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Guess Who Came to My House This Week?

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You ever have one (or many) of those moments where you are so bonedowndeeptired, so overwhelmed, so completely buried under the big problems, the little problems, and the minutia that you just stand in your kitchen, slowly spinning around, wondering at what point it officially crosses the line between trying to catch your breath and hyperventilating with anxiety? No? Yeah, me neither.

Right………

The last couple of weeks have been a wee bit stressful, what with leading a women’s retreat, doing a couple of stand-up shows, and ushering both of my parents into and out of the hospital (one planned, one not planned, both home and better now, thank goodness!). Not to mention garden variety ongoing extended family mental health crises. Week before last, I was gone seven nights in a row, leaving my sweet husband to do dinner and bedtime for the munchkins on his own. FOR SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROW.

By Monday of this week, I was in exhausted, directionless spinning mode, unable to perform the tiniest task because it all seemed SO COMPLICATED AND HARD AND EXHAUSTING. Putting my socks on? TOO MUCH. Clipping a hangnail? FORGET ABOUT IT.

The house looked like a bomb had gone off, and no one had even bothered to dust the debris. (Cause the hubby is amazing, but he doesn’t really, um, pick up. Anything. Minor detail, really. Cause SEVEN NIGHTS, people.)

But then guess what happened? Jesus came over. Yep. He came to my house this week, and mopped my floors. Folded my laundry. Folded more laundry. Told me He still loved me, even though I was a dreadful housekeeper, and made me dinner.

Of course, I’m not sure y’all would have recognized him without the beard and the white toga outfit, but it was definitely Jesus. Not Sunday School Jesus in the paintings, and not Angry Jesus you might read about in the paper, you know, the one who disapproves of people, and criticizes folks through thin pursed lips.

No, this was The Real Deal Jesus. The One who meets me where I am weak and vulnerable, who meets me right where I am with open arms and tells me it’s ok, I AM enough and with Him I can do whatever is in front of me.

Like I said, He didn’t look like Sunday School Jesus at all. He actually looked exactly like five beautiful women from my small group, sisters who had read through my pitiful email updates about how I was fine, just tired, just discouraged about you know…. everything.  One of them called and said “We’re coming Tuesday, how’s 9:30?” Note she didn’t ask what they could do, or tell me to let me know if they could do anything.

She simply said they. Were. Coming. When I protested, she ignored me. Gently. When I said the house was too dirty for them to come clean, she ignored me. Gently. When I said I had an appointment at that time and I couldn’t be there, she said that was fine, probably for the best, I just needed to let them in and maybe give them a list of the most important things to be done to save my sanity.

She said they couldn’t fix the Big Stuff, but they could fold my laundry. They could mop the floor. They could (Lord, have mercy on my bad housekeeper self) clean the bathrooms. They could leave me a dinner to nourish my people, and leave me some clean spots in the rubble I could gaze on to nourish my soul.

Oh, how it nourished my soul. Once I got over my embarrassment, my shame at my dirty floorboards, and my vulnerability at having others do such intimate tasks for me, they got to be Jesus. (Crazy how often we can get in the way of other people being Jesus.) Hands folded, hands scrubbed, and they were His hands. Hands chopped and cooked, and they were His hands.

Those same women and a few other dear sisters have prayed me and my family through every hard thing in the last few years, every dark turn, every moment that seemed too much to bear. Their prayers have held me up when I couldn’t pray, when I couldn’t think, when I couldn’t hope.

They have brought meals, watched kids, and taken me to get a pedicure. (Sometimes that is EXACTLY what a girl needs.)

You know what I call that? Sacred work. Sacred work that loved me, filled me, and held me up.

So if you don’t have friends like that, you need to get you some. Seriously. Because since Tuesday, I’ve breathed deeper, and felt stronger, and loved a little more patiently, and my kitchen floor is clean and sometimes that will just get you to the next moment. (And if you’re still stuck on Angry Jesus, or Sunday School Jesus, or Judgmental Jesus or Distant Jesus, you really need to meet this other Guy.)

Yup. That’s Real Deal Jesus, and He came to my house this week.

Squirrel Murder Was Just the Beginning

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Hey, long time no see. Read. Share. Whatever. Hey Blog Readers! Thanks for joining me, I know it’s been a long time, but I’m back. Again. Honestly, you may want to grab a cup of tea, this is kind of a long one, but so glad you’re here!

So, how was your day?

