be relentless

Almost exactly 4 years ago I was sitting in this same house, taking in the changing colors, cheeks flushed from the crisp east coast air. It was a joyous week celebrating life – 50 years of one well lived, the union of two beautiful souls, and the anticipation of meeting the little one growing inside me. Family from near and far all converging with shared purpose and excitement. There were so many hugs and squeals – the air riddled with hope, elation, and that feeling – you know the one – where all just feels right in the world.

Weeks before our trek across the US, we learned our Little Bird may not be growing as she should. The messages were mixed and tests inconclusive. We kept the potential of her defect to ourselves – we wanted our ignorance to last as long as it could. The air was thick with joy and maybe selfishly we knew, this would be the last time we would breath with ease, the last time we could wear joy and know it was genuine. Surrounded by every face we’ve ever loved, receiving thoughtful gifts – some passed down through generations, and resting in the idea that life was good – it is something I will never forget.

As I sit in the same house, cheeks flushed from the crisp fall air, tears sneak quietly down my face. This isn’t how we were supposed to return here. Empty handed. Hearts deflated by pain and anger. Broken in every way. It feels as though we exist on the outside looking in. Always asking ourselves, is this our life – forever and ever? Does this state of devastation and grief ever lessen? Does it ever become something capable of sharing space with joy and happiness? I don’t have the answer. It is likely I never will. That has to be OK.

What I do know is this: even when I can’t see through the grey and the fog, life is still beautiful. It’s beautiful because even in this mess, this effed up brokenness, there is love. I know that love is so much bigger than me and my pain – it is the currency in which I should place all my investment. Without it – we would not have made it this far and neither would you. We all have a story – likely littered with pain and disappointments – that’s OK – it makes us human, it gives us common ground. We need to use that common ground to be there for one another. If you know someone in pain – sit outside their door – take them a meal – send them a text or email (snail mail is WAY cooler though) – love them in whatever way they let you, until they let you in. Once you’re in – don’t freaking screw it up! Don’t give unsolicited advice, ask them how long it will last, or lament about your own problems – JUST BE. 

I cannot stress or say this enough – if someone you know is grieving, the loss of a person or their life played out in depression, anger, isolation; maybe they’re struggling with family or lost in their own pain – don’t stop reaching out. Ever. Also, Don’t make it about you. If they don’t respond, do so harshly or coldly – don’t take it personally (well, try not to). It won’t be easy – there is an ugliness that stems from shame, loss and pain. It manifests as self preservation; the thickest and tallest emotional walls, and words sharper than knives. It generates visceral reactions to the simplest of things and strikes out of fear, loneliness, and exhaustion. Nine times outta ten, it has nothing to do with you. Chase them down and leave your expectations outside – try and try again, be relentless in loving them even if they only let you from very far away. One day your love will seep through, it will sit with them when they feel alone, it will tap them on the shoulder when they’re about to lose it, it will keep them going.

my heart

It was my second week in Tennessee, I sat cross-legged on a patch of fresh mauve carpet, hiding 20-year-old basketweave linoleum. The old recliner where I curled up to listen to Peter Jennings talk about a world, one existing far from East Tennessee summers, it was gone. In its place was a bed, the kind with bars on the sides and various mechanical parts. Mr. Jennings voice no longer reverberated through the ancient television, his face distorted by ill-placed foil antennas. Instead, I sat covered in new carpet lint, listening to my Grandpa sing hymns, and stare off into another world; he was dying. We knew it was the end – he rarely existed in the present. He hallucinated about carpentry, selecting nails from his phantom tool belt and grinning while he hammered them off into the air. Sometimes his arm would rise to the sky as if telling angels he was ready to be home. One afternoon we put all 88 lbs of him in a wheelchair and I raced him around the aged double-wide – through the kitchen, squealing through the dining room and back again. With what little energy he had, he would belly laugh as we careened around every turn. My grandma was never far – staying busy by snapping green beans or canning tomatoes. My mom cleaning, even purchasing new drapes to brighten up the place. I sat, rarely taking my eyes off Grandpa. We shared popsicles while the sun beamed soft and gracefully through the front porch. The many plants would rise to greet it – and we would soak in its warmth; I was 13.

