“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. Never give up.” -found at local gyms everywhere

I’ve been a church-going girl all of my life, literally since I was born.  Being a Christian has been one of the primary ways I identify myself, and a big part of that is attending church.  My weakest moments only meant that I would attend more – every time the doors were open, if I could.

Entering my mid-thirties, however, I began to entertain for the first time the idea that maybe I’d just rather stay home.  Millions of twenty-somethings are doing it; that would make me a trend-setter, right?  I was tired, disappointed, busy, and just burnt out.  And, I hate to admit this, but the age-old excuse was right: It actually is full of hypocrites.

Yet something compelled me to stick with it and it wasn’t until Sunday School yesterday that I found the words for why: Going to church is just like going to the gym.

The people I have met at the gym are ALL hypocrites.  For one thing, their motives are not pure.  They do not want to be there, or if they do, it’s to feed their egos or some other self-serving need.  Maybe they’ve come to socialize, to network, to connect with that cute gym bunny who always comes in at 7 a.m.  Maybe they are compulsive exercisers who fear going a day without it.  Maybe they can’t do it on their own and need the motivating presence and activity of others.

Not only that, but however they look inside the gym, they do not leave those doors and live a perfect life of health in the rest of the world.  There is no one who never ever makes a bad health choice, be it eating something off-diet or neglecting their rest or balancing their time management perfectly.  Some of us come closer than others, but no one can claim a life of perfect health and choices one hundred percent of the time.

Yet no one would ever condone these observations as a valid reason not to go to the gym.

This holds true for most of the reasons I use and/or hear to rationalize dropping out:
-I don’t fit in / don’t agree / don’t like some of the people there.
-They only want me for my money.
-I don’t have time.
-That’s my only day to sleep in.
-I don’t like the way it’s organized.
-It’s boring.
-I had a bad experience.
-I don’t need to.  I can make it on my own.

Some of these may be valid reasons for eschewing one particular site or group, but not for giving up entirely.  It’s a discipline.  It’s supposed to be hard.

The hard parts are what make me better.


Last week, I got a name for a behavior that has long afflicted my youngest daughter.  The behavior is craving and /or consuming substances which are not food – recently it has been crayons and pencil erasers – and the name is pica.

Lots of people manifest it, but no one knows exactly what causes pica.  Some theorize that it is a symptom of nutritional deficiency, others that it stems from a low level poisoning such as of lead.  Many people who are diagnosed on the Autism spectrum experience it (though of course, there are some who believe Autism itself results from mineral poisoning, so that may be redundant).

Whatever the cause, the universal consensus is it’s not good for you.

My daughter is diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has eaten non-food substances off and on nearly all her life.  When she was a toddler, it was dirt and sand.  By preschool she favored play-doh and plastic toys.  Now that she is eight, apparently she has graduated to school supplies.  Until now, we as a family have tended to shake our heads at her cuteness and shrug it off.  We know it’s unhealthy, and we certainly discourage it, but every time she successfully phases out the behavior, then later it becomes something to joke about.

The thing is, she knows it’s not good for her.  Her mind responds well to rules, and she has memorized the reasons for not doing it, can quote them for you endlessly.  She even has put to memory some alternate choices to help her not do it, such as twiddling her thumbs or eating a cracker.  Yet the minute her brain turns elsewhere – for perfectly good reasons such as doing school work or playing pretend – back in the mouth goes the pencil.  Knowledge is not enough.

In my ideal world, I will sniff around and research and think through it enough to discover the root cause.  Then I will fix it, and she will have conquered the problem forever and can move on to grander pursuits that are not socially awkward, such as becoming an astronaut or saving all of the lost kittens.  My ideal world eludes me every day, unfortunately.  In the meantime, I am working on creative solutions involving things that are okay to put in her mouth (dental hygiene tools, perhaps?) and praying for guidance so that we can truly beat this thing for good.

Pica is a very visible faulty behavior.  It’s easy to look at the kid shoveling sand in her mouth and think her either silly or defective for doing it.  Yet in this case, once again, the little children lead me and I have to ask: Am I so very much more evolved myself?

I consume things that are not food all the time.  Facsimiles for reality have more of a place in my daily routine than truth.  A burger with fries is not a meal (depending on where they came from, it might not even be actual food!), and a full belly is not satisfaction.  Showing up for work is not doing a good job.  Waving to my neighbor is not being a neighbor.  Facebook is not friendship.  Attending a weekly church service is not righteousness.   Quoting scripture is not speaking for God.

I am rather convicted by this picture of filling up on falsehood and potentially hurting myself in the process – all in the name of relieving a damage that I can’t quite even define. 

My Sunday School class yesterday discussed a similar topic while studying the book of Micah.  In the final chapters, the prophet chastises the people for practicing ritual without heart and lists among the consequences always eating, yet never being filled.  That’s spiritual pica right there, and I totally have it.

There’s more to my life and call than this.  I know there is.  Today I am praying to move beyond knowledge and into active pursuit of real life.  I would rather suffer now for what will feel better later than forge relief now with what will hurt me later.

