Several years ago I attended a weekend Pine Cove camp with good friends. While there, it came out that I did not own a personal Bible. Days after we left the camp they presented me with an engraved study Bible. Inside, each friend had written a personal note and highlighted their favorite verse.
Now when I stumble upon the highlighted verses, I am reminded how important community is and how often I fight against it. My pride tells me that shouldering it alone means I am strong. And that is when things tend to go very poorly for me, because it is not about strong versus weak. God created us to be in community with one another.
A spiritual community, when authentic, provides a place to share joy, hold space, and carry each other’s burdens. It is where we can quietly learn or stand up and teach. It is a safe spot for imperfect people to mess up, regroup, and try again. It should be full of messy, unconditional love.
This Bible and every other Bible serves as a powerful reminder that we can experience God’s grace and message through others and that through community we have the opportunity to experience a bit of Kingdom living right here on earth.
Last week my plan to make tacos was thwarted when our pantry revealed that we existed in a house without tortillas, like a bunch of wild animals. And I thought, “You know, I always hear making tortillas is easy, healthier and better tasting.” When I found Masa mix in the cupboard my fate was sealed. I would make my own tortillas. A decision that would elicit one of the most magnificent beat downs of my entire life.
I have a difficult time baking with a floury substance of any kind, which pretty much rules out…all baking. I follow every direction (that holds my attention) and the result can best described as “flour bread”. It is not delicious. The good news is that flour is not nutritionally sound, so my inability to cook with it is admirable and makes me a bit of an accidental health nut. I maintain my healthy low-flour lifestyle by purchasing our many bread items and only eating my friend’s tasty homemade stuff. But I do role model health to others by not cooking with flour. They’ll get it.
I mixed the masa, water and salt as instructed and of course it was too dry. So I added water. They suggested adding a teaspoon, but let’s be real. When you are thirsty does a teaspoon of water quench it? No. So why are we putting that expectation on dough? I gave it a blast from the faucet and moved on.
It was encouraging to see the tortilla instructions involved a simple five step process. Five steps = using one hand’s worth of fingers to keep track.
Although. This could explain a lot. A rather unfortunate door mishap took place when I was ten years old, leaving me to do life with 9 and ¾ fingers. Is it entirely possible that the compromised ring finger on my left hand cost me my tortillas? Yes. But, to quote every brilliant preschool teacher, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Can I play most instruments? No. But I can count to 9 and ¾ on my fingers, and that is something.
Divide the dough into 16-18 balls.
This kind of thing sends me straight into a tailspin. How can I be certain I am creating the kind of balls that will lead me to my 16-18 dough ball goal? What if I have to combine balls, or worse, separate some balls because I only made 10-12 balls? WHAT THEN? Do I go back and adjust all of them, or do I just change the last 6-8 balls? It’s too much for one person! Also: Balls.
Cover with a damp cloth to keep them soft.
This whole thing may have gone to crap, but I nailed this step. Nothing more to say. My balls were all tucked in, happily resting under a damp paper towel. Using a tortilla press, place a ball between two sheets of plastic and clamp to form a tortilla 5 to 6 inches in diameter.
Who brings diameters into an already intense and dicey situation!? Rude. Now my geometry PTSD was all a flurry. I was suddenly flashing back to my 10th grade Geometry parent/teacher conference as relayed to me by my mother.
Mom:What is Amanda’s current grade in Geometry? She seems stressed.
Mr. Imming:Um. I don’t know what to say about Amanda’s grade. All she does is take notes in class. She’s listening. No one tries harder. But, you both need to prepare yourselves because… it’s not good.
Now we know that my math skills were just skewed because I count on 9 ¾ fingers.
As my personal high school geometry trauma became my focus, I failed to absorb the instruction to place the ball between two sheets of plastic. If I am being honest, it is only now while typing out the directions that I did notice this tidbit of info.
This step also included “tortilla clamping”, which sounded rather cathartic after everything I had been through.