Grandpa Jack was hard of hearing, and even when yelling, my voice did not carry the right tone. Despite being unable to hear me – as long as I was talking he was “listening.” He would smile ear to ear and nod his head, and when he could see I stopped speaking, he would smile wider and say, “I love you too!” I knew he had zero clues as to what I said, but it didn’t matter, our language was the same. He told my mom, “she is my heart;” well, he was mine. He wasn’t an affectionate grandparent – you would get a gruff hand on your shoulder more often than a hug – but his smile was all the affection I needed. I adored him. I would often slip my hand in his chapped, grease-covered one or rest my head on his bony shoulder – he never grasped back or warmed into a hug – but he never ever backed away. My favorite spot was next to him as he shared tales, large and small, of shipping yards and odd jobs he had while traveling the country.

His answer to every ailment was iodine – I will never forget that rusty liquid on his various nicks and bruises. He thought cats were disease carriers…and theirs likely had a few. He always wore cotton trousers and a white t-shirt, tucked in with grease stains or a tear around the collar. He walked with his feet kicking out in front of him and arms swinging with purpose. He was older than most grandfathers I knew and had technically been retired my whole life but he still found a “job” every single day. Some days it was “going into town” to run errands. He threw a button up over his tattered t-shirt, put on his favorite fishing cap, “forgot” his hearing aids and fired up the ole Datson. We all knew he really went to socialize which always meant cornering a kind soul into listening to his tall tales. They realized too late he couldn’t hear and had to muster all their southern kindness nodding for an hour. You always knew he was enjoying himself because his chin tilted up and to the left, smiling until his eyes disappeared, hands in his pockets, whistles exiting through his dentures.

His other jobs, for lack of a better term, involved excessive tinkering. You could often find him halfway in his shed, bent over, tools flying aimlessly through his legs into the yard. Once he located the right one, he hammered on whatever needed it and tossed it back into the shed with the same fervor as before. He loved going to my uncle’s farm, he walked along the fence line and gazed out over the fields – I never knew what he was thinking but he always seemed happy, free. He was constantly laughing as me and my cousins wrestled and never panicked when we were racing each other to the top of whatever tree was nearby. He always stood at the trunks’ base whooping us along.

He said grace with the gumption of a southern preacher, and his worn hands always clasped my grandmother’s. As much as those two bickered, they were very much in love. He was her person – he may not have been a consistent husband/father, but he always needed her care and attention and she was happy to give it. I never saw them visit, I never saw them dance or laugh together – but I would catch a glance every once in a while, there was love there.

This particular afternoon in Tennessee my mom came and sat next to me placing her hand on Grandpa’s chest – I noticed a glimmer of concern as she touched his face and grasped his fingertips. I asked what was wrong, even though I already knew; she told me to get Grandma. I walked to the bathroom door and knocked, I’m sorry to bother you but mom says you should come out here. She sat down and clasped Grandpa’s hand – he turned to face her – a rare moment of cognizance. She began weeping and he somehow began comforting her. It was an amazing thing to behold. Grandma leaned down and pressed her face into his chest – he smiled and began humming – he reached his free hand up to the sky and hummed a little louder. As his hand danced in the air his face lit up, his eyes opened wide and he smiled with his mouth open – toothless and filled with joy – he was heading home.

I didn’t know heartbreak until that day. I’m not speaking of my sadness, no, it was my Grandma. I watched her closely the week of his funeral – she was so present, showing grace to everyone who attended. She smiled, she was warm, and her strength was admirable. A couple days after the funeral I walked past the formal living room, she sat, weathered Bible in her lap, and wept. Her tears soaked the red leather cover, her long fingers covering her eyes – she wept in a dark room, alone. In her silent weeping, in her brokenness, I remember seeing the woman I longed to be. I felt warmth in my eyes and a knot in my stomach – watching this woman cry was somehow suffocating and brilliant at the same time.  I missed my Grandpa fiercely, but I hadn’t cried yet…until now. It’s possible I have a robotic way of pushing my feelings aside to appear strong, or maybe I just knew it was his time and I could logically put that emotion in a compartment. Whatever the case, her strength, and poise, her fearlessness moved me. It left a mark. She was an immovable force – stubborn, deliberate, a pistol – Anna Daisy. I like to think she and Grandpa spend their days caring for our lil bird – that Birdie Anna’s namesake is sharing with her the fierceness and independence she taught me. I would not be who I am without them, all three of them are my heart, and I imagine she is theirs.