Mine? Not great, honestly. Empty gas tank, squirrel murder, gas station faux pas, nervous travelers, and Angry Dude, the gas station manager. That was my morning. Well, that, and the Whisper that changed it all around.

The plan was to drive some old and dear family friends back to the airport this morning after they’d had a visit with my folks.  I arrived on time. (Well, really, thirty minutes earlier than necessary because my mother, who claims she didn’t, accidentally told me to be there thirty minutes earlier than necessary because she does not trust my timeliness. Apparently my teen years were very hard on her. I like to be exactly on time, she likes to be ridiculously early. A lifetime of tension ensues. Timeliness – key plot point to remember…..) Anyhow, I arrived to pick them up in plenty of time, and after some brief chitchat it was time for hugs and hitting the road, and we loaded up.

We set off, but just as I pulled onto the highway, I happened to glance down at the gas gauge, and was HORRIFIED to see it below empty, light just blinking away. I didn’t drive at all yesterday, what happened? Crud. Oh, well, we’ve got time, no problem. And so it began……..

I efficiently pulled off the highway and up the ramp, calculating in my head where the gas station might be and how long this little detour might take (timeliness on my mind, not wanting to have THAT conversation with Mom……).

You know how it’s so funny to say “Squirrel!” and feign distraction as if you are the dog from the movie Up?

Yeah, that’s not how I said it when I saw the pair of furry frolicking love-squirrels skittering directly ahead of me, a vehicle to my right, a steep hill to my left. And after the undeniable jolt we felt, I made the mistake of looking back, only to see the twitching, seizing body of the squirrel lover I had just summarily squashed. I didn’t see but can only imagine his little squirrel amour, safely across, watching his little body draw its last breath, struggling to understand how her spring romp had gone badly so quickly.

"Frankie! Frankie, what's wrong? I wanted to have your squirrel babies......"

“Frankie! Frankie, what’s wrong? I wanted to have your squirrel babies……”

Still shaking, I pulled into the overpriced highway ramp gas station. Angry Dude, the manager, approached my van, and took my credit card. I was only getting $20 of gas, so when he returned in a few moments, I was not surprised.

(Back in MY DAY, $20 worth of gas would get you a full tank and a free car wash, yessiree. Today, not even a quarter of my minivan’s tank. Grumble, grumble, I walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways……..Sorry.)

He handed my credit card back to me with a hearty “There you go!”. I assumed we were done, as did my passengers, and I began to pull away. Unfortunately, Angry Dude had just been enthusiastically returning my credit card, and had barely begun to pump the gas. When I drove away with the nozzle still in my tank, it ripped loose and loudly clattered to the ground. I realized immediately what had happened, and stopped, the apology ready on my lips as I opened the door.

No matter, he had no interest in my apology. “What the f***?” he yelled at me, as I tried to tell him I wasn’t trying to steal the gas, but just had misunderstood him. He demanded I return to the pump, continuing to berate me the entire time for how stupid I was, how I needed to pay attention, how the pump was probably broken(it wasn’t) and I would be paying the $1000 to fix it.

I am quite sure that the very proper retired 4th grade teacher in my van has NEVER been yelled at in such a manner, nor has she had the f-bomb even hurled in her general direction before her delightful time with me this morning. Poor thing. I’m sure the 6 hours of flying she had ahead of her were relaxing in comparison.

As we finally pulled away, headed once again toward the airport, I began to angrily compose my letter to the gas station’s corporate CEO in my mind, filling it with my unbridled anger at being mistreated over a simple mistake. I gleefully pictured returning to the station, demanding Angry Dude’s name to include in my brilliantly written epistle of anger.

Believe me, I come by my capacity for ferocious righteous indignation honestly, from a long line of ladies who are and were more than capable of standing up for ourselves and others, for writing blistering letters to the editor or the complaint department that left ash and singe marks in their wake.

By the time we go to the airport, though, I had calmed down a wee bit, and from out of Nowhere into my soul came a different plan.

“Go back,” said the Whisper to my heart, “Go back, forgive him, apologize for not paying attention, and acknowledge the likely source of HIS anger.” It was clear to me as I went over the details of our encounter that others must have pulled away on purpose, stiffing him for the gas and the broken pump, and his response to me was clearly that of owner or manager, worried and responsible for the whole station.

