Five.

I remember being five – I was a terrible person. I rejected authority, I stole from the blind girl at my lunch table, and was chosen only once to be the nap fairy. Apparently, I “tapped” people “too hard” when it was time to wake up. I would argue, it was the most effective amount of pressure for an efficient wake-up. I beat up on boys, I even hit the girl-next-door with my wooden shoe. But, I also had adorable freckles, loved the elderly, my imagination was its own universe, and I was entirely certain of myself. My mom says I was born this way…confident, never intimidated, and one might say, brutally honest (like all my elderly homies). I was an uncompromisingly whole person.

The start of 2020 ushers in a fifth year without our Bird. My emotions have been all over the place and words fail me. If I’m being honest, I think deep down, I didn’t want to deal with this week, her week, or even acknowledge the month of January. New Years’ morning I woke up and immediately began crying – this reality, the one without Birdie, it’s isolating and screwed up, unnatural. We took our annual trip and it was lovely – we were adventurous, tried new things, exploring new places – all the things we promised her we would do. But…we didn’t talk about her or actively celebrate her life. I don’t say this to make you sad, or mad, or fearful of our emotional health. It’s more just a moment of brutal honesty (cuz that’s how I roll). Life can be very lonely without her, at times overwhelmingly so…to the point I/We want to pretend it’s not our reality. This shit is hard. It’s strange and surreal, it’s horrible yet somehow beautiful.

I think the most difficult part of this fifth year is, imagining her as a vibrant person, one who has a shoe size, a preferred book, and parent to read her to sleep. I imagine her with defiance that can only come from me and a distinct laugh and dance moves that mimic her dad. Her inquisitiveness would open up our world to brilliant conversations; an entire personality in a tiny body, looking to us as if we are the world. She would be confident, courageous, stubborn… an uncompromisingly whole person. That’s it, right there, the gut punch, the emptiness…why the walls go up. Where do we put that? 

Well, we shouldn’t run, hide, or build up walls and pretend. We have to acknowledge it and then we dig, we fight for the JOY. ALL of this – my life, my grief, your life, your (insert whatever here), it takes time, a lot of it. A time filled with brave and honest work, bearing witness to every part of the process – cultivating the good AND the bad. We cannot have the joyful moments without the dark and suffocating ones. The struggles within the process, are the heartbeat of life. They open doors, windows, and portals to our growth, they bring life full circle. Suffering is the very place we refine and reshape, where we experience the full joy of achievement. When we try all the things to ignore this, to press pause on suffering, or push it down, pretend we’re all good…well, it doesn’t work. Trust me. It will hunt you down, grab you by your face and demand eye contact. Consider this “lecture” a wooden shoe across the facemore for me than for you. (sorry Jasmine, wherever you are)

So – taking my own advice, owning my reality, here is the JOY: I am still that confident, brutally honest little five-year-old*, but Birdie softened my edges. She taught me volumes on grace and forced me to be brave with my vulnerability and my life. I am a better person because of our lil Bird. She urges me to open my heart, to live bravely, to free-fall into the unknown. I know and understand more about love, more about suffering, and I am learning to practice empathy. I have miles and miles to go. I will falter, I will fight against my better judgment, but in spite of this, I will always, always strive to honor her and look for the Joy.

 

*Remix: I no longer hit people with wooden shoes, no matter how much time passes, I will never be the first choice for “nap fairy,” and, I no longer steal from the blind.

Tis the season

This time of year stirs up feelings of joy, togetherness, generosity, and hope. Hope for a new year, a new way of doing things, a better version of oneself. Hope for better, more functional relationships, and of course, stronger thighs and tighter abs. This time of year also draws out all the ugly we repressed for the last 300+ days. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, grief, trauma, pain, addiction. I don’t know if it’s the placement of the moon, the winter solstice or all of the subliminal holiday messages of happy families flush with cash. Whatever the trigger, we all find ourselves in one or more of these emotions, states of being. Maybe we are reminded of those we lost – an empty chair at Christmas dinner, the movie we used to always watch with that person, the first Christmas ornaments that never were. Wherever you fall on this spectrum this holiday season, know you are seen, you are loved. You are better today than yesterday, and if you just raged on someone at Target for taking the last * insert whatever it was here * – good news! You can start fresh tomorrow. 

