Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crazy Christian

I am a crazy Christian. One of those freaky scripture quotin, lookin for signs, reading the tea leaves, God’s watching you and you-better-watch-out cause the Devil is just around the next bend, kind of Christians. I’m the one you would call a fanatic, a holy roller, a Jesus Freak. I’m the one you see in the grocery store and you duck down behind the mound of tomatoes until I pass by.

I looked up the definition for Jesus Freak. “Noun: Someone who displays an unusual or embarrassing amount of enthusiasm for Jesus…or…Someone who persists in talking about the importance of Jesus in their life and the world to the point of being rude.” I’m thinking the person who wrote these definitions was, more than once, cornered behind the tomatoes by their local Jesus Freak.

I even scare off fellow Christians. My friends like to say, “Wow, you’re really living it,” or “Wow, you’re really deep,” which is of course code for, “Psychoooo!”

Before I was a Christian, I delivered pizza for Dominoes. It was a very spiritually charged environment. The manager, we’ll call him Greg, sold dime bags of Mexican pot out the kitchen back door. Greg used to let us get high in the bathroom before our shift. This presented just one or two tiny problems for me as I delivered the pizzas. First, and the most obvious, it is not recommended that a person drive stoned. I often found myself staring endlessly at the map and then just shaking my head saying, “Whoa…whoa…” Secondly, there was the whole munchy/steaming hot pepperoni in the front seat issue. I never ate an entire slice. I just strategically picked the good parts off the top, the pepperoni, the sausage, the mushrooms, leaving the customer to believe that Dominoes was getting chintzy on their toppings.

So there was Greg, the pothead manager, me, the pothead teenager and the Jesus Freak. We’ll call him Hank. Hank was plump, somewhere in his early thirties and had one of those cop-mustaches. He wore his bright red Dominoes shirt tucked into his acid washed jeans, fastened by a nifty leather belt. And Hank was a singer, or at least he thought so, and he’d swoop swiftly through the kitchen hollering out “Jesus loves me…this I know for the bible tells me so!”

I’d rub my red and itchy eyes and glare at him as he pranced by. “Jesus Freak,” I’d mutter.

“What’s that?” he’d say. “Did you just compliment me, Darlin’?”

Now here’s where I could’ve just ignored him, laughed him off, pretended I was more stoned than I was, but something about him just got under my skin. “No, I didn’t.” I’d say. “You just think you’re soooo much better than the rest of us,” I bated, blowing my crimped bangs out of my eyes.

“Just a sinner, like you, Sweetie, saved by grace and walkin’ in the light.”

I stared him down.

“You know, Sweetie,” (Again with the Sweetie?) “you confess your sins and give your life to Jesus and you will know eternal joy and have everlasting life…he’ll save you from the fiery pit of Hell.”

Well, now he was just seriously killing my buzz.

He leaned his face close in towards me, “Sweetie, don’t you know how much Jesus loves you? Gave His very life to prove that love!”

Had I been a boy, this is where I may have hucked a loogy at him. But Instead I just quietly, gracefully and very lady-like, rose my middle finger up to his nose.

Let’s just say since then, Jesus and I have gone a few rounds and He’s won, most of the time. I have come to realize He truly is the King of Kings and the lover of my soul. All glory, honor and worship is rightfully His.

But no matter how many days or years I walk in the light, I can’t shake what it felt like to be that seventeen year old girl on drugs, with my hair all crimped up and not having a clue how much Jesus loves me.

So I’m trapped somewhere in the middle. I don’t want to be rude or freak people out but I can’t seem to keep Jesus in the box and only take him out at bible study and on Sunday mornings. The Faith is very real to me. Jesus is very real to me…and so is Satan. I pray in the Holy name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that my life be a living sacrifice and testament to His sweet glory and grace…and that the Devil would be bound up and thrown in to the fiery place prepared for him! I pray that every living soul come to repent of their sins and know the everlasting grace and love and mercy that abounds from the throne of God! Haleluiah Jesus! Praise Jesus, praise his Holy Name!

Oh, my god, I’m Hank.

So be it.

I read recently that, “the Devil never forgives those who escape bondage” and “as we move farther on in the Christian life that we may expect to encounter increased hostility from the enemy of our souls” and furthermore, “that the Spirit filled life is not, as many suppose, a life of peace and quiet pleasure. It is likely to be something quite the opposite.” Oh…that Tozer really knew his stuff.

It’s not always pretty. Sometimes, well, most of the time…I don’t much fit in anywhere. But here I am, fighting the good fight the only way I know how, running the race set before me. I see God in just about everything and Satan well, truth be told, he’s a roaring lion seeking whomever he may devour.

So when I see you in the grocery store, I just might have to tell you about it. And if you duck behind the tomatoes, I may come looking for you.

