Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Dressed Up

I thought I saw someone out there.
My dog growled long and low and I squinted my eyes to look closer. There was someone standing out there in the dark. Looking down from the window of my second story bedroom, I could see a shimmer on the pathway.
The pathway behind my house was completely dark, except for the light generated by the moon that sat high and large overhead. This pathway--the "paseo" as the locals called it--ran along the dry riverbed from one end of my town-home complex to the other. During the day, it was busy with bikes and power-walkers and the occasional skateboarder. At night, the rabbits and coyotes took it over. The milky shadow out there right now looked like a woman but I couldn't be sure. Whatever this was was standing stiff and straight as a statue. I kept staring. The shimmer turned and now I could see a profile. This was a woman. A long white dress trailed behind her as she took a few slow steps down the pathway. Where was she going? And dressed like that? As if she heard me, she stopped, turned and headed back the other way. Was she lost? I considered going downstairs to my backyard and yelling, "Is something wrong?" but I thought better of it. She could be high. Drunk. Crazy. All of the above. And I couldn't be sure she was alone.

My dog growled loudly and barked once.The woman wheeled around and looked up. I gasped and stepped sideways behind my curtains and out of view. I let a few seconds pass and then slowly peeked out again. She was gone.

What was that all about? I pressed my face against the screen to see if she had walked out of view. After a few minutes, I shrugged and turned out the light and crawled into bed. My dog jumped up after me and curled into a ball at the foot of the bed. I could see the moon out my window--large and bright--almost bright enough to read by, but I wasn't interested in reading. I wanted to clear my head and settle my nerves so I could fall asleep. I tried breathing deeply while laying flat on my back.
Then I heard a knock.
I craned my ear.
Knock. Knock. KNOCK.
Someone was at my front door? At this hour?
My dog barked and jumped up. I slid out from under the covers, grabbed the baseball bat by the side of my bed and went downstairs. New neighbors had just moved in next door last weekend. Maybe they needed something? But at this hour? I made it to the door and looked through the eye hole.
It was her!
I drew my head back and took a deep breath. My dog barked and pushed against me in anticipation of the door opening.My heart sped up. I shifted the baseball bat to my right hand. I peeked back through the eye hole.
"Can I help you?" I said through the closed door.
"Let me in!"  Her voice was weak and gravelly, like a smoker's.
"What?" I asked. I had heard what she said, but didn't know what else to say.
"Let me in!"

I jerked away from the eye-hole and scurried to the window next to the front door, pulled the curtains back slightly and peeked out. She was leaning her forehead against my door.  I watched as she pushed herself back from the door, lifted her head and crumpled down into a sitting position like a rag doll. Her white, lacy dress splayed out all around her. She folded her hands in her lap, turned her eyes upward, and closed them. She looked like she was praying. Or drunk. Maybe both. I swallowed hard. My dog barked nervously, jumped up and scratched my leg. I never moved my eyes off of the woman. Her skin was pale, almost translucent like a moonstone, except for the parts that were covered in dirt--elbows, palms, every part of her that was visible was earthy black, like it hadn't been washed in months. There was a red stain on her cheek. Blood? Lipstick? Marker? I couldn't tell. Her hair was a jumbled, knotted mess of brown and gray. I could tell her disheveled locks had once been weaved into a fancy braid arrangement of some sort because there were a few rope like strands still intertwined at the top of her head. A large, pink ribbon tilted from her head like a grinder monkey's cap.

"Why do you want to come in?" I asked through the window. My voice was loud and firm. She looked up sharply at the door and then to the window, catching my eye. Her mascara was smeared to her ears and her cheeks were sunken, gray pockets. She did not respond, instead she struggled to get up--veins bulged in her pale arms as she attempted to push herself up off the ground. I slammed the curtains shut and stepped back. My heart pounded. I heard moans and grunts coming from outside. What was she doing? I opened the curtain.
I lurched backward and almost fell while my dog barked wildly. Her face was pressed against the screen; her arms bobbing at her sides like she was trying to keep her balance. She smiled with half her mouth. "Let me in." She whispered.

I tried to quiet my dog and my heartbeat. Both were jumping wildly.
"Why do you want in?" I asked loudly from behind the curtain. My voice was shaking. Her face was still pressed against my screen, and now her mouth was open like she was screaming but nothing was coming out. I noticed most of her teeth were rotten or missing. Probably meth I thought. I was glad I hadn't opened the door. Her breath wafted in through the window and I took a step back. Up until then, I thought my dog had cornered the market on bad breath.

"Let me in!" Her hoarse voice trailed off to a cough.
I heard my dog barking only this time I realized she wasn't next to me; she was back upstairs. Her bark got louder and more intense like she had someone or something cornered. I ran up the stairs and to my bedroom. My dog was looking out the window barking in a fever pitch. I ran over to her and looked down into the darkness.
The woman was walking along the pathway again in that slow, liquid way, almost as though she were floating, her white dress trailing out behind her just like before. I felt a chill crawl up and wrap itself around my neck. How was this possible? Were there two? The woman continued to walk, then she stopped and turned to look out into the riverbed. The white beads of her dress reflected the moon light like small disco balls. My dog let out a deep growl and then went silent. I breathed deeply.

You're seeing things. No one is there. Stop being silly. 

My cell phone was downstairs in the kitchen. I had to get it. I ran to the stairs and rushed down. When I got to the bottom step, I could hear whistling coming from outside.
I ran to the front door and looked out.
The woman was sitting cross-legged on my porch again, bu this time her white dress was tucked under her. She had un-braided all of her hair, taken out of all the ribbons and bobby pins, and let it hang down her back and sides like dingy brown-gray twisted ropes. She was whistling loudly. The tune sounded very familiar, but I couldn't place it.
"Go away!" I yelled.
She appeared not to hear me and kept whistling.
"Go away NOW!" I yelled again.
She kept whistling and ran her fingers through her hair. She took one long disheveled strand and held it up toward my porch light. She twisted it and appeared to be fascinated by its length.
"Did you hear me?" I screamed. "Go now or I'm gonna call 911!"
She dropped her hair.
I watched one soot-colored bare foot come out from under her dress and then another. Her toes were black like olives and a few appeared to be missing nails. She stood up slowly, swayed a little bit, and then brushed herself off. She leaned on the wall near the doorbell. Her eyes were shut and her knees buckled a little bit.
Great. She is probably coming down from her high. Perfect! I'll have a meth head crashed out on my porch in a second. That'll make a nice welcome gift for the neighbors.
She staggered to the window next to the door. Her eyes were pleading and soft, but they seemed to grow darker as she stared at me. Her mouth dropped open. I stepped back and raised my voice.
"I told you! Go away! I'm not kidding about calling 911!" My voice was lower than usual, but hoarse.
I ran to get my cell phone. I held it up in the window so she could see it. She leaned and swayed, but didn't look. I took a deep breath and tried to take the emotion out of my voice and sound serious. Ominous. "You have one minute to get out of here or I am going to call the police."
She didn't move. She kept leaning against the wall, balancing herself with her head.
I dialed.
"Hello, 911 what is your emergency?" The operator sounded busy.
"Yeah, uh, I have someone at my front door who won't leave."
"Have you asked this person to leave, ma'am?"
"Yes. Many times. She is just sitting there and won't listen to me. I have told her to leave and she won't. She keeps asking to come in."
"Do you know this person?"
"No, no, I do not. She wants to come in, but I won't let her. Can you please just send the police?"
"Ma'am, can you confirm your address?"
"23908 Elfman Drive."
"Is that in River Village?"
"Wow." There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"We've gotten a lot of calls from your neighborhood tonight."
"Does this person at your door happen to be a skinny woman in a wedding dress?"
I swallowed hard. "Uh, yeah, that's right."
"Well, then, ma'am it's fine. Just let her in."
I switched the phone to my other ear. Was I hearing correctly?
"What do you mean just let her in? I want her to leave! Did you hear me? Something is not right with her. I need the police!" I looked out the window. The woman was re-braiding two big chunks of her hair. Her head bobbed up and down like at any moment it would snap off and roll away.
"Ma'am, there is no need..."
"What do you mean there is no need? She's trespassing! She's harassing me!  For all I know she is high on something or drunk!"
"Ma'am, she's been trying to find your party. Just let her in and she'll be fine. She's harmless."
"What party? I'm not having a party! What are you talking about?" My voice was getting louder and starting to break.
The operator continued, "It's your turn to the throw the party tonight, is it not?" Her voice sounded serious.
I opened my mouth to answer but she continued: "You know the party where you leave your body and soul at the door?" With that, she laughed loudly--a hearty, throw your head-back laugh. It was so loud I pulled the phone away from my ear. That's when I heard the whistling. It was coming from the woman outside. The same song as before.
All dressed up with no where to go...
My mouth went dry. I dropped the phone.
This time I knew the song.