I say this every year, but if you know someone who goes to a dark place over the holidays – reach out. Leave a gift, a card on their doorstep, hug them in the grocery store, cry with them if they need it…notice them and their pain. You don’t have to make a big deal about it or go overboard. If they don’t want to cry, that’s OK too (they’re probably closet or shower criers – let them have that). The simple act of showing them love, letting them know you remember their hurts and their broken pieces, it means more than you know. If you don’t know what to say, it’s also OK to say, “I don’t know what to say.” It’s so much better than the awkward pause or disingenuous gestures.

Christmas in and of itself is JOY and HOPE – it’s also a call to be these things to others! Pay it forward, show kindness to strangers, give of yourself. As you sit down with family or friends (or dogs and cats) this Holiday – stop and breathe. Notice those people, in that space and show gratitude for however they showed up. Notice the breath in your lungs and what a privilege it is to share space and life with others. To share highs and lows, disagreements and redemptive resolution. This day represents promises kept, selflessness given, and the everlasting promise of eternity.  

Happiest Holidays to you and yours! Wishing you peace, joy, hope and continued growth in 2020!

the wild of our unknowns

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This past year my typical approach, my self-identifiers, have faced more opposition than I can remember. All past methods do not work and seemingly create more conflicts or unknowns. The need for control does nothing when one is completely out of control. It truly complicates life further and sets everything off kilter. Through grace, bucket loads of grace, I am slowly learning that all-important lesson of stillness. I am getting in touch with emotions, those founded in love, empathy, and shared wisdom. Since moving back East life has felt unsettled, filled with uncertainty; a plethora of obstacles and unknowns. I often struggle with balance, with rest. My mind is always onto the next thing or it’s processing multiple realities and solving a myriad of problems all while grocery shopping. Sitting still and resting in these things is a last resort, a laughable suggestion, and not typically part of my life practice. 

People always want to see external evidence of change; for example, I can say – I am softening, I am becoming more open and loving and vulnerable. You may not see it, or maybe only bits and pieces. I don’t necessarily smile more or make friends everywhere I go, and my party attendance has actually decreased. The changes of which I speak are 90% internal – a change in thought process, a deterioration of walls, and an approach to others with more grace and empathy. I am working to cultivate relationships differently, to invest a lot more in others, to take emotional risks and be OK if they don’t pan out. It doesn’t hurt that I am surrounded by genuine people, ones who give away love and grace effortlessly, without condition. It is inspiring and I am beyond blessed to watch it, take part in it, and receive it. They provide this safe space where failure is merely a stepping stone, where love has no limit, and being seen is the only way to be. They remind me of who I am and who I am becoming. Meeting people who see through your walls or are entirely unaffected by them, has been challenging and eye-opening in so many ways. It makes me love them all the more and crave more relationships like that. I am so thankful to have people who remind me to stop, look up, breath in the chaos and just be still. 

Every single day offers a lesson, a challenge to be better versions of ourselves. We get the honor and privilege to love and be loved in return. We can view our unknowns with a child-like curiosity of where life will lead, or we can get lost in our worries and need for control, missing out on the beauty of it all. I would be naive to think this is all random. I would be remiss to brush it off as a season, or simply the act of maturing as I inch closer to 40. There are no coincidences in this life. There are choices. There is the action one takes in making said choices, and there is acceptance of the outcome. These choices, these moments in life where we either step up and admit our helplessness, our brokenness, and our weakness, they are divinely planted. They are rushing waters of love flowing toward us, open hands asking us to trust, to love, to be exactly who we are and recognize the endless amounts of grace, the richness of life and love, and the one who gently whispers – come to me – Cast your cares on me. 

