A Smile, then Marriage

Sometimes I bring my cell phone into the bathroom to listen to a podcast or music. When I arrived at the gym in the neighboring town to teach this morning's Zumba class, it smugly continued to lay there in the same bathroom at home. It is the only device I use to play the music for class.

My partner, unlike me, managed to remember her playlist and thankfully was able to teach for me until Esteban appeared in the classroom with my phone 15 minutes later. As I stared at it, he pointed to a man standing just outside the classroom waving and smiling at me.

George had up and flown out of the house and driven the half hour to the gym to bring me the phone so I could teach my Zumba class and so Ana, my co-teacher, could get a break before her next group exercise class.

This happened today - one day after our wedding anniversary.

The first time I met my George was at Tante Suzy's house. His family was friends with my aunt and uncle and were visiting from New York, and we all were having dinner. I don't remember how me and my siblings got up to Cleveland, nor do I recall where my parents were. I don't remember their presence.

But I do remember his.

All of us cousins, siblings, and friends chatted at dinner. We were going to build the coolest ever shopping mall. And it was going to be constructed like a pyramid. The Pyramid Mall because we're Egyptian and it made sense. Laughter decorated my aunt's dining room that night as we ate her famously delicious food. Wit and silliness kept up the liveliness, and, with his easy, hearty laugh, so did George, who barely spoke five words.

There was something about his smile.

I didn't understand the attraction at the time. But I was not about to go home and announce to my parents, who had always forbidden dating, that I had fallen in love with a boy's smile.

But I had because sometimes you get so used to the fake smiles that they become the normal ones, and then, when a real one comes along, you know it. You discover it, like spotting a giant, fuzzy, romantic golden moon on the horizon way back behind the tree line when it seems like you can just reach out your hand and touch it, but you can't. And sometimes you just know when the smile is for you and when it's not. Smiles are continually misused as masks to hide pain, truths, lies, opinions, and motives. A smile can hide a quiet volcano of feelings.

A smile can hurt. But the less that fears are allowed to rumble inside you, the more your smile will do what it's supposed to do...

Comfort, show kindness, forgive, welcome, cherish, reassure, love, think pure. 

George's smile did those things more than a few times. So I married him. 

Happy 20th, my love.

Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant, German Village


Waiting at Fourteen

I wait for him to walk out of the recital hall. Parents are not allowed to watch their students perform their memorized and polished pieces for the competition. The audience is one piano judge smiling and taking notes. He conducts his practice through the week like driving in rush hour traffic. Start, stop, speed up and, again, except, for my 10-year-old boy, there are no red lights. He doesn't slow down. He spent the last two weeks zipping through 10 pieces every day to get it done and get on with the next thing. Reading Scripture Sleuth, shooting the basketball, building blanket-couch forts, bugging one of his sisters, playing in the creek. So much to do, so little time.

Now he is finished, and he has to endure the torture of waiting for his sister to finish her turn of 10 pieces, which are longer.  "Can I play one of the pianos?" says he.

Life includes waiting. There is good waiting, like anticipation, and bad waiting, like dread. We do both, and, like it or not, we don't always get a choice and there's no particular pattern.

I've always been waiting for something.

I waited for words of encouragement, trips to Northland Mall, and relatives to visit our house with the locked doors. I waited to do things that Mom said we'd do sometime.

There was the incident at the gas station. I stood there waiting for her to come back and get 14-year-old me.

I waited for the college acceptance letter and for her to leave the psyche hospital. I waited for her to get better.

I waited for the call with the job offer I so wanted.

I waited for my sister to like me.

I waited for my shy man to just say it... "Marry me." Some things that you want most of all are the hardest to ask for.

Four times, I waited nine months to see the faces, fingers, and toes of familiar-looking babies. Then I promptly waited for mom mentors.

I waited for the jasmine vine outside my Savannah window to bloom in April and the white gardenias to show up in May. The gardenias didn't come, but that last May in the deep South? Anastasia came. On May 6, I had a brand new baby girl.

I had waited seven years to return to my hometown, only to have the sun go into hiding and Dad to die unexpectedly three months later. There's a picture of him holding her at one year old.

The sun came back, but he didn't. I was happy for him that he didn't have to suffering r anymore.

I waited in the exam room till the nurse finally appeared to tell me the lump was nothing. And she waited softly while I cried tears of relief. 

No one escapes the waiting room.

I continued to wait for mom mentors. How was I to know how to be a good mom? Or even just an okay mom? By May 6, 14 years ago, I had two girls that depended on me for their very existence, plus some amount of patience, wisdom and unconditional love that I didn't have. I hadn't taken any classes or read any books on those things. I did try to read a few books about mothering, but they depressed me because they made me realize ways I had not been mothered. Back then, I was not ready to face that, so I'm  didn't.

Then, when I was ready, I waited to remember. Many things, it occurs to me, have escaped my memory.

I don't remember her favorite color. I don't remember her teaching me how to do things though I'm sure she did. I don't remember the faces of any of the doctors or the social worker from family services. I don't remember what I told that social worker. I don't remember celebrating my siblings' birthdays or any dolls or toys I might have owned. I don't have anything from my childhood. I don't remember her dresses or a particular perfume. I don't remember any birthday, Mother's Day or Christmas presents I gave her. I don't remember her painting my nails or styling my hair. I don't remember pet names, I love yous, or I'm sorrys. I don't remember holding hands or long walks.

