10 Things My Dad Taught Me About Survival (feat. gumbo)

My dad is convinced he’s dying (from the stress of being a father to eight children, he claims). He’s not even fifty and I’ve already gotten the “What Every Girl Needs to Know to Become a Woman” speech like 500 times, along with random and increasingly intense survival lessons. I honestly believe he’s fine, but I humor him a lot, and over the last few years I’ve picked up some nifty skill sets.

Ten Things My Dad Taught Me About Survival:

  1. The secret to a good gumbo is in the roux. I’ve made gumbo twice, but each time he has stood over my shoulder, micromanaging every little detail. To spite him, I altered the recipe to fit my tastes. It’s fantastic, but it isn’t the family recipe. I have a feeling that when he is gone I’ll stop improvising and try my damnedest to recreate every flavor he’s made over the years. You just don’t mess with the classics.
  2. When (not if) you are attacked, it is better to be crazy than to be strong. My dad grew up in very rough neighborhoods. One of the many reasons he thinks he’s on death’s door is because he’s amazed he’s outlived so many of his childhood friends. Over the last few years I’ve been in some dark situations. I made it through them because he taught me how to be angrier, louder, meaner, and crazier than whatever (and whomever) I encountered.
  3. GFTB. When cornered, go for the balls. Eyeballs, balls-balls. Whatever. Fight dirty, and fight hard.
  4. Play the game. My dad is well versed in corporate politics, and the politics that are inherent in every church in America, no matter how wonderful the people who go there may truly be. He taught me to maneuver social circles in such a way that I have never been taken advantage of by those who would wish to harm me. I can best sum up his lessons on the subject as this: do no harm, take no shit.
  5. Be a person your family (and others) can depend on. When our island was on lock-down after a hurricane hit the area, my dad was the designated “haul these supplies across the military barricade and leave them in this vacant house for the survivors to find” guy. How does one break into a house on stilts when the staircase has been washed away in the storm? By becoming a human catapult and launching your daughter onto the top deck of said house. It took a couple of tries to get it right, but my dad caught me every time I fell, and those supplies got to the drop point when people needed them most.
  6. It’s okay to start over. We’ve moved thirteen times to date. Every time my dad made sure that we knew we could be whomever we wanted to be in the next town we lived. He let us start over, wipe the slate clean.
  7. Nothing is beneath you. My dad throws gender roles out the window. When my mom got sick he was the one who started cooking, doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, and sewing buttons. In addition to keeping up with his four jobs, and outside home maintenance responsibilities. He’s a man who can do any task that comes his way. He leads through service, giving me and my siblings the ultimate example of how to be a truly effective, strong leader.
  8. Know yourself, and know others. My dad sat me down when I turned eighteen and he told me that the curse of our family was our tempers. He warned me that not everyone could handle the rage we were capable of, and he urged me to find other ways to express anger or sadness–ways that would protect those I loved. It has saved many relationships from going down in flames.
  9. Be better than your parents. Both of my parents have fought hard their entire lives to distance their children from the worlds they grew up in. They became better than their parents, and have always urged us to do the same. It’s a delicate balance they’ve instilled in us: to not act superior, but to make superior decisions.
  10. While we live, let us live. My dad’s motto. Every breath needs to count for something. The worst life lived is one spent in idle selfishness. My dad never stops serving others, even at cost to his health and happiness. My life will be a beautiful, amazing thing if I can give to my children half of what he has given to his.

I love my dad, cantankerous and ornery as he is. He better stick around for a long, long time.

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Garlic Bread For Breakfast

Nothing upset me more as a child than being told we were going out to eat whenever we were in Mexico. I dreaded encounters with waiters and street vendors, shouting the virtues of roast lamb and goat-on-a-stick in rapid-fire Spanish.

You can’t imagine the joy I felt upon discovering that in Mexico they had pancakes. And not only that, but—thank the Lord Almighty—French toast.

Finally I could sit at a table with our Mexican and missionary friends and actually feel like I belonged. Nothing broke language barriers faster than a hearty meal, but to a picky eater meal time was anything but a bonding experience. In fact, I had learned that refusing food meant alienating neighbors and potential friends. To counteract this I developed an elaborate charade, feigning stomach sickness during mealtimes to avoid being the only one at a table not participating.

That all changed after I found out about the French toast. The morning after I knew, I swaggered into the hotel where we were meeting friends for breakfast and sat down amongst them, for the first time an equal. The waiter and I greeted one another with a warm smile and an eager attitude.

Our naiveté was our undoing.

“French toast, por favor.” I rolled up my sleeves, pleased with my grasp of the local language.

“…French? Toast?” The waiter squinted at me, no doubt wondering what fresh hell the gringas were unleashing upon him now.

“Por favor.” I wiggled my eyebrows for emphasis. He shook his head at me, but wrote the order down anyway.

“What is this?” I said, when he returned with my plate.

“French toast.”

