SUNSPOTS AND YOGA

Decisions, decisions.

What in the world am I going to wear today?
Should I eat those two cookies for lunch or like, a turkey sandwich on Ezekiel bread?
Should I go to that event?
Should I try yoga?
Should I say yes to that coffee date?
Should I start a podcast?
Should I be a comedienne?

Some decisions are as clear as crystal. Others are as clear as my shower water after a spray tan. Some require much thought and deliberation. Others are no-brainers.
Knowing which is which is the hard part. Let me throw out this disclaimer: THIS BLOG POST DOES NOT HOLD THE ANSWER. In fact, it may even confuse you all the more. What I can offer you in this writing, however, is companionship. You are not alone in your efforts to decipher the yes and the no – the should or should not.
I get it.
I get you.
Sifting through the sand to find the gold is an exhausting process, but I recently read a book that is helping me weed out the rocks. I have a feeling I am about to be judged harshly, but do your worst, I don’t give a…crap.
The book: THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*** BY MARK MANSON

I’ll pause here for you to process the fact that I consciously purchased and read the entirety of this book knowing it’s title, and content for that matter, involves a curse word. We good?  Ok.  Moving on.

I love people. I value other ideas and thoughts and I love to please, and I know these are good qualities to have. But sometimes I have a tendency to lose myself in each of the things I just listed. Sometimes I get more concerned with what everybody else thinks about me, wants me to do, thinks I should do, or believes is best for me, that I forget to do what I want to do, think I should do, or what I think is best for me. I become robotic and beat down – not by other people, but by my own sentencing. My resolution to succumb to the will of well-intending others, and my own lack of gumption to speak up for my own life, creates a pathetic lie of total dependance that circulates my brain until I have convinced myself that I am a victim, when in fact, I am not.

Case in point:
“I am so miserable since I’ve gained 10 pounds. Eating on the road is killing me. I can’t get it off.”
LIES.
Miserable? Yes. Eating on the road is killing me? MY CHOICES ON THE ROAD are killing me. I can’t get it off? Umm, no. I CAN get it off. I’ve gotten it off about a million and one times now, and I can do it again. This is where I tell all you sweet people NOT to send me ideas for weight-loss. I don’t care. I’m already on it. Thanks in advance. I digress…

This simple example has been the the type of repeating tape that has played in my brain over the course of my whole existence. It is the fight, the struggle, that each one of us has to win.  Apply it to anything and everything that offers confusion and creates a victim mentality in your life. It’s valid. And it’s not about the weight-loss or the thing. It’s about us.

I have been frustrated lately about the lack of control I’ve felt in my own life. Work, play, weight, the skin damage I’ve created from my excessive consumption of sunshine over the past three decades…you name it. But yesterday I had an epiphany after completing the entirety of Mark Manson’s book and speaking with my best friend on this very subject. I am giving way too many “craps” about way too many things- about the wrong things. I’m giving so many craps, in fact, that I’m talking myself into believing the lie that says I have no control over these things – that I am but a victim of all the things in all of life.  That’s enough to overwhelm even the likes of  Brené Brown.

When I finally sat down and said, “What’s bothering me?” I took mental notes and asked myself, “What in this situation can I change?” And guess what, in almost every situation, there was some physical act I could contribute. And guess what else? For a few things that I could not, there was still something I had to offer – how I view and respond to that situation. No matter how much physical change I can actually offer – whether or not I can get enough laser treatments or slather enough cream on my sunspots to make a difference, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. The questions become, will I try anyway? And how will I view myself and this situation?
What will my attitude be toward the thing – whatever it is?
And just how many “craps” will I give?
What’s important here?  Who is important here?
In answering these questions and finding my contribution, do you know what I found?
CONFIDENCE.
And guess what else I found?
ME.  Ahh…there she is. There’s that girl who cares about the important things, who lets the less-important fall away, and who believes, above all else, in herself.
Here I am.
I am not a victim. I am in charge of me. I am in charge of my life, my brand, my attitude, my outfit-of-the-day. I am not incapacitated by change or hurt or fear. I can be. I have been. But I refuse.
With this rebirth also comes the burden of knowing that I will make wrong choices, and that with those choices come responsibility and consequences.
Noted.
The fear of this can be gripping. I have lived with it and it tries to wrap its hands around my neck frequently.  But with every prying-away of its claws, I remember who I am. That I am strong and capable.
Capable of making mistakes but just as capable of owning them.
Equally, I am capable of making good, sound decisions and humbly owning the fact that I have what it takes to continue doing so in my future.
I may not have the ability to open every door or bucket-list my way through every single day of my life. But I do have the ability to make my own way – to see what’s coming and to know whether or not it’s a door I want to walk through. I have the ability to choose.
To wear the thing (or not).
To go to the event (or not).
To do the podcast (or…yes. I’m doing the podcast).

