Little Tortilla Girl

Gentle Reader,

This one is for my goddaughter, the spunky Riley Rae. When she was a baby and decidedly hangry, I held her in a headlock in order to get her to drink a bottle. We’ve been best buddies ever since.

********

A beautiful early spring evening in Bellevue…or Seattle…or wherever we exactly and technically were. (I have no sense of direction or place). The first day of Northwest Ministry Conference had passed by in a blur of workshops, conversations and a fast lunch trip to Chick-fil-A. (My first time eating the Lord’s chicken nuggets, complete with dipping sauce. Vegetarianism went out the minivan window. Hashtag worth it, never mind the liver complaining later). As the sun began to dip in the distance, calling the street lamps to flickering life, we sat, a tired but merry band, twenty-odd strong, around brightly patterned tables, noses filled with the scents of Mexican food. Or, at least, what passes for Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest (my Southern friends were about to object).

In a 1988 interview, author Ursula K. LeGuin discussed her daily schedule, noting that, after 8:00 p.m., “I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.” I had reached the stupid point around 6:00 p.m., very much ready for sleep but knowing that it was hours away. So, when my dearest Riley, who was sitting to my left, asked, “Auntie Marie, where is my food? How long does it take to make a quesadilla?,” I should not have been surprised (though I was) when the spirit of my father and uncles overtook my mind and the silliest of sentences came flying out of my mouth.

“Well,” I replied. “They have to go and hunt the tortilla, you know.”

Her eyes went wide. “That’s not true.” She giggled, gaps where teeth used to be on full display. “That’s just not true.”

And thus the Saga of Tortilla Hunting began.

“They really do have to hunt the tortillas. Where do you think they come from?”

Riley had no answer.

You see, tortillas grow wild in the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. They are bright pink in color, though a few green ones have been spotted. The green ones are the aged tortillas, the wise ones who have escaped capture. Trouble is, most tortillas are not intelligent, so they don’t listen to their elders, who try so hard to teach them how to live free.

“Don’t eat the guacamole,” they say. “Don’t trust the avocados.”

Put a little guacamole in the bottom of a tortilla trap and they come flying. They spin like flying saucers and make a strange, indescribable flapping noise. They only have one eye, so they don’t see well at all, often smacking into things in their quest to find the guacamole. Ah, but their sense of smell never fails them. They descend into the trap, mouths, at the center of their bodies, directly tied to their stomachs because tortilla anatomy does not include an esophagus or other digestive parts, wide open.

Clang!

A leprechaun, dressed in ninja clothes and riding a unicorn, slams the trap shut. Only ninja-leprechauns can hunt tortillas, you know. And of course they ride unicorns, because what else would they ride? How silly, imagining a leprechaun astride any other steed or using public transport. What do you think this is, a made-up-on-the-fly story? Honestly.

The leprechauns have to open the traps in order to stuff the tortillas into plastic bags, suitable for selling in local supermarkets. Some tortillas, stunned but determined to live, make their way out of the traps, flinging themselves against living room windows, but their stomachs are so full of food that they can’t hang on, and they fall into the waiting arms of the leprechauns below. (Oh, I forgot to mention: The unicorns that the leprechauns ride, they are smaller in size, able to hide in bushes. They are known in folklore as “Stealthicorns”). This is what happened to Billy Scrimshaw Tortilla.

Billy was a young tortilla, just venturing out on his own. Saddled with student loan debt that he could never hope to pay off, Billy nevertheless planned to be the first Certified Public Accountant for the tortilla community. Again, tortillas are not intelligent; they don’t use money, and their average lifespan is less than twenty years, so why Billy went to college in the first place is a mystery. And how did he get into school? Aunt Becky bought him a spot at the University of Southern California.

Billy had heard the stories. An elder who lived at the bottom of a gnarled tree had warned him. But Billy couldn’t help himself. The smell was too strong. His hunger, too great. He rose from the fields one clear night (for tortillas are nocturnal), driven by the powerful urge to eat. And eat. And eat some more.

He heard the sound of unicorn hooves. A soft laugh. (Leprechauns are rather bold in their hunting). His eye flicked this way and that. A brief thought flitted through his minuscule brain. He knew he should stop. But the guacamole was homemade. And it didn’t have any cilantro in it because cilantro is disgusting and tastes like soap. In a daze, he descended into the warm red circle, mouth watering.

