Welcome to Nice.

To be a writer, it’s fairly important to write daily. But trapped as I am in a whirlwind romance with the unforgivably sexy South of France, my writing disciplines have slipped off like bikini tops on the beach.

So, why not just run the highlight reel. Thank God a picture is worth a thousand words. Welcome to Nice everybody.

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I know I can’t believe it either and I took the picture.

What’s that? You’d like to putter about on that lovely turquoise water? Pas de probleme… you can rent this little sloop – The Excellence V for 360,000 euro per week. At the current exchange, that’s about a half million dollars, but it sleeps twelve, so you know, you can split it with your friends.

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It is excellent!

Ninety minutes by train up the steep and piney Var Valley, is the fort city of Entrevaux. Nobody wants a history lesson right now, but this town was designed to keep Europe (Rome) from invading Provence. Hence the drawbridges, stone walls and the 17th century citadel perched at about 5,000 feet above sea level.

The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

And here’s the Entrevaux cathedral inside. Check Mary out having a little party in the lower left corner. Maybe that’s a sacrilegious thing to say, but Mary is the one who told Jesus to hurry up and make some more wine at Cana, which we all know he did. Although my French is loose and unreliable, I’m told Mary was actually ascending here, not whooping it up like me.

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I just read a New York Times article about the value of taking a short walk after you’ve stuffed yourself with steak tartare, frites, creme brulee, vin rouge and cafe creme. We did just that after dinner tonight at Castel Plage. We ate yet another off-the-hook French meal, while the waves shoved millions of pebbles up the shore and then hustled them back out to sea. That’s why the beach pebbles are smooth here, incessant tumbling.

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See pebbles, not sand.

On the walk home, we admired the city, all lit up and shimmering. At nine or so, everybody finally showed up dressed for dinner – the men in tailored jackets, women in summer dresses and Chanel No. 5. Seriously people, the French get this so right. Let’s get dressed for dinner again, shall we America?

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And once again, this is Villefranche Sur Mer. We’re headed back there in the morning because I literally cannot get enough of it. Bill Gates, Sean Connery and Mick Jaggar have homes here. Can you blame them?

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Sometimes, I feel a little guilty about what a ripping good time I get to have in France, but then I remember something Jesus said and I get over it.

I came so that you might have and enjoy your life, have it in abundance, to the full until it overflows. John 10:10

So I’m doing that because I’d be crazy not to. I spend a lot of time at home, praying and studying and mowing my lawn, but here I’m laughing and drinking wine and letting my life overflow. One is not holier than another, Jesus loves me both ways.

But Jesus also said:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48.

And do you know what? I’m fine with that bargain. Exactly one month after standing on the dock next to the Excellence V, I’m going to Africa to work in a bush orphanage where kids don’t have shoes. Who lives their life like this? Me, because I’ve decided that living a big, exuberant life and helping other people isn’t an either or proposition. I think it can be both and… It’s crazy but it’s interesting and ultimately that’s what I want.

If Jesus is the foundation and the master architect of our lives, I don’t think it matters what we build, just that we do it with gusto and create something beautiful, not just for ourselves but other people too.

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How to Make Your Life Matter – A Study.

One morning when I was 20 years old, I stood on a dock at the Southern tip of Spain waiting for the ferry to North Africa.

My college roommate Marcia stood next to me and was by far the braver. Had she wavered even slightly I would have talked us out of getting on that boat. We were juniors in college in Southern California, abroad for a year, and we’d never been on the African continent or to a Muslim country. Although we’d hitchhiked around Ireland and slept in a tiny, unlocked customs shack on the Portuguese border, Morocco felt way outside our headlight beams, in that dark periphery where all manner of unknown danger lurks.

With reasons not to go blooming like algae in my mind, I walked on that ferry.

Here are three memories from Tetouan, Morocco in 1992.

chefchaouen, Morocco

chefchaouen, Morocco (Photo credit: PnP!)