I also have the ability to decide how I will see the things I cannot control. Some things are not of my choosing. Some things that are for the good of the whole aren’t always the things that feel best to me. But I still have a choice.

And in case you were wondering, so do you. You have a choice in how you view that thing – in how many craps you give and what you’re giving them to.
You have the capacity, the bandwidth. You may feel overwhelmed, but you are not.
You are strong and brilliant and brave. You are independent and beautiful even with your sunspots. You are capable of holding that warrior pose even though you fell the first 400 times you did it.  You are. You can. You will.
Lose your ten.
Do yoga.
Do the podcast.
But most importantly, be confident. Be unapologetic. Be you.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

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I wish you could be with me right now. I snuck away to the balcony of a venue I’m performing in Charlotte, NC. I’m watching the team set the stage. They use big words I don’t understand and they do techy things with cords they call cables and screens and pullies and lights and it makes me feel stupid. They tear black tape and they move speakers and they check the sound on my piano with more playing ability in their little finger than I have in my whole body. I use my hands to type words but they use their hands to make those words come alive on the stage night after night.

Before I found my way to the nosebleeds earlier today, I was surrounded by the rest of my tour team in a creative meeting. So many beautiful minds going in so many different directions, but coming together in the end for one cause, one goal. I feel certain that given a mic and a cup of coffee, any one of them could also stand up there and do a little comedy while they’re at it, but that may be asking too much.

The misconception of tour life via social media, is that it’s this one-man-show, but most of you know better. To some of you it would seem effortless. How hard could it be, right? It’s who you are. Just get up there and hold that mic and be funny and sing us a few songs. What you don’t know, probably, is that being a comedienne is not some secret career path I’ve always hoped to follow. It’s not a craft I’ve been honing for the past decade. I haven’t been hitting the comedy clubs in between nursing my children and fixing dinner. I never signed up for comedy. You did. You signed me up. You told me I could do it, so I did…and here we are.

Just a few short months ago I had to figure this thing out. Am I going to keep working my big girl job or am I going to sit across the dinner table from my daddy and tell him I’m quitting my job to do comedy full-time? Am I going to give up the only bit of security and stability I’ve ever known to take a risk based on the popularity of a few videos and some blogs?

Actually, yes.
I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
And so I did.

But I didn’t do it alone. Were it not for the consistent encouragement of a few close friends and family members, and now, my tour family, I would be curled up in the fetal position in the corner of a room somewhere eating checkers and talking to my imaginary friend. The fear and the weight and the responsibility is gripping and can numb your mind quicker than gin on an empty stomach, but do you know what I’m finding?
I’m finding that the payoff is greater than the risk. The possibility of failure, in my humble opinion, is way more palatable than the question of the what-if.

And the team around me that spurs me on and loves me and the behind-the-scenes-payoff as much as I love hugging necks and telling jokes is worth the ride. It takes a village and mine is strong. Fixed. Our homes are made up of bunks on a bus, but our hearts are a settlement. We are guided by the same principles. Centered.  We are all of different bends and trades, but we function as a unit. We are all of equal value.  Our walls are strong. We work hard and we love well and we live for justice and we fight hard for the good of the whole. We are unified.  My allies – they push and they spur and they steer the ship.

My village. It takes one.

And in a world that tells us we can do all the things alone, sometimes we just need people. We need community. Cheerleaders – telling us to go after the thing and do it afraid. Lovers of the ride who tell us, “If you don’t, you’ll regret.” Motivators who say, “You’ll never know until you try.”  Believers who remind, “I have faith in you.”

Friends…fans…you…who love and encourage and keep the dream alive.

