I Will Always Love You

My younger sister, Betsy, just left to head back to Washington, DC. She came to visit me in Chattanooga for the weekend to celebrate her 37th birthday. It’s crazy when your younger sibling turns 37. Not only do I keep thinking I’m 37, I feel more like 27. Funny how the mind needs to be convinced that the body is not what it once was. I wake up with cricks in my neck, not from a night out of dancing, but from sitting on the couch in a slightly different manner than my usual lounge posture.

With my husband out of town for the week and a freezer full of pre-made dinners, I had plenty of time on my hands to prepare for her arrival. She’s been living alone since the beginning of the pandemic, and while she is the strong one in the family, I know it’s been really hard on her, if for no other reason than she often feels like she has to be the strong one. Being that I’m the middle child, I often had no problem flailing my emotions about, making it very clear I needed attention. I have since grown out of it, for the most part, but I still have my moments.

I was 28 years old before I realized that being a MIDDLE child meant I had a YOUNGER sister… meaning I wasn’t just a middle child, I was a big sister, with some one to look after other than myself. It was groundbreaking. We’ve been close ever since.

I set my intentions ahead of time, I had recently read the Art of Gathering and I learned that a good gathering isn’t just about the decor or the food, but about the intention you have for the gathering and how well you carry it out. My intention for her time at my house was to create a space for her to feel celebrated, but more so, loved and special; knowing this helped me think through what might make Betsy feel that way.

Since she lives a busy life in DC, she doesn’t often have time to do the things she’d like to do: cook, decorate, take a bath. Living alone means she’d probably even more so like to be on the receiving end of someone cooking for her, someone decorating her space, and… well, the bath she can do on her own.

I spent the week preparing for her arrival, from making the decorations and hanging them, to making the cake and the cake topper…

Though Josh and I have been living in Chattanooga since November, we have to yet to find a kitchen table we like… partly because Josh keeps saying he is going to make one, but we going on month four of that not happening, so I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I went down to Wal-Mart and grabbed a cheap folding table to cover up. We used it once and spent the rest of the time eating at the kitchen counter or on the couch. I guess it’s true that decor is a mere addition, take it or leave it, compared to the over all purpose of the gathering and being together.

The day she flew in she had already spent an extra three hours in the DC airport due to delayed flights. She was getting in much later than planned and I knew she’d be tired, not just from the flight, but the work week she had just come off of. I wouldn’t be able to fix her energy levels, but I could certainly make her feel welcome, and hopefully get her laughing after a long day.

I dressed for the occasion and awkwardly waited for her to come down the escalator in the Chattanooga Airport…

After waiting a while, enduring stares and little girls saying “Mommy, look” while pointing at me, Betsy finally started to come down the escalator. As soon as I saw her I began playing the Sisters song from White Christmas, you know how it goes…

And in no time, though tired from travel, delayed flights and a DC work week, she laughed out loud as I continued to sing and act out the song until she reached me.

“Welcome to your birthday weekend!” I yelled, and proceeded to keep playing and singing the song until we reached the car. I may have overdone it a little, but I’m still a middle child, sometimes I can’t help myself.

When she got in the car I had snacks and an itinerary for the weekend, letting her know she didn’t have to think about or plan a thing, it was all taken care of, all she had to do was enjoy it.

I’m not sharing all this to say “look at all I did!” (Maaaaybe the middle child part is saying that), I’m sharing it to say, it took me 38 years to do something like this for someone who’s been a part of my life all 38 years. It was long overdue and I’m grateful I was allowed the space in time to make it happen for her. I’m sharing it to say, I realized it’s never too late to make someone feel loved and special.

I played Hanson when we walked in the door, our childhood obsession. With the house decorated at each corner, she’d let out a little scream as she’d see something new. I had snacks at the ready while I finished making dinner.

After dinner she took a bath, an often daily ritual for her until pipes in her apartment burst and she hadn’t been able to take a bath for weeks. We joked about how anxious she must be since she’s only been able to take a shower, “yea,” she laughed, “sometimes I take two baths a day!” I suppose that’s what happens when you live and work in Washington, DC… you take two baths a day, not just to relax but to wash all the politics off!

She thanked me for everything and turned in early. I knew she was tired, but there almost seemed to be a sadness about her, not a heavy sadness, just a sense I had that she couldn’t fully express excitement. Times before I may have asked what was wrong, but this time I had a feeling she just needed to be where she was at, and I didn’t need to take any of it personally, wondering if she expected more or if I got the right kind of cheese. It wasn’t about me and so I let her go to bed, telling her I’d have homemade cinnamon rolls ready by 9am.

On the day of Betsy’s birthday I woke up early to prepare breakfast. Hot yoga was scheduled for 10am so I figured she’d be up much earlier to have time to drink coffee and eat. At 9:20am I still didn’t hear any stirring upstairs so I started to text her. Just before I hit send I heard her bedroom door open and her slowly walking toward the stairs, “ow, ow, ow,” she said, “I think I need help.” I ran over to the stairs, “what the heck happened?” She was slowly trying to maneuver her way down and began laughing when she couldn’t make it.

“It might be from sitting all day, but just before I went to bed last night, I felt a pinched nerve and I couldn’t go to sleep, I just laid there in the happy baby position.” We both started laughing. “What do you need?” I asked, “want to get back in bed and I’ll bring you coffee?”

“I think just water,” she said, “I’m going to take a bath and see if that helps.” I was pretty sure her taking a bath meant we were going to miss yoga, but she managed to make it in-and-out in time for us to go, stretching her hamstrings out before getting in the car, “ow, ow, ow.”

“Welcome to your late thirties!” I said.

After yoga we went and got smoothies, returned home and Betsy decided to take another bath. We both laid down for a nap, her having been up late with a pinched nerve and me having been up early making cinnamon rolls. Wow, I thought to myself, baths and nap time, we really are getting older.

I took her to get a pedicure at 1:30, during which she fell asleep and upon returning home again she took nap number two, after which she took bath number three. I guess that’s how she celebrates her birthday, I thought, lots of baths! To each their own.

After all the baths and naps, we got dressed up and went out to dinner downtown. We talked about previous birthdays, what our family looks like now and if she had an ideal man, what would he be like. “I don’t really have a type,” she said, “I’ve dated a South African, an Israeli, and a 50 year old. I’m open to any type of person, I only have two requirements: that he be emotionally intelligent AND available, and that we share the same spiritual beliefs. I’ve loved people who haven’t shared my beliefs, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s just too hard on the relationship to differ on your core beliefs.”