I used up a great deal of time stressing about the 16-18 balls and looking up “diameter”, so I could not afford to dawdle on clamping. I made the decision that “use a tortilla press” was just a phrase, and that it was best to smush the dough like hell with my hand. I suppose they presumed a person lacking a tortilla press would at least think to use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough. Hindsight being 20/20, I feel like that may have been the way to go.
So I smushed like hell. As I looked at my work I thought…it’s so weird this jagged mess will become a perfect circle when I cook it in the pan. Spoiler alert: It did not.
Heat griddle or skillet to medium-high heat, cook the tortillas flipping them every 20-30 seconds.
What the…they need to be flipped every 20-30 seconds?
**Stage 5 Clinger Alert**
Talk about needy! Goodnight!I had hungry children, dogs circling my ankles, a husband stuck at the O’Hare airport, and zero time for dough that wanted me to treat it like a vulnerable snowflake. So, I flipped sometimes. And truly, I think their calculations are off because the flipping seemed to be the harbinger of the devastating crumbling that ensued. I can forgive and forget, I just hope going forward they alter their directions to adopt the line “Flip sometimes, but not really if they are crumbly.”
The first two tortillas did not survive, but I just figured they were preparing the pan. I do not think “pan preparing” is an actual thing, but it brought me solace. I had eighteen tortilla dough balls, so I did not stress until 8 were completely ruined and only ten remained.
And then hard truths needed to be confronted. Even though I had created the perfect host environment for dough balls by preparing a pan, statistically these 10 were not likely to survive. Here is where I ordered pizza. But I also held on, open to receiving a tortilla miracle. I talked to myself about perseverance, bravery and how these tortillas may take my life, but they will never take my freedom. I was not giving up! Ever. So, I ruined one more and yelled, “I AM OUT!” I had pizza on the way and I was not going to obsess over clean eating at the cost of my self-esteem. They say self-esteem helps you more than clean eating. I don’t actually know if they say that, but neither do you.
My older daughter came down the stairs and found me covered in masa mix and brokenness and asked, “Mom, what is happening?” I told her, “I made homemade tortillas, so we are going to eat this pizza.” She has told that story to approximately 400 people.
I know you want a happy ending to this story. And there is one because we ate pizza.
Next time I’ll teach you how to make this meatloaf. My husband had a craving. Anything involving the word “loaf” is not okay, but the heart wants what it wants, so I made it for him.
If you enjoyed my tortilla debacle, might I suggest my Pinterest Amnesia post? Here you go….Pinterest Amnesia
Throughout all life’s chapters, Target has provided. Target equipped us with shelving systems and shower baskets for college. In our 20s it is where we created nonsensical wedding registries, believing marriage would require a horseshoe game and 17 candle holders. After the wedding Target was where we returned with gift cards and purchased the laundry baskets we truly needed. Perhaps most importantly, after we had babies Target provided a safe space to be with other adult humans while clutching our infants, our coffee, and the last bits of our sanity. And when those sweet babies pooped up their backs straight to their necks, we conveniently bought Kleenex for our postpartum tears and wipes for the baby’s butt.
Sadly, when it comes to Target I struggle with the dark underbelly of self-sabotage. Twice now, I have nearly ruined Target for myself entirely. Today I will share the first humiliating story.
One morning in my early 20s, I woke up to the phone ringing. It was Target. Target was a male using an accusatory tone with me.
Is this Amanda?
We need you to come down to Target as soon as possible.
There is a problem with the check you wrote.
Now, while it was true that I had a terrifying social worker’s salary, I did not bounce checks.
I was able to head to the store immediately because instead of changing and looking like a person that did not bounce checks, I opted to wear my pajama pants. With my stomach churning, I drove to the store, obsessing over what might have happened.
After arriving, I offered up proof that I am a trustworthy rule follower with a rock solid checking account by promptly reporting to the customer service area as instructed over the phone. The customer service employee’s face perked up at my name, revealing that everyone had been talking about me. Confident this was their error, I grew irritated. I gathered my pride and glared back at them.