Monday, August 23, 2010



I’ve been having a really hard time lately. I’ve not been feeling happy. I’ve been sad and afraid, my chest has ached and I haven’t been sleeping. Some of it’s old stories that keep creeping their way back into my mind, all sorts of stuff that I thought I had dealt with years ago, some of it’s new stuff. I’ve been trying to pinpoint the sick parts of my soul and what exactly needs to happen to make me fully well, make me feel happy. I get that I’m supposed to choose my thoughts, pray, ask the Lord to fix me. I’ve done the drill. Hell, I’ve preached the drill. I also know that I’m supposed to consider the things that are so very right in my life, the myriad of blessings that make my cup, not only half full, but runneth over. I have more than most, it’s true. A kind husband, three amazing and healthy kids, clean running water, some food in the fridge, two legs to stand on and twenty-twenty vision. I should be more grateful, I should be more happy, I should, I should, I should be a lot of things. But still, I don’t feel good and I’ve found myself overwhelmed, deliriously exhausted and weeping like a baby.

And at the top of it all, this feeling that I’m failing…hearing over and over in my head, the haunting, crushing, debilitating whisper that says I’m just not supposed to feel this way because I’m so blessed in so many ways and because I’m a Christian.

Yesterday Jazi came out to the porch to find me crying big tears in my morning coffee and wiping my nose on my nightgown. She said, “Mama, why are you crying?”

“I’m not really sure baby…I’m sad,” I told her.

She rubbed my shoulder with her soft little hand and said, “Are you gonna go crazy mama?”

This is a real fear for Jazi. Several of my dearest friends have been torn up by this world and have seemingly gone crazy.

“I don’t think so,” I told her. “Mama just needs to cry a bit.”

I wandered back into the bedroom and plopped myself down at the foot of the bed and my kind, not perfect, but so, so kind…truly, truly kind husband says, “Sweetie, let’s go for a walk down at the beach, get the sun on your face and the ocean breeze in your hair. It may not fix it all, but it might help a bit.”

Jon comes from really good stock. His Grandpa used to tell his mama when she was just a little girl, no matter what the circumstances were, that everything was gonna be alright. And his mama told him that and she told his brother and his sister too. I’ve heard them all say it. When my niece falls off her scooter, my sister-in-law, Jiffer, says, “You’re alright, you’re alright.” And Carly swallows up her tears and wipes her snot on her forearm and scoots herself back down the driveway. Sometimes when I’m really sad, I cup my hands over my ears and imagine Jiffer saying, “You’re alright, Sistah, you’re alright…” But lately I just haven’t had the strength to get back up on my scooter. I told Jon he should have checked my teeth before he married me. Every good cowboy knows you can tell what kind of stock a horse comes from by it’s teeth. My teeth were pretty messed up when he found me.

Jon was right about the walk. The sun was warm on my face and my shoulders and the sweet sea air filled my chest and soothed my ache. The pelicans flew low along the horizon, diving and fishing. Babies cooed and splashed in little pools at the water’s edge. Families gathered for food and sunbathing, surfing and boogie boarding. There is very little that is better than a day at the beach.

Jon listened as I babbled and bitched. Kind… and patient…man. He’s not been so happy himself lately. His job sucks. When the recession hit, he lost a job he loved and then got one he hates that pays him a lot less money. He went from an office with panoramic ocean views to a basement office with no windows and sewer pipes flushing above his desk every time someone upstairs uses the toilet. Everyone tells him he should be happy to even have a job at all in this climate. He smiles and says, “Everything is gonna be alright.”

After our walk, Jon took me to a sandwich shop that I had never been to before. The bread was fresh from the oven and warm and flaky. Jon got tuna salad and I got ham and cheese. We each got sodas and shared a bag of chips as we watched the kayaks and the stand up paddle boarders glide through the harbor.

When we got home, May said, “Mama, I have a little surprise for you.” I sat down at the end of her bed and she clicked play on her computer. Her voice rang out, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine… let it shine… let it shine…won’t let satin blow it out…I’m gonna let it shine…hide it under a bushel…No, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine… let it shine…let it shine!”

The beach, warm bread, my tender husband, my daughter’s sweet voice…

Such immeasurable joy.

But I’m still having a really hard time.

“There is a nebulous idea accepted by many in our day that faith is an almighty power flowing through the universe which anyone may plug into at will! It is conceived vaguely as a subrational creative pulsation streaming down from somewhere Up There, ready at any time to enter our hearts and change our whole mental and moral constitution as well as our total outlook on man, God and the cosmos.When it comes in, supposedly out go pessimism, fear, defeat, and failure; in come optimism, confidence, personal mastery and unfailing success in war, love, sports, business and politics. All of this is of course, a gossamer of self-deception woven of the unsubstantial threads of fancy spun out of minds of tenderhearted persons who want to believe it!”

I didn’t write that, but oh how I wish I had. I am reading, “Renewed Day by Day,” by A.W. Tozer and I came across those little pearls of truth just this morning.