We were home by 9:30 pm and dressed for bed shortly there after. I had her blow out her birthday candles, being too tired and full, she passed on having a piece of cake. She opened the present I made her, a corgi birthday crown in honor of our family corgi (who she is obsessed with), Benny Boy.

After she went up to bed I sat on the couch with my own piece of cake and small glass of champagne. Josh called to say goodnight and we talked for a while. I told him I knew Betsy was glad to be here, I knew she was enjoying it, but it didn’t feel like she was. I wasn’t getting this excited reaction I would assume one would get when they’ve done everything I did.

Josh reminded me that sometimes people just need a safe place to be themselves no matter how they are feeling. “She might not be able to express it right now,” Josh said, “but you know she loves being there.” “I know,” I said, “I guess in some selfish way, I just want to feel it!” I knew doing things for her wasn’t about getting a specific reaction from her, and that if it were, I’d end up transferring my disappointment onto her, creating an uncomfortable environment to be in, all because I wanted more recognition. “Let her be where she is at and keep loving her there,” Josh said, “you’re so good at that.”

The next morning I had a Dollywood mug with her name on it and a Dolly Parton card sitting by the coffee maker. I wanted to set the tone for the day that this was it… the day we go to Dollywood!

Now that I live in Tennessee, Dollywood is my happy place. I’ve been three times since moving here four months ago- that’s about how many times I went to Hollywood living in Southern California for eight years! The week before Betsy’s visit I went to Dollywood for Passholder’s day (Yes, getting a season pass was one of the first things I did as a Tennessean), and unbeknownst to everyone, DOLLY PARTON WAS ACTUALLY THERE! She waved at me when she saw one of my homemade Dolly crowns and I momentarily forgot to keep breathing.

Before coming, Betsy had said the one thing she for sure wanted to do was go to Dollywood. Piece of cake.

I was laying in bed drinking my coffee when I heard a knock on my door. Betsy popped her head in, “I LOVE MY MUG!” she said and she scurried over to sit on the end of my bed. We sat there talking for hours, there she is, I thought to myself, not because she expressed something I wanted to hear, but because she was finally expressing herself, talking, asking questions, laughing, the Betsy I know when she’s not weighted down by work, family drama, or living alone.

Had I made a comment like “oh you finally decided to show up,” or “nice to see you finally being expressive,” I think it would have killed the moment. A comment like that would have shamed her for simply being tired or worn out from life, making her feel unsafe to feel however she feels. Unnecessary commentary is what I am learning to discern, and I knew making a comment about her suddenly seeming lively would have made her feel bad about the days prior; something she didn’t need to feel bad about because there was nothing wrong with the days prior.

We drove two hours to Dollywood and spent the rest of the day there feeling like kids all over again. We both wore our crowns that donned our favorite things, hers, a corgi and mine, Dolly.

We drove the two hours back to Chattanooga listening to Dolly Parton’s America Podcast the whole way. Betsy had not only officially caught the Dolly bug, but she had finally felt rested and able to enjoy herself. “Next time I’m gonna take a vacation before my vacation so I don’t feel so tired on the vacation,” she said. We laughed and I was relieved I never made an issue of what I perceived to be her lack of enthusiasm. We had another day and a half together, relaxed and fully enjoying each other’s company.

By the time I took her to the airport she started crying, “I had such a good time,” she said, “I don’t really want to leave.” I made some stupid comment I read off of Pinterest in response, “Oh, don’t cry cause it’s over, smile cause it happened.” It kinda makes me gag now, especially when she responded while still crying, “well, I can do both.”

I laughed, “yes, you can.” She was right. And that’s what makes her the strong one, not an avoidance of emotion, but realizing she can be sad and grateful at the same time. She can be tired and lonely and worn out AND still enjoy herself and every opportunity she is given. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that life is a mix; a mix of emotions, not always compartmentalized by seasons, but often times experienced simultaneously.

Perhaps Betsy wanted her birthday to happen at a different time, when she felt more rested and had more time to enjoy it, but life just happens, without asking if we are ready, rested, or prepared. She turned 37 when she did, and I could either meet her there and love her, or I could complain that she wasn’t acting as happy as I’d like her to be.

When I returned home she left a note on her bed, thanking me for the whole weekend, for every thought and detail that didn’t go unnoticed. “I will never forget this weekend,” she said, “you made ME feel loved and special

I will always love you!”

The Work of Forgiveness

So there’s this passage in the Bible…

Okay, wait, before I go there, let me first say… I am no Biblical scholar nor even an aggressive reader of Scripture, but having grown up in the church, spending time both loving and hating it, I have a few cliff notes that have stuck with me along the way. (There’s a pun in there somewhere because my grandad’s name was Cliff and he certainly served us earfuls of Bible verses, but until I can figure it out, onward!)

Without googling the verse so I can give you exacts and impress someone without much scripture I can recall by google, I’m just gonna go with go with what I can recall by memory and see how well that goes (or even how well some of it has stuck over the years). I don’t know chapters and numbers, but I know there are a lot stories in which Jesus and his disciples are hanging out and going over the basics of being a good human. The disciples are his closest friends and they commit their lives to doing whatever it takes for Jesus and His message of Love to be known by all (they don’t always do the best job of standing by His side, but, you know, He’s Jesus, so he gets it and He still loves them).

In this one particular story, the boys are talking about some of Jesus’ teachings, which, really, if you look at them, are radical, not just for back then, but for now… LOVE YOUR ENEMY? FORGIVE PEOPLE WHO’VE WRONGED YOU!? Naturally, one of the disciples wants Jesus to expound on some stuff, “soooo… about this forgiveness thing” (I’m paraphrasing, incase that needed to be stated), “like how many times are we supposed to forgive someone, maybe seven times?”

Jesus answered his question with a math equation “not just seven times, seventy times seven,” and seeing as math was never my strong suit, I always dismissed His answer. Some large number is what I chalked it up to. When I got a little older and would again hear this passage, I decided to figure it out. I pulled out my TI-83 calculator… 490. Okay, maybe He meant for us to forgive so many times that it’s too hard to keep track. Throw in different translations of scripture, some of which Jesus says to forgive 77 times, and I never got a clear understanding, only that I was suppose to forgive a lot!

