Beyond music and lyrics, all albums (even the amazing ones) have one thing in common; they all have that one ugly song. I know, I know, it’s not very nice of me or refined to label art as “ugly”. The truth about art is that it’s entirely subjective and therefore can't be objectively ugly. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that if a group of strangers huddled in a dark room to discuss this issue (maybe in hushed tones), they’d all agree on the “ugly song theory”: that every album has an ugly song quota that must be met…and it’s one.
I have the Bethel CD, “You Make Me Brave”. I’ve had it for a while and it’s sooo good; one of my absolute favorites (at least for right now…until I find my next favorite album). This CD lives in my car. It’s where I listen to it ALL the time. My kids no longer enjoy it and Christian (my nearly 10 year old son) begs for “anything but Brave!”. But I’m unmoved (90ish% of the time), because I just love this album, plus I’m in charge; It’s my car and I’m in the driver’s seat…Gosh Darn it!
Side note: I had a thought the other day in relation to my kids not loving the same music I do. It dawned on me that it’s entirely possible that I’m completely and utterly out of touch. I’ve rejected all of their irritating accusations that I’m “old”. I’ve jumped up on chairs and made stirring speeches about my youthfulness and “cool” factor. Through most of my 20’s my heart and mind were convinced I was still 17. Now in my 30’s, I’m clinging to 28! But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve become that parent who plays her music while her kids roll their eyes and think to themselves, “We’re being subjected to mom’s old fart music”. Anyway, back to my album, “You Make Me Brave”…
For months and months I’ve known definitively which song was the ugly one of the bunch. The tone is very gloomy; it sounds flat with all minor notes plus the lyrics are whiny and pathetic. Each line, needier and more dismal than the last, “What can I do for you, what can I bring to you, what kind of song would you like me to sing. Cause I’ll dance a dance for you, pour out my love for you, what can I do for you beautiful king? Cause I can’t thank you enough…”
Each time I heard it I felt lowly and icky, like I’d just subjected myself to a sermon on the value of self deprecation. But since I LOVE Bethel music, I tried extra hard to appreciate it. I really, really tried but I just couldn’t get there. My next and more realistic goal became just enduring it. By the second minute of that song, it might as well have been finger nails on printer paper (am I only weirdo who feels disturbed by that??); it made all those bitty hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. Eventually I just started skipping over it.
Then about a month ago, on a very average day, I missed my cue. That spot where I would have normally jumped to the next song; it jogged right past me. I probably chatted with my kids or did a little scolding (some front seat yelling), and as I turned my attention back to my music, a song I’d never heard before was playing. The tune was nice but the words…they were everything. The world stopped turning for just a minute…the noise of the highway; the passing cars, the road and motherhood all hung in suspended animation. All I could hear was God singing to me. He sang, “You don’t have to do a thing. Simply be with me and let those things go. They can wait another minute. Wait, this moment is so sweet. Please stay here with me and love on me a little longer. Cause I’m in love with you…”
As I skipped back to hear the song a second time I discovered something hugely unexpected. The ugly song wasn’t all I thought it was. If I’d just forced myself to endure the icky, lowly bits for 3 or so minutes I would have heard the second half of the song; the part where God responds to the sad, self deprecated sniveling…with his peace.
The layers of symbolism are so fantastically profound! I’ve sung my own ugly song (similar words, different tune) thousands of times. I think we all do. We sing our lowly, miserable songs in our most beautiful voices. Praise and adoration gush heavily; as we bow ourselves as (emotionally) low as we can; face in the dirt; ogling our muck and filth and then we choke on our shame. On and on and on we sing our flat, minor notes because God is so big and we are so little, because God is so pure and we are so icky. We feel so unworthy and undeserving to have received so much in exchange for so little. It doesn’t feel right or fair. God’s kindness is very, very hard to accept.
God just listens and waits. When we’re done singing his response is ALWAYS the same, “You don’t have to do a thing. Simply be with me and let those things go. They can wait another minute. Wait, this moment is so sweet. Please stay here with me and love on me a little longer. Cause I’m in love with you…”
For ALL families, one thing is certain in life; car rides are a mixed bag of possibilities! Some drives are only good for losing one's composure (and faculties) over and over (for miles and miles of endless stretches of blacktop). Other drives are 100% laughter and silliness. Then, once in a while, the car ride is truly exceptional. I’m certain that in those extraordinary moments that God himself peals back the roof of my mini-van (the one I swore I’d never EVER drive) just to sit in our midst and listen to our babies’ sweet voices.
