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Lessons Learned

10 Sep

A few weeks ago a friend posted a sad picture on his Facebook wall. It seems his Jewish neighbor was the victim of a hateful, racist act. Someone had broken their beautiful ceramic mezuzah and had stolen the scroll it housed. I’m not Jewish, nor do I fully understand what the traditions mean, but I was moved by my friend’s desire to repair it, and also by the responses of some of his other friends. One of them cited a tradition in Japan called “kintsugi” which is when a cracked piece of pottery is repaired with gold to highlight the cracks. Another talked about the Japanese concept of “wabi sabi” which celebrates the beauty of imperfection and use.

In the wake of some recent heartbreaks (and let’s face it, the world is full of stories that will break our hearts), my thoughts have returned again and again to that mezuzah and the idea of repairing the cracks in our hearts with gold leaf. That’s the essence of what my blog, Holey Heart, is about ( I had no idea the Japanese actually have a cool word for it!

(If I ever get a tattoo, maybe it will be the Japanese characters for “wabi sabi,” just below my belly button, where the skin that was stretched out by three human beings will never again be taut.)

There’s a song I came across a few years ago called “Lessons Learned,” originally recorded by Kristen Chenoweth. There’s a line in the refrain that goes, “I’m thankful for every break in my heart/I’m grateful for every scar.” I think that’s perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned in the past decade – gratitude, not for the easy stuff, but the hard stuff.

I’ve written before about my bouts of depression, and I’ve discovered only two tactics to get me out of that mire – making a gratitude list, and praising God. That is the gold that binds the cracks back together to make me a useful vessel for God’s will once again. Every time I’m hurt, or hurt myself, I crack again. And in some ways, the older I get and the more God uses me, the more fragile I become. There’s a lot more gold binding the pieces together these days. I like to imagine that by the time my trip on earth is done, I’ll be more gold than pottery; a jar of clay that is made more of heaven than earth because I’ve allowed myself to be useful.

There’s another line from that song I especially like: “All the things that break you are all the things that make you strong.” How often have I mistook that word “strong” to mean “invincible?” Strong is about enduring in spite of the difficulties. Every hole in my heart has offered an opportunity for my God to fill it with something even better.

Today I’m grateful for the lows that have shattered me, because they have allowed God to piece me back together. I’m grateful for the loves that I’ve lost, because they have stretched my heart to a greater capacity to hold even more of God’s love. I’m grateful for every mistake that wasn’t really a mistake because I learned something.


23 Jul

“Try and pick up those keys,” she said to me, pointing to my car keys sitting on the table between us, right next to her extra sweet sweet tea. Though we had only just become friends, I knew her well enough that I could see from her expression she was about to make a point. I picked them up.

“No, I said try.”

I’d like to say I “got it” the first time. But I picked up those keys again. It wasn’t until she quoted Yoda that I figured it out.

“There is no try, there is only do or do not.”


That was when I learned to cut the word “try” out of my vocabulary. I replaced it with doing (or not doing) things well, or poorly. If someone asked me to do something that was outside my comfort zone or ability, no longer would I respond, “I’ll try.” Instead, I say, “I’ll do my best.” It’s a subtle difference.

Changing words is one thing. And important thing, yes. But banning the word “try” is only a surface change. Have I banned “try” from my attitude toward life? Have I really changed my actions? Or am I still attempting to change something I know I would do better to accept?

This morning I came across this video by Colbie Caillat called Try. The video is a powerful testament to true beauty.

When I look at my girls, I think they are beautiful. They have features about which they will probably be self-conscious when they get a year or two older. Tori has teeth that will need braces, and I’m so glad she doesn’t restrain herself from smiling like I did with my teeth. Olivia has a dark brown birthmark on her cheek. It has been my favorite feature since the day she was born.

I’ve definitely gone through stages where I’ve been more than self-conscious about my appearance. It’s an area of my life where I experienced abuse – from my peers, but also from myself. Yes, abuse. Let’s not sugar coat it and call it teasing. Just because the perps were my peers doesn’t make it any less painful or the damage any less lasting. They abused me, and when they no longer abused me, I picked where they left off, physically and emotionally.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look my best. I get laser hair removal, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a fine line between changing the things I can, and obsessing over perceived imperfections. My world no longer revolves around pimples, thank God. Today I can focus on my beautiful features and accept the parts of my appearance that I don’t like. My hair, my eyebrows, my nose. I don’t have to like them to love them.