Leaning in to the support doesn’t make you weak.
It makes you strong.
Life is not a one man show, and living in the shadows is not really living at all. Pushing past the insecurities and the fears and the “I can’t”s, I think you’ll find, is way more exhilarating than eating checkers.

So, what is that thing? That fear?
That belief in your gut that you want to go for.
That mountain staring you in the face begging you to climb it.

What is it?
And what’s holding you back?
Maybe it’s just simply…you.

Take your chance. Be a risk-taker. Find your like-minded village and surround yourself with people who believe in you and move you on to greatness. Find your tribe that puts a mic in your hand and pushes you out on stage with nothing but a glass of water and says, “Now, go tell some jokes.”  Find those people, because they are gold. And if you can’t find your people just yet, be your own cheerleader. Tell yourself to go for it and not look back, because it will bring you life – a life that you most definitely need to be living.

THE GIVE-BACK

To all my friends who read…it’s been awhile. Forgive my absence. I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been writing you a book – a very sarcastic, non-sensical, ridiculous, yet sadly factual, comedy book due out in the spring. I’m sorry I broke up with you so abruptly with no warning, but the truth is, I want you back. I have no flowers or chocolates, but consider this 1989 and consider me John Cusack in Say Anything and let these words be my boombox serenade… I need you.

It’s been a crazy few months. I’ve written my first book, been to Haiti, released my debut country album and am currently on a comedy tour. I can hardly believe this is even my life. When I AIN’T DOIN IT first got started I was living a different story. I was working 8 to 5 and mom-ing 25 hours out of everyday. In one fell swoop I had gone from a two-income household, the house, the dog, the kids in public school, you name it – to “how in the world are we going to make it?”. Before, I was the one passing out hope by the bucketful to anyone who would accept it. Five years ago, though, I was the one on the receiving end. I would now know the weight of financial difficulty, of loss, of fear of the future. I would be the one found trapped by rigidity in my feeble attempt that maybe, just maybe, there was one thing within my control. I was the one figuring it out and trying to keep it together when I wanted to fall apart, all the while knowing deep down that somehow, some way, things were going to work out.

Despite what some of you may think from the candor in my videos and the sarcasm that runs deep in my veins, I love people. And loving people in the truest verb tense has always been at the top of my perpetual life goals list. Even in the difficult moments, it’s always been in my heart to give whenever I was able, and to love always.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m human. I can roll my eyes with the best of ’em and have been known to call a sister out when she’s being rude, but at the core of me, I love.
And I love a good give-back.
Giving back looks different for everyone, but for me, no matter how big or how small, it’s an acknowledgement, it’s an explanation and a declaration that says, “You matter. You’re worth it. Nothing in return…”  Once the door to my comedic path opened wide (what, even…), opportunity to do more of what I love presented itself, and it is not a threshold I cross lightly.

Last week, I came back from an eight-day beach vacation with my children and my partner-in-crime/best friend/assistant, Tosha, and her family. My kids played and I laid on the beach like a dead person for seven solid days. The only sounds I cared to take in were the waves, the seagulls and the Indie vibes that were playing in my ears. My plan was to read a book I’ve had on my radar for ages, but because of the nature of my decompression process, and because when good music is playing I have to stop and soak it in like a sponge, I didn’t make it past page 9. I also reached the height of what I would consider remarkable parenting status, as I barely ever knew where my children were the entirety of the time. About once an hour I would try to wake myself from my euphoric state to look around and see if I noticed their sunburned shoulders bobbing in the water, in the hopes that surely if they were drowning someone would’ve told me.

As I laid on that beach, day after day, my mind played old tapes of where I had once been and of how one accidental video now allowed my heart room to breathe. I felt the vacancy in my life where fear and worry once staked their claim. I remembered where I was and how I felt when I was fighting the war and compared it to how I felt in that very moment – at peace. I remembered the struggle and the cycle and the anxiety of doing it alone and I remembered you – the one who’s still in it. The one who doesn’t see a light at the end of their tunnel. The one who will most inevitably come out the victor but doesn’t know it yet. You – the one who is choking back the tears as you read these words that sit heavy on your chest. The one who cries yourself to sleep wishing and praying for any kind of breakthrough.
You.
I thought of you.
I remembered you.
And I laid there next to Tosha and we talked it out and we cried for injustice and for parents and children who just needed a break. We soaked up the sun and the love and the reality that we were finally in a place to do something about it, if only for one right now, at least that’s something. So, right there in all the talks and the thoughts and the internal fight for what’s right, the give-back presented itself. “Let’s give somebody what we once needed. Let’s love. Nothing in return.” And in that conversation, we decided to send a single parent and their children on vacation.