Faith in God is not magic fairy dust that sprinkles you with happiness. Life is hard. It’s been hard since Adam and Eve and it will remain hard until the day Christ returns.
I am super grateful for the blessings in my life and I do have moments of immeasurable joy. But in that, I’m fighting this crazy Western notion that the joyful parts of life are not actually the moments of amazing grace and wonder, but rather moments of entitlement. We expect happiness, and when things are tough, when our heart is going through something hard and painful, when life hurts, we believe we are on the wrong track and we should fix it as soon as possible.

Somewhere between Prozac and Tony Robbins we have lost our ability to see that there might just be value in the hard times, the struggle, the grief, even the rage. Surely Christ thought so.

So if it’s all right with everyone, I’m just not gonna be happy for a while. I’m just gonna go through this… I’m gonna sit with it… be what I am… and wait. And, I’m going to accept that the timeline may take longer than what is socially acceptable or desirable…and that God himself may just be behind the whole thing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mrs. Wirgler's Spatula

Mrs. Wirgler’s Spatula

My kitchen is a hodge-podge of chipped coffee mugs and hand-me-down plates. I have friends who have beautiful pots and pans and gourmet mixers and chef knifes and the latest seasonal place settings from Pottery Barn. Jon asked me the other day if I dreamed of having fancy kitchen stuff too.

Sometimes I do. Sometimes, when I am fixing dinner, I think how pretty and inviting it would be to have shiny new pots boiling pasta on the stove top. Or sometimes, when I am setting the table, I think it’d be real nice to have bright, flowery plates.

But all in all, I am not so concerned about my kitchen ware and once I leave the kitchen I don’t really think about it so much.

However, there is one kitchen item I think I’d like to be buried with.

For our wedding gift, Mrs. Wirgler loaded up a big box full of all sorts of the things you don’t really think about, but you really need in the kitchen. Mrs. Wirgler and her family lived across the street from Jon when he was a wild monster of a child. But she was always kind, always patient and gentle, even when what Jon really deserved was a good whipping. Mrs. Wirgler knew her stuff. There were wooden spoons and serving spoons, measuring spoons and wire whisks, and a simple metal spatula.

I love that spatula with all my heart.

The end of the handle has been broken off for years. I don’t seem to recall how it got broken, but when flipping a burger, although your hand is close to the flame, your grip is steady and agile and seemingly even more sturdy than when the handle was long. The metal on the shoveling end is pressed wide and thin and is able to slip under and lift the most fragile of pancakes. It’s even been known to ease its way under a crepe or two without so much as even a tiny tear, top those with some fresh berries and whip cream, and you’ve got Christmas morning at the Hughes’. Stop by on Lasagna night and you’ll see us enjoying even the bottom layer of pasta, all thanks to that aged and broken spatula.

People can say what they want about our trusty old kitchen utensil. They can say it’s not very glamorous, that it’s worn or broken; they may even go as far as to say that it needs to be replaced. But that spatula tells our story… candle lit dinners in a tiny apartment in Santa Barbara, baby girls eating their first scrambled eggs, turkey burgers on warm summer nights, Christmas morning crepes, Grammie’s pot roast, Nana’s casserole, barbeque chicken tacos…and last night’s lasagna.

Imprinted just below the broken handle is a stamp that reads: stainless steel. And the funny thing is, even with all those sticky sauces, all that caked on grease, and even the burnt parts, there’re no stains, and it still shines bright as new. I’d be hard pressed to find a spatula as strong and faithful and enduring as the one Mrs. Wirgler gave us nearly twenty years ago.

Some people think that when they get a new spatula it will work perfectly for ever after. Some people think that when it gets broken, that it won’t work anymore, that it can’t be fixed and they should just throw it out and get a new one. Some people think that the burnt cheese at the bottom of the pan is just too much to bare.

But I know…that if you treat it kindly, wash it well, put the time and work in to scrub off the burnt and sticky parts and you keep it in a safe place… and then if you can see that the broken parts may actually make it work better, be stronger, more able, more useful, then…well, then… you’ll just have something truly beautiful. Truth is, it’s just better broken than it was before…and yet…it still shines as bright as the day we were married.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Neighbors! Gee Wiz!

Anybody else find it hard to love thy neighbor? Kids in Ethiopia, I'm all over that, the homeless guy down town, I'll give 'em a buck. Troubled teens, bring them on. But the lady who lives next door who hates kids and has a mean yappy dog...well, she's just plain unlovable.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Gnarly. There's no loop hole...I've looked...but still all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

So earlier today when the "Mean Lady"(as she has been not-so-affectionately labeled by the neighborhood kids) approached me, wagging her finger and hollering complaints and annoyances, clearly I had not only a responsibility, but was actually commanded by the creator of the earth and skies…to love her.

I told her that if she didn’t like it here she should just move out.