These exquisite moments are pure, divine beauty; amazing tiny slices of heaven. Depth and inspiration burst from by back seats in a way that seems hilariously impossible. After all, these divine thoughts spill from children who, just minutes before, were beating each other with Barbie, Ken and light sabers. But these kids…they surprise me, over and over again.
This morning my daughter’s spiritual curiosity didn’t wander into typical kid territory. She didn’t ask where animals and insects go when they die, and she wasn’t stressed about whether God would remember to duplicate her most precious blankie for her heavenly bedroom. Instead she was interested in dredging much deeper, more fashion minded waters. The reflective topic of the morning…(drum roll, please)...what does God wear??
This daughter of mine (my Mia), she’s profound and soulful but still very much your run of the mill, 8 year old girl. She notices clothing and prides herself on having her own distinctive style. Her unique look is alarmingly similar to every other kid in the world, but she’d never accept that as truth. My girly-girl loves playing with makeup, painting her nails and can artfully configure and reconfigure her hair half a dozen different ways within just as many minutes. Naturally, she ponders God’s wardrobe.
When I try to visualize God, it ends up sounding a lot like a certain ‘mouse and cookie’ story from my childhood. It goes a little like this: when I begin imagining God and what he might wear, it makes me think about Jesus. Thinking about Jesus reminds me of each and every one of my Sunday school classrooms where a stoic, angelic and slightly feminine-looking, circa 1970’s Jesus always hung on one of the walls. Those Jesus paintings always had a yellowish hue, (somehow the 70’s were yellower than other decades), but gold tones aside, Jesus’ white(ish) robe and a blue sash were unmistakable.
Mia must have seen one of those classic depictions, because my little darling was sure that God wears a white robe and blue sash, plus leather sandals (of course). And maybe it’s true; maybe God wears white and blue for all of eternity. But I’m not entirely willing to believe that. Conceding to that belief would mean accepting that God; the creator ALL (the universe and all its inhabitants plus its infinite number of colors and textures), would choose to live ETERNITY in a 2 colored toga. I don’t know…I have a hard time accepting that.
I’d like to suggest another possibility; one where God would rather spend eternity wearing billions upon billions of different outfits. He wears it ALL not because he’s preoccupied with his wardrobe but because he’s preoccupied with each of us. So, he purposefully chooses his attire based on our many distinct cultures, beliefs ethnicities and styles. For some of us, God chooses to wear that customary white robe and blue sash because it’s what makes us feel most comfortable. But for others maybe he sports jeans and Rainbows (leather surf sandals) and carries a surf board. Maybe he wears a tuxedo, a Yamaka, a kilt or loin cloth. I think God wears all of it…just for us.
As I chatted with Mia about what God might wear, I couldn’t help but think of that one "prayer scene" from the movie “Talladega Nights”. This film is hysterical, but I can’t exactly endorse it because it’s also a bit gritty, but there’s one brilliant (clean) scene where a family discusses the way each of them imagine Jesus. Embedded among all the hilarity, a pure and beautiful truth exists: God ALWAYS meets us exactly where we’re at. He doesn’t require us to look a certain way nor is he confined to the first century version of himself. He just wants to be with us. HE is Immanuel, which literally means, God with us!
We’re a Netflix family. We don’t have cable or satellite; we haven’t for years. Honestly, we don’t even miss it. Netflix mostly satisfies us. We’ll get hooked on a captivating series and when we’ve watched all of its episodes, we weep like a dear old friend just died (we don’t truly weep…just whimper).
There’s always a mourning period; maybe we wear a little extra black and don some ashes, but eventually (a day or two later) we dry our tears and prepare ourselves to step back into the wilds of Netflix.
Our options always feel a bit malnourished in the beginning. We start thinking that maybe Netflix needs a little CPR; some life pumped back in. We begin rhetorically asking anyone in earshot if there’ll ever be another friend quite as lovely as our recently deceased. But after a bit of scrounging we unearth our next great love…the one to sweep us up, away from the worries of work or dishes and those inevitable parenting fouls from earlier in the day.
For us grown-ups, agreeing on a show requires a bit of compromise and a touch of bartering. We love being shoulder to shoulder, enjoying ONE show in unison. So, obviously this means NO soaked and mushy, dripping with romance type stuff. Those all get voted down real quick and sent directly to the guillotine along with any wild testosterone loaded options. So, for the love of Netflix, what does this leave us with??? Well, travel-cooking shows, of course! Yes, I agree, not the most obvious choice, but this week it worked for us.
Last night, we found just the right show; “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”. We can’t hoard all the glory for discovering this gem…my in-laws may have suggested it. They also find relationship harmony at the intersection of food and travel. The first episode was utterly endearing! The concept isn’t anything original. It’s been done at least a hundred times before, a dozen different ways: a man travels the world, tasting local cuisine…but this show was entirely different.
