Projects

Happy Birthday, Mary Margaret!

Mary Margaret is 30 years old today!! Maggie and Jillian each wrote a little something for this special post to honor her on this special day!


From 13 to 30: A Photo Essay by Jillian

These are some of the earliest photos I have of us, from our 8th grade field trip. Left: This photo of Maggie and Mary Margaret has been in that button frame for over 15 years. Right: Maggie, MM, our friend Rebecca, and me – barefoot 😉

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Maggie, Rebecca, me, and MM wearing our orange and blue for the homecoming game! I think this was freshman or sophomore year of high school. We had so much fun hanging out in the “Big Orange Jungle,” whether our football team was state champion or not. (But they usually were.)

High school was all about passing notes. Not during class, because we usually weren’t in the same ones! But we would write a long or fancy note during class and then pass it to each other in the hall. Left: Mary Margaret was known for making pretty and uplifting notes like this one, featuring my nickname “Chilli” and several Fiddler on the Roof jokes (everyone had Fiddler on the Roof jokes in high school, amirite?). Right: I love this note from Maggie because it contains instructions for me to pass along some information to Mary Margaret later in the day. We were a three-person pony express basically.

Mary Margaret and I spent nearly every moment of our senior year together, because we both did the musical theater class and we were in rehearsals all the time. Left: Us backstage for Brigadoon. Right: Us with our friend Lauren in costume for Fiddler on the Roof. Mary Margaret had lead roles and I was choreographer for both of these – I loved getting to work with her so closely on the choreography for the songs that featured her.

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A rare Triangle photo from the set of Brigadoon!! Usually one of us is taking the picture so there aren’t actually that many of all three of us. Also Mary Margaret’s hair was AMAZING.

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The program from our final show before graduation, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Maggie as director, me as choreographer, and Mary Margaret as costume designer. This was really the beginning of something for Mary Margaret – her ideas were so inspired, and her creations were so beautiful and innovative! She and I also performed together as fairies – I choreographed a dance for her to do with me, and she made all our costumes and did my hair and makeup (and the other fairies’) for every show. For me it was a totally magical experience, working alongside Mary Margaret to bring Maggie’s vision to life on the stage. We made a pretty great team.

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Me, our friend Wendy, and Mary Margaret wearing the costumes, hair and makeup Mary Margaret did for us as fairies in Midsummer.

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Our senior drama banquet & awards ceremony. Mary Margaret and Maggie both had more awards than I can remember, but I do remember that our peers voted to give our fairy dance from Midsummer the “best dance” award!

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Top: Our graduation party invitation. I’m so thankful Mary Margaret asked me to do a combined party with her, because I never would have had enough friends to hold one just for myself.

Bottom: Our graduation ceremony program showing the title of Mary Margaret’s commencement address, “Somewhere New.” I still remember what she talked about it, because it was so totally THE BEST. The elementary school, middle school, and high school were all next door to each other on the same street. So, as we grew up, all we had to do was “look left” to see what was lying ahead of us. Once we graduated high school, we couldn’t just look left to see the next step. But we could look all around and choose a new opportunity in any direction. That was the message of Mary Margaret’s speech. And looking back – wow, what a fitting message it was for the three of us and our friendship! We’ve each looked all around and chosen our “somewhere new.” And it’s been beautiful for all of us.

We were so proud of Mary Margaret when she went to NYU and SO EXCITED to visit her over our first college spring break. She took us to see Doubt and Avenue Q, and showed us the highlights of the city. She seemed to already know the ins and outs of New York like the back of her hand, whereas Maggie and I were just really proud of ourselves for managing our first flight without an actual grown-up. I adore the bottom right picture of MM at her desk in her dorm room on Fifth Avenue.

There are other pictures of us from the college years, on discs and drives I can’t locate at the moment. We visited all each other’s schools and saw one another at home over the summer. Mary Margaret and I helped out at Maggie’s wedding – Mary Margaret even made the wedding dress herself! We all graduated, and we all moved – Mary Margaret spent a year volunteering in East Jerusalem before returning to her beloved NYC to start her theater career. But the Triangle has stayed strong always!

Mary Margaret had to be in Israel when I got married, but she came with me to my bridal shower and a dress fitting afterwards. I was glad we got to share those special moments together!

