Let There Be Courage

January 12, 2015 — 1 Comment

Last week, I posted a blog about the beauty and expansion that happens in the world when people take the courageous journey of creating. It isn’t easy to create. We have to push through our own insecurities, plow past other people’s criticism, and keep walking into a future that is unsure. I loved reading each response. Each one was oozing with courage and bursting with goodness. Thanks to everybody who took the bold step to write out what you had created! 

My friend Lee Hanssen is creating something very good, a way to encourage people and help them see God in a new way – so I wanted you to know about it. In fact, today is the first day of his Kickstarter campaign, and I was one of the first to back it. Perhaps you’ll consider backing him as well.

Please enjoy reading Lee’s story below. And let there be lots of beauty and wonder in your own creative process, and also in the outcome! 

Lee’s Story

A while back a friend asked me to bring her a few of my favorite articles of workout clothing, so I did. Then she told me about her start up company and that she needed to send my stuff to some obscure country. I said yes, and I never got my clothes back. I’m still a little mad about that.

But I got something so much better.

At that meeting we started talking about Christian clothing companies. I almost threw up in my mouth (my apologies to anyone currently wearing something from or associated with an existing aforementioned companies). I told my friend the last thing Christianity needs is another shirt that says ‘Jesus Saves’ or ‘John 3:16’ painted across the front. Jesus does save and God loves this world, more than we will ever know. But those types of shirts never really did much for me. I’m not sure those types of shirts ever did much for anyone but the person wearing them.

When I read something I love – in the Bible or a really good book — I write on my hand. It’s usually a simple word that reminds me of what I’m learning. I couldn’t tell you how many times people have asked me about what’s on my hand and I have been invited to talk about Jesus…and I love to talk about Jesus.

So we started a company so I didn’t have to keep writing stuff on my hands. It’s called Branded By J. Otto.

Here’s how it works…

You hop on our website and shop by theme. Our themes are printed on the outside of the garment and represent life events we all have in common.

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Scripture has been carefully matched with the appropriate theme. We have something fitting for any situation.

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You have a chance to include a personal message. The recipient will also receive a link to an inspirational video explaining the verse on their garment.

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Your loved one has something they will wear for years and hopefully never forget!

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I have had the privilege to preach, teach, write, and talk about God in many different ways. And when my friend invited me to join her in this endeavor, it gave me another way to invite others into the conversation. It gave me an outlet to create something new, something significant out of what God has been doing in my life.

I have no idea how to start a company, but here is where I find myself: at times blissfully unaware, and at other times terrified of all that’s on the line. For me, it’s never really been about starting a company. It’s more about seeing an idea come to life. I don’t know if we will make it or not, but I sure hope we do. I think what we have created is worth sharing. I think what we have created will meet people where they are and help them take their next step of faith. I think what we have created comes from a deep place in our souls.

But we need your help. Please check out this link to back us on our Kickstarter campaign!

I hope we make it because I think what we have created is good…so very good!

— Lee Hanssen

Branded By J. Otto – Clothing With a Purpose.

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Every day, my boys create. They often emerge from the downstairs laboratory (adults refer to it as a basement) clad in masks and capes, armed with swords and light sabers. More remarkable than the costumes they wear are the sounds they make as they fight imaginary villains and rescue captives. Boys play in surround sound.

My boys are creative. They are always making something out of nothing. Give them a cardboard box and a few markers, and suddenly, there is a time machine or a tie fighter in our house (and if you think they’re just pretending – that we don’t actually have a time machine or tie fighter in our house – then you’ve lost the plot).

“Every time we say, Let there be! in any form, something happens,” writes Stella Terrill Mann. What does it mean to have the power to create something out of nothing?

We generally believe only a select few have this gift, but my boys keep disproving us every day, with every mask and every cardboard box. Elijah wakes up every day needing to create. One day, he couldn’t focus on anything else until he had created a little green monster out of paper, with jagged teeth, and a mouth that opened to talk. Another day, Mary found him in his room, surrounded by dozens sheets of paper, covered with dragons and volcanos and dolphins. When she asked him what he was doing, his response was telling. “Mom,” he said. “I just can’t keep up with all the ideas.”

We pastors talk a lot about being created in the image of God, and yet we rarely talk about bearing the creativity of God, whose first recorded words are “Let there be…” And then God says it six more times, and after seeing what was created, God declares that it is good. How arrogant! How self-promoting! Who makes something and then has the audacity to declare that it is good?