imaged found via Pinterest

The house we live in

Big change tends to stir up those things we repress. It draws out any ugliness we try to cover with the “New” thing or the “New” experience. I guess the real adventure is embracing every part of the process – not just the shiny newness, but all the brokenness that brought you there in the first place. Since we moved I have been a lost and found box of emotion. I have tried detaching, scare tactics, distraction, numbing, close up magic (just kidding) – none of it works. At the end of the day I look like an out of control emotional crazy person, and basically, I am.

Over the last six or so months I have been a little obsessed with personalities. There is a part of me that always wants | needs to know the “whys” of things. Why things happen, why two people can look at the same situation and come to separate conclusions…etc. Back in September a friend introduced me to the Enneagram (read: diagnosed me). The nerdy researcher in me began reading everything and anything I could get my hands on. It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and dare I say, spot on. I am familiar with various other methods of personality typing, but this one described me perfectly, to the point where I may have had a small identity crisis. If you aren’t familiar, and are willing to see yourself in the best and worst sense, I would encourage you to check it out.

On my quest to gain a better understanding, I realized my biggest enemy, other than grief, is stress. When I am stressed I either get very sick or basically turn into a monster. I could be a monster to those closest to me, those within a 3 to 5,000 mile radius, or just to myself. I researched introvertedness, logical | critical thinking, sensing, feeling, judging; all the ways we as humans emotionally react to any given situation. I am incredibly hard on myself, the expectations I chase are more often than not impossible to catch. When I disappoint myself I take it out on others. When I am angry or lonely or sad or frustrated, but cannot put words or emotion to it – I project. It is a vicious cycle, one I am desperately attempting to correct. Stress inspires a way of acting/reacting that gives me visions of what I would have been like as a cavewoman – absolutely terrifying. If this were a sitcom we would flash to a scene: me in torn clothes, feeding on raw meat, blood trickling down my face, dirt smeared skin, and grunts and growls being my only form of communication. It also gives me an appreciation – like a deep tear inducing appreciation – for friends and family who love me in spite of my gnashing of teeth and/or disappearing acts.

Who we are and why we are those people is an important study. I was insulted at first by my personality typing and I was incredibly unkind to myself as a result. I am thankful for so many of the things that make me, me – but there are scary parts – there is a wildness that needs – not taming so much as love…self love. I read a quote the other day that basically said – the words you say to yourself, become the house you live in. Throat.Punch. The house I live in is weighed down by words of frustration, sadness, and weariness. Words of joy and gratefulness are certainly scattered in there – but self reflection is no joke. I need to strengthen my walls with encouragement, lower my expectations, accept my lack of control. I need to stop withholding grace – be OK with time: time for growth and healing.

I have been horrible at balancing life this last month. I have been difficult, cold, and ambivalent. Here’s to embracing all the messy broken parts – accepting responsibility and owning the process. Part of showing myself grace, is also a practice in showing it to others, better than I have in the past. Recognizing we are all works in progress – and the only way we can do this life is together is by simply loving ourselves and one another. Love has no expectations or pro and con lists; it is kindness, it is grace. And when we do a crappy job, which we ultimately will, love is owning that failure and trying again, over and over and over.

Short update

I am the worst – I cannot sit still long enough to write anything of substance.

We arrived in Maryland March 26th after a very long four days on the road. Two amazingly kind friends/family flew out to help drive the 3,000 miles…would you do that for someone?! I don’t know many people who would. These two hopped on a plane in the middle of a snow storm (last flight out kind of storm) and we could not have done it without them. They helped clean, pack boxes, load the trailer, make our windows so damn sparkling, and on top of it all, they drove 46 hours with us. [Also, pretty sure those crystal clear windows sold the house!] Mick is loving being back to work with his brother; I am absorbing every pilates class I can afford, and hope to start my treacher training mid-June. Our house is under contract and we are praying it appraises well! I think that’s everything? Oh! The dogs are in heaven – despite Buddy eating every toy and piece of paper he can find (and being sick for four days) – they are transitioning seamlessly. Sorry this is so short but it’s about all I can manage at this point.

