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Glinda: [gesturing to Elphabas witchs broom] Youre still riding that old thing?
Elphaba: Well, we cant all come and go by bubble.
Wicked, the Musical
What word would I pick to describe my ideal life, if I could choose any word at all?
Bubbles. Because obviously if I could change my life, then Id end up happy. Or at least as an
overdone Christmas movie pitch. Would having a life of bubblesof made-fun-of-its-soperfect, privileged, untainted by trauma, happily-ever-after bliss people wantactually make me

Hair Snarls
I worked at the local rec. center for a summer, and one day a seven-year-old named Ashley was
sick. She had chills and was burning up. She was lethargic and weak, and complained of a sore
throat. I took her with me to the front desk to call the number her parents had left as their first
choice to call. I couldnt read one of the numbers, and I hesitated with the phone in my hand,
trying to decide if one of the digits was a one or a seven. Ashley recited the number for me. It
was a seven. Hey, this is McKenna, Ashleys counselor. Ashley is sick, she has a fever, chills,

and a sore throat. Im sorry, but youll have to come and get her, I said. Shes probably faking,
her dad said.
We settled in behind the desk to wait, and Ashley laid down in my lap and shivered.

Im so happy my parents are coming to get me, she said. Theyre working on adopting
me right now, in the court. My sister Stacie is actually my cousin. My real parents are my uncle
and aunt. My mom Katrina does bad things and she smokes. Thats why I have asthma, from

when I was a baby. And she lives with Howard and hes a bad man. But now my real dad is
coming to get me.
I ran my fingers through her blond hair, trying to gently straighten out the head full of
snarls, and she shivered until she fell asleep. Her dad arrived awhile later, irritated. Come on

Ashley, lets go get Stacie, too, while were at it, he said. She seems like she might have strep
throat, she says her throat hurts a lot, and shes running a fever, I said, in all of my sixteen-yearold diagnostic wisdom. She might need a doctor. She might need the antibiotics in order to get
better. Maybe, he said dismissively.
Stacie was six years old, and we were having to make her give back trinkets she stole
from the other kids. She would never admit that she took them on purpose. Ashley would do
anything for someone to play with her. She craved love like it was water.
They both came to camp every day with their hair uncombed. I was never sure if it was a
mercy because they arrived at the crack of dawn, and there had been no time, or simply because
no one had ever thought to take care of it. The dad and the mom and the grandma all worked all
day; they were paying for the court case and the adoption; they seemed to have no patience or
time. It wasnt like CPS or the courts didnt know the situation; the family was trying,
determined to carve out their own salvation. They didnt want help or interference. I wasnt sure
what to do.
I started bringing a comb to work. I worked out the snarls in their hair during free-play
every morning. Most little girls will avoid the comb or squirm, or ask you to actually do their
hair for once, or tell you how much better their mom is at combing hair. But Ashley and Stacie
came to me, and leaned back against me, and talked and sighed and smiled as though they had
never been tortured with a comb before. They never complained if a snag pulled their hair.
Having their hair combed was a privilege. And I think that scared me most of all.

Reality Bubbles
Bubbles are not just bliss, I think, anymore than an ordinary childhood is absolutely
perfect. Theres not just vivacity in the bubbles, theres repose in the breath that goes into them.
There is cleansing in their soap and sticky in their reality. Theres the rainbow-oil shine on their
curves as they float in the sunlight.
Why dont we freak out more about the mess bubbles can make? We dont, much, unless
a whole bottle gets spilled. But even then, its not a huge deal in the same way that some things
are. The expression isnt No use crying over spilled bubbles. Its Oh, well, theyre just bubbles.

Theyre soap, after all. How bad can it be? But then again, maybe thats just because parents
never let you use bubbles over the carpet. They get spilled outside. What would spilled bubbles
Maybe the secret to childhood happiness really is innocence. Maybe that is why bubbles
dont last. They pop, like innocence. They are too weak to last very long out by themselves in the
open air, even if no one pokes it with their finger. Do I really want bubbles, if they are too weak
to last? But what is life without innocence? What do we replace it with? Purity?

