Category Archives: Good Behavior

What I Have Done

“You did WHAT?”

“Why?”

“Why now?”

These are the questions I have been getting, the questions I expected to get. Getting a tattoo was kind of a big move for me, but not a rash one. I have seen some beautiful and meaningful tattoos on people “like me,” forty-something and entrenched in family and career. I had seen a lovely tattoo on the arm of a woman I know from church who is 20+ years my senior. About ten years ago, I thought, “If I ever come up with something I’d be happy about having on my body for the rest of my life, and can figure out where on my body I’d want it…I would absolutely get one.”

Years passed and I couldn’t think of anything I thought I could be happy with permanently. I knew some things I didn’t want: no jokes or cartoons, no butterflies (nothing against butterflies, they just don’t speak to me), no symbols of other cultures or letters from alphabets I don’t use. I didn’t urgently want a tattoo, so I didn’t worry about it: I just let the idea drift in the back of mind. Then one day, I was browsing through Pinterest and saw some tattoos that were quotes from books and my interest was fired. Words were a natural choice for me, a writer, and they could be so beautiful in form and meaning. But, what book? It took a surprisingly long time for me to realize that the Bible was the best source, considering I have been reading from the Bible since I was a child, had taught from it in Sunday school for years, and at that point had been reading it almost daily for nearly a year.

There had been a significant shift in my outlook, my focus, and in my direction in life that started as I began reading from the Bible and doing daily devotions. While I never stopped believing in God, for a long time I believed that I was a mess, hopelessly letting God down, and the best I could hope for was to try to convince everyone else that I was fine and try not to bother, or rely on, God too much. I wasn’t fine. I was panicked and numb, angry and grief stricken. My life was awesome by the standards of many and all I could see was my epic failure to realize my potential, or to connect meaningfully even with the people I loved the most. Not fine at all. My sister (who thought I was doing okay,) suggested I check out Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It was a revelation of reassuring scripture and interpretation that challenged and transformed my faith journey. I have read critics of Jesus Calling who describe the devotions as “New Age-y” and not biblically sound, but my experience was that those messages helped heal some very hurting parts of me. Leaning on scripture and faith that what I was reading was really true, I took some risks in work and relationships. I relaxed my grip on my impossible standards for self. I trusted. I edged toward wholeness.

If the Bible was helping heal me, then what words would I choose from it? At first I thought “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” a fabulous contradiction to the awful story I had been telling myself for a long time. Knowing I was choosing something forever, I played with it. I wrote it on my forearm. The location was good, I could look upon the verse easily, and share openly, but wouldn’t be obvious. I didn’t want my tattoo to be the first thing people noticed about me. I liked “fearfully and wonderfully” a lot, but decided it wasn’t my forever verse. Romans 15:13 is one of my favorites, but it was too long for the location, and I couldn’t come up with a short cut I liked well enough. Same with “For I know the plans I have for you…” “Be still and know that I am,” is awesome and meaningful but didn’t feel right. Then it came, a message that is repeated many times in many ways throughout the Old and New Testaments. “The LORD your God is with you” In these words I know that I am never alone, and that with God’s presence comes power: power to forgive, pray, act, give thanks, rejoice and love, even when I don’t feel like I can or want to. These were the words. And with the words, all at once, came an image of a dark bird perched on the branch of a tree. The living tree symbolizes the living God, and the bird is me, choosing rest and refuge.

Stephanie resizeFinding the studio and artist was almost a comedy of miscommunications and awkward connections, but finally there was a click when my vision met the skills of Stephanie from Electric Dragonland in Hopkins, MN. I had to wait three months to see her rendering of the art, and another month after that to actually get the work done. It took two hours on a November afternoon in 2015. It wasn’t as painful as I had thought it would be, but then I had imagined myself bursting into tears and running out the door a few minutes into the work, too. I love it.

I get a mix of reactions to this thing I have done. Most people are indifferent. A few shake their heads. Many admire the delicacy of the art and wording. I am delighted that I really don’t care what others think, good or bad. It feels like something I have always had, under the surface, now revealed. It has given me an opportunity to share my faith. It has reminded me to calm down, when my thinking has shifted into bad old rutted tracks.

I got a tattoo.

It is a reminder to me and a message to others.

I got it now because I have come through some trials and can claim the enduring truth that God is with me. And also with you.

tattoo edited

~Peace~

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Remember, And Be Glad

My first memory is of being carried up the center aisle of the United Methodist Church in my small home town. I was a three-year-old girl in my daddy’s arms, and my eleven-year-old sister walked up that aisle with us, next to my mom who carried my baby sister.  I come from what, in the midwest at that time, might be considered a religiously diverse family. My mom grew up in the Baptist church, and my dad’s parents were Christian Scientists. Through friendship, my mom began attending the Methodist church in the small town that had become their home. On the day I was baptized, so were both my sisters and my dad, we all became members and that place became our church home.