Thank you for all the texts and voicemails – we seriously have the best people in our lives, near and far!

words on adventure

The thing about adventure is: it is fluid – it is not limited to space and time, and requires an open mind and heart. It will be uncomfortable, at times painful, and scary. But, it can also be life altering – bringing joy and personal growth. Moving to Idaho has been epic in ways I never imagined. The air is ripe with juniper and pine – which, to a gin enthusiast, is basically a dream. The landscape hosts the most extraordinary parts of this country – the conservation of wilderness, the mountains, the massive sky, and the lakes/rivers – it is phenomenal. The people are some of the kindest you will meet outside The South. When they ask how your day is, they actually want to know. Everywhere you go they smile, and offer assistance above and beyond. You might wait 45 minutes at the DMV, and once you get to the counter, you are greeted with a smile and delightful conversation. Honestly – I still cannot get over that part – it’s like Mayberry or a movie lot. For two East Coasters this was the most jarring of culture shocks.

These last four years have been some of the most enlightening of my life. The seemingly organic ways I have grown, perhaps matured, have always felt bigger than me. Even in the trying moments, something in my gut whispered, you are being prepared for so much more. I am still clueless to what that, more, is; however, I would not change a single thing. The relationships we built are of monumental proportions. Seriously. To think in four years we have secured depths and heights with such beautiful souls, makes my insides a little bit mushy and warm. It’s weird…but I kind of like it. These people are kind, generous, broken, loving, forgiving, freaking hilarious, gracious, and stuck with us always and forever.

You may be curious why I am suddenly sentimental, verging on sappy; It looks weird on me, right? Unfortunately, it will continue just a bit longer, bear with me. Our trajectory is taking a sharp right turn – one both unexpected and exciting. In a few short weeks we will be embarking on a new adventure, one taking us back East. It is filled with a lot of excited anticipation, many unknowns, and a constant state of pinching ourselves. If I am being honest, we have been emotionally dehydrated these last two years. We are looking forward to some serious soul feeding times with family and friends. A reset, a filling back up of sorts. Our exit is incredibly bittersweet – it has been a beautiful chapter of life – leaving a permanent bookmark in our story. We are humbled by the love and lives so richly shared with us. It was beyond our wildest hopes to know this place and its people. We will definitely be back here to visit; however, we cannot wait see our Idaho peoples on our coast very soon!

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life. – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Image found via Pinterest 

1.25.2015

Three years have passed – I don’t know if it feels like a minute or a lifetime. I am at a loss this year – words are turbulent in my mind yet putting them to paper feels, impossible. I hope we tell her story well; that we are assiduous in living out her legacy, and that we do so fearlessly, profoundly, while always cultivating joy. Hey Lil Bird…we love you, happiest birthday, our darling girl.

IMG_8603

I’ve waited a hundred years
But I’d wait a million more for you
Nothing prepared me for
What the privilege of being yours would do

If I had only felt the warmth within your touch
If I had only seen how you smile when you blush
Or how you curl your lip when you concentrate enough
Well I would have known
What I was living for all along
What I’ve been living for

Your love is my turning page
Where only the sweetest words remain
Every kiss is a cursive line
Every touch is a redefining phrase

I surrender who I’ve been for who you are
For nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart
If I had only felt how it feels to be yours
Well I would have known
What I’ve been living for all along
What I’ve been living for

Though we’re tethered to the story we must tell
When I saw you, well I knew we’d tell it well
With a whisper we would tame the vicious seas
Like a feather bringing kingdoms to their knees

-Ryan Curtis O’Neal – Sleeping At Last || Turning Page

 

le divorce

I was married young, in what feels like another life (by my internal clock, very young). I got married the first time for all the wrong reasons. I got married because I was lonely, because I felt pressured, because I craved stability, because I was scared, because it was the right thing to do. I got married, well, because everyone else was doing it. 
 