Then, I felt my pride melt away when they showed me how I had signed my check.
Which looked like this:
I so enjoy that I included my middle initial. Because I don’t always rip off major retail stores, but when I do I like to be an elegant lady.
My mind reeled back to the moment I wrote the check. I recalled being heavily distracted by unabashedly judging a mother whose young children were throwing fits (several years later I had my children, who not only threw tantrums in checkout lines, they also did things like announcing the color of my underwear to cashiers). In my distraction, I signed my last name “Target.” Which Target described as being “criminal” and “uncashable.”
I looked from my check back to the satisfied eye of the Target employee and whispered, “Yes. Well. That is certainly not correct.” And then it was unanimously agreed upon that I would pay with cash before leaving the store.
You could argue the employee who accepted my check should have noticed, and that’s fine. I am the type of person who signs personal checks Amanda A. Target, so I do not get to comment on the actions of others.
My next Target debacle involves an extremely questionable accidental theft that occurred during the last year. And I can not be entirely sure about the statute of limitations, so we will just let that tale simmer a bit longer. Because you can’t live this kind of suburban mom thug life and not fear the po po.
Evie, my happy, charismatic fireball baby, moped into the house after kindergarten one day completely deflated. She walked in quietly next to Nora, who promptly launched into recounting how she prodded Evie the entire bus ride home because something was obviously wrong. Her dad and I mentally scrolled through possibilities…a fight with a friend, someone said something cruel, conflict on the bus. I was ready to throw down; not many people bring my Evelyn down.
I quickly learned the cause of her heartbreak. And it was the worst-case scenario for a mother. It was me. “Mom forgot to come to lunch with me today,” she said. And then she just melted down.
The truth is, we had talked about having lunch together the previous night. And I learned that she had excitedly taken a spot at the parent table, waiting for me. And after a few minutes went by, she described to me and G.R. how she finally stood up and decided to buy herself a hot lunch since I had not arrived. She’s six so that whole process, even her initial excitement, was more intense for her than it would have been for an older kid. During dinner that night, we did our usual routine of discussing the highs and lows of the day. Evie’s low was that though she fought it, she cried in front of everyone, and it was embarrassing.
One of the worst parts is that she was not dramatic. This was bona fide hurt. Her mom had utterly gutted her. I let down my kid. Who does that? I don’t know. I guess I sometimes do.
Ironically, I had missed lunch with Evie because I was driving all over Texas looking for everything her heart desired for the next day’s 50’s theme school day and family Sock Hop dance. We had gone out as a family the previous night, but could not find Evie’s poodle skirt. I guess it goes to show they need time and not more stuff, but I swear sometimes you just can not win.
Giving my girls consistency, stability and the capability to trust are my driving forces as a parent. And it feels all the good I do in these areas can be erased by a single act that becomes lodged in their memory. They say you have to say a certain amount of positive words to a kid to make up for one negative one. My God, how many actions do you think it will take to make up for this one? And who are ‘they’? I hate them.
Anyone that knows me well describes me as being hard on myself. If I could tattoo “Cut yourself a freaking break, fool” onto my arm and just read it all the time, it would be a big timesaver for my friends. But this time I fought my tendency to shut down and be hard on myself and instead took pause, thinking about this moment for my girls. I could not change what I did, but I could change how the memory lived in their brains and impacted their thought processes. I want my girls to be kind to themselves. I want them to cut themselves the precious slack desperately needed in motherhood and marriage. I want them to understand they are human. Lord knows, they will experience some version of this scenario with their kids someday. And I can tell you that while they make me a little batty, they are both good people. But as missteps happen to all of us, this will, unfortunately, happen to them.
So, this situation gave me a shot at modeling how to make a mistake, be upset, talk about it and both ask for and receive forgiveness. This is very difficult for me. It involves a lot of intentional effort. Even though this “talking it out and not blaming myself” business does not come naturally nor easily to me, I am hoping, for my girls’ sake, I can fake it until I make it and then it will come more quickly to them.