If it is true that we bear the creativity of God, then every human being holds tremendous power. Each of us can utter the words, “Let there be,” and things will actually happen. Yes, words needs to be accompanied with courageous action, but we can, and we must. Yesterday, a new congress was sworn in, and there are those who believe that this will change things. But a new congress will not change things. Courageous people who are willing to see what needs to exist, and who are audacious enough to speak those things into being, will change things.

In the past fifteen months, I have written a manuscript, planted a church, and worked to free 62 teenage girls caught in sex trafficking. It is hard for me to write those three things in succession, because I surely will be seen as a shameless braggart and self-promoter (and maybe I am). But here’s what is also true: many good things have happened in people’s actual lives because those things were brought into existence. Maybe we need a few more people who are willing to own, out loud, that what they created was good. And yes, to God be the glory, because God is the catalyst for all creative things. But God desires creative partners, and when we say yes to God’s creative initiatives, we get to emerge from our own laboratories, clad in beauty and goodness and light.

In the past fifteen months, you have created beautiful things. You have spoken things into being, and you have courageously done the work to make it so. You have said yes. And what you have created is good. I dare you — I dare you — to write what you have created in the comments below, and also to boldly declare that what you have created is good. It will be hard. You will fight the voice saying you shouldn’t be so self-promoting, because you are so arrogant, full of yourself, blah blah blah. Silence that liar with a bold clap to the mouth. We need to see the beautiful things that you have made that are good.

I dare you.

In it together, friends.

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On Christmas Eve, we’ll bundle our kids into their Christmas outfits, we’ll sing carols, and we’ll light the Christ candle. We’ll listen to the story about the God who came in utter darkness, to a world filled with violence and oppression, to be the Prince of Peace who would set all things right. We’ll celebrate the God came in the form of a vulnerable baby.

What a story.

It involved a virgin birth, requiring the permission of a 14-year old peasant girl, requested by angel, during a dream. It included a heavenly birth announcement sung by a choir of angels, to a group of nameless, poor shepherds in the middle of nowhere. It revealed that the Son of God actually was born in a barn. And it resulted in a Jewish baby boy born in a time when every Jewish baby boy was being murdered by a power-hungry king.

God with us.

The God who was untouchable & unknowable became the God was a baby who needed to be constantly held. Then a toddler who needed to be whisked out of the country. Then a Messiah who went to the cross. Then a King who stole the keys of death and hell.

God with us.

And this year, we need God with us more than ever, it seems.

Meister Eckhart wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

You see, the hidden undertone of the incarnation is this: that God wants to be reborn in each of us, again and again, at all times and in all moments, so that light can always be present to heal the current darkness of our blind world. Every single one of us who says yes to God – across every generation of history since that first silent night – becomes pregnant with Jesus, who is eager to be born into each moment, each life, each generation. It is precisely in times when things seem darkest that Jesus is born anew in simple people like you and me, shining bright hope in shopping malls, schools, living rooms, office buildings, cul-de-sacs, skyways and street corners. Even funerals.

Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. I am simply looking for somewhere to be born.”

And so the question that comes to us, this Christmas Eve, is simple: Who has room within them for Jesus, so that he can be born anew in you? It’s not lost on me that a shabby stable was the only spot in which there was room for Mary to give birth to Jesus. We are stables, each of us, shabby and poor though we may be, and the Light of the World comes when we agree to shelter him within us, shining up through the cracked rafters and into the cold, dark night.

Is there room in you?

“We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

So this Christmas Eve, it’s not time to despair. It’s time to make room, so that the Prince of Peace can be born in our world, moment by moment, through you and through me. He is the light of the world. We simply hold and house the light and let it shine.

Advent #3: The Speed of Advent

December 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

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We all seem to be in a terrible hurry, especially this time of year. It’s as if we’re in a contest to see how many things we can cram into December, and right about now, things are starting to pop back out. There just isn’t room.

The speed of the holidays is manic, and its sound is shouting. We’re racing to meet a deadline (which happens to be the birthday of our Lord), after which we’ll run a few more laps to make sure we catch the post-holiday sales. And let’s not even mention what happens in our kitchens. It starts out happy, with spoonfuls of cookie dough and giggling, but it ends with muttering, cupboard door slamming, and hearing the stroke of midnight come and go before we fall into our beds, exhausted and overcooked.

The speed of Advent, in contrast, is slow.