-Hope Horner, 2014
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Please Judge Me

Did you read that sign above?
I did.
And I don't agree. It sounds nice and got a lot of "likes" on Facebook, but think about it.
Should you only accept the judgments of those who have walked in your shoes?
Only listen to people who have been through exactly what you have?
Ignore the input of anyone who hasn't suffered the same pain as you?
Is that even possible when we are all unique? Is it wise?
I don't think so.
I think we are so afraid of being "judged" and being "judgmental" that we have lost our ability to admit that sometimes, we need someone else to tell us: "Don't do that!" or "Stop acting like a fool!" or "You're wrong" or there may be times we need to say those words to someone else.
Let me get personal for a minute. Recently, someone I know who loves me talked some sense into me. She judged me and I am glad she did. She looked at what I was doing, questioned my thinking, and said "STOP IT." This required her to "judge" my actions, intentions, and decisions. She did not stand back, reserve judgment and say 'YOU GO GIRL' as I walked right into a potential problem.
Thank God she judged me and spoke up.
She has not lived my life or walked my path. She has lived and walked her own.
We have not suffered the same "pain" over a lifetime and yet, I respect her opinion, accept her advice, and welcome her input because she is insightful, has pure motives, and truly cares about me.
Her advice reminded me of one of my favorite Bob Newhart comedy skits. Watch it here: (It's short and well worth your time.)

To summarize the skit, Newhart plays a psychologist. His patient is a woman with an irrational fear of being buried alive in a box. His advice?
The skit is satirical of course, but it makes a point. Sometimes we need someone to tell us to "Stop it!" We need judgment. It's one of the ways we know someone really loves us--if they see us acting in a way that could be hurtful or dangerous, they tell us to knock it off. If we are misbehaving or out of line they are the ones who say "Stop it!" I am not talking about the kind of judgment that points a finger out of fear, self-righteousness, anger or ignorance. I am talking about judgment that comes out of love and wanting the best for someone. Big difference. I think the wrong kind of judgment has made us skittish of the right kind, and that's a mistake. (Oops! There I go being judgmental.)

I'm thankful for the 'judges' in my life, even the ones who haven't walked a mile in my shoes. I have big feet, so my shoes wouldn't fit them anyway.

-Hope Horner, 2014
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Please Don't Play With The Spider

I hate spiders.
Please don't preach to me about how they are such wonderful little creatures; how the planet would be overrun with mosquitoes and flies and world terror organizations were it not for these little eco-friendly eight legged wonders.
I hate them.
I visited my brother in Seattle last week and realized just how much these little creatures give me the heeby-jeebies. Evidently, Seattle is the spider capital of the world. OK, maybe that is not exactly true, but I did see spiders EVERYWHERE. Most were small, but a few were big enough to wear saddles and give rides to small children. My brother was kind enough to walk in front of me wherever we went doing karate arm chops in the air to make sure that I didn't walk into a web. He doesn't like spiders either, but I think he was worried that if I went nose to nose with a big bad wolf spider it would ruin my trip. It totally would a really mellow-dramatic, flailing, cry-baby kind of way. Spiders bring out the terrible two year old in me in a way that is embarrassing, but involuntary.

Every morning, my brother and I drove a few miles to a trail along the Summamish river in a town called Bothel for our morning run. (Side note: Did the city founders realize that the town name is just one "r" away from being completely inappropriate?) To get to my brother's SUV, I had to walk along a slope by his house that he called "spider heaven."  I really don't think the words "spider" and "heaven" belong together, but I knew exactly what he meant. The slope happened to be on my side of the SUV (the passenger side) so he would walk me to the door swinging his arms to cut through any webs. I followed behind him giggling nervously, walking Quasimodo style. Once inside the car, I checked myself for spiders in the glow of the interior car light and started breathing again. One morning as we headed to the trail, he told me how he was driving a few days earlier, and a spider had swung down from the visor right in front of him and he had to remain calm and stay on the road even though the sucker was big enough to take the wheel with one leg and change the radio station with another. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled at the thought. If that had been me, I would have been found lying in a muddy rain ditch off the side of the road somewhere mouthing the words, "Get it off me" over and over. Who knows where they would have found the SUV.

Some of you may think I am exaggerating about the spiders of Seattle. Maybe you used to live there or are living there now and say, "What? It's not that bad!" I'm guessing you probably say the same thing about the Seattle weather, so I am going to take your words with a grain of salt. All I know is that I saw spiders everywhere. There was one hanging from my brother's deck. One downstairs in the bedroom. There was one on the back wall. I saw so many in trees and bushes, nestled next to flower pots and under benches that I felt as though I was being watched. Along the driveway leading up to my brother's house there was a big one perched in between two bricks like a beady eyed rock climber. My little niece Anna, who is four, was practicing riding her new bike when she pointed it out to me. "Look Aunt Hope! There is a spider right there!" I was already inside by the time she got to the word "Aunt." Sorry Anna. You're going to have to learn to ride your bike without training wheels on your own.

One day, I went with my brother and his family to a park near their house. It was a gorgeous park - typical Seattle - green expansive lawn, blooming pink rhododendrons hedges, pine trees looming tall, birds chirping, and of course, gray rain clouds overhead with just a bit of blue sky poking out way off in the distance (probably over Oregon somewhere). I was in the playground helping my niece climb a rock wall when a boy ran by with something cupped in his hand. He looked to be about nine years old and was very excited about his new toy. I hoped it was a frog or a butterfly, heck, even a scorpion, but nope, you guessed it--it was spider. THE KID WAS PLAYING WITH A SPIDER!! He ran to the top of the slide with the spider in his closed fist, leaned out over the edge, and opened his hand. The spider dropped out and began to lower itself toward the sand. He used his other hand to pull the web and bring the spider back up. Then he would let the spider drop again, pull it back up, over and over, like a  Yo-yo. I watched in horror from the park bench I had sprinted to at the edge of the playground. Do they not have Legos in Seattle?! Baseballs?? Tonka trucks?!? I watched as he continued playing with the spider big enough to be seen from a distance. I must have looked like I swallowed vinegar and my neck was sweaty despite the cool breeze and overcast skies. Anna was still standing with one hand on the rock wall looking at me with wide eyes. I waved. Sorry Anna.You're going to have to learn how to rock climb on your own. The boy slid down the slide with a closed fist and then ran up to a girl his age near the monkey bars. Even though I couldn't hear what they were saying, I knew how this conversation was going to go.

