Trust like Ivy, love like Lucius.

In my final free week before fall classes start, I’m spending a lot of time doing what rejuvenates me. Sitting in silence. Playing with my dog. Watching my favorite movies.

Last night, I watched the Village.

I won’t spoil too much of the film for those who haven’t seen it, but here’s some context: the woods that surround the village in the film are forbidden. The village’s elders always warn about about “those we do not speak of,” the enemies who’ll invade with a vengeance if a villager visits the woods.

But somebody does it anyway. So “those we do not speak of” are spotted and it sends the village into a frenzy of slamming shut shutters, locking doors and hiding in basements. Almost everybody freaks out.

Then, there’s Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), a blind girl who stands at her open front door while everyone else runs for cover. Her sister implores her to shut the door, to save herself.

There is also Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), who — while his entire community hides from what might happen — takes risks with selfless, reckless abandon.

I wonder what the world would look like if we trusted God with trust like Ivy’s and loved each other like Lucius loves:

Vehicle overturned.

I squinted at the screen and punched away at my keyboard. School lunch menus. Somebody’s got to type ’em.

The police scanner on my editor’s desk crackled. I kept typing. Crispy chicken salad or tuna plate. Choice of veggie sticks, fresh seasonal fruit —

Vehicle overturned.

Vehicle overturned? I stopped typing and started listening to the scanner.

Two ejected. Block the road. Re-route traffic. Send the helicopter.

Of course. Something big always happens while I’m alone in the newsroom.

I interrupted an editor’s lunch with a head’s up phone call. I pulled up the Florida Highway Patrol Web site to find the intersection. The TV news reporter who shares our office called from the road.

“This is massive,” she said. “The worst single accident I’ve seen in my career.”

I made a second call to the editor. She called a photographer who called me for directions. A reporter met him at the scene.

The rest is history.

Another tragedy. Add it to the list.

The two Tampa police officers shot to death during a traffic stop.
The toddler killed in the care of his father.
The church destroyed in a fire.
The man who died when he drove his truck into a pond (the six kids and quadriplegic wife he left behind).
Yesterday’s fatal accident.

While we — humans — sort through them, we ask questions. It’s natural.

What happened?

How did it happen? How could it? Why?

There are other questions.

Why did God let this happen? Or, more usually, why did your God let it happen? How could a God be good who allows this?

My response is rough around the edges.

“You think this is His fault? You leave Him out of this!”

Shane Claiborne says it better in this old radio interview:

“And I can remember a comic in Philadelphia that was in the paper. There were these two guys that were asking that very question. It was — and one guy said, ‘You know, I wonder why God allows all this poverty and pain and hurting in the world?’ And his friend says, ‘Well, why don’t you ask God that?’ And the guy says, ‘Well, I guess I’m scared.’ And he says, ‘What are you scared of?’ He says, ‘I guess I’m scared that God will ask me the same question.'”

We ask why God allows sickness, but we don’t take care of ourselves.

We ask God why there’s poverty, but we avoid eye contact with the homeless guy when he stands next to our car at red lights.

We ask God why there’s murder, but we don’t love our neighbor.


In Shane Claiborne’s words, God’s “going, ‘Hey, you’re my body. You are my hands and my feet.’ And, you know, that this is something that we are entrusted with. And I think, probably, one of the most difficult things that Jesus ever did was sort of leave this idea of transforming the world or the kingdom of God coming in the hands of such a ragtag bunch of people that goof it up over and over.”

Deliver us from e-mail.

“I urge you to still every motion that is not rooted in the kingdom. Become quiet, hushed, motionless until you are finally centered. Strip away all excess baggage and nonessential trappings until you have come into the stark reality of the kingdom of God. Let go of all distractions until you are driven into the Core.” – Richard Foster, from his book Freedom of Simplicity

This weekend I traveled solo 170 miles south to a town called Cape Coral.

Road trip! A mini-vacation.

I stayed with my friend Kim and we celebrated 15 years of friendship. We watched movies, got burnt on the beach (where we also swam with sharks!) and sipped OJ and coconut rum. I didn’t bring my computer.

My friends would tell you I’m about as untethered to technology as it gets, but you don’t realize how much you use your computer until you don’t have access to it. In three days, I checked my e-mail twice from Kim’s computer, but I didn’t act on any messages I got.

I’ve always been quick to trash talk technology but e-mail is one thing I’ve long believed I couldn’t live without — literally, in that I really couldn’t do my job if it weren’t for e-mail. And not so literally, in that I can’t stand the thought of receiving a note that forever goes unanswered.

But leaving the laptop behind turned out to be a relief.

I liked not checking my e-mail.

I liked denying my self-imposed obligation to respond with rapidity.

I liked letting it go.

There is a stillness of body and mind in shifting our eyes away from all our screens. And in it, there’s also freedom.

I want more of that. And less e-mail.

Beauty and the beach.

Like a good Floridian, I kicked off Shark Week with a Saturday trip to the beach.

The hot sun and how hard it is to evenly spray yourself with no-rub sunscreen made for some awkward tanlines. I brought a couple of books, but I barely cracked them. The conversations of the other beachgoers were better.