We remember Mary and Joseph, as they painstakingly made their way to Bethlehem by donkey, stopping every so often so that Mary could rest her aching back. We remember the journey the wise men took, following only the star for months and months, believing they would arrive when they needed to arrive. We remember those long months that Mary and Elizabeth spent together, holding each other’s hair back when the morning sickness came, and whispering far into the night. And we remember the labor itself, of which we know very few details. But if Jesus came out like most of us did, it was a long night, and in between contractions, Mary and Joseph almost certainly played gin rummy.

During Advent, we are reminded to slow down and breathe, because he’s coming when he comes, and there is very little we can do about it, except wait. And while waiting can be terrible business, it can also be wonderful, as long as you give up trying to control every single thing about it.

What would it mean for you to replace hurry with a deliberate slowness in the ten remaining days of Advent? To prepare meals slower, to drive slower, and maybe even to talk slower? To go to bed earlier? At your next Christmas party, try to simply be in the presence of the person with whom you’re talking, instead of glancing around and wondering how you’ll make it through. Waiting can be wonderful, as long as we give up trying to control every single thing about it.

I’ll leave you with one of Ruth Haley Barton’s prayers*. Perhaps it can be a lifeline to you, slowing you down, and anchoring you into the calm waters of Advent.

O God of peace, I pray that you will sanctify me entirely, even during this season of busyness and distraction; may my spirit and soul and body be kept sound (even as the world around me gets more and more frantic) and blameless (even as I am tempted to give up and give in to it all). I do so desire to be awake and alert to all the ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into my life amid impossibly full days. O God, I know you are faithful and that you can do all this. Amen.

* Taken from 2014 Advent Reflections

Advent #2: Preparing a Way

December 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

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In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

That’s what the prophet Isaiah wrote so very many years ago, and we can almost see his tears staining the page. It was a warning and a blessing, all mixed together. It was good news and bad news. Someone is coming, he croaked, and it’s time to get ready. We can assume the people kept driving right on by, as Isaiah stood there on his street corner, black words scrawled on a brown cardboard sign. We can assume people didn’t want to make eye contact. He was a little crazy, after all.

But someone did come, as it turned out, even though almost no one was ready. He came in the desert, and he came with good news and bad news. His name was John the Baptist, and he dressed like Isaiah did, all burlap and beard. He invited people to a river of repentance, and many people flocked to him. They confessed their sins in that water, and they came up clean. They were straightforward about stopping and changing the direction of their lives, because Someone was coming after John that would finally set things right. A King was coming, who would rule a different kind of kingdom.

It was time to prepare.

And this Advent season, it’s time to prepare again, because Someone is coming once again, to finally set things right, to redeem and restore all things. It’s time to be straightforward about stopping and changing the direction of our lives. It’s time to remember who God is, who we are, and who our brothers and sisters are. It’s time to confess.

So how exactly are we supposed to do that?

Confession isn’t browbeating and wallowing in shame. Confession isn’t making sure you feel badly enough so that the forgiveness really counts. Confession isn’t making long lists and wringing your hands. There are no bonus points for those who feel extra guilty. Confession is simply being straightforward with yourself, with God, and with another human being, about what really is messed up in your life.

Where are you hiding? Where are you closed off? Where are you living as if you are the one who has to hold it all together? What have you done that has hurt yourself or someone else? Where are you consuming another human being? Where are you living as if you had no limits?

I’ve found it helpful to approach it first of all by clenching your fists. Literally. So – go ahead: clench your fists, right now. Squeeze them as tightly as you can. Can you feel how much energy that is taking you to keep them clenched? Hiding your sin is like that; it takes extraordinary energy. With your fists still clenched, whisper, “Have mercy on me, Lord.” 

Then, as specific things come to mind, open your hands and give them to God. Feel how different it is to hold your hands relaxed and open, versus tightly and clenched. Sit there with your palms up, open to God and to a new beginning. Breathe in God’s mercy, breathe out all that is crooked and hidden in your life.

Then put your hands on your heart, and whisper, “I am yours, Lord.” Remember that you are God’s, that you are not what you have done, and that there is a new beginning waiting for you in that moment.

I’ve found it’s also helpful to confess those things to another human being, a sacred companion who can hear your confession, and remind you that you are forgiven, that God has come near, and that the crooked ways can really be made straight.

 In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

A King is coming.

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Advent began yesterday; it is my favorite time of the year. During the season of Advent, we find out that we are pregnant with God, and the time to give birth arrives each moment we feel that life stirring inside of us.