But no, I thought, he DESERVES my wrath, he yelled at me! Plus that would be weird, he’s probably forgotten about it, I’ll just make him feel more awkward, and that would be overreacting. “It’s good to be weird,” persisted the Whisper, “especially when it makes people think about why you’re doing it. In fact, bring him a gift.”

A gift. Great. That won’t be weird at all. Sigh.

I am not historically one of those apparently blessed types who constantly hear The Voice of The Lord, who can tell you what The Lord told them to have for breakfast or what to wear for dinner at Red Robin, or even which job to take or house to buy. Usually, God and I have a more informal communication pattern, one in which I probably miss about 75% or more of what He tells me, and in which I’m sure He gently laughs and rolls His eyes at what I tell Him.

But there are times in life when an idea or thought is so clearly not of me, so clearly inspired by His Whisper, that I know to ignore it is just Not. An. Option.

So after safely depositing my travelers at the airport (only ten minutes late, thank you Lord!), I drove to a nearby Target. My mindset changed from how to verbally eviscerate Angry Dude in my letter to his boss, to what kind of snacks or treats Angry Dude might like, and if a sample size of “Goo Be Gone” would be thoughtful or would imply I thought he was dirty. (I decided to stick with manly, edible snacks, just in case.) I tucked some mini Oreos, a tiny sample of fancy coffee, some beef jerky and some little bags of almonds into a little metal bucket, and I even bought a little ribbon for the handle.

If you’re going to be weird and go overboard, it might as well color-coordinate.

I drove directly back to the gas station to deliver it, nervous all the way.

Now, as I share with you the underwhelming end to my story, let me make a couple of points:

I knew this was about me, about my heart, and that I had to forgive him and present my gift with NO expectations of his response. That wasn’t the Whisper’s goal. My heart was the one that needed change, the one I could change or allow to be changed.

Good thing, because his response when I arrived and walked up to him with my cute little tin of treats ran the gamut –  suspicion, dismissal, refusal of my gift, and a rehash of how I should pay more attention and how dangerous it had been.

It wasn’t about telling Angry Dude why I was doing it, that I was realizing I had been forgiven long ago for so much more than a rude outburst, that the least I could do was live my life in this world in a way that stood out a little, that made people wonder.  It was about the tenor of my response, a Word He had planted in me just a few days ago through the musings of a dear friend at Bible study.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15

Good thing, because I choked out something lame like “no, really, we’ve both had a crappy morning, and I just wanted to say I knew I should have paid more attention. Please, take it, I just want you to have a better day.” I was gentle and respectful, but also nervous, awkward, and probably weird.

Angry Dude finally did take my gift, and said something like, “Well, I’m sorry I yelled at you BUT you should be more careful.” Ahhhh…..the qualified apology. Good thing this wasn’t about manipulating a satisfying response………..

And I confess I did spend some time afterwards, thinking of all the things I could have said differently or better, and kicking myself for not including a note with some key Scriptures in it that would point him to the Source of my weird actions. But not for long. Because I heard another Whisper, winding in-between my self-recriminations.

“It was enough. Shhhhhh…….Accept that it was enough.”

So I am.

Still feel awful about the squirrel though, may he rest in peace.

The Letter I Did Not Send to Traffic Court

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Dear Court/court person/court administrator/traffic violation clerk:

First, I’m sorry, that was so awkward, right? But my speeding ticket says I have the option to send a letter of explanation with my check and my no-contest plea, but it doesn’t say to whom I should address it. So I hope one of those salutations covered it, because I certainly don’t want to be rude or get started on the wrong foot.

And not just because I’m hoping you will reduce my fine, but because I’m sure you have a rough job and I don’t want this to be one more whiny letter about why it wasn’t my fault (it was), and the cop was mean (he wasn’t), and I wasn’t even going that fast (well, ya got me there, I wasn’t).  Maybe this letter won’t be the worst one you get today.

Not that I think I should get credit for that, because I know that isn’t how things work, but I just want to spread light and joy even in difficult circumstances.

Of course, I don’t want to be disingenuous either, I definitely want you to reduce my fine. Please.

Still not sure what I’m supposed to be explaining here. I could explain my state of mind at the time of the incident, which I am going to chalk up to the fact that it was Friday, three days after Christmas. The days and weeks before had been a whirlwind of chaos, crisis, and change for my family, and come the day after Christmas, I was plumb tuckered. Emotionally, physically, even spiritually, I was just Done. In.