That day I learned this: Mexicans are nothing if not literal. Lying there, wobbling a bit on the plate, was a charred brick of garlic bread. Or as he saw it: French toast.

I ended up eating garlic bread for breakfast and bonding with my new friends in a way I probably never would have if the waiter and I had initially understood one another. Even so, the next morning I was very careful to learn their way of ordering food properly. I’m proud to say I have never had to eat garlic bread for breakfast since.

This Just In: Christian Woman Is Literally the Worst

Why do some Christians think it’s their moral duty to make everyone around them miserable?  I’m not trying to be one of those edgy Christian bloggers who are constantly calling out Christians for being bigoted, but I do want to humbly ask, what in the hell is wrong with us?

Or, as my grandmother would say, “What crawled up your butts and died?”

A few years ago I lived on my own in a tiny town outside of Fort Worth, Texas. This town was old—old—and filled with close-knit people whose families had been intertwined for so long that their great-grandparents had gone to school together. How I wound up there is a long story, but once I got there I was too broke to leave. I figured I would make the best of it and make some friends. This plan went horrifically wrong.

Fast forward to a year later and I’m an outcast, have developed severe depression, and am the oblivious object of malicious rumors that have forever ruined me in the eyes of people who had previously been my friends.

Why does no one want to be near me? What did I do? Am I a terrible person?

Without friends or family to tell me otherwise, I began to believe that I was unloved. Then–because subtlety just isn’t my lot in life–near the end of my time there I was in a car accident that took my job, my car, and my health. I was on crutches for three months, and in a walking cast for six more. I actually became as alone as I had felt all that time.

The worst part: I was a self-pitying bitch.

When I finally got the funds to leave Texas I spent the next year nurturing intense hatred and bitterness for everyone in that town, even though I had physically left them behind.

I still struggle. Every damn day.

The church I’d been a member of turned their backs on me at a time in my life when I was too broken and vulnerable to handle it. My relationship with God was that of a rebellious teenager and her long-suffering father, so I wasn’t strong enough to realize that I needed to forgive them and move on. I kept trying to please them, to be one of them. I was desperate to earn their love and friendship, but they saw through me and not only rejected me, but went out of their way to be cruel and hateful.

I’m not writing that to make you feel sorry for me. I was a mess. While that doesn’t excuse their behavior, their sins sure as hell don’t excuse mine.

Over time I changed. God graciously forgave me and came after me. He dragged me, kicking and screaming, back into the light. Yet in order to be forgiven, I knew that I needed to let go of my hatred for that town, and the sense of entitlement that made me believe they should have done more.

It’s a lesson I have to remind myself constantly. Forgiveness is not a once-given, forever-done kind of thing with me. With God, yes. I am by nature a bitter gnome though, and once I decide I hate you that’s pretty much never going to change.

Overcoming my nature is one of the hardest things about being a Christian–but it’s also kind of the entire point. Every day I have to bring my bitterness and spite to God and ask Him to help me move forward or I inevitably slide backwards.

So today, realizing that I am truly the worst Christian imaginable, I ask forgiveness from those people in that tiny Texas town. I had no right to judge you, to hate you, and to harbor those feelings long after you all forgot my name.

I don’t know you. I don’t know what knowing me felt like to you. I’m so sorry I wasn’t more loving, because I don’t know if you needed it as much as I did then. My pain could have brought hope or healing to you, had I trusted God enough to use my hurt as a learning opportunity.

My point is that I have been on both sides of “Christian-on-Christian violence” and it sucks. Both sides are destructive to the soul and erect a barrier between you and God, the only being whose love and approval matters.

Don’t be like me. Don’t be the worst version of Christ that you can be to the world. Swear, get mad, kick ass if you have to, but don’t hold onto anger once the time for it has passed. Everything has a time and place. Feel everything there is to feel in that moment, and then give it to God when it wells up in you again, having faith that God’s grace is enough to keep you moving forward.

Single Woman Desperately Seeking Motivation

This Saturday I’m going to commencement and getting my diploma. It doesn’t feel real yet.

Over past five years I’ve lived on my own, or with my family, taking care of my six younger siblings and bed-ridden mother while going to school full time. Even after she got better I worked—sometimes 60 hours a week—and helped in the children’s ministry at my dad’s church.

I’m so tired.

A part of me is angry that after countless sleepless nights, beautiful weekends spent indoors, and sacrificed relationships all I’m getting is a mound of debt and an embossed sheet of paper. I tell myself it’s just another stepping stone to law school, but what I hear myself saying is, “Great. Yet another obstacle in my way.”

I should get used to it.

At the risk of sounding clichéd and insincere, I’m going to remind myself once again that no one—especially me—deserves a problem-free life. I need to realize that the person who goes untested is a worthless person incapable of helping themselves or those around them in times of need. I’m blessed to have gone through so much in college. Loss, tragedy, unending loneliness and sacrifice—worth it if it helps just one person going through something worse to know there is a life after you’ve hit rock bottom. There is hope to go on when everything—everything—in your life is pushing against you, holding you down.

