May 4, 2007

Clear Your Temple

I've been having a moment. A moment of seeings and dialog. I guess it came out of the one discipline I took back with me from the cabin. Writing. Well I haven’t been writing on the book every day, because I started a writing project for DirecTV.

But I’ve been journaling and reading the Bible. Quiet Time. I haven’t done this in a long, long time. Back a couple years ago when my entire faith fell apart, I couldn’t read anything in my bible. SO many verses had been underlined through the years, promises I had held onto, rebuke I’d taken to heart, things I believed were for me.

But when I went through that change, I didn’t know what to believe. What if I had read it all wrong? What if I’d just taken total verses out of context that had never been meant for me? i.e. “Judas hung himself … go and do likewise."

Well I sure felt like that was the case. What if it was all the wishful thinking of men. What if God were far more removed? I couldn’t read any of it. Except for the psalms of lament

O Lord, how long o lord will you forget me?
How long o Lord will I look the other way?
How long O Lord must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have such sorrow in my heart?

I guess I’ve come not full circle but most of the way around. Even if some verses had been written by people and for people of a certain time, they reflected God’s character, or even as little as reflecting what seekers have always longed for god.

In Jeremiah, he describes Israel as once having loved God as a bride loves her groom. And then he goes on to describe Israel’s apostasy to a whore going out and laying down for whoever went along. That guy was pretty gritty.

Well, OK, so all this longing I had in my heart, for intimacy with God … maybe it wasn’t for nothing. People for generations have longed for intimacy. Religion means re-ligion. Ligament joining. Re-joining. Getting back to god. Yoga means oneness. So it’s not just me who’s wanted it.

Lectio Divina

The Catholics practice Lectio Divina, where they read the scriptures and try to see it as it happens. Put themselves in the scene. What do you see? That’s what Jeremiah recounts, that God asked him, ‘what do you see?’

So reading John 2, Jesus clears the temple of the people selling junk. Interesting thing in the footnote: the area of the temple where the people were selling animals .. well it was right to sell them, people traveled far and wide to come to the temple, they wanted to bring a bird or a lamb to sacrifice, and these people sold them those things so they didn’t have to haul it with them. Good thing. But here’s the juice. The area they were using was inside the temple courtyard, ‘the area where Gentiles were allowed to pray.

God had provided a place for the heathen, the unchosen, the outsiders, the seekers who weren’t part of the fold, to pray and seek him. How cool is that? We think God was so distant or exclusive, and yet he made a place for them to come and pray and ask.

And what did we do? We filled it with STUFF TO BUY. That’s what Jesus was clearing out. A few verses later he makes that incendiary remark, destroy the temple and I will build it in three days, and then the writer, explains Jesus was referring to his own body.

Well before I got on my high horse and thought, yeah, those OTHER Christian materialists who’ve turned Jesus into a commodity, selling self help books and WWJD jewelry, al THEIR Jesus Junk, … Jesus says his body is the temple. And if it’s true that my body is a temple, so what junk have I got floating around in my courtyard that prevents seekers access to God?

What crap, materialism, self centeredness is clotting up the avenue through which others can get a glimpse of what Jesus is like. If I am a conduit through which God can reach others, bless them, give them hope. What crap have I got in the way?

My friend Chris Myers said that for Lent, God asked him to fast “from your lousy attitude.” Well I think I got that assignment too, and I ignored it. Or rather, I remembered it every time I was in the middle of a bad attitude. Namely driving.

Sure it’s easy for me to sit at the table and write, pray, contemplate how amazing God is and how loved and full I feel.

But then give me the car keys.

Yeah I’ve got stuff to work on. It’s not just driving, it’s some of the people I run into out of the car. Like Whole Food, the place I love to hate. Everyone there seems to be on a path toward enlightenment. NO a beeline to it, and you’re always in their way. OF course I tell myself, I’m IN the store, not OF it.

And then I heard something come up in my head. A word from God or a mantra: Everyone is Jesus. Everyone here is Jesus. Treat everyone here like they were Jesus.

It helped. A lot. And so I went driving home, the new spring sun in the air, trees budding flowers, and, despite the assholes on the road I was able to let a lot of their assholness pass by. And think, everyone is Jesus. And I’m the temple. So clear out the wreckage of my past, and present, out of the temple: me and my thoughts. They’re all Jesus.

I’m getting better. Some days, though, I should just stay at home.

May 3, 2007

Same Space, Different Time Zone

I can’t find my husband. We occupy the same house, but live in different dimensions. For one thing, when we moved, the size of our living space quadrupled. At least. He was writing way upstairs and I was down in the spare room. We solved part of this by Larry moving down to Ted and Lori’s office, which is right across the hall from the spare room. And during the hours we are both awake and alert, we are within yelling distance.

But there is the time dimension as well. He is living in the realm of normal working folk. I am living in the realm of the tortured artist. He tries to get to bed by 10:30pm. I’m just getting started. In other words, he’s living on Central Standard Time, and I’m on Bikini Atoll time. Or somewhere in the Pacific right before the International Date Line. I should check to see what cities come up on that grid. Probably none.

I was a late nighter before we met. Then we met, got married, and lived in a 500 square foot converted one bedroom. There was no ‘I’m staying up, you go to sleep,’ because we didn’t even have a door on the “bedroom.” Think of a Tokyo apartment.

So we adapted. He went to bed later, me earlier. It was good.

Now it’s not so good. Granted, I just got back from a week alone in a cabin, writing for seven days. That got me onto the ‘write until you can’t, sleep until you wake” mode. I’ve had a hard time readjusting to real life. Even without that trip to the ER.