She pointed her finger at my face and told me I was evil and my children were evil and that she didn’t know what sorts of things I was being taught at my so-called church but that I wasn’t a very good Christian.

She said that to me and stared me down with her beady little eyes…while over a dozen kids sat out in the driveway watching.

Well, this just made my Russian blood boil!

In my defense, for the past two years since the Mean Lady moved in, she’s done nothing but scream and yell and complain and alienate every neighbor on our street. And in all this time, I’ve never had so much as a single unkind word with her. But she’s been so unbearable for so many of my friends that I figured this time, she had it coming.

Or did she?

Two commandments, Love God, love your neighbor. The first is the greatest, but the second is like it? So you mean to tell me that loving this Mean Lady is like loving God?

Gee Wiz!

So the drama continued with just about half a dozen ticked off neighbors gathering to talk smack while she huffed and puffed and took pictures of the kid’s scattered toys and sidewalk chalk drawings. She said she was gonna get us all restraining orders. A few of us said we were gonna get em for her too.

Then she stormed into her house and we let off all the steam we could muster. We said, “Yeah, you’re right…she’s mean…she’s crazy… you don’t deserve that…”

Then a moment later, she came back. She was shaking with big-baby tears pooled in her eyes. “We should talk,” she says.

Now I reckoned that this was a divine appointment.

So me and two of the other Christian moms stood with our arms folded across our chests. And then she hollered a bit more and then we hollered back…nobody really listened much. But somewhere in the messiness of all the “she said, she said”…the Gospel shone through.

She said, “I just feel like you all just hate me,” which wasn’t entirely untrue.

But then she said, “I just wish we could have a fresh start.” there it is…the loop hole…a fresh start. Loving God and loving your neighbor is in it’s very nature all about screwing up and having the graceful opportunity to try again. And somewhere in the messiness of it all, is truly where the magic of God’s love is glorified.

“Well,” I told her, “we are actually all about fresh starts.” Then we talked for a good while about the healing and restorative power of Jesus Christ of Nazereth and then we even prayed together …and like balm to a wound, things softened.

Eventually, we came to some compromises on her demands and we all promised to wave and be more friendly. Turns out, although her list of gripes was long, at the very top of that list was that she felt left out and unloved.

I wonder if now would be a bad time to tell her that her yappy dog woke me up at the crack of dawn this morning?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Divorce Line

“Is there anyone here who needs a new restraining order?” asked the portly lady from behind the counter. The sign dangling just above her head read “Family Law”.

A tall, black woman with exotic eyes painted up like a super model, timidly raised her hand. “I am,” she said softly. Her baby fussed in his stroller as she shuffled towards the counter.

Mayli looked over at me with her big blue eyes and shook her head in amazement. I knew what she was thinking, the way women who have been friends for twenty years just know.

My chest ached.


The man in front of us was tattooed from his elbows down to his wrists, and smelled of fresh cigarettes. His pants hung so low that they revealed his brown plaid boxers in their entirety. He stepped up to the counter, “Yeah I’m here about a divorce.”

I raised my eyebrows at Mayli.

A tired woman with bleach-fried hair opened up the partition at the end of the counter, pressed her palms up on the desk and leaned her body towards the line-up, her sagging breasts spilling out of her blouse. “What are you here for?” She asked the last woman in line.

The woman cleared her throat, “Um, a divorce…”

“K, you can stay in that line…what about you?” She asked as she pointed her bitten-down fingernail towards the Hispanic lady who was next in line.

The lady replied, “How you say…?” Her eyes darted towards the rest of us in the line.

I smiled back at her wanting to say, “It’s okay, you’re alright…this is cruel and unusual punishment.”

“How you say…” She bit her lip and shook her hand in front of her mouth, “Como se dice…uh…cusdideo… bambino?”

“Child custody dispute?” Bleach-fried asked.

“Si, si,” the woman nodded.

“Yeah all right, you need to get in that other line.”

“Okay, what about you?”

“Yeah, a divorce also,” the next man up answered. He was short and balding with thick glasses and yellowing teeth. He carried stacks of folders and loose papers under each arm.

“Alright, stay there…and you?”

“Yeah, uh…paternity.” A man in his mid-forties with a tattered baseball hat chomped on his gum and said, “She could never prove the kid was mine.”

Mayli’s eyes widened even more. “She’s gonna ask everybody in the line, she’s gonna ask me!” She turned her back towards the woman and faced the wall.

And like a shotgun, one by one, Bleach –fried fired her way up the line…divorce, restraining order, custody battle…the kid’s not mine. She sorted each of the torn-up lives into the correct lines.

“You…excuse me, Mam? I’m talking to you…”

Mayli slowly turned around. She didn’t lift her head, “Yeah, a divorce.”

I wanted to throw something. I wanted to throw something at Bleach-fried.

“Hey Lady,” I said under my breath, “how much time do ya got?”

Mayli smiled and shushed me.