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The Triangle really only worked because Maggie and Mary Margaret were such good friends to my sister Laura as well. Laura and I were in the same grade and together all the time – it made my life so much easier that they welcomed her, and even though I wasn’t always keen on sharing, I’m so glad Laura got to enjoy their friendship too.

In our mid twenties, when Laura went on hospice care, Mary Margaret flew down to spend time with both of us (Maggie did too, with her baby), and that tells you everything you need to know about the Triangle, in my opinion.

As soon as little Naomi was big enough to travel, it was time for a long overdue Triangle Reunion in New York. Maggie and I had been dying to see for ourselves the life Mary Margaret had built up there, from visiting her adorable Brooklyn apartment to seeing her workplaces in Manhattan and meeting one of her new(er) BFFs, Val. (The Triangle always welcomes new BFFs, there’s plenty love to go around!)

Left: Mary Margaret showing me one of the stages where she worked. Right: We went to see Kinky Boots and then out for drinks. (In case you’re wondering, Kinky Boots was SO GOOD.)

Mary Margaret has always been THE BEST at presents – here are some of my favorites. Left: The super soft scarf she knitted me. Right: A Lady Gaga-style Christmas stocking for my dogs, which says “Nike & Clio, Little Monsters.” This is actually the best gift I’ve ever gotten tbh. It hangs on that mirror year round because it’s way too good to only come out at Christmas.

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I’ve mentioned on this blog before I’m not super into holidays. But I do get super excited to see my best friends every year at Christmas!! In spite of all the busyness and the family obligations, we always make a little time for one another, and it is truly a highlight of the whole year.

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A rare Triangle photo from our last Christmas together. Mary Margaret and I were meeting Maggie’s youngest for the first time.

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The 30th picture: Maggie’s program bio from Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2005. From 13 to 30, it’s been an incredible journey. I’m really in awe of how our friendship has helped carry us from adolescence into the full, adult lives we lead now. Mary Margaret, you are a one-of-a-kind friend – at every stage of life, through every change, you’ve always been someone Maggie and I are blessed to have in our lives.

It’s been fun, guys! Thanks! And I’m so excited to continue being a witness to the life of such an extraordinary person, and to continue being a part of such a unique friendship.

I love you, Mary Margaret! Happy birthday!


Because I knew you, I have been changed for good

by Maggie

One of my favorite pieces of writing is this short poem by W. S. Merwin

Separation

Your absence has gone through me.
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

This poem is fitting for you, given your affinity for sewing. My home (and memory) is peppered with things you’ve made – my wedding dress, a baby blanket for Naomi, a pink dachshund lovey for Bethany, a pair of knitted socks, a little bag with the letter “N” stitched on it that Naomi takes with her everywhere she goes, a big bag for me. My life is filled with evidence of you – from phrases I use (“the thing about it is…”), exercise I practice (Yoga), podcasts I listen to, books I’ve read (from The Adventures of T.S. Spivet to New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton), the way I begin projects by making a list, songs I love – so many things in my life are stitched with your influence in my life.

Or to put it to music, I have felt since the first time I heard this song, that you were certainly someone who had changed my life for good.

I know it’s corny, but it’s true. And I’ve always known it. You have changed my life both for the better and for good.

I am so excited and grateful for you today.

There are so many things I wanted to do to celebrate you today.

Including, but not limited to

  • Writing and illustrating a children’s book in your honor,
  • Learning the choreography for “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof and making a video with Jillian about how time passes, and how great it is that we’re passing it together
  • Creating a Star Wars themed tale about your adventures living and working in New York City,
  • A video of my kids singing “Happy Birthday, Mary Margaret.” (that one might still happen! Be prepared)
  • A list of 30 things I have in my life thanks to you

Somehow, my desire to find the perfect way to honor and celebrate you has left me here – at noon on your birthday – with none of the extravagant plans I had hoped to execute in your honor past step 2 or 3 in execution, but full of gratitude for the things you bring to my life.

Rather than listing 30 of those things, I’m going to share two that are on my heart now.