I went to Sunday school there every Sunday, and in third grade received my first real Bible, a Revised Standard Version covered in pebbled red vinyl, with a scrap of gold leaf that I used to inscribe my name on the cover. I was in many children’s Christmas programs and occasionally got the nerve-racking job of page-turner for my mom as she played hymns and special music on the piano. I went to church camp and found in Jesus the friend I needed to help me survive some turbulent years. I was confirmed in that church, wearing a dress of my mom’s and with my hair in French braids, feeling very grown up. There were annual Christmas eve candlelight services, where we sisters would inevitably get such giggle fits that suppressing them was painful and we shook the pew as we wept silent tears of mirth and pain. There was youth group on Wednesday nights and when I was a senior, a cake for the graduates.

I had a bridal shower and a wedding in that church, and about a decade later I brought my husband and my sons, ages 5 and 3, to my dad’s funeral.  My mom, sisters and I gathered up there at the front of the church and walked dad back down that aisle, the same one we walked up on the day of the baptism. I read some poem that day for the service, but now I wish I’d told this story, because this story is about family, love and the kind of faith that is built on simple acts of caring repeated often over time. It is a story about knowing what belonging is in a father’s arms, and about finding belonging in a place of faith.

This sounds idyllic, but it wasn’t always great. There were cranky people and scoldings and judgment and the same petty human problems inside those walls that you find inside and outside any church of any denomination anywhere in the world. My own nature prompted me to a very cliché rebelliousness in my later teens through my twenties. My early ideas of God were simple ones, the kind Jesus said everyone should have. Thinking about faith got more complicated over time, just as life did, but the Sunday school lessons, and the hymns, the messages and the scripture were all woven right through me and held me together for the most part, even in the very bad times. I prayed, and often those prayers seemed unanswered, but they never felt unheard.  By the time I had children of my own, I knew that faith is linked to survival, and that a spiritual home is a good thing to have. I wanted to give my children some of that same experience I’d had, and as babies they were baptized in a small Methodist Church in their own home town. To this day I continue my faith journey in that community and in the world at large. I am grateful for the support I have had along the way. In last Sunday’s sermon we heard the message of John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of Holy Spirit, and we heard the words from the confirmation service, “Remember your baptism, and be glad.” I do remember and I am glad.

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A Truce

It had been a strugglesome week at work and I was feeling rushed and dejected when my husband suggested we go outside and have a few practice swings with the clubs. A few days before, I had reluctantly agreed to join an outing of four couples for nine holes of golf. Let me tell you something about golf. I don’t care for it. I find it full of aggravation and without reward. I was dreading spending my first opportunity to relax feeling like a total failure surrounded by people who play regularly. But I am a good sport…sort of. “Fine,” I had said, sounding more like “Why GOLF?”

The last time I had played was four years before and it had ranked among the worst leisure experiences of my life. I don’t know how many years it was before that I had played but it was more than four. Last Friday out in the yard, I picked up my driver with poor grace and assumed the position. Instantly there was a blaring chorus of voices in my head. Some were telling me what a bad experience I was about to have, some were telling me what a lousy golfer I am in general, and others were critiquing every single aspect of my swing (SO many ways to do it wrong). It was both deafening and oddly familiar. They sounded just like the voices that used to hound me when I was writing. I couldn’t believe how awful it felt, and I couldn’t believe I had persevered with writing as long as I had, clinging to a certainty that I had to battle through the noise and the unrelenting negativity. As I said in my last post I eventually did give up, and rebooted my writing in Safe Mode, which for me was to only write when I felt like it and to only write for myself. I chose to share my writing when I wanted to with a supportive group of friends who also write, but I absolutely gave myself permission to not do our writing prompts at all, or to write about something else if I wanted. I gave up overthinking and trying to be perfect, and in doing so had made peace with my writing. The voices quieted to a manageable murmur.

Out there in the yard, facing down a leaf in substitution for a dimpled ball, I decided that If I could do that with writing, when I really, really care about writing, I could also do this with golf. Some of the advice my husband offered made no sense. “Position your club face so it impacts the leaf like this.” “Aim so you hit the leaf right at this point.” Incomprehensible concepts which I rejected. Some of the things he said resonated. “Plant your feet.” Yes, this I had experienced in yoga and Pilates, feeling my feet connected with the earth as though my body was an extension of the planet. “Slow your swing.” That I understood, even if I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get the game OVER, but when I slowed down, my swing felt more controlled. Out on the course with an actual ball and an adjusted attitude (less competitive, more experimental and compassionate toward myself) I had a not-terrible time. I had a few (feet planted, slow tempo) strokes that were pretty decent, and the rest (which were absolutely consistent with my status as a perennial beginner) didn’t bother me. Best of all, my inner critics were silent. Nine holes wore me out, and I ended up with a blister on my thumb and some sore muscles the next day, but I also found I had been able to call a truce with the sport. I would be willing to golf again…you know, once my back loosened up.

