the guilt with more busyness and activity and fixing and forcing, I just leaned into it. I leaned in and listened to what my heart was telling me about how I really saw myself. At first the image was distorted, almost unrecognizable. But the longer I looked, the more still I became, the more my inner vision came into focus. I began to recognize myself again. Day by day, slowly finding the real me, buried under the ways I tried to make myself bigger, better, more…whatever thing I suddenly thought I needed.

I still get caught up sometimes in the belief that I need to do more or work harder to be worthy of love or acceptance or …insert whatever thing is poisoning your soul here. Guilt for not measuring up lingers, and whispers, telling me to go, try, work, do. But I’m less inclined to listen now. When I’m not chasing every urgent detail, I can actually handle the important things and leave the rest for someone else, or no one else. It doesn’t really matter.

Which is why I’m perfectly content about my choice to drift around the house today, snuggling dogs and reading books and drinking tea. I accomplished nothing of consequence to anyone but me. Because I’m worth. I’ve always been worth it. Even when I was too busy to realize it.

Bruce Hornsby makes me happy; an unlikely path to holiness

Right now I’m listening to Bruce Hornsby on Spotify. Do you remember him? He slips off my radar for weeks at a time sometimes, and then one of his songs pops up again. I think to myself, “Why don’t I listen to more Bruce Hornsby and the Range? He always makes me so happy!” So today, even though I have no idea what I’m going to write about, I’m happy.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about happiness lately. Not just my own happiness (though I’m frequently the subject of my ponderings), but the nature of happiness.  I think happiness gets a bum rap in religious circles. We subscribe to dying to self, sacrifice, and piety but often at the expense of our own happiness. We say really holy things like, God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness. It sounds good, very spiritual but honestly, I don’t believe this is an accurate picture of God.  The creator of quarks and sub-atomic particles is more complex than such a binary holiness equation. I’m not denigrating piety or sacrifice or even suffering. But maybe we’re cheating ourselves out of something by believing they are the singular signs of higher level spirituality or perfection.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was a laugher. I like to imagine a great, ringing belly laugh, the infectious kind. I can see him now, head thrown back, eyes twinkling, or bent forward, grabbing his knees and trying to catch his breath as His followers chortle around him. I’m not a historical scholar, but I know few things about life in Jesus’s time. First of all, for your typical Jewish man (which most followers were), life was hard. You worked hard; you paid a lot of taxes, and sacrifices, and offerings. I won’t even begin to detail the hardships women faced. As an oppressed people, day-to-day existence was fairly scrappy for the people of Jesus’s time. Anyone peddling more of the same- suffering, hardship, sorrow- probably wasn’t gaining a huge following.

So when Jesus spoke to them of something different, better, new, the expectation was a path that led to a better life, including, you guessed it, happiness. Here’s where I lose some people because you’ll say, well obviously Jesus was talking about HEAVEN, not life in the Roman Empire (insert eye roll if you’re feeling sassy). Except, Jewish people didn’t have a construct of Heaven the way we do today. That’s a pretty modern construct, and not entirely Biblical.

What Jewish followers believed, and a large part of what we need to understand is the Kingdom of God takes place here, on this very earth. On this very good earth as Abba has declared it, we usher in the Kingdom. Not an army of scowling, self-righteous followers, but a smiling, gracious, self-effacing welcome crew, pulling out chairs and passing out refreshments. When our joy is contagious, when what we offer is beautiful, we reflect the very heart of God. Those of us sitting around waiting with sour faces for the sweet-by-and-by are missing something – a very large piece of the Jesus picture.

This is what I am coming to believe as I deconstruct and reconstruct this wild and woolly faith. Happiness is part of the divine package. We were created in joy, for joy.  I simply do not believe the God who handcrafted penguins and kittens and sea turtles didn’t delight in the creation process. Why? Because it made Him happy and He knew it would make us happy as well! Why are strawberries so sweet? For our pleasure! Why does the autumn breeze smell divine? For our pleasure! Why are hand-holding, and hugs, smiles, and a gentle caress part of the universal human experience? Because the universal human experience is rooted in happiness. From the beginning of time our Abba, whose greatest joy is expressing His love, meant for love to bubble over with delicious, delightful happiness and joy.

Oh but the fall, you say?

But the CROSS, I respond.

If we are restored to our former glory (if we ever actually lost it), then why are we afraid to be happy? Why do we feel guilty when we pursue the things which tickle our souls? Why wouldn’t I turn on a little Bruce Hornsby and the Range simply for the simple thrill of delight it brings to my soul?

I’ve wasted too much time trying to twist myself into some pious image I cannot be. I’ve despaired to the marrow that I’ve failed to live up to some ideal I simply will never attain. But I’m learning now. Learning I can pursue happiness and be closer to the Man from Nazareth than I have ever been. My smile makes Him smile since no one across the universe desires my happiness more. Holiness is overrated if it comes at the expense of a belly laugh, a warm hug, a space at the table. I choose happiness, and I believe with all my heart, that holiness will follow quickly, if it can only follow the sound of my laughter.