Little Boy: Hey Brittany! You wanna see what I have in my hand?
Me (from a distance): Don't do it Brittany! Don't do it!!
Brittany: Sure.
She takes a small step back.
Me: Brittany! NO! Trust your instincts! Run away! NOW!!!!
Boy opens hand.
As Brittany's scream trailed off into the damp afternoon air, the little boy ran off with a 'gotcha' grin to see who else he could traumatize. I noticed my brother walking across the park in my direction. I ran up to meet him and said, "Did you see that little boy playing with a spider??! A SPIDER!! He was using it like a YoYo?! Oh my gosh!" I crossed my arms and shivered.
He smiled and said, "Yeah, I saw him. He came up to me and I told him to go show his new toy to the woman dressed in all black."
I looked down. I had on black pants, black gloves and my black jacket was zipped all the way up over my maroon T-shirt. I socked my brother in the arm and laughed through my clinched, chattering teeth. We gathered up the kids and walked to the car. To get everyone to the park, we had to take two separate cars, so he couldn't karate chop my route to the car. I had to do it myself. I swung my arms in front me, hoping I wouldn't feel a web. I was close to my car door when I chopped through a web over my head and stopped in my tracks. Had I just cut the line of the biggest spider in the Northwest and now it was falling from the pine trees overhead to drop inside the back collar of my jacket? I was sure of it. I opened the car door and leaped inside.
God, get me back to California. I'll never complain about the ants again. I promise.

Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Slow Down!

Always on the move. 
Can't relax. 
Can't slow down. 
This is the way a friend of mine described herself.
So what DO you slow down for? I asked.
She seemed a little confused by my question, but thought about it for a minute and then responded:

The ocean...

It made me think.
What do I slow down for?
If you know me, I am a person on the move. Like my Dad, I am always "up to something" and will probably die in motion. Thankfully, he hasn't died. Not even close. He is definitely still in motion--still teaching, leading, singing, hiking, writing, reading and doing all the things he has always done, only he's in his 70's, has diabetes, a bad heart and just got out of the hospital for throwing out his back. How did he throw out his back you ask? Yeah, you guessed it--in motion. Golfing. At least he wasn't ski-jumping.

Anyway, here are a few things I slow down for:
To connect with people I like/love
To write
To read
To see the sunrise/sunset/ocean
To pray
To laugh
To pet my dog (or yours!)

Slow down because life is short.
The older I get the shorter life feels.When I was a child, life seemed stretched out before me in a endless sea of soccer games, school assignments, first dates, college classes and beyond...I'm in my forties now and I wonder where did all that time go?! Yes, life is short! But does that make me feel like rushing or slowing down?

Life is short...
WOW! I better get moving! 
There's not enough time for everything! Places to go! People to meet!
Life is short. 
WOW! I better slow down!
I need to make time for what and who is really important.

Interesting how that little life axiom can work either way.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by what, who--they slow down for. You can tell what/who they treasure, value and think is important. If someone watched what I slowed down for today what would they say? Would I be proud or ashamed? Probably a little of both. So much of what or who needs my "slow down time" gets pushed aside by the URGENT. Work has a way of being a priority whether I want it to be or not. Everything seems to be a "rush job." Last minute meetings and changes come up constantly. Then, there are the people who demand my time whether I have it to give or not. However, in the end, despite a full inbox, interruptions and back-to-back meetings, it is my responsibility to "make time" for what is truly important. I'll admit, it is difficult for me to lift my led foot off the accelerator and apply the brakes. I am fighting my genes, remember?

I have a hat that says, "Life is Good." It really is! I feel so blessed and have so many reasons to slow down. The other day, I slowed down at work to really connect with people, listen to them, and it was one of the best days I'd had in a long time. I learned that one of my co-workers has an incredible amount of heart and courage. Another was frustrated and needed support. Someone else was feeling more positive about her current situation, but cautious. A young staff member of mine was anxious about a job prospect and needed my help. One of my co-workers fished for a compliment so I gave her one. She smiled like I had just handed her gift. I had. I had given her the gift of "slowing down"--a gift that showed her she is important to me. And she is.
I need to do that more. Slow down.
I don't want to be on a what feels like a run-a-way bus barreling through life, peeling out around corners, screeching through stop signs, searching for the emergency turn-out while yelling, "No brakes! No brakes!"
Slow me down, God. Put me on the scenic tour bus--the one that slows down to stop for the important stuff like special people, breathtaking views...oh, and lunch.

Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Overheard in a Diner: "You Get What You Get And You Like It!"