Just like Mary, we ask, “How can this be?”

How can it be that God would take up residence inside this ramshackle body of mine, which is usually much more eager to prepare a place inside of it for good beer and dark chocolate?

Advent does not happen out there; we do not watch it from a distance. We experience it inside of us, this life that kicks and stirs and finally finds its way out of us and into the world. We do not initiate the light of the world, but we do carry it to term.

My friend Peggy calls these moments Jesus’ coming 1.5. There was the first coming, through Mary in that stable. And there will be the second coming, when Jesus comes to finally restore all things. But Advent reminds us that there are millions of moments in between when Jesus shows up in our world to be with us.

What does it mean that God has planted the divine inside of us, if it does not mean that we will give birth to all kinds of good in the world?

These moments are ordinary and come without much fanfare, just like the first one: There was a stable, a young couple in love, some cattle, and then the God inside Mary became God with us.

Last year, about this time, I went to visit a couple whose two day old baby was fighting for his life, hooked up to a breathing machine and a cobweb of tubes. I talked with them and listened to them, and as I did I saw their weariness mixed with their hope, and it was breathtaking.

And then an older woman walked in the room, and the new mother immediately said, “That’s my mother. She hasn’t left our side since this whole thing began.” And so this new grandmother filled her daughter’s water bottle, whispered a few words to her, and went to check on the baby. A few minutes later, an older man walked in the room, obviously the grandfather. His smile was the sun and his love for his daughter brightened that dark, sterile waiting room.

Can you see that God inside those grandparents became God with us in that hospital room?

One time, as I was tucking Elijah in for the night, I asked him to pray for me. I don’t remember ever asking him to do that before, but in the moment, I simply felt like I wanted him to do it. And so he put his hands on my back and began moving them around. And his four-year-old voice prayed ancient prayers to the God who is in him, already. And suddenly I experienced God with me.

Over the next four weeks, you and I have the opportunity to watch God inside us become God with us, if we simply show up and look up to those moments in which God wants to be born. These moments will come at coffee shops, in cubes, at parties, and at hospitals – and every dark place that needs light. All we need to do is make space for God to be born in us. How will you do that over the next four weeks?

Perhaps you will make space by driving in silence, versus filling that time with phone calls or music.

Perhaps you will wake up ten minutes early, and read the lectionary readings for the week.

Perhaps you will set an alarm at a given time each day, where you’ll walk away from your cube, and simply pray, “Lord, let it be done unto me, just as you say.”

Perhaps you will choose a random act of loving kindness once a day, remembering that Jesus came with “good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people.” 

Advent is a season to make space for God to come. It is a season to show up and look up. It is a season to celebrate the life of God being born in this world, again and again and again.

I’ll post each Monday during Advent (Dec 1, 8, 15, & 22). If you follow along, I’d love to hear how you’re making space for God! 

Photo Source: My friend Doug took this picture. It’s incredible.

How Are the Children?

November 25, 2014 — 3 Comments

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When people of the Masai tribe in Kenya greet each other, they ask a question: Kasserian Ingera? 

It simply means, How are the children?

This reflects a deeply held cultural value that everybody’s well being is inextricably linked to the current well being of the children.

So, America: How are the children?

Michael Brown wasn’t one of their children, he was one of our children. As we weep with those who weep, and as Ferguson burns in a cauldron of anger that could lead to hopelessness, we need to remember it’s not out their issue, it’s our issue.

What will happen if we don’t turn our attention to the well being of our children?

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

The text that I’ll be preaching this weekend, the first week in Advent, is from Psalm 80, which is a communal lament. Give ear to us, Lord. Restore us, oh God. Awaken your might. Let your face shine upon us. No matter what you think about the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson last night, it is a fitting text for the lament that is being expressed all over America right now.

In Psalm 80, the community of God gives an angry shout to the God who seems absent, indifferent to their suffering. They are shaking their fists to a God they’re not even sure is listening. But here’s the shocker: they engage God anyway. Even though they fear that God is absent, they seem to simultaneously believe that if anyone can restore hope and light and life, God can.

When we are painfully aware of our need for God to arrive in our world again to restore that which has gone horribly wrong, we are experiencing the season of Advent.

We are all collectively afraid (remember that fear can show up as explosive anger or stony silence). We’re confused and we don’t know what to do. I don’t have a lot of words this morning. I am sad and upset. It’s hard to do the small things that today requires.

There will be a lot of noisy words today, and in the days to come, but here are mine anyway:

Weep with those who weep.