I do remember the dreaded peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Little Debbie snacks, and the many times she asked about my day when I got home from school. Five minutes into my story, the two-way conversation inevitably evolved into a monologue about lurking demons, sinister mind control, and "the committee" keeping us under surveillance. It was like she at first reached outside of her mind groping for reality only to slip back in. Reality is dismal for one who believes she has special psychotic powers and is being used for purposes of epic proportions.

I don't remember my fourteenth birthday. My Ana is turning 14 tomorrow, and she wants no part of a party. Just everyone home and her gift, which she has already secured - Bluetooth headphones. She will street perform her violin at the farmer's market to raise money for Europe, then she will read her book, which currently is mesmerizing her, as it did me years ago. Then we will grill burgers, eat key lime pie, and visit family friends in Springfield. She doesn't want us to sing the birthday song to her in order not to inconvenience anyone. 

She doesn't know how beautiful she is. Being the very personification of mischief, she at least doesn't appear to. She also doesn't appear to mind waiting. 

"We'll have a party on an important birthday, like 16," she states. "Fourteen is not important."

"Every birthday is important," I try to insist, my heart not really into forcing the issue. "But it's your day..."

A precious few of the invisible, numerous, thoughtful thoughts that steadily flow out of her gigantic brown eyes spill onto the pages of our mother-daughter journal, and I wait to hear the infrequent whispers of her mind with every written entry I find on my pillow.

More and more they come my way because if I knew anything at all 14 years ago, if I held on to only one thing, it was that my 14-year-old would feel how much I love her, and she'd know how much I know her.

She wouldn't have to wait to find out.

For they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. 
They shall mount up with wings as eagles. 
They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 
Isaiah 40:31


When She Smiles at Me: Hope is Not Just an Easter Thing

Black banners adorned the church walls on Good Friday. They were tacked temporarily right over the icons. Etched in white is an outline of Jesus wearing a handcrafted twiggy crown made of very long thorns thrust into His head.

What is my pain compared to His?

"The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 5:6

What is my pain? Nothing in quantity and intensity compared to the joy awaiting me and the whole army of believers. He loved enough to save us joy that will never end. Never. That's why immortal God died.

~ + ~

I just want to do things with her. I want her to want that too. I ache deeply and long with every sinew, heartbeat, breath, smile, and tear to talk all day. To walk long and breezy. To craft, cook, do each other's hair and nails, share a swing, share clothes, dreams, a milkshake, secrets deep and dark, to write notes to each other. Hold. Laugh. Cry. Pray. Dance. With her.

I have no insight, no understanding of these newer feelings. I want to stop loving her. Then it would be less hurtful. I could stop the pain.

But Jesus didn't stop the pain on that Friday. He let it beat, strike, mutilate, sicken Him till it was over. He allowed, even welcomed the abuse and undeserved punishment to take its course till the beating stopped, till there were no more body parts to nail, no more air to breathe - till He died.

I'm not going where He went because He plunged into a hellish death for me... so I wouldn't have to. Good Friday is all about two things: the cross and love.

Do you believe in the power of love?

Despite the wealth of mystery that surrounds God, the wealth of His love was revealed on the cross. If God is love, how can love not be power? Because in His dying, death died.

And the Orthodox Christians everywhere sing it now and for 50 more days:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life.

It is in this power, the resurrection, the awakening from death, the being and living alive that hope can even be a thing.

For us Christ-followers, hope is more than a thing. It is oxygen. It is the air we breathe.

When grief suffocates and tears choke, and I insist doggedly that there. is. no. hope. for a certain situation or person, I inhale hope. I can't help it. It just appears and creeps into my pores and nostrils.

The more I curse it, the more it sneaks up on me.

~ + ~

For some reason I told my mother about my recent struggle with depression.

"Why? she urges. "Do you know?" Real concern rings through the phone into my ears and even again on the follow-up call.

"Are you better now? You have a good husband and beautiful children. They need you," she pleads.

"Are you sleeping better?"

"No, waking up at 4 a.m. and can't get back to sleep."

"Why? Get me a book on depression. I want to understand what you have." She really wants a book.

Who is my mother?

I'm almost willing to bet all the ice cream in the Midwest that this rare, fresh breeze of clarity reveals her true self to me and I get a mother for a minute. I get my mom. In this moment, she's giving me caring attention. I get to feel a mom for me, be on the receiving end of the heart-touch of a mother - mine. The slender hands of her heart reach into mine and enfold me in what I think might be love, but I can't be sure - definitely not 75 percent. Maybe fifty percent? Twenty percent?

Next thing I know, the uninvited stirring of heart and soul throws me in the ring to wrestle tantalizing thoughts. A spark of hope has been ignited, again - without my permission. I feel the walls closing in.

Without faith, I am a lame five-percent sure.

Without faith, hope is torture, and the reason is simple. It could be false. Who in the world would want to get their hopes up if they're only fantasy, false or impossible?

Hope of the faithless amounts to that five percent. For a faith-ing, resurrected soul that comes alive? Hope is 100 percent. There is 100 percent hope for the hopeless because of Easter.

The good news of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is that there is 100 percent hope for the faithless, when they dare to believe in a dreamy eternity that is no dream. They believe in a very real life with a warrior-Savior-God-man, who used a wooden cross for a fighting weapon to snatch us up out of darkness with a galaxy-size love into a glow of heavenly light, rainbows and skies of new colors, new songs and new dances on dazzling, sparkly streets.

