Fueled by laughter

Driving home from a laughter-filled evening last night, my good friend told me a story about a seminar she’d led where she was asked, by way of introduction, to describe her sense of humor. This struck me as a most marvelous question: sharing what makes us laugh is surely a better way to get to know one another than sharing our favorite toothpaste or where we grew up?

It also got me thinking: how would I answer that question? The answer came fairly quickly: my sense of humor is fairly indiscriminate. As in, I will laugh at just about anything.

My husband describes me as a cheap date this way: not only can I not handle more than one glass of wine anymore, but I also have a rare combination of having both a great love of and also a terrible memory for jokes… which means, he cane buy me a $7 glass of merlot and tell me the SAME set of jokes every month, and I will laugh just as much. Every time. When I started this blog and had to come up with a tagline, the first thought that came to mind was “fueled by grace, caffeine, and laughter.” I think this is still true. I can’t imagine a day without any of these.

Maybe there was a time when being able to tell a joke straight-faced was seen as something cool to aspire to, but I gave up any hopes of being cool a long, long time ago and have since come to embrace that I am a person who laughs at her own jokes. I laugh at dumb jokes, pun jokes, and knock knock jokes. I laugh at slapstick humor and charlie chaplin. I laugh at cats on youtube who misjudge their jumping distances. I laugh at stand-up comedy (check out Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King on Netflix if you haven’t already as a great example.) I laugh at satire and SNL sketches and stories on podcasts. I laugh at clever turns of phrase (the Hamilton lyrics had me chortling throughout.) I laugh when anvils fall on cartoon character’s heads. I laugh at googly eyes on milk jugs and—I say this with some parenting shame—I laugh when my children fart. I know I shouldn’t. But I do. Every time.

And, I am no longer embarrassed about this. I used to be. I used to be embarrassed that often I was the only person laughing, and I would blush CRIMSON red on realizing. I still laugh when I’m embarrassed, and I still blush, too… but I’m a little older now and teasing doesn’t feel as heartless as it did then. My Mom always used to say there was a difference between laughing with you and laughing at you, and one of the delightful parts of aging is realizing she was right and even so… much of the time, it doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it does, though. I may find a thousand things unapologetically funny, but one thing I no longer find funny is humor that is made at someone else’s expense. I have no time for jokes with racist and sexist slurs. Political satire is different, I think: clever humor can add give both insight and levity to serious conversations. But jokes aimed at people of color or different cultures or where women are mocked as sex objects or men are vilified as dummies won’t get any laughter from me. People are made in the image of God and it just isn’t funny to me anymore to joke as if anyone is anything less than that. In these things, I’m decidedly NOT funny any more. Don’t you dare pull a sexually aggressive move on someone and then, when called on it, tell me “you were only joking”. Hell no. That isn’t funny anymore.

“So what are you, the funny police?” you might ask.

Not exactly. But I think of it this way: if humor is a grassy field – then I think of my sense of humor as being a big, wide, green expanse. Lots and lots of room for funny. Internet funny and book funny and fall-down funny and youtube funny and fart funny and pun funny. Bring it on. But my field has some distinct boundaries. Jokes that make anyone feel shamed or less-than fall beyond those fences.

But inside those parameters? Bring on the funny.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Howard.

Howard who?

Howard you like to hear another joke?

YES, PLEASE. And this time next month, you can tell me the same joke again 🙂 I promise, I’ll laugh.

The Betta Mom (an unexpected story)

I’m delighted to have a guest post over at Melanie Dale’s fabulous blog, Unexpected, today (Remember Melanie? She wrote that awesome post about being a Cheerleader Mom). My post is about our pet fish, and it’s kind of a finny story, really…. Click right over to Mel’s place now to read the whole thing or get a sneak peak below…

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My kids have wanted pets for the longest time. It is entirely possible that the first thought that went through my newborn son’s head after “Whoa, it’s bright out here!” was “When can I get a puppy?”