  • Making Plans. I largely credit you with teaching me how to plan. Before we were friends (and I realize that at this point in our lives we’ve been friends for more than half of our lives, so I don’t have much life to compare this to), I did not realize that I could make a plan to get something I wanted in my life, take action on it, and make it happen. Maybe that is a developmental milestone that would have happened anyway, but I kind of doubt it. You made doing homework, making scrapbooks, learning music, and basically everything else – fun. Thanks to you, I realized how much I enjoyed the feeling of being prepared to do my best. I don’t think I would have stumbled upon that knowledge without you.
  • Honoring your truth. You are one of the people in the world in the blessed and cursed position of being able to do literally anything with your life. But, one of the things I’ve noticed is that when we can do anything, we are often afraid to do just what we want. If I could be a doctor, shouldn’t I be? If I could be a famous singer or actor, shouldn’t I be? What will people say if I follow that voice inside of me and do what I want to do? Is that okay? Is that good enough? But you had the courage to be honest about that when you went to college, when you moved to New York, when you decided to work in theater work full time rather than doing it “on the side.” I’m sure it’s not always been easy, but your commitment to your passion has helped me have the courage to follow my own path.

I love you, and I wish you a wonderful, happy, joyous birthday. I hope that you continue to be a presence in my life – even though we’re separated by 1,077 miles. And I hope you continue to make plans, follow your path with courage, and always know that I will be here cheering you on wherever I am!

Projects

“I’ve had the time of my life…”

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. It’s prom season, and we’ve been seeing fresh-faced teens in formal wear at all our favorite mid-range restaurants all month. Today we’re sharing our reflections on that magical(?) night: the prom.


Mary Margaret

Unhappiness is the gap between our expectations and our reality.

How odd that I don’t remember where I first heard this concept, because it’s become one of my mantras. It’s something I remind myself of again and again. I offer it up as advice to friends, family, acquaintances. Did I hear it in yoga class? From someone at church? No telling. But I continually revisit it, not simply as a pain avoidance practice, fleeing unhappiness. I actually want to remember it so I can be better to other people.

I attended Junior prom at age 17, wearing a lime green sheath dress, shimmering like mermaid’s scales—the dress from my sister Emily’s Senior Prom. A hand-me-down by choice, since I delighted in almost anything that allowed me to follow in my sister’s footsteps. At the end of the night, I received my first kiss while Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” played in the background. My corsage dissolved in a rainstorm as we dashed to our ride, but basking in the previous moment, I didn’t care. The night felt…shiny? Undoubtedly a tough act to follow.

My Senior Prom I attended with the same boy, my boyfriend of over a year by then, who I am unembarrassed to say that I loved. This time I wore Dorothy’s deep midnight blue, rhinestone-flecked prom dress, just as obsessed at age 18 as I am now with garments that “have a past.” When I want to feel beautiful or denote significance on an event, I often forgo the new, favoring clothing I’ve imbued with meaning based on tradition, past-owners, and histories of wearing. Because senior prom is supposed to be meaningful somehow, right? According to…wait, who, exactly? Sub-par teen movies and young adult fiction? Anecdote? Culturally it seems like something we’ve decided is either magical or a trainwreck with no middle ground. In fiction, it’s Cinderella’s romance or Carrie’s buckets of blood, choreographed dance numbers or fiery teen car crashes, but for something so dramatically inflated, I find people’s real-life recollections more along the lines of, “meh,” “don’t remember,” “didn’t go” or some tale designed for a laugh at the expense of one’s awkward teenage self.

When I look back at my Senior prom, I feel ashamed. No, I didn’t drink, do drugs, get my cherry popped by a loser, get pregnant; I treated someone unfairly and unkindly.

You see, on the way to the venue in downtown Atlanta, my boyfriend and I got lost. We ended up in a completely unfamiliar part of town, at night, feeling unsafe, with a woman walking by that could only have been a member of the world’s oldest profession. I got upset; I mean, how could he have allowed this on what should have been such a memorable, meaningful evening?

I don’t remember my exact words, but I remember punishing him—becoming ice. Upon finally arriving at prom, my arms tightly folded, I lasted fifteen minutes, zero dancing, before insisting on leaving. The evening was already ruined, right? Once home, I slammed the car door shut behind me. I wonder, did we both cry on our own afterwards?

