Nothing all those years.

Lynette wasn’t typical pretty. And that was okay because she wasn’t that terrible at math and had a way of smearing on a thin coat of pearlescent mango lip gloss that at least made her look interesting. She bit at the edge of one of those mango-lined lips as Armand listed out her “wrongs.”

She only half listened until she was forced to whole listen.

“They just think you’re not the right fit anymore, Lynn.” That was bad, so bad he couldn’t say her entire name. Lynette looked up. Armand was the producer for Singing in Seattle, a small, daytime TV show that had gotten its start on public access television. They were now on one of the main channels and had a pretty decent-sized audience on YouTube, but Lynette had only checked out their page once. After seeing a comment calling her a frizzy-haired eyesore, she decided the Internet just wasn’t the right place for her. But then she had logged into her Facebook account and had gotten lost in a sea of five-ingredient casserole recipes, quickly recanting the sentiment.

“Lynn?” Armand had kind eyes. She had liked him in the beginning, in the late nineties when the world wasn’t a toilet someone had lit on fire. They went dancing once in a club that made her feel uncomfortable for wearing a t-shirt from the Gap and then she fell asleep on his couch and woke with an itchy afghan on her bare arms. “My abuelita’s,” he had said, and Lynette stupidly thought it was the brand name.

All those years. They had seen so many hurtful things. The twin towers and murdered children and hurricanes that washed bodies away like ants. And every morning Lynn smiled into the camera. “Sing it, Seattle!” she had said and moved her face around ever so slightly so nobody would notice how wet her eyes were.

She had never felt like singing. Not now and not then.

”Yeah, yeah I figured.” And it was the truth. She knew the execs talked under their whiskey-breath, patting themselves on their backs for turning a nothing show into a something show. But it had been the nothing all those years that had kept Lynette alive. It was the nothing of knowing Armand just saw her as a friend. It was the nothing of knowing her mother had cancer and then had the audacity to die, but at least she had a place to come to. She could put on her gloss and slap at the frizz on the top her head and talk to the nothing of all the nobodies that used to hardly ever watch their show. But then things had changed. The world had changed. And Lynette was still just Lynette.

They sat in the awkward until Lynette finally forced her legs to move. She picked up her faux leather briefcase that had always made her feel like a news anchor. In reality, it was just an over-sized tote for Tic Tacs and the fisted tissues that floated free on the inside. Something in her brain reminded her to shake Armand’s hand. It was brown and warm and she took a mental picture of his holding hers.

“I’ll keep in touch. You know that, Lynette,” he said, and she stopped clicking her mental camera when his lie hit hard.

“Of course,” she said and headed out into the lobby. It was there she saw the woman she was supposed to be. Mid-twenties to Lynette’s forty-seven. Crop top and jeans to an interview while Lynette dressed like her own mother if the woman had still been alive. She tried to ignore the itch of polyester, her feet sweating in her pumps as she looked at youth and the smirky mouth that belonged to it. She wanted to think in her head, Just wait. One day you’ll be just like me. But Lynette knew differently. She knew the heart inside her chest just wasn’t like the others. And that even if this beautiful girl one day became a not so beautiful old woman, she’d place two fingers on her breast bone and hear an old, familiar beat.

But Lynette? No, not her. Hers always felt like stone breaking, the core soft like skin.

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Me and my golden calf.

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Sometimes, the prettiest people have the ugliest hearts.

There’s a somebody I used to know who was my golden calf. I hated having an idol, but I needed an idol. Something to admire with my eyes and say, “This is what you don’t measure up to.” And then I’d dig my fingernails into the dirt, crawling and climbing to some version of myself that I thought would measure up.

There is no such version.

This person was pretty, and now? She’s beautiful. She lives in a faraway land, and I imagine her net worth is an unending swimming pool filled with a hundred dollar bills that would give Scrooge McDuck a mild panic attack.

This person is all about this person—so much so, they don’t even need me to worship them anymore.

I’m thirty-six. I’m too old for idols. No, that’s not correct. I’m too learned for idols, perhaps. I know the Lord. He calls and turns my face away, and the gold is no longer gold but a slight pile of ash.

My heart aches for this woman.

Can you imagine crawling and digging your way until you finally make it? And you cover the truth of yourself in make up and hair and clothes so nobody can see the way your skin cracks at night, giving way to the ugly inside you? You become what they need you to become, and you believe the lie because the only other option is to crawl back down and come to terms with what you never could before.

Oz behind the curtain.

I think the sweetest thing God ever did for me was to release my claws and set me down on solid earth again. It’s where I can stand and see the birds in the beautiful bright sky.

And the only golden thing about this place is the sun, and the way it warms my face.

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Up, up and away.

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It’s like a long lost friend and someone I’ve never met.

It has the most beautiful deep set eyes the shade of royal blue.

It’s like family I never wanted to know and a mother who doesn’t know how to love.

It is everything to me and nothing at all.

My first ride with it was when I was sixteen, and there was a sharp bend in the road, and I fell back on myself. And this whole time I thought I was inching forward, but that’s what happens when you can’t see a thing.

It’s addictive, the dark. I didn’t quit it until my early thirties, and I sometimes still wait up for it to say hello.

Like a couple of days ago. I’m cleaning up my act and getting off caffeine again. The three days of torment that come with something like that is beyond physical for me. It’s spiritual. There was a looming energy that didn’t want to leave. When I’m on caffeine, I feel mildly satisfied like a baby with its bottle. But then as the day wears on, there’s a poor-tempered spirit that rears its ugly head, just tame enough to not do any real damage. “Bad mood,” “grumpy,” “short fuse” — different dresses, the same doll. It really isn’t a good look on anyone.

God was the one who asked me to get off caffeine again. “Why do all the bad things always happen to me?” That was pretty much my attitude. Not great.

I kept ignoring Him until the physical side effects were too much to take. Oily hair, bad skin, a dull ache in my temple. He knows how to get me. So I gave in, and I thought not getting my daily high would be the worst of my sorrows.

Not so.

It was a three day battle with a darkness that kept dragging me back down. A look in the mirror, a whisper in the ear. A whole bottle full of crazy shaken over the drain. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I would be standing here right now. That ever-present guard of my heart who loves me enough to look the deep in the eye and turn it shallow.

I’m on the other side now. No more dull ache in my head. Better hair, better skin. But most importantly better sense of who God is and His purpose for me. How easy we fall into traps because society deems them acceptable. And on the same note, how easy we ban things that might give an inch of pleasure, and in doing so, make them idols as well.

The point is, listen to Jesus and listen to the ones who know Him. All others are chasing a high that’ll soon float away.

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