I walk into the diner and plop into a booth. The smooth red vinyl makes it easy for me to slide over next to the window. I fiddle with the salt shaker for a minute and look around for my waiter. The place is crowded, as usual--plates and silverware clink and clank; a bell rings; people laugh and chatter. I get my phone out of my purse, take a selfie, then post an "I'm eating at Law's Diner!" status update on Facebook. I glance up.
Still no waiter.
I organize the sugar container. Put all the pinks, blues and whites together. Look out the window. Beautiful day. Perfect, actually. Blue sky. Sparrows pop in and out of the sycamore trees lining the street. I can't hear them, but I can tell they are chirping and singing. Their small beaks move rapidly as they hop in and out of the branches.
Suddenly, a plate is placed in front of me. Clink-clank.
It's huge and round and loaded with food. Heaps of it. Some looks Italian, some Mexican, maybe an Asian dish of some sort?...PLOP, down comes another plate. This one has a piece of pie on it. A big piece. I can't tell what kind of pie, but it looks delicious. Then my drink is placed in front of me -- some kind of purple beverage - wine? Grape soda? Kool Aid? I don't know. I look up at the waiter, wide eyed. He's holding an empty tray and handing me some silverware.
"But I didn't order yet?" I say, or rather, ask. "There must be a mistake."
He smiles.
"You get what you get and you like it!He says firmly, but with a friendly tone and a smile. "Enjoy!" he says and walks away briskly.
I look around the diner. There are a few other people eating alone. They seem to be enjoying their food. Some people are talking to each other at tables or to the person next to them at the counter while they eat. Everyone is smiling a lot. Did they order? I don't know. I hadn't paid any attention to them until now.
I look down at my food. Steam is coming off what appears to be some kind of tomato-y pasta dish that is smothered in cheese.
You get what you get and you like it? When did this happen?  I've been here before and I remember ordering. I remember ordering, receiving, eating, paying AND tipping as a matter of fact!  What is this new "You get what you get" thing? What is a plate like this is going to cost me? Probably a lot.
I pick up my fork and cut off an small piece of  what appears to be pasta. I raise it to my mouth.
Wow, this is good.
Really, REALLY good!
I poke at the Mexican entree on the other side of the plate. I take a bite.
Wow again.
Absolutely delicious. What is it? A tamale? If so, it is the best one I've ever had. And that is saying a lot. I buy home-made ones from my colleague Rosa every year at Christmas time. She and her mom spend hours working on them--stay up all night in fact, making enough tamales verdes to feed the whole office full of hungry lawyers.
Looking around, I begin to eat again. My waiter is no where to be found, so I can't ask him about the price or what's on my plate or even find out how I ended up with this order, but I don't really care at this point. The food is SO good.  Every bite is just the perfect mix of salty and sweet--warm, but not hot--tender, but not mushy. Just perfect.
I pick up my beverage. Sniff it. Smells a little fruity, but hard to tell. I take a sip. Sangria? I can't be sure. I only had Sangria once many years ago, when I was in my early twenties visiting Puerto Vallarta with my sister. I take another swig. This tastes heavenly. I can feel the back corners of my mouth vibrating in response. I swirl it around in my mouth and then swallow.
Somehow, it goes perfectly with everything on my plate. The perfect match.
I finish off my meal, swirl some more of the mystery Sangria around in my mouth and then pull the small plate with my slice of pie toward me. I pick it up and look at it from every angle. Peach? Apricot? Mango? I don't know, but the crust looks hand made. It is crumbly and uneven, instead of perfect and flat like those frozen ones. At this point, I know I will be fine with WHATEVER kind of pie this is. Everything else has been great. Problem is?
I'm full.
Very full.
I know I have no room for a piece of pie. I wished I had. I contemplate sitting in the booth for a half an hour watching the birds play and allowing room in my stomach to develop, but the restaurant now has a line out the door and I know people would give me the evil eye if I sat here too long.
So I am going to have to do the impossible.
I am going to have to find my waiter.
"Waiter! Excuse me!" I yell in a polite inside voice.
The waiter who had plopped everything off at my table was now behind the counter pouring coffee. Wait. Was it coffee?  Or was it hot chocolate? I couldn't be sure, but he heard me and trotted over.
"Yes?" He asked. He looked down briefly at the plates on my table and smiled.
"Uh, can I get this pie to go?" I pushed the plate with the pie on it closer to him.
"You're not going to eat the pie?" He asked, sounding a little bit like a mother talking to a small child--not really upset, but loving and concerned.
"No, not right now; I'm too full." I said and dropped my eyes to my empty plate. "Everything else was so good, I just couldn't stop eating. But I really want to have my pie.I just need to take it to go, so I can enjoy it later."
"Sorry, you can't take it with you."
"I can't?" I was confused. Had the diner run out of doggie bags? Styrofoam containers? Were they implementing the same policy as the buffet across the street?
"No, sorry. Everything we serve must be eaten here."
I cocked my head like the RCA dog. "But I didn't even order this pie!" I said. I tried to soften my voice so it wouldn't sound like an accusation. In other words, I tried NOT to sound like a lawyer. I pointed at my pie and forced a tight smile. "I didn't ask for it. You just gave it to me."
"And there's a problem with that?" He asked. He looked like he was trying to hold back a laugh.
"Uh, well, no, but it just seems weird that I have to eat it here. I mean don't you have to-go boxes?"
"No, we don't actually. We expect all our guests to get what they get and like it."
"And eat it here." I said.
"Yes, exactly!" He agreed. He pointed at me like I had hit in on the nose. I half expected him to sing out, "Ding! Ding! Ding!" I was glad when he didn't.
"Well, OK," I said and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "You have a bathroom?"
He nodded and pointed at a door to the right of the counter.
"Oh, good. I just want to make sure I have somewhere to go if I get sick." I patted my stomach.
"Oh, you won't get sick. Go ahead and eat it all. Really. You'll be fine. Enjoy it!"
I smiled weakly. I could still feel the last bite of Italian surprise sitting dangerously near my esophagus.
I picked up my fork as he turned and walked away quickly. He was whistling, and for a moment I thought I saw him skip.
I took a small bite of my pie.
Not surprisingly, it made my mouth water. A LOT. I grabbed my napkin and dabbed the corners of my mouth. It wasn't peach. Or apricot. Or anything I could was PIE MAGNIFICENCE.  Heavenly. Incredible. Other worldly. Like an orange meets a peach meets a Hawaiian vacation meets my mouth.
Little by little, bite by bite, I ate it. All of it. And somehow, my stomach found room for it. I didn't feel sick--at all, just very, very satisfied. My stomach felt full, but not Thanksgiving dinner full. And my head almost seemed to hum with pleasure. I felt warm and welcomed, safe and satisfied, giddy and grateful all at once. What was this confectionery creation? This perfect pie?...And this meal? This whole thing? What an unexpected, unbelievable treat! My compliments to the Chef! I wanted to curl up with a blanket and just lay there against the window, stretch my legs out along the vinyl seat, rest my hands on my full belly and smile.
But then I remembered.
The bill.
How much was this going to cost me? Sure, I had money, but still. I didn't order any of this and now they were probably going to slap me with some big bill figuring I'm some fancy lawyer who can afford it, so why not. I mean what am I going to say? I didn't order it, so you can't charge me? I ate EVERYTHING! Even my glass was completely empty! I had slurped out the last drop of purple nectar with a straw after my last bite of pie.
I waved at my waiter to come over.
"I'm ready to pay now." I said. I braced myself.
He smiled and folded his hands in front of him. Here it comes, I thought. He'll get my big check out of that little pocket in the front of his apron and slap it down on my table. I had a feeling I was going to hear: You get what you get AND YOU PAY FOR IT! 
"Oh, no need to pay for anything. The bill has already been paid." He said.
"No, actually I haven't paid yet." I said, confused. I started to reach for my purse. This whole situation was starting to feel like the Twilight Zone, only with Rachel Ray as the director.
"I know you haven't paid, but your don't owe us anything!" He said. His smile was wide and he threw his arms out as if to say: Surprise! Isn't that GREAT!
"So let me get this straight." I said, plunking my purse down in my lap. "I come in. I don't order anything, food just shows up. Food that I have not ordered. Oh, and I get some strange drink, which was very good, don't get me wrong, but I didn't order that either. I also get a piece of pie, once again, that I didn't order, which I have to eat here--I can't take it with me because that isn't allowed and even though I am really, really full, I manage to find room for it and then when I go to pay for all this food I haven't ordered, you tell me my bill has already been paid? I mean that is really nice and all, but what kind of diner is this?"
I noticed he hadn't stopped smiling throughout my entire rant. He pointed toward the front door. I looked in that direction."Didn't you see the sign when you came in?" He asked.
"What sign?"
"The one with the name of this restaurant." He said.
"What do you mean? This is Law's Diner, right? I've been here many times. I work at the courthouse right up the street and get lunch here all the time. In fact, I posted on Facebook that I was here at Law's Diner when I first sat down in this booth."
"No, this isn't Law's anymore," he said.
"It isn't?"
"Nope. It's under new ownership."
"Whose?" I asked.  He smiled. A big, broad, good news smile.
"Welcome to Grace's."

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Top 5 Ways The California Drought Helps YOU!

The situation in California is dire.
The state is in an epic drought.
State governing officials just issued strict water conservation measures for all Californians--absolutely NO watering lawns everyday, washing cars with a hose or allowing sprinklers to spray water on sidewalks. Fines will be issued to violators. The "water police" are making the rounds. "Water wasters" are being ratted out on websites and hotlines.
So what do Californians do in the midst of this crisis?
They buy Evian.
And adjust their sprinklers, put away hoses, time showers and pray for rain. Californians sacrifice to SAVE THE STATE. It's going to be rough, but survival depends on conservation.

If you live in California like I do, you are probably dry, dusty and depressed at this point. You're probably standing over wilted flower beds wondering when, oh when, will they bloom in all their glory? You can hardly remember what a drop of rain feels like on your skin. You reminisce about the good old days when the kids played in the sprinklers.With hopeful, tear-filled eyes, you glance up at the heavens every morning and afternoon wondering, praying...but nope, not a drop of rain in sight. Not even a cloud in the sky! Not one! Oh wait, is that one? Over there on the horizon? Nope. Just smog.

But WAIT! Wipe your tears Californians! Slap a smile back on your sun-tanned, botoxed faces! There ARE some benefits to this drought. Yes! Believe it or not, this drought actually works in your favor!

Top 5 Ways This Drought Helps You:

Your dirty car shows you are committed to water conservation, not lazy!

Your co-workers now consider your body odor as evidence that you are loyal to the "10 minute or LESS" shower rule, not that you have poor personal hygiene as originally thought.

Your neighbors have stopped complaining about your lawn. (Their complaints began in the 90's so this is a great relief!)

No one judges you when you drink in public, as long as it isn't from the hose.

Your backyard pool now provides positive recreation opportunities for wayward teens. 

See! There is always a silver lining to the rain cloud. OK, so maybe in this case, there is only a silver lining.
Hang in there.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

#californiadrought #drought2014 #prayforrain

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jiminy Cricket is a Liar

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are...
When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true!
Shut up, Jiminy! 
You know that ain't true. You're a BUG. You couldn't be a lawyer or a banker or a doctor if you wished on every star in the galaxy! 
Cool hat, though.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to pick on a cricket. It's just that I'm frustrated. Have you noticed how many teens live in Jiminy's dream world when it comes to their future careers? They have no idea what they are good at, are motivated only by money, and haven't the slightest interest in doing the HARD WORK it takes to be successful? And yet they fully expect to be. Think they have it coming.
We can't blame this all on Jiminy. We might be part of the problem. We told them" "You can do anything you set your mind to. "You can be anything you want to be." If they just "believe it" they can "achieve it." Right?
Nope. It doesn't work that way. And we know it.