“No seriously,” I continued. “You really want to know why she’s here? It all started about twenty years ago, she met this guy, she fell in love, she had dreams…”

The man behind us laughed. “Yeah, seriously!” He said.

And Mayli laughed too.

We stood there shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all.

“They better give you a sticker with a smiley face on it when you leave here,” I told Mayli, “like when you give blood… and a chocolate chip cookie too.”

Bleach –fried hollered out to Como Se Dice Lady, “Yeah, uh, now you’re gonna have to get back in that other line again!”

Como Se Dice fumbled around like someone had just smacked her in the head with a baseball bat. Then she settled back in the line, cutting, just in front of me and Mayli. She pressed the palm of her hand into her forehead and smoothed her wiry black hair from her face.

She spoke to Mayli, “How you say, muy difficult-a?” She stuttered for a minute, muttering words in Spanish.

I have heard Mayli talk to her gardener in hurried Spanish for years.

“She speaks Spanish,” I told Como Se Dice. “She comprehendo…”

Como se Dice smiled brightly. “Oh, bueno, bueno…” and off she launched into a series of blended words. I picked out dios and amiga and ninos. Como se Dice waved her arms and pointed to the sky and to her heart. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke.

Mayli nodded her head and said, “Si, si, oh, si…”

Both women wiped water from their eyes.

“What did she say? What did she say?” I asked.

“She said she got divorced a year ago and it was very difficult, now she’s back to fight for full custody because her X went loco.”

Como se Dice smiled at me and nodded for Mayli to continue.

“But she said if you have God you can get through it, if you have God you can get through anything and God will give you a friend too, to be your angel.”

And then Como se Dice pointed to me. “An-hell,” she said.

I smiled at Como se Dice wishing I knew her real name.


The line shuffled forward, Como Se Dice waved her papers in the air and scurried up to the counter squalling in broken English.

Mayli was next. I watched my dear friend, her hands tightly gripping a red folder. She has beautiful hands, long and slender. I always thought she could be a hand model.

When it was her turn, she took a deep breath and said, “Here we go.”

The portly lady behind the counter had gray eyes and gray skin. She didn’t smile. She sat beneath a blinking fluorescent light and a sign that read, “Please Don’t Leave Your Children Unattended.” There was a basket of candy on her desk just beyond our reach.

When Mayli and I were young moms we went for a girl’s night out. We walked around the mall and drank peppermint tea. We went into this one store that sold rubber stamps and rainbows of ink pads. It was wall to wall unicorn stamps, teddy bear stamps, flower stamps and stamps with little phrases on them like “I Love You” and “Thank-you”. We thought it terribly funny. I love you, but not enough to write it all the way out myself. Our favorite was one that read, “Praying For You.” We’ve laughed about it for years. I don’t actually have the time or energy to write it, but let me just use this handy-dandy stamp and I’ll be sure to remember to pray for you.

Mayli motioned me towards the pile of stamps on the counter. Divorce, Fee Waved, In Process, Sign Here.

“Praying For You,” she whispered to me with a weary smile.

Then she turned to the woman behind the counter and asked, “Now, I was told I could have the $350 waived if I don’t have a job, is that true?”

The woman huffed and rolled her eyes. “Well, did you fill out the Fee Waiver forms?”

“Uh… no.”

“Well, Mam, that’s a different line, see down at the end of the room where that counter is? You’ve got to get in that line to get the forms and then you’ll have to get back in this line to process them.”

“Do I have to get back at the end of this line?”

“Yeah, and you better hurry cause there’s about six pages to fill out and if you’re not back in line by 3:00, you’ll have to come back another day… Next!”

Damn Alex.

Yeah, yeah I know there’s always two sides to the story, but I’m on Mayli’s side. Truth be told, everyone who knows their story is on Mayli’s side.

Alex went loco. He said being married was too hard.

My ass Alex! Standing in this line all day is what’s hard. Dividing up pennies and debt and weekends with the kids, (if they’ll even go with you) that’s what’s hard. Emma so distraught by her daddy leaving that she cries until she throws up, that’s hard. The suffering you’re causing your wife and your daughters because you can't man up and get through the “hard” times, well that’s just nasty, mean, selfish hard!

Jon and I met Alex and Mayli on a weekend marriage retreat twenty years ago. They had a minivan and a job with health benefits, which to us, back then, were the moon and the stars. Mayli and I were both pregnant. We giggled as we ran to the bathroom to throw up our pancakes.

The Monday after the retreat my baby died inside my belly. Mayli came to my side and that’s where she’s stayed ever since. She knew all too well the ugly pain of losing a child.

I got back in the line we had just spent the better part of the afternoon in, while Mayli ran to get in the line for the Fee Waiver forms.

“I need that three hundred and fifty bucks,” she said apologetically.