It was a beautiful day; it was a perfect day, really. I looked adorable despite also looking malnourished. My best friends by my side, in the most beautiful garden, at the most beautiful time of year – cherry blossoms in full bloom, blanketing the grass with blush colored petals. I wore blue shoes and a purple orchid in my hair. I remember most of the day well. I remember my Grandma refusing to attend unless she could wear a magenta dress. She was stunning – her silver hair perfectly contrasting the blinding pink. I remember dancing with my best friends in an empty hall – a moment, that by design, calmed my fright or flight reaction. I remember walking across the vast garden and looking back at the mansion. I stood under a tree (because obviously I was getting sunburned in May) taking in my guests; the laughing and coming together of families and friends. It was beautiful yet it frightened me. I asked my friend, “Why, in this moment, does everything hurt? Why, on this day, this BIG day, am I not overjoyed?” She grabbed both my hands – smiled warmly – and told me I looked beautiful. She told me no matter what happened, I was going to be OK, and even if I wasn’t, she would be there, always. I remember cutting in line at the buffet and I remember not wanting to leave – not wanting to step out into forever. 
 
I know this makes me sound awful, damaged, sad, and broken – like deeply broken. If there was a receipt to be kept – it would have been mine: return policy indefinite. I’m OK with that reaction – I honestly, truly am. Because, for a very long time, I felt that way about myself. Not in some self deprecating way – but in a deep way. I felt toxic. I was fools gold personified, and soon, everyone would know. They would know I was permanently flawed and to run, not walk, in the opposite direction. 
 
Years later, on a day – just like any other – I made a decision to leave that marriage. Even now I have no idea what grabbed hold of me – but I decided that this, this was not my story. I was not going to be defined by whatever was broken inside me; I was going to overcome it. Being OK, being WHOLE, meant more to me than the fear of being alone. If I was going to fail, alienate myself from family and friends, be completely on my own – I was going to do it on my terms.  (Let me be clear – not because I care what you think – but in the context of reality – and I deal in reality: walking away from a marriage does not happen on a random Tuesday afternoon. Ending a marriage takes work and thought and conversation. For this basic, essay-style platform, it’s simplified in four sentences, but in real life – every part of it was shared. There was therapy, painful conversations, logic, lists…etc. I own all of it. There were no whims here – not a single whim).
 
As I ventured out into the unknown I began to unpack those damaged feelings and ideals.  “She is tactless, brash, foul mouthed, and simply needs guidance and direction. She needs a man/a someone, to fix her.  Lies, lies, lies. I learned what I was conditioned to view as personality flaws, are what I now consider amazing qualities. I spent almost a decade convinced I needed to change. And this was by someone who “loved” me. That does a number on the psyche, let me tell you. There were fleeting moments of freedom where I felt adored for exactly who I was. Cherished moments where time stopped, expectations disappeared, and night drives solved all the world’s problems. I came back to these moments often. I re-played them, they gave me life. They reminded me not only who I was, but that I was worthy of so much more. They seem simple, but it was in their simplicity that I realized – it’s not meant to be this difficult. 
 
After some time in solitude, I surrounded myself in joy. For me, joy represented anyone and everyone who made being human, feel effortless. It felt this way because these people, my people, live in and act out love. Love in its most basic forms. I needed basics – I needed grace and acceptance. I needed reassurance that even if I showed up cynical and foul mouthed, I was loved. Period.
 
People have tried (and some still try) to fit me in a box- I let them struggle for bit, it’s an entertaining social experiment. But that box – that relational space where one person can control or manipulate another person – it’s a powerful box. It is not grounded in love or acceptance and can rob people of a joy filled life. It has taken me many years and much dedication to define who I am, and it’s ever evolving. I now have a partner who loves ALL of me – like he actually finds my foul mouth, erratic dance moves, and constant analyzing endearing. I did not need his acceptance or validation – but I am blessed and beyond thankful to have it. He has taught me so much, loved me so richly that now, being human, feels effortless. He is steady. He is kind. He is brave and honest. I am thankful my story remains fluid. I am thankful I play a role in defining it’s ending.

 

Image found via TheFickleTattoo on Etsy – hey, it’s a temporary tattoo if you’re in the market!