Innocence may die, but purity will triumph.

I found that on a scrap of paper stuck in my scriptures. It was in my handwriting, but I
dont remember where I got the idea or why I wrote it.
I hope its true.

In America at least, and in my churchs culture in particular, there is this driving idea that
happiness is a choice. And thats great, but people act as though a person can be happy in any
circumstances, immediately. All you have to do is call on Jesus, and you will find peace, they
seem to say. Just turn to the light, and, poof, it will be all right.

I finally wrote my parents a letter, telling them how Id been molested by our neighbor as a child.
My mother said that I should have enough faith to be healed through the Atonement of Christ,
and the rest of my family backed her up. They dont even believe that I need therapy. It was
almost twenty years ago, they say. If you need anything other than Christ, then you are weak.
I tell them that Im not happy, and I havent been, and they just ask if Ive been reading my
scriptures and saying my prayers. You just need to choose to be happy, they say. Wow, I think.
Wish that just choosing and trying to be happy had occurred to me before Id spent half my life
wishing to die. But no, reading my scriptures will definitely cure the chemical imbalance in my
Y'know all that stuff you hear about looking on the bright side, staying positive, and keeping
your glass half full and how it's good for you?'s true. :) #happyheart
#ifyourenothappyyourenotworthy #countmyblessings
Facebook post of someone I actually really respect

If youre not happy, youre not worthy. I cant believe that. How can she believe that?
Has she never seen miserydepression, abuse, hopelessness, anxiety, death, or suicide? Has she
never seen what those things can do to people, despite their best attempts to be happy?

Modern Hero

Some names have been changed for the protection of the innocent.

I believe in God, and Im a Christian. I believe that Christ has saved us from sin and from death.
But I dont believe that He always saves us from mortal misery. Clearly, He doesnt. But it
seems like people cant give up the idea that if Christ is a hero, He will always save us. Meaning,
most people believe that God lets bad things happen for a purpose. But most people also believe
that if you call upon God, He will make you happy despite it all, so that you can endure it. And I
believe that, too. But I dont believe that it usually happens immediately.

I know that if you call on Jesus, He will help you to bear your pain, and it will be okay
again, said a girl from my congregation cheerily as we visited people in the surgery ward of the
hospital. And I know this because Ive had surgery, and Ive felt that peace come over me.
I cringed inside as she said this in every room. But I didnt know what her surgery had
been like, or why shed had it. Maybe it was just like it sounded. But as I looked at the bruised
face of a woman lying in her bed, I wondered how many of these people would find it
so . . . easy? How long would it take to be okay again? It wasnt like Christ was going to take
the physical recovery pain away. Well, sometimes He did. Id had the best oral surgery Ive ever
heard of in my life. I didnt need pain meds at all, and so I know it happens. But it wasnt like He
was going to remove all chance of complications or future health problems, or make it so
whatever these people were dealing with wasnt a trial. Maybe that is okay, but it doesnt seem
like it. Not all surgeries work, and sometimes they make things worse. Sometimes they make you
feel deserted by God.
I hear lots of people rant against people who quote Jesus as saying I never said it would

be easy, I only said it would be worth it. Because, yeah, thats not a quote from the Bible. But if
so many people are apparently quoting Jesus as saying I never said it would be easy, then why do
I keep hearing people suggest that we can all be happy the very second we think of God?
Wouldnt that make it easy?


My band director thought that he could make the trauma of his past be over. What Ive

always wanted more than anything else, he told me once, is a family like yours. Hed given his
parents credit for introducing him to the music that he used to console himself, hed forgiven
them and forged a new life, hed beat the odds. Hed embraced God. But he also started shaking
and hallucinating in the middle of a football game, and had to be taken away in an ambulance.
He had worked so hard for so long, hed made a family like one that hed wanted to be born into,
and hed thought that he was done. But his marriage still needed work, and life was still hard.
His sons were hit by a drunk driver, and one was sent into a coma by the alcoholism his father
had fought to protect him from.