I get a preview with a rare sparkle in her eye when she looks at me smiling.


When You Walk Into Your Death: Today is Palm Sunday

The words of these lines speak to the faith, hope and love, and other holy goodies that have been hollowed out of me.

But holy week upon us, there's a renewing of everything good... everything that means anything.

I lost someone today. I longed to hold her so.
When she drew me in I couldn’t let go.
I’ve lost a part of me.
She helped herself, clutched tight and didn’t let go.
Goodbye, love, more precious than my heart.
Your face in my head will salvage my smile.
But you would not stay with me awhile.
Heaven pours hail droppings of shattered love
Like the mountainous, restless clouds above.

The clouds of our hard times and sin hover darkly, but Jesus arrives and very, very humbly... riding on an unimportant little animal. The donkey has always enjoyed the least respect from us humans. Today is a happy Palm Sunday for millions.

But for those who know and love a certain 27 plus 11 Christians* in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt, and for Coptic Christians worldwide, tragic loss, shock, heart break for their ascending souls. And how does any of this make sense? They entered the church this warm happy morning like Jesus rode into the heart of creation 2,000 years ago, only to be plucked out of the wreckage of this world. Today.

Today we wonder in horror about the terrorists' plans for next week, Easter Sunday, who will be caught in their trail of destruction next. Is my family next? George's?

A cousin died today. My first cousin's cousin in Tanta. I didn't know him, but he was family - my dad's nephews, their families mourn today. It hits closer and closer.

It's happening in our own backyard. Right here in Columbus, Ohio, USA. We get the reminder every Sunday as we stroll into church and say hello to the nice security officer guarding the entrance.

The Christ-believers walked into church not knowing they would die today, but a wee worry hovered in the back of their heads. Will I see tomorrow, they asked. They know they are a target. George's sweet aunts, my newly married cousin with little ones, the young and old, the sick and the ambitious. Will senseless death rock the faith of the flock in our ancient motherland? Will it rock ours?

Jesus knew He was riding into His death on this day. He did it anyway - for you and for me. Today's Palm Sunday martyrs walked into their death because they knew losing the world was a small thing compared to what they knew they were going to get - unthinkable joy.

They were not selfish, they were in love.

Sometimes in this life, instead of swaying the palm branches in the air, we need to just turn our own palms up...

And be ready like He was.

Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord

*Number of reported casualties as of 10:45 a.m. today.


When You Wish You Were Happy

At the horizon on Route 23 toward Michigan, the sky is the palest but most unmistakably blue. In the distance the cotton-ball clouds smear over a soft layer of smokiness.

"What's wrong, Mommy?"

"Nothing... well, not really."

"What's wrong? Are you sad again?"



"I don't know. Sometimes I just get sad in the morning."

And other times at night, or at noon... I hate telling her any of it, but I try to keep it broad and simple.

"I love you, Mommy." She kisses my cheek and leans her head on mine. I close my eyes. Why isn't this tender heart filling up my heart-hole?

Maybe there really is no bottom and maybe the bottomless pit throws me into a hopeless fit.

Maybe I need to stop right here, close the laptop, lock the door and throw away the key. Maybe all I ever wanted was for her to love me with a mother's love, and she just can't and I need to get over it.

I don't need everyone to love me. But no love can replace a mother's love. I don't need her to be everything to me, just need her to be one thing - a mother.

My phone rings, and, slightly cringing, I touch my screen.

"Hi Mom."

"Ceci? How are you?"

There were many extended periods through the years when she didn't have the mind to ask me that.

"Good." I'm strictly monotone, guard up, poker face.

"Tell me what's wrong. Don't you know what is making you sad?" Her voice is calm and sincere.

"I don't know."

You don't want to know. The truth? You can't handle it. Plus, I'm too damn nice to tell you what you did to me. Plus, you'd deny it anyway. You always rejected my words. You rejected me.

Once lying on a hospital bed, she told me I'm a good mother.

I'm getting ready to hang up, but she's not as ready as I am to give up.

"Tell me. Did something happen? What happened? Just tell me. Maybe I can help you.” How does she know it's a specific thing? How did she know there's something to tell?

"There's nothing you can do, Mom."

Writing about Mom is an inch-by-inch sort of thing, slow, like driving in Toledo traffic during rush hour yesterday.

We're just trying to get through it to get to Southfield. And I'm just trying to get through my mom issues to get to a new place... a place of happiness...

A place of real letting-go forgiveness, where the horizon of our relationship is a pale smoky blue, dotted with sun-infused, lightly toasted marshmallow clouds instead of blackness.

I want to push out of the chrysalis, tired of spinning, tired of hanging upside down, tired of the dark. But at least I'm not still crawling.

"I wish I could do something," she's says believably. She's in a good mood. Her voice is soft like the pretty white clouds in the Detroit sky. Today is a good day for her. But is it a good day for me and her?
Maybe she does love me - in her own way. But I can't really feel it. I know her love for me could never make me happy. I remember it as contingent on whether my behavior and personality were up to par.

But maybe love is there regardless.

Is this whole blasted thing really even about love at all? If she loves me, why am I not happy? Do I want her love or my happiness? Maybe one isn’t necessarily the result of another.

Maybe we all just want to be happy, and love is just a luxury we're willing to give up for the feeling of happiness.

