Thursday, 18 February 2010

Things I learned being married to the Shrew

Dear Shannon,

I don’t feel I’ve adequately expressed to you my thoughts and feelings on your performance in “The Taming of The Shrew.” You haven’t said anything or even hinted at disappointment in this, but you deserve more. Here it is.

When you first told me you wanted to be in “Shrew” I was nervous (I think understandably) about the time commitment. I was nervous about being on my own with The Four every night for two and a half months. I was worried you’d be exhausted and the house would be more a wreck than it usually is. But it turns out that wasn’t the case. And it turns out it was the best thing that’s happened to you in years.

I heard that at the 2nd to final cast party (lots of those cast parties) Iain (the director) talked about what a great cast it was and how you were all so much a family. I also heard that Beki (Biancha) said it was because of you. She was absolutely right. From the moment you stepped on stage it was obvious who’s show it was. Everyone else did a great job, but you were better. We watched Shaun White kill it in the halfpipe at the Olympics last night. I think that last night more than at any other time, the world recognized that Shaun White simply operates at another level. And that’s how it was in “Shrew”: you were operating at a level the others simply weren’t capable of.

I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. You were that good, and I have the commentary of our friends and family to prove it’s not just me.

The good thing about a situation like this is it causes everyone else to work harder and be better. Just by being in the performance you raised the quality of the production, but because of who you are—your work ethic, your passion and personality, you caused them to take it up another notch. The result of which was a much better production than I’d bet Pull-Tight has had in years. Because you do that. You inspire the people around you to be better, to stretch themselves to do and be more than they could on their own.

I’d like to say that the moment you stepped on stage I saw you in a whole new light. But the truth is I didn’t. I know what’s in you and the levels you’re capable of, more than even you do, I think. So it wasn’t a big revelatory moment for me, although I did feel an unexpected amount of pride and a little bit of “suck it, monkeys. She’s with me.” For me, the gratifying thing has been watching our friends have the “aha” moment about your talent. The texts, tweets and comments I’ve gotten from them about you are so great, so vindicating, because they show me people are finally recognizing something I’ve known since you first performed that catwalk scene in “Lady J” with Scott. You are the most talented girl I know.

But the most indescribably beautiful thing about all of this is that you chose to lay it down for a decade to have our children.

I just gonna let that sit there for a moment.

I know you don’t see it this way, but it’s a sacrifice a lot of people can’t or won’t make. You did without hesitation, for me, for us, for them. Thanks for that.

The best part, though, is not what a great show it was or how talented you are or how our friends finally see you the way I do. The best part is what you got out of it. I was worried our home life would suffer. If you had told me it would get better, I would have laughed at you. But that’s exactly what happened. The house was in better order, you had more energy, and our communication improved. You were doing something you are passionate about, something that affirmed you and fed your soul. I think that in the craziness of life we tend toward sacrificing those things we love because we believe we’re supposed to give it all up in order to raise our children. But this experience reminded me that we need those things we love and are good at because when we’re renewed by them, we’re happier, we’re more giving, we’re better people. We’re better to The Four. We’re better to each other. While it’s true that “Shrew” cut into the amount of time we saw each other every day, it didn’t bother me because the time we did spend together was better. I’ll take the few minutes of good conversation over the hours of staring at the television every time.

And so when you told me the other night about the next auditions, and that you want to learn how to fence and play the Cello, I wasn’t surprised at all and I didn’t think you’re weird or silly. I think you’re awesome, and awesome that you want to do these things. I want to help you accomplish them. You might be mortified that I just announced to the world your dream of playing the cello, but I can’t think of a better way to help you accomplish it. Hopefully now people will ask you how it’s going (friends! Ask her how it’s going!). Hopefully it will speed you toward your goal. And like I said, you inspire people. A case in point: I’m sitting in Meridee’s this morning, trying to get some writing done before my meetings. A couple sits down on the couch across from me, and after about thirty minutes they ask what some of the stickers on my cpu are about. I soon find out I’m talking to Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler, formerly of FFH. After we realize how we know each other Jennifer tells me she wants to talk to you about how she can get into acting because Allison raved about how great you, a mother of four, were in “Shrew.”