This wasn’t our dramatic end, by any means; we dated another year. It was a blip, a spat, but one I regret, wishing I could swap out me now with me then. I’d like to think now I’d find humor in the situation, attempt to make it memorable in its dysfunction—a great story to tell later! I’d like to think that I understand more how attachment to unrealistic expectations is a slippery slope to disappointment and unhappiness. Seduced by fiction, I didn’t expect perfection, but I expected prom to be important somehow in its singularity. I opted for the idea that I needed to HAVE AN EXPERIENCE, rather than simply having an experience with someone I loved.

There’s no swap-outs, though, and I can only apologize for behaving badly and do what the subway intercom warns me: “mind the gap” – the gap between my expectations of what should happen, these brain-bound fictions and emotions, with the bewildering truth of my actual moment by moment existence.


Maggie

If I could plan the prom

According to Wikipedia (which, I know, any high school teacher worth their salt would not accept as a source), the High School Prom has been a first formal dance for young people in America for at least 100 years. In the 1950s (also according to Wikipedia) the prom became a way to enforce hetero-normative behavior by encouraging young men and women to pair off and by crowning a Prom King and Queen.

Given this mildly problematic history and the fact that (for me at least), my high school prom was both my first and last formal affair, I would like to offer a redesigned prom.

First, fix the budget.

It’s way out of control. You shouldn’t spend as much on your prom as you do on your wedding. I know it’s a special day, but it’s not that special. Let’s keep it small.

Second, the activities.

We do not have a culture of dancing, so (in my experience) when you arrive at the prom, people are either grinding like they would at a club (which, you may note, is not a formal atmosphere) or looking at each other thinking “I really don’t want to grind…why is this fun?”

At the prom, you have a captive audience of young people. Teach them how to dance! Why? Because dancing is SO fun.  And I think people want to know how to waltz, tango, cha cha, line dance, etc. (I know I do!) Just think about the popularity of songs that have the dancing instructions in the lyrics. They’re the best. The absolute best. Everyone knows what to do when YMCA, the chicken dance, or cha cha slide starts playing. Don’t you want to feel like that about all the dances?

Third – GAMES!

The new Prom should have games! Why? Because there are people who don’t like to dance and will want an escape during the slow dances. Save the money you’d normally spend on a fancy ballroom and get some arcade games, an air hockey table, corn hole, darts, laser tag, BINGO.

I believe the prom is an opportunity to change our society. Based on what I see on commercials, the best way to have fun in America is by getting wasted, which is a huge lie and leads to bad decisions, drunk driving and a culture of people who rely on alcohol to survive social situations. At the prom, you have an eager audience of young people who want to know how adults have fun – GIVE THEM EMPOWERING OPTIONS!

Last – Celebrate Everyone!

We live in a democratic society, so I think we should forget the Prom King and Queen. Prom should be for everyone. And, in my opinion, popularity contests are bad for the soul. We should let them go the way of the desktop computer and leave them in the past.

Enjoy the New Prom.


Jillian

My prom story is the kind of prom story they make movies about. I was a shy, nerdy girl, who got asked to the prom by the most popular guy in school. And it wasn’t even a trick! It was true love, and it was magical.

He didn’t bring me a corsage or anything. And we didn’t go to a fancy restaurant in a limousine – he served me leftovers on his couch. At the prom, we didn’t dance – in fact, we spent most of the time standing outside the boys’ bathroom. But at the end the night, he took me home with him and told me he loved me. I fell asleep in his arms.

I should maybe mention that at the time this happened, I was 30 years old and 6 months pregnant, and that my hot date was the most popular teacher and also my husband. (It was two weeks ago.) So, maybe it wasn’t quite the stuff of movies. But it was perfect to me.

This prom was held at the aquarium’s ballroom, with two giant windows into the tanks, giving it the most spectacular ambiance you can imagine. It looked like how the proms look on popular teen tv shows – pure fantasy – nothing like the plain, dull ballrooms of my high school days.