One guy — a New York Italian — stuck his feet in the water with a cell phone stuck to his ear while retelling the story of that one time he told the one guy “why I’m gonna sue your @$$!”

A couple of women, both on the brink of divorces, discussed their marriages: one, feeling like hers might work out, hopes her husband doesn’t find out about the impromptu beer and conversation she had with a male stranger in a hotel lobby on a trip she took last month. The other, whose husband hopes she isn’t telling her friends that she’s going to Al-Anon, isn’t doing squat around the house. If her husband doesn’t quit drinking, he can forget the Betty Crocker she used to be. (Her words, not mine.)

The third conversation I heard was between two girls, no older than 12 or 13. They floated on boogie boards and discovered they wear the same sizes in pants.

Girl 1: I hate shopping with girls who wear a size zero. We should shop together!
Girl 2: I have short legs, so my pants are always crinkled at the bottom. People say things about it all the time!
Girl 1: Once, a friend of mine actually said, “I have to wear a size double zero, but sometimes I have to wear a zero. It means my hips are getting bigger!” But she is so skinny.

It reminded me of the time I lost 40 pounds in high school and one of the skinniest girls in my class seemed super impressed.

“Arleen!” she said. “Your thighs! They’re almost as skinny as mine!”


But isn’t sad that how we look plays a huge role in how we’re received. Have you ever noticed that the first thing women say when they meet up is often about appearance?

“Have you lost weight? You look great!”

“I love your hair. Did you get it cut?”

“That is such a great top! Where’d you get it?”

And it feels good to get a compliment. I give them all the time. But the tendency is indicative of a culture-wide obsession. It’s the same obsession that fuels the health news headline I heard on the local news this morning: “If you’re heading to the beach, make sure you’re toned up before you put on that bathing suit.”


It’s why before the conclusion of back to back Roseanne on a Tuesday night, it’s really easy to feel like your arms are too jiggly, your hair is too frizzy and your teeth aren’t white enough.

So we buy the products we see during the commercials and deny that we do it because advertisers have set up a problem — something often otherwise perfectly natural — and positioned their product as the solution.

And then, long story short, young beachgoers feel inadequate around skinnier girls or girls with longer legs. I know that the woman in the ad has fake lashes on, but I want the mascara anyway. Guys want skinny girls and they don’t know why.

What can we do about it?

Good question.

Hard question.

We can do our best not to buy into what we’re told about beauty. If you need some motivation, I suggest the following:

Permission to feel.

I love Intervention.

It might be sort of sketchy for a TV network to allure an audience with an hour-long docu-drama that mildy exploits people while they hit rock bottom.

It might be sort of sketchy to be that audience.

But I find the show really moving. Last night, I watched an episode about a girl named Jennifer in Arizona. In her childhood, her parents divorced. She stayed with her mom. Her little brother moved in with their dad. In her early teens, she fell in with the wrong kind of crowd. She was all about sex, drugs and alcohol by the time she got to college.

Then, she had an accident. On the way back from an alcohol binge in Mexico with friends, the vehicle rolled. She was ejected. That she lived might be a miracle.

She spent a month in the hospital. The day she got home — or shortly thereafter — she got the shock of her life when her little brother rolled up on a moped. She hadn’t seen him in awhile. They never really got along. The probably 14-year-old boy sat by his sister and hugged her. Their mother almost got the camera.

The siblings hadn’t hugged in years.

The family believed the short visit would be a breakthrough.

Things would change, they thought.

Then, they got a call.

On his way home from visiting Jennifer, a car struck and killed her brother. Two days later, Jennifer started drinking again. She hasn’t stopped since.

Her story is sad and unpleasant but not uncommon.

Bad things happen. To everyone.

We get dumped and fired and terminal illnesses. Friends abandon us. People and pets die. We’re let down and shut out and screwed over.

How does it make us feel?


It’s uncomfortable. Let’s be blunt: it frickin’ blows. Most of the time, while you live it, it is the worst thing that could happen. None of us want to feel the way the worst thing that could happen makes us feel. Jennifer certainly didn’t.

Toward the end of last night’s episode, she walked into the conference room where her family waited to start the intervention. She stopped short when she saw them, went to the bathroom and chugged a bottle of vodka. Drunk but stable enough, she sat down to hear her family.

I can’t remember who said what when it happened, but when Jennifer found it hard to keep composed, she looked straight at her father.

“Please,” she said. “Don’t make me cry.”

Jennifer didn’t want to feel bad.

None of us do.

So we shop or eat. Others of us don’t eat. Sometimes, it’s sex or drugs or alcohol. We feel bad so we do something that distracts us from that. When the distraction wears off, we still feel bad, so we distract ourselves again.

Maybe we hope if we ignore how the worst thing that could happen has made us feel, it’ll go away. But it doesn’t. We have to cry. Pray. Hug it out. Journal. See a counselor.

We need to get it off our chests and on the table. We need to acknowledge and express it so it isn’t inside us all our lives.

We need permission to feel.