Hear me – this is not about me or Tosha. And this is not some sick display of false humility or some manipulation tactic.  I don’t want your attention or your accolades.
I just want you to do the same.
You may not be able to give away a beach vacation yet, but I just bet you can give something. I bet you can give a hug or take someone to lunch or listen to someone’s story over coffee. I bet some of you can help turn a single parent’s lights back on or buy someone’s groceries. Opportunity will likely come to you each and every day. And she will look you dead in the eyes and ask you if you’re ready – if you’re willing. Willing to look foolish, to break routine, to lay down pride, to give selflessly in your own time of need. And you get to answer.
You get to choose. But let me promise you this – if your answer is yes, your reward will most definitely be greater than your sacrifice. When your head hits your pillow at night and your heart is pure and full of peace and empathy and your conscience is clean knowing you loved well that day, that is the ultimate reward. It’s not the size of the gift you give. It’s the heart behind it.

And to those of you who are still in that cycle that you think will never end – the ones who want to love but can barely love themselves – the ones who are crawling through the valley right now, know this. Your knees will not be muddy forever. There is a clearing and a light and one day you will stand up and it will lead out. You are not finished.  Don’t let bitterness and resentment hold you under water. Throw your head back, tell it no and show it who you are. Show life and everybody in it that you will love in spite of circumstance. With everything in me, this is what I believe – this is what we are made for.  We are made for the give-back.

TATTOOS, REBELLION AND DIRTY NEEDLES

cropped-img_9433.pngWhen I was growing up tattoos were taboo and rebellious. Today, they are widely recognized as a definitive, creative way for people to express themselves and tell their stories. And depending on said tattoo they are also recognized as lame, beautiful, hideous, symbolic, impulsive and/or intriguing. I’ve heard it all. As we well know, everybody has an opinion.
Some tattoos have meaning. Others only symbolize the fact that you were barely coherent when you got yours. You know who you are…

I, for one, love a little marking every now and again. Mine are nothing elaborate or anything to write home about. I’m not trying to be hard or cool or Kat Von D over here. I’m just a wanna-be. Still, some of you hate them and are probably judging me right now. It’s ok. I still love you. Tiny pieces of any respect that my parents have for me gets chipped away with every one I get. It’s fine. We can agree to disagree. Either way, this is a terrible story so don’t leave now.

Here’s how it went down. I was out with friends on my 35th birthday. We lived in Colorado Springs at the time so downtown Denver was the place to be. I had just finished reading a book by Ann Voskamp called ONE THOUSAND GIFTS. My depiction and take-away of this writing can not do it justice so I won’t even try. Just let it be known that I was so moved by this book that I was willing to stamp my body with permanent ink to prove it. I wanted to add a tiny black string around my finger to remind me “in all things, be grateful”. So off we go. And down we go. No, literally. Underground. Downtown Denver. To Frank. Frank was a novelty. – ecsentric. Why I thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know. Frank spoke of many things – mostly shenanigans. And I listened intently as he prepared what could’ve very well been a dirty needle (I’m still not sure). I listened and listened until I could no longer hear the words that were coming out of his mouth. For you see, I could hear nothing over my sudden, intense pain comparable only to the enlightening stage of child birth. The ring of fire (but literally, the “string” of fire). I had no idea I was even pregnant, but this baby was about to come out the tip of my right ring finger. And he was a big one.

“I’m sorry, Frank. Excuse me. Do you have an anesthesiologist on hand, because I’m pretty sure I’m gonna need an epidural for this. It may only be a little ink, but sir, if I didn’t know better I’d say you’re sawing off my digit. Kindly stop lest I die.” I’m not kidding. I thought my time was up at 35 – underground – with Frank.  Don’t let me go this way, Lord. It wasn’t worth it and I’m not ready.

One very expensive trip to the ER later and the results were conclusive. Frank cut me nearly to the bone and left me with what looks nothing like a string – more like a Halloween spider that I endearingly named, Charlotte. She’s really a beautiful addition. I think I got that tattoo to remind me of something, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was (something about being grateful, maybe). Because now all I think about when I see it is FRANK. Thanks, Frank. You’re always in my heart. And on my finger (but hey, at least I still have one). And at least I’m not the only one walking around with a bad ink job. Some of you have it way worse than I do. I’ve seen the work. My condolences.

I digress.

Back to the topic at hand.

I do not claim to be a theologian on the matter of permanent body ink. I just like getting tattoos at random. To each his own.

Many people ask me about the tattoo on my right arm so let me give you a brief what-for. Besides trying to make my parents extremely proud, I wanted to get something symbolic of the valley I had just crawled my way out of. Also, after Frank, I needed redemption.

Here’s the story:
After my divorce I had to learn how to do life again. We – me and my two children – were hurting but strong. And we were headed in this new direction together.
And we were gonna make it, Lord-wiling and the creek don’t rise. I was determined. (So many other stories in here, but let’s move on).

For some reason I loved arrows (they’re all the rage) and as luck would have it, upon my studies of them, I found that they are a symbol of strength and direction.
While one arrow can be easily broken, a bundle is tougher to break. And here we were – this little bundle of weak strength. Being held tight by the arrow-maker Himself.
Figuring it out.
Forging a path.
Walking a new direction.
Together.

After lots of Pinteresting and careful consideration of where body marking #4 would actually take place,  I gave it a go on Birthday #41.
NO RAGRETS. (Please see google on the inter-webs for further explanation of this spelling).

Three “arrows” headed in the same direction.
This stupid, ridiculous, sweet, symbolic, beautiful (whatever you want to call it) piece of ink tells a part of my story. It forever and always reminds me that we are strong. I remember where I’ve been and where I’m headed. It is a constant reminder of who I am and who I’m raising my people to be. Tenacious. Tough and tender and full of grit. And God is not finished with us yet. Our story is not over.
My team of three. Making it.

Maybe I AM rebelling. Rebelling against all of the nay-sayers and the things that say I can’t do it, that I won’t make it. Rebelling against complacency – against the hurdles, the hard places, the status-quo.

I am finding as I meet new people and hear your stories, that I am not the only one walking that road. Many of us are facing or have faced circumstances we never asked for or never imagined being in – where we have to keep moving. We are all learning that even in the weak places we are still strong.

And we are still moving – together.

I’m grateful to walk the road with you. And I’m also excited to announce that…drumroll please… these three arrows are the newest addition to our I AIN’T DOIN IT merchandise line. In just a few short days you guys will be able to wear your story. I cry…

What do these arrows symbolize for you? Where are YOU headed? What are you standing up for? What corners are you turning? Who are you being strong for? What are you “not doing” anymore? What new way are you taking and what new movement are you pioneering? Whatever it is, may The Lord keep you steady and may you come out on the other side stronger and better for it.
I hope you love this new addition as much as I do.  And I hope it will encourage you to be bold and tell others about your journey. Somebody needs to see you being strong and owning it.

I can’t wait to hear your story!
Wear it well, family.