Honestly, I feel like I should clean toilets for a living, he said.

I think he resented me, not because Id been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but
because my parents had had the knowledge and caring to not stick a spoon in my mouth at all
until I was old enough for something other than breast milk, and then they gave me the
recommended food via an appropriately cushioned baby spoon.

I talk to God a lot, he said. But I think that He must be on the beach in Bermuda or
something, because He doesnt do anything.
But your son recovered, I would think. He woke up and hell even graduate on time. He
was hit and the car flew off the road and into a brick wall, and he didnt die. Which was
physically impossible, they said. God saved him.
But maybe just being saved doesnt make things all better. Maybe having a hero isnt
enough. Maybe it doesnt make us happy.


In my church we talk about the saving power of Christ and the enabling power of Christ. We
believe not only that Christ came to save us from sin, but that His grace strengthens us and
empowers us to live our lives in a more godlike way despite our circumstances. That way we can
not only go to heaven, but we can also be ready to live there.
But I still think that my churchs culture, and maybe Christianity in general, makes Christ
into a different sort of hero than He chooses to be. Call on Christ, hell ease your burden, people
say. Well, yeah, but that doesnt mean that it will be easier all of a sudden, or it wouldnt be hard

to have faith, now would it? I think.

I am very good at whining and often not very good at keeping my mouth shut. I complain
when I feel like it. Its not that I think that complaining doesnt have limited benefits, but I have
a strong belief in catharsis. Because sometimes things arent good, and they just keep sucking.
But since I vent about things, I frequently give people the impression that Ive given up and that
Im doing nothing about my life. And, well, maybe I am just pitying myself too much. But a God
who grants increased strength proportional to how much we pray and whenever we want doesnt
match up with reality for me. It seems like more work than that.

Merriam-Webster says:

Enable. 1. To provide with the means or opportunity [training that enables people to earn
a living]. 2. To make possible, practical, or easy. 3. To cause, operate.
Empower. 1. To give official authority or legal power to. 2. Enable. 3. To promote the
self-actualization or influence of [womens movement has been inspiring and
empowering women]
Okay, so I guess that the dictionary says that one definition is not only to make
possible, but also to make easy. But I like the idea that Jesus is not only a hero, but a teacher.

That the point of apparently pointless suffering is not just to save us, but to change us. And Ive
never heard anyone say that change is usually easy or quick. We hate change. It tends to be
painful. And slow. And torturous. If were not stronger in an empowered sense after God gives
us his enabling power, then I dont see how thats any different than His saving power. If Gods
grace worked as quickly as everyone seems to tell me that it should, then wouldnt we just be a
bunch of epiphany-miracle people walking around? Could we really change that quickly and
understand what happened? If God tossed light and truth at us every time we asked, would we
appreciate it as much?
Sometimes I pray and I feel more peace and strength afterward. And I can go forward
with my life, and I really do feel like Ive just suddenly been empowered. But sometimes I say
things like Heavenly Father, I dont understand whats going on. I dont know how Im supposed

to go forward. I dont feel like I can do this anymore. Im not asking you to take this away if
thats not your will, but please help me know how to go forward and make it through the day.
And in return God says something super helpful like Go forward with faith. Good advice, but I
couldve guessed that, and I dont feel like I have that capability right now. Thats why I prayed.
And then I go through the day and its terrible, but I made it. Sure, Ive been empowered, and I
learned and became stronger. It was made possible, but it sure as heck wasnt made painless.


I was pretty shaken up when they let him out of prison. He was trying to get re-baptized

in the church. My parents asked if hed admitted what hed done, and he still hadnt. The church
said theyd need a written statement from me about what had happened, to bring against him. I
was still seventeen, though, and my mom wouldnt let them ask me. I guess it was good they
didnt tell me; it would have ruined my senior year. My roommate Carrie paused. It took me a
long time to finally write it.