You can find plenty of blogs (as can I, so please don’t feel the need to send them to me) with Bible scholars breaking down this scripture and helping us understand the symbolic meaning of these numbers (somehow they represent God’s eternal forgiveness extended to us). As someone who has had scripture thrown at her as pad answers and bandaids with no real meaning for how they were helpful to her personally, I’m not here to break down scripture to be used as a blanket formula for all.

These days, I tread lightly when it comes to referencing the Bible, mostly because I’ve seen the ways people use it to back up they own views (most of which are political), and while I claim the same God as the Christian Faith, the God I know is very different from the one seen on Fox News and CNN. God is in both and neither camp at the same time, and way less political than everyone thinks (also less religious but that’s for another day).

So this is a “personal understanding” story more so than a dissecting of what the Bible means. It’s my coming of age to understanding just one of the many passages I’ve read or heard since childhood, and 38 years later finally saying “ohhhhh, I think I get it.”

While I don’t know much, I know that holding onto anger hurts me way more than the person I’m angry at. I’ve let anger eat me alive before, stuffing it deep down and reaching for anything else to distract me from the pain caused by someone else. In more recent years I’ve felt the healthiest I’ve ever been, having let go of past hurts and choosing to forgive both myself and others for things done wrong.

There’s this one situation that often revisits my mind, I feel anger start to bubble up as soon as I think about it. I feel how it felt all over again to be hurt by this one person, almost annoyed that I forgave them because it feels so good (in the moment) to be angry at them. I can see why we hang onto anger, it’s so much easier, it feels a lot better to feel justified in our anger than to “let go,” “move on,” or “forgive.” Laaaaame. Where’s my pitchfork!?

I’ve forgiven this person so many times, in my head, in my heart, in my journal. I’ve “let go and let God,” I’ve “chosen Joy,” I’ve forgiven at least 76 times, perhaps having only one time left in me. I was talking to my mom about it who has become quite a place of refuge for me in our later years of life… this was not always the case when I was growing up. I relayed that I felt something must be wrong with me if I can’t seem to forgive them, “it still comes up,” I told her, “and when it does, I still feel angry! Do I not mean it when I say I’ve forgiven them? Why won’t the feeling go away?”

As my mother started to reference this 70×7 passage, I could feel my eyes rolling in the back of my head, here we go, I thought, and I interrupted her… “but I’ve done that! As much as I understand forgiveness, I’ve forgiven them! And yet I randomly still think about it, and I still get mad, and I feel like I have to start all over and forgive them again!”

“That’s the beautiful and hard thing about it,” my mom said, “70×7 means you keep making the choice to forgive, no matter how many times it comes back up. It’s not that you didn’t forgive them before, it’s that you have to remind yourself, again and again, that you already chose to forgive them.” My eye roll settled a little and I noticed my heart react as she kept talking, “life is too hard for us to go undisturbed by things that have hurt us. Feeling the hurt doesn’t make you weak in emotion or in faith, it makes you human.”

Perhaps you’ve been well aware of this for a long time, which is awesome if you have, I’m sure it does wonders for mental health, but it was the first time I realized that forgiveness isn’t a one-time job. The harm may have been done once, but the damage it can cause can last a long time, if not a lifetime. The work is not to get to a place of no longer feeling it, the work is the constant choosing to forgive no matter how many times it comes up and I feel it.

I’ll admit, this both freed me and depressed me. I want the easy one-and-done “I no longer feel it” kind of experience. The trouble is, you’ll wait your whole life for it to feel done, for the pain to no longer be an issue. While I do think you can absolutely be less affected by the pain, and live a beautiful healthy life, I think life will always catch us off guard. You never know what might trigger the memory of a past hurt, no matter how long it’s been.

So it’s depressing to me, or maybe exhausting, to think I may have to keep forgiving for a long time. But it’s freeing to realize something isn’t wrong with me just because a past hurt rears its head and still affects me.

When that trigger happens, I don’t have to add to it by assuming I must not being doing as well as I thought, or I didn’t really let it go or forgive… I can acknowledge it for what it is- a trigger, a reminder, a reaction, and I can do what I need to remind myself I am currently okay; and I can once again chose to forgive, to not let it dictate how I live my life or treat other people.

I realized I’ve been doing the work this whole time, forgiving time and time again, or at least reminding myself that that’s what I’ve chosen… forgiveness. Sometimes I need to remind myself I’ve chosen to forgive myself, and sometimes it’s someone else. Maybe one day I won’t need to, maybe one day I won’t even think about it… maybe, maybe not. All I know is, evidence of a healthy life is not one that is undisturbed by past or present hurts. Evidence of a healthy life is feeling all that life has to offer, even when it disturbs us, finding the balance between neither avoiding the pain nor being consumed by it.

I’ll admit, sometimes I still need to hide under the covers and not be so “on,” and sometimes I need to just suck it up and get a move on. There’s no blanket formulas, every day is different, and I’m learning more and more to choose to show up in that day… just as I am… forgiven and able to forgive.

Elderly Love Part 2

 (Continued from previous post)

Aunt Jackie did a double take in the middle of her generic hello when she clearly realized it was my mom, “WELL HEY! Oh my goodness, it’s so good to see you!” My mom pointed to herself, “it’s Lydia,” she said. “I know it’s you,” Aunt Jackie quipped like how dare you think I don’t know.

“And this is JJ!” My mom pointed to me and I pulled my face mask down for her to see. “JJ!” She yelled, “JJ! WHOOO look at you, JJ! Great Scott!” I remember Aunt Jackie saying “Great Scott!” long before I ever heard Doc Brown say it on Back To The Future. She repeated back to us what we said to her, so we still weren’t entirely sure if she fully knew who she was talking to, after all, it had been three years since we’d last seen her, and things were getting more “fuzzy” back then.

The three of us sat silently for a moment all looking at each other, the Golden Girls still playing in the background. Aunt Jackie put her hand on my mom’s knee, “Pawleys Island,” she said with her slow Southern draw. My mom and I looked at each other as if to say she knows! We both got emotional. Our hometown of Pawleys Island was Aunt Jackie’s favorite place to visit. She loved the ocean and made annual trips with her own group of golden girls to soak up the sun and salt water. “That’s right,” Mom said, trying not to cry. “You lucky birds,” Aunt Jackie said.