Listen to your black brothers and sisters; they are expressing a generational lament, one that includes, but goes way farther back than a grand jury’s decision last night. Enter into the lament. It’s really not just theirs, but ours.

See to the well being of the children.

And cry out – loudly – to the God who actually can restore us, and save us.

Come, Lord Jesus. We wait for you.

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I have a friend named Charlie, and when he met me, I was a flickering candle that had almost gone out. I was sad, terribly lonely, and exhausted from grief. I know I was like that mostly because he told me I was like that. Charlie has a way of telling you the truth and still helping you feel loved, which is what all good friends do, when they’re being good friends.

Those of you who know Charlie know him first of all by his laugh. Can you hear it in your mind? It’s fireworks and sunshine, and it comes easily. His smile is broad and contagious. If you are lucky enough to get invited to his home, he will nourish you with food he has grown in his own garden, and the drink he pours you will be strong and mischievous, like Charlie himself.

Charlie loves to throw open the doors and gather people together to eat and laugh and be human.

My friend Charlie is going through a dark, sleepless season, where the shadows are brighter than the sunshine. Where the night lasts longer than the day. Where the music is heavy and dark. He wrote about it here. I know that I cannot take away that darkness anymore than I can make the sun rise, but I love Charlie, so this post expresses what I hope for him, and what I hope for you, if you are also experiencing a dark night.

I hope you are surrounded by friends who nourish you from the gardens of their own love, where life springs up out of the cold, dark ground and helps you remember who you are again. I hope you can somehow see – even in the dark – how those gardens have grown in part because of your love for them. I hope those friendships taste sweet and true during this season.

I hope you are given gifts of utter grace this season. You are someone who creates and achieves and brings out so much in so many people, and we are so grateful for those gifts that you give. But I hope somewhere along this long walk that you are taking, your breath is taken away by a gift that arrives just for you, not because you did something special, but because you are something special.

I hope that you give yourself lots and lots of room to sit and read and be unproductive. The temptation for people like us is to try to achieve our way out of the dark, which we would never advise anyone else to try, but which we nonetheless will try until we are exhausted. You are in a season to let the fruit of your achievements come back to you and feed you. Build your house. Enjoy your close friends. Ask Jen to take you out to your favorite restaurant. Let those sons of yours make you laugh again until you cannot breathe.

And I hope that you listen to those whispers in the dark. Not the accusing ones that fill you with fear, but the familiar ones which call you toward those places which you know are true, deep down on a soulful level, beyond words. These whispers are breezes which invite you to get up and go somewhere, but you have resisted, for all the normal reasons all of us resist. My hope is that during this season, you give up resisting.

You are one of the good ones, Charlie. In it together.

Embracing Your Limits

October 10, 2014 — 26 Comments

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So there we were, at mile four of the Twin Cities Marathon, cheering for our friends and the rest of the lunatics who were punishing their bodies for 26.2 miles. It was so fun to be out there with Mary and the boys. We high-fived the runners, grew hoarse cheering for them, and then went to our favorite bakery for breakfast. It was such a fun morning with my family.

Except for the fact that I was supposed to be running it.

Earlier this summer, I got pneumonia, and it was scary. I had never been that sick before, and it took me completely out of my training for the marathon. When I could finally run again, I think I made it about 100 yards before I had to stop. I remember feeling like a beginner again, but not in the good way. I hated that feeling; hated telling my body to do something, and having it shout back at me that it could not.

So I did not run the marathon this year.

I couldn’t.

I am running again, but my lungs are still recovering, and it’s much harder than it ought to be. I keep acting as if I can just try to run faster, and harder, and I’ll return to form. But it’s not like that. Pneumonia is nasty, and I am told that it can take up to a year before your lungs are repaired.

And I haven’t written on this blog since who knows how long. I love this blog, love the community that has gathered around it, and love the discipline of putting my thoughts and observations out there in actual words, to actual people. I kept wanting to write posts, kept feeling like I needed to sit down and pound one out. But here’s the thing:

I couldn’t.

I am planting a church (which has been surprisingly fun mixed with the all the requisite insecurity and fear), and I am also trying to finish a manuscript for a book that I’ll be publishing with NavPress in early 2016 (which elicits perhaps even more insecurity and fear). So every spare minute of my time has gone towards writing that book and planting that church.