KRISPY KREMES AND MENTHOLS

The good ole’ New Year’s Resolution – or as I like to call it, The List of Good Intentions. You know, those things we say we’re gonna do but usually don’t. Oh stop! You know you do it – “commitment” with no follow-through. Yes, there are those chosen few who actually say they will and they do. To you sir, ma’am, my hat’s off.  Your word was your bond.  You’re the unsung hero. The champion. The victor. You made it.
EYE OF THE TIGER – they’re playing’ your song, Rocky.
 But for the rest of us… Why do we even bother? Hey, don’t beat yourself up. For years, I secretly promised myself to lose 20 pounds. Somewhere around pound 10 (or sometimes day 10) and a six count of Krispy Kreme I would give up and give in. My will for sugar usually wins out over that size-down in jeans. Then….oh, brother. Here is comes. Self-deprication for the remaining balance of the calendar year. As if January 1st is the magic number.
Here’s the bottom line – If we wanted to do it, we would – no matter the month or the year.
Because of my history of failure regarding this subject and specific day of the year, New Year’s resolutions aren’t something I normally commit to and most certainly don’t hinge the success of my future on. When I get ready to lose the weight or do the thing, I always do. However, ironically enough, I find myself entering this new year with much resolve. Courses of action have been taken.
Resolution.
Resolve. 
This past year has been one of great change. Growth. This seems to be a pattern in all of life. Make it stop. Or wait! Don’t, actually. If things weren’t constantly changing I would be forever bored with life. Wouldn’t you?
Many of the past year’s changes have been positive and exciting, the evolution of situations that have come to fruition. Things I never saw coming – like this one time I said this one thing ( I Ain’t Doin It) and now I have a new life. Kinda like that.
Other changes have been disheartening, disappointing. Some changes, my own choosing. Other changes, not so much. Relationships ended, hearts divided, sides taken, judgment, misunderstanding, loss… Resolve in it’s own right. Much of the unwelcomed resolve has shaken me to my core and caused me to reevaluate many things that I thought I knew. Resolve that has caused me to have to make my own hard decisions. It’s been a painful growth. This year has also posed many questions that only I could answer.
Who am I?
What do I believe?
Where can I give and bend?
Where can I compromise?
Where can I not?
Will I fold….quit?
What have I done?
What have I not?
What can I change?
What can I not?
Some of the answers to these questions are still being decided. Some are crystal clear. Either way, there has been growth.
Growth – Definition: Full development; maturity. Evolution.
In mistakes – growth. In hurt and loss – growth. In happiness and excitement – growth.
Wouldn’t it be great every now and then if life could just for five minutes be perfect – for everything to “be the way it used to be”?
But…evolution, growth, resolve.
I am learning that the circumstances around me don’t have to be perfect and wonderful for growth to occur. Growth is no respecter of persons. If I continue for the next five years to buy my 14 year year old a size 14 in clothes, does that stunt his growth? Does he stay the same size 14 because his mom refuses to alter accordingly? Hardly. After a good year his jeans that once fit will be skintight highwaters in fulleffect. (Also, he would hate me). Growth is going to happen whether we like it or not.
In all things, in hard situations, I am continuing to grow – growing as a mother, a friend, a comedian (when did I even become this?!?), a musician, a writer, a lover of Jesus. I am forever trying to learn to love better, apologize more, judge less, even though so often I miss the mark.
This year I resolve to embrace the horrible, wonderful process called growth, because it’s coming whether I like it or not. I resolve to not be so easily swayed by disappointment from others or by my own failures, to stand for what is right and know when to bow out gracefully, to submit but never compromise, to speak up more often and know when to say less, to give grace and accept it, to love better, to stay the course and to listen to the beautiful voice of the Lord who wants me close to Him – that voice that is and should always be my ultimate resolve.
The world will always try to dictate who we should be, but I am resolved that only God will decide that for my life.  My prayer is that He continues to lead and guide and speak (to that thing in me that wants the sugar and that I will listen).
 This is my New Year’s Resolution.
If you are trying to quit Krispy Kreme or your job or quit smoking menthols, or you are vowing to go skydiving or take that trip – Godspeed. You can do it. If you don’t quite hit your mark, well… I promise to be here to help dust you off and keep you moving. I promise to help those around me embrace their growth. We’re in this together.
Resolve.

SANTA CLAUSE, BABY JESUS AND RICKY BOBBY

Ahh…all the pretty Christmas lights. Some are as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day. Others…straight up ratchet. You know who you are.  I’ll never have to buy a ticket to the side show again for the rest of my life if you’ll just keep ’em lit year round. Good grief, this is better than seeing Cirque du Soleil live in Vegas. Could you run in the house and make me a funnel cake while I just sit here and watch? It’s mesmerizing. I don’t wanna miss a thing. Hey kids, forget Disney. We’re coming to the Jones’ house every night for a week. It’s way better than the Parade of Lights.