When I think about the narrative of our life I know you made it a lot more interesting by doing this. I think we’re both on the verge of some terribly exciting chapters. I can’t wait to see where we are in a year. In five. And I know it won’t be all excitement and awesomeness—there will be tension and stress and heartbreak and chaos, but that’s what makes the narrative worth following. And so I choose this with you.

I choose this.

(P.S. I just talked to Sasha Shuff, and she’s looking into Cello lessons for you. She’s gonna call me back in a minute.)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Creative Doldrums Pt. 4

So here's the long-awaited final installment in the "doldrums" series. You can find the earlier installments further down, if you missed them. Working this out has been good for me. I learned something. I think I'll struggle with this for the rest of my life, but at least I know some of the how and why. Okay, the blog:

Out in the desert, the Israelites find themselves stuck between the promises of God.

Promise 1: “I will deliver you out of Egypt.” (Looking around. Definitely out of Egypt. Pharaoh face down in the Red Sea. Promise 1, check.)

Promise 2: “I will deliver you into a land flowing with milk and honey” (Looking around. No milk. No honey. Lots of sand. Promise 2…?)

They’re out of Egypt, but not in the land of milk & honey. At times they can literally SEE this fabled land. Early on in their desert sojourn they’re camped right on the border, ready to drink said milk and eat said honey, but experience what we might call “trust issues.” They grumble, they whine, they complain. They doubt. They doubt God can clear MilkAndHoneyLand out for them. They doubt the God who utterly boatraced the most powerful nation on earth can take care of a few suffixes. They doubt.

Again the passage is written as if this is a surprise to God. Again He talks a big game about plagues and death and ending the Israelites right then and there. Again Moses “has” to talk him out of it. But again, my bedrock belief about God is that He’s omni-omni, and that there’s no way this latest bout of whining takes Him by surprise.

I love the Olympics. I love discovering new sports, particularly in the winter games. Speed skating is ridiculous and I even like Curling. Back when the winter games were in Torino/Turin (was there ever a final verdict on what to call that one?) I found Biathlon. Biathlon is this crazy event with like 200 contestants. They cross-country ski 4 kilometers with a .22 rifle on their backs. They fly into this target range where they have to shoot five targets in five shots from a distance of 50 meters, sometimes standing, sometimes prone. Then they take off for another 4 kilometer loop to do it again. But here’s the thing, for every target they miss, they have to ski a 150 meter penalty loop. So you could ski into the shooting range in first, miss one target and ski back out in forty-seventh because of the penalty loop. It’s crazy.

Any first year seminarian can tell you that the word sin has its roots in archery. In Hebrew the word is “hataat” meaning “to miss the mark” or literally “he missed.” Sin is missing the target God sets. I find it fascinating that in Biathlon “sinning” results in a penalty lap, which is exactly what happened to the Hebrews.

Again God relents, this time settling for punishing them with a long walk in the desert. A really long walk.

There’s a pastor in Portland I like name Rick McKinley. I listen to his sermons on podcast when I can. He talks about how God will often redeem our sin and struggle to accomplish good. He calls it God’s judo move. I think God does a heck of a judo move here, although it’s not a famous or glamorous one. The Israelites have been trekking across the desert for two years and some change. In that time God has laid down the most extensive law code in the history of man. Show of hands: who thinks the Israelites are ready to take off the training wheels and take the new law code out for an unsupervised spin?

On the other side of the Jordan are all manner of people and pagan religious practices just waiting to get mixed up and muddied into the Israelites. So God does the Judo move, turning the Israelites disobedience, doubt and punishment into a training period where they can learn the law and live with God undistracted.

Not to say that God made the Israelites doubt so they could go on the training trek. No. They chose that on their own. The blame lies squarely with the Israelites. God promised them something. He brought them front and center to it. They whined like my 7 year-old and doubted God could do what He said He would do. So they get a forty-year penalty lap. God didn’t cause the doubt, but he does a judo move to redeem the doubt.

So there they are, stuck between the promises. If you’re Moses or Joshua or Caleb you gotta be pulling your hair out. So close! And now you’re walking the wrong way. Even if they can discern God’s judo move, it’s an icy cold comfort, knowing they were that close, seeing it, smelling it, but not being able to get there.