I told her we had just come from Pawleys Island, “don’t say it too loud,” she said, “people might get jealous.” Already she was off to making us laugh. “Did you get in the water?” she asked. “Yes, JJ did, she went surfing,” Mom said. “She went to what?”

“Surfing, she went surfing,” Mom said, and I added, “in the ocean.” Aunt Jackie sat back in her wheelchair, raised her eyebrows as if she finally processed what we had just said, “that’s an ugggly thing for you to saaaay in front of me!” We both laughed and she asked if the water was cold, “it was freezing,” I said. “Oh!” Aunt Jackie took a sip of her coffee, “then I won’t feel so bad, ah ha haha!”

Aunt Jackie’s laugh is just as classic as her Southern accent, a much more sophisticated Phyllis Diller type laugh (and more enjoyable to listen to, in my biased opinion, but it has tones of the Diller cackle in it). As an old school Southern woman of devout faith, Aunt Jackie would die if she knew I compared anything about her to Phyllis Diller.

“So what have you been up to?” Mom asked. “What have I been up to?” Aunt Jackie repeated back as if it was obvious, “this!” she said, “this is what I’ve been up to… sometimes I move over there, or over there” and she pointed to different spots in the sitting area, “but mostly I just sit here and they roll me around wherever I need to go.” We laughed at her sense of humor about it, but also knew it must be hard to live confined within the walls of a place you can’t leave.

“It’s okay though,” she said, “most people just sit around here until the end, but not me, I’m busting out of here soon.” She nodded her head as if to say you know what I mean? and took a sip of her coffee. We laughed at the thought of Aunt Jackie busting out of assisted living. “Well if anyone can do it, you can,” I said.

“Yea,” she agreed as she nodded, “there’s a two-way highway right out front of this building. The only problem is, once I get there, I can’t figure out which way to go!” Mom and I were rolling in laughter. “Well tell me about the children,” Aunt Jackie said, “there’s one of the children right there,” and she pointed to me. Mom told her all about the kids being grown up, some married, some dating, one with a dog. The dog is what most excited Aunt Jackie, “Ohhhh, tell me about the dog! Now, what kind of poochy!?” We told her all about my brother’s corgi and she responded with “ooooh how cute” to each detail. She told us she had a dog but could’t remember her name. “Claudette,” mom said. “Who?” Aunt Jackie asked. “Claudette, that was the name of your dog.” It didn’t seem to ring a bell, Aunt Jackie shrugged, “well if you say so!”

I later found out the dog’s name was Tallulah, so both Mom and Aunt Jackie had a little memory slip there, but at least Aunt Jackie remembered what her dog’s name wasn’t. She told us about her horse, Solomon, who died 20 years ago but she seemed to think it just happened. “I think they did something to him,” she said, convinced that someone had prematurely put her horse down. This was where her memory was “fuzzy,” she clearly remembered things, but the order of events was disoriented. “I remember Solomon,” I said, “we used to ride him with you.” She looked surprised so I pulled up an old picture I had saved on my phone of my sister and I riding Solomon, Aunt Jackie standing beside us. Aunt Jackie gasped, “Oh! there he is,” and she began to mimic kissing the picture, “mwah mwah mwah, oh I love him so much.”

“I think they did something to him, you know?” and she sat silently for a moment as she thought about it. We weren’t sure who she meant by “they,” but it was clear that though the memory was fuzzy, it left an impression. After talking about Solomon for a while she asked about the children again. Mom went through and told her about each of us again, a little less detail than the time before, but included the part about the dog. “Ohhh, tell me about the poochy, what kind of dog!?”

The longer we stayed the more obvious her lack of memory became. She was sharp in that she could remember stories from her childhood, stories from our childhood, and pretty much anything we would remind her of, but where her memory failed was by the time we finished talking about a topic, she’d have forgotten we talked about it.

Aunt Jackie pretty much helped raise my dad, who’s own parents were always traveling as music evangelists with Billy Graham, America’s Preacher back in the day. Generations now don’t really know him, but any generation my mom’s age or older tend to have an idea of who he is. He prayed with every America president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, my grandad always at his side.

Aunt Jackie started as my Granddad’s secretary, but quickly became a caregiver to the five children who grew up with a dad the whole world knew, who’s own children barely knew him. That’s another topic in and of itself, and there’s been peace and resolve made about that. I only bring it up to say, Aunt Jackie was just as a vital role to the family as a parent or grandparent to all of us. With all my grandparents now passed, she’s the closest thing I have left to a grandmother. She’d never accept the title grandmother though, “it sounds too old,” she’d say, so much like my dad called her when he was growing up, we’ve always called her Aunt Jackie (despite her being the same age as my grandmother).

I showed her all the pictures from when she worked with my granddad and Billy Graham, she remembered all of them and gasped with delight at each picture. I got to a picture of Billy Graham kissing me on the cheek, “this was at Nana’s funeral,” I said. “Who’s funeral?” she asked. “My Nana, Bille Barrows.” She sat back with a look of shock, clearly remembering who but not quite remembering that she passed. “Where was I?” she asked. “You were there,” mom said. “I was?” She asked with a sigh of relief, “okay good.”

It didn’t dawn on me that with the order of events being fuzzy, it might overwhelm her to know who of her friend group wasn’t around anymore. Aunt Jackie is one of the last ones left from the generation of friends who poured into our family over the years, having long outlived her husband, but she didn’t seem to notice. Probably a blessing and a curse, to not remember, there’s a sadness in the sweet memories not being there, yet a gratitude to not relive the pain all over again.

“Well what else can you tell me?” Aunt Jackie would ask, trying to think if there was any news she hadn’t heard yet. “Well what do you want to tell us?” Mom asked. “What do I want to tell you?” Aunt Jackie asked, “about what?” “About life,” Mom said, “if there’s something you’ve learned about life that you’d want us to know, what would it be?”

Aunt Jackie paused, “now I’m thinking, which is dangerous, but I gotta think.” She looked around the room and then looked at my mom and I, “don’t take life too seriously. Everything doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Just enjoy it,” she said. We agreed that life should be enjoyed more, which was humbling coming from a woman in a wheelchair at an assisted living facility.