So I haven’t written much here. I am not sure how much I’ll be able to write until my manuscript deadline (October 31) is in the rear view mirror. So have patience with me as I catch up to myself. I love this blog. I’ll continue to write on it. I love that you read it and I feel like somehow we’re in it together, you and me and us.

So here’s what I’ll offer: it’s good to touch your edges from time to time, to realize that you are not limitless. It’s good to know that you cannot keep cranking it out (and you’re not supposed to), and that you are not a machine. I hate that all of that is true, but it is.

You are an actual person. And so am I.

For me, living my life as is, and not as if right now means that I am narrowing and focusing; I’m saying some yeses and saying some nos. I’m tired. But I’m realizing that God can be with me in those tired places, helping me to slow down – and stop. I’m cheering sometimes rather than running right now.

You are not limitless. You can stop. Sometimes, it’s good to admit that you couldn’t.

In it together.

A Blog on How to Write

August 26, 2014 — 29 Comments

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A few weeks ago I found myself in the post office, standing in line.

There were only about a dozen of us, but we were not moving. There were two clerks working the desk, but neither of them seemed concerned with us in the slightest. One of them appeared to be in his sixties, with a mustache that exploded from his nose, a shotgun blast that ended well below his top lip, curling into his mouth and covering his teeth. He was awkwardly flirting with a woman that appeared to be about his age, and who appeared to be enjoying it very much.

The other clerk was helping a couple get a passport, or something very official like that, and it wasn’t going well. They were at the desk for the better part of July.

It was hot in that post office, the kind of hot that makes you angry. The woman directly behind me was wearing a bright pink tank top that was too big, and shoes that seemed too small. She kept sighing and looking around, unable to contain her frustration. Her lanky hair framed a face that might have been pretty once, in her youthful days, before being forced to stand in that dreadful line.

I scanned the walls. Someone had designed an overly large stamp display, with Elvis’ face staring down at us. It wasn’t his young, lean face; it was his older, bloated face, the one framed by the overly large white, bedazzled collar. It was the tired face, the one that had had enough. The one with the eyes that couldn’t look you in the face anymore.

It was perfect for that post office.

As we inched forward, none of us spoke. I noticed an older woman in line who was holding a tiny dog, who couldn’t have weighed more than three pounds. She was holding him impossibly high, so that its nose was nearly touching her nose. She kept whispering to this dog, comforting it, and I kept wondering how it was that she was holding him so high. Her arms must be aching, I kept thinking. Then I wondered about this woman, this woman with the tiny dog who accompanied her through dreadfully long post office lines. Where else did he go with her? To church? To the grocery store? To the race track? To the bathroom?

The air in the post office was worn out and used up. Like us, it wasn’t going anywhere. We shared it, consumed it, and regurgitated it, only to consume it again.

We all silently celebrated our birthdays in that line, it was so long.

When I finally made it to the desk, the man with the shotgun mustache greeted me (oddly, he didn’t even attempt to flirt with me). I needed to get into the PO Box that we use for our church, but I had forgotten my key. I figured if I showed him my I.D., he could walk “back there” and get my mail.

“Can’t do it,” he barked, without any hint of solace.

“You can’t walk back there and grab my mail for me?” It seemed a small price to pay for the several years that I spent in that line.

“Federal law. We can’t hand customers their mail over the counter.” That seemed odd for a post office, I thought to myself. He looked down at me, and I’m not sure, but he seemed to be enjoying this as much as he was enjoying flirting with the woman earlier.

“So I can’t get my mail today?” I can be persistent.

“Federal law.” He then looked past me toward the next person in line. My moment was over. I would not be getting my mail that day, or any day after that, without my key.

And so I walked out of that post office, and I thought about that woman with the tiny dog. I wondered where that couple was going, and whether they’d ever get that passport. I wondered if that woman in the pink tank top ever put those tired feet up, and I wondered if there was anyone in her life that might rub them.

What a beautiful, fascinating world.

Writers: Writing is first of all about seeing. If you do not know how to see, you will not know how to write. Learn to look around. When you’re in line, when you’re driving to work, when you’re bored in a meeting, what do you see?

Write about what you see. Notice the red rimmed eyes and the aching feet. Notice the tiny dogs and the women who love them. Tell us stories of old men with shotgun mustaches and the women with whom they flirt. Remind us that ours is a beautiful story, even when we are stuck in lines and we’re not moving anywhere. Help us to meet each other, and to be less lonely.

Don’t tell us what to do. Don’t write about the used up things. Don’t regurgitate.

Write about what you see. We want to see it, too.

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