Despite having had beloved pets growing up, both my husband and I have been the King and Queen of Reluctance about getting a pet. There were so many reasons not to: first, because we had no yard. Then, because we were renting. Then, because we traveled for weeks at a time. But as more kids and a piece of turf to call our own became realities, we finally took shelter behind one immovable excuse: too much poop. Mama has a poop-limit, and with three kids under the age of 5, she was maxed out. There was no margin for any extra clean-up, and thus no margin for furry friends, no matter how cute.

But then, friends, the day came when the skies parted and the Angelic Chorus sang Hallelujah. Our youngest child sat on his porcelain throne, finally depositing bodily fluids where they were supposed to go, and right in the middle of my victory dance, my older kids piped up: “Does this mean we can get a pet now?”

Seriously, can a woman not get a two-minute break?

(Continue reading here!)

Image credit: Bryce Gandy (Flickr Creative Commons)

I’ll be a Mermaid for Jesus

The cashier was bagging the final groceries before she asked me the question: “So, how come you have glitter all over you? Are you a preschool teacher? Did a craft go wrong?”

MermaidBron

Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me…

Nope.

Not a preschool teacher (oh the horror!) Not doing crafts. The real reason for my high state of sparkle this week is that, together with two friends, I am spending this week dressed as a mermaid.

With a tail.

And long, impossibly-bright-colored hair.

And a whole lotta glitter.

My two mermaid friends (who are GORGEOUS, but cropped from the picture because they’re very private sea-people) and I have the task of teaching the Bible story at our church’s annual Vacation Bible Camp, and since the theme is “Deepsea Discovery” and the whole plaice is decked out with underwater decor, we decided to suit up for the task. Fintastic.

[Apologies for the puns, friends, but lame jokes are my coping mechanism and I. am. tired.]

We have 252 kids (and 80 junior and adult kelpers) swimming around campus this week (they’re in school…) learning that God is with them wherever they go. The theme of the days are that God knows us (like he knew Noah!), he hears us (like he heard Jonah in the belly of a big fish), he strengthens us (like he helped Peter walk on water), and he loves and sends us (as he did his disciples). Five days. Five lessons. Five days of brightly colored-themed-and-still-nutritious snacks.

It’s a high energy week, and even though I’m an extrovert, this week still leaves me flounder-ing. Working with kids is not my strong suit, but as I’ve written before, I keep signing up because I know what a difference it made in my own life to have adult volunteers tell me about Jesus at VBS and in Sunday School. It changed my life.

And so here I am: standing on campus in a highly-glittered state, wearing a thick wig in triple-digit heat, with a lycra suit outlining EVERY contour of the lower half of my body…. and in this moment I am so grateful for the words the Apostle Paul penned in 1 Corinthians 4:10: We are fools for Christ. We are madmen. (or mermen, as the case may be). And just a few paragraphs later in 1 Corinthians 9:22: To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Or, as the case may be: to the little fish, I become a fish, in order to win the fishies for Christ.

For one week, I’m one of a sea of volunteers who are laying aside our preferences: singing louder than we’re comfortable with, doing dance moves that make the Macarena look choreographed by comparison, playing water games and wearing outfits. Why? Because there are 252 little people here who are DEEPLY loved by Jesus and need to know that. And if I keep my eye on them—rather than the itch of the wig or the sweat of the suit—it makes all the difference. For if they find and keep the treasure this week—the truth that they are known, heard, helped and wildly loved by God—they are rich beyond all counting of it.

Pray with us that they’ll find it 🙂

 

Better Than a Rolling Jail

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My kids say some pretty-dang-hilarious things, and I was reminded yesterday of one of the funniest quips yet.

We had spent the afternoon with fun friends on their farm (the same friends who took a mislaid stripey sweater on the adventure of its life), and it was time to leave. Of course, the kids didn’t want to go, and the effort of corralling them to the car felt a bit like trying to catch that one piece of egg shell that slipped into the cake mix. After several kind requests, I upped my Mom-game: “GET. INTO. THE. CAR.” I hissed as I strong-armed him into his buckles.

My son didn’t miss a beat: “This isn’t a car,” he yelled, “It’s a ROLLING JAIL!”