Our post outside the boys’ bathroom gave me the perfect vantage point to survey all the spectacular fashions as the girls and their dates paraded by. And WOW – the fashions for teenagers today make the teen fashions of the aughts look downright sad. There were almost as many different shapes, necklines, fabrics, embellishments and colors as there were girls at the dance. There were trumpet skirts, there were huge, sculpted ruffles, illusion necklines, beaded overlays, embroidered bodices, there were dramatic sweetheart necklines, plunging v’s, off-the-shoulder, there were even long-sleeved dresses. It was like I was watching the red carpet at the Oscars.

Overall, the whole event was just beautiful to behold. Inside the ballroom, groups of kids were taking their turns at the tank windows, watching giant sharks and manta rays glide past them like an absolute dreamscape. And I was just so happy for them, that they got to have this extraordinary, unforgettable experience at the prom.

But then at the end of the evening, when the lights came up, and everyone was clearing out, I started to notice a few other things. One of my husband’s students came up and told him he’d missed his chance with a girl he liked, and confessed his anxiety over his parents’ pressure to find a life partner when his life is only beginning. I overheard a girl talking about whether she should leave with a different group than the one she came with. And scattered around the room were little huddles of girls, each with a wet-faced crier in the middle, her sweaty teen heart-breaker long gone.

And I was just so happy for myself, that I didn’t have to be a teenager at this extraordinary, unforgettable prom.

Even with all that beauty and magic, it still gets better, kids. One day you’ll eat leftovers on the couch with someone, and it’ll be so much better than even this.

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Where the wild things are

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. With Mary Margaret living in NYC, Jillian living in the midst of a woodsy suburban sprawl, and Maggie living on Florida’s Space Coast, we all experience nature in very different ways.


Jillian

If you hear something and think, “Is that an owl, or a monkey?” that’s a barred owl.

If you hear something and think, “Is that an owl, or a really big dog?” that’s a great horned owl.

If you hear something and think, “Is that a dog, or a fire engine?” that’s a coyote, or several.

If you hear something that sounds like leaves blowing in the wind, but also sounds like it’s coming from inside the house… that’s a pine warbler in your sun room, again.

If you hear a faint skittering sound around your window, but you can’t see anything… that’s bees in the walls, run for your life!!

And if you hear your dogs in the backyard take off running at maximum speed, that might mean something very cute and very small is about to die. (We don’t talk about the summer of the baby bunny burrow.)

Growing up in these suburbs, I never saw them as a wonderland of wildlife. Maybe I should have – there was a nest of baby birds in the bush underneath my window every summer, after all. But I guess when you go to college and then move downtown and all in all spend about nine years encountering only cockroaches and – god forbid it – opossums, a house in the suburbs starts to feel like Little House in the Big Woods.

I’ve seen box turtles and baby box turtles and a displaced but happy gopher tortoise all comfortably hanging out in the muddy side yard after a rain. I’ve seen teeny tiny snakes the size of earthworms. I’ve barely glimpsed a blur of a hawk taking off from the deck rail. And I’ve seen a pine warbler in my sun room, twice. But mostly I hear things. And usually, drinking my tea by the window and listening to the sounds is just the right amount of nature for me.

But sometimes I go out into the yard with the dogs. I sit in the swing, breathe in the fresh air. I close my eyes and commune with all the wondrous living beings around me. I say to them in my mind, “O, you beautiful, wild things, things that crawl, and things that climb, and things that fly – you beautiful, wild things both big and small – may you stay outside my house, forever. Amen.”

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Wanted for home invasion, two counts.

Mary Margaret 

Being outside, solitude, plants, water, wildlife, fresh air: these are beautiful parts of Creation that I find life-giving and necessary for my earthly walk. I try to spend some part of every day outdoors, absorbing natural light and inhaling clean, tree-gifted oxygen.

But wait, wait, wait, did we forget where I actually live?

There are many things I love about my life in New York, but scarcity of nature is one aspect that certainly never fit me like a glove. It fits more like a pair of too-short socks that are shuffling their way down into your shoe as you walk, until they are smashed into the toe and you finally throw up your hands in concession, stop, and yank them back up again…only so they can begin once more their toe-ward migration.

This analogy is apt, because I’ve learned that I can only handle city-life for so long before literally needing to seek out greener pastures. My family always hears me talk about needing a “city break,” which almost always entails a trip somewhere less populated and more naturally wild- a lake, ocean, mountain, even the suburbs where my Mom and Dad have what I teasingly call their “backyard nature preserve.” I’d cite this as a reason I haven’t spent more time visiting easily accessible cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or D.C., because when I have the chance to escape, I’m usually longing for grass, not more pavement.

