Sunday, January 25, 2015

January Shmanuary

I don’t like January anymore.
It’s not because it’s such a letdown after all the Christmas celebrating. Well, maybe that’s part of the reason.

And it’s not because I despise making New Year’s resolutions. Although, that’s pretty good motivation all by itself.
I hate January because it’s got a lousy attitude.
For years I blamed Christmas for the way January treated us. Specifically, I blamed Christmas’s tree. Not the fake xmas kind like I had as a kid, but the real ones that you chop down. See, as soon as I got married, that’s the tradition we adopted. There were no xmas trees in our living room. Only real live dead ones. 

We took beautiful expired trees, placed them in tubs of water, decorated them with electric lights, and prayed we’d make it through Advent safely before the house either went up in flames or somebody got electrocuted. It was risky, but at least it was real.
Every single December we survived without any significant drama. No fires, no fruitcake poisoning, no sugar cookie comas. We showed up for church cantatas, didn’t overshoot the Christmas budget and still made everyone feel loved. And as fireworks lit up the last December night’s sky, we welcomed the new year with a big sigh and sat back upon our laurels.
That’s when January took aim and shot us all in the keister.

Which, back then, I blamed on allergies from the deforested tree in our living room. But now I don’t think it was allergies at all.

I think January is December’s jealous half-sister.
See, December is full of sparkle and music and parties and laughter. It’s all about celebration and families—the most wonderful time of the year, right? But there’s nothing remarkable about January except for flu season. At least that’s how it is at our house.

January is like the fourth fairy in Sleeping Beauty—she wasn’t invited to the party so now she’s going to ruin it for everybody.
That’s so unfair. It’s not my fault that January doesn’t happen in the month of December.
Year after year, we went to bed healthy on December 31 and woke up the next morning with a temperature of 101. One new year I came down with a virus that left hives as a parting gift. Nearly twenty years later, those hives still live here like they're part of the family - I've even named them in my will. Some years January surprised us by skipping past post-nasal drip and simply bringing bad news. 
We’ve been broadsided in the new year with family loss, scary medical tests, my husband, Rob's, persistent pneumothorax, and whooping cough. In one year’s Special Edition of January, during the space of one horrific week, Rob suffered a mild stroke, came home from the hospital with a respiratory infection, and didn’t even get all the attention he deserved before I came down with the same virus.
I lay in bed one morning that same January with a throat that burned like the Sahara Desert, doing my best to ignore the pain and fall back asleep. “The house is too cold to get up,” I reminded myself, “and even if I do, first I’ll have to go to the bathroom, then get some milk in the kitchen, come back to the bathroom for pain meds, and try not to wake up Rob with all that moving around.”
I knew I was right. It was too much trouble to get up for a stupid sore throat. I guess I dropped off to sleep despite my internal debate, because the next thing I knew I was standing face to face with Charlton Heston—Mr. Ten Commandments himself, but out of costume. Charlton looked at me with those wise, all-knowing eyes and gave me this profound piece of advice:
“Go get some Tylenol. You’ll feel better,” he said.
Who argues with Moses?
I got up, found my slippers, padded into the kitchen for medication, and crawled back into bed before the sun came up. But not before I was consumed with self-loathing, something akin to what Aladdin must have felt when he realized there was no fourth wish.

I held the winning lottery ticket and threw it in the trash.
You and I both know that anybody who can part a raging sea with a stick, or play Chicken with Egyptian pharaohs, could ask the Almighty for permission to wipe the month of January off the face of the earth. He could do it with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back. He could slap that self-centered month down and force January to either behave herself or hit the road.
But I forgot to ask. I won at bingo and forgot to claim my prize. Now all I had left was a headache to remind me how forgetful I am.
January scores again.
It's gonna take a lot more than Tylenol for me to get over this one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Handwriting On The Wall

Iamaw rit er.