You know what really tips the scale for me this year? Giant Snoopy in a snow globe? No. The drive-thru nativity? Nope. The light-up Santa Clause leaning over baby Jesus in the manger. WHAT, EVEN?!?!?  I am absolutely awestruck by this holy wonder! I recently saw one of these monstrosities in someone’s yard and had to just stop and gawk. They probably thought I was casing their house, but I could not peel my eyes away. My brain is fairly demented so here’s how the conversation went with myself in my head:

What is he saying? What is Santa saying to baby Jesus right now? Is he welcoming Him into the world? You know Jesus was here first, right, Santa? I mean, you’re not even real. Are you asking Him what He wants for Christmas?

“Dear 8 pound 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus…”  Are you asking Him if He’s been naughty or nice? You know He’s not naughty, right? He’s Jesus.

And what is Jesus saying back? If I was baby Jesus I would say something like this:

“Look, Ricky Bobby. I may only be five minutes old, lying here in my golden fleece diaper, but you know I’ve been around awhile, right? God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? You’ve heard of me. Ok, great. So first, I’m gonna need you to back up out of my personal space. And secondly, I’m gonna need you to quit stealing my thunder. It’s my birthday, not yours. Please and thank you. Goodbye. Also, please leave me something besides gold, frankincense and myrrh in my stocking. That’s getting old.”

This whole conversation is disturbing. I know. I’m so sorry. So scary… Anyway, all that nonsense led me to start thinking about some of the ridiculousness that I, myself, bring to Jesus. Now, He loves me. He’s Jesus – patient, kind, loving Jesus. But I wonder if He gets tired of my cynical, self-centered requests? I wonder if He gets tired of my talking to Him like He’s a genie in a bottle? Of course, He never gets tired of us. But we do it sometimes, don’t we?

“Lord, I know you’re busy with real problems and lots of other broken things to fix, but if you could please miraculously change the attitude of my teenager by Friday I would be most appreciative. I will give extra in the offering on Sunday and I will look for one extra person to tell about You in the line at the grocery store. Yours truly…Tired Mom”

“Jesus, look. Here’s the deal. Tennessee football is really struggling this year. If you could help us out, we would sure be obliged. Signed, Volunteer For Life.”

“Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for all Thy many blessings. While You’re up there blessing folks, would you mind causing my sister-in-law, Irma, to come down with the stomach bug so we can just have a peaceful Christmas for once? I know you love her, but Lord…well…we don’t. So, please find it in Yourself to grant me this one wish. If You do, I will never cuss again. Signed, Desperate”

How often do we bring our requests to Jesus as though He is up there with a notepad – “You want what? Hang on and let me grab a pen…. Ok! Got it!” Or, how often do we come timid and afraid?

God wants to give us good gifts. He is our Father. To this day, my earthly father still loves to give me gifts – to see my happy. He gets tears in his eyes when He sees me light up about something that brings me true joy and fulfillment. How much more does our Heavenly Father delight in giving us good gifts!

We don’t have to come to Him like He is the granter of three wishes and only three. There is no having to choose wisely your wishes. There is no tip-toeing. There is no bargaining or bribing. There is no tit-for-tat with Jesus. There’s no fear. Make your requests known to God. He sees and hears. And He knows what we need before we do. We do not have to panic, nor do we have to tread softly. We come like a child to a father – boldly and with confidence that He wants to give us beauty in it’s time. We come trusting that He knows best (the struggle is real). We come to God, our Father – giver of wonderful things. His gifts are so much better than Santa’s (but I don’t know how anybody’s prayer could beat Ricky Bobby’s…)

JOY IN THE UPSET

Ahh…the good ole 30 Day Thankfulness Challenge. Let’s see just how much “thankfulness” we can publicly cram into a single month’s worth of Facebook statuses. I actually love reading these posts. While some folks are as sincere as the day is long, there are some folks who run out of thanks fairly early and start praising Jesus for ridiculousness somewhere around Day 4. That, or they turn their “thankfulness” into passive aggressive ways to air their dirty laundry.

“I’m thankful today that my baby daddy got arrested. He got exactly what he deserved.”
That’s a little extra, but you get the point.

Sometimes our view of gratitude and all it encompasses gets a little skewed. Ann Voskamp challenged me a few years ago as I read her book, One Thousand Gifts, to dig deep for the gratitude. It’s not always in the obvious.