But I am up. I tried to take my disciplines back with me, like the fact I only checked my email every other day; making sure I have a good quiet time in contemplation, prayer and journaling. Gosh I forgot how great that is, having time alone with God and your thoughts. The trip to the cabin was worth that alone. I did take that back. I haven’t tried to limit my email time except that I don’t’ respond to every forwarded email joke with “hey good one.”

And I’ve hit the ground running. I’m working on another TV special, script due in three weeks. And I took on a script consulting job with a 48 hour turn around. So I have that as an excuse.

But here I am up late and my mind won’t turn off, and I forgot to take the Excedrin PM an hour ago.

I did this last night. I heard that still, small voice, “go to bed with your husband, you need to hang out with him.” I ignored it for, ‘just a minute I need to check out this new website I found …” three hours later.

Well when I finally DID go to bed, Larry was already well into his fifth REM cycle. And you know what?

I felt sad. Sad like I’d missed out on something important. Something so small and easy to miss and ultimately, what life is made up of: Small infinitesimal moments of life that never come again. I felt sad that he was asleep. Sad I wasn't with him when he was dreamy but still alert to hear what was on his mind and what he was caring about at that moment. Sad that I wasn’t there to tell him what was on my mind and what I was caring about at that moment.

As I watched his outline in the dark, saw the faint like of his sideburns and his hair and his skin ... I fell in love him yet again. Loving that soft body and courageous man contained in it, That man who is laying down his life for me, one day at a time, who is still vulnerable and naked and carrying sorrows and hopes in each sleeping breath.

And so I 'think' I heard God say, "Go to bed earlier, girl!" Even if I went to bed when he did and got back up to write. But more than likely I'd like to get back into Larry’s rhythm. Also because we have this great marriage. But tests and trials come. And the weaknesses start with little things, like not spending the time to hear each other, or fall asleep in the same bed at the same time, to the point you have missed out on so much of each other’s infinitesimal moments that you feel alone, living in a different time zone. Guard your heart even in the small things, because even if the Enemy could never make us break, he could steal away the joy of those small things, or mute it.

And with all that I still stayed up too late tonight. And the still small voice, reminding me to go to bed now, wasn't so obvious. Or I muted it.

Please pray for me, and for yourself: that we don't lose the bits of life that pass by unnoticed. Pray that we are awake and alert to apprehend them. And that we sleep when we must.

And now I must go to sleep. The Excedrin PM is kicking in and I can't read my own typing.

May 2, 2007

Book Deal

Ann Lamott: In a very important way, writing gets easier, because I've been doing it full time now for thirty-plus years, and just as you would get better and better if you practiced your scales on a piano, I've gotten better, and can try harder and harder pieces.
But writing is always hard. It does not come naturally to me at all. I sit down at the same time every day, which lets my subconscious realize it's time to get to work. I give myself very short assignments, and let myself write really terrible first drafts. But I grapple with the exact same problems every writer does, which is having equal proportions of self-loathing and grandiosity.
I sort of live by the Nike ads: Just Do It. So I sit down. I show up. I do it by pre-arrangement with myself, because I know I'll feel sad and terrible if I shirk on that days writing. I do it as a debt of honor, to myself, and to whatever it is that has given me this gift of being able to tell stories, and to make people laugh. Laughter is carbonated holiness. Other people's good writing is medicine for me, and I hope mine is too, for my readers.
I’ve always written. I thought I could be a writer some day … But then when the opportunities showed up, I procrastinated until the opportunity went away. I was too afraid to find out that I couldn’t really write. Because then what would I be?

A few years ago when God torched my life, something snapped. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and could not stop writing. I wrote to get the pain out, get the story out, get the truth out. I wrote to stay sane. Most all I wrote because I could no longer NOT write.

Once I started to write for its own sake, I started to like writing. I got to that place of, ‘even if I never get paid for this, I’m still a writer. So, write.

Over a year ago I published online for fun and for free, a story on a website called Infuze Magazine. It was called “Rejected by eHarmony!” It detailed all the frustrations I encountered in online dating. Including being rejected by eHarmony three times.

A while later I got an email from this editor at a big publishing house. The gist was: she read the eHarmony piece, found my blog. “Have you ever considered publishing?”

I wanted to respond, “Do you mean, ‘have I considered it yet today?’ It’s only 8:30 am.”

Well she had contacted me right when Larry and I got engaged. Needless to say I got sidetracked. But eventually I got a proposal to her, based on a lot of that gut wrenching stuff I had written when God torched my life. I called it “Angry Conversations With God.”

When you’ve been in a career filled with near misses, where all the control is with some one else out there, you learn to develop a tough skin. Meaning, you talk yourself out of hoping.

But a couple weeks ago I heard from the editor. It passed muster in Nashville, and then New York staff approved it. Her publishing house was offering me a book deal.

I kinda blanked when I heard the voice mail. Wait. What? Oh. Oh WOW!

Not so Out Of The Blue

You hear these stories of people being plucked from obscurity, usually gorgeous young chicks who got discovered at a used car lot and went on to star in a hit TV show and cut a record album. Then went into rehab and is now working at an insurance company. That was never me.

I’ve realized is that it happened just in the course of doing what I needed to be doing all along. Incremental steps, not one big giant step. Gigs here, articles there. Bigger articles, bigger gigs. Money for work. Through that I got over my procrastination and just wrote.

Mostly I gained a sense of Inevitability. This will happen. It will get done. With God’s grace, friends’ support, and my commitment to the process of just doing what I know I am supposed to do. I have no idea if it will be a success. I have no control over who decides to buy it, who’s going to like it. But I have control over writing it. And I have that sense of inevitability about it. It will happen, because it’s what I’m supposed to do.

This morning, our friend Anna Waterhouse sent me the Ann Lamott quote above. As I was printing it out I found a fortune I had received in a fortune cookie years ago.

Gotta write...

PS ... since this post I've done live readings of some of the chapters. You can watch them on my website.