It will be a year in a couple weeks since we moved back east. It will also be ten years that Mick and I decided to share life together. There are oh so many things we are learning and relearning and so many things we’ve overcome. Through it ALL there is a steady faithfulness, a continued promise of being renewed, and a future ripe with more adventure. We just have to embrace all the parts, the highs, the lows, and especially, the wild of our unknowns.

** image found via Pinterest; words by the lovely Morgan Harper Nichols

being yours

I was undone at the sight of you

I understood how mountains could move, lands separate, oceans rise and fall

I felt my very core tremble knowing you were mine

I became fearless as you took your first breath

With every squeeze of your tiny hand I gained strength, I became better

My old self eclipsed by a woman, now a mother, branded by your very existence

Being yours meant I would accomplish the most difficult, most breaking of things

Being yours means knowing boundless love and soul crushing pain

The light you ushered in is forever unmatched

The truths you unveiled continuously reshape my perspective

My heart now beats where yours cannot, it’s pulse ever so slowly inspiring a new life

Each inhale and exhale carrying the melody of heaven, resounding in His perfect love

It casts out fear, it casts out doubt, it has no end, it has no equal

May that melody flow to others, may it move the mountains in their hearts and bring light to darkness

My precious lil Bird, you are our broken pieces shaped into perfection, into selfless love

What an honor it is to be yours

“It upsets me, and it upsets Christ.”

Once on my lunch, I saw a squirrel funeral outside the local cemetery. One of their brothers/sisters was struck by a vehicle and lay dead in the road. Five various squirrels created a circle around the ‘body’ and wouldn’t move for any car. I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road to pass. It was quite heartbreaking. As my eyes glistened, two extreme thoughts naturally surfaced: 1. Was that squirrel saved? 2. Were they mourning or do squirrels eat their dead and they were playing best out of five – rock, paper, scissors – to see who got the carcass?

A little background: I grew up in a fairly religious home. We went to church generally twice a week. Our circle of friends consisted of 93% church peeps and 7% school and family. We didn’t own a TV and we could not watch movies over a PG rating unless pre-screened by our parents. The radio was generally set to talk radio or church music. I was a puppeteer at VBS [that stands for Vacation Bible School you heathen], I participated in all children’s plays/choirs, I played the piano during the offering and unless grounded (which was more often than not) I attended every youth group function. This was all I knew and I didn’t mind – I loved the people and the family atmosphere. One of my dearest friends dates back to a small non-denominational church we attended in a windowless building. Also, it’s important to note: I was not forced to wear long skirts, I was allowed to cut my hair, and I could walk ahead of any boy/man if I damn well pleased.

Growing up alternating between non-denominational church [themes being spiritual warfare, angels/demons…etc.] and Southern Baptist [summers spent in TN fearing eternal damnation to the fiery pit] I may, or may not, have lived in fear. I had panic attacks on a monthly basis – waking up at night shaking and crying because 1. I was afraid to go to hell or 2. The Nazi’s were going to find me and take me away. I spent many nights sipping warm milk, singing myself to sleep and battled a year-long stint of fainting on the regular. These fears also translated into wanting to save everyone and everything from the devil. I was overly concerned that my pets, and everyone else’s, needed to be saved. There is a chance, if I was ever at your house between the ages of 7 and 12, I prayed the salvation prayer with your pet.  I am not kidding. My cats got saved every other weekend just to be sure I would see them in heaven. I even made sure my stuffed animals were saved just in case they had souls. If I’m being totally honest, Buddy and Maeby are lucky they haven’t been baptized.

I spent a lot of my life concerned about the eternity of others. I was afraid of death, of war, specifically in the Middle East, the book of Revelation ruined me (it speaks of an apocalypse of sorts; the rapture). One time in middle school we were going to buy lunch, a classmate took a little too long in the bathroom. When she came back to class everyone was gone – she honestly thought the rapture occurred and she was devastated. She was still on earth which either meant she wasn’t saved, or, she was one of the few left to be persecuted for years and years. (See the Left Behind series for Hollywood’s perspective on this – Kirk Cameron, the Christian Scorsese). Good content for kids too – the world is going to end and you will likely be tortured, and it could literally happen ANY DAY! I spent so much time worrying about who was saved and who wasn’t and judging those who believed differently than me. It was a way of life.