1) Wish upon a star
2) Believe in yourself
3) Ignore the "haters" i.e. those who tell you otherwise
4) Fall in love - this fixes everything and launches your career as a prince or princess

1) Make good choices
2) Work hard
3) Know somebody (or somebody who knows somebody)
4) Fall in love with someone who makes good choices, works hard and if possible, knows somebody

I throw in that last one, because let's face it, some people just get lucky. They get their foot in the door because of "so and so." They get the internship because their uncle works there. They marry someone connected and rich who says, "Sure, honey, I'll help you open that bookstore slash coffee shop you always wanted." So sure, who you know CAN give you a leg up in the working world, but more than anything--
Dreams come true when you wake up and work hard to make them happen.
They can't be just wished for. And we are not helping kids when we fill them full of Disney fluff and false praise. We create little monsters. You know the eighteen year old, fresh out of high school who thinks that a great job is going to fall in his lap because his Mommy told him he was special? The kid who has no idea what his strengths are, only that his Dad told him "he could be anything he wanted to be." Never mind that he sleeps until 1pm in his parent's basement, his only job experience is flipping burgers at Pappy's Patties last summer and his biggest decision this month was where to get his medical marijuana card.
Reality check, please. STAT.
I'm not saying we dash their hopes, but we need to help them be realistic, get their head out of the stars (and somewhere else dark) and back to earth, and encourage them to ask themselves these questions:

What skills/talents do I have? How can I make a living using them?
What education and experience is necessary to break into my field of interest?
Do I really want to be a _____or do I just want to be rich? What is really motivating me to choose this job or career? 
Where can I volunteer to get some experience in this area?
What is important to me? How do I want to spend my life?
Who do I know that can help guide/mentor/teach me?
What choices do I need to make RIGHT NOW to help me achieve my goal?
What choices could I make that would send my dream up in a ball of smoke?
If I have an idea for an invention, website or business, what does it take to bring it to life? Am I willing to spend the time and energy it takes to make it happen? 
What are the benefits of working for myself? What are the benefits of working for a company or organization?
Is what I want to do in demand or is it hard to "break into"? If the latter, what will I do to set myself apart?

These are just a few. I am sure you can think of more...

I used to run a support group for teen girls. One of my favorite activities was "Dream Killers."  We would write down each girl's dreams:
I want to be a doctor.
I want to graduate from college.
I want to have a good boyfriend/husband.

Then we would talk about what could kill these dreams:
Picking bad friends
Doing drugs or drinking
Getting arrested
Choosing the wrong boyfriend / staying with a bad one

These were some of the typical answers.They knew what could kill their dreams. But did they know the choice was theirs? I would often jokingly tell them, "You are not going to wake up one day in bed, look down and say, 'Oh my gosh! I'm pregnant! How did this happen?" They would giggle. We all knew that pregnancy (with rare and terrible exceptions) is a choice. So is doing drugs. Drinking. Oh, and a career. You may not know what you want to do, but every choice you make either leads you away or toward success. Sometimes it's a short journey; sometimes long. Sometimes you have to "make a left at Albuquerque" (as Bugs Bunny used to say) and take a new path when something unexpected or tragic happens to you or a family member. Sometimes dreams can be dashed by unforeseen circumstances, but what I wanted the girls to learn is - When it comes to me and the choices I make, I will make choices that keep my dream alive. I will choose wisely.

If I were leading the group today, I would add a few other things to the list of Dream Killers:
Unrealistic Expectations
Sense of Entitlement

I meet kids who can barely do long division who think they are going to be accountants. Kids who think they are going to sing for a living because their mom gets verklempt when they belt out a decent karaoke version of a ten year old Brittany Spears song. Others who want to be lawyers, doctors or psychologists (i.e. rich), but who say, "I don't want to go to college for too long." At least a few are honest and will admit, "I want to be rich without having to work too hard. Like invent something cool or start my own website or something."
I know I sound like Debbie Downer here, but a lot of teens need a reality check. I think we need to tell them, for example, that it is a LOT of work to be a doctor--there is A LOT of schooling, reading, studying, test taking and THEN--residency, long hours, late night shifts, etc. It can be a very rewarding and lucrative career, but it's not an automatic, just because you have an MD next to your name. I had a Kaiser doctor tell me once that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn't. As he checked in my ears and throat, he complained that he was in debt up to his eyeballs with school loans, making a little over 100k and working hours that made in nearly impossible for him to have a social life. And the kicker? He didn't even enjoy his work. I switched doctors.

So let's be real with kids. It's OK to ruin every Disney movie in your collection by pointing out to your kids as the credits roll (and the popcorn sneaks farther into the couch cushions) that lions, mice, princesses, penguins and yes, even crickets LIE. You can wish upon a star all you want, but when it comes right down to it, you have to "whistle while you WORK."
OK, so Snow White can stay. For now.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Put Down Your Finger & Back Away from Your Opinion

Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one.
I come from a very opinionated family. We have opinions about our opinions. We like to "go on the record" or like the people in the old Saturday Night Live skit: "Talk Amongst Ourselves." I could chalk it up to our Irish blood, but that would probably be a cop-out. I mean You can tell an Irishman, but you can't tell him much is really true, but the reason why people in my family bring a bean casserole AND an opinion to get-togethers is more than just heritage. My Dad especially loves to "debate the issues" and discuss what the "moderns" think about the latest hot topics. He likes to hash them out, debate them, throw opinions around and then decide (usually based on the Bible) what is TRUTH.
This week I spent time with him in San Diego. In between the breathtaking views and lunches on the shore, we talked about everything from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to immigration. That last topic he tried to avoid.
"I really didn't want to bring this one up because I figured..." He said. His voice trailed off at the end with reluctance.
"Because what?" I asked.
"Because I know how you probably feel about this."
"You do?" I asked.
"Well, we can't just open the border and let everyone come in who wants to come in. That is just unsustainable."
"Who said I wanted to do that?" I asked, puzzled.
He was making a big assumption. He knows I work with Latinos. Have for years. He knows some of my closest friends are Latino/as. He knows I speak Spanish, enjoy Tapatio on just about everything and have never met a Mexican dessert I don't like, but how did he know how I felt about immigration? He didn't. He just assumed based on what he knew about me.

"So what's your solution?" he asked after he could see that I was slightly perturbed at being pigeon-holed.

I told him that until the border is secured, illegal immigration will always be with us. I shared what I liked about the Dream Act and Rubio's plan to give people who are already here a chance to become citizens. And I said I think it is heartless to stand out in front of buses full of refugee children and families from Central America shouting that they are not welcome in "our town." No matter how you feel about immigration politically or ideologically, I think it is important to remember this is a human issue.

He nodded. "As a Christian he said, I feel compassion for these people. It's difficult. But reality...reality says that we just can't take in everyone who wants to be here, just open our borders and let them all pour in."

"So reality trumps Christianity?' I asked with a twinge of sarcasm.

"No, no, I just, I'm not sure if there is a perfect solution for this. This is a very difficult one." His voice trailed off.
Don't get me wrong - my Dad IS very opinionated, but he is a sensitive, good man who tries to do right by God. And this IS a very complicated issue.
Ever notice how PEOPLE complicate things?
If you are distant from the real people involved in the "issue" (like immigration); you don't know anyone the "issue" affects, it is really easy to have an opinion. But as soon as you get to know someone, wow, things get a lot more complicated, don't they?
Opinions come easy when they are about people you know nothing about.