“That’s not true!” Riley cried, arms flapping. “Tortillas don’t fly!”

“They do! There’s a documentary about it, but you may not have access to it due to parental controls because it’s a little disturbing.”

Fits of laughter, not at all proper manners for a restaurant setting. I began to speak in my Mary Poppins accent, adding a level of gravitas that made it all the funnier. But perhaps the best part was the contribution of the other adults present, who added little bits and pieces to the tall tale, or at the very least kept Riley wondering if, just maybe, there might be some kernel of truth in what I was saying.

Hours later, we were still going.

“You ate him, Riley! You ate Billy!”

We dissolved into too-exhausted-to-care giggles on the hotel bed. Tears dripped from my eyes. This was so very stupid, but the sort of fun that we both needed in that moment.

A brief pause while she styled my hair. Bangs askew, curls a mess. Didn’t matter to me.

“Auntie Marie,” she said, “let’s take a selfie.” Of course I obliged.

She approved the photo. “You need to send this to that guy in the red shirt from dinner, because you are the biggest liar I know but he is the second biggest.”

“That guy” added some crucial elements to the story. He also dared her to stick her tongue on a piping hot fajita pan.

Of course I sent the photo.

The night wound down. We lay on the bed, snuggled under the blanket, nothing at all to watch on television. Riley’s older sister, the delightful Emery Mae, sent some texts to her friends. Baby Aurora Jade fought sleep in their mother’s arms. I could see Tauni, my sister from another mister, in each of their faces. And in that moment, in that hotel room, hanging out with four of the ladies I love best in the whole world, I thanked God for relationships that stretch back years and will grow into the future. For friends who are truly family.

A knock on the door. Time for the them to head out. I hugged Riley and whispered in her ear, “Be sure to watch for the tortillas. They migrate this way in the spring.”

She pushed me and bounced off the bed, laughing once again.

********

Riley, or, to use your “Monty Python” name, Johann Sebastian Gambolpotty of Ulm, this is a night I will never forget. I am so, so glad that you are in my life. Watching you grow and learn is a joy. Being your auntie is a privilege. I look forward to many more days of ridiculousness.

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Lead Me, Teach Me

Truth

Gentle Reader,

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

– Psalm 25:5 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Truth: that which is in accordance with fact or reality. Verity, certainty, sincerity, honest, accurate, correct. A fundamental characteristic of God; He cannot and will not lie.

Normally, I place little stock in choosing a word for the year. There’s nothing wrong with the practice; I have – rather half-heartedly and forgetfully – done it before. I am wary of probing for deep significance in a single word, however. There is something unsettling about hoping for one string of letters to define or guide a 12-month cycle. I prefer sentences, paragraphs, entire books, because context, the way a word is used as intended by the author, always matters.

This year, there’s a shift in my thinking.

Lead me in Your truth, the psalmist writes. Not a truth. Not any truth. Your truth.

The truth.

In this relativistic society, metanarrative, an overarching story that gives meaning and purpose to all of life, is hardly in vogue. We are taught that it’s never correct to imply, let alone baldly state, that there is such a thing as truth, and that that truth is the same for each and every person. Themes of sin and salvation are rejected for “do what thou wilt,” a maxim coined by the twentieth century British occultist Aleister Crowley. I do my thing, you do your thing, everyone’s thing is perfectly valid.

This is what we like to think we believe, and what we give lip-service to, but just read through a Facebook comment thread (or, better yet, Tumblr), and, ironically, the truth is there, plain as day. All beliefs, behaviors and opinions are not, in fact, equal; the one that wins the day is usually the one that the majority of people in that particular space agree upon. This is not merely a religious phenomenon (see: sports fandoms and political philosophies).

We reject metanarrative while seeking to build one.

As creatures with free will and high thinking skills, we get to choose. Take the story laid out in Scripture or make our own story. Sit at God’s feast-table and indulge in the delicacies or scrounge for scraps from here and there. Completion or cobbled-together-ness.

I have wasted too much precious time and headspace on stories that aren’t true. Stories about the world, about others, about myself, about God. Oh, yes. Christians aren’t immune. We can ignore the delicacies and chase the scraps. Why else would someone like me struggle with a sense of identity or purpose? God says, black-and-white, that I am His child, His royal daughter. God says, clear-and-plain, that He has called and gifted me. I say that I believe these things, that I accept this metanarrative…and then live otherwise.