In the end, I did not shut down and dwell. Instead, we did away with our regular schedule and made cupcakes. Evie handled the liners, Nora handled the ingredients. They both handled spilling everything everywhere, and the dogs handled hovering around us hoping I would screw up in a different and more exciting way for them. Evie and I talked, and she perked right up, because fortunately for all of us, kids are resilient. It’s just a matter of how many times we make them tap into that resilience. And as much as I want to create a life for them where they have to tap into it a lot less than I did, I will make mistakes.
I went out of town the day after the 2017 lunch debacle and was still aching some from the event. But, Evie’s sweet dad surprised her with a milkshake and lunch in the cafeteria the next day. And Evie greeted him saying, “I had a feeling this might happen!”. And I received a picture of my girl beaming from ear to ear.
As I let myself off the hook from screwing up with my six-year-old, I am going to focus on the fact that she knew we would show up the next day.
Sometimes you just crave a memoir about a recovering alcoholic/sex addict and former lawyer who has been disbarred for felony charges and is now a registered sex offender. When that happens, Joseph Naus has your back with Straight Pepper Diet.
From his biography:
Joseph W. Naus was born in 1971. He graduated from Pepperdine Law and passed the Bar in 1997. As related in his harrowing yet hopeful memoir, Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph was raised by his mom, a heroin addict turned shut-in depressive, amidst crime and poverty. At age 32, Joseph’s American Dream life became a nightmare when his addictions to sex and alcohol collided and exploded.
A plethora of things haunt me from the time I spent working in child welfare. Topping the list are my fears regarding what present day looks like for the children that I worked with, knowing full well that cycles and systems repeat themselves. When I exited their lives, society still accepted these children as innocent victims. They were young enough for their troubled behavior issues, which stemmed from abuse and neglect, to be connected more to the adults in their lives rather than being the fault of these children.
Now, over a decade later, I am left wondering when society’s acceptance crashed to a halt. What day did my past clients “behaviors” become actions with consequences for which they were held personally accountable? It pains me to know that those kids likely became adults with significant issues with no one aware that they were once a vulnerable kid repeatedly moved from one foster home to the next. Way too often, these kids had the sum of their life’s possessions packed into a garbage bag. Each child had a story, some horrific. And I have a strange desire to have those stories be known. The frustrating and complicated truth is that actions, even when heinous and unforgivable, are often more comprehensible after knowing someone’s story. It makes the whole thing more tragic.
In Straight Pepper Diet, Naus offers a perfect example of how knowing someone’s backstory can take black and white and muddle it into gray.
Naus grew up in extreme poverty and violence, raised by a mother who struggled terribly and was drawn to abusive relationships. The seeds of his alcohol and sex addiction were planted early and grew until finally overtaking everything he had ever worked towards in his adult life. As he says “On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday, I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed charged with attempted murder…and then it got worse.”
At first, I was cringing at the candid accounts of his lifestyle, thoughts and disturbing behavior. I could not fathom reading an entire book about this man. By the end I wanted people to understand him, and I respected him completely for airing every bit of his dirty laundry. He painted a picture of the daily inner conflict and mental torture people afflicted with addiction face. Rock bottom is different for everyone but necessary for all. It was interesting to see how his intelligence, adaptability and drive allowed him to weather the first part of his life, while he survived the second part solely because he finally faced the parts of him created during the first.
Naus lays it bare in this memoir, hiding nothing. Straight Pepper Diet, a term used on page 69 in the Big Book of Alcoholics by Bill Wilson, is dark, funny, and many times straight up revolting. It is about humility and redemption. And as you read about Naus sorting out his demons, you will contemplate your own. And we all have them.
Audio book lovers be warned, this is not a book you can play whilst rolling in your swagger wagons.
When I like a book, I tend to Google podcasts about the author like a good little nerd. Here are some great ones about Naus’s story: