This week I read a post on Donald Miller’s blog. He talked about character versus reputation and the two concepts rattled inside of me the rest of the week, leaving me unsure why I couldn’t shake them. A few days later I bought some Round Up for killing the weeds in my front yard and somehow that helped clear things up for me.

A little over three and a half years ago, days before our third son was born, our pipes had to be replaced. In classic money pit style, none of it could be done the easy way, so our yard got torn up in the process and has yet to recover.

Now our front yard is FULL of weeds (seriously, there is nothing left but weeds) for a few reasons. Number one: replacing the pipes meant ruining our sprinkler system which then put the project into the completely overwhelming category. Number two: neither my husband nor I enjoy gardening. At all. Number three: the economy hit us too. Number four: we have been living out our value that the people in our home are more important than landscaping.

As I sprayed the weeds I thought about how the landscaping outside our home is representative of our reputation, what others think of us. But what happens inside our home with our family is our character, who we truly are. In Donald Miller’s post he encourages his readers to focus more on character in 2012 and less on reputation. If you drive by our home and see our yard, you will clearly see how my husband and I have let go of our reputation.

Now, I wouldn’t say either of us likes coming home to the ugliest yard in the neighborhood, but we know we will get to it as soon as we have the resources. Unfortunately, our neighbors seem to care more about our reputation than we do. In addition to some pointed tips people have felt free to give us, we have also received two anonymous notes from disgruntled neighbors. Our neighbors are uncomfortable with how our yard makes them look.

And as I sprayed some more weeds it occurred to me that not only were these two concepts playing out in my home, they were also playing out inside of me, and that’s probably why my brain has not been able to stop thinking about that darn post.

Last year I made some difficult decisions to pause contact with a few family members in order to take care of the inside of me. My home – the inside of me – was in shambles and I needed to draw the shades and block out the world in order to tend to my insides. I knew it would not be a popular decision and it would make me look bad to any number of people who might find out about or be affected by this choice. My “yard” – my reputation – was likely to take a hit.

But I did get better. In ways and to degrees that I did not think were possible this side of Heaven. I am still normal and human but I am also new and healed where before I was broken and wounded. And now I am ready to re-establish contact. But this week it occurred to me that although I am ready and willing, re-connecting might not be possible.

In addition to being hurt by my need for space, these family members might prefer the relationship they had with the old me. They might not be interested in what I have to offer them now.

So as I sprayed more weeds I saw my choices to tend to the inside and let the outside go for a while – both in my home and in my self – come at a cost. My husband and I are the black sheep of the neighborhood now. The people around us don’t like our priorities. They might like them in theory when they are making small talk at a block party, but in practice when they are making their neighborhood look bad, they are not fans. And my choices to focus on the inside of me may have cost me to loose some family relationships permanently, which was never my intention.

Donald Miller failed to mention that sometimes choosing character over reputation isn’t as easy or clear-cut as it sounds. He didn’t talk about the cost of such choices. However even now, seeing the cost of my choices, I am not sorry I made them. I would make them all over again. My kids were worth my front yard, and I was worth the cost too. Even if the price ends up being higher than I originally thought.

what is the smell of love?

I went to see my OB today. Really he’s my GYN. He dropped his OB years ago, shortly after my second son was born. But I think OB conjures up warm and romantic connotations versus GYN. The person who delivers babies is wonderful and heroic. The one who does your pap smears is just necessary. So I prefer to call him my OB, not because it changes what I think of when I talk about him, but so the people listening to me can associate the same things with him as I do.

My doctor always gives me a hug at the end of my appointment. That may sound awkward or creepy, but I assure you it is anything but. I don’t know what kind of cologne he wears, but after that hug, I can smell him the whole rest of the day. I love it.

This man is one of the most loving, caring souls I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He delivered two of my sons. He even remembered when he came in to deliver son #2 that we had been doing that same thing together exactly three years prior (my first two sons have the same birthday). And for as many babies as this man has delivered, I think it quite impressive that he would remember the date of one of mine.

He is good at what he does, I mean really, exceptionally good. I know nurses who have worked with him and they all love him and respect him at the same time. I am sure he has some patients who don’t realize how great he is, but that is hard for me to imagine.

Every time I see him, he tries to tell me that I am special, and now that I have read The Shack, I think of it in that way….that he is especially fond of me…the quantity of who he loves not taking away from the quality or intensely personal nature of the love he gives. He loves and cares for each patient out of his vast knowledge and seasoning through his many years in his field. Never the less, he accomplishes his task of making me feel loved and special every time I see him, and that is why I love smelling like him the rest of the day.

Today I was reading the grace chapter in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller while I was in the waiting room. Miller talks about how difficult it can be to let God love us, and I can so relate to what he said. Until God met me on my driveway a few years back, I am not sure I had ever received God’s love. Believed in it, yes. Hoped in it, yes. Worked for it, absolutely. But if I was receiving it, I was only doing it on a surface level while maintaining a thousand different activities that helped me to think I was making it easier for God to love me.