I want her love to make me happy. But it doesn’t, so I'm unsatisfied and sad. "What's love got to do with it?" sang Tina Turner.

The ultimate Love only just saved the world and passed out tickets to heaven forever. But Christ's long, grueling torture and death did not make anyone happy... until someone explained it.

Love is sacrifice. He did it for love’s sake, for God’s sake, for our sake. The best love is His love.

So you say there can be no self in love. And I am trying to make sense of that famous commandment, the big one that I’ve never understood: love your neighbor as yourself.

As I spin silky love-threads around myself in this fragile chrysalis, it will get easier to love her - not in her way, not in my limited way, but in God’s sacrificial way.

I’ll be waiting a long time if I wait for the happiness feeling to light up my sky before forgiving her. Might be an eternity before she loves me the way I want her to. Maybe the answer is not the idyllic love of a mother that I’ll never have, but the love of a Father I’ve always had. Mom’s best love would have brought me sporadic moments of happiness. God’s love gives me unfailing limitless joy that comes with hope.

Love is not a luxury for a lucky few, but a thing He tucked inside of us to resemble Himself. We all, including Mom, have it - a bit of His undying love that becomes ours, that bursts out of our insides when we’re ready and dances around with wings spreading joy on everyone.

Because love flutters joy like a butterfly, and happiness has nothing to do with it.

~by Anastasia (with Conte crayon)


When Sweet Sixteen Turns Seventeen

Candy-apple red lipstick, sparkly headband, black trousers black blazer, pink collared skirt with black polka-dots. And black-rimmed eyeglasses.

Her headaches had persisted since she lost them months ago. These beasts heap dumpster-truck loads of denseness on her broad eyelids and her brain. Daily during the week prior to the speech tournament they attacked her concentration and momentum so that memorizing her persuasive did not happen. 

The night before her first round, George had extracted the lenses from the locker room under her sister's bed. So she was as ready as she could be.

One of these days, she'll believe me just enough to chance the peppermint oil on her achy temples. And when I assure her it's not embarrassing but normal to have a crush, she'll tell me what color his eyes are and hear me not laugh. I'll remind her that it's her laugh I want to hear, the endless giggle that mingles with every conversation in every situation.

But 17 is one year closer to 18 and what am I doing? Do I hold captive every minute with her? Am I remembering everything I need to tell her? Will she be ready? Have I confessed every mistake against her?

I keep staring at her face, round and blushed. It's going to change again. The shades of her portrait have more mellowing to do. Her colors will yet deepen, and her smile will broaden. Her laugh will sweeten and her step will quicken. The Artist and Author of beauty is not finished with her. He's going to keep brushing strokes of inner beauty and strength on her.

But have I warned her about every danger? Has she learned enough? Does she have the tools and know how to use them? Is she confident enough? Is she tough enough? Did she get the lessons in kindness and shrewdness and wit along with geometry, history and grammar? Does she know how to forgive? how to love? Does she believe the right things? Which presidential candidate would she have voted for had she been old enough? I actually know the answer to that one.

Her aunt coaches her through the Strengths Finder program, and one of her top five is WOO - winning others over. She woos with her smile and laugh and a ready compliment just for you. She makes you feel welcome. She wins you over with her willingness to listen and her wealthy memory bank. She doesn't forget a name or a face while I consistently rattle off the names of all her siblings before finally getting to hers.

She embraces the hardships and injustices by calling them what they are - hard and wrong - and then chooses joy, staying as young and giddy as possible despite her mature mind.

She lives up to her name - youthful. The thing about her that will not change is her youthfulness. 

Though this fervent foodie can cook a mean koshery and whip up Teta's baklava like it's nobody's business, Taco Bell and Swedish Fish are always within reach.

Interaction with people is her soul food. For her, to embrace life is to embrace all kinds of people from all kinds of places. This has made her become wistfully lovable and dazzlingly engaged. Since she learned to walk, she has been fluttering from here to there and everywhere, never staying in one place or with one person for very long. No one is out of her reach because she always finds a way to connect with you. 

Forever reserved, I sit and gape. What did she say to that elderly man? to the little girl? to the cashier? to the security guard? to the performer? to her friend's dad? to her friend's little brother? It's not the words that elude me, but her ability to quickly summon the right words for every person.

So her friends are many, but forging deep relationships takes longer because it requires you to stop fluttering and stay put for a minute or two.

He will brush layer on layer of color and texture. Dark and bright days swirl and blend into new patterns and hues. Oils, charcoal and salt are extracted from her life experience to create depth and richness and to cause tension and pain. 

She will succeed and fail, celebrate and mourn, give and take, believe and reject, love and hate, fight and surrender. Her quickly changing canvas will emerge from the simple mess of lines, curves and dots to a well-defined, complex depiction of color, texture...

and love.

I wish I had filled a time capsule with the things we did, things that made her laugh or cringe, things she said or did that made us laugh or beam with pride. I wish I had recorded every single award, performance, report, story and drawing... every single friend, smile, tear, joke, dream and destination. 

Then she'd have one small snapshot of how much she is loved by us. And if it reflects even a wisp, she'd have a glimpse into the wide-open arm-engulfing love God has for her - love that spills across an endless sky airbrushing it with the emotions Juliana's days stir up:

~Yellow for happy

~Orange for witty

~Purple for silly

~Blue for chill

~Red for angry

~Green for adventurous and ambitious

~Black for disgusted and annoyed

~Pink for love and friendship...