Perhaps you struggle as well.

This year, I intend to dwell on truth. Not the word itself, but all the words that come from the mind and heart of God. I will sit at His feet, as Mary did on that day so long ago. I want to know, need to know, His commands. His perspective. His way. But not this only; I need to know Him. In a new, deeper, richer way. Because He Himself is truth itself.

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Five Minute Friday: Yes

Along the WAy @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I love my bunch of writers. I love how we’re different and yet so similar. I love how we agree to trade cilantro for bacon. I love that we’re funny. And serious. I love that we span all interests, decades and walks of life.

Kate.

My people.

We say: yes.

Go.

One of my greatest fears descended upon me last weekend.

And I lived to tell the tale.

Barely.

(Okay, not barely).

My friend and I went over to a neighboring city on Saturday to see another friend perform in a play. The outing was all planned  – park here, walk there, a little theater, a little dinner. No boys allowed. She graciously drove us since I assume that whatever direction I’m facing is North (sad, but true) and can’t find my way out of a paper bag. Everything went swimmingly. She pulled into a parking garage and tucked the car into a nice, out-of-the-way spot. Merrily chatting away, we headed over to the elevators and punched the “down” button.

We got stuck in there.

For 75 hours (5 minutes).

It was disgusting and terrible. There is something so profoundly awful about being stuck. I want options. I want to be able to leave whenever I darn well feel like it. So I’ve never liked elevators. Or bridges. Or airplanes. Or that field trip the teacher took us on when I was in fourth grade, the one where we toured a silver mine.

Yeah.

All kidding aside, I went into panic mode approximately 4 seconds after my friend and I realized that we would not be exiting as scheduled. We looked at each other, then at the doors. Words like, “what” and “seriously” slipped from our mouths. She punched the service button or whatever it is, the one that lets you talk to the person with the power to send someone to save you.

Some kind of conversation took place between my friend and the magical man. I just called into the intercom, “Please hurry!”

Then I gripped the rail, the brass one that’s bolted to all elevator walls the world over, and said, “I’m freaking out.”

My friend, bless her, patted me on the arm and told me a funny story about her daughter. She deals with anxiety, too, but managed to keep it together long enough to distract me. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.

Some popping and creaking and wondering if we were going to die later, the smallest of cracks appeared between the doors and we could just make out the shape of out rescuer. I yelled, “Get us out of here!” His response? “Give me a minute!”

Nice.

With no buzz or fanfare, the doors opened and we were met with the blank expression and navy-blue uniform of our skinny, bespectacled, possibly teen-aged savior. He waved us out. We said thanks. I probably should have hugged him. It probably would have gone on too long and I would have creeped him out.

We laughed about it for the rest of the day. We joked that the play had better be good, after all we’d gone through just to get there. When the last notes had faded, the bows made, the clapping finished, the artisan pizza reduced to crumbs, the sweating glasses drained of cucumber water and beer – it was time to go back.

She talked me into it. Talked me into getting back on that thing. Said I could punch her if we got stuck again.

I would have laid aside every one of my pacifist convictions and done so.

But it was fine. We were fine.

Nearly a week later, I mull. I stew. I fret. I get upset thinking about what could have happened. What might yet happen if I ever set foot in an elevator again (which is debatable). I conjure up frightening scenarios. My heart races and the sweat beads on my forehead.

How stupid.

While I will continue to use the stairs whenever possible, I realize that this fear of elevators could keep me from experiencing life. Maybe already has. Not just elevators. Fear of so many things. Stepping aside. Staying behind. Melting into the background.

Saying the timid “no” instead of the courageous “yes.”

I can’t take a trip to the East Coast next year without flying. (Not in a reasonable amount of time, anyway). I can’t tour the buildings and see the views without elevators. I can’t drive around my own town without bridges.

Sometimes the fears come. Sometimes what we dread happens.

Somehow you live and you just keep going.

And I see: What makes a woman – what really shapes her into the best version of herself – is not the times when she falls down. It’s not when she cries or feels afraid.

It’s when she says “yes” and dares.