Not only was I exhausted, but I’m going to admit right up front that I was probably all hopped up on sugar. Wednesday and Thursday were days of rest rejuvenation comatose-like sleeping, fueled only by the Christmas food groups of fudge, fruitcake and mandarin oranges. (Without those oranges, I’d be dead of malnutrition.)

However, my kids had cabin fever, and my sweet mother-in-law, in town for the holiday, had taken to carefully poking me at regular intervals to be sure I was still breathing. By Friday, I was feeling beholden to rouse myself and be Fun Mom, Fun Hostess, Fun Daughter in Law, Fun, Fun, Fun. So off we headed to the local zoo, on a mission to see the new baby elephant.

Who is crazy cute, by the way. Have you seen her? You really should, I mean, baby elephants aren’t that common and the chance to see them before they lose their cute baby-ness is very rare.

Seriously, look:

Baby Lily, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo

Right. So, anyhow, I’ve searched the Internet in vain for what to include in this letter of explanation. You might want to include some guidelines, to help people tailor their letters to your needs. Maybe even specify when a person should do the letter of explanation, because it just says you can if you want. But not WHY. That kind of uncertainty probably brings out the crazy in some people.

Just a suggestion, because I can only IMAGINE what kind of wacky letters other folks probably send in these situations, with extraneous and unnecessary anecdotes about their personal lives.

I’m sure, for instance, you don’t want excuses, and I for one am not going to be offering any. The officer who stopped me on our way to the zoo said I was going 43 in a 25 mph zone, which is usually a 45 mph zone except for the fact that it’s a construction zone so they changed it, even though it has been a construction zone for over a year, but the fact that I know that because I researched it online doesn’t mean I’m making excuses, and I’m sure he was right. He seemed very confident, and truth be told I had no idea how fast I was going. (Runonsentencewhatnow?)

The officer was professional and polite the entire time. Honestly, I’m glad I just got the ticket I did. Because the minute he walked up to the car, I had a terrible, awful, terrible realization that I had made an ENORMOUS mistake, and that I could be paying HANDSOMELY for it.

I was driving my dad’s car because I had just brought him home from the hospital Christmas Eve (crisis, chaos), and I realized that in my rush to commence the funfunfun that the three boys in the back seat were NOT IN CAR SEATS. Not one of them. THE HORROR. THE HORROR. I know. Believe me, no additional judgement required. Mothers of my generation are well conditioned to understand the dire consequences of not using car seats. I’m surprised I didn’t burst instantly into tears.

Technically, as I understand the most conservative estimates, all three of them should be in car seats, and my uber-skinny eldest middle schooler may go to senior prom in a car seat. (The child is what our ancestors charmingly termed a “late bloomer.” I have a cat that nearly weighs more than he does.) But my younger two are always in car seats, and I in my fudge-induced intoxication had completely forgotten.

My fears seemed to be confirmed when the officer peered in the back seat and asked the age of my oldest. “Twelve, believe it or not,” I squeaked. But he didn’t say another word. I don’t know if he could tell by looking at me that I was a normally-responsibly-mama-on-the-edge-of-a-total-meltdown, or what, but I am grateful for his mercy.

Anyhow, I guess that’s my explanation. I mean, I don’t think it would be relevant to include the fact that the ticket wasn’t even the worst part of my day, which had to have been later that evening when the 6 yr old and I forgot we had started running his bath, and we found out 45 minutes later that our bathtub doesn’t have an overfill drain.

You should never, ever hear the sound of bath water running down the heating vent across the bathroom from the tub. That’s not good. And an overflowing bathtub does not care that you are MERELY TRYING TO ACHIEVE BASIC LEVELS OF HYGIENE IN PARENTING, after a really long day of trying to do the right thing and having bad results.

The Post-Christmas Flood of 2012 resulted in wet walls, wet carpet and wet mother-in-law belongings downstairs, some intra-marital yelling and a lot of wet towels. Nothing says good hostess like a wet basement guest room. Sigh.

So. Anyhoo. Enclosed please find my check, my signed ticket, and the remnants of  my remaining 2012 quotas of dignity and good intentions. And Happy Belated New Year.

Tara

Note: I am eternally grateful to the clerk I spoke to on the phone who was able to reduce my fine right then, if I would just please, please, please not send in a letter.

Also, this is a silly post about my misadventures, and is in no way intended to be either dismissive of my speeding OR lack of car seat usage, which were both unsafe and inappropriate, or critical of police officers. Or traffic court clerks. Who are all awesome.

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