Phil (the globetrotter and fare taster) has a face that is beyond animated. Like a small child, his expressions lay each and every one of his thoughts and emotions bare for all to see; for all to know. But there’s never a hint of judgment or snobbishness, just sweet, precious warmth and delight in the food and the people he encounters. It’s enchanting.
Episode 1 took Phil (and us) to Tokyo. He ate pounds of sushi (naturally) along with countless other yummy-looking dishes. But, sooo many beautiful sushi creations! They made our mouths water. Those pools of soy sauce mixed with wasabi. I started to drown in my own saliva (as I am now), imagining myself biting into a fresh piece of sushi dripping in that flavorful sauce.
Now lean in close, for I have something somber to share: I have NOT always been a sushi lover…oh no, I actually started out as more of a sushi hater. Over the past 15 years, my sushi evolution has been emotional, embarrassing, at times excessively comical but also VERY redemptive. I haven’t always realized it, but my (sushi) journey has been about sooo much more than just learning to love sushi. All of it makes my present and sincere love for this dish all the more significant. So, to any of you sushi disdainers, let this be your reason to hope. Saying “never” doesn’t make it so. Change is ALWAYS possible, for I am the LEAST likely sushi lover!
When I think back on my early sushi eating days, I can’t help but giggle. Well, it starts as a giggle, but then it grows till I’m doubled over in silent convulsions; tears streaming down my cheeks.
The following is my sushi story. It’s ALL true. Together we’ll laugh, we may cry (probably we won’t), and then we’ll laugh some more. Here it is: Many, many years ago, in a land far, far away (California) I went on a sushi date. No, it wasn’t with my sweet Adam. This historic date was pre-Adam. Being married for nearly 12 years makes thinking back on pre-Adam days feel like summoning a distant memory out of a dark and heavy haze. It seems like nearly all my memories are Adam…except this one!
This guy loved sushi so of course, he took me on a sushi date. He expected that I’d instantly love it the way he did. He likely never considered that the opposite might be possible. In my family, raw meat was a no-no; a breeding ground for bacteria and intestinal cramping! Naturally my first sight of sushi completely disgusted me (on the inside). On the outside, I smiled and acted agreeable.
I was TERRIFIED! The pieces, which are meant to be taken in a single bite, are HUGE! There’s something that should be said at this point…I have an infant-sized mouth. Stuffed full, my 8 pound, 6 ounce, little baby-mouth holds maybe one full tablespoon of food. I always marvel when I see others taking multiple bites of anything before pausing to chew. I’m absolutely NOT capable of such ambitiousness. So, sushi bites were a legitimate struggle! Each piece filled my mouth completely; from right up against the inside of my teeth, all the way back to my hangy-ball (a very technical term for that “ball-thing” that hangs from the deepest part of a person’s throat). And if having a small mouth didn’t complicate things enough, I’m also “gifted” with VERY excellent gag reflexes; a winning combo for a girl attempting to eat big, GIANT bites of food that already repulse her! Cue the gagging!
The textures were another problem for me…the bites were all soft, smooth and slippery, the way I imagine eating slugs might feel. There I sat, surrounded by happy people, but I was turning green, working against my body’s heaves. My annoyed date watched from across the table as I choked over each bite, pretending miserably to enjoy myself. In the end, we left the restaurant with him very, VERY pissed to have dropped 50 bucks watching me (virtually) throw up in my own mouth for an hour.
Yes, my date was an immature ass and that night I felt embarrassed and rejected. Like I said before, I laugh (hard) now, but it took a long time for that memory to lighten into doubled-over tears of hysteria. As I look back, I’m convinced God had HIS hands all over that night and my gag reflexes. Maybe my gagging was the physical manifestation of our incompatibility. My sushi-hating, a nail (one of many) in the coffin of that relationship.
Now for the redemption portion of my sushi saga:
Years later I met my extraordinary Adam. As irony would have it, he not just LOVES sushi, he’s lived in Japan. I was (of course) 100% intimidated by all of Adam’s international exposure and culinary knowledge. I was the girl who secretly LOVED American cheese as a kid. What in the world did I know about truly lovely food?? Honestly…not a whole lot! But pretty soon we were eating French, Vietnamese, Thai and…Japanese food (sushi) together.
He never resented me for my stellar gag reflexes. Our sushi dates were always filled with silliness. He’d laugh as I gagged, then after forcing my bite down, we’d laugh together. He made me feel brave. With Adam, I never felt ashamed of being me (gags and all). Maybe even more meaningful, he never made me feel unworthy of the money he spent on our dates; always a gentleman. Just like falling in love with Adam, falling in love with sushi felt natural.