I feel like that a lot. I feel like that right now. Stuck between the promises of God. He’s brought me thus far and He’s promised more. I can see the “promised more” from where I am, but I can’t see how to get there, and so I grumble. Rather than patiently wait for God to get me there, I wail about my present conditions. Never mind these conditions are far better than the place He delivered me from. Never mind He’s promised me a land of milk and honey. I grumble. Eventually, I doubt.

These days I have a lot of doubt. I doubt people like me. I doubt in my ability to do my job effectively. I doubt I’m a good dad, a good husband. I doubt anyone thinks I’m creative. I doubt anyone cares about what I write. And so I take a long walk in the sand, but rather than having faith in God’s judo move, I doubt that too. So I wake up grumbling in the sand, grumbling as I gather the manna He’s provided me, grumbling as I travel the road He set me on. Only I don’t want people (or God) to know how much doubt I have in my heart, so instead I try to name it something hip and artistic—the Creative Doldrums. Rather than confess my doubt, I hide behind the faux creative shield of “uninspired.”

It’s not a lack of inspiration. It’s this grumbling, this doubt that shuts down my ability to create. That locks me out of who He made me to be. It’s this doubt that bleeds the color out of my world. Because of course God is the Creator and the source of all creation. Of course all good things come from Him and all that. Of course all the Sunday school answers that are pooling in the front of my brain.

Of course doubt is the antithesis of inspiration.

(a really long pause while he thinks about the implications of this statement. For you it maybe a second or five. For him it was two months.)

The original point was this: I was reading Don Miller’s new book and I ran across this paragraph and it got me terribly excited and inspired.

“…I wonder if that’s what we’ll do with God when we are through with all of this, if he’ll show us around heaven, all the light coming in through windows a thousand miles away, all the fields sweeping down to a couple of chairs under a tree, in a field outside the city. And we’ll sit and tell Him our stories, and He’ll smile and tell us what they mean.”

I read this and saw color. And now I see that it wasn’t because it was great or beautiful writing or because it was terribly creative. It was a truth that cut through my doubt. Another piece of my salvation fell into place. He said it right—Jesus and I will ride these very English bikes into heaven, grinning and singing and whooping at the tops of our lungs. We’ll fly down those fields with our feet off the pedals and the wind singing a perfect roar in our ears and skid to a stop under that tree where God smiling, sitting in that chair waiting for us.

Because it wasn’t really Mr. Miller or his book that inspired me. It was the Jesus in him that cut through my doubt so I could hear what I needed. And as I made notes and wrote I realized it wasn’t as instantaneous as it felt. The tank had been slowly filled by my time in the Word. By Joseph in prison and Jesus in the upper room. By Moses and Israelites groaning in Egypt and grumbling in the desert. The Holy Spirit flipped the switch I think of as “inspiration,” but Jesus is constantly battling the doubt in my heart.

We can be inspired by lots of stuff, but the true source of Inspiration that drives our ability to create is that divine sparkplug, the Holy Spirit, living in us. When I stop listening to my own heart and listen to Him, I am Inspired. He whispers to me that I do have value. That He created me this way and He likes the stuff I write. He whispers into my heart that I do have something valuable to say, because He’s the one that created me to say it. He whispers, “don’t come to the tree without good stories to tell. Don’t come to the tree without telling the stories I made you to tell.”

(another long pause. Take as much time as you need.)

Even now I can feel my doubt creeping back in, stealing the inspiration I have to work on different projects. The good news is that at least now I recognize what’s happening and how it’s happening. So I tattoo the Holy Spirit’s words on my heart as insurance and protection against the times when I don’t feel it.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

“What Brothers Do” or “How I ended up Driving Gigi’s purple glasses and Longaberger baskets across the country.”

As Shannon drove me to my parents’ house to meet Chris, Asher said, “Dad, you’re going to drive the truck?”

Me: Yes Asher.
Asher: Why?