Ia maw rite r.
I ama wri ter.
I am a writer.
They told me if I say it often enough, I’ll believe it. That it will become clear and obvious.
It’s harder than it looks.
There’s a sign above my desk in our home office that reads, “Until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly.”  The sign above that one simply reminds me to “Dream sweet Dream.”
I keep buying the words of random writers, hanging them on my wall and hoping they’ll lead me to the Promised Land where humor drips effortlessly from my pen, and eloquence—does whatever eloquence does.
This might take a while.
I really love to write. It’s an open window to my soul. Geez, that sounds like an overused idiom, if ever I heard one, and not particularly original. Which, I suppose, is what makes it an idiom.
Sigh. See what I mean?
For some people, writing is a punishment. I blame school teachers for that. Remember how they made you stay in at recess at write one hundred times on the chalkboard, “I will not chew bubblegum in class”?
Not only did that give you writer’s cramp, but it totally popped your bubble. Sorry. Aren’t puns some kind of inferior humor?
Mrs. Fisher was the exception. She was my third grade teacher at Neil Cummins Elementary in Corte Madera, California, and I adored her. She’s the one who inspired me to love to write. She had a metal recipe box full of index cards on her desk. On every card was a title and, if we finished our work early, we could pull a random card out of the box and write a story to go along with the title.
It was magic.
Mrs. Fisher rewarded me with the privilege of writing. What a genius. But even more than that, she admired my stories and told me I was a good writer. Do you know what happens to a child when someone believes in them and tells them so?
Years later, I found myself sitting alone in a basement apartment, journaling and writing lengthy emails to friends about my husband’s recovery from heart surgery. It was therapy for me—a way to deal with the extreme stress we were under. Putting my feelings down on paper was soothing. Crafting words that reached the hearts of others was healing. One afternoon, one of those friends dropped by to check on my husband and me and, as he left, he told me,
“You need to keep writing. You’re good at it.”
And I believed him. I believed him because writing is healing for me, even if no one ever reads what I write. So I kept writing. Do you know what happens to an adult when someone believes in them and tells them so?
Right. Good for you. You’re keeping up.
So, I’m going to keep writing. Until my dreams come true. Until I see how far wings can take me. Until I believe for myself that I truly am a writer.
Thomas Edison once wrote, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Saturday, January 3, 2015


I don’t really feel like an overcomer.

There are a lot of things I don’t really feel like. I don’t feel like doing laundry. I don’t feel like vacuuming the floors. I really don't feel like paying the bills.
You get it. I don’t feel like doing that stuff. But I do it anyway. Eventually.
Sometimes I think I am defined by my behavior. When people first meet me, they always start out by asking what I “do”, especially if I’m applying for a loan or visiting a church. When I quit homeschooling our kids, even some of my friends asked me what I was “going to do now.” I told them I was considering petty larceny—because the hours were good and it paid pretty well.
I don’t usually say that to strangers, though.
Of course, the consequences of petty larcency make it a lousy choice, so in the end I always qualify my life and tell the truth by simply answering—I am a homemaker.
But that’s not really who I am.
If you take out all the things you do from the way you describe who you are to others, there isn’t much left to talk about, is there?
Sometimes people attend twelve step programs and define themselves by their weaknesses. “Hi,” they tell each other as they take the spotlight, “I’m Mary and I’m an alcoholic.” Or a gambler. Or a drug addict. Or a dozen other things for which there are twelve step groups. I’m not knocking support groups. They are a lifeline of hope for many.
But if I tell you I’m a homemaker, then isn’t it logical that I should live out my identity, walk away, and start sweeping some floors? If I tell you I’m an alcoholic, shouldn’t I go drink alcohol? If I believe I’m a drug addict, doesn’t it make sense for me to keep doing drugs? Does defining myself by the things I do really give me an identity? And does defining myself by my weaknesses really set me free from them?
I’m just wondering.
Someone told me once that I’m an overcomer. Then I read that God says that’s who I am, too. I didn’t really believe it because there are still a lot of things in my life that I need to overcome. Maybe I shouldn’t walk around acting like I have a Master’s Degree in overcoming, I thought to myself, until I’ve officially overcome everything. Wouldn’t that make me a liar if I boast about my accomplishments before they’re accomplished?
I guess so. If accomplishing things was the basis for my identity.
But what if my identity is a gift. What if I stop hoping I can do something to change myself and start believing I’ve already been changed? Because that’s another thing God said. The day I exchanged my life for His Life, I got a new identity. I didn’t feel it happen. I still looked the same. And it was years before I started learning the truth about what He did inside me that day.
But ignorance didn’t keep it from being true. It just kept me from living in freedom.
So I guess it’s true that I am an overcomer even when I don’t feel like it’s true. It’s true that I am as righteous as Jesus Christ. It’s true that I am His beloved. I am accepted by Him. I’m complete in Him. And holy.
Even if the floors are covered in dog hair and the water bill is overdue and all my socks are dirty. I’m still an overcomer.

Even if I reach for some chocolate instead of Jesus when I'm in pain. Or drive too fast on the freeway. Or worry instead of worship, fear instead of trust, lose my temper instead of showing patience.

Even if I'm still human and not superhuman.
Maybe that’s how freedom feels. Maybe God told the truth when He said He made me new. Maybe that gives me permission to believe it. Maybe defining myself has nothing to do with my weaknesses and everything to do with who He says I am.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if I ever feel like an overcomer. Just knowing it’s true is like a transfusion of hope that Jesus will always make me overcome.
And on my worst day, if I sit across the table from a stranger at Starbucks wearing my smelly socks covered in dog hair and no makeup, I can still introduce myself as “Eula, an overcomer.”
Bet that’d knock their socks off.