“Do you want to tell her about your comedy?” Mom asked me. I proceeded to tell her I was a Stand Up Comedian, “Oh I love it!” She said. I explained to her that my sets included stories about her, “I always tell people about Aunt Jackie!” She laughed, “Ohh, don’t tell them everything!” I proceeded to show her my clip from Dry Bar Comedy where I tell everyone about my great Aunt Jackie. She needed me to repeat the punchline, “what’d she say?” when she heard the audience laugh. I retold her what she had said to me so long ago about how to be an artist when I grew up, “just get married and then you can doodle all day long!” She laughed hard at her own advice, “you can,” she said.

I recorded most of our time with her, and my mom recorded me showing her my Stand Up clip. It’s footage I’ll treasure for a long time.

Before we left she made one last declaration, “As for me and my house,” I was certain she was getting ready to quote scripture, “I’mma blow this pad first thing, you know!” We all laughed and she looked at my mom, “ain’t that right?”

I don’t have resolve for this post. We left on a happy, high note. I was so glad we had decided to make the trip. But it’s never as simple as leaving the facility and moving on with your life, well, it is and it isn’t. I still think about her being in there, alone in the sense of not with family or friends anymore. She had a whole life that looked so different than where she is now, all of it changed merely by the aging process.

I think about my own parents and what the aging process will look like for all of us one day. I even think about my own 98 year old self, wondering where I’ll be and if I’ll even make it that long. I hope to remember my husband, and yet I can’t imagine living without him should I surpass him. He knows, however, that if I die before him, he’s getting in the casket. “You coming with me,” I joke.

I over processed the whole visit on our drive home. I’ve thought about it for days after. Yesterday I re-watched the footage while laying on the couch and I heard Aunt Jackie say again, “don’t take life so seriously, just enjoy it.”

I sat my phone down, got up and put on my shoes to leave. “Where are you going?” My husband asked as I headed for the door. “I’ve been sitting around long enough, I’mma blow this pad!”

I went for a walk in the cold air, warmed by the sun, and I simply enjoyed it.

Deleted Pages: Childhood Home

In the same way that movies have deleted scenes, so do books have deleted pages and passages that got rifled out through the editing process. I want to occasionally share some thoughts that lingered for a while in between the pages of my book “it’s called a spade,” but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make it to publication.

Today’s passage is about my childhood home, and while I was able to process some of it in my book, I think perhaps I found a better way to say it than this original copy that felt more like being much too old for pouting. Perhaps that’s okay though, perhaps now that I’m five years older, I can let my younger self have the permission she felt she needed to pout… even if that younger self was actually 32.

I think we’re always in the process of growing, even once we’re “grown up,” and I think that’s okay as life throws us curve balls we aren’t always prepared for. I think 2020 is a great example of a curve ball for which none of us were prepared for.

For now, a deleted page that remains a memory I am finally at peace with.

The Barrows Bunch (Please note the matching tee shirts! Ahh to be naive again!)

It feels like my childhood home is being ripped right out from under me. It is only now at 32 that I am beginning to accept I won’t get my childhood back. I’ve realized it long before now, but accepting it is a whole different ballgame I wasn’t prepared to play. In many ways I don’t want my childhood back, perhaps parts of it, like the innocence, the pizza parties, the beach games and make believe worlds in the woods behind our house, but other parts of it I’m quite glad I don’t have to relive. And even though I know time travel to be as silly as Kanye being president, part of me deep down has always hoped I could go back and do things differently.

“If only I had known then what I know now,” who hasn’t thought this? I’m sure there’s a country song or jazz ditty with this line in it. I’ve held onto this thought so tightly that for quite some time I have always thought things were going to be different. I’ve always thought I would get a second chance, not realizing adulthood was my second chance. I pay my own bills and drive my own car and complain about the government and do all the things that adults do now, but outside of engaging in those adult responsibilities, I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t know what an adult is supposed to feel like. It is safe to say that up until this morning I have been functioning very much like a child, waiting for everything to turn out right, wanting someone else to do everything for me and hoping for a better ending to the story.

I’m helping my mother pack up the place we called home for over 30 years and it dawned on me this morning as I laid on the couch that we weren’t playing pretend and we weren’t going to get our house back. Much like my childhood, the place I called home for so long is going to be a thing of the past.

Perhaps I only just now realized I wasn’t going to get my second chance at doing things all over again because my house was the last thing left from my childhood still lingering in the present. I knew I could always go back home no matter where I was or how hard things got, and home was the physical location of the house I grew up in.

Some people and plaques say that home is where the heart is, or where you park it, or where you make it. Some people say home isn’t a place but a people. I agree with all of those things, sort of, but mostly because I know it in my head to be true, not because I feel it. Home has always been the house at the end of Gray Mans Loop in Pawleys Island, SC because it is the only home I have ever lived in. And while it might be the people inside the house who make up the home, what do you do when the people split up and go live different places?

My siblings all grew up and moved away, which is to be expected of siblings, but when my mother and father split up after 30 years of marriage, my family didn’t feel like home anymore, mostly because none of it was familiar to me. The only thing that remained stable after my parents split was the house I grew up in, and so it remained home even after the people in it came and went. 

Even though I moved out of the house after high school, it was always there, always an option, always a safe place to retreat to. I could always run home. Knowing it would always be there also meant I never actually went there. It was more of a last resort, especially after my parents split up. It’s weird to walk into a familiar place with a new vibe. It’s confusing to look around and recognize everything but feel nothing. It’s confusing to be at home and not feel at home no matter where you go. 

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To be honest, that was as far as I got in that thought process, and I’m still not sure I have resolve for it. I am at peace with it, but I don’t necessarily have any more answers now than I did then.

Time has allowed me to adjust to my new normal and it no longer hurts the way it used to. There are still moments that sting from time to time, but I’ve realized that’s okay. Nothing in this world is as it was intended to be and sometimes we will feel the sting of it… some worse than others. I have no remedies or how-to solutions. I have no motivational quotes for you or I to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps there’s a time for that, I honestly don’t know. I just know that sometimes life kinda sucks. It’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Today, I’m good (I think I’m technically supposed to say “well,” but I like using “good,” I hate when people correct that!). And I suppose that’s all I need for right now. My hope is that you are good too, and that you recognize that simple state of being good as a gift.