But by “helping” God to love me with all the “right” things I was doing, I was cheapening my understanding of that love. God’s love is personal and enormous and all encompassing and for those who have no legs to stand on. So when my legs didn’t work anymore, God met me on the cold concrete of my driveway. It was full and complete and separate from my religion. It did not make my life roses after that, but it is an incredible thing to be loved – really and truly and fully loved – in the reality and mess of who I am. Not a “let’s clean you up and then you might be presentable and I will love you” kind of love but a “I am giving you a hug even though you’re covered in your own vomit” kind of love.

And that is why I love seeing my OB and smelling like him all day afterwards. I don’t know if you realize this, but having a baby is ugly business, which is weird because somehow all that ugliness transforms into one of the most beautiful experiences of your life, but make no mistake – it is ugly. And my doctor has seen my ugly business and loved me through it. And so he reminds me of God…and echo, if you will, of God’s love for me. I love it. I soak it in. How good it is to be loved, and how wonderful to be able to receive it – to really take it in to the depths of my soul – and to smell it for the rest of the day.

So I wonder…what does love smell like to you?

bookstores frosting and dirt

Donald Miller spoke at our church yesterday. At the eleven o’clock service I sat right next to him. I am not sure why but I thought Donald Miller would be kind of a jerk, perhaps because another author I met years ago came across to me as rude and abrasive once face to face. I figured he would be annoyed by star-struck fans like myself. I was delightfully surprised, which was especially nice since I was trying to get the courage to give him a note pleading that he read a few samples of my writing and toss some contacts my way if he liked any of it. Probably one of the cheesiest things I have ever done in my life and considering I spent a few summers as a camp counselor, that’s saying something. I hate cheesy. But he is Donald Miller and he was at my church. Some things are worth the risk.

He had one of his books available for purchase that I would have loved to pick up but I was pretty sure my checkbook was not in the black hole of my purse and I had kids to pick up from the children’s program and you know how it goes. But I was inspired and curious. I have read only one of this man’s books, but I loved it. And I did just make a fool of myself to him, so why not read more of his writing to see how thoroughly a fool I made?

So today being Monday – grocery shopping day – I made a detour between Trader Joe’s and Vons and hunted down the only Christian book store I even have a clue to where it might be. At the last light before the driveway, I was stopped behind a car whose license plate said, “CHOSEN”. If that weren’t enough, the license plate holder had some saying about Jesus and there was a small dove in the middle of some word stuck on the hatchback. We must be closer.

As I pulled in, a pit formed in my stomach. I have avoided Christian bookstores for a few years and today I would figure out why. My heart was dragging and screaming at me that it did not want to enter, but my desire to have this book in my hands over-rode. I walked in and the worshipful elevator music played at an appropriate volume in the background. Perfect. I asked the man at the register where I might find the two authors I was looking for. He led the way.

They had two of Miller’s books – one copy each. He has written about five. Neither were the one I was looking for. He had to check the other author on the computer. No luck. Are you kidding me? You don’t have any Anne Lamott in the entire store??? What kind of Christian book store was this?

Unfortunately, it was the normal kind. The kind that is filled with thousands of books that are one version or another of a Christian self-help. “How to Earn Your Way to Being A Better Christian” “10 Steps to a Better Christian You” “Here’s How to Really Be Right”

I am sure those kinds of books are helpful to a very many people. There’s a bookstore filled with them for goodness sake. I am pretty sure I used to love those books. But something has shifted in me and while I still love Jesus, I am not a huge fan of those books.

I left the store feeling like I had a mouthful of wedding cake frosting. And this would be, I figured out, why I have been avoiding Christian bookstores. There is nothing wrong with wedding cake frosting. Many people love wedding cake frosting. I just don’t happen to be a big fan. It is light and airy and sweet and fluffy and leaves me wanting something more. More grit. More sustenance. More honesty.

And this is the turn my faith has taken. Instead of my old sub-conscious compulsion to hide the reality of life…to say that all was peachy because Jesus loves us and praise the Lord! and sweep the dirt under the rug, my faith has been replaced by a more honest version. One that appreciates the meat and potatoes of life and cannot be sustained by wedding cake frosting alone. I find myself coming from the angle that God and reality can co-exist and that God never intended for me to behave like they didn’t. I value the freedom to question more than the appearance of having all the answers. I embrace the grit. I can no longer deny the rocks and sticks and dirt of life – the things not often topping a wedding cake.

So maybe it’s not so much the Christian bookstore that bugs me as it is my own history. Perhaps that’s why I love writers like Donald Miller and Anne Lamott (and Leeana Tankersley) who may be a bit controversial in popular American Christian culture but who leave me with a sense that I don’t have to deny reality in order to love God. They give me freedom to ask questions and have opinions that may seem scandalous to some of my friends but to me is simply life with more than just wedding cake frosting.

So I wonder…who is your favorite author…and why?