-the colors of her complexion.

She's making grown up decisions and preparing to enter a grownup world. Her wings have only just begun to spread, and she's already flapping.

Happy Birthday, Butterfly.



Like My Posts: the Truth About Facebook

LADIES: When you, my friend, post pictures of yourself with your BFF, it feels like you're slapping me across the face - twice - one for you and one for your best friend. Your smug little selfies sing me a song: "We are besties. (is that even a word?) I like her more than I like you. I'd rather hang out with her than with you. She's much more important to me than you are. She's my BEST friend in the whole world. And we're here to stay. Nothing in the whole world will pull us apart because we're BFFs."

I want to block your posts after I finish throwing up, then delete my Facebook account, then text my therapist.

It is easy to clean up throw up, but not to clean up the repugnant mess from the mental wrestling match between me and my mother's unspoken lies, one of which is that I'm not good enough to be someone's best friend.

Do you feel that way when I post photos of my life? I'll bet some of you that show-and-tell your besties think my life is perfect from what you see on Facebook.

I share cute memories of George and me, and in one way or another, tell everyone that I have a great husband. Do you? Do you have a husband? Are you searching for one?

I display my children and broadcast their music, art, and other achievements. With two or three quick screen touches, I paint you a picture of a perfect familial posse of cute, affectionate, and smart offspring. Are your kids cute and smart like mine? Are they healthy like mine? Do you even have kids of your own? If you answer no to any of these, then does my smile, a wide sneering mouth of smugness, seep from my posts?

See? I do it too.

Your turn again. Sometimes you post Norman Rockwell-type images of you and dear old Dad or lovely Mom making precious memories together. You enhance the happy photos with a few endearing phrases that squeal "I love my mom/dad, and she/he loves me. I'm a good daughter. They brought me up right. We're one big happy family leaving a legacy of triumph to shine for the world."

I can't post those kinds of photos because I don't have them, though I wish I did. My dad has passed on from this world, and my mom is still here, but incapacitated mentally. She only calls me when she needs something. So I must not have been brought up right. I must not be a good daughter. No family legacy here.

We all do it.

My most frequent Facebook statuses comprise Zumba-related events because this seems to be the forum of choice to announce class times and build morale and community.

But some of you don't dance. Some of you don't have access or the means or the support to take a class or join a Zumba community. Yet I incessantly remind you that I and some of my friends do. And we have loads of fun that you're not having.

The sickening damage caused by many people's social media activity is the bleeding screen that screams "All your friends have a great life, but your life sucks."

There are days when I want to delete permanently all my social media accounts.

But will I? No. Will I stop posting pictures of my life? No. I want you to keep me posted. And I know you want my updates too.

So this is what you and I need to do with Facebook: We need to be more social.

But first, we need to understand Facebook for what it is - a mixed bag of personal life sharing, marketing, fundraising, promoting, preaching, lobbying, venting, alerting. It's one trillion buzzing conversations inside of one giant train station - a dystopian Grand Central. Consumers are addicted to jumping on a moving car of notifications, popularity and notoriety, but they are not going anywhere. Passengers use it to connect with friends and strangers while secretly ridiculing them.

Surprisingly, studies have shown positive and negative effects on people's feelings after spending time on social media. A researcher from Carnegie Mellon University found, as reported by The New Yorker, that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. Over one to two years, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped as much as they used the Internet.

In another analysis, forty studies in 2010 showed that "internet use had a small, significant detrimental effect on overall well-being. One experiment concluded that Facebook could even cause problems in relationships by increasing feelings of jealousy."

In this series, researchers found that the more time people spent browsing, as opposed to actively creating content and engaging with it, the more envious they felt. The more purpose motivating their Facebook usage, the happier and satisfied they felt.

We need to post and comment more and browse less. We need to speak up instead of stalk.

What if we chose clear motives for going to the site? According to research, the more we connect with our people by posting with a purpose and very actively commenting and liking their stuff, the less alienated we will feel. The connection will be real.

I think I might have just asked you to like my posts more.

Well, if you do, maybe we'll become BFFs.


How to Keep Your Heart Beating

My new Zumba leggings are covered with bright pink, red and black hearts. We sported them Valentine's Day and for American Heart Month to help raise awareness about heart disease in women.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. A woman dies every minute, 811,000 per year. And that number is increasing.* I just learned about one type of heart killer named ischemia, silent heart attack - no symptoms.

The trouble with the silent attack is that there are no warnings. You don’t really feel it coming or going, but it does. And when it is discovered weeks or months later, you have to figure out what to do in its wake.

In all types of cases, the medical staff helps, family and friends help. Everyone helps. Even the country helps by making a month of awareness to raise money for research. The American Heart Association works to fight heart disease. Since 1949, $3.5 billion has been raised for research, more than any other organization outside the federal government. That is $51,470,588 per year for 68 years. The AHA has funded 13 Nobel prize winners and lifesaving medical advancements, like the first artificial heart valve.

There is no awareness month for broken hearts. While the National Institute of Mental Health does have a budget of $1.4 billion that comes from government funding, billions of community dollars are not being raised for the silent pain of grief, depression and suicide. In 2015, 16 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode. It's not physical death, but perhaps another kind?