My opinion about immigration is formed by my relationships with people who either were or are illegal immigrants. I care about them. I love them as sisters and brothers in Christ. I work with them. I am friends with them. They matter to me. A LOT. I've heard their immigration stories - the ones they tell of being brought here as a baby, toddler or teenager by parents fleeing drugs, corruption and destitute poverty. I've been to their weddings, graduations, quinciƱeras, births and funerals. I've been in their homes and at their churches. I've had carne asada in their backyards and tres leches in their kitchens. (Read the stories of three immigrant teens I interviewed: Crime of Opportunity- Book is free with Amazon Prime or only $2 otherwise.)
I am thankful for my relationships with my Latino/a brothers and sisters because it helps me put down my big white pointy finger of judgment and back away from my opinion and re-consider. It doesn't mean I don't have an opinion or never make judgement calls, it just means I don't throw either around like a political wiffle ball. I realize there are PEOPLE behind this "issue"; there are many lives affected by whether or not immigration reform passes, so I tread carefully. Sensitively. I try to show humility and compassion. Maybe the way I see it isn't the only way? Or the right way? Maybe I should walk a mile (or thousands) in their shoes? Maybe it has become too easy for me to extend my pointer finger and make a broad statement of judgment? It doesn't mean we can't talk things over, disagree or seek solutions (in fact, we should!), but it just means we ought to do so carefully and lovingly. After all, people around us are watching and listening. And when we spout off in an arrogant manner about the issues, especially as Christians, the rest of the world learns about God.

Wow, their God seems really angry.
God doesn't like immigrants.
God must be pro-American.
Guess you have to be a Republican to be a Christian?
Wow, why are Christians so opinionated about everything?! 

Like I said, opinions are like belly buttons. We all have them. But it seems like most of us have "outies" when maybe we should take some time to go "innie" and quietly and humbly consider the human and spiritual impacts of the issues before we speak. But of course, that's just my opinion.

Hope Horner, 2014
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Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

5 Steps to 3 Ways You Can Do 2 Things Better

The title to this blog is confusing, isn't it?
But did it capture your attention?
It probably did.

The last two months I have been writing for GovLoop - an online network of government professionals who share tips and techniques for providing top notch government programs, leadership and services. Writing for GovLoop was a challenge. I had to come up with 12 articles in 12 weeks, but believe it or not, that was not the challenge.
The challenge was creating the right title to get people to actually READ my article.

When my first few articles posted on GovLoop, I noticed the editor had changed my titles. For example, I wrote an article entitled "Change or Die" which was changed to:
"How Can You Make Real Change? Use the 3 R's!"
Wow, big difference. Was this my article?
Then I wrote one about management mistakes entitled "Leadership Achilles Heels", and that was changed to "7 Common Leadership Mistakes." Hmmm..noticing a pattern here?
Finally, I got with the program. For my last few articles, I started using numbers and/or the word "You" in the titles. In fact, the article I wrote last week about why employee evaluations fail was a real struggle. Why? I had 6 reasons why they fail and I REALLY wanted to get to that magic number 5! I tried. My personal editor-friend (Let me just give a shout out to Karen Guthrie right now!) said in her usual candid and professional manner: "Ah, Hope? You really have six reasons here, not five. Nice try though!" Anyway, I have one more GovLoop article which comes out this Monday and it was all I could do not to give it the title you see at the top of this blog:

5 Steps to 3 Ways You Can Do 2 Things Better (in Government)
Now, that would be funny.
But it would probably be the last time I ever wrote for GovLoop. Or anyone else for that matter.

I don't blame the GovLoop editor for changing my titles. She actually taught me a lesson - the most important lesson of all in writing - WRITE FOR YOUR READER. Government employees, heck, PEOPLE only have so much time in their day. They want simple solutions. Easy to read advice. Get-to-the-point guidance. If your title doesn't interest them, they will never take the time to read your article or story, so make your title an "attention grabber", make it personally RELEVANT to your reader. I am very thankful GovLoop drove that message home because it will improve my writing.
I also learned that sometimes things just aren't that simple. They can't be packaged into 3 neat little steps.

  • 3 Ways to Say Thank You to Mom for All She's Done Your Whole Entire Life
  • Make The World a Better Place in 5 Easy Steps
  • Drought-Schmought: Learn the California Rain Dance in 5 Minutes!
  • 30 Minutes to Peace in the Middle East 
  • Want to Be Close to God? Just Do These 3 Things Now!
The last one in particular doesn't work. (I am tempted to try to the California Rain Dance. We're so desperate for water in California that the State is asking us to water our lawns with SPIT. In 3 Easy Steps of course!)
I cannot be closer to God in 3 Easy Steps.
I can't be closer to anyone in 3 Easy Steps. So why do I think it would work with God? Just bing-bang-boom and God is all mine! Can you guess what those 3 easy steps would be?  Hold on, let me try Googling this and see what comes up... 
Alright - here are the results...
Oh, oh. Evidently it takes more than 3 steps.  
My Google search came back with 10, 7, 8 steps to getting closer to God, but not 3. Evidently, that is too simple, but with just a few MORE steps I CAN get closer to God. And you guessed it, here are the most common suggestions...
Repent, Pray, Read Your Bible...

Sorry, I've done all the above and I can't say that it has made me closer to God.  Maybe the second one a little bit, but the other two? No. Could be me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. As for "repent"--that one I have particular trouble understanding how that makes me feel closer to God. Admitting my failures and screw-ups (again!) will make me feel closer to God? Maybe what the author meant by that step, "Repent" (sorry I didn't have time to read the entire article - too many steps!) is when I realize how forgiving God is, when I truly understand how he is always there to take me back like the prodigal daughter, THAT will make me feel closer to Him? I guess "Repent" just isn't the right word, at least for me. As a recovering Baptist, I hear the word "Repent" and I think: "Repent of all your sins if you want to be close to God, otherwise you cannot be in His presence or you will burn up like a dry, diseased California Eucalyptus tree after 3 years of a massive God-inflicted draught." That doesn't exactly facilitate closeness with God now does it?

Anyway, my point is twofold:  (Now You Can Understand My Point in 2 Easy Steps!)
1)  Being close to God cannot be reduced to "Easy Steps"
2)  Most things cannot be reduced to "Easy Steps" 

Even though we like our advice and self-help packaged in bite sized chunks, it just doesn't always work out that way. Life is complicated. People are unique, different, complex and interesting. God is all of those characteristics and more, but He is also a God who wants to be found, to be understood, to be loved. Remember the children Jesus let sit in his lap? Remember how he asked us to be like them? He wants us to trust Him and be open to his love - not trying to figure out all the steps we need to take in order to be the right kind of Christian or to climb the staircase to God. In fact, there are NO steps to God. He is right here, right now.
Mother Teresa said she feels closest to God when she is serving the needy. I agree. She didn't provide steps to do that. (I can see it now--"Mother Teresa's 3 Easy Steps to Loving the Unlovely!") She didn't make it sound easy. She just did it.  And she did it every day, for a long, long, time lovingly and generously, in places and for people it was desperately needed and even then, she admitted (read her letters) she didn't always feel close to God. If Mother Teresa can feel far from God sometimes, than my guess is it isn't simple to have and maintain a close relationship with God or to always feel him near. There are so many reasons why. As I heard a pastor say this morning, "We don't always want what we know we should want." I want to be close to God, but then again sometimes I don't. Complicated, huh?  My point exactly. Doesn't mean I give up on God. Just means I don't try to reduce Him or my faith journey to some trite religious step-by-step formula.
Honestly, I am tired of all the "easy steps".  I want to rest like one of those children who sits with Jesus and I am starting to do just that. I pray simple prayers. I tell God the truth. I listen. I question Him. I plead. I look to see how I can be a blessing to others. I ask Him to help me. I fail. I apologize. I get confused. I try to be OK with it. I don't try to package up my faith into a perfect little formula that guarantees me heaven. It doesn't work that way. Because it's just not that simple. There are no easy steps.