And if you aren’t, I hope good times are ahead… trust that they are. This life isn’t all bad (even if it feels that way sometimes).

“it’s called a spade” can be purchased at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

Gettin’ Ice in Iceland

As I was about to post a recent update, I realized I never posted some of the most important life-changing updates. This week I’ll be keeping y’all up to date with some of the big stuff that happened this year.

Let’s start with Iceland Part 2, where everything changed…

The Tension of Life

There is a tension of dark and light, dust and divine breath.

There is a tension of good and bad, heartache and humor, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy.

There is a tension where I feel I don’t belong because there are no answers or quick fixes, no boxes or formulas, no way of knowing if I’ll ever make it out.

There is a tension everyone either wants to resolve, avoid or deny exists and yet it is in that very tension where life in all of its fullness is found.

It is okay to be both sad and happy, lost and found, hurt and hopeful.

We try to be one or the other and fix both ourselves and others if bent too close to the sadness. We function in the safety of our emotional comfort zone and expect others to function in theirs, meanwhile dismissing their pain and only prolonging the process of their feeling too stuck, too sad, or too lost to continue on this journey.

Life is messy, being a human is hard. I say that hand in hand with the belief that life is good, and being a human to be a gift. But some days, I totally forget. I forget the goodness, I forget the gift, and I struggle.

I struggle in the unknown of pain and sorrow that isn’t even circumstantial, just present, and I don’t know why, which makes it seem even worse. When there’s nothing to pinpoint your pain to, it feels hopeless.

It’s when we think the hopelessness is our ultimate reality, our final truth, the end of our story that we consider giving up. What’s the point anyway? If no person, place or thing can fix this and I will always feel this way somewhere deep down inside no matter how many accolades, awards and acknowledgments I receive, what’s the point? There will always be a void and I can’t avoid it.

The truth is, sometimes I still don’t know. Even as someone who believes in a Higher Power and the gift of life and purpose in the pain and God in the details, some days I still just don’t get it. “Only God can fill the void,” they say. “I know,” I say, and I do know, but I still just don’t get this God I believe in and this Life that He “gifted” us with. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a gift at all.

I don’t need pad answers, I don’t need declarations of holding on and Jesus loving me. I know the answers in my head no matter how much they disconnect with my heart. I need to live in the tension of life being hard and good, I need to affirm to myself and others who feel the same way that we are not crazy, or too lacking in faith, or lost causes. We’re human and there’s not only grace for our humanity but also love for it… love for our human selves no matter what state we find ourselves functioning in.

I have to admit, sometimes saying “hold on” isn’t enough, but I can at least say, “you are not as alone as you think you are… not in how you feel or in what you think.” Sometimes it just takes one person to voice their struggle for someone else to say, “Oh my God, me too,” and in that small spec of commonality is a glimmer of hope in the connection of our humanity.

It’s often in our isolated hopelessness that we go to extreme measures to rid ourselves of it by numbing out or checking out, not knowing the pain and sorrow we are leaving in our wake, hurting those we’ve left behind and out of the process, leaving them to figure out the pain on their own while we took the easier road of self destruction. Self destruction never seems easier in the moment, but it is always easier than dealing with the pain that life holds, having to be awake for it, alert for it, and gritty enough to actually work through it.

Today I do no feel gritty. I do not feel like making the choice to live in way that life matters. I feel like disappearing into the darkness that is my room and numbing out to Netflix, no bad thing in and of itself, but if I continue to make small choices to numb out every time something seems hard, I will have practiced living the kind of life that gives up when things get too hard.

And so, with that said, I acknowledge the tough day, I say hi and I sit with it for a bit. I live in the tension of feeling dark inside while the sun shines outside of my window. I sit just long enough to own my feelings, to sort though my thoughts, to figure out what is me and what is a lie I’m believing. Some of it I write out, as I’m doing here. And then, when I feel a little more free to be me, not me the entertainer who everyone expects to make them laugh, but me on an off day when I myself don’t feel like smiling, I set about to go outside and take in life in other places… grass, flowers, trees… there is evidence of life everywhere.

What better example of living in the tension than the flowers and trees that have to break though the darkness of the soil to get to the light and grow till tall.

With that said, it’s time for me to go outside.

To those who are struggling, you are not alone, I grieve with you. And to those who are doing well, that’s great too, I celebrate with you. Both are okay.

May you live in the tension of the fullness of life today, feeling neither like you have to fix everything, nor like you have to give up.

Life is hard and good, and you are more okay than you think you are.

 

Dust and Divine Breath

It’s been a weird two days. Life and death and everything in between. The other morning I woke up to multiple text messages from friends; some of whom I haven’t spoken with in years and some of whom are on my home team of life, you know, the thick and thinners, the ninth inning, the ones who are there for the whole game no matter what it holds. Though the familiarity with each of these friends was vast and wide, their messages were the same, “heard the news about Billy Graham, I’m so sorry, hope your family is well…” or something to that affect.

I had mixed emotions about the death of Billy Graham. To me he wasn’t just some evangelist who impacted the lives of many, wrote a bunch of books and preached a lot of sermons. To me he was “Uncle Billy,” and sure, more often than not he was a distant uncle, but given our family’s history, regardless of how I felt about what he and my grandfather did, I always understood him as Uncle Billy. I didn’t quite grasp the reality of who he actually was and the impact he had until later in life.

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Allow me to explain…

My Grandfather was Cliff Barrows, the choir director for Billy Graham since the very beginning. As I understand the story, my grandparents were on their honeymoon in North Carolina when they heard a preacher was looking for a musician because his choir director got sick. My grandmother (Nana) played the piano and my grandfather (Papa) had a booming singing voice and was well versed in multiple instruments. They both offered up their services and the rest is history. That preacher was Billy Graham and he and my Papa have been best friends since they were in their early 20s, even started the crusades together.

 

I used to avoid saying I was the granddaughter of Cliff Barrows because of my own issues with family and faith and trying to figure who I am and what I believe as an individual outside of all of the influence; but in this day and age with new generations who’ve never heard of Billy Graham crusades and the Kardasians actually being a thing to follow, I figure it’s not actually as big of a deal as I’ve made it out to be, it’s just my own stuff.
 My Nana and Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) were best friends and for a time my mother not only worked as head of the women’s ministry for Billy Graham (well before meeting my father), but was mentored by Ruth as well.