The Zumba people dance for fitness and a healthy four-chambered heart. But we also dance for a healthy mind and the other heart that beats to the rhythm of love. There are days when I can barely feel that beat. It's faint from grief or crowded out by my crazy hectic life.

So in class, I don't dance the pain away. I dance in the pain to feel that other beat of my invisible heart. Because afterward, I return to my messy life. My busy home with busy children await. I return to other areas where the same people ask me how I am but don't really want to know. I face smug piles of dirty dishes, laundry and mail. I face the kitchen in which some sort of edible food should be prepared. They have to eat, as my mother would say. We can't live on Wendy's, tempting as it is. I inhale and exhale over lost library books, coats, shoes, final drafts, math books, lunch bags, water bottles, swim suits and winter coats. How do you lose a winter coat in winter (for the love)?

Four pairs of wide brown eyes hypnotize me as they look into mine waiting with questions and answers. I feel their stout open arms, swinging moods and curiosity about whether our cat is spiritually purer than us.

My precious kids, at 7, 10, 13, and 16 are writing their biographies in our minds and hearts. Among the itty-bitty shopping diva, witty sensitive athlete, writer/artist and singing debater/social butterfly, my waking hours are filled with a capricious smattering of genres including drama, comedy, and tragedy. And when Gabriel or the cat brings home a snake, I will add horror to the table of contents.

Their stories are messy, beautiful, and unfinished. And they’re mine, yet as they morph into maturity, sometimes I feel like I’m not a distinct character, but the narrator on the outside peering in. They are growing and changing at warp speed. I’m sprinting in slow motion to keep up and keep them around as long as I can so I can stay close and really know the adults they are becoming.

Breathe in. Let it out.

I need to find the adult I’m becoming. The truth? I am 7, 10, 13, and 16, urgently needing what is too late for me to get.

How can I give them what they need when I need it too?

There are days, okay weeks, when I need someone else to make dinner because I’m too overwhelmed to even think of what to make. My friend surprised me with her homemade orange-carrot jam, and it’s my new daily breakfast. Its rustic sweetness takes me back to the store-brand orange marmalade my mother always liked. But the table she sat down to eat it on was clean.

There are days when I wish things, like for a friend to cook or watch a movie with me, listen to me write, be captivated by something I create, kiss me on the cheek, hold hands and walk, sing me a song, help me put outfits together. But it's too late for all that.

Maybe I am regressing to my childhood, but right now they need me. They need my affections, kisses and caress. They need to feel all my emotions with me and hear my voice gentle, firm, certain, genuine, excited, hopeful, faithful.

They need me to cook and watch movies with them, listen to them play their instruments, be captivated by everything they create, hold hands and walk, sing them a song, help them put outfits together.

They need me to give them the best of myself, like what a mother duck does for her babies.

Mallard mamas construct their nests while already inside them. They use earthy fodder, like grass, twigs and leaves. And I read in a book somewhere that they use a bit of their own bodies. They pluck feathers from their chest to mat a fluffy warm nest for their young.

When you peer close into the creation He called good, you discover just how good.

My young need me to love them out of my chest, like a mama hen. They need my heart.

How do I give them a busted-up heart, shattered into a thousand pieces? The one I had boarded up for decades to protect it from breaking? When the Zumba people tore down the walls, walked in and got comfy, I found it broken anyway.

At least the walls were leveled. Now my heart is open for people to enter… and exit. As a person who grew up boarded up with conditional love, I balk at this. Too risky.

My friends gave me a cute wooden sign that winks, “Love is the key that opens the heart...”

and breaks it into a thousand pieces, I add silently while setting it on my desk next to a spray of flowers in a robin’s-egg blue vase. What’ll I do with all these pieces? If I could pick one up, I would run my hand around a sharp, jagged edge, letting it pierce my skin - a visible sign of the invisible pain of an invisible heart.

Building walls around your heart doesn’t protect it from breaking, it only prevents you from sharing it.

What if we gave away our heart pieces to people? Each little remnant picked up from the rubble, smooth and sharp at the edges, are precious. But wouldn’t they be more useful with others than patched up and couped up? The love cycle could spread and grow - everyone giving and taking heart pieces and holding them close.

The healing is in the giving away. The doctors will not do the patching, but the Creator-Doctor of my brokenness will get the breathing blood flowing in and out of my heart.

And the people will keep it beating.

*All stats taken from http://honor.americanheart.org/site/PageServer?pagename=WRD_AboutUs


The Hard Truth About Love

It's hot in here. Hotter than a sauna, sweltering, suffocating. There must be some other way.

Choked with grief over people I’ve lost that look a bit like me and people I’ve never had to begin with, I crave cold water. I can almost taste the refreshing relief of being noticed, accepted, pursued, wooed, really really loved.

Who will do it? Who will love me limitlessly, always be there for me, never let me be lonely? Who will hold me when I need to be held? Who will hold hands and take long walks with me? Who will really, really love me?

Who's going to stand in this bloody fire with me?

Though I'm not being burned, I don't like it here. It's hot. It hurts.

The spark to this fire might have been a little prayer tucked away in my heart a long time ago. I might have asked to be useful, to have more purpose. I might have said, "Use me, Lord." And I might have said it off and on for several years as I waded the mostly calm currents of homeschooling inside our family-size bubble. "Use me for more," said I, not knowing what I was asking.