I even learned a few things from golf that I can apply to my writing. If my metaphysical feet are planted, I have strength and balance to write from. If I don’t rush my message, it comes at its own pace and makes more sense. More peace, fewer voices seems like a good direction to keep moving toward. Fore!

Lynnette golfing

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

As a nearly four year veteran of freelance article writing for Twin Cities community magazines, the idea of attending the Minnesota Magazine Mingle at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis was completely inside my comfort zone. I clicked on the registration link in The Loft e-newsletter and was pleasantly surprised to be directed to the Facebook page for the event. Attending? Why, thank you, yes I am.

The day of the event I took off twenty minutes early, but was still twenty minutes late due to an accident on 94W and University resulting in INSANELY backed up traffic. When I got to The Loft I discovered, at the welcome desk, that only a moron would think that accepting an invitation on Facebook would be the same as registering, and that there was, in fact, a $35 fee. On the upside, they immediately printed me a very snazzy nametag. I had heard that the event was being held in the auditorium, but another room nearby looked pretty populated and rowdy, so while I hung my coat I asked a staffer if the event was being held in both rooms. “Go in there,” she said, pointing at the auditorium. I obediently went, and spent some time looking at the amazing assortment of Minnesota-based magazines laid out for the rather sparse crowd. People noticed me, mostly because unlike them, I didn’t have a sticker on my nametag identifying me as a “writer” and/or an “editor.” I struck up a conversation with an “editor’ and “matchmaker” (someone officially charged with introducing compatible writers and editors) and learned about her work with industrial journals and newsletters for the powdercoat industry. I ate some grapes and gazed longingly at the raspberry topped brownie but strategically bypassed the salmon and dill hors d’oeuvre. Clearly, that was there as a test to see how committed we were to face-to-face networking in close quarters. I started to question what I was doing there. My community lifestyle writing didn’t seem like a big deal anymore. I drew a blank as I wondered what I could submit to various magazines representing the interests of universities, business, the History Channel, physicians, golfers, the fabric industry, or environmental sciences. I started to doubt whether I had knowledge of anything worthwhile, when I spotted a nametag for an editor of a national craft publication. I introduced myself and quickly learned (before I totally embarrassed myself) that ‘craft’ referred to, for instance, sculpture, not, say, crochet and that he was more resigned to the conversation than engaged. Because I am striving to be mentally healthy, I decided that it probably wasn’t me, that the editor was finding the whole event not that interesting. He was probably there because he had to be and the booze he was drinking was making it tolerable. I wondered where he got that booze. As a last gasp effort, I offered him my business card and he made no move to take it. “Just check our submission guidelines online,” he said. He wasn’t smiling.

When I recovered from my humiliation a bit, I met a lovely writer who seemed confused that I hadn’t gone into the other room where it turned out people had been meeting and chatting from the beginning. As people flooded from there into the auditorium, all best friends by now, she and I compared notes on editors in the room. I mentally wished her luck when she seemed interested in the craft magazine. Then, I won a door prize! Books from Loft writers and a tote bag! Sweet! Another prize winner, whose business card said Freelance Humorist was nearby. We began a conversation about blogging when a young woman walked up, told a hipster joke “Why did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate the pizza before it was cool,” and began a one-sided no-punctuation conversation about a zombie survival guide she wrote and how she thought about doing a hipster survival guide but hasn’t because she isn’t a hipster. I interrupted her to point out she wasn’t a zombie, either, but that didn’t stop her. She seemed confused by the fact I was talking, so maybe she WAS a zombie. I was trying to extricate myself politely from the conversation when I saw the last, and maybe only, editor I’d really hoped to speak to walking toward the door. I chose abruptness over etiquette but missed him anyway. I know somebody who knows somebody, so that might be fixable. I got a few more pity chats from very nice editors whose publications didn’t overlap with my skill/knowledge set, and then gave up. I grabbed a mouthful of stinky salmon dill goodness and went to sit in a comfortable chair in the hallway/lobby. I finally spied the drinks table, but was soon to be driving. I saw a big group of people chatting together, magnifying my aloneness. I thumbed a long and bitter text to a friend, then gathered my coat, and decided to go back to get a brownie for the road. At the food table, a business magazine editor appeared to be having a conversation with an intense gentleman, but within a few seconds I realized he was just listing everything he likes and dislikes about St. Paul, where it seems the editor lives. After he told her St. Paul’s cathedral is very nice but she pays too much in taxes, I decided it was imperative I find out more about her magazine. I stood there pointedly until she glanced my way and the man strode off, no doubt to make more friends. I didn’t mention him, but started what turned out to be an enjoyable conversation about her magazine and her job. I realized I was more relaxed listening and responding to what she was looking for than I am apologetically flinging my credentials into strangers’ faces, and I seemed to be making a better impression as well. She suggested we exchange cards and asked me to send her a link to some of my work. The Mingle was over.