  1. Just outside the Medina, the white-walled, old city, packed with spice merchants and carpet sellers, women were taking their kids to school and grocery shopping. I sat on the steps, studying their abayas, and headscarves. I smiled when I got caught staring. I usually got smiles back.
  2. It was hot and dry and mint grows everywhere. If you order a glass of iced tea, they stuff it with mint leaves and pour the tea over them – basically a mint julep, minus the Bourbon.
  3. Many of the buildings have rooftops where you can gaze over the bustle of the city and the orange orchards that surround it. The ivory buildings pop against the blue sky and The Rif mountains shimmer green and gray in the distance.

Of the year I spent in Europe, Morocco was my favorite adventure because I got smarter and braver. Standing on that rooftop thinking about writing books one day, I vowed I wouldn’t allow the dark peripheries threaten my horizon again.

But then I grew up and did it.

For the last eight years, I’ve worked in Corporate America, doing a job that was lucrative and age appropriate, but one that was no more suited to me than size five shoes.  Last Thursday, I quit.

I want exuberance, meaning and purpose, but I followed luxury and security. If your headlights were made in America, you may have done the same. The path is bright and well-marked, lots of folks are on it and your parents won’t regret sending you to private school if you choose it.

But what if you didn’t choose that path? What if you wound up there by default and you’re so stifled you’re about to jump out of your skin? How do you get off it? And what do you do instead?

The Old Medina, Tétouan

The Old Medina, Tétouan (Photo credit: EstuarineDesign)

Those questions have crashed about in my mental rock tumbler for so long they’re now just shiny pink agates. I’m rubbing them like talismans, quizzing smart people who’ve bushwhacked their trails and come into new territory, muscular, scarred and grinning. I’m doing the same for the 20-year-old girl on the roof in North Africa, she just happens to be 40 now.

This blog is the lab and I want you to come along.

Are you drowning in debt? Waking with dread? Bored out of your mind but terrified of the dark outside your headlights. Want to make your life matter more than it currently does?

Me too. Let’s do it together.

Here’s where it starts: What would you with your life do if you could anything? What is your purpose here? Think hard and reply.

On Cattle Dogs and Impossible Prayers

IMG_2638Look who’s back to work.

My dog Gracie, the one with the floppy left ear who nearly died last week, is back in action.

Last Sunday, after her head had swollen to twice its normal size for mysterious reasons and the vet said we might have “some decisions” to make, I laid in my bed and cried, praying for my dog.

Meanwhile, one of my best friends in California is fighting for her life against ovarian cancer. Tear gas and revolution are blowing through Turkey for desperately important reasons and, officially, 70,000 people have been killed in Syria.

And I’m praying for my dog? How parochial, how selfish.

Then I remembered what my darling friend Lisa Long said to me at the Love Does Conference last month.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people, it’s a losing proposition.”

Life is hard for everybody in totally different ways because this world is broken.

Yet, there are protestors wrapping their arms around Turkish cops in riot gear; cops who perhaps moments before were firing water cannons into the crowd. Do they deserve hugging? Hardly. Are people still doing it? Yes. What an amazing impulse – where does it come from?

I can do very little about encroaching authoritarianism in Turkey, or the war in Syria, or Karen’s cancer, but rather than feel helpless and bitter, I have learned to pray and say thank you.

Like so many biblical mandates, that one seems irrational with water cannons firing, but when I do it, I feel unburdened, clean and stalwart, like I’m contributing to a war effort I can’t see. I imagine tethers snapping just on the other side of my awareness as I pour my heart into unfathomable places, exercising my faith for people I’ll never meet.

It doesn’t always happen, but when my heartbroken prayers get a yes, like they did with Gracie, my confidence grows and I begin to pray for increasingly impossible things, like a peaceable, common-sense solution in Turkey, an end to the fighting in Syria and that my sweet friend Karen and I will celebrate together at her son’s graduation. For all of this, I’m saying thank you ahead of time.

It reminds me of a poem by W. S. Merwin

Listen

with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out

in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like  the earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is