As I watched her move through the crowded room, I remembered her. I remembered her in her cut off Levi’s and peasant blouse, pregnant and in love.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Mountain

I am afraid of just about everything. Some people say I am just a worrier, skittish even. But I am afraid and I like to blame it on my troubled childhood. The average day feels like a roller coaster to me…and I hate roller coasters. My stomach drops and I feel woozy and my brain rattles around from side to side. I really try to fight my fears, sometimes, actually often, I even yell at them out loud. But still, on any given day, I am very afraid and I worry. I worry about money and this ever-so-exhausting recession. I worry about my health and the health of the people I love. I worry that what I am doing isn’t enough and that I should be doing more or maybe something different. I worry about the state of the universe, the decline in America’s moral baseline, the desensitization TV and video games have brought us and the influx of the internet piping porn into our homes. I worry about crime and poverty, earthquakes and fires and floods, the general selfishness and evil of humanity and the imbalance of justice in the cosmos. And the most worrisome of all…I worry that my parenting will screw up my girls forever. Woe to the parent who doesn’t lay awake at night searching for the answers on how to raise today’s teenager with the daily, almost hourly… advances in technology. Oh, so sly is the devil these days seeping himself in through Facebook and the ever-present texting. It worries me, it all worries me.

It’s definitely gotten worse since I had my kids. When they were little, I was daily haunted by an image of them running in the street and getting hit by a car and I was completely terrified… maybe even just a wee bit paranoid… that they would be stolen. I used to say to them when we went to the park, “Now you watch out, Sweetie,” not for bullies or bumble bees, but…“because someone at this park may have come here today just to steal you!” Maybe that sounds crazy and okay, maybe it is crazy, but a mamas gotta do what a mamas gotta do and they’re still with me, so who’s to say?

But now that they are bigger, stronger and they know not to run into the street and are pretty much able to fight off any number of child abductors, I have a new fear. I am afraid that I will make them worriers. I am afraid that when they grow up they will get stuck in their fears and overwhelmed with their worry, that they won’t take chances, won’t try new things and that they will miss out on opportunities… and that they’ll miss out on a lot of fun…and then that they’ll have regrets…like I have.

So when the opportunity arose for me to take my two younger daughters skiing in the mountains just a short ways from our house, I signed us up. And for a month straight, I was woozy and my brain rattled from side to side even more than usual. What was I thinking? I wasn’t even so sure I could drive up the mountain, all those tight roads on the edge of a cliff, truckers speeding up behind me trying to run me and my children off the road. And what if the roads were icy? I’m not a very good driver in the best of circumstances, let alone winter conditions that I am not accustomed to. Even now my hands sweat just to think about it. And that doesn’t even include the actual skiing part. The last time I had gone skiing was over twenty years ago… I did love it though… the smooth ride on the glittering snow through the deep green, majestic pines, that sweet surrender to the speed carrying me down the mountain, the coolness of the air filling my chest… but my body is so much older now; I thought for sure I’d break something. And what about my girls, what if they broke something? Their arm… or goodness, what if they broke their neck? All my friends kept telling me how you have to wear helmets now, because of that actress that hit her head and died last year. This story was not helpful. And I kept having nightmares about falling off the chairlift. Not surprising, but heights are one of my worst fears. I was also terrified we wouldn’t be warm enough. I’m a beach girl, what do I know about the snow? How could I keep my children from getting frost bite and possibly losing a finger or a toe?

But something inside me felt like I had to do it, that it was a matter of life and death and that if I didn’t try, that if I didn’t brave the mountain drive, if I didn’t risk the possible broken neck, the frostbite… that a part of me would surely die forever.

So in spite of it all, I gathered snow clothes and helpful hints from neighbors and friends. I studied the map and the road conditions and the weather forecast. I stocked the car with bottled water and non-perishable snacks, I asked people to pray for me and I took a little pill to help me sleep the night before.

I downloaded the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge to surprise Summer for our early morning drive. It’s mine and Summer’s favorite movie. It’s so fun that my girls and I share a love for cheesy musicals. And just as the sun was rising behind the mountain, we sang out, “We could be heroes, just for one day…” And we both swooned as Ewan McGregor professed his undying love to Nicole Kidman. In the backseat, Jazi rubbed sleep from her eyes and asked the timeless question, “Are we there yet?”

The roads were perfectly clear, although my sweaty hands still fiercely gripped the stirring wheel as we crawled our way up the mountain. I’m sure I used every turn-out to let the trailing cars pass, but there was simply no reason to rush me. Why does everyone have to be in such a hurry? Even if the people in those cars lived on that mountain and new those roads, it is still a dangerous drive and there is no reason not to take things just a little bit slower. I mean really.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the resort, I breathed a deep sigh. In the same moment that I reveled in my accomplishment, I worried about how I would make the drive back down.