It’s when she gets back up.

And if she comes up swinging, so much the better.

Stop.

Yep, longer than five minutes.

My journey to faith. (15)

How I Came to Faith: These Days

sunset-hair

Gentle Reader,

That dark season when Chris and I both found a new level of intimacy with the Lord led directly to a season of testing. It seems as though the moment our hearts were stolen by Him, He determined to test our devotion. When a non-believer hears something like that, strange visions must arise. Again, there were no burning bushes, no audible voices. The question we were asked is the one that believers have been asked time and again, whatever their era.

Will you follow Me?

For awhile this question made sense in the context of getting our lives on track. We stopped partying. I dove into Bible study and found that it thrilled me. Chris took his medication and went to his therapy sessions. We just kept doing “the next thing,” whatever it was. When your life is mostly about surviving one day at a time, that’s all you can do.

As we both grew more confident in our faith, ourselves and our relationship, the implications of the question changed. Obeying God began to cost something. Friendships began to deteriorate as we no longer fit into a neat little mold. The worst came when it grew clear that we could no longer remain at the church we’d been part of for nearly four years. We both had serious misgivings about the direction the leadership was moving the people toward. Things began to feel uncomfortable. Theological questions began to arise – questions that we could not get satisfactory answers to.

Breaking up is hard to do. By the time we left, the damaged relationships and the spiritual abuse we experienced were intertwined in ways that shouldn’t have been. I was done. Though quite decided in following the Lord, I wanted nothing more to do with the church. Frankly, I thought most of His people sucked.

He kept on me. Will you follow Me? A friend of mine from high school moved back to the area. He and his wife invited us to attend their church one Sunday. I was skeptical, to say the least, but Chris seemed eager to go and I didn’t feel like arguing (again) about church. We went, heard a sermon, met some people, ate some food. Nothing earth-shattering.

Except, it was. The difference between the two churches was staggering. The one didn’t claim to be perfect. In fact, a certain level of dysfunction seemed to be expected. The very imperfect human journey with a perfect Lord was embraced. The occasional spat was tolerated as long as it led to growth amongst the parties involved. The pastor didn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, he admitted to his own struggles. His preaching came from a place of brokenness, rather than superiority.

I came to the realization that no dichotomy of perfect vs. fallen churches exists. There is rather a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. The place we left had begun well but had slid into unhealthy territory. Too much power was given to too few people with too little accountability. It became about processes and rears in seats rather than the work of discipleship. This new church, while certainly home to some unhealthy people, strove to be healthy. Christ was at the center.

I have hope for the church today because of the people I know in this little congregation. They are beautiful. The building isn’t. The coffers aren’t overflowing. The singing is sometimes off-key. The pastor gets distracted in his preaching. But there is warmth. There is heart.

There is Jesus.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. There is no more compelling figure in all of history. He steps into the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, our despair and provides the answer. That answer isn’t us. We can’t save ourselves. There is no golden utopia waiting to spring from the minds and hands of perfect people. Such a people do not exist. Look out your window. Look in the mirror. You know it to be true.

Jesus, God-Man, came into this world to rescue and heal it. Believers exist in the “already” aspect of His Kingdom while history looks forward to the “not yet.” It is only by living in light of His Lordship that life takes on purpose and meaning. Joy – the ability to look beyond the now and into something better – flows as a result of knowing Him. He grants grace, mercy, peace. He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. He kept my husband alive. He stopped me from killing myself just a little less than a year ago. I have seen Him work in time and space to such a degree that my father-in-law, after breaking both of his knees, was brought from Europe to the United States by a missionary who “just happened” to be in the area. The only missionary in the area that our church had any kind of contact with. I have seen babies who should have died thrive. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen prodigals return. I have had bills paid and needs met. I have witnessed testimonies of those who tumors have disappeared.

Above all, I have seen love. Real, selfless, lasting love. I have watched people spend money they can’t spare to help others in need. I have known some whose wretched tempers used to control them who are now gentle as lambs. I have seen big men rock children to sleep. I have seen women with nothing in common embrace each other as sisters. I have siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all across this area because of Jesus.

I could not see Him until my eyes were opened. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of His will and ours. All I know is that I reached a point where I wanted to see. I no longer desired to suppress the truth. And there is truth, my friend.

His name is Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here