I’ve developed strategies over the years for getting my green fix. I live directly on Prospect Park in Brooklyn, so I’m by the lake in minutes. I work near Central Park, so I frequently head there. I’ve got a list of go-to spots for quick infusions of nature—Botanical Gardens, the Cloisters, Greenwood Cemetery, the Brighton Beach Boardwalk. Eventually, though, I need something more—the man cranking up his boombox next to me, tourists who don’t understand/ care about park No-Smoking policies, realizing it’s been weeks since I’ve seen any animals besides rats, pigeons, and spoiled city dogs—I reach a tipping point.

I realize I’m speaking from a place of privilege, because I’m able to get out of town. New York does a tremendous job providing and maintaining public green space citywide; I don’t want to seem ungrateful. Please don’t misunderstand me- I love what cities are able to offer, and I love my life here. But the only reason I’m able to love it, I think, is that I know when I need a change.

Some people transplant to New York and readily graft themselves into the concrete jungle vine—great. Some people are like me. Another analogy, this one inspired by my grandmother. Astonishingly, my Mamoo grew potted pineapple plants in Northeast Georgia, certainly not a place native to them. She knew when to carry those plants (or rather have my Papoo carry them) inside and outside in different seasons to maintain equilibrium. I’m one of Mamoo’s pineapples. Sometimes, I need a new environment to keep thriving.


Maggie

Every body needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir

My town calls itself the “Gateway to Nature and Space.” It’s true. I live in paradise. When I drive along US1, I can look out my window and see the beautiful Indian River Lagoon – home to manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, osprey, and more along side the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center.

The natural abundance here is protected largely thanks to NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. The space center is surrounded by two magnificent nature preserves: the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. These lands are protected (I’m going to go out on a limb here) mostly because the government doesn’t want a lot of private development near NASA’s launch pads, and it is teeming with wildlife.

Warning: Alligators are commonplace.

Alligators like to hang out in shallow water where they wait just below the surface for an unsuspecting animal to come and drink, then they pull the animal underwater where it drowns, and then they eat it. Basically the entire state is within 10-20 feet of shallow water. Last week, a man found an alligator in his garage. This is not nearly far enough away from my house to be comforting.

I’m just glad we have animal control.

And mosquitoes. There are so many mosquitoes. I don’t know if you know this, but mosquitoes swarm like bees. And they buzz. But there’s a magical plant called citronella, which repels them. I’m thinking about replacing the grass in my yard with it.

But, as long as you’re wearing sunscreen, bug spray and have lots of water – this place is paradise.

When I go to the beach, I visit Playalinda Beach at the Canveral National Seashore. It’s one of the few places in Florida where you can visit a beach that isn’t peppered with high rise hotels and permanent beach chairs. Instead, you have to be careful about sea turtle nesting areas.

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There’s places like the Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary, where you can explore the scrub, marsh and forest all in one square mile.

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The trouble with living in paradise is that paradise is pretty delicate. People come from around the world to enjoy the pristine resorts at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando (a short 45 minutes drive from my home), but those pristine golf courses and gorgeous yards come at a cost.

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Fish kill in Indian River Lagoon – March 2016

When we think about protecting the environment, we think about carbon emissions, renewable energy, and compostable straws (okay, maybe you don’t think about compostable straws, but you should). This fish kill was caused by run off from fertilizers. When people over-fertilize their lawns, golf courses, resorts, etc. the extra fertilizer runs off into Florida’s abundant water ways (remember, there’s water everywhere), and essentially fertilize the algae in the lagoon. The algae bloom like crazy and choke out all the oxygen from the water and the fish die.

Before I moved to Florida, I felt like nature was sturdy. Now I realize that we live in a delicate balance with our environment.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

-John Muir

So, as someone who lives here, I ask that when you visit, please pick up your trash when you leave the beach, skip the straw, watch out for alligators and don’t complain if the grass isn’t all green.