There are butterflies in my gut, rising and falling every time I think about walking into that stadium and standing side-by-side with my peers. I never thought I was going to get to that point. This seemingly unimportant milestone feels huge to me. I paid for my school, I took out debts in my name, and I did all my own work— made the honor roll for most of it, too. But that’s not why I finally feel like I’ve earned a place in the commencement ceremony.

Though unspeakable pain I’ve learned that I’m strong, that I can bear the weight of anything as long as I stay close to God. Without Him, I really would be dead. I know that, somewhere deep inside me it rings truer than anything I’ve ever written.

So I’m pushing away my cynicism and anger and I’m going to skip onto that football field Saturday with my head held high. Despite my best efforts, I am alive, I am healthy, and I am heading for brighter, better days. Not days free from worry or tragedy, but days I know I can face head-on because God gives me peace, and he gives me joy.

Honestly, how have I not been struck down for my sins?

I am behind on both my writing commitments because of my incessant need to put off now what I tell myself can be done later. A few minutes ago, I received an email from one of my writing partners basically informing me that I am insane, and I can’t help but agree. She is expecting 7,000 words from me tomorrow, and here I sit wondering if I can squeeze in another episode of Charmed before dinner.

I wanted all of my blog posts to be an insight into how spectacular I am at keeping up with things, and instead I am forced to be honest with you all. I do not have my crap together. I probably never will.

BUT this will not stop me from writing. I received feedback today for a short story I’m writing and there were more red marks on the page than there were black. I felt completely hopeless for about 3.2 seconds and then I realized: this is good. A year ago I wouldn’t let anyone see my work, let alone criticize it. Now I’ve got people I’m accountable to who want to help me rise above my procrastinating, clichéd writing habits.

Slowly, I am getting better. I’m going to be okay. Maybe I haven’t yet kicked all my bad habits, but I’ve kicked a few. That’s not nothing! Now, if you will excuse me I need to pull 7,000 words out of thin air by tomorrow morning.

Happy Memorial Day!

There’s a chance you might die of procrastination. Believe me.

Totally Brief Disclaimer:

I am participating in the Writing Contest: Writers Crushing Doubt. It’s hosted by the amazingly inspiring Positive Writer – See more at: http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-2016/#sthash.3T03OCRr.dpuf

Procrastination was killing me. Before you write that off as being one of the four million overly-dramatic statements I make per day, know this: it was LITERALLY killing me. Two years ago I was a mess. Living with undiagnosed depression made every menial task seem like an insurmountable mountain. Eventually I just curled into the fetal position and politely asked God if it was my time to die.

Needless to say it wasn’t a very productive time in my life. That doctor’s appointment I rescheduled three times? Nope. That novel I’d been planning for months? All writing stopped. I put off my responsibilities, telling myself I was too broken to do them right.

One day my parents dragged me to a doctor and she told me what I already knew: if I didn’t fix me I was going to kill myself.

Whew. Let’s take an abrupt left turn away from the sudden truth-bomb-of-darkness I dropped there. Guess what? It got better.

My doctor told me I needed to have some measurement to gauge my recovery. I told her I used to like writing back when I had actual emotions besides despair, and she told me to make myself stick to a writing plan. Little by little, as my word count grew, so would my sanity.

In theory.

Truth of the matter is I think glaring at the first blank page did more to push me over the edge to permanent insanity than anything else. I knew I wasn’t a good enough writer to get published, so why even try? Besides I would just stop writing in the middle of the story, like I always did. And what did I have to say that someone more eloquent hadn’t already said a million times before?

Here’s the hard truth: I was both wrong and right. At that moment I wasn’t good enough to be published, but that didn’t mean I never would be. With every typed word, feverish scribble, and messy sentence I was becoming. Being “good enough” isn’t a goal, so much as a journey you have to commit to each and every day. The person good enough to be published is the one who never stops trying. The moment I realized this, and acted on it, I was already succeeding.

Fun fact: there are billions of people on this planet, and they all have different ideas of comfort, success, love, and pain. Yet even with all this amazing complexity and uniqueness there are threads of kindred spirits, inexplicably and wonderfully linked. Somewhere there is another human being who is going through something you are coming out of and they need to know that there’s good things to come. You’re carrying a message inside you that won’t reach everybody, but it wasn’t made to. Don’t cut the thread tying you to your kindred spirits. Give it a good tug and let them know you’re there too.

Pick up your laptop, or your pen, or your hipster typewriter, and just begin. Telling yourself that you’re not good enough may not be a lie, but it will stay the truth if you never allow yourself to fail and to improve through experience. Let me be your cautionary tale and don’t waste a single moment more lest you accidentally die of procrastination or something. I’m not a doctor, but that’s a real thing. Trust me.

Go. Write. Do it now. Jot down a paragraph or two about how obnoxious you think I am and then sign your name at the bottom and pat yourself on the back. You’re a writer. So go write.