I laughed the whole drive home.

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I’ve been slowly making my way through the one year devotional based on Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. Yesterday’s entry was based on Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God.

As if often the case when reading in the morning, my eldest had slipped under my arm and was reading the Bible with me. I read the verse out loud and thought a moment, before saying to her: “I think we do this most regularly in the car, don’t you think? I think that’s the place we most often talk about what we’re learning, and it’s definitely the place where we do the most singing.” (Note to the reader: we’ve had Seeds Family Worship albums playing on repeat for pretty much five years continually now. And I’m still not sick of them.) My daughter agreed: yes, the minivan probably was the place where we heard and sang Scripture most regularly, and after more than five hundred repeats of those CD’s… the words are carved deep into our subconscious… which sounds like letting it “dwell in us richly”, don’t you think?

And all of a sudden my son’s hilarious words from the farm flew back into my memory, and I thought a new thought about our minivan and its unexpectedly prominent role in our spiritual formation:

It isn’t a car… it’s a Rolling Church.

And that thought kept me laughing the rest of the day.

A Hairy Confession

The sun has come out and the daffodils are peeking through. On Sunday morning, in the scrambled few minutes between “here’s your breakfast,” and “we’re late for church—WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?”, I pulled on a short skirt. If the daffodils can come out, so can my knees: that seems as good a rule for seasonal dressing as any.

We were nearly at church when I looked down at my knees, highlighted just so by a shaft of sunlight coming through the car window. I squealed at my husband: Oh nooooooo! Look at my hairy legs! With a short skirt! I didn’t even think about that! I can’t even remember the last time I shaved. Better make sure I don’t stand in the sunlight too much.

My level-headed husband, not given to fussing about fashion at the best of times, looked across and assured me: Nobody is going to comment on your legs.

Well, dear reader, let me tell you this. Not fifteen minutes later, SOMEBODY COMMENTED ON MY LEGS. He was wrong.

But actually, so was I. Because the person who commented on my legs did not say “whoa! you should be wearing a hazard sign with those spikes out in public!” In fact, she said, “have you been working out? Your legs look good.” I gaped at her fish-faced. I did not see that coming.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you'll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren't they? Even though the picture is... fuzzy.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you’ll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren’t they? Even though the picture is… fuzzy.

My legs were not the only prickly things I brought to church on Sunday. I brought prickly attitudes, sharp opinions, unkempt fears and a whole lot more, and these too went unnoticed by those who were there. Instead, we sang in worship and talked about what it means to be poor in spirit, a quality describes as “blessed” by Jesus.

Here is the truth: I would prefer to come to church all put together, both on the inside and the outside. I would prefer to be less confused, less hurt, less prideful. I would prefer to be less prickly, both in my heart and on my skin. I sometimes hope that the sun (and the Son) won’t highlight these areas of deficiency, otherwise others may notice.

But this is also the truth: my focus is all too often myopic and self-centered. I need others to help me see myself more clearly: to help me see the big picture, to put things in perspective, to trust in the healing work of community and the slow progress of redemption. Being aware of my shortfalls (even if they are as superficial as hairy legs: I concede this is utter vanity) is actually a GOOD thing when we gather as God’s people: it’s one step closer to humility. Sometimes it’s a good thing to come to church with prickly legs, or in the middle of heartbreak, or while you’re fighting with your loved ones, or right after you lost your temper and you haven’t quite been able to recollect your calm face. Maybe people will see our prickles. Maybe the light will highlight the crisis. But maybe… just maybe, our focus will be redirected. We’ll be humbled, and in that moment, find grace.

For those who think they have it all together have no need for Jesus, now do they?