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My mother used to say Ruth was her role model and she wanted to be just like her. She’d try and try and end up feeling frustrated that she wasn’t more like Ruth, more pleasant, more gracious, more kind, more loving, etc… My mother told me one day she was so sick and tired of trying so hard to be the perfect example she chucked her bible across the room and yelled out “that’s it, I can’t do it, God! I can’t be Ruth Graham, I’ll never be Ruth Graham!” In the stillness of her room she heard a quiet voice, a very gentle response from a very loving God,

“Good. Because I already have a Ruth Graham, I don’t want another one…

I want my Lydia.”

It was then that I realized for as good of an example as Billy and Ruth Graham may be to many people, as faithful and spiritual and generous and all that stuff, it doesn’t make them any better in God’s eyes, and I don’t have to be like them for God to value me. That was huge for me. Growing up in a sort-of limelight, a preacher’s kid in a small southern town and granddaughter to a music evangelist who prayed with or sang in front of numerous presidents since Harry Truman and even alongside my own personal favorite, Johnny Cash, my understanding of God for a long time was that I had to be good for God to accept me.

 

It’s not that those were the words that were spoken to me, but it’s sort of what I saw or experienced… Nana always in pearls and smiling, family get-togethers meant no crying or arguing, and as long as you had Jesus you could smile at the storm. While it might have been well intended, some of it just didn’t resonate with me. I understood that Jesus was a Savior, but nobody talked about what they needed saving from, other than the generic title of sin, which is a word I’m still wrestling with sometimes.

For me, that’s what my faith has been, a form of wrestling, of asking questions I wasn’t supposed to ask because I was somehow already supposed to know the answers as a preacher’s kid, or like I had a better understanding of God because of my family connections. On top of my own process of exploring faith, there’s the whole issue of a traveling evangelist and the fact that if he’s impacting the world, who’s at home with the family? While Uncle Billy may have been America’s preacher and my Papa America’s song leader, their own families didn’t really know them that well. I know later in life they both expressed wanting to do that part over if they could, and so I don’t say that to come down on them, but certainly to be real about the fact that not even America’s preacher got it all right, and not even his kids were perfect. Sometimes kids just need to figure things out apart from who their parents are.

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So the family connections run deep and I have spent time thinking I was cool, growing up going to crusades and meeting DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and all my favorites in the early 90s, to growing older and wishing I wasn’t related at all due to the pressure and expectation that came with it. For a long time I resented my Papa and his “job” that seemed much more important than his family, especially when people praised him for it.

Last year I got to speak at a women’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia and I shared about growing up in the family I did, the affects it had on multiple family members and learning to come to peace with it. When the conference was over a woman came up to me and asked if she could share a story about my grandfather. She proceeded to share that when she was little her father was a raging alcoholic and used to beat her mom and the kids. He would take apart the television set during the day while he was gone so they couldn’t watch it and put it back together at night when he came home.

One day her mom found one of the pieces he had hidden to the television set and figured out how to put it back together. When the television set turned on that first time there was a Billy Graham crusade on and they all sat in the living room and watched. She said she watched my grandfather sing and lead the biggest choir she’d ever seen. One day it was nearing dinner time and my grandfather came on and introduced a woman named Ethel Waters, an African American woman, which back then was controversial to have onstage leading a song.

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Ethel and my grandfather sang “His eye is on the sparrow,” and it was the first time this woman had ever heard the song. That night her father came home and found them trying to take apart the television before he got inside. He grabbed her mother and she screamed for the kids to run. The woman and her siblings ran out to the nearest field and hid. She said they could hear her mother screaming and together her and her siblings quietly sang “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.” She said they just sang that line over and over again and she kept saying to her siblings, “God cares about the sparrows and he cares about us, He’s watching over us, it’s like they sang on the television.” She said she never forgot my grandfather after that.

It was unfortunately a long time before her mother eventually left her father and the foster care system got involved, but she said every time trouble happened they just sang to themselves “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.”

She hugged me with tears in her eyes and said “I know you’ve had your own issues with your family and I validate that, I’m sorry there were times they weren’t there for you, but please know it wasn’t for nothing. We had to have faith for a long time before anything happened, but I truly believe we were given hope through that song we heard your grandfather sing.” I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story, that I needed to hear it. I was grateful to have a glimpse from the other side, from someone who wasn’t related or personally affected by his absence.

“I know you may not want to hear this,” she continued, “but in the best way possible, I see a lot of him in you… you draw people in, you hold their attention, and that’s what he did, he was gifted… and so are you.”

 

 

For the first time in a long time I felt proud. My grandfather had recently passed away at this point and I didn’t get a chance to communicate that to him, but in my own heart and mind I made peace with him and the beautiful mess that is my family. It’s not that everything got all better, but I wasn’t so affected by the way things were or allowing resentment to dictate how I lived my life or responded to people.

At the end of the day, for as great of men as Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows may have been, I think they would be the first to say they were just human… men who no matter how hard they try, still fall short… we all do. No exceptions.

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I say this not to minimize their impact, but to address some of the negative comments I’ve heard swirling around the death of Billy Graham; some of them vile and hateful from strangers with opposing views, some of them with a more subtle sting from friends who have their own similar issues with their families they have yet to come to peace with.

I totally understand given the faith aspect and Billy’s sold out devotion to God and the Bible being ultimate truth, a lot of people not only disagreed with him but didn’t like him. We live in a day and age where it’s almost forbidden to have an opposing opinion, especially as a Christian, a word that doesn’t have the best reputation and I get why. I personally am sold out to Jesus, truly believing the way Jesus loved people is the way we were meant to love, but even in that I have a hard time associating as a Christian because of the awful things Christians have said and done in the name of Jesus. I think even Jesus is heartbroken over it.

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(a little humor always helps)

I don’t have all the answers, I just know that people are people. People are people… broken and beautiful, messed up and put together, dust and divine breath. We’re all made up of both, yet we’re so quick to point out the dust in others and divine breath in ourselves that we completely miss each other. I think it’s okay for there to be differences among us, we don’t have to make sure everyone gets along and feels good all the time, but we can still communicate our differences in a loving way, valuing the person even if we disagree with their choices.