I had already told him several times that morning that I was driving a truck with uncle Chris back to his house in California, that we had spent the night before loading all of his and Gigi’s remaining Nashville-based possessions into this twenty-four foot truck. But till now he hadn’t asked why. I paused for a moment, then turned around in my seat and looked at him.

“Because that’s what brothers do.”

My older brother: Chris, his wife: Gigi, their two children: Burns (6) and Grayton (4).

Three years ago Chris applied to and was accepted into the only Spiritual Formation program at an evangelical university in the U.S. (and probably the world, for that matter, I don’t know). Of course this university is in California (L.A., nat’). So they packed a twenty-four foot truck with everything they could, put the rest in storage and Moved Away. They lived in a rented university house while he was a student, and round about a year ago he graduated. I guess they liked him, because they offered him a teaching position, and so they decided to stay. This meant finding a more permanent address, and as the housing market had cratered, there was never a better time for them to take the plunge into the unfathomably expensive southern CA housing landscape. It’s a long and painful story: that of their journey to California home ownership, but shortly after the first of the year they stood victorious on the threshold of their new house. And all that stuff they’d left in storage? It finally had a home too.

A few weeks ago I got an email from my mother informing me that my highly sought after truck packing skills were required, as Chris and a buddy would be flying in to pack up their remaining stuff and drive it back to Cali. I’m like most people—I hate packing, but he was my brother, so we worked the scheduling out. About a week later I received another email from my mother that the CA buddy had to drop out of the trip, and that Chris would be driving the truck solo. I talked it over with Shannon for a minute and she agreed. I called my mother and said, “I’ll go with him.”

In the three years he’s been out there, I haven’t been able to visit. And really, we haven’t spent more than about four hours together in a sitting since he’s moved. So this seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to get to do both. Plus, I have a buddy from college with a new baby that lives out there that I’d also get to see. It was an easy decision, and well worth the two vacation days.

But still, nobody likes packing and NOBODY like being in the cab of a Uhaul for thirty-odd hours, and I thought I’d dread and resent it, but as I met him the night he got to town to load a PIANO, and then the rest of his stuff, I found it didn’t bother me at all, and that I was actually having a good time. Matt (younger brother) came out and joined us after his basketball game (he’s a coach for a local school). It was cold and rained the whole time. Didn’t bother me a bit.

My dad had pushed earlier in the evening to stop and eat between the piano and the rest of the stuff, but I wanted to finish loading, because you do the hard part first, and also because I knew Matt might be able to join us. He did. So did mom. And something happened that hasn’t happened in memory: the five of us—my mom and dad, my two brothers and I, had dinner together.

I have my own family now, and they are my family. My brothers are both married and have children as well. But I think this is the first time since at least they were married (7 or 8 years) that it’s just been the five of us. Nothing special happened, mostly I just explained “Lost” to them, but it was special, and I was blessed by it.

The night before, Shannon had been at rehearsal and I was home with the Four. Asher is at the age where he loves to play “Duck Duck Goose” and he’s terrible at it. It’s also not so much about catching each other as it is just to run in a big meandering loop through the house cackling like mad while someone chases you. There’s no mush pot. So Asher, Lorelei, Piper and I had been playing (I carry Piper with me as we run or chase, depending), and it was time to put Piper to bed. Jacob was doing homework at the table. I took Piper upstairs and put her down. When I came out of her room, Asher and Lorelei were still playing and Jacob was participating from the table—which is to say that he was rooting for them. And they were all delirious with laughter.

There is no finer sound in the world than your own children laughing with and because of each other.

So I was thinking about these two beautiful moments—the dinner and the duck, duck, goose game—when Asher asked me why I was driving a truck to California with my brother.

I wanted to say to him, “because you grow up and get married and have kids and get jobs and move away and LIFE HAPPENS and you don’t ever get to play duck, duck, goose with your siblings anymore.” But he’s three and wouldn’t understand that. So I said,

“That’s what brothers do.”

And he seemed to accept this.

So I’m in a truck with my brother Chris. Matt has already expressed his sincere desire to be in the middle seat between us. I believe him with all my heart, because I would feel the same way if they were going without me. We’re eating like crap, telling some old stories, but mostly just riding in companionable silence. Adult duck, duck, goose.