Early on in life I set out for the American dream – the perfect (dysfunctional) family, the white picket (chain-link) fence , two perfect (nothing funny here-my kids are perfect😉) kids, a (slobbery, allergy-proned) dog, a nice (extremely used) car and a (lean) 401K that was being built while I stood back and did all the things I loved – raising babies, making music and making a home.

Absolute perfection (fiction).

My years of pursuit actually lended themselves to some form of that delusion, so my thankfulness looked something like this:

Thank you for this beautiful life you’ve given me. Everything looks exactly like I saw it going in my dreams (minus the happiness and the fence). I really appreciate that. Also, I would greatly appreciate you keeping it this way from here on out until I enter into Your gates with thanksgiving and into Your courts with praise. P.S. – You’re doing a great job, Lord! Keep up the good work!”

Being completely ignorant in and of my idealistic life (that was not really idealistic at all), this sounded completely acceptable in my head. It’s all I knew. Thank Him for the obvious (even if you are failing miserably and sustaining a disguise). Make everybody think you’ve got it all together, Heather. Pretend. And while you’re at it, throw some “thankfulness” in during the month of November for good measure. After all, it’s not called Thanksgiving for nothing.

I guess somewhere along the way, in the Lord’s fabulous sense of humor, He decided to call my bluff. “Thanks for the yearly shout-out, sweet girl. (This is Jesus talking for all you slow learners). Some not-so-holly jolly Christmases are headed your way. Let’s see what you got…”

Years of perfecting the facade – it was a pretty good run, don’t you think? I mean, the diligence, y’all… Little did I know the real Thankfulness Challenge was on it’s way. Straight out of divorce, I was faced with something nightmares are made of – no home, no money, no job, no direction, no stability. I was over a thousand miles from my hometown. All I had was all the homemade crap I had conjured up with burlap, buttons and a glue gun over the years (which was a lot), but that wasn’t gonna do me much good right then.

What would we do? Where would we live? Would we be ok? Would we survive?

Would this hurt forever?

Life was about to get messier than I ever imagined. One day I will sit down and tell you all the crazy, amazing stories that you just can’t make up – all the things the Lord did along the way. For now just let me say this:

He used all of those things that were stripped away to show me all the “things” that actually mattered. As my journey progressed, my mindset changed from “Thanks for all the stuff, God”, to:

“Thank you that I get to hold my babies every night. Thank you that we are ok. Thank you for friends who gave us a place to stay. Thank you for peace in the middle of turmoil. Thank you for support – people who didn’t leave when things got messy – who gave me a job and money and a U-Haul and a listening ear…even Christmas.  Thank you that we are surviving. And most importantly, thank you for the hurt that has lead me back to the cross. Thank you for the loss so that I could know what true wealth really looks like. Thank you for the mess and the uncertainty and the not-knowing so that I could watch You work and move and lead and do what You do best. Thank you loving me more than I ever thought possible. And thank you for the broken things, because I would’ve never known just how beautifully you can put them all back together.”

And I meant it – every word. I remember on more than one occasion saying, “God, if this is what it takes for me to feel close to you, I’ll stay in this place forever.” I’m really grateful He didn’t listen to me on that one.

Life has it’s way, doesn’t it, of bringing out the worst and the best – the blame or the gratitude? Trust me when I say, I’ve had my days full of anger and self-pity. But I also found Jesus while I was at the bottom, and I hung onto Him for dear life. He showed me the beauty in the ugly and brought me more joy in the upset than I ever knew possible.  He took my 30 Day Thankfulness Challenge and turned that sucker into a minute-by-minute practicality.  He has given me more good comedic material through all my bad choices and life experiences than I could’ve ever hoped or dreamed. (Sometimes we have to laugh or we’ll cry. Am I right?) He taken the chaos and turn it into delight. And for that, Lord, I am forever grateful. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

Life is full of hard seasons. Know that it is ok to be where you are in your season – unashamed, unapologetically. Just know that somewhere in all that wreckage, there is a little piece of treasure begging to be held up and recognized as beautiful. Beautiful wreckage.                                                                                                                   It’s there, in whatever situation you are facing, and I just bet you won’t have to dig too deep to find it.  I challenge us all to let the 30 Day Thankfulness Challenge turn into a routine benediction. And if you’re the one with the baby daddy in prison and that’s the best you can come up with, then you go girl. You gotta start somewhere….