Some of the comments were so horrible I didn’t think they were real because saying them to any human, especially in regards to their death, seems inhumane to say the least. The naysayers are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but the conditions of their hearts are being revealed and they are acting out of the very hate in their own lives. Some of them may truly believe Billy Graham was an evil man and I understand they are speaking out of their conviction (in the same but very different way Billy spoke out of his own conviction), but they are revealing their own evil by their response to him.

A person at peace with themselves, with God, with the world, a person who truly loves because it naturally pours out of them and not because they need to be loved back, that type of person doesn’t wish, hope or pray evil things upon another human being. That type of person may have a strong conviction about the life a person lives, but they still see the person as a person and value both the dust and divine breath within them.

Hate does not conquer hate.

Hateful comments toward or about a person making hateful comments doesn’t make you an activist, it reveals that you’re just as hateful and vile, only in a different way. People are standing on opposing sides of politics, religion and bathroom usage and using hate to communicate, which means no one is really hearing anyone because no one responds well to hate. On top of which, half the stuff people are arguing about isn’t even the point.

People are people. No matter how different your view, people are people, no matter how rich or poor, isolated or well known, religious or atheist, vegan or Texan… people are people.

We all started as someone’s kid, some of us had bad things happen to us, some of us not. We all have a story, a reason we act, think, function the way we do. To a degree we are a sum of our experiences but they don’t have to define us, we can choose how we respond to them and to the world. We don’t have to hate on people in the process, even if they hate us. So while I hate the things that have been said around Billy Graham’s death, I don’t hate the people who said them. I see very broken, hurt people who are responding out of their own lack of love and their blindness to it and I feel sad for them.

The crazy part to me is, it’s not like Billy Graham was known for hate speech. He may have had his own opinions on ways of living because of his faith, but he didn’t hate the people. He may have had to wrestle through some of his own understanding of God’s word and what it meant to him, but he didn’t hate the people. He was a huge force in de-segregating black and white audiences and refused to speak to any crowd that was segregated. He agreed to meet and pray with every president that would have him even if he didn’t see eye to eye with them politically, because even the President of the United States he saw as a person in need of being loved, which let’s be honest is no easy task.

If humanitarians, Christians, activists, feminists, whoever wants to say status doesn’t matter then let it not matter, don’t compartmentalize, let it not matter… from the poor to the president: love people… all people. Disagree all you want to, but show love and kindness toward the human. Dare I say it’s not so easy.

For me personally there’s something I highly value and respect about Uncle Billy that goes well beyond all the accolades; in this world where everything is about self gratification, sex and scandals, that man stayed tried and true to the woman he loved since his youth. I know they didn’t have the easiest marriage with his schedule and travel and the time and attention of five kids, but there’s not one scandal to his name regarding his marriage and devotion to his wife. He faithfully loved her not only to the end of her life, but to the end of his. She mattered too, and he knew it.

 

And while I think that is so, so beautiful, it’s also sad because of just how rare that is… faithfulness and doing well by the one you love, even when it doesn’t feel as good as the day you said “I do.” That man loved people, and not just in word, but in action. Believe me, if anyone understands that some people didn’t feel loved by him or his ministry, it is I! I get it, they didn’t do everything right, I’m speaking as someone who feels personally affected by it. But I still truly believe that this man and my grandfather were just two humans who tried the best they could with what they had, and again, no matter how great some people saw them, they would be the first to say they were still in desperate need of a Savior.

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I suppose that’s the difference between some of us who believe in a Savior and those who don’t, we are aware of the brokenness, able to see what needs to be mended. It’s not that hate is beneath me, it’s that I can see my own humanity and the vileness I am capable of, bring it before my Jesus and say “help me. I don’t want to live like this.”

I don’t want to be a person who hates the people who hate people, I would only be adding to the hateful masses.

To Lauren Duca and the humans full of hate out there… While you’ve made your dust abundantly clear, I choose to see the divine breath within you, cloudy as it may be, it’s in there. You were made to love, even if you don’t know it yet. It ain’t easy, but I love ya!

And love wins.

Super Bowl Recovery

The Super Bowl plays a significant part in my life, but perhaps not for the reasons one would think. This year’s Super Bowl played an even greater role due to it being on February 5th, which marks 10 years of me being in recovery and embracing the fullness of all life has to offer.

May we all look for hope in the little things, seek help when we need it, work hard, and know when it’s time to just sit back and enjoy the game that is life.

 

 

happy new year!

While this video is wishing you a Merry Christmas (why not wish merriment year round!?), it wraps up a bit of my year last year and what I’m learning about life and how to love well. I hope this year breathes refreshment and revitalization back into our weary souls.

If you’re looking for a fresh start and don’t know where to start, start with gutting, deep cleaning and rearranging your room. I’m finding that cleaning out the junk and getting a fresh perspective is already helping me approach what lays ahead.

May you have a hopeful new year, with bursts of happiness and the courage to press into the pain when necessary.

a memory

A memory from October 5th, 2012.

Because sometimes I still need to remind myself that life really is good, problems included.

Today I found what I perceive to be the world’s largest sunflower. I wanted to tell a cool story about how I stumbled upon it, but all that really happened was that I walked down the sidewalk, saw this sunflower and said “holy freakin’ cow, that’s...

Today I found what I perceive to be the world’s largest sunflower. I wanted to tell a cool story about how I stumbled upon it, but all that really happened was that I walked down the sidewalk, saw this sunflower and said “holy freakin’ cow, that’s the world’s largest sunflower!”

Then I took a picture. And maybe I talked into for a while, like it was a huge microphone connected to Heaven, if Heaven were an “up there” kind of place. I had to stand on my tippy toes to reach the sunflower-turned-microphone, so it seemed only appropriate that Heaven was the audience as I requested to speak with God. I felt a proverbial tap on my shoulder, looked to my side and “heard” God say, “I’m actually right here.”

“Right,” I said. “Okay, THANKS ANYWAY!” I yelled back into the sunflower.

God and I talked about my problems for a while, then about how life isn’t all about me and my problems.

“Right,” I said. “Dang it.”

“Well, what are your thoughts on Harry Potter?” I asked. “Don’t burn books,” God said. “Awesome,” I said, “I’m on book four.”

I think God laughed.

All of that to say, this huge freakin’ sunflower reminded me of just how small I am, and that in the grand scheme of things I assume to be hard, life really is good…

and so is God.