My friend who told me to try and pick up my keys has undergone a massive physical transformation since that day at the diner. She surrendered some of her fears, not to mention an addiction to sugar and cigarettes, and on the outside she looks nothing like that woman who taught me about the dangers of “trying.” But she was just as beautiful then as she is today. I am grateful beyond words that I was able to see her true beauty before the physical had caught up with the spiritual. Because I could see it in her, I can see it in me, even when my face breaks out and I’m overdue for a touch up on the chin hair.

Stop This Train

16 Jun

This weekend, my church – the one I’ve attended for the better part of 22 years – introduced us to a newly hired youth minister. He spoke to the congregation about his excitement for the kids at our parish, and it was hard not to be enthusiastic with him, especially since I have a middle school aged son.

What? Did I just write that?

While I was sitting in the pew listening to this guy, I was not thinking about my eleven year old. I was 16 years old again, wearing a short jean skirt, old T-shirt and a pair of leather flip flops, and feeling every bit the excitement of finally, FINALLY having a church leader who cared about someone “my age.”

He talked about the life of a teenager being pretty crazy, with all of the school pressures and sports activities and friendship issues being like a fast moving train, and his desire for Church to be a train station where they could come every week for an hour or two of peace.

And then I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I was 38 again, thinking of a song to which me at both ages can relate. Stop This Train by John Mayer.

I wanna go home again sometimes. Not to my big cookie cutter house in the suburbs. Not to my parents’ house that I grew up in. Not back to my childhood room with the pink gingham curtains and the 70s flower power wallpaper, although I’m nostalgic for it. Home is the old back yard. The sandbox. Michael Austin Perry next door wanting to make pirate ships out of egg cartons. Bike rides through the woods to the railroad tracks where there is now a 25 year old subdivision. Cabbage Patch dolls. Writing at my old black desk.

Except that home isn’t any of those things. Not really. 25 years from now home will be a big empty bed typing on an iphone. It will be River City Diner on a Friday Night. It will be kids running from the back yard to the front with Nerf guns through doors they don’t close and a dog who sits in the middle of the floor keeping his eye on everything. It will be the smell of magnolias in June. 25 years from now, I’ll be nostalgic for “Let It Go” and pee-stained toilet seats.

Yeah, I’m scared of getting older. I didn’t think I was all that good at being young, at least not at the time. Looking back, it looks a lot easier in hindsight than it felt at the time.

I wish our new youth minister luck. I hope he can turn our church into that train station. I need it just as much as the kids do.


2 Jun

I subscribe to a faith tradition that has doctrine enough to fill books upon books, and in my times of seeking and questioning, I find some great guidance there. But even the most faithful of Catholics cannot possibly know every little paradoxical nuance of the theology in which we believe. I certainly don’t pretend to.

I have a very simple personal theology. I was created. The creator loves me forever. I’ve got a few congenital flaws and more than a few self-inflicted wounds, and scars from harm done to me. Nothing I can do will change that, but the creator still loves me forever. No matter how broken, I get a chance to do something different with every sunrise, and that alone is reason for gratitude.

That’s the “theology of Christy.” It’s also the theology behind one of my favorite Switchfoot songs, “Always.”

When you believe that the creator will never forsake you, there is no place for condemnation, and every reason for hope. Always.

The Best of Friends

22 May

When I was Olivia’s age, my favorite movie was The Fox and the Hound. Maybe it’s because I had a best friend like that.

At any rate, I was thinking about that movie tonight and thought I’d post the featured song.

As it turns out, that friendship was only for a season – he was a boy, and middle school ruined it for us. I’ve had other best friends (“boys” and “girls” both) which have come and gone, and mourning those losses never really stops. It just softens and deepens as I realize the friendship is not really “lost” so much as it’s just served its purpose.

Oh how I hate that movie. Maybe I should watch it with my kids this weekend and sob until I run out of tears.

Moon River

12 May 20140512-104040.jpg

At the bottom of the stairs in my childhood home, there is a piece of furniture, the primary purpose of which is to hold vinyl record albums. It is open on all four sides, exposing the cover of the albums on either end. For as long as I’ve been conscious, that record stand has been there, and for as long as I can remember, the record on the end has been the soundtrack to Breakfast At Tiffany’s, by Henry Mancini.

