This is Your Real Life, Part I

on blue kool-aid and sweet-tart breakfasts

My middle two boys have grown lanky limbs and wild hairs. They look like followers of John the Baptist. They giggle like Butthead when making jokes about balls, and they come in from walks asking one another questions about why God didn’t make us born already put together, whole and needless. They are shallow and dark-night deep at once, each on a different side of age 13. 

For Easter, their school gave them packets of sugarless Kool-Aid to use for dying eggs, and since they are so big, wise, and too old for egg hunts, they decided to just drink the stuff instead. It wasn’t until they started making the electric blue Kool-Aid that I realized my poor, sheltered children had never even tasted it, not even once. They didn’t know what they were doing but followed their intuition, and each poured an entire packet of unnatural, sugarless Kool-Aid powder into a small juice cup of maybe 6 ounces of water. So excited, they each turned up their glasses and then spewed out what they assumed was poison. It was an explosive, loud, and hilarious moment, probably midmorning on a Tuesday. I helped clean up the nasty, unsweet food-dye from our cabinets and floor, all of us laughing in surprised and disgusted yells. 

How strange is it to have these boys and my husband here in the middle of the days I’d usually have alone with my garden, my books, and my computer. The adjustment has been hard and slow, and then there’s also still the Lent cloud that seems to pass over us, though we do also feel Easter. There has been a shift in the upcurve of our mouths, and a little lightness lets us hum, “Here Comes the Sun.” Even still, none of us are as good at the stay-in life as we’d like to be. We keep doing goofy stuff to make ourselves feel better, stuff like drinking condensed Kool-Aid or staying up until midnight to watch alien shows. 

The COVID season has been hard to embrace, to know what’s really going on, and so far, our intuitions for survival haven’t served us well. As it turns out, when I “go with the flow,” I just get fat and sad. Maybe that’s the necessary, wonky beginning stages of a journey we thought would be over sooner than later, but now that we’re beginning to see it’s going to last a while, I figure we might consider not drinking whatever little packet of Kool-Aid comes our way. Maybe it’s just me.

Maybe your “gut” hasn’t told you to eat sweet tarts for breakfast like mine has, but I know my own survival mode when I see it, and it’s a fast ticket to indigestion and insomnia instead of to true life. Survival mode keeps us alive, but it doesn’t do much for abundant life. 

Someone online asked about the things we’re allowing ourselves that we normally wouldn’t allow in our “real lives,” and people answered with gluten-filled habits and day-long binges, no real pants and nightly ice cream. My own list would include ditching self-awareness and god-awareness both, forgetting how to read, and avoiding the mirror and plucking my eyebrows, but I’m beginning to think that this might just be our real lives, after all - at least for now.

Pause a skinny minute with me here and repeat it: this is real life. This is where we are now, here in this house with these people or lack of people. After a colossal melt-down where I decided to stay in bed forever, I finally got back up and decided my only other real option for survival here is to embrace it: this is real life. So now what are we going to do?

If this is real life, how can we reconnect with our joy, our God awareness, our own skin? How can we regain a rightly ordered sexuality or our idea of vocation, holiness, and beauty in this new context?

I think we get to be healthy, so here’s what I propose. How do you feel about taking the next week, not to start a flow chart of shoulds, but rather to just name what is? Take a week to name your survival mechanisms and to call what’s happening Real Life. That’s all. On May 4th, I’ll be back in here for Part II of this piece — mostly because I didn’t want this to be a 2,000 word essay, but also because I think we have and need time.

- - an invitation to remember your creativity - -

Until then, I want to invite you to be a paid subscriber to a newsletter with a small once-a-month group, which will begin this coming Thursday, April 30th. Especially during this season, my aim is to create one piece of art to share with you on the last Thursday of every month. My offering will be my best creative nonfiction or poetry of the month, the stuff I tend to keep to myself. My invitation to you is that you’ll share something in response and have a place to show up with your creative work as well. You can share a photo of a painting, a link to a blog post, a video, or simply copy and paste a poem. Of course, you’re welcome to show up to cheer for and enjoy the work of others if that scratches your artsy itch, too.

If you want to join this group and can’t afford it right now, please reply to this email asking me to add you, and I will. No judgment, and thanks for not judging me when I eat sweet tarts for breakfast.

This week it may just be my work, but I’m hoping it grows. I want your creativity to be nourished, so even if all you do is snap a photo of a rose you doodled at the top of your grocery list, we can be a witness to you that your fire hasn’t gone out. 

For me, that’s one of my big questions lately: where is my fire? More to come on that. As always, thank you for sharing my work.

See you soon. 

Amber

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