3:30 Thursday

These forty days

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the forty days – not counting Sundays – leading up to Easter. Christians relate to and observe this religious season in lots of different ways, and so do the three of us. So today we’re sharing what’s on our mind as the 2017 Lenten season begins. 


Mary Margaret 

We traditionally begin the season of Lent with the Gospel account of Jesus setting out into the wilderness of the Judean Desert. After forty days of fasting and solitude, He is tempted by the devil. The story comes after Jesus’ Baptism and before His public ministry- the miracles, parables, disciples…the cross. Frequently people approach Lenten discipline as some period of atonement or punishment, particularly the practice of “giving up” things we enjoy. It’s tempting to imagine we gain brownie points with God by denying ourselves actual brownies. But Jesus’ withdrawal to the wilderness doesn’t actually point to that, having no reason Himself to make recompense for personal sins. Rather this time must be seen primarily as one of preparation. Preparation before the work of His life- the miracles, parables, disciples- and cross.

As Lent approaches I keep returning to one word: wilderness. A place by definition wild. For centuries the church has invited a connection between Christ’s 40-day ordeal in this inhospitable place with our own spiritual lives, and I’ve been asking myself what might be gleaned in the where– the setting of this scene.

Wilderness paradoxically encompasses emptiness and desolation along with terrifying potential for chaos and danger. Nothingness and turmoil. To me, wilderness isn’t only a physical place but also a mental and spiritual state, particularly obvious in challenging times. This year has already left me in the desert a number of times, but what scripture suggests is that oddly, the seemingly infertile, terrifying, lonely place is precisely the location to learn and grow. Here I offer three aspects of wilderness I’m taking into my Lenten preparations this year.

*There aren’t a lot of people in the wilderness. Ie. not so many words and competing voices. Why is it easier for Moses or Jesus to discern the Word of God in wilderness? Less competition. I want to scale back the wordiness in my life, being mindful of how many voices I engage with in social media, podcasts, news, and even conversation. This Lent, I want to find what I hear in the quiet.

* Wilderness is not a place you have control over—which is scary—but you have to be there anyway. But here’s another truth: you don’t have control of life outside the wilderness either. I think fearful, uncertain moments must serve to deepen our understanding of our ultimate lack of control. I’m not suggesting helplessness, but that we are not other people, the universe, or our Creator, and when we try to assume control of these things, we are more often left frustrated and debilitated.

*Sometimes you get lost in the wilderness. (There isn’t an abundance of signage). I once heard a yoga teacher quote this Turkish proverb: No matter how far down the wrong road you have traveled, turn back. I want to approach this Lent with openness in finding where I may be traveling in the wrong direction- in thinking, or actions—and stopping to turn back. No matter how much time or energy you have invested in moving through the wilderness, if the path is wrong, it’s time to turn around. After all, that’s literally what the word repentance means: a turning. Sometimes it’s simply time to turn around.


Jillian – with trigger warning for eating disorders, mental illness and foul language

I am NOT a Baptist. But I’m kind of a Baptist. And the Baptist take on Lent that I grew up with was that some other Christians fast or “give up” certain things they enjoy as, well, basically as a piss-poor homage to Christ’s suffering. (But Baptists don’t say “piss.”) To a Baptist, the idea that giving up sugar could represent Christ’s suffering is like the idea that a little sprinkle of water on a baby’s head can represent Christ’s baptism. In short, it’s bullshit. (But Baptists don’t say “shit.”)

Baptists are an all-or-nothing kind of bunch, God love ’em. But they’re pretty bad at understanding other denominations’ faith practices. For years I’ve turned down Mary Margaret and Maggie’s invitations to join in their Lenten devotionals, but now I’m attending a church that does observe Lent, so I finally just asked my minister to explain to me what the deal was.

As I was asking her, I was telling myself I could talk about this without talking about my eating disorder. But – I blame the pharmaceuticals – I was forgetting just how neurotic I really am.

My minister talked about how Lent could be about distilling your life down closer to the essentials and focusing more on what you truly need. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that “distillation” is my addiction, that when I start slicing off bits of my life, I can’t stop until I’ve pared down to nothing and I still can’t stop even then.

She talked about how Lent could be about remembering our mortality as we prepare to observe Christ’s death on Good Friday. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I obsess about death like a child about an absent parent: When will she show up again? Will she have a kind word for me? Will she help me understand who I am and where I came from?