And I Would Walk 10,000 Steps (A Fitbit parody)

Fitbit 500 miles parody

I am one of the 18 million people (!!!) who got a Fitbit last year: a little device on my arm that functions not only as a watch, but also counts my steps, and tracks my heart rate, sleep, exercise and a host of other things. Apparently 10,000 steps is the goal we should be aiming for in our daily activity levels, and I can’t thinking of that old Proclaimers song “500 miles”. So I thought I’d share with you the crazy ditty that’s been floating around my head the past two weeks:

“I’m Gonna Be (Ten Thousand Steps)”

When I wake up, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who slept more thanks to you
When I go out, yeah, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one whose heart rate gets tracked too
If I eat out, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the gal who’s counting cals with you
And if I make goals, hey, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’s watching stars accrue But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To earn one green star more

When I work out, yes, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one with calories burning fuel
And when the bar charts come in for each work out new
I’ll tweet every single sessions’ stats, its true
When I come home (When I come home), oh, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’ll step home wearing you

And if I’m still short, well, I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one who’s stepping to Hulu.
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To earn one green star more
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To be a Fitbit bore
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da)
Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-da
But I would walk five thousand steps
And I would walk five thousand more
Just to be the one who walked ten thousand steps
To be a Fitbit bore
Image Credit: Julien Doclot/Fitbit Charge HR from Flickr Creative Commons/edited by moi on canvas.com.

Building My Marriage One IKEA Bookcase at a Time

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Maybe this sounds weird, but I find assembling IKEA furniture to be a profound marriage-building activity.

Actually, I know it sounds weird.

I know couples who bond on marriage retreats, or through deep-and-meaningful conversations, or share hiking, or photography, or puppy/pony/ferret-taming. To each their own, n’est ce pas? For us, two things stand out as significantly maritally-enriching activities: first, cooking together. Second, tackling a box of interlocking particleboard planks—armed only with a leaflet of wordless instructions and ambiguous cartoons and a couple of Allen wrenches—and turning it into a piece of furniture.

Over the years, we have developed something of an assembly-rhythm: we know who opens the boxes (me), and who lays out the pieces (him). We know where we put the screws and bolts (in the bag or next to it?) We have developed a sense of when this is a one-person step while the other finds the pieces for the step-to-come, or whether this particular step requires both of us to grab a tool and work on opposite sides tightening bolts.

There’s something about the symmetry of lifting something heavy at the same time without it toppling, of one holding it steady while the other fastens the joint into place that reminds me we’re a two-as-one team. We work quickly, with little-to-no haggling, and somehow, assembling furniture together makes me feel gorgeously in sync with him.

Perhaps it is a throwback to the early years of marriage, when many thing were difficult, and talking was hard. We were setting up house and figuring stuff out, and yet somehow, in the rhythm of building bookcases, we found a sweet spot: an hour of togetherness as we were literally on the same page, literally building our home.

In the space of an hour we could transform our space: on bended knees with tools and particleboard, we could work side by side and arise more together than we had been before, as if we ourselves were being joined, tightened, better fit in the process. “Some assembly required” is something true of relationships, too.

Our home was more homey at the end, and not just because we had better storage space.

(Aside: If Ikea had a name for this perhaps it would be Mårrïj: their design names being hilariously funny, as Darna discovered.)

There was a season when we assembled a lot of furniture. These days, with a house full of kids and ample book cases, those opportunities are rarer. But when they come, I relish them, for the nuts and bolts of relationships are not just shared responsibilities, but shared wins: Look! We build that! We did it! Together!

For some,  theirs is a story told by vacation photos, or a successfully tamed ferrets. For me, there are bookcases and sets of Malm drawers that serve as milestones in our marital journey. Here we are: Team Us. Making our home.

The Owl and the Pussycat (Edward Lear)

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 
II 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 
III 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.
by Edward Lear: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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My Dad loved this poem (loves it still), and when I think of it, I think of him: grinning from ear to ear and dancing around the kitchen: “the moon, the moon, they danced by the light of the moon.” In fact, “you elegant fowl” is still a compliment trotted out on formal occasions.

I need to learn this poem by heart, and dance around the kitchen as I recite it to my kids, for I would love them to have such a sweet memory, too.

Your Laughter (Pablo Neruda)

Your Laughter Pablo Neruda

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Illustration by Corrie Haffly || Made with Paper/fiftythree.com

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How have I never read Pablo Neruda before? I don’t even know.