Through adolescence and my early twenties, I made my own decisions when it came to church and belief. I followed many of the same practices but also developed my own worldview. It all began to feel robotic and methodical, lacking in emotion, lacking in a relationship – simply put, focused on ritual and social status. I soured to the entire idea of Sundays – standing up, sitting down, only to stand up a couple more times. People going through motions, rarely questioning their significance or whether they actually wanted to do those things. It felt vacant and rehearsed…and if you know me, I don’t typically fall in line with trends or ‘shoulds.’

I don’t talk about my faith very much, or at all. I have a heart for specific things, and sometimes, specific people. I don’t believe our words have to be rehearsed or even sound acceptable to the confines of spirituality – which basically means I curse a lot. I believe in sound theology – The Gospel; death, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin. However, I equally believe in Love. I believe that Jesus ALWAYS, always, lead with Love. It was His love for us that made him approachable, that allowed him to rebuke but also show endless amounts of grace. He lived His life without filters and it endeared him to the lost, the poor, the sick, and the dying. I also believe our humanness, those hurts that shape our individuality, are more profound than any cliche, anything scripted ever could be. It’s in our messy and raw realities where redemption is found and lives are changed.

I now know, I cannot redirect anyone’s eternal trajectory, as difficult as that is for a control freak to grasp. But (there’s always a ‘But’ isn’t there?), I can share my (many) broken pieces, practice empathy, and love people, love the CRAP out of them. As the brilliant Bob Goff says, “I used to want to fix people, now I just want to be with them.” Doesn’t that idea instantly relax you? Every time I read it, my shoulders drop a few inches and my jaw unclenches. As much of an introvert as I am – and the idea of sharing my highs and lows here gives me anxiety some of the time, it is in our vulnerability that Love and Grace thrive.

** title is a quote (I think) from Steel Magnolias **

Auntie Mary

There they sat, sun kissed around a 70’s formica table, salt water creating crispy curls in their hair. The scent of tanning oil wafted through the outdated beach rental. The shag carpet was recently vacuumed, and by recently I mean, at least seven times. The furniture rearranged, dusted, lysoled, and dusted again. The ashtray was filled with Marlboro lights, all with red lips permanently imprinted on their papers. Towels hung over the balcony to dry, a tv in the bedroom creating background noise and sending flashes of light down the hall. Tears streamed down their faces, silent laughter shaking their bodies, UNO cards scattered on the floor. There she sat – mascara running down her cheeks, the corners of her Revlon stained red lips almost touching her ears. She never failed to get the last laugh, the hardest laugh, the rawest laugh, and the most joy watching her audience.

My Aunt Mary. My oh my, was she precious to me. She was the queen of sass, brutally honest to her core (savage as the kids say), always a full face of makeup, at least two precious stones on her fingers, peppermint flavored Extra gum, marlboro lights mixed with some Reds, a can of lysol, and a comment about everything. She was never a distant aunt, an old aunt, a crotchety aunt…she was my immediate family. At times I wondered if my cousin and I were switched at birth – I have Mary’s auburn hair, petite frame, eyelashes for days, and precision with a makeup brush. She could never offend me, she loved in her most unique way, and she was a pillar of my childhood and adolescence. She taught me about makeup, skincare, to assume every surface was once touched by someone’s dirty foot or butt, and she taught me how to find humor in just about everything. Her life wasn’t always smooth, but she was a survivor, she was scrappy as hell, and I adored her, every.single.bit of her.

This precious human being left our temporary world for one eternally filled with joy, laughter, and zero pain and suffering. She leaves behind an equally fierce daughter, two priceless grandsons, a gentleman who loved and cared for her over multiple decades, five younger siblings, multiple nieces and nephews who thought the world of her, and a sweet pup named Jacque.

I Love you Auntie Mary, with all my heart. I am so grateful you no longer suffer, I am thankful you are whole, being made new in every way. I can hear your laugh in my head and pray I never lose it. Kiss kiss hug ❤ 12.3.2018

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.