The girls cheered, “Mama, look at all the snow! Can we get out, can we get out?” Other skiers peppered the parking lot applying sunscreen and sipping hot chocolate, with a casualness that made me think that this wasn’t their first time back on the mountain in twenty years. And so I began the cumbersome process of dressing my girls and myself for the cold day ahead. We had worn long sleeves and leggings on the drive up and brought several layers to add. We buttoned up baggy ski pants, slipped on sweaters, zipped up goose feather jackets, and using our teeth, wiggled our fingers into our gloves. As we waddled over to the ski rentals we giggled at the swishing made by our clothing as we moved. Summer said, “I feel like a big, fat snowman.”

After we were fitted for boots and skis, we headed towards the slopes. I had forgotten how awkward it is to walk in those heavy boots. Jazi kept dropping her skis and poles and I kept looking around for a man to help us carry everything. But all by ourselves, carrying all that gear and crunching through the snow, we made our way up to where the ski class was being held. The morning sun was warm on our backs, almost too warm. Lugging up the hill, I began to sweat under all those layers, which actually helped to alleviate some of my frostbite fears. Summer had rented a snowboard, which is all-the-rave with the youngsters nowadays. She spent a weekend last year on the slopes with the youth group, and with a joyful wave, she headed towards the chairlift. Jazi and I went towards a sign that read “Beginners”. A woman in a bright yellow jacket with “Ski Patrol” written on the back announced, “I am Stacy and I will be your instructor for today. The most important thing you need to know about skiing is to have fun.” She had kind eyes and spoke sweetly, like a kindergarten teacher. She tapped her forehead and went on to say, “Ninety-nine percent of skiing is in your head, now let’s put on some big smiles and get started.”

First she told us to take a deep breath and breathe in the mountain air. And when I did, my heart swelled and tears pooled in my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was there, on this snowy mountain top. Stacy then showed us how to put our skis on and how to pop them off when we fell. The warm sun had melted the top of the snow into a thin layer of ice and the skis were unstable and slippery. I felt like a newborn fawn testing out my legs for the first time. Next Stacy had us side step up a small hill. She told us to slide down a few feet and then point the tips of our skis together in the shape of a slice of pizza and come safely to a stop. It seemed simple enough. But the first man up stumbled and flailed his arms and the lady after that fell right on her butt. Jazi was up next and she looked back at me with worried eyes. I gave her a thumbs-up and said, “You got this Jaz, make a pizza and if you fall, what do you do, baby?”

“I get back up, Mama.” She said with a wide smile. Whether it was roller skates or a bicycle, I have always told my girls that when they fall, they need to get right back up. It’s a little mantra I have tried to instill in them, even though I am not so sure I have learned it yet myself.

But she didn’t fall, she glided freely a few feet, then pointed the tips of her skies in and came gently to a complete stop. “Wonderful, Jasmine!” Stacy said clapping her ski poles together. “You are a natural.” Jasmine’s sweet face beamed proudly.

“Now, you go Mama!” Okay, so I had psyched myself up for this, I was prepared. If, when…I fell, no matter how much pain I was in, I would smile…and I would get back up. I positioned myself at the top of the hill and bent my knees. Jazi grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. Pressing my poles snuggly into the snow, I wiggled a little and gave myself a hearty push and glided smoothly down the hill…and guess what…I didn’t fall either. I made myself a big slice of pizza with my skis and I too came gently to a complete stop. And again Stacy exclaimed, “Wonderful! You are a natural too, Tami!” And again she clapped her ski poles together, like a happy walrus. And inside my heart I felt warm and proud and triumphant.

Then she said, “Okay guys, I think we are ready for the chairlift!” Was she kidding? I really thought she was kidding… especially because the other two people in our class hadn’t really mastered the whole slice-of-pizza-stopping-part as well as Jazi and I had and I was pretty sure we could all use a little more practice. “Deep breath, class!” She said, “Let’s see those big smiles, now follow me…” And off she glided towards the lift.

The lift was rickety and daunting. Stacy skied smoothly up to a red line at the base of the lift and yelled back, “When the chair comes underneath you, just grab on and sit down…like this…” and with that the chair scooped her up and off she went, up…up…up and away, skis dangling in the open air beneath her.

Jazi looked up at me with very…very…big eyes.

Oh…goodness, I thought… I’m the Mama. I have to lead here, I have to be brave. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, we could die…or seriously break something…Panic quickly set in and the outside world went quiet; I could hear only two things…the squealing of the lift’s motor and my heart thumping against my chest.

“Okay Jaz, our turn…,”I managed to mumble, “let’s go, deep breath, honey…scoot forward, now watch the chair…grab on…now sit down…” And like a perfectly choreographed ballet, the seat rose gently underneath us as we sat and carried us swiftly into the air.

“Woohooo!” Jazi hollered as we began our ascent up the mountain.

“Hold on tight, Sweetie!” My neck stiffened and I clenched my teeth. I could feel sweat dripping inside my gloves as I gripped the edge of the chair. The fact that there are no seatbelts on those things is beyond baffling. I entertained the very real possibility of this whole thing ending rather badly and I prepared myself to jump if Jazi slipped. High up in the air we rose, through the tall pines, to a place that was quiet. The chair swayed gracefully in the cool morning breeze as skiers far below us swooshed through the snow.