Its amazing to me how youve dealt with it, I said.

She hesitated. I dont think I reacted perfectly, she said.

I dont think that anyone can really react perfectly to that. Especially when youre nine.
I couldnt see how God could love me. After about a year my parents realized that it
wasnt going away, and I went to therapy for about a year. And it was nice to have a friend to
talk to about it, I guess.
I dont understand how people can do such horrible things, I said.
I think its a lot easier than we think, she said. But I feel sorry for him now. Hes the one
thats trapped. I can be happy now.
Maybe Im just taking the opium of the people, but I think we need God. Or at least I
need God. We live in a world in which people rape children and then get released on the world,
in which we torture each other and no one steps in. I need God to prosecute so that I can forgive
and cleanse myself of self-righteousness and bitterness towards those who never repent and are
never punished for their crimes. I dont know if Id be able to let go if I thought that there
wouldnt be a tribunal later during which the testimonies of the crushed would either testify of
the oppressors redemption through Christ, or damn them. And yet I have to believe in
redemption for everyone. That abusers themselves are desperate, jaded children, confused and
trapped and worthy of redemption, who are able to hide and unable to face their own guilt
because they are not as depraved and beyond hope and humanity as we tend to think that they
would have to be to do such things.


I have to believe in an afterlife, I have to believe that there is something out there that
makes all the suffering we see worth it. Otherwise, the world is only a beautiful place drowning
in misery. Life would be like having your head shoved underwater during a bubble bath. Sure,
the bubbles are pretty, but thats a bit irrelevant.

Choice Again
I have a medical condition which leaves people who have it sick all the time. If you go on
the message boards, people are desperate for a hero. They are desperate for a cure. We will
drown each other in our desperation. Please. Give me something that will help. The answer is

Read this book, check out this website, they have lots of things you can try. Try everything and
see what works for you, adjust your lifestylethe longer you go on, the easier it will get. Choose
what you want your life to be, adjust your priorities and expectations, and then work a little bit
day by day to accept your life, to do everything you can to improve.
But we dont want to change our lives. We want to change ourselves now. Surgery, organ
removal, importing drugs not legal in this countryit is too hard to say Ill be happy eventually,

after I figure things out a bit more, after I am stronger, emotionally and physically. Its one thing
to choose to be happy once, if you have the option. Its more difficult to repeatedly choose to do
the things that will help you be happy in the long run, when in the short run they dont work.
But everyone Ive ever known has found a return to happiness eventually as long as they
kept trying. As long as they dont give up. They insist on choosing to do the things that would
make them happy eventually. For months, for years, and for life. They choose not give up, to
keep trying, to do what is necessary.
So I guess I do believe that happiness is a choice. But its not a choice you make once.


My little brothers and I blew bubbles outside the house in the rain, filling the tan brick
arch over our front door with bubbles and bubbles and bubbles. We ran barefoot through the
Texas rainstorm, jumping in the puddles and glorying in the miraculous lack of thunder and
lightning and darkness and wind. Bubbles spilled on the cement by accident, innocence and bliss
spilling out onto the pavement, shattering the oily rainbows they could have held. My brothers
danced in the spill, drawing joy from the mess, seeing how they could use it to almost fall, but
not quite. The rain came down from the clouded heavens and washed the spill away, bit by bit,
leaving the cement wet and clean.
The gutters turned to rivers and the creek overflowed. The backyard became a swamp,
and I sent my brother Gordon over by the garden so that I could film a fake weather report. The
sun would come out soon. The sky promised pure rainbows.

See that swamp over there? I said to the camera. That used to be the grass in front of the
garden. See how its up to his ankles?
The rain was changing everything.

What is it like, Gordon?

Gordon looked over at me from under the umbrella that shielded him without keeping
him completely dry. He looked around for a second, half amused, half unimpressed.

Wet, he said.