I never imagined that I'd EVER say this, but some days I actually crave sushi! I stand before you today a reformed woman; a 100% recovered sushi gag-aholic. When I think of sushi, I’m reminded of two very valuable things: 1. impossible hurdles aren’t ever as impossible as they appear, and 2. all things are redeemable (even if the thing is only the size of piece of sushi).
I talk about parenthood a lot because it’s where my life is right now. I’m in the thick of it EVERY DAY. I don’t mean to play the same old tune…again, but there’s something about this assignment we (parents) have, to raise our monkeys into decent, well adjusted human adults, that I struggle with. I guess I struggle with many things, but one major aspect is the lack of a handbook.
Parenting is crazy hard! Even though I’m nearly 10 years in, some days I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. There's always this little temptation inside me to search for the 'holy grail' of parenting; the one glorious nugget of wisdom to end all my parenting woes.
After I became a mom, the self doubt set in immediately. I had this blob of a kid. He slept and slept and slept and then he’d wake for 5 minutes and fall back into a coma. Of course, I know now that this is what newborns do; but back then, I was clueless and bored to tears. There was no set pattern or schedule for his wake or sleep time. I felt really disorganized and so tired and dirty. Having just had a baby, I also had a gut that hung over the top of sweats and it really depressed me. I felt the opposite of cute...and super jiggley. I knew I needed to get a handle on my life and I did what any new mama seeking a little sanity might…I looked for a handbook.
At that time (10 years ago) that book, “On Being Baby Wise” was REALLY popular. Moms everywhere were raving about it. They bragged about their incredible sleep-filled nights and productive days. These moms would roll their strollers around, all blanketed over and their babies would nod off on queue (at the stroke of the perfect o’clock). It was as if those mamas had slipped their babies a Baby Wise mickey. I wanted in on that! (Let’s be clear here, I didn’t want in on any baby-drugging technique; I just wanted my baby to sleep at regular intervals and during the night.) It didn’t seem like too much to want. I desperately longed for a solid night of sleep. A lone tear of joy might have rolled down my cheek over a four hour block.
My sleep deprivation prevented me from accomplishing the most low-level tasks. I missed smelling clean…I missed showers. I missed feeling attractive. I’d gaze at old wedding photos, trying to convince myself that I could still clean up nicely. I wanted to put on more make up than my skin had ever seen and style my hair big! What I especially missed was feeling productive. So, I thought, “I’m a big girl! I can do this!! I can read a book and follow its directions. I’m going to become “Baby Wise”!” For a few weeks I worked that schedule; determined to reclaim…me.
After a few weeks of scheduling the life out of us, I still had an unscheduled, TERRIBLE night sleeping baby. I remember one morning trying to soothe us both in the rocking chair, sobbing along with my little son. That was just one of many melt downs. But that one...it's especially memorable because there, in the midst of my discouragement, I came to understand one VERY important thing: NO ONE HAS A HANDBOOK FOR PARENTING! There’s no magic elixir and even the “handbooks” aren’t really handbooks! They will always work for some, but not for all. And for the people they works for, there won't be success 100% of the time. Life just isn’t that tidy.
One might assume that my realization blessed me with mountains of grace for myself. I stopped all that nasty self-talk and just took deep “mindful”, cleansing breaths while chanting, “one foot in front of the other”. Sadly, not so. Instead I trudged along until my next major unraveling and then clawed around for a cure; a fix all. It was only a few weeks ago that this “handbook” revelation finally became truth in my heart.
I was having a conversation with a fellow mama. For my discouragement she offered some saintly advice, but it felt like a punch in the gut. I greatly admire this mama’s strategies and wisdom, but her suggestion felt unrealistic and impossible for me. I started resented myself for not being her. After a full week of inner scolding, I started to see that I’d set aside my handbook epiphany; wanting to trade clarity and wisdom for a regimen or a magic fix.
Although that conversation stung, the result was very valuable. If the advice I’d been given had been more manageable and less saintly, I wouldn’t have had to wrestle with it so. I wouldn’t have wrestled with myself. I needed to restore (for myself) the value of my job as a mother, with me in the equation. I’d forgotten the significance of carefully sifting ALL coaching and instruction. It's important for parenting and ALL aspects of life. My new motto: Hold on to the appropriate pieces and discard the rest! Maybe my greatest lesson was remembering that my job is to be the best mom I can be, NOT the best mom anyone else can be. Since I’m human, my impact on the world and on my kids will never be perfect, but if in my pursuit of great parenting (or anything else), I reject the person God made me to be, I fail!
And let's not forget, there are NO handbooks!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.