Except in government. ;)

PS) You can check out my GovLoop articles here: 1 Click Step to Hope's GovLoop Articles!
Hope A. Horner, 2014
Follow Hope on Twitter at
Feel free to forward, post and share!
Contact author on gmail at hopeh1122

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rolling into Heaven as a Bloody Stump

I grew up believing that the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount were a list of things I should do.
Blessed are the meek...(OK, I need to be meek.)
Blessed are the pure in heart. (OK, I need to be pure of heart.)
Blessed are the peacemakers..(OK, I need to be a peacemaker.)
And so on...

Of course, I failed miserably at following through on that huge list, and as I now know, thanks to Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy, I also failed in my interpretation of it. As it turns out, the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of things for me to do or be. It is not a bunch of "rules for living." It is a glimpse into what things are like in God's kingdom. Jesus preached this "sermon" to a crowd of ordinary townspeople who were wandering, wondering, seeking. Jesus was telling them what things are like in HIS world.
Dallas Willard puts it this way: " the sermon on the mount we are not looking at laws, but at a life: a life in which the genuine laws of God eventually become one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted and so on...they are explanations and illustrations that show the present availability of the God's kingdom through a personal relationship with Jesus...they single out cases that provide proof that God is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope." This is very different than what I was taught in Sunday school and at private Christian schools. When I read this, I felt a profound sense of relief. It's as though the eyes of my soul read it. It's amazing how you know the genuine "Good News" when you hear it.

Mr. Willard goes on to share the passage that comes right after the beatitudes where Jesus says "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off...if you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out..."
Ouch. Ever notice how no one actually does this? I remember hearing this in Sunday School as a child and being afraid of Jesus. Wow - Jesus must really mean business with this whole sin thing. He would rather me cut off a hand than keep sinning with it. Guess I better stop stealing cookies out of the cookie jar or I'm going to have to lose a finger or two.
Again, I totally missed the point. And the more I read this book, the more points I realize I have missed. Let me put it this way:
I basically grew up learning how to be a Pharisee. I learned how to change the outside of me--my actions and appearance--while my heart stayed the same. I was taught how to put on a good show--to dress, speak, and act like a "Christian." I went to Christian schools, attended church several times a week, went to Bible Camp, Hume Lake Christian Camp, even had the Bible read to me at home every day, was baptized before I knew why I was wearing white and getting all wet in church, and I can't even remember my "conversion moment" because I was probably still thinking about whether or not Mighty Mouse was going to save the day when I allegedly "asked Jesus into my heart" at the breakfast table over my Captain Crunch.
There is no "before I met Jesus" moment in my life. Who can remember anything before the age of 5 anyway? So all I did was adapt a lifestyle. I copied my parents. I went along with their plan. I joined the club. I bought the music. I listened to my pastor, my teachers, my church "Prayer Partner" - Mrs. White who was as old as the hills and smelled like baby powder.

So I was primed and ready to take Jesus' words literally.  
Jesus says "Blessed are these people" then I need to be "these people." Jesus says if my eye causes me to sin it should be gauged out - then I probably need to do that, but it sounds painful, so I will settle for just feeling guilty about where my gaze lands and repenting. And I will not get out the band saw to cut off my hand when it steals, but I will get out the Bible and remind myself of how much God hates sin. I will feel cut off from God because God hates sin. I sin therefore God must hate me when I act like this and until I do this, he will not forgive me. I must change. I must get back on track. I need to...I must...I will...

One of my favorite movie scenes is in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail. A knight's who's arms and legs are cut off by "King Arthur" is hopping around as a bloody stump on the ground, still antagonizing the King who cut off his appendages. (Sounds gruesome, but the scene is so ridiculous and unrealistic you have to laugh.)
"C'mon! You pansy"!" The knight yells after King Arthur cuts off both is arms.
"Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!" The knight, now a stump shouts after he loses both his legs.
The King, incredulous, says,"You bloody bastard you have no arms or legs!"

That knight with no arms and legs is me.
My arms and legs have all been cut off out in order to assure that I am and remain a "Christian." They were removed over the years by other Christians who told me they had to go if I wanted to be a part of this Jesus group. I did some cutting, too.
"Hope, you're going to have to get rid of that."
"Christians don't do that."
"Baptists don't dance or drink." 
                                               "If you're like that, then you can't possibly be a Christian."
Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop!
The last chop was the hardest to take, my final leg, but I figured I was hopping around anyway, so maybe rolling would be easier? Plus, how can you sin when you are just a bloody stump?
My heart hadn't changed. And Jesus knows it. I know it. 
This bloody stump thought she was ready to roll right into heaven!
Only that is not how Jesus would have it. He wants to change my heart. He wants to change me from the inside out. He wants to restore me, heal me, rebuild me--starting with my heart, my thoughts, my desires, my attitude. He wants me to flunk out of Pharisee school.

People look on the outside, but God looks on the heart...
When I finally realized and admitted I was a Pharisee in the finest form, my first inclination was to get to work on my heart. Step up and begin working on that inner change. To read this, or do that, or say this or pray this - STOP!  I realized I was headed to Pharisee grad school. So, I am doing things differently this time by not DOING ANYTHING. Instead, I am asking God to do everything--to change my heart. I've told him that I can't do it on my own. I told him that I want my heart to change, but that I CAN'T do it, and in some cases, in those very dark places - I do not WANT to change if I am truly honest with myself and Him. He knows this, but it is good for me just to admit it, to release my grip on my own life. I'm tired of holding on to it. It's heavy! It's full of people just like me, who stagger along blindly with missing limbs and gauged eyes; those who insist on wearing this and saying that and praying like this; the ones who carefully follow all the rules, roles and rituals; the stumps who roll in to church and want the bells and smells a certain way and the people around them to look, vote, dress, think and act exactly as they do. Meanwhile, our hearts are like empty tombs--so pretty on the outside, but dark and stinky on the inside.

I'm not going to roll into heaven as a bloody stump.
I'm not looking to roll into heaven anyway.
I'm looking for Jesus.
And those who seek Him, find Him. That's just how he rolls.

-Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Sassy Things YOU Said as a Kid That Your Kids Can't

Remember those snappy phrases we used to throw around as kids? The ones that went along with someone sticking out their tongue or taking their ball and going home? Well, sorry moms and dads, we used them, but your kids can't and here's why...

"Take a picture. It lasts longer!"
OK, sure hold on. Let me just change apps on my phone. THERE! GOTCHA! Hey, guess what? You're right. It does last longer. It can last a long, looooonnng time. I can save it to my camera roll, upload it to Instagram, make a keychain out of it on Shutterfly, add a caption to it and then send it to my best friend or the girl next door or a teacher or maybe your mother. What? You don't want your mom to see you wearing that skimpy outfit and holding up the one finger anti-peace sign? Too bad I didn't use Snapchat, huh?

"I know you are, but what am I?"
Dumb question dude, just plain dumb. What are you?  I know EXACTLY what you are.  I can view your Facebook profile. You're always sending me Snapchat vids of you, like every ten minutes. I even saw your prank video on YouTube. I can go in Instagram and see all your family photos. I can jump on Twitter and FOLLOW you. I know what you had for lunch, who you think is a hottie and who you twerked at the dance last Friday. So that line really doesn't work, now does it?

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
Oh yes, they do! In fact, I KNOW they do because as soon as I posted on Tumblr and other places that you were a big "$#^#!!$#", everyone read it and LIKED it, and FAVORITED it, and HEARTED it, TWEETED it and REPOSTED it, then you started BLOWING UP MY PHONE telling me to STOP OR ELSE!! IN ALL CAPS. I kept it up because I thought it was funny, along with everyone else at Central High! Now your mom told my mom (on Facebook?) and now we have to have a meeting at school with the vice principal because you are so depressed you just hole up in your room all day. So evidently, names do hurt you and everyone knows it. No need for sticks or stones.