But this poem—Oh this poem!—undid me as I read it and I wasn’t half way through before I had a lump in my throat and tears welling. For it reminded me of a time, years ago, when I walked into a coffee shop tucked away next to our bible-college-on-sea, and tucked myself away in a corner: a cove within a cove. Usually I came with a friend, but on that day I was alone. Someone new came over and welcomed me as a first-timer. Just then, the older waiter called over: “oh, she’s a regular. She’s the one who laughs.”

The thought that this wild, untamed, often-inappropriate laughing habit of mine could be not just a hallmark, but a beloved one, leaves me breathless.

Ugh. All TMI. You see what reading poetry is doing to me, friends? I’m a WRECK.

Three Words To Sum It All Up: Lessons from a 3000 Mile Roadtrip

We took a 3,000 mile road-trip this summer. We packed camping gear and snacks and clothes and kids into the back of our minivan, and headed towards Yellowstone: the oldest and most prestigious of America’s National Parks.

We saw dinosaur bones, and glaciers, and sharp jagged teeth of mountains jutting into the air.

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We saw sulphuric pits spewing dragon’s breath, and colossal geysers.

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We skipped stones and paddled canoes, we huddled against each other as it hailed. We took photos of all things brights and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

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We paddled on the most tranquil of waters, and picked our way through intricate subterranean lava caverns.

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We laughed with friends old and new, and collected family stories which we will tell, and retell, and retell.

At the end of our trip, I collated our photos and uploaded some of them onto Facebook so our far-flung family could share in the sights of a land they’ve not seen. And of course: put like that, in a photo album, it looks like the trip of a lifetime. And, perhaps it was.

But really, that’s not the whole story. I joked with a friend a while ago that if I were to start this blog again, perhaps I would call it “Not Pictured”. Because not pictured in that photo album were the many hours we spent driving. And driving. And driving. And how we had to stop every thirty minutes because Mommy, I need to pee.

Not pictured were the tantrums. Or the whining faces of Are we there yet? Not pictured was the sweat of pitching and striking a tent every one to two days, while we swatted away kids and mosquitos to get the work done faster. Not pictured were the potty accidents. Or the hours we spent in dingy laundromats on the road, having rooted around in our bags to find the least stinky items of clothing to wear during the wash.

Not pictured were the bouts of anxiety our eldest struggled with as we moved through campsites with bears and thunderstorms and hail, culminating in her asking one morning with tears brimming: “Mommy, did you know there would be storms out here?” I told her we didn’t know exactly what the weather would be like, but that we had prepared for a number of possibilities. She was having none of it. “Didn’t you think of the children at all when you planned this trip?” she accused. Also not pictured: me sniggering instead of comforting my tearful daughter.

And so, when we returned home, people said: “How was your trip? Your pictures were amazing!”

And truthfully, I had to answer: “It was great. Except for the parts that were boring or terrible.”

In the weeks since we returned home, our days have fallen the routine of the school year. We have sourced shoes one size bigger, figured out the car pool, and developed a rhythm for the various activities that have been dropped into our calendar like tetris time capsules. We have first-day-of-school pictures and slowly-growing art folders to prove it. And now that we are settling in, people are asking: “How are you guys doing? How’s the school year?”

And truthfully, the answer is the same: “It’s great. Except for the parts that are boring or terrible.”

I’m thinking that maybe these are the three words that are true for all of life, pictured or not. The blessed life is one which is “great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.” For none of us, no matter what story that pictures tell us, are exempt from suffering, and none of us lives a life which doesn’t have stretches of the just-plain-boring. There is nothing exciting about loading and unloading a dishwasher. Or learning your times tables. Or flossing your teeth. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t as great as it can be.

One day, of course, our firm hope is that we will be with God, and the “boring parts” will all be rest, and the “terrible parts”  will all have been wiped away as tears from our eyes. When we see him face to face, it will be great all the time.

But until then: this is how it is, and really this is the most this one blessed life could hope to be: Great, except for the parts that are boring or terrible.