Yeah, that spark was in me, but it was no robust mustard seed. It was just a glint, easily gone in a blink. I asked, hoping He was listening, but not really sure.

That's it. He must be right here fanning my little spark of faith into a roaring forest fire.

I need to jump into a lake. But freshwater does not refine. Fire does.

There's a person whom I love. She is precious to me. She came in and out of my life like an angel would. The beauty of her face makes my heart dance.  She is strong, kind, and so very wise. She steps into my heart, fills it up, then moves on to her next unassuming person.

She will leave me though I wanted her to stand in the fire with me, to get me through. I wanted her to be the one to love me as I am, take long walks with me and never let me be lonely.  I wanted her to hold me. I just wanted her to be around all the time, every minute. I wanted her all to myself.

I love her deeper than her heart will ever fill for me. I am attached to her. My arms wrap around her tight and eternal. I can't let go. Her smile is a spray of sparkling light beams that burst through your eyes into your soul. It's warm, wide and bright, like a sunset. It draws you close. It enfolds your soul with bear-like arms and a tingle.

It is a joy and pain to see her. Because I know like any sunset, she'll slowly go away from me. She'll vanish gently and gracefully, but as time passes, I'll see less and less of her. There'll be times I'll wonder if an abrupt departure would have been more bearable.

There will be other times the loneliness will cover me with a dark suffocating gassy dense fog, and I'll despair of getting through and decide I've seen my last sunset. 

Love’s not pretty, and it doesn’t always feel good. It isn’t always the warming heat of the fire but its burning sting that makes you cry out in pain and the smoldering smoke that makes you grope for air.

I didn’t know any of this before now, before I let myself love someone, let her fill up my heart and let her love me. I’d not done that before. I had loved them from a distance, and it was fine.

What I thought was love was fear. I was afraid of life without her. I was scared of being perpetually sad, but she just wouldn’t let me love her superficially. She made me love her recklessly, when I’d always been so careful.

All the beauty of the world and its creatures is rooted and fashioned in reckless love. Everything else is darkness, confusion, and hate and is rooted in fear.

It is fear that is drawing the thick red line of division thrashing the page of our nation’s history book. I believe the anger, hate and grief experienced by the people that are unhappy with the election’s outcome is because of fear. And under reversed circumstances, that same fear drew a similar line eight years ago. Fear is powerful.

When I finally give love a chance, my worst fear rises up and burns a hole right through me.

Why was she given to me only for her to be taken away? This is exactly what I was afraid would happen.

My heart was trapped in a Brazilian nutshell and has been getting a violent nutcracking. There was no other way for me except the hard way. Breaking through hard heart walls is bound to cause some hurt. You begin to question the point. It hurts too much. Not worth it, I said dozens of times. Begging George and my friends to let me turn off the lights and surrender to the couch with my cozy gray and white blanket, I have made up my mind. I'm done with everyone and everything

But then someone who doesn't have a Brazilian nut for a heart shows up and sits by me. We just talk. And we stay silent. For one night, one slow hour in a night, I can remember that love is showing up in someone else's darkness and feeling it too. Then even in the dark, I'm not alone. That faith spark reignites, and for one hour it's worth it.

Because when you've been grieving in the dark long enough, and you've got a cross on the wall reminding you of the strangest, most wretched, most piercing grief, your eyes begin to look up. And through the wild flames, your faith is kindled, and you can see Jesus dropping down low from heaven and even lower into hell to be with you. 

I could swear His tears are mingling with mine, and together all these tears of ours are going to put out this fire that He's standing in with me.

That’s what a fire does. It purifies, slowly burning out the fear till love glistens and fills up that jagged hole in your heart.

It's true. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear... I John 4:18

As for my disappearing friend, I'll be letting her go.

So I can go. Go do things I've never done, go to places I've never been, go shake a stranger's hand, go pour into someone and fill up their heart. 

Like she did mine.

Fire makes a heart keep the joy amid the pain and kills fear so you can let go of your own Isaac, like Abraham did and like I'll do. When we can do that, we can be free to love others more. Then love's fire won't be trapped in the fire pit, but will spread wildly all over everyone and everything.

That's worth it.

As for who she is? Not yet.. you'll have to wait and see. (Wink, wink)


2016: The Year I Traveled Back in Time

Last year started, as years are known to do, on New Year’s Day.

I had decided 2016 would be the year of yes. Yes to my kids, yes to more clinging to Jesus, yes to trusting more, yes to adventure, yes to challenge. Yes. 

"No" was still used, but there were more yeses. 

So gathering up my year, I word-draw the neat pretty piles and the ugly messes of the last 12 months because we were made to remember. 

The stale wintry Ohio sky turned into a fleeting spring with the white bleeding heart that returned in the front, a summer garden full of tomatoes and peppers out back and a quick orange-brown fall and Honey Crisp apples from a favorite muddy orchard. I thought my wispy bleeding heart wouldn't make it back, but it did.

We skipped around Disney, saw Celtic Woman, and I changed my hair color, then changed it back. I tutored Challenge A and dissected the world in maps, good books and a cow's eye with enthralled budding teens. I got a license to teach Zumba and began teaching it to friends and strangers, who will become my friends. I went jet skiing for the first time ever, and, yes, my friend and I flipped our boat, and who knew that would be fun?

The year aged and furrowed its brow as I saddened more and more with the days.