Here's a quarter, call someone who cares!
What!?!? Why do I need a quarter? I got unlimited minutes. Duh. Stop trippin'.

NaNaNaNaNa (Usually followed by "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!")
Ok, so you can't hear me NOW, but you WILL hear me later. I have SOOOO many opportunities to get to you. So many ways I can make sure you hear me once you stop with that fingers-in-the-ears yelling nonsense. I can call you, tag you, text you, friend you, tweet you...and you can't keep up that NANANA thing forever. Text you later, man. Fo sho.

Ah, the good old days, when you could just stick out your tongue, pick up your ball and walk away from the sass. Go home. Hole up in your room with your Walkman or play Donkey Kong until the next day, when, with rare exceptions, it would all be forgotten. I guess the sass today is just 2Good+2Be 4-Gotten.
Poor kids.

-Hope Horner, 2014
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Is That 'Raca' I See In Your Eyes?

During a discussion about "giving others the benefit of the doubt" one of my co-workers said he had heard it put this way:
"Investigate before contempt."
I said, "Contempt? You sure you mean contempt?  Maybe you mean 'investigate before convict'?"
He said, "No, no, contempt...I think."
I raised my eyebrows. "Wow. Contempt is a pretty harsh word." Everyone just kind of looked confused about the whole thing, and we went on to the next topic, but the word stuck with me.
Later that day, I was reading Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy where he describes Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  Read Sermon Here 
You know "Blessed are the (fill in the blank) for they shall (fill in the blank)?" Well, there is more to this epic sermon than those famous lines. Jesus goes on to say this:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5)

Dallas explains that the word "Raca" is a word filled with contempt. It is the modern day equivalent of calling someone a "f'-ing bastard." It is a term of reproach. It means that you not only hate that person, but you could care less what happens to them. They are discarded trash to you. A loser. Disposable. Dead to you.
I could hardly believe the word contempt was popping up again.

Then I was reading the short story "The Partridge Festival" by Flannery O'Connor (The best short story writer EVER!) and I am not ten paragraphs in and the word contempt comes up. It was used to describe the look in the townsfolk eye when they talked about the local "drunk" who was shot to death at the town festival along with four others. They said the shooter "did everyone a favor by taking out that drunk." Wow, now that's contempt. The word contempt was also used to describe the look the main character gives these townsfolk when he hears them describe the local drunk as "not deserving of being honored at the same funeral as the rest who were shot."
Popping up a lot lately.
I think about it in the morning when I am watching the news and the local traffic comes on. It always bothers me when they describe a fatal accident as a "real inconvenience to drivers."
"Sorry folks, we had a fatal on the 405 this morning and so there's a real bottleneck near the Getty Center. It's going to be a tough drive out there for quite awhile until they can get this cleared off the road."
Poor people are going to be late for work.
Meanwhile the dead man in the mangled car in the breakdown lane is never going to go to work again.
Or go home.
Or go to his daughter's wedding.
Or his son's first football game.
But gosh darn it, I'm going to be late to my advertising meeting!
It's like we don't even see the humans in humanity anymore.
Think about all these immigrant children who are escaping Honduras, Guatemala and other Central American countries.  They are walking hundreds of miles with just the clothes on their backs and crossing the border in Texas. We just see them as "immigrants" and "ones who need to be sent back" or "kids who parents are using them as pawns" - what?? These are PEOPLE.  KIDS. HUMAN BEINGS. Take off your political glasses for one minute and see them with your heart. They are fleeing drug violence, hunger, poverty and hopelessness.  Can we not at least temper our comments about dead people on the freeways and the walking dead to at least try to sound like we actually notice that they are people, just like us?  They matter. Maybe not to you. But they matter to God.  Try to set your busy commute and your politics aside and let your heart get in the way. It's a short step from "those people" to "those contemptible people."

There's contempt all over the place.
Remember the young man who shot, stabbed and drove his car over those students in Santa Barbara not long ago? He thought of others as "raca" because he felt that is how they viewed him. His feelings of rejection became fuel for his anger which fanned his firestorm of revenge. His actions were not justified, of course, but there was 'raca" all over that terrible incident.

And there is nothing worse than feeling like a raca.
Like you don't matter.
Don't belong.
Like an outcast.
Like you serve no purpose other than to be a burden on society or the butt of the joke.
Like you could die and no one would care.
It's why solitary confinement is so torturous. Why isolation is so dangerous to the mind, body and soul. We were meant to belong. We were meant to matter. We wither like a plant without sunlight if we do not receive love and assurance that no, we are not raka, we are real - we are friend, family, we are human and we are loved.
Let's give people the benefit of the doubt.
Let's remove contempt from our eyes, words and heart.
Picture a sign on each person's forehead that says, "I want to matter" and find a way to assure them they do, not only to you and to others, but to God.

Hope A. Horner, 2014
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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remember to Breathe with Your Lungs

TV is depressing.
When you get your cable hooked up, the installer should hand you a prescription for Prozac, or at least a credit for a free download of Pharrell's song "Happy." Two commercials I watched this past week really brought me down. Maybe you've seen them, too?

One showed parents holding babies, singing, laughing and reading books to them. The tag line of the commercial was "Remember to sing, read and talk to your baby." The next one featured only dads playing with kids and encouraged fathers to "Take time to be a dad."
I sat and watched, in shock, with sadness in my heart, and thought, "Wow. We need commercials for this?" What's next? A commercial reminding us to breathe with our lungs? Or one where teens are encouraged to sleep until noon?"
We have to REMIND people to interact with their babies?
We have to REMIND fathers to "take time" to be a dad?
How incredibly sad.
I'm not naive or "out of the loop."  I know why these commercials are airing.  In fact, the one about singing and talking to your baby, showed a kid propped up in front of a television while mom played on her cell phone. We all know that in those first few years a baby's brain is developing, and parent-child interaction is critical. So even if I wasn't aware of the problem, the commercial made it clear why parents needed to hear it. Put down the cell phone and pick up your baby. Still, sad.
And with Father's Day coming, I guess the other commercial is trying to address the problem of absentee fathers - those "baby daddies" who are not active in their child's life. That, I know, is a sad reality for many. I have worked with youth for over two decades and can tell you--I can almost pick the "Dad is not in my life" kids out of a crowd. The dysfunction caused by not having a father around is hard to hide. It comes out in angry outbursts, self-injury, addiction, and promiscuity, just to name a few. There is a hole in every child's heart that only a father can fill and when it doesn't fill up with dad, it fills up with something else. For fatherless daughters, beer and boyfriends are in endless supply and make great filler-uppers.

So I guess we are at the point where we need to make commercials to promote the basics of parenting:
Be there.
There is nothing wrong with trying to be a BETTER parent, in fact, there are some great classes and resources out there that can help parents deal with bullies, prevent drug use and help a child who suffers from depression or other issues. These are great and helpful and an unfortunately needed because the world is not an easy one to migrate for young people or parents. But when we have to tell parents on national television to do something as simple, and seemingly natural, as "talk to your baby", I get a pit in my stomach and a pain in my heart. When we have to tell dads to "take time" to be a dad, I feel sad, especially this close to Father's Day knowing that so many kids will not get one minute of dad's time this Sunday or any day. (And by the way dad, you don't "take time" to be a dad, you are always DAD, every minute of every day. Your kids watch how you talk to Mom, how hard you work; they hear what you say about the gay neighbors, religion, and politics and until they become teens, they want to be just like you.)
So, yes, please DO be a Dad.
Please DO talk, sing and read to your children.
And don't forget to breathe with your lungs, too.

Hope A. Horner, 2014
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This blog entry is dedicated to my Dad with thanks for being there, talking, reading and singing.