She talked about how for some people, fasting for Lent could be a way of remembering the physical sensation of need, which can help you remember your reliance on God. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I’ve fasted and fasted until I stopped feeling hungry, forgot how to feel hungry. Until I stopped craving food and started craving only emptiness. That after nearly four years of re-learning how to eat, every time I feel hungry, I crave the emptiness all over again.

She talked about how we tend to keep our faith cerebral, and that at Lent we should recognize the importance of Christ’s body, and the need to bring the spiritual together with the physical. She talked about how Lent could be a time for finding your own ways to experience your faith in your body. I said, “Okay, I think I can get behind that.”

And I caved, and I told her about the years I spent pushing myself toward death and the years I’ve spent trying to make peace with life, trying to undo the dichotomies that keep my mind at war with my body and my spirit at war with the world. I told her about how, while everyone else seems content to honor life in death, I’d been trying for so long to honor death in life.

She said, “You know more about Lent than you think.”

I thought, “The hell I do.” But Baptists don’t say “hell.”


Maggie

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I made what has turned out to be a pretty significant decision in my life. I gave up soda for lent. I used to drink sprite, coca cola and other soft drinks all the time, but after I stopped drinking soda for lent that year, I never started again. That was before the childhood obesity was a thing, before high fructose corn syrup was the enemy of health and before anyone ever said anything about a kid drinking soda.

Did my 9 year old self really think that my sprite habit was keeping me from being closer to God? No, probably not. But the practice of observing lent, even though I didn’t understand that we were supposed to be honoring the 40 days that Christ spent fasting in the desert – helped me appreciate that there are things in our life that we think are important, but can be let go.

One of the things I love the most about the liturgical calendar of the church is that you get to revisit a practice like lent year after year. The scriptures, the practice, the idea has been the basically the same for thousands of years, but as I have changed, my experience of the practice has changed.

Back to this practice of “giving up” for lent. When I was thinking about this post I was reminded of a year when my mother gently suggested that my sisters and I give up fighting for lent. Another time, I “selflessly” vowed to “give up” five pounds (you know…because they were holding me back from a relationship with my creator). Many times these things have been more wishes or second chance New Years Resolutions.

I think I’d really prefer it if God wanted me to give up something I don’t really like anyway: taxes, cable news, my landline phone. But that is not how it works. It makes me appreciate the story of the rich young ruler from the Gospel. In the story, a wealthy young man tells Jesus how he has followed the commandments all his life and asks what more he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him that all he has to do is sell all he owns and follow him. The ruler then goes away feeling very sad because he had great wealth. I wanted you to tell me I had done enough. I was hoping you wanted me to adopt a puppy!

Christ doesn’t ask us to give up what is easy. Because it’s not the easy things that are keeping us from a closer relationship with our creator. He asks us to give up that which we identify as ourselves because those things we use to identify as ourselves: our job, our money, our cultivated image – are an illusion hiding the spiritual beings that God created us to be. But I’ve worked so hard to raise my family, earn my living, make my home. These things aren’t off limits for God. He doesn’t ask us for easy things. He chooses Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. He asks Jesus to give up his life. God doesn’t want our leftovers, he wants the things that we think are essential to ourselves, so we can appreciate that only he is essential.

This is not stuff for the faint hearted. This is why Christianity is radical. This is why letting go is an act of faith.

I try to appreciate that while God may want everything, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Maybe today I only have faith enough to give up chocolate or Facebook for the next 40 days. But, that little act of faith in God’s providence – that faith that God could fill the space in my life that is now occupied by politics, twitter, or re-runs of the Office – is still faith. Faith isn’t always about feeling faithful. It’s about being faithful and letting go.

Projects

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging to bring you this important message.

MAGGIE IS 30 YEARS OLD TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This calls for a special celebration, so we’re delaying our usual 3:30 Thursday post until tomorrow. Today we’ve prepared a special video to honor Maggie’s weird and wonderful 30-year legacy so far.


With the three of us scattered among three cities across the country, it’s not often that we can all three be together. But whenever two of us can get together, we’ll make a special video for the 3:30 Project. We’ll call them Two Out of Three.