When you watch a meticulously filmed movie or read a well-crafted novel, little details like a record stand are often imbued with great meaning and foreshadowing. I think the same can be said of the stories God crafts out of our lives. It’s no coincidence I grew up with Audrey Hepburn’s provocative, innocent, sparkling doe eyes watching me as I evolved from charming toddler to awkward tomboy, through bucked teeth, bad perms, acne, and eyeglasses into insecure, rebellious artist longing for sex and security and suburban domesticity.

When I was 13, I learned how to play Moon River on the piano with sheet music that my mom had since she was in her 20s. I hadn’t yet seen the movie and had no idea what it was about, but I was pretty sure its song was written about me.

Fast forward ten years. At 23, I was a less sophisticated manifestation of Holly Golightly. (In retrospect I realize I was about as unique as any other 23 year old post-adolescent, which is probably why my favorite movie has endured as such a classic, laying the foundation for Carrie Bradshaw.) The 40-something “Rusty Trawler” in my life joked that I needed to go to finishing school.

I’d finally seen the movie when I was in college, and it resonated with me, but I couldn’t figure out why. In the mean time, no one wanted to play the role of Paul Varjak; I guess they had better boundaries than that poor man Holly strung along on her adventures.

When I first saw Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I had no idea Audrey Hepburn’s character was a call girl. I thought she was just a insecure, naive flirt, an introvert pretending to be an extravert. I was projecting my own self-image.

Other than the iconic party scene, the best part of the movie comes right at the end and cuts to the heart of me every time.

When I was in college, one of my “Paul Varjak” candidates took my inventory in much the same way. “You’re fickle, shallow and weak,” he said. Those words have echoed around in my head ever since. Plenty of people tried to convince me that he was wrong, but he wasn’t. I am fickle, shallow and weak. Who isn’t? I’m also steadfast, contemplative, and hardy. In fact, I possess those qualities in greater abundance.

At the end of the movie, Holly recognizes that she’s emotionally unavailable, comes to her senses, rescues the cat she abandoned in the alley, and is held in the arms of Paul, who is waiting for her. How nice that must be!

In real life, the realization that I’m emotionally unavailable didn’t happen suddenly like that. It dawned on me slowly, after projecting my own qualities on all the “rats” and “super rats” I’d invited into my plot. Even after it sunk in, I wasn’t so sure being emotionally unavailable was a bad thing for me. The “only real chance at happiness” is not falling in love or belonging to someone, despite Paul’s convincing speech. But he was right about one thing – no matter where I run, I will just end up running into myself. Real happiness comes from falling in love with myself and belonging to the universe. Until I find that happiness and contentment, I’m not going to be capable of taking care of a stray cat, and certainly not any stray human beings.

I doubt that there will be kisses in the rain when I finally find that happiness and contentment, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to come to me after a lecture and a ten minute reflection in the back of a taxi cab.

The story of my life ends differently, because I get to write it. In my Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I go home with the cat, call a girlfriend, and spill my guts over the phone. I take a bath and I get a good night’s sleep. I call Paul and apologize for acting like an ass. I practice gratitude and staying in the moment and trusting providence. I wake up one morning and realize that what I want more than anything is a buddy to walk along Moon River and drift along through this crazy thing called adulthood, sometimes drifting together, sometimes apart, not afraid of anything because we’re after the same rainbow’s end. Funny how when you have a common goal, relationships become a help on the journey toward self-discovery, not a hinderance.

In my version, happiness comes in fits and starts as I walk along that river. It comes when I watch the behaviors of people who walk softly and humbly and observantly through my life, inviting me into theirs. It comes when I sit down with the journal I avoid and write out my feelings, or text someone when I have a case of the “mean reds.” It comes when I pray – not for myself, but for the ones I love.

The family record stand is just one of the many pieces of poetry foreshadowing the trajectory of my life. There are songs, stories, and family artifacts which act as guideposts, and relationships that are like trail markings, showing me where to put my feet on each stretch of the journey. It is a privilege to share some of it with those who read what I write. My huckleberry friends.


24 Feb

Christians ask the question. Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu people ask it. Atheists and agnostics ask it, a lot. Despite all our difference and diversity, this one question unites humanity.


Why cancer? Why depression? Why alzheimers?

Why death?

I’ve asked that question many times, in tones of anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness. I’ve never gotten an answer. But when I quiet my heart, I do hear the still, small voice whisper, “Wrong question.”

I’m not sure what the right question is. I may never know.

But I do know how humbling it is to watch communities come together in the wake of tragedy.

There is a Natalie Grant song which encapsulates these feelings far better than anything I could write. I hope that it brings comfort, even if it doesn’t answer “why.”


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