“Oh, Mama, we’re getting pretty high now… I am kind of scared…” Jazi said with a growing tremble in her voice.

Yes, and you should be… I thought. It is really scary, one jolt forward and down we’d plunge, surely to our death…we should go back…we should get off this damn lift and stay on the ground where we belong! Had God intended us to fly, we would have wings to flap…but there are no wings here…no wings at all! What kind of mother thrusts her child steep into the air on the side of a mountain, with no safety belt, no safety measures of any kind and all for the sake of so-called…fun? Fun? This is not fun! Oh, I definitely felt my stomach drop, my head rattle and a wooziness like never before…

But the words I said were, “You’re alright Love, we’re safe and we’re almost there, just don’t look down, look up, look forward…look at the beautiful trees and the beautiful snow… the mountain that God has made! Isn’t it lovely?”

Jazi looked around for a few moments and then sighed and settled back into her seat, “Oh, yes…you’re right…it is beautiful, Mama.” Her face softened and she smiled up at me. We floated through the rest of our ride in silence, soaking in the magic of the mountain.

Stacy was waiting for us at the top of the lift. “Okay girls,” she said, “just stand up, glide over to me and make a slice of pizza and your skis will stop.”

“Oh, Mama, I don’t know if I can!” Jazi said, whimpering just a bit.

From where we sat, the exit looked really steep, somewhat treacherous even. There was a really good chance that she could slip and fall, just to be followed by me tumbling off behind her… the odds of that were pretty good. Stacy smiled over at us, our eyes met and she tapped her forehead. Ninety-nine percent of skiing is in your head…oh goodness…my fearful, worried little head…

I cleared my throat. “You got this Jaz,” I said firmly, “just remember, stand up slowly and make a big slice of pizza!” And with that, together we stood… and together we glided… and together we stopped, without even a slight stumble.

“Great job!” Stacy shouted. “Yes, you two are absolutely naturals!”

Jazi’s face burst with pride.

For a moment, I just stood there at the top of that run, breathing in…then breathing out… the crisp scent of pine filling my lungs. The snow glistened, like opalescent glitter, in the morning light. The sky was wide and open and beckoning me to be a part of this good day.

“I’m ready now, let’s go, Mama!” Jazi said and then she fearlessly headed down the mountain.

I followed close behind, and as I glided smoothly through the snow I shouted, “Wooooohooooo!” from deep down in my belly.

From above us on the lift, Summer hollered down, “Good job, Mama, good job Jaz!”

And again I cried out, “WooooHoooo… WoooHoooo!” I shook my poles high in the air, shaking my fist at fear and worry all at once. I could hardly contain myself, howling and crying out all the way down the mountainside… God’s mountainside…so full of beauty, so full of life, down I went, in complete surrender to that sweet speed beneath me. Snow sprayed high into the air as I stopped at the end of the run, where Jazi was waiting for me, her face all aglow.

“Did you see me Mama? I was going so fast and I didn’t even fall!”

“I did see you Jaz! You did great! Did you see me? I didn’t fall either!”

“I did see you, Mama and you did great too!”

I did great, and my daughters were watching. I took a chance and they saw me. The amount of pride I felt in that small moment is nearly indescribable. I’m sure from the outside, it didn’t look like much and maybe it is silly to think that such small steps are such a great victory, but for my little afraid spirit, my brain that rattles around and entertains all the potential dangers, and so often gets stuck in the “what ifs”…this was a truly important event and a great battle won. And I felt alive and awake and completely exhilarated.

On our next chairlift ride Jazi said, “Mama, remember before when we were so scared? But look at us now!” She leaned her head back on the seat and with a peaceful sigh said, “This is just such a blessing, Mama. This is even better than Disneyland.”

I am reminded of the quote about courage not being the absence of fear but rather the ability to see that something is bigger than it and that the brave person is not one who does not feel afraid, but one who conquers that fear. I did that. I felt afraid, very afraid, of the drive, of the mountain, of the cold, of the chairlift, of possible broken bones and lost toes… but I also saw that there was something much bigger going on here, much bigger than just a simple day in the snow, something worth fighting for, fears that needed conquering… daughters that needed to see their Mama be adventurous and brave. It was a gift, an opportunity to live, an opportunity to live life to the fullest…to live the abundant life, the life Jesus talked about.

I didn’t fall even once that entire day and even though I know that not everyday will be that way, I’ll go back to that mountain. I’ll make the drive, I’ll brave the cold and the chairlift. And I’ll bring my girls and if they get scared, I’ll tell them that they are almost there…and to look up… and to look forward… to look at all the beautiful things God has made. And if, or I guess…when… I fall…I’ll get back up.