What have we learned, kids? If it seems super easy and cheap, you are probably missing something. Don’t trust what people tell you, go where the energy is. Do your research beforehand. Most of the people out there are nice, but even so, they can’t help you if you don’t know what you are looking for. Know your questions, and make sure one of them is, “what kind of story are you excited about getting?” Most importantly, go back for the brownie.

Coincidence?

When I was a young teen living in rural eastern South Dakota, my mom had to drive me sixty miles one way for my monthly orthodontist visits, which spanned nearly three years. Mr. Wordtabulous, also a young teen at the time, lived in western Minnesota and was driven fifty miles by his mom to the same orthodontist. It is easily within the realm of possibility that we awkwardly checked each other out in the waiting room thirty-plus years ago, long before we met in college. In 2004, we went to Italy and while we were in the small town of Vernazza, drinking wine on a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea, we struck up a conversation with a young American couple. Over pleasantries, we found out they were newlyweds and the bride was the daughter of our former orthodontist, roughly 4,800 miles from home.

My eighth grade English teacher read an essay I’d written about my feisty Aunt Phylis and realized that her first schoolgirl crush, twenty years before and 350 miles away,was my first cousin, Bruce.

Returning from our 2006 Germany/Austria trip, we had a short layover in Amsterdam. Standing in line to board the plane to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I began chatting with the people immediately behind me and discovered they live ten miles from our house.

It sometimes seems we live in a novel, with a finite list of characters engendering unlikely connections. We don’t know what threads exist between us and that stranger in the elevator, in the other lane, or in the news story taped on the other side of the globe. I take it as a cautionary tale against smugly assuming we know how things work, and a gentle nudge from the universe to remember that we are all neighbors. What coincidence have you experienced, and what is your take?

Literary Therapy

John Updike wrote in Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism, “I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody’s head.” Me too. But until that day, as I battle the gridlock in my brain and either pound, snub or tentatively caress my laptop with conciliatory keystrokes, I continue to read fiction for entertainment and inspiration. As we do. And once in awhile, a phrase or sentence reaches out of the book and plucks a string in my core. Truth, figured in inked black symbols on a flat white page, unlocks light and sound somewhere inside me (my brain? my gut? my soul?) It is a miracle every time it happens, and it is why I write.

I had such a moment recently. I have been going through a particularly grim love/hate, approach/avoidance conflict with my writing for some time now.  No matter how many helpful people I discuss this with, or how many instructive articles and books I read, there is still a poisonous little voice in my head that hisses they don’t get it, you are SCREWED UP. Then I read a book recommended by hot-off-the-wire on Goodreads: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. In this novel, the main character, Harrison Shepherd, is the quiet center of a whirling storm of mercurial characters and events. For him, writing isn’t a problem; it is an outlet, his therapy, his way of reinventing the world to make it a more bearable place. A traumatic event results in him withdrawing from the world until he has the greatest difficulty even imagining leaving the small town where he has settled. When he feels conflicted over an invitation to visit a friend he confides in his clear thinking and plainspoken assistant, Mrs. Brown. He describes the exchange in his diary:

“We discussed it again this afternoon, or rather I talked. Justifying my absurd fear of travel and exposure, despising it all the while. My face must have been the Picture of Dorian Gray. At the end, when he goes to pieces.

She used the quiet voice she seems to draw up from a different time, the childhood in mountain hells, I suppose.

“What do ye fear will happen?”

There was no sound but the clock in the hall: tick, tick.

“Mr. Shepherd, ye cannot stop a bad thought from coming into your head. But ye need not pull up a chair and bide it sit down.””

Those last two sentences stopped me in my tracks. Resonance. Truth.

When those self-defeating and crazy-making thoughts come…I don’t have to make them a nest? I don’t have to cajole or argue or submit evidence to their contrary? I don’t have to analyze them exhaustively? I imagine rolling my eyes, saying, “Oh, you again,” and firmly shutting the door. Peace. Let the jackals wait outside. That’s where they belong. No doubt someone has suggested this to me before, but in that quiet room with Mrs. Brown, Harrison and his agony, the message made it through the bottleneck in my head. Did it fix me? Sadly, no, it did not, but perhaps that is unrealistic. I suspect this is a road I’ll never get off entirely, and that traffic jams will come and go, but for now the cars have shifted and I am back at my keyboard.

What passage or author has unlocked a traffic jam or stopped the world for you?