Plus, I’m tired of wiping this dirt off my mouth all the time.


blue like don

About once a month, I treat myself to a little something I like to call No-Hat Day.  No-Hat Day is when I temporarily cast off all the roles I try to fill in my life and do something that is purely me in the moment.  For a few hours, I’m neither doting mother nor dutiful daughter, boss nor subordinate, seeker nor sought; I can just be It’s a self-prescribed therapy, I suppose, and I love it.

Yesterday was my most recent No-Hat Day, and it will probably surprise no one to learn that I spent the time in a movie theater.  This was no casual jaunt to the cinema for the diversion of the day, however.  Instead, I got up early and traveled 45 minutes in the soaking rain (perfect) in order to fulfill a three-year-old dream: I finally got to see Blue Like Jazz.

Yes, I know it’s not as hotly anticipated  as, say, The Dark Knight Rises or maybe even Madagascar 3, but I have a deep emotional connection to this movie.  You see, Donald Miller (author of the book whence the movie gets its name) is a close, personal friend of mine.  At least, it has felt that way ever since he led our Sunday School class several years ago via the Blue Like Jazz audio book.  I forged some of my best friendships in that class during a very difficult time in my life.  While my heart churned with all the grief and darkness of divorce, our class conversations plumbed the spiritual depths of such heady topics as community, worship, and penguin sex.  It was just the tonic I needed, and I expected no less from the movie.

That’s not to say I went into it blind to all possibility of fault.  I am a movie fiend to the core, and I have been burned by films that I wanted to be great.  Actually, Donald Miller himself raised my standards for what makes good film by introducing me to the works of Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, and Steven Pressfield.  So I am not only capable of noticing flaws; I can be quite obsessive when I perceive them.

In that vein, I did notice that Act I felt a bit rushed.  I wanted to be more invested in Don’s relationships at home before he left, and I would have liked a more detailed transition for him than simply to drive away from church and end up at college with cases and boxes magically in tow.  I was also ready for more in the bookstore debate that Don attended – more intellectual substance to the arguments and fewer off-the-cuff remarks about feelings.  I know that BLJ the book spends time on the sense of awe that seems to transcend realism, but the topic seemed out of place in a public debate.  These blips were superficial, though, and didn’t detract from the story much.

However, to my acute dismay, I found BLJ guilty of my greatest cinematic pet peeve: sunny rain.  I hate it when there is a moment in the story that is clearly supposed to take place in near-monsoon levels of precipitation and you can totally tell that the sun was shining when they shot it.  It’s seeing the man behind the curtain.  I know it’s unavoidable sometimes, and they try to cover it up with special effects, but it breaks my engagement from the story because I can’t help but see the rain machine just outside of the shot.  Instead of feeling the sadness or turmoil of the moment that the rain is supposed to represent, I have to try to feel it.  Of course that’s a personal issue, and probably reveals more about flaws in me than in the movie.

Beyond that, I have nothing but praise.

My favorite character was Lauren.  Every good story has a counterpart who will challenge the protagonist by exposing or contradicting his point of view, and Lauren was the perfect counterpart to Don, the Han Solo to his Luke Skywalker.  She also embodied perfectly the ironic tension of church meets anti-church. In the same scene wherein she celebrated her own freedom by coming out as a lesbian, she exhorted Don to closet himself as a Christian for the sake of survival.  Likewise, he is constantly shocked by and speechless at her brass, but follows her lead and sometimes borders on using her for street cred.  I loved their dynamic.

In fact, my favorite thing about the whole movie may have been its unapologetic equal treatment given to the characters.  Lauren and the Pope were equally as likeable, flawed, intelligent, and honorable as Don and Penny.  Thus a glancing reference to Ephesians 6 became a brilliant thread from the conflict through the resolution.  In the beginning, Don’s hokey, earnest-but-missing-it youth pastor tries to protect Don from the enemy, found in sin and unbelievers, through a cheesy rendition of the armor of God.  In the end, Don comes closer to the heart of the passage: that the enemy is found not in people, but in the powers of injustice, pain, and disappointment – powers that hold sway over everyone in some area or another.  This is a message not found in many movies of any genre, and it cheered me.

Finally, I can’t talk about this movie without visiting the great confession booth scene.  I am firmly anti-spoiler, so I won’t reveal any of the details, but I will tell you I cried.  I cried for Don and his quiet acceptance.  I cried for all the people suffering from unresolved pain in the world.  Most surprisingly, I cried for myself because I want to be more like Don.  When I was navigating all of that pain and disappointment back in Sunday School, I was never brave enough to run into the world with arms wide open like he did – in rebellion or otherwise.  I simply processed and buried it and curled up on the couch, secure in my excuse to live a sheltered and ordinary life.

All of this bears much more thought and will probably resurface in future blog entries.  This one being more than long enough, I conclude now by offering public thanks here to Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson, and all those many names in the credits for bringing this project into the world – and especially to my good friend Don Miller for challenging me and calling me out and faithfully continuing to wield the pen.