There was a double rainbow that brushed away the dark summer clouds turning the sky into a canvas barely big enough for it. It was slippery wet not from rain showers but from my river of tears rushing down into hours.

And hours into months.

The flood rose higher and higher and I, flailing, knew I was drowning. And what do you do when a Nile isn't long enough to get your ache stretched across? What do you do when the dam of dark memories breaks? 

This year? I darkened, not only from the sun but from depression and anxiety.

My short-term memory had already been slipping while the deeper, longer one grew cleats, and I'm afraid my whole life is slipping. I couldn't tell you what happened yesterday, but 30 years ago? Different story. 

These old biting stories are newly vivid like that rainbow. My boy asks me to tell him a story from when I was a kid, and I panic in secret for the forty-ninth time. He wants a funny tale. He wants to know his mama better. He wants to get closer and I've been running away from the stories my whole life. 

They've been locked up in a closet in a house on Winterset Drive since I walked out.

Remembering can sadden and gladden.  It can choke and it can soothe. I used to think old painful memories were sought. But I did not invite these nasty things. This year, let’s face it, remembering was a kick in the stomach.

It’s what I did all year. Remember not meaning to. It all tromped back, invading my present. Or did I go back to my past? Until this year I thought time machines were only the stuff of fantasy. 

But God knew about the closet and turned me into a time traveler. Because He was coming after all of me, and He needed me to remember all of it, all of me.

For his writing assignment, my boy composed a story about two men who travel through a portal and into another world where friendly dragons and children play together. But the Deadly Fire Blasters appear out of nowhere to fight alongside their army of bad dragons, capture the good ones, and throw them and the children into the dungeon.

I’m like those two men, treading a dark portal and its outlying path to a bleak place I’ve been before. I have to see someone, and I’d rather be stuck in a dungeon with Grodd, who’s not a dragon, but a freaky, mind-controlling gorilla. 

Having left her long ago in that lifeless colonial on Winterset Drive, I’d vowed never to look at her again. I know she’s pathetic, and I can’t stand what I’ve yet to see. How will she look, how is she coping with misery?

I forget to breathe as I inch and push through. It’s beginning to look more familiar. I search untamed in the dark for the closet. There it is. The old 70s door tucked at the end of the narrow hall is smaller than I remember. I don’t bother turning on the light, so I just close my eyes, push my heart-shaped key into the hole and turn the knob.

There she is, a shivering, shriveling shadow. She’s weak, stubborn and alone. I can’t see her eyes, and I’m glad.

I’ve come to slay her when I need to love her. But I do neither. I only cry in the dark with my 16-year-old self.

I hold her tight in my arms for as long as it takes to unleash - to remember - almost 30 years of uncried hurt.

And while the tears fall, the stench rises out of the quiet wreckage. She’s surrounded by everything else. The wild anger, shock over lost friends and family, ache of sadness, embarrassment, abandonment, humiliation, neglect, shattered dreams, old hopes and old memories meant to be sweet turned bitter by the rind of disappointment. The odor of my mother’s meanness and jealousy smokes. No one’s been allowed in. Her heart has been surrounded by high stone walls that are beginning their fall. 

The clamor of the crumbling grows as I finally turn on the light.

The stink turns into a perfume of acceptance and embrace. It was not only my mother who emotionally abandoned me when I was 16. I did too. When I stuffed it all in the closet, the meat of me, the best part, was thrown in there too, like the baby with the bath water.

But I’m still breathing, though in tiny ripples, so I say, “I’ve come for you. It’s over now.”

“This is all I know,” she trembles.

“Just you wait, it’s much better now. You’ll see.” I finger the heart-shaped key in my hand, tracing the edges.

“I’m comfortable here,” she persists, but her voice falters. 

“I know. But real love, giving and taking it, is wall-shattering. You’re going to really love now. You can’t love here. Besides I need you. I’ve always needed you, you’re the best part of me.”

“I’m the weakest and most damaged part of you.”

“You’re going to become the strongest,” I show her the key, but she doesn’t see it. 

“Not without a mom. I need her. I need a mom’s love.” She is so young and so broken up. She wipes her eyes, which never meet mine. “I want her to hold me tight and tell me she loves me,” she pleads. “I want her watchful eyes to be keen and her voice gentle and assuring. I want to take walks and hold hands and plant one of her thousands of flower pots with her. I want to watch her paint which she’ll never do again. I want all of her. Most of all, I want her to want all of me. 

“I’m not leaving without her.”

Heart sinking, I speak slow and steady. “She might have lost you, but Love has found you… and He’ll never leave you - ever.”

This God we have with the lightyears-long, galaxy-wide arms reached out and picked me up and sat me down in the Zumba time machine. 

The dancing Zumba people are the heart-shaped key that opened that heavy closet door. They believed in me when I didn’t. They saw a person I couldn’t see. They saw the girl in the closet and invested in her. They loved all of her, even the shriveled part.

Now I see her, and I’m finally beginning to love her too. 

It’s going to take a while, but Love will always remember, and it won’t always feel good. Sometimes, some years, like my 2016, buried memories will come out of the closet and fire up pain, refining you, rekindling your heart so it can breathe love again. Healing love. 

Love that heals is love that will not fail. It will be miraculous, mysterious, piercing but it will not fail when it’s real. 

It will be dangerous and precious. It will gain everything and lose everything. It will bind up a heart and